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Posts Tagged ‘youth missions’

20131124_155115Sherrylee and I have just finished spending most of the month of November in Europe, visiting mission sites and talking to some of the most committed Christian people in the world about how to accomplish more for His Kingdom and how to talk to more people about Jesus.

I was able to stop and write a couple of posts during this trip (“Writing An Alternate Religious History for Spain” and “Cathedrals or Storefronts—Does It Matter In Europe?”), but for the most part, we were moving too quickly and too often to generalize our thinking into blog writing.  I apologize for that, but sometimes it is more important to do the work than to write about it.  I know you will understand.

So you don’t know, for instance, that our 11-year-old granddaughter Anna joined us for the last nine days of our trip in Europe. She flew all the way from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, changing planes at DFW by herself! What a girl!

For almost a year now, she has known that it was her turn!  Sherrylee and I have made a commitment to take one of our grandkids with us each year as they become old enough to travel with us.  Three years ago, we took our oldest grandchild Cassidy (also 11 at the time) and then took her again the next year when she was 12.  Kellan would have been the next because he is three weeks older than Anna, but his parents were already taking him to Germany, so he will be invited next year.

But this is not a “let-us-show-you-Europe” trip, oh no!  This is a Mimi and Grandad’s mission trip and the grandkids are invited to join us in the work we are doing. We tell them from the very beginning that we are visiting with missionaries and attending mission conferences; we are not going to Disneyworld in Paris.

On Tuesday morning at 8:30 am, we met Anna at the Frankfurt airport. The airlines are excellent about handling unaccompanied minors, so she was really never unattended during her 24 hours of travel!  The kids just have to be brave enough and independent enough to handle the emotional distance from their parents, not the physical distance.  And Anna was great!

By noon, we were in the car driving to the Netherlands to visit our friends Hans and Ans van Erp, who were the family who invited LST first to Eindhoven in 1987 to help them plant a new church there.  This church is now one of the strongest churches of Christ in Europe.

Anna was especially eager to meet Hans and Ans (yes, we all love it that their names rhyme!). She reportedly told her sister before she left, “I’m going to meet Hans and Ans van Erp. They knew Mommy when she was my age and now they are going to get to know me too! 

Within the first four days that she was with us, we had visited with the van Erps, then the Reinhardts in Wunstorf, Germany, as well as the Roehrkasses, Bratchers, and Smelsors in Hildesheim, Germany.  All of these visits involved long conversations about their local works and how LST was working or could work together with them.  Anna was there for all the conversations—of course.

On Saturday after her arrival, we drove five hours to Rothenburg ob der Taube, Germany, for the Euro-American Retreat.  This was the 50th anniversary of this retreat, which this year brought 230 people from all over Europe together for worship, prayer, Bible study, and lots of fellowship.

We were there a little early because I was speaking at the opening service. There was a children’s program, but Mimi went and got Anna because she wanted her to hear Grandad “preach.”  Well, it’s just one more little memory that may be meaningful to her in her own Christian life, knowing that she is from a family of preachers and teachers! I was glad she was there.

Over the next three days, Anna participated in worship, was part of the children’s classes, hung out with a few of the younger teens who were so kind to include the almost-teens, and she helped the small children prepare for their program on Tuesday night in front of the whole assembly.

Does that sound like a European vacation to you?  Does that sound like your grandkids dream trip?  Well, it could be if they know how much being with other Christians and encouraging them means to you!!

Of course, we planned some tourist things for Anna.  Of course!  We took one day and went to Anne Frank’s house and museum in Amsterdam, then drove a few minutes over to Zaanse Schans and toured a chocolate factory and working windmills.  It was a cold, blustery northern European November day, but she loved it.

And to cap off her experience, we planned a London layover on the way home, which gave us half a day there.  We drove by Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, but got to tour the Tower of London.  The real treat for her was attending a performance of Phantom of the Opera because Anna herself is very musically gifted.

Take your grandkids with you when you plan your next mission trip!! Sure, you have to make a few adjustments, but you will plant seeds in them that may change them forever. If you haven’t read Cassidy’s recent post about her view of missions, you should stop and read that now!

If we left no other legacy than to have given our children——a vision of what they can do with their lives for God in gratitude for what He has done for them, that would be so much more of an inheritance than anything else we could leave behind.

Take your grandchildren with you when you do His work!  Don’t make it all about them; make it about Him!  Let them see what your greatest love is!

That’s the motivational part of this post.  Next, I’ll come back and share some tips with you on how to take your grandkids on a mission trip with you successfully.

It’s good to talk again!

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Clint Loveness, a friend and Let’s Start Talking participant has created a great story video that speaks about young people, video games, and missions. You probably want to share this with your teens and grandteens!  It’s just over four minutes, so click below and enjoy it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJGuAInoOlk

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Sherrylee and I have been traveling all day yesterday and today, visiting with LST board members and with LST leaders.  We are now in Santa Barbara—what a beautiful place—and finishing preparations to host an Intensive Training Weekend for several teams from Pepperdine University that begins tomorrow.

Intensive Training Weekends have been part of the LST training plan since the very beginning. The very first one was held in the winter of 1982. One of the team members had a cousin who had a “lake house” that they would make available to us.  My experience with lake houses was that they were luxurious recreational homes, usually in a resort-type setting.

This lake house was on Voss Lake in western Oklahoma, a man-made pond without a tree within 100 miles! The house did have plumbing, but it was separated from the main house, and the wind came whistling down the plains right through the outer walls of this lake house!  And it was in the single digits outside and sometimes in!

Nevertheless, we had a great time and most of the training elements that we still use would found their genesis at this first primitive retreat. We passed information about Germany to the team members, we did team building activities, we had very meaningful devotional time, and we built stronger relationships.

Thirty years later, our Intensive Training weekend is much better conceived, but quite similar to the original. Teams experience about 36 hours of LST project simulation, designed to help them understand who their team is, why they are going, and how they can have a successful mission project.

As team members come in the door, they are met by “customs officials,” who check their passports, their paperwork, and who see if they have brought too much luggage! At their orientation, they reset their watches to “LST Time”—about four hours later than local time—and the fun begins!

Because the teams are going overseas, no overhead projected songs are used for worship and  no checking email or texting is allowed; in addition,  a fifty-pound pink suitcase is awarded to teams that must carry  it around for a while, just to learn how heavy and burdensome too much luggage can be.

The highlight of the weekend may be the field training, when each team is given about fifteen tasks to accomplish on their own (This is why we try to get away from their home city, so that they will be unfamiliar with local sites and resources). They may be asked to interview a stranger and ask them what people in their country think about Jesus. They likely have to find out how much it costs to take public transportation for the retreat center to the local airport, or they may have to find the address and phone number of the nearest American embassy—without using the internet.  Every task has some parallel to either a task or decision that the team might be confronted with on the mission field.

They have a very small budget for lunch and they have to all agree on what they will eat. They also have to all try some food that they have never eaten before. It’s all fun, but it’s also a little challenging.

As the hosts of the weekend, we are not only hoping to create an environment where teams get to know each other better, where they catch the LST spirit (which we pray is the same as the Spirit of Christ), but we hope also to  observe which teams might have issues.

For instance, one year, a student arrived at the weekend who had totally disregarded the luggage limit that we had imposed.  When he was told that some of his stuff was going to be “confiscated,” he got angry and left!  Better to deal with that kind of spirit in training than have the same spirit create an incident with the mission church in some foreign country!

We often have interpersonal team issues that have been mostly ignored when people are not together every day, but that surface pretty quickly under the pressure of sitting together, eating together, and sleeping in the same room in sleeping bags on the floor of a church building together. Better to deal with them here than in the pressure cooker of the mission field.

At most of our Intensive Training weekends for students, we gather at 6am on Sunday (10am LST time!) for multi-cultural worship. We start with a Herzlich Wilkommen, and then proceed to a song in Portuguese.  Scripture may be read in Spanish, followed by a prayer in Japanese.  At some point, where we can arrange it, someone preaches for 10-15 minutes in a foreign language, followed by an English explanation of the lesson.

Communion is often taken by coming to the front as a team, praying with your arms around each other, sometimes sharing one cup—or a few! This hour is precious and one that impacts everyone!

The only major element of the weekend that I have not described is our session on Expectations and Commitments. That particular session comes with so many stories that it deserves its own post!

Look for the next post on “Stories Behind the Expectations and Commitments”.

 

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A couple of days ago, I asked you to help me with word choice for a revision of what we used to call “Guidelines.”  I received many good suggestions, so I thought you might like to see what the current final product is.

I went with Expectations, which was by far the most popular suggestion.  I like expectations too because it carries some weight while not feeling as negative or authoritarian as rules. Several suggested great words like covenant and promises, but expectations won!

I don’t know when the idea of a two-part entry hit me, but I thought it might be helpful to separate the principle from the concrete actions. By separating these, it certainly allows us to appeal to the principle even if a corresponding action has not been mentioned specifically.  We were desperately trying to avoid any attempt to capture every possible situation or every possible disruptive action that might occur on an LST project. We did not want to become Scribes and  Pharisees!

Feel free to ask questions or comment on any of these expectations and commitments. There is a story behind each one. If you will apply to go on an LST project, you will get to hear the story, though I suspect if you read enough of these blog posts, you will hear the stories as well.

EXPECTATIONS AND COMMITMENTS!

 

EXPECTATIONS COMMITMENTS
1)      God first! 1) I will begin each day with my team devotional and put God first in all I do and say!
2) Put others before Yourself! 2) I will put the needs of my project first and my teammates next. I will not insist on my way!
3) Be affirming, not critical. 3) I will affirm my missionary, my team members, and the local church. I will not criticize, correct, or debate with anyone, either in person, or in my communication to people at home!

 

4) Serve those you came to serve 4) I will not use electronic access to keep me from engaging and serving. I will not be distracted or disengage from the project to which I have committed.
5) Develop spiritual relationships 5) I will not get involved romantically in any way with anyone. All relationships will be pure and not perverse, chaste and within God’s boundaries for single and married Christians.
6) Adapt in culturally appropriate ways.

 

6) I will dress, speak, and act in ways that the host church holds to be spiritually and culturally appropriate
7) Protect the integrity of your testimony! 7) I will abstain from tobacco, alcoholic drinks, illegal drugs, bars, discos, nightclubs, and any other activity or situation which I, my team, LST, or the host church believes will diminish my witness for Christ.
8  Be responsible for yourself! 8  I will make only myself legally, financially, and morally responsible for my own actions, and I will not blame others.
9) Submit to the local host. 9) I will cooperate completely with the local host. I will bring all Readers asking about salvation to the local host, and I will only help local people financially through the local host, so that the most good can be accomplished. I will not try to be independent of the local host.
10) Submit to the Let’s Start Talking Ministry I will cooperate fully with the Let’s Start Talking Ministry by following the letter and the spirit of these expectations, as well as all other instructions given by LST. I will not commit LST funds, LST teams, or the LST ministry unless specifically authorized.

 

 

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We were sitting with friends last night and talking about mission trips–probably no surprise to you!  They are a family of four, with a boy of six and a girl of four.  This couple is very active in their local church, but also have a heart for foreign missions, so the dad asked me what I thought was a good age for their children to actually go abroad.

Great question, Dad! And the right question!  Let me try to answer it with a variety of insights for all of you whose children might be of very different ages.  Let me just say that I will be talking about mission projects like Let’s Start Talking projects that have always been pretty family friendly in that workers

  • go to one place and stay there for the duration of their mission project,
  • they have a pretty regularly scheduled day,
  • they are usually housed independently,
  • they are working with people in a pretty contained environment, and
  • they have a certain degree of control over their eating arrangements

Of course, if you are going on another type of mission project, you will have to weigh all of those factors in order to make your decision.

I don’t think there is a too young! Parents who take their very infant to school age children–and we have many–have great experiences that shape their children, even though the kids themselves will only have the vaguest memories of the actual trip.  What they remember though are the pictures you take and the fact that they have been to Japan or Germany or Argentina! And they have a passport!

Here’s how some parents with very young children make this possible!

  • The parents each work half with the children and half with the mission project. Of course, I would argue strongly that each parent is working full-time with two different mission projects, if you see your children as the most important mission God has given you!
  • Many parents recruit an older teen or college student to go with them as their helper. The helper gets to do some of the mission project too, but is mostly responsible for helping with the children.
  • Some families travel with other families with children and share the fun!
  • Many families recruit grandparents to go with them and be a part of the mission with the children. (I especially like this one!)
  • Sometimes both parents can’t go, so then the single parent definitely will need a helper–but he/she can still make it work!

Elementary school-aged children make the very best mission partners! They are independent enough not to need your constant attention, but still eager enough to please you that they really want to be a part of what you do!  This is perhaps the most impressionable time in their lives–and they will remember almost everything they do.  They can’t really “work” a full day, but they will be just fine if you can give them a couple of hours of good attention each day!  Here are some special ideas for elementary-aged children

  • They can accept certain “tasks” as their responsibility and this makes them feel like part of the mission!  I’m talking about things like playing with children that might come with their parents to your project, or even telling younger children Bible stories–not all day, but certainly some time spent “working” will be just what they want.
  • Playing with or spending time with the local missionary’s children. Forget about language barriers; children hardly even notice language differences.
  • They especially love preparing for parties or social events. If you need name tags or something special, perhaps your kids can help you make it.
  • Giving them private chronicling tasks, like journaling or creating a picture album of their mission, whether by drawings or a simple camera is something that helps make their mission project meaningful!

Teenagers are the hardest age–only because they have a mind of their own–which is, of course, what you are wanting for them–someday! Younger teens can be great mission partners. Until they are 14 or so, they probably want to work right beside you on your mission project–and you should let them.  But, by 15 and later, the mission project is competing with summer fun with their friends, Bible camp, summer school, summer sports activities–just lots of stuff, and I think you need to respect their needs, not just assume that they will continue to be ready to go whenever you call.  Here are some points to remember:

  • Teens are not the center of the universe even though they think they are! You can still set their agenda, but you may have to negotiate it instead of dictating it. This means something like what we did with our kids at this age: you have to spend six weeks with us in Europe, but we will send you to camp for four of those weeks.  Or you can stay home for two weeks with your cousins, then you can go to soccer camp for two weeks, but then you join us for the last three weeks.  Everyone needs to learn to compromise–teens and parents.!
  • Sometimes all it takes with teens is letting them have their best friend go with them!  Why not?
  • Whether at home or abroad, teens may think they are adults, but they are not, so don’t expect them to be! Once when Emily was about 16, she was staying with her brothers (18 & 20) at home for a week or two before we arrived home. Naturally, all kinds of household disasters happened: the dog chewed up the curtains and tore down a door trying to get to a bird that had come down the chimney, a squirrel got into the house and wreaked havoc, and then the hot water heater in an upstairs closet sprang a leak and dripped down through the ceiling. Emily called us in tears and said, “Please come home. I don’t want to be responsible any more!”  Of course not!

The best answer I can give you about when to take your children on mission projects is to start with them as young as you can and go often! The absolute worst answer is to wait until they are older and will appreciate it!  I promise you they will appreciate it when they are teenagers so much more, if they have already fallen in love with it as children.

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Being afraid of foreign things is part of the Fall, I suspect. I know that we have encountered this same fear in children all over the world.  In Africa, the little children who have never seen a white person run away crying. In Japan, the little children cautiously want to touch our “round” eyes.  The Chinese can’t keep their hands off the blonde hair of some American children.  If we want our children to have a heart for the mission of God, then we have to begin helping them not be afraid or put off by foreign things.

In fact, what would happen if they loved foreign things? God so loved the world . . . which was very foreign, so perhaps learning to love foreign things is learning to be more godly!

Here are a few ideas for you to help your kids (and yourself) love the world—the whole world, not just your small corner of it!

  • Never talk disparagingly about foreigners and foreign things! We all know that prejudice and bigotry are passed on from generation to generation, but sometimes only very subtly.  You don’t have to wear a white cap and robe to teach your children to be racists.  Just your typical racial jokes or stereotyping will suffice. The same with their attitude toward foreigners. What do you say about the men who cut your grass or the teaching assistant that is difficult to understand? What do you say about foreign cars, foreign athletes—even about immigration issues?
  • Expose your young children to foreign foods. Instead of just Happy Meals and hamburgers, take your kids for a gyro sandwich on pita. Some of our grandkids like Sushi (I don’t), but all of them think that the Hibachi steakhouse is the best treat ever for special occasions. Our son’s family found a German deli where they could buy Brötchen and other German things, so we had a very fun German breakfast together one morning!  Take your pick from all the countries of the world and explore their foods. Remember, they are all going to be at the banquet of the Lamb!
  • Encourage your children to start learning other languages as early as possible. I love that Dora the Explorer and other kid shows expose the pre-schoolers to Spanish. Did you know that only about 1/3 of American children take any foreign language in school!  No wonder we are internationally illiterate. I just read that 200 million Chinese children are learning English and only 24,000 American children are learning Chinese.  Who do you think will influence whom in the future?  For us Christians, the question is not political; it is who will share their heart for/against God with whom?
  • Watch foreign movies! (Now I’ve really crossed a line, haven’t I !!) With all the rental possibilities now, you have access to children’s movies from around the world. Yes, they may be subtitled, but unless you make a big deal out of that, your children won’t.  Maybe start with films from England or India in English. There are also cartoons. Sure they are different—that’s what foreignness is!!  You might even try some yourself!
  • Look for schools that offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program! The IB program, which is an internationally recognized curriculum, is gaining some popularity in the U.S,  You do find it in public schools as well as private schools.
  • Give your child an early experience abroad—anywhere! Lots of soccer teams, choirs, bands, etc. are doing international trips. Encourage this. Of course, a mission trip would be even better.
  • The absolutely best thing you can do is to take your children with you overseas—especially on a mission trip. The combination of watching the people they love and admire the most, interacting with foreign people and foreign situations, together with their own unique opportunities to experience foreignness are the best heart-forming experiences hands down!

I do need to warn you that loving foreign things is not very American—to our own shame! I do believe, however, that it is very Christian.  Perhaps we should take Paul’s words more seriously when searching our own hearts to discern our attitudes toward foreigners:

“Remember that at that time you were separate . . . excluded from citizenship  . . . and foreigners . . . But now you who once were far away  have been brought near through the blood of Christ . . . .Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people!” (Ephesians 2:12-19).

As God loved us foreigners, so we should love other foreigners—and teach our kids to do so also. By doing so, we will certainly see a heart for the mission of God grow in them.

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For over thirty years, Sherrylee and I  have been dealing with parents who thought that their student’s desire to do an LST summer mission trip was at best just a one-time fling, and at worst, a frivolous, extravagant indication of their child’s immaturity.

A large number of our summer workers have come home wanting to change their majors from Accounting to International Business, or from Computer Science to Ministry—just exactly what their parents were afraid of!

Do you really want your child to grow up to be a missionary? Here are the obvious reasons why parents do not encourage this desire in their children.

  • No money in it.  In fact, you become dependent on the charity of others.
  • Not a success-oriented career.
  • No upward mobility.
  • Takes you away from the family. And what about the grandkids knowing the grandparents?
  • Makes you misfits! Everyone knows that missionaries don’t really fit into mainstream America after returning home.
  • Bad for your children. They grow up not speaking English, not playing baseball, and maybe even vegetarians.
  • It’s not safe. Stay home and live in Oklahoma City or Dallas or Los Angeles or New York City, where you’ll be safe.

I love the Old Testament story of Hannah, who can’t have children, so she prays—so hard that the observing priest thinks she is drunk.  Then she does something pretty preposterous: she vows to God that if given a son, she will “give him to the Lord all the days of his life”(1 Samuel 1:11).

If she hadn’t been quite so rash with her vows, she would have realized that she was giving away what she so desperately wanted—but I don’t think she saw it all that way!  When Samuel was very young, his mother took him to the priest and gave him into the ministry.  I’m sure there was pain in the moment, but the first words out of her mouth are:

My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. . . . There is none holy like the Lord…there is no rock like our God (1 Samuel 2:1ff)

Hannah visits her young son each year, bringing him new clothes to wear. Samuel served the priest Eli humbly for many years until one day the Lord called his name! Yes, that is what happens when we raise children to be servants of God.  They are called–and not to that which we may have planned for them.  Samuel does not become high priest. Samuel does not become king over Israel. Samuel does not become commanding general of the armies of Israel.  Scripture says,

And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:19-20).

Here’s what I glean from this story that will help you have a child with a heart for God’s mission:

  • Recognize that your child is a gift from God, that he/she belongs to God, and that if God had not answered your prayers, you would have nothing!
  • Having recognized that your children belong to God, don’t hold on to them as if they are yours. Give them back to His service at a very young age. I don’t know exactly what this means search for any answer about our children.
  • Teach your children to serve the Lord by placing them in the hands of those who do serve the Lord. (1 Samuel 1:11) Learning to serve is almost always the first step, not learning to lead.
  • Support your children in their service! (1 Samuel 2:19)
  • Teach your children to hear the voice of the Lord calling their name! And if you can’t do that, then bring people into their lives who can! (1 Samuel 3:1-14)

So the first step in helping your children have hearts for the mission of God is to search your own heart as a parent!  What precious item belonging to God are you trying to keep for yourself? Are your desires for your children covered in prayer by the words, “not my will, but Yours be done?”

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You are not the preacher. You are not the head of anything at church. But you have a great ministry just started, or a great ministry idea that you would like to see get traction and grow.  What do you do now? Here are a few tips from our experience of trying to get Let’s Start Talking established in lots of churches. This is what we have learned from watching people enthusiastic about short-term missions try to work with their home congregation.

  1. Don’t even start unless you are committed to doing whatever it takes to succeed yourself! Lots of people want to start things for other people to do. Just forget it! You should be able to accomplish the ministry yourself—at some level—or you will never get others to buy into it. For LST, this means that if you are not willing to go, you will not be successful in getting other people to go.
  2. Try to get the blessing of church leadership from the very beginning. If the preacher and/or church leaders are opposed to your ministry idea, it is not likely to survive. It might possibly survive if they are indifferent, but the chances are much better if you have their blessing.  Notice, I said blessing, not commitment. See below!
  3. Do not expect to get leadership commitment to your ministry until you have proven that it will be successful! LST actually made this mistake in our Centurion project which launched about three years ago. We asked churches to commit to a goal of sending 100 workers with LST over a five-year period—with no financial commitment whatsoever.  Although a few churches committed, we were absolutely shocked at how resistant most churches were to making any kind of a commitment at all.  We have since modified our approach, so that we only ask for permission to test run LST in their congregation to see if their members have a good experience with it.  Church leaders are much more open to us with this approach.
  4. Don’t reinvent the wheel! Join with established ministries who have proven track records and who can help jumpstart your ministry. So you think your teens should do mission trips to learn to share their faith! Rather than asking your youth minister or some parents to plan and organize such a trip, why not ask a ministry like LST YoungFriends to help you, since we have been planning short-term missions, including special ones for teen groups, for thirty years! If you want to start something for the poor, why not contact existing ministries and partner with them–or after-school programs, or abused women, or English As A Second Language outreach??
  5. Be spiritually prepared to be ignored. If I were a church leader and if I knew what kind of transformation happens to every person who spends two weeks on an LST project, I would do everything in my power to make it possible for every person in the church I was leading to participate—there, I said it as boldly and honestly as I can.  However, the fact is that a very small percentage of Christians really want to engage their faith as actively as most ministries require. If you, as the promoter of your ministry, let the massive indifference discourage you, then you are defeated! You must be willing to do your work without recognition, without popularity, and without any other reward than the smile of the Father!  If you need more than this, you will give up!
  6. God has His own schedule for growth! I love flowers—Sherrylee calls them annuals and perennials and I have a vague idea what that means. But I really love flowering trees. I love the blooms on our fruit trees, I love the beautiful white flowers of the Bradford pear trees, and I really love the Oklahoma redbuds!! The time from seed to bloom is very different for these plants. In reality, only God knows the proper time and season for your ministry to bloom. You can choose to acknowledge God’s sovereignty here—or you can try to set your own schedule. Occasionally, we may be able to hothouse something into rapid growth—but these efforts are rarely long-lived. I recommend you let God be in control.
  7. If you are called by God to a ministry, you will never be truly happy until you are answering the call—so get on with it!  I love the story of Jeremiah, called by God to be a prophet to the nations, who yells at God and says, “You deceived me! I did what you called me to do and I’m having a terrible time! In fact, I’ve tried to quit several times . . . but I couldn’t because your word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones–and I can’t keep it in.” (Jer. 20:7-9)

One of the biggest problems ministries have is surviving the exhilarating start-up phase.  I’ll give you some suggestions about that in the next post.

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Consider the lilies of the field!

Just one month ago, Let’s Start Talking began our annual general fundraising drive.  We had approximately five weeks left in our fiscal year and were $135,000 short of our 2010 budget projections for fund raising—a very serious amount for LST.

We had a multi-pronged approach for reaching our fundraising goals: We all committed to prayerfully ask God; Sherrylee committed to calling all general donors (not worker donors) from the last two years; the staff committed to calling all our former LST workers who had been out of college at least five years, and we would ask the guests attending our Harvest Call Benefit Dinner on September 25th in Fort Worth to give. Our need/goal  was much greater than we had every even dreamed of attempting before.

By God’s grace and mercy, I’m happy to say that we received enough donations to cover the entire ministry shortfall!  I’d like to share with you, not how-to’s, but lessons remembered and learned in this month of intense fund raising!

  • God is rich! He has all the money in the world. If we look at money has something that belongs to us, then we should worry about the hard economic times many of our supporters are facing! If we understand that God is the Creator and Donor of everything we receive, then we and the people we ask for funds are just caretakers/managers/temporary users of His things!  And He is not short of funds!
  • God is grace-full! The core idea in the word grace is that of a gift!  When we ask people for gifts, we are asking for grace. If they give us a gift, they extend grace to us. If God is the First Donor of every good gift (James 1:17), then His generosity is the same as His graciousness—and He is rich in grace (Ephesians 2:7), full of grace (John 1:14), there is no end to His generosity!
  • Asking is part of God’s plan. I know we hate to ask, but this must be our problem because over and over, God has told us to ask!  Listen to these explicit instructions from God:

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Matthew 21:22

“Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:24

“We have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him”. 1 John 3:21-22.

Maybe our problem is that we have gotten into the habit of asking for ourselves.

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)

  • Offering others an opportunity to be blessed is a wonderful act of Christian love! Donating is a special opportunity to receive God’s blessing, if we really believe  Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)

A Choice Between Fear and Confidence!

The economy is poor, everyone’s budget is tight, our home church just launched a huge capital campaign, the economic future is unpredictable—these are all good reasons to fear asking Christians for special gifts to meet big goals.

God is rich, God is generous, and God is good—these are all better reasons for not being afraid to ask Christians for special gifts to meet big goals.

The last month of asking for LST and the astounding goodness of God in fulfilling all of His generous promises has confirmed for me again that fear is a sin, not a choice.

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Oklahoma Christian team 1982

The first three summers of Let’s Start Talking (1981-83) were the years when God continued to teach us how to do what we have done now for thirty years.  For instance, the second summer we wanted to give the OC students who went with us T-shirts to help advertise and attract Readers while they were in Germany. The LST sweatshirts/T-shirts now have an iconic place in our history with a few people who have whole closets full.

Well, the first shirts were a mustard yellow (YUK!) and said on the front, “Ask me, if I speak English!” Sherrylee and I blame each other, but it was probably my idea.  After a week or two in Germany, dutifully wearing their T-shirts whenever possible, some of the girls came to us and said that they didn’t want to wear the shirts any longer. I couldn’t understand why until they explained that the “ask me, if I speak English” sentence was written right across the front chest area, so it made all the men and boys stare at their chests!!  That was the end of our first marketing fiasco.

As I mentioned in the last post, we carried actual Bibles the first year, the New Easy-To-Read version published by World Bible Translation Center. It was a version originally prepared for deaf people, but perfect for what we were wanting to do because the syntax and vocabulary were approximately fourth grade level.  These were the Bibles that during the second summer, we literally cut passages out of Luke, pasted them onto sheets of paper, then photocopied the newly created pages in order to make the first “workbooks.” I don’t really think we had any questions or vocabulary with the texts those first summers, but I’m not sure.

We chose to use Luke as our text from the very beginning for some fairly obvious reasons, We were committed to starting with the story of Jesus , so first of all, Luke was more narrative—more of a complete story, from Jesus’ birth to his death.  Also,

  • Matthew alludes to the Old Testament too often, and we didn’t want to have to continually drop back into Jewish history with our Readers.
  • Mark was just too brief and left out some of the chronological story—like Jesus’ birth.
  • And John was too abstract, too theological for people who had no faith.
  • Luke had an obvious sequel (Acts), so we could already see the path for continuity.

For three summers (1981-83), we took 11-13 students from Oklahoma Christian. Divided into two, later three teams, they spent the summer in the northern German (then West German) cities of Braunschweig, Bremen, Hannover, and Cologne, working with the mission churches there that Sherrylee and I had been most familiar with.  Our family would usually stay in Hannover as our base, but visit each of the teams once each week to check on them and encourage them.

We were pretty content with this pattern and had no further grand design or vision, but God had more in mind.  In the fall of 1983, one of the OC students Amy Keesee (Gordon) who had gone with us each year, began graduate work at Oklahoma State University, fifty miles away from us.  She called one evening in the fall and asked if she could continue to go with us, and we agreed, of course. Then she asked if she could recruit a team from the great campus ministry program that the Stillwater church had had at OSU for many years. After a little conversation, we agreed—and the first embryonic division had occurred! In the summer of 1984, instead of 12 workers, we had 28. Instead of two sites, we had five! Instead of approximately 100 readers, we had 280.

Oklahoma State University team

With this one additional school sending workers, the potential for sharing the Story had more than doubled!  We began to get a sense of what could be . . . . In reality, God was just beginning to stretch our rubber bands.

Factoid: The first printed workbooks (white covers with the LST logo on the front) were designed and illustrated by OC professor Michael O’Keefe. He is personally responsible for the two little characters with spiky hair that are still LST icons—and still unnamed. (It has always been a fear of mine that someone would call them Mark and Sherrylee and it would stick forever!!)

In 1986, two former workers Kurt and Marilyn Siebold were living in California and wanted to go with us again, so we built our first church team around them with members of the Culver Palms Church of Christ.

Another first in 1986 was the first LST team outside of Germany. Kyle and Susan Bratcher had some history in Austria and wanted to go there, so we contacted our friends in Graz, Austria, and worked out the arrangements for the Bratcher’s team to work with the Graz church for the summer.

In the fall of 1986, Sherry and I were teaching a class on our new way of working in Germany at the World Mission Workshop at Columbia Christian in Portland, Oregon.  Two Pepperdine students walked through our classroom, looking for a session on Italy, but heard something about Germany, so they stopped, listened, and were hooked.  Ian Morgan and his future wife Lisa went back to Pepperdine and recruited the first team from Pepperdine—which has continued to be a great partnership.

With Pepperdine now fully on board, the fledgling LST program jumped from approximately 20 workers each summer to over 40 by the summer of 1988. Amy Keesee had moved from OSU to San Luis Obispo, CA, so now we had teams from there as well. Pete and Janine Brazle began to share responsibilities with Sherrylee and me for overseeing the summer teams. They took the southern four teams and we took the northern four—the birth of LST regional representatives.

First Church team from Culver Palms Church of Christ

By the summers of 1988 and 1989, LST was working in Italy and the Netherlands as well.  A Dutch family (Hans and Ans van Erp) had invited us to help them start a new church in Eindhoven, a church which is still growing and flourishing! And approximately 60 workers were going each summer.

People were beginning to ask us if we were trying to do too much. Sherrylee and I always responded that we were just trying to manage what God put in front of us. In fact, in 1986, we almost left OC to return to the European mission field with European Christian College. I had finished my doctorate and was invited to become the dean of that school—which we agreed to do if they could afford to bring on a family of five!  That door shut very firmly about the time all of these new doors were opening with LST, so we began to see God’s plan a little better—or so we thought!

We never dreamed what God would do in the next 24 months in the Soviet Union. No one suspected that the Iron Curtain was about to be torn down and what opportunities that would present for Let’s Start Talking.

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