Archive for the ‘Traveling Thoughts’ Category

marseilleOne month ago today, I started this particular trip through Europe on behalf of Let’s Start Talking. I’ve tried to avoid making the posts during this time simple travel logs, but rather I’ve tried to record reflections as I’ve traveled.

Today is different though!  I have to tell you about the wonderful day Sherrylee and I had yesterday in Marseille, France.

I began the morning scavenging the neighborhood outside our hotel for croissants and coffee for breakfast, trying to beat the $20/person cost of breakfast in the hotel. I found a beautiful little Pattisserie/Chocolateria just about a block away where I got the croissants, but I had to get the coffee in the hotel because none of the little “bars” in the area had takeaway cups for their coffee. Still it was much less expensive this way—and much more interesting.

Craig and Katie Young, missionaries in Marseille for 23 years, picked us up and took us to a little eating place in downtown Marseille. I hardly remember what we ate though because we had the greatest conversation with them!  Of course, we talked about their LST project that they are having this summer, but the talk quickly slipped over to life—as it often does, we find, with missionaries.

It is not really the creature comforts, the lifestyle, or anything material about “home” that missionaries really sacrifice when they move to a foreign country (and most would be embarrassed even using the word sacrifice), it’s the deep relationships with other Christians and opportunities to share with people who have had similar experiences that they miss.

To whom do they turn when they want to talk about what it will be like to have a baby in their new home, to start school with their six-year-old, to face high school years in a country that you have never experienced high school in??

What do you do when your children start leaving home and going off to college in America?  What do you do with elderly parents when you live a continent away?  What do you do when your children are seriously dating people they’ve met, but you’ve never been closer than 5000 miles to the person they are falling in love with?

To whom do they turn when suddenly their body starts slowing down: is this normal, is this allowed for missionaries?  How do they explain that to their sponsoring church?  “I need to do less,” might not go over so well? “I need to come to the States more often to see my children—or my grandchildren!”  Will their supporters go for that? Our mission partners are leaving—now what are we supposed to do? Stay by ourselves? Start over somewhere else?  And who can they talk to about these things?

These are the kinds of conversations Sherrylee and I have with missionaries all over the world, and because we are pretty gray now (although Sherrylee doesn’t show it J), we’ve been through some of it and have talked with others who have been through most of it, God can use us as listening ears and sounding boards for these saints who have served most of their lives abroad.  We had that kind of conversation with Craig and Katie, from which we were blessed and hope they were too.

During that conversation, however, we realized that we had the opportunity to use the afternoon to train the young people in their Christians On Mission program to be used in the LST follow-up, so hastily Craig called them together and Sherrylee and I spent an hour with about six of their students, teaching them that the Word is the Teacher and that they are the Illustration and what the ramifications of those two principles are for working with unbelievers.

Craig and Katie started Christians On Mission for French young people, not as preacher training, but as training to be a strong Christian. Max and Phillippe Dauner also teach in the program. Currently they have students from the US, from Tanzania, and from France.

Immediately following our hour of training, we went to their Children’s hour, where about 20 kids met to sing and hear Miss Katie tell them about Easter eggs—and the real story of Easter.  During the last part of the hour, Miss Sherrylee got to tell them all about LST and getting their parents interested in practicing their English when the American students are here in the summer.

Between the Children’s hour and the Ladies Bible study that Sherrylee was going to speak to, we had 30 minutes.  Sherrylee had accidentally wandered into a neighbor’s house, thinking it was part of the church building. . . . ., but it turned out that this neighbor had been baptized a couple of years ago, so as Craig was explaining to the neighbor why Sherrylee had walked into his house, he invited us in for tea and cookies. Khered (?) is his name and he is Algerian.  He and his wife want to return someday to Algeria, which could be a great opportunity to carry the Good News with him.  He says he is the first Christian in his family in over one thousand years!  Think about that!

Sherrylee talked to the women’s Bible study about LST, then Craig took us to a little hole-in-the-wall kind of “snack bar” named Ishtar!  The owner is Iraqi, an Iraqi Christian—Chaldean Christian.  Where do those words take you?  To Ur, or the Babylonians, or where?

In broken French, a smattering of German, and almost no English we talked with him and his brother-in-law and a couple of other people about the millions of Christians that had been in Iraq and protected under Saddam Hussein, but who were immediately persecuted and killed after the Iraqi War by the Islamic fundamentalist until today there are only a few hundred thousand left, mostly in the north among the Kurds—at least that is the way it was reported last night by these Iraqis to us.

As we ate, one of them led us in prayer and then said the Lord’s Prayer in Aramean—the same language Jesus used.  It was a special moment. With the flat bread and the wine on the table, it felt like communion.

We fell into bed last night, having said goodby to Craig and Katie, but thanking God for them, for the saints here in Marseille, and for the blessings we had received from Algeria and Iraq.

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26,27

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LondonmapOne of the worst travel mistakes I ever made was to rent a car instead of using public transportation.  Whether you are traveling for pleasure, for missions, or for business, one of the big questions you must solve is whether to depend on local transportation–tuktuks, taxis, buses, subways, trains–or to be independent and drive yourself in a rented vehicle.  Let me give you a few things to think about to help you make the right decision.

Don’t try to save money at the expense of safety or the completion of your mission. This was my big mistake in London.  It was 1979, and we were a family of five, forced to fly through London on our way from Germany to the US. Not only did we have to spend the night, but we had to change airports. At that time, all of the flights from Europe landed at London Heathrow and all of the flights to the States departed from London Gatwick.

We had always flown directly to and from Frankfurt before, so this was our first time to fly through London. Even though we had lived in Europe for eight years, London was very much a foreign country to us.  About all I knew was that the two airports were about 30 miles apart–so how difficult could it be to move from one to the other?

I made two bad decisions and they were both in an attempt to save money!  The first was to book a hotel about 10 miles away from Gatwick. Airport hotels for a family of five are always expensive–sometimes outrageous!  I had found a nice country hotel in a small village south of Gatwick that was quite reasonable, but, of course, it did not offer an airport shuttle or any other convenient way for a family with three small children and their luggage to get back and forth.

The decision to rent a car was confirmed when I found out how much it cost to take the bus from Heathrow to Gatwick. To rent a car was about half the price–and that would solve the problem of getting from the country hotel to Gatwick as well.  Easy decision!

We landed at Heathrow in the late afternoon and our misadventure began with the discovery that the car rental place was off airport, so we had to move the family and luggage by bus anyway to where the cars were.  (But think of all the money we were saving!!)  Then we got the car and discovered that it was about two sizes smaller than I had expected–and was a hatchback instead of a station wagon. Fortunately, these were the days before car seats were required, or we never would have made it. We literally had to load into the back seat and have the children sit on top of the suitcases to get all of us and the luggage in.

Did I forget to tell you that they drive on the wrong side of the road in England?? I did know that and just decided it couldn’t be that hard.  But did you know they also put the steering wheel, the gear shift, and the rearview mirror on the wrong side of the car too?  Yes, of course, it’s a stick shift! I’m sure it made the car rental a lot cheaper!!

So with Sherrylee navigating with a map–pre GPS times–from the left front seat, the kids having a great time climbing around on luggage in the back seat, and me about as tense as I ever get, off we go from Heathrow to our hotel near Gatwick.

Within two minutes, because of not being able to accurately estimate where the left front corner of the car was, I nicked an innocently parked car’s bumper.  I stopped and left my phone number on the car window, but it really was just a small scuff mark on the bumper, so I never heard from the owner.

Nonetheless, it scared me–maybe scarred me– but what choice did I have but to go on.  No one had told me about traffic in the evening on the Motorway around London!  So what was just a 30-mile trip took a couple of hours, with us often standing still because of rush hour traffic.

Well, I don’t remember anything else from that trip, but it did teach me some things about travel in foreign countries that I can share with you to make your trip easier.

  • Don’t save money in the wrong places. Both your own safety and successfully getting from one place to another is worth a lot of money. I have made that trip between Heathrow and Gatwick many times now and have never rented a car to do it again.
  • Use public transportation if it meets your needs. That’s not always the case. Sometimes you have to move around faster than buses or subways can, but if you are not in a hurry and if you don’t have lots of luggage to manage, then it might be an option.
  • Don’t forget to think about safety issues when traveling. In many countries it can be dangerous to you to have an accident involving someone’s livestock, much less a person. If you rent, know what to do for your own safety in case of any kind of accident.  If you choose public transportation, especially buses and subways–then you have to be concerned with petty crime–pickpockets, bus thieves, etc.–seldom life threatening, but certainly disconcerting and something to be avoided.
  • Taxis —know their company’s reputation before you assume that they are reputable and safe. Some countries taxis are cheap and safe and by far the best choice. Other countries, only certain taxis are safe. You should almost always know what the cost of your trip will be before you get in the taxi.
  • Alternatives–we have often found that private car services are good options. I’m not talking about traveling in limousines, rather just a private car service with your own driver. You can sometimes rent them for the day, but often we just book a trip to the airport or wherever we need to go. This is an especially good option in places where taxis are not particularly trustworthy.
  • Car rental – Renting your own car still makes sense in places where  you feel you can drive safely with confidence, where traffic is predictable, where you have to travel long distances, or you need a car for a longer period of time–if you have taken all my other points into consideration.  I would also stick to the major car rental companies. The smaller ones are fine if everything goes right, but if anything goes wrong, you’ll be happier with the big companies.

I hope these tips help you in your travels.  My hope is  you won’t be waking up in a cold sweat 35 years later when you dream of your car rental experiences.

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eisenhower librarySherrylee and I just returned Saturday from a two-week road trip vacation—which is why this blog station has been silent for a while!  For the first week we were in Kansas, Iowa, and Minnesota looking up dead relatives . . . if you know what I mean.

I must admit that I find it great fun to dig around in court records and libraries, even the walk through cemeteries, looking for clues to how my great- and great-great- grandparents lived, why they moved from one place to another, how they met their spouses and lived their lives. It’s certainly more fun and entertaining that watching fake people’s lives on the soaps!  I guess this is my own version of reality TV!!

The second week of our trip we drove across Minnesota and South Dakota to Mt. Rushmore—a beautiful drive this time of year and an impressive monument.  While Sherrylee searched the antique stores of Rapid City for treasures, I drove over to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, a place I’ve been attracted to since seeing Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

OK, I will also confess that driving back to Rapid City from Devil’s Tower, I stopped in both Sundance, Wyoming, where the Sundance Kid took his nickname because he had been jailed there, as well as Deadwood, SD, where Wild Bill Hickok held aces and eights for the last time. I don’t find it very inspiring that people leave half-empty whiskey bottles and old playing cards on his grave.

From South Dakota, we started home, but first had a very important stop in Abilene, Kansas. Here’s the story:

Shortly after President Reagan died in June 2004, Sherrylee and I visited his library and museum in Simi Valley, California.  Our visit was especially meaningful because our memories of his funeral there were still quite vivid, but we were amazed at how well done and interesting the museum itself was—and that was even before they had the retired Air Force One on display there.

Some friends of our try to visit all the classic roller coasters in the U.S..Others travel to and tour baseball stadiums. Some of our dearest friends set a goal of seeing all 34 Vermeer paintings—I don’t know if they include the disputed paintings or not—but I think they have or will soon complete this fancy.

Sherrylee and I decided we wanted to see all of the presidential libraries/museums.  There were only twelve at the time, but now there are thirteen official presidential libraries.

Franklin D. Roosevelt established the first presidential library in 1939 as a repository for his papers. In addition, he donated part of his Hyde Park, NY, estate to house them. Harry Truman decided he wanted to do the same thing and so a pattern developed that was codified by Congress, first in 1955 in the Presidential Libraries Act, then even more firmly established in 1978 and 1986.  The result is a wonderful set of museums, strung like pearls across the United States, literally from coast to coast, operated and maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration.  Here is the list and location:

Herbert Hoover Library West Branch, Iowa
Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Hyde Park, New York
Harry S. Truman Library Independence, Missouri
Dwight D. Eisenhower Library Abilene, Kansas
John F. Kennedy Library Boston, Massachusetts
Lyndon B. Johnson Library Austin, Texas
Richard M. Nixon Library Yorba Linda, California
Gerald R. Ford Library Ann Arbor/Grand Rapids, Michigan
Jimmy Carter Library Atlanta, Georgia
Ronald Reagan Library Simi Valley, California
George H. W. Bush Library College Station, Texas
William J. Clinton Library Little Rock, Arkansas
George W. Bush Library Dallas, Texas


Now you know the reason for our important stop in Abilene, Kansas.  Our visit to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library means I have visited all of the libraries.  Sherrylee still lacks two, and I’m sure we will eventually see those two together.

The presidential libraries are like heaven will be!  The full story of every president’s life is revealed.

  • I bet you do not know what an extraordinary generous man Herbert Hoover was, a man who spent much of his life and personal fortune helping the hungry and homeless.
  • I bet you didn’t know that George H. W. Bush was raised as a man of deep faith, and that he served as an elder in his church.
  • I bet you don’t know that Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, was raised by a pacifist mother, and that he hated war!  He said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

I say the libraries are like heaven because the stories of these men’s lives are told to show what led them to greatness and to show the good that they have done with the lives they were given.  When essential to their story, their failures are admitted—Watergate, Bay of Pigs, Great Depression, etc.—but when you get to the end of the museum, you always feel like you have been in the presence of someone who cared deeply about his country and his fellow citizens and who was wholly committed to upholding his oath as president.

After commanding millions of soldiers in war and sitting in the most powerful seat in the world for eight years, Dwight D. Eisenhower was buried in a regulation army casket in a chapel in Abilene, Kansas.  That simple casket is the fate of all of us—great or small.

Presidential libraries might be like Heaven on Judgment Day.  Because of the justice of God, our lives will be openly displayed, but because of He is full of mercy and grace, most prominently displayed will be how God has worked the days of our lives together for good along with those good works He prepared for us to do.  Our sinfulness is acknowledged, but overshadowed by the love and light of Jesus, so that He will be glorified when He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


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Chinese Grandmother with GrandchildIn 1925, George and Sally Benson took a “slow boat to China” one month after they were married.  With $35/month support, they were determined to be missionaries.  After skirmishes with the emerging Communist Party in China, they left for a short while for the Philippines, but courageously returned to China as soon as they could and began the Canton Bible School where among other things they taught English using the Bible as the textbook.  The Bensons had learned Chinese using the Gospel of Mark as the textbook, so they found this to be a culturally appropriate and effective method of evangelism.

I just returned from China, where I visited five cities where Let’s Start Talking either works or has been invited to work, helping Chinese people with their English using the Gospel of Luke as the text.  One of the cities I visited was Guangzhou—formerly Canton—where the Bensons worked almost a century ago.

Again I heard the “grandmother stories.”  Everyone who has done any work in China in recent years has heard some version of this same story many times.  Probably a Chinese university student or young professional says, I’m a Christian.  My parents are not, but my grandmother was, and she told me the Christian stories, so when I went away from home and met some Christians, I was immediately attracted to them.

Throughout the centuries, Christianity would thrive for a period of time, then be driven to extinction by anti-western, anti-foreign rulers.  Some form of early Christianity in China is documented as early as 635 A.D. The Jesuits began to penetrate China in the 16th century but were later banned because of a Roman church ruling that Chinese folk rituals amounted to idolatry.

Protestants list Robert Morrison, sent by the London Missionary Society, as the first missionary to China in 1806, but within two decades Europeans were (again) sentenced to death for spreading Christianity in China.  Not until the period after 1860 did Christian missionaries return to China, but because of China’s opening to the west, the missionaries then came in droves!

In 1865, J. Hudson Taylor established the China Inland Mission and became what some historians have called the greatest missionary of all times after the Apostle Paul. I mention the CIM because the Bensons were advised on how to begin their work in China by CIM missionaries Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Smith.

Many Christian missionaries were massacred during the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901.  Not long afterwards the Bensons and the first missionaries from Churches of Christ courageously entered China.  This wave of missionaries had a window of just about ten years before the first conflicts of what became WWII broke out and threatened their lives.  Some sent their families to the Philippines and stayed, but most left China.

In 1949 Mao’s Communist won control of China and Christians were no longer welcome, neither foreign nor Chinese.  What pockets of Christians remained in China even through these earliest Mao years were further purged during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 when all forms of religious expression were banned and severely persecuted.

These are the years of the Grandmothers!  The 1930s-60s were the years when young girls (and I’m sure there were some grandfathers also!!) who had been raised in Christian families hung on to their faith very quietly while their lives were in danger.

These were the young people taught at the Canton Bible School by George and Sally Benson and all those teachers in the 1930s who stayed in China as war became imminent.

I worshipped in a family church with 75 university students in Guangzhou (old Canton) last Sunday. Scripture was read, songs of praise were sung, and prayers were prayed. One young lady said she was ready to be baptized. When I asked how many family churches like this were in Guangzhou, the preacher just waved his hands to say too many to count! 

While the growth rate of Christianity in China today is breathtaking and while the government seems to be aware but not terribly concerned, surely the history of Christianity in China reminds us that there have been many windows like this through the centuries, but those windows have most often been slammed tightly shut at some point.

  • We should earnestly pray that this window stays open and that the Chinese Christians remain free to follow Jesus.
  • We should give thanks for those early missionaries like the Bensons who took great risks, sometimes gave their lives, to introduce, and re-introduce the Good News for China.
  • And we especially should give thanks for the Grandmothers, often the result of the work of those missionaries, who not only held on to their faith in direst circumstances, but then passed it on—often secretly—to their children and/or grandchildren.

The Christians in China, those who go to China, those who today work in China, and those who pray for China have a great cloud of witnesses who have lived and worked there before—for centuries–who spur us on!

And we can never forget:  “For God so loved the world . . . .:

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chinese_busI wrote this about a week ago, but China does not allow WordPress on the internet, so I could not publish while there. My apologies for being absent so long.

Normally, I’m the kind of traveler that likes to know where I’m going.  Before we drive away on a trip of any kind, I usually have all the arrangements made:  all the hotels booked, the rental cars reserved, and, on a work trip, I like to have the meeting times set.

Now, having said that, I’ve learned that flexibility is a great quality, so it does not upset me in the least if meeting times are changed or the rental place has a different car for me than what I rented—which is often the case.

In spite of not only my compulsive efforts, but those of a very detail conscious staff, on my current China trip, one leg of my international flight was cancelled which required a total re-route and cost me a night and half a day in an already tight schedule, two of the hotels where I was to stay have not found a record of my reservations, and what was sold to me as a three-hour bus ride was much closer to five hours—but so what!  I have not slept on the street yet, and I have met and talked with all the people whom I expected to visit with so far.

We need to expect the unexpected and to plan for the unplanned. If we don’t, we haven’t given God very much room to work.

This trip to China was relatively last minute as it became obvious to us at LST that most of our relationships with sites in China were experiencing some transition, mostly because of change of personnel in China.

Just at the last minute, our staff person who receives all the invitations worldwide from sites who want to invite LST teams said to me, “Don’t you want to go to see B_______ in H+++ since he has been inviting LST to come for two years?”

There were many reasons not to visit him.  His city was far out of the way and would eat up at least two full days of my very short trip.  He is not a full-time missionary, rather a temporary teacher of English. He was not an American, not from a church with which we have any connections, and he did not really have a church or house church even where he was.

I don’t know why I said yes. Nothing about his situation as I knew it suggested that it would be productive to go there.

But his emails had been so passionate, so full of faith in God’s working.  It became for me one of those situations where you would like to say no, but to do so would violate the spirit in you and probably the Spirit in you.  So I said yes.

It meant leaving Beijing just 17 hours after arriving, getting up at 5:30am to catch a 7:30 flight, flying three hours and then getting on a Chinese bus for five hours, sitting in seats made for Chinese people—if you know what I mean—and listening to Chinese music videos the whole way!

On the way, the brother who invited me told me that he had lost his job at the school where he was teaching English and that his visa to stay in China was therefore pending, so he might be going home soon (did I mention that he was a foreigner in China?)

Great!  So now I very literally started praying that God would just do something to make this trip meaningful because I did not see any signs of a “plan.”

When we got off the bus after the five-hour ride, we caught a taxi to go to the school that had let him go. The taxi driver took on two other passengers, then drove the wrong direction with the trunk of the car open and my suitcase just wedged between two others.  My friend fussed at him in very broken Chinese, and finally just persuaded him to let us out, so that we could catch another taxi which would take us to his old school as were the original plans before we were “shanghaied”!

It may seem funny to be going to his old school to meet with the administrators who had fired him, but apparently his bosses got friendly again with him when he said the American “director” was coming to visit.  We spent an hour with the leaders of that school, but even though it was very cordial, I did not see any possibility for LST to work with them.

I was very tired and ready to call this leg of my trip a bust . . .  when God began to create the unexpected.

My new friend wanted me to meet the parents of children whom he tutored privately. In fact, one particular family arranged a private dinner for several of us during which I found out that my friend is a VIP among a fairly large group of pretty influential people in this community—totally outside of the school that had let him go.  And these people LOVE him!  So when he introduces me to them, they open their doors to LST immediately!

One of the parents had arranged a room for about 20 people for a get-together with any other parents that would like to meet “the American”—and we had 50 show up. I told them about LST, that we used the Bible. I showed them our materials, and all I can say is that this group of Chinese parents appeared to be as eager for what we offer as any group I have ever seen!

As far as I know only one Chinese person in the room claimed to be a Christian, but when I talked about having an English camp for parents and kids, they started clapping!  One father was a Chinese government official and he specifically offered his services in helping if we are able to organize such a camp.

As I hope you can tell, I left this small Chinese city of only 5 million people—still not knowing exactly what God wants us to do there—but having met some wonderful people whom He loves.

I continue to learn that it is not so important to know exactly what God is going to do; rather it is important to open up our plans enough so that God can do whatever He wants to with us.

Anyone want to open up a little time for God to do something special with—whatever He wants to do with it?

Anyone want to go do a summer camp in China with LST next summer?

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20131122_174550I wrote last week about the wonderful experience we had with our granddaughter Anna the last week we were in Europe for LST. Again, taking your grandkids with you when you do mission work is truly a formative memory for them. You can leave them no greater legacy than to show them what faithfully doing God’s work can be.

But there are some tips I can give you for making your trip more rewarding for both you and your grandchildren.  Let me just say that Sherrylee and I took our three children with us every summer of their lives until they were college-aged, we have sent many other families with children through LST, and now we have begun taking grandkids with us, so we have lots of experience to share with you.

Tip #1            –           Make sure they are old enough.  If they are your own children, you can take them at every age, but for grandkids, they need to be able to function for an extended time away from their parents. In my experience, 11 or 12-years-old is about as early as you want to start. In fact you have a window between 11 and 14 when it is probably ideal.

  • They may need to be old enough to fly by themselves.  Our two granddaughters both flew individually as unaccompanied minors across the Atlantic by themselves. Of course, a flight attendant always escorts them on and off the plane, but they still had to negotiate the nine-hour flight on their own.
  • At this age, they should be able to entertain themselves (reading, listening to music, video games, etc) when you are busy, but they can also visit with and relate to adults—especially at meals.
  • They also are old enough to try new foods—more or less—and when they don’t like what is served, they don’t make a big fuss, but wait until later to catch up.
  • They are old enough to understand and manage their own jetlag.
  • They are old enough to want to make their own memories, by taking pictures, keeping a journal, or collecting postcards.
  • They are old enough to carry their own luggage and keep up with their own things. (If you teach them to travel light, this shouldn’t be a problem.)

Tip #2            –           Make your plans early enough

  • Their Mom and Dad need to be fully on board with the plans, of course.
  • Determine early on who is going to pay for what.  With ours, the parents paid for the flights and the extra site-seeing costs. We provided ground transportation, lodging, and most meals. Since the kids slept in the room with us, that was rarely an extra expense. Since we almost always rent a car and drive ourselves, that too was no extra expense.  And until they are teens, they really don’t eat that much either.

Tip #3            –           Make sure everybody knows and understands that it is a mission trip             and that the work comes first! 

  • For our gkids, that means that they travel on our itinerary to places we must go and they see the people that we need to see. Our time with them is not built around showing them Europe.

Tip #4 –          Of course you try to squeeze into the schedule something especially                           interesting for the gkids.

  • For our first foray with a grandkid, we spent an hour in Ghent, walking the pedestrian zone before our meeting with the missionaries. Then we stopped at the Heidelberg castle for a walk on the grounds, not even a tour, on our way to the airport in Frankfurt the day before we flew back. The next year with her we planned one day out of eight for an outing in Paris.
  • This year we planned one day out of nine for sightseeing, so we drove to Amsterdam and saw Anne Frank’s house and museum and then went to Zaanse Schans (about 30 minutes further down the road) to a chocolate museum and an open air dutch village full of working windmills. The one other touristy thing we did with her was the Night watchman tour one afternoon in Rothenburg, where we were attending the Euro-American conference for three days.
  • You can sometimes get free layovers in London or other great sight-seeing places either going or coming home. We did that this year, which gave us half a day and an evening in London. We just saw the London Tower and Phantom—but she loved it.
  • Of course these were all fun and special for them, but I hope you can see that we made a balanced effort to do something special for the kids, while not really taking anything away from the work we were there to do.

Tip #5 –          Don’t be afraid to go one on one with your grandkid!

  • We are tempted sometimes to take two at a time, or to let them invite a friend—but I’d suggest you resist that and just take one!  Each one will have their own story then, and you will know that you have made an impact on that one child’s life.  If they are alone with you, then your experiences together will be yours. If they have another friend with them, you will lose many of those special moments you might have had.

Tip #6 –        Give them something meaningful to do!

  • Regardless of the kind of mission trip you are doing, find something meaningful that your grandchild can do. On LST projects, they often read the Gospel with other children. Or they entertain smaller children while the parents read. On our trip this year, we attended a missions conference, so Anna not only participated in the youth program, but she helped work with the younger children.  Meaningful is the key word here.  Even children know when they are just being given busy work or when they are just accessories.

Tip #7 –          Help them remember!

  • With our oldest grandchild, we talked a lot of history as we drove. We told her all about the Reformation and World War II.  Since we’ve returned, we’ve “reminded” her of some of those conversations, even occasionally giving her a little something to remind her of something we talked about.  Just keeping memories alive.
  • With our next grandchild that we took this year, our experience was completely different in that while we drove around, we played “Who Came First” with Bible characters, and we sang and sang and sang.  I’m thinking about making her a Playlist of “Songs We Sang in Germany” or something like that to help her remember.
  • In addition, for both of them, we have given them a photobook with our pictures of them and their activities with us—all the good times!  I’m pretty convinced that most of our childhood memories are directly from pictures that we have seen over and over again.  These photobooks are a very inexpensive way of capturing those memories and giving them to our grandkids in a more permanent and accessible medium than anything digital.

Just do it!  If you put God first, and just enjoy the grandkids, it will be a great experience for both of you!

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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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churchbuildingAs you know, Sherrylee and I are traveling through Europe, visiting with mission points about hosting Let’s Start Talking  short-term mission projects. We’ve done this kind of trip for over thirty years now, so there is very little that surprises us, BUT that doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to have new experiences that cause us to ponder about how God’s work is done in Europe.—or anywhere for that matter.

I’ve been thinking this morning about church buildings and/or meeting places and how important—or not important—they are.  Sherrylee brought this up yesterday as we were driving—she is the first mover if not the primary source of much of my thinking.

One of the churches we visited has a beautiful three-storey brick building, marble floors, multiple classrooms, a very large terrace where they have their baptisms as well as church socials. In addition, they have an auditorium with a stage, stage lighting, sound system—the whole works—for approximately 150 people with theater seating.  I have never visited a mission church of their size in Europe that had such a nice building.

At another city, we met with a missionary that has planted three different churches in his region.  They all meet in garages that are revamped to serve as meeting space.  They are roomy, multi-functional, and are friendly—but they are a garage. From the outside they look like a garage, and from the inside they look like a nice garage.  Each of these garages will hold a group of 30-50 people sitting down.  One garage they have outgrown and are looking for new space—don’t know if they are looking for a garage or not. I think they usually start in garages because the garage belongs to someone who is either a member or a friend of their church and they can use it at no great cost.

Another church we visited met on the fourth floor—walk up—of an older office building. It was just an opened space—nice, clean, some minimal decoration to let people know it was a church.  It was also the space they used for office space, for their kitchen (in the back corner) and for any other indoor activities they might have as a church.  Many starting churches in Europe choose space like this and never grow out of it. This work has existed for about ten years and they have a community of about twenty people.

Our most recent visit has been with a young missionary family who has only been on the field for ten months.  They have come and are working with a local established religious organization whose main outreach has been summer camps for children through teens. The camp is in a much smaller town about an hour from where this couple lives, and a church of about 150 has grown up in the smaller town around the camp work.

This couple is here to try to plant a new work in the larger city now.  The organization has already rented a small but well located storefront just off of the main street of the city.  Currently they are not meeting here as a church, but they use these rooms for community activities, for Bible studies, and for any other activities that are organized in this city by their sponsors.  They describe it as either a clubhouse or a community center.  It is furnished with couches, nice sitting areas, some tables and chairs, and a catchy pop art mural on the main wall.  Nice space—very post-modern—not churchy at all.

If I were choosing the “best” strategy for Europe with regard to church buildings, I would likely say to start with the community center idea until there was a core group of disciples. Then I might jump to the real church building to demonstrate a real presence, a commitment, and significance. 

But I don’t know any European group that can afford to build its own building like that, and I don’t know any American churches that would invest in a building in Europe like that! 

Interestingly, Willow Creek built a building in Spain for 500 people about 10-15 years ago—and the work there has been unusually successful for Europe.  I don’t know all the details, but the results are unusual enough that I can wonder if a substantial investment in a substantial building didn’t pay off for their work there?

Which begs the opposite question:  how great is the impact on the work in Europe of a complete unwillingness of our churches to invest there, not only in buildings but in the high cost of supporting workers in Europe?

God has blessed the work in the garage, on the fourth floor, in the clubhouse, and in the marble-floored church building.  He doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands!  But I keep thinking that He did not stay in a tent in Israel forever either

I know all about the empty cathedrals.  But I still wonder what our buildings—and non-buildings—say about our God in Europe today??

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SpainI particularly enjoy the alternate history  genre in fiction—often found in the science fiction section of Barnes and Noble.  These works are usually built on suggesting alternate outcomes of major historical events and the author’s imaginative description of the consequences of those alternate outcomes.

For instance, I recently finished Stephen King’s 11-22-63: A Novel, which describes a time traveler’s attempt to stop the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas. The protagonist believes that by keeping Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting the president, that he will not only save Kennedy’s life, but also the lives of many lost in Viet Nam and that it will prevent much of the chaos of the late 60’s, perhaps even the deaths of RFK and Martin Luther King.

You will have to read the book to find out what happens, but just let me say that it is very difficult to write alternative histories because the real world is full of unexpected consequences!!

I was thinking about alternate histories because Sherrylee and I are in Spain on a Let’s Start Talking site development trip.  We landed in Madrid and have already spent good time with a good church in Malaga and a missionary in Murcia.

In the course of our conversation on Sunday, we were asking the brother in Malaga to tell us about the religious climate in Spain.  He began by saying, “Well, you know that Spain never experienced the Reformation like much of Europe.”

Although I have a general overview of Spanish history, that is one of those facts that is so obvious, that I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it.  Of course they didn’t!!

Spain received Christianity most likely from Roman Christians—perhaps St. Paul’s disciples who wanted to complete their teacher’s dream of taking the Good News to Spain.  In the year 711, however,  North Africans crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and brought Islam to the Iberian peninsula.  In just seven years, Islam became the predominant religion as well as the ruling political power—and stayed so until 1492, when the last Muslims were driven from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella.

You church historians will quickly recognize that the first signs of the Reformation in northern Europe were appearing at this same time, but because of Spain’s history, this country experienced the Inquisition—also an attempt to purify Christianity–instead of the Reformation. The Inquisition was not banned in Spain until the early 19th century, but even then Spaniards did not receive religious freedom—not in the 20th century during the Spanish Civil War or under Franco either.

In fact, not until the restoration of the monarchy in 1976 did the Spanish people gain the right to worship God according to their own convictions and religious groups other than Roman Catholicism gained equal legal footing in Spain.

Today, 71% of Spaniards identify themselves as Roman Catholic, but 24% of the general population consider themselves as having no faith.  Islam is the second largest religion in Spain, if you ignore atheism as a religious group.  In spite of the strong Roman Catholic presence, only 3% of Spaniards listed “religion” as one of their three most important values, which is even lower than the 7% across secularized Europe.

So let’s write an alternate history:  what if Ferdinand and Isabella had come under the influence of a Spanish reformer like Juan Valdez, who at 18-years-old published a small work called Dialogue on Christian Doctrine (1529), in which he in a very gentle manner suggested there were only two sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—and that the Lord’s Prayer was a better model than praying to Mary.

He also suggested that Christians were really only obliged to keep the teachings of God, not the church if the church’s commands were different from God’s. Although Valdez never argued for a break from the Roman Catholic Church, in 1531, his little book was banned by the church for heretical teachings and he had to flee to Italy to save himself from the Inquisition.

Well, when I look at the benefits of the Reformation in northern Europe—at least from a spiritual perspective—I do not see greater faith in Germany, for instance, than Spain. And the native countries of Tyndale, Wyclif, Calvin, and Zwingli are some of the most completely secularized in the “Christian world.”

So after 500 years, the spiritual results of the Inquisition and the Reformation do not appear to be all that different!  That is a very sad conclusion.

What Spain and all of Europe need is an alternate history—one that is written on their hearts and not just in imaginative literature. I’m thankful for every believing  Christian here in Spain, who not only shows their love but bears witness to His great love by living the life of a Christian, by resisting secularization, and by publicly speaking the name of Jesus.

That’s the only way the alternate history of any person, any people, any nation is ever written because, in reality, the God of all nations is the Only One who writes history!!

Thank you Guille and Suzanne, thank you Erick and Sira for being leaders in the real new history of Spain!!

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win winI believe it was Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People who made the attribute of always going for Win-Win a virtue. In many life situations, this principle seems to be a very Christ-like approach. Win-Win seems to avoid a selfish approach to relationships, or dominance for the sake of dominance, or any form of self-gratification at the expense of others.

Sunday, I was reading in Acts 13-14 on the flight home from Europe, thinking about the places Paul went on his missionary journeys and all the mission points Sherrylee and I had visited on our trip. I enjoy his first and second journeys much more now that we have traveled in Turkey and been to some of the same sites, like Perga, Antioch of Pisidia, and especially Attalia , which is current day Antalya, a site where LST has been active for ten years now.

This time, however, as I was reading, I noticed especially how much opposition Paul and Barnabas faced:

  • Cyprus: Elymas (Bar-Jesus) the sorcerer “opposed them”.  Paul calls him a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right,” and then strikes him blind for a season.
  • Pisidian Antioch: Jealous Jews “began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. Paul and Barnabas answer them boldly, then leave and shake the dust off their feet as a warning to them!
  • Iconium: Paul and Barnabas spoke so effectively(?) that the people of the city were divided. Some plotted to mistreat and stone them, so Paul and Barnabas fled for their lives.
  • Lystra: The apostles decided to do good in the neighborhood, so they healed a lame man which won them more favor than was good because the people tried to worship them as gods—until they were persuaded instead to stone them!

After Derbe, the two missionaries go back through most of these same sites to encourage the disciples with this message:  “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Does this sound like Paul and Barnabas had win-win experiences in their mission efforts?

On one of our stops in Europe we had a conversation with a missionary who was working in a country, not hostile but definitely indifferent to the Savior.  There was little danger of real persecution, but a high likelihood of rejection.

This missionary’s approach was to perform acts of service in the community, to gradually grow relationships with people, and to “wait and see what the Holy Spirit will do with it all.”

First, let me say that I believe that God works and accomplishes his plan even through our weakest efforts and in spite of  our best efforts. God’s sovereignty, however, has never left his people without obedient work to do.

I went away from this meeting thinking to myself: this missionary has built a system of missions where he risks almost nothing.  He is offering no words that can be rejected; he is not risking relationships by calling for repentance; he thinks he is a living testimony, and that he is doing the right thing by waiting on divine intervention.

Or he may have just bought into a conflict-avoidance philosophy of the cultural Christianity, broadly espoused and gladly believed in our society, where tolerance of diversity is the supreme virtue.

I don’t believe we have to imitate Paul’s missionary methods explicitly, but I do see Jesus and all of the early disciples not just making friends, not just avoiding conflict, not just doing good in front of people.  I see ALL of them BOLDLY speaking the words of God to people—and all of them experiencing rejection and conflict as a result.

Yes, they sometimes enjoyed the favor of all the people (Acts 2:47), but the word of God is described as a SWORD—a weapon.

I’m pretty sure Christians can’t win-win the battle without the Sword.

I’m not advocating the return to self-righteous bashing of others. I am advocating a return to boldly and overtly speaking the truth in love.

It’s still true today for all Christians, but some more than others:  “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

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