Posts Tagged ‘Christian missions’

dutch speed skatersThe Olympics bring out the nationalism in all of us. We love to see the Americans win, stand on the podium with a tear in their eye, trying to remember the words to the national anthem.

But I have to confess something:  I love it that the Netherlands has won 22 medals in speed skating so far!!  I love their devotion to orange! And I love that the king and queen are there in their orange sports attire, cheering their skaters on!

Now Norway has more medals, but I don’t really have the same feelings for Norway. The Russians and the Canadians feel to me like long-time rivals, so I don’t cheer for them either.  I do love to see the Germans do well, but they are a powerhouse country, so they should do well—maybe better than they are doing!

So why do I love the Dutch? I’ll come back to answer that question in a minute.

Let’s move to a different plane and switch from talking about national sport teams to talking about which countries God loves.

Sometimes we Americans think that God is an American and that He loves all the other countries, but just wishes they were like His special country!  That’s pure jingoism—and not really harmless nationalism.

Some people think Israel is God’s favorite country!  But Jesus said, And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). God does love the children of Abraham . . . the true ones.

We don’t have to guess about this: here is our final answer!  The final answer is “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . . .”  Red and yellow, black and white—and all the colors in all the flags—and all the people standing and singing all those foreign anthems.

So now we can get back around to the Dutch:  maybe if I can figure out why I love the Dutch, then I can better understand what it will take to love the Norwegians, for instance.

From a lifetime of being involved with the world, here are some tips I have learned about how to learn to love the world:

Travel to other countries, but not with a bunch of other Americans. If your only experience in other countries is disembarking from a cruise ship for a few hours, or flying over, traveling to all the sights in a bus with your former classmates or some other affinity group, then you may have had a great trip, but you have not given yourself a chance to really fall in love with other people.

Go to one country at a time—not as many as you can squeeze into seven days.  From the Netherlands you can get to Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, and the U.K (by hovercraft) in less than two hours, so it is tempting to use Amsterdam as a jumping off point to “see it all.”  But then you won’t love the Netherlands!

Just within an hour of Amsterdam are Haarlem, Leyden, Alkmaar, Zaanse Schans, Keukenhof, Marken, Vollendam, Delft, den Haag, and a lot more wonderful and fascinating sites and places. If you take a one-hour canal tour of Amsterdam and then leave for the next country, you have missed almost everything!!

Get to know some local people! This may not be as easy as it sounds. Here are some tips that might work for you:

  • Go to church on Sunday.  That’s where Christians are on Sunday, so if you want to meet local Christians, go where they are. Be prepared to accept an invitation to eat with them afterwards.
  • Go with a short-term mission group that interacts closely with local people. In Let’s Start Talking projects, you can sit and talk with locals all day long!
  • Stay at a bed-and-breakfast instead of a tourist hotel.  If you are young and brave enough, the youth hostels are also a great place to meet people.
  • Travel by train instead of by car.  Cars insulate us; public transportation throws people together.
  • Go to a “small” event.  We have gone to high school soccer games, local school performances, local church-sponsored concerts, auctions, flea markets, for instance.  You just have to appear to be open to meeting new people and they will come up and introduce themselves to you.

Learn about the country: history, culture, current events, art—not in order to become an expert, but because we don’t care very much about things we don’t know much about! I hardly know anything about Norway; that’s the problem, isn’t it!!

And here is the big secret I have for you:  you will begin to love every country where you begin to know people who live there!  I’m quite sure that national boundaries have very little to do with why God loves the world.  He loves the world because He loves the people of the world.

One of the comments that we hear often from LST workers coming back from their short-term mission trip is “I used to always pray for all the people in the world, but now I know some of those people, so I pray for them by name.”

If you only love Americans, you have not begun to tap the capacity of your heart for loving people.  God made your heart big enough to love the world too!


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NetworksI’m sitting with a small stack of fascinating articles on my desk that revolve around a phenomenon called movement networks.

These articles are all talking about ways of collaborating in order to accomplish goals that are greater than any one organization could ever accomplish on its own.  In fact, sometimes the objectives are so large that they require a movement, not just certain actions in order to successfully accomplish them.

When I think of tasks so large that no one entity can begin to accomplish it, I naturally go immediately to the task of going into all the world with the gospel. 

When I was a boy, I was so proud of our church which sent a missionary to Africa and one to Brazil at the same time.  I don’t know what was happening in the other 170 countries though?

Then as a college student, I joined a ministry to go to the Northeast U.S. We worked in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, and other heavily populated states, but the 20 of us really didn’t make a very big dent.

I’ve since worked with lots of churches that were very proud of sponsoring their missionaries fully—or not at all!  They were seriously trying to do missions well, and it was these churches that were held up as the model for others.

But I keep looking around and I don’t see us making a very big dent in the task God gave us!  We have to do something differently unless we want to continue getting the same results.

I wonder if movement networking might be something to try.  The studies say a movement is this:

Movement “a collection of persons or groups who come together around a common concern.  Typically their mission is to bring about some type of societal change relative to their concern.”

Movements, they say, are characterized by

  • collective intentional action,
  • continuity of sustained action,
  •  outsider status,
  • scope and scale, and
  • formation of collective identity.

(Zemsky and Mann, “Building Organizations in a Movement Moment,” Social Policy: Organizing for Social and Economic Justice, vol. 28, no. 3, 2008).

It’s the collective nature, the networking, which really fascinates me.  It’s about different groups of people working together.  Could it ever be about different groups of churches and ministries and other organizations working together on behalf of the salvation of the world?

According to these studies, we would need to look for the following characteristics in movement networks:

  • They are multi-organizational, therefore diverse, with all partners desiring to reach shared and mutually beneficial goals.
  • Trust and accountability are achieved through personal relationships, not through creating a single organizational hierarchy.
  • Partners agree on how to communicate and what constitutes progress toward goals.
  • Shared resources from all partners are committed for reaching the shared goals.

Well, this just sounds like a lot of academic ivory tower language unless we could turn it into something concrete.  Here’s my attempt at extrapolating some concrete ideas out of this:

  1. In October 2014, the Global Missions Conference is being held in Memphis for churches of Christ.  What could happen if this conference were the launching point for a fellowship wide conversation on how to go to all the world?
  2. What if there were regional meetings for every American church that cares about missions, every ministry like LST, Great Cities, MRN, and as many foreign Christian church leaders as possible, along with foundations, trusts, and others with resources, and all those wanting to do missions were sitting in the same room talking about what it would take to go to all the world?
  3. What if even some of these found each other to be ready and willing partners and began collaborating?

Please note, I’m not talking about creating a super-organization or any kind of hierarchy of either talent or resources.  But I am suggesting that we ought to be searching for like-minded partners rather than all of us trying to do it alone.

  • Do you think any of us could ever agree on mutually beneficial goals for these partnerships?
  • Do you think we could ever trust each other and be accountable to each other without having to decide who is in control?
  • Do you think we could share resources? Or the holy grail: donor lists?

Is there really only one question keeping us from fulfilling the Great Commission?  Is the only question one of whether we can love each other enough to work with each other?  Whether we can subordinate our own congregational/institutional egos enough to give God all the glory?

Well, I’m willing to talk about it with you—if you will talk about it with me!  Can we just start there?

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immigration mapMost Christian churches/missions organizations have followed the church growth axiom of searching for areas of receptivity to which to send and spend their resources. During the last half century, this strategy has led to a lot of people and resources going to places like East Africa (English-speaking and less Muslim) as opposed to North Africa, or places like all the former Soviet countries—at least for about a decade—until post-soviet materialism took root and the eastern peoples became less interested.

South America, especially Brazil, was a hotspot for American missions for a couple of decades, but that has settled down now as indigenous leaders emerged and no longer need the baggage that comes with American money and Christianity.

Today, China is certainly in the missions’ spotlight, though political restrictions keep people from reporting the statistics that are essential to establishing patterns of receptivity.

India continues to remain high on the list of receptive countries. The poverty and class struggle also keep it on the list for young emergent churches as well.

One of the most passionate discussions in missions centers on the vast populations of non-Christians in the 10/40 window, that is, the countries lying between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator, including  Saharan and Northern Africa, as well as almost all of Asia (West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and much of Southeast Asia). Roughly two-thirds of the world population lives in the 10/40 Window.

Most of the people in these countries claim the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist,  Animist, Jewish, or atheist faith, and few of their governments allow any kind of legal Christian activity on their soil.

Christian radio breaks through these barriers, but very few missionaries are called or sent to these sites, and very few churches/missions organizations target them either.

And if receptivity is our sole criteria for resource allocation, then why would we? Any work done in the tough areas of the 10/40 window would likely take decades if not lifetimes to show first fruits—and might cost lives.

What if I could show you both the potential and the freedom to meet, to befriend, to minister to, and, yes, to share your faith with 5 million Arabs?  With over a million Pakistanis, or hundreds of thousands of Iranians?  Would you be interested in using missions resources to reach out to Iraqis, Somalis, Algerians—if you could do it where it was not illegal and under favorable conditions for the reception of the Word?

Europe, known to missions people as . . . well, really not known to missions people because Europe has had its chance and has never been on anyone’s receptivity list.

But I want to say that the new Europe is a place where we MUST be—because that’s where we can speak with much of the world that is otherwise extremely difficult to penetrate.

In 1985, the European Union passed the Schengen Agreement, which allowed for free movement across borders for all citizens of member countries. At the time only ten fairly homogeneous countries composed the EU, but now, with the Agreement extended and expanded, 27 countries enjoy relatively unrestricted movement throughout the EU.

Nine million Turkish people live outside of Turkey in the EU.  Eight hundred thousand Romanians live in Spain. Twelve million immigrants live in France and 40% of those immigrants live in or near Paris.

What does this mean?  This means we ought to send missionaries to Paris, to Spain, to Germany, to the UK, and to Sweden, a country so friendly to immigrants, by the way, that they do not even count them.

The opportunities for the Message in Europe can no longer be ignored for reasons of receptivity.  Think about these reasons for why today is the day to be in Europe with the Gospel:

  • Although some immigrants naturally cluster together and are resistant to integration into their new countries, many more long for new relationships, which makes them more open to a Christian’s friendship than they would be in their homelands.
  • European laws do not restrict Christian work.
  • Going to the west, for many immigrants, is the opportunity to explore new ideas. Christianity is seen as a western idea, so it is natural for some to want to learn about it.
  • Restrictive cultural laws and traditions are usually mitigated, if not abandoned, in their new land.  For instance, most women from restrictive Muslim countries are allowed much more freedom when living in Europe than they would have at home.
  • While social media and other public media are often highly controlled and restricted in their home countries, these immigrants have access to every media avenue (for better or worse) in Europe—which brings opportunity for all kinds of Christian information into their homes.
  • Americans think of immigrants as being primarily impoverished people, but that is not necessarily true of people movement in Europe. I was just reading about a newly licensed medical doctor in Romania who could get no job there, so she immigrated to Germany, which is in desperate need of her services.
  • These immigrants will undoubtedly meet others of their own nationality/religion who have become Christians.  They must deal with this new cloud of witnesses.

Just a couple of years ago, an LST team of mature Christians from Texas spent two or three weeks working with a church in Cologne, Germany.  One of the members of that team was telling us about a Reader of hers from either Iraq or Iran, who actually belonged to a militant cell, but who would sneak away from his group to come and read the Bible with her 2-3 times each week.  He feared for his own safety, but in Cologne, Germany, he had the space to go far beyond what he could have done in his home.

I don’t know what has become of this young man, but I know another story that started just as his has. Almost 20 years ago now, an Iranian man also responded to a simple ad for practicing his English and started reading with a Christian.  Today, he is one of the elders in his church in Cologne, Germany.

Europe is a great mission field!  If you don’t think so, you’ve got your old glasses on! That’s where the world is! The whole world!!

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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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Dan BouchellePart 2 of a series of guest posts by Dr. Dan Bouchelle, President of Missions Resource Network

Here are a couple more suggestions for doing STM in ways that bless both those you go to serve and those you take on the trip. For earlier entries see my last two posts.

  1. Do what the locals cannot do themselves: It is tempting to take groups of Americans to developing countries to do hands on projects that make Americans feel useful in fighting practical problems. So, we take dozens of people thousands of miles and spend tens of thousands of dollars to do carpentry, plumbing, concrete work, painting, pass out fliers or hand out food and clothes. This is good and hard to criticize. It is doing good and not wrong per se. But often it makes no sense to the local people and can create resentment in places where people with the needed skills in the church or community badly need the work and can do a better job for a fraction of what Americans spend getting there. Not to mention, hiring local people helps the economy, fights poverty, and creates opportunities to form relationships that could lead to making disciples. If you are going to do a service project, bring something the locals cannot do or hire done with your help. If you are bringing a group of people with special skills, e.g., medical personnel, and the local church requests you come as part of their ministry strategy, that is a good use of your trip. Also, doing an English as second language ministry is a great way to help out. People in many parts of the world are desperate to learn or improve their English and will jump at a chance to talk with Americans even if that involve reading the Bible together. Let’s Start Talking does this extremely well and I highly recommend them to any church wanting to do short term missions. LST logo
  2. Do what you are asked to do: It is easy to forget our reason for going and decide we want to rid the world of ____________ and then try to find someone who will let us fulfill our dream in their location. For example, we all want to see people get clean drinking water, end sex-trafficking, reduce preventable diseases, etc. We see the news about huge problems around the world. We feel guilty about our blessings. We want to “make a difference.” So, we develop this dream to go and fix problems other places. But, when our goal becomes to satisfy our need to feel significant rather than help people who really want us there and can benefit from our presence, we can end up being a problem and spend lots of time and money on projects that come to nothing after we are gone. Most of the systemic problems we want to solve are too complicated to address meaningfully by a trip of a week or two. A short-term mission trip may not be the way to address the issues we want to fix and no one may be asking us to fix them anyway.
  3. I know of one ministry that recently spent tens of thousands of dollars drilling a water well in an African village so the people did not have to rely on contaminated river water over a two mile walk away. However, when they returned, they learned the women of the village walked past the new well as they continued to make the two mile hike to the river to get water. Turns out, this was the only time the women of the village were able to talk among themselves and get away from their husbands’ expectations. That meant more to them than clean, convenient water. Perhaps that well should have been drilled two miles away, or maybe the ministry should have listened more closely to what the people in this location believed they needed. There are broken water wells all over the developing world lying unused because no one was taught how to maintain them. But, the people who put them in have some cool pictures to show back home about how they made a difference. The stories like this are endless. The point is, we don’t always know what is needed and need to listen and think long term as we follow the lead of the people on the ground. This is not about us.

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