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Posts Tagged ‘Let’s Start Talking’

While a student at Harding in the late 60s, Owen Olbricht, director of Campaigns Northeast,  introduced me to the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness. We sang it often in devotionals, sometimes in parks, and even once on a local TV station.

Yesterday, after receiving some especially good news, Sherrylee started quietly singing this great hymn again—and I joined in. Her voice is much lower than mine, so when she starts a song, her natural pitch leaves me no choice but to sing the tenor to it. Regardless, however, of who sings which part, that particularly hymn has been a special blessing to us at significant moments in our journey for many, many years now.

Great is thy faithfulness, Oh God, my Father. . . . Thou changest not. . . .where thou hast been, thou forever wilt be!   If you know our story, you know that Sherrylee and I feel like our mission time in Germany were some of the best and most formative years of our lives, but that made it all the harder when overnight literally we found ourselves on a plane back to the U.S.. We felt like we had been ripped out of home, dreams, church, mission—all those things that give purpose to life. How could things change so quickly, so drastically!

This song reminded us then that God had not changed. He was still in control. He knew where we lived. He knew our pain. He had not abandoned us—nor we Him, so in spite of a traumatic upheaval in our lives, God had not changed and was not far from us.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest . . . join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.  Life has seasons. Our time in Germany was a wonderful time, but so were our twenty-two years in Oklahoma. We had serious doubts about whether Oklahoma was really where we should be! After all, we were missionaries, not Sooners!  But God was faithful and took that season in Oklahoma and shaped that moment into a wonderful place to raise our family, a meaningful ministry with students at Oklahoma Christian, and a place and time for Let’s Start Talking to take root and grow.

And now in the fall and winter season of our life, the mercy and love of God is even more evident. We continue to love deeply the work we have been given; we are surrounded by not only a God-called team of co-workers, but grown, faithful children– and grandkids who are being taught God’s faithfulness every day.  What more could anyone ask for.  God is faithful, full of mercy and love.

Morning by morning new mercies I see! Strength for today . . . The more I learn as I walk along the journey with God, the less I worry about tomorrow—not because there is less uncertainty, not because there is less catastrophe around the corner, but just because I think I’ve learned that God only takes care of us one day at a time! 

It has something to do with the same reason he gave the Israelites only one day’s worth of manna every day (except on the Sabbath). It’s Jesus in the garden praying in spiritual pain for what was going to happen the next day.  It’s Noah not knowing if and when the dove would return!

As Executive Director of LST, I’m often asked about our five-year plan: where do you want LST to be in five years?  Or we sit and talk about how wonderful it would be if the ministry were supported with an endowment, so that we did not live each year hand to mouth like we have for the last thirty-one years!

My personal fear is that sometimes we are trying to build barns and create our own security rather than depending on the Lord day by day. 

Fortunately, the Lord has never given us that kind of security, not personally nor in the ministry—and I keep thinking that maybe day by day, morning by morning, maybe that is supposed to be enough!

If you don’t know this great hymn, find it on YouTube and listen to it and learn it, so that every day of your life, you have these words in your heart and on your lips:

Great Is Thy Faithfulness, O God, My Father!

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ImageFund raising—and giving—can be like pulling teeth! But when you pull them with a rocket, it’s a whole new experience!

Before we go any further, you need to watch the first part of this video—just the first minute and thirty seconds is enough!  VIDEO

Let’s Start Talking traditionally has used September for special fund raising efforts. We call it our Month of Generous Giving.  Most years, we are simply trying to make up budget deficits so that we can end our fiscal year in the black.

This year is special!  LST has been given a huge gift—a kind of matching gift in a way.  Last May, we were put on notice that we would have to vacate the office space that we have occupied for the last eleven years because the owners of our building were closing it.

While driving home in July, I noticed a “For Sale” sign in front of the Mid Cities Church building, so I called one of the elders to inquire. He told me they were selling their building for 1.26 million dollars—but that they really appreciated Let’s Start Talking and would sell it to us for much less.

On August 16, we signed a contract to purchase this building for just over 50% of the asking price. The leaders of that church gifted the ministry with a building worth twice as much as what we will pay for it.

What does this mean for LST? 

  • A nice new home in a central location with plenty of room to grow into the future!
  • Our own large training and event area. The auditorium seats 250 and is attached to a large kitchen.
  • More room for special uses like web conferences, recording/video studio, and continuous FriendSpeak usage.
  • A strong financial asset.

It also means that we need to raise an additional $104,000 for our down payment this month!

Those of you who are very sharp will now see the connection between the video and fund raising. It’s only taken me four days to figure it out:

  • The little boy had a big idea, but had to completely trust his father to accomplish it!  I’m the kind of person who has lots of ideas—some that work and many that don’t—but it was a wonderful day in my life when I gave the burden of success over to God and learned that “the horse is made ready for battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31)
  • The boy had to push the button!  The dad could have done everything, but he asked the boy to make the decision and push the button.  God’s sovereignty does not make us Christians passive, as some would argue; rather, He has entrusted us to choose and to act upon those choices.  We have signed this contract and made commitments, believing that our Father wanted us to push this button.
  • The moment came suddenly!  Even though the preparations were made and even though the boy had to push the button, the actual moment of launch and loss of the tooth were sudden and surprising!  We were not even dreaming of purchasing in May, and our first inquiries with banks about financing were unanimously discouraging.  This new building burst on the scene unexpectedly, and within days we not only were able to come to agreement with the selling church, but we had secured initial financing from a local banker.  And now we are moving in on September 15!!
  • I think I see first fear, then thrill in the little boy’s eyes!  And I know how he feels. This may always be how people feel who are learning to walk with God.  You may feel this way too when you think about a gift more generous than you have ever given before! It’s scary sometimes to walk with God—but the thrill will follow!

I don’t want to stretch this metaphorical essay too far.  You certainly will have your own feelings about the video and what it says to you.

Let me just say that in this Month of Generous Giving at LST, we are blessed to receive not only the love and affection of thousands of people who make both large and small contributions, but each year, we are given a front row seat to watch and experience the goodness of God!  He is the Giver of every good gift (James 1:17).

Fund raising—and giving—can be like pulling teeth! But when you pull them with a rocket, it’s a whole new experience!

 

If you would like to make a donation to help LST during our Month of Generous Giving, just click here DONATE.

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I understand why some people just refuse to travel internationally! CONTROL!  The fact is that when you are traveling long distances and to foreign countries, you are forced daily to realize that you are not in control of your life at all!

Sherrylee and I are traveling in Europe for the next couple of weeks.  Virtually every year since the beginning of Let’s Start Talking, we have made what we call “site visits.” Typically, these are either visiting with missionaries/churches who have strong interest in inviting LST teams, but with whom we have had no previous relationship.  In other words, they don’t really know us and we don’t really know them. Rather than risk sending a team to a host that is not what they appear to be or who does not really understand how we work and what an LST team needs, we have found it essential to see these new sites and meet the people to whom we may send teams.

Our first stop this year is Scotland!  Several churches in Scotland have FriendSpeak programs which have proven to be very effective with the immigrant population in Scotland, but this is our first invitation to send an LST team.

Tomorrow night then I leave for Ternopil, Ukraine, for a couple of days, then to Athens, Greece, where we have just begun working in 2012, and then to Italy where we will meet with three different sets of workers near Florence and Rome.

We sandwiched this trip between work we had to do in Mississippi and Tennessee and more work in Washington and California, where we will go after Rome.  Then we fly back to Nashville, where we started our international travel twenty-four hours ago, to pick up our car.

We stayed at a particular hotel near the Nashville airport because they agreed to let us park our car there for a month without extra charge.  I was just slightly skeptical about this arrangement being too good to be true, so I checked with the desk person when I checked in and was completely reassured.

As we were checking out again, I thought I would just remind the new person at the desk of our arrangement . . . at which point she says, “Well, that will be $7/day and have you filled out the paperwork!”  That was the first reminder that we are not really in control!

The second incident was just as unavoidable. Flights from the U.S. to London often arrive earlier than scheduled because the jet stream speeds the flights going west to east. On this day when we had a fairly tight connection at London Heathrow, our plane was put into a holding pattern for twenty minutes because of congestion at the airport.

Then, with just barely time to make our connection, the British version of TSA pulled my carry-on off the conveyor because I had a Kindle in it.  The innocent bag sat there, waiting to be hand inspected for about 15 minutes. Then they take everything  out, swab it for explosive dust, run all my electronics through the scanner again—as they are calling out our name at the nearby gate for final boarding.

We missed our connection to Edinburgh!  A very nice BA agent was able to rebook us for about two hours later.

One of the things we have learned over the years is that most things that go wrong in international travel can be fixed without much damage—not everything, but most things. With a little friendly conversation, the hotel agreed to waive the extra charges because of the misunderstanding, and the re-booking agent at Heathrow gave us breakfast vouchers which he didn’t have to do!

Such kind gestures should remind us that we are not in control of the good things that happen either! In New York City of all places, we had a four-hour layover at JFK before we boarded our British Airways flight to London. A very nice BA agent broke all the rules and invited us to spend those hours in the First Class lounge! Then she gave us vouchers for a free supper in the lounge, and then she asked if she could take our boarding passes and try to get us better seats!

She just joined the Travel Agent Hall of Fame!

So being out of control works both ways, which is something those afraid of losing control often forget.  Sure, things go wrong—but perhaps if we also gave up taking credit for all the good things that happen to us, we’d better realize the pleasure of being completely in the hands of our sovereign, loving  God.

If He is in control, then what have I to fear?

 

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Aegidien Church in Hanover, Germany

You aren’t surprised, are you, that the people who start something called “Let’s Start Talking” find themselves in conversations with lots of people all the time about lots of different things.  Would you like a quick look at our conversation itinerary?

Hannover, Germany was our home for six years and where all three of our children were born. Along with two other couples, we moved here in 1973 to begin a new church plant.  That church grew and thrived for 20 years, long after all of us Americans had left. The Hannover church even helped in planting two other churches in Peine and Hildesheim, both cities about 30-45 minutes by autobahn from Hannover.

In the mid to late 90s, the devil got into the Hannover church through divorce, immorality, petty jealousies and blew it completely apart.  Many of the members have remained faithful and belong either to one of the offspring in Hildesheim and Peine, or they attend another church. Some seem to have completely abandoned their faith.  Those who really suffered, however, were the children of the members.

Even if we just have one day, Sherrylee and I have always made a point to keep the love and the conversations alive that we share with our brothers and sisters in this region.  But, as you will see, the conversations can be gut-wrenching.

  •  “How are your kids?”  The Hannover church was mostly young families, so there were lots of children. Today most of them are in their early 20s, marrying, finishing educational goals—and only a few of them are active believers! Most of those children do not attend church and do not appear to be living in any kind of faith.  The ones who have chosen faith are spoken of almost as miracles—like God has been especially gracious to them.  The others are all still held up to God in prayer by loving parents—at least by the parents who are themselves still believers.
  • “What do you hear about _________?” Surprisingly, many from the disintegrated Hannover church still keep up with each other. Some have moved away, a few of the older members have died, and only a handful want nothing to do with those friends from the past.  I believe that even these occasional relationships are remnants of the strong love that existed in the Hannover Gemeinde.

Those conversations were only the front door then to these conversations which were much more difficult and sometimes painful:

  • “I  feel betrayed by the people who abandoned their faith?”  Those who so casually leave a church family probably have no idea that they cause real pain,–but they do, and it is a pain that can endure for years!
  • Why don’t those other people love me anymore just because I don’t worship with them?  This conversation usually grows out of a longing for the intimacy that has been lost.  Sometimes even those who have abandoned the community suffer from this loss of intimacy. It’s not unusual for them to blame those that they themselves rejected!
  • How can I have a relationship with her when she is still living in sin?  The broken mess that sin creates can be forgiven, but the consequences  for relationships are very difficult to heal. The people can be redeemed, but the mess is often permanent—at least until Jesus comes and makes all things whole!  We had several conversations this time about how Christians should respond to the enduring brokenness that sin leaves behind.

Happily, we were able to have breakfast with Don and Cindy Roehrkasse and Kyle and Susan Bratcher who lead the church in Hildesheim. Randy and Katie Smelser and Amanda Knapp, the American workers in Peine, joined us around a true love feast!

Amanda and her husband David are fairly new, but the other three couples have worked with these churches from their beginnings!  Our conversations with them were not about the past, but about the future

  • people they were studying with,
  •  plans for developing native leadership in the church,
  •  the possibility of a new church plant in Celle

And, of course, we talked about Let’s Start Talking!

So Thursday from dawn until well after dusk, we talked.  We talked and prayed and cried and laughed and dreamed and wondered—because that’s just what Christians do with each other.

“We believe, therefore we speak!”

 

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Hamburg

We left half of our toiletries in Belgium with Hans and Ans!  Fortunately, the Brazles are coming to Rothenburg, so we may be able to have deodorant again by Sunday.  Just joking!!

Tip: The more methodical you are in packing, the less likely you are to leave things! Scattering and rearranging your packing, that is, putting your toothbrush in a different bag or putting dirty clothes where your socks used to be, almost guarantees leaving something behind somewhere!

Our visit with the church of Christ in Hamburg was wonderful.  This congregation, planted in the early 1950s, is one of the most mature and stable in Germany. They have four elders and a pretty stable history.  About seven years ago, when the International Church of Christ dissolved, a number of committed young couples joined this church’s work and have been a blessing.

I suspect that this church has been in the phase of church development that I described in the last posting where it is mostly focused on church life and inward things.  Sure, they have continued to have gospel meetings and other types of evangelism that were effective forty years ago, but these activities were church habits and no one really expects them to reach new people in this century.

That’s why we at Let’s Start Talking are excited about their invitation to receive a team next summer. LST veterans Steve and Val McLean from Santa Barbara, CA are very close friends with one elder couple here, so they have been informing the Hamburger (yes, that’s what people from Hamburg are called!) about LST for years.  Finally, the church has invited them to come and actually do LST here!

Much of the maturity and stability of the Hamburg church is a direct result of the lifelong efforts of Dieter and Eva Alten.   I wish I could write their whole story for you, but someone else will have to do that.  I’ll tell you what I know though.

Dieter was one of the very young men converted by the first American workers in Germany after WW II. Very early, he and his wife Eva moved to Hamburg where they worked with Don Finto in the new church planted by Weldon Bennett.  Don left to return to the States and Dieter and Eva stayed.

Sometime in the mid-seventies, an American Christian who had the Dale Carnegie franchise in West Germany was ready to go back to the States, so he transferred it to Dieter. This gave Dieter both greater influence and greater financial stability. I know American workers whom Dieter gifted with free courses; I’m sure he did the same for German workers.

And even while being the national director of Dale Carnegie, he continued to hold meetings, to do training and mediation for churches of Christ throughout Germany.  He was a regular guest speaker in Hannover when we were planting a church there!

Eva is gone now. Dieter is 83 years-old and suffers some speech impediment because of a stroke a few years back, BUT he serves as an elder, he attends every service (Sunday and Wednesday both!), and he preaches on occasion.  I was told that although he can no longer speak as spontaneously, he writes out his sermons which have the same depth and are as full of encouragement as ever!

We visited Dieter briefly, told stories from old times and laughed together. His eyes are full of life. I’m not sure he really remembered us—but that really doesn’t make too much difference.  We will always remember him.

We read together some verses, highly appropriate for Dieter, from Psalm 92:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him.

Thank you, Dieter, for bearing fruit and for staying fresh and green!  And, thank you, Lord, for your servant Dieter Alten!

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While a student at Harding in the late 60s, Owen Olbricht, director of Campaigns Northeast,  introduced me to the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness. We sang it often in devotionals, sometimes in parks, and even once on a local TV station.

Yesterday, after receiving some especially good news, Sherrylee started quietly singing this great hymn again—and I joined in. Her voice is much lower than mine, so when she starts a song, her natural pitch leaves me no choice but to sing the tenor to it. Regardless, however, of who sings which part, that particularly hymn has been a special blessing to us at significant moments in our journey for many, many years now.

Great is thy faithfulness, Oh God, my Father. . . . Thou changest not. . . .where thou hast been, thou forever wilt be!   If you know our story, you know that Sherrylee and I feel like our mission time in Germany were some of the best and most formative years of our lives, but that made it all the harder when overnight literally we found ourselves on a plane back to the U.S.. We felt like we had been ripped out of home, dreams, church, mission—all those things that give purpose to life. How could things change so quickly, so drastically! 

This song reminded us then that God had not changed. He was still in control. He knew where we lived. He knew our pain. He had not abandoned us—nor we Him, so in spite of a traumatic upheaval in our lives, God had not changed and was not far from us.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest . . . join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.  Life has seasons. Our time in Germany was a wonderful time, but so were our twenty-two years in Oklahoma. We had serious doubts about whether Oklahoma was really where we should be! After all, we were missionaries, not Sooners!  But God was faithful and took that season in Oklahoma and shaped that moment into a wonderful place to raise our family, a meaningful ministry with students at Oklahoma Christian, and a place and time for Let’s Start Talking to take root and grow.

And now in the fall and winter season of our life, the mercy and love of God is even more evident. We continue to love deeply the work we have been given; we are surrounded by not only a God-called team of co-workers, but grown, faithful children– and grandkids who are being taught God’s faithfulness every day.  What more could anyone ask for.  God is faithful, full of mercy and love.

Morning by morning new mercies I see! Strength for today . . . The more I learn as I walk along the journey with God, the less I worry about tomorrow—not because there is less uncertainty, not because there is less catastrophe around the corner, but just because I think I’ve learned that God only takes care of us one day at a time! 

It has something to do with the same reason he gave the Israelites only one day’s worth of manna every day (except on the Sabbath). It’s Jesus in the garden praying in spiritual pain for what was going to happen the next day.  It’s Noah not knowing if and when the dove would return!

As Executive Director of LST, I’m often asked about our five-year plan: where do you want LST to be in five years?  Or we sit and talk about how wonderful it would be if the ministry were supported with an endowment, so that we did not live each year hand to mouth like we have for the last thirty-one years!

My personal fear is that sometimes we are trying to build barns and create our own security rather than depending on the Lord day by day. 

Fortunately, the Lord has never given us that kind of security, not personally nor in the ministry—and I keep thinking that maybe day by day, morning by morning, maybe that is supposed to be enough!

If you don’t know this great hymn, find it on YouTube and listen to it and learn it, so that every day of your life, you have these words in your heart and on your lips:

Great Is Thy Faithfulness, O God, My Father!

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The work in Russia in the early days after the collapse of the Soviet Union was extraordinary. Last year, I told you the story of how LST went to Moscow in the summer of 1991, and working out of a local school, began reading the Bible with people who would literally cry sometimes because of their joy at finally hearing a Word from God. (See “A Personal History of LST”)

One of the most moving stories from those days was about the person who had the only Bible in the small Russian community, so he rented pages from his Bible and people paid him to have an hour to read the story of Jesus for themselves.

LST went first to Moscow, but soon thereafter was invited into Saint Petersburg, where we have continued to send workers yearly.  My first trip between the cities is a great illustration of those early days.

Everything had to be done through a Russian liaison. In those first days, many of us hired a Russian couple named Volodya and Lena. ( I can mention their names because half the people in Russia have the same names, so I’m not invading their privacy.)

One of them would meet you at the international airport, take you either to your hotel or sometimes to their apartment, where you could stay, called the people you needed to talk to, negotiated for you for rented space, told you where to eat and where not to eat, taught you how to ride the subway system, and exchanged money for you.

You needed this kind of help for several reasons. Few people spoke English, so you needed them to translate, but Russia was rather lawless in this transition from Communism to Russian democracy and people were poor, so there was a lot of street crime.

 As Americans, we were prime targets for petty crime of all kinds as well as just exploitation. Prices for Americans would not only start out ten times higher than for Russians, but then would be raised again in the middle of the transaction. The people we would rent classrooms from would try to change the rent on us weekly, so it was an environment where you needed to work through a Russian liaison for some assurance and stability.

I needed to go to St. Petersburg to meet with the Christians there about bringing an LST team the next summer, so I decided to take the overnight train, not really knowing what an experience it would be.  Lena took me to the ticket office where she negotiated my ticket for me—getting a price well below what the agent had first said it would cost!

The next day, Volodya accompanied me to one of the Moscow train stations, telling me basically not to talk English in public. I felt pretty cloak-and-daggerish, especially going into the dimly lit train station. We get to the train that I’m supposed to ride and Volodya instructs me to wait for him, so I wait as he approaches one of the train conductors and talks with him for several minutes. At the end of the conversation, he pulls a set of pencils, a small $3.00 calculator, and some chewing gum out of his pocket and gives them to the conductor. This is what he called “tipping” and was what seemed to make everything work in those days.

He called me over, told me everything had been arranged and that I was safe and should not worry. I was taken care of–and handed me over to the conductor. The conductor took me to a small, spartan compartment on the train that was obviously a sleeping compartment, let me in, shut the door and locked it behind him. That was a little spooky!  But I was taken care of . . . so I settled in for the overnight trip.

There were two bunks, and I was given the top one. At the end of the bunk was a rolled up mattress with straw stuffing—yes, I’m pretty sure it was straw—zipped in a mattress cover with a sheet, wrapped in a blanket.  So I unrolled it and lay down and read until the 10 watt bulb in the compartment was no longer adequate to read by and until I relaxed enough to get sleepy.

Much later that night after I was asleep—lightly—I heard the compartment door being unlocked, then slid open. The conductor came into the room—not the same one, but a lady conductor! I pretended to be asleep, but was aware that she was checking on me. Then she took off her jacket and blouse and lay down on the bottom bunk! Well, that kinda woke me up!

But she had been “tipped” to make sure I arrived in St. Petersburg safely—and she did. She got up about an hour before our arrival, put her uniform back on, and went out very quietly, not to disturb me—as if I had done anything but sleep fitfully all night!

Just before arriving, she brought me hot tea and a biscuit for breakfast, then escorted me off the train until I was met by our contact in St. Petersburg.  I thanked her with my best Russian. She acknowledged, but didn’t smile. Russians really don’t smile a lot.

This small little adventure reminded me not only how we are constantly dependent upon God, but that most people in the world are good people, just trying to live from day to day.  For a few pencils, a calculator, and some chewing gum which she probably took home to her kids, she had allowed this unknown American to sleep in her compartment—risking her safety. Maybe she didn’t sleep much either.

I wish I could have told her about Jesus. I hope someone else has.

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