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Posts Tagged ‘missions’

In 1969, four young American couples committed to go to Germany to do full-time mission work. Why did they choose Germany? I know because I was part of the team.

We chose Germany because a professor at Harding invited us to accompany him on a trip to Europe during Christmas vacation, so that we could visit with European missionaries from various countries. We visited personally with workers from Italy, Switzerland, West Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands, all of whom made some effort to recruit us to their field.

That entire year on campus at Harding, we had been visiting with every missionary from every country that came to campus. By February it was time to make a decision. We had statistics and interviews enough. Of course we prayed for wisdom, but in the rearview mirror of forty years, I think we decided on Germany because we just wanted to go there!  My great-grandfather came from Germany and another team member had been stationed with his parents in the Air Force in Germany. Our three-day visit in Germany convinced us of what we already wanted to do!

I wonder how many missionaries have chosen their fields as haphazardly as we did?

Even though today’s missionaries are better prepared, my experience is that most are still guided by inspiration rather than any kind of strategic thinking about how to fulfill the Great Commission! 

And congregations are no different. Occasionally a congregation will select a field and then search for the right workers, but usually a potential missionary appears on their doorstep first. If the congregation likes the worker, then the field is of somewhat secondary importance.

How do we as a fellowship expect to ever go into all the world without a plan? How will we go to the Muslim world? Who is going to the countries in Africa that most Americans have never heard of? Who is going to Scandinavia or to the outposts of Russia? What are we going to do about Tokyo with 33 million people?  Osaka (16.4million)? Jakarta, Indonesia (14.2 million)? Cairo (12.2 million)?  What is our plan? Where is the inspiration for the really tough fields??

To make a strategic plan, we as a fellowship need different criteria for site selection!  If we have used any criteria, it has tended to be either receptivity or bang for the buck (I cringe to even write that!) We need a new criteria for what makes a site important to God! 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” James 1:5. I believe God has given us a great deal of revelation to permit us to be wiser, but we have not gathered it together into a coherent picture.  We need centralized information will inspire us to see new opportunities. Fortunately, we already have a wonderful organization in our fellowship whose mandate is to be a network for missions resources, ala Missions Resource NetworkMy vote is that this wonderful ministry continue to be and expand its role as a repository for the information churches and missionaries need to strategically select mission sites.

Here’s the picture I’m seeing:

We need a Wikipedia-like site for mission information, preferably one where every country of the world is listed and where our fellowship can share our combined knowledge and experience publically.  This would be a place where the people who love geography could describe the country of Burkina Faso and the handful of people who have done mission work in Denmark can relate the history that only they know. Current workers in Osaka, Japan, could describe the religious climate and what they are doing there, so that the rest of our fellowship can see that Osaka could use a hundred missionaries, not one or two!

Then we need to publish/create some lists of ranked priorities to inspire and captivate congregations and workers looking for a mission field. What if all our churches were made acutely aware of even just the following lists—many of which are already available:

1.            Countries most restricted to Christians

2.            Muslim countries most open to Christians

3.            Countries with the fewest Christians per capita

4.            Countries where no known churches of Christ are meeting

5.            English-speaking countries with the fewest Christians

6.            Countries with the greatest response to Christian broadcasting

7.            Richest/poorest countries with the fewest Christians

8.            Countries with greatest internet access and the fewest Christians

Can you see congregations and potential missionaries using such lists for inspiration—using these lists to pray over, listening for guidance!  Then they get a complete picture of the countries they are drawn towards until God makes clear to them the country/city/continent they should commit to.

I also think it would be good to hold a national conference for all living American missionaries with the goal of producing a list of mission priorities for which American missionaries would be especially appropriate—acknowledging that Christians of other nations are better suited for some parts of the world than Americans–and the list of those places may be growing!

Possible Results

So if we had both congregations seeking mission opportunities for all of those members that they have inspired, as well as members of congregations, inspired by and re-inspiring their congregations, going to such a repository of both information and inspiration, is it possible that the body as a whole would begin to think more strategically?

Is it possible that two congregations, one in Connecticut and one in California  who are both wanting to work in Turkistan might discover each other, then talk to each other, certainly develop a relationship and perhaps even work out a cooperative plan—which might inspire other congregations who then join them in that work!

Is it possible that congregations would check the site information and see that 250 congregations are considering summer mission works in Honduras, so maybe they would choose a different country?

Is it possible that some congregation would learn that the Muslim country of Senegal is very open and that one African brother has started five congregations there in the last eight years—and they might start exploring ways to help him?

Is it possible that congregations would use their businessmen who travel abroad as scouts for new mission opportunities?

If our churches were prayerfully but strategically inspiring their members to go literally, purposefully, into all the world, then finally we would have begun to get a hint of what it means to fulfill the Great Commission!

And, by the way, our team’s decision to go to Germany was Spirit-led! We had a blessed work, and we loved Germany and the German people. Never doubt that God uses us in our weakness and ignorance!

I want to explore next the first decisions about the type of work and then follow that with thoughts on preparation.

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I watched the President’s State of the Union speech last night. Very intentionally, President Obama framed his more controversial and political proposals with non-controversial, military bookends. He started with the removal of troops from Iraq and finished with the elimination of Osama bin Laden.  At every mention of the troops with their sacrifices and victories, both sides of Congress and all visitors stood and applauded.

 If there is one thing upon which Americans generally agree, it is that the country stands behind the troops on the ground!  Even when we disagree over why they are there or how long, no one ever goes on record saying our soldiers did a terrible job!

I couldn’t help but wonder if the American church of Christ feels that same way about its boots on the ground! I’m talking about the foot soldiers we send out to combat the kingdom of darkness all over the world—aka missionaries.

Times were when these soldiers of the cross seemed to be highly respected.  Missionaries like McCaleb, Shewmaker, Benson, and later Gatewood, Hare, and Bixler were well-known names with heroic stature in our churches.  Because of the big splash the Brazil team made in the early sixties and because of their innovative approach, they too continue to enjoy notoriety, especially in older, established churches.

I wonder how many of us can name five missionaries that have entered their field in this millennium—or even the last quarter century?  Unless you are on a mission committee that sent some recent workers or a teacher of missions, or working in a missions organization, I’m afraid of the results!

Our churches are still committed to missions, and we are still sending out new missionaries, so what has changed?  Here is a short list of some of the things I fear have reduced our enthusiasm for the troops:

  • Because it is now more expensive to go abroad than to work at home, churches are choosing more domestic mission projects.
  • Also because of economics, churches are choosing to support national preachers instead of Americans. National preachers are viewed as requiring much less support, no travel funds, and no benefits!  What a deal!
  • Foreign mission work is seen more as a competitor to local work. This sometimes has economic roots and sometimes geo-political.  When the nation is tired of foreign entanglements, the church becomes tired of them as well.
  • Because of fewer services per week, i.e., many churches only meeting Sunday morning for a general assembly, with other meetings done in classes or in homes, fewer are willing to open their pulpits for missionary reporting.  The average member in the pew has very little exposure to the work and sacrifice of current missionaries.
  • Mission work is low on the ladder of ministerial respect.  Fairly or unfairly, one hears the comment that people go to the mission field who can’t make it or who don’t want to fit in at home.   Test yourself: rank in value to the kingdom the following types of ministers:  mega-church preachers, small church preachers, youth ministers, campus ministers, worship ministers, church planters, and foreign missionaries.
  • A nineteenth-century attitude toward foreign missions predominates, which says missionaries should go to third-world countries and live in poverty, working only with people who are physically needy.  Interestingly enough, as Africa has become one of the most Christian continents on the planet, it has become an even greater magnet for American mission work! If there are more Christians in Africa than in the United States, perhaps American missionaries should be choosing to go other places. (I’m not saying that we should not continue to aid African Christians in their work. American Christians still have much more wealth than African Christians.)

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but perhaps will stimulate the conversation about missions among us.

I would love to see the day return when foreign missionaries are greeted with standing ovations, when churches line up to invite them to speak of their work, when mission committees bang on the doors of Christian colleges and missions organizations, looking for good people to send to their mission points.

What can you do to raise the stature of those soldiers of the cross who serve faithfully and sacrificially in the spiritual battlefields of this world?

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Honestly, the first time I was asked to do a short-term mission trip, I agreed only because I could not figure out a good enough reason to say no. I was in college, so I even called my parents because I felt sure that they would want me to come home in the summer . . . but, in fact, their answer was, “You need to do what you think God wants you to do.”  I finally committed with my heart and not just my head—and I’ve never stopped. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

So here are a few tips about making the decision the first time, and I say the first time because I do believe that if you go once and do something meaningful, you will continue to find ways to go.

  1. Don’t expect all of your motives to be spiritual. I think many people do not hear the call of God because they love to travel, love to experience new things, love to meet new people. Who do you think gave you these desires? For what possible reason could He have done this? Instead of viewing these as personal or selfish desires, recognize their intended use and go!
  2. In two weeks or less, you can change the focus of your life!Especially if you are at one of those critical points in life, where you are trying to decide what you are really doing that is meaningful?  People who are now unemployed, who fear unemployment, who are nearing retirement, who are into retirement and finding it boring, who are disabled from physical work, who are unhappy in their profession with just punching a clock—a short-term mission project can give you brand new glasses to see your life with.
  3. You will never have more fun! Time spent doing the will of God—all day long—will beat fishing, skiing, cruising, touring, hunting—because it is everything you enjoy about these activities wrapped up into the same package, but framed with an eternal purpose.  When you show someone how to pray, or tell them who Jesus is for the first time, or hear them trusting you with the burdens of their heart because you care about them; when you see the light of understanding go on in their eyes, when you see your new friend baptized—and the huge smile on their face . . . it is so much more than a great round of golf.
  4. “Can you afford it” is really the wrong question. The fact is that a two-week mission trip will probably be much less expensive than a two-week vacation.  However, your investment in a short-term mission trip will come back to you for the rest of your life—and afterwards. Can you afford not to go?  (I’m going to write about raising funds shortly, so watch for those tips too.)
  5. Age doesn’t matter very much!Eighty-year-olds have gone with LST on missions. Eight-year-olds with their parents have also gone. In many cultures, age is revered.  Years ago, a man said to one of our older workers, “I’ve never met a Christian with gray hair.” His comment was the result of too many American Christians thinking that short-term missions were just a youth group or college student activity.  A friend of ours in her 70s just lost her husband this year, but she took her grief and her loneliness to eastern Europe to fulfill a mission call. Now  she exchanges the grief with the joy of pouring her life out for Christ and the loneliness with all the people God brings to her.  Her new life and joy is palpable.
  6. Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid!Fear is our enemy. God spoke these words to His people over and over again in scripture. Count them up if you don’t believe me—then do something to overcome your fears.
  7. Don’t procrastinate. Do it soon! Why should you wait? Does it sound like any of the excuses given for not coming to the Great Banquet? (business, relatives, obligations) Don’t surrender your seat at the table because of just couldn’t decide to do it.

 

I’m not particularly proud of the story of my first decision to go, but I did learn something that stuck with me. Whatever your reasons for not going are, if you will simply set them aside and go, your life will be changed because you are right in the middle of the will of God. I know that is true.

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The biggest hindrance to Christian youth and college students participating in short-term missions is their parents. I really hate to say that but after thirty years of recruiting college students for summer mission projects, I know this to be true.

Here are a few thoughts for Moms and Dads to think about to help them be more comfortable with what their young people want to do for God.

1. If your goal for your child is that he/she holds on to—even grows in—the faith you have tried to share with them, you need to let them go when they feel called. A great study done by a psychology professor at Abilene Christian University may be all I need to cite:  His study of 25,000 young people in churches of Christ showed that a “summer mission experience” was the top factor correlating with those students who continued in their faith after high school.

2. Before you ask your child to be “sensible” and …….(you fill in the blank with summer school, job, visit Grandma, internship, etc), you should ask yourself what message you are sending about the place of the kingdom in his/her life. Young people tend to “walk by faith” a little more naturally than we adults who have learned what the worst case scenarios are and who try to cover ourselves with insurance against such.

3. Check to see if you are afraid for yourself or are you afraid for your child. Some parents have not traveled much, never been out of the country, never had a passport (even if you are governor of Alaska!). No wonder you are a bit anxious about releasing your student to go to China or Africa or ………  Millions of Americans go overseas every year—for much less important reasons that sharing their faith.   “Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid.” We have to teach our children Christian bravery.

4. You don’t want to teach your children fear of random violence! One year we had a grandmother who offered to pay her granddaughter to stay safely in Oklahoma.  While the daughter was safely in Germany, the Edmond post office massacre occurred near her “safe” home in Oklahoma.  Unless we want to be crippled by fear, we cannot be live our lives afraid of random violence.

 

5. The best response to your child is to say YES–and to go with them! There is no better activity for Mom and/or Dad than to share some special time serving with your young person in serving the Lord.  Yes, you can do that any weekend at home, but to really step out on faith together, going somewhere very different, meeting people that are very different, but doing the most important task in the world together—there is nothing like it!

Sherrylee and I sometimes wondered if we were ruining our children by taking them with us each summer to do Let’s Start Talking—from early children through their teen years.  I guess I better let them tell you what it has meant to them. . . . but I know that God used it for good, and they are all people of strong faith.  Isn’t that what you want for your children?

 

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I have been directly involved in organizing short-term missions (STM) since I was a freshman in college—45 years ago.  Since 1980, Sherrylee and I have sent over 6000 American Christians on thousands of short-term mission projects in sixty-five different countries through the Let’s Start Talking Ministry.

We have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of short-term missions, but we have always believed that if done well, they were of great value.  For the next few days, I’ll give you some of the things we have learned over the years to help you do short-term missions better.

First, to the church leaders who are asked to send and to support short-term missions, here are a few suggestions for distinguishing the more worthy from the less worthy:

1. Who will be benefited by this short-term mission effort? Some of the possibilities are the Worker, the sending church, the hosting church, and the unchurched/unbelievers that are touched by the work.  Is the work intended to just be a good experience for the Americans going and the encouragement it gives to the local congregation sending them? If so, don’t describe it as mission work. It is edification.  If it is for the hosting church, then it is church nurturing, not missions. If it is for the unchurched/unbelievers, then it is evangelism.  All of these are worthy goals, so decide which you want to support.

2. Does the host really want these people to come? I attended a meeting of local evangelists in a foreign country a while back and the common complaint from all of them was how they felt required to host short-term groups who wanted to come work with them—regardless of whether the group would actually benefit their work—because the group was from a church that supported their work.   It was often assumed that every mission site would love to have a group of 30 people appear on their doorstep, but for many obvious reasons, that is not always the case.  Make sure a real invitation from the site has been issued before you go/send.

3. What’s the purpose and how will it be accomplished? Make sure that the activities match the purpose.  If the purpose is to share the Gospel with people, establishing an obvious way to contact people who do not believe is critical. Then, how will the workers begin a conversation with them? There is room for a variety of purposes, but the activities must match the purpose.

4. What’s the plan for the time on site? The very nature of short-term missions means that good use of the time is critical. Showing up to “do whatever the missionary wants” is simply a way to shift all the responsibility on the local people to do all the thinking and preparation.

5. Have the workers prepared to go? Let’s Start Talking provides all workers with a minimum of 20 hours of preparation. Our college students receive more like 50 hours for their mission projects. There are good resources out there for individuals and groups to use in preparation.  Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use the expertise of short-term mission leaders with lots of experience.

6. Is the cost appropriate? I do not believe at all in the “most bang for the buck” model of missions—but we will talk about that later.  But I also know that spending $3000/person for a five-day short-term mission project when two of the days are mostly getting to and from the site does not appear on the surface to be a wise use of that money.  Church leaders should weigh the costs against all of the outcomes, then make a prayerfully informed decision.

Next, I’ll offer a few tips for those trying to decide about a short-term mission trip—or not!

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One of the great experiences with Bible study is that moment when you are surprised by a very familiar text.  For missionary-types like myself who have been to hundreds of mission workshops, mission lectureships, and mission forums and who have delivered and heard countless sermons motivating Christians to do missions, the “Here am I! Send Me” text in Isaiah 6 is utterly familiar.

But this week it has been surprisingly new!

Poor King Uzziah—mostly remembered for the year he died! He reigned 52 years and was a pretty good king and God blessed his reign—until he became so powerful that he thought he could make his own religion with himself as the chief priest. He went into the temple in Jerusalem and offered incense on the altar, a function reserved for the Levitical priests. While raging at the priests who confronted him, God struck him with leprosy—which had the immediate effect of humbling him, but also making him an outcast until he died (2 Chronicles 26).

This backstory of King Uzziah is interesting because Isaiah’s vision in Chapter 6 takes him into the temple also, but here he sees the Lord on a raised throne, surrounded by winged seraph.  The Lord is wearing a robe that fills the temple—as does smoke—perhaps the smoke of his presence or the smoke of incense—what a scene!

Isaiah’s reaction in the temple is exactly the opposite of King Uzziah’s. Isaiah says, “I am ruined!”  He feels filthy  or “unclean” (as with leprosy) compared to the glory of the Lord.  And he is especially aware of how filthy his lips are—very interesting for a man who is about to be anointed a prophet!

And his people are also filthy!

There is no altar call, no pleading for forgiveness on Isaiah’s part! He cannot offer sacrifices as King Uzziah had attempted!  No, the initiative for forgiveness begins with God.  His messenger-seraph takes an ember from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips—that must have been frightening!

“Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for!”  All passive construction—all God’s doing, not Isaiah’s!  Not ours!

Then almost immediately, with his lips and soul still tingling from the burning coal-cleansing, Isaiah hears the Lord asking for a volunteer.  Now who else was in this scene except the seraph??  The Lord could have chosen a winged heavenly being to deliver His message—but that wasn’t their task.  Instead He called on Isaiah to volunteer—and, of course, he does—because he is in awe of God and he has been  cleansed—but his people are still filthy.

God sends Isaiah with the word “GO” as He has so many of us missionary types. That’s why verse 8 is one of the bread-and-butter verses of every missionary calling!

But here is the surprise!

The message that God gives to Isaiah to proclaim to his filthy people is one of judgment! Isaiah’s commission is to be the watchman (to borrow from Ezekiel) who blows the warning trumpet, only to be ignored. The enemy will come; the towns will be wasted; the people will be carried away!  Even the remnant who might survive the main onslaught will be invaded again—and nothing and no one will be left!!

I believe in the wrath of God, and I believe in judgment—but I am really happy that I—we—have been sent with Good News!  We have been sent with “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . .  .“  Our message is that every one can be saved!

If the prophets could go out with such bad news, surely we who have been cleansed should not be shy or timid about going out with the Good News.

 

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God’s Drama In Asia!

What an amazing world we live in! Because our flight from Kuching, Malaysia to Singapore is cancelled this morning, we are being re-routed through Kuala Limpur on a flight leaving in three hours. So while Sherrylee does some airport shopping for the grandkids, I’m sitting in a Coffee Bean shop, having a latte with a banana muffin while Carrie Underwood sings from the Grand Ole Opry on the TV monitor above me—in Kuching, Malaysia.

Next door to this little oasis of western culture is a shop selling prayer rugs and shawls for Muslim tourists, and in the restaurant at the other end of the departure area, advertisements announce a special menu for Ramadan. It’s about 90 degrees outside with 150% humidity, but beautiful purple wild orchids grow everywhere on the side of the road. The humidity we have in Houston, but not the orchids!

Last night’s dinner was a drama of mixed cultures: a seafood dinner served family style with peppered crab, whole shrimp, grilled whole fish, fern, and something my friend Dave Hogan (Singapore) called “worms” when he asked me to pass them.  And then we had a McDonald’s strawberry sundae for dessert. What an amazing world we live in!

Sherrylee and I attended the 51st Asia Mission Forum (AMF) in Kuching this year in order to visit with many of the Asian church leaders and missionaries to whom LST sends teams.  If you think the world is amazing, God’s church in this world is amazingly dramatic!

About two hundred people attended this AMF, one of the larger crowds, from about a dozen different countries.  On any row of seats, you would probably find a Christian couple from Singapore sitting next to their friends from Kuala Limpur and a family from the Philippines.  Japan had an especially large group this year; China was represented as was Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. Then there were the guests like us from the United States and a whole mob from Texas!

Joel Osborne, a former LST worker who now lives and works in Japan, was the director of the AMF and did an especially wonderful job balancing worship, teaching, fellowship, and inspiration.  Jim McGuiggin, the Irish saint of Churches of Christ who now lives near Nashville, brought deeply moving lessons each day. Joel led us in stirring worship—almost liturgical in its thoughtful structure and responsive readingsbut the highlight for me were the personal testimonies of some of the Asian Christians.

Talk about drama, would you be surprised to know that one of the highest officials in the government in the Philippines is a devout Christian who hosts a congregation of saints in his home near Manilla?  And while he could have awed us with his own story, he spent most of his allotted time talking about his wife, who was rising in the judicial ranks as a judge in the Philippines, perhaps on a track to the Supreme Court, when she resigned! She resigned her position because of the corruption and abuse of power in the ranks of her fellow judges—but she didn’t resign out of fear! No, she resigned to fight! She wrote two books documenting the corruption and abuse of power and has become a national figure in the fight against corruption.  The two of them are powerful Christian voices for the revival of integrity in a country that has a long Christian tradition.

Then last night three young Japanese Christians, struggling to control their emotions, told about how the disastrous earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 had affected them. These three young Christians, alone with Joel Osborne, directed much of the Japanese disaster relief done by Churches of Christ, including collection and distribution of food and clothing and relief items, in addition to the clean-up and recovery work that continues.

Pausing with every sentence, the young woman told how she went to the disaster area in faith but how the questions of God’s absence in the midst of all the destruction and suffering actually caused her to decide there could not be a God who would allow such! She abandoned her faith–but stayed with her work for the disaster victims. What she discovered was that giving up on God brought no more answers and no relief to her pain. Then her Christian friends reminded her of Christ’s suffering, even his feeling abandoned on the cross, and God found her soft heart and moved back in to recover and heal her—as she continues to help others heal.

The exotic plants, the food, the culture—these are all interesting—but the people and their stories, this is where we see God’s drama being unpacked in our lives. God’s story has life, death, joy and sorrow, beauty and beasts—but God’s drama is the real world—the most amazing one of all!

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Four hours until we land in Chicago.  We were not scheduled originally to fly through Chicago, but when we got up this morning, we found the notice that our flight to New York from Rome was delayed two hours, meaning that we would certainly miss our connection to Seattle, which is our next stop.

With the cost of making international calls via internet now affordable, I turned on my own mobile phone, called the American Airlines  US office and rescheduled us through Chicago.  No problem—as they say all over the world!

Because Sherrylee and I spent our first Thanksgiving together in Germany in 1971, to call home, we went to the Post Office, informed the clerk that we wanted to make an international call, gave him the number, and then stepped into a special telephone booth in the office to wait for the call to be placed.

In a minute, our phone rang—no ringtones then—and her parents were on the other end. We talked for eight minutes, part of which was taken by Sherrylee asking her mother which end of the turkey to stuff. I remember vividly paying over $50 for that phone call, which, as a point of reference, was exactly what we had been paying monthly for rent at our first apartment.

I’m glad we came to Italy.  Our Rome to Florence flight took a bit longer because our plane was diverted to Pisa because of high winds.  I thought I might catch a glimpse of the leaning tower as we landed, but no such luck.  By the way, if you ever go there, the baptistery in front of the church in front of the leaning tower may be the most interesting structure to visit.

The same is true in Florence where the Baptistry of St. John  is a must visit.  As it was explained to us, these early medieval churches built their buildings to reflect their theology. A large building would be built, large enough for a very large pool of water into which you went down and walked out of to be baptized. This building not only would be highly adorned and appropriately decorated, but often the artwork—or so it appears to us—was really the medieval version of Powerpoint slides thrown onto all the walls and ceilings for instructional purposes. The art of baptistries tends towards the stories of God’s redeeming work , which seems highly appropriate to me!

But the theological lesson continues. The baptistry would always be built outside of the church, but not too far from the front door!  So in Florence,  one would be baptized, exit the building through the famous doors called the “Gates of Paradise” and then walk into the church as a new-born member of the Body of Christ, straight to the altar to participate in communion.  The theological instruction for the new Christian is unavoidable!

Makes me wonder about our baptistries?  I’ve seen baptistries under trap doors under the pulpit! Then there are those high above the pulpit—or low and over on the side behind a curtain.  In fact, almost all of ours are behind a curtain. What does that say??

We had about an hour of wandering in Florence before we met two missionaries from Ancona, Italy, who rode a train several hours both ways to meet with us. Brian and Kyle have been part of a team, which has worked in Ancona for the last ten years. Wonderful guys who didn’t know that much about LST, so we spent some time together talking about possibilities.

Our second day in Florence, we had a delicious lunch with Mike and Anto Mahan and their two children. They have ministered to the Church of Christ in Prato, just outside of Florence for many years and have hosted many mission interns over the years, but will host their first LST team from York College this summer.  We like to meet personally with new hosts to make sure everyone has the same expectations.

After rushing to the airport this morning, then, to catch the flight to Chicago, which left an hour earlier than the New York flight, just enough time remained before we needed to go through passport control and security to meet with Andrea and Heather Gentile, a great couple who are part of a team planting a church outside of Rome. He is Italian and she American; in fact, their teammates are of the same configuration.

Sherrylee and I have the best job in the world. We get to travel to Scotland, Ukraine, Greece, and Italy, meeting with local Christians, U.S. missionaries, national evangelists; we get to listen to them tell excitedly about their work; sometimes we get to encourage them ; we always pray with them.  We talk about the Kingdom of God and what we might be able to do together to bring glory to God!

The churches we have visited this time battle for God in fields, where the spiritual warfare is vicious. But we must never forget that even in Europe, we are more than conquerors!

 

 

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 On Sunday, those gathered were from Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, Switzerland, Ukraine, Russia, Australia, South Africa, Iran, Iraq, and Texas.  We used three different songbooks and the Greek, Cyrillic, and Roman alphabet.

The Lord’s Prayer was prayed simultaneously multi-tongued. The Spirit interceded in an unutterable language according to St. Paul in Romans 8, to make the thoughts of our hearts known to God.  Regardless of country of origin, the bread was broken in Ƙoinonia (Fellowship) and the cup was taken with Agape for the One who bought His Church with His own blood.

I preached twice yesterday in Athens at two wonderful congregations. I told them that their services at first reminded me of the Tower of Babel, but as I thought about it, I realized that God had used different languages to drive men apart in that story because of their haughtiness and pride.  Jesus, of course, came to break down the walls and unify people,which is why we could all sit together in one room. Our different languages are the remnants of punishment for our pride, but what seems today like a barrier is, in fact, the hope and promise of feasting with all the nations at the banquet of the Lamb.

These multi-national churches are like a taste of heaven!

And why is this?  Not so long ago, I reminded you of what St. Paul said in this same city two thousand years ago, when he had the opportunity to talk about the Unknown God with the Athenians:

From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 

God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. Acts 17:24

We visited with four Muslims who will be baptized next week. We talked with a Christian Iraqi preacher who fled with his wife and three children because of death threats.  We heard about twenty-five Africans in Athens training to be preachers.

Greece is considered unreceptive! Churches in America will not spend money in Europe because post-Christian Europeans don’t want to listen to American missionaries!

But what about the rest of the world that is in Europe? What about the nations?  What about all the world? What about God’s Spirit being poured out on all flesh?  What about God putting people in the exact place where they should live so that they will seek Him and find Him?  What about the peoples that God has put in Europe?

Maybe that’s too many rhetorical questions, but just come to Athens and see.  Visit the islands, enjoy the ruins and biblical sites, but don’t forget to see the nations!

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In the first month of my first semester at Harding, a senior student named Ron McFarland walked up to me in the aisle before chapel and said, “Hey, would you like to go on a mission campaign?”  Completely intimidated and equally ignorant, I replied confidently, “Sure!”

I went to an interview with Owen Olbricht for a spot on the Campaigns Northeast team from Harding for the next summer.  One of the first questions he asked me was why I wanted to go—and I literally had no answer because I had no idea what a missions campaign was!  I was only 17 years old and already felt like I had gone to the moon to leave Texas and go to Arkansas to college.  Clueless!

I was accepted—but was completely unprepared for what I had committed to do—so, of course, I was afraid and tried to drop off the team at least once.   Ignorance, inexperience, fear, and no relationship with anyone else going all were a certain recipe for disaster. The promise of training was my only hope!

 In retrospect, the training I received was minimal. The twelve of us met weekly in a classroom of the Bible building. Sometimes we had mimeographed handouts of information on Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and other exotic religious groups we would certainly meet in Pennsylvania. We did go over the Salvation Sheet, which is the outline of scriptures that we used to present the need for salvation to those who agreed to study with us.  Mostly, we listened to stories from people who had gone before.

Six years later, Sherrylee and I left for full-time mission work in Germany. This was shortly before the introduction in our fellowship of mission majors, mission internships, and psychological testing. In fact, our only training for the mission field was our experiences on Campaigns Northeast.  Four summers of knocking on doors, talking with literally hundreds of people of all sorts about salvation, and working with mission churches in the Northeast United States may have been the best training available at the time.

Here’s what I know about training for missions—or equipping, as we prefer to call it now:

  • Everyone who does short-term or long-term missions needs serious preparation! Don’t put your youth group on the bus, don’t let your retiring Boomers on a plane, and don’t send your preacher overseas without their having been equipped and prepared for the foreseen tasks.  This is so obvious, but most short-term workers go ill-prepared!
  • Preparation and training involves more than just providing information! Reading a book on cultural faux pas in China is helpful, but not enough! Telling the youth group not to wander off is a start, but not complete. Some of the poorest works I know about were instigated by academic-type missionaries who knew everything about their field and about missiology—but did not know people.
  • Nothing can replace experiential training! We learn by doing. In my day, that meant we learned by trial and error on the field. Today, supervised internships and mentoring programs offer great opportunities for long-term workers to receive hands-on training.  Short-term mission workers are the ones who often are short-changed here.  In fact, short-term missions are often used as a training event—which is one of the reasons for the distaste for short-term missions among some missions people.
  •  Short-term missions should not be used as a training exercise when they involve real people!  It’s like sending an army recruit to the battlefront for two weeks to teach him how to be a soldier. Or sending a first-year medical student to operate on people for a couple of weeks to give her a taste of what it is like to be a doctor.
  • There is no single perfect path for mission preparations.  A short-term trip to China and a short-term trip to Africa may have some common moments, but MUCH of the experience will require very different skills, therefore, very different preparation.  In fact, mission preparations for sub-Saharan  Africa would be very different from preparations for North Africa.  So why do we think that one curriculum, one missions philosophy, or even one mentor can adequately prepare missionaries for the diversity of the world we live in??
  • A spiritual and theological preparation is foundational to any mission work, either short or long term!  Needless to say, these areas are most often assumed to be in place, and, therefore, skipped over for lack of time or money or personnel, or whatever!  But do you know what those teenagers believe who are going to Honduras?  You may know what they have been taught, but do you know what they believe?  So you have found someone willing to go to China, but what is their picture of church?  If their only reference is American church, they most likely can only operate within that frame.  But that frame doesn’t really work in China today, so now what??

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes the 10,000 Hour Rule, which he identifies as the 10,000 hours of practice that great success requires.  Abraham Lincoln reportedly said,“ Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

I wonder if all of our mission workers wouldn’t be much happier and much more effective if we recommended—no, insisted—on more and better preparation—somewhere between four and 10,000 hours!

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