Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Life is like dominoes...

I haven't really blogged much in several days. I guess the internet has been a lot more spotty than I was hoping. I hope you've been praying anyway- even if you're not sure of exactly what's happening, I'm sure God will fill in the gaps.

I've been thinking about poor people today- there are a lot of them here in the city. Often, when I tell people that we work in Africa, southeast Asia, and Latin America, people will ask whether we serve the children. Especially the poor children. When I tell them that we don't, I often feel that I need to justify that. How could we POSSIBLY work in places like Africa without directly responding to the needs of millions of AIDS orphans, along with the millions of other children who are literally dying from the effects of poverty?

It's not that we don't care. I care deeply. On this trip, I've been reading, "The Hole in Our Gospel" by Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision. I highly recommend it. Stearns powerfully communicates the needs of the world, along with the Bible's call to respond to those needs. If you've ever been in the developing world, you've faced the sights, sounds, smells- life-wrenching poverty up close.

So why don't we do something about it?

We just teach them to be better leaders. And we teach them about what it means to serve with the heart of Jesus. And how to teach the word of God. But we don't feed them....

We've discovered that funny things happen, though...those local leaders begin to BECOME the answer for the poor. They begin to compassionately care for those in poverty around them. They read God's call to care for the poor, and they begin to actually do it. They reach across divisions of tribe, religion, and geography. Soon, we see THEM become God's answer. As we encourage and support our "partner ministries", small answers begin to spread like wildfire.

Church leaders in southeast Asia learn about God's challenge to Jonah, and begin to respond to the needs of those different from them.

Our partners in Kenya form programs to care for children in areas where the infant mortality rate is more than 20%.

Tribes that have hated each other for centuries begin to work together, which means that food, water, and other essentials are more effectively produced and shared.

And there's more....

There are three of us "Americans" on the training team for this trip. We're not doing anything about poverty. But we're training a couple of dozen leaders, who are training hundreds of others. Some of those are training others...and so on....

The three aren't doing anything about the poor...but the hundreds are doing a thousand little things. One person influences the next...one domino knocks the next one over. The next thing you know, society is being transformed. So maybe we're really doing a LOT about the poor.

Just thinking out loud on that.

Today (Wednesday) is my last day of training. My partners will be here through Friday, but I'm boarding a plane back to Chicago early Friday morning (I have to be at the airport at 4 am....aacckkkk...). In a couple of days, I will have switched worlds, and I'll be telling a few hundred people about my trip at our annual banquet. Please pray that I'll finish strong.

Pray that I'll influence a domino or two today...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Religious Freedom

We've been doing our training in a church. From the American perspective, it's more of storefront, with the pastor living upstairs, and the church meeting in his "living room" downstairs. In this country, there are "registered churches"- they have agreed to be under government supervision. They still do some great work, but everything they do must be approved by the government. Even their pastors must be approved (or even appointed) by the government. By registering, the church gains some freedoms- they don't have to hide their activities, or worry about being suddenly shut down. But the registered church also loses something signficant- the freedom to operate with God as their government.

I've been trying to imagine what would happen if the US government tried to "register" the churches in this way. I know that there are certain restrictions already, and I'm aware that we sometimes worry about how that may become limiting. However, the church in America still enjoys an incredible amount of freedom. The contrast is striking.

Our training location is not registered. That means that they are much more able to follow their conscience, and to obey what they believe God is calling them to do- regardless of what the government's opinion might be. But it also means that we try to keep our comings and goings very discreet. Too much attention can be very dangerous. Many of these pastors have already served some jail time for their ministry.

Our trainers represent both the registered church and the illegal church. They work together well, and seem to have a healthy respect for the struggles that they each face. The Kingdom of God is apparently able to focus on their common calling, rather than judging each other for the difficult choices they have made. And I'm realizing that there may not be any "right" decision in this kind of situation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I'm not worthy...

I don't know how many missionaries have ever quoted Wayne and Garth in their blog from southeast Asia, but "I'm not worthy". (If you don't understand that reference, you need to study up on mindless 90's movies. Maybe google "Wayne's World".)
As part of our training sessions, we "interview" the TNTers about the people that they are training. You see, we train fairly small groups. Usually around 10-15 people (TNTers). The small group allows us to really go deep, discussing, wrestling, and even disagreeing quite a bit. You can teach/learn a lot more in that kind of setting.
The real magic happens AFTER we leave- when the TNTers go all over the country, training others. Here in the capital city, things are fairly easy. It's a city of 12 million people, so no one really bothers with us. But when the TNTers pass it on to other leaders (who often pass it on to others...), things are harder. The settings are more difficult. The demands of travel into remote tribal areas are intense. And the persecution they encounter is REAL...
I'm not worthy...but God has given us the opportunity to pass along what we know.
The picture you see here is "James" and "Roland", training a group of church leaders and pastors. Groups like that are happening all over the world. How cool is THAT?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fascinating things, everywhere I look.

We just finished our first full day of training. It went really well (more about that later), but I wanted to post this picture first.

This is a restaurant I saw today. You're probably wondering why I posted it. Well, the restaurant down the street serves chicken, and it has a chicken on the sign. This restaurant has a picture of...um...I guess that's a black lab. Draw your own conclusions. Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

We had a full day of training pastor-trainers today. These men (and one woman) travel all over the country, training others. We're only working with a few, but they're impacting hundreds of others. And those hundreds impact thousands. I love the math.

The few (and the hundreds) are telling people all over the country about Jesus. They're starting churches in tribal areas where there are no churches. They're distributing food to starving widows. They're training leaders in the neighboring country, where the soldiers sometimes kill pastors just for being pastors. And all in a country where the church faces severe persecution. It's a privilege to be part of this.

I guess eating dog isn't the most interesting thing happening in this city. (And I didn't eat at that restaurant, by the way...)

Monday, November 2, 2009

I'm here...

It's Tuesday morning here, which means that it's early Monday evening in Chicago. Had a pretty tame 15 1/2 hour flight to Hong Kong, then a 2 1/2 hour flight to V. Got in last night about 10:00. Now I have to start being pretty careful about what I say- security reasons.

We start training today. A few of the guys can't make it until tomorrow, because a tropical storm went through the central part of the country yesterday, knocking out some rail lines and flooding some roads.

I'm leading two sessions today- material that I haven't taught before. Pray for clarity and effective translation.

I'm hoping to post a few pictures if I can make it work.