Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lessons Learned

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Enroute, Jeff has been plucking away on his laptop like a madman, shuffling through his detailed notes, and trying to commit our already fading memories to writing. Jeff is a master at observation and analysis. I’m confident he’ll bring order and clarity to the jungle book of experiences we’ve had.

I think I can speak for both of us in saying that this trip had more of a personal impact on us than we anticipated.

For myself, I learned that my evangelistic zeal is too easily dampened. We have lots of excuses, many good ones, why we don’t open our mouths and share our testimonies more freely. Through our silence we are no longer students of the Great Commission, learning and sharpening our witness in ways that can only be done through practice.

This trip made me realize that we can’t really ‘workshop’ or ‘seminar’ our way to doing evangelism. We really just have to do it; share our testimonies with anything that moves, look for that “man of peace” who will engage us. This is Jesus' way of evangelism training. Evangelism seminars are very helpful, we need them. And we also need to obediently follow the Spirit as He shapes in us evangelistic lifestyles.

I’ve found that I’m about three steps removed from the experience of Paul, and Peter, and the other post-resurrection disciples. Their experiences seem other-worldly and surreal. You see, the apostles used a word that we rarely use to describe each other: Boldness.

We admire other Christians for their prayerfulness, or their service, or their kindness, or their gentleness, or their compassion. But rarely do we admire Boldness. When was the last time I described myself as prison-bound, Muslim-confronting, hunt-people-down-every-day, hot-blooded bold about the Gospel? People describe me as being Bald, but not Bold (sorry, I couldn’t resist a bad bald joke!).

Seriously though, we “evangelicals” think that a brother in Christ probably did something wrong if he offended someone by sharing his faith. If an unbeliever is offended by our testimony, we want to apologize for it! There’s something seriously wrong here. Of course if a well-intentioned brother is tactless and unloving as he shares about Jesus' love, that's an incongruity that should be addressed. Even in those cases, though, we should be glad that the gospel goes forward, whether in "pretense or in truth" (Phil. 1).

If you do a search of the word “bold” and its derivatives in the New Testament. You’ll find that its a very important word. The apostles were bold. Jesus promised Spirit-filled boldness. They got stoned and beat up for being bold. Other Christians betrayed them because of their boldness. They prayed for boldness. And they asked for even more boldness!

Another take-away from this trip is that the American church has a lot to learn from our brothers and sisters overseas. In fact, we should seriously consider asking some of these Uzbeks, and Kazakhs, and Tajiks to come over here and tell us what we desperately need to hear. So let’s drop any paternalistic notion that missions is a one-way street to non-Americans. We have as much to learn from believers in other countries as they can learn from us. They’re truly our partners and it would be a good idea if they came over here and kicked us in our...back pews. Those Ninjas have a few things to teach us “grasshoppers”.

Jesus promised that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the church. If I remember correctly, there was only instance during His life that Jesus indicated that the Gates of Hell were seriously threatened. It was when the disciples went out boldly witnessing, two by two, and Jesus said, “I was watching Satan fall from the heavens like lightning” (Luke 10:18). So, if we think that the Prince of the World has too much sway over our culture, we know there is at least one thing we can do to bring him down...Spirit emboldened witnessing.

Lets pray and work for lightning to fall in our part of the world.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Burgers With V. and J.

Thursday, March 4th

For their protection, I cannot tell you where these 2 guys are from. They live in a place where Islam is radicalized and Christians are being mobilized.

Over a Thursday night re-entry meal of burgers and hot dogs I sat mesmerized for over an hour as they shared their lives and their lifestyles. I can’t tell you their real names, so let’s just call them V. and J. V. knew some English so he did most of the talking.

V. shared how he had carried on a witnessing relationship with a local mullah. The mullah agreed with V. that he needed Jesus. And he knew that his sins had not been removed. He said he lived with his sins daily and that he realized he needed a savior. But he explained to V. that his family had problems and the salary was very good for being a mullah. The mullah moved to a large house and V. lost track of him.

Struggling to find the right English words, V. recounted for us his encounters at the mosque. Yes, they sometimes go to the mosques to talk about the Lord with people. V. said, “I prefer to talk with the radical Muslims instead of the nominal Muslims. We don’t try to bring down Mohammed. By using the Koran itself, we lift up Christ higher than Mohammed.”

I asked V., what accounts for so many converts to Christianity? (in one area, 35 out of 100 witnessing exposures were led to Christ). He said, “People see dreams. Dreams of a man in a white robe. All of this happens before we have a conversation with them.” One man had recurring dreams of this kind so he went to a church. He became a Christian and the dreams stopped. Others have experienced miracles in their lives.

We talked further about the strategy that these church planters use to reach people: The Four Fields Approach.

  • Field #1: Entry

a. Do prayer walks.

b. Share your testimony and find a “man of peace” (Luke 10:5-6); that is, someone who is open to a relationship with you.

  • Field #2: Evangelism.

In the context of a friendship, continue to share basic Christian truths with your new friend.

  • Field #3: Discipleship.
Cover essential Christian practices and truths. Encourage them to reach their friends, following your example of ‘Entry’ and ‘Evangelism’.
  • Field #4: Plant a Small Group (house church).

We asked S. (the director) how he and the other church planters stay motivated, since evangelism in such hostile environments must be draining. “One thing I’ve learned,” he said, “is that my motives must be pure, and that I am sharing my faith totally for the glory of God.” He continued, “Evangelism isn’t natural for me. I used to shy away from sharing my faith because of fear, especially with Muslims,. Now, my personal focus is to worship God. Now I eagerly share my faith daily.”

If you are still reading this post, pray now for these brothers and sisters in Christ in the same way that Paul requested the prayers of the Ephesian believers (Eph. 6:19-20): “...and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly as I ought to speak.”

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Wednesday, March 3

After my first decent night’s sleep in over a week, we enjoyed a second face-time with S. over instant coffee, a "sausage" and 3 eggs sunny side up (really a bologna omelet), toast, and jam. I’ve found that knowing the language here doesn’t mean that a person can communicate with waiters or shop owners any better than we can. However, we got something close to what S. ordered for us.

S. delved into a preview of the material that he would share at the conference later this morning. He wanted to address a problem: 2nd, 3rd, and ensuing generations of small groups stop reproducing and evangelizing. S. introduced a strategy that a friend from Japan is employing: NINJA Groups. A NINJA Group is a group of no more than 3 people and a leader who agree to pursue some intense disciplines every week; such as, engage in evangelism (or service), read 25
chapters in the Bible, report back to the NINJA group with total transparency.

The purpose of the NINJA groups is to preserve the original DNA of passion and service for the Lord with key leaders.

After breakfast we headed out to the conference and I gave my 30 minute devotional to the gang from Jn. 16, through an interpreter. You would love to meet this guy (my interpreter). He has such a cheery disposition. I’d especially like to get to know him better in the future. People who know both Russian and English said that the interpreter’s version of my talk was better than mine (they laughed so I think they were kidding). Really funny, guys.

After an early lunch, the group broke into 2 discussion groups (Turkic language and Russian). We walked a few cold blocks back to the hotel. My cold is letting up a bit and is allowing me to sleep, so I napped while Jeff and S. went weight-lifting.

I found out later that Jeff tugged on weights while S. was giving his testimony to someone at the gym. We don’t know if this was the same guy that S. told us is a male stripper (I assume S. means that he’s not the kind of stripper that removes paint, but I refuse to conjure any other images in my Pastoral mind). I think the Kazakh word for that is YUCK!

After Jeff’s and S.’s new afternoon ministry time, that I’ve dubbed Weights and Witnessing, we went out to eat with the church planter boys at Chuck’s Roadhouse BBQ (actually Chuck’s was what I dreamed about during my naptime). Instead (back to reality), we ate supper at a restaurant that could have boasted "the Best Pork Kabobs east of the Caspian Sea". At least that would have been my marketing plan for their lip-smacking kabobs.

The rest of the evening was ours and we spent about an hour and a half of it trying to get my last posting loaded onto the Blog (the internet is running slow, unlike our intestines). I haven’t yet seen what they have on TV here so I did some channel surfing while waiting on the internet.

Some TV programs here are rip-offs of American programs. I’m so proud that the very best of American programming (aka, Reality Shows) are of such high quality that other countries can’t wait to copy them! (I’m piling on the sarcasm here).

Well, we had 10 gift bars of this awesome Kazakh chocolate to bring home before Jeff (like Satan) tempted me to share one with him. Now there are 9 (sorry, Missions Team that bar was intended for you!).

Seriously, it’s an honor to spend time with these church planters. They are earnest about evangelism and multiplication. They do it, they pray over it, they measure it, and they mean it. This calls me back to my authentic Xian roots.

Tomorrow, Thursday, is our last full day here. S. will meet us at the restaurant at 7:30am. We’ll connect with an American from Iowa for lunch, after the morning sessions. I think we’re supposed to do some bowling in the afternoon.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Prying Eyes

I apologize for not posting for a while. Between a hectic schedule, traveling to Almaty, and nursing a bad cold, anything I would have written would have been unintelligible. Plus, now we're wrestling with painfully slow internet service making it difficult to add a post to my blog.

Sunday morning we had ch. at a new facility. Their grand opening at a new location. Even with that, the flock attracted 3 new guests. I found that is a common occurrence since AB came to town. They used every chair in the place and we said goodbye to several wonderful people we met in Astana.
I have pictures but I'm cautious to post them here. I've found that the cryptic messages I get from certain regions in the world are truly justified.

In fact, although I don't think I've violated any protocol in any previous posts, from now on I'll practice, "better safe than sorry", or, "loose lips sink ships."

During our travels I've found...
-Its not unusual that staff hours would be devoted to using novel encryption programs to keep sensitive information from prying eyes.
-Workers lower their talk to a whisper or use substitute terms when other ears are near.
-Good, energetic ch. planters are dropped from a Xn agency without explanation because the guy in charge suspects that the planter has an undercover disciple.
-Licenses are strange things around these parts. Some dude in some office somewhere can make you reverse course pretty quickly...and the victim apparently has little say in the matter.
-I can't take pictures of people's faces. I can only take them of their hats (see pic). Actually, Jeff kept making a big deal out of the women's fur hats that I just had to take a picture of one. Fur hats are fantastic...and enticing. I used all of my will power to keep my hand from reaching up and rubbing them!

L. greeted us in Almaty. We ate a late Monday lunch at a little local dive across from the Jepperson Hotel. I don't care to go back there because I had to dismiss myself because of the 'revenge of Genghis Khan' (if you know what I mean).

We met S. for breakfast on Tuesday and proceeded to the conference. Jeff opened the day with a rousing message on 'The Power of the Word". The guy is a Bble fiend...Scriptures jabbing out all over the place! Great job, Jeff!

After a great wrship time, several area guys gave reports on their successes with seeing people respond to the "message" (how's that for cryptic?).

Then S. gave some pointers, from the Mslm holy book, on how to use it to convince a person of that inclination to incline another way (wow, talk about a cryptic sentence! I should write the next Bourne movie!).

We had a great meal with S. and his lovely wife, who looks like a sheik's princess.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, we'll get more face time with S. And I give my Devo to you-know-who at the you-know-what about the Holy (blank) Who convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. For my next post you'll need to eat a lot of Malto Meal so you can order the special decoder ring to decode what I write.

And, to the wacked out guy with prying eyes sitting at a dated computer in some crowded cubicle in a covert government building trying to figure out what I just said in this post...get a life! Loosen up and find a non-voyeuristic job! (I know its government policy around here to monitor radical activity in order to keep the peace...I understand that. It still doesn't help me like it when my brothers go to jail for it).

Friday, February 26, 2010

Don't Eat at Short Tables

We enjoyed a couple of important meetings on Friday. The first was a chicken and mashed potatoes lunch with an update from AB. We postponed the afternoon tour of Astana for a short retreat to the King Hotel to repair some jet-lag. And we met later with B., the local director of the organization.

AB picked us up again at 6pm to drive along Astana's unlined roads to B's house. En-route we met a a young, on-fire Occupational Therapist from Amsterdam who is considering a move from the outreaches of Kazakhstan to join the good work of Green Pastures. When asked, this guy (sorry, my jet-lagged brain is losing names) expressed displeasure with some compromises of the "church" in his home country of the Netherlands. This guy seemed to be the real deal, though, giving it all up to serve God and others in a very foreign country.

AB dropped us at the newer home of B. and A. and their 4 children. B. is the director here. We got acquainted over snacks of nuts and dried fruit before we hustled off to a Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra performance. We found some cool pyramid-shaped building called something like The Center for Peace and Understanding.

The performers, outfitted in classy, fur-lined native dress, performed on dombras and an entire string section. As they played, I thought that the music would provide a fantastic soundtrack for a movie. It really was very professionally done and, surprisingly, pleasing to the ear.

We stepped out of the concert early and headed back for a great meal prepared for us at B.'s. I tried to sit on the floor cushions surrounding a short dinner table. I found that I can still cross my legs! However, by dessert time my right leg was asleep. And by the time I stood up to leave, you couldn't convince me I had a right foot. It took me three tries to slip on my right shoe.

By the way, what's with the painful tingling when a limb "wakes up"? Why can't it just wake up in a painless way instead of shouting, "Hey, dummy, NEVER do that to me again!?"

I don't think my grimaced smile convinced our hosts that I really did have a good time.

Hope in a Concrete Apartment

Green Pastures never got a review from me in this blog, so let me pause here and do that now. Our first appointment on Thursday morning was a stop at Green Pastures, a humanitarian service for disabled children under the age of 17. Green Pastures regularly handles over 200 cases of autism, head trauma, downs syndrome, cerebral palsy, and more. Yes, all in a 3 room, refurbished apartment!

But, Green Pastures is nothing like its name. Buried on the 2nd floor of a crowded concrete apartment complex we walked through the multi-locked steel plate door (common in KZ) and up some cracked tile steps to a 2+ bedroom apartment. This converted apartment is a beacon of HOPE for parents of disabled kids who have no real help for their struggling children. A small bedroom is their "administrative office" and another bedroom is sparsely outfitted with some rugs, pillows and random items that can help the children here. Another room boasts a donated, but new, powered physical therapy table.

In fact, Hope is one of the organization's names for this agency. Staffed with real professionals, I couldn't believe this talented line-up: a registered Dr. from Astana, an MD from Singapore, other supported physical therapists and support staff from Germany, KZ, and volunteers from the local fellowship. The parents of these patients stubbornly refuse to follow the advice of the majority of medical professionals who routinely shuffle these cases to neglectful government facilities. Or, worse yet, they regularly misdiagnose the condition of these people and prescribe too much of the wrong kind of medication.

Green Pastures' staff members, many of whom find support outside of KZ, build long term relationships with their patients' families in order to bring them to the One who gives true Hope.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Half A World Away

We finished up in the Orakoy, waterfront, district in Istanbul (see pic) and shuttled off to catch a plane to Astana.

Now we're officially, and exactly' 12 time zones away from Ames...Halfway Around the World! When I was a kid, there was a saying that if you drilled a hole down far enough and crawl through it, you'd end up in China. None of my friends at the time knew there was another country to the west of China, or what it was called. I'm there now, and its called Kazakhstan (land of the Kazakhs).

The 5+ hour flight over 4 time zones from Istanbul was uneventful, except for the fact that we checked in around 6:30am at the King Hotel amid flurries of snow. My travels are starting to remind me of a bad Jr. High sleep and strange food.

The King Hotel is spacious compared to the closet (called a double room) we stayed in at the Erboy Hotel (actually I really liked the Erboy. Mahmed, a waiter in the hotel's restaurant, really made us feel welcome).

The trip from the Astana Airport (modern, with typically unsmiling passport agents) featured a quick tour of this Boom Town of Central Asia. Our taxi driver drove at double the speed limit but would interrupt his tour guide chatter to suddenly slow down. Then he would speed up again. He explained that there were speed traps along the route and he would slow down just as he passed them, only to build his Mercedes up to ramming speed once again. Somebody ought to write a book on impractical government ideas.

We passed all kinds of new buildings; most notably a gold crowned mosque, built by some Saudi sheik. Scattered along this route my jet-lagged brain remembers slurred descriptions of embassies, oil ministry buildings, a new soccer stadium, and a bicycle track. Although who knows what we really passed at 120km/hour?

We slept til noon. and had breakfast (or lunch?) at 1pm Kazakh time, after which I tried to catch up with my emails and take a quick nap. AB met us at the hotel at 4pm to grab a cup of coffee with one of his partners, referred to here as M. (sorry for the name abbreviations but the Kazakh's are snoopy about partners like this, if you know what I mean ;-).

M. runs a real retail business that helps people learn English and find connections with you-know-who. We enjoyed an interesting conversation with this servant.

Then we hustled a few blocks over to AB's 4th floor apartment in his Volkswagon SUV where we dropped some gifts on him, like Slim Jims, taco seasoning, and a chunk of cash donated for AB's van repair/purchase fund from some caring Ames people. His kids are totally delightful and you can tell immediately that they have had a lot of love...all 5 of them!

Others of our particular persuasion showed up for some tea and desserts. Then we (actually, They)sang two songs in Russian. What a great group! Medical people, students, fellow workers, new people, professional people all joined together. This was their first night for this type of meeting so they let us Americanos join in their 2-Truths-And-A-Lie Game. Most of them are conversant in English and Russian, so we all had some good laughs. They then worked on signing people up or organizing something, although I'm not sure what it was?

AB dropped us off at a popular Kabob place where I downed some lamb-kabobs (not my favorite) and some mashed potatoes. We walked 15 minutes in sub-zero cold to get back to the King Hotel.

Tomorrow, we'll meet up with more partners and get a tour along with a concert!