Posts Tagged ‘Ministry’

Sometimes it’s a dirty word (ask a French farmer), and sometimes it’s the economic lifeline for a third-world economy. Whether positive or negative, however, it is the new reality, the new world order. My Japanese laptop was made in China, possibly shipped on a Panamanian or Liberian freighter by a Danish company to the United States, where I bought it. In the church world, Hillsong, Rick Warren or Joyce Meyer have more influence here in Poland (and possibly in Indonesia, Brazil and Rwanda) than any Polish pastor or church (or the corresponding national leaders in other countries may have).

Urbanization is somewhat connected to globalization, and today’s cultural, political and economic centers – New York, London, Paris, Tokyo – are sometimes more important and influential to a small country than that country’s own capital city. Today’s modern mega-city is a globalized nation-state that at least partially integrates the entire world in a few square kilometers.

With the interdependency of economies comes the interaction of ideas and the interweaving of art and culture. Intermarriage between nationalities becomes the norm, not the exception, and even a remote church can begin to look (and sound) more international.

How do mission agencies deal with the internationality of Christianity, theology, and mission? How do we handle the internationality of the global mission force? Or, for  my organization, WorldVenture, how do we talk about mission “from everywhere, to everywhere” while still appointing only North Americans? Of course, our Poland field is an excellent example of the fact that we really are international, as we have had workers from New Zealand, England, and Poland as career missionaries. In addition, WorldVenture’s intentionality in creating nationally run mission agencies in Philippines and Brazil – and other countries – is worthy of emulation, because such a strategy truly does respect and value our non-American partners in ministry.

But, the world is growing smaller, and the Kansas schoolteacher may marry a Kenyan construction worker, and both may be called to evangelism through English in Tokyo. Recruitment and appointment are not the only issues for mission agencies to consider in a globalized world, either. They have to address finances, especially when workers are appointed from different economic backgrounds, and are supported by disparate economic realities; values, when cultures collide on a mission team; and missional practice, when what works in the United States is attempted by Brazilian missionaries in Shanghai.

In my opinion, flexibility and humility must be the guiding principles for us. A stiff policy manual may have worked in the past, but it will doom us in the future. Constant communication, especially of expectations and perceptions, is a must, as well. And perhaps the answer is in more small organizations that work closely together, rather than larger agglomerates that try to integrate everyone into an American pattern.

James, Sam. Servant on the Edge of History. Garland, Texas: Hannibal Books, 2005. 174 pp.

Sam James has been serving in missions since 1962, in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, Europe, the Middle East and the United States. He has served as a church planter, seminary director, regional leader and senior leader of a large mission organization. He has directed leadership development for that organization and been in involved in crisis intervention for other missionaries. After retiring from the staff of his organization, he went back to his first place of long-term ministry, Vietnam.

Servant on the Edge of History, Sam’s first book, is about his missionary service in Vietnam, from 1962 to 1975. Even a casual student of American history will recognize these years as the height of American involvement in the Vietnamese civil war, and can imagine some of the trials Sam and his family faced. Sam writes with a special focus on some of those trials and the intimate, personal lessons he learned – and that others can learn vicariously. He includes some thoughts on methodology, but he really focuses on spiritual, heart lessons from his experiences.

The first and last chapters are set in 1989, when Sam returns to Vietnam to visit. He meets some of the students he left in 1975, and is able to see how God has used them over the fourteen very difficult years under Communist authorities after the Americans fled, and Saigon fell. The other sixteen chapters tell about Sam and his family in Vietnam, from their arrival to their last frightening flight out of Saigon, as it fell to the Viet Cong.

There are stories that show how Sam must wrestle with his call – to be a church planter and trainer, while faced with human suffering all around. At one point, he decides to go back to the United States to get a medical degree, so he can help alleviate the physical suffering. However, he quickly realizes that God has a unique role for him, as a spiritual leader and teacher who could help alleviate spiritual suffering, as well.

Other stories deal with ethical struggles Sam has to face – from the expectation to pay a bribe to the dilemma over whether to have a gun in the house while the Viet Cong were raiding his village during the Tet offensive.  Sam also openly talks of his feelings of failure, when someone he was witnessing to for quite a while died in a fire before he could know whether she accepted Christ. He also discusses his patriotism, having served in the Navy during the Korean War, and how this sometimes caused dilemmas for a missionary in Vietnam. The desire to represent the Kingdom of Heaven and the Prince of Peace was most important, but the temptation to help the American soldiers, even the CIA, to help prevent more deaths of American servicemen was very strong.

One of the stories that spoke most deeply to me occurred early in the book, in chapter 3. Sam, after having his house broken into, the seminary robbed, and multiple other struggles, is asked by a taxi driver, “What do you love about the Vietnamese people?” Sam is forced to confess to God his lack of love, and after struggling through the night, God spoke. Sam writes, “I have noticed that sometimes only when our backs are completely against the wall and our strength is completely gone, that this is when God steps in and intervenes.” (25)

Frequently, Sam’s dilemmas and subsequent learning experiences take place when his back is against the wall, and his strength is completely gone. Not only does God intervene, but Sam grows and learns. For aspiring missionaries who read this book, that lesson alone is worth the price of the book.

At the end of each chapter, Sam includes discussion questions about the lessons he learned, or dilemma he faced. The questions are less than a page, but they require a significant amount of reflection, based on what Sam has shared. However, the questions turn the book from a memoir into a learning exercise. The questions could be well used for team-building, or for a missionary couple to discuss their potential responses, before a situation arises that calls for an unprepared response.

I did not reflect through all of the questions – some I have faced already in ministry, and some probably will never be an issue. However, I definitely see the value of writing a memoir in this fashion. By including the questions, Sam shows his heart as a trainer, and developer of missionaries. The questions do sometimes read as an afterthought, however. The best example of this point is that nearly every reflection begins with the word “dilemma.” Perhaps it’s a nit-picky point, but Sam could have found some other synonyms.

The stories are amazing to read. I grew up on stories of Vietnam told by men my dad’s age who served there, and for the first time it occurred to me that there were also missionaries – American – who shared the gospel, and even suffered for Christ during the war. Instead of hearing my Ranger friend talk about killing Viet Cong, I was able to read about Sam and his miraculous escape from a Viet Cong ambush, or how he was able to see a committed Communist political officer come to Christ, and become a new creature. My dad, who thankfully spent his military service in Germany, but lost half his classmates to the war, would probably enjoy reading Sam’s book – but so would my teenage sons.

It was an interesting exercise to think about why Sam included the stories he did, and especially why he included the questions he did. The choices may say less about Sam, and more about his intended audience. One example is when he asks if a missionary should appeal to more wealthy people in America and other countries to help provide funds for a house church. Another example occurs when he asks if there is a circumstance in which loyalty to one’s country commands an equal priority with loyalty to Christ. To some readers, those questions may seem almost rhetorical (No), but perhaps they are real dilemmas for the majority of people who join the organization where Sam spent so many years as a leader and trainer.

Sam mentions this organization very frequently – maybe a little too much, although that’s a hard judgment to make. If I worked for the same organization, I probably wouldn’t think Sam had written too much. Sam’s conservative theological perspective is evident, but he doesn’t spend much time talking about theology, or even that much methodology, so it isn’t an issue.

Sam does discuss methodology some, but he is involved both in an established church and seminary, and also in a couple of house churches. In chapter thirteen he talks more about a house church methodology, but his focus is more on the sacrifice that a couple of families make in order to have a fellowship in their homes.

It’s evident throughout the book that Sam’s primary goal is to teach new missionaries, or those interested in missions. His stories are personal, transparent, and alive. The reflection questions are appropriate and helpful. Perhaps the biggest drawback of the book is that most of the stories take place up until 1975, but Sam didn’t write his book until 2005. Unfortunately, the thirty-year gap makes the events seem like history, rather than contemporary, and may make the book less attractive for current readers.

Servant on the Edge of History at Amazon

Shetler, Joanne. And the Word Came With Power. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1992. 164 pp.

In 1962, Joanne Shetler went to live with the Balangao people in the northern Philippines. For the next twenty years she ate their food, learned their customs, walked their trails, joined them in their joy and heartache – all to bring them the Word of God in their language. In order to do so, she first had to learn their language, create an alphabet for it to be written, and translate God’s Word into that language. At times, she worked alone, and in addition, would provide medical assistance, teach literacy and teach God’s Word, share the good news, and counsel those who had heard and responded. At the time of publication, Joanne was in charge of the Anthropology Department for Wycliffe Bible Translators in the Philippines. Patricia Purvis, a literacy specialist and writer for the Summer Institute of Linguistics, helped Joanne write her story.

Joanne gives a first-person account of the process, struggles and victories involved in bringing the written Word of God to a people who have never before had access to His Word in their language.

The first chapter relates a helicopter crash, where Joanne was badly injured while on her way to bring building supplies for a hospital. The doctor in charge of the hospital was killed in the crash, and Joanne was trapped in the burning aircraft. As she describes it, it was the worst pain she had ever known. However, her beloved Balangao people began to pray desperately for her survival, finally bringing an answer to her prayer to God that the Balangao would begin to pray with intensity. As the Balangao walked by her bed, she could hear them pleading, “God, don’t let her die. The Book’s not done yet.”

That first story is a great introduction to Joanne’s life and work. She describes her early life, growing up on a farm in California, and her teenage decision to be a missionary, followed by her college years at BIOLA, and her decision – very logical, as she puts it – to be a Bible translator. She gives just enough background for her readers to know a little about her before she gets to the heart of her story – the Balangao.

From her arrival, with her partner Anne, in early 1962, Joanne is singularly focused on her task of giving the Balangao God’s Word in their heart language. She freely describes some of the errors along the way, the cultural missteps and periods of doubt and disbelief. She shows her fear when she confronts the worship of evil spirits, but along the way, she learns the power of God, especially through His Word.

She is adopted by Canao, the village spokesman. In time, he asks both Joanne and Anne to call him “Ama,” or “father.” The ladies discover Tekla, the daughter of a spirit medium, who had heard of God from a visiting priest, and had already refused to worship the spirits, but had begun praying to God. Tekla was desperate to know God, and was overjoyed when she discovered she could really talk to God, and He heard her. Ama is skeptical, for quite some time, even after a deep trust relationship develops between him and the two foreigners, but he is eventually convinced when he sees the genealogy of Jesus, written down, in the first chapter of the newly translated gospel of Matthew. The Balangao creation story explained man’s frailty, but it didn’t have their ancestors’ names written. For Ama, and many Balangao, the written genealogy of Jesus proved that the Bible was true.

The conversion of Ama was a key event. The following week, he brought a group of people for Joanne to teach, and a church was born. Ama began helping Joanne and Tekla with the translation, and eventually Ama’s son, Doming, joined the team. The church grew as people began to hear the Word, ask questions, learned how to read, and began to read the new portions of the Word that were being translated.

Much of the book focuses on the battle between God and His Word, and the spirit worship of the Balangao people. The Balangaos are faced with a choice of believing in a God they don’t know, but who promises love and healing, or remaining with the spirits they do know, but who torment and enslave them. Joanne lovingly shows the struggle, without condemning those who can’t make the leap to an unknown God, but she also paints a terrible picture of the slavery of spirit worship. The slavery and struggle is best seen in the story of Chalinggay and Forsan, two spirit mediums who choose to follow Christ within days of each other.

The spirits try to kill both women, and nearly succeed. Both Chalinggay and Forsan commit to Christ, and God miraculously saves both of them. Once the Balangao people saw the power of God in defeating the spirits, the number of people interested in hearing more from the Word quadruples. These, and other victories over the evil spirits not only prove convincing for the people in Joanne’s village, but in other villages as well. The influence of the Word continues to grow, a church is established, and the Balangao begin sharing the good news with other tribes nearby – tribes who had been mortal enemies.

In 1982, the New Testament was published in the Balangao language. This event was marked by celebration among the Christian Balangao people. “Twenty years to give birth to a book!” jokes one of the Balangao leaders. However, the twenty years were spent not only in translation and editing, but in listening, learning, teaching, healing, battling the spirits, and a multitude of other duties. Duties that Joanne frequently saw as taking her away from the real job of translation, but which she eventually saw as just as necessary for God to work in the hearts of the Balangao. For the majority of those twenty years, Joanne worked alone among the Balangao.

Joanne’s primary focus is on the power of the Word of God to change lives. Her stories frequently illustrate that power at work, especially in the life of “Ama” and Tekla. Joanne convincingly demonstrates how God’s Word can transform lives. The most dramatic transformations came when the spirit world was confronted by God’s Word. The stories of the spirit mediums were significant, but Joanne shares a number of other similar encounters between spirit worship and the worship of Christ.

Although Joanne’s focus is on the Word of God, along the way we learn quite a bit about Joanne herself, and how God used a single, sometimes insecure woman to do amazing things for a people in great need. We also learn a lot about “Ama,” without whom Joanne would probably not have survived, and almost certainly would not have succeeded. It is inspiring to see how God not only prepared Tekla, a God-seeker, but also Ama, who was not at all interested in what Joanne had come to do, but was a true peace person – a key influencer who wanted to protect Joanne and help her be accepted and happy. God used Ama to bring true peace to his people – peace with God, peace from the attacks of the evil spirits, peace with other tribes, and peace within the tribe.

We also gain insight into the way God used Joanne to lead and teach others. Although Joanne herself admits her conviction that women should not teach men, at first she simply cannot avoid doing so. Without Joanne’s leadership and teaching, however, the Balangao might still be waiting for God to speak. Interestingly, though, when Ama eventually understands Joanne’s conviction that the men should be the teachers, she is able to release Ama and other leaders to teach. This means that the teaching becomes even more effective as it is multiplied.

Joanne lives and works among the Balangao, and although she is active in many roles, some of which are released to others along the way, her primary role remains one that really no Balangao could do. They simply did not have the skills, training or knowledge to translate the Word of God into their language. Eventually, Joanne is able to train others to assist her, and then even to go and do the same for other tribes, but Joanne’s role was absolutely vital for the Word to be present in the language of the Balangao. She really did the one task that no Balangao could have done.

In her brief introduction, Joanne says that her book is a love story, “so that you might stand along with us in praise and wonder at the overwhelming love of God and his relentless pursuit of us.” Joanne achieves her goal, as I think it would be hard to read this book and not be filled “with praise and wonder” at the love of God for the Balangao people. Joanne is the incarnation of God’s love among the Balangao, at least until the written Word begins to take Joanne’s place, and the Balangao understand that God loves them, just as Joanne loved them.

I appreciated Joanne’s transparency when she talked about some of her struggles. And the Word Came with Power is a victorious tale, but Joanne does not pretend to be perfect. She struggled with trust and doubt, she made mistakes, and sometimes acted rashly. But she was committed, faithful and passionate about bringing God’s Word to a people that she grew to love. And God used her mightily. I would especially recommend this book to those interested in translation work among unreached people groups, although I would be very interested to find out if Joanne’s story is the norm, or an exception. If it is an exceptional story, what made it so? What especially did Joanne do that helped her achieve her goal? Was it finding Tekla and Ama, the person of peace? Was it the way she released others? Was it her courage and faithfulness, or the way she confronted spirit worship? We see all of these elements, but Joanne’s book is about one people and one translation project – a project of love, for a people she loved – and God through her.

And the Word Came With Power at Amazon

Felicity Dale received her medical training from Bart’s Hospital in London. After graduation, she worked as a family doctor in London’s East End. She and her husband, Tony, also a medical doctor, were involved in the United Kingdom with house churches, and with a ministry called Christians in the Caring Professions (CiCP). When they moved to Texas with their four children, they attempted to continue CiCP in the United States, and work through a traditional church. However, they continued to feel a strong pull toward simple churches, and, after several years, once again began to lead house churches, eventually beginning to train simple church planters. They have founded a magazine, House2House and Felicity has written three other books focused on simple church.

Felicity subtitled her book “Stories of real-life men and women SIMPLY BEING THE CHURCH.” The primary content of her book is just that – stories. She uses these true stories to teach lessons about simple churches, demonstrate methodology and philosophy of ministry for simple church leaders, or to motivate her readers to also get engaged in a simple church. In the second chapter of her book, “What is Church?” she explains that church is “a group of disciples relating together in everyday life; when they get together in His name, Jesus Himself is present” (36). She mentions different terminology – house, simple or organic church – but uses the three terms interchangeably, and says she prefers the term simple church. She regularly contrasts simple church with legacy church – a church that still has a building, programs, staff, regular meetings, and so on.

The stories – chapters – do not build on one another. There is no beginning, middle or end. However, the stories that deal more with evangelism and mission are first, then relational aspects, followed by the church serving. Chapter 15 addresses discipleship, and 16, finances. The final two stories are motivational, encouraging everyone to get involved in this advancement of God’s Kingdom.

The second-to-last chapter, about concepts that the Dales have learned, is a pretty faithful summary of the main lessons that Felicity attempts to teach. The Ten Concepts are:

  1. Church genuinely is “where two or three are gathered together in His name.”
  2. Jesus is to be the head of His church.
  3. God’s heart is for the harvest.
  4. Churches are meant to multiply.
  5. The resources are in the harvest.
  6. Simple is reproducible. Complex is not.
  7. Keep it small.
  8. Practice the priesthood of all believers.
  9. Christianity needs to be nonreligious.
  10. Leadership is servanthood.


Felicity finishes by pointing her readers toward more resources where they can find out more about starting their own house churches. She subtly presents the assumption that if these “ordinary” men and women can start simple churches – so can you! And points you in the direction of the first step.

The nature of this book – stories – makes it a very pleasant, easy read. The fact that the stories do not build on one another means that you can pick the book up, read a story, think about the concept or lesson presented, walk away, come back to the book a week or month later, and you don’t have to re-read from the beginning to remember what Felicity was trying to say. Each concept is presented individually. The stories themselves are very motivational. Assuming they are true – and there is no reason to think otherwise – God is doing some really wonderful things through small groups of people.

Of course, the lack of organization and flow in the book does make it seem like more of a light read than a well-planned and researched treatise on simple church. Undoubtedly, that was Felicity’s goal: a book that anyone could read and would enjoy reading, as a way to motivate “ordinary” people. However, no one will confuse this book with a manual on simple church or a history of the simple church movement. It’s not likely to be the primary text for a church planting class at a seminary, but I can easily see it being read, a chapter a week, by a small group or house church.

I also very much appreciated the fact that Felicity never criticizes “legacy” churches. She is obviously passionate about simple church, but she successfully avoids being critical of other church forms and does not build her argument for simple church on the basis of the failures of church in other modes. She advocates for the inclusion of house church in the legacy church set of programs, but she warns against turning a legacy church into a simple church. As she puts it “most people . . . didn’t sign up for that.” (234)

Although Felicity is not overt with her theological bias, it does come through. The heroes she chose in her stories are almost exclusively Pentecostal/charismatic. She doesn’t list miracles or power encounters in that summary chapter of key concepts – and I was actually surprised that she didn’t. Many other authors in the house church movement and in cell church manuals have emphasized the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in visible ways. Even non-charismatic missions leaders recognize the necessity of spiritual warfare and the power of God combating the power of the devil. Perhaps she was afraid to offend, or wanted to make sure that non-charismatics would also be excited about simple church.

Sometimes, her “ordinary” people were really not so ordinary. I believe Felicity meant ordinary to mean not clergy. In other words, anyone, whether seminary trained or not, professional clergy or not, could start a simple church. And of course, she is right. Anyone can, and frequently non-seminary trained people do it much better than those who think they have all the answers. However, in her stories, several times the “ordinary” person was someone who had been seminary-trained, or had been in professional Christian ministry. By the time of the story, some of them had chosen a different path, but they did have that experience to work from. I mention this point only because it seems to weaken her argument that anyone can do it. I would think she could have included many other stories. Or, perhaps, she wrote this book to church leaders as well. If so, it’s a worthwhile read, but it might be a little frightening for some when Felicity talks about the fact that current church leaders might have to find another job if they go this route!

In summary, I think that Felicity achieves her goal of encouraging all of us to consider simple church. Halfway through reading this book, I ordered two others that she has written. However, anyone who has just purchased the book, and is more of a cognitive, logical learner might want to start with chapter 20, then see how those key concepts work out in each story. Of course, for those already involved in a cell group or house church, it would be worthwhile to read the book as a group, talking over each story and the conclusion that Felicity draws from them, seeing if the experience relates with their own, and discussing the biblical principles that Felicity connects to the stories.

Army of Ordinary People at Amazon

It’s so much easier to preach about serving others than it is to actually do it! Even if I spend 30 hours or so preparing a message on serving others, it doesn’t compare with the stress of standing between a wife-beater and his victim for an hour while he yells and curses, or helping her deal with the police.

This story begins in Liberia, where Peter (Polish man – and not his real name) was working for a company involved in smuggling weapons for Charles Taylor during the latest civil war. Peter is a helicopter pilot, and for a few months served as one of Taylor’s personal pilots. He met Susie (also not her real name), a young Liberian woman, and they began a relationship. From the very beginning, however, he would go crazy angry at times, beating her and choking her. She would run away, but her family and the Liberian police would usually tell her to go back to him. In part because of his standing with Taylor, in part because of the general chaos in Monrovia then, and in part because of cultural misunderstandings of the place of a woman, Susie didn’t receive much help during the times Peter would beat her.

As is frequently the case, Peter would come to Susie, crying and begging her to return, and she usually did. As the rebel army drew closer to Monrovia, Peter and Susie were able to leave for Cote d’Ivoire. Susie was pregnant by then, and Peter came on to Poland to “prepare his house for them.” Susie arrived in Poland in 2003, pregnant, knowing no Polish, and having no friends. When we asked her why she came, she says because of the situation in Liberia, and because she thought that having a child would change Peter. What she didn’t know was that Peter had already driven one wife (with children) away by beating her.

One of the nurses who met Susie during her pregnancy told a friend about her, who then told Kaye. Kaye was able to give Susie some English books on pregnancy, and visit her after she had her baby. For a while Peter stopped hitting Susie. However, the home where they lived was only partially finished, and Peter did all he could to avoid paying any bills.

Kaye and Susie became close friends, but Susie never told Kaye that he was beating her, and had begun again. Sometimes Peter had work, usually he didn’t, though. When Susie tried to get work, he followed her, and would yell at her and beat her, because he was sure that she was selling her body. He grew insanely jealous and suspicious of her every time she left the house. By this time, Susie had a handful of Polish friends, although she still was unable to speak much Polish, in large part because Peter would do all he could to make sure she stayed at home.

In 2009, shortly after we went to the U.S. for a year, Peter lost another job, and began beating her worse than ever. He would choke her, and force himself upon her. By then, there was no electricity or heat, and over the winter, Susie went to live in the dorms with some friends, just so she and her daughter wouldn’t freeze. Peter allowed this, but sometimes at night he would stand outside the dorm and yell and curse at her. He also became convinced that she had a boyfriend. After the winter was over, Susie went back home – and Peter started beating and choking her more and more frequently. Susie called the police a handful of times, but every time they asked her if she wanted him arrested, she would say no. (A common response from victims of domestic violence). Sometimes, though, the police wouldn’t even ask – at first, since she spoke no Polish, they would just ask him what was going on, and then tell her to go back to him. Once, they even laughed at her, and her attempts to try to tell them what he had been doing.

In the spring of 2010, Susie fled to Germany with her daughter. At first she stayed with an aunt, then she lived in a refugee home. But Peter was able to find her, and convinced her once again to return to him. Susie and her daughter came back to Poland, and she finally told Kaye what had been happening. We intervened once after he had tried to choke her, and listened as he yelled at her for 90 minutes. Our intervention, and the shame it brought him, worked for a while, but he began again after a few weeks.  Early one Sunday morning in February, she called Kaye from her bathroom, and asked us to come quickly. We hurried over, in time to see – through their bedroom window – him throwing her around and hitting her. We called the police, and this time J did not back down. She filed a complaint, the police began their investigation, and a few weeks later, after he sent a text message threatening to kill her, she moved out.

After a few days of living with a friend of ours, she moved in to a spare room at our church. Peter was arrested and sent to jail for almost three months, and Susie was able to begin learning how to live on her own in Poland. She has made some amazing progress, although in some cases she has made some poor decisions – part of the learning process, of course. Peter is out of jail, and comes nearly every day to their daughter’s school, cursing and insulting Susie (in English, thinking that way no one else will know what he is doing) and walks them the 300 yards or so back to our church. Thankfully, though, once there, Susie feels safe, is able to go in and lock the door, leaving him outside.

Although he has a restraining order against him, in Poland that has little weight. According to the police, no one can keep him from meeting her on the street. We continue to intervene at times, but Susie is getting more and more courageous. Peter tries everything he can to manipulate her, and at first tried everything he could to force the police and family court to make her come back to him, or give their daughter back to him. He knows that if he can force the child to return, Susie will most likely follow. But, we’ve weathered those storms with her, and every thing he tries seems to backfire. We attribute that first and foremost to God working, protecting her, and also to Peter’s crazy, sometimes very stupid choices.

Although Susie has had help along the way from a number of Polish people, lately, the more Peter does against her, the more support she seems to gain – from the police, from the school director and workers, and from other parents. As well, the administrator of our building – who also lives at the church – and his family have been a huge help, especially in relating to the police. We’ve paid her legal fees – knowing as we do, that this exactly the kind of stewardship of our resources that God expects of us.

Although at times it has been tempting to back away, overwhelmed by dealing with Peter, the police and prosecuting attorney, family court, etc., we know that this is exactly the kind of service that God expects from us. Of course, the more people that are involved helping Susie, the less of a burden we have to carry – and much more importantly – the less of a burden she has to carry.

So – preaching a sermon is easy. This year, more than any other, I think, I’m learning that living it, getting involved in people’s messy lives, is so much harder – but so much closer to what God wants from us.

You can find the next installment of this story here.


Posted: December 14, 2010 in Guilt
Tags: ,

I hate guilt. I mean it’s one thing when it comes when I sin – that’s fine, it serves a good purpose then – drives me to confession and God. But when it comes because of my pride, perfectionism, comparing myself with others, from my desire to meet what I think might be other people’s expectations – and fail, then that guilt just binds me, completely unnecessarily. And it’s stupid. And then I feel guilty for feeling guilty. What a load of trash!! A few unmet goals – and I’m messing my pants.

I had a goal of writing 20,000 words for a book by mid-November. Well, I only wrote 8,000 (ONLY). So, guilt set in. Sure, I could tell myself – hey, you spent 40+ hours dealing with immigration and customs. Or, writing isn’t your full-time job, you do have other stuff to do. So? Did myself listen to myself? (Now I sound like Jim Carrey, I think) Nope. Or other things that I/we/our church do just good enough to get by. I’m not good with excellence, and in Poland, just getting by is usually good enough.

My fundamentalist upbringing strongly affects how I feel about guilt, of course. Sometimes guilt was used to manipulate or even abuse other followers of Christ. In reaction, I would deny all forms of guilt – even when it was healthy, useful, and could have helped me grow. In Poland, I ran into manipulation by guilt again – in fact, Polish culture in the church and in the world seems to thrive on it.

But. I am thankful for the times when my feeling guilty over the way I treated someone leads me to apologize, or try to resolve an issue. I am thankful for the guilt that pushes me to do things better, to be a better husband/father. No, it isn’t the best motivation. No, I still haven’t fully grasped the amazing nature of grace – and I probably never will fully understand the length, breadth, height and depth of God’s love. But you know what? I refuse to feel guilty about it!

All Saints’ Day

Posted: November 1, 2010 in All Saints', Traditions

All Saints’ Day in Poland. One of those holidays that leave me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s a lot better than Halloween. Although I’m not a halloween hater, and think that for most people halloween means nothing more than candy and costumes, we all know halloween’s excesses and pagan roots. All Saint’s Day, with its emphasis on family and remembrance, is definitely more beautiful. As one of my Polish friends told me, “On All Saints’ Day the whole family is together. Those still living, and those who have gone on before.” What do you say to that? Statistically, Poles are more likely to travel home to their families on All Saints’ than they are for Christmas or Mother’s Day. Anyone who has ever walked through a Polish cemetery after dark on November 1, especially on a cold evening, will never forget the candles, the people, the not-too-loud sound of glass breaking, as the hot candles and cold air weaken the glass candleholders. That last bit may not sound as beautiful as it is – you’ll have to trust me on that one, I guess 🙂

And yet, All Saint’s has its own pagan roots and traditions. Leaving food by the grave, as some still do. Prayers for dead ancestors. I know that Catholics justify that with  a little verse from 2 Maccabees, but the support for prayers for the dead is pretty slim – and relies on the existence of purgatory, something that even many Catholic theologians are beginning to question. Granted, it’s no celebration of demons and devils – nothing evil about it – but it makes my Protestant sensibilities squirm.

However, I’m also not comfortable with the reaction of many of my Polish evangelical friends. This may sound strange, but they seem to treat All Saints’ Day the same way conservative American Christians treat Halloween (no pun intended). They look at it as an evil, pagan holiday, or at best as an evil, Catholic holiday. Many of them refuse to spend time with their extended, non-Protestant families, in order not to put their stamp of approval on All Saints’ Day. Why not? Is there anything intrinsically wrong with walking through a cemetery with your family and leaving a candle by your grandfather’s grave? What am I missing? But then, I don’t see anything intrinsically wrong with my kids dressing up like Spiderman and begging for candy, either. And many of my American Christian friends would say I’m missing an important point.

Who Am I?

Posted: October 13, 2010 in Fishing, Hiking, Identity, Sports

First blog. First post. Kinda scary. Gotta write something original, interesting, creative. Or not . . .

I’m a husband – 18 years now to the sweetest woman I ever met. I’m a dad – 3 sons and a daughter – 2 of them teenagers right now – smart, bilingual, well-behaved, sweet kids (usually). I’m a follower of Christ. I’m a missionary. I’m a pastor. I’m an American living in Poland. I’m a cheesehead, Badger/Packer/Bucks/Brewers fan. I like music – any kind. Really. I love sports. All sports. I love to read, especially fiction, especially sci-fi/fantasy. I dream of writing a book myself. 

Other interests? Wow – a long list. Wood. Woodworking (those are inherited). Old cars. Old books. Hiking. NOT fishing. Hunting – when I was a kid in the U.S. Just being out in the woods/mountains. Militaria – planes/ships/tanks. Strategy games. I’m interested in the things my kids are interested in (except FISHING).   American football. Soccer. Baseball. Basketball (that order – oh, and Badger hockey). I love a good wisecrack – a zinger. I’d rather hear a great impromptu insult than a stand-up routine (that’s inherited, too, I think). I don’t like to fish. My parents do. My kids do. My friends do. They catch fish, though.

I have no idea what I’ll post on – interested myself in discovering that. Sports? probably. My kids? Definitely. Ministry? maybe. Life as a “stranger in a strange land”? yeah.