Friday, December 19, 2014

A Thaw in Relationships with Cuba

I was excited to hear President Obama's speech in which he outlined a new policy toward relationships with Cuba.  I was asked to comment on the new policy by Bob Allen of Baptist News Global in light of my recent visit in October to Cuba along with a delegation of eleven other Baptists.  I responded with a three or four paragraph email to him about my thoughts on these developments.  An article appeared today in Baptist News Global and I'm quoted a couple of times in it.  Also quoted is my Churchnet colleague, Brian Kaylor, who handles communications for our organization as well as writing for other entities including Ethics Daily.  Coincidentally, Brian's newest book entitled Sacramental Politics is also reviewed in a separate article in Baptist News Global today.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Jesus the African Refugee

Today on Ethics Daily, Elijah Brown had an interesting article about Jesus' early life as an African refugee.  I had the opportunity to meet Elijah in April of this year in Philadelphia at the meeting of the North American Baptist Fellowship.  He's an associate professor of missions at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, TX and is a very sharp young man and a gifted communicator.

Elijah challenges all of us to consider the plight of the millions in our world who have been forced to abandon their country of origin due to a variety of factors--war, persecution, natural disasters, hunger, etc.  While in our Christmas reflections and celebrations we seldom include mention of the flight of Jesus' family to Egypt to escape the horrific infanticide carried out by Herod in Bethlehem, the fact remains that Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus were refugees.  The good news of Jesus' birth offers hope even for those who've lost everything and have fled to what often seems a strange and foreign setting because Jesus began His own life as an African refugee.  He understands what it means to be without a home, without wealth, or even without a country.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Jesus: Meek and Mild?

I always enjoy reading the daily devotionals entitled "A Slice of Infinity" that I receive from the Ravi Zacharias organization.  Google it if you're interested in subscribing to their daily devotionals which can be emailed to your inbox.  Their managing editor, Jill Carattini, had a great piece this morning about our failure to recognize just how unsettling and upsetting was Jesus' entrance into the world.  It's well worth the read.

In the devotional, Carattini quotes the following from Dorothy Sayers' The Whimsical Christian:

"The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore--on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe.  It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium.  We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him 'meek and mild,' and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies."

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Just a Moment

This past Monday in our weekly staff meeting, Karen Sherman, one of our administrative assistants, shared the following excerpt from Max Lucado's book God Came Near.  It is a powerful reminder of how far God stooped to take on humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.

"It all happened in a moment, a most remarkable moment.

As moments go, that one appeared no different than any other.  If you could somehow pick it up off the timeline and examine it, it would look exactly like the ones that have passed while you have read these words.  It came and it went.  It was preceded and succeeded by others just like it.  It was one of the countless moments that have marked time since eternity became measurable.

But in reality, that particular moment was like none other.  For through that segment of time a spectacular thing occurred.  God became a man.  While the creatures of earth walked unaware, Divinity arrived.  Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb.

The Omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable.  He who had been spirit became pierceable.  He who was larger than the universe became an embryo.  And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.

God as a fetus.  Holiness sleeping in a womb.  The creator of life being created.

God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen.  He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother.

God had come near.

He came, not as a flash of light or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as one whose first cries were heard by a peasant girl and a sleepy carpenter.  The hands that first held him were unmanicured, calloused, and dirty.

No silk.  No ivory.  No hype.  No party.  No hoopla.

Were it not for the shepherds, there would have been no reception.  And were it not for a group of stargazers, there would have been no gifts.

Joseph watched as Mary changed God's diaper.  The universe watched with wonder as The Almighty learned to walk.  Children played in the street with him.  And had the synagogue leader in Nazareth known was was listening to his sermons ....

Jesus may have had pimples.  He may have been tone-deaf.  Perhaps a girl down the street had a crush on him or vice versa.  It could be that his knees were bony.  One thing's for sure: He was, while completely divine, completely human.

For thirty-three years he would feel everything you and I have ever felt.  He felt weak.  He grew weary.  He was afraid of failure.  He was susceptible to wooing women.  He got colds, burped, and had body odor.  His feelings got hurt.  His feet got tired.  And his head ached.

To think of Jesus in such a light is--well, it seems almost irreverent, doesn't it?  It's not something we like to do; it's uncomfortable.  It is much easier to keep the humanity out of the incarnation.  Clean the manure from around the manger.  Wipe the sweat out of his eyes.  Pretend he never snored or blew his nose or hit his thumb with a hammer.

He's easier to stomach that way.  There is something about keeping him divine that keeps him distant, packaged, predictable.

But don't do it.  For heaven's sake, don't.  Let him be as human as he intended to be.  Let him into the mire and muck of our world.  For only if we let him in can he pull us out."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Prisoner of Hope

This morning I was reading a blog post by Tony Cartledge whose writings continually inform and challenge me.  Tony is a contributing editor for Baptists Today and a professor of Old Testament studies and other ministry courses at Campbell University Divinity School.  I had the opportunity of meeting Tony for the first time this year at the annual gathering of the North American Baptist Fellowship in Philadelphia.

Tony's current blog post highlights a message that former President Jimmy Carter shared at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion taking place in San Diego this week.  Whatever one might think of Carter's one-term presidency with the lengthy Iranian hostage crisis that marked it, few ex-presidents have done more in the realm of direct participation in charitable organizations than the 90-year old Carter.  Most are well aware of his active role in the work of Habitat for Humanity.  The Carter Center in Atlanta has taken leadership in controlling and eradicating numerous diseases.  It also has monitored elections around the world to help ensure fair and just political processes.  Carter himself has intervened in numerous international settings in a quest for lasting peace.

Cartledge's blog post highlights an address Carter gave at the meeting of the SBL and AAR focusing on the question of violence against women and seeking to address many of the inequalities they face.  I was particularly struck by a response Carter gave to a question posed to him.  When asked how he manages to remain optimistic in the face of so much bad news, Carter quoted Bishop Desmond Tutu, who once said “I’m not optimistic . . . I am a prisoner of hope.”

Last night's news coverage out of Ferguson, MO following the announcement of the grand jury's decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson certainly didn't provide much reason for optimism.  The calls for non-violent protests in the wake of the decision went largely unheeded--at least by those who chose to engage in burning and looting businesses in the town.

Yet even though we don't find justification for optimism as we peruse the headlines and listen to daily news broadcasts, as Christians we can live in hope, knowing that God still reigns.  As we enter into the advent season, we're reminded of His unfailing love for us--a love so great that He sent His Son into our world to live among us.  Jesus revealed to us the depth of God's love for us and in doing so, offers us genuine hope, even when the news isn't encouraging. 

"And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:5 - NASB).

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Strategy Planning Retreat

I had the opportunity this past Monday to participate in another very productive congregational listening session with Churchnet, this time at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, MO.  My friend Forestal Lawton, the church's administrator as well as the vice-president of Churchnet's board, was fearful that there wouldn't be too many show up on a rainy Monday evening with some other activities on the church's schedule.  We were delighted that 19 of the members showed up for the session that I helped facilitate along with the very capable assistance once again of Heather Entrekin, professor of congregational health at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

This weekend, Churchnet's strategy planning team consisting of the staff, officers, and a number of our board members, will be meeting at beautiful Windermere Baptist Assembly at Lake of the Ozarks to wrestle with the information that has been compiled from these listening sessions across the state as well as on-line surveys and face-to-face meetings with some of our institutional partners.  We'll be seeking to analyze lots of data and information to more strategically organize our work around our first priority which is serving churches.

I'm excited to see what the Lord might choose to do through this time of strategic planning.  We really do want to do all that we can to assist churches as they seek to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Congregational Listening Sessions

In my part-time job as Missions Mobilization Team Leader of Churchnet, I've been privileged of late to participate in some congregational leadership listening sessions.  Our organization is embarking upon the elaboration of a new 5-year strategic plan.  In keeping with the overarching goal of our first priority being to serve churches, we're conducting these listening sessions to discover what the major challenges are facing churches across the state of Missouri.  In light of what we're hearing, we'll attempt to strategically respond in terms of how we structure, organize, and fund our ministry to these churches.

It's been a good time of getting to hear how folks were drawn to their congregations, what makes their heart sing in terms of their current ministries, how they're coping with change, and the obstacles in the way of achieving their ministry goals, among several other questions that we're asking.  To date, I've had the opportunity to facilitate sessions at Wyatt Park Baptist in St. Joseph, Chandler Baptist in Liberty, and FBC Independence and then to participate as a leader responding to the questions last night at our own church, FBC, Lee's Summit.

The strategy planning team will be meeting at Windermere on Nov. 7-8 to look at the responses to these sessions as well as responses to an on-line survey as we work on a first draft of a new strategic plan.  These are exciting days for Churchnet as we continue to make our first priority serving churches.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Reflections on Cuba

I had the opportunity this past week to spend 8 days in Cuba with 11 fellow travelers.  Our primary purpose in going was to attend the 40th anniversary gathering of COEBAC (the English translation of the Spanish acrostic is the Coordination of Baptist Student Workers of Cuba).  All 4 Baptist entities on the island were invited to attend (Western Baptist Convention, Eastern Baptist Convention, Free Will Baptists, and the Fraternity of Baptists).  Representatives from the Eastern Convention and the Fraternity were present.  It seems that Baptist denominational politics has been extended even to Cuba as purportedly some of the Western Convention folks were coming (predominantly affiliated with Southern Baptists) until they learned who some of the program participants were from the Eastern Convention and the Fraternity, at which time they withdrew.

The theme of the meeting was exploring what it means to be a Baptist, guided by historical Baptist distinctives such as separation of church and state, religious liberty, liberty of conscience, and local church autonomy in the contemporary world.  I was asked to lead a breakout session on liberty of conscience and asked the pastor of the host church if it was okay in a Communist/socialist country to speak freely of those themes.  He assured me that it was and so I did.  There was a representative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, head of the National Office of Attention to Religious Affairs, who also spoke to the gathering.  She recognized the importance of living by Christian values for the well-being of the country.

One of the key figures from the 1959 revolution mentioned in the meeting and by this official was Frank Pais, the son of a Baptist pastor.  Whereas Fidel Castro and Che Guevara led the revolution in the mountains, Frank Pais was the key figure in the urban centers--especially Santiago.  He was killed by police after being surrounded in what was supposedly a safe house, thereafter achieving the status of a revolutionary martyr. His favorite hymn was "Brighten the Corner where You Are" which we sang together.

We also later visited the Western Baptist Convention's seminary in Havana, meeting with its interim president and its rector, who explained the various degree programs and emphases of their theological training.

One of the unexpected sightings on the trip was a funnel cloud as we were returning to Havana from the COEBAC gathering in the city of Ciego de Avila.  We watched it out the left side of the bus for some 30 minutes, catching glimpses of it through the almost constant line of trees that bordered the side of the highway.

Classic car enthusiasts would have a heyday in Cuba.  There are literally hundreds if not thousands of 1950s model U.S. cars--Chevys, Fords, Pontiacs, Buicks, Dodges, Chryslers, Cadillacs, etc.  

I got to ride in the blue Caddy with 3 friends for an hour or so tour of the city on the way to dinner one evening.  It was quite the treat.

One of the lasting impressions I took away from the trip was the strong commitment of Cuban Baptists to reach their island nation for Christ with the gospel, while at the same time striving to improve the overall living conditions of their people.  We heard a lot of concern for justice and economic issues as well as a healthy interest in caring for the world that God has given us as good stewards of it.  These same Baptists also expressed a pronounced pride in their country and displayed patriotic fervor.  The worship services we attended contained joyful singing and solid preaching.  All in all, it was a memorable trip.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

You Can Never Go Home Again

There's an old adage that says you can never go home again.  The thought behind the saying is quite profound.  The idea is that both you and your childhood home will have changed so much in the intervening years that nothing will be quite the same as it once was.  There's a lot of truth in that adage.  This past week I had the opportunity of returning to the small south Texas town where I grew up--having lived there from the first grade to high school graduation.  I discovered that much about the town had indeed changed.  The high school I attended no longer exists, having been bulldozed to make room for a brand new facility completed just last year.  The old Rialto movie theater has been converted into a center for the performing arts.  The town has grown population-wise, as has the school.  Current population is 2520 whereas it was only about 2000 when I left there in 1971.  Many of the folks that I knew have moved away.  Only about 10 or so of our graduating class of 54 students showed up for the all-class reunion.  There were very few familiar faces at First Baptist Church on Sunday morning, though it was great to reconnect with a handful whom I remembered.

With all of the changes, some things remained the same.  Folks displayed lots of pride in the town's accomplishments as it celebrated 100 years of existence.  High school football still rules on Friday nights.  Small-town friendliness still characterizes George West as people waved at and greeted each other in passing or as they met at the various centennial gatherings.  South Texas barbecue still tastes great as well, though I'm not sure that it rivals Kansas City's version.

One thing going home prompted was lots of reflection about the folks who helped shape my life--my parents, grandparents, extended family, teachers, classmates, pastors, Sunday School teachers and other church leaders, coaches, and many others.  I found myself frequently pausing to thank God for their investment in my life.  I hope that you'll spend some time thinking in these days about those who helped shape your life as well and that you'll express thanksgiving to God for their part in helping make you who you are today.  If they're still living, a card or a phone call could be a wonderful means of catching up and encouraging them as you express thanks for their part in your formation.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Life Lesson from Benedict Arnold

Most of us are familiar with the name of Benedict Arnold, one of the most famous (or rather infamous) military figures in U.S. history.  Born in 1741, Arnold was a strong patriot and capable military leader and strategist in the early years of the American Revolution.  He led several successful military campaigns for the American forces against the British and as a result, George Washington appointed him as a military commander in Philadelphia.  There Arnold's loyalties began to shift.  He was passed over for promotion on several occasions by the Continental Congress and he viewed them as petty, bickering incompetents.  (Some might suggest at this point that history repeats itself, but I'm not going there). 

By 1779, Arnold became convinced that the best path forward was to rejoin the British Empire and he secretly aligned himself with the British loyalists.  In his role as a double agent, Arnold engaged in a conspiracy to allow the British troops to defeat the American forces under his command at West Point.  Before the plan could be enacted, Arnold's British contact was discovered and subsequently hanged.  Arnold fled to the British for safety and was made a brigadier general in their army, later leading an invasion of Virginia.  He served with the British until their defeat at Yorktown in 1781, at which point he moved to London.

Arnold is best remembered today as a famous traitor to the cause of American freedom.  A man with great potential and leadership capacity allowed perceived personal slights against him to sway his allegiance to his country.  The question arises as to whether we might also be guilty of harboring hurts and resentment regarding wrongs that we consider others have directed against us.  Practicing forgiveness and seeking reconciliation is a lot healthier course of action than growing embittered and forfeiting friendships.  May Arnold's negative behavior serve as an example for us to avoid as we live out our faith.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

There's Only One (Holy One)

I mentioned in a recent post about my trip to Farmington, MO for the annual meeting of Churchnet and commented that it was a long drive there.  Consequently, to pass the time, I pulled out a bunch of old Christian music CD's to provide some listening entertainment on the way.  One of the CD's I grabbed was the 2-album WOW 2007 collection of top Christian songs for that year.  Among those I really enjoyed listening to again after many years of not having heard it was the "There's Only One (Holy One) by Caedmon's Call. 

I absolutely love the imagery in a couple of the lines in the chorus of the song:

There's only One who never fails to beckon the morning light,
There's only One who sets loose the gales and ties the trees down tight,
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay,
There's only One, only One, Holy One.

If you've never heard it before, here's a link to a YouTube version of it.

Enjoy it!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Friends

One of the challenges of serving as a minister to senior adults in a church in which this segment of the population is amply represented is that of having to say goodbye to them as they complete their earthly journey and are welcomed into God's presence.  Having served on the staff of our church now for ten and a half years, I've come to know, appreciate, and deeply love these wonderful folks who in many cases have been walking with the Lord for six or seven decades or even longer.  Today we'll celebrate the life of the third member in the last ten days to have moved from "pilgrim status" here in this world to being at home with the Lord in heaven.  Each one of them has left a huge hole in the lives of their families by their departure, as each touched countless lives by their kindness, acts of service, and love for God, their family, and others.

When I witness the peace with which these folks faced their approaching death, I'm reminded of a story told about John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church.  A man approached Wesley one day, asking him how he could become a Christian .  Wesley led him to profess his faith in Christ of course and to experience God's forgiveness through salvation.  Afterwards, Wesley asked the man why he had sought him out to ask how to be saved.  The man responded, "Because I've observed that your people die well."  

I'm reminded as well of a wonderful passage in Heb. 2:14-15 that speaks of one of the purposes of Christ's coming into the world and what He accomplished through His death on the cross.  The writer of Hebrews states, Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.  If there's one thing that characterizes the majority of those living who don't know Christ as Savior, it's an absolute, overwhelming fear of death.  For the believer who knows Jesus as Lord, death holds no such fear because Christ through His resurrection has forever vanquished this enemy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Churchnet's Annual Meeting

I had a very enjoyable time this past Friday and Saturday at Churchnet's annual meeting, hosted by the First Baptist Church of Farmington, MO.  As you used to say in south Texas, Farmington is a "fer piece" from Lee's Summit where I live.  For those who don't speak "Texanese," that translates as a long distance.  It's right at 300 miles one way and there's no direct route from northwest to southeast Missouri.  I took I-70 across, skirting St. Louis to the southwest and then heading down to my final destination.

We kicked off the meeting as we have in recent years with our annual missions banquet.  The food was delicious and the program featured a verbal report and pictures from Andrij Pismenyuk, a Ukrainian church planter whom we help to financially support.  Next we heard from Ned Walsh about an upcoming opportunity in October to visit Cuba for a gathering of the four Baptist conventions on the island and to visit places where Missouri Baptists labored when Cuba was still under the work of the Home Mission Board prior to the revolution.  David and Susan Holman, both pharmacists and members of FBC Farmington, shared about their participation last summer with a medical missions team from our church to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.  Finally, I shared an update about our ongoing partnership with Guatemalan Baptists and the leadership training events that we host there twice each year in January and July.  A major component of the banquet each year is a missions offering that helps underwrite the expenses of the training events in Guatemala as well as facilitating other missions endeavors like the support for the Ukrainian church planter.  Almost $7000 was pledged or given at the meeting and we'll be contacting others on our mailing list to give them an opportunity to participate in this offering.

The worship experiences on Friday evening and Saturday morning were a wonderful mixture of musical styles with everything from a traditional robed choir to a contemporary praise band, an African American quartet from a St. Louis church, a Hispanic praise band composed of members from churches in California and Jeff City, and a trio of Filipino young ladies.  Jerry Cain did an outstanding job as always with his Bible study focus and a highlight was being able to hear Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of Strangers at My Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus in Unexpected Guests.  Jonathan ministers at the Rutba House in North Carolina, a community of believers sharing life together.  He told the story of the origin of the name Rutba--the name for a village in Iraq where he and team members received shelter and medical assistance from a local Iraqi after a team member had suffered injuries when the car in which he was riding overturned after hitting a crater in the road which had been caused by a bomb blast.

We had the opportunity as well to attend some outstanding breakout sessions dealing with a wide diversity of topics.  We also heard from leaders of the many Baptist agencies that Churchnet partners with in Missouri including The Baptist Home, The Baptist Foundation, Word & Way, The Children's Home, Windermere, and the various Baptist universities.  It was great to see many friends from across the state and to make some new ones as well.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

An Internal GPS

Since the advent and growth in popularity of GPS devices, most of us no longer utilize what was once a standard item in a car for any road trip--a good old-fashioned map.  It was often our practice to pull into the visitors' center when you crossed over into a new state on a long trip to acquire the latest map of that state's highways.  Doing so provided a necessary break to stretch one's legs, visit the restroom facilities, and confirm with the new map that you were on the right course.  Nowadays, most of us simply punch an address into a dedicated GPS device or into our smartphones and we follow the verbal commands we are given until we arrive at our destination.

The new GPS systems are certainly handy and probably more accurate as a rule as well, given that they are constantly monitoring your progress along the journey via satellites that communicate with your device.  There's something nostalgic though about pulling out the good old road map and seeing at a glance where you'll be traveling--the cities you'll pass through, the major landmarks along the way, rivers and lakes that you'll encounter, etc. 

Deep down we all probably wish that God had given us a road map in advance for this journey called life--a map that highlighted every potential pitfall, danger, setback, and detour.  Rather than a map though, He's given us the opportunity to grow and mature in our faith as we follow Him one day at a time.  He gives us sufficient grace and strength for today alone, and He's given us His Word and the indwelling Spirit to provide guidance for our travels.  Come to think of it, we all have an internal GPS (God's Powerful Spirit).  Let Him direct your way.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Brennan Manning on grace

I love this quote from Brennan Manning’s memoir, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir.

My life is a witness to vulgar grace — a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request — “Please, remember me” — and assures him, “You bet!”…This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough…

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Meeting of the North American Baptist Fellowship

I was privileged to attend a meeting of the North American Baptist Fellowship this past Thursday and Friday in Philadelphia.  We met at the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, a large, predominantly African American congregation of 15,000 members.  The focus of the meeting was to seek to identify and define some major initiatives that could elicit collaboration from the various bodies that make up the NABF as we looked ahead to the next 50 years.  The occasion of the 50th anniversary of the organization provided this opportunity to focus on common concerns and to seek to hammer out in small group dialogues some areas that we all felt our entities could collaborate on together.  The three main areas selected were: (1) congregational renewal/transformation, (2) systemic reform aimed at economic oppression, and (3) authentic evangelism.

All of the staff of Churchnet were able to attend so I enjoyed the time with colleagues as well as making new friends from other member bodies of the NABF.  I was able to personally meet Tony Cartledge, professor at Campbell University as well as a writer for Baptists Today, whose blog I read regularly.  He has a nice article today about the gathering.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Christian Churches in Algeria Thriving under Persecution

I read an amazing article yesterday in Ethics Daily that highlighted the growth of Christian churches in the North African country of Algeria in spite of the ongoing persecution taking place there.  Let me encourage you to click on the link and read the article if you haven't already seen it.

Several statements by Terry Smith, the author who serves as deputy executive director of Canadian Baptist Ministries, jumped out at me:

  1. The existence of perhaps a mere 200 believers at the end of the country's civil war that raged from 1991-1999.
  2.  The spectacular growth to approximately 100,000 Christians today.
  3. The testimony of an Islamic imam who while traveling to Mecca during Hajj asked a local Christian pastor to care for his wife and family in case anything should happen to him, commenting, "I can trust the Christians to care for my family."
  4. The description of attending a service in a Christian church where more than 650 had gathered and every seat was filled some 45 minutes before worship began.
The money quote though from the article was this one, attributed to one of the local Algerian Christian leaders: "We pray that the persecution won't end because we fear that when it ends, so too will end the revival."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Great Week in Guatemala

I just returned last Friday from another wonderful week in Guatemala, leading in the pastoral/leadership training conferences that we do each January and July in the city of Quetzaltenango (or Xela as it's commonly called).  I had a great trip down from Kansas City to Guatemala City, somehow qualifying on the TSA pre-approved list that meant I didn't have to take off my shoes or take my laptop out of my backpack.  (That wasn't true of the return flight however).  When I was preparing to board in Houston for the flight down to Guatemala, the agent offered me a free upgrade to economy plus seating with lots of extra legroom.  Of course I accepted his gracious offer. 

We had a record number of participants this time--92 pastors and leaders--and these represented some new churches and missions that hadn't previously participated in the training.  I typically take another pastor or conference leader or two with me and let them teach while I simultaneously translate their conferences into Spanish.  This was the first occasion in 7.5 years of leading these sessions that I've gone alone and led the entire conference.  The folks were extremely gracious as always and very appreciative of the materials that I shared.  They also interacted well with great comments and questions.

I was able to visit the Tabitha Ministry in Guatemala City on Thursday after we returned from Xela and accompanied Carol Bercian's mother and brother to pick up some uniform pants for the children that had been sewn by a local seamstress.  A Baptist church in Dothan, Alabama made a generous donation that helped with the purchase of uniforms and school supplies.  Later, Estuardo (Carol's brother) and I purchased a sound system for the Tabitha Ministry at a great price that will save them the cost of renting sound equipment for their large gatherings.

The return trip didn't go quite as smoothly as the trip down.  We pushed back from the gate in Guatemala City about 10 minutes early and I was thinking there would be no issues with making my connecting flight in Houston.  The pilot then announced that the right engine had refused to start, so it was back to the gate, deplaning, and the mechanics fixing the problem.  We got away about 2 hours late and after clearing immigration and customs and riding the monorail system to another terminal, I arrived at the gate in time to see my flight (about 30 minutes later than scheduled) pushing back from the gate.  The next flight was overbooked so I didn't make it on standby on it.  I wound up catching a flight about 6:00 p.m. rather than the original 12:20 time out of Houston.  I did have a couple of good books to read so the time wasn't wasted.

The trip overall was a tremendous blessing as always and I'm grateful for those of you who prayed for my safety in traveling and for the teaching time in Xela.