Friday, November 13, 2015

7 Daily Activities for Every Missionary

Are you a missionary? Or, are you an expatriate Christian living in another country? I often write blogs to encourage those serving overseas and I hope this one does that as well, albeit perhaps by challenging you to push toward deeper service. This is an important distinction and one that I think you can determine by asking yourself some additional questions:

  • Are you learning the language, culture, making friends, learning and appreciating the food, music, history, building relationships, and advancing the gospel? Or are you living in a little bubble, only venturing out to get groceries, go to the market, and attend church on Sundays? 
  • Are you teaching your kids the language, helping them to make friends and appreciate the culture? Or are you teaching them to simply mark time until you all get back to the USA again? 
  • Are you frustrated that people in the local culture are not friendlier, kinder, more helpful, honest, or act more “Christian?” Or do you see them as people who need the gospel and their depravity as a daily reminder of why God has sent your family to them as missionaries?

What Do Missionaries Do Each Day? 

Your supporters and home churches often have an impression of missionaries that they gleaned from reading their Bible, missionary biographies, and missionary newsletters. They imagine that you are street preaching, defending the faith, ministering to those in need, or wrangling with local officials to get permission to build new church buildings or to hold open-air evangelistic crusade. They assume that you must surely have the odd “down” day, but that would surely be the exception to your weekly routine.

Missionary life is often far less than the romantic notions many imagine, and the mundane necessities of life on the mission field demand the same kinds of daily chores that are required at home. In fact, they are much more challenging since you have may not have a washer or dryer or a lawn mower, you must wash all fruit and vegetables in bleach solution before they are safe to eat, and you may have to cook everything from scratch. Life is harder and takes more time to do simple daily tasks than many at home could imagine.

For Some, Not as Much as They Hoped

Yet, I have seen that some missionaries do little more than just live in another country. They may attend church on Sunday but they do little else that is ministry related. Their hearts were filled with pure and zealous intentions when they went to the field, but the daily hassles of living in a new culture, loss of their routines, humiliating struggles with the language, disagreements with their mission team members, nationals, or home office, and the unending frustrations and anxieties everyday living in another culture have led them to give up. If this is you, don’t despair. Keep reading.

Some families do very well with family and personal activities. In fact, some missionary families live their life just as their supporters spend Saturdays. They wake up, have a good family breakfast, try to decide what to do that day, maybe run to the store, read, go for a walk, visit with another missionary family, do some work around the house, and then they go to bed at the end of the day—everyday. The only thing that breaks them out of this routine and thrusts one or more of them into a ministry situation is an unavoidable event that calls for their participation.

As hard as life can be on the mission field, missionaries need to remember that their supporters get up at least five days a week, throw down their coffee and toast while running out the door, drop kids off at school or daycare, multitask all day long and never get caught up on all they have to do. They pick up the kids and go by the cleaners on the way home, cut the grass while supper is being prepared, look over their Sunday School lesson or catch up on emails and pay bills during the evening hours, and then watch the late news while they brush their teeth before falling into bed, only to start all over the next day. They also faithfully send monthly support to the missionary they have embraced, thankful that their lives can be invested in the mission field through you. They imagine your life to be much like their own, only in another language and time zone.

Be Intentionally Active

Are you living your daily life on the mission field with the same amount of energy and hard work as those who are providing prayers and funds to keep you there? I know that life seems overwhelming sometimes. Maybe you feel like the missions volunteer arriving to rebuild houses in Haiti after the earthquake, and you wonder where to even begin.

This blog is not meant to be critical or discouraging, but rather just the opposite. If you find your life more or less described above, I hope to offer some suggestions for a way out of the fog and inertia that sometimes swamps us. I’d like to offer some suggestions as a veteran missionary, missions agency administrator, and friend who considers missionaries to be heroes of the faith.

One helpful approach is to live life intentionally, making sure that you complete at least one activity, event, or interaction everyday that is:

1. Current ministry related
It may be as simple as encouraging a national pastor or believer by phone, having breakfast or    coffee with someone you are discipling, sharing the gospel with a neighbor, preparing or preaching a sermon, leading a Bible study, helping a hurting person, meeting a need, or working on the order of worship for Sunday.

2. Future ministry related
Many missionaries become overwhelmed with the daily rush of life when they feel they are operating at less than peak efficiency because of language challenges, stress of intercultural living, and the country shock that demands more rest than they needed at home. Take just a few minutes each day to strategize the best uses of coming teams, nationals that need to be involved, and ways that teams need to prepare before coming. Planning which churches to attend, calendaring ministry events and coordinating with local pastors are tasks that can always be tackled, and every bit of progress moves your ministry forward and keeps you on track.

3. Personal discipleship related
It may be as simple as a consistent quiet time with a Bible reading plan, prayer list, etc. It may include a Scripture memorization plan that focuses on verses to counter the daily attacks you feel. It could be studying through a Christian living book, Bible commentary, or missionary biography.

4. Family related
This could be family devotions at breakfast, going to the market or grocery store, attending a Bible study or prayer meeting together, getting ice cream, going for a family walk, or a Bible story and prayer together at bedtime.

5. Language learning related
The need to speak the language well is not only essential for successful ministry, it is the key to getting out of culture shock, making friends, feeling confident, increasing self esteem, and minimizing anxiety. Learn one new word or phrase every day and use it in a conversation. Read an article or two in the local newspaper with a dictionary at hand. Have coffee with a friend who is monolingual in the language to help you learn. Be intentional about language learning daily.

6. Home church and support-raising related
The desire to stay on top of newsletters and communicating with people back home becomes overwhelming when it is put off for weeks. When you spend even five minutes emailing, texting, Facebooking, or FaceTiming with a friend or family member at home everyday, it becomes manageable. Don’t spend hours on it; just spend 5-15 minutes, but do so everyday. Add one sentence or paragraph to the newsletter or blog daily and then at the end of the month, you can edit it down to the most interesting parts to send out. You might send a text to a supporter or friend to let them know you thought about them and prayed for them that day.

7. Marriage related
If you are married, maintaining a good relationship is one of the best testimonies you can have with the nationals and with your children. The nationals will see a parable of the gospel in your marriage and your children will feel more secure when they see Mom and Dad in love with each other and caring for one another. Go on a date, read a book together, pray together, be a team with a united front, and build one other up—in person and behind your mate’s back.

Little by Little 

Each of these may take one minute or one hour, but make sure that you get at least one thing done in each of these seven categories everyday. The key is to do a little everyday. When you are plateaued in language learning, behind on newsletters, not involved in any significant ministry activities, and you’re not prepared for the relentless return of volunteer teams, it is almost impossible not to get overwhelmed. When your family members are getting snippy with each other and culture shock seems to be taking a toll on marital bliss, you may wonder whether you should even be on the mission field. After all, no real missionary would act this way, right? Or so you think.

Make a list of these categories, and add any others that may be applicable to your situation, and then add a list of small doable daily tasks under each heading. Do at least one per day in each category, even if you just spend one minute on it. You will begin to feel more in control and useful, and the reinvigoration you will feel will make you spend increasing amounts of time in each category.

Perhaps you have read of godly people in the past centuries who spent two hours per day in prayer. How could anyone ever do that? But, if you were to pray for five minutes each day, you would find yourself praying more and more, and finding more joy and freedom in the process. That is also true of these suggestions for missionary ministry management. Just try it for one month and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Welcome Home

An open letter to returning IMB missionaries

These are uncertain times. That of course is an understatement for virtually every country in the world. But I am speaking right now of our family, our International Mission Board family, and more specifically the missionaries who are taking the step of unanticipated early retirement from the life God led them to embrace years ago. At least 800 of our IMB missionaries are returning to the USA. While this step may be necessary and wise, it is painful to every Southern Baptist and missions-minded Christian.

Love for the SBC

I love the Southern Baptist Convention. I started my life in an SBC church where my Dad was a deacon and my Mom was the organist. I was on the cradle roll when I was 14 days old, became a Sunbeam, then moved to Royal Ambassadors, Youth Group member, sang in choirs, was ordained as a deacon, taught Sunday School, chaired many committees, and pastored churches. As someone recently said, I have served in just about every capacity in SBC church life except that of WMU president. I have been an IMB missionary and am now a missions professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am also honored to serve as a trustee of the International Mission Board. I am profoundly thankful for our IMB president, David Platt, and I’m thankful to say that he is a godly man who desires God’s glory and the very best for the SBC, the IMB, and all our missionaries. The day I heard him announce the impending Voluntary Retirement Initiative he sounded to me like a man sharing the tragic news of the death of a family member. He deeply grieved the necessity of this step. We all value the treasure of our SBC missions history and legacy. Anyone who has been around me for much time at all can tell you that missionaries are my heroes.

A Painful Decision

We have heard politicians and culture watchers speak of “inconvenient truths.” However necessary this most recent step may be, there are some truths about missionaries returning home that are much more than inconvenient, they are tragic.

One is that the missionaries who are retiring and returning are those with many years of experience, a mastery of the language, a well-established network of relationships among the nationals and evangelical missionaries. They are the missionaries who have gone through culture shock and adapted to the food, the rhythm of life, the culture, the music, and the way life is lived. They know their country’s history and the current political realities. They know the churches and the backgrounds of each, the nationals’ testimonies, and the keys to evangelism and ministry. But now they are bringing that knowledge back home with them because there is no way to leave all of that with someone else when they leave.

Perhaps an even greater tragic truth is that they still have God’s missionary call on their lives, the people in their heart, and a burden to reach and teach them.

They still yearn to advance the kingdom and glorify God among them with their lives, gifts, and talents. They may sense that God is calling them to retire, but what will they do with this call, this burden, and this itch that started them on their missions journey years ago?

Thankfully, some SBC leaders are providing church-, college-, or seminary-owned housing to provide homes for returning missionaries. Others are loaning cars, and still others are offering ministry positions and secular work opportunities. All of these provisions are necessary, wise, and greatly appreciated. But houses, cars, and jobs will not quench the fire in their bones. Others who have returned from field service can testify that it just does not go away.

Returning missionaries, if God has called you back, He has a plan to provide for you, and He will use your surrendered life now as powerfully as He always has.

Reaching & Teaching

Please know that we at Reaching & Teaching have been praying for you, and we stand ready to help you in any way we can. There are two ways that immediately come to my mind.

1. Career Missions

Some have heard God’s call to step away from the IMB at this time—whether through the Voluntary Retirement Initiative, or by resignation to make room for others since you have a career skill that could provide your income as you seek other avenues of service. Yet, you feel conflicted because you still feel called to the people and places you have served. Reaching & Teaching would love to provide an avenue for your continued service on the mission field. We have already linked arms with career IMB missionaries in several countries to provide pastoral training for leaders in their areas. We have also appointed a couple who will work with an IMB team on the field. Your retirement income may be such now that you would not have the burden of raising your entire support to continue on the field.

2. Short-term Missions

Others may feel called back to the USA, and the VRI has been a providential answer to many anguished prayers. Whether due to the needs of aging parents, children’s education, or ministry opportunities, the time to return is right. But you still want to continue ministering to the people you have served for so long. Please know that we want to help facilitate that. Some of our team leaders are former field missionaries who live stateside but now take teams 2-3 times per year back to places they once served as career missionaries, continuing to mentor, teach, train, encourage, and minister in countless ways.

You are our heroes. We applaud you and thank you for your years of service. We highly value all that you bring to the table from your years of missions experience. If you would like to consider continuing your career service on the field through another avenue, or by leading short-term teams to minister to the people in your heart, let us know. We would love to help you find God’s place for you in His world as you take these next steps. Please let us know if we can serve you in any way.

Grace and peace,

David Sills, President
Reaching & Teaching International Ministries

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fruitful and Joyful Ministry

Guest post by Tim Killillay - missionary in Cusco, Peru

During the week of October 12-16th, I joined Reaching & Teaching staff member, Tony Steele, to train 36 pastors and leaders in Chazuta, Peru, a jungle town at the edge of the Amazon Basin. This occasion wasn't the first time that Tony and I have worked together, having previously participated together on the student body council while attending language school in Costa Rica. It was a blessing to serve with him again!

Fruitful Ministry

Each day, Tony and I took turns teaching on the topic of Biblical Counseling, the eighth module in Reaching & Teaching pastoral training program. Throughout the week, it became evident that God used the lessons and case studies to work in the hearts of the pastors who attended the training. Pastor Jairo Sangama, field coordinator for the Chazuta training site, told us that several men approached him throughout the week about ways in which the Lord had convicted them of sin. Many pastors also discussed with Tony and me specific situations in their churches where biblical counseling is needed. Praise the Lord that his Spirit works through his Word!

An important aspect of missionary work is being spontaneous and flexible. In fact, the apostle Paul calls pastors to be ready “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). On Tuesday, a brother from Chazuta asked his coworkers to eat lunch with us. A few minutes before lunch, this brother asked me to share the gospel with these men. What a privilege! In addition, I also preached at two different churches during the week - one near Chazuta and another at a church up the river. After the Wednesday evening service, a family of new believers invited us to pray with an elderly lady, a recent convert who is very sick. We had a wonderful time encouraging this sweet woman through songs and prayer. I have learned that being ready in season and out of season means being ready to minister at any moment under any circumstance.

Sometimes, when the work of ministry has been especially hard, I've wondered if the Lord granted fruit from our efforts. At other times, the Lord gave overwhelming evidence of fruit, as on this particular trip. John Piper once wrote, "God will hide from you much of your fruit. You will see enough to be assured of his blessing, but not so much as to think you could live without it. For God aims to exalt himself, not the preacher, in this affair of preaching". Whether or not we're able to harvest immediate fruit, God gets the glory, and for that we rejoice.

Funny Anecdote (and praise!)

Have you ever asked a woman if she is pregnant when she is not? Unfortunately, I have, and it's really embarrassing for both parties.

Rule #1 - Don’t ask a woman if she is pregnant!

Similarly, during my last trip to Chazuta in September, I was invited to visit two families who were preparing to lose loved ones to cancer and kidney failure, respectively. While praying with one family over a dear brother named Nilsen, I said, "Lord, in some ways we are jealous of our dear brother because he will see Jesus face to face before we will."

Rule number #2 - Don’t pray about being jealous of someone dying until after they have died.

You guessed it. During this last week of teaching in Chazuta, who do I see when I get up to teach? Nilsen! I said to him, “Brother, what are you doing here? You’re supposed to be with Jesus!” Obviously, we had a lot of fun with that one. Nilsen is a godly man and faithful servant who is probably in his mid 60's. The man has cheated death at least four times - I am not sure if that is a blessing or a curse! 

Please continue to pray for the gospel's advance through disciple-making efforts in the lowland jungle region of Peru. Pray for our brothers as they apply biblical truth in their churches. Pray for the missionaries who are taking the gospel farther into the jungle to unreached people groups. Pray that people would be saved and churches would be established for the glory of God. 

If God has gifted and equipped you to teach his Word, I urge you to prayerfully consider joining Reaching & Teaching on a pastoral training trip. There is a huge need here in Peru and around the globe for pastors to receive theological training and pastoral discipleship for the effective advance of the gospel. This was my third such trip with Reaching & Teaching. The Lord willing, it will not be my last.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Privilege of Training Leaders

Guest post by Dean Bertsch, Regional Mobilizer for Reaching & Teaching

Traveling to teach pastors and church leaders is always a privilege. It is a special privilege to return to the same location more than one time. During the week of September 19-26, we were able to return to Otavalo, Ecuador, for the second of nine training modules.

The training was again held at Iglesia Bautista Canaan in Otavalo.   Each day, the teaching was broken up into two training sessions, each with different students.  Our morning sessions included a number of pastors, both from Otavalo and surrounding communities.  While there were a couple local pastors in the evening sessions, the majority of attendees were members of Iglesia Bautista Canaan.  These are people who desire to learn more in order to serve more effectively.

Joining me on this trip were Pastor Ed Roman (Carlisle Baptist Church, Carlisle, PA), who taught on the spiritual discipline of prayer, and John Raudenbush (Oakwood Baptist), who with me taught a survey of the New Testament.  John carefully walked the students through Paul’s letters; I had the privilege of teaching the other of the New Testament books and letters.

The morning sessions in particular generated a number of good, thought-provoking questions.  We were extremely encouraged by the level of attentiveness and engagement of the students.  Conversations with the students before and after the sessions as well as on breaks gave evidence as to how helpful the training is for them.  Many of the pastors indicated this is the first time they’ve ever had any type of Biblical or pastoral training.

On the last day, Reaching & Teaching missionary, Cody Whittaker, put a list of suggested resources (available in Spanish) on the white board. The hunger for more teaching was demonstrated as many of the students wrote down the names of books and asked specific questions about the resources. I was extremely encouraged to see that a number of excellent resources are available in Spanish as a free pdf download. Praise God!

I mentioned at the beginning that training leaders  is a privilege. We at Reaching & Teaching would love for you to join us. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. How can you labor alongside us? You can be a teaching laborer, joining with us in either a short-term or long-term capacity. You can be a prayer laborer, assisting us by remembering us before the throne of grace. You can also be a financial laborer, supporting us by helping to fund our training ministry. We are eager for you to serve together with us for the health of Christ's church and the advance of Christ's gospel around the world.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

8 Essential Components for Discerning God's Will

From the archives for such a time as this.

I know that some people maintain that God doesn’t have a will for our lives beyond our sanctification, but He does. No, we cannot sit down and pray to know it until He reveals a fully developed life plan, but He has put us in the places we are, the times in which we live, the background we have, and given us the personality and preferences we have in order to guide us in right choices.

I believe that He has created good works beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph 2:10), and with Paul, I want to stretch forward to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Php 3:12 NIV) I agree with Spurgeon that “every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor” but I do not think that everyone is to sell the farm and travel to live on the other side of the world. All of us are goers or senders, or in sin! (Rom 10:13-15) It was clearly the role of Barnabas and Saul to be missionaries in the work the Holy Spirit had for them, and it was clearly the role of the church to set them apart and send them (Acts 13:2-3). When people ask me for counsel to help them discern their role in God’s plan for the world, they are sometimes passionate and eager to know. Telling them to read chapter 2 of my book, The Missionary Call, is the more complete answer I wish they would examine, but it is not the immediate answer they want. Let me share with you what I often tell them. These are the eight components you should keep in mind as you pray about God’s will and make the best decision for the next step in your life, whether that is to serve in missions, pursue a particular field of study, move to a new city, etc. These are not ‘8 easy steps to know God’s will for your life.’ They are simply biblical considerations to consider in those moments.

  1. Know God – Some people are more concerned about knowing God’s will than they are with knowing Him. I have been married and growing to know my bride for 37 years, and in most situations of life I can say with reasonable certainty what she would prefer. I know her. Spending time getting close to God is essential for being close enough to hear the still, small voice saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” But how can we know Him? What could we say definitively about Him if He had not revealed Himself to us? Precious little. So, study His revelation to know what He wants you to know.
  2. Know His Word – As you read the Bible you are reading the very Word of God. He speaks to you through the examples of former followers, through His revelation of His heartbeat, His desires, what brings Him joy, and what breaks His heart. As speaks to you, speak to Him in intimate conversation.
  3. Prayer – Speaking our heart to God, listening to hear His guidance, and resonating with it in obedience is exactly what Jesus did, sometimes spending long hours in the night in prayer. Godly examples in Christian history also made prayer the priority of their daily lives. M’Cheyne determined each day not to see the face of man until he had spent time before the face of God. Yet, sometimes we need guidance “with skin on.”
  4. Counsel – God has given you a precious gift in the “gray beards” of your life. They are those who have watched you grow in your Christian life, they have seen you make both and wise and foolish decisions, and they are those whom you have seen making wise and godly decisions in their own lives. There is wisdom, victory, and safety in seeking the counsel of godly men and women.
  5. Life Experiences – Why has God allowed you to have the experiences you have known? He is sovereign over every detail of His universe and sends or allows all that comes to us, knowing exactly what is necessary to conform us to the image of Christ. He may have allowed you to have experiences (mission trips, friends, jobs, travel) precisely for the reason of shaping you to be the person who you are in order to seize an opportunity that is before you. Are your life experiences indicative of such preparation in this choice?
  6. Circumstances – Some might say throwing out the fleece is the guidance they seek, or looking to identify the open doors. Be very careful in this. Remember that the devil is called the god of this age and the prince of the powers of the air; he can manipulate circumstances also. Certainly, your circumstances may be useful. For instance, if you struggling with whether to marry Jane or Jill, but are already married to Sarah, then your circumstances are pretty clear regarding God’s will in that situation! Consider circumstances but only in harmony with these other ways that God guides.
  7. Timing – This component seems sort of unspiritual or irrelevant to some, but it is a crucial one to consider. I know a man who had respected a missions agency that focused in the region of the world that most interested him all of his adult life. He would have gladly taken a job in the mailroom just to get to meet his heroes who served there. In developments that only God could have brought to pass, he was one day invited to serve as President of that agency. It was a miracle, a dream come true, and the opportunity of a lifetime. Yet, as he considered each member of his family at that moment in time, it was painfully obvious that the timing was wrong for them. It would have been wrong for him to accept and bring pain to his family, so he declined the opportunity. While it still hurts him, and while every other light was green, he knows that the timing of the offer was not right.
  8. Desire – What do you want to do? If the last component seemed unspiritual, this one makes it pale in comparison. What do my desires have to do with it? In fact, some erroneously think that if it is God’s will for my life, it won’t be something I would choose. Missionaries who are passionate about serving in the areas where God has called them have sometimes confessed a little guilt about having such joy in it, as if great happiness and desire to do it somehow means it is only my will. But God is able to give us desires that He wants to fulfill in our lives. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” He is pleased when we find our greatest joy in pleasing Him. Learn to pray, “Lord all I want is ALL You want.” He will give you desires that you may have never had, and then He will allow them to be realized, bringing joy to you both.

How can you know your place in God’s plan for the world?
Are you a sender or a goer?

Clear off the table of your heart and life, lay these eight components there, and ask Him. He has a place for every one of us, and there is great joy and peace in both finding and doing it.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Reaching & Teaching Update

These are exciting times for Reaching & Teaching. My heart is full because of what the Lord has been doing in the past few months! Here is a sample:

  • The first Reaching & Teaching graduation in Tambo, Ecuador 
  • Amazing protection and provision at our jungle site in Chazuta, Peru 
  • Two training site launches in Ecuador - Cuenca and Otavalo 

Graduation in Tambo

It was a humbling moment to be present for the first ever Reaching & Teaching graduation. Ten men have faithfully been a part of our training for over three years now, having attended each of the nine week-long training modules. Many have sacrificed weeks of working at their jobs so they can attend the training. Their faithfulness to attend and their eagerness to learn is remarkable.

Yet, our vision does not end here. Paul wrote to Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2). Our prayer is that these men will raise up other leaders in their church and entrust to them what they have learned - that they too will reach and teach the nations.

We rejoice in this first graduating class, but we also pray that God, through these men, will spread what they have learned to many others. For the sake of the gospel, for the strengthening of the church, and ultimately for the glory of God.

Protection and Provision in Peru

A Reaching & Teaching team headed to Chazuta, Peru, the same week as the Tambo training. However, because of dangerous mudslides on the mountain road leading to the jungle town of Chazuta, the team was never able to make it our training site there.

After much prayer to the Lord and counsel from our site coordinator, Pastor Jairo Sangama, the team decided that it would be unwise to make the trek to Chazuta. Staff member Jon Deedrick told Pastor Jairo that he did not expect the twenty students waiting in Chazuta to put their lives at risk to travel to Tarapoto for the training. Yet, these men are hungry for the Word! They rose at the crack of dawn on Tuesday morning and made it safely to Tarapoto for the start of the training at 9 AM. Amazing!

By that time, God had already provided a new training location - a significant complex that was formerly a seminary. It has a large meeting hall, dorm rooms to accommodate all of the students, and a kitchen/mess hall. Sisters from Tarapoto volunteered to prepare meals throughout the week. Everything came into place in a matter of hours.

Despite all of these obstacles, forty pastors sat eager to receive the Word on Tuesday morning, a testament to the goodness of the Lord!

Training Sites Launched

In the weeks following the Tambo and Tarapoto training, we launched two additional training sites in Ecuador, both of which are staffed by partner churches here in the states.

The first was in the city of Cuenca, where my son Christopher is stationed as a Reaching & Teaching missionary. Thank the Lord, the training was a tremendous success with sixty students in attendance throughout the week.

Last week, we launched a training site in Otavalo, facilitated by Reaching & Teaching missionary Cody Whittaker. This site also saw a great turnout, and the training was divided up into two groups - one in the morning and one in the evening. Our team taught for a total of ten hours each day!

Both of these teams took the students through a survey of the Old Testament, and we pray that the Lord will bear fruit in the lives of our students as they respond to the Word.

In addition to these exciting developments, our team is busy processing the applications of eight new missionary families who are responding to God's call on their lives. We praise God for this momentum, and we pray that he will bring us an army of servants ready to go anywhere and make any necessary sacrifice to reach and teach the nations.

Please praise God with us for all that he is doing. We covet your prayers in the days ahead!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Barnabas and Paul

My pastor, Bill Cook, recently preached on one of the saddest chapters in missions history. He recounted the time when Paul and Barnabas disagreed so vehemently that they parted ways. His sermon on this very familiar passage touched me deeply because some dear, and I believe godly, missionary friends of mine have recently done the same painful thing. It is often said that your biggest problem on the mission field is not the language, government red tape, culture shock, or stomach bugs; it’s other missionaries. Something about putting visionary, passionate, self-denying, radically committed men and women in close proximity for long periods of time is like putting tin foil in a microwave; sparks are going to fly. Sadly, I have known of many missionary teams through the years that have parted company and broken fellowship, and sometimes amid accusations or harsh insinuations that resulted in long-standing bitterness.

Returning to the sermon, of all the events that the Holy Spirit could have inspired the biblical authors to include, here we have this story of committed co-laborers parting ways, and at least in the biblical record never speaking or serving together again. Try to imagine the close bond of their friendship. Remember how Barnabas sought Paul out when no one else believed in him or knew where he even was, how he included him in the work, and traveled with him in the very beginning of pioneer missions? Their separation was tragic and should move us to tears. Was Barnabas trying to do the same for John Mark that he had done for Paul years before? Couldn’t Paul see that or at least give him the benefit of the doubt?

The Greek word that the Holy Spirit used in Acts 15:39 to communicate the separation, ἀποχωρίζω, means “to rend apart or sever,” and has the connotation of ripping away. It signifies a painful, tragic, and apparently bitter breaking of fellowship between them. While the Bible does not specifically say whether the sin or fault was Barnabas’ or Paul’s, it seems that Paul is the one who came around later . . . but maybe as long as 15 or 20 years later.

Their sharp disagreement was over whether to continue taking John Mark with them as a member of their mission team after he had deserted them during their first missions trip. Their positions were so extremely opposed that Barnabas took John Mark with him and went his way, while Paul took Silas and went another. God does not tell us why John Mark had returned home during the missions trip, nor what Barnabas later saw in him that made him argue so strongly for his reinstatement (or perhaps saw of himself reflected in John Mark). Neither does God tell us why John Mark even sought reinstatement to the team, nor why Paul was so adamantly opposed to the idea. All we know is that it was a bitter disagreement that separated the members of the first missionary team. Sad. Tragic. Painful. But not the end.

Paul wrote many years later in Col 4:10 and Philemon 23-24 that Mark “the cousin of Barnabas” had regained his confidence. Peter also counted on John Mark in later years, calling Mark his “son” in the faith (1 Peter 5:13). You will remember that Peter painfully knew what it was like to sin greatly, humbly repent, and be graciously restored. Finally, as Paul nears the end of his life in prison he writes his last letter to Timothy and tells him, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” They are friends again. Missionaries and co-ministers on the same team again. What amazing grace!

May I speak for a moment to my missionary friends? I know that you see what you believe to be sin in the life of some around you. I know you see them as sandbags keeping your ministry from getting off the ground and soaring with eagles. They may be. But please be patient. Remember that while we see in this passage the beautiful story of John Mark’s restoration, we never clearly see Paul and Barnabas reconciling and embracing as friends again. There is much speculation about whether they decided to forgive and forget or simply appreciate one another from a distance. Please don’t let things end that way on your team.

Our Lord Jesus prayed in John 17

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Jesus prayed that we would be one. No, not uniformity but unity, so that the world would know that the Father sent Him. The world is watching, and they will know we are Christians by our love.

When I was a young believer we used to sing a version of Ephesians 4:32, “Be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted forgiving one another, even as Christ also has forgiven you.” Stay together. Forgive, reconcile, restore, and try again. Missions’ advance needs the powerful testimony of your forgiveness and unity.