Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Quiet Life

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  1 Timothy 2:1-4

This passage has become precious to me over the past few weeks.  Living in a megacity, it can be literally quite loud.  Wedding season is in full swing, so on the weekends we hear one procession after another, horns honking all the way.  Yesterday we observed a funeral in front of our building, complete with wailing, screaming and screeching.  With the warm weather and long daylight hours, children are noisily playing outside until past my own bedtime.  And of course, living in an apartment means that we hear quite a lot of what goes on in our neighbors' homes.  Peace and quiet is always a much-desired commodity for small town people like us.

But the political instability here has provided an illustration of the sort of quiet and peaceful life Paul was talking about.  Before "something snapped" here, as one journalist phrased it, these verses seemed a good reminder of the need to pray for our leaders.  Something to stick into one of those super-organized prayer journals, where you pray for your church on Sunday, coworkers on Monday, government leaders on Tuesday. . .and so forth.  Now, as we watch news footage of the violence in certain parts of the city, and peek through the curtains at the protesters marching through our own neighborhood, I understand a bit more of why Paul urged Timothy to pray for those in authority.  Paul himself didn't have a quiet and peaceful life as far as outward circumstances go.  He guaranteed his readers that they would face persecution.  He wasn't naive about the hardships of life, and yet he still held up a quiet, peaceful, godly and dignified life as an urgent subject of prayer.

We are praying that this time of unrest will come to an end quickly.  We are especially praying that it will not escalate and that we can put these weeks behind us as a difficult period in which we learned to put our trust more fully in God and in His sovereign plan for all peoples.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

"I'm American Too"

Due to our years of working in Latin America, we are well aware of the sensitivities of many Latins toward our use of the term "American" to describe someone from the USA.  They generally object with the comment, "I'm American too!"  Which is true...the Americas stretch from Canada down to the tip of Tierra del Fuego.

This past month we spent an afternoon with two couples from Central and South America.  One couple is newlywed and praying about the possibility of coming to live somewhere in this part of the world.  The other is closer to our age and well into the process of getting jobs and visas to live in one of the most restrictive countries of the 10/40 window.  Our team had lunch with them.  Amazingly, all but one or two of our teammates here in Central Asia has a good working knowledge of Spanish, so there was very little need for interpreters.  After lunch, we talked about the work in our region and had a time of prayer for these two families.  During the conversation, one of our teammates made the fatal mistake of referring to us, the US passport holders, as Americans in the context of Latins being able to get visas to countries that Americans are barred from.  The South American brother laughed, and said he wanted to tell us a story.

On his last visit to the country where they hope to work, a man on the street asked him where he was from.  Our friend told him his nationality, and the man responded with something along the line of, "You should have your head chopped off.  Your president is corrupting our country by being friends with our president."  To say that our friend was upset would be an understatement!  He went back to where he was staying and began to ask himself what he should do the next time someone asked where he was from.  Finally, he hit on a truthful answer that would still avoid such hostility.  Now he tells people who ask where he's from, "I'm American!"  Their response?  They grab him and whisper in his ear, "I like America."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Walls of Division

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.  Ephesians 2:14 ESV

Paul wrote these words in the context of Jews and Gentiles.  Where there had formerly been hostility and division, Christ's death and resurrection created a new people united into one structure built on the foundation of the apostles' teaching.

Central Asia is filled with people hanging onto ethnic hatred.  Governments maintain expensive propaganda campaigns to fuel anger among their populations and to keep citizens from noticing their own internal problems.  Graphic film clips and photographs of atrocities are aired regularly to keep tensions just high enough to benefit politicians.  In this climate, believers often struggle with loving their enemies.  Still, we have long prayed that the Gospel would transform people as they submit to God's Word.  This month we saw this happening.

Randy attended a partnership meeting for workers trying to evangelize among a specific Central Asian ethnic group.  Attending the meeting were Americans, British, Koreans, Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Chechens, Kazhaks, and others.  Several of these shared with the group how Jesus Christ brought them out of darkness and into the light, but the one which was most captivating was that of an Eastern European woman.  When her country went to war just after the Soviet Union fell, her ambition was to get a gun and fight against Muslims on the front line.  However, God graciously saved her and she ended up moving to another Eastern European country.  There, as she came into contact with Muslims, she was filled with a love for them and a burden to see them come to know Christ also.

Like the disciples, Christ could easily say to me, "O ye of little faith."  We've prayed to see these sorts of people standing up to reach across ethnic barriers to share the Gospel, yet it seemed impossible.  I'm so thankful that with God, nothing is impossible!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

We Love Birthdays!

Hannah Grace and her friend Rainy posing at our neighbor's birthday party.  In spite of all the food served, Hannah Grace always comes home hungry because everything is so spicy!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Thankful It's All Clean

Not my house. . .or the laundry. . .those are never-ending jobs.  No, I'm truly thankful that all foods are clean to us in Christ.  That's something most of us never contemplate for even a split second because we take it for granted.  The idea has been on my mind, though, after talking with my upstairs neighbor.  I happened to mention that my eldest son was applying for a summer teaching job in East Asia.  Her immediate reaction was to shudder over the food choices in that part of the world.  I reassured her that Kevin doesn't mind trying strange new foods.  After all, he ate the camel meat set before him last summer.  She nodded, and said eating strange new foods wasn't the issue for her; it was a matter of not having access to halal meats.  She said they would never consider visiting the Far East because they might accidentally defile themselves with unclean foods.

That stuck with me all week.  Think what a hindrance dietary laws would have been to the spread of the Gospel.  It would be a stretch to surround yourself with people who are constantly serving you offensive dishes.  If you did overcome your distaste for the people and their food, you would still waste precious time and energy trying to research where every piece of meat originated.  Feeding yourself within the bounds of Mosaic law could quickly become a higher priority than teaching the Gospel.

That's why I'm grateful that Jesus Christ declared that it isn't what goes into the stomach but what comes out of the heart that defiles us, that God gave Peter a vision on the rooftop declaring all foods clean, and that Paul assured his readers that all foods can be eaten with gratitude to God.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Better, Longer-Lasting Possession

For several weeks now, I've been reading about the increasing pressure in the US to give way to the tremendous momentum gained by the movement to redefine marriage (perhaps "undefine" would be a better word).  As Christian celebrities, sports celebrities and institutions choose to either cave in or at least distance themselves from the controversy, bloggers and commentators all have an opinion on how these people and groups should properly respond.  The response that has surprised me most, however, is a reaction to the most recent incident of a well-known figure backing out of a speaking engagement.  While I certainly don't know the factors and the motivation that went into his decision, most people seem convinced that it was made for the purpose of avoiding controversy.  What surprises me is the number of people who defend his decision on the basis that association with a controversial church could hurt his career and jeopardize his national platform for being an inspiration.

The purpose of this post isn't to analyze that particular situation, but to compare it with some of our precious friends here in Central Asia.  We are so blessed to have the opportunity to fellowship with those who, like Paul, bear in their body the marks of the Lord Jesus.  They're here in our current city as refugees, in legal limbo, but there's no trace of anger or bitterness.  Just bubbling joy tinged with sadness.  Their life is difficult, but they are busy about the work of sharing the Gospel wherever they go.  Some of our friends from another Central Asian country continue their ministry in country.  If they're imprisoned, they witness the truth to their cellmates.  When they're released, they return to their churches and start new ones.  They have all suffered tremendous loss but are totally satisfied in knowing Christ and the fellowship of his sufferings.  I wonder what they would think of the idea that protecting a career--even a career in ministry--is more important than clearly stating our belief in God's Word.

We might be tempted to think that imprisonment for faith in Christ isn't the same as being embroiled in controversy over ethics.  We might tell ourselves that it's okay to avoid this particular controversy, or distance ourselves from an unpopular position, but when it comes down to denying Christ, then we can and should stand firm in the face of intense persecution.  I'm not convinced that it works that way, though.  If we choose to protect ourselves from simple harassment by our silence on an issue of Christian ethics, where would we suddenly find the strength to suffer the loss of all things for the sake of the name of Christ?

I agree with those who say we should pray for Christians in the national spotlight.  But we also need to pray for ourselves.  May we all be like the first recipients of the book of Hebrews, who joyfully accepted the plundering of their property, knowing that they had a better possession and a lasting one.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


The day before my daughter's 15th birthday, I asked my neighbor to teach me how to make red lentil soup.  It's Julie's favorite, and I wanted to serve it the following day.  As my neighbor Esther and I chatted, she asked about my mother's health.  That led into a discussion on death and judgment.  She told me all about her beliefs--some things I already knew and others were new to me.  Then I told her what we believe.  That Jesus died on the cross [at this point she interrupts to let me know that the Koran doesn't teach that] because we can never do enough good works to earn salvation.  That we must put our faith in Him.  That He will forgive our sins and cover us with His righteousness.  When I finished, tears began to form in her eyes.  She replied, "We believe such different things.  I hope that somehow we can be in Heaven together."

Please pray for Esther.   She is a dear friend, and I, too, would love to meet up with her in Heaven.  But there's only one way that will happen.