Ukraine Summer Camp Updates 2017

Liubotyn

(Lyubotin Holy Trinity Church, Kharkiv region)

Graduates of the GLOMOS program and the Holy Trinity Church organized a summer camp for children in Meref that lasted seven days.

The children learned Bible stories, sang songs, painted, colored pictures, danced, composed fairy tales, staged scenes.

The participants really liked to perform the story about the Gypsy believers who came to the unbelievers. The story about King Artaxerxes’s feast performed by the teenagers was also very popular.

"Gypsy Club of Сheerful and Clever" was the final and one of the most interesting parts of the camp. The children received small gifts and the "Noah's Ark" magazine.

According to the feedback of the campers, "it was the best summer event ever".

It is worth emphasizing that the camp was held in the place of a compact settlement of the Roma people. There were 42 campers. Among them, there were children from low-income, vulnerable and socially inept Roma families and families of immigrants from the East of Ukraine (the warfare territories).

For many children, the camp was the only opportunity for a proper holiday, the only chance to receive a gift and to hear the Gospel ... which is the most important!

After the camp, we decided to follow up and organize a Sunday school.

We practice the vision we had received while studying in GLOMOS ...

"to go and teach others to be the disciples of Jesus Christ!"

Teaching Them... What?!

I don't get to share devotions in our office that often but when I do, I usually like to make them short. It's a tough crowd usually around here with everyone constantly checking their watches while I share... It reminds me of my youth group but I digress...

Here's my "short" take from our devotions yesterday. I'll try and make it short and sweet but you can always jump to the end...


Matthew 28:20. We all know it. We should know it. I's Jesus's command to go and make disciples of all nations, right? What does His command tell us? It tells us to go. It tells us to make disciples. It tells us to teach them. But - hold that thought for a second? Teaching them what?

We've done a good job teaching them the doctrines and teaching them how to study the Bible. Countless Christian organizations and missionaries are teaching "them" how to pray, how to evangelize, how to serve. Countless seminaries and Bible schools are teaching "them" Hebrew and Greek (sorry but I only took Hebrew because I had to have it for my credit hours!) but what about the part of "teaching them to obey?" When was the last time you took a class or went to a Bible conference on "Christian Obedience?"

Sure, we can spend more countless hours (yes, the key word for today is countless but that what happens when you can't afford to hire an editor!) defining the word "obedience" and why other translations use the word "observe" (the word is also translated as "preserve" - now you can thank me for the image above!)- and we can look into the Greek word for it but at the end of the day these two questions still remain:

  1. How I am doing in the Department of Christian Obedience [to the teachings of Jesus]?; and,
  2. How am I teaching others to obey [the teachings of Jesus]?

Here's my take on both. It boils down to "Am I doing what I know that I am supposed to be doing?" And it starts with the "small stuff of life" - like, for example, responding to the nudging of the Holy Spirit when he tells me to "Call so and so..." or, when I hear Him whisper, "Pray for this or that..." - or, when grocery shopping, He tells me, "Buy an extra bread for your neighbors!" Obedience to the "big things" - absolutely! - but it is usually the small rocks that turn off the horse cart and I know that for me, it's about the "small things" that I need to be careful and obedient.

The second one is a bit more tricky because it will require vulnerability and making myself open to those I disciple. Most of us will agree and even say that nobody is perfect but unless my closest friends and fellow disciples see my own struggles in modeling obedience, I risk growing and teaching the next class of Christian hypocrites. I am what I am today because of the grace of God but also because of people I admired and people I wanted to grow up and be like them - it was their example that got my attention. Were they perfect? Absolutely not but making themselves vulnerable and even sharing their own struggles of dealing with obedience had helped me see it in action and made me wanting to do better.

So, how are you doing in the Obedience Department? Are you helping others do better in that department? I will be surprised but if you hear about a conference on Christian Obedience, let me know.

Press In!

“Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.” Mark 2:4

This story, found in Mark chapter 2, is really an incredible one. Here’s the picture… Jesus is preaching to a packed house, literally, so much so that people were standing outside and no one else could get in. Four men brought their paralyzed friend to the house so that Jesus would heal him but they couldn’t get to Him. They climbed up on the roof and started digging into the roof and opened a hole. Imagine! Jesus is preaching and all of a sudden dirt begins to fall on His head as well as everyone around. It doesn’t say that Jesus said anything until the man was laying in front of Him. He saw their faith, forgave the man’s sins, and then healed Him. The man simply got up, took his mat, and walked out… no big deal!

As I was reading this story again this week, there are so many directions I could have gone but the imprint it made on me was that these were desperate people and they resorted to desperate measures. To say the least, they pressed in to see Jesus and would not be deterred. They destroyed somebody’s roof in order to get to Jesus! This took some work and they were willing to face the possible repercussions of their handiwork.

Life has its ups and downs. But, sometimes we just need to see Jesus, for whatever reason. Maybe we haven’t been in the presence of God much or maybe we have a desperate need. Recorded throughout the gospels, it was those who seemed most desperate and pressed in to Jesus that He touched. In almost every situation, He mentioned their faith. In this situation, it was “their” faith, not just the one that was healed. Faith is not a mystic thing. Faith is not always getting what we want. Faith is not believing that God is able to do something for us. Faith is trusting God that He has the best planned for us regardless whether we understand it or not (Heb. 11:40).

Over the last few weeks, I have felt a tug from God to press in. It’s not that I have an extra special need or that this is a challenging time. On the contrary, sometimes we can be satisfied where we are. God wants us to be desperate. The Bible talks about the value of being content and it is good to be content but there is a difference with contentment and satisfaction. Contentment is part of who you are, satisfaction is a temporary state of being full. Contentment grows, satisfaction exists.

I want to be like those four friends who didn’t care what others thought, how difficult the task may be, how long it would take, or fear of rejection. I desperately need Jesus and want to routinely press in to His presence in the good times and the bad!

 
James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Interview with GotQuestions

Our friends and partners from GotQuestions.org sat down with Phil Long to ask about our work and ministry. Here's Part One of their interview...


Did you know that over half of the world's Christians are led by people who don't know the Bible? In the developing world, where the vast majority of Christians live, 85 percent of the pastors have less than one hour of Bible training. Let that stat sink in for a minute. What if your pastor only had one hour of ministry education? How would that impact your church? We came in contact with a ministry that is seeking to change that statistic, especially in developing countries.

Global Action trains and equips front-line pastors in developing countries to make disciples. The ministry reports that one of the greatest challenges to the body of Christ and the growth of Christianity in the world is the lack of spiritually mature leadership. To counteract that challenge, Global Action focuses their energies on equipping pastors in these areas, most of them front-line, bi-vocational, first generation Christians. Global Action equips these ministers with the Bible and ministry skills so they can be successful as church leaders. Phil Long, president of Global Action, explains:

Some experts estimate that 82 percent of church plants (especially those in the developing world) will fail within two years. There are conflicting statistics about the success of church plants, but regardless of the exact amount, we know that the percentage of failure among church plants is high. The leader of the church is often the major reason for failure. These leaders are highly susceptible to false teaching and frustration from the lack of knowledge and support. We equip them so they can be successful and we connect them with other leaders. We want them to become a reproducing church...a church who is making disciples.

We sat down with Phil Long to learn more about what God is doing in the developing world. Let's listen in as he shares how to help pastors in developing countries. One of Global Action's core values is to empower people.

How does Global Action empower pastors in developing countries? 

First, we help them understand God's Word in a personal way and teach them how to study the Bible. Once they understand it personally, they can share it with their churches. We seek to empower them with the skills and training to serve. Our training is unique because we empower these church leaders to make disciples and become intimate followers of Christ. We help create a foundation where they can build their personal faith which does the same for members in their churches. We don't give them a salary, but we will sow into their ministries which allows them to do outreach from their churches into their own communities. We help them develop a strategy so they can reach their communities for Christ. 

According to your website, 85 percent of churches in developing countries are led by people who have less than 1 hour of ministry education. How is that impacting the growth of the church in developing countries? 

Because of the incredible growth of Christianity world-wide, many of these church leaders are first-generation Christians, which means they grew up in a religion other than Christian. They have become pastors by default because there is no one else. They need help and relationship support. 

Many of these church leaders have a limited understanding of salvation when they come to Christ. They may have experienced a miracle or maybe God came to them in a vision, or they may have seen the life of their Christian neighbor and how different it was. Whatever it was, it made them realize that Jesus is the way. They believe the gospel and they would die for it. But they don't always fully understand it. Sometimes, that carries over from the culture they grew up in. Christianity may look a lot like their past life...just because they don't know any different. 

For example, if you grew up in a Christian family in the USA, would you know how to be a Hindu? One day, you decide to become Hindu, but you don't know anything about Hinduism because you grew up in a Christian culture. As a result, your new found Hinduism is going to look a lot like your past life. You might go to the temple on Sunday morning and praise and worship the Hindu gods. Since you don't know how to be a Hindu, you base your new faith on what you know. It is the same way when someone converts to Christianity. 

How do you leave the culture intact without changing the gospel to fit that culture? 

It's important for us as western Christians to remember that the Bible is transcultural — it is for every culture. We try to ensure that Global Action is transcultural, too. We can train church leaders how to keep cultures intact while removing the cultural elements that are ungodly. For instance, if you are from Nepal and become a Christian, you are still Nepali. Buddhism is a major religion in Nepal so it is engrained into many of the customs of that country. By using the Word of God, we help them determine and apply its truths within the culture. 

According to Pew Research, over the last 100 years, there has been a significant decline in Christianity among "developed" nations like the United States and many countries of Europe, with the total Christian population dropping from 87 percent to 69 percent. What about the developing world? 

It's true that in the developed world, Christianity has declined 18 percent over the last 100 years. In the developing world, Christianity has grown significantly. One hundred years ago, only 17.8 percent of the world's Christians lived in developing countries, while today that number is 60.8 percent. However, a closer look will reveal that while population has more than quadrupled, the percentage of Christians has only slightly doubled. That's good, but it still hasn't kept pace with the population growth. Considering that a vast majority of the Christian leaders in those countries do not have a firm grasp on the Bible and in some cases, even their personal relationship with God, what we do is imperative to the growth of Christianity in the world. 

With that in mind, what do we do about reversing the downward trend of Christianity? 

Make disciples. Very simply, the church has to go out and make disciples, regardless of where in the world you are. We absolutely have to share the good news of Christ, but we must make disciples, not just converts. As we make disciples, they will help others grow in the Lord and do the same. We seek to help pastors have the necessary skills to reach their communities for Christ. 

#makedisciplesnow

How are we doing?

 “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you…”  ~Jesus Christ

Two thousand years ago, this is the task that Jesus left for His disciples. Today as His church, the question we must ask ourselves as followers of Christ is, “How are we doing?” The only way to measure our effectiveness is to measure ourselves based on His original commission. Are we making disciples, baptizing and teaching in ALL nations?

According to Pew Research, there has been an explosion in population growth of almost 400% in the “developing” world, sometimes referred to as the third world. Likewise, the church in these countries has also grown from 9% to 23.5% of the overall population. This accounts for 60% of the world’s Christians.

However, a closer look shows us that only 10 nations around the world hold one-half of the world’s Christians and 90% of all Christians live in a country where Christianity is the major religion. Over the last 100 years, there has been a significant decline in Christianity among “developed” nations like the United States and many countries of Europe, with the total Christian population dropping from 87% to 69%.

So in reality, the growth of Christianity has not kept pace with population growth overall and is down several percentage points from 100 years ago. One could say that the church has not effectively done the “WHAT” of Christ’s commission or the “WHERE” because we still have almost no impact on at least 25% of the countries in the world, not even considering individual people groups.

So the big question is what do we do about it?

Stay Focused. First, having been involved in world missions for over 40 years, I’ve noticed that the church, individual and corporate, tends to get easily distracted from Christ’s commission.  Making disciples can often take a back seat to our “humanitarian” efforts. It’s like we are putting the cart before the horse.

For example, a major trend affecting many Christians and churches is the social justice issue.   Social justice by definition is “promoting a just society by challenging injustice and valuing diversity.” Don’t misunderstand me, I believe that Jesus himself challenged injustice and valued diversity. I believe that He had compassion on those who were poor and hungry, naked and sick. I believe that a major part of the local church’s responsibility is helping the needy and should be a part of each Christ follower’s life to do these things. But until Jesus returns and establishes His “Kingdom” on earth, sorry to say, there will never be a “just” society, regardless of our efforts.

However, I am convinced that Jesus’ focus on making disciples set up a system that would accomplish these humanitarian goals, not through an institution, but by individuals practicing His example. True disciples of Christ will take care of widows and orphans. They help those who are really in need. My intent is not to criticize what others are doing; in fact, I applaud good works and compassion. Global Action helps churches in developing nations realize that part of their mission as a church is to show the love of God by reaching out to those in need in their communities.

Back to the question of “What do we do about reversing the downward trend of Christianity?”

Make Disciples. Very simply, the church has to go out and make disciples. We have to share the good news of Christ. Then those disciples will help others grow in the Lord and do the same.

My charge is this… if we concentrate on helping others mature as Christ followers, they will exemplify Christ and take care of others, physically and spiritually. If we just ask people to give us their money so that the church will take care of society’s needs, we will make passive Christians, not disciples. Just a thought…

Your thoughts?

Crossing Rivers for Jesus

Euan (right) and I, before another "river cross" in Honduras

Euan (right) and I, before another "river cross" in Honduras

This year we’ve had training locations in so many diverse locations. Our heart is to equip pastors in some of the most remote areas on the globe. We’ve gone into the mountains of Central America, Eastern Europe, and India on the border of Tibet and Bhutan, down into the jungles, and into villages where the temperatures were over 120 degrees. I personally visited most of these extreme locations this year but wanted to share a little about my most recent trip to Honduras.

As I landed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras in September, I looked out of the airplane window and saw the muddy, swollen rivers and thought about the journey ahead of me. I had been told about the many rivers we would be crossing on our trip into the jungles of the Mosquito Coast but had no idea just how exciting this trip would become.

After a nice brunch of bean and cheese baleadas by Sister Tula, we set out for our first graduation six hours away in the town of Tocoa, which is a well-known narcotrafficking center in Central America. After many police stops and big potholes, we arrived at our host church where over 200 people had been waiting for us for 2 hours. Although they were tired and hungry, nothing deterred their enthusiasm to see their friends and loved ones graduate from their studies. This was serious! We finished all the festivities about 11pm and headed to our little hotel.

The next morning at 5, we started our long adventure into the jungle. After about 30 minutes, we hit bumpy, dirt roads and got a phone call that our trucks would not make it through the deepest river. We had to find a ride! At a breakfast stop, we convinced someone in the village “café” to take us through the river. Five hours later, we parked our trucks at a small house in the middle of nowhere and loaded all of our Bibles, water, suitcases, and all 9 team members in the back of a monster 4x4. Within minutes, we were crossing through 4 feet of a raging river!

To add to the excitement, we hit a rock in the river that bent the front tore to a 45 degree angle. We had to limp along for another 15 miles to another 100 ft. wide river with no bridge. We carried all our belongings down a muddy road and loaded it onto 2 boats for a nice 20 minute boat ride into the jungle to reach our final destination, the small village of Palacios.

After teaching our class for 2 hours on leadership and a little nap, we walked to the graduation location where almost 400 people were waiting. Everyone in the nearby area was attending including all community officials. There had never been a meeting like this and everyone wanted to participate. It was a great meeting and I was able to share the gospel with them all. And not one mosquito bite!

The next day, we headed back to the city, all events in reverse. Can I tell you that after an equally eventful 13 -hour journey back, both my traveling partner, Euan Woolley, and I were ready for a good bed! What a great trip!

My trips aren’t always this eventful but they are more times than not. I’m always looking for traveling partners to see what God is doing and have some great adventures. If you’re ever up for it, let me know!

Beware the "Bats"

Recently, I took a trip across the country in my wife’s car. On the way back, I kept hearing a rattling noise under the dashboard. I thought maybe the fan in the air-conditioner was going bad but half way through my trip, the noise stopped and the air started working again. 

The day after I returned, my wife, Shary, was taking my daughter somewhere in the car and all of a sudden, something flew out from under the dash and landed on my daughter’s window. At first glance, they thought it was a big moth but realized it was a bat. The bat was confused and afraid and flew all over the front of the car. Shary and Abby simultaneously screamed and laughed. Then, in a twist of events, the bat somehow made it into my wife’s seat between the seat and her back. I’m sure you can imagine the panic in my wife. She quickly pulled off the road and fumbled at the seatbelt until she could “escape.” When she threw open the door, the relieved bat flew off. After Shary caught her breath, they laughed and laughed. It was a great story!

As I thought about the bat, I thought about how we pick up “bats” or unsolicited baggage in life’s journey and many times, we don’t even realize it. That’s why we must pay attention to what we expose ourselves and watch our attitudes. Several times, Paul told us in the New Testament to pay attention, walk carefully, because the “days are evil”.  

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Ephesians 5:15-17

If we are not careful and protect ourselves, if we don’t pay close attention, these “bats” manifest at some of the most inopportune times, like the bat, and usually, it not only will affect us but others around us. As an example, pride is one of those tricky “bats.” Most of the time, we don’t wake up one morning and say, “Today, I think I’ll be prideful!” Pride sneaks in. Maybe the pride trigger is success. Sometimes, it might be a defense mechanism. But pride does sneak in to all of our lives and it hurts us, our reputation, and many times those to whom we are closest. It’s one of the many “bats” that can attach itself to our lives.

The “bat” incident has made me take a closer look at some of the rattles under the dashboard, so to speak, in my life. If we listen, we can see some indicators of unwanted guests in our lives. As we do, we can’t ignore them, as I did, but we must take a closer look and find out what’s causing the problem. If we don’t, we could be looking at a wreck down the road.

Drive carefully and beware the bats!

Hurdling Is Just A Part Of Life

Thinking about my most recent journey to India and my journey over the last 3 1/2 years, the old saying "you can't always control what happens to you, but you can control what you do about it" came to mind.

I made a conscience decision a few years ago that I would do my best to only allow what happens to me affect me in a positive way. Life will always have its challenges. This is just a fact of life, regardless of our financial state, physical health situation, or the status of a relationship. I like to think of challenges as hurdles we face and must get over to finish the race.  Here are several “secrets” that we probably all know but it’s good to be reminded:

One secret of getting over the hurdles of life is learning the true meaning of being content whatever situation you may find yourself. This isn’t a “whatever will be, will be” attitude. It has everything to do with understanding God’s divine providence, He has all under control, and strength is available to handle every situation the right way. The Apostle Paul understood this best when he wrote in Philippians 4,

 
“…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Contentment is the offspring of humility and it brings ease of mind. Discontentment brings turmoil and negativity and can lead to further hardship. We control how we will behave in all situations, whether we caused it or not – 100% of the time. We choose to be bitter or forgive. We choose to complain or be victorious. Contentment is a state of mind.

Another secret to getting over hurdles in life is to simply refuse to quit. Although I never ran hurdles competitively, after practice we would sometimes play around with the hurdles. Hurdles are hard, especially when you caught your toe and went face down. But, the more you practice, the better you got. And, regardless of how good you are, all hurdlers, including the Olympians, fall at one time or another and it hurts. It’s the same way in life. The key is that you don't quit. You face your “hurdle” and even if you fall and get hurt, you get up and keep going. You stay positive and believe that you'll clear the next one.

Last, understand that God loves us and nothing can separate us from His love.  That understanding comes out of knowing God and what we mean to Him. God wants us to succeed in life more than anyone.

I like how Eugene Peterson interpreted the last part of Romans 8,

 
“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? …is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? …The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture…None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”

Keep hurdling!

Everything Starts With the Heart

“Before God can do a great work in an organization, that work must be done first in the heart of a leader… Unless God has taken our hearts captive, all of our good ‘doing’ will lack spiritual integrity and authority. Our work will expose the absence of God’s anointing. And it is at the exact moment that we think we ‘have it all together’ that we cease to be usable in the work of the Kingdom.”  ~Scott Rodin

I am a part of a monthly meeting where a group of CEO's and business owners meet together to talk about our organizations, discuss personal and business issues we’re dealing with, and challenge each other on how we can use our positions to make a spiritual difference in the lives of the people we lead. This week, we started our meeting by discussing the statement above. Keeping our hearts pure is difficult challenge but necessary, if we want God to use us and the positions that He has us in.

We discussed that letting God take our hearts captive is two-fold. First, we must yield to what He wants, seek His will with a passion, and refuse to move until we find it. Second, we must be on guard to keep our hearts pure and be alert for any sin that may entangle us. We all have sin and if we don’t admit that, we only fool ourselves (I John 1:8).

We all face temptations. Temptations of failure lead to fear, cutting corners, using people to get things, seeking comfort and love in the wrong places, anger, and on and on. But, there are also temptations we face in success that can equally cause setbacks. We can grow proud in our accomplishments, selfish, and greedy. We begin to think more highly of ourselves because of what “we” have done. We become entitled and expect others to place us at the head of the line. Again, we all deal with temptation and if we allow God to captivate our hearts, we’ll make it.

One important key that helps us to keep our hearts pure is having others that will tell you the truth but still love you. You need people surrounding you that don’t just tell you how great you are but those who will call you out when necessary. Accountability is important so that we can push each other to a deeper level of integrity.

Another important key for having a right heart is being content. In Philippians, Paul tells us that we need to learn to be content in every situation we find ourselves in. At the center of contentedness is servanthood.  A true servant is never frustrated. Frustration leads to discontent. At times, this has been one of the most difficult lessons for me to learn in life because it is a tendency, as humans, to be self-centered not serving to others.

God wants to do great things through us, but He is always so much more interested in what we become to Him than what we do for Him.  Never forget that!

#MakeDisciplesNow Re-launch

Just a few weeks ago, I returned from a long trip overseas. Every time I visit the church in other countries, I realize the great need for making disciples, all over the world, both here and there.  People talk about it but few are truly doing it. I was going to speak in a church recently on the importance of disciple making.  In his own words, the pastor asked me to share about something more relevant because they already were great at making disciples. In my own experience, a church that is truly great at discipleship can never get enough of it. There is nothing more relevant in our service to God than fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission. And by the way, after a little digging, that church did not have a reputation for making disciples.

Last year, we started a campaign called #MakeDisciplesNow and now, we will re-launch that campaign again. Although we want to expose/re-expose our ministry to as many as possible, we want to get people thinking about discipleship and missions. We want to ask questions that spark the answers to the challenges that face the global church today. We are not doing this as a criticism of what others are doing but to create an atmosphere of encouragement and creative ideas for one another in the area of discipleship, outreach, and missions. There is a series of six videos that introduce a thought or idea and then recipients are invited to comment or ask questions on our Global Action's Facebook page.

Our desire is that people would talk about this and we can develop a “community” of like-minded believers that understand or want to understand our foundational responsibilities as Christians.  Hopefully, we can encourage one another because true disciple making is not complicated but it is work and requires us to step out of our comfort zone sometimes. Christ’s Great Commission inspires and motivates us every day at Global Action to make disciples and challenge others to do the same. Please join us over the next 6 or 7 weeks by giving your input on this very important subject. 

If you would like to receive our emails, please let us know at office@globalaction.com or check out our Global Action's Facebook page or our Twitter and Instagram feeds.

Funny Moments: The Rains Down in Africa

As I was discussing possible things to write about with a member of our staff, we decided to go off track a little and write about how important humor is when traveling abroad. One person that sticks out the most in my mind is my good friend, Mike H., who I had the privilege of working with and who happens to be a gifted children’s pastor. No matter the situation, whether appropriate or not, he always seemed to come up with something that made you laugh.

I’ve had the opportunity to take multiple teams on mission trips but one such trip was probably the most physically demanding one that I’d ever lead a group of Americans. Mike just so happened to be on that trip. We had just been 10 days in the country of Niger, which is predominately a Muslim nation, and not for the faint of heart. We had spent much of our time in the bush country of the Sahel, the southern part of the Sahara desert. We had little water, bad food, and slept in mud huts on beds made of sticks. The last night, termites had infected the men’s hut and we were forced to sleep under the stars in the sand with all things that crawl in the night. I tell you this because I want you to get some picture of what our trip was like. Ministry was amazing but the physical conditions left much to be desired. I was so proud of the resiliency of the team but we were all tired.

Our flight left Niamey, the capital of Niger, at 4 o’clock in the morning. We had gotten no sleep that night at the end of a grueling trip. As we sat in the airport at 3 am, the temperature was about 95 and no air conditioner. Most everyone in the waiting area was napping or reading when all of a sudden Mike began to sing at the top of his lungs. He was singing the old Toto song, “I felt the rains down in Africa.” What made it so funny, besides the fact that he couldn't sing very well, was that it was so hot and we were in the desert where it rarely rains. All the Africans were looking at this crazy American singing as loud as he could in the middle of the night, on a hot night, about rain.

As we boarded the plane, soldiers stopped us on the tarmac to check our carry-on baggage and frisk us for weapons. I was near the front of the line and a soldier approached me and questioned me as to if I was the one who had been singing. In my compassionate way, I thought I would teach Mike a lesson. I turned around and pointed to him and let the soldier know that he should be asking “that guy” who was the culprit. I stopped at the stairs to the plane to watch what would transpire. When Mike reached the soldier with the AK on his shoulder, he was asked if he was the one singing and Mike sheepishly confirmed that it he was the guilty one. What happened next was one of the funniest moments I have experienced. The soldier commanded him to sing the whole song! Mike sang for him and then looking very relieved, picked up his bag and started to move toward the plane when the soldier roughly put his hand on Mike’s chest and said, “Again!” I died laughing as Mike sang the song again!

Every now and again, I get a video of Mike driving down the road in his car singing that song. Too funny! It’s good to laugh!

If you have a funny missions story to tell, I invite you to post on this blog and share it. We would all benefit laughing with you!

Through The Fire and Better Than Ever

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39

In life, there are always challenges to overcome, adversity to face in different degrees. I’ve always found the passage on Romans 8 interesting. Regardless of the situation, good or bad, Paul reminds us that not only can we conquer each stage of life but we can be more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. I believe the “more” is the love we have in Christ and what God wants to deposit in us while we go through each situation creating character and resiliency.

We’ve all heard the analogy of comparing our lives with the refining of precious metals like silver or gold. Silver has other minerals, dirt, and other particles that make it “impure.” In order to get these out, the silver must be put to fire and melted. The impurities rise to the top and are scraped off. The same is true in our lives. To extract the “impurities from our lives, one must be put through the fire so that we can recognize them and get rid of them.

As I reflect on the past few years, there have been quite a few “fires” that I have faced, both personal and in the ministry, but I see each of them a blessing and God continually working on me. As with the foundation of a house, the older we get, the more we “settle.” As we approach mid-life, the cracks in our character become more prominent. If we don’t fill these cracks, they only get wider the older we become. God allows us to go through the fire, not to hurt us, but to recognize where we need to improve, giving us the chance to get the “impurities” out.

The “more” for me has been the needed character building I am receiving, the ongoing lesson to keep the joy at all times, walking in forgiveness and grace, and many more. We will make it through every situation but the fires we face probably won’t be comfortable. God is not so much interested in our comfort but in our character!

Don’t just make it through the fire, come out more pure and better than ever!

Taking Time to Stop and Smell the Coffee

Some say flowers, some say coffee, but it is important not to get so busy that we don’t take more time out to reflect and slow down a bit.  I’m reminded of this because this year has started off way too busy. Someone recently gave me a book called “Addicted to Busy” but I haven’t had time to read it because I’ve been too busy! I can’t believe we are already 3 weeks into the New Year and I seem to be 3 months behind.

I read several quotes lately… “It’s not so much how busy you are, but why are you busy. The bee is praised, the mosquito is swatted.” “It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is, ‘Why are you busy?’” Staying busy doing productive things is not a bad thing except when we get so busy in life that we forget to include the most important things in our lives.

The two most important things in my life are God and family. Being transparent, I reflect back on the last 10 years of my life and find that I’ve worked hard FOR God and FOR my family but I could have worked harder at BEING with God and BEING with my family. It’s never too late!

When my son, who is about to turn 21, recently announced that it was time to move away and begin to make it on his own, this really hit home. On one hand, it’s something that most parents want to hear, but at the same time, there is some trepidation. I remember when I was 21, I left home to begin my “life.” For some years following, I was busy making a life of my own… getting married, having children, working to serve God and providing for my family. It wasn’t until years later that I truly appreciated my parents but I’m probably not alone in this. Life has come full circle and now, I talk to my parents more than at any other time in my life. I hope my son does a better job than me but I am determined to put more effort into BEING in the relationship.

This year will probably not slow down for me but I will try to be more aware to make sure that in all my busyness, I am busy about BEING with God more and BEING in the relationships most important to me. Work will always be there but time with those I love should be a priority.

It’s dangerous to put such thoughts out for the world to see because now I can be held accountable.  Accountability is good and now, I suppose, some, especially those closest to me, will be watching if I’m taking more time to stop and smell the coffee!

I hope you do, too!

Mistakes Can Create Character

I love woodworking but I hate making mistakes.  One thing I’ve learned as a woodworker is that mistakes are inevitable. On one of my recent projects, I had the opportunity to turn a mistake into a life lesson.

Recently, one of my friends, Nasko Lazarov, asked me if he could hang out with me while I worked on building a new dining room table. My wife never picks easy designs on furniture because she thinks I can build anything. Well, the fact is that I will try anything! The day he came to help me, I was working on double pedestal legs for the table, which is no easy task doing things by hand, and being double, both table legs have to look the same. On my first leg, I cut too deep on my design on the band saw so I had to “adjust” my design. As I said, mistakes are inevitable but usually no one knows but me. This time, I had a spectator that saw I made a mistake, which gave me an opportunity to verbalize a woodworking lesson (or maybe I should say “justify” a mistake).

Over the following minutes, I began to develop a life lesson…

“In life, you will always make mistakes but it is how you adjust to those mistakes will determine what the end result will be. The way we handle our mistakes will determine our character.”

If you can adjust correctly, your end result can be as good as or better than your first plan and adds character that sometimes only you can appreciate. When I initially made the cut too deep, I stopped cutting immediately and backed out of the cut, adjusted my pattern, and made the cut again. It turned out even better than I had originally planned. If I had continued the deeper cut, I would have had to probably scrap the whole piece and start over.

In life, it’s not a matter of if we make mistakes but when we do, how well do we manage the mistakes we've made. Sometimes, we can make adjustments and move on. Sometimes, we have to scrap the original and start over. Regardless, just like in woodworking, the mistakes we make create character, in our work and in our lives.

I hope that my mistake gives you an encouragement that the next time you make a mistake to stop, step back, and reflect on where things went wrong and “adjust” accordingly. See it as an opportunity to gain some experience and grow and build character!

Happy New Year!!!

Merry Christmas

The major part of consistently writing a blog over a long time is thinking of what to write. You’d think that this week of all weeks would be a no-brainer… it’s Christmas.  But the difficulty is what do you write about Christmas without writing about the same thing that’s always been written… the true meaning of Christmas, peace and joy, gift giving, traditions, and on and on.

So... I could write about why Christmas carolinis so awkward or what are some of the theories on origins of Christmas or why do we have Christmas trees or how Christmas has become so commercialized... but I really don’t want to start any debates.

really like the Christmas holidays. I like it for the time off. I like it because we can focus on our families a little bit more than normal. I still like to get presents and to give presents. I like snowmobiling in the mountains. I like football. There are a lot of reasons why I like this season.

But for Christians, the reason we celebrate Christmas is because we use this time of year to recognize and reflect on the greatest birth of all time – the birth of Jesus. And whether Jesus was actually born on Dec. 25th doesn't really matter.

This Christmas I've decided to enjoy the season for what it is. I have several friends who are facing life ending illnesses. I think about them and this very well could be their last “Christmas”. I just received a call that one of our long time ministry partners went to heaven a few hours ago. Last week, my parents were in a near fatal accident. It makes me stop and think that we are not promised another day on earth. I want to enjoy life… period… and to think more often that God has given me life abundantly and be more grateful that Jesus was born and died for me so that I can enjoy my life more abundantly. 

My hope for each of you is that you have a wonderful Christmas season.  Enjoy it regardless of what situation you may find yourself.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Lessons from “Black Friday”

Several years ago, I had my first, and probably only, Black Friday experience. After Thanksgiving dinner, one of my friends was going to sit in line at Target to cash in on the great sales and I thought that it was my opportunity to cross this off my bucket list.

It was the coldest night we had had that year. When I arrived, my friends were already in line behind 49 other shoppers. As I entered the line with them, I could feel hatred in the stares from those behind us. I guess I didn't understand line etiquette (or pretended not to understand). One of the wives pulled up with hot chocolate and an extra pair of gloves. And then we waited. We sat there for another hour or so and got to know all of our surrounding community. It was amazing to know that people actually had fun sitting out in the cold waiting just to shave a few dollars off the sales price. These were hardened, experienced shoppers. They had a strategy and enjoyed sharing theirs. People were laughing and telling their Black Friday war stories. This was kind of fun.

Picture by Powhusku on Flickr, Creative Commons License.

Picture by Powhusku on Flickr, Creative Commons License.

Then the doors opened and I realized that all the fun and games were over… people stopped talking to one another and started focusing. I had no idea what was about to happen but I would soon learn. I had my strategy… run in, buy my one gift, sit back and watch the action.

I literally ran to the electronics desk and purchased a pink iPod within about 2 minutes. I came, I conquered, I was the man, and thought I was done. I was so proud of myself until a petite lady, all of 5 feet tall, almost knocked me to the ground. As I moved out of her way, a shopping cart carrying two 50 inch TVs and a lot more just about took me out. As I wondered how they fit all that stuff in one basket, I realized that they had been in the store just as long as I had and all I had to show for it was one small iPod. My sense of pride was badly diminished at this point, so a little dejected, I moved into a corner and began to watch. I told myself that this was the real reason I had come.

Long story short, all that I had imaged unfolded in front of me… the fights, the pushing, the shoving, the eyes of "don’t even look at that, it’s mine." These people were good and I was impressed (and a little appalled). So, what did I learn?

First, never underestimate the strength of a petite, 5 foot woman!

Second, it is amazing what people will endure to get what they think they want. This can be a good thing depending on what they think they want. When hardships are seen as temporary, hope can carry you through the tough times.

Third, how fast a somewhat peaceful line can turn into utter chaos. I watched a fun loving, laughing community turn into "free-for-all" within seconds. If community, instead of competition, had been the goal, it would have been a totally different scene. All those things that were bought that day are probably broken or discarded by now, but relationships can last forever. Within our families and churches, the lesson should be to protect our relationships sometimes at the cost of falling short of our “goals.”

And last, don’t be so proud of your accomplishments… there’s always someone better than you! Be satisfied that you did what you were supposed to do and leave it at that. Enjoy your journey and you can even enjoy watching others in theirs.

Happy Shopping!

P.S. If you still need to do some shopping and want to do it online, consider using AmazonSmile or iGive - your shopping on these two sites will benefit Global Action as they will donate a portion of the amount you spend.

A Missionary Thanksgiving

Usually, I share that this time of year, specifically, is a time for us to reflect here in the US on how grateful we are to God for all He’s done for us...a time of Thanksgiving. This year, I thought I’d put a different spin on things from a US missionary’s point of view.

Shary and I spent some years in Africa but as good Americans, we still celebrated Thanksgiving thousands of miles away without the benefit of family around. One of the most memorable Thanksgivings “abroad” was with our adopted family and good friends in Kenya, the Mathenys.

We were privileged to work with Don and Amy Matheny during the 1990’s in Nairobi Lighthouse Church. They have been serving in Africa for more than 40 years now and are some of the most dedicated missionaries that I know. We talk a lot about discipleship around here but Don was one of the people that truly discipled me, had and still has great influence in my life.

"Thanksgiving-Brownscombe" by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe - Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

"Thanksgiving-Brownscombe" by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe - Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Back in November 1995, I remember vividly our Thanksgiving dinner with their family. We found a turkey, made cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, and all the fixings, “African” style. You just can’t imagine what a little piece of home that was! Sometimes, we can take holidays for granted but as missionaries living abroad, these times were extra special. We sat around thanking God for blessing us so much and for the privilege of serving Him in a foreign country but for that afternoon, we were back home. As I remember, we put in a tape of an LSU football game that was weeks old. Our family would “tape” games for us and send them to us but it would take up to 6 weeks sometimes to receive them through the mail… if we ever got them at all!

We have so much to be thankful for and our American tradition of Thanksgiving, regardless of where in the world one might be, is such a good one. This Thanksgiving, especially considering all the turmoil in the world, I encourage you to not only reflect on God’s goodness in your life, but to also think about the men and women serving outside of our country and thank God for their service. You may know someone who is a missionary, someone in the military, or someone working abroad. Take time to reach out to them during this season and thank them for doing what they do. It will mean more than you know and give them a little piece of “home”!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Faith vs. Fear

"God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind.” 2 Tim. 1:7
The Good Samaritan by G. Conti (Accascina) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Good Samaritan by G. Conti (Accascina) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The recent outbreak of Ebola, which has claimed the lives of thousands of people in West Africa, is producing a fear in the lives of many outside of that region now that it is reaching across the waters into Europe and the United States. As in the past similar situations, Christians seem to be at the forefront of going in and taking care of those in need and the dying. And, as people full of faith, the church is called to step forward, not shrinking back in fear.

Over the last several thousands of years, there have been many instances where true Christ followers have been the instrument to care for the sick and the dying in the face of pandemic disease. The first Christians not only took care of their own, but at great risk to themselves, reached far beyond themselves and saved a great number of lives. Although these were not doctors, their nursing and feeding of those too weak to take care of themselves allowed many to recover instead of dying. Instead of fleeing disease and death, these Christians ministered to the sick and helped the poor, the widowed, the crippled, the blind, the orphaned and the aged.

Governments, like the Roman Empire, were forced to admire their works and dedication. During the Plague in Alexandria when nearly everyone else fled, the early Christians risked their lives by simple deeds of washing the sick, offering water and food, and consoling the dying. Their care was so extensive that Julian eventually tried to copy the church’s welfare system. It failed, however, much like many governmental systems, because for Christians it was love that motivated them, not duty.

As we look around our countries and the world, there is crisis among humanity in many different forms. It is an opportunity for us, as Christ followers, to once again step up and face each of these challenges with faith and love. We cannot depend on our governments to do the job God has called us to because government entities cannot love, only we can.

God encourages us to not fear and not to get caught up in discussions that cause fear. He encourages us to ACT in the spirit of power, love, and godly mindsets. Instead of the fear of death, social isolation, or a catastrophe, we have the opportunity to go beyond these barriers of retreat and demonstrate that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. We can show the world that by giving away our lives, we find life. How we live and how we die is our message. If we live our lives full of love in the face of crisis, perhaps like the early church, we, too, will see an outpouring of new life and real hope in God, instead of terror and flight.

Don't Get Caught Holding the Rope

Paul wrote to the Philippines that he considered “everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus… there is no righteousness of his own, but by faith in Christ” (Philippians 3:8-11).

Recently, I was reading some of the writings of Charles Spurgeon and ran across a story he told about a ship sailing to Australia that met with a terrible storm and sprang a leak. Another storm came and a certain passenger with an important “air” about him began to alarm the other passengers. The captain, knowing what panic this man could create, moved close to him to quiet him but the man blurted out, “What an awful storm! I’m afraid we will sink, for I hear there is a very bad leak.”

The captain replied, “Well, you seem to know more than the others so don’t mention it or it may frighten them. Would you help me by holding hard on this rope? Don’t let go but pull as hard as you can until I tell you to let go.”

This man pulled as hard as he could and as soon as the storm subsided, he was released from his duty. He expected to be congratulated by the captain and the other passengers but everyone seemed ungrateful, even the captain. A little perturbed, the “hero” hinted that such valuable services as his, saving the ship, ought to be rewarded in some way. He was shocked to hear the captain say, “What, you think you saved the ship? I gave you that rope to keep you busy so you wouldn't create a panic.”

This story reminds me that sometimes we can be self-righteous and be fooled into thinking that somehow we can contribute to our own salvation. Salvation is a gift of God and if we think that we can save ourselves, we are doing nothing more than our friend who stood holding the rope with teeth clenched. When we get to heaven, we will understand that everything we did toward our own salvation, apart from the Lord Jesus, was about as useful as holding that rope. The “safety” of our soul does not lie within ourselves but somewhere else.  Jesus wants us to get out of the way, let Him in, and allow His grace to be magnified.

Salvation is a gift of God, not works, so no man can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). It’s good sometimes to remember that. We should work hard for the Lord but remember that working hard doesn't make us right with Him. Don’t get caught just holding the rope!

#makedisciplesnow

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As an organization, our focus is to disciple the disciple makers in developing nations. Jesus called us to go into all the world and make disciples. It is difficult to truly make disciples if we have no concept of the Word of God and what it means to be a disciple. With this focus, Global Action embarks on the campaign “Make Disciples Now.”

Looking back through my life, I have been blessed to have a number of people “disciple” me in my walk with God, my personal life, and the ministry that God has put before me. I realize that I would not have had such a rich life without the people I have been able to walk with and glean from over the last 46 years.

None of these people were perfect and they made mistakes, but each one contributed to my life in a perfectly wonderful way. What I learned from them have given me the ability to walk out the purpose God has called me to do.

The 25 years that I was associated with Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge was an incredible foundation for me. I think about our founding pastor, Roy Stockstill, Pastor Larry Stockstill, Rick Zachary, Ted Haggard, Chris Hodges, and the list could go on. When I was a struggling teenager, these men took me under their wing and saw the potential in me. When I was a missionary, they protected me early in ministry and taught me invaluable lessons of leadership. When Shary and I walked through the tremendous heartbreak of losing our first two children, they were there to comfort and strengthen us. They gave us a strong biblical foundation to build on, which has been invaluable to us.

As a young missionary, I had incredible men of faith, dedication and wisdom to show me the way. I think of Joey Williamson, the first missionary I worked with in Central America. His incredible work ethic and sacrifice was unmatched. He literally gave his life to see the gospel brought to the unreached areas in the war torn areas of the jungles of Central America. I still remember the day he was killed and the impact that he has perpetually made on my life. We had the privilege of working some years under Don and Amy Matheny in Africa. We were just kids yet they opened their lives to us and believed in us enough to allow us to learn from them what ministry is all about. Don and I would ride for hours on our mountain bikes and during our water breaks, we would talk about life and learning to listen to God.

Shary’s parents, Billy and Charlene Hornsby, were an incredible godly influence on both of us. The hospitality, the generosity, the desire to make others successful will forever be embedded into our lives. Although they are both in heaven now, they continue to make a daily impact on our lives. Billy was one of the best disciple-makers I know.

And my parents, Ted and Margie Long, are the two best Christians that I have ever met. Their dedication to God is something I reach for constantly. The life lessons they have taught me is too long to list but I think back to a most important one from my dad. After a series of “compromising” situations that I’ve put myself into, he challenged me to be the leader God called me to be. I told him, “Dad, I don’t want to be a leader.” To that, he replied, “Son, you don’t have a choice. You are a leader and you will lead people one way or the other.” At that point in my life, I decided to lead others in the right direction. It was one of the turning points in my life.

There are many others which brings me to the realization that I have been blessed with a privilege that not all have. That is why I have chosen to do what I am doing – to be a part of making disciples around the world. The millions of untrained pastors in developing nations who are doing their best but failing because they lack knowledge of God’s Word and the understanding of being godly leaders. They will not fulfill their potential of being the mature leaders that they could be if they are not shown the way.

Join me in Christ’s great cause! #makedisciplesnow