Director's Update - Dec 2017

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Longing for a better country

Saints throughout history—particularly martyrs—have been fixed not on earthly realms but on God’s heavenly kingdom. Hebrews 11:13–16 shows that early believers were able by faith to see heaven, enabling them to endure ill treatment in this life. Have we largely lost that empowering perspective today? As I approach my senior years (!), the old songs of heaven inspire me more and more. I am more likely to evaluate the worth of something in light of eternity with God, and many of the things that stirred me in my youth are now less important or even irrelevant.

Everything in this life is temporary. Paul gives the right perspective: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor.4:17-18, NIV). Our quest for material things or recognition or power is thus tempered as Christians; today draws its meaning from an eternal certainty: You have one life to invest in God’s kingdom rather than in things that will have a soon end.

A greater and lesser reality

Frankly, knowing what has been promised in heaven, I am in no rush to depart this life: I have my family, I have purpose and more to accomplish. Those believers who have peace and prosperity in this life—ourselves among them—may be poorer in their eternal perspective. I understand how heaven is more real to those persecuted and suffering atrocities. Paul was torn about the two realities of life on Earth and life in glory and explained this ever-present tension to the Philippians: “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two:
I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…” (Phil. 1:22-23; NIV). We, too, should wrestle with this. Because we have God’s promise of glory, we should be even more motivated to serve His purposes.

What the Bible says about eternity is central to the gospel message. In our evangelism, it underlines the brevity and uncertainty of this life: None of us know when or how our lives will end, but end they will. This should instill urgency in our message and behaviour. Having an everyday consciousness of eternity with God will influence how we think and act.

Our message must align with Paul’s sober statement, that “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor.15:19, NIV). If we have it wrong about eternity, then we have wasted our lives in a groundless religious pursuit—the biggest losers, accountable to a myth…except that we know otherwise from God’s Word, which also says that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10, NIV). That’s a sober statement meant not to frighten us but to spur us on to make every day, every opportunity count. Paul summarises in the previous verse (9), “So we make it our goal to please Him.” I know I can trust in God’s mercy. Let’s choose to focus on the new day in front of us with renewed motivation to please Christ. Keep looking up!

 

EVANGELISM

ST. LUCIA: TRUE FREEDOM

Up to 80 of Saint Lucia’s most violent criminals prayed to invite Christ into their lives in the island’s prison, where Logos Hope crewmembers were invited to a rehabilitation talent contest. The literary night saw creative convicts performing poetry, rap and drama. Many had produced soul-searching writing. The ship staff shared the gospel in creative ways. Janice Low (Singapore) performed a thought-provoking mime, accompanied by a song about true identity in Christ. Borgi Bareiss (Germany) drew an engaging series of pictures on a large sketchboard, depicting the things most people seek after. She explained that real freedom, love and life cannot be gained through our own efforts. Christa Shipman (USA) told the prisoners that their choices were still powerful, though they were behind bars. The inmates were challenged to follow Jesus; almost everyone prayed aloud in repentance and commitment, including Director of Corrections, Verne Garde, who told crewmembers, “Seventy per cent of the men and women in this room are here for murder. A lot are here for life; there are no ‘small fry’ here. I’m happy you have graced us with your presence and your important message.”

Adding to the excitement was the release of one inmate. He received a standing ovation from his former cellmates and the officers’ endorsement. The guards addressed him as ‘brother’ and promised their physical and moral backing for his reformed life beyond prison. But many
remaining within the prison also took their first steps into freedom and each received a Bible to guide them.

 

TURKEY: TWO WOMEN SEEK

In past years, the number of women writing into the Bible Correspondence Course (BCC) was less than 10 per cent; it is now over 30 per cent. Özlem* contacted the BCC several months ago. A follow-up person met with her and answered her many questions. She continued to work through the courses, devouring the material given and communicating through WhatsApp messages. After she read the book 90 Questions, she asked even more questions. She and two friends started going to a local church where they attended the Plan of Salvation course.

When Dicle* contacted the BCC through a chat line, she connected with Edona*, another BCC follow-up personnel. The two messaged each other regularly. Dicle was very hungry to know more about God and started reading the New Testament. She soon began attending a local church and came to faith in Jesus! Her mother, siblings, and aunts have rejected her because of her faith, but her husband supports her. Edona and Dicle still meet up from time to time. She goes regularly to church and recently brought her cousin to ask for prayer for her. She is so thankful for her contact with the BCC. Pray for many women like Özlem and Dicle who are searching to find God. They are often in very difficult situations with many barriers to cross in order to follow Jesus.

 

RELIEF & DEVELOPMENT

CAMBODIA: INWARD AND OUTWARD HELP

Mercy Teams International works among the poor and needy in Phnom Penh, distributing food, covering school or medical fees and, for more than 30 families, raising funds to build new homes.

Five-year-old Sam* and his family of 10 live in a tin and bamboo house that OM Mercy Teams International (MTI) built six months ago. The house is set on high stilts, a typical way for the Khmer people to create a ‘kitchen’ on the hard-packed mud below.

“Our previous house was so old that, when the wind blew, it fell over,” Sam’s mother Paula* shares. When Paula’s mother heard about MTI, the family approached staff with their dilemma: they had no money to repair their home, nor build a new one, and no help from their extended family.

“We feed our family on 2.5 USD a day,” Paula states. “Once a month, we pay 25 USD rent for the land our house is built on. This is difficult.” Paula and her husband collect plastic bottles and beer bottles to sell; on a good day, they can earn 4-5 USD but when it rains, the couple can’t work. Their landlord won’t allow them to build a toilet, and they must buy water from a neighbour for another 5 USD a month.

“I have nothing, except Jesus,” Paula says. “I will believe and follow God until I die because when I am sick, God heals me; and through other people God helped us to build a new house when [ours] fell down.” Mercy Teams International desires to see Paula and her family, and others like them, not just fed and sheltered, but discipled deeper in their faith so that, no matter how fierce the winds blow, they will have a deep foundation in Christ’s love.

 

CHURCH PLANTING

ANGOLA: LEARNING FROM THE BUSHMEN

For five years, Field Leader Wessel van der Merwe and his wife, Joan, have been directing a missions training programme for local youth, taking them away from the comforts of normal life and into the wilderness of the Bushmen. The Bushmen receive basic biblical teaching about God, salvation and Christian living, while enjoying fellowship with the outside world that they seldom experience. For the students, a week with the Bushmen is a practical illustration of the theological teaching they receive throughout the one-year programme.

Wessel places a strong emphasis on physically pushing his students. Living like the Bushmen do lets the students see what life is like for a missionary committed to reaching the least reached. Students cycle the 200 km journey over three or four days, giving them an idea of just how far removed the Bushmen are from civilisation. “I can’t call it ‘survival training,’ but it’s probably more that than discipleship. We put a lot of pressure on them, so they can discover their weaknesses,” he says, including himself in the challenges of Bushman life. “We hope some catch the vision and say, ‘It’s difficult, but it’s worth it.’”

This year, Wessel’s 17 students taught on sin and its impact on our relationship with God. Wessel makes regular trips throughout the year to the Bushmen, in addition to the annual outreach. He’s hoping to bring one or more Bushmen to the OM training centre in Menongue, where he can equip them to disciple themselves. Wessel’s focus remains on taking biblical discipleship to the least-reached, and mobilising young people to share in his passion. “You know why Africans have this gospel?” Wessel asks his students. “Many missionaries passed away, risking their lives so we could have it. So what are we going to do?”

 

JUSTICE

CENTRAL EUROPE: DAUGHTERS STILL NEED MOTHERS

OM workers Anna* and Sarah* knock boldly on brothel doors, requesting permission to speak to the ladies inside. They come to chat, offer a gift bag filled with treats and share a message of hope. Each gift represents a woman in a place she doesn’t want to be. Each provides an opportunity to build trust and leave contact details. Each is a symbol that someone cares.

Both in their sixties, they have become mother-figures, often welcomed with the title “Mama!” They regularly visit a town with ten brothels. Driving past, no one speaks as billboards advertise available girls and their price.

Sarah offered Kathrin* a leaflet published by OM EAST called You are beautiful, my sister! When Kathrin arrived, she had found the same leaflet. This was not a hotel room with a Bible, but a brothel chamber with an evangelistic leaflet. Was the other occupant throwing Kathrin a lifeline? The leaflet is a letter expressing the father heart of God, who longs to give the women a new identity and guide them towards His plan for their lives. There is no place where Scripture cannot reach.

“They think I’m the most beautiful woman they have ever seen!” Sarah declared. “They come and stroke our faces,” added Anna. How can it be that women, groomed to appeal, look at two outreach workers and see beauty never encountered before? What individuals notice is Jesus. “We can talk to the ladies in brothels but, if not carried in prayer, we may just as well go home,” Anna emphasised. “Only through God’s power can things really change—including women being able to start a new life!”  

Pray for God’s protection over outreach teams and wisdom as they communicate the gospel to those marked by abuse, control and fear. Praise God for those who have been helped to leave; pray they find healing, truth and hope in Christ.

 

MENTORING & DISCIPLESHIP

MONTENEGRO: MORE STREETS TO LIVE ON

From the beginning, TeenStreet has shown teens a way of life. Since the first gathering in Germany in 1993, the event has spread  from Asia to Latin America. This August, TeenStreet Balkans was held for the first time in Podgorica. Youth workers from OM teams in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo brought seventy youngsters with them.

Over four days, the teens experienced powerful Bible teaching, spirit-filled worship, hands-on activities and vital Christian fellowship. Most delegates had not experienced this before, and their hearts were deeply touched. As there are only a handful of evangelical churches in Montenegro, inviting them to assist in the event was a key strategy. Two Roma churches brought youth groups and the pastor of one led some small-group work, finding this rare opportunity a great blessing.

What about the vision of young people being united in faith, irrespective of ethnic background? Initially, Robbie from Montenegro observed that “there was quite an awkward feeling…and a definite separation between the teens of each country. But every day you could see walls being broken down and similarities and friendships beginning to grow—something that only God could have orchestrated.”

Sajmir from Albania agreed: “It was so great to see teens from the Balkans coming together despite other political issues. In this we understand that God’s family is unshakeable!”

To symbolise this breaking down of barriers, the week culminated in a silent Unity Walk through the centre of Podgorica, with everyone confessing that ‘we are now all one in Christ.’ Pray for the teens as they witness to their peers.

 

Thank you for your prayers and support of all OM ministries worldwide.

Lawrence Tong

 

* name changed