Angelina

“I feel useless!”

 As she explained, the rest of the team began to see Kathy’s frustration. She had been invited to Russia specifically to work with the wives of the Russian camp staff during this week at Transformation Christian Center. For several years she had led Bible studies for the women in her church in the U.S. At least one of the studies she had taught had been translated into Russian. Kathy had taken the initiative to find this study, purchase enough copies for the class, and have them shipped ahead and waiting at the Center. She had put in many hours reviewing notes, adjusting for the cross-cultural experience, and praying. She was ready and excited.

 Arriving at the camp, she discovered there was no class.

 So many teenagers had signed up for this session that facilities were overcrowded. To make room for the teens, the staff were asked to leave their families at home. Frustrated, but still a team player, Kathy found other things to do and had not expressed her feelings until asked this morning.

 

Going to the camp director, her team leader explained the situation. “What can we do?” Talking together, they realized there were several women in the adult rehab program who could benefit from such a study. They had never done this before, but this was an opportunity and worth a try.

 Kathy, herself, had mixed feelings. Expecting to work with a group of young but mature Christian women, she now had a ragtag group of women of various ages, education, and understanding. She couldn’t even be sure where these women were spiritually.

 “Lord,” she prayed, “What do you have in mind?” The answer didn’t come immediately.

 The group came together, meeting daily in a forest clearing at the edge of the campground. Although the words themselves never passed through the interpreter, Kathy and the women probably had the same thoughts. “Who is she?” “Who are they?”

 As they diligently worked their way into the study book, the women got to know one another and could sense some of the walls dropping. They opened up, beginning to ask questions based on the study, and then further afield about life in general. There was a rapport building

 By the end of her stay, Kathy had not been able to get more than halfway through the book. On the last day with what she now considered her women, she almost magically pulled out supplies she had brought from home and put on a semi-formal tea party. Then she told the women to keep the books they had been using and try to finish the study on their own.

 Shortly after arriving home, Kathy received a message about Angelina. Angelina. This somewhat large and imposing woman was currently in the drug and alcohol rehab program. Kathy didn’t know much beyond that about her background. At first meeting, there was something almost frightening about her, until she smiled shyly. As the study had progressed, Angelina had opened up more and more and thrown herself into the homework.

 Angelina sent word, through one of the missionaries, thanking Kathy for coming to Russia and helping her understand more about God and the Bible. She thanked her, especially, for giving the study book to keep. She had always had trouble reading, but went ahead and completed the entire Bible study. She was now reading and understanding the Bible.

 God was doing something. Even as she read the e-mail, Kathy continued the prayer she had begun in Russia, “Lord, what do you have in mind?” And two sentences jumped off the page:

 “Two Sundays ago during the church service, [Angelina] went forward to repent. Now she is looking forward to being baptized.” The missionary writing the e-mail continued, “I wanted you to know this, and to thank you for being instrumental in bringing [Angelina] to Christ!”

 Kathy now had a new prayer, “When the original plans for our Bible study didn't materialize, Lord, I wondered what you had in mind.  Thank you for Angelina. Thank you for showing me how you truly have everything under control!”

 How good to serve the God who does have everything under control, who does things well, and who not only uses us to expand His kingdom, but allows us to see and be encouraged by individual human results like Angelina.

We've been watching you

We were tired!

Our team had spent the last week at Transformation Christian Center in Lipetsk, Russia, doing building and maintenance work. On this last full day, we were too tired to accomplish any real work. I decided to chop and dig a tree stump out of the ground. That sounds like work, but I planned to take my time and make that one task last the entire afternoon. Of course, I could not do this on my own, so the rest the team had gathered around to watch me and socialize.

Some way into this chore, we heard shouts coming from the village next to the campground. Looking toward the source of the noise, we saw a man staggering towards us from the road. As he came closer we could see he was waving a hatchet above his head and screaming in slurred Russian.

Just as suddenly, I was alone with my tree stump. Everyone had run for cover. Looking back to the Russian, I realized he was heading directly toward me. I like to think I’m brave, but courage had nothing to do with this. I was so tired, I couldn’t have run away if I tried. I stood, holding my own ax, watching the guy get closer and closer.

Finally, something clicked in my brain. I had to do something. I summoned my little bit of Russian language and yelled out “ya ni panimayu pa ruski”, or “I don’t speak Russian!” The man stopped abruptly about 15 feet from me. He stared in wonder as if to say “who is this fool who thinks I will not kill him just because he doesn’t speak my language?”

Just then Dima, the director of the rehab center, burst from a building and stood between us. Very calmly, Dima approached the man, put his arm around his shoulder, and led him to a nearby bench. Gradually my teammates returned. We watched for the next 10 or so minutes as Dima talked to the man, then walked him back to the village as if nothing it happened.

Later, I asked Dima, “what was that all about?” His reply, “you don’t need to know.” I just shrugged, because so much of the Russian mind was still a mystery to me.

The next day, we were packed up and ready to start our journey toward home. On our way to board the train back to Moscow, we had one last speaking assignment at Holy Trinity Church. That completed, I was rushing toward the door when somebody grabbed my arm.

The man who now held onto my arm was Sergei. No ordinary Sergei, we had nicknamed him Inna’s Sergei. Yes, the same Inna as in the baptismal picture. This was her husband. I had met Inna on my second day in camp and Sergei shortly after that. We knew each other to nod to, and I’m sure Inna had told him about the conversation she and I had a week before this.

I really didn’t have time for this, but didn’t want to offend Sergei. As he pulled me from the doorway of the church toward an open space outside, he also reached out and grabbed hold of one of our interpreters, indicating he had something he wanted to communicate before we left.

We had barely found a quiet place to talk, before he plunged into rapid-fire Russian. “I know who you are, David,” he began. “Inna and I have watched you this week. We saw your team at work and play. We have heard you speak to the campers.

“You know we are still new Christians. We watch the people who come here to help us so that we can see how other Christians live.” I wondered where he was going with this. “We were watching yesterday.”

Yesterday, I wondered? Then I remembered. Yesterday! I waited for him to continue.

“You and others have set a good example for us. We’ve learned a lot, but there is more. We have seen how you all are serving the Lord by serving us.” With a smile he continued, “I don’t think you planned yesterday’s encounter as part of your work, but God wanted me to see that so I could know to trust you.

“I know the people in your team are doing this for just a week or so and then will go back to their lives in the United States. But you are a missionary. This is your job, you do it all the time, and you seem to enjoy it. Inna and I want to be like you. We want to be missionaries. Tell us what to do.”

What a moment! There have been few times in my life when I found myself speechless. This was one. I knew our team had not been the only instrument God used in bringing Sergei and Inna to this point. I thought of Paul’s words in 1Corinthians that one Christian worker might sow the seed, another might water and care for the seed, but God brings the seed to full fruit. God had used many people in the process of turning Sergei and Inna to himself and leading them this far. I was overwhelmed to think that we had been given the privilege of being here at the moment in time when God was putting new direction into their lives.

As all that flashed through my mind, I realized we were out of time. We had to leave immediately for the train station. The best I could do was pray with Sergei, assure him I would continue praying and be available for guidance via letter and email. Later I would tell some of the local workers what it happened so that they, too, could share the joy and could follow up in a more practical way.

As I boarded the train to Moscow just a few minutes later, I had no idea if I would ever be back in that place, no idea if I would ever see Sergei and Inna again.

But there is another part of the story, so come back next week.

A girl named Inna

You’ve heard it said “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I like to think a good picture should not only be worth a thousand words, but should tell a story. Some pictures can go beyond that to tell multiple stories.

 I’m looking at a photograph I ‘ve carried with me for over a decade. In some ways, it is self-explanatory. This is obviously a baptism, probably in Russia. The man in the blue robe seems to be the pastor. The three younger people with him, the baptismal candidates. Just that makes a good picture. But there’s more.

 My attention was caught by the girl at the end of the line. With her head bowed, it’s difficult to see much about her, other than she is a young woman. Something about her caught my heart, and I made an inner commitment to pray for her. I prayed regularly that she had indeed found Christ. I prayed that she would grow in Christ. I prayed that God would bring a support group around her.

As time went on, I learned her name was Inna. She had been a addicted to drugs and alcohol, and was then in a rehab program at Transformation Christian Center. I was told she had met a young man at the center and they planned to be married. All of this information fueled my prayers as I held her before the Lord.

 A couple of years later I had the opportunity to visit this center in Russia. I was very excited about the possibility of actually meeting Inna. To me she was the both a real Christian sister as well as a living representation of the work being done through that ministry.

 At my first chance on site, I began wandering around the complex, looking for someone who might be Inna. After walking around fruitlessly for a time, I spied a small figure sitting on a step. Going by the only photograph I had, it would be difficult to identify her, but I would give it a try. Walking up to her, I pulled out half of my Russian language knowledge and said “Menya zavut David” -- my name is David. She responded “Menya zavut Inna.”

 It was her! Now what? I didn’t know any more Russian, and it was obvious she knew even less English. We smiled at each other, became mutually embarrassed, and I finally waved my hand, mumbled “da svedanya” or good-bye, and walked away.

 The next day I was standing with a bilingual missionary when I saw Inna walking past. Calling to her I asked Rick to translate for us. I began by telling her about the photograph. Yes, she smiled as she remembered the day she was baptized. “Inna,” I said. “Ever since I saw that photograph of your baptism, I’ve been praying for you.”

 Inna looked confused for a moment, then looked up at Rick and began to say, “why would anyone pray for someone that they did not know?”

 Before she had even finished that question, I saw something new come into her eyes – an answer to her own question. This was something she had never thought of before. As she looked to me, it was as if a bright light came on behind her eyes. For possibly the first time in her life, Inna realized she had a larger family beyond her new husband, beyond her fellow residents in rehab, even beyond the missionary community. In a new burst of understanding she realized she was part of a worldwide family – – God’s church, where people knew who she was, prayed for her, and loved her unconditionally.

 On that day Inna learned something new. So did I. I saw the power of a simple photograph and understood anew the power of prayer and encouragement within the family of God.

 Maybe the best thing about this story is that this is only part one. Stay tuned.

Next Generation

Watching the eyes of the children glisten needed no translation. Visiting our partners in Vietnam was not only an opportunity to watch children learn, but it was an privilege to see the next generation being mentored by Christians. While they may have been learning English pronunciation, their hearts were being mentored in the love of God.

Paul understood well the importance of passing down learning as well as his faith on to the next generation. Time and time again he prepares the way for Timothy's ministry and even writes letters training him up. This piece of training up the next generation is pivotal to the work we do in Mandate. Nations that are unengaged, nations that are starving, nations in which the church is declining, are all places that may not be fully revived in our lifetime. For that reason, we are to be training the next generation of entrepreneurs for God. What ideas are they going to create to bring the Kingdom to the least reached? How are they going to take the work the Lord has started in us one step farther?

In the secular world there is a commonly known occasion called bring your daughter to work day or bring your son to work day. This is an opportunity for your child to see you in action. By watching how you work, the child gets a window into the work he or she could choose to take on.

There is a need for a spiritual “take your child to work” mentality. If you use your profession as a ministry, begin speaking to those of the younger generation about how to bring the gospel into your secular job. If your work is ministry, begin teaching and equipping the younger generation to carry on ministering to the community. Watching what you do is only the first part of it. The second part is hearing from you the testimony and lessons the Lord has worked in you.

This week take some time to reflect how you are imparting the work and calling the Lord has given to you to the next generation. Be in prayer for these workers that will carry on what was started at the time of Christ Himself.

Starting Now

There are places at times that our hearts just long for. Paul knew this well. He wrote in Romans

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong” Romans 1:11

Maybe there is a nation or a place in the world that you think of like this. You long to be doing spiritual work there today. You may be in a season in which going to that nation isn't possible due to conflict in the area, health or life conditions that have happened in your life, or a variety of other reasons. Paul wrote just a few verses later in that same letter:

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.” Romans 1:13

There is a way that you can effect massive healing and change for that nation starting today- even from a distance. The apostle Paul's ministry, as evident in all his letters, was clearly one of intercession. While the phrase “there is power in prayer” seems rote, it is very true.

We see Jesus come up on the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13, and the centurion's servant was suffering from paralysis. He knew, however, the long distance power of prayer. When Jesus offered to come to him, the faith of the centurion responds that he knows Jesus's healing would be just as effecting from a distance. True to his faith, in that very moment, the servant was healed.

Through prayer, we have the power to be all over the world in a moment. And it doesn't just stop at healing. National change can be effected through fasting and prayer, and we have evidence of this in the Old Testament. Esther had Mordecai and the Jews enter a time of prayerful fasting before she approached the king, and the result was deliverance and radical legal change.

Wherever God has you stationed right now in the world, don't let your prayers be limited to that place. Begin praying for other nations with the same purposefulness and strategy modeled by Esther, Paul, Jesus, and many more. These prayers prepare the way for the Lord and the workers in those nations.

New Years Revelation

Have you gotten your new years revelation yet? That's right. That's not a typo. Most of us are familiar with the New Year's resolution. It is something we make. We create our resolutions, and these are things that we strive to make happen. Even more important, however, is seeking God in prayer and asking Him to open your heart to a “New Year's Revelation”. This is something we receive. Revelation is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “a surprising a previously unknown fact, especially one that is made know in a dramatic way”, or “the divine or supernatural disclosure to humans of something relating to human existence or the world”. In 2019, take on something new or unknown. Get disclosure from God to how you can be used by Him to impact the human existence or the world.

Here at Mandate, we interact with people all of the world doing this. In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says (in 10:31), “So whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”. So the first question is what do you do? Are you in customer service? Do you work in construction? Are you in the medical field? Do you teach? Whatever you do, do for the glory of God. That's our second question- how can you use what you do for the glory of God? How can you live in such a way that it's a ministry to your coworkers and customers? How can you create and seize opportunities to share your testimony and the gospel through your work? How can you simultaneously meet a need in the market by serving your specific position while also meeting a need in the Kingdom by serving the people you're place with.

Take some time this week to get with God in your quiet time. Ask Him the brave question. Ask Him for new ideas of how to use the gifts and talents He has given you. It will be something new, and change is always a little scary. But ask Him to show you how you can make changes- big or small- this year to serve Him with what you're doing. Don't know where to start? Reach out to us! See our “Contact” page to get started. Whether it's going to a new nation with your professional skills with the goal of serving His Kingdom or if it's prayerfully or financially supporting those who do, we can help assist you in fulfilling what He is putting on your heart. Don't let another year go by without a vision. “Where there is no vision, the people perish, but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18).

What STILL drives disciples?

From the earliest disciples to our day, we can trace the links of faith in Christ and an unbroken belief that He is the only way of salvation for anyone, anywhere. From recent martyr John Allen Chau to David Brainerd to Jim Elliot to apostle Simon Peter to Jesus Christ himself, and so many in between.

I am concerned with recent trends in evangelical theology which allow for people to be saved without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In my heart, I would love to believe that God will give the unreached a second chance, or that He has already provided a way for them to be saved without Christ. I cannot find any clear proof of this in the Bible or in church history.

Theologian Ronald Nash writes, "Evangelicals believe that Jesus is the only Savior. There is no other Savior and no other religion . . . that can bring human beings to the saving grace of God."

I cannot, in good faith or conscience, presume on God's grace or my own soft heart and sit complacently in my seat while millions of people die without any opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ!

What drives Christ's disciples today? The most obvious answer is that we believe that without Christ, there is no hope for salvation. We know that everyone who does not have faith in Christ is lost and condemned. No one can gain eternal life without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing this, we also realize our responsibility -- our privilege -- to share this good news with those who do not yet know.

What Drives Disciples?

Jim Elliot is a name familiar to many of my generation. If you don't know who he is, his story is worth reading. Christian singer Twila Paris took a line from Jim Elliot's journal and turned it into the song,

 He is no fool, if he should choose,

to give the things he cannot keep to buy what he can never lose.

To see the treasure in one soul

that far outshines the brightest gold;

He is no fool, he is no fool.

 

Jim was sold out to Jesus Christ. He set his face towards missions early in life and single-mindedly pursued that goal until he arrived in Ecuador. Jim was one of five men trying to establish contact with the fierce Auca Indian tribe. On one day in 1957 all five were killed by the people they were trying to help. They left five widows and families. They also became testimonies to those of that generation, myself included, who would move into missionary service partially because of their example.

 What drove this disciple? What made Jim Elliot leave a comfortable home for the jungles of South America? What compelled him to put his life in jeopardy by approaching the Auca? The most obvious answer is that he believed that without Christ, there is no hope for salvation. He wrote in his journal, "I dare not stay home while Quichuas perish." He knew that everyone who does not have faith in Christ is lost and condemned. No one can gain eternal life without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing this, he also realized his responsibility -- his privilege -- to share this good news with those who did not yet know.

What Drives Disciples?

Orphaned at age 14, dismissed from college for criticizing a teacher, unsuccessful in his first attempts at ministry, this man did not seem much of an inspiration.

 In the mid-1700’s, David Brainerd became a missionary to the Seneca and Delaware Indians then living in the colonies of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. More recently, as I’ve had the chance to drive highways and back roads in those areas, I’ve actually seen historical markers noting his paths of travel.

 Brainerd literally coughed his life away on those colonial roads as he traveled and preached, all the while dying of tuberculosis. Contemporary accounts say that his path was often marked by two knee prints in the snow -- where he had knelt to pray -- and spots of red between them where he had coughed blood during his prayers. He died in 1749, at the relatively young age of 29.

 In his journal he wrote about the Indians he was trying to reach, noting their ". . . inability to extricate and deliver themselves from [their fallen state]" and the " . . . absolute need of Christ to redeem and save them . . . “This certain belief led Brainerd to teach ‘of Christ as the only way to the Father’."

 What drove this disciple? What made David Brainerd leave his home to travel by horse and foot through some of the wildest lands these colonies had to offer? What compelled him to shorten his life by expending what little strength he had in pushing forward again and again?

 The most obvious answer is that he believed that without Christ, there is no hope for salvation. Everyone who does not have faith in Christ is lost and condemned. No one can gain eternal life without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing this, he also realized his responsibility -- his privilege -- to share this good news with those who did not yet know.

What Drives Disciples; Peter

This is coming to you from the same driven personality who wrote last week’s blog, where I concluded with the question, “What drove Jesus to come to earth and die for the sins of humanity?”

My conclusion then was that Jesus was driven both by the Father's love for his creation and the necessity of God's redemptive plan. Jesus knew that without his sacrifice, there would be no hope. Everyone who does not have faith in Christ is already lost and condemned. (John 3:38) No one can gain eternal life without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Having accomplished that way to God the Father, Jesus also knew that truth had to be shared beyond his small band of followers. When he told his disciples -- and, through them, us -- to "go and make disciples of all nations . . ." (Matthew 28:19a), he gave them the foundation on which to build his church.

That first generation of disciples did a better job than any since. They reached their entire known world with the gospel message. What enabled them to do this? What drove those disciples?

I love the whole Bible, but those who know me well should have no doubt about my favorite Bible character. Some years ago, in the Sunday school class we attend we studied 2 Timothy. Our teacher liked to give study questions. At the end of this unit, one of his questions was, "What would you like to ask Paul when you see him in heaven?" My answer to that was, "Do you know the way to Peter's house?" Without doubt he is my favorite, and I plan to spend a lot of my time in eternity comparing notes with Simon Peter.

Peter was probably the most prominent of the disciples from the time of the resurrection until Paul came on the scene. As the most visible, and probably most vocal, follower of Christ, he had several run-ins with non-Christian authorities. During one of these encounters, Peter and John were arrested and jailed overnight. When brought before the Jewish leaders the next day, “they were commanded . . . not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).

The smart thing to do would have been to agree with the authorities and either stop preaching or at least tone things down. It might have been a good time to make a strategic withdrawal or to just get out of town. The book of Acts records that the rulers called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:18-20). With this, Peter was referring to what he had already told them, in what we read as Acts 4:12, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

What drove Peter? What made him take the lead on the day of Pentecost and share Christ with thousands of people? What made him stand up to these authorities? He believed that without Christ, there is no hope for salvation. Everyone who does not have faith in Christ is lost and condemned. No one can gain eternal life without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing this, he also realized his responsibility -- his privilege -- to share this good news with those who did not yet know.

 Though Peter lived almost 2000 years ago, he was not the last person to be driven by that truth. Next week.