Sunday, January 6, 2019

We've Moved!

If you are reading this, you are at the wrong blog address. Last week we transitioned to a new blog:

I just updated the new blog with a new post: Does Discourse Analysis Matter? Here is an excerpt:

In one of our classes at GIAL (now Dallas International University) our professor gave us a great example of the importance of discourse analysis. He told us that a missionary had been working with a people group for a very long time. So long, in fact, that he had begun teaching people the Bible in their own language. He got to the famous verse in John 14:6 when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The people immediately responded, saying, “If that is what Jesus said we will worship you.” You can imagine the missionary was a bit shocked to hear such a response. He figured that he must have worded it incorrectly. So, he tried again, Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” And the people responded again: “We have trusted in Jesus, we believe what he says. So, if he said that, we will worship you.”

To read the rest, go to the NEW BLOG.


Starting next week this page will just redirect to the new blog site.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Greater the Sacrifice, the Greater the Sweetness

by Stacey

Fruit that comes from suffering and sacrifice is surely the sweetest kind. As the farmer nurtures his tender young plant, day in and day out, he nurtures it not only by pruning and watering, but with his very heart. And then, when that tender young plant becomes a strong tree that bears much fruit, he enjoys that fruit with a satisfaction that his neighbor, who also shares in the fruit, cannot. Jesus explains it in these terms, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). That which we invest in, care about, and pour into will also be the place of our hearts. 

The reality of sweetness in sacrifice has been driven home in my life in three areas: our pets, our language learning, and our adoptions.

To begin, we usually find ourselves taking in diseased/tortured animals and making them our pets. We took in one dog who was skin and bones, covered in sores, and was routinely beaten by his master. Another pet we took in was a Western Tree Hyrax who was starving and had his nose burnt down to the bone by cruel village kids. In light of these decisions, one of my sons once asked, “Mom, why do we take in all these sick animals? Why not get healthy, good looking ones?” I told him that we take them in because there is a higher joy in giving than in receiving. This joy has proven to be true as the sickly animals that we have taken in have become loyal and beloved. Where there is a sacrifice, there is a special sweetness.

In the same way, by moving to Cameroon, we left a country where we were rarely misunderstood and now live constantly striving to understand and be understood. As many missionaries will tell you, language learning is a grueling labor of love. However, when you share the Gospel for the first time in your second (or third) language, the Lord pours down a joy that you have never felt before. The years of mistakes and flashcards bring about a fruit that is so sweet that you know it was worth all the effort. I remember learning the ABC's in English as a kid and considered them to be more of a chore than a joy. Now, after spending years laboring to come up with an alphabet for the Bakoum people, I get a little teary-eyed when I hear kids on our porch saying it to one another. The greater the suffering, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the sweetness.

Adoption also illustrates this point. I am no child development expert, but I have observed that there is a natural attachment between biological kids and their parents that adoptive parents have to work for. I remember bringing home one of our sons and for around two years I would smile at him and that smile was never reciprocated. My genuine love and kindness were met with blank stares and rejection. But, eight years later, this son is characteristically smiley, warm, and rejoices in the fact that we adopted him. The smiles that we work for truly are the sweetest kind.

And yet, for another of our children, I am still smiling but only receiving dead, blank stares. She is not warm, she is not happy, she is distant. With her, it has been close to a decade of, in general, unreciprocated love. So, what do we do when the sacrifice is just suffering without any sweetness on the horizon?

Sometimes the sweetness is seen only through the eyes of faith
The Lord sometimes allows us to see the fruit of our labors on earth, but other times, he leaves us in the midst of our suffering and calls us to look to heaven for the coming sweetness. Sometimes the diseased animals bite you, the unreached people groups kill you, and the adopted children totally reject you. So, does this then mean that the path of suffering was taken in vain? Absolutely not. The sweetness is just delayed. Paul says:
For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT)
The suffering that we take on for the benefit of others is actually the very agent that is preparing us for a great glory. This glory will last forever and it will prove that all the suffering was worth it. And so, we look to what we can’t see and keep plodding along faithfully giving kindness even when it is interpreted as hatred. We keep giving smiles even when they are reciprocated with glares. We keep clothing the naked even when they later steal from us. We keep giving to the hungry even when they refuse to give to others as they have been given to. We do this because we trust that the greater the sacrifice, the greater the suffering, the greater the sweetness--even if we have to wait until Heaven to taste of it.

I end with a quote from Adoniram Judson, a missionary to what is now known as Myanmar. Judson went through intense depression after the loss of his wife Ann, even wandering into the tiger-ridden jungles. He was finally led out of the jungle (and his depression) by a Burmese man whom he had led to Christ. Later, he wrote to a fellow missionary who had recently lost her husband, comforting her. Here is an excerpt of his letter:
"My Dear Sister : You are now drinking the bitter cup whose dregs I am somewhat acquainted with. And though, for some time, you have been aware of its approach, I venture to say that it is far bitterer than you expected...But don't be concerned. I can assure you that months and months of heartrending anguish are before you, whether you will or not. I can only advise you to take the cup with both hands, and sit down quietly to the bitter repast which God has appointed for your sanctification...Take the bitter cup with both hands, and sit down to your repast. You will soon learn a secret, that there is sweetness at the bottom. You will find it the sweetest cup that you ever tasted in all your life."
Judson had a heart of faith, a heart that looked to what his eyes could not see. It was not easy, it did not come right away, but in the end his faith won out over his sorrow. Can you imagine looking back on your struggles to say "you will find it the sweetest cup that you have ever tasted in your life"? That can only be said when one is believing that "the things we cannot see will last forever." So, my plan is this: I will take the cup with both hands. I will welcome the sorrow, the frustration, the slow plodding in faith, believing that there is something ahead that outweighs them by far. And believing that life's difficulties can even draw me closer to heaven, and to the Lord who will one day make everything all right. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Mercy of the Wicked is Cruel

by Dave

"The righteous know the needs of their animals, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel."

I can remember the moment when the meaning of the second half of Proverbs 12:10 finally made sense to me. I was standing out on a cold morning in front of an abortion clinic in Kentucky. I was holding one of my then one-year-olds and trying to talk to a woman coming in for an abortion. I was speaking quietly, letting her know that there were other options available. She looked sad, afraid, and honestly, she looked like she was listening to me. I offered to walk her over to the pregnancy resource center next door to the clinic.

But, she was also with a man. I don't know if it was the child's father, or a family member, or a friend. But he took it upon himself to "defend" this woman. He did so by shouting at me, blocking my path, yelling vile things about me and my child, and in the end spraying me with a bottle of Mountain Dew. He then high-fived one of the abortion clinic escorts and walked the young woman into the clinic.

"The mercy of the wicked is cruel."

I don't doubt that this man desired to protect the woman. He no doubt thought that trying to overpower my words and my presence was "mercy." But, it was remarkably cruel. The abortion clinic escorts, whom I got to know a bit over my time in the ministry, threatened me at times. They called CPS on me, telling them that I endangered my children in a bid to have them taken away. They lied about me, on one occasion telling my wife that I had left the premises with a prostitute. And they did so in the name of mercy. They were seeking to help poor women that I was seeking to abuse. But...

"The mercy of the wicked is cruel."

As a missionary, I hear from time to time the disapproval of others. Mostly in the unbelieving world, there are many who believe that we are arrogant and destroyers of culture. I talked a little about these accusations in a previous post. But now I want to remark the tone of these criticisms. What has resonated through these comments is hatred and anger. Even as more information has come out regarding John Chau's preparation and love for the people, the vitriol remains. I have copied a few comments I have seen on the news articles here:
Hamid Mohades World would have been exponentially better place if every other tribe would have done the same through history of mankind.
Terje A. Bergesen The Sentinelese - making the world a better place one missionary at a time. 
Steven Kelleher Dont send your child to a fundamentalist Christian school. It’s obvious. This insult to life didn’t need to happen. I feel sorry for the parents and very angry at the crazy schools and missionary movements that killed him. I feel worse for the North Sentinelese. What a horror. 
Scott Harbin Literally no one should care about his obsessions or intentions. He got what he deserved - at minimum. Stop reporting on his death. Stop. 
Scott Brook Gladly he failed. Take note others, live and let live. 
Laura Digiovanni I think all evangelicals should visit this island.
Do you hear the cruelty? People are actually calling for the killing of missionaries! Regardless of your thoughts about the manner of his death, this is not mere disagreement. This is hatred, cruelty, malice. And it is in the name of mercy, with a desire to protect the Sentinelese people. But "the mercy of the wicked is cruel."

Mercy that begets mercy

Contrary to what you might have read, when missionaries go out to the nations, it is not because they are really passionate about their own values. We go out because we believe that the God of the universe has communicated HIS values. And those values include: truth, justice, love, and mercy. But it is not a mercy that begets hatred and violence. The mercy of God begets mercy.

I was wrestling to think of a very clear example of this. And my mind went immediately to the testimony of Rachel Denhollander in regards to the sexual abuse perpetrated by Larry Nassar. Rachel was abused by Nassar, as were hundreds of other girls. And she has mercy on those other girls and spoke up to defend them. If you take the time to listen to her full testimony you will hear a lot of things: anger, sorrow, betrayal, and fear. But you will hear something else: mercy. But not only mercy for the victims, Rachel showed mercy to Nassar. You can hear in in the below clip:

How is that even possible? How could an abuse victim do anything else but hate her abuser? She said it better than I could: "By his grace I too choose to love this way." Christians are people who know the mercy of God. We know that we have offended God so much more than we have offended others, or than they have offended us. "That is what makes the Gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found." 

I would ask you to consider your mercy right now. When you think of the Sentinelese people, or abuse victims, or trafficked children does your mercy for them cause you to hate others? Does it cause you to wish for the death or torture of people created in God's image. Is your mercy cruel? Then you do not know true mercy. True mercy, which comes only from God, begets mercy.

Only when you truly understand that you are an offender, a sinner, an abuser, you know that the only way you can be saved is through mercy. This truth is what led Rachel to both hate Nassar's sin and still not hate the man. What an incredible power the Gospel has. When you see the life-changing, life-empowering strength of the Gospel, you begin to understand why John Chau would go to the Sentinelese people. This is an amazing message, one that none of us deserve, but is offered to us all. Praise God for the message of the Gospel, and allow it to create in you an unnatural love and mercy, even for those who have shown you nothing but hate and violence. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

[Newsletter] Why we do what we do

Since we have returned to our village in August 2018, we have met a young couple that has reminded us why we are doing what we are doing.

The young man, named Ko has been an orphan since he was 8 years old. When his parents died, he went to live with his aunt who had him work for his stay in lieu of going to school. Ko has shown interest in learning more about the Lord but confided in Dave that there was one thing holding him back: he cannot read and thus not read the Bible. When Dave told him that we wanted to build a Kwakum (AKA Bakoum)* literacy/translation center, he lit up and couldn’t wait to start learning. We have hired him to help build the center and he works sun-up to sundown making bricks. We also hope to start teaching him the Bible orally.

His girlfriend, Mami (pronounced “Mommy”), recently lost her father who was allegedly murdered by her step-mom. She works with me (Stacey) daily learning to read Kwakum. I also am teaching through a French children’s story book Bible in Kwakum, explaining to her the character of God through Bible stories. The other day, in the story of Abraham sacrificing his son to Isaac, when I asked her what she learned, she said that she learned that God loved Abraham because Abraham loved Him first. I said, “No, God loved Abraham first and called him out of idolatrous family. Abraham in return loved God.” We then read the verse “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) while I explained that first we are receivers of God’s love and then it is reciprocated to him and to others. Her mind was blown as she had previously assumed that we had to earn God’s love. She does not understand the Gospel yet (we are still in Genesis), but she cannot get enough of the Word of God.... read the rest HERE.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

3 Internet Accusations Against Missionaries

by Dave

The death of John Allen Chau in India has brought out an onslaught of internet hatred. While some of this hatred has been aimed at the methodology of this particular missionary, much of it has been against Christian missionaries in general. And as much as I would like to imagine that these comments represent only those who are not believers, I fear that such thinking has also invaded the church. So, I thought I would address some of the accusations...

1. Missionaries are not wanted.
In the surprisingly not so distant past, Europeans still had control over Cameroon (where we live). Colonists came in, took control of the land and actually considered these portions of Africa to be a part of their own country. The colonists often used brute force and murder to enforce their rule, which could hardly be opposed by people who had never seen guns before. I recorded a story of a group of the Kwakum people who call themselves the Til. They recount how the Germans forced them to live along the newly constructed road by killing more than half of their population (you can read the story HERE). Other Kwakum people have shown us trees upon which their grandfathers were hung when they refused to obey the colonial powers. There is a lingering anger and distrust of the Germans and the French in particular which has at times tainted the way people have seen Stacey and me.

However, you might be surprised to hear that the Kwakum begged us to come. They sang and danced, listing the many reasons they thought we should work among them. During this first trip to Cameroon we visited with 8 people groups. One group built a house specifically for Bible translators. Others offered us food and other gifts in a bid to convince us to come to them. Their reasons for wanting us here were mixed: some believed that a translation project would preserve their language, others hoped that having white people among their villages would bring economic prosperity. However, there were also Christians among these tribes, who had come to love Jesus and his Word, but had very little access to either. Such individuals begged us to come because we are are all part of God's family and they want more of Christ.

This does not mean that everyone wants us here. I had an encounter with one man who threateningly remarked that he knew why we were here and he did not want us to bring in a foreign religion. I had to leave a meeting in one village rather abruptly because the people there made it clear that they were not happy about our presence. Certainly the nationals who killed John Allen Chau did not want him there. As Christians, should we just walk away? If so, how many people need to oppose us before we go? Should we only go to places where 100% of the people want us there? Do 100% of the people in the neighborhood of your church want you there? Which leads to another accusation...

2. Missionaries should not go where they are not wanted.
This is the next logical step in the argument: If missionaries are not wanted in a place, clearly they should not go there, right? While thinking about this argument a verse about Jesus came to mind:
"He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:11-13
This passage tells us that Jesus came to minister to a people who did not receive him. And they were his own people! This same Jesus said to his disciples: "I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves" (Matthew 10:16). And, if history accurately records the events, nearly all of the disciples died seeking to honor Christ's command to follow him. Can we really say that missionaries ought only to go where they are wanted? Is that how the disciples interpreted the Great Commission?

I think the answer is clear: No! Going to places where people hate us, where they kill us, where they despise our message...that is what we do! But what is astounding is that God uses his Word in these places. Just like what John 1 says about Jesus: he came to his own, they rejected him...But to all who did receive him he gave the right to be children of God. The Huaorani people rejected and killed Jim Elliot and the men with him. But later, faithful women missionaries followed and led many Huaorani to Christ. In John Paton's biography, he speaks of two missionaries that were killed in almost the exact same way as John Allen Chau (and then eaten!). But later God used Paton to bring entire islands to Christ. The history of the growth of the Christian church has been littered with the deaths of faithful men and women, and then a resulting flood of God-honoring conversion. In the words of Tertullian: "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."

3. Missionaries destroy culture.
The final accusation I would like to address is that in obeying the Great Commission, missionaries are going around destroying cultures. To be honest, the answer to this accusation is both "No, we don't" and "Yes, we do." First, our culture needs to stop reading The Poisonwood Bible. It is a fictional story written by a woman who only experienced life in Africa as a very young child. The reality is that missionaries are trained to be anthropologists. We are trained to study our host cultures carefully, to come in as learners, to learn their language, and to seek to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a culturally-appropriate way. If you take any time at all, you will find that missionaries have led the field of linguistics since its inception. The reason is that missionaries seek to engage people in their own language, which takes years of difficult study before we even begin to share the message of Christ. As I mentioned above, the Kwakum have welcomed us (in part) because they feel like our work preserves their language and culture. And it does! My Master's thesis focused on understanding how the Kwakum tell stories, both preserving their folktales and helping us to translate the Bible reflecting their own procedures for storytelling. We are even working now with an ethnomusicologist to preserve what is unique about Kwakum music.

Now, all of that said, there are aspects of the culture that I am hoping and praying will be destroyed by our ministry. For instance, a couple of weeks ago Stacey came up to the house and said that a man was beating a neighbor boy out in the courtyard in front of some houses. I walked down to see this 11-year-old cowering in the mud as a 20-something railed on him with a stick. Most of the village was watching and I spent 30 minutes trying to persuade them that this was not right. And they mocked me! They told me that they had been raising kids for years, and who was I to tell them what to do with a bad kid? They said that everyone knows that some kids need violent beatings in public or they will never change. On separate occasions, I have also seen two children in our village who have rows upon rows of scars on their stomachs. I was told that a traditional way to deal with certain illnesses is to cut them with razor blades. One of those children has since tested positive for sickle-cell anemia. There is no number of cuts on her abdomen that will cure (or even help) this disease.

These are just two of the practices that I see often here living with the Kwakum that I long to see eradicated. They are part of their culture: practices that they cling to and assume to be right. I am not ashamed that I want to destroy them. Neither was William Carey ashamed to eliminate widow burning, or Amy Carmichael to expose the temple prostitution of little girls. We are not here selling American culture, we are hoping to expose the Kwakum to what God wants for them. He doesn't want to stop the Kwakum from living in mud brick houses, or speaking Kwakum, or even playing their favorite types of drums. But God is not pleased with their beating of women and children, their drunkenness, or their giving of His glory to other spirits. And I long to see more and more Kwakum people worshipping the true God in their own language, with their own music, and lead by their own people. I long for a culture not destroyed, but transformed.

Missionaries are not colonists, we are servants. We are not here to take, but to give. I don't want to own their land, make money off of their natural resources, or make them look or act like me. I don't want to control them, I don't even want to lead them. I want to help them, to give them access to God's Word, and the ability to read. I want them to see that eating too many mangoes does not cause malaria, but sleeping under a mosquito net helps. And I am doing my best to work myself out of a job. I want to see Kwakum men and women leading their own people in all of these things.

I am writing this not for the world, but for my brothers and sisters. Please do not believe the lies, the accusations that you hear. I never met John Allen Chau, I don't know his ministry philosophy, and I am not seeking to defend him. But I do appreciate how he signed his letters: soli deo gloria 'to God alone be the glory.' That is my heart, and the heart of every missionary I know. Rather than criticise, I implore you to take this time to pray for the Sentinelese people that Chau was trying to reach. May God do for them what he has done for so many other peoples in the world. And may He alone receive the glory.

*image from

Monday, November 19, 2018

Should I Wait for the Ideal Team or Missions Agency?

by Stacey

I have had numerous conversations with single Christians, wondering if their standards for the ideal spouse were too high. Perhaps, they thought, they just need to bite the bullet and settle for that less-than-ideal guy. What’s funny is I have also heard Christians speaking the same way about missions teams and organizations. In some ways, joining with a missionary team is even more sober than deciding who one will marry. The typical married couples in the States will not have to endure the same kinds of stressors that are put upon missionary colleagues. Missionary teams plant churches together, make translation decisions together, and even stitch one another up. Many pursuing missions are aware of this and take great pains to find a team and/or agency that would be a good fit for them theologically, professionally, and relationally.

But what if the ideal team or agency does not come? Is it ever OK to “settle”? And at what point does this settling become compromise before the Lord? Here are some helpful things to think through if you find yourself, or a friend, waiting for that perfect team.

What are the theological deal-breakers?
Dealing specifically with theological issues, Al Mohler presents a helpful way to sort through which issues should be deal-breakers in his article A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. He says that doctrines should be divided between first, second, and third order doctrines. Below is a brief summary of how he divides up doctrines:
First order doctrines – The fundamentals (authority of Scripture, deity of Christ, justification by faith alone, trinitarian view of the godhead, etc.).

Second order doctrines – Theological differences within the Christian faith which create significant enough boundaries that Christians organize themselves around these doctrines within local churches (modes of baptism, the Lord’s supper, views regarding the spiritual gifts, roles of women within the church, etc.).

Third order doctrines – These are theological differences within the Christian faith that are subtle enough that Christians can be in the same local church and yet have differing views relating to these doctrines (various interpretations of difficult passages relating to the end times, convictions regarding head coverings for women in church, how much a Christian should be involved in politics, methodology in evangelism, etc.). 
The issues listed above apply well to those who are staying in the United States, but many of them are less applicable to those working overseas. For instance, in some cultures, women wear head coverings all the time, so disagreement on that practice is a moot point. However, potential missionary teams need to wrestle through everything from translation theories to the idea that they should baptize a believer in secret to avoid persecution from his family.

Further, Mohler’s triage affects missionaries differently depending on their role on the team. For instance, if one is intending on planting a church, then he ought to agree with his team on first and second order issues, down to modes of baptism. For someone involved in medical missions or translation work, however, secondary issues are of lesser importance. First order issues such as the authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone are essential if the work is more than humanitarian. As far as third order issues, those issues will likely serve as lively conversation pieces rather than a foundation by which a church is laid.

So, for the aspiring missionary, there is great potential in partnering with those who share first and sometimes second order doctrines, even if there are some differences among the third order doctrines.

Missions is never ideal.
Another thing to keep in mind is that missions is never ideal and it should come as no surprise when we cannot find the ideal team/agency. Missions exists because this world is less-than-ideal. Jesus himself would not have had to come to the earth and die if Adam had never sinned by eating the fruit. Leaving one’s place of origin to enter into a foreign land is directly linked to the sinful state of the world. It is never ideal to leave our crying mothers, our familiar languages, and our welcoming church families. It is very difficult to learn a new language and culture and to live with less-than-adequate healthcare. And yet, Christ’s command to go into all the nations is still clear. And being on a less-than-ideal team is still more ideal than leaving a people group in darkness.

We can learn from less-than-ideal team members.
At times, Christians can be so distracted by our differences that we miss a means for our own sanctification. I have learned faithfulness and passion in ministry from people with whom I have very little in common theologically. And in that, I have found that working with Christians that are outside of my doctrinal comfort zone can actually expose my own weaknesses in ways that I never would have seen otherwise. If we walk into a team humbly, trusting that God’s Spirit is working in all of his children, I think we will be surprised by all that God can do through team members that don’t always see eye-to-eye.

What is the greater compromise?
If the perfect mission agency or mission team is yet to be found, then the aspiring missionary has a choice to make: Either “settle” or stay home. Perhaps the issue is with an agency or teammate that differs on second or third order doctrines. If this is the case, he then needs to ask himself if it would be a greater compromise to go overseas with this group or not go at all. We also need to ask ourselves if our convictions are being used as a tool by Satan to keep the unreached from hearing the Gospel.

The truth is, some people should not get married. Paul said that (at least in some situations) it is better to be single (1 Corinthians 7:7). But, there are some singles that need to be reminded that, just as they are never going to be a perfect spouse, they should not look for a perfect spouse. Missions is much the same. Some people should not go into missions and remaining where they are would better serve the kingdom. But then, there are some who are looking for a perfect opportunity that will never come around. Missions is hard, missions is messy, and particularly in that it involves people, missions is less-than-ideal. Even Paul at times mourned desertion by people on his team (see 2 Timothy 4:10). But if betrayal, shipwrecks, accusations, and fear did not stop Paul from God’s mission, let us follow his example. Let’s not be reckless, thinking that the theology of our partners will not affect their practice. But in wisdom, let’s take the risk and seek to better an imperfect team with our imperfect selves.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

4 Reasons to Teach Your Kids About the Persecuted Church

by Dave

When Stacey and I were teaching the Kindergarten – 1st Grade Sunday School class in Dallas, we studied and prayed for the persecuted church (using a curriculum put together by Voice of the Martyrs). When the kids left we would give them some prayer requests to pray through with their families during the week. In handing a prayer sheet to one of the kids' mothers, she said to me: "This is pretty heavy stuff for a Kindergartener." I thought about what she said, and I agree. It is heavy. However, I do think it is worth it to teach our children, even from a very young age, about the persecuted church. Here are four reasons that I believe this:

1. God listens to prayers (even of children)
There are a couple amazing promises in 1 John 5:13-15:
"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him."
Of course, I recognize that in this passage (and the whole Bible) it is clear that God's ear is open only to the prayers of those who have faith (here: believe in the name of the Son of God). And I found in our Sunday School class that there were children that were not bearing the fruit of the Spirit. However, there were children in our class that bore a lot of fruit. And God demonstrated that he listened to them. For instance, we started praying for North Korea together in our Sunday School class in April 2018. In May 2018 North Korea freed 3 American pastors that were in prison. Further, the war between North and South Korea was declared over. Now, I know there is still much work to be done in North Korea, but should we say that this was merely coincidence? That is not what we told our class. These 5-7 year olds prayed with all their little hearts could muster. They talked to their parents about it, and prayed at home. And God used their prayers. When we told them of the results of their prayers, their faith was increased. You should have seen how excited they were!

God hears the prayers of his children, even when they are actually children. Should we deny our children the opportunity to be a part of God rescuing pastors out of prison? 

2. God commands us to pray
"Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body." Hebrews 13:3
It is not ambiguous in the Scriptures: God wants his children to pray for the persecuted church. If our children are believers, Hebrews 13:3 applies to them. What is amazing about this verse is that it does not just tell us to remember those in prison, but "as though in prison with them." God wants Christians to empathize with our brothers and sisters that are in prison. Our kids are not going to be able to do that if we give them vague requests or keep such requests from them entirely. In that, "protecting" our children from the difficult realities that the global church faces removes an avenue of obedience from their Christian walk. 

For those of our children who are not believers the command remains. Just like the command to worship God, obey their parents, and not steal. We do not tell our unbelieving children that they can lie because they are not believers. We raise them to be Christians, and pray that God would save them so they can put into practice what we have taught them to do. 

3. God commands us to be sober-minded
I confess that I was rarely sober-minded as a child. Some of that was my own fault, but some of that was a reflection of my culture. In America, we have this idea that children's lives are supposed to be filled with games and bubblegum. The greatest concern our children are supposed to experience is whether or not they will make it to the next level in their newest video game. When I was in college was the first time I really saw the biblical call to be sober-minded. One such call comes from Peter:
"The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers." I Peter 4:7
What an incredible statement! As a parent, I know I am often calling my children to be self-controlled, but am I also calling them to be sober-minded? The implication of this passage is that both are necessary for them to have effective prayers. I think this is true, at least in part, in that if our children are not sober-minded they will not be praying for things that God cares about. Honestly, God does not care about who wins their soccer game. God does not care about what they want for Christmas. God wants them to be sober-minded and to pray for people who are dying for Christ. If we protect them in such a way that they do not even know that such people exist, they cannot be sober-minded and they cannot pray. 

As an aside on this issue, our relative wealth in the West has allowed us to think that children do not have to obey this command. We think that childhood can be only fun, and try keep our kids from experiencing hard truths. This type of "protection" is not biblical, and is only possible where life is easier. Here in Cameroon, kids know about death because they cannot avoid it. Though in some ways we might think of this as sad, I am hopeful that as they become believers it will lead to sobriety that most children in America will never know. 

4. They will wish you had told them
I have been talking to a friend that was protected a lot during childhood. As they grew older and started to learn how the world really is, they did not wish for "protection." Instead, they experienced frustration. Particularly as a believer, they felt like they had missed out on opportunities to care for and pray for those in need. Parent, if your child does become a believer, they will not have wanted for you to keep these truths from them. If they love Christ, they will not long to forget the plight of the persecuted church. Christians love the Church. Christians love their brothers and sisters and pray for them. The greatest gift you could give them is to teach them the truth.

One truth from the Word seems particularly necessary:
"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." 2 Timothy 3:12
Keeping the reality of persecution from our children will one day put them in a difficult place. One day, if they desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, they too will face persecution. If we have not taught them about our faithful brothers and sisters, they will not know how to respond. If we have not taught them about Richard Wurmbrand, they will not know that they could even love men who were beating them daily. Without the story of the Yao people, they will never know that God is able to break through to even the most difficult places. Without the testimony of Elizabeth, they won't know that Christians can remain faithful even with their own husbands beat them and abandon them. Worse, they may pity themselves instead of uniting with the Church. Teaching our kids about the suffering of God's people can only prepare them for what they will one day face. And when that day comes, they will want to be prepared. 

At the end of the day, it seems to me that any attempt to "protect" our children from the hard truths of the persecuted church will only hurt them. It will remove opportunities for greater obedience, it will prevent them from thinking about the world the way that God wants us to, and it may even lead them to abandoning Christ. However, when we teach them to pray not only will they be changed, their prayers will be answered. May each and every one of our children have the opportunity to be used by God in such an amazing way.

If you are looking for more resources to encourage your kids to think about missions and the persecuted church, check out our page Missions at Home.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Greatest Danger for a Missionary Kid

by Stacey

This week I saw the power of the Word of God transform someone before my eyes. Also, this week, I witnessed the Word of God further harden my children who are all too accustomed to ignoring it.

Starting with the happier story, a father of a 15-year-old Bakoum girl asked me to sit down and talk to her about some serious sin that was in her life. She wasn’t listening to him, but he was hopeful that she would listen to me. So, I sat down with her and asked her if she had heard the story of the prodigal son. She said she hadn’t, so I got some pictures and told her the story. I explained to her that the prodigal son did not see the love of his father, but just his commands. Leaning on his own understanding, he left his father and ended up realizing that his wisdom was inferior to that of his father’s. In the pig pen, he saw clearly his father’s love and his own folly. He went home and confessed that he had sinned both against God and against his father.

My young friend was captivated by this story and saw that she too was leaning on her own understanding rather than that of her Creator’s and her Father’s. She also saw that the love of her Creator was so great that he even sent his own Son to die for her sins. I watched her melt into repentance before my eyes as she said, “I need to go home now and tell my father I have sinned against Heaven and against him.” I have seen her since and she said that she did just that. Through a simple story that she had never heard before, she understood the gracious character of God and the seriousness of her sin. The power of the Word of God – making the dead alive right in my backyard.

Then…there’s my children. My husband, our homeschool teachers, and I labor to teach our children the Word of God each day. They know the languages the Bible was written in, they know the books of the Bible by heart in English and French, they understand the relationship between human responsibility and God’s sovereignty, etc., etc., and yet….they are stone cold to it (with the exception of our oldest son, Kaden). Hearing a story out of the Bible in broken Bakoum one time was what the Lord used to bring repentance in the heart of a young girl and yet in my own children, I get rolled eyes and yawns. And I realized that for a missionary kid there is a danger that is greater than all of the snakes, malaria, and violence combined.

The Greatest Danger: Greater Exposure
A friend who grew up on the mission field once told me that missionary kids often end up on fire for God, or atheists. Generally speaking, you are not going to find lukewarm missionary kids. What would lead to extreme responses in missionary kids? I think Charles Spurgeon answers this question when he says:
“The same sun which melts the wax hardens the clay. And the same Gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.” - Spurgeon
My young Bakoum friend has seen God in nature and has resisted him up to this point. However, my children have seen God not only in creation, but also in his dealings with the Egyptians who wouldn’t let the Israelites go. They’ve seen and resisted the God who sustained Joseph in prison. They’ve seen how the Lord killed Ananias and Saphira because of a single lie. They’ve read of the miracles of Jesus and listened to the dramatized book of Revelation countless times. And for some of them, each encounter with the Gospel has not been an opportunity for faith, but for resistance. They have had an abundance of special revelation and they have said, “No!” to the God revealed in those Scriptures thousands and thousands of times. Instead of this Gospel melting them into repentance, it has served to harden them in their sins to the point that they can tell you the sinful desires of their hearts, Scriptures that deal with those sinful desires, and what their eternal consequence will be if they do not repent – all with a yawn. Spurgeon is right when he says that the Gospel is like the sun – melting some into repentance and others into rock-hard clay.

It is tempting to turn inward and ask “What I am doing wrong?” And I do ask that question, and we have sought to change some things after asking it. However, I take heart in the reality that Judas was around the Light every single day, witnessing miracles, seeing the true love of Christ, and listening to him preach. Judas had a million opportunities a day to love the light, but instead he chose to harden his heart to it a million times a day. Eleven went on to live and die for Christ, but for Judas, it would have been better “if he had not even been born.” It was the very Christ-likeness of Christ that turned Judas away. This has great implications for Christian parents. Maybe the resistance to the Gospel in our children isn’t because we are doing something wrong, but instead because we are too Christ-like for their tastes. As Jesus said, “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light” (John 3:19b). They have more exposure to the truth than most kids, and the result of this greater exposure to the light has been a greater hardness.

What now? 
So where does this leave us? I don’t think this reality should leave us in despair, but rather in awe of the miracle of the new birth – whether that new birth occurs in a person who does not have one word of the Bible in their language or whether that person has their walls wallpapered with it. In my ministry, I am daily faced with people who are without: people who are without food, without medicine, and without special revelation from the Lord. I then go home and find my children grumbling about the taste of their malaria-prevention medicine, refusing to eat their vegetables, and dead to the Word of God that we faithfully teach them. Honestly, this is maddening. I feel like because they have more, salvation and gratitude should come more easily for them. Ironically, in thinking this, I am adopting the same entitlement mentality that they have: because they have (the Word), thus they should receive (salvation). But in thinking this, I am losing sight of what a true miracle being born again really is. No one seeks for God on their own – neither children of missionaries, pastors, AWANA kids – no one. For anyone to have a desire for the Lord is evidence that the Spirit has taken a dead soul and made it alive. In the words of Jesus: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The Spirit, like the wind, is free to make alive whomever he wills, and children of Christians are not entitled any more than those who belong to unreached people groups.

I think a second response to this should be resolve to see them born again. In 1755, Jonathan Edwards wrote to his son: “I am full of concern for you, and often pray for you...Never give yourself any rest unless you have good evidence that you are converted and become a new creature.” I think Edward’s exhortation to his son should be the cry of our hearts for our hardened children – may they find no rest until they find true, eternal rest in Christ. And may we as their parents be Christ to them knowing that he is the way, truth, and life.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Case for Generosity

by Dave

When we came to Cameroon on our vision trip in 2010, I asked our colleagues for their highs and lows of Cameroon living. Without exception, each person told me that one of the hardest parts of living here was dealing with money. Knowing about these challenges we read a ton about the subject before crossing into a new culture. We found that most books written for Westerners moving to Africa deal extensively with the question of finances. We have already written about some of what we have learned from books like African Friends and Money Matters (read HERE) and When Helping Hurts (read HERE and HERE). Overall I would say, my primary goals arriving in Cameroon, as it relates to finances, were: 1) to make sure I was not being taken advantage of, and 2) that we were not creating dependency.

Well, we have begun our fourth year of living in Cameroon, and my perspective is continuing to be refined with both good and bad experiences. I have been taken advantage of. In one case a man asked me for money to buy food, I gave it to him, and while I watched he went and bought a beer. I have paid money for workers to travel to my house and dig a well, and they never came. As far as I can tell, we have not created any specific dependency, but there is always the tension. However, while I thought these concerns would be greatly burdening, I can honestly say I care very little about them.

My default stance has now changed and I my new mantra is: prefer generosity. This principle is founded on two main observations:

1. Jesus Calls Us to be Generous
As I read the New Testament, I tend to gravitate towards Paul's epistles. I like the logical argumentation and the theological content. I have a much harder time with Jesus' words. Why? Not because they are hard to understand, but because they are hard to obey. Regarding money, here is one of Christ's teachings:
"Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys." (Luke 12:33)
Man, have I tried to qualify this. I have tried to find ways around it. I have tried to re-define "needy" in such a way that I don't actually have to sell any possessions. But at the end of the day, I cannot get away with it. Jesus told me that I need to sell my possessions and give to the needy. Someone once challenged me, saying, "Sure we need to think about being good stewards and not creating dependency, but in what way are you obeying the command in Luke 12:33?" And to be honest, at that point, there was no way that I was obeying that command. And in being honest, I was confronted with the reality that I was storing up my treasure on earth and not in Heaven. 

I have also been struck by Jesus' foretelling of the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46. In it we find the Son of Man sitting on his throne and all the nations are being brought before him. And he is separating out the sheep from the goats. And by what standards will he separate them? By how they have treated the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, strangers. He does not mention stewardship, he does not mention dependency avoidance (not that these are unimportant), he does not even mention faith! Jesus is going to separate believers and unbelievers based upon how they treated the poor. (NOTE: this is not works salvation. Jesus is judging people based on their works, but the Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by grace alone. For a more thorough explanation, see my sermon on this passage HERE). 

Since we have begun to prefer generosity, we have also noticed something about the culture...

2. Generosity is Love
Among the Bakoum, we have found that there is an expectation that those who have more are expected to care for those who have less. This expectation is repulsive to my American individualistic values. I honestly do not feel like they should expect anything from me. I am a foreigner in their country with the sole goal of trying to help the Bakoum. So, why should they expect me to take care of their other needs?

But the reality is that people here genuinely do not have what is needed in order to survive. When their children are sick, they often do not have the resources to seek out medical help. Often times there is not enough money to send all the kids to school. So, they choose one kid that they think will do well, and everyone will work together to put that one child through school. Among the Bakoum, they see their friends and family as a resource and when they are in need they have no shame in asking for help. Most of the time they are not trying to abuse me, but are genuinely just in need. This interdependency is, I believe, more in line with what the Bible says about how we should live as a Church. It is not a perfect system, and it is very hard on my cultural sensitivities, but I am thankful for it nonetheless. In observing this system I believe that this almost entirely unreached people has taught me how to be more like Jesus. 

But the point is not to be generous for the sake of generosity. In this culture generosity communicates love. I read a quote the other day from a man named David W. Augsburger: “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” I like this quote because I think it is true. And I think it could be re-worked for the Bakoum: "Being generous is so close to being loved that for the average Bakoum, they are almost indistinguishable." This is so true that I believe that if we brought the Gospel, slaved for 20 years to translate the Bible, spoke words of love the entire time, but were seen as stingy, it would all be for naught. We would be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 

Unbeknownst to me, the Lord was planning all along to give me an opportunity to put this to the test...

Case Study
When I first arrived back in the village after furlough, my goal was to get the house liveable again. We had left my wife and the girls in the capital, and I wanted to be back with them as soon as possible. I was not here to study the language, I was not here to minister, I had a task and I wanted it completed. During the week I was here, a mother came up to me with her child. His head was huge! I thought he was around 2 years old, but she was carrying him (they usually only carry kids here until they can walk). She later told me he was about 3-months old, his head was continually swelling, and she didn't know what to do. I didn't know either. But I told her that I would talk to my doctor friend and went back to fixing the plumbing.

To be honest with you, I just forgot. There was a lot on my mind, I was feeling sick, and the task of repairing the house was overwhelming. But Natalie came back with her baby. This time I sent a picture to my friend immediately so that I would not forget. I got a response back pretty quickly: the baby probably has encephalitis and he probably needs to go to Bertoua (a city close by) if not the capital. This family is as poor as they get, and I knew they would not be able to save up enough money to go to the city anytime soon (let alone pay for an operation). We gave them some money to go consult with a doctor. Long story short, they were told they needed to go to Yaoundé (the capital) and they needed more money. 

What would you do? They were not offering to pay anything at this point. Should I offer to pay part? Should I turn them away for fear of dependency? If I pay, is everyone with a sick baby going to come to my house for help? I don't even know this couple. As far as I know, the first time I had ever seen this woman was the day she brought Patrick to me while I was plumbing. Well, as I said, my default stance is now prefer generosity. It is about a month later and I am over $1,000 into this thing. The child is in Yaoundé and they put a shunt in his brain to remove the fluid that has built up. And I just got a call that they need more money for medications! To be honest with you, in spite of their expectations, I can't do this with every baby in the village. $1K is a lot of money for us. And I feel a bit of anxiety about the decision. 

But after the surgery a woman in the hospital sent me a text message with a picture (seen above). I took it to the father who is still here in the village. Today is the presidential vote and this whole week everyone in the village has been out talking about the election. So, not only did he see it, but the whole village saw baby Patrick and his mother. And they told me that he would have died. There was no doubt in their minds. They told me they needed us, they were thankful for us, and there is no way the family could have paid for it on their own. They showed me that they believed that my generosity was the fruit of love. And I walked back home believing that we made the right choice. 

I wish that was it. I wish I could say that I can just be generous all the time and that all that will ever happen is love. However, just the other day a Bakoum woman asked me for $800 for a surgery on her arm and I had to turn her away, and she was upset. But at this moment there is nothing I can do. Further, Patrick's aunt was mocking me last week for stopping a man from beating a child in the street. She said I have no right to tell them how to raise their children. So, it is not all butterflies and rainbows. Most of the people are still not following Jesus and their lives show it. But, I do believe they know that we love them. I believe that they see a generosity in us that is not natural. And I pray that such generosity and love will lead them to Christ one day. 

So, I wanted to end by asking you the same question a friend asked me: "How are you obeying Jesus' words in Luke 12:33?" I still struggle with it, it makes me uncomfortable, and to be honest I just mess it up a lot. But I am happy to see that even my small obediences have brought fruit. I encourage you to consider your default setting when asked to give. Is it "avoid being taken advantage of"? or "don't create dependency?" If so, I would encourage you to consider the priority of generosity. What an amazing thing to learn from a lost people group in Cameroon!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Lord, Keep Me Weeping

by Stacey

My day began by watching my deceased neighbor be buried in his front yard. My day ended by watching another neighbor beat a little boy violently. It has not taken long for us to remember that death and violence are a part of everyday life here in the village. And there is a part of me that asks the question: Is it ever okay to put my headphones in to drown out the constant strain of yelling that surrounds our home? Is it okay for me to look the other way while a grown man beats a whimpering child? Is there ever a reprieve from the wailing at funerals, the violence, the fighting, the disease, and the death that surround us in this place? Is there a time to just send someone away saying, “Be warm and filled"?

Wake-up call
A week ago yesterday, Dave and I went over to our neighbor’s house to talk about their grandson’s health. The grandmother was very thankful for the medication we brought her and the grandfather greeted us warmly and thanked us. This grandfather has been blind for about two years and I’ve seen another of his grandsons leading him around the village.

We regularly hear fighting coming from that house at all hours of the day and night. This past Tuesday night was no exception. I was having a rough day with my kids and went outside late at night to look at the stars and pray, and then I heard them fighting. I am ashamed to admit it, but my first reaction was not pray, but instead to roll my eyes and wonder if the hollering would ever stop. That is something I am ashamed of now. Why? Because yesterday I went back to this same house and found the grandfather lying dead in his bed while family members were digging him a grave outside. Women were in the house wailing and men were outside drunk; alternating between arguing and singing loudly.

When I went into the house, one of my friends (the deceased’s daughter) explained to me what had happened. Allegedly, her father had gone to the city to withdraw his retirement in order to pay for a surgery for his eyes. It was a considerable sum of money and when he got home, his wife (my friend’s step-mom) and her children demanded the money. When he refused to give it to them, they beat him, inflicting injuries that led to his death.

One week ago, he was greeting me at his front door. Yesterday he was lying dead in the middle of his living room, allegedly due to domestic violence. His second wife and her children have left town out of fear of retribution from the family.

And then it hit me - while I was rolling my eyes at the shouting emanating from their house, this blind grandfather was being beaten by his own family members. I am ashamed that my first thought was for myself rather than the well-being of my neighbor. I see clearly now that my response was not Christ-like. 

Blessed are those who weep

All over Scripture, we are called to not tune out the sufferings of the poor and needy. When my children ask what to do about the sufferings of our neighbors, I call them to consider that Proverbs tells us that we are to look them in the eye and breathe in the sufferings they bear. When we turn our eyes away, put the headphones in, ignore the screams we hear, and close our ears to the cry of the poor, we will ourselves “call out and not be answered” (Prov 21:13). For, “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse” (Prov. 28:27).

I know what you are thinking: "You must be great at parties." But, consider the biblical characterization of Christ as a “man of sorrows.” Would I be flattered or insulted to be known as a “woman of sorrows”? Should I rather be someone who is carefree, loves to laugh, and is fun to have around? My home culture calls me to pursue “my best life now” but Jesus says, "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21). I am persuaded that a life of weeping and constant prayer is the only appropriate response to the sin and suffering that surround us. The lightheartedness knowing that “everything’s going to be okay” is not for this life now, but instead for the next.

But it's too hard
Someone may wonder if it is even healthy for someone to strive to bear the burdens of the blind, orphan, and abused as a way of life. In the face of this concern is the trusted verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). I am confident that Jesus loves to answer the prayers of his children as we ask him to strengthen us as we seek to strengthen others.

With all of that said, I do long for reprieve. I long for a place where the sounds of peace fill the air. I seek a better country where an unimaginable joy takes hold of everyone, and we can laugh, really laugh. And I know that this is not just a fantasy. This place exists and I will one day live in the presence of my God. And so today I can choose to open my eyes, to listen to the wailing, to grow not in numbness, but in compassion. Because I know that for every wound inflicted on this Fallen Earth, I will one day feel the healing touch of my Savior. And by His grace, I will hear those same voices, no longer wailing, but worshiping with me. Until that day, Lord, keep me weeping.