Central Asia: Expelled Fear & Warm Hospitality

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My initial reaction to stepping onto the plane was fear. Not fear of flying, but fear of what lay ahead in Central Asia. I didn’t know exactly what I was afraid of. It seemed to be an all-encompassing fear of everything and anything that could go wrong. At the same time, I was so excited that God was allowing me to travel to a foreign country that I had never been to before and experience a new culture.

We started out our ministry by going to the local church and putting on a VBS program in the morning for three days. We had a Bible story every morning along with crafts and recreation. Each day after VBS the family we were staying with and other leaders of the church would feed all 30 of those kids (plus us adults) lunch. This is just where the hospitality began. These people welcomed us into their home without even a thought. We found out as the week went on that this family is so hospitable they have people staying at their house every single day. In the words of the father,

“I do not ask my wife if there are guests at our house, I just ask how many.”

This to me was such a beautiful thing. To open up your home is to open up your heart and these people knew how to make you want to open up your heart until it felt like it was going to burst.

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The next step of our ministry was to disciple a group of teenagers in the afternoons after VBS. We did team building games with them and they loved it! We also taught them evangelism for the purpose of equipping them to go out and share their faith with their unsaved peers. This led right into our last ministry which was to take these teenagers we’d been discipling and their friends who were unbelievers to a soccer camp about an hour outside of the city.

We weren’t sure at all what to expect from this camp, but I believe we were pleasantly surprised. There was a freezing, rushing river and cows everywhere! Even though it was around 90 degrees Fahrenheit the shade was very cool and the breeze off the river was wonderful. We did a bunch of recreation games and LOTS of soccer. The guys were very surprised that a girl from America could keep up with them in the soccer game. I even scored a goal which just shattered their expectations.

At the end of each night, the teenagers we discipled led some worship and somebody gave their testimony. The way they gave their testimony was so non-aggressive. It was wonderful to hear these teenagers express their faith and tell their story in a way that was very much like,

“Hey here’s what God’s done in my life and I just want to share that with you to encourage you.”

On the last day of camp, Danny, our trip leader, gave the chemical cross talk. The symbolism of a cross turning dirty “sin” water into pure, clean water was so strong that we had approximately 12-15 professions of faith. To sit back and see these teenagers who are so oppressed already take courage and raise their hands for Jesus was an image I will never forget.

All fear was expelled because of love. The love and hospitality we witnessed calmed any fears we might have had.  As the first part of 1 John 4:18 reminds us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…”

Clarkston Rocks!

Our second day has begun with praise, worship and a great Bible story about Jehoshaphat!  All of our Clarkston Rockers seem ready to learn and explore new adventures in Art, Knitting, Instruments, and Rock music.

Our group of almost 60 students represents a variety of countries, yet their enthusiasm for music confirms that music is the universal language!

While the younger students have three exploratories (Art, Knitting and Instruments), the older students who range from 6th through 8th grade are learning all about Rock music!  They have learned the history of Rock and will each day learn about a rock instrument. Johnson Ferry Band members have engaged these students in a rockin' good time.

Our theme scripture for the week is found in Proverbs 3:5&6:

 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

One of our favorite songs, with a catchy tune,  is "This is the day that the LORD has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it!"

It's exciting and humbling to be an instrument of God and to watch Him work in and through us!

Albania: English Camp on the Adriatic Sea

Tungjatje'ta nga Albania (Hello from Albania)!

All of our people and luggage arrived without incident on Friday morning around 10:30. We were quickly whisked away by our friends and English Camp leaders, Dionis and Jetmira, and arrived in Shengjin approximately 1 1/2 hours later. 

We were allowed a quick potty break and then began a favorite sport of JFBC team members visiting Albania... Olympic-style EATING. I won't mention that most of us had already eaten 3 to 4 times on our way here, but that was nothing compared to the 7-course lunch we were served in the hotel dining room! I could probably name all 7 courses, but it makes me a bit nauseous just thinking about it. 

Afterward, Dionis attempted to orient us to the happenings of the upcoming week, however half of us were trying to keep our eyes open, and the other half were in a food coma. When that was finished, we had approximately 2 hours of free time. Some went for a walk on the beach, others went for a swim, and those with a little common sense (I won't mention names) took a nap. Once our break was over, you'll never guess what came next... DINNER! That's right, we headed to a beachside, open air restaurant where we watched the sun set and ordered and consumed 5 pizzas! It was both beautiful and ridiculous. Then, as if that wasn't enough, Bruce twisted our arms and convinced us to stop by a gelato shop for dessert. Okay... enough about food!

The next morning we went on a sightseeing tour of Rozafa Castle in Shkodra, which was an Illyricum stronghold until the Romans captured it in 167 BC. There is a creepy legend about three brothers who were building the wall and had to bury one of their wives within the wall to keep it from falling. The one who was chosen made an absurd request, which I will let those of you who are interested read on your own. Simply google 'Legend of Rozafa Castle'.

From there we traveled treacherous roads in a less than reliable mini-bus to get to our lakeside lunch. Arriving an hour late, our fearless leader, Jim, chose to rest in a nearby hammock in order to allow God's peace to wash over him. We had to leave him there, as God had much work to do (KIDDING)!

When we got back to the hotel, we set up four classrooms for the 36 students who arrived today. We began by testing each of them and placing them in beginning, intermediate, and advanced groups. Then, we played games and danced into the night. As is usual, Bruce wowed us with his style and grace, and Laurie is now recovering from a knee injury!

Classes begin in the morning, so please pray for our effectiveness as we teach and build relationships. Of course, our greatest hope is to share the love of Christ with these sweet, young adults. We're trusting God to do great things and look forward to sharing more with you later in the week.

Blessings and love from Albania English Camp Team 2017

  • Sherry and Jim
  • Bruce and Karen
  • Janie
  • Wes
  • Laurie
  • Ashleigh
  • Kelly

Southern Europe: A day of rest

Colossians 3:16
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

It is very hard to believe we have come to the end of the trip.  What started as a very daunting and monumental challenge, God has transformed.  Everyone on the team has expressed their heart-felt desire to continue the work, and have become comfortable in difficult situations.  We are all so very thankful.  In some small measure I hope we have learned something of what Paul meant when he wrote, "...I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."  (Philippians 4:12-13) Certainly we have not been without food, but we have most definitely had to depend on God for our strength in difficult circumstances. 

We have seen God do amazing things.  This week the other team leader and I have prayed together that we would experience the work of the Holy Spirit in amazing ways.  We prayed that we would meet some who had experienced visions of Christ calling them to Him.  While that did not happen as we thought, the other leader had an encounter with a man who was very adamantly opposed to the message we brought.  After a very lengthy discussion he prayed for the man and felt led to pray that man might have a vision of Christ that very night.  We knew we may never see the man again, but believed God could reveal Himself.  Amazingly, that night, our leader had a dream he was attacked by the man, who came at him with a knife.  They struggled together and then the man began to try to stab himself.  Our leader fought to keep the man from killing himself with the knife, holding him in a headlock as he pushed against the knife - then he woke up.  We believe that dream was a direct answer to his prayer.  We also believe the man he prayed for may have also been given a vision; we hope God will use it to change his heart.

Even more amazing, was our final night of worship together.  I have been praying earnestly that we all would participate in seeing someone come to salvation. While in faith, we continued to hope and pray for big things, the last day seemed slow and relatively uneventful. A theme that came to my heart was Psalm 46:10, which says, “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  The day ended and we assembled for our final worship service of the trip.  As we entered the building a man approached me asking if he could join us.  I asked our hosts and they agreed.  During that service one of our hosts was able to share the gospel with him and he made a decision to follow Jesus that very night.  Everyone was there and got to share in the experience!  This was a direct answer to my prayer for the week and took place at the very last session!  Our God is truly amazing!

In the end, our combined team distributed 1,817 packages which included Bibles, the 4 spiritual laws, and other instructional materials, all 1n multiple languages.  This is a record number of packages given out since the beginning of the outreach.  Three of the highest days ever recorded were this week.  Pray this material makes its way into the hearts and hands of those that will respond.  We know God is building His church and we are grateful to have been a part of reaching very difficult places. 

Today we debrief and have an afternoon of rest before our departure tomorrow.  Please pray that we will be able to recover from a very tiring schedule and that we will continue to enjoy good fellowship.  Also, please pray for the next two teams that pick up the work today. Finally, please pray for our travel schedules as tomorrow is another very early morning; we must leave for the airport at 2:00 am. 

Thank you for your prayers!

 

Southern Europe: The work of Evangelism (Day 7)

Jeremiah 32:17
“‘Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You.”

As we enter our final day of direct service, we are amazed by how quickly the time has gone by and by what amazing work God has done.  Our goal is to finish well as we enter our final day with prayerful expectation.  Opposition was reduced yesterday, but we come into this day with high hopes that we will be even more diligent and that God will work even greater wonders on this day than on any other.  Please pray with us that we will not be overcome by tiredness or distractions but rather by the power of the Holy Spirit. We dedicate ourselves on this day to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.(Ephesians 3:20-21) 

We continue to pray specifically for a person we call Saul, that we will see him today, but broken by a vision of conversion.  That he will come to the full knowledge of God, as Paul did, radically changed from a persecutor of Christ to a fellow laborer.

Also, please pray for the next two teams coming in pick up and continue our work.  They are mostly college age students, and our prayer is that they will quickly catch vision and work diligently under the power of the Holy Spirit and that they might see even greater works than we have seen.   

Please continue praying for opportunities for more personal interaction, ones that might allow us to explain the gospel in a personal way, but specifically that we all might see some come to faith. Please pray we will truly find many more people of peace.  Please continue to pray for the many packages that have gone out and specifically for the people we call Salam, Henry, Simon, Adelle, and a woman named Nebia as well as Nunu and Kit.  

Thank you for your prayers!

 

Southern Europe: The work of Evangelism (Day 6)

Psalm 27
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamp against me, My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me, In spite of this I shall be confident. One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord And to meditate in His temple.”

It is no surprise that we have encountered direct opposition to the work we have been doing.  "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." Therefore, on behalf of our team I ask that you pray on OUR behalf, that utterance may be given to US in the opening of OUR mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which WE ARE ambassadors...; that in proclaiming it WE may speak boldly, as WE ought to speak.  (Ephesians 6:12) 

While we have not felt physically threatened, there are those that have stood on corners attempting to warn others to avoid us and our message.  When this happens we are ignored and sometimes verbally rebuked.  More significantly, the enemy had a person go behind us and remove the bibles and literature from those that were willing to receive it.  They have worked in direct opposition to the Word of God going out, snatching away the seed before it can take root.  Please pray specifically a person we call Saul, that he will have a vision of conversion, as Paul did, radically changing him from a persecutor to a fellow laborer.

Despite these added challenges, we continue to be in good spirits and make good progress.  We have prayerfully put on the full armor of God and pray for God to fight on our behalf and remove obstacles and open hearts.  To the extent possible we altered our strategy to send people to share the good news at a place before they can be 'alerted' by others.  We continue to exceed the goals of the host team and thankfully the Word of God is going out.

Please continue praying for opportunities for more personal interaction as well, ones that might allow us to explain the gospel in a personal way.  We have offered big prayers and hope to encounter more signs of the Holy Spirit working.  We earnestly seek to find more people of peace.  Please continue to pray earnestly for people we will call Salam, Henry, Simon, Adelle, and a woman named Nebia as well as Nunu and Kit.  Please continue to pray for interactions over the last two days, that some might even have visions of Christ's calling which we have seen in the past. 

Thank you for your prayers!

 

Southern Europe: The Work of Evangelism (Day 2-5)

Psalm 3
“But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, And He answered me from His holy mountain. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people Who have set themselves against me round about..”

We have spent the weekend doing the work of evangelism in not only public arenas but also within the city.  We have averaged nearly 250 contacts each day and have set a record for the number of contacts since this ministry began with over 317 given out on Saturday and well over 1,000 total.  We have had excellent interaction with the other team from Arkansas.  Thank you for your prayers!  Please know they have been felt and greatly appreciated!

While we have been very glad to have had so many contact we have been earnestly praying for opportunities for more personal interaction as well, ones that might allow us to more fully explain the gospel in a personal way and share the reason for the hope we have in Christ.  We have offered big prayers asking for signs of the Holy Spirit working.  These have been seen!  Many of the team have had the chance to find people of peace and share the 4 Spiritual Laws in other languages.  We have even had some approach us to ask why we are here among them.  These have led to some very sensitive conversations and some that we think many indicate true conversion.  I cannot provide any details in this forum, but please pray earnestly for people we will call Salam, Henry, Simon, Adelle, and a woman named Nebia.  We continue to pray for interactions over the next couple of day, that some might even have visions of Christ's calling which we have seen in the past. 

Certainly, not everyone is receptive to our presence and our message.  Please pray for protection for us.  Some have confronted us; we have not been intimidated, but they actively work to subvert our access to people.  Also, we often find ourselves 'competing' with JWs and others for space.  Please pray that our message will not be confused with the message of those that do not preach the true Christ.    Also, please continue to pray for strength and encouragement for the team.  We begin very early and there is a lot of walking.  Everyone remains in good spirits and we are working well together but pray that we will not become discouraged by exhaustion or the many rejections we encounter.  Most of all pray that we will be encouraged as we continue to seek interaction with people of peace and that each one will have the opportunity to participate in seeing at least one person to true conversion... a big goal in the environment we are in!  We have three days of active engagement ahead and are greatly encouraged by the success we have seen and seeing God at work.