I’ve been a part of Kay and Ken’s life for many years now. They were both single when I met them and I was just learning their heart language. Jane became my tutor. In my tutoring classes we talked about all aspects of life. Literally sharing life together as I’m now considered a family member after all these years.
Kay and Ken married a few years ago and now have a baby. They have been blessed to have multiple older people in their lives to mentor and disciple them. They were sent out last year to start a new Sunday group.
Kay has been a part of 2 other discipleship classes, both just 6 weeks long then the leader went on to other people. She said she felt like a “project” with some foreigners and even their own native leaders.
One of the things I do is discipleship. My approach is to spend 2 years with people. Kay and Ken are both great learners. They are currently using the same discipleship materials with their leadership team that I have used. Each person in their leadership team is now mentoring and discipling others in their Sunday group. The discipleship, mentoring, and coaching that I have done with this couple is now being replicated throughout their Sunday group. Great fruit is being produced from this couple.
– Names have been changed for safety
By: Worker Serving in Asia
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When “Lee” first joined us, he didn’t sing in public, couldn’t play an instrument, and knew nothing about music. Today he’s writing songs, plays multiple instruments, and teaches and leads others in his club.
When we started the music leadership school (a.k.a. how to become a worship leader), people came in droves wanting to learn guitar, piano, drums, and voice. After the first week, however, many dropped out as they learned that music leadership required more than just music ability.
The course was based on the concept that being a worship leader meant being the “first worshipper.” We spent the majority of each session exploring the heart of a worshipper from a biblical perspective. As their musical skills developed, students would take turns leading music sessions. This is when gifted leaders began to separate from the pack.
We’d see people who quickly picked up chords and strumming patterns, but couldn’t lead others in worship. We’d also see the opposite—students that progressed slowly musically, but when they led, people would quickly enter the deeper realms of worship. With Lee, we saw the best of both worlds: he progressed quickly in both technical skill and leadership. He had a heart of worship.
I first noticed Lee at a retreat where I was playing my guitar. As I played, he just smiled looking engaged to the music, but somehow pleasantly distant.
Me: “What’s going through your mind right now?”
Lee: “A song.”
Me: “What song?”
Lee: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Why don’t you sing it?”
Lee: “There’s no words.”
Me: “How about humming it?”
He started humming the most beautiful song that tied perfectly to what I was playing. Within just a couple of weeks, he was playing and humming songs on the piano. After a few more weeks, he was writing lyrics to new songs. With each new skill learned, Lee would beam brighter and brighter. By the end of the semester, we extended an invitation to Lee to lead the next group of leaders. He accepted and is teaching and leading others today.
By: Worker, Serving in Asia
There’s a song that says “Lord, change the world, and let it start with me.” That’s right…it starts in us first. Not only is this my heart’s desire, but it’s also the cry of each Latin American missionary that comes through Corrientes, a mentoring & equipping program in Ecuador that prepares Latin Americans to be Christian leaders around the world, including right in their own country. As we surrender our hearts and our wills to what God is doing, He amazingly does a deep work in each of us and then sends us out to partner with Him as He does a deep work in others’ lives.
During my first year of teaching English at Corrientes, I had two middle-aged Ecuadorian women (Adriana and Natalia) who came to class together every day. They were both missionaries and pastor’s wives who wanted to improve their English so they could better work with international teams that came to work with them.
One day, I’d planned our conversation to center around the topic of education in Ecuador. It was a subject I knew little about and I thought it would be useful vocabulary for them to learn. We could talk about subjects studied, how the educational system is organized, what students & schools must each provide as far as materials, etc. It turned out that God had a whole different idea though, and He hijacked the conversation in order to accomplish HIS agenda for the day.
The conversation turned to how public school teachers treat and talk to their students in Ecuador. I was shocked to hear that throughout grade school, high school, and even university, there are many teachers who are rude and insulting to their students. Adriana and Natalia told me that it was common for teachers to declare to students “You’re stupid!”, “You’re ignorant!”, “You’re good for nothing!”, and “I can’t stand you!” In fact, some teachers have even been known to make these insulting remarks to parents about their children!
As they shared this information with me, the Holy Spirit suddenly reminded me that MY profession was teaching; before coming to the mission field I’d been an elementary teacher for many years. Now years later, God was prompting me to stand in the place of those Ecuadorian teachers who had done so much damage to Adriana and Natalia with their harsh words, so as a teacher, I asked my dear students to forgive me on behalf of those teachers who had spoken such insulting and devaluing words over them. As I asked them for forgiveness, tears streamed down their faces, sobs were released, and God ministered to those deep unhealed wounds in their hearts that they’d been carrying around all these years and hadn’t even realized they were still carrying. God knew though, and He had ordained that THIS specific day in English class would be the day that He would heal those wounded areas of their hearts.
It turned out to be a powerful time of God ministering healing to them, as we all prayed together and they forgave their former teachers for all the negative words they had spoken over them. God then led me to speak specific blessings over each woman…they ARE intelligent, they ARE gifted and skilled, their unique learning styles were created by God, they are not a mistake, etc.
We also spent some time praying together for Adriana’s and Natalia’s children who were still currently in school, praying that God would protect them from hurtful words spoken by teachers, that they would be able to show their teachers the love that they so clearly needed, and that their lives would be a testimony to their teachers rather than a burden.
What an amazing equipping class! This class period turned out totally different than I’d expected, but exactly the way God had intended. God’s timing for healing and freedom is perfect, and His “interruptions” make for the best classes! God’s heart is to bring all of us into wholeness, and I was blessed that He allowed me to partner with Him in releasing healing to Adriana and Natalia. I’m thankful for the Lord’s perfect agenda and timing, and for His great love that He pours out in these classes. Students come to me for English, but they leave with a whole lot more, as I partner with the Holy Spirit in equipping them. Thanks be to God for His mighty work!
(Names have been changed for privacy)
By: Sue Noroña, Serving in Ecuador
It has now been a full year since my wife Aladrian and I flew away from our home, family, church, friends, and our settled California lifestyle. We soon landed in Cape Town to begin the most challenging and incredible year of our lives!
It has taken lots of adjusting for us to get grounded in this beautiful AND heart-breaking country we now call home. But, at the end of the day, we are awestruck by how God has stretched our faith and dependence on him.
We arrived in March 2016 to join the staff of East Mountain, an innovative leadership development mission near Cape Town, South Africa.
East Mountain is a UWM missional community that seeks to advance God’s kingdom on earth by identifying, equipping and multiplying high-impact servant-leaders for Africa’s churches, communities and families.
CREATING TOMORROW’S LEADERS TODAY
Each year we identify young, aspiring leaders with demonstrated leadership potential, passion for Africa, an entrepreneurial spirit, and commitment to multiply more leaders. These exceptional individuals undergo an intensive year-long, live-in learning experience focused on spiritual formation, theological education, and practical skills.
Just over a year ago Aladrian and I were established Sacramento pastors with productive ministries, a comfortable lifestyle, and high hopes of entering into blissful grandparenthood.
So, how did we end up 10,000 miles from home equipping leaders in a foreign culture?
OUR TURNING POINT
From ministry trips to Africa over many years, Aladrian and I had developed a deep love for its people and deep awareness of both its needs and its immense potential.
On each trip we’d been heartbroken when repeatedly asked:
“Why won’t our successful African-American brothers and sisters come help us succeed?”
And, we had noticed how the developed world typically responded to Africa’s massive problems with Band-Aid solutions: more food, more medicine, and more charity dollars. Clearly, charity alone hasn’t produced adequate results.
At some point, Aladrian and I stopped asking God, “Why is Africa like this?” and started asking, “What can we do to make a real difference?”
A NEW VISION
The answer came loud and clear, and, it was in what we had been doing successfully in our own country for years:
Help transform Africa by multiplying godly, well-equipped leaders there.
Very soon after that I became acquainted with East Mountain’s work while casually surfing the web. I was so intrigued by their unique leadership training initiatives that I began Skype conversations with EM senior staffers to learn more.
Those talks quickly led to us flying to Cape Town to see East Mountain for ourselves. We immediately saw that the program and the team behind it were the real deal and that God was doing something very special there. We wanted to be in on it.
It seems the feeling was mutual, as shortly thereafter we were invited to join East Mountain’s staff.
INVESTING IN GODLY LEADERSHIP
I can’t believe how unique and gifted each of our resident-trainees are—and how much of a father’s love and pride I feel toward them. Our program is a difficult process, but God is building them up rapidly. My prayer is that these young people are the next generation of godly change-agents for Africa—and the world.
By: Ronn Elmore, Serving in South Africa
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When foreigners come to Africa for the first time, they are often surprised that racism exists, when everyone is black! But tribal identities are strong, so it’s not skin color that determines their opinion of other “races,” but ethnicity.
Mali has been spared much of the deadly tribal conflict which exists in other parts of Africa (for reasons which would take an additional blog post to explain!), but we still hear subtle forms of prejudice expressed.
One of these is animosity of the Malinké, with whom UWM has worked since the 1950s, toward the Fulani, with whom my husband, Jim Bowers, has worked for about 20 years. We’ve even heard a Malinké pastor, Pastor Don, make wisecracks from the pulpit toward Fulani visitors in the congregation! It’s all done in a joking manner and thus is considered acceptable. Further, if you challenged those remarks as racist, the reply would be, “They are only racist if they are untrue. But they are true, so they’re not racist!”
Some years ago, we got to know some Fulani refugees from Mauritania, and some of them came to Christ! There were two brothers, one of whom I will call Jamal. They lived north of our city of Kayes, but when Jamal’s son fell deathly ill he had to bring him to the hospital in town. This posed a crisis above and beyond the illness. Being originally from Mauritania, Jamal had no support structure in Kayes. He needed a place to stay. He needed food to eat, for himself but also preferably for his sick son (hospital food is so bad that most families take meals to their patients). He knew the boy needed to be in the hospital but didn’t know what he would do from there.
Somehow Pastor Don heard of his need, and in spite the fact that Jamal was a Fulani, more importantly he was a believer, and so he organized the church ladies to provide meals, and gave him a place to sleep while he awaited his son’s release! (The church happens to be less than a 15-minute walk from the hospital, so that was icing on the cake). We were surprised by the love demonstrated by one who had appeared to us as a bigot, but Jamal (who had never actually heard any of the pastor’s remarks, but knew that typically tribes look out for their own) was even more surprised! If there is a better way to demonstrate to a new believer what it means to belong to the Family of God, I don’t know what it would be!
Jamal and his brother were eventually repatriated to Mauritania. There are no churches where they live, but they returned to their homeland with not only salvation in Christ, but with an experience of the Body of Christ and the surprising love which the Holy Spirit creates between believers.
By: Jennifer Bowers, Serving in Mali
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One of the luxuries of becoming a teacher straight out of college is that you already have roughly 16 years of “in-school” experience to draw from. There have been countless times in my three years of teaching middle school Bible at the International Christian School of Budapest (ICSB) when my teaching was directly influenced by a previous experience – good or bad – as a student. One of those instances was Valentine’s Day of this year, a day when – fittingly for the holiday – God showed me his love in a surprising way.
I will always remember English class on Valentine’s Day 2008, which was my junior year of high school. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, our teacher decided that she would spend the majority of class telling each student what she loved and appreciated about them. I remember expecting something vague, like “You’re always kind to everyone,” because I preferred to stay in the background, and I didn’t feel like teachers paid all that much attention to me. Then my teacher said,
“Brian, I love that you don’t see people on a surface level… when you see people, you see their souls and their deepest spiritual needs.”
I was shocked, because it was true… and not only had she recognized that, but I had never realized that about myself, nor had I ever stopped to think that it was significant or unique. It was a simple sentence, but it still stands as one of the most important things that anyone has ever said to me. It made me feel noticed and appreciated for who I was as the deepest level, and it motivated me to continue seeing people as souls that needed Christ.
So then, as Valentine’s Day approached this year, I remembered my English teacher’s words and decided to give the same words of personalized love and appreciation to my own middle school students. However, the class that I was teaching that morning was seventh grade. While the majority of our students at ICSB are from American missionary families, seventh grade is composed mostly of Hungarian students, and while most of them speak English fluently and a few of them are Christians, it still makes for a very different and sometimes challenging class dynamic. Nevertheless, after two years of teaching them, I had learned to love and appreciate things about all of them.
Mostly because they are middle school students, it is often difficult to hold their attention in class for more than 15 minutes without changing activities. I went around and spoke into each of my 20 seventh-graders for 35 minutes, and it was silent. Every student was locked in and listening, nodding in agreement as I would talk about their classmates. Students I addressed would listen – some making eye contact and some avoiding it – and reactions ranged from smiles to quiet tears. I was already inwardly praising God for what he was doing through this, when they shocked and blessed me in a way I had not expected. As we finished with 10 minutes until the bell and I began to transition to other things, they protested, “we didn’t get to say anything about you!”
Have you ever felt like the time, commitment, and sheer work you put into your ministry is unrecognized at best and unprofitable at worst? I don’t think I’ve met anyone in ministry who’s managed to avoid this nagging feeling. Granted, God does not promise that we will be appreciated and praised for our work in Him; in fact, we are to often expect the opposite (see Col. 3:23, Eph. 6:5-8, and Gal 1:10)!
As a teacher, I don’t expect to hear daily appreciation from students, but it can be exhausting to pour my heart and soul into them over long stretches where it seems they simply do not care. There are a few students who I can count on to encourage and affirm my teaching, but it often happens that those I fight for the most are also the ones who don’t show appreciation.
Before my seventh-grade students asked to share what they loved and appreciated about me, I wasn’t sure if they had even really considered what I did for them. (At one point towards the end of the fall semester, after I had prayed for reduced stress in teachers and students, one of them had asked, “Mr. Dicks, how could teachers get stressed?”) However, I sat and listened for ten minutes as every student raised their hand and shared something they appreciated about me, as a person and as their teacher. Some personal favorites:
- “I feel like when you teach, you’re not just talking through notes. It feels like you have a message from God that he wants you to give to us.”
- “You talk to us and treat us like individuals, not just like a bunch of the same students.”
- “You are willing to change plans or do extra work to help us learn better.”
And so, on a day when I planned on showing love to my students in an intentional way, they – and likewise, God – surprised me with their love towards me. They shared their words out of their own love, but God used them to love me in His own way, affirming my investment in the ministry he had given to me.
I believe we can all learn two major truths from this.
- Make it a habit to tell others what you love and appreciate about them, especially in regards to the work in which God has called them. Do it in a way that is intentional, personal, and sacrificial.
- Pay attention for ways in which God loves you through the words and actions of others.
He does not promise that we will be loved and appreciated by the world around us, but he does promise that his love will never leave us.
By: Brian Dicks, Serving in Hungary at ICSB
I hate being the newbie.
Newbies make mistakes. And they receive constructive criticism ALL.THE.TIME. to correct those mistakes. They embarrass themselves. They do or say things that make them look foolish, childish and/or insensitive.
And that’s me right now. The Mistake Maker with a capital M. The constructive criticism receiver. The one standing on the outside without the inside information – or rather, with just enough inside information to stand on the inside, but too much of me is outside, so when I open my mouth, everyone knows that I really belong on the outside. With almost a year under our belts here (6 months at language school, and now 5 months at our target location), you’d have thought we’d be past the newbie phase (though I’m sure all of you who’ve been on the field would be LOL’ing right now because you know that length of time spent does not guarantee you’ll never find a foot stuck in your mouth). But here we find ourselves, still making rookie mistakes. Still asking ourselves: will we ever come to a place where we don’t feel foolish in front of those whom we came to love?
So, there we were. In the middle of language class, my husband, our language helper, and myself sitting at our dining table. Our house helper was in the kitchen washing our dishes, our kids were playing together beautifully in their room, and we were innocently learning new words, with nothing but postpositions and proper tenses floating about in our heads. Life was going on its merry way – our visions of sugar plums and new words coupled with the sounds of someone else scrubbing away the dried ketchup on my kids’ dinner plates and my children pretending they were super pups saving the day behind their closed door – it was as if I was in a magical wonderland.
But all y’all who’ve spent any time in a foreign country must know that there is a dumb tax to pay for those who are naive and found off their guard…
As our house helper (HH) was getting ready to leave, we snapped out of our sugar plum dreams and promptly remembered that it was the first of the month. This meant payday for our sweet HH! But there was a problem – we were gone for over half the month. Shoot… Does this mean we pay her for the whole month? Or just half the month? Bah!! Navigating cultural money issues here is a nightmare.
We quickly and directly asked our language helper what he would do, and he promptly indirectly answered “Do as you wish”. So, pressed for time, we made the decision to do what we normally would have done in the States: if someone only worked half their time, they would only get half their pay. So that’s what we did – we gave her half her pay.
She looked down at the money, frowned a bit, and walked out. No words, no goodbye. Just left.
The hubs and I stared at each other awkwardly from across the table, immediately knowing we had made the wrong decision. But it wasn’t just that we had made the wrong decision – we were all too familiar with the feeling of incompetence – it was the frustrated mix of feelings that comes from just not understanding where anyone is coming from. Feelings of injustice – because we Americans believe that you get paid according to how much work you do and anything else is called ‘freeloading’. And then this huge desire to bless the poor, but not sure how that fits in with wanting to be wise with our money – a huge value in this culture – and not wanting to seem like we are the rich Americans throwing money out their windows, giving it out left and right in inappropriate ways. We want to do this right – we want to help without hurting. But how? And in every single instance, it seems so foggy. No black and white answer. Oh, if only there was a guidebook for every single specific problem in this life…
Thankfully, this instance was a little more cut and dry than the others. Apparently, your HH receives a certain salary every month regardless of how many days she actually works. There is a saying here that if you cut the pay of a poor person, you cut off their life. And it totally makes sense – I get it. I just didn’t know. And let’s be real – this woman makes roughly $30/month from us as it is – thirty measly dollars. But we all know that it’s never really about the money as much as it is about matters of the heart.
So, after consulting our more experienced and incredibly wise teammates, we knew what we had to do. We had to give her the remainder of her salary.
The next time we saw her, we made things right. We apologized, and told her that we are still learning, and there are many things we don’t know. She smiled, said it was no problem, and we all went on with our lives, just as if nothing had ever happened.
But something had happened.
And in our silly mistake, we were able to be an example of humility and love to her. Apologizing directly for what we’d done and humbly recognizing the fact that we didn’t know everything – especially coming from a person with “higher” status to a person of “lower” status – it’s just not something that is done in this culture. It speaks volumes.
And not to pat ourselves on the back (because that feels weird and because we didn’t really do anything but mess up), but more or less wanting to put the Lord on display, showing how he can take any situation – any mistake – and make it good. He can use the teeny, tiniest little offering we have, and use it to surprise someone with love. How great is our Father’s love for us that he can even transform our mistakes as opportunities for love? Ultimately, we don’t know what impact our actions had on our HH, but I am excited to see what the Lord is going to do with it. And in a way, I am thankful for the mistake we made. For in that mistake, we had the opportunity to exemplify the humility of our Savior. For a single moment, we were able to get down from our pristine white tower, put ourselves in a lowly position, and make things right again. Humility and reconciliation. All from one silly little mistake.
Maybe being a newbie isn’t so bad after all…? 😉
By: Worker, Serving in Asia
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A monk, a missionary, and a ladyboy get on a train. The ladyboy (born male, living as female) arrives first and is happily seated between two other passengers—pretty ladies should always have seats on trains. The missionary is content standing and frantically preparing for the class he is en route to lead. When the monk arrives, a seated passenger politely moves and offered their seat out of respect for the monk’s honored position. But a monk cannot touch a lady, so the open seat, which happens to be next to the ladyboy, can not be accepted.
Ladies seated everywhere. Finally more shuffling and another passenger gives up their seat, the ladyboy scoots down, and the missionary is called upon to sit between the monk and the ladyboy and act as a buffer—perhaps a cleansing agent of sorts. The whole train breathes a sigh of cultural relief.
It could be the lead-in for a joke. Or it could be everyday life.
When we first arrived here, our family was pleasantly surprised that so much diversity can coexist in such apparent harmony in our city. As our eyes grow more adjusted culturally, however, the glaring difference between tolerance (non-confrontation) and true love (grace-filled acceptance paired with truth-speaking) becomes more stark. People here are given tolerance – they can live their lives in almost any way they please. But their souls are not satisfied. You can see it behind their eyes, in their behavior, in their pushing of the cultural limits—they crave more. They surround themselves by either religious restraint or alternatively by complete freedom to indulge their passions. But one cannot simply restrain the quest for love out of the human soul. And passion is likewise an unfulfilling substitute. True love surprises us by at the same time restraining us and freeing us.
That missionary, the buffer between the monk and the ladyboy, gets to be part of bringing God’s surprising love to some very broken, abused, exploited, and vulnerable individuals who were born as men. Most of them are not currently living as either men or women…they have found a new niche for themselves, a place where they feel they belong, they have chosen a third gender. They change their bodies, wearing with pride what cultural conservatives (who seek to hide their sin) would call shameful. They wear their sin on the outside, as some say. Broken as they are, God is not ashamed to pursue them. They were created in his image. They have rebelled against Grace. They have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…just like every child of God. And God is calling them back to himself. He is making a name for himself among them.
God’s love is indeed surprising. It accepts us just as we are. It doesn’t sugar-coat our position and tell us to stay just like we are. (How many times have we signed a yearbook with the words that seemed loving, “don’t change ever”?) Love calls us upward. It calls us to holiness and then stands by us when we fail to be holy—I will never leave you or forsake you. It calls us to surrender our status symbols—our athletic prowess, business successes, long flowing hair (or other body parts whether natural or surgically enhanced, which will not be named here)—and yet does not demand transformation within a certain timeframe. Love is patient. It is kind. It carries a clear agenda and yet is not offensive. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
Some among the transgender in our city are finding hope in Christ’s love. Our family has the joy of partnering with a non-profit that is geared towards this special demographic—helping them find healing for trauma, further their education, and training them for “normal” jobs in mainstream society. Their journey of transformation is often long and confusing, riddled with questions about what God says about body-changing surgeries…or perhaps undoing those surgeries. Many find hope in Scriptures that refer to eunuchs, who may have been similarly surgically modified: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters” (Isaiah 56:4-5) There is hope for the broken who turn to God.
Our family is a completely imperfect embodiment of Christ’s love. You probably are too. But how is God calling you to surprise by love? And how is God’s love surprising you?
A monk, a missionary, and a ladyboy get on a train…
By: Daniel and Michelle, Serving in Asia
Surprised by Love
How is God calling you to Surprise by Love? One way may be to go and share His love with others in another nation. If you are sensing a call to the nations start here.Talk to a Coach