Protestant missionaries have been working in Thailand for almost 188 years, and yet this nation, known as the most Buddhist country in the world, still has less than 1% evangelical Christian. The remaining Thai population is made up of 93% Buddhists and about 6% Muslim. So why has there been such slow progress in seeing Thais receive the Gospel? I began to think that maybe we missionaries have not been as helpful as we thought we were. After studying how Christian movements in the past have accelerated, I was convinced that reaching the city and seeing churches established was the most effective way to reach a nation.
After serving in a campus ministry organization in Thailand for 14 years, I changed mission organizations in 2005 and joined UWM. During this transition time, I was encouraged by my director to do an informal survey to see what Thai leaders thought about what kind of work missionaries should be doing in Thailand. After so little progress, I thought this would be helpful to see what Thai’s thought about the how ministry was being done and the missionaries’ role. I talked with several leaders, but one Thai leader, who was the president of a Thai seminary, told me something that changed the trajectory of how I approach doing ministry. He said, “in the past missionaries would come to me and ask, ‘Do you have any seminary students you could send me to help me start my church, or my denomination or ministry organization?’ So, we would send Thais to the help the missionary accomplish their vision.” He said, “this was okay in the past, but now we have Thai leaders who have a vision and are equipped to start churches and ministries on their own. Now, we need the missionaries to come alongside us Thais, to help us accomplish the vision God has given us for our nation.”
At that point, the organization that I was working with had started two very weak churches, one in Bangkok and the other in the Northeast of Thailand. Not only was it propped up financially by us missionaries, there were too many missionaries in both churches and this inhibited the Thais ability to step up and lead. So when this Thai leader said this, it made sense, and I’ve never gone back to trying to get Thais to help me accomplish my vision. It’s their nation, and they know their people better than me. Therefore, they are more likely to see Thai people come to Christ. At that point the Thai leader invited me into what was called, the Thailand National Plan. This was a plan to see churches started all over the nation.
Over the past 11 years, I’ve been able to come alongside Thai leaders on the local, regional and national level to help them accomplish their vision to reach their nation. This has been much more fruitful and rewarding in seeing churches started. Locally, I am partnering with Thai business leaders to establish a church, and just this month we moved into a new facility that was not your traditional way of building a facility. The business leaders partnered with another businessman who has soccer sport complexes throughout the city, so when he was planning to start a new business in our area of the city, we invested in the business and built our facility within the sport complex. A creative and more economical way of getting a more permanent facility. The thing about joining with a national to help them accomplish their vision of planting a church is that, if I have to leave at anytime, the ministry will continue because it was the Thais vision from the beginning. I see missionaries struggling to turn over the churches they’ve planned or the ministries they have started, and many times the ministry dies because it was never owned by the Thais.
Regionally, our team has come alongside churches and organizations to provide discipleship and leadership training. Offering this kind of training to many churches has been exciting and the local pastors welcome and appreciate the opportunity to partner with us. On the national level, as God opened the door for me to serve through the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand and on a national planning committee thinking and planning for strategic initiatives on the national level. Over the past 11 years, I have been able to serve denominational leaders and to bring resources, training and ideas to the table help enhance and expand the vision and plans of national leaders working together to reach the entire nation.
One recent example of working with Thai church planters is that I have been able to join with a church planter training team who trained over 250 pastors and leaders in four regions throughout the nations. These pastors set a goal to start 150 new churches over the following year. Last year when we followed up on these pastors 134 churches had been started. Through helping the Thais accomplish their vision God has done more than I expected or imagined.
By: Gregg Nicholson, Serving in Thailand
In October 2012 while on a sabbatical in France my husband, José, and I attended a Strengthen Your Interpersonal Skills (SYIS) workshop. At that time we were taking a Counseling class at Institut Biblique de Nogent to be better equipped to meet the great need for Practical Counseling amongst national leaders in French speaking West Africa. We were excited to be part of this workshop that we had heard so much about as being a wonderful tool to help with topics such as managing stress, maintaining margins, listening well, help others solve their problems, etc….
At the end of that workshop we went to the Facilitators and said, “We want this workshop to be held in Senegal, our national leaders are in need of this type of training”. We were challenged to take the Facilitators Training and then introduce the program in our context of ministry.
God is so gracious to us! 3 years later, guess what!?! A training for SYIS Facilitators was organized for the first time in French in Senegal!!! Wow! God really wanted us to see our dream come true. Shortly after taking that training we discovered that a friend of ours, who is the leader of New Tribes Mission (Integral Mission) in Senegal was an experienced English Facilitator for SYIS. We invited him to join us and organize the Workshop in French. He accepted the challenge to do it in French with us. After some months of preparation our dream came true in Dakar this past February.
The need is so great that we ended up having a waiting list since our target number of 24 leaders was quickly reached.
Here are a few of the testimonies:
“I have been to many seminars but it is the first time to be part of one that is so dynamic and practical.” . I was very touched by the role plays.” (National Pastor from Dakar)
“My wife and I were transformed by the workshop. In our family now, our communication has improved tremendously, so whenever we start with our old way of communicating, we stop and either with my spouse or with the children we decide to start over the proper way just like we learned during the workshop.” (African missionaries)
“When can we get a training for Facilitators, we need to teach this to our leaders.” (World Vision Leader)
“I didn’t want to come to this workshop and I was thinking another seminar again!, but my supervisor wanted me to,so I came, But I can tell you, I am so glad I did, I learn so many new things that was needed in my life and in my leadership. I am grateful!” (National Pastor fromThies)
By: France-Lise Oliveria, Serving in Senegal
France-Lise and José: Regional Leaders for West Africa
Colombia is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and the Colombian evangelical church is overwhelmingly ex-Catholic. According to the Pew Research Center’s report “Religion in Latin America,” 74% of Colombian Protestants were raised Catholic, the highest of any country in the region.
So, it’s unsurprising that the strategies that most churches use to reach their communities are primarily geared toward two groups with different approaches to faith: religious Catholics and nominal Catholics. Ask a typical Colombian evangelical how to have a productive conversation with an atheist, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Jehovah’s Witness, or a Mormon, and you’re likely to get blank stares.
Two and a half years ago I was teaching the class “Religious Systems” for the first time at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia, a class that seeks to equip students to understand other religions, sects, and worldviews on their own terms and then to construct theological and pastoral responses from an evangelical perspective. I told students we would make two field trips as a class to learn about other faiths. The first was to a Tibetan Buddhist center here in Medellín.
I recall my students’ palpable shock as the Buddhist sharing with us talked about reincarnation as if it were the most logical thing in the world—and this from a real Colombian, not a person from Asia! After restlessly shifting around for nearly two hours on cushions they normally used for meditation, we wrapped up our time of Q&A with a number of good questions from students, mixed in with the occasional insensitive one that made me embarrassed to be the professor. But the trip worked. Though frightened at first by the visit, students left feeling confronted over their need to learn how to share their faith with people who thought so differently, and encouraged that it was truly possible to build relationships with them.
This semester I have taught the course again, both residentially and online. A few weeks ago, I got an urgent email from my student Roman asking for prayer. “After starting the readings on Mormonism, I went online to request a free copy of the Book of Mormon, but it came with two missionaries included!” Since that first encounter, Roman has continued talking with the Mormon missionaries, seeking to share biblical truth with them and apply what he learned about Mormonism in the online course. He said that one of the missionaries seems more open and seeing the force of what he is sharing, while the other is more closed. Roman told me, “I’m going to keep talking with them until they either stop coming or they convert and accept the gospel.”
Another encouraging moment came a couple of weeks ago, when, after requiring students to have a 30-minute conversation with an atheist, agnostic, or other person who rejects traditional religion, a pastor in my online class shared about a productive conversation that he had with the husband of a woman who had recently begun attending his church. The man is an atheist with an extremely negative view of evangelicals, yet he saw in my student a model of careful thought and humble conviction that have caused him to be more open to establishing relationships with the church and perhaps one day considering the Christian faith.
While I haven’t seen anyone accept the gospel as a direct result of this course, I have been encouraged to see students taking steps of faith to engage with the unknown, and often scary, world of other religions. What they have discovered is that people of other faiths are just as human as us, just as relatable, and just as broken and in need of the gospel. And as Latin America becomes more and more secularized and diverse, I see a glimmer of hope that the evangelical church is waking up to its need for a better defense of the faith—one that doesn’t just work with the nominal Catholic who in theory believes the Bible but doesn’t really understand what it says—but one that responds to the atheists and followers of other religions who reject the Bible and whose worldviews often clash with a Christian view of reality at the deepest levels.
By: Kevin Johnson, Serving in Colombia
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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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
Growing up in America, children are taught that relationships are a balance – meeting halfway. Each party has something to offer and each party has equal share in the relationship. I think this has also how I have viewed ministry for a long time. I have something to offer and someone else has something to offer me, which turns out to be a very transactional relationship. While compromise is a healthy aspect of relationships, always compromising fails to allow for unconditional Christ-like love. Relationships shouldn’t be transactional, they should be unconditionally meeting someone where they are, regardless of what it requires from you. My worldview on relationships began to change after being a Summit Intern at East Mountain.
East Mountain Interns are required to live in an intentional community. Everyone lives and does life together all in the same house at the same time. If anyone has had a roommate, they understand the need for grace. Now imagine a dozen roommates of varying gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and language barriers (needless to say, one needs a little divine grace).
Within this context, a transactional compromise-based relationship isn’t enough. Trying to meet someone very different than you halfway does not promote a healthy living situation.
The wealthy white American male can’t have a transactional relationship with the colored Afrikaans woman from a township. There is too much of an unconscious power dynamic. In such an intimate setting, unconditional love is required to build a healthy community. We must be willing to go all the way regardless of what we want to offer or want to give up. The relationship must be one of a love so great that even if all I do is take from her, she must still be willing to offer me more.
Relationships are hard, it’s difficult to love everyone all the time. It takes a lot to even be willing to meet someone half way and even more to meet them where they are. However, Christ met us where we were, not on his way to us. He didn’t love conditionally, he loved selflessly then called us to follow him and do as he did. I’m not perfect in this pursuit of loving unconditionally, but the relationships that have been built and grown from an unconditional love have been so much deeper and richer than I would have ever experienced otherwise.
By: Jameson Coslow, Intern at East Mountain South Africa
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