Thursday, April 26, 2007

A letter to the Global Church from The Protestant Church of Smyrna

Dear friends,
This past week has been filled with much sorrow. Many of you have heard by now of our devastating loss here in an event that took place in Malatya, a Turkish province 300 miles northeast of Antioch, the city where believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).

On Wednesday morning, April 18, 2007, 46 year old German missionary and father of three Tilman Geske prepared to go to his office, kissing his wife goodbye taking a moment to hug his son and give him the priceless memory, “Goodbye, son. I love you.”

Tilman rented an office space from Zirve Publishing where he was preparing notes for the new Turkish Study Bible. Zirve was also the location of the Malatya Evangelist Church office. A ministry of the church, Zirve prints and distributes Christian literature to Malatya and nearby cities in Eastern Turkey. In another area of town, 35 year old Pastor Necati Aydin, father of two, said goodbye to his wife, leaving for the office as well. They had a morning Bible Study and prayer meeting that some other believers in town would also be attending. Ugur Yuksel likewise made his way to the Bible study.

None of these three men knew that what awaited them at the Bible study was the ultimate testing and application of their faith, which would conclude with their entrance into glory to receive their crown of righteousness from Christ and honor from all the saints awaiting them in the Lord’s presence.

On the other side of town, ten young men all under 20 years old put into place final arrangements for their ultimate act of faith, living out their love for Allah and hatred of infidels who they felt undermined Islam.

On Resurrection Sunday, five of these men had been to a by-invitation-only evangelistic service that Pastor Necati and his men had arranged at a hotel conference room in the city. The men were known to the believers as “seekers.” No one knows what happened in the hearts of those men as they listened to the gospel. Were they touched by the Holy Spirit? Were they convicted of sin? Did they hear the gospel in their heart of hearts? Today we only have the beginning of their story.

These young men, one of whom is the son of a mayor in the Province of Malatya, are part of a tarikat, or a group of “faithful believers” in Islam. Tarikat membership is highly respected here; it’s like a fraternity membership. In fact, it is said that no one can get into public office without membership in a tarikat. These young men all lived in the same dorm, all preparing for university entrance exams.

The young men got guns, breadknives, ropes and towels ready for their final act of service to Allah. They knew there would be a lot of blood. They arrived in time for the Bible Study, around 10 o’clock.

They arrived, and apparently the Bible Study began. Reportedly, after Necati read a chapter from the Bible the assault began. The boys tied Ugur, Necati, and Tilman’s hands and feet to chairs and as they videoed their work on their cellphones, they tortured our brothers for almost three hours*

[Details of the torture--
* Tilman was stabbed 156 times, Necati 99 times and Ugur’s stabs were too numerous to count. They were disemboweled, and their intestines sliced up in front of their eyes. They were emasculated and watched as those body parts were destroyed. Fingers were chopped off, their noses and mouths and anuses were sliced open. Possibly the worst part was watching as their brothers were likewise tortured. Finally, their throats were sliced from ear to ear, heads practically decapitated.]

Neighbors in workplaces near the printhouse said later they had heard yelling, but assumed the owners were having a domestic argument so they did not respond.

Meanwhile, another believer Gokhan and his wife had a leisurely morning. He slept in till 10, ate a long breakfast and finally around 12:30 he and his wife arrived at the office. The door was locked from the inside, and his key would not work. He phoned and though it had connection on his end he did not hear the phone ringing inside. He called cell phones of his brothers and finally Ugur answered his phone. “We are not at the office. Go to the hotel meeting. We are there. We will come there,” he said cryptically. As Ugur spoke Gokhan heard in the telephone’s background weeping and a strange snarling sound.

He phoned the police, and the nearest officer arrived in about five minutes. He pounded on the door, “Police, open up!” Initially the officer thought it was a domestic disturbance. At that point they heard another snarl and a gurgling moan. The police understood that sound as human suffering, prepared the clip in his gun and tried over and over again to burst through the door. One of the frightened assailants unlocked the door for the policeman, who entered to find a grisly scene.

Tilman and Necati had been slaughtered, practically decapitated with their necks slit from ear to ear. Ugur’s throat was likewise slit and he was barely alive.

Three assailants in front of the policeman dropped their weapons.

Meanwhile Gokhan heard a sound of yelling in the street. Someone had fallen from their third story office. Running down, he found a man on the ground, whom he later recognized, named Emre Gunaydin. He had massive head trauma and, strangely, was snarling. He had tried to climb down the drainpipe to escape, and losing his balance had plummeted to the ground. It seems that he was the main leader of the attackers. Another assailant was found hiding on a lower balcony.

To untangle the web we need to back up six years. In April 2001, the National Security Council of Turkey (Milli Guvenlik Kurulu) began to consider evangelical Christians as a threat to national security, on equal footing as Al Quaida and PKK terrorism. Statements made in the press by political leaders, columnists and commentators have fueled a hatred against missionaries who they claim bribe young people to change their religion.

After that decision in 2001, attacks and threats on churches, pastors and Christians began. Bombings, physical attacks, verbal and written abuse are only some of the ways Christians are being targetted. Most significant is the use of media propaganda.

From December 2005, after having a long meeting regarding the Christian threat, the wife of Former Prime Minister Ecevit, historian Ilber Ortayli, Professor Hasan Unsal, Politician Ahmet Tan and writer/propogandist Aytunc Altindal, each in their own profession began a campaign to bring the public’s attention to the looming threat of Christians who sought to “buy their children’s souls”. Hidden cameras in churches have taken church service footage and used it sensationally to promote fear and antagonism toward Christianity.

In an official televised response from Ankara, the Interior Minister of Turkey smirked as he spoke of the attacks on our brothers. Amid public outrage and protests against the event and in favor of freedom of religion and freedom of thought, media and official comments ring with the same message, “We hope you have learned your lesson. We do not want Christians here.”

It appears that this was an organized attack initiated by an unknown adult tarikat leader. As in the Hrant Dink murder in January 2007, and a Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in February 2006, minors are being used to commit religious murders because public sympathy for youth is strong and they face lower penalties than an adult convicted of the same crime. Even the parents of these children are in favor of the acts. The mother of the 16 year old boy who killed the Catholic priest Andrea Santoro looked at the cameras as her son was going to prison and said, “he will serve time for Allah.”

The young men involved in the killing are currently in custody. Today news reported that they would be tried as terrorists, so their age would not affect the strict penalty. Assailant Emre Gunaydin is still in intensive care. The investigation centers around him and his contacts and they say will fall apart if he does not recover.

The Church in Turkey responded in a way that honored God as hundreds of believers and dozens of pastors flew in as fast as they could to stand by the small church of Malatya and encourage the believers, take care of legal issues, and represent Christians to the media.

When Susanne Tilman expressed her wish to bury her husband in Malatya, the Governor tried to stop it, and when he realized he could not stop it, a rumor was spread that “it is a sin to dig a grave for a Christian.” In the end, in an undertaking that should be remembered in Christian history forever, the men from the church in Adana (near Tarsus), grabbed shovels and dug a grave for their slain brother in an un-tended hundred year old Armenian graveyard.

Ugur was buried by his family in an Alevi Muslim ceremony in his hometown of Elazig, his believing fiance watching from the shadows as his family and friends refused to accept in death the faith Ugur had so long professed and died for.

Necati’s funeral took place in his hometown of Izmir, the city where he came to faith. The darkness does not understand the light. Though the churches expressed their forgiveness for the event, Christians were not to be trusted. Before they would load the coffin onto the plane from Malatya, it went through two separate xray exams to make sure it was not loaded with explosives. This is not a usual procedure for Muslim coffins.

Necati’s funeral was a beautiful event. Like a glimpse of heaven, thousands of Turkish Christians and missionaries came to show their love for Christ, and their honor for this man chosen to die for Christ. Necati’s wife Shemsa told the world, “His death was full of meaning, because he died for Christ and he lived for Christ… Necati was a gift from God. I feel honored that he was in my life, I feel crowned with honor. I want to be worthy of that honor.”

Boldly the believers took their stand at Necati’s funeral, facing the risks of being seen publicly and likewise becoming targets. As expected, the anti-terror police attended and videotaped everyone attending the funeral for their future use. The service took place outside at Buca Baptist church, and he was buried in a small Christian graveyard in the outskirts of Izmir.

Two assistant Governors of Izmir were there solemnly watching the event from the front row. Dozens of news agencies were there documenting the events with live news and photographs. Who knows the impact the funeral had on those watching? This is the beginning of their story as well. Pray for them.

In an act that hit front pages in the largest newspapers in Turkey, Susanne Tilman in a television interview expressed her forgiveness. She did not want revenge, she told reporters. “Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they do,” she said, wholeheartedly agreeing with the words of Christ on Calvary (Luke 23:34).

In a country where blood-for-blood revenge is as normal as breathing, many many reports have come to the attention of the church of how this comment of Susanne Tilman has changed lives. One columnist wrote of her comment, “She said in one sentence what 1000 missionaries in 1000 years could never do.”

The missionaries in Malatya will most likely move out, as their families and children have become publicly identified as targets to the hostile city. The remaining 10 believers are in hiding. What will happen to this church, this light in the darkness? Most likely it will go underground. Pray for wisdom, that Turkish brothers from other cities will go to lead the leaderless church. Should we not be concerned for that great city of Malatya, a city that does not know what it is doing? (Jonah 4:11)

When our Pastor Fikret Bocek went with a brother to give a statement to the Security Directorate on Monday they were ushered into the Anti-Terror Department. On the wall was a huge chart covering the whole wall listing all the terrorist cells in Izmir, categorized. In one prominent column were listed all the evangelical churches in Izmir. The darkness does not understand the light. “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” (Acts 17:6)

Please pray for the Church in Turkey. “Don’t pray against persecution, pray for perseverence,” urges Pastor Fikret Bocek.

The Church is better having lost our brothers; the fruit in our lives, the renewed faith, the burning desire to spread the gospel to quench more darkness in Malatya …all these are not to be regretted. Pray that we stand strong against external opposition and especially pray that we stand strong against internal struggles with sin, our true debilitating weakness.

This we know. Christ Jesus was there when our brothers were giving their lives for Him. He was there, like He was when Stephen was being stoned in the sight of Saul of Tarsus.

Someday the video of the deaths of our brothers may reveal more to us about the strength that we know Christ gave them to endure their last cross, about the peace the Spirit of God endowed them with to suffer for their beloved Savior. But we know He did not leave their side. We know their minds were full of Scripture strengthening them to endure, as darkness tried to subdue the unsubduable Light of the Gospel. We know, in whatever way they were able, with a look or a word, they encouraged one another to stand strong. We know they knew they would soon be with Christ.

We don’t know the details. We don’t know the kind of justice that will or will not be served on this earth.

But we pray-- and urge you to pray-- that someday at least one of those five boys will come to faith because of the testimony in death of Tilman Geske, who gave his life as a missionary to his beloved Turks, and the testimonies in death of Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, the first martyrs for Christ out of the Turkish Church.

Reported by Darlene N. Bocek (24 April 2007)
-.-.-.-.-.-.-
Please please please pass this on to as many praying Christians as you can, in as many countries as you can. Please always keep the heading as “From the Protestant Church of Smyrna” with this contact information: izmirprotestan@gmail.com // http://www.izmirprotestan.org

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

People

It's funny. You got to a different country, and it opens your perspective to what you missed while you were at home. The luxuries that we indulge in everyday and simply take for granted.

But my passions just haven't changed.

I spent the whole day driving around and talking to different people. The FIM board, filling them in on what happened in Fiji, a friend who I've been keeping tabs on, professors, friends, random people. Each of the conversations were excellent, each of them showed me once again where my passions lay: people.

We are constantly changing, never the same. We have different issues, different hurts, different joys. We look at God differently, and through this collective knowledge and amalgamated variables, we have a complete picture. Exactly the way God intended it.

Each of us has something to contribute, something valuable. I love being able to bring that out in people.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

62 Ways to Say "I Love You"

1. Say "I love you."
2. Don't compare them to anyone.
3. Be courteous at all times.
4. Embrace the present moments without fear or guilt.
5. Live by the Golden Rule (Do unto others….).
6. Give them your full attention when talking.
7. Become their biggest fan!
8. Toast each other regularly.
9. Tell them how they bring love to your life.
10. Share funny quotes or events.
11. Talk about your day during mealtimes.
12. Read books aloud together.
13. Say you're sorry.
14. Recall good and bad memories.
15. Let go any bad experience and anger.
16. Encourage health in all its forms.
17. Let the tears flow together.
18. Act silly together.
19. Be lavish in praise.
20. Ask questions about opinions, feelings, thoughts.
21. Forget about labels.
22. Encourage adventures and risks!
23. Show your joy when they come home.
24. Bake cookies.
25. Forget about past mistakes.
26. Use flannel sheets in the winter.
27. Solve problems together - crosswords or war.
28. Show your gratitude for them.
29. Be a good sounding board.
30. Take pride in them. Show your pride.
31. Compliment them in front of others.
32. Spend time with them.
33. Listen to them.
34. Ask for hugs and kisses.
35. Take vacations together.
36. Tell the truth.
37. Use pet names.
38. Practice self-acceptance.
39. Hunt for treasure together.
40. Be interested in their interests.
41. Let go of jealousy.
42. Accept their weaknesses and flaws.
43. Ditch work or responsibilities to play with them.
44. Share chocolates, ice cream sundaes, milkshakes.
45. Ignore slights.
46. Pray or meditate together.
47. Practice forgiveness.
48. Watch classic movies together.
49. Leave notes or send letters.
50. Buy a "for no reason" gift.
51. Don't gossip or judge.
52. Give the benefit of the doubt.
53. Give space when they're in a bad or sad mood.
54. Learn something new together.
55. Go dancing.
56. Keep your promises.
57. Make them laugh.
58. Consider their feelings.
59. Hide a treat in their lunch.
60. Make home a fun place to be.
61. Let them make their own decisions.
62. Say what you mean.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Home

I've finally arrived back in Canada. The travelling was fairly uneventful, and other than one of my bags arriving a day later that I did, everything went smoothly.

I'm still getting over jet-lag, which is really just feeling tired at odd times of the day. I just push through it, and am trying to adjust my sleep schedule accordingly. And finally, home is one of the best places you could ever find yourself. There is family, food, hot showers, warm beds and lots of love. I am comfortable, at ease.

With this, I find great joy, as my heart, my soul can finally relax and just let themselves take a breather. I am home.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Heading Home

Well it's confirmed. I leave Fiji tonight at 10 PM. I arrive 49 minutes later in Vancouver... I WISH! It'll be over a 24 hour transit time, but it will be a good thing, as I look forward to spending sometime with family and friends.

God has used me while I've been here, but I get the distinct impression I may never know the full extent of what He has done through me here.

But I'm going home! YES!

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Final Night

There is a good chance that tonight will be my final night here in Fiji. It's been a wild and bumpy ride, of an extent that I would have never been able to anticipate. Looking back on it though, you have to recognize that God has had His hand in it all. I'm not sure why He brought me here yet, and maybe I'll never know, but do I need to know?

The truth of the matter is that I'm where I need to be, and I always have been. He will guide me, He will direct me to the exact place that He wants me. My job is merely to be there and do what He asks me to do. I would like to think I've done that while I've been here in Fiji. It's not always been easy, and the words are rarely gentle words... reconciling that with my mission has been one of the hardest things I've had to do.

But now I can look forward. I will probably head home tomorrow night. I can rest for a few weeks, and then begin my job hunt. I can take a bit of a breather from the intense stuff for awhile as I look to God for my next adventure.

On the final night, I can honestly say that I leave this place with a peace in my heart. That gives me great joy.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Never Forget

Our life brings us in contact with hundreds of different people. Some of them we will call friends, most we will never get to know, and some we will call enemies.

Hopefully the last of those categories will be the least, and hopefully we will not sacrifice what we believe so that most fall into the first. I would much rather be known as someone who stands for what I believe in than someone who compromises to make another person comfortable.

I honestly have no idea what my life will look like, but I have a small indication that it will not be filled with tea and cookies. There are times when my own pride gets in the way of a relationship, when I seek more for my own good than for the relationship. In those times I am desperately wrong, and I hope that years and wisdom will cull that behaviour out of me, so that it is not my pride, but theirs that hold back the relationship.

What do I mean by that? I mean that if someone calls me their friend, they are willing to face their problems, their own sin and stare it straight in the eye, demanding it out. They will be honest, decent people who are faithful and true. And if either of us are to cut the relationship short, it will because they will not face their own fear, their own sin.

In the midst of that, the desire is only to see people grow closer to God. Whether that be in looking to their past and facing the one thing they have avoided their entire life, or having done so, learning how to interact with God in both a personal and reverent manner. I have no idea what these things look like, I am still sorting them out for myself.

Friends. These people I cling to with a desperate fervour. They are faithful, true and they mean the world to me because of what we have been through. Their words are spoken wisely, and chosen carefully, for they know the impact they have on others. These are the people whom I trust.

As I leave Fiji, there are a few things that cross my mind. There is still much to be done here in Fiji, and I will continue to pray that God will bring about the right people to come here and work with the locals, strengthening the churches here. The people are thirsty for others to teach them from the Word of God in new and creative ways. To be encouraged to carry on in the faith when the going gets tough and make a difference in their communities. They can do great things, if only they had someone to show them the way. But to be here, to live here requires a heart for the people and the nation. It is not easy, and it is definitely not paradise. It has many flaws, and many schisms in the fa├žade of a perfect place. There are many pitfalls, and many spots over which to stumble, and above all, I could not see someone doing it alone.

I hope many people will join me in praying for this nation, because the battle here has only just begun, and the people need as much cover as they can get. It will be long, bloody and furious. We must fight with them for what is right and true, so that they will find out once again what it means to live under the spirit of freedom.

These two things, of friends and battles, we must never forget.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Bleeding Hearts

My hope is that in the next few years, God will raise up people who will have hearts for the people of Fiji. I was walking around today, and noting how desperately they need the gospel of Christ in their lives from people who are dedicated to living out the word of God for them. There are tons of ministry opportunities here for working with local organizations and pastors, and networking a giant ministry of churches that are all working together for furthering the kingdom.

They are a welcoming, friendly culture, but as with anywhere you go, there are infinite amounts of pain hiding underneath that smiling face. While the surface seems like crystal smooth glass, the undercurrents are turbulent and chaotic. They need Christians with bleeding hearts to come and show them how God can change their lives in very real ways.

I got up this morning and went to go practice with a Serevi’s rugby team. Man, I’ll tell you something, I could not run regularly in this sun. It’s blistering hot, and I’ve never been so tired so quickly. After about 15 minutes of drills, I was feeling like I was going to lose by small breakfast. Stop what you’re thinking, cause it’s not true!  I have been doing cardio for the past two months while I’ve been in Fiji, so I’m not completely out of shape!

After that, I travelled out to Denarau Island to get onto the internet. They offer free wireless out there, so I made the trip out, and in the end wasn’t sure it was necessarily worth it. I saved myself some money, but it took me a lot more of my time. Afterwards, I walked around town to see if I could find some decent deals on Fijian items, and I was wishing I’d picked up more while I was in Suva. They were higher quality, for less down there. But I’ll have to settle for a bit less!

Preparations are being made... less than a week left.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Friends

Good Friday. And I felt like it was anything but. I was up at 8 this morning to be ready for the 9 AM service, sulu and all! While I can’t say the service was anything to write home about (ironic that I should be writing that on a blog... which people from home read), it opened up some new possibilities. Melissa and Serevi invited me over to their place for the day. So after I went to the airport, I walked down to their place.

Melissa is a woman who first came over with YWAM, met Serevi, and they ended up getting married. While I’ve seen them around, I never had a chance to get to know either of them, and I’m glad that before I left, we had that chance. Good conversations, food, laughter and working through the different situations from our different views. These are things that friends offer to us, and I have learned especially now to cling tightly to them.

I spent the whole day there, and I left feeling a little more refreshed than when I came. A little more informed about the situation here in Fiji, but most of all just enlightened and I had a chance to just offload some of my thoughts and then forget about them as we spent time together.

There are many good people here in Fiji, and even while I am gone, they will be in my thoughts and prayers. Friends, each one of them. Different cultures, different worlds, but we share something in common: Christ.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Anticipation

I was all over Nadi today as I closed up some loose ends. There is a flurry of things you need to do when you are unsure of the end date of your stay. One conversation that came out of that was with the pastor at the Dream centre. When I told him that I would most likely be leaving early, he smiled at me and asked if it was homesickness. That raised an interesting point in all of this. I’ve never missed anything back home to the point where it would be the reason for my leaving to go home.

Sure, I’ve had my fair share of missing particular things (milk, hot showers, feeling clean, my car) but none of those things have inhibited my ministry here by being overwhelming in their nature. I have been able to focus on the events and the people that I met while I’ve been here. For that much, I have been thankful.

Now, the anticipation builds. The rush of being back on home soil, of seeing family, Carys, hot showers, homemade food, and the feeling of security. These things I all look forward to, with great anticipation for my arrival at home.

It’s a neat feeling.

This morning, however, I had a chance to speak one last time to the Nadi Airport School for Easter. I took them through a very unorthodox story referring to Jesus taking our place, and ended it with talking about how there is only one way to heaven. So many of those kids are growing up in a Hindu home, and will ultimately end up believing in many gods, hopefully God can water some of these seeds to see it through.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Small Blessings

If there is one thing these past few days have taught me, it’s to appreciate the small blessings that you have in your life. Perhaps that’s hot water, clean water, a roof over your head, food to eat, money to spend, a car, paved roads, friends, family, security, safety, hope, or any other number of things, you have to find that hope.

This morning, after I had my shower, I sat down and had a good chat with Jackson. I am so excited to see and hear of the things that God will do through him in Nadi once he has had some time to spread his wings. His heart truly is in the right place, seeking after God, and he has a heart for the people to whom he is ministering to. Even during our chat, his heart went out to me, and we share a kinship there as look forward to the future. He has been more of an encouragement than I can really put into words, because of the prayers he has offered up for me, and the small words that have lifted me up.

While I was at Jong’s today, I did laundry. As I was talking to people back home, my body literally ached, and my head hurt from all that was running through it. My emotions, my soul and body were connected and they were each feeling the others pain. Imagine my surprise then when I went out to check on my laundry and I found it all folded nicely on top of the dryer waiting for me. I don’t know who did that for me, but such a small gesture was such a huge blessing to me.

These are the things we live for, the small smiles between the storms.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Knowing the Gems

Perhaps these past few months in Fiji have been to show me what it can be like. The question that you ask is what ‘it’ is. This is a very pertinent question, because the entire sentence, indeed my entire thought rests on ‘it’. Our lives will bring us across many people, some of whom will be good, and some who will be inexplicably awful. Perhaps they will do it on purpose, or maybe, just maybe they will do it in complete ignorance. I hope for their sake it will be the latter, maybe then they will have an excuse when they stand before our Father on that final day.

I woke up this morning with a purpose. I was going to dig deep into the word, and then employ a little old fashioned carpe diem. Seize the day and make a difference. Indeed, this was the day to change the world. Until in my surge of excitement, someone tied my shoelaces together, and I fell flat on my face.

After spending 30+ minutes doing my devotions and showering, that fateful moment came. “Stephen, we need to talk.” – breathe deep man; God will carry you through this. Ken once again wanted to have a conversation with me. I quickly got dressed, prayed my heart out, and then went out to meet him. The details of the conversation are really not important. The statements from it are:

You are unfit for ministry

You are an angry person

You have many undealt-with issues

Imagine with me for a moment, as I’m sure you have gotten so good at doing by reading through my blog, that some stranger walks up to you on the street and starts to tell you that you are good for nothing, and the calling that you have received is wrong. You’ll never make it. Now I want you to take that moment in time, and I want you to capture it. Hold it dearly. What emotions are you feeling? How would you react? Where do you think those words are coming from within this stranger, this man?

These are the things I was faced with today. I chose to walk away. I’ll be honest with you, there was pain inside of me, frustration, anger, and much hurt. I was flustered, lost, just like someone took a sword and cut my hamstrings. I was floundering around like a fish.

So I prayed. I prayed hard. And I gathered my things together and set out to carry on my day exactly like I planned, with some small modifications. I was no longer going straight to the Dream Centre to talk to them about helping, but to an internet cafe to consult with those close to me and the situation.

That afternoon I went to the drop-in centre, and talked to them about helping in whatever way I possibly could. I was unsure of how long I was going to spend in Fiji, but just let me help. An opportunity and a glimmer of hope in a very dark place.

The evening came, the time of reckoning. One final conversation, one final opportunity to test what God would have left for me here. I talked to Ken after the Bible study apart from everyone else. Told him the effect his words had on me, and accounted for him the conversations I had with those who are close to me, and to whom I’m accountable. Moving to another church is not an option, and if was not going to work with him, when would I be moving out of the BDC (the place where I am living)?

There it is. The heart of the matter. “Cool, great. When are you getting out?”

Perhaps God shows us what it is like to put our feet on bare coral, to tear them to shreds in the midst of a salty ocean, stinging us to the very core so that we will know what it is like to put our feet on white, perfect sand. Feel it conform to our soles and suck our feet into its warmth. Maybe God gives us these people to reveal to us how much we need to treasure those who support us and give us grace when we need it most.

I will close with this, a simple prayer.
Father,
Thank you for showing me these things.
Place them deep within my heart, and let me never forget the lessons that you have shared with me. Let me treasure with a deep kindred the people who love and support me, and those I will encounter in my future ministry who will be an encouragement to me.
Let me never forget these things. Let me never forget that when I looked back through the sand, into the last two months, and I saw only one set of footprints, it was in those moments that you carried me; and you carry me still. These lessons are like fire.
Thank you for them.
Amen.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Lion Waits

1 Peter 5:8-9
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

I want you to imagine something with me. You are standing in the midst of a picturesque meadow. The hills roll gently and you are surrounded by patches of birch and pine trees. The sky above is a brilliant shade of blue, and clouds roll past, meandering on to unknown places over the mountains in the distance. Squirrels chitter at one another from the trees, and birds sing comforting songs as they amble through the air in search of food. It’s a warm day, not quite hot, but cool enough that you are perfectly comfortable.

But not all things are lazy. You stand there surrounded by your countrymen, each dressed alike and armoured similarly. You carry your sword at your side with an air of knowledge. This is a scene you have seen before. As you take a closer look, you noticed you are joined by women and children, each armed and ready. Clearly, they know how to use the weapons that are strapped to their hips.

Then it starts. Like a mighty ocean wave, you push forward in unison, surging towards the shore of combatants. Chaos. You crash into the ranks of the other army, swinging your sword, garnishing your shield. You take arrows to the breastplate, swords clatter under feet and an axe clangs against your helmet. Disorientated for awhile, you get your bearings and realize that you’re lying flat on the ground. When you look up, you see many warriors fighting bravely onwards, despite being vastly outnumbers. No matter how many enemies surround them, no one can hit them. Their armour is dented and bashed, but intact. When your head swings the other way, you see some putting down their weapons surrendering.

But the strangest sight of all is right in front of you. You see a lion prowling across the field, and with each soldier he comes across, they seem completely unaware of their presence. Some of them are arguing if he even exists. The argument quickly ends when one of two lose their head as the lion drags them to the ground. It is then that it sinks in: this is no video game. You’re in a fight for your life. The lion sets his gaze upon you as you awkward rise to your feet. The question is, do you raise your sword, or lie back down?

How foolish does it seem to think of laying your sword down, or taking off your breastplate or your helmet when the fight rages on around you? Yet how many Christians do that each and every day. Fiji has thrust me right into the midst of a major spiritual conflict. In many ways, it is similar to North America, fierce. The difference is that there is no guise of peace here. Pick up your sword and fight, soldier.

You can imagine how ironic I find it, then that when I first arrived the book I read was “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti. Not all of you may be familiar with this work of fiction, but it tells the tale of a group of Christians struggling for their lives and paints an interesting picture of Angelic battle over the heart and soul of Ashton.

Your prayers are felt. Your encouragements remind me I am not alone. Your letters tell me I am in your thoughts. I am surrounded by warriors, both Christian and Heavenly. The enemy unseen to me, yet real all the same. This time has challenged me greatly, and it has brought moments when I wondered if I could carry on another step. When you suffer from great disappointment, loneliness, spiritual oppression and discouragement all at the same time, it is hard to see the light. When your relationships suffer and you don’t know how it will turn out, you want to turn back. When it seems that your entire mission was pointless, you want to give up.

When all hope is lost, God reminds you that you are in a battle. The Devil is prowling the face of the earth looking for a soul to devour. Put on your armour and pick up your sword, it is time to do battle.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The View From the Pew

April 1st. I didn’t even realize what day it was until now. Makes me want to post something about the flood waters rising too high for me to swim any longer, and I’ll see you all in heaven. But you are all so smart you’d ask yourselves how I’m connected to the internet if it was really that bad. But I digress, to the real meat.

I had no responsibilities today. No preaching, no announcements, nothing. It’s almost too bad, because when you go somewhere for such a short time, I wish I was swamped and begging to be let off the hook, for just one day of rest, rather than for work of any type. But it did give me a chance to look honestly at myself and the role of being a pastor. Ever since I studied Ephesians 4 this past Monday, one particular part of that passage has stood out to me.

Ephesians 4:11-12 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up….

Read that carefully, the wording is very important. He gave each of these people not to perform the works of service, but to prepare the people for the service. While the pulpit and full-time work is important, it is not the be all and end all of the Body. It is merely the catalyst, the small spark that begins a chain reaction, ending in a powerful forward force.

That means the work is not from the pulpit, but from the pews. We as a collective body are the ones who make the difference, who literally are the hands and feet of Christ each and every day to a hurting world. That woman at work who has three kids and no one to help her; that man who lashes out at everyone in anger, these are the people we were born to help. They need the love of Christ as much as you and I do. Without us, they are doomed to a life of misery, and an eternity of hell.

Before church, I listened to a sermon from Brian Buhler. Some of you will know the same, and others should know the name, but it was refreshing to hear a sermon that was both well researched, well thought out, well presented, and dead on. At no time did my red flags go up wondering if what he said was correct, it all struck true. That is something I have sorely missed in my times here in Fiji, because these people lack excellent Biblical teaching. I was refreshed, and challenged.

That is the view from the pew: words spur action. Action spurs words. So on and so forth, with each person paying it forward to others, simply because of their love. You are the Body of Christ. You are the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and the teachers of the world. Without you, they will never know Christ. Without me, they will never know Christ. Be an example.