Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What is American evangelicalism like?

I’ve been a little surprised to hear this question asked in various forms in a number churches. It surprises me on two fronts. First, I’m a little surprised that a startling number of people may be aware that American evangelicalism has it’s own unique twist. On the other hand I’m, perhaps naively, surprised at how many people don’t. I’m often asked, “So what do you notice most about being back in America” or variations like “What do you notice about the church in America now that you’re back.” Those are a little tough to answer.

Christopher Little, writing in Evangelical Missions Quarterly (subscription only) gives some good insight into answering this. While Little is writing about a better way for American missionaries to think about their work, he makes some good observations about the American church. He opens by commenting:

…there is indeed a distinct variety of American evangelical Christianity which has booth strengths and weaknesses. It is tremendously creative, efficiently organized, strategically oriented, highly energized, incredibly diverse and endowed with seemingly boundless resources…Yet is also exhibits serious shortcomings.

That’s a pretty striking statement! In truth, there are up-sides and down-sides to the way Americans “do” church. Little offers five, which are listed below. The bold titles are his, the comments after are mine. I’ve also added a sixth to his list, just to add a little personal investment into the issue.

1. Americans have a systematized theological perspective. Our culture is deeply rooted in modernism, the scientific method and critical thought. Synthesis and analysis (making a whole of its parts and breaking down a whole into its parts) are a normal part of our everyday lives. As Americans we often want a degree of theological precision that sometimes isn’t supported by the Bible. Last week I was in a Sunday School class were we discussed the make-up of humanity: is humanity spirit-soul-body or body-soul/spirit, etc. It’s a good discussion to have, but this bit of analysis (again, breaking the whole down into its parts) is very typical of American Christianity. In college I, like most theological students, study “Systematic Theology” which breaks down theology into the study of God (theology proper) Soteriology (salvation), Christology (the study of Jesus Christ), etc. There’s nothing wrong with this, but we need to understand that this is a very Western approach for studying God. What’s the downside? The downside is that theological students believe that they “know God” because they’ve studied systematic theology. Theology is divorced from spiritual development and character development.

2. Although Americans did not invent the “professionalization of ministry,” they have taken it to new levels. We’re struggling with how to do leadership development in the Balkans. What defines a pastor? What kind of school should he have? Earlier in my career I served for six years in another denomination and couldn’t be titled “pastor” (even a youth pastor) until I’d graduated from seminary with my Masters, even though I had a BA from a gen-u-ine Bible college. The early church was essentially a lay-movement. We are educationally driven, degree driven. I’m all for education, and I’m all for pastors that can organize, manage and lead a church. But that’s our way of doing it. The downside is the people of deep character, deep communion with God tend to be overlooked and undervalued.

3. American Evangelical Christianity is extremely anthropocentric. This one is a little scary. I sat in a men’s Bible Study this morning watching a DVD of a very gifted speaker. The video happened to have been shot at Christmas time and I sat stunned as he said, “Jesus isn’t the reason for the season, WE are the reason for the season.” He went on to make a decent point Scripturally, but he also serves as a great example. In the West theology and practice begins and ends with us. As Little says, “…the American Gospel starts with humanity’s need and invites God to meet it.” In our individualistic culture God is all about us. God’s agenda is all about my self-actualization, my self-improvement, my climbing the ladder. Does God love every individual person on the earth? I believe he does; I also believe that the thing most important to God is God.

4. American-style Evangelicalism has been thoroughly McDonald-ized. Calling it “unrestrained pragmatism,” Little criticizes the American church for its emphasis on program, large staff, complex facilities and big budgets. In many ways he is right on. We live in, not just a consumer-oriented society, but a consumer-centered society; the business without customers dies. The church has to function within that culture and will naturally reflect it. At the same time, it is a uniquely American tendency to franchise the effective ministries of another church. Books are written, seminars are held to duplicate effective models of doing church. There are upsides to this tendency, the downside is that we place an emphasis on reproducible human dynamics and less on sovereign movements of the Spirit of God.

5. American Christian exhibits a dichotomistic world-view. Because of our analytical orientation on life we tend to see everything as contrasts between poles. Little gives the following examples: sacred/secular, church/state, church/parachurch, clergy/laity, faith/works, evangelism/social action, sovereignty/free will, natural/supernatural, literate/illiterate and form/meaning. We might add Calvinist/Arminian, hymns/praise-choruses and liberal/conservative. These constructs aren’t necessarily wrong, but they can be misleading. Few of us would be comfortable at either pole in the above list. We generally live somewhere on a continuum though we tend to think in dichotomies. People who both think and live on continuums don’t quite fit.

6. American Christians usually assume that bigger is better than smaller and faster is better than slower. The pastor of our national partner church made his first visit to America a few years ago. When he returned he commented on how everything is big in America. From cars to bathrooms to bathtubs things just keep getting bigger and bigger. As Americans we tend to assume that bigger and faster are inherently superior to smaller and slower. Interestingly, when I make this observation to fellow Americans I’m often met with a grin and a wink…yeah, isn’t it great. The pastor, however, didn't think it was inherently good. The further away we get from an agricultural basis of our culture the further we get away from a deep understanding of national processes that cannot be hurried or magnified.

All of the above characteristics have up-sides and down-sides. Every national church assumes some of the characteristics of its host culture. This is normal and has always been the case. This isn’t an attempt to criticize the American church, but to try and describe it for those who ask.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The clock is ticking...and it's about today.

Jason Womack. one of my favorite productivity bloggers, wrote about his visit to the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. 

One thing I wanted to share via this blog today was this quite that is up on the walls of the facility, as well as on the business cards of everyone working there. Here it is:

"It's not every four years, it's every day."

And, the two athletes I met, as well as the dozens I watched that morning, seemed to exhibit this sentiment.

I took the tour, and along the way met a gymnast and skeet shooter. They were there, in residency, both preparing for China. What I find so impressive (and inspiring) is that EVERY day they practice, they are visualizing their upcoming events, half a world - and more than two years - away!

That visit last September changed me. I'm much more interested in making each day the best it can be. I've got today, and what happens today will ultimately manifest into what shows up in my life... I don't have a countdown like our Olympic athletes do, but I can use their motto. It's not just once a lifetime, it's every day of that lifetime... 

The thing that struck me when I saw this is that there really is a clock pruning.  It’s not a clock on the Olympics, or a performance clock in any usual sense of the word.  But the clock is ticking.  Jesus, the Christ, really is coming back…maybe not too far in the future.

If we had a countdown clock on his return, how would we live our lives differently?  To whom would we speak?  In what would we involve ourselves? This isn’t supposed to be a guilt thing, but the clock is running down.  It’s not just once every two (or three) thousand years, it’s today.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Meanwhile, while you were gone for four years....

This post is a bit off the beaten track, but a lot can happen over four years.  Laws change, credit cards offers endlessly arrive at our state-side addresses.  Bill come and are paid (hopefully) by those we’ve asked to care for those things.  And so, even while we’re gone, the US financial-legal system continues to churn away.  Most of us, myself included, have no idea what’s happening to our credit rating while we’re gone. 

While driving in the car the other day I happened to catch about five minutes of the Clark Howard radio program.  While listening I was reminded that each of us is entitled to an annual free credit report.  I had actually tried to figure out how to do this while overseas but never figured it out.  It’s actually much easier than you might imagine.  In other words, I have not idea why I didn’t do this much earlier.

If you’re interested in checking your credit report go here.  You’ll be guided through an encrypted online process were you can view and print your credit report.  I did it and, while every thing was in order on my report, I was surprised to see a couple of things I’d entirely forgotten about and probably need attention.

In all, the process took about ten minutes (mostly because my printer is so slow).  Ten minutes every 2–4 years is a pretty small price to pay for ensuring my financial ‘i’s’ are dotted properly.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The problem with Scripture memorization…

I believe in Scripture memorization…I’m just horrible at it.  Seriously, I believe that the Word of God is eternal and that I both ought to and want to know it much better than I do.  The problem with Scripture memorization is that it’s really hard and I am not good at it.  I’ve tried a number of different methods in my life but haven’t really had much success.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve memorized a lot of random Bible verses in my life.  I’ve even, at one time or another, memorized whole books (Philippians and James).  But they never stayed put in my mind for very long.  Before too long the passages would fade in to my “steel-sieve”-like mind.

Then two years ago a colleague of mine, Brenda Knopp, explained to me a method of Scripture memorization that she’d come across.  At the time Brenda was working on a memorizing a section of Romans and once I heard about it I was hooked.  I started with the book of Hebrews and memorized about the first five chapters over the next several months.  Then I ran out of gas and stopped. 

Fast-forward a year and a half.  A couple of months ago I really began to yearn to commit more of the Scripture to memory and I picked up my copy of method again.  This time on I decided to work on the book of 1 John.  I figured that a shorter book would be better.  One of my problems with Hebrews was that it: a) was just too honkin’ long to be the first book I memorized this way and b) I was so focused on “getting it done” that I tried to go too far too fast and burned out.  By last week I starting into Chapter 3 of I John and I figured it was safe to blog about it.

There are two keys to this method of Scripture memorization.  The first is that it focuses on memorizing large blocks of texts.  The second is that it focuses on mastering what you’ve already memorized, not in the all-out pursuit of new material.  This answers the two dilemmas that I’ve always faced in memory work.  Working with large blocks of texts give my mind more “mental scaffolding” on which to hook passages.  I need big strong beams and posts to put the verses on.  Verses isolated from their contexts just don’t do it.  Oh, I can memorize John 3.16 without any trouble; it has enough other mental scaffolding around it to keep in place.  But other important passages don’t.  By memorizing longer passages (paragraphs, chapters or whole books) the scaffolding that the author envisioned is preserved and it’s much easier to memorize.

Secondly, this method focuses on mastering material that you’ve already memorized.  Okay, ideally you memorize one new verse a day, but the bulk of one’s memory work is devoted to working to retain what you’ve already learned.

Dr. Andrew M. Davis, the author of the method, explains it well.  Before diving in, give his webpage a thorough read.   I’ll give you an overview here, however.   Imagine, for example, that you are going to memorize the book of Ephesians.  Here is the gist of the method from Dr. Davis’ site:

1) Day one: Read Ephesians 1:1 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

2) Day two: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:1 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:2 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

3) Day three: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:2 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Again, you should look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Old verses next, altogether: Recite Ephesians 1:1-2 together once, being sure to include the verse numbers. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:3 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

4) Day four: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:3 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Again, you should look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Old verses next, altogether: Recite Ephesians 1:1-3 together once, being sure to include the verse numbers. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:4 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

Here is what I like about his method:

1.        You focus on retaining what you’ve already learned.  There are days when I don’t try to learn the next verse, I just recite the verse I’ve learned or focus on the most recent verses.  This is sometimes a challenge for me because I want to move forward and get it done.  But there are days when I my brain just seems stuck or saturated and I only review what I’ve already learned to that point.

2.       It’s do-able.  This only takes 15-20 minutes a day.  Frankly, I often feel like I’ve grown more doing this than from my daily Bible reading, which I do separately.  It’s not a major time commitment, it’s just a shorter daily time commitment over a longer period.

3.       Learning larger blocks of Scripture really gives your mind things to chew on during the day.  It really helps me meditate on what the Scripture is saying.  When I’m stuck in traffic or standing in a line it’s easy to start pondering the meaning of some particular verse or section.  The larger structure of a passage becomes clearer as I work my way through it.

4.       It makes the Scripture more applicable.  Last weekend I finally got around to watching “The Da Vinci Code.”  Verses like I John 2.22-23 popped right up in my mind.

5.       I think it trains my mind to remember things more easily.  It’s great mental work-out that helps my mind memorize things in other contexts more easily.

Scripture memorization will probably never be easy for me, but this is the first approach I’ve ever used that brings tangible, long-term results.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Happy Flag day...but which flag?

Balkans (94) (Small)Urimi Ditën e Flamurit të gjithë Shqiptareve!!  All Albanians, congratulations on tomorrow’s flag day.  On November 28th Albanians remember the Albanian flag, which has long flown over the Albanian people.  The flag, which features a black, double-headed eagle on a red field is the flag of Albanian people, wherever they might live.

180px-SkandersealThe design itself apparently comes from the seal of Skenderbeu, theAlbanian military hero who united the Albanian people for a time to fight against the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century.  The seal, which was discovered in 1634, was bought by the Danish National Museum in 1839 and remains there today.  According to Wikipedia:

The inscription is in Greek and reads Alexander (Skender) is an Emperor and a King. Emperor of the Romaic nations (Greeks) and King of the Turks, the Albanians, the Serbs and the Bulgarians. It naturally follows the inscription is laterally reversed. It is possible that the seal was made after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, since Skanderbeg is referred to as an Emperor of the Byzantines. The double eagle in the center of the seal is derived from the eagle of the Byzantine emperor, and this fact is also the most agreed upon among educated Albanians.

The devotion of the Albanians to the flag is pretty striking.  This week it will be proudly displayed where ever you find Albanians.  In the capital of Kosovo, Prishtina, you’ll see street vendors like this selling the most popular flags.


The flag itself is one of the challenges to imminent Kosovar statehood.  When you ask any Kosovar what the flag of the future state of Kosovo would be the answer is always the same…the “shqiponja” or double-headed eagle flag.  The problem is, naturally, that the state of Albania has already laid claim to that emblem.  While I’m not absolutely certain of this, I’m pretty sure that no two countries can share the idential flag

DardaniaIn answer to this question, and in an attempt to create a unique Kosovar identity, former President Ibrahim Rugova proposed an alternative.  This flag contains the black “shqiponja” on a red circle over a European Union blue background.  The word “Dardania,” on a banner across the eagle.  Dardania is the ancient name for the region roughly corresponding to modern Kosovo.  Though it was hoped that this flag would be readily adopted by the Kosovar people, it has become more commonly known as “Rugova’s flag” or the flag of the LDK, Rugova’s political party.

DioGardiFlagThen, while reading the Iliria Post today I saw another flag proposal.  This one is from former US Congressman Joseph DioGaurdi, the president of the American-Albanian Civic League.  This design really shocked me.  It places the Shqiponja on the blue field of the US flag.  The descriptions below the design reads:

“I believe that this flag represents the heart and spirit of the Albanian people from the whole world, especially to those Albanians of the new state of Kosovo.  It contains the national symbol (with the double-headed eagle) and the national colors (red and black.  The white and red lines remind us of the major role which the USA has played  in which it is known by the Albanian State after the first world war under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, under the  leadership of NATO against Slobodan Miloshevic in 1999 and the present work…”

While I have a great deal of respect for DioGuardi’s work and support for the Albanian people I am amazed to see anyone recommend that another nation’s national emblem be so subsumed by another's.  This isn’t long-term way for one nation to remember another.  I cringe, for example, every time I see the Liberian flag, which looks exactly like the US flag only with one star where the US flag has fifty.

This is probably the last November 28th, the last Flag day, the last Dita e Flamurit, that Kosova will spend without having answered the question of what flag a future state will fly.  By next November there will likely be a new flag and a new nation.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Black Friday," a post-mortem

I haven’t experienced a “Black Friday,” the post-Thanksgiving shopping-orgy, for several years now; I hadn’t really expected that I would either.  But then the emails started coming and the websites started popping up listing the most aggressive pricing at any of a number of stores.  Having a geeky bent, I mainly perused Circuit City, CompUSA, BestBuy and the office supply stores.  Before I knew it I was swept into deal hunting for both things I wanted and those things I really needed.

And then it hit me.  How would I explain this phenomenon to my Albanian friends and co-workers.  I mean that on a couple of levels.  The first thing that hit me was, “how would I explain this in the Albanian language?”  This is an artifact of all true-language learners and they find themselves in new experiences and wonder how to parse those into their adopted languages.  The work for “sale” in Albanian is “zbritje,” but doesn’t begin to cover what its English equivalent is in English.  Words like “rebate,” “cash-back” and “sale” have their own unique American meanings.

After I’d pondered that for a few minutes I wondered how I would explain the cultural phenomenon that is Black Friday without looking like a mad-man.  Consider this: some people camp out the night before in front of their favorite store.  Some are up and in line before their favorite store by 3 or 4 AM.  Now, we accept that as Americans well versed in the fine art of value shopping…but what does this look like to someone from another, not-quite-Western country.

To them it has to look absolutely absurd.  First, people in Kosovo do not have surplus cash with which to buy “things that aren’t needed now but are needed later.”  Those are the bulk of what “normal” shoppers are looking for on BF.  Folks are looking for good deals on Christmas presents or on clothes or other things they’ll need in the future.  Others are thrilled by the sheer joy of “getting a good deal” regardless of whether it is really necessary or not.

As for me, like many others, I stood out in front of Staples to buy my 1GB flash drive for $7.00 (after rebate) and a 200GB hard drive for $20 (after rebate).  Again I was amazed at the line-forming behavior most Americans exhibit.  It really is amazing how well our social system works when there are no authorities around to enforce it.  I expected people to be pushing a rude as the doors opened at 6AM.  And, as the doors opened, the “closet anthropologist” in me noticed that my heart rate had sped up, my breathing had quickened in anticipation of aggressive, fight-or-flight shoppers. There was none of that; only people hurriedly trying to find what they were looking for..f course this was Staples, and not BestBuy or Wal-Mart.

So ends another uniquely American “holiday.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Grenade explodes in Serb classroom

Reuters is reporting that a hand grenade exploded in a elementary school classroom yesterday in a village near YugoGrenadeKamenica, which is near our home of Gjilan.  This is terrible news.  Hand grenades seem to be regularly thrown around by people irritated with each other in Kosovo.  It’s not unusual to hear of one thrown in someone's yard, or under a vehicle or even children finding them in fields, left over from the war.  It is very unusual to hear about one in a classroom or one being used to intentionally endanger children.

PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - A grenade exploded in a classroom used by Serb children in Kosovo on Tuesday, but the elementary school pupils escaped injury, police said.

A Kosovo police spokesman said the grenade exploded in a stove used to heat the classroom shortly after lessons began at around 7.50 a.m. (0650 GMT) at the Trajko Peric school in the village of Veliko Ropotovo near the eastern town of Kamenica.

"The stove was completely destroyed and some parts of the classroom as well," said spokesman Veton Elshani.

A Kosovo Serb education official said the children had been moved to another classroom minutes earlier because their teacher was absent, leaving the room empty. "So tragedy was avoided," Zivorad Tomic told the Serb state news agency Tanjug.

Praise God no one was injured.  I hope they catch whoever did it an put them away for a long time.

Thanksgiving, MK style

 It only rarely occurs to me how I take for granted my cultural heritage.  I really don’t think about my knowledge of Plymouth rock, about pilgrims and indians celebrating the first Thanksgiving.  I had memories of making pilgrim hats and indian head-dresses in school.  It’s just never occurred to me the my children don’t have the same memories.

This week Madision, my second grade daughter, has come home wide-eyed with stories of pilgrims and indians.  She’s never heard the stories.  Oh, we celebrated Thanksgiving each year in Kosovo, but Madison never heard the stories, never made Pilgrim hats, never saw pictures of the first Thanksgiving…until this year.

I’m always surprised when I realize that my kids really are growing up to be “third culture kids.”  I know it intellectually, but the reality is discovered with each new season.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A southern cultuaral experience and American norms

Today I had one of those unique southern American cultural experiences…the gun show.  Four times a year the Wake County Fairgrounds host the Dixie Gun & Knife Show to which thousands of people go.  I went down this afternoon to check it out.  After struggling for quite a while to find a parking place I took my place in a very, very long line waiting to by my ticket.  It was amazing to watch the variety of people waiting to get into an enormous hall full of guns, knives, ammunition and every conceivable accessory and gadget associated with firearms.

This may sound dumb, but what struck me most was how everyone, rich and poor, suburban and more “rednecky” stood in a line waiting to pay their entrance fee.  No one cut in line, no one tried to avoid standing in it. Everyone who arrived found the end of the line and waited patiently for their turn.  Where I live people would have just gathered around the ticket seller and pushed and squeezed until they got their ticket.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in line to pay my phone or electric bill and had to throw elbows and dirty looks to keep my place in line.  It’s just American normative behavior to make and stand in lines. 

In America we are egalitarian to a fault.  No one is better or more deserving than anyone else.  Everybody waits their turn.  Oh, of course there are exceptions…but they prove the rule.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Kosovo's new tourism agency

I’ve heard people talking about developing tourism in Kosovo for several years now.  Now the Ministry of Industry and Trade, of which the Department of Tourism is a part, and Hotours (The Hotel and Tourism Association of Kosovo) have put together a Kosovo tourism portal called “visitKOSOVO.”










This portal will come in handy, not only for future tourists, but also for all kinds of groups that may want to visit this historic land.

via South East Europe Online

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Final status talks delayed...again

The International Herald Tribune is reporting today that Kosovo’s final status talks have been delayed…again.  Recently Serbia approved a draft constitution through popular referendum.  This approval has triggered parliamentary elections, which were scheduled for November but have now been moved back to January.  The Contact Group fears that a final status decision on Kosovo would propel Serbian radicals into power, jeopardize Serbian entry into the European community (in the immediate social sense, rather than the formal sense) and increase instability in the Balkans.

I can only imagine how Kosovar society at large is responding to this news.  Each time they are promised impending decisions they are delayed for various reasons..  While today’s local papers don’t seem to yet reflect widespread discontent, the people I know must surely be disappointed.  In the local media the International Crisis Group is quoted as saying:

The more the Albanians are forced to wait, the more the likelihood that they will take unilateral steps for independence, or civil unrest [my translation].

Unfortunately, this is all too likely.  Kosovars have waited for six years for final status.  Final status means far more than a treaty, a flag and a seat at the UN.  It also means that Kosovar society can finally move forward.  Until that happens Kosovo will not have postal codes, telephone codes and international banking codes.  In short, much of the international machinery for international trade and commerce are lacking in Kosovo precisely because status is still uncertain.  But it is the very frustrations of Albanian society that Serbia may be counting on to limit international goodwill towards Kosovo.  According to a written ICG report:

Serbia’s government still wishes to delay a Kosovo final status decision until mid-2007, although its capacity to do so is becoming increasingly improbable. In order to persuade the international community, it is playing several familiar cards in a game of high-stakes bluff. Belgrade feels that the longer it can delay, the more impatient Kosovo’s Albanians will become. It hopes this impatience will translate into violence that will weaken the Albanians’ position at the bargaining table.

This ploys themselves have a destabilizing influence in the Balkans.The same report is very critical of the new Serbian constitution:

It opens the door to increased centralisation of the state, curtailment of human and minority rights, destruction of judicial independence and potentially even a parliamentary dictatorship. The process used to pass the constitution illustrates how Kostunica continues to transform Serbia into something closer to illiberal authoritarianism than liberal democracy; yet, the referendum was welcomed by the Council of Europe, the European Union and the United States.

This delay doesn’t really come as a surprise to anyone; the writing has been on the wall.  Last week Kosovar Prime Minister Agin Çeku announced that he is prepared to unilaterally declare Kosovo’s independence should international negotiators fail to find a way through the current impasse.  Such a decision would really be risk-filled; it would depend on sympathetic governments announcing their recognition of a unilaterally declared independent Kosovo.

We need to be praying for peace and justice in Kosovo, for the continued patience of the people and for wisdom for both the contact group, and the respective governments of Kosovo and Serbia.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Pat Robertson responds

I’ve written recently (here , here and here) about quotes and positions reportedly from Pat Robertson.   I received this email today from a group mailing list in Kosovo.  It is reportedly Robertson’s response to those who emailed him directly regarding his belief’s about Kosova. 

I have received your e-mail concerning an article you read in your local papers about a meeting between me and Bishop Artimije.  Whatever you read did not come from me.  I met with the Bishop, but I have made no public statement concerning the situation in Kosovo.


The gentleman who accompanied Bishop Artimije for our meeting, tells me that he does not believe the Bishop gave any undue emphasis or inappropriate account of his meeting with me -- which was just one of many other meetings he had with prominent Americans, both official and non-official.  He said he is not sure that what was quoted by the Financial Times accurately conveys exactly what the Bishop said (or through translation meant to say).


He went on to say, "regarding the suggestion that Dr. Robertson has committed to oppose Kosovo independence - as the article states - this phraseology is entirely inappropriate with respect to the nature of the discussion between Bishop Artemije and Dr. Robertson."


I appreciate you sharing your knowledge with me concerning the Kosovo situation.


May the Lord bless you and the missionaries who minister in Kosovo.


Pat Robertson

While I believe this email comes from Robertson, or his spokesperson, I would like to see a more public clarification.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

It's winter again in Kosovo...yuck

Roberta Clogg, my teammate from Kosovo, is one of my favorite writers.  Maybe it’s just because I know her, but I look forward to every post she writes.  Today she writes a great post about winter times…its hilarious.

Winter is definitely my least favorite season…and Roberta summarizes a lot of the questions I ask each and every winter.  I ask the same questions every single winter .

Where are all the women???

“We’re getting away from our roots in the Christian and Missionary Alliance,” those words met me during a breakfast not long ago with a group of Alliance pastors.  We were talking about women in ministry and the pastor, who was new to the Alliance was holding forth on his position over a cup of coffee and a bowl of baked oatmeal.

I had been listening to this well-meaning man for a while but in the end I couldn’t contain myself.  There are many perspectives, theological and otherwise, about the role of women in ministry.  But the roots of the Christian and Missionary Alliance are unabashedly pro-woman.  I pointed this out to the pastor, who was fairly new to the CMA and came from another, more conservative, denomination.  I gave as an example my ordination mentor.  He was from a “historic alliance family,” is very theologically conservative and grew up in a church pastored by a woman in a conservative part of Pennsylvania.  The CMA sent (and sends) out women missionaries who conducted baptisms, served the Lord’s Supper an engaged in all manner of ministries.  I was in another Alliance church this summer that was planted and pastored by a woman.

Frankly, I don’t think a lot about these issues ordinarily but I came across an essay in The Good News of the Kingdom: Mission Theology for the Third Millennium a while back.  Since reading it I’ve been ruminating on the issue.  The essay is entitled, “Revisioning the Women’s Missionary Movement“ by Dana Robert who is Professor of World Christianity and History Mission at Boston University School of Theology. 

Dr Robert gives a historical overview of the growth of the women’s missionary movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  In the essay she traces the decline of the women’s movement  to the decline in missions commitment in the US mainline churches.  She says:

…the fact remains that in the older American Protestant denominations, the commitment of the entire denomination to mission was related to the strength of its women’s mission organization: the stronger the women’s group, the greater commitment to mission by the denomination.

This has startling implications for the Christian and Missionary Alliance; in nearly every Alliance church I hear about their struggles with women’s ministry (Alliance Women).  The most common question I’m hearing from AW groups is: how do we attract younger woman to the AW movement?

I confess up front that I don’t have many answers.  At the same time, if Robert is correct, and the strength of the women’s movement is correlative with the strength of the missions commitment of the denomination, then the CMA is in trouble.

I offer these humble suggestions, more as a point of dialogue than a point of argument or imposition:

1.        Perhaps Alliance Women’s ministry should return to doing “woman’s work for woman” which was the central ideology of the women’s missionary movement.  Perhaps women’s ministry shouldn’t be about trying to do everything for everyone.  While AW generates enormous funding for CMA missionary tasks worldwide, I wonder if focusing on women’s ministries around the world might not invigorate American women to be about the God’s work among women around the world. 

2.       We need to encourage woman to pursue appropriate roles within our own “movement”.    During the peak of the women’s missionary movement women held significant posts in denominational missions organizations.  Our own Mrs. A. B. Simpson served as member of the Board of Managers, Financial Secretary and Secretary of Missionary Appointment in the CMA.  In our day the role of women has steadily decreased at all levels of leadership.  In the CMA we don’t believe women should hold the position of elder in the church.  Fine.  But I think there is a tendency in the CMA to elevate to “elder” positions which are structural and not ecclesiastical.  I recently spoke with a pastor who had upbraided their district executive committee for not having any woman.  A committee member replied that the DexCom functioned as the elders of the district.  This isn’t true; the uniform district constitution of the CMA says,  “The administrative work of this district shall be committed to the District Executive Committee of which the district superintendent shall be the chairperson.”  You get my point.  We tend to sacralize what is organizational and sacrifice promoting women because of it.

I certainly don’t have the answers, but if Robert is correct we better do something significant in the next 5-10 years or our movement may be in trouble.


Friday, November 03, 2006

An Open letter to Pat Robertson

Also related to the Robertson matter, I just learned yesterday from bytyci that Mark Orila wrote a letter to the editor of Java, a Kosovar weekly newspaper.  Though it is in English I’ve reprinted the letter in English here:

An open letter to Pat Robertson


Dear Mr. Robertson:


Grace and Peace in the name of our Savior.  I hope this letter finds you enjoying His blessings!


Allow me to introduce myself.  I have been working among the Albanian people as a servant of the Gospel since 1995 -- first in Albania, later in Macedonia, and since 1999 in Kosovo.  I am from the state of Louisiana, and my sending organization is the Assemblies of God


I was deeply alarmed last week to read an article in the Financial Times entitled US evangelists 'join campaign to keep Kosovo within Serbia'.  According to the article, Bishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox Church claims to have enlisted from you a promise to use your influence to oppose the independence of Kosovo on the grounds that an independent Kosovo would “provide a base for an ‘extremist Islamic jihad’.” 


Upon reading the article carefully, I noted that while your name was invoked, you were nowhere quoted directly.  Therefore, I’m writing in order to request a clarification from you.  I would also welcome this opportunity to share with you some of my insights gained from almost 12 years of working in this part of the world.


Mr. Robertson, I wish you could have been here with me in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 and watched as people stood in line to give their own blood for the victims of the attack.  I wish you could have experienced for yourself not only the mass rallies and marches but also the flood of personal telephone calls and visits I received expressing solidarity and support with the USA.  I wish you could have been with me this past July 4th as hundreds of local people gathered in the town square to celebrate American Independence Day as though it were their own.  I wish you could have seen the cities, towns and villages all across Kosovo illuminated by candles this past September on the fifth anniversary of the 2001 attack as our friends here shared our grief.


Kosovar Albanians are probably the most pro-American people outside of America itself.   In fact, they may be more pro-American than Americans.  American flags flutter from one end of Kosovo to the other.  Hardly a day goes by here that someone doesn’t tell me, “God in heaven, America on earth!”  (Admittedly for me as a Christian, this statement causes a bit of an embarrassment; I love my country, but this comes a little too close to idolatry for my comfort.)   In fact, Albanian devotion to America has roots that go far deeper than the 1999 NATO intervention.  Every schoolchild here learns that were it not for U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, the nation of Albania would have never existed.


There are, of course, Islamic extremists here -- as in the USA and everywhere else.  (I was physically attacked by one of them last year; he was tried and sentenced by a local court the very next day!)  Bishop Artemije is attempting to spread alarm that if Kosovo becomes independent then these extremists will gain ascendancy.  This claim is deeply ironic.  If the US were to oppose Kosovo’s independence, the Albanians would feel betrayed by their only friends.  Then the jihadists (who are currently a tiny and despised minority) might have a chance of gaining a wider hearing!


There is a further irony in Bishop Artemije’s appealing to American evangelicals for support.  This is the same bishop who once wrote an article in which he anathematized anyone who darkened the door of a Protestant church.  Local pastors remember that when Serbia ruled here, evangelicals were labeled a “satanic cult”.  Even today evangelicals in Kosovo have far more legal protection than our brothers in Serbia proper.  Kosovo and Serbia both passed religious laws in the last year.  The Kosovo law should be a model for Europe; it guarantees the rights of Protestants by name!  The Serbian law, by contrast, institutionalizes the longstanding discrimination against evangelicals.


Even graver than the persecution of evangelicals is the way in which many Serbs invoked the name of Christ and the symbols of Christianity as they carried out atrocities in the wars of the 1990s.  I’ll never forget traveling around Kosovo after the war in the summer of 99 and seeing thousands of burned Albanian homes with the cross carved into the charred ruins.  The ultimate emblem of love and self-sacrifice was turned into a symbol of hatred more akin to the swastika.  The sad fact is that elements of the Serbian Orthodox Church blessed this kind of behavior, and in so doing, they severely undermined their claim to be the defenders of Christianity here.


Of course Albanian attacks on Serbs and Serbian religious sites such as those which occurred in March 2004 must also be acknowledged and condemned.  I certainly want to see a Kosovo where Serbs, Albanians and everyone else are fully free and secure.  I’m convinced that the vast majority of Albanians want this as well and that it can be achieved. 


Mr. Robertson, I am sincerely praying for you that if you do speak out on the situation in Kosovo that your words will be well-informed, wise and humble.


God bless you! 


Mark Orfila

 I appreciate Mark’s proactivity on this issue as evangelicals are being misrepresented.  This misrepresentation has significant consequences for our relationships with both Albanian and Serbian people.


From Kosovo: An open letter to Mr. Pat Robertson

Several weeks ago I wrote about the relationship between Pat Robertson and bishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox church.  At that time a commenter asked why the evangelical community in Kosovo wasn’t reacting to Robertson’s precipitous comments (see the previous post and comments for the background).  The protestant churches and several American missionaries met to formulate a response.  I received an advanced copy of the open letter a few days ago, but didn’t know if I should post it until I was sure it was public. 

After checking, the draft letter reads as follows:

30 October 2006

 Dear Mr. Robertson:

 Grace and peace to you in Jesus' name!

 We the undersigned are national pastors and foreign missionaries serving in Kosovo.  We represent several nations of the world and a wide range of denominations and doctrines within the evangelical spectrum.

 We are writing to express our deep concern at reports we have read in various media outlets as well as on the website of Bishop
Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox Church.   According to these
reports, the bishop met with you to inform you of the "destruction of Christian civilization" here and to warn that to grant independence to Kosovo would be to "permit the establishment of an Islamic state".  In light of these warnings, the bishop claims that you promised to exert your influence to help keep Kosovo in Serbia.

 Mr. Robertson, we who are on the ground working to spread the Gospel in Kosovo are convinced that the bishop has shown you a distorted picture.  We would like to share with you some of our observations and to plead with you to listen to our perspective before taking any action in this matter. 

 First of all, we find it troubling that Bishop Artemije of all people would turn to American evangelical leaders for help.  This same bishop has consistently proven as fierce a foe of evangelicals here in the former Yugoslavia as any Muslim leader.  In an article in a Serbian Orthodox publication, he anathematized anyone who set foot in a Protestant church.  Our brothers and sisters in Serbia still suffer discrimination and sometimes outright persecution as a result of the influence of church leaders such as Bishop Artemije. 
We wonder whether the bishop considers his efforts to stamp out evangelicalism as part of his defense against the destruction of Christianity in this part of the world.

 Today in predominantly Muslim Kosovo, evangelicals have more legal rights than in predominantly Orthodox Christian Serbia.  In fact, Both parliaments passed religious laws in the past year.  The Kosovo law provides one of the strongest guarantees of religious liberty in all Europe, recognizing the Protestant community by name.  The Serbian law favors the Orthodox Church and serves to legitimize longstanding discrimination of evangelicals.

 The bishop's claim that an independent Kosovo would become an Al Qaeda base also strikes those of us here on the ground as absurd. 
Kosovar Albanians are by and large more pro-American than Americans themselves.  The stars and stripes flies side by side with the Albanian two-headed eagle all across Kosovo.  This past year, thousands of local people gathered in cities, towns and villages on the Fourth of July to share in America's joy then again on the 11th of September to share in America's mourning.  A popular saying here is, "God in heaven; America on earth!"

 Bishop Artemije has every right to speak out against the destruction of Serb religious sites and the persecution of Serbs.  We join with him in condemning these attacks in the strongest possible terms. 
Nationalism is unquestionably an ugly, idolatrous force that has left in its wake countless victims of every ethnicity here in the Balkans. 

 However, the bishop's effort to depict this nationalism as "Islamic terrorism" is both deceptive and damaging.  If attacks on Serbs and their churches are Islamic terrorism, then how should one describe the attacks on the Albanian population and their places of worship in 1998 and 1999?  Or how does one account for the fact that these "Islamic terrorists" have never touched Albanian Catholic or Protestant places of worship?

 We do not deny that there are Islamic fundamentalists working to gain influence here in Kosovo - as there are in the USA, Britain and just about everywhere else in the world.  At the moment, these extremists are few in number and are strongly opposed by the vast majority of the population.  But please hear us, Mr. Robertson! If you publicly oppose the independence of Kosovo you will play directly into Islamists' hands in two important ways.

 First of all, the radical Muslims here would love nothing more than to find evidence of a link between evangelicals and the extreme nationalist elements of the Serbian Church.  Crosses carved into the ruins of Albanian homes bombed and burned during the war reinforced the perception that Serb paramilitaries carried out their atrocities with the blessing of the Church.  We hope that you will not make a statement that would cause us to accused of sharing in the guilt for those atrocities.

Secondly, if you were successful in persuading the U.S. to oppose Kosovo's independence, this would prove to be a huge victory for Islamic extremists.  Then they would say, "You trusted in America, but America has betrayed you!"  In such an event, a deeply disillusioned population would be ripe for Islamist propaganda.

 Already the publicity arising from this case has resulted in serious threats against evangelical believers here in Kosovo.  Mr. Robertson, you can be absolutely certain that if you align yourself with Bishop Artemije's agenda, your brothers and sisters in Christ here in Kosovo will pay a very high price .  We plead with you in the name of Jesus not to give ammunition to the enemies of the Gospel!

 God bless you

 Mark Orfila, a friend and missionary with the Assemblies of God, drafted the letter.  There will be a public press-release forthcoming later in the week.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hints of the UN plan for Kosovo emerge

Hints are beginning to emerge on the UN plan for the future of Kosovo.  According to a UPI article:

Kosovo, whose 1.8 million population is 90 percent ethnic-Albanians and about 100,000 Serbs, will be a state without a seat in the United Nations and without a foreign ministry or armed forces, Belgrade's Beta news agency said.

Apparently UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari presented the draft of his final status solution to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.  According to parts of the plan already published the plan seems to include “more than autonomy, less than independence” and doesn’t include Serbian sovereignty, which is an interesting mix of positions.

At the same time, despite rumors of delaying status talks because of Serbia’s constitutional referendum and imminent parliamentary elections, the US government is pushing for a final status decision by the end of 2006.

Returning Sesame Street Productions for Kosovo

As a follow-up to last week’s post about Sesame Street…

NEW YORK, October 30: Kosovo broadcaster RTK yesterday premiered the Sesame Street international production Rruga Sesam (Albanian language)/Ulica Sezam (Serbian language).

The 26-episode Rruga Sesam and Ulica Sezam feature Muppet segments from Sesame Street's international library, as well as local content, such as 26 original and locally produced live-action segments highlighting similarities of children from different ethnicities living in Kosovo, and the importance of play in their lives. In addition to airing on RTK, the productions will also broadcast regionally on three Serbian-language broadcasters: DTV, TV Most Zvecan and TV Herc Strpce.

I don’t know why this intrigues me so.  Maybe it’s because the first Hispanic Americans I ever met where on Sesame street?  Having grown up in a small, ethnically-homogenous Minnesota town Sesame Street really did help me see the world was bigger than my little neighborhood.  That sounds pretty lame as I write it, but true none-the-less.

via Worldscreen

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Rruga Seam....Sesame Street comes to Kosovo

That childhood staple, Sesame Street, has come to Kosovo.  I’ve actually known this for a while, but never seen anything in the English press about it.  Now “The World According to Sesame Street,” a documentary is explaining how the kids program has become a global phenomenon.  The LA Times says in a review:

It runs in more than 120 countries, mostly in dubbed versions of the original, but in more and more places — beginning as far back as 1972, after an inquiry from Germany — it is being produced locally, retooled for the native audience, with new characters and settings reflecting native culture and concerns.” The documentary focuses on productions of “Sesame Street” in three countries places: Bangladesh, Kosovo and South Africa. 

According to the PBS site, Independent Lens:

Creating a locally produced Sesame project in Kosovo was more than just creating a children’s TV show. As Producer Basia Nikonorow explains, “We really believe that a Sesame project could aid in the peace process.” After years of violent ethnic strife between Serbs and Albanians, the show had the potential to build peace and tolerance with a new generation of children, showing them that their ethnic counterparts were just kids, too.

At the same site you can see some videos of the production team.

I think this is pretty good stuff.  The children of countries places like Kosovo need all the help they can get in forming a future multi-ethnic home, where all ethnic groups can live in peace with one another.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Next hurdle...the VAT

 With increasing government responsibility come increasing government control.  When it comes to Kosovo this has generally been fairly positive as the local provisional government brings the legal system up to what I can only assume are fairly European norms.  The Value Added Tax, however, has been nothing but a pain over the last two years.


The VAT is a sort of national sales tax and one I’m all for.  But the way the VAT is being applied to NGOs and charities is causing a lot of concern.   Up until a couple of years ago all relief supplies (used clothing, bedding, etc) were exempt from customs and the VAT.  Organizations, Christian and otherwise,  were able to bring supplies and donations into Kosovo without paying what can amount to taxes of about 26 percent.  Over the last couple of years, however, the government is seriously clamping down on various tax loopholes including assessing the VAT to charity work.

On example of the problems this creates is with Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes that have been distributed in Kosovo since the war.   This year SP is hoping to send 100,000 shoeboxes to Kosovo.  However, unless the tax codes on charity work are loosened, local organizations would be liable to pay 26 percent in taxes on these shoeboxes.  That is, a value would have to be assessed on the shoeboxes and taxes will have to be paid on that estimated value.  No one has the money to pay taxes on donated items.  The shoeboxes will stop coming to Kosovo.

Obviously this really jeopardizes, not only the SP shoebox distributions, but many other kinds of charity and benevolent work as well.   Please pray that the parliament not sign into effect the draft law on the VAT or that amendments would be made that ease how the law is applied to NGOs.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Evangelicals and Kosovo...what the ???

The propoganda war is heating up over the final status of Kosovo and apparently some well known American Evangelicals are taking sides, here, here and here.

I am a little bewildered by these statements from Robertson and Falwell.  As far as I know neither they, nor their staffs, have ever visited Kosovo or spoken with evangelicals in Kosovo, let alone the Albanian leaders of the evangelical church in Kosovo.  I am bewildered that they would either take sides, or allow themselves to be placed in a position where they appear to be taking sides.

The Albanian Muslims and Orthodox Serbs fought a vicious war, but it is a mistake to confuse anti-Serb with Anti-West.  Roberston is quoted as saying: "We unleashed this curse upon the world!". He add that it was "absolutely scandalous that we should permit the establishment of an Islamic state in Kosovo and Metohija by robbing a sovereign state of part of its territory, with the aid of American money to boot."

Islamic state?  What the heck? 

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ever-present Albanians

One of the most interesting things about traveling around Wisconsin is the people you meet.  What’s more, I’m constantly surprised by the number of Albanians in Wisconsin.  This morning I ate breakfast at a restaurant owned by an Albanian family, apparenlty one of several in the area.  After breakfast I had the chance to chat with the man for a while.  He’s from Albania, though he also lived in Macedonia for a while before coming to the US in the ‘70’s.

The Albanian people are everywhere.  It’s pretty neat.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Salaries and big charities

[Rant] The last couple of days there’s been some buzz about the salaries of the presidents of some of the larger Christian organizations.  Mike Sense started it (he works for Campus Crusade and Common Grounds Online picked up the story as well.  The data comes from the Forbes 200 Largest Charities database from 2005.

What’s interesting is that low salaries are almost automatically seen as “better” than the higher ones.  Crusade’s Steve Douglass earns $57,466, which is ever so much better than Franklin Graham’s $368,115 from Samaritan’s purse.  At CGO the author has “highlighted those who make less that $100,000 as if a six digit income is inherently more laudably than a five digit one.  Come on.

I don’t have any earthly idea whether these are high or low salaries.  I don’t do these guys jobs.  I’ve never seen their contract or their job description.  I’m thankful that in the Christian & Missionary Alliance we have a salaries committee of godly people that determine Dr. Benedict’s salary.  Good for them and good for him.

My personal opinion, for what it’s worth is that these kind of comparisons only breed envy and help people be judgmental.  I don’t mean to point fingers at either Mr. Sense or the guy from CGO but come on guys.  If you think they’re paid too much say so.  Don’t just dangle the numbers in front of people and see what happens. [/rant]

Thursday, September 21, 2006

In the news: not everyone happy with new religion law

Forum 18 is reporting that while evangelicals are happy about the new law others are objecting to its apparent exclusivity.  As has been mentioned before Evangelicals were included among the five official religions communities.  This is because the evangelical church substantially predates the war.  The first Albanian evangelicals date to the 1980's while Serbian evangelicals date much earlier to 1967.  The tradition of evangelical theology, though not called "evangelical" specifically dates into the 1800's.

Whle the text of the law hasn't been released pubically, as far as I know, the text of the parliament's submission to UNMIK is here.

Pastor Aslimovski is incorrect, however, in stating that the Evangelical community is in fact Pentecostal, as indicated in his quote below.  KPEC, the evangelical community of Kosovo is a voluntary organization of protestant churches and organizations who hold to the Lausanne Covenant.  This is the only confessional/doctrinal requirement for membeship.  I wholeheartedly agree with him that the law should be clear on how religious communities get legal status.  It should not be left until later.  Only when we see the final text of the law will we really know where we are on that question.

While some Protestants are jubilant that the new religion law approved by the Kosovo Assembly on 13 July has been amended by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to specify five of the faiths by name that enjoy rights and freedoms (Muslims, Orthodox, Catholics, Jews and Evangelicals) others are critical. "If it is true that the Evangelical (Pentecostal) church is mentioned it is not right, since all should be mentioned or none," Adventist pastor Nikola Aslimovski complained to Forum 18 News Service. UNMIK promulgated the law on 24 August, but only made this public on 20 September. The law fails to tackle the highly contentious issue of how and which religious communities will get legal status. "Everything should be nailed down in one law," one religious freedom expert told Forum 18. "Nothing should ever be left vague to be returned to later."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Live from Oconto, WI

I’m here in Oconto, WI for the second day.  Oconto is a city of about 4800–5000 people north of Green Bay about an hour or so.  It’s beautifully situated on the bay itself.  One of the great things about going on tour is meeting all kinds of “average.  I put average in quotes because none of these folks are average.  God has had a plan and an agenda for each one.  He’s carried each one through difficult times, provided during times of little and blessed during times of much.


…. This morning I had breakfast with two guys.  One is retired the other still works in the maintenance department of a local paper mill.   Both were full of stories about the people they’d shared Christ with and the lives they saw changed.  Both reflected on their own lives before Christ and the things God had saved them from.

The best part was that they weren’t “primping” for the missionary.  In fact, I’m not even sure they knew I was there the whole time.  They were just telling stories about stuff God had done as if it were the most natural thing in the world….exactly how it should be.  This is the Christian & Missionary Alliance at the fundamental level; people living the Call extraordinarily in ordinary places. 

… helping the new pastor unload.  I just showed up to help and didn’t know a soul.  “I just heard a new preacher came to town and came to help unload the truck,” I said.  “Oh, okay…thanks for helping,” was the frequent reply.  Folks didn’t look at me funny or ask a lot of questions.  I think the only question that mattered was, “can he pull his weight.”  I knew I’d scored with the group when the biggest guy in the group said, “Oh wait, he’ll can help me with this heavy box” and beckoned me over to give him a hand.

… standing in the meeting room and listening to an older woman describe how God had provided throughout her life.  The far-away look in her eyes a greater expression than her words about the depth of her experience with the Lord.

… speaking to two groups of AWANA kids.  As I talked about what the life of a child was like in Kosovo one little boy raised his hand to ask a question.  I think we were talking about mosques or something.  “Do you have any poisonous snakes in Kosovo?” he asked.  No, not really.  Sorry about that.  Little boys wondering about the world around them.  What percentage of missionaries have come our of little towns and little churches…I be the number would surprise us.

…playing cards with neighbors and laughing about the normal things of everyday life.  A son’s tattoo, a injured employee, the stuff of everyday life that sometimes we miss in our really hurried lives.

This is the CMA…and I’m happy to be a part of it.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

...third time's the charm?


Bombs in Kosovo keep exploding


DTT-NET.COM)- Another bomb went off on Sunday night in Kosovo’s eastern
town of Gjilan, again targeting cars of officials from government, with
police still having no arrests made.

Monday, September 18, 2006

In the News Again...another bomb in Gjilan

I'm not sure what the deal is, but twice in two days seems a little much.  Another bomb went off in my city...actually in my neighborhood on Saturday.  My teammates report it went off about 50 meters from their apartment...rattled the dishes a little bit.  According to my team mates, the first explosion was down town, the second was behind her house, which is the reverse of the article below.

Please pray for peace and stability in Kosovo
Local Self-Government Ministry Car Damaged in Gnjilane Blast
17 September 2006 | 13:19 | FOCUS News Agency
Gnjilane. A strong explosion in Gnjilane, Kosovo, caused damage to four cars one of which belongs to the Local Self-Government Ministry of Kosovo, RTS informs citing Kosovo's police forces. No people were injured in the blast.
The spokesperson for the police Naser Ibrahimi stated the explosion took place on Saturday at around 8.30 p.m. local time. The motive behind the explosion is not yet clear, nor is it clear what type of explosion caused the material damage.
This is the second blast in Gnjilane for the last two days. During the last explosion that took place late on Thursday the car of Kosovo's Interior Minister Fatmir Rexhepi was damaged.
The police arrested two persons at the explosion site near the building in which Minister Rexhepi resides. However, because of lack of proof the two arrested persons had been involved in the attack they were released.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Checking in from Wausau

I’m now on what we call “missionary tour” in my little world and I’m up in Wausau, WI this week.  I’m here at Wausau Alliance Church having a great time connecting with Alliance people about Alliance missions.  Thursday night was my first speaking opportunity then last night we had a game night and some nice time just to hang out and connect.  This morning was a men’s breakfast where about 40 men showed up to hear about what God’s doing in Kosovo.  This evening it was a meeting with the youth.  We had a DSC04119“mystery dinner” then I shared for a few DSC04108minutes about the big questions in life before we watched “The End of the Spear,” a great movie about the four martyred missionaries in Ecuador in the 50’s and the work their families did there.

This is a great church with a heart for missions and people committed to getting the job done. 

Great stuff!


In the News in Gjilan

Caught this in the news this morning.  Gjilan (Gnilanje is the Serbian spelling) hasn't had a bomb like this in a number of years.  Oh, I had a friend who found an anti-tank mine under his car a couple of years back, but it didn't go off.

Pray for peace and stability in Kosovo!
Explosion near the house of Kosovo's Minister of Interior

Pristina /15/09/ 12:37

There was an explosion early Friday in Gnilanje near the home of Kosovo's Minister of Interior, Fatmir Rexepi, reported Kosovo police.

There were no injured in the incident, but an automobile of type Audi A4, owned by Rexepi, was damaged, alongside another vehicle parked nearby, local authorities reported.

The house of Kosovo's minister was damaged, together with surrounding houses.

The explosive device was planted under a car immediately near Rexepi's home.

So far, two suspects have been arrested, which were near the site of the explosion.

Friday, September 15, 2006

News on the Law of Religion

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you’ve notice me write about the “draft law on religion” for some time.  This law would govern how religious groups conduct themselves and has been the cause of a lot of prayer for some time.  One of the key issues for us has been the status of the protestant church community within that law.  For some time it seemed that the law would only recognize the Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic and Jewish faiths as the historic faiths of Kosovo.  In many ways this made sense.  Evangelical Protestantism is a relative late comer.  At the same time, not being included in this list of faiths put the evangelical church at a significant disadvantage before the law.

Yesterday I received word that the new Law on Religion had been signed into law and that the evangelical church was included as one of the “named and recognized religious communities” of Kosova.  This is fantastic and unexpected news and we’re grateful to God for it. 

Thanks for your prayers over the last couple of years about this issue.  More information will be forthcoming, but I haven’t posted in a while and thought I’d post GOOD NEWS.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

You know you've been traveling a lot when...

Yesterday, late afternoon we finally got back to Raleigh, NC where we’re spending our “home assignment” year before returning to Kosovo.  We’ve been on the road for about a month for both work-related and family visits.  We’ve been in six states, have spoken in three churches and visited lots of great people. 

When we arrived at the airport my mother, my sister and her daughter, Abbie, met us take us home.  My seven-year-old daughter asked, “Mom, after we get ‘checked-in’ to grandma's can I go play at Abbie’s house?”

Poor thing…she’s ready to unpack her bags for a while. 

Saturday, August 12, 2006

In Gjilan: Court jails Kosovo Albanian army officers

Three men were jailed Thursday after an international judge found them guilty of war-crimes in Gjilan.  Roberta Clogg, our wonderful apprentice, stumbled upon the decision a couple of days ago while coming back from language class/dinner.  Read about her experience here.

From the News:

Serbia, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- A district court has sentenced three of
Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian army officers to seven years in jail each for
war crimes against civilians.

The Kosovo District Court in Gnjilane, presided by Judge Vioneda
Bolero of an international judiciary team, jailed the three men for war
crimes, including inhuman treatment of civilians in the Kosovo town of
Orahovac in 1998, Belgrade's RTS Serbian radio-television reported
Friday.  More.

From what Roberta writes the whole matter was conducted peacefully.  Assuming the judge made the right decision, that's good news for Kosovo.  I'm thrilled that Kosovar Albanians are coming to terms with their own past, as all people must.

Friday, August 04, 2006

...on the road in Price, Utah

We got into Price, Utah this afternoon, a little town of about 8,400 people.  This is where my wife spent about eight years of here life.  We spoke tonight at a dinner at Price Chapel, a church that my wife’s dad pastored and is still making a positive impact on the community.

I’m not sure how many people turned up tonight, but there was probably at least a hundred, interested in hearing how “one of their own” was doing in a land few people understand.  The church is actually located in a former health club building.  They’ve made super use of the structure, proving that church isn't about the building, it’s about the people.  Tomorrow I speak to the men’s group and the Sunday morning Melissa and I will speak again.

I really enjoy meeting regular people from regular Christian & Missionary Alliance churches.  These people are living out their lives faithfully in often difficult circumstances.  The folks at Price Chapel are a religious minority in this state.  They are great, especially the guy who apologized for leaving the meeting a couple of times to answer his phone, “the damn thing never leaves me alone.”  I love it. 

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Moving on to Salt Lake City

We left Ottumwa yesterday afternoon after church.  We made some really good connections with the folks at North Gate and hope to see some of them in Kosovo one of these days.  Since we were flying out of Chicago at 10am for Salt Lake City, the next stop on our little tour, we decided to book a hotel an spend the night in the Windy City.  The alternative was to leave Ottumwa at about three in the morning, something I really didn’t want to do.  Incidentally, if you’re not familiar with Hotwired I’d definitely check it out.  We booked a room at the airport Westin, which normally go for $199 a night, for only $75.

We left Ottumwa about 3 o’clock, hoping to get to the Westin at around seven, in time for the girls to swim at the pool.  However, after a wrong turn at the Iowa-Illinois border which sent us on I-74 South towards fabled Peoria, we ended up checking in slightly after 10PM.  Not quite what I had in mind.

Our stay at the Westin was one of those good-news/bad-news deals.  I haven’t stayed at a hotel in the US for a long time, over four years in fact, but the Westin had a strange combo of luxury and el-cheapo.  The room was fabulous, the internet was $9.95.  Seems like internet ought to be free at a hotel like this, it was at the Super 8 in Ottumwa.  In fact, there was free Wi-Fi in the lobby, which we took advantage of from our 3rd floor room.  The refrigerator didn’t work, but if it had, there was a sensor on it that began billing you if any bottles were “moved,” not taken out, but moved.  We were trying to cool some venison sausage from grandpa so we had to order up a new fridge.  In the morning  I would a USA Today newspaper to our room which was sweet, but it was .75, though it was free in the lobby, along with the Wall Street Journal.

Anyway, we really slept well and the beds and bathroom were excellent.  We’re on our way to SLC!