Thursday, July 27, 2006

God's good...speaking in a Baptist Church

We spend the day down in Missouri yesterday visiting my wife’s grandfather.  He’s an amazing guy.  The son of a Missouri farmer, he served in WWII as a gunner in a dive-bomber, went to college on the GI Bill and became an engineer who helped develop the guidance systems on the Tomahawk cruise missile, the F-111 fighter-bomber and a number of other aircraft.  At 82 years old magazines like “Aviation Weekly,” “Newsweek” and “The Economist” are still on his reading list.  I wish I could spend more time with him!

We also had the privilege of speaking at “grandpa’s” church last night.  The church is 150 years old and is part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  While they support their own missionaries, they’ve also been praying for us over the last four years.  It was great to meet some of these faithful people.  One lady had family in Slovenia, another had traveled around the world on different trips.  Some people might not think that a rural Missouri, country church has much to contribute to the Kingdom but they’d be dead wrong.  These people are a testimony to the faithfulness of God and God’s people, demonstrated in countless small churches around the country.  I thank God for them and for their partnership with us, though they’d never met us until yesterday. 

God is doing great things throughout the world and I”m grateful for the wonderful work that the SBC is doing both overseas and in the US.  They are one of the premier church-planting groups in the US and one of the few remaining missionary-sending agencies committed to doing missions through long-term, language– and culture-learning missionaries.

Thanks everyone for a great evening!


This is the Christian & Missionary Ottumwa, IA

We’re visiting my wife’s family in Ottumwa, IA this week and on Sunday we had the opportunity to speak at North Gate Alliance Church.  Maybe I’m just all excited about being on home assignment, but I haven’t been this enthusiastic about being a part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in years.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not down on my denom, but every group has its issues and it’s just human nature to focus on what’s wrong instead of what’s right.

But after hearing from the heart of the president of the CMA and denominational leaders last week, and visiting North Gate this week I’m just really excited about what the CMA is about and where we’re headed. 

North Gate is a church that is committed to “the mission” both at home and overseas.  They’ve more than tripled their giving to the Great Commission Fund over the last four years, while at the same time undertaking an extensive building program AND hiring a Mexican graduate of Crown College to plant a Spanish-speaking congregation.  They also just sent their youth to work in the inner-city of St. Louis and have sent adult teams to Mexico.  They’re getting it done, and doing with grace and humility.

It is a privilege to be connected to a church like this, a church that models so well the vision and the history of the CMA.  Thanks to everyone in Ottumwa for making us feel at home and for making the CMA what it is!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The flattening of the CMA

I'm developing contrasting memories of Wheaton, IL. The last time we were here, which was the summer of 2002, we were in a grueling language acquisition course. We were tired, we were stressed, we were a little anxious about leaving for Kosovo a few short weeks later. This week we've been on the same campus, eating the same awesome food and surrounded by many of the same people, but it has been very, very different.

Last night marked the end of our first HAMS Conference, or Home Assignment Ministry Seminar (Conference...redundancy noted). It's been a great week of reconnecting with old friends and colleagues, seminars, worship and great messages and plain old hanging out.

One of the things that has really struck me is the the flattening, the de-corporate-izing of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. It is a welcome breath of fresh air. We had the priviledge of having the President of the CMA here with us this week, as well as a number of divisional Vice-Presidents, Assistant Vice-Presidents...a whole cornucopia of titullage. They all stayed in the same dormitory housing; we all used the same single large bathroom. Each morning I stood at a sink, towel-wrapped, shaving my face next to the President or other exalted personage. I can't speak for everyone, but that meant a lot to me. In past years the "headquarters staff" usually stayed in hotels, I'm told, while the missionaries stayed in the dorms. It may seem like a little thing, in fact some would mark it a "no brainer," but they are road signs of a movement towards what the president is calling "seamless ministry", the de-silo-ing of the corporate structures that have typified our organization.

Okay, my ride has arrived. God has been good. I have a lot more to say, but it will have to wait.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

...loving life in all its various dimensions

Normally people get sick when they arrive on a mission field, not they return from one.  I’m having the exciting experience of a whopper of stomach bug the day after returning from Kosovo.  Yesterday morning I awoke jet-lagged and stupid, but relatively healthy.  By lunch time I was spending 15 minutes of every hour in the bathroom trying to exorcise the nasty bug that found me.

I’m better today, though I’m pretty sore from everyone’s favorite form of exercise, the dry-heave quiver.  I’m anticipating feeling better as the day goes on as we fly to Chicago tomorrow morning at 6:41 AM for an organizational conference. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Back in the U.S.

We havebeen back in the US for about 16 hours, ten of which I've spent asleep. So far it is a little surreal. Here are a few of my initial fascinations:

-throwing toilet paper in the toilet.

- clean, new cars everywhere.

-my first shower...standing up, with a shower curtain, without holding the douche (sprayer)

-no trash on the roads... anywhere

-surreally clean landscape

-having to find a electrical plug adapter for my laptop, to the US standard

- my mind unable to grapple with what my body is suddenly doing here.

-I have no keys, to anything.

- there are a lot of fat people here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Headed home tomorrow

I haven’t had much time to write this last week.  We’ve had a fantastic, super-servant-hearted group of 16 high school students and adult leaders keeping us busy until the very last day.

This group, from my home church in North Carolina has really made an impact on our little community.  First they ran our first-eve children’s program for the Ringjallja Center.  We had 20–30 kids each day from the community coming to hear about the Bible and God’s love for them.  Second, the group led a river-cleaning project.  There is small stream running through our town that is choked with debris and garbage.  In cooperation with the local youth Red Cross they cleaned our targeted stretch of river with joy and energy.  This may be a little strong, but I think they worked our local friends into the ground.  I’m not trying to be arrogant, but these American kids really know how to work!  For this project we were invited to the mayor's office and presented with a certificate of appreciation for the efforts.  They explained for the local news how they hadn't come on a “humanitarian basis” but on the basis of the love of God for the people of Gjilan.  The group also hosted three “cultural exchanges” during the evenings for the local high school students…

Anyway, this isn’t very good writing and I’m struggling to put into words what an impact this group made on the local people.  At the same time, we have been busily trying to pack, while feeding and boarding this large group.  They leave today, and we leave tomorrow.

If all goes well, we’ll spend the night in Prishtina tonight with some friends before getting on a 7AM flight for home tomorrow.  God has done some fantastic things over the last four years.  I hope I have time to process them in the weeks to come.  Right now I feel like our family has been running full speed, and will right up until we get on the plane.  “Back in the day,” missionaries had weeks to ponder their experiences, sailing on ships back to the homeland.  Today, we’ll be thrust back into American life before the wash-water has even dried on the kitchen floor.

We’ll be back in another year, God willing.  I’d like to do next term different from this one.  I’d like to be able to spend more time with my kids for one.  Anyway, I hope I can ponder and process a few weeks down the road.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Really, really light posting these few weeks

I haven't had much time to write lately.  We've got a couple of major things on our plate that isn't leaving much time to blog.  As I write this, a group of 16 American high school students and adult leaders are preparing for another day of fun and frolic here in Kosovo.  They're on a "missions trip" here until Monday and have been involved in running a children's program, ecological river clean-up project and a cultural exchange with local youth.

The second major thing is our return to the US for our one-year home assignment.  We're obligated to spend one year in the US for everyone four we're overseas.  We're leaving on an early morning flight on Tuesday, about 14 hours after our guests leave.   Sooo…we're busy packing up our house while hosting a team too!  We're having a lot of fun, but blogging will be sparse.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Vacation in Bulgaria P. III..oops a little late

*** Why I’m writing this: I’m writing this short little series to give you a window into the awesome blessing of a life of service.  When people think of a “missionary” sometimes they think of people serving diligently, under harsh conditions, dutifully suffering for their Master.  And that is true…sometimes life is like that.  But other times we are privileged to experience the unimaginable richness of life that comes from a life of stumbling obedience.  That is what I want to share with you in this little vacation chronicle.  I want you not to think of missionary life as foot-dragging resignation of life lived in difficulty, nor as a life of leisure in exotic locals, but rather of a life of beauty and ugliness, pain and pleasure, awesome contrasts which make missionary life a dance.***

After  a long day on the road we arrived in Nessabar, Bulgaria.  This isn’t a very big country, but the roads make you feel like it is!  Actually, it’s beautiful drive through the agricultural heartland of the nation.


Since we took so much time in Plovdiv we didn’t actually arrive in Nessabar until about 9PM local time.  That’s pretty early if you don’t have little kids with you, but with four children under seven-years-old, it was plenty late to begin looking for a hotel.  Nessabar, and especially the Sunny Beach area on the Black Sea, has incredibly active tourist areas where hotels are breeding like rabbits.  At the same time, its extraordinarily affordable.  Since we hadn’t made a reservation and just thought we’d “wing it” we stopped at a couple of 5–star hotels right on the beach.  We needed to get a base-line on prices and thought we’d start at the top.  At one brand new hotel, with marble floors, brass fixtures we found a price of a little over 200 leva per night.  That’s about $120 which included Copy of Vacation_0606_Nessabar_2_02bbreakfast and dinner at a hotel with multiple swimming pools, exercise equipment and sits right on the beach.  Talk about affordable!  But this was still quite a bit more than we wanted to pay.

So we looked around for a couple of more hours.  The kids were tired but hung in there.  My oldest prayed diligently that we’d find something SOON!  In the end ended up at hotel about a block off the beach.  We found a two-room apartment, which over looks the swimming pools and central courtyard for $85 per night.  That includes use of all their facilities and a fantastic breakfast buffet as well.  The picture to the right is off our apartment balcony.  Not a bad deal, eh?

Yesterday we spent most of the morning on the beach.  The Black Sea.  Never in a million years would I have ever guessed that I’d be sitting on the beach in Bulgaria looking out over the Black Sea.  In my mind, growing up during the cold war, Bulgaria was always a darkly exotic place.  When I thought of of the Black Sea I thought of the Soviet Navy patrolling the cold waters of their own back yard.  I thought of pollution and poverty.  I thought of things that were just “other” and foreign.

That’s not what we’ve found here.  The beach here is as clean, white and beautiful as any I’ve ever sat on.  Okay, the service people don’t quite get the idea of “service” but the facilities are all first-rate.

Our God is a god of blessing.  I know that most of you will never sit on the beaches of the Black Sea.  I know some couldn’t afford to pay what we pay; $80–85 per night is just out of your price range, even for a one a year vacation.  But my point here isn’t to belabor the inequalities of life, but to praise the God who made it and to thank him for allowing us to share in it.