In 2005 my good friend Afshin Ziafat (http://www.afshinziafat.com) had taken a trip with e3partners.org to the Middle East. During a phone conversation with him several weeks later, he drew me in, as only Afshin can, with humorous and inspiring stories from his experiences in the Middle East. He then paused and said, “Scott, you should check into e3. I think that you were made to do something like this. You should go with Mike Congrove. You’d love this guy.” So after some prayer and contemplation, I signed up to go to Ethiopia the first e3 adventure that Mike Congrove led as a Church Planter. Little did I know how God was going to use this trip to call me into the life of an international church planter. Little did I know how God would lead Mike to travel on from our Ethiopian campaign to the Sudan on an exploratory trip that would prepare him to become one of the finest Country Strategy Leaders (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBUdvYLzYkQ) and mission pioneers that e3 has ever employed.
Well, I guess that Mike thought, ‘Hey Scott’s a pastor. I’ll just throw him out there in Africa several miles from our team’s home base (in Ethiopia) with two Ethiopians he’s only known for 1 day. It’s all good. He’ll be fine.’ So in August 2006 (I think it was August) I found myself being dropped off from our vehicle in the middle of no-man’s-land Ehtiopia with Worku and Eberra. The driver told us, “The village you’ll be going to is only a 3 mile walk from here”… except… I didn’t understand a word he said. I had to rely on Worku’s interpretation from Amharic to English. I thought to myself, ‘Scott you’re in over your head here’. But hey, I’ve never been one to back down from an adventurous challenge.
So there I was, a stranger in a strange, yet beautiful land nervously excited to share the life changing dangerous message of Jesus. As we walked up the road passing these beautiful people, I couldn’t help but notice that each and every one of the people I passed couldn’t stop staring at me and my Scottish tan. Their obvious non-verbal gestures seemed to communicate that I was quite possibly the first white man these folks had ever seen in their neck of the woods.
Had Afshin predicted the future? Was he delving into the prophetic? I joke. Yet, after just two days of sharing the Gospel with these people, who were thirsty for life, I knew that I’d entered my element… my sweet spot… my God ordained purpose if you will. But it was during the third day of mission work there that God crystalized everything for me. On that day Worku, Eberra and I met 10 or 12 some were closer to 21 years of age and some younger with the youngest being a 14 year old boy. I call it my “boys to men” experience.
As I shared how Jesus came to earth to die for us, to resurrect and ultimately to save us, they all seemed interested at first… all except for a couple of the older guys, who seemed half drunk. They were mocking us. As I clumsily expressed the notion to them that each of them could repent and call on the name of Jesus to save them, even at that very moment, I could feel the tension. I could sense the invisible spiritual battles raging within them.
I’d like to say that they all or at least most of them came to know our Savior that day. But instead, as I spoke and Worku interpreted, one by one they turned and acquiesced to the pressure of the two older guys and the growing majority. In the end, they all turned away except for three of them. Two of these three boys shouted back toward their retreating friends saying, “Come back! We all need this. You know we need God.” I asked these three young men if they were ready to follow Jesus inviting them to believe on Him and to give their lives to Him. The two older ones, probably 17 to 19 years old, were ready. They bowed on their knees seeking God’s grace and willing to call on Jesus to save them. I didn’t ask them to do this. But their unsolicited posture expressed their sincere humility before God.
However, the fourteen year old hesitated. His name was Shirtu. I asked Shirtu if something prevented him from inviting Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. He said, “Yes. I have to ask my mother’s permission first.” Well, I hope that this doesn’t surprise you, but I really despise preachers who pressure others into some confession or profession before the people hearing are ready. In other words, I wanted to respect Shirtu’s willingness to submit under his mother’s authority. Nothing good comes out of false professions performed under spiritual bullying. But at that very moment it was as if God came down, took over my brain and tongue and said, “Shirtu, I’ll respect whatever you desire. But do you think that God wants to change you and to give you life through Jesus today so that you might offer the same gift from God to your mom tomorrow?” He nodded and said, “Yes.” Then he got on his knees with the other two older boys. They confessed and professed their love for and belief in Jesus right then and there.
The next day we made our way to an area of the village we hadn’t been to before and we unknowingly knocked on the gate of Shirtu’s yard. They have gates there connected to shrubbery surrounding their yards like a fence. Lo and behold Shirtu came to the gate. He smiled ear to ear with excitement and then ran to tell his mom that we were at the gate!
He’d already spoken with his mother about Jesus and the life change that he was now experiencing. During our conversation, Worku, Eberra and I only reiterated what Shirtu had shared with his mom. God revealed his sovereignty during our visit with her. We discovered that Shirtu’s mom was a widow with seven kids. Her deceased husband was the “right hand man” to the local witch doctor whom she was still following. Not only that, but she’d made her living brewing and selling an indigenous brand of moonshine that had lured many of the local villagers into addiction.
To make a long story short, she decided to give her life to Christ that day! Through God’s direction she quit her business and forsook everything to follow Him. She opened her hut to house the church that we started in that village. That was in August of 2006. Before losing contact with Worku sometime in the Autumn of 2008, Worku would email me from time to time to tell me how God continued to work through Shirtu’s family and grow that little house church in the middle of nowhere, Ethiopia.
Would you take a moment and pray for Shirtu’s family, the little house church, Worku and Eberra (who became the shepherd over Shirtu’s house church)?
Click on the link below to see the Video:
Of course I believe in what I’ve been doing these past three years with e3 (that is church planting in India if you didn’t know yet): sharing the love of Jesus with those who’d never even heard of Him, gathering those new believers together to plant fresh new churches where they can grow and finding persons of peace in the villages (Luke 10:4-8) to lead these new gatherings. Its biblical. Its excellent strategy. But does it work?
The answer is of course, yes! At least I always know that in my head where I’ve been trained heavily in theology and bible. But sometimes you have to experience the reality before it goes from your head to your heart. And that’s why foreign mission trips are an excellent way for God to get those “do right biblical ideas” into your heart. They provide excellent environments to not only get away from our tvs, air conditioned cages and instant meal machines, but also opportunities for us to be dependent on God in ways that seem difficult to depend on Him here in the west. When you’re out in the field talking to strangers, who might not only reject your message, but actually gather a lynch mob to beat you, you tend to get real close to God. And those ideas we’ve been taught about in the pulpits become actions in real life. Thoughts about God in our minds become connections to Jesus in our hearts.
In August of 2011, we returned near the district from the trip before. Blessed to visit some of the past churches we planted and persons of peace God sent us during our last expedition in January, we reunited with “Das” the new (person of peace) leader of a small church in this small remote village near the train tracks. So we anointed “Das” with oil, prayed over his family and worshiped with this small, but fresh six month old church.
We also worshiped with an existing church that helped us to plant other churches in their area. In January we prayed for the husband of a young woman who’d come to Christ and whom we had the honor to baptize. Her husband’s name was Srynu (Sree-noo). He WAS an alcoholic. Syrnu was there when we showed up at the small little church a few miles away from Das’ church. Something phenomonel had occurred. He gave his life to Jesus three months before we showed up. His wife’s life must have been contagious. So at the end of our campaign he wanted us to baptize him! So along with seeing over 100 people make professions of faith in Christ and planting 4 churches that August, we saw the fruit of our past labor. Indians in Andhrapradesh are coming to Christ, churches are being planted, leaders are being developed and life change is truly happening! It really Works!
There we were on a train. By the way, its very rare for westerners to ride trains. They aren’t exactly, well… luxurious. But time to relax it was. We’d seen 250 people make professions of faith and we planted 5 churches. Our hard work? Finished. So we shared a few laughs and joked around, not really paying the Indians all around us much attention. We were tired of doing ministry. At least, I was (can’t believe I’m admitting this). Yet, across the aisle from us a young woman smiled and seemed to join in on our jolly mood. We soon found out that she, Sai, spoke english very well. So we invited her to sit with us. “Do I know you? On facebook or something?” she asked Jason, one of our team mates from Texas. Of course Jason didn’t know her.
Through our conversation we find out that she’s from the Brahmin caste. The highest caste in Hindu culture. If you know anything about the caste system in India, you’ll know Hindu priests come from Brahmins and they’re the most resistant to the message of Jesus. Why would they choose to give up everything and follow Him? Everyone holds Brahmins in the highest regard for their dedication to the Hindu gods. They look to the Brahmins for spiritual guidance.
We felt prompted to share the gospel with her none-the-less. While sharing the good news, I used the evangecube, a tool that presents the gospel in picture form. When I turned the cube to the picture of Jesus, she gasped. “I’ve seen a vision of Him before. I was only eleven. But when I saw that exact face, He came to me and said, ‘This bread is for you’. Everything is about to change for me,” she said. You should’ve seen our expressions. We were in awe.
She continued on, “You see. We’ve been on this train for ten hours already. Two hours before you boarded and I had a dream. In my dream Americans, who look like you, came on this train and sat right next to me. They, well… you told me ‘we have news that will change your life forever’. So when I saw you all enter our coach, I almost couldn’t believe it! I’d shared the dream with my mother and it shocked her to see you here as well. And now you’re sharing the news!”
She and her mother decided to give their lives to Christ that day. I’ll never forget that day and neither will our new sisters in Christ. It is a reminder that we’re not taking Jesus to India. Jesus was already there seeking those who would call on his name. The one true God is in India!
From January 2011
This is not meant to be inflammatory. Its a documentary where the producer follows the life of a fundamentalist Christian and a fundamentalist Muslim. Now I haven’t seen the documentary and I don’t know if the labels fundamentalist are true to either of the main character’s beliefs. However, the producer/director seems to have been impacted spiritually by it, at least more so than he originally thought. It seems very fascinating. Check out the link above on Christianity Today’s website for a description of the film and a trailer.
The Issue and the Contestants
Here in Murfreesboro, TN a muslim community has been given permission by the city council to build a 53K Islamic Center and Mosque. (See this article: http://www.dnj.com/article/20100805/NEWS05/8050325/Planners+asked+to+research+mosque+issues). It seems that the city council pushed this through fairly easily and there was little public outcry due to the lack of significant reporting from local media. Now there is an enormous debate and public outcry in this bible belt town of mine concerning this issue after it was found out that the local commission quietly passed and allowed for the permit for the the building of the Islamic Center. By the way I don’t blame the council, by our very laws of the Constitution, people have the right to assemble and worship as they please. And the city council would probably be sued if they didn’t allow for the building permit.
But there is a notable exception to religious liberty. That exception is if a religious organization or their religious practice interferes with a compelling interest of the U.S. or State of the “highest order”, then the govt. can interfere. That would include religious practices or organizations that fund, practice or encourage physical harm against the U.S. govt or its citizens.
So we have the fearful fundamentalists protesting the last city commission meeting wearing anti-Islamic t-shirts. Then we had those (Christians, non-Christians, muslims) who claim this to be an issue of religious liberty and civil rights and they were protesting the protesters. Then we have those in the middle. I’m speaking from my experience at least because my intuition tells me that I’m a guy in the middle on this issue.
These people in the middle are mainly Christians. They believe Jesus called us to love our enemies and our neighbors, which He did. But they also fear the gradual implementation and influence of Sharia law, which if strictly followed would be antagonistic to the freedom of all other religions.
Without going into too much detail here, there are several different schools of thought concerning Sharia law among Muslim theologians, scholars and politicians. The Hanbali school, known for following the most Orthodox form of Islam, is embraced in Saudi Arabia and by the Taliban. This is the where most extreme actions occur from and the source of all of the horror stories about flogging, stoning, amputation, exile, or execution are reported by the media. But the majority of Islamic countries and political systems of the world are less strict. And those political systems, who have strict/literal interpretations and harsh remedies of punishments for those laws, such as Saudi Arabia, have such such a radical position according the what is written in their laws, but often resort to lesser punishments and restrictions when laws are actually broken and judgments are rendered.
Here’s the most interesting thing. In a 2007 University of Maryland poll (PDF), more than 60 percent of the populations in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, and Indonesia (with less strict religious-political Islamic systems) responded that democracy was a good way to govern their respective countries, while at the same time, an average of 71 percent agreed with requiring “strict application of [sharia] law in every Islamic country.” What this seems to imply is that a good majority of Muslims agree with the strict rules and enforcements, as long as it doesn’t apply to them.
Here’s another thought. Those somewhat progressive more open and democratic Islamic Societies oppress people who practice religions other than Islam. The persecution is less in some of the more progressive countries and more in others, but the one unifying factor is that they all persecute and discriminate against the practice of religions outside of Islam.
Did you know that there are more people attending mosque services than church services in England? The birth rate of muslims in Europe is significantly higher than the birth rate of native Europeans. If this remains the status quo, the Muslim population may become a majority by the middle of this century: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/5994047/Muslim-Europe-the-demographic-time-bomb-transforming-our-continent.html And if you can read the writing on the wall, the U.S. might not be too far behind, as more and more muslims have children and move to this country.
So as Christians, what do we do? Do we delve into fear and react with animosity and hate? Do we prevent American Muslims the same right our forefather’s provided us, that is the freedom to worship as our conscious leads us to worship? Do we ban Muslims from building mosques because Islam can SOMETIMES instigate violence and persecution against people of different faiths?
These are difficult questions to answer. But or the most part I have to say no to all of the question. For those of us who are Christians, I know of only one solution that Jesus calls us to undoubtedly to be a part of . We are to love Muslims to the point where they come to know who Jesus is. We are to share the gospel in a loving way! I know, I know… it seems counterintuitive. But we aren’t called to follow our intuitions over Jesus’ calling. But this means that we have to become friends with Muslims and we have to reach out to them.
What if Muslims start coming to Christ in droves because we are fulfilling the Great Commission. If so, Sharia law will have no opportunity to gain a foot hold here or anywhere. Yes, its uncomfortable and a huge sacrifice. But were the brave sacrifices of our soldiers in WWII not worth it? Is freedom (spiritual and physical) freedom not worth it? And as Christians, we should know that the price for freedom is always sacrifice.
What are your thoughts? Are you willing to sacrifice your comfort zone and reach out to a Muslim not to convert them, but to love them? If so, you just might love them to Jesus.
It was the last day of our campaign and we wanted to give the numerous kids, who’d come to our afternoon meetings something to remember the week that they’d heard about Jesus the Savior. So we bought some small toys. Little whistles, power rangers, plastic animals, teapots, etc… They are miniscule toys to our American eyes, but these kids in Christo Rey, Nicaragua have nothing, no toys.
We’d averaged around 60-75 kids a day at our meetings with bible story skits and sharing the Gospel. So we bought 110 of these wee-little toys, thinking that we’d be safe. But even then I was contemplating not handing out the toys. We had already gone to the market and then the mud of the village. There was no turning back. I thought that maybe the local pastor could hand them out discreetly around Christmas time. We prayed and decided that we’d hand out the toys anyway and we prayed that God would make a way so that every child received a toy.
On that last day, I’d never seen so many kids during a mission campaign. As we lined them up, we gave each one a toy as they passed us by. Sounds organized right? Wrong. It was pure chaos. Kids were trying to come back through the line to grab a second toy. The line was more of a mass. Spanish words were flying around like a giant flock of seagulls being fed bread by tourists on the beach. There weren’t enough interpreters to stem the tide. I know some Spanish, especially in short slow phrases. But it was all flowing out too fast and in such abundance I could discern none of it.
As the kids kept coming and coming, I was praying for a “fish and loaves” type of miracle. There were just too many. And we were running out of toys fast. The line finally started to diminish a bit, but we were almost out of toys. As the last child went through the line, we handed her the last toy. That means we had 110 kids that day and that God indeed made a way! We didn’t know how many would show up, but He knew.
When you put yourself in situations where you have no choice, but to depend on Him, God will show up in amazing ways, especially when you are serving others and sharing his life changing message. So take a risk. Share the Gospel with your neighbor. Go on a trip to do so in India or Nicaragua or Timbuktu or wherever. If you take a risk for Him, you will experience Him in an amazing encounter like never before. Its what happens when you live a life “on mission”.