Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Missionary Wife’s Testimony – she gets it!

Here is a very effective testimony of a missionary wife who really understands the privilege and opportunity of her calling.

Michelle is the wife of missionary Tim Cantrell. Tim and his family are currently ministering in Honeyridge, South Africa, where he is Senior Pastor of Honeyridge Baptist Church.

"Why I Would Die for South Africa"

South Africa has the best rugby this side of the world, the famous Big Five, fabulous weather, beautiful cities and friendly people. But it also has its darker side. It is dangerous to live in South Africa. Crime is rampant. We have the most liberal constitution in the world. We live in fear of an economic collapse like Zimbabwe's. We see all the benefits of this country-- including family ties and a rich history, but are they enough to keep us here? Why risk the safety of our family? Why gamble with the future university choices and career options of our children? Why stay?

Why Stay?
We stay because Jesus calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves. We stay because we are not here by accident and we have hope that the gospel can transform South Africa. We stay because we are convinced that a legacy of self-sacrifice and pure devotion to Christ on the front lines is the best gift we can give to our children. We stay because we are willing to die to see the gospel advance in this strategic country.

In South Africa we have more opportunities to fulfill the second greatest commandment than in any first world country. The poor are all around us, on our street corners, working in our gardens and in our kitchens. The hospitals are spilling over with AIDS sufferers and orphans. James tells us that pure and undefiled religion is to care for the orphan and widow in their distress. The poor, the orphan and the widow cannot afford to leave South Africa. They can't even afford security fences and armed response. Who will stay and fight for justice for them? "He has told you, 0 man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8).

Can We Make a Difference?
If we stay, can we make a difference? Think of what a difference William Wilberforce made as he persevered against all odds for 40 years in the British Parliament to see slavery abolished. We can make a difference. We can adopt the orphans. We can care for widows. We can develop residents' associations that fight crime (ours has seen a 100% drop in crime in the past 2 years). We can educate the young so that they will vote with a Christian worldview. We can thus impact politics, crime prevention and every field of service. We can care for our aging parents, the AIDS sufferers, and the poor. The possibilities for works of mercy and justice are endless. This isn't an optional elective for Christians. It is our life to be "zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14).

I could faithfully serve Christ and the gospel in another country. But I wouldn't expect to reap the same amount of fruit as in a desperate place like Africa: "God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him" (James 2:5). People here see their need for the Great Physician. People are suffering. We have the cure that they are asking for. The gospel (a biblical worldview) is the ultimate cure for AIDS and poverty and crime. In more western countries, people are deceptively self-sufficient and hardened to the gospel. Why not stay where the harvest is ripe and the workers are few?

The Task Is Unfinished
Our Christian forefathers gave their lives to reach South Africa with the gospel, with great results. Over 70% of the population claim to be Christian. But the job is not done. Have believers been truly discipled? Do they understand God's plan for the church, for the home, for integrity in the work place, the role of government, use of finances? They are hungry for the truth of God's Word. We have the chance to give it to them, through thriving local churches, church planting, radio ministry, schools, and countless other ministries of truth and mercy. The gospel can truly transform this country when Christians are taught to obey all that Christ commanded (Matt. 28:18-20).

Pastors and missionaries will never change a nation on their own. This only happens through grassroots godliness: model Christian homes with godly husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and faithful children; and godly business people who are salt and light in their workplaces, who serve in the church, and who finance ministry.

What About Our Children?
But what about our children? Isn't their safety and future success more important than our fruitfulness or fulfilment? Yes, our children are our first and foremost disciples. Their safety is our responsibility. But their souls are our biggest concern. Do we want to teach them to run away from trouble or to run to the battle? Do we want to teach them that life is all about how much stuff you can accumulate and how comfortable you can be, or that life is about serving others, building Christ's church, and giving up your life to find it? "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's shall save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" (Mk 8:34-36).

I want my children to follow the examples of people like Jim Elliot who said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." As I think of protecting my children, I need to remember that there are other dangers beside physical ones. I would rather that they lose their lives than their souls. As they follow God and seek first His kingdom, He will provide for their needs (Matt. 6:33, Mark 10:29-31, Phil. 4:19). If they have a strong Christian character and work ethic they will not usually have trouble providing for their family wherever they live (Proverbs 10:4). I choose to stay because I don't want to rob myself or my children of crowns that they can lay at the feet of our risen Lord.

Are We Testing God?
Am I putting God to the test by staying here? When Satan tempted Jesus to throw Himself off the temple and let the angels catch Him, Jesus refused to put God to the test. If I do something foolish that requires a miracle from God to save me, then I am testing God. Or on the other hand, if I complain about the circumstances that God has put me in and demand that he deliver me, I am also testing God like the Israelites when they demanded water (Deut. 6:16, Ex. 17:1-7). But if I joyfully carry out my duties in the land God has put me in, cultivating the ground, fighting the thorns and thistles, trusting Him to care for my family, even having to turn down amazing offers to go elsewhere, I am not testing God; I am trusting Him.

So much of God's Word encourages us to trust Him and persevere in the midst of trouble and corruption. For example, Psalm 37 is packed with such counsel:

"Do not fret because of evildoers, be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass, and fade like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him and He will do it For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land... Mark the blameless man, and behold the upright; for the man of peace will have a posterity. But transgressors will be altogether destroyed; the posterity of the wicked will be cut off. But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; He is their strength in time of trouble. And the Lord helps them, and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in Him" (Psalm 37).

There is much work to be done here. So we believe that God wants us to take refuge in Him while we stay here, not to take refuge in a safer country.

Where Are You Called?
We stay because we are called to South Africa. When you are called, no promise of greater security or comfort can lure you away. You are free to enjoy all the beauties of South Africa without constantly wondering if it is time to abandon ship. How do we know that we are called to South Africa? Because this is the place where we can be most useful in God's harvest field. This is the place where our talents can best be multiplied for the Master until He returns (Matt. 25). This is the place where we find the greater blessing of giving rather than receiving (Acts 20:35). This is the place where we can raise our children to be true self-denying Christ-followers. Unless He calls us somewhere more difficult, this is where we will stay--to live and even die for South Africa. Where are you called to die?


Thank you Michelle, and may the Lord of the Harvest add to your ranks many other faithful women and families to serve in missions!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

If missions was only witnessing …

If missions was only witnessing or only
doing benevolences, we wouldn't need The Master's Mission.

But if missions is establishing and strengthening churches that can accurately and persuasively present Christ, churches that can also reproduce themselves, churches that can train their members to love their neighbors, then preparation like that offered by TMM becomes essential for those embarking on such a mission.

Whether it is doctrinal fidelity or technical ability in building construction, the best preparation is not always accomplished in a strict academic setting. Most of us learn more efficiently through observation and imitation. In changing a tire or sharing the message of salvation, reading a 'how to' manual and actually doing it are two different things. Thus Paul told Timothy, "the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things" (Phil. 4:9). This ongoing practice, especially when supervised by an experienced coach who by his words and modeling can help you improve, is what moves us towards excellence. These kind of teachers, practitioners themselves, represent instructors who are the opposite of those derided by the adage: 'those who can't, teach.' Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to 'excel still more' by continuing to advance in the ideal they had caught from him and the apostolic team in behaving in ways that please God (Thes. 4:1, Berkeley Version of NT).

The church must excel in both the proclamation of the Great Commission and the practice of the Great Commandment. To do so, they must have these kinds of instructors. Truth is more often caught than formally taught. We would never neglect formal teaching times, but recognize that today's leaders have neglected the informal discipling opportunities of sharing life experiences and what should be mature responses to those events with those who are young in the faith or who are being apprenticed for leadership in the church. The Scripture emphasizes both kinds of learning. We have neglected the second. The challenge in missions is not only to find the "Timothy's" who can entrust to faithful men what they have learned from their "Paul's", but it is first in finding the adequate "Paul's" to begin the process. Hence the comprehensive requirements given for qualified church leaders. The help needed determines the skills the helper must have.

Where do churches (in America or on the mission field) need help?

In the same areas where everyone needs help: Marriage, child rearing, finances, dealing with sin and temptation, business ethics, knowing and doing God's will in their setting.

Where do churches (in America or on the mission field) need help?

Finding leaders who can address these issues from the perspective of God's Word, instructors who refuse to cloud or compromise the truth with their opinions. Churches need proper instruction and models to follow in maintaining the purity of truth and devotion to Christ, in rightly responding to the endless needs of their neighbors, and for zeal in application and performance in all these areas of life that please God.

The training program at The Master's Mission is designed to provide both kinds of learning whether it is church "work" or neighborly "work". They see the value of both and refuse to separate them. Many ministries divide these needs, but stand alone evangelism ministries when not linked to local congregations and that don't leave churches that are trained in benevolences are as incomplete as stand alone benevolence ministries that operate independently of local congregations and that don't leave churches to address eternal needs. Unfortunately there are plenty of both.

Mission ministry goes beyond witnessing and benevolences. And so does the training at The Master's Mission! Please join us in praying to the Lord of the Harvest for more laborers.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Singing our Song!

Same song, second verse. We are always encouraged when we hear of others who share similarities with our philosophy of ministry. For many years we have encouraged mission aviators to seek to find ministries where they can be missionaries first, and aviators second. Unfortunately what happens too often, is cost effectiveness principles crowd out ministry scheduling and the aviators begin to feel like 'glorified taxicab drivers' often for unrelated projects and NGO's (non-government organizations, usually, but not always, charities). The revenues gained can help keep the ministry agenda going but sometimes end up competing with other ministry requests for services. Pilot's time is so constrained they have little discretionary time to do the discipling and ministries that drew them to the mission field in the first place. The LeTourneau University magazine, NOW, recently told of the ministry of their alumnus Dwayne King (NOW, Fall 2007, vol. 62, issue 3, p. 9). He operates Last Frontier Ranch and Kingdom Air Corps, in Alaska. Dwayne has invited aviation students for the past five summers to come and train in remote settings for missions and aviation. A veteran of twenty-five years, he begins their day with devotions with a missions theme and then practical flight training in bush conditions with low level and mountainous flying conditions. They learn how to catch up drafts, avoid the downdrafts and clear the ridges. The students last summer also conducted a Summer Bible Camp above the Arctic Circle for 21 village children. King's influence is helping these candidates learn "to be missionaries who use planes." One of the candidates said "Being a missionary is more important than being a pilot." He continued, "All the skills we have as pilots are just tools to get the word out to the lost. Before, I thought, 'I'm going to be a pilot, and I'm going to teach people in Africa about Jesus.' But now, after last summer – I'm going to be a missionary, and if the Lord gives me an airplane, I have the skills to use it – but if He doesn't, it doesn't matter because missionary comes before pilot for a reason." Third verse!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Darwinian & Other Inconsistencies?

A National Geographic study recently reported the dying of native languages at a rapid pace. Half of about 7000 indigenous languages are predicted to become extinct in the next 100 years. And along with them the potential loss to human knowledge and scientific and medical research that follows the loss of cultural observations tied to those languages. David Harrison of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, reports that one language vanishes every two weeks often when the last of its speakers die.

Others are committing millions of dollars to efforts to preserve the endangered languages by underwriting various projects that will record aged speakers, develop a written form, teach children, and/or encourage the writing of books in the threatened language. In their words, "the death of a language entails the loss of a community's traditional culture, for language is a unique vehicle for its traditions and culture."

As a lover of history, I concede that we would be impoverished if the oral traditions and stories of our past had not been preserved in written form, in spite of the fact that we, due to our depravity (willful and otherwise), continually fail to learn the lessons of history. I also decry any form of genocide or 'culture-cide' fostered on the false premise of a superior 'race' when in reality we are all sons of Adam. And although I never became proficient beyond the first conversation in freshman Spanish, I am willing to trust the testimony of those educators who argue the benefits of learning any language (but especially endangered languages) that makes English acquisition easier for those native speakers and also tends to keep them in school longer. I take issue with the premise that all elements of cultures or cultures themselves are necessarily worth preserving and that the loss of language necessarily means the loss of the best (or worse) elements of those cultures.

As Christians and churches engaged in training and sending missionaries throughout the world we have other factors to consider. And we need to think clearly as we allocate limited funds across multiple objectives. Some argue that missionaries should go home because they destroy cultures. Some think that Bible translation work is primary in reaching the unreached. We must think clearly about these issues in order to make the best investments.

Thinking clearly:

Could it be that the cultural knowledge of an indigenous people can be passed from one generation to the next in a new adopted language? Could it be that those who embrace the Gospel can still appreciate their culture while no longer participating in some traditions?

I still appreciate my Irish and German heritage although I speak English rather than retaining the Gaelic or German dialects of my ancestors. And while I am not even distressed to call myself an American (apologies to the other countries on the continent for my persistent ethnocentrism, I can handle "Yank" if you prefer) I still know who I am ethnically.

As conceded by the social scientists studying this phenomenon, the shift to another language is now more often the choice of the children (and parents?) than the churches (missionary expansion) or militaries (Islamic expansion) that in their view 'subjugated' the natives. TV, videos, and economic opportunities afforded by fluency in another language, seem now to be the larger 'threats' to these cultures. I would argue that while even these powerful (though admittedly suspect influences) can hurt any society (based on their content or economic philosophy) they pose more of a threat to the preservation of the social scientists' "human zoo." The gospel will preserve and undergird the best of any culture while also liberating its members from those fears and bondages common to all people and to which, with more knowledge, they would bid good riddance. To perpetuate something just because it is different without consideration of its contribution to ill or good to its society is irresponsible at best and immoral at worst.

Given their premise (which I don't concede), which is the greater loss? A culture's detailed knowledge and stories lost to posterity or an individual to eternal damnation?

It doesn't follow that this knowledge has to be lost: the cultural stories of the Cherokee that I have learned and enjoyed were taught to me in English. When children adopt another language should we spend the time and energy and human resources to translate the Scriptures into the languages they are abandoning?

Other questions:

How do we best convey the gospel? Through a written tract or through a church? Through translations few will read or through missionaries living with and speaking the languages and dialects of those they seek to reach. The best way to communicate truth is by precept and example. But it is in the repetition, with an aim for clarity, across the limitations of languages (whether that of the transmitting or receiving tongue), over time that wins the lost.

The book of Revelation depicts a redeemed people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Is this descriptive of the reach of the gospel to all groups (regardless of their preferred or trade languages) or does it, as some assume, convey a cacophony of praise spontaneously conducted in various languages – similar to what was experienced at Pentecost? More likely we will find our experience around the throne to be the cosmic reversal of Babel with us all speaking one heavenly language. Which would it be: Hebrew? Or maybe Aramaic or Greek since God chose each of them to convey His Word? Since sin's curse will then be fully reversed, perhaps we will praise Him in a New Heavenly Hybrid language created especially for our New Song. One which will be richer than any one earthly language could be by itself.

Sometimes those who believe in concepts of the "survival of the fittest" spend much time and money in intervention aimed at preserving the "endangered" rather than letting nature take its course. Sometimes Christians refuse to spend the time and discipline to learn the existing languages of those they seek to reach with the gospel message. Both are inconsistent.

Monday, August 27, 2007

“Pioneers” – A Nice Endorsement

Recently Doctors Nate and Kim Smith and family spent five days with TMM missionaries
Shayne & Tari Russell. Nate is an Infectious Disease specialist overseeing Aids treatment in Kenya. Kim is an OBGYN at Kijabe Medical Center. On July 18 they posted the following on their web-link to the University of Maryland and a local TV station that is monitoring his work (I'm so thankful for the Russells and the work they do, so please indulge me: the emphases are mine):


After almost a year back in Kenya, Kim and I decided we needed a few days of rest and relaxation together as a family. Masai Mara is one of our favorite places to go on safari, and it seemed like a good place to get away from the pagers and meetings and emails. So this past weekend we loaded up the Land Cruiser and set out for the Mara.

Tari and Shayne Russell are good friends of ours who live and work with the Maasai people near the Sekenani Gate that leads into the Masai Mara reserve. I first met Tari when she came to Kijabe Hospital several years ago with typhoid and brucellosis, occupational hazards of living and working with the Maasai. The Russells work with two other missionary families, the Johnsons and the Sawyers, and it was their combined hospitality that provided us a "base camp" for our daily sojourns into the Mara.

Life is harsh for the Maasai. The ground is mostly stones, and what little soil there is is a dry, powdery dust. The Maasai are traditionally nomadic herders who live in small compounds they build out of sticks, cow dung and thorn bush. Up on the ridge where the Russells live, there is no electricity or running water. Everything they have, they have had to build themselves.

I suppose harsh is a relative term. Before coming to work with the Maasai in 1995, the Russells had already weathered a military invasion in Goma (Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1992 and the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In addition to pastoring the small flock of Maasai believers, Shayne and his colleagues have also managed to construct a church building, a medical clinic and several wells for the Maasai community. They also have plans to build an education center for the Maasai children.

The Russells still live in the small, tin-roofed house they started with. It looks like it was partly constructed using the metal container in which they transported their earthly possessions from the US to Kenya. However, Shayne is in the process of building a more substantial structure using cement and local stone. "How much longer will it take?" I ask. Shayne admits that it will really depend on the finances; he builds a little at a time as the money comes in.

Shayne and his colleagues seem to be as comfortable with building construction and vehicle repair as they are conversing in Swahili or preparing a sermon. I can pump gas and maybe change a tire; hammering a nail in straight is a challenge for me. I try to imagine surviving in a place like the Mara. "Did you do these sorts of things before coming to Africa?" I finally ask. Shayne laughs. He describes himself as a youth pastor with "no skills" prior to his missionary career. An eleven-month training program with The Master's Mission (TMM) gave him the basics, but the rest has been learning by doing. I am amazed.

After four days with these special friends, I am impressed by their capabilities, humbled by their hospitality, and inspired by their faith. These are true pioneers.

Nate Smith

P.S. You can find out more about Tari and Shayne Russell and the work they do at myspace.com/olashumbai or by emailing them at <shayne@masaimissionscom>.


Thanks Nate for the good words and for the good work you are doing in Christ's Name!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Remembering Fred Smith

I met Fred Smith briefly many years ago as a young pastor at a convention. Little did I know of his reputation and influence. That would be appreciated later. He went on to glory August 17th. For many who haven't been blessed by his practical wisdom, consider the following one liners attributed to him:

  • A perpetual learner is the best teacher.
  • Avoid the authors who are meringue chefs. (one of my favorites - I call it the "fluff-factor", big on volume, light on substance)
  • Better to be a participant in life than a reporter.
  • Clarify your thoughts so that others may use them.
  • In 20 languages "be" and "do" are the same word.
  • Language is often a useful tool to conceal meaning.

Typical of his insight and clarity of thought is the following:

"When Dr. Julian Gumperz, financier of New York City died his obituary read, "The awesome intellect of Dr. Gumperz is gone." He and I enjoyed breakfast together at the St. Regis for seventeen years up to his death. I remember one morning his saying to me, "You Protestants are going to ruin the economy of the world if you're wrong in having changed your beliefs from man is basically evil to basically good."

He went on to say, "If man is basically good, then giving him financial aid, education and freedom will improve our world, but if he is not - then you have implemented our destruction."

Personally I am convinced that the watershed of all human thinking is the perfectibility of man. It is the fulcrum on which the conservative/liberal thought turns. If man is perfectible, then the liberals are correct in theology, politics, philosophy, etc. But if he is not perfectible, then the Puritan position of restraint is the right one. (breakfastwithfred.com/library/article/70/puritans-and-ethics/ ).

If they are right ... giving external helps without changing hearts will improve our world.

If they are wrong ... they will have implemented our destruction.

Truth matters. Well-intentioned Christian benevolences are having their devastating consequences as they are implemented in isolation of gospel truths and in the absence of local churches being established in the cross-cultural settings where both the gospel and benevolences are needed. The result: dependency, lost incentive, families destroyed.

May God raise another generation of clear thinkers for mission ministry. Whose actions will be consistent with Biblical convictions.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Clothes and Missionary Life

Clothes or their absence tend to cause concerns.

But clothes don’t make the man! It is the heart that matters.

Missionaries must avoid legalism and imposing western traditions on others. Remember the old joke? "How can you tell who is the indigenous peoples first native born preacher? answer: "He is the one wearing the 3-piece polyester suit and neck tie in 110 degree weather!" Missionaries must understand the rationale for clothes as taught in Genesis.

The Bible warns of man’s tendency to teach human standards,
days, diets, & dress codes,
that promise righteousness but which have no value in making us more spiritual:

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles
of the world,
why, as if you were living in the world,
do you submit yourself to decrees,
such as, Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!

(which all refer to things destined to perish with use) -- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?

These are matters which have, to be sure,
the appearance of wisdom
in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body,
but are of no value against fleshly indulgence." Col 2:20-23

But the Lord said to him,
"Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter;
but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness." Lu 11:39

Sanitation is Important

Some anthropologists think otherwise.

They resist missionary efforts of any kind because they think missionaries are changing cultures. However, what they don’t understand is that when the gospel changes hearts it also brings other attendant blessings. Case in point: a newly converted father who now has a concern for the health and welfare of the children under his care. As an unconverted man, he couldn't see the benefit involved in the hard work to put in a pure water system. When told by the missionary that a safe water system would mean the children of the village would no longer be threatened by the many water borne diseases that often bring death, he replied, "Why would I go to such trouble? I can always have more children." But once he came to Christ things changed. He had a new heart and a new concern for his children and his neighbors.

There is no virtue in living without pure water and sanitation systems.

While we, in the west, have the opportunity to live healthy lives, why are others bound to a 30-year life expectancy for the sake of ‘protecting’ cultures?!

Let’s not perpetuate the anthropologist’s
“human zoo”!

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture,
you are doing well.

But if you show partiality, you are committing sin
and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
James 2:8-9