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September 2005
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November 2005

Dancing with Danger

I recently received an interesting e-mail about a tragedy in Africa.  It concerns an enormous elephant, a foolish youth, and a disasterous result. 

Elephant"The recent 100-pounder was shot not by a sport hunter, but by two game scouts. As the story goes, there had been no elephants in the Mbinga District in recent memory, but one day an old elephant bull suddenly appeared in a maize field close to the small village of Ruhehe. The animal was damaging crops, so the locals tried to chase it away. Then, according to the official report on the incident, a youth climbed a small tree and threw a club at the pachyderm as it wandered in the vicinity of the tree, hitting it in the head--an incident that proves that a teenager loaded with testosterone and a five-ton elephant are not a good mix. The now-angry elephant grabbed his antagonist out of the tree with his trunk, smashed him against the tree, and proceeded to stomp on him. Needless to say, the youth was killed."

Not to make light of a tragic situation, but that  story is often repeated.  We often face some enormous problems, and we think we can simply through a club at them.

If I have enough willpower, I can lick this addiction.
If I have enough money, I can solve my family problems.
If I have enough determination, I can heal my life, fix my parents, change my spouse, find peace....

There is only One who can fix the "rogue elephants" in your life.  Take it to God, before the elephant gets hold of you.


The Day the Dog Died

I wrote the following almost two years ago, but it still is appropriate for today.  With tragedies abounding in every news report, the numbers start to make us numb:

The resident stray dog died last week. 

I used to see him every day as I walked to where my vehicle was parked. He was a small dog, white with brown spots over his face and back. He looked like he had some Jack Russell terrier in his bloodlines. And he was always looking for a handout!

But as I passed by last week, he was dead, stiff and frozen in the snow bank.

I felt a little sorry for that little mutt. He worked so hard to survive in this world, only to fail.

But as I passed him, I remembered the conversation I had with friends the previous evening. One friend commented that in last week's snowstorm, fifty Moldovans had died.

Some froze to death when their cars were stranded on a snow packed road. Most died because they either had inadequate heat or no heat in their homes.

Why didn't I feel that same pang of sympathy when I heard that statistic? After all, aren't people much more valuable that any dog?

But as I walked past the dead dog, I realized it was because I knew him.

The dog was something that I recognized.
I had talked to him.
And he had talked to me (wagged his tail, anyway!). He was a friendly mutt.

The reason I wasn't as moved with the other statistic was that I did not know them.
I didn't know their names or faces.
I didn't know their families or friends.

They were just a number, a faceless entity that is mentioned in the news. It is difficult to empathize with a statistic. Some people think that God is just a distant God, that He really doesn't know them. They figure with 5 billion people in the world, they are just a number to Him. They think that when God hears about 30,000 people dying in an Iranian earthquake, He just says to the angels, "Too bad. Anyone I know?"

But God knows you. He knew you before you were born. He knows your every word, every action, and every thought.

And He cares for you.

So when 30,000 people die in Iran, God feels that hurt...for He knew each of them.
When 50 people die due to a Moldovan snowstorm, God hurts...for He loved them.
And when 1 person is sick and dying in your family, God hurts...for He knows him or her.

You are not just a number. You are not just a statistic. You are loved.

Never forget this truth-"For God so loved you..." 

Your laborer in Moldova, Andy Raatz


Ancient Modern

There is a lot of talk about the Ancient Modern faith of postmodernity. Worship services are often quite eclectic, multi-sensory. Yet it appears to me that Americans are very culturally similar, at least in comparison to my part of the world!

Oct_14_2005_chisinau_day_033_3We were recently in the center of our city, Chisinau, celebrating the city days. It was a nice time, with thousands of Moldovans wandering around, loud music, and smoking grills covered with meat. A Moldovan celebration always involves meat and noise, so this was standard for the times.

Yet what always strike me as mildly humorous are the biggest draws...cultural dances. Once again, the main stage hosted a native dance competition, with all the young people dressed in their appropriate costumes. The dances are all quite similar, involving lots of circles, kicks, and clapping.

But farther down the street, there were speakers blaring pop music at a defeaning level. I'm sure there were singers later that afternoon, singing everything from American rock songs to Russian electrobeats. From one end of the street to the other, five hundred years of cultural difference.

But do you see the dichonomy? It isn't a problem in Moldova to do both! But imagine this in the West. It would be like being at a concert listening to the lastest U2 song, then switching to Lawrence Welk's infamous polka music. AND then having all the young people jump up and dance both, just as enthusiastically.

Oct_14_2005_chisinau_day_035I love the culture of Moldova and I love the concern and care for the traditional together with the modern. I wonder why the West has become so intolerant and unaccepting of anything older than five years (slight exaggeration, I know). I'm not a "only the hymns, or God can't bless" kind of guy. I'm not even talking about the church culture, but thinking about the culture of the country.

Why do people in Eastern Europe still love the polka along with the rock? Why do the young people know BOTH dance steps! Can our churches somehow teach and tap into this nuance of this culture, and is this some small part of the postmodern culture?


People vs. Money

Many well-meaning missions organizations think that the key to world evangelism is NOT to send missionaries, but to send money. "Trust us," they say, "as we pay for native workers. They will work cheaper and better, and we can finance 100s with the same amount you send one US missionary."

Interesting thought, but it doesn't work. Paying the salary of a worker removes the responsibility from the local church, thus depriving it of the opportunity to grow and take responsibility.

It weakens the leader, since they now work for the missions organization rather than the church. Their primary loyalty is toward their supplier, not the people they serve.

And it fails to fulfill Christ's model of incarnational missions...the power of a modeled lifestyle. We still need missions more than money. If you think through the results of that thinking, I think you will agree the same!

Link: 22_3.


Sculpting

My area director, Omar Beiler, recently passed on a wonderful quote about leadership.

Rushmore_3Leadership involves the ability to recognize special abilities and limitations of others, combined with the capacity to fit each one into the role where he or she will do the best.  Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore, said of his sculpting, The statues are already in the rock; I just need to bring them out.

In missions, as in ministry, as leaders, we often think that we can come and fix the people around us, make young pastors, create leaders.  In reality, we have very little to add, simply some efforts to draw out what God has already placed in their hearts.

Today I am meeting with 8 young pastors and their wives, talking, praying together, and sculpting our lives into the image of Christ.  Pray for me as I try to apply some specific "hammer blows" to their lives, helping them draw out the leader within them.

Who sculpted into your life?


Overwhelming Needs

767As a missionary, I'm often in the position of asking for support.  We are unable to survive and work without the support and sacrifice of churches.  But there are so many challenges and needs in the world today!  It makes one feel like life is a competition!

I read a good blog at Mark D. Robert's blog, entitled Charitable Giving in a World of Need

Check it out.  It is worth the look.


Transportation

Wheels are the dream of most American boys.  From the time they are little, boys are consumed with wheels...tricycles, bikes, and cars.  I remember coveting a Big Wheel when I was just a little kid, wishing I one to tear around the block in.  I still remember learning how to ride a bike, my dad running alongside of me.  I even remember a number of the serious crashes I had on that same bike!

The other day, I was contemplating a different set of wheels.  While working in the south part of Moldova, I was fascinated with the donkey carts circling the streets of Vulcanesti.

256

I been in lots of different vehicles before.  I've driven snowmobiles and four-wheelers.  I've raced with a 55 Chevy and 2004 Mustang.  I've pounded the roads with bicycles, Landcruisers, and saddlehorses.  They all have their merits, and most have a few negatives.  But they serve the job of getting around, doing the work, and serving the task.

The task for the church is simple.  We are to bring the message of Jesus' love and mercy to the people around us.  We are ambassadors entrusted with a priceless message.  We are called worship the living God in words and deeds.  We are to encourage one another, discipling and strengthening the Body of Christ.  We are to serve the world, with both the physical and the spiritual.  What is important is that the message is conveyed and Christ's love is revealed.

648_34The mode of transportation is secondary.

If a church uses a "rocking vehicle," more power to them.  If another uses the traditional means of transport, I'm happy.  The mode of transportation isn't important, whether music, service style, church organization, or means of evangelism. 

The vehicle isn't important, AS LONG AS IT IS STILL ABLE TO TRAVEL.  But if the donkey is dead, bury it and buy a truck.  How is the vehicle working in your ministry and church?  Can you use a new vehicle to get the message out?


Partnership

Company may be like fish; after three days they both stink.  But if so, our last group of people brought a nice smell!

October_14_2005_montana_team_289We are just finishing up an exhausting week in the southern tip of Moldova, in the city of Vulcanesti.  We have been on our hands and knees, laying tile, spreading grout, and generally getting our hands and knees dirty.

But what a thrill to see the excitement in the faces of the church members.  After years of a dirty concrete floor, they finally have something the kids can play on!  Though there is still a little bit of work left, the bulk has been done.

I'm not into paying pastors salaries.  I don't believe that money from the west can solve Moldova's problems.  The strongest church in Moldova will be one that supports itself.

But we can partner at times, giving a boost, and blessing. 

We can partner, not sponsor.  October_14_2005_montana_team_479
We can be family, not benevolent donors.
We help do part, but never do all.

Partnership is the key to missions, creating a healthy, independent church that does not wait for the West to do their work.