Ministry Thoughts

I Agree

It has probably been a year since I even opened up my blog. There has been so much activity in our lives over the last year that it has been the farthest from my mind. But my ONE goal for this 2017 is to establish a daily writing pattern.

I didn't make a dozen New Year's resolutions. Yes, I want to get in shape and lose some weight. Yes, I am cutting down on distractions and focusing on more reading. Yes, I'm turning off email in evenings when I'm home. 

But the ONE goal that I'm going to add systematically is writing. I'm writing daily in my journal, an exercise that has always been a frustrations. I am going to doing daily writing for my current ministry position, Communications Director (which REQUIRES me to write!). I am going to keep pecking away on my book ideas that are out there. 

I am not going to force it, but just let it come. I won't mandate the number of words (except for work, when an article is due). But I want to keep the writing juices flowing, bouncing to ideas that engage me.

My thoughts on writing, and the areas where I'm going to tackle it:

  • Current events, and how we should respond. A current frustration I have is that so many in today's world take a subject like immigration and over-simplify! Can't we talk about both sides of the issue?
  • Missions--this is clearly a huge passion of my life. How can we make a difference in the world?
  • Christian Living--and my tentative book title that I'm working on is Eye-Opening, learning to see the world the way Jesus did.
  • Fiction--my girls still want me to finish the bedtime stories I told them as kids, so I better get it done.

I think that this year is going to be fun, and I'm exciting to see what I end up with written!


Permits

One of the huge challenges for many nations of in Eurasia, Russia included, is the issue of visas and permits. We all live with the looming question, "How are we going to stay and minister here?" That challenge remains in both friendly and unfriendly countries, developed and undeveloped areas. 

Our current visa is a three-year religious visa, something the embassies are not giving anymore. It ends February 9, and we are back to working on the details of the next steps. We will be forced to work the visa situation for at least another year. The odds are that we will not actually get our temporary residency permits until January 2017, even if all goes perfectly! In the meantime, we will need to do trips to Finland every 2-3 months, or to the US if the schedule demands it, and get visas over and over again.

I'll also be spending the next few months making sure we have all of our documents in line: birth certificates, marriage certificates, and criminal background checks. We'll also need to take a Russian language proficiency test (scary!) and do an entire gamut of medical certifications (ugh).

10615586_680807572015024_4059118848331220852_nI have to keep the reward ahead of me--stability. The reward is the right to stay, to minister, to work and develop the AGWM team and the Pentecostal church partnerships. 

In order for us to stay and minister, we need the permission to do so. We love Russia. We love the people, the culture, the churches, and the history. We don't get engaged in politics, nor do I care to even think about it. We just want to see more people find Christ here. We want to see the antagonistic religions engaged by dozens of church-planting teams. We long to see the Muslim areas transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ. We want to see the Buddhist regions understand a personal, loving Savior. We dream of thousands of Atheists filled with the joy of God's salvation.

But it takes work to get there.

Sometimes I get tired.

I get tired of itinerating and traveling.
I get tired of sharing about the needs and opportunities of Russia.
I get tired of fighting the battle.

I once had my "nearly audible" voice of God experience, in the front of the church sanctuary in Harlowton, Montana. I was praying early in the morning, complaining to God about a headache of a person. The Lord really spoke so clearly to me, saying, "Andy, if you are in ministry, you'll always have headaches. That is the load of working with people. And if you are doing ministry the right way, you'll have many headaches, because messy people who get saved bring their mess to the Church."

Ouch.

So my message to myself over the next year is "Run the race."

Appreciate your prayers. Appreciate your encouragement. Appreciate your financial support. We need all of it.

Keep praying that people will respond to God's call and come. Pray that solid team leaders will respond to His call. Pray that workers with learners' hearts and gumption will respond. Pray for those that have already responded, many serving here for years, while others are on the way.

At this point, we are doing all we can to plant and stay. Praying for dozens more to do the same.

As we labor for our permit, I want to challenge you to fight your own battle. I don't know where God is calling you, or how He is challenging you to step out in faith. I only want to encourage you to face the battle, and allow the Lord to be with you through it all. 

What battles are you facing?
Where do you have to plant and stay?
How are you being stretched?
What is the difficult path you are forced to travel?

 


Siberia

I've been pleasantly surprised by our move to Russia.  Of course, there are always surprises about any move, especially to another country. We had already spent over ten years in Moldova, and I knew the system, the markets, and nearly every road.  I'd eaten countless Moldovan meals, picnicked with friends, and bounced up and down over far too many potholes.

_DSC8737But Russia has wilderness!  It has snow!  It has outdoorsmen!

It is the one thing I missed from the previous ten years.  I missed the woods--hunting and fishing. For those who are not hunters, you need to understand that hunting and fishing is not just about killing an animal or fish, it is about the days and hours spent in quiet, standing alongside a riverbank or in the woods. It is the solitude and stillness of the moment.

I love the fact that the church leaders and pastors here love the outdoors as well. I was blessed to freeze in Siberia while the group of us went moose hunting.  The snow was deep, the frost was hard, but the time with these men was invaluable. 

And I learned an important lesson. Until you have had days in relationship outside of the ministry task, you'll never have the same heart. When you have shared the days together, froze in the snow and baked in the banya, you are closer to understanding one another.  

This isn't too far off from the life of Jesus, as he walked, talked, fished, boated, napped, ate with the disciples.  Yes, and did ministry.  But he was with them, and did not just do for them.

May our relationships in life and ministry be filled with days living life together, as well as ministering to those in need.  May we each find a band of brothers to do this journey.

IMG_3670


Perception

Perception is 9/10 of reality.

Isn't that the saying?  The problem is that perception is NOT reality, and is often incorrect. 

I merely mention this fact because it is a constant struggle with those who serve in missions.  We often live in "exotic" places, and our travels take us to "exotic" locales.  But perception is not always the same as reality.

People see a photo of Nancy and I in Red Square.  "Wow," they say, "It must be wonderful to see the world like that!"

Reality....we went to Moscow to meet all the AGWM workers and the national church pastors and leaders.  We flew on a mediocre airplane, endured horrendous traffic, and sat in endless meetings.  We saw the square because we were there, walking with fellow workers on our team.  Vacation?  Not in even a tiny way.

Perception...."you travel a lot, jetting everywhere."

Reality....the roads here are so bad we have back problems.  I can fly to Istanbul for less money than you can drive from Minneapolis to Chicago, and if I'm going to have face to face time with other workers, I have to fly to see them. And if you think flying the Russian Aeroflot airline is wonderful, you are greatly deluded!

Perception...."It must be nice seeing the world"

Reality....most days, I'd trade one "exotic" meal for a Five Guys burger, a Caribou coffee, and a Montana-grown prime rib.  Part of our adventure is that there is NOTHING else to do here.  We have no movies, no high school sports games, no outdoor adventures, and no shopping.  We don't have the weekly simple pleasures, but we are blessed with a couple of great things a year.

Please forgive me if this blog sounded defensive.  There is no intention of that.  I only wanted to share the reality of life here.  I will never complain, and I feel blessed.  Yes, there are dozens of things that frustrate me and irritate me ("dozens" is too small a number), but we are blessed.  I'm blessed to live close enough to Europe to have seen some sights over the years.  I'm blessed to have friends scattered around the world, homes that made our visit affordable.  I'm blessed to have the means to enjoy a great meal at the handful of decent restaurants in our country.

But that "exotic" life I hear so much about?  I still haven't found it!  :-)

But a blessed life?  I wake up to that every day.

 


Brokenness

The theme of brokenness and being poor in the spirit has been echoing around me for a number of years.  A great friend of both us and the work here is Kyle Miller, a counsellor that has been a great support to Freedom Home.  His main teaching centers on the Beattitudes, a model of healing and restoration. (His link is here).

The beginning of healing and wholeness comes when we understand our poverty and can mourn our brokenness, our hurt and our pain.  That is the beginning.

One observation we've had at Freedom Home.  (Perhaps the home there is such a good example because of its intensity.  It forces things to the surface quicker, and their isn't the space to avoid confronting your own issues).  There comes a point in all staff and workers where THEY have to confront their own weaknesses, sins, flaws, and history.  If they are unwilling...they'll not stay.  Either their attitude will cause them to depart or we have to ask them to leave.

I am not talking about pagans here, but mature believers.  But in order to mature as God wants you to mature, you have to confront some things.  Such things as:

  1. Pride--some tend to think they are "better," at the home to "help" these unfortunate women.  When we think we are "better," pride has already entered our hearts.
  2. Shame--perhaps it is our shame that prevents us from sharing our history.  We are embarrassed to remember what we did.  But when we share the secret, we break its power over us.  We must not be ashamed of being "sinners saved by grace."  We were sinners.
  3. Relationships--the healing at FH comes because its a community, a family.  We are imperfect, but we must be striving to grow.  Conflict is natural, and we have to learn how to resolve conflict.  We must learn how to ask forgiveness and learn how to let go of grudges.
  4. Submission--you will never be a leader until you learn how to submit.  I've seen that so clearly in some huge failures.  One person could not submit to leadership, a huge spiritual flaw that will stop all future growth. 

These are just a few examples.  I could list a lot more:  worship leaders that rely more on their natural music talents than on the Spirit of God, counsellors that think they have wisdom and words and skills, rather than relying on the Wonderful Counsellor, preachers that can craft their words in such a way as to bring the tears.

I've seen it in missionary letters, i.e. "We've done ______, or planted _______, or started ______"  Who is getting the credit?

I've seen it in church missions reports, i.e. "We are the  _____ largest giving in the district!"

Lack of brokenness comes when we need to look so great, so perfect, and so "holy" that we have no chance to let God in.  If we become full of ourself, we won't have room for God.

Poor in spirit helps us empty ourselves of OURSELF.  Then and only then can the Holy Spirit enter to give healing.

There are lots of examples of people full of themself...prideful, holding grudges, totally blind to their flaws.

But to find brokenness, we have to look a lot farther. 

Could I be so bold to say that God really doesn't care that much about how many campuses you have, how many books you've written, how many sermons you've preached, how many churches and ministrues you've started, and how large of a conference you spoke at.

He does care if you are poor in spirit.  And that you mourn over your own frailness.  And that we are meek. 

Thoughts?


STL

IMG_0798 copyLast Sunday I had the privilege of sharing at Abundant Life Community Church in Alton, IL.  They did something this year that will turn out to be a huge blessing to Freedom Home in Moldova.

Their youth group bought a car.

Actually, they made a committment to raise money for Speed-the-Light, an A/G program that helps buy vehicles, sound systems, and other tools for missionaries.  And it is the youth that do the work.  It's their vision, their responsibility, and their way to GIVE.

This youth group raised over $25,000 to help buy a vehicle for Freedom Home, the aftercare home for Moldovan survivors of trafficking.  Incredible!

This is FAR beyond anything they had ever done, but with the vision of their youth pastor, Eric Hoffman, and a bunch of high level youth leaders, they somehow pulled it off.  They broke the old paradigm.  

It is interesting how often we have mental limits.  We think that we can only give $20 to a need.  Or that we are only capable of this one task or ministry.  Or that we can never read the Bible through in a year, or memorize a verse a week.  We think that believers can never tithe, never give to missions, never go on trips.  

We have these mental limits.  But faith is sometimes simply believing that those limits can be shattered.  And when we do, our entire perspective is changed.

What is the advantage of this youth group giving $25,000?  Well, it showed them that ridiculous dreams are possible.  That God blesses generosity.  That they can do incredible things.  That they can actually play a part in a Moldovan girl's healing.    That they have a purpose.

So I celebrate with these youth today.  And I wonder what paradigm's I need shattered?  What limits are you living with, barriers that need to be stretched and broken.  What are the big dreams out there for your church and your life?


Who Am I?

Yesterday I heard a comment that I've heard a thousand times.  Someone was introducing us to a group, and he said, "Andy and Nancy are missionaries to Moldova."

Something stopped within me. 

Is that who I am?

I think I am a person, who serves in the role of missionary.  I am a man, a follower of Christ.  But a missionary?  No...that is something I simply do.

Perhaps I'm splitting hairs, but there is something dangerous when we start to think what we DO is who we ARE.  It is especially dangerous if that DOING can set you apart from you you are.

This situation where this comment was made was a small group, a place where people come for safety, counseling, and encouragement.  I had visited with a couple of guys earlier that I am not sure if they knew much about church or God.  The last think I want to do is for people to label me "missionary," mostly because in Christiandom now that means "super-Christian."

I am far from super.  I am far from sainthood.  I am far from perfect.

I do happen to serve in a unique situation, doing some unique work.  I think God has called us there, His strength and my stubbornness help me stay there.  We are trying to do work that I am unsure of, struggle with, and at times, pray that survives.  I get frustrated with traffic, imperfect churches, and the stress of going to grocery stores.

And I'm a missionary?

No, I'm just an ordinary guy, doing what he can do to show God's grace and mercy.  I want to glorify God in all I do.  Some days that desire is greater than other days.  Some days I'd rather quit and go milk cows, or sell shoes, or mow lawns. 

So next time introduce me a Andy...an ordinary guy trying to serve God, be a good husband and father, serve in ministry...and who happens to serve as a missionary for some strange reason.  Just ordinary...Andy.


Stumbling

I have a few minutes before I head over to Church on the Move in Plains, MT, for the service this morning.  I am going to do something I haven't done much of for the last few weeks.

Write.

I am not sure why I haven't been writing.  I'm behind on newsletters, blogging, even emails.  We arrived back in the US the end of July, and something happened.  I just lost the words. 

Nothing there.  Nada.  Zip. 

I wanted to write, but it was if my system had gone into shock mode...from the culture, from the exhaustion, from the overload.  My one creative outlet felt draining, not refreshing.

Am I the only one who's ever been in that type of condition or mood? 

You would think I would have loads of energy.  I'm back where life is easy (grocery stores, convenience, smooth roads).  I'm back where I can speak English, with friends and family. 

But life has seemed to become one ENORMOUS to-do list.  I have hundreds of support letters to get out.  I still haven't finished painted and setting up our house.  I have services to schedule, calls to make, pastors to see, newsletters to write...plus I'd kind of like to take care of myself.

Sorry...this isn't meant to be a woe-is-me kind of note.  Not intending that.  I know every one has there own enormous load of life, some much more strenuous than mine.  It is meant to be MY exploration of why I let that load stop me from writing.

I am trying to stumble my way back to stability.  I want to emerge from this  shocked-state of life, and get back to running.  And I want to do it with passion and joy.


Worries

I've had a lot on my mind as of late.  Different kinds of worries.  Different kinds of thoughts. 

I tend to try to work ahead in my mind all the things I need to do.  I've never needed anybody to add to my to-do list.  I keep that list building ahead of me constantly.

But more and more, those worries are turning into prayer requests.  I know that should be obvious, but I think that many times I've spent more time worrying that praying.  Maybe I shouldn't admit there, but even as a pastor, the leap from problem to worry was far quicker than the leap from problem to prayer.  And many times, even my prayer times were prayer-worry sessions!

It is funny how God keeps reminding me over and over of the need to pray.

We've been fighting the situation with the well-drilling rig, running into problem after problem.  This morning, as Don and Phil were heading out the office to drive down and work on it one more time, we prayed together.

Three hours later, I get the text, "It is working out."

Should we even be surprised?

But prayer isn't about "things working out."  It is about trusting God, laying those concerns at His feet.  Whether it works out or not is insignficant.  Living with the peace of God in the midst of the storm is what is important.

We need breakthroughs in people at Freedom Home.  Why worry?  Pray.
We need young people to step forward to become church planters. Worry?  No, pray.
We need need favor by a mayor for a church property dispute.  What to do?  Pray.

The challenges are there each and every day.  Perhaps our missions life even reveals bigger and more severe problems than the usual.  But our God is more than capable of granting us His peace in the midst of them all.


Celebration

The last time I blogged, I wrote about the uneasy feeling I had with trusting God for finances.  It is hard to trust at times, living in that tension between faith and reality.  I am a man of vision and dreams, and I must keep one foot anchored in budgets and cash.

But I never want to lose that sense of risk...trusting God when He calls me to step out.  If I only use reason, I'll never get out of the boat.  I will never bring a few loaves and fish to Jesus in ignorance, only to be amazed by his multiplication miracle.  I will never pray for the sick, sit with an addict, or celebrate a miracle.

Celebrating miracles make the risk worth it. 

Today we celebrate the two-year anniversary of Freedom Home.  The ministry started some months earlier, but two years ago today, we celebrated the official opening of the work.  I will sit with girls that came pretty shattered.

They were rejected by this world.
Their memories were etched with painless pictures.
Their future was non-existent. 

And God has rattled their lives, changed their futures, and given them life.

The risk is worth it all.  And we will still step out in faith, trusting God each month for the daily provision of Freedom Home.  In our year back in the U.S., we'll try and raise $1500/month is monthly support for Freedom Home.   We'll speak and raise prayer support for the home, covering it with prayer 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Because the celebration makes it worth it.  And I like celebrating.

[Signing off...and heading out the door to our celebration.]