The end of the wilderness

Whenever I share about the nine years of wilderness we experienced when we first moved to the States, something about the story resonates with other people–especially the length of time we were there. It seems to give people hope that they, too, might emerge from their own desert experience with their faith stronger, and prepared for the next stage on their spiritual journey. I would make one comment here from our experience/mistakes: learn the lessons the first time round–it saves God having to repeat them!

Photo Credit: Gita Rau (Creative Commons)

For us the end of the wilderness came in a way that I can neither recommend nor endorse.

We gave God an ultimatum.

In the March or April of 1996 we told God that whether we heard him or not, if things hadn’t changed by Christmas, we were going back to the UK where at least we could make a living as doctors.

There were three areas where we asked for change:

  • That he would speak to us again
  • That we would find a means of making an adequate income
  • That our church situation would change

That Spring, we were invited back to the UK to share at a conference. I remember standing at the window of the conference accommodation we were staying in, gazing out at the beautiful British countryside when a thought from left field came into my mind:

“You will be part of a move of my Holy Spirit again a second time.” I instantly recognized this as God speaking to me. What a relief to hear his voice again!

We had lived through the British charismatic/house church movement–wonderful times of God’s blessing which had changed the face of British Christianity. Could God be about to do something in the States? Another move of his Spirit? What would it look like?

From that time onwards, Jesus started speaking to us again.

Back home in Texas, Tony was acting the teenager one day, playing basketball with the kids when he injured his knee. After two or three months, there was no improvement, and so he finally went to see an orthopedic surgeon who advised surgery. The forty-five minute operation was a success, but the bills were a shock. We were part of a Christian sharing co-operative where believers donated to cover each others medical costs every month. Tony was so horrified at the bills that he called the surgeon and explained how the bills would be paid, and suggested the doctor might like to lower the cost. Much to his surprise, the doctor asked how much he felt comfortable paying and they finally agreed on a healthy discount. Every other provider did the same.

For several years, we had been crying out to God, asking him to provide us with an idea to create wealth. The basis of our praying had been Deuteronomy 8, especially verse 18 which, in the NKJV, says this:

 And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

I had the idea that maybe we could discount the medical bills for other members of the group too. Tony called the company with the suggestion and they jumped at the idea of a doctor discounting their medical bills. The phone call was on a Thursday; Tony started working out of our tiny spare bedroom on the Monday; by the following Friday it was obvious that this was a way we could make a living.

Over the past fifteen years, The Karis Group has expanded to offer a variety of services and we now have around seventeen employees. God answered that cry of our hearts.

For those of you who have been through the wilderness, how did the Lord lead you out?  Do you have any advice to offer to others who are still in the middle of their wilderness?

 

Why do we go through wilderness experiences?

I wish God taught us most when things are going well! But God’s training school is more typically on the backside of the desert.

Photo Credit: Vu Bui (Creative Commons)

In 1987, the Lord spoke to Tony, my husband, and me, telling us both independently that we were to move to the States. We were naively excited about the opportunity, assuming that the Lord wanted to take the ministry we had with doctors, nurses and others in the caring professions in the UK and see it expand there, as it had into several other nations.

Six months later, we, our four young kids and twelve of the largest boxes the airline would allow, arrived in Austin, TX, where a church had offered us premises from which to run the ministry. Other than that, we knew no one. Meanwhile, the Lord got on the next plane back to the UK–or at least, that was what it felt like. We loved the States–the wide open spaces of Texas were so different to the concrete jungle of London’s East End. But no one wanted to employ two unlicensed physicians, we didn’t fit into the American church landscape–even the good church we were attending was so different to the non-religious and vibrant life we were accustomed to. Worst of all, God stopped speaking to us. It seemed the heavens were like brass.

We were in the desert. God’s training school for us.

Don’t get me wrong. We had good times too. But the sense of God’s blessing on our lives was gone, and after a few years, it felt as though this was going to be permanent.

For a few months,  the house we had sold at a profit in the UK supported us. Then ministry travel overseas brought in just about enough money to survive. When that dried up, we had to make a living somehow, so we did the most menial jobs. We sold door-to-door and at flea-markets and eked out a survival with the assistance of our families. Not very dignified for two doctors, but oh, so good for us.

Seven or eight years into this, I had one brief experience that gave me hope. It was as though, for ten brief minutes, the Lord drew back the curtains, and I could see that all we were going through was for his glory and his purposes. But then the mists rolled in again. I lost the understanding of what he was doing, but the memory of that moment kept me going.

What did we learn?

  • We learned that God is good all the time, even when it doesn’t feel like it and everything is going wrong
  • We learned to get rid of the “Christian welfare” mentality–that somehow, because we’d been in “full-time ministry” we were entitled to support from others
  • We learned that even if God never spoke to us again, or never used us again, we still had to trust him. (Like Job, even though he slay me, yet will I trust him)
  • I had to learn that grumbling and complaining (and I did my fair share) just gives in to the enemy
  • We came to understand that our motives for Christian ministry were very mixed–we had to die to the desire for limelight and significance
  • We had to learn to be content in whatever circumstances we found ourselves

I wish we were faster learners, and even now I don’t know if we have fully learned the lessons! It took nine, very long, very painful years before God brought us out of the wilderness. Many times we were tempted to move back to England, where at least we could earn a decent living, but whether it was stubbornness or sheer stupidity, we never did so.

Finally God started speaking to us again.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m so very grateful for those years. I hope I never have to go through a similar experience again, but I recognize that God accomplished more in our lives and characters than he could ever had done through blessing. They were God’s means of preparation for all that he has us involved in now.
Has God taught you through a wilderness experience? What was it like? What lessons did you need to learn?

 

 

Bringing our faith into our working lives

When we worked and ministered in the UK, our lives were very blessed. Everything we touched seemed to “turn to gold”–in the spiritual rather than physical sense. Tony, my husband, was leading a ministry that worked among doctors and others in the caring professions and extraordinary things were going on all over the country. The ministry taught these professional how to bring their faith into their working lives in a sensitive and relevant way. We ran conferences that showcased examples of doctors who were doing something meaningful. As others professionals saw what was going on, their response was often, “I could do that in my practice.”

For example, I remember one family doctor giving a report on what he had seen the previous year. He had kept a record of every patient he had communicated the good news about Jesus to over the course of that year–about 150 people. Of those, around 50 had become followers of Jesus the first time he spoke with them, and another 50 had become believers some time during that year. The remaining 50 were an ongoing story. All over the country, doctors were seeking to communicate the Gospel in effective ways to their patients.

When Tony was practicing medicine, he probably saw several hundred of his patients find the Lord. In the UK, in part because of socialized medicine, the family doctor handled far more than the typical medical problems. If someone had a kid who was using drugs or had marital difficulties or any other social need, the GP was usually the first person they went to for help. Often, when his patients came to him with needs that were not really medical in nature, Tony would say to them, “You know, I don’t have a pill I can prescribe that will sort this out, but have you ever thought of praying about this situation?” The most common response was, “Doctor, I’ve prayed about it, but I don’t know if anyone is listening.” That was an open door for a spiritual conversation. During one memorable six week period, a person became a follower of Christ every day his office was open.

Other doctors moved into the very poor and socially deprived area of London where we lived and worked and had our church. One day, we did the math. In our (more traditional) church, there were 14 family doctors.  Our area had around 120,000 people living in it. Between the doctors in the church and their partners, anyone becoming sick in our area had a one in three chance of sitting down next to a Spirit-filled doctor who was looking for an opportunity to share about Jesus.

Other doctors around the country were running Bible studies in their offices, or referring the social needs of their patients to their churches. In fact, the impact was such that even the medical authorities were beginning to take notice. We heard one day that a family doctor, in his final oral exam in front of the licensing board was asked this question: “What would you do if you found yourself in a practice with doctors who were evangelical Christians who took every opportunity to speak to their patients about their faith?”

Our conferences were attended by around 5,000 people per year. I remember a particular conference we ran for consultants. At one stage, this group of 50 or so eminent consultants were asked to stand on their chairs and praise God at the tops of their voices. If these distinguished professionals were willing to humble themselves before God in this way at a weekend conference, it was easy for them to speak to their patients about the Lord during the following week.

So when in 1987, the Lord spoke to us that we were to move to the USA, we assumed, naively, that God wanted us to do the same kind of ministry among professionals here. Were we in for a shock!

Have you found effective ways to communicate your faith through your working life? I’d love to hear the story.

The church moves west (part 3)

One of the most outstanding church planting movements of our time is going on in India. Victor Choudhrie has written a book, Greet the Church in Your House detailing the principles behind this movement. It will come out as a Kindle book in September. This post is the final part (first part starts here) of a section from the foreword I have written for the book.

Photo credit: peasap (Creative Commons)

The influence of the church continues its march back to Jerusalem. The Muslim nations are just beginning to see their own extraordinary moves of the Holy Spirit as sheikhs, imams and even whole mosques are finding freedom through becoming followers of Isa, Jesus the Christ.

An interesting point: the speed of what God is doing is increasing exponentially. What took centuries in times past now takes decades. What took decades is now happening in a few short years. If the present rate of growth continues, India has the poential to become a Christian nation.

The march of Christianity around the globe has almost gone full circle, each wave of recovered truth building upon the last. The tide continues to advance. What will happen next? I believe that even as the world grows darker, we will see a harvest of historic proportions, this time covering the whole world. But if we are to experience the kind of growth we have longed and prayed for, we need to adopt the principles that the Holy Spirit has already revealed through the waves of church history.

The church moves West (part 2)

The focus of Christian missions has historically moved west. This is the second of a three part series (here is part one) looking at this phenomenon, and is part of the foreword I have written to a new Kindle book, Greet the Church in Your House.  by Victor Choudhrie, due out in September. This book details the principles behind one of the greatest disciple making movements of our time.

 

This is a photo of Tony and me standing on the very harbor wall in Turkey (Seleucia) from which Paul and Barnabas left with John Mark to sail west on their first missionary journey. The harbor is now silted up and the harbor wall is about 100 yards inland.

 

While all this was going on in Europe, the epicenter of Christianity was sailing west across the Atlantic to the United States.  Waves of revival spread across the land as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, John Wesley and Charles Finney preached to huge crowds. In 1906, the Pentecostal Movement began in Azusa Street in Los Angeles and spread rapidly throughout the world. The United States became the great missionary-sending nation.

But even as Christianity waned in Europe and began its decline in the United States, the center of Christianity was moving west again. Initially this was hidden. When the Communists overtook China in the late 1940s, threw out the missionaries, closed the churches and jailed its leaders, everyone wondered whether the church could possibly survive. When the bamboo curtain finally lifted, the world was amazed to see the church had thrived and multiplied. Ordinary people, mainly women and children, rather than trained preachers, were spreading the Gospel, and churches were starting everywhere in the homes of ordinary people. Small and hidden, the good news was spreading like yeast in a lump of dough.

Again the focal point of the church moved west. Via Korea and the cell church movement, it has moved on to India where the Choudhries and many others like them are seeing similar growth to China. Here God is restoring disciple-making and house church planting, not as a matter of necessity because of persecution, but as a deliberate policy with well-understood theological and ecclesiological reasoning. An emphasis on the Kingdom is producing marked changes in the local community too. As other nations hear what is transpiring in India, they are inviting men and women from India to come and infect their own lands with what Jesus is doing.

Part three to follow…

The church moves west (part one)

Over this past month, I’ve had the privilege of writing a foreword for a book written by one of my mentors in the faith, a church planter in India named Victor Choudhrie.  The book, due out in September , will be available on Kindle and is called Greet the Church in Your House. It describes the principles behind one of the greatest church planting movements of our time.

Here is part of the foreword–a birds-eye view of how the epicenter of Christianity has moved over the centuries:

Photo credit: Irina Patrascu (Creative Commons)

The spotlight on the center stage of Christianity is no longer focused on the church of Europe and the United States.

The epicenter of Christianity has arguably been moving west throughout the course of church history. The early church began her journey in Jerusalem, and although the gospel spread eastwards to India via Thomas, the apostle, and south through the Ethiopian Eunuch to Africa, its primary influence traveled in a westerly direction towards Europe. In the book of Acts, for example, we see Antioch and Ephesus becoming centers of missionary activity.

Soon, the hub of church history moved west again to Rome where it remained for several centuries. Under the Emperor Constantine, the church, the vibrant body of Christ, became an institution. Gone was The Way, the dynamic lifestyle that won disciples who modeled their life on Jesus. Instead, copying pagan religion, holy priests in sacred buildings dominated Christianity.

The Dark Ages followed the collapse of the Roman Empire and saw Christianity at its lowest ebb worldwide, with increasing corruption in the church and little to no understanding of the true nature of the gospel. However, a true remnant always remained.

The Reformation of the 16th century moved the core of Christianity northwest again to Germany, Switzerland and Britain. Firstly, the Bible was translated into the common language through the work of Wycliffe and Tyndale. The invention of the printing press made it available to ordinary people. Key New Covenant truths were rediscovered when Luther and Zwingli declared that salvation comes through faith; it cannot be earned. Other truths such as the priesthood of all believers, baptism by immersion, holiness and the social implications of the gospel followed in subsequent centuries.

To be continued…

Free e-book on hearing God

A year or so ago I wrote an e-book entitled A Simple Guide to Hearing God. It’s designed to be a very practical look at how to hear God’s voice. However, I decided to take a different approach.

I have many friends who know how to hear God clearly–some of the stories they tell are remarkable. Armed with my iphone, I interviewed these people asking them how God speaks to them. (The videos I produced are amateur, but what the people I interviewed say is not!) How to hear God is also a subject I have studied and practiced for many years, and the text comes out of what I have learned.

The result is an enhanced e-book–a combination of video and writing. (It therefore has to be viewed on a computer rather than a kindle).

I would now like to give this e-book away. If you subscribe to my blog, you will receive a link to the free download.

 

 

God’s view of time

The church has become accustomed to measuring success by the world’s standards–not just in terms of numbers but in terms of speed. In our Western world we expect fast and instant. Think microwave dinners, air travel, Internet.

I think God views time differently.

Photo credit: Gilderic Photography (Creative Commons)

A story comes to mind; the story of James O. Fraser, chronicled by his daughter Eileen Crossman in the missionary classic, Mountain Rain.

James Fraser was a British missionary who went to Yunnan Province with the China Inland Mission in 1910. He loved to hike and climb, and it was on hiking trips into the Himalayas that he came across the Lisu people, a tribal group living high in the mountains of China, Myanmar, Thailand and India. He felt an immediate affection for them. His initial contact with them  was successful because he willingly adopted their lifestyle, staying with them in their huts, eating their food, sleeping on the ground. But nothing of any substance developed from this.

So what did Fraser do?

He prayed. Nothing happened. He became discouraged but he refused to give up. He set himself to pray through. He spent whole days and nights in prayer, crying out to the Lord for the salvation of these people whom God had laid on his heart.

Finally in 1916, he saw breakthrough. Scores of families came to know Christ. By 1918, the Lisu people had taken the Gospel themselves along family lines and 60,000 had been baptized. By the 1990s, the Chinese government admitted that more than 90% of the Lisu in China are Christians.

What would have happened if James Fraser had returned home in defeat after three or four years?

God’s timing is not our timing. If we are looking for instant success, we’re likely to fail. Within the simple church we look for multiplication and that starts slowly–really slowly–and takes time to gather momentum.

We can become discouraged and give up. Or we can choose to press through into everything God has laid on our hearts.

Are there times when you’ve been tempted to give up, but in pressing through, you’ve seen Jesus do things beyond your wildest dreams?

An evening to remember

Last Friday the church in our home had one of the most beautiful times together that I ever remember in more than 20 years of meeting in house-church sized groups. The presence of Jesus was so real, it was almost tangible.

Young kids (three of them aged around five) were there, watching spellbound as things unfolded. The two toddlers went from one adult to another as they needed attention. The older kids were fully engaged in what was going on.

As usual, we started with a meal. Over dessert, the usual question: “What God events have there been in your life this week?”

First was Rosaura. Those of you who follow this blog will recognize her story. She was a crack addict for 30 years who was instantly delivered from her addictions during a meeting of our church. We were away in Russia at the time, so it was a group of new Christians and young people who prayed for her to be set free–all in response to the prayers of her 15-year-old son, Jose.

Rosaura shared that for her birthday that week, three of her old friends came round to celebrate and they wanted her to do drugs with them. She was very tempted, but went outside to ask God for help. When she came back in, her friends had decided to go somewhere else. “We’ll be back later,” they told her. They never returned and Rosaura is rejoicing. She is only a few weeks away from a full year of being clean and sober.

We’ll throw a party for her that day!!

We praised God for keeping Rosaura safe and laid hands on her, praying that she not only makes a year drug free but a lifetime.

Jose had asked God for something impossible–his mom set free from drugs. So using that example, we broke into six or so smaller groups to pray for the “impossible situations” amongst our families and friends.

Next came a couple of students who are holding a student CPX this week at their university. They sat on the “hot seat” while people prayed for them and shared any impressions God was giving them. They will be bold in following the Holy Spirit this week, and it will result in more churches on their campus.

One of them had finally graduated from college. Applause and praise.

A young Hispanic couple shared how since they had started coming to the church about two months ago, their lives had totally changed. Their faith had become real to them. They had been struggling financially, but now the husband has a new job. This week they have been able to purchase a second car, and their young son has been accepted into a charter school.

More praise and thanksgiving.

A young man who became a Christian around two months ago when he was homeless shared how his faith has been real, even through difficult circumstances. This week he has a job and is now back with his family.

Applause and thanksgiving.

Then Tony asked, “Is there a passage of Scripture that has been on anyone’s heart this week that fits in with what the Holy Spirit has been saying so far?” Someone shared that the verse from 1 John 4, that perfect love casts out fear, had been on her heart. We studied that passage of Scripture together, different ones commenting on parts that were especially relevant to them.

A description of the highlights we experienced doesn’t begin to do justice to what happened in our midst on Friday evening. How do you accurately convey the sense of God’s presence, the leading of the Holy Spirit, the friendship, fun and camaraderie?  The glow on people’s faces as no one wanted to leave because the presence and power of Jesus was so real.

Do you have similar stories? I’d love to hear them.

 

 

Miraculous Movements

Erich Reber, a friend of Wolfgang Simson, is a Swiss prophet with a remarkable ministry. For example, God warned him in advance of both 9/11 and the London tube bombings. In the Starfish Manifesto, written in 2008, Wolfgang writes:

In a vision in 1991, God showed him [Erich] the sequel of the last harvest. According to his vision, it will happen in four phases: first God is going to visit the eastern Block countries (Russia etc. 1991 -1993), then God is going to bring in a huge harvest in Middle and North India from 1996 onwards. The third phase will be God visiting first the soft-Islamic, then the hard-Islamic nations, and finally, as the last phase, Europe and the West. All of this seems to be coming true. What happened after the Soviet Union went out of business in 1991 is history. Since 1996, as many empirical researchers have since shown, there is an unprecedented spiritual harvest in Middle and North India. The number of newly planted house-churches has already reached several hundred thousand. Today, one of the most fascinating developments is the increasing number of Muslims finding Christ: many thousands of new churches have developed in nations like Bangladesh,Indonesia or Pakistan….

For many years, ever since being involved in an incredible move of the Holy Spirit in an Islamic country which resulted in thousands of house churches planted, I have watched what God is doing in the Muslim world with keen interest. Imagine my excitement when I was asked to endorse a copy of  Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus by Jerry Trousdale.

I devoured the manuscript, unable to put it down. Story after story described how God is reaching out sovereignly to transform the lives of those who are seeking him. Dreams, visions and miracles are drawing Muslims to the person of Jesus. Imams, sheikhs and even entire entire mosques are embracing a lifestyle of following Jesus. But Miraculous Movements does more than tell stories. This isn’t happening in a vacuum. The book describes the principles involved–principles that we can all use, not just to reach out within an international context, but right here at home too as we interact with our neighbors.

This book is destined to become a classic! I give it my highest recommendation.