God at work in the Congo

Rolland and Heidi Baker are seeing an incredible move of God across Mozambique and other countries of Africa with miracles and deliverances, healings and salvations, resulting in thousands of churches being planted. We love what they are doing and have a particular interest in it for a couple of reasons.

  1. Tony was at school with Rolland (a school for missionary kids in Taiwan)
  2. We had the incredible privilege of being there at the beginning of the revival in Mozambique. I’ll never forget it. We were in the UK when we heard about major floods in Mozambique where half the nation was under water. Rolland and Heidi were given responsibility for feeding thousands of people in the refugee camps. Within a few days of our return to the States, Tony, along with a friend who is a nurse were on a plane with boxes of medicines for medical relief work. The United Nations would fly them out to areas of higher ground where a makeshift refugee camp had been set up and they would hold clinics, distribute food and preach the gospel.

A couple of months later, Tony and I and two of our kids went back there to continue the work. Everywhere we went we would hold a clinic, deliver food and tell the people about Jesus. Invariably almost everyone there would respond to the message and ask for salvation. Rolland and Heidi would follow up with one of the pastors they had trained, and so a church would start. We also held clinics on the city garbage dump where people eked out a living by scavenging through the trash the dump trucks brought in. The filth and the stench of burning trash were indescribable. I remember Heidi kneeling on the ground hugging and loving on some of the kids. It’s a revolution of love that’s going on. What a privilege to have witnessed Jesus’ love conquering the most difficult of circumstances.

Now the Bakers are seeing God at work in the Congo. Check out this video.

The top three reasons it’s important to include women

Women are often undervalued and sidelined in the church, especially when it somes to strategic thinking and planning. Leadership equals servanthood (Matthew 20:25-28), and  we, the church, are supposed to be listening to our head, Jesus, and following what he says. Since women are used to serving, and they often hear him more clearly, it therefore seems very short-sighted not to include them. (If you have questions about the theology of this, check out a series of posts starting here.)

But there are more important reasons to include women. Here are the top three:


Photo Credit: Gerry Dincher via Compfight cc

 1.  The Harvest: When women co-labor alongside men, the workforce for the harvest potentially doubles.

2.  The Harvest: Psalm 68:11 (NASB) says this–The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host.

3.  The Harvest: Wherever we see a massive harvest going on around the world, women are often in the forefront. For example, in China, especially during the revival in the 1980’s and 90’s, female pastors and evangelists outnumbered males 3:1. In India, women apostles are responsible for thousands of churches. Women can often get into the places where men cannot go with the good news of the Kingdom. As Dr. Yonggi Cho once told us, “If you want to see a move of God, use your women.”

The easiest way to plant a house church

It’s probably not what you think!

Most Christians, especially those from a more traditional form of church background, assume the obvious way to start any kind of church is to invite a few Christians to their home for fellowship. As other believers join them and the group gets large enough, they will multiply out into two churches and so on.

This is not the best way for several reasons:

  1. The Christians will bring all their preconceived ideas about church with them. It will be more of a challenge to think in the fresh, out-of-the-box ways that simple/organic church requires. The temptation will be to do “Honey, I shrunk the church!”
  2. It is more difficult to be missional–existing believers tend to focus on the gathering. Many Christians don’t have non-believers within their sphere of influence.
  3. You are trying to create community where a natural one doesn’t exist. Yes, there is a “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” with all other believers, but as you add people to a group, it will take time for people to share their everyday lives together outside of meetings.
  4. Multiplication usually occurs very, very slowly.

It is far easier to make disciples of those who don’t yet know the Lord, and to work within their existing sphere of influence. As their family and friends find the Lord, multiplying churches are the natural result. The advantages:

  1. The problems and issues that come up are those of life, not theology or ecclesiology.
  2. Community already exists and their shared lives will continue outside of the meeting context.
  3. New disciples have a natural mission field all around them and evangelism follows spontaneously along relational lines.
  4. It’s easy to create a vision and expectation of multiplication.

What has been your experience?  Can you think of other reasons to primarily work with not-yet-believers?

Photo Credit: Tense (Creative Commons)

 

 

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…

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?

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.

The changing face of missions

We just returned from  a two week trip to Taiwan, an island off the coast of China. Tony’s parents originally were called to work in China, but when the Communists took over just a few weeks after they arrived, they moved to Taiwan where Tony’s father, a doctor, opened a clinic. Tony was born in the capital city of Taipei and lived there (with a few years break at a British boarding school) until he was seventeen. So our family has many natural ties to the island.

Taiwan is a small, mountainous island that has transformed itself into a first world nation over the past couple of decades. It is very beautiful; the people are friendly. The main religion is Buddhism/Confucianism.

We were invited to speak to the Taiwan Missionary Fellowship, a group that involves nearly all the missionaries on the island. Well over 50% of the missionaries were there, and despite a huge variety in theology and church backgrounds, there was a sense of unity and a desire to work together across all the mission groups and churches. Even though Taiwan has a very traditional missions history, and the vast majority of the churches there are based on a Western model, there was great openness to our message that could have been both threatening and controversial. Our main teaching for the five days we were there was on following the Holy Spirit into the harvest and bringing the new disciples together in small groups/churches.

It seems that right across the board, many missions groups recognize that traditional patterns of church planting on the mission field (erect a building and train a pastor) are not just prohibitively expensive, but there are far more effective ways to reach out in today’s world. Some groups we met had already  begun to adopt Luke 10 patterns of church planting and many of the others were eager to explore organic principles they could use in reaching out.

From there we went to a much smaller city in the south of Taiwan where we spoke in a traditional Baptist church. Again, our message was on being willing to trust the Holy Spirit as he leads us outside the walls of our church to reach out to a world that desperately needs him. The lady pastor, who has been at the church for only three years and has already seen the church more than tripled in size, was so hungry to learn more. Again, she was open to non-traditional methods in reaching out to the world around her.

Following this we had a couple of days at the beach, and then back to Tony’s old school–Morrison Christian Academy, which his parents helped to found, for its 60th reunion. This school has been a huge support to the missionary community, but may now be moving into its most effective phase. It has a vision for training up the next generation of Taiwanese leaders. Here is traditional missionary work at its best.

Two things strike me from our trip. The first is that Taiwan is unusual; I don’t think I’ve ever before come across such a high degree of unity and collaboration within the missions community of a nation. We know that God has commanded his blessing where there is great unity. Who knows what God might do there. The potential is enormous.

The second is that God is up to something, not just in Taiwan, but in many other nations too. In several of the nations we have visited recently, there’s a renewed sense of anticipation, an expectation that God is about to move in ways they have only dreamed about. As missionaries adopt new patterns of making disciples, remaining only on a very temporary basis with any new church and training local people in principles of church planting movements and releasing them to do the work, God is moving in powerful ways.