Raised Racist? (Part 1)

flag 1A major subject in the news now is the aftereffects of the mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina of 9 African-Americans. One focus has been on the continuing use of the Confederate flag, used by the Confederate States during the American Civil War 150 years ago. It’s now beginning to be banned in some places but much talked about everywhere.

Racism is not just something I’ve read about, I grew up with it. In fact it had a major impact on my life. I went the first 10 years to school in a small city in central Texas that was very evangelical, fundamentalist Christian. And it was also virtually totally racist.

all my friends flat croppedNowadays we have the phrase, “the N word”. You probably know what that is. If not, I’ll let you look it up. But I can tell you that every single one of my friends (all of whom were white and almost all were Christian) used that word. But my family didn’t. I was taught that it was wrong and mean to use that word. My parents taught me to say “negro”, the more proper and acceptable, non-racist word back then for the people we now call African-Americans.

Some people reading this are from outside the States. So for those who don’t know it,  “the N word” was and is an extremely powerful, extremely hate-filled word. I can’t think of anything to compare it to. Back at the time of World War II Americans would call Germans “Krauts” or the Japanese would be called “Chinks” (or maybe that was the Chinese). And there were some for Mexicans which also were racists and hate-filled.

But none of those equaled or got near “the N word”. And, believe me because I was there, virtually everyone, over 99%, regularly used “the N word”. And this was in central Texas in the 1950’s and early 60’s. So you can just imagine how much worse it got the further east you traveled towards what’s called “the Old South”.

Give an inch flatThe use of “the N word” was based on a strong hatred of African-Americans. “Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile” was a phrase I heard countless times from my friends, speaking of African-Americans. But my parents were different. And the irony of all this was that my parents weren’t Christians, they were Unitarians. They didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God. But all my friends who used “the N word” were all Christians of one kind or the other. This is just the way it all was.

So in a strong way, this racism and hatred I saw in my friends caused me to disrespect them and thus disrespect Christianity. And my parents encouraged that view. I was taught that we were better than the Christians because we didn’t hate black people. We weren’t Christians but we were better than the Christians because we weren’t racists. And we weren’t.

It goes way back in the history of my family. My great-grandfather over 100 years ago was a wealthy landowner in northeast Texas who sheltered a black man in his house when a lynch mob came there to take him and lynch him after he had gotten into a fight with a white man. My great-grandfather stood up to the lynch mob in front of his house and refused to hand over the “negro” to them. That’s a pretty unusual story for northeast Texas from 100 years ago.

In my heart I just always felt that I and my family were better. We were more righteous because we weren’t racists like all the Christians I knew when I was growing up. Of course that didn’t really help me in my spiritual life because, in spite of the bad sample I saw of racial hatred from Christians as I grew up, the fact remained that actually Jesus was and is the Son of God. I was “throwing the Baby out with the bathwater”. I was rejecting Christ because of the bad example of hatred I saw from His people. So when I finally came to Him, it was after some really rough times as I had come to just be sure, I thought, that there was no God and no Jesus. I was wrong on that. But I think my parents and my upbringing was right in that we didn’t accept or take part in the totally racist society that was around us.

integrationWell, in some ways, that was long ago. I remember the first day my school “integrated”, when I was 17. All the white kids were looking at the African American kids that were now beginning to go to our school. Everyone was a little on edge. But also by that time it was the strong “prevailing wind” in America in the later 1960’s and it just wasn’t cool anymore to be racists, at least not overtly. So school integration went ok and the USA made some strides toward a less racist society.

Credit where credit is due, it really isn’t as racist as it used to be. But on the other hand, the cancer’s still there. Like a cancer victim who has to endure operation after operation to try to root out the malignancy, racial hatred is still around, 50 years after the schools were integrated and 150 years after the South lost the Civil War.

Like the Bible says, “Brethren, these things ought not so to be.” (James 3:10) It says of the barrier between the Jews and Gentiles of old, “He has broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” (Ephesians 2:14) In another place it says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond or free but we are all one in Christ.” (I Corinthians 12:13) At least, if nothing else, the love of Christ and the Spirit of God should help us overcome this entrenched hatred that’s so besmirched the people of God, especially in the southern USA for so long. God help us and have mercy.

“The whirlwind and the storm”

tornadoYou may have read about the very severe storms in Texas over the last few days. Yesterday we had here in Austin one of the stronger rain events ever I think. Or maybe it wasn’t that much but it’s just that the ground has been so soaked already from the rain over the last month or two that the heavy rains almost immediately created a lot of flooding.

But with this I wanted to write you about another of “God’s little miracles”. Sometimes we don’t know what God does until after He’s done it. I read online today that there had been a tornado that touched down in Austin on Saturday night. So I looked up the info and it turns out that this was around a mile from where I live. And from the direction the storm was going, I was able to see that this tornado went over our house about a minute or two before it touched down.

It was not a real gigantic one like they can be; this one uprooted trees and tore off roofs a mere walk from where I live. I later remembered that Saturday night I was downstairs next to our fire place and it was making a whistling noise, not normal. So I figured the wind must be pretty strong outside. I went to the front door and it was not only raining hard, there was really a strong wind that was blowing the trees around. Bad, but not greatly unusual for Texas. But this must have been right at the time when this tornado cloud was going over us.

So it was a shock this morning to realize that we’d nearly been hit by a tornado, one of the stronger residual fears that everyone in this part of the world has somewhere in their mind. When I was a child, the city I was born in had an “F5” tornado that killed 114 people including my father’s cousin and the dad of one of my friend’s. So it’s just something that everyone in this part of the country knows you have to take seriously.

guardian-angelsI later thought about a verse I memorized years ago which I saw fulfilled in this deliverance and protection that we experienced here a couple of days ago, “The Lord has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm”. (Nahum 1:3)

When prophecy dawns on you

Prophecy fulfilled flatI had so many amazing experiences on my recent trip to southeastern Europe. One night the ones I was staying with had a Bible study for their close friends at their house. The idea was that since I was there and I’ve made a series of videos on the book of Daniel, that we could watch one of those with the visitors who often come there.

Most of the people in the room were a generation younger than me and the majority were not brought up in a Christian family. Several of them were brought up Muslims. Another was a young woman from Western Europe, from a traditional Catholic background, who’d come to do volunteer work in the country I was in. She’s been working with my friends who minister to needy people and she’s gradually gotten to know the things of the Lord and the Lord Himself in a stronger way over the last months.

Prophecy dawnsA-fixedWe watched what’s perhaps the simplest introduction to prophecy in the Bible: Daniel chapter 2. For many years and in many lands I’ve seen how Daniel 2 is the most understandable starting point for anyone who’s never had any idea about the phenomenon of Bible prophecy.

For me it was something of a reward in itself to just be there and watch the ones who were watching the video I’ve done on Daniel chapter 2. I therefore watched the viewers more than the video itself to try to gauge their reaction and interest in it all. The best part for me was at the end.

The young West European woman from the Catholic background was (… how shall I describe this…) well, she was trying to find what she wanted to say after the video. But for several of us, we could tell she’d been surprised and almost stunned by what she’d seen.

It certainly seemed that she’d perhaps become aware for the first time of the phenomenon of Bible prophecy, that God has in history used His prophets to give us definite signposts that will occur “up the road” of history. And for those of us who are now “in the future”, so to speak, we can look back and see that some key points in history were clearly foretold before they happened.

Stunned_Surprised-fixedWhen I personally first found out about this, I was in my early 20’s. And I too had the same experience of amazement, wonder, and almost unbelief that there was something like this that I’d never been told of before. For me back then, I was also mad because I’d gone many years to good schools and to university but nowhere had anyone ever told me anything about the truth of Bible prophecy. And in her words and expressions after the video that night, this young woman was evidently having the same experience of joy, mixed with amazement, and at the same time many questions. It’s just hard to believe that something like this exists.

It was noticeable to most of us that this dear young woman had just had a very strong experience, “the eyes of her understanding being opened” (Ephesians 1:18), that she’d seen something she’d never seen before. She had questions but she almost didn’t know how to ask them. She thought she was understanding what she’d seen but she wanted to be sure she did. Perhaps for the rest of us, the best part was that we could tell that she’d just had a real experience with the light of God’s Word, kind of like when it says about the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection, “they believed not for joy” (Luke 24:41).

It’s experiences like this that turn us from everyday, bored, dull, worldly people into His turned-on, inspired, joy-filled Christians and even disciples. Sometimes it has very little to do with others. It’s just those moments when the Lord Himself somehow personally shines into our innermost heart and mind, revealing Himself to be the Savoir and King that He is.

For some of us, we’ve had experiences like that off and on for many years. We know the thrills and joys of that heavenly realm and the world to come. But for me that night it was especially encouraging. This young woman is still new to the things of the Lord, someone who’s still growing into the fullness of a Christian disciple. And that night she got a strong jolt from the Lord through His Word to see the world as He sees it and as He’s made it.

Bible studies flatAs the Bible says, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). Or as King David prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your Word.” (Psalm 119:18) It was a joy that night to see this young woman beholding wonderful things from His Word.

Hearing from God, like your life depended on it

danger is near flatLast month I was in a situation where it was desperately important that I heard from God right then. My friend and I were driving the next morning to visit a school in Reyhanli, Turkey, about 200 meters from the border with Syria. I wrote about this visit in my blog post “Visiting Syria part 1”.

But we were realistic enough to know that real danger was possible. We’d phoned ahead to several ones who knew the situation and were involved and they all said that it was safe to make the trip. But in the final analysis, as believers in God and in Jesus, the most important guidance and green light, or red, needed to come from Him.

So we really prayed. And for both of us we just kept getting the witness of the Spirit in our hearts and Bible verses that it was His Will that we go, verses like “When He puts forth His sheep, He goes before them”. (John 10:4) And “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

Reyhanli mapWe took these from the Lord and we made the trip. Of course we were aware that the radical religionists right across the border in Syria would gladly pay a very large bounty for someone to kidnap us and turn us over to them. So we were keeping a good watch out on our way there for any funny business. But it all went really well and there was miraculous protection and blessing.

It reminds me of another situation, almost exactly 10 years earlier, when I was in Jakarta, Indonesia, immediately after one of the worst natural disasters of the last hundred years when the Asia Tsunami swept across the Indian Ocean.

The city that suffered the worst was Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra. The friends who I was working with at the time in Jakarta knew immediately that some of us would have to go there to help. And I knew strongly in my heart that one of the first ones who needed to go was me.

me&AcehKids-2 cropped

Teaching kids at a refugee camp in Aceh, 2005

But this was again a place where very serious, life and death prayer was a necessity. Probably there was more danger in this recent trip to the Syrian border. But in going to Banda Aceh, we were going to be faced with over 150,000 dead who were still left to be found, bagged up and carried off to mass burial grounds.

The infrastructure of the city of 450,000 was virtually gone. The fact that it was one of the strictest Muslim parts of Indonesia didn’t seem to be as big a deal as just the overall danger of aftershocks, extreme living conditions and would we be able to live with the shock to our emotions that all the devastation had wrought? It was a time when we needed to be certain we were in the will of God; otherwise it would be extremely unwise to go there.

But also in that situation the Lord came through clearly and blessed our time there immensely. Here’s a newsletter I sent to friends while I was in Banda Aceh 10 years ago, called  “With Muslims in Tragedy“. God hears all our prayers, including the simple little ones that we often pray throughout the day. But at times we must be desperate and get answers from Him, sometimes as a matter of life and death.

which way-aI’m thinking about this a lot currently as I’m at something of a personal crossroads. I’m facing some decisions involved with possibly pulling up roots and going to a new country I’ve very seldom ever been in before, more or less starting out from scratch in what would be a major change of direction and a completely new chapter in my life.

common sense flatI really need to know what God’s will is. Like Paul said, “Be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesian 5:17) Common sense doesn’t help a lot in these situations. Common sense would not have agreed with the trip to Reyhanli, Turkey or the time spent in Banda Aceh. But the life of faith and following the directions from God almost always goes contrary to common sense. “By faith Moses forsook Egypt”. (Hebrews 11:27) “Abraham went out not knowing whether he went”. (Hebrews 11:8)

For me it’s a time I need to know  that I’m on the right track, moving with the flow of His Spirit, having no will of my own and that my thoughts and leadings are of Him. Otherwise it could be a real disaster. Thanks for your prayers for me in these decisions at this time.

Tales from Trondheim (part 2): “the day of small things”

tales from Tronhiem2-a-flatAs I wrote in the first post of this series, the time my former wife and I spent in Trondheim, Norway back in the mid 70’s was actually somewhat rough. It’s no reflection against Trondheim; it’s an interesting place with an interesting history. But for us, it was really kind of a “Gethsemane”, ha!

But besides the amazing experience we had with the young man who went to be with the Lord a few days after leaving our fellowship, another experience was very strong in our lives, one that mainly had to do with my former wife.

She was, and is, a gifted soul winner and personal witness. At this time she was well along with her pregnancy of our first son and so she was often staying back in our meager little flat during the day. But her zeal for souls was such that she somehow struck up a contact with a young little girl in our neighborhood.

This little girl was around 8 years old and had virtually no friends. Her mom was single and the little girl herself was not really “pretty” but was sort of plain and also overweight. So she ended up getting teased a lot by kids her age and it was really weighing heavily on this little girl’s life. Her mom was at work all day and this little girl was actually at a severe crisis point in her life.

tales from Tronhiem2-b flatWell, my former wife ended up praying with this precious little girl to receive Jesus and the new life in Him that He could give. She told me about it with joy when I came home from a day of witnessing and taking care of business things on the streets of Trondheim.

Some weeks later this little girl’s mother called on us. Basically she said, “I don’t know what you did but I want to thank you”. She went on to say that her little girl had become totally different from before, with more confidence and strength, able to stand up to her bullying friends and just had really become “a new creature in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17). This of course brought us immense joy as we felt we hadn’t been seeing a lot of fruit in our efforts to evangelize Trondheim during that winter.

And it was a real eye-opener for me. At that time my focus was still on the hippy generation my former wife and I had come out of. But here was a little 8 year old who was in the biggest crisis of her life, her light almost snuffled out through bullying and just being alone so much. So salvation had come at the time she needed it most, even though she was younger than I figured folks needed salvation… a lesson I hope I never forget.

tales from Tronhiem2-c flatIt’s rather like the verse from Zachariah, “despise not the day of small things”. (Zechariah 4:10) That’s certainly how we looked at our time in Trondheim, as a day of small things. But looking back, the Lord was working and changing lives, even through us in those dry times.

Not long after that we journeyed south and ended up having our first son in Stockholm, Sweden in the spring of ‘75. But even in that difficult time, He still helped us to bear some fruit, to touch some lives and to help a few people.

And the amazing sequel to all this is that 25 years later I met, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, an American missionary and his Norwegian wife. He’d been led to the Lord in Trondheim by ones we’d left in charge of our fledgling efforts there back in the ’70’s. He had been a backpacking young American who was met and witnessed to by our friends in Trondheim and had receive the Lord right there on the street. He had gone on to marry a dear Norwegian sister in the Lord I also knew and had since moved to the interior of Brazil to serve the Lord there.

So the ways of the Lord can at times seem strange. But here were at least these three lives that were strongly changed for Him during those months we were there and immediately after, even though for ourselves it was some of the most difficult months of our lives.

It’s like that verse, “In due season we shall reap if we faint not.”(Galatians 6:9) I can tell you, it sure felt like we fainted a lot back then and we were claiming the verse “he will make a way of escape that you be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) But all the while He was still using us “in season and out of season” (II Timothy 4:2) and there was “fruit that remained” (John 15:16), even from that difficult time.

Somehow all these things were crossing my mind tonight. Maybe someone needs this, to know “your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58) and that He will always bring people into our lives who need Him and all that He has bestowed on us. God bless you.

 

The story and pictures from Bulgaria

me and vaska in church-2Of the three countries I have been in recently, the one where there’s been the most to do in the way of teaching and ministering has been in Bulgaria. So I think it would be interesting for many of you if I shared more of the main thing I was doing there and also include some of the photos from those times.

Bulgaria map 2As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I first heard from my friend Vaska when she wrote me over a year ago, after she began viewing my videos on the prophecies of Daniel. Last year I wrote about my contact with her in two articles, “Good News from Bulgaria” and “More Good News from Bulgaria”. She also was the one who sent me the story about the former Muslim priest who visited her church and told his about his experience which I wrote about in “Suicide Bomber Sees the Light”.

church crowd compositeSo when I arrived at the little church in the small town in southern Bulgaria where Vaska and her friends have their base, it was already a little familiar to me. The first night I felt led to just share my life story of how I went from being an atheist to becoming a Christian. It seems like the apostle Paul, in his journeys, often started his ministry in an area by just sharing the conversion he had experienced.

Of course a big thing with these new Bulgarian friends was the vast difference in culture, background and nationality between them and me. So one of the first things I did was to let them know that in the Lord’s eyes, He sees us as one in Him, brothers and sisters, equals through His working in our lives. That seemed to help that I wasn’t trying to come there as some exalted one from a foreign country. Jesus “made himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7) and it’s important that we do that as well.

The main little church I spoke in. My room was upstairs.

The main little church I spoke in. My room was upstairs.

And they really took good care of me while I was there, almost too much, ha! I was brought breakfast, lunch and dinner at the little room I stayed in above the church and most of the time it was way more than I could eat. A real specialty of Bulgaria is a salty white cheese and there was a lot of that, as well as olives, fried chicken, fresh vegetables and lots of fruit. The church was within site of the mountains of northern Greece and many of the locals in the church go to Greece in the summer to work in the harvests.

Vaska and Avram

Vaska and Avrim

Another thing that impressed me was how Vaska worked with the local pastors in the towns in the area. I met at least a half dozen of these men and it was clear that they all really were appreciative of her ministry to them and to their people. Vaska is a good guitar player and singer and she has been working with a very interesting, unusual young man, Avram. Actually, he ended up being the one to do the voice for the audio tract of the first Bulgaria video in the prophecies of Daniel series. In the beginning I was hesitant to have Avram be the voice as I felt he was just too young. But Vaska said his diction in Bulgarian plus his understanding of the material was really good so we ended up going with that.

I guess, in a sense, “running in the background”, I was amazed to see how the Lord’s Spirit was working in this place, the interaction between Vaska and the ones she ministers to, the mentoring and coaching of some of these ones as they discussed situations and people in the churches, and the time she spent with Avram to help him grow in grace and maturity.

I could see from my room a church, a mosque and a solar panel, all in daily use.

I could see from my room a church, a mosque and a solar panel, all in daily use.

It’s seemed to pay off in their communities as there was overall a tranquil atmosphere and cooperation in the places I saw there. Very many of these ones were originally Muslim before becoming Christians. Their towns are mixed between these two religions but there seemed to be little to no open hostility between the two groups that I heard about.

It reminded me of the verse, “The things that you have heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (II Timothy 2:2) This is such an essential part of the vision of those of us who want to see the Lord’s work grow and His flocks to prosper, in Bulgaria or anywhere. There has to be training of those who are called to be shepherds and teachers themselves, to be able to take care of the multitudes that so often are coming to Him. Without “labor leaders”, you can end up with vast flocks of bleating sheep but no grass roots Christian leadership, trained to feed and guide the flocks into green pastures.

It was a wonderful time. If the Lord leads and provides, I do want to be back there again sometime before real long. I hope this has helped to fill out the view of what was going on there in Bulgaria and also that the pictures included here help as well. And thanks again for your prayers during this time; it went really well. It will be exciting to go back there, Lord willing, to see how things have grown and also to see what were the fruits and results of my visit there. God bless you.

Visiting Syria (part 2)

Reyhanli kids in classI mentioned in the first post on my visit to the city bordering Syria, how that the school we visited was a surprise. Clean, organized, a real testimony to the people who are running it. It just struck me as a sign of the resilience of these folks who have almost all suffered personally, often physically, or have had members of their families who’ve suffered. But they seem very determined to make an environment for their children so they can continue their education and to not be defeated by the horror and destruction going on in their country.

I took some photos of some of the drawings the kids had done which were posted in the hallways of their school. Often they were in English. One of them said:

Peace poster -1Peace is part of love.

Peace cannot be controlled but it can only be made.

Peace is there.

Peace is here.

Peace is all over the world.

 

And another one said:

Peace poster -2“P” Peace is calm and friendly.

“E” Everyone is joyful.

“A”  Always have a smile.

“C” Careful and nice, no hate is allowed.

“E”   Evil is not right

But what could we do in the time we had there? We visited several classrooms, including where they were learning English. There were 4 of us; 3 spoke Turkish and 2 also spoke Arabic. We told them that we loved them and that we were so amazed by their happy smiles and joyful spirits. It wasn’t an opportunity or appropriate right then to speak on religious topics to these kids in their classrooms. But they knew we were different and had come to show love and solidarity with them.

Some of the Syrian kids with school supplies we brought for them.

Some of the Syrian kids with school supplies we brought for them.

With the head teachers and administrators, we talked more. We asked what we could do to help. They asked if we meant financially, materially or psychologically. We said we didn’t come from a large aid organization but were primarily volunteers. We brought with us several hundred dollars worth of school supplies for the children there, as well as clothes and goods they could pass on to the most needy in their community. We also gave a cash gift.

But we said we felt our strongest help could be in the realm of the heart, to let them know that millions are praying for their people, that they’re not forgotten and that our hearts were broken for them and their people at this time. When we asked what we could do, one of them spoke up emphatically to tell us to stop the bombing of their villages and cities and to stop the killing. We said we would if we could but that was beyond our abilities.

At one point in our talk with the administrators, I somehow shared how I’d come to faith in God as the only solution that was able to help my life and that we all felt the ultimate solution to the crises that griped their nation was to somehow find the love of God and love for each other. These were things that they all agreed with, even though I got the impression that some of them had seen such horrible examples of vilely twisted religiosity in their country that they’d swung towards secular solutions and views as they rejected the twisted religious views they’d seen. Then again later we were able to speak with other members of the school staff and to take the conversation in the direction of faith and a loving God who can heal and deliver us from the worst of circumstances.

One thing we learned from the situation in Reyhanli and from other areas nearby is that there are a number of volunteers coming from various parts of Europe and even farther afield. Most of these are young people and it often has to do with things like teaching music, sports activities, trauma counseling, computer training, art and just finding ways to help young people to still be able to get on with their lives in spite of the collapse of their society at this time. The motivation of these volunteers ranges from simple humanitarian concern to spiritual/religious convictions of different types.Mts syrian kids 4-fixed

As classes were being dismissed, we were able to gather with a large group of young students in the activity area in front of the school. One of us had a guitar and we got going with some good songs, both in English and in Arabic. Some of the kids really got to rocking out with us. They knew some of our songs and gather round to sing loudly. At this time we also brought in the school supplies and materials that we’d brought with us to distribute. Later we talked more with some of the administrators and got more familiar with the situation, as well as finding out possible opportunities to come back and do more.

Singing with the school kids, hills of Syria in the background.

Singing with the school kids, hills of Syria in the background.

Afterwards it was still daylight and we considered visiting some other places. But we felt what had happened already was a real answer to prayer and had gone well. So we agreed that we should “quit while we were ahead.” Then one of us paraphrased that idea to fit our situation, that we should “quit while we still have a head”. We laughed, somewhat quietly.

At the end of the day, as we headed back to our city, there was a feeling of peace and joy that we’d been able to go there, do what we’d been able to do, and then to get safely back out of a relatively dangerous situation. It seems like it is very rare for folks there to get visitors like us to their city and their people. My friends here will continue to be contact with similar groups and initiatives along the border where people with love and Godly concern in their hearts are doing what they can to bring light, love and practical help to what is one of the worst humanitarian crises I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Work? Or Prayer…in Bulgaria

Kornitsa group photoI’m in Bulgaria right now, such an interesting place and I’m having amazing experiences. I’ve been working with friends during the day to get a Bulgarian version of the first video I did on my series of videos on the prophecies of Daniel. Then at night I’ve been speaking at small churches and cell groups in this area.

For example, Saturday night my hosts said we would be going to a “radical Muslim” town to speak in a church there. I didn’t know what to expect. Well, for one, the “church” turned out to be someone’s medium sized kitchen. But “the church was packed”, or in this case the kitchen was packed. The picture above shows about half the people there. But they were all hungry and sincere Christians within this Muslim district who’d come to hear what I had to share with them.

That morning I had felt I could work on finalizing a blog post. But it just wasn’t flowing. One big thing I’m finding here is that prayer is a vital essential in what I’m doing. On Friday we had worked much of the day on the recording of the Bulgarian audio for the video. But it was so much effort that at night, when it was time to teach and share testimonies with the 70 or so that came to the church, I could feel I was somewhat drained and had not taken enough time in prayer earlier to be fully strengthened in the Lord for the evening’s activity. I still went ahead but I could just feel that it was not as full and flowing as it could have been and should have been, if I’d take more time alone with the Lord and not tried to cram so much into the day in the way of work.

Tell them I need them flatSo Saturday morning I knew I really needed to come to the Lord in desperation for His strength and even to try to get something from Him that would be in some way a message or theme that would be what He’d want me to share with these ones. Also at that time I sent a prayer request out to some of you to please pray for me to have wisdom and strength for this opportunity here.

Then, after that time of desperate prayer, a somewhat surprising thing happened. I felt led to just go to my computer and I wrote up something that wasn’t really a prophecy, in the literal sense of the word. But it was something I felt the Lord definitely laid on my heart right then, as a result of my earnest prayer to be a better channel and witness for Him in this situation. I’ll try to write that up into a blog article soon but the main idea was that “God needs us”. This is the message I shared with the Christians in the Muslim town that I visited Saturday night.

Now this morning also, as I nearly plunged back into a routine that usually worked ok for me back at my home base, the Lord instead led me to not start work but to get back on the wall of prayer. In this situation, it seems that I may be “doing” less each day. But it’s important to really spend quality time alone with the Lord, pouring out my heart to Him that He will help me to “raise the floor” so to speak and to be higher in the Spirit so that what’s being done will be from a time that’s really been brought before Him first.

So…, work or prayer? Of course both are needed. But in my case in this situation, spending more time in prayer has evidently become an essential for me if I’m to be in His highest will here and to be effective and fruitful in this time. A real lesson for me, and I thought to pass it on to you.

And I should mention that the place I am working from now is the same one that I wrote you about a year ago in “Good News from Bulgaria” and “More Good News from Bulgaria”. You can click on those links to get some background to how I ended up visiting these friends here.

Visiting Syria (part 1)

Reyhanli city-2I should be clear that I didn’t visit the geographic nation of Syria. I was in a large town, just on the border, as seen in this picture. But there are over 3 million Syrian refugees living outside their country now. So in visiting a place where the majority of the city was Syrian refugees, it was visiting Syria in that sense.

I didn’t really know what to expect. I can tell you that I did some pretty tall praying even before leaving the States for this trip. And then the day we went to this border town, that was another time of very serious prayer and looking to the Lord for His confirmation and then protection and blessing.

“Mark, that was naive and frivolous of you! Many people love you, Mark. And you just risked you life on some kind of foolhardy Christian joy ride! For what, Mark?”

Jesus said, “I was sick and in prison and you didn’t visited Me.” And then He said that “they will ask, ‘When were You sick and in prison and we didn’t visit You?’ And He said, “In as much as you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to Me.” (Matthew 25:43-45) Or as He said in another place, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

“Mark, get a grip! They aren’t your neighbor. They hate us and want to kill us, Mark!”

Friend, if you think that, truly you are the one that needs to get a grip. I went there because I had an unexpected “open door” (I Corinthians 16:9) from the Lord to go there. Besides that, this whole thing that’s been going for the last couple of years has just grossed me out and “gotten my goat”, to perhaps use strong language. So I wanted to get as close as I responsibly could, to see for myself how it is, to help all I could and to find what if anything I myself can do about it on the longer term.

Reyhanli mapI was able to make a one day visit to Reyhanli, a town/city of originally around 63,000 people which has swollen to around 150,000 with the influx of refugees. If things were different, I might have aimed to stay there a couple of weeks, to try to do more. But that truly wouldn’t be wise or safe. By the time you get that close to the situation and you’re a Westerner, you run a real risk of getting kidnapped. The baddies in Syria will offer a very large reward for ones outside Syria who can deliver up Westerners which they hold for ransom or to ultimately execute publicly.

We were able to visit a very well run school for refugee children, within sight of the nearby Syrian border. On our way to Reyhanli we saw refugee camps along the side of the road, people living under makeshift plastic sheets and begging (or worse) at traffic lights and in towns and cities. But the school we visited was surprisingly well organized, with cheerful, focused children who sang us songs and tried to converse with us in English.

About half the staff of the school spoke English. All the women wore traditional Muslim clothes but they were very friendly to us and showed us how the school worked. They said they get almost no visitors like us. We also had some time of rather deep and intense talks with some of the administrators. One of them had had his house bombed by “barrel bombs”, dropped by the government. Miraculously, no one was killed. But they took it as a sign it was time to leave.

A friend sings with the kids at the school, I’m in the background and the hills of Syria in the background.

A friend sings with the kids at the school, I’m in the background and the hills of Syria in the distance.

It seems like the funding comes from Syrians rather than any international or UN source. The school had been set up there for a few months and there are several others like it in the city. I’ve decided not to share the name of the school as the whole thing with this is a slight dilemma for me. I want to let you know how things are and what’s happening. And in the case of this school, it was a real surprise to see these folks having gotten things going there so well.

Reyhanli, May 11, 2013

Reyhanli, May 11, 2013

But on the other side, this is a very serious place. The city of Reyhanli had two car bombs go off there in 2013, killing over 50 and injuring around 150. You can read about “Reyhanli bombings” on Wikipedia for more info. It happened right off the main street through town and we drove by there several times. Also mortar rounds fired from across the border have landed in the city there at night. Our friends told us that they can see helicopter gunships and jet fighters which drop bombs on villagers just on the other side of the border. So I also truly need to think of the well-being of the ones we visited and the ones I’ve worked with here. For that reason I’m being less than fully explicit about some of this.

I should add that on Sunday, two days after our visit to Reyhanli, a bomb was found and diffused on a car there. This might be an encouragement to those of you who prayed for my trip. That’s how important prayers are. Here’s the link to the article about the bomb that was found. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-police-disarm-bomb-found-in-former-syrian-rebel-commanders-car.aspx?pageID=238&nID=79060&NewsCatID=341

It seems like there’s a lot to write about what we saw and experienced that day. So I think I’ll write another post with more of the details of what happened, what we learned, how we tried to help and how more help might be possible.

Preserve the Pillars

pillarsHolding on to our faith is paramount. Paul said, “Holding faith and a good conscience”. (I Timothy 1:19)  Because a loss of faith can be a terrible, almost indescribable thing. I know because I went though it to the nth degree and was in profound despair when faced with the fact that I had nothing, I knew nothing, I could hold onto nothing. I wrote about this experience recently in “Hell”.

me 72 fixed-ABut coming out of that, I was brought by the love and mercy of God to come to know, “Whom to know is life eternal”, Jesus Christ. But not right away. At the very first it was just an experience with the forces of darkness, a presence that tried to claim me and extract me from this world. I thank God from the bottom of my heart that somehow He gave me the grace at that moment to have the presence of mind and heart to recognize the spirit of Satan and to turn from him to the Spirit of the God of the Bible. Those experiences were the beginnings of the turnaround and life I’ve lived since that time, going back to when I was 20 years old.

But I feel I know what it is like to be without faith, in the most tangible and disturbing way one can possibly experience. And I’m sure hundreds of millions, if not billions of people are more or less in that condition in our world every day.

That’s why it’s so important what the Bible says, “Cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward.” (Hebrews 10:35) Oh my gosh, how many people every day cast away their confidence? We worry about ISIS. But so many people every day abandon their faith, turn their back on their birthright and “do despite unto the Spirit of grace.” (Hebrews 10:29)

light and certainty flatThat’s why it is vital to “stablish, strengthen, settle” (I Peter 5:10) the foundations of our faith and the faith of others. Faith works. Faith will move mountains, we’ve heard it said. “But without faith, it is impossible to please Him”. (Hebrews 11:6) It might be added, without faith, it is impossible to survive the storms and vicissitudes of the world we live in. By His grace I’ve lived a life of faith by holding on to His Word which has sustained me for 45 years through 40 countries and innumerable “trials and tribulations” which I never would have been able to survive without supernatural faith.

It’s those pillars of faith, founded on the solid rock of God’s Word, that we have to maintain and strengthen, both in our own lives and the lives of others. I’ll quote that verse again, “Cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward”. How often that truth has been a personal experience for me. I won’t get specific here as some of this is personal and there are perhaps ones reading this who would be hurt or offended if I got too specific. But I can tell you that the Lord has let me experience heartbreak that has taken me to depths I could have never survived without the pillars of faith that I found in His Word.

Save me oh lord flat-AI was in Silkeborg, Denmark back in the late ‘70’s and I woke up one morning, thinking that was going to be the day I would finally say “uncle” to defeat and death. I really didn’t think I would survive that day with my faith and soul intact. There had already been many like it and I was at my wits end. Before I even got out of bed, the verse came to me, “Save me oh Lord, for the waters are come into my soul. I sink deep where there is no standing.“ (Psalm 69:1 & 2) That’s how it felt: just completely drowning in hopelessness. But later that same day, just out of nowhere, in my time of being past hope, the Lord came though and did things so that the winds of misfortune and hopelessness gave way to a new spring of better times.

Hope. Faith. Knowing. In Him we don’t just have to have ”hope”, or even “have faith”. We can know. That’s what the Bible says. “Faith” can seem kind of weak at times. But the Bible speaks of knowing.For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” (II Timothy 1:12)

Paul preaching in Athens

Those pillars of faith, those absolutes that we have staked our lives on are not irrational, as the secularists say they are. They are faith in the God of love and His Son who died for us and was raised from the dead. Yes, it doesn’t make sense to the agnostic minds of our world today. But we have more than that. We have what the people of faith have had for 1000’s of years. Deliverance. Truth. Joy. A power unknown by unbelievers. Pillars of faith that are strong enough to get us through whatever this life may throw us. “The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work and shall preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory for ever and ever.” (II Timothy 4:18)