Mao or Jesus

3 05 2010


We just got word this morning that Maoist rebels are forming riot groups in the capitol of Nepal, Kathmandu.  In a large park just a few kilometers from where we are speaking at the International Church Planters Summit, the demonstrators are calling for a nationwide strike. 

In our meeting, pastors from all over Nepal are gathering to learn how to start new churches.  And, despite the civil unrest around them, they are being inspired to plant churches.

Today in the Taiwan News I read, “A senior U.S. official urged leaders of Nepal’s former communist rebels Monday to ensure that a protest against the government planned for later this week is peaceful.”

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, leader of the Nepal’s Maoist Communist Party, announced that hundreds of thousands of supporters would come to the capitol, Kathmandu, on Saturday to protest against the government.  The announcement came with threats of indefinitely long strikes and further disruptions to the country if the Maoists’ demands for a new national government are not met immediately (Taiwan New online May 29, 2010).

Here is the fascinating part: the Maoist leaders and students are gathering in the same building that our church planters are gathering, Maoist revolutionaries on the 1st floor and Jesus revolutionaries on the 3rd  floor.

In this interesting historical moment, the small challenges of life still press in. I didn’t sleep well last night, not out of worry about Maoist rebels, but because of the “exotic” foods here in this part of the world—I spent more time in the bathroom than on my bed.  Miserable.  I am missing family and friends, and the familiarity of home (I’ve been gone for almost three weeks).

However, I had a lot of time to think—not very clearly, (that’s not my forte even on a good day!). How humorous and ironic—and symbolic even– that Maoist demonstrators would choose, out of the hundreds of buildings dotting the city, to meet in the same building as our church planters’ conference.

As I walk to and from our venue, UN trucks full of officials and Mao trucks full of students speed by.  In our meeting room, 500 pastors worship the Lord with joy and faith.  The contrast is poignant: two different revolutions, two different allegiances, two different passions.  Mao or Jesus.

I find myself full of excitement as I enter our packed room.  The majority of our pastors, avid and vibrant learners, are in their 20’s– they take notes on everything we teach, they ask insightful questions, and they want to know about Mountain Springs Church, and how to teach the Bible.  What joy!

The majority of these young people are poor.  In some cases they have traveled hundreds of miles by bus to get here.  They are sleeping on floors, gratefully eating the food we provide, and expectant of God showing up. 

Their faith and spirit is contagious.  After lunch yesterday, a group of young men surrounded me and peppered me with questions that ranged from my outfit (my daughter Deborah dressed me for this trip) to my line-by-line teaching style.

Here I am in the spring of 2010, hanging out with the next generation of Nepal’s Jesus revolutionaries.  Young men believing God for spiritual solutions to their country.  Two floors below another group of young people hang their hopes on political solutions.  Two groups full of hope, two groups full of expectations for change. 

30 years ago The Beatles sang about a revolution, capturing people’s longing for a better world, a better future.  The Beatles were right. A better world is only possible through a revolution.  The question is, what kind of revolution brings that better future.

As Jesus followers, we are all revolutionaries.  We are bringing a new future and new hope to everyone with whom we share our faith.  What a privilege.  What an adventure.

Right now I still feel a bit sick in the stomach, but as I meditate on the significance of this summit I am feeling better.  We are fomenting a new revolution in Nepal.  We are one part of a larger story of Christians bringing the greatest news ever told, the greatest revolution ever launched–salvation alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone. 

Now that’s a revolution worth dying for.  And, maybe most importantly, that’s a revolution worth living for. Jesus is worth it.

Dunkin’ Donuts and Planting Pastors

26 04 2010

I have come to Okinawa every year now for over ten years, and I think I know almost every pastor on the island.

Right now, I’m eating sushi, looking out over the Pacific Ocean, and pondering the challenge of developing future spiritual leadership on this island.  I’ve spoken every night and several times a day for a week, spending almost every waking hour with these gracious, caring, pastors—eating, sipping tea, laughing and sharing our hearts and lives.

Last night I spoke at one of our network churches.  Liz and I stayed up until midnight with the pastor and his wife, sharing pictures, and talking about old times.  Together with my friend and fellow pastor, we reminisced of the days of trouble.  You see, he and I got into trouble together – big trouble in 1989—in ways that would change the direction of our lives as pastors.

It all began with a conversation at Dunkin’ Donuts when I was a missionary in Okinawa.  Yes, Okinawa has Dunkin’ Donuts. And the Japanese like donuts almost as much as sushi.  If you tasted their version of Dunkin’ Donuts, you would understand why.  Anyway, one morning we were sitting around drinking coffee and stuffing our faces with cream-filled when he asked me, “Steve, what do you think my church needs?”  After thinking for about three minutes (which is deep meditation for me), I said, “Your church needs to learn how to worship Jesus.”

Thus began a journey that got both of us in a heap of trouble! 

He asked me to teach his church how to worship, so that is what I did every Wednesday night. But more than just a sermon, back then my style was to teach for a little while and then to demonstrate how to worship.  The demonstration time involved closing our eyes and worshipping to music playing over my stereo.  On one fateful night, the Holy Spirit showed up in a dramatic way, and my pastor friend experienced a baptism of the Spirit that quite literally rocked his world.

The Holy Spirit came that night during worship as the power of God hit my friend with such peace and joy that he didn’t sleep for the next 48 hours!  In fact, on this one evening his baptism into the Spirit would initiate his journey on  a road that would change the direction of his life forever.

In the days and weeks to follow, he shared excitedly about the new things God was doing in his life.  To say his Southern Baptist church was not quite as pumped up about his new-found intimacy with God is an under-the-sea, really-deep-under-the-sea-level statement.  In a short time, he was kicked out of his fellowship, and found himself on the streets wondering what had happened.

At about the same time, I was teaching my staff about more expressive worship like raising our hands, about casting out demons, and in general, getting myself into some deep theological doodoo of my own.   I could see the wagons circling, and I knew that my days were numbered.  And like my pastor friend’s experience, it wasn’t long after our Dunkin’ Donuts meeting that my life was profoundly changed – I resigned from my position with a para-church organization and joined my friend as we freshly sought God about our futures.

What an exciting time it was!  Both of us out of a job, but loving Jesus!  Both of us unsure of the direction of our future, but confident in the Director of our future.

And so last night, after all of these years, we were reunited.  We shared of our journey and the adventure.  For my Okinawan friend, God had planted him back on the island to found and pastor Agape Community Church where he continues to minister today.  God led me to Colorado Springs to plant Mountain Springs Church. 

Once again, just like we had done 21 years ago, we worshipped together on a Wednesday night.  However, on this night we were joined by a group of men and women, many of whom hadn’t even been born or saved in 1989.  Together, we were again worshipping the same Jesus that had rocked our world—the same Savior and Lord who continues to rock our world today.  Only now, there’s a church that didn’t exist back then.  All because God powerfully visited a pastor one night during worship, then planted him to shepherd His people.

I have learned that God plants pastors.  He doesn’t plant churches; He plants pastors.  Pastors are God’s methodology, His missiology. Jesus planted pastors.  Jesus is still planting pastors. I think pastors were what Jesus had in mind with His twelve men.  And it’s what He had in mind for these two pastors, one Okinawan, one American. 

Tonight, I count it an honor to be one of His pastors, grateful to be helping to plant more pastors on the tiny island of Okinawa.

India 2009 – An Adventure to Remember

17 08 2009

Entering into the sultry heat of Mumbai, India never prepared us for the adventure God had laid out for our team.  Over a brief five day ministry trip, the Holy Spirit gave us a full course taste of India that will be difficult to erase from our memories.  From the lecture hall of the Master’s College where we taught on church leadership four to five times daily to feeding homeless lepers in the slums at 2 am, no one had much time for rest and relaxation.

Our first night in India was the beginning of the adventure.  We exited the hotel to the screams of every taxi driver, hotel owner, and rickshaw driver in Mumbai.  Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration—but not by much.  But praise the Lord, we had prepaid hotel rooms…right?  Right.  We soon learned that nothing is guaranteed in India.  I called the hotel only to find out that our dates were off by one day and we had no rooms.   Wonderful. 

With no hotel lined up we had to negotiate, barter, and bluff our way through a people who have honed those skills way past our civilized western protocol.  I felt a little bit like Crocodile Dundee in the city as I tried a combination of kindness, “Hey I’m the dumbest guy ever” routine, and common sense (which is not as common in certain parts of the world) to figure out where we could sleep.  As we were given rides by a family of Indians who called everyone they knew to get our business, we found ourselves debating the price for our rooms in the Mumbai slums as everyone was falling asleep through sheer exhaustion.  We secured five rooms and God gave us grace and sleep after 25 hours of travel.

Each day began with Randy Welch, Rick Rupert, and myself teaching over 200 Indian church planters and 50 Bible School students at the Masters Home, College and Seminary in Vizag on such topics as leadership, discipleship, and building strong churches.  Randy is a former pastor and businessman in our church.  Rick is an old friend from California who is now serving as a missionary in Malaysia.  Each one of us taught on different topics; it was truly amazing to watch as the Holy Spirit caused our messages to weave a beautiful tapestry of themes that were powerful and used of God.

The rest of our team led a VBS to the orphanage children each day.  Nicole, Hannah, Josh, Daniel, Tawnie, Joyanne, Ian, Allison, and Naomi ministered through songs, Bible stories, and games to the children of the Master’s School.  The joy and laughter of the children was a testimony to the impact they made.  Twelve children indicated they prayed to receive Christ during the VBS.  On the final day there was a special assembly, Josh spoke to several hundred combined schools and dozens raised their hands to receive Christ.

In the midst of our 12 hour days of ministry, Rick, the radical Malaysian Missionary in our group, kept coming up with new and novel methods for evangelism in the city.  Rick, who I might add has a propensity for hip shooting, storytelling, last minute, no plan, no sleep, middle of the night ideas, kept everyone guessing…and excited.

One night as we headed back to our hotel we came across thousands of people involved in a local Hindu festival.  Stages were set up and hundreds were gathered at each stage watching dancers and singers perform.  Rick came up with the idea of a kind of Kingdom raid on the festival.  At the hotel we dressed up in our blue shirts (every mission trip at MSC has to have a free T-shirt and we were no exception), Josh grabbed his guitar, and we practiced the worship song “Rain Down,” and were ready. 

Upon crashing the party in downtown Vizag, the crowd suddenly went wild and pushed us to the stage!  We were rock stars in five minutes. And with all the skill of 11 Americans who can’t speak the language, don’t have a clue about the culture, and can barely sing one worship song, we looked really cool (?).  After a few cheesy dance moves, they realized we weren’t exactly Bruce Springsteen or Brittany Spears, and we were politely escorted off the stage.

But the adventure wasn’t over.  In the crowd, there was one India wannabe promoter who could see the latent talent and opportunity in this motley crew, and we were practically dragged, pushed, and shoved to another stage.  God opened the door and we were able to sing “Rain Down” to a crowd of several hundred.  Our prayer was that maybe just maybe, our short message of God’s love to the Indian people, might have touched a few hearts. It was fun to be His instrument.    

Our group had the opportunity to visit a Compassion Project and minister in a widow’s home and saw firsthand the ravages of poverty but the hope of the Gospel.  It was exciting to see the impact Jesus and the church can make in some of the most depressing, humiliating, and hopeless situations of our world.  All of us counted it rare privilege to show the love of Jesus in practical ways at these and other places.

One night Rick and the group came up with an idea of going into the slums and ministering to the homeless and the lepers of Vizag.  So, at 10pm the group entered some of the darkest parts of the city with food and compassion.  They encountered old men to little children who were abandoned by society and their families.  Our group moved through the abandoned apartments and alleyways giving away food, praying for people, and sharing the gospel as God opened up opportunities.

There were so many more adventures I could share: like the night several of our group stayed up till 3am sharing the gospel with a beautiful young Hindu woman who, in the end, with tears running down her face, gave her heart to Jesus.  Or, when we had the opportunity to pray over 25 Tribal Indian pastors who are literally risking their lives to preach the gospel in the remote hill country of eastern India.  Or, the countless chances we all had to share our story of Jesus to people we met in the hotel, in the airport, and on the plane.  Or, our narrow escape through armed guards in Mumbai who would not let us leave the airport.  Or, the food!  Yes the curry, curry, and more curry, and rice!  But we loved every part and won’t forget all that God did.

Thanks so much for the hundreds of people who prayed for us.  Your prayers made this a joyful, challenging, and visionary trip that none of us will forget. It was most definitely an adventure to remember. 

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,

Pastor Steve