Friday, March 30, 2007

Will a house get me to heaven?

Arrived in Kigali, Rwanda about noon Friday (around 5 am Dallas time) after an overnight stop in Ethiopia. Long but smooth trip. On 15+ hour flight from Washington DC to Ethiopia I sat next to Fitsum, who’s in his late 20s. The youngest of 7 children, he was returning to Ethiopia after 5 ½ years away. He now lives in San Diego, where he works at 7/11 and a Ramada Inn. Through those jobs he saved enough money to buy his mom a house back in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. So not only was he going to see his mom for the first time in a long time, but also the house he bought for her.

He chose this time to return so he could spend Easter with her. In fact, the huge Ethiopian Airlines plane was full of families returning home. Lots and lots of kids with their moms and dads. In fact, it was the only time in all my years of flying that I was the only white face on the whole plane. It was fun watching all the families and friends interacting with each other in that “community for a day.”

Fitsum grew up as an Ethiopian Orthodox, so Easter is a big deal, even though he admitted he’s not much involved. When I asked what he believed was needed to go to heaven, he listed many good works he was relying on. I’m sure the house for his mom was motivated primarily by his love for her, but if it also helps in getting to heaven, then so much the better.

So I shared with him how Jesus had died for his sins and mine. How God the Father had raised Him from the dead, conquering sin and death on our behalf. How he was going to celebrate that resurrection as he returned home to share Easter with his mom in her new home. How eternal life, a ticket to heaven, was a free gift from God as we place our faith only in Christ for salvation. That it was not of good works, so that no one can boast. But that he needed to receive that gift, and not just know about it.

Just as he did not want his mom to pay for the house he had saved for, we cannot pay for our salvation, because the price is too great. He just wants us to live a life of “thank you” as we do the good works He has prepared for us to do.

For years Fitsum played soccer in the US in a league of Ethiopia teams in about 20 cities. He agreed that no matter how good he was, he would not be able to kick a soccer ball from San Diego to Dallas, for the distance is too great. The same is true of our sinfulness and God’s holiness—there is too big a gap for us to cross on our own.

As he heard these truths watching the EvangeCube unfold, his smile got bigger and bigger. He said he needed to think about this some more because it was the first time he had heard it. But he said he felt something inside that he could not describe because he did not know the English word for it.

Please pray for God to complete in Fitsum what He has begun. And pray for his whole family as he takes the Cube I gave him home, with the Gospel explanation in the instruction sheet, for he said he wanted to tell them all he had heard. Wouldn’t it be great if Easter came alive to that whole family as they all came to understand the real “reason for the season”?

Most of the trips I make are for the “ministry” of our ministry. But today (Saturday) here in Kigali Robert Mutijima (Rwanda e3 national leader), Mike Wagner (our US based Rwanda Strategy Coordinator) and I will be focused on the “business” of our ministry. God has blessed us with great growth here, so we are looking at office space, interviewing accountant candidates, and talking to a lawyer about registering as an NGO (non-governmental organization—the international equivalent of a non-profit org back in the States). So today I get to do the 30 minutes of lawyering a year that I still do (which is enough to suit my tastes now!).

Please continue to pray that God’s will be done in all this as it is in heaven.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

India Leadership Conference

Check out the entry below to read what God did in Kazipet India.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Elephant gods and Sourdough

Hindus have millions of gods. One of the most widely worshipped one is Ganesha, which looks like a mutant elephant. George Robinson, Philip and I saw lots of altars to this god last week on our leadership training trip to India. One restaurant we went into had a worship shrine to Ganesha at the front door. A handicrafts store had a big shrine prominently positioned by the checkout counter.

How do we as followers of the Living God, the Lord Jesus, help those enslaved to such a god?

Remember the answer to the famous question: how do you eat an elephant? “One bite at a time.”

Let’s rephrase that question: how do you defeat an elephant god? “One life at a time!”

That was our focus last week in India. Training 35 people how to train others to do evangelism and discipleship that results in planting new churches. Expanding the kingdom of God one soul at a time, then gathering them together in new churches to be discipled.

You may be thinking “that’s just a drop in the bucket . . . there are a billion people in India!”

If that is what you are thinking . . . you’re right. Just a drop in the bucket.

Maybe a better analogy is sourdough. How do you make sourdough bread? Each time you make a batch you hold back a small ball of dough. It has the sourdough yeast in it, which is needed to make the dough rise.

When you put that small ball of dough in a new batch, the yeast multiplies and the bread rises. Then you put it in the oven, but first you hold back a small ball of dough. The yeast for the next batch is always in the current batch.

There are lots of effective churches and ministries working in India. Many people are coming to Christ. We’ve had teams going to India for 10 years. Now we thank the Lord that He is allowing us to expand our ministry there through training church planting coaches.

Each of these coaches will be like sourdough yeast going back to their areas of ministry. Here’s why.

Dani Abraham, our India coordinator, did a great job gathering together 36 leaders from 10 states of India. Among them they spoke 5 or 6 languages. In our training we covered Vision for Church Planting, plus a very basic church planting process: Pray, Evangelize, Make Disciples, Gather Together, Develop Leaders and Multiply.

Then each day we went with the leaders we were teaching out to Banjara gypsy villages to "practice."

There is severe discrimination in India, the result of the Hindu "theology" of the caste system. The Banjara are treated very badly. They work hard at menial jobs, such as breaking up rocks to make gravel. The homes we saw were made of sticks covered with discarded plastic. Cooking was done on a small mud "fireplace" in front of each hut (at bottom of picture).

Often towns refuse to put in water lines to their neighborhoods, forcing the women and girls to spend many backbreaking hours carrying water.
Pray. The first day we taught a session on Vision for Church Planting and another on prayer. Then we went to the Banjara villages to prayer walk. We prayed for the area, and also for some of the people's needs there.

Evangelize: The second day we returned to share the Good News about Christ with people in 4 different villages. 36 people prayed to receive Christ in the 2 hours we spent in the villages. Hallelujah!

Make Disciples and Gather Together. The third day we returned to the villages to follow-up with the new believers and gather them together into new house churches. 50 people showed up at one of those meetings! The new believers in one areas got permission to meet in the front room of a house in the midst of their recycled plastic huts (see picture at left). That day many of these illiterate Banjara gypsies began to learn the 7 basic commands of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Plus 6 more people trusted Christ at the follow-up meetings.

Develop Leaders. 24 of the leaders we trained indicated that they want to be e3 church planting coaches back in their regions. Most traveled at least 24 hours on trains to return home, with some taking 3 days to get back. Dani Abraham will be coaching each of them as they now conduct First Steps church planting training and EvangeCube training.

Multiply. They go with a fresh vision for mobilizing churches to mobilize churches. Each committed to try to train at least one church and 50 believers each month. They have been "infected" with the "yeast" of God's vision for expanding His kingdom. As they go and make disciples, they will multiply more "sourdough" leaders. And one by one, life by life, soul by soul people will be rescued from the destructive paths of worshipping elephant gods.

Before we left Dani already had plans to train 100 leaders next week in a ministry in another state that wants to plant churches among other tribal peoples in India. Also, 3 trainings in Nepal in 3 weeks were set up.

Bottom line for the 3 day conference? 4 new house churches planted. 40 professions of faith. Over 100 attended inaguaral meetings of new house churches. 36 leaders trained, of which 24 were certified to be e3 Church Planting Coaches in 10 Indian states.

Jesus promised that He would build His church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. We thank Him for allowing us to see that promise come to life last week in Kazipet, India.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Headed to India

Mar 9th our son, Philip, and I head into uncharted territory . . . for us. We’re headed to Kazipet, India (near Hyderabad) for a Leadership Conference. George Robinson, one of our staff from Atlanta, will join us along the way.

We are working with a wonderful Indian pastor and leader—Dani Abraham. He is gathering pastors and leaders who are interested in working with e3. We’ll train them how to train others to do evangelism using the EvangeCube, and how to plant new churches using our First Steps curriculum.

Each day George and I will punctuate our “lectures” with “laboratory.” The first day we will go prayer walking after our session on prayer. The second day we will go out into the neighborhoods to do evangelism after the session on evangelism. The third day we will go back out to visit the new believers to begin the discipleship process after our session on making disciples. So the participants will immediately put into practice what we teach. They immediately will “walk the talk” as we model how they can train and mobilize churches to do evangelism and discipleship that results in new churches.

Our prayer is that God will raise up from this group key church planting “coaches” we can work with in the future. We’ll supply them with EvangeCubes, First Steps manuals and other church planting materials so they can multiply the ministry by training many other churches.

If you’d like to see pictures of the Banjara, one of the people groups that lives around the conference site, click here.

That’s the plan anyway. I can’t wait to see what God does!

Your prayers are needed—

• Pray for God to bring His choice of leaders to the conference
• Pray for wisdom for Dani as he completes the planning for the conference
• Pray for George and me to walk in the Spirit in all things
• Pray for God to continue to grow my relationship with Philip
• Pray for God to continue to prepare Philip for the life work He has for him
• Pray for God to use this conference as one of His matches to light the fires of church planting movements in India