Archive for the ‘missions’ Category

“We do not have time to waste our lives coasting out casual, comfortable Christianity.”

— David Platt, author of “Radical,” addresses the Urbana 2012 conference.

“What plan or dream will you give your life to that is more significant than this?”

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Something special happened last week at the National College Media Convention in Chicago.

As some 2,000 students and advisers came to the Sheraton Hotel to sharpen their journalism skills, network with each other and accept awards, one track of faith-related sessions took things deeper. A lot deeper. In fact, I believe we are seeing the beginning of a movement of God.

In one session, photographer Darrell Goemaat from the Regular Baptist Press showed how God has placed him and his incredible skills into a full-time ministry position. Other sessions featured two fairly recent journalism grads who now work for a Christian relief agency; the Chicago Tribune’s religion reporter; and two veteran advisers helping students through the challenges of covering news on a Christian campus.

The deputy managing editor of Christianity Today, Tim Morgan, took a full hour to walk through several gospel passages and show students and advisers that Jesus can indeed be their role model as a journalist. I’m willing to bet that it was the first time anyone ever exposited scripture at a journalism convention.

Lincoln Brunner and I talked about our career paths, how God has called us to missionary journalism … and what it might look like for students seeking to follow God in that direction. While we expected that the students would be interested in what we had to say, their level of buy-in absolutely floored us.

At one point as various students – from both public and private colleges and universities – were talking about their desire to serve God with their vocations, a question popped into my mind. Again, it was one that may never have been asked at a journalism convention. But, what the heck.

“How many of you are sensing God tapping you on the shoulder and prompting you to do something specific?” I asked. Most of the hands in the room went up. Probably the closest I’ll ever come to an altar call.

So we talked through some of those promptings. Many felt called to some form of missionary journalism. Others mentioned humanitarian work … sharing their faith with someone … doing video documentaries … “speaking for the unspoken.”

In response to our potential missionary journalism internship in Costa Rica, one graduate student emailed us later: “I cannot describe the tug in my heart, nor the beckoning I feel toward this opportunity. I only know that it is of Him and that I’m ready to take a risk for Christ.” She also blogged about the convention’s Faith track and how it impacted her.

All this at a college journalism convention. We certainly claim no credit. It was sure fun to have a front-row seat, though. God is beginning to open doors, and minds, to amazing possibilities: Telling stories of what he is up to around the world, and how people can get involved.

Seems to me that is a recipe to help start a revival. Or at least to cover one.

Faith in a Drought

Posted: October 9, 2012 by Jim Killam in disillusionment, doubt, fear, missions, nature

A stiff, cold wind blew in yesterday. It took our spectacular fall color and whipped most of it to the ground. That’s a harsh reminder of one season ending and a long, cold Illinois winter perhaps starting early.

The cold wind also bookends a terrible drought year, when it was tough for anything to grow and thrive, and when dirt and dust covered just about everything around here.

For my wife and me, the drought extended into most of life. It’s been an especially dry season of raising support for our upcoming missions work. With a couple of notable exceptions, possibilities that had looked promising simply dried up and blew away. I worked hard all summer and, like the farmers around here, I saw little payoff for all of that toil. Just a lot of indifference, outright rejection or simply being ignored. Plus, unlike the farmers, we didn’t have crop insurance. If God doesn’t come through, we are sunk.

Didn’t I just sacrifice a career? Didn’t we just sacrifice our home and comfort, to follow God’s clear calling on our lives? Aren’t we living in a shed? And the result so far is … frustration and disappointment? Really?

A drought becomes a vivid reminder that so much of life, and even our ability to sustain life, is beyond our control and incredibly fragile. A dry season turns us to God in a way that abundance does not. It’s human nature to tell God “please” a lot more than “thank you.” Our need for him, and the fallacy of self-reliance, becomes so much more obvious in a drought.

A drought favors plants with deep and healthy root systems. It favors good soil rather than shallow, rocky soil (Matthew 13:6, the Parable of the Sower – “But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”) Things that we relied on, but were far more fragile than we realized, get stripped away. Only those things with the deepest roots survive – and even they sustain some damage.

So, what was stripped away for us in this year of spiritual drought? First, our nice home. Then our comfortable income. Both of those were voluntary steps of faith, and though we didn’t say it, I think we expected a reward. Instead, our modest savings dwindled. We lost comfort and convenience – the ability to simply take a shower, or cook a meal, without planning. We lost confidence in our abilities to restore that comfort and convenience. Pride in accomplishments evaporated. All of that admiration received when I quit my job to follow a calling? A distant memory now. Ultimately, we lost confidence that, in response to our steps of faith, God would act when and how we wanted him to act.

And now, 10 months into our spiritual drought, what remains? What has grown improbably?

Our faith looks different today. Tired of comfort and safety, we willingly (if not always enthusiastically) ceded those things. There is no more predictability to life, and that can be frustrating. That sense of adventure and excitement we were counting on does show up more, but it isn’t constant. It’s sometimes punctuated by serious doubt, as in “What did we just do?” And this after some previous dark seasons where hope seemed only a hollow promise.

We have learned, far more vividly than ever before, what it looks like to rely on God for absolutely everything – how, when comfort and convenience are stripped away, God becomes more visible.

But, while visible, God also can be frustratingly silent in a drought. Often, our cries for help seem to go no further than the ceiling. We found ourselves with the unspoken feeling that God owed us success in raising our support after we took such a big step of faith. And the “reward” was … days and weeks where no one – and I do mean no one – responded to my letters, phone calls and emails about the calling God has given me. (Do you know how discouraging it is for missionaries when people won’t even return a phone call or a personal email? Even a “no” is better than being ignored.) Meanwhile, bugs, vermin and bad smells remind us that we are indeed living in a farm shed. What once felt like an adventure is now a lot harder and less fun.

But we cling to God anyway, because we’ve received a calling and we have nowhere else to go. Like the Spanish explorer Cortez, we have burned the ships. There is no turning back, and there are no guarantees of safety ahead. I think of a line from Pete Sommer’s book, “Getting Sent”: “The road we are sent on is not smooth, but it goes Godward.”

And I start to realize … maybe this is what faith really looks like.

Living a Real Life

Posted: October 5, 2012 by Lincoln Brunner in Christ's example, fear, missional living, missions

photo by Chensiyuan

I just got off the phone with one of the most courageous men I’ve ever met.

This guy — I tell you what. Talk about guts. He’s a pastor, and he walks into favelas (slums) in Rio de Janeiro that are ruled by drug lords and patrolled by traffickers toting machine guns, and he talks to them about Jesus. And he often goes at midnight, to their block parties, when they are most likely to be out on the street.

And here’s the kicker — he’s not alone. Dozens of people from his church go with him, singing and praying and breaking up into small groups that go out and evangelize the dealers and their customers.

And they do this regularly. This is inner-city ministry at its best, and its riskiest. Just the other day, one of these midnight care envoys got caught in the crossfire between a drug gang and one of the special forces police squads that hunts traffickers down and kills them. They were right in the middle of the whole thing. Not one of them got hurt, praise God, though many of them easily could have gotten shot.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this guy’s church has grown from four people, including him and his wife, to more than 700 in four years. Why? Well, there’s probably lots of reasons why, beginning with the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives, followed by the church’s insistence that Christian faith means discipleship — which means going out and reproducing believers. But how do they bring themselves to carry that out? Courage.

I think it’s plain and simple courage that drives this church forward and upward. They walk with courage born of a deep belief that Jesus has their backs and will empower them to go reach lost people, even in crime-ridden slums. Especially in crime-ridden slums.

This is a faith worth having. These are lives worth living. Scared? Sure they are. But being scared isn’t an excuse for a Christian not to do something. For Christians, courage means obeying the God who says “yes” despite the fears that say “no.”  We can trust God’s “yes” over Fear’s “no” any day.

I love hearing stories and watching movies about people who overcome fear to do something that they know they must do. Donald Miller talks a lot about this in his fantastic book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (easily his best, I believe). Think of a movie worth watching — I can almost guarantee that the story is basically about someone fighting through or overcoming some fear or obstacle on their way to getting something worth having. In fact, a story really isn’t a story without that.

That’s what made my hourlong interview with this guy seem like 10 minutes. It was the constant feeling I had that this guy’s life is going to make a great story — that this guy is living a real life. (Look for the article soon on reachglobalnews.org).

I feel bigger after I talk to someone like this pastor. It’s a feeling of “If he can do that, surely I can (fill in the blank with a much safer task).”

Living a real life means doing what you know you have to do despite your fears. In other words, living with courage. I’m really looking forward to meeting this guy someday. And I sincerely hope it’s in Rio before heaven.

God plays the Nut Squad

Posted: May 6, 2012 by Jim Killam in church culture, missions, pop culture

 

Ever pay close attention to the last few minutes of a basketball game, when one team is comfortably ahead? Those moments are called Garbage Time. Both coaches have pulled their starters and emptied their benches. The guys that never get to play are now playing – a better word might be flailing — and you quickly understand why they never get to play.

I spent most of my high school basketball career on the bench, part of a unit that called itself the Nut Squad. All of us at one time or another toyed with the idea of wearing street clothes under our warm-ups, just to tempt fate. These were the underjocks – decent but flawed athletes who filled out the roster but rarely got into a game.

These also tended to be the smarter kids, so the Nut Squad was not without its moments of comedic glory. You’d always try to be the first one out of the locker room for pregame layups, so you could awkwardly fire one off the bottom of the rim and earn style points from the other Nuts. Or during the shoot-around, we’d head over near the bench area and launch 35-foot rainbows because the coach had told us to shoot from where we’d be during the game.

If the Nut Squad ever got into a game, it was because the outcome had long since been decided and the coach deemed it safe to let us onto the floor. So we had an unwritten agreement among us. If the ball somehow found its way into your hands, you would shoot, no matter where you were on (or near) the court. And if you couldn’t do that, you would do something – anything – to get into the box score. Usually that meant a spectacular foul, up to and including pantsing an opposing player.

Now, we never would have done any of this had it actually mattered. But it never did. Thinking back, it stunk to be on the Nut Squad. You were there because the coach thought you were good enough to play on the team but not good enough to play when it mattered. You were never represented by an X or an O on the blackboard as the coach drew up plays. Your job was to watch the starters handle the important stuff and to give them someone to practice against.

Turns out, God likes the Nut Squad. He even puts the ball in our hands when it matters. The Bible is full of Nut Squad members. Moses? Didn’t even want to play. David? Water boy. Most of Jesus’ disciples? Nut squad for sure. If God were going to accomplish something big, he certainly wouldn’t use these idiots.

As I prepare for a new career in missions work, with a brand-new ministry, I think about the Nut Squad sometimes. And I wonder, is God really entrusting all of this to me? The farm kid who never really knew anyone rich or famous, who still stutters sometimes and can still be painfully shy? The kid who used to pass time in church by counting the bald heads?

Yep. God does indeed entrust the whole game to the Nut Squad.  And I’d better not have worn street clothes under the warm-ups, because I’m going in.

Costly Faith

Posted: January 11, 2011 by Jim Killam in church culture, missions, persecution
Tags: , , , ,

What if your faith cost you something? I mean, what if it really cost you something … like your sense of safety, or even your life?

On new Year’s Eve, as a worship service ended, a suicide bomber struck a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt, killing 21 people and injuring about 100. The video above shows some of the aftermath.

Christmas on the Coptic calendar falls on Jan. 7, just a week after the bombing. Across Egypt, churches were packed – even the one that was bombed. According to a Catholic Online story:

Refusing to cower to Islamic terrorists, members of the Coptic Orthodox Church attended Christmas services in droves. An official for Egypt’s Catholic community said, “We fear no one, and nothing will prevent us from going to our churches in this country of the martyrs.”

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Christians are being quietly driven out of Iraq. Others are being arrested in Iran. This NPR story describes the roundup of 70 Christians today in Iran, then makes this observation:

“In the West, the followers are drawn to house churches because of the intimate sense of religious fellowship and as an alternative to established denominations. In places such as Iran, however, there also is the effort to avoid monitoring of sanctioned churches from Islamic authorities — who have kept closer watch on religious minorities since the chaos after hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed election in 2009.

Groups monitoring Christian affairs in the Islamic world say Iranian authorities see the unregulated Christian gatherings as both a potential breeding ground for political opposition and suspect they may try to convert Muslim in violation of Iran’s strict apostasy laws — which are common throughout the Muslim world and have at times fed extremist violence against Christians and others. …

“It’s the nature of the house churches that worries Iran. It’s all about possible converts,” said Fleur Brading, a researcher for Middle East and North Africa at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British-based group the follows Christian rights issues around the world. “It’s a very specific and pinpoint strike by Iran.”

 We ignore news stories like these at the risk of alienating ourselves from the heart of God.

It’s so easy here in comfortable, isolated America to approach church as a consumer: This one has good music, but that one has better teaching and kids programs, and I like the coffee better. Persecution to us means people make fun of us or think we’re weird, and that makes us uncomfortable.

Can you imagine any of those Iranian house churches splitting because of disagreements about whether to sing traditional hymns or Chris Tomlin songs? Can you imagine explaining to Egyptian Coptics how their American brethren sometimes don’t attend church because it meets at an inconvenient time?

Better, imagine the faith required to worship in a sanctuary still splattered with the blood of fellow believers. Imagine life with the real possibility of being blown to eternity because you choose to identify with Christ.

At the very least, this could prompt us to spend a little less time praying for our own safety and comfort and more time praying for the persecuted Body of Christ around the world.

My kids grew up in a world missions-oriented church. For those with the financial means to go – and that was many in our affluent church – short-term missions trips helped build churches and other facilities around the world – particularly for a sister church in Eastern Europe.

It would be impossible to make a biblical argument argue against foreign missions. Jesus specifically called us to take the gospel to the whole world and make disciples. I think we have to be careful, though, about assuming that sending teens overseas is a sure way to seal their faith.

Sociologist Christian Smith has found that teens who take short-term missions trips are, statistically, no more likely than teens who don’t go to have a strong religious faith after age 18. It’s a proven non-factor (this from a Christianity Today webinar in 2009).

When one of my sons was 16, he went on a two-week missions trip to Scotland. The organization that planned the trip has an impeccable reputation; its leaders love God and care deeply about both the teens they’re traveling with and the people of the cities they visit. The trip represented a significant financial sacrifice for our family, plus months of fundraising from friends and relatives. But foreign missions were a huge part of our church’s culture, and were heavily emphasized in the youth group. We believed this could be a defining time in our son’s life.

“I really wanted to see the world,” my son told me recently. “So for that reason, I’m glad I went. But I felt like I had a quota. There was a certain number of people we were supposed to persuade to make a decision for Christ. While we were there, some people would raise serious questions that I couldn’t answer. And afterwards, a lot of that sank in.”

Five years after that trip, a significant number of people who went on that Scotland trip have either placed their faith on a shelf somewhere or have abandoned Christianity altogether. For my son, for now,  it’s the latter. I don’t place any blame on the organization or its leaders; just as many kids from that trip are solid in their faith today. But I do believe the research: The trip was a nonfactor in predicting what those kids did with their faith as they reached young adulthood.

The real factor, I think, was how real they saw their faith and their churches once they got home.

“High school was terrible,” my son says today of his youth-group experience. “Cliques formed and the leaders seemed OK with that. It was obvious they were separating kids into groups – by their looks, by their attitudes. The problem kids were separated from the others.

“Church is a lot more centered on what you shouldn’t do than about how to cope with life in modern times. Everybody was trying to be something they weren’t. I saw kids who supposedly were the model Christians, from the model families, and they were doing stuff you wouldn’t believe.”

He saw all of that more and more clearly, and he became disillusioned. It’s tough for anyone, let alone a teenager, not to equate a bad experience with church to a bad experience with God. So, when he didn’t like what he saw, he chucked it all.

Knowing what we know today, would we still send our kids on missions trips? I think so. Some offer amazing experiences serving the poor and needy, both in America and abroad. Christ can be far more visible in those situations than here in comfortable, middle-class America. But our expectations would be a lot different.

Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Honestly, I’ve had a hard time with that verse the past few years. I do know that God is faithful – just not always in a way that’s to my immediate liking.

A church youth group can be the greatest thing in a teen’s spiritual development. For others, that same youth group can send them off the tracks. The same goes for missions trips. We parents wish there were bullet-proof guarantees on our kids’ spiritual lives. I’m here to tell you, there aren’t. At least not that I can see from this vantage point.