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Mission My Town, From Rodney Calfee of the Upstream Collective

In writing a series of posts on how mission trips help us think missionaly in our hometown, I asked my friend Rodney Calfee to contribute.  Rodney is an amazing worship leader and one of the most progressive thinkers on connecting local churches to missions that I know.  Rodney works with an, the Upstream Collective, an organization committed to doing the very thing this series of posts is about - taking people on cross-cultural mission trips to help them be more missional at home.  I asked Rodney to share a few things he had learned along the way:


It was a short-term trip to Taipei, Taiwan that changed things for me. Those 10 days exposed me to truths about mission I had never considered. They also exposed me to truths about myself I had never considered. That particular trip literally helped me understand my own identity, which changed the way I think about why I am here (both literally “here” in Birmingham, AL and ethereally “here” - alive and walking around). 

On my first major foray into overseas mission, I got lost in literally the worst part of town in a huge foreign city whose language I did not speak. I was with a group of 12 or so folks in the “red light” district of Taipei learning about some missionaries who were working within the brothels there. There were several huge street markets where we were and there were people everywhere. I was taking some video and one of the guys in the group pointed out a particularly cool shot to try to get on camera. It was a nice shot, so I went to get it. After filming for a couple of minutes, I turned around to begin to celebrate the awards we would certainly win for the masterful work we had just done, only to find a sea of Taiwanese people. 

All my friends were gone. I remained there. Utterly alone. In a city of millions speaking a language I did not know. I couldn’t read a sign or say anything useful. For a moment, I was lost and scared out of my mind. I pulled myself together and wandered the area for about an hour or so looking for some sign, any sign, of my friends. I finally found a police officer who spoke broken English. He drug me into a shop and began talking with the shopkeepers who began searching the internet looking for my hotel. They hailed a cab, put me inside, said something in Mandarin to the driver, and off we went. Where? I had no clue. I was just along for the ride. 

After a brief stop at the wrong hotel, a conversation with a kind concierge, and a shocking revelation that I should not have talked to the police in that area of town (I apparently found the one officer in that area that was taking the night off from being corrupt- I was told I should have found a gang member instead. Comforting...), I finally made it back to my hotel and my friends. But that night began a journey for me; one that has taught me what it means to be an outsider, and why that matters.

If I could narrow down a “top 3 things” I have learned through short-term mission that have effected the way I do mission locally, it would be these:

1. Culture is critical. There is no such thing as acultural. Many people have taught that the Gospel is simply some words we say; the same words in any culture. They believe that mission is simply translating those same words into a new language and speaking them to the people in a certain place. The problem is that people do not live in a cultural vacuum. People are products of the culture in which they live. Their worldview is shaped by that culture. 

The Gospel certainly is an unchanging truth, unshaped by culture; but the way we speak about it must be shaped by the culture of the ones to whom it is spoken. Mission must be incarnational. It was necessary for Christ to come to us and become like us in order for us to relate to the gospel of the Kingdom. In the same way that He came, He has sent us out (John 20.21) to become like others so that we can live the character of His Kingdom in ways that they understand. 

2. All mission is cross-cultural. If we believe that culture shapes the way we speak about and live the character of the Kingdom, then we must also believe that it effects every iteration of our efforts. When we follow Jesus, we give allegiance to a kingdom with its own culture, characteristics, and norms, all of which are in opposition to those of the kingdoms of this world. We become strangers and aliens - outsiders to the Kingdoms of this world (Heb 11.13, 1 Ptr 2.11). Our worldview is different. Our character is different. Our culture is different. Even in our own hometowns, in the places we grew up, and in the cultures we know so well, we are outsiders. You may be just like the people around you, culturally (wear the same clothes, have the same hobbies, employ the same crazy slang/accent); but if you follow Jesus and they do not, you are an outsider. You belong to a different culture; the one in which you currently reside is not your home. So for you to live on mission even in your hometown is a cross-cultural endeavor. You need to think like a cross-cultural missionary. You are one. 

3. Mission is not something you do; it is who you are. It is an identity. Paul, speaking of our earthly bodies in 2 Cor 5, says that they are temporary. Just a tent. Our real home is not here. But we are here temporarily to persuade others; to reconcile them to God. He says that when we follow Jesus, the old things pass away, and we are made new. He then gives a name to the new creation that we become - ambassador (5.17-20). All who follow Jesus are ambassadors- representatives who live among a foreign people representing the character of God’s Kingdom here on earth. 

Ambassador-ship is not something you do. It is something you are. Think of it- an ambassador doesn’t live in another country and work a 9-5 job. An ambassador lives the very best of the country (kingdom) that is home for him in full view of a foreign people. People who see American ambassadors in foreign countries see them as just that - Americans. That is their identity. Their mission in those countries is to represent America well as Americans. That is not a job, it is an identity. 

All the same, neither is mission a job for us. Our mission is to be representatives of God’s Kingdom in whatever places He has sent us, whether in our hometowns or around the world. You are an ambassador- a missionary - right where you are. 

Know that. You are a missionary. 

Understand the unchanging Gospel and “bear witness” to the Light that has overcome the darkness. Understand the culture in which you have been placed and live the culture of the Kingdom in full view of the people there. That is who you are...

Rodney Calfee is a part of the Upstream Collective, a group of leaders and churches committed to thinking and acting like missionaries locally and globally. Learn more at theupstreamcollective.org. He lives as a missionary in Birmingham, AL with his wife and 3 daughters. 
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Mission My Town, Thinking Culturally

continued from part 1, Mission My Town

How do mission trips help me become a better missionary in my town?

Mission Trips Help Me Think Culturally

I can’t remember where I read it, but the author defined culture as, “The water in which we swim.”  As you may guess, his metaphor was that of a fish. The fish becomes so accustomed to water he is oblivious to the fact that it is there.  We do the same thing with air.  We also become oblivious to our own culture - until we are exposed to a different one!
The first mission trip I ever took was to Russia.  I lost six pounds because I don’t eat cow tongue.  It was the first time in my life I needed a translator just to help me do simple things.  It was also the first time in my life I realized that common mannerisms and gestures I use everyday may be highly offensive, sexually provocative, or explicitly crude in another culture (that is a story for another day).  At the time, going to Russia helped me to realize that not everyone grew up watching the Dukes of Hazard, addresses other people as “y’all”, or knows what a Herschel Walker is.
Mission trips help you realize you are a cultural product, an international anomaly, an alien everywhere else but home.  But there is a positive reverse effect.  By seeing what an alien you are in other worlds, you begin to slowly begin see the water in which you swim.  You see the culture of home.  
Cross-cultural missionaries invest years trying to cross cultural barriers.  At home, you are already way past the line.  You swim in your world without thinking about it.  But think about it.  Think about what makes your town tick?  What are its shaping historical influences?  What are your town’s major events?  Who runs the sports leagues?  Who owns the local diner?  Where do the sages of the community eat breakfast (you know what I mean, the table of old men who know everything about everybody)!  If you want to reach your town for Christ - eat pancakes with its tribal rulers - the dudes with the gossip!   
On mission trips we gawk and awe at other cultures.  We study them.  In some respects we pompously judge them laughing at their quirks and pointing out their flaws.  But the mission trip ultimately turns our gawking at other lands into observations of our own.  Missionaries try to not only overcome cultural barriers, but they try to find veins within a culture in which the gospel will freely flow.  What are those cultural veins in “my town?”
to be continued . . .
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Mission My Town

I have been on numerous mission trips.  I have never been on one in which I was not profoundly changed.  Each of them have left markers in my spiritual walk that have shaped me toward Christ-likeness.  That said, I do not want my following comments to be a condemnation of the “mission trip.”  But I must be honest, currently, I am doing nothing in any of the cities to which I have been whether it be in the way of missions support, partnership, or ongoing work.  Not that I haven’t tried.  In every place I have been I had a passion to support and to return, but I am currently batting .000.  I have yet to return.  I have no ongoing relationship with any of the missionaries, planters, or pastors in those locations.    It is no one’s fault.  Others have made ongoing, fruitful connections, but I have yet to do so.  This does not mean I am not appreciative of what they have added to my life, nor does it mean I fail to pray for them.  It just means, people are busy.  Pastors, missionaries, and church planters are all well intentioned people, but staying connected (sort of like breaking up), it is hard to do.
Again, this does not mean that I think mission trips are a total waste of time.  In fact, I think they make an incalculable contribution to our souls; far greater than the money or time we invest in them.  Mission trips, especially cross-cultural ones, help us expand our vision for the Kingdom of God.  They convict us at the point of selfishness.  They help us become better stewards of our resources, wasting less and investing more in the spread of the gospel.  They challenge our calling.  They make us listen to the voice of God.  They expose our cultural blind spots.  They make us want to go again!
While all of this is profitable, for me, none of these positives sufficiently represent what is for me the most important point of mission trips.  Mission trips help me become a better missionary in my town.  
Allow me to make further clarification before I speak to missions in my town.  This is not a missional cop out statement.  Many people justify their lack of giving and going by pointing to the need of the gospel right around them.  The hypocrisy here is that while they say they realize it, they do nothing about it.  The end result is that they are missional nowhere.  What I want to challenge you to do is to go somewhere else, anywhere else.  Learn from missionaries in a cross cultural context how to be truly missonal.  Then come home and take a look around at your town through the lens of what you learned.  
Another end I want to avoid is the heresy some participate in in which we are only misisonal elsewhere.  Many people will spend great resources and time on mission trips, but are virtually invisible and ineffective in their own town.  This too is hypocritical and should not be so.  Missions is incarnational.  You do not go on “missions” as if the gospel is something you are to meet up with and start doing in another town.  The call of the gospel is global, universal, timeless - your zip code is not exempt.  
In any scenario, missions is a “where you are proposition.”  The thrust of the Great Commission is to baptize the nations and teach them all things Christ commanded, as you are going.  Christ never meant for missions to be scheduled.  He never meant for us to think of missions only in chunks of time, effort, and energy we call “trips.”  On “trips” we should go, but after “trips” we should not stop.  If anything we could say about this, we could say that mission trips should take us to another place in our town.  When we return we should not be in the same place we were when we departed; metaphorically speaking of course.
What I want to do is to encourage you to take a cross-cultural mission trip this year, if for no other reason than to be able to learn how to think missionally about your town.  Over the next few days I want to share with you what I have learned on mission trips that help me think missionally about my town?  
to be continued . . .

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The Story of Quebec

For those who are considering participating with us in Mission Quebec, please read D. A. Carson's Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor. The first chapter is a telling historical profile of the context of work there. Those who will be going with us in 2012, I will be asking you to read this book - why not start now!

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Do's and Don'ts of Short Term Missions

I will be part of a team from our church going to Quebec on Saturday. Tyler Eiland, who served as a missionary with IMB to Congo, shared the following list with us during our final prep meeting last night.

Do’s and Don’ts of Short Term Missions

1. Don’t assume that the church there will look like the church here. According to Tim Keller, contextualization is adapting my communication of the gospel without changing the gospel’s essential character. Dean Fleming states, “Contextualization is the dynamic and comprehensive process by which the gospel is incarnated within a concrete historical or cultural situation.”

2. Do be an encouragement to the missionaries you encounter. Affirm and support them.

3. Don’t do anything that a local person can’t do or easily reproduce. Short term teams should avoid creating dependency by offering a program or ministry that requires supplies or technology that is not available in the area. Do provide ministries that can be easily reproduced and supplied long after you are gone.

4. Do ask questions about the culture and the greatest needs of the missionaries in the area.

5. Don’t complain (Phil. 4:13) and be careful in stating your observations. It can be irritating to a missionary and offensive to the residents to hear you complain about anything, especially the little things. For example, when in underdeveloped contexts, be sure to avoid statements such as, “I can’t believe the people here live on so little.”

6. Do realize the church is not bricks and mortar, but the people of God. The church could be meeting in a house, under a tree, or in a very “non-traditional” facility.

7. Do rest in the power of the gospel to change lives (Rom. 1:16). Sharing the gospel is like handing out lightning rods in a thunderstorm. You don’t know where the lightening will strike, but you know what it will strike.

Thanks Tyler

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Sister Wives

Confession is good for the soul.  Although I am writing this, this is more of a confessional statement from my wife.  There is one more story from the missions trip to Helen I failed to share in my previous posts.
For months Emily M. from our church worked with the people from Georgia Mountain Resort Ministries to put the trip together.  I am sure that somewhere along the way Emily shared with the folks from GMR that this would be a “family” missions trip.  By “family” I mean moms, dads, kids, church wide, young and old, male and female.  This is an important detail! 
On Monday morning we were to meet Stephanie from GMR in downtown Helen for orientation.  At the time there were five men on the trip.  Two stayed behind at the cabin to cook.  Two took the van to be refueled.  That left one, me.  With me were 5 women and about 11 kids.  There we stood before GMR Stephanie who graciously introduced herself, and to which my wife replied, “We are the sister wives and this is our husband.” 
GMR Stephanie, needless to say, stammered for a moment somewhere between wanting to laugh and wanting to ask, “Are you serious?”  At which time I replied, “When we said family mission trip, this is what we meant, 1 family.” 
So there you have it, my wife’s confession.  This is all her fault.  Luckily GMR Stephanie was a good sport and got the joke.  It also helped to clarify issue when the refueling men finally returned to the group.  However I think our church now has an uncomfortable reputation in the North Georgia Mountains, and if you have ever seen the movie Deliverance, you know that may not be a good thing. 
So allow me now to confess, that’s my wife, these are the sorts of things she is prone to say, and that is just one of the many reasons I love her.  She makes me laugh . . .and it is the things she does to make me laugh that are the very reason I only need one of her.  I am a blessed man who plans to keep it the wife number to a minimum; only 1! 
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Jesus Burgers (Helen, GA 2011)

Jesus took five loaves and two fish and fed thousands of people.  On Wednesday we turned a side of beef into 65 hamburger patties and fed them to about 50 hikers.  I am not a grill master.  The good news is that people on a 2,000 mile hike on the Appalachain Trail (AT) will eat grilled lizard; and probably have. 

The people at Georgia Mountain Resort Ministries have been doing this so long that the burgers are known as “Jesus Burgers” on the AT.  Jesus burgers on the AT are like Windex in Helen.  Its a way to show kindness, gain trust, and start conversations.  It is a fascinating way to engage in missions to a global sub-culture.  In about three hours we served burgers to a lady from Australia, a dude with dreadlocks from Florida, a guy named Pirate, two students from Israel, a guy hiking barefoot, a fellow by the name of Lumpy, a med student who graduated last week, a dad and his son on Spring Break, a 62 year old lady fulfilling her dream, a few vegetarians to whom we served “veggie Jesus burgers,” and lots of people who looked like they could skin a squirrel - spelunk a cave - and start a fire underwater if need be. 

Trail people are a sub culture to which me and my family are complete foreigners.  When we think of going to Maine, we can’t envision the trip without loads of luggage in the belly of a plane or at the very least the back of a van.  When these people go to Maine, they walk it and live out of a bag.  Yet as strange a world as this was to us, we loved serving burgers to the hikers on Wednesday.  I would really like to do it again.  We served Jesus burgers, met some fascinating people, and had some great gospel centered conversations.  Jesus set the precedent.  Meet needs, feed the hungry, show hospitality, then share the gospel.  The Son of God invented the Jesus burger.

Mission trips challenge you to identify subcultures and engage worlds with the gospel that are strange and unfamiliar.  The process serves to remind you that you are strange and unfamiliar.  We are all a part of a sub-culture, a people group.  If you read my first report from Helen this week, our sub culture/people is our water.  Our people group is the tank in which we swim, the normalcy and sense of safety with which is insulate ourselves.  Missions is like a guy in a fish store staring into an aquarium and the fish inside the aquarium staring back at him.  Both worlds are weird, it is simply a matter of perspective.  On the back of our Honda version of the swagger wagon is a magnet of a feminine stick type figure holding up a towel.  Beneath the picture it reads, “Swim mom.”  Pirate stood there studying our van and asked me, “What’s your sticker say?”  For context, let me share with you that the entire morning Pirate had been wearing a pink sticker on his shirt that said, “Do not bend.”  Repeatedly he would say, “That’s my name, middle name’s ‘not.’”  Apparently on the AT everybody gets an alter ego, a trail name.  In Florida, Pirate has a different name, but on the AT he is simply Pirate, or Not - who can tell?  Every name has a story, you earn it, it defines you.  On the trail your name says a lot about you.  Apparently our sticker says a lot about us, “Swim mom.”  When I explained to Pirate that our daughters are on a swim team he said, “I can’t get far doing that.”  Here’s a guy who has hiked back and forth across America several times confessing that in our world he couldn’t get very far.  Honestly, Pirate, I couldn’t get very far in yours.  But we were there, Swim Mom and Pirate, having a conversation, two worlds colliding over Jesus burgers.

As we were driving down the mountain, my wife and I were talking about barefoot hikers, vegans, and other odd and unfamiliar aspects of the AT sub-culture we encountered.  In the course of the conversation I reminded Shannon that John the Baptist was probably more like the people on the AT than us.  The people on the AT travel in loose packs, informal nomadic communities.  They emerge one by one from the wilderness with a strange name and a message.  When you think of the gospel in that context, in the context from which it emerged you realize, I am a fish in a tank.  I have no idea I breathe water.  I take my daughters to the pool everyday as if its normal.  I wake up every Sunday and go to church.  I like Starbucks.  I own a Dell, a MacBook, and an iPad.  I listen to Jack Johnson.  I tuck in my shirt when I go to work.  We eat dinner at the same time almost every night.  Pirate drifts.  Tonight a guy named Caleb, that I met on Wednesday is deep in the Appalachian mountains alone, and by his own admission, “Journeying his thoughts.”  Caleb is taking time to think.  These guys live in a different tank than I do.  But at some point in time the gospel made it from a locust eating, camel hair wearing, radical in the wilderness named John the Baptist to my tank.  Somewhere along the way somebody took the time to study my tank and figure out how to swim in it.  Somebody brought me a Jesus burger.  That’s missions.
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Neglect (Helen, GA 2011)

On Tuesday we were to go pass out trail favors to hikers on the Appalachian Trail.  But being that Helen, GA was experiencing a small, cold hurricane on Tuesday, my group was redirected to a local nursing home.  I am by no means anti-nursing home.  I think they can serve a virtuous purpose of providing shelter and care for those who need them.  I have had two grandparents who spent the final months of their lives in nursing homes.  They had been cared for at home as long as possible, but even with large extended families the nursing home provided the best and safest care for my grandparents whose health was failing.  Yet I also think that nursing homes are places where people can be easily forgotten, mistreated, neglected, and disrespected.  I have no idea if the home we visited on Tuesday was such a place, but every time I go to a nursing home I am reminded of the sin of neglect.  Many people are in nursing homes, not because the family can no longer care for them, but because the family and society is done with them.  Most sins are dirty things you did.  Neglect is a dirty thing you didn’t do and someone suffers deeply because of it.

Naturalism has birthed a social ethic that asks whether or not a person is profitable.  If the person is not profitable, then it is not important that they live.  At this point in time, the only thing preventing America from practicing geriatric euthanasia is the law.  America is currently practicing pre-natal genocide, a right of choice protected by law.  Immorality eventually becomes law.  Who has the right to live?  Who has the right to die?  The gospel doesn’t ask.  Life is life.  Every life is to be loved and protected.  Whether fetal or feeble the gospel does not question, but rather compels those who follow Jesus to go to “the least of these (Matthew 25:40).”

On the way to the nursing home I told the kids with us that people in nursing homes love kids who sing; that it may be a good idea for them to drum a few songs up just in case.  No sooner had we walked in the door of the home than the activities director grabbed the kids, took them into a room and had them sing.  I looked at my oldest daughter and sent her a telepathic message with my eyebrows, “I told you so.”  While the kids sang I sat by a lady with 2 graham crackers and a small cup of yellow juice.  The graham crackers looked good, the yellow juice not so much.  I told her the night before that we had smores.  She mumbled something to me and held up her 2 graham crackers.  I told her, “I love graham crackers.”  She held them up again and mumbled something else.  I am generally a positive thinker, so I interpreted her mumbling to mean that she too shared my appreciation for graham crackers.  So, as the kids continued to sing, I pressed the issue with some humor, “If you don’t want one of those graham crackers, I’ll take one.  And by the way, I can get us more.”  Without a mumble she stuck her 2 uneaten graham crackers in the small cup of yellow juice.  I got the message.  She wasn’t kidding around.

I know I wrote something about this yesterday, but the ultimate point of mission trips, for me, is to teach us that being missional is not about taking trips, it is about engaging the conversation of the gospel that is already happening around you.  My town is full of nursing homes, so is yours.  Jesus said if we love and minister to “the least of these” we have done so to Him.  Yet, Matthew 25:40 is a double edged sword that reminds us that neglect is a heinous sin.  If we neglect them, we neglect Him.  No doubt, there are neglected cultures around the world that are starving for our attention.  It is indeed missional to be bold, sacrificial and go there.  But at the same time there are pockets of neglect all around us and it is missionally irresponsible to ignore them.
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Windex (Helen, GA 2011)

One aspect of the vision of our church is to engage in missions as family units.  Monday was an early step in the process.  From 9 a.m to 12 noon spreading the gospel looked like Mary Poppins cloned herself in Helen, Ga.  We invaded the downtown merchants (3 men, 6 women, and 9 kids) armed with squeegees, Windex, and what would equate to 17 miles of paper towels.  Kids are usually the devils that ruin clean windows.  In Jesus name, we would now lead the children to redeem them.  Cleaning windows was a simple act of kindness.  The people at Georgia Mountain Resort Ministries have been doing this for years.  Through the years they have gained the trust and favor of the merchants which gives the window washers an opportunity for gospel conversation.  We were just gospel tourists.  I fully realize all we were doing was joining in a conversation that was already happening.  One that began several years ago with Windex.

This is the way the gospel spread in the days in which the New Testament was forming; person to person, business to business, tent to tent, conversation to conversation.  For some reason the last 50 years of American Christianity has come to believe that the evangelism is a mass marketed scripted reproduction of Pentecost.  What we fail to realize is that Pentecost may have been first, but it was not the precedent.  Jesus did not design the gospel to spread several thousand people at a time.  Mass/attractional evangelism is the exception not the rule.  Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a place for attractional ministry.  In places where the gospel is new, favorable and the people are curious, attractional evangelism is a no brainer.  Some people come to Christ in a crowd, but for the church to be effective in the post-Christian, post-modern context it is going to take Windex; conversations at windows, in offices, at tables, over food, during life.  Monday was a good reminder for me that we need to walk the streets, know the merchants, be a blessing and rejoin the conversation in our own city.

Monday morning we were walking amongst merchants, by the afternoon we were walking amongst meth labs.  We worked in a local trailer park.  The tenants rent by the week which makes the community very transient and unstable.  Poverty is rampant.  Drugs, abuse, hunger, and neglect are the norms.  As we were canvasing the community asking kids to come to a Bible club meeting one of our ladies asked a young girl, about 10 or 11 years old, if any kids lived in the homes on the end of the street.  The girl replied, “Yeah, there’s lots of kids down there, we all smoke weed together.”  We’re Baptist.  We don’t do weed but when it comes to Baptists and Bible clubs we are usually always jacked up on Kool-Aid and candy.  We didn’t have weed, but we did have candy.  Even pot heads like candy.  Kids love it.  When Baptists do Bible clubs there will be candy and there will be kids. 

Again, this week we are merely gospel tourists.  We are trying to join in a conversation that is already happening.  Kristy is in the conversation.  Kristy is a recovering addict who has found new life in the gospel.  Nine months ago she set up in the community center at the trailer park.  She facilitates GED, parenting classes, Celebrate Recovery, and various services aimed at helping people exodus out of poverty.  She shared with us that the first few months did not go well.  But now the people know her.  Monday afternoon her facility was full of women and children learning how to re-boot life.  She heads out in the afternoon just long enough to pick her kids up from school.  When she comes back, there are women waiting at the door for her.  Kristen is an example of what it means to be missional.  Mission trips are profitable in that they expose you to the breadth and depth of the Kingdom of Christ.  Mission trips are teaching labs, they show you how the gospel spreads in cultural contexts.  In doing so, you are reminded at what needs to happen for the gospel to spread within your context.  Mission trips are chances to help fish realize that they are in water.  Put a person in a strange new world and oddly they learn to be more effective within their own.  Ironically it is on mission trips that eventually people learn that being missional is not about going on trips, it is about engaging in conversations, working, eating, and serving with people who need Jesus.  Mission trips are reminders that your own home town is full of businesses, merchants, and pockets of poverty, but that you have failed to enter into a gospel conversation.  Go back to your bowl and start cleaning windows.   

Sometimes sharing the gospel doesn’t even begin with a Bible.  Sometimes the gospel begins with Windex.
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Delta Abandoned Me

This is the final chapter I did not want to write. I intended our journey to end without warrant for recording. I thought my post on persecution would be the finale. Yet there is one more nightmarish chapter. This is the story your hear from others but place in your “I hope that never happens to me” file. There is now one less entry in my file.

If you have ever flown Delta it will not take you long to concede a great deal of inconvenience. You will hurry up to get on a plane that barely gives enough room for a 5’5” person to extend a toe. You will sit on the runway. You will be rushed to make your next connection. You will visit Atlanta. You will pay money to do these things. Boring you with all of those details does not make for a story, but you should keep the mounting pressures of them in mind.

Our return trip started with a casual breakfast in Oradea. Goodbye brown eggs. The time for our last meal would mean all of us woke up at what would have been 11 p.m. Thursday here in Birmingham. This will become a significant detail. Breakfast was followed by our final ride in a Romanian Rocket, the Opel. Goodbye Cornelush. If you ever come to the states I will enter you at Indy. The three hour 200 km car ride is now in the books. Flight 1 has been accomplished/survived. Flight 2 is a 9.5 hour, 5,000 mile jaunt over the pond. It was a long, monotonous flight full of Hungarian kids. Hungarian children are sprinters even on an airplane. We arrive in New York at 5:00 p.m., in good time for our 6:50 flight to Atlanta. Here we go . . .

At 5:50 we remain on the tarmac. Why? Because the plane at our gate had a terrorist on board. Due to a problem with a piece of baggage we had landed, but we were trapped aboard the bird. The Hungarian children are safely buckled, but in desperate need to sprint. Every moment that ticks by makes the journey through baggage claim, passport check, customs, baggage recheck, and the dash to the farthest gate at JFK seem more strenuous, and it was. Given the fact that we lost a piece of our luggage (sorry Bro. Johnny, you can re-purchase your suitcase in Scottsboro next weekend) only served to increase tensions. While in customs you do as you are told. This totally separated our team. The Branams were the last. We were alone. Our flight leaves at 6:50, at 6:45 the Branams are still at baggage claim. Shannon and I had resolved the rest of the team was gone, we had missed our flight. Given the fact that every Delta jet goes to ATL we were not worried. The girls on the other hand were convinced we had just become New Yorkers. We were doomed to spend the rest of our life living at JFK. There were many tears. Kiley realized a Romanian doll she had bought was in the lost bag. There were more tears. Please do not forget we had just woken them up from dead sleep number one, there would be four awakenings in all, and were dragging them through JFK. It was like dragging very emotional zombies.

Lucky for us, when you travel Delta there will be delays. This delay worked to our benefit, we made our flight. Yet with it being late this meant we would be in trouble in the ATL. Our next flight was to leave at 10:50. We arrived at 9:50. Perfect. Yet, perfect is not the way I would describe our landing. Apparently we landed during the second coming of Hurricane Katrina. Massive gusts of wind at an airport mean you will probably land on your head. We almost did. We came in sideways and hit the ground hard after a gust of wind toyed with us as if the plane were a feather. But we survived; and again we had to wait on the tarmac. The gate was right there, but they would not let us off of the plane that almost killed us in the storm, during the storm. Hmmm. So for a 10:50 flight we finally arrived, post Katrina landing, at our gate at 10:48 p.m. This marks two minutes shy of 24 that we have been trying to get home. Luckily, again, when you fly Delta there will be delays. Sometimes those delays extend from 10:50 to 12:45, and then to 1:10, and then to 1:30 a.m.

We had been awake now 26 hours and we were now 29 minutes from home. We taxied in the wee hours of the morning onto the runway, where we sat from 1:30 until 2:00 a.m. It was our turn to take off. I could see the runway, a simple turn and we were gone. We turned, passed the runway and then the announcement. “Passengers, you may be wondering why we are returning to the gate. . .” Now at this point that was an understatement, but I assumed it would be something uniquely Delta, so here we go. We returned to the gate because, “our first officer is over time and the tower has called us back. Your flight is cancelled.”

So after my daughters have experienced homelessness in the ATL airport, sleeping on a bench, after we have been chased, inspected, lost, delayed, delayed, and delayed we have now become victims of “someone at Delta cannot perform 2nd grade math.” Someone cannot figure out that this pilot has 1 hour to fly, there will be 45 minutes of tarmac, and a 1/2 hour flight to Birmingham. Do the math, there is not much left of an hour after a 45 minute and a 30 minute chunk of it are taken away.

So where does all of this leave a family with two zombie girls? It basically leaves you with the janitorial crew at ATL handling either your trip home or your accommodations on the nearest bench. The best way I can describe it is that we were abandoned. Delta had a perfect way to handle their customers. They created a line for the only 600 people left at the airport and placed one representative behind the counter to handle their situation. Handle their situation means, “We are sorry for your inconvenience, we have no more hotel vouchers, your luggage will arrive at your destination.” The later part of that statement may be slightly misleading. As of this moment we have recovered one of the pieces of luggage we lost, the only problem is that now we are missing two others. According to the Delta rep. one of the pieces is in Fort Walton Beach, FL. The other is nowhere to be found, it does not exist on the computer. She said when that happens it usually means it is still in Atlanta.

AHA! Now we know the trick. Send people and luggage to Atlanta and they vanish. Magically people no longer become a customer service issue, ethics, humanity, any sort of compassion vanishes. Cancel flights in Atlanta and vanish the staff that should be there to handle the ensuing chaos. Atlanta is the new Bermuda Triangle. It is Area 51 for luggage. I understand that Delta pilots must obey the law, namely the FAA, but to leave people with no options is horrible customer service.

At 3:00 a.m. we found a van; a miracle in itself. At 6:30 a.m. we arrived safely home. According to Delta the eleven of us who went to Romania should still be sitting in the ATL awaiting our Sunday afternoon flight. I will not even mention, or maybe I will, that once we catch our Sunday afternoon, 29 minute flight after waiting two days for it, only 9 members of our group will have seats; the other two will just have to wait for another flight. Our journey home began at 11:00 p.m. on Thursday and ended at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, just shy of 36 hours. Because of the distance travelled we saw only one nightfall. The other rotation of the planet that was experienced by the rest of the world, we missed.

As tired as we were the ride home in a common van gave us the chance to talk about the trip. God has done something grand in all of us. He wanted us to talk about it, to share our story. I would have liked to share my story, say, around 11 instead of 4, either way it is still the same story. God is good and His gospel is amazing. The nations praise His name.
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Today we visited an orphanage in Arad (pronounced “a rod”) and Freedom Square in Timiasora (Tim i shwora - I think). The orphanage was one of the most visionary facilities for special needs children I have ever seen. It would be a model for Americans to use in the same area of ministry. The facility houses over thirty children with needs that range from physical abnormalities to autism. Some of the children are highly functioning, some of them are barely functioning. Either way, each child gets what he or she needs. Each child receives the love of Christ, a family, an education, and a close to normal life. The director of the facility shared that when they receive the children most of them cannot communicate. He said we first learn to communicate with every child. Some speak. With some they use sign language. With others they use pictures. In any case they find a way to communicate with the child. You can read more about this program at RCE.org. They accept two international interns at a time. I had a great conversation with two ladies serving as interns. One was from Texas the other from Washington D.C. They highly recommended the internship program, which lasts 6 weeks. From what I saw, I would highly recommend it as well.

Timiasora was the fuse that ignited the revolution here in Romania in 1989. There is plenty of information about the story on the internet, so I will not take time to spell it out. Our day began with Pastor Doru and Dr. Paul Negrut, two men who participated in the revolution, sharing their stories. When you hear the stories of the persecuted it gives immediate perspective to the soul. Believing in Christ is a call to die, nothing less. Being here and hearing these stories has been a challenge to our faith, and Morgan’s. She has asked me several times about why people die and suffer for believing in Jesus. At the very least this trip has removed any ideas she may have had that salvation is something baked in the Sunday School oven, that you can chew on it from time to time throughout life when you need it. Jesus gave His life for us. In salvation we give our lives to Him.

Walking through the square our guide pointed to the buildings and told us to notice the bullet holes that remained in the architecture. The picture attached to this post shows some of the holes in an apartment complex. At ground level of the building was McDonald’s. On the third floor bullet holes; a place where someone probably died for freedom. A bullet hole and an American burger chain stand as an ironic yet symbiotic monument to revolution, freedom, and change. We moved to the steps of the Orthodox Cathedral at the end of the square. I stood there with my wife, my nine year old daughter, and my five year old daughter. On those steps one hundred children died trying to escape the fire from communist tanks. It was a surreal moment. Here we were, an American Christian family, gathered together in a place that was once a stronghold of darkness and an atheistic, communistic regime. Almost 20 years later we have entered Romania as missionaries, preached in the village churches, carried Bibles, prayed over meals, laughed, cried, and walked the streets in freedom. Because people died, I am able to be here.

As we descended the steps I noticed Shannon was weeping. We took pictures, but it was hard to smile in any of them knowing that children died on the stone beneath my feet. I was a sophomore in High School the moment all of this happened. I realize now that 20 years can seem like 20 minutes. 20 years does nothing to bullet holes. They remain a testimony to faith.

On a cold December night in Timiasora, Peter Dugulescu led the Lord’s prayer from the balcony of the opera house. 120,000 people gathered in what is now known as freedom square joined in. It was a fitting transition for a nation from darkness into light. Before we left the square today we all gathered together and prayed the Lord’s prayer. Freedom is incredible, but costly. We prayed without question, without fear, without reserve, without an eye open, and without fear of persecution. Yet in 1989 people prayed between bullets, in chaos, in revolution.

The last few days have inspired me to begin working on a sermon for Sunday. It is taken from Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the persecuted.” I have preached this text many times but I do not have a clue what it means. I have exegeted it from the original language. Today I exegeted it from original people. I asked pastor Doru, “What is the blessing of the persecuted?” His answer is a hammer to the soul. Lord willing I will share it with you on Sunday.

This has been an incredible journey. It has not been as much a mission to Romania as it has been a mission to my soul. I am tired and inspired at the same time. I am ready to return, but a part of me will ever be here. I will not forget this place, nor these people. Each of them are walking Scriptures. They have no understanding of faith without repentance, conversion, and an incredible commitment of life and devotion to God’s Word. I fear to think of how we have made the gospel something less. Romania is a testimony to the power of God, yet there is so much that remains for these people. Lord willing, next year, I will be back.

Gal. 2:20
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Romanian Hospitality

Romanians go out of their way to make you feel at home. When you are far from home, hospitality makes you feel as if you are not so far away. In just a few short days Craiva feels like a second home. We had dinner at the Mayor’s house tonight. I could not understand a word that he said but I loved being around him just the same. His business is bread. As a gift he gave us about 12 loaves freshly baked. Shannon loves bread. There could not be a more perfect and unique gift for her.

At the end of the worship service tonight pastor Adrian presented gifts to every member of the team. You could sense that our visit was special to him and to the people of Craiva. The member of our team have been looking all week for gifts that are uniquely Romanian. The problem is that in every market all you can find are gifts that are uniquely American. Tonight our team finally found something Romanian. The Romanians may think that our genuine native artifact was in their gifts. Yet our team has realized over the last few days that the unique Romanian gift is their home and their heart.

I have learned this week how to welcome a stranger. To welcome someone means to make them feel as if they never want to leave. If you welcome someone properly they should feel sad to leave. I feel sad at this very moment.

The village homes in Romania are family dwellings built around a common courtyard. An aunt, grandma and grandpa, a widowed mom, a son, and his new wife may all live around a common courtyard. Just across the street is another branch of the family tree. Dinner is shared in the courtyard, and so are the animals that become dinner. Everything in the village is prepared fresh. I don’t think we ate a single thing that was not grown or killed more than a mile away from the plate from which I ate it. The women of the house worked literally all night and all day to feed us two meals a day. It was their gift. It was uniquely Romanian. I must return to America so I can lose weight.

Being here has made me realize in America we are missing life. We are running right past it. We do not understand commonality and as such we do not understand community. We do not understand how to share bread and receive it day by day. We do not understand how to eat a meal. The food is the meal, but dinner has nothing to do with food. Dinner is the family meeting. Dinner IS the sitcom. I have not laughed as hard as I have laughed here in a long time. I don’t think there is a television within 100 miles of Craiva. They are living a wonderful story, why watch someone else’s.

It is June, people need shade. In afternoon heat people gather under shade. Every courtyard has a metal door. Outside the courtyard, next to the door, almost on the side of the street there is a bench. Everyone has a bench. The generations, young and old, rich and poor come out of the courtyards and gather on benches. This IS the news. There is no need for Nightline, just gather at the bench with Dana and Ionel. They are the reporters.

Another thing I loved about Craiva was the shade. The shade bears fruit. Most of the shade is created by fruit trees. You can literally walk down the street and pick fruit as you walk. In the courtyards of several homes we visited the shade was created by grape vines. The grapes were not in season, but small green clusters of grapes dangled throughout the shade. I would love to be here when the grapes are in season to hear the news, watch the sitcom, and eat grapes. I do not like cherries. Perhaps the problem is that I do not like cherries that were canned last year, injected with preservatives, and shipped from Venezuela to the Piggly Wiggly. Cherries are in season here and the trees are full of them. I have eaten about 40 Kilos of cherries. I think 40 Kilos is just under 900 pounds. I do not like Cucumbers. I am not sure what is different about Romanian cucumbers but it is almost like eating fruit. They are absolutely delicious. I loathe slaw. In the deep south slaw is some sort of grass drowning in mayonnaise. In Romania slaw is fresh cabbage, lightly peppered, with light vinegar and oil. Delicious. I did not know grass could taste so good.

There is no question, I will be back here, Lord willing. I have spoken with Pastor Adrian and the Mayor of Craiva and we have great plans for next summer. I think God has given us a vision for something that will benefit the entire village and in the end many people will come to Christ as a result. God is doing great things here. On the ride home I thought about how humbling it is to be a part of prophecy fulfilled. The Bible repeats often that the nations will one day praise the name of Jesus. It is overwhelming to put my life in perspective and see that by God’s grace He has allowed me to be a part of what He is doing with the gospel around the world. I praise His name for calling me to this and I am thankful that in the process He has given me a family 5,000 miles from home that make me feel so at home. As an added bonus, it just so happens that they can really cook!
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Acts 1:8 in Shoes, A Return to Romania?

This morning I taught a class on Creative Preaching to second year college students. It is a humbling experience when you realize you are talking to a class of young men who will represent a large percentage of the preaching that will take place in Romania in the coming generation. The post revolution Baptist church is still very young here. Emanuel University is sending out laborers into a ripened harvest. These young men are intelligent and highly motivated. Most of them complete their college education, master’s training, and Ph.D work before the age of thirty. During those years they will leave their families and dedicate themselves almost completely to studying the Bible. Their dedication to being good stewards of the Word of God is a model for all of us.

Carnelush has been driving us around this week. On our way to Craiva this afternoon I had an opportunity to hear his story. He is one of five brothers; the only one of his family who is a believer. After High School he went to Hungary to work for two years so he could pay for his university training. He has since graduated from the Masters program here and is about to start his Ph.D. in another city. He wants to be a missionary. I was afraid to tell him that he already is; a great one.

While in college Carnelush went every Wednesday to the train station to share the gospel. He told me that during the summer he travels around Europe, alone, finding places to stay, just so he can share the gospel. He has spent a great deal of time in Turkey working in an Apricot orchard during the day and sharing Christ with a Muslim family at night. In all he has been to 22 countries in Europe, most of them multiple times. He is Acts 1:8 in shoes.

When you hear these stories and walk in the midst of people of such great faith and dedication you wonder what is next? Not for them, but what is next for you? How will you exercise your faith from this point on? Will I take more risks? Will I understand more of what it means to love God with all of my mind, heart, body, soul, and strength? Men like Carnelush are there. Every fiber of their being is infused with the gospel. What is most convicting is that the students here want to visit America, but they are not interested in a tour. The students here want to enter America as missionaries. We desperately need them to come.

Next year we have the opportunity to return to Craiva and Topa to work with children and conduct evangelistic crusades. I am already laying the groundwork to partner with a pastor in each village for this to take place. In order to facilitate ministry in each area we will need two teams. I know many of you have been reading this blog and enjoying it. Perhaps you have enjoyed the pictures. Next year, why don’t you bring your own camera? Why don’t you come? The moment I return to Birmingham I will be challenging the people of Ridgecrest to give about 10 days of 2010 to Romania. The return trip to Romania begins now. Pray with us about the possibility of you joining the 2010 team.

Also, to the people of RBC, I would like to challenge each CLG to have a member of the team to speak at one of their upcoming meetings. Because of the nature of our services we will not be able to have each member share their story with the entire congregation. The best way to share these amazing stories in detail would be through the CLG’s. Talk to your teacher about scheduling one of your meeting times with a member of our time. You need to hear about the things God has done in us while ministering to the people of Romania.
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Till the Cows Come Home

Nothing can prepare the soul for Romanian driving. I know in almost every post I have mentioned something about the driving here. Tonight we were returning from the village of Craiva on very small, 1.5 lane, bumpy, country roads. Brent pulled out his iPod and dialed up an app. that converts Kilometers Per Hour to Miles Per Hour. He would peer at the speed dial, enter it into his iPod and then flash it over the seat so I could see it. At one point we hit 86 MPH. If I was not born again before this trip, I am born again now. I was born again about seven times tonight. I prayed to receive Jesus as Savior three times on the way to Craiva and four times on the way home. The crazy thing about it all is that I have not seen one single wreck nor hardly a crashed car. I am not naive enough to say they don’t wreck in Europe, but I have never driven from my house to downtown Birmingham without seeing a wreck. The people driving us around act as if all of this is normal. They are very sure and I must admit I have never seen someone get as close to another vehicle as they do without hitting it. At the same time I now understand why many Europeans walk or ride bicycles. They are just too scared to drive. I will join them. Tomorrow, I rent a donkey.

The experience we had tonight at the Baptist Church in Craiva; there is no app. for that. The Holy Spirit cannot be manufactured. The church is very small and the congregation that usually attends is even smaller. We spent an hour or so visiting the village sharing with them that Americans were in town and we would be preaching the gospel at the Baptist Church. I think the pastor was even surprised when the small church was filled with people. The floor seating filled, and people kept coming in. All of the stage seating which is usually vacant was filled, and people kept coming in. The balcony filled, and people kept coming in. By the time the preaching started there were some people standing along the back wall. Pastor Adrian’s wife shared with me that usually on the first night of a crusade the crowd is small. If that is the norm we may have people standing outside on the steps by the end of our time here. Some things you just sense in your spirit. I think God is doing something special in Craiva.

There are many things different here in Romania, but human nature is universal. People in Alabama will tell you, “Sure, I’ll come to church, I will be there.” They say it so sincerely, but you never see them. Some people invent lame excuses. I thought I had heard the lamest of all excuses tonight. Chris shared with me that many people told his team they would not be able to come tonight because they had to be home when the cows came in. I laughed. I thought I had officially heard it all. If an alien landed on my head and my shoes caught on fire I would not have been more surprised than what I would later see with my eyes.

Following the incredible time of worship I stood at the front step of the church greeting people as they left the building. “Poche, poche, poche . . .” which means “May God’s peace be with you.” It is a customary greeting. It is also the only Romanian word I can say without them laughing at me. You have heard me pronounce Ainglish, you should hear my Romanian. I tried to greet the church we spoke at on Sunday and they all laughed. I think I messed up my pronunciation and accidently told them that I had lost my keys at the library. Yet while I spoke my Romanian word over and over again, I began to hear bells. I did not hear church bells, but Mississippi State bells, cow bells. In my mind flashed Saturday afternoon in Starkville, but I reminded myself I was in Romania. I turned around only to see all of the people that were leaving the church stuck in a traffic jam in downtown Craiva. The street in front of the church was full of cows. They were three deep, shoulder to shoulder, covering the entire road. They came by and they just kept coming by. After I ran back inside to tell our team what I had just witnessed, the pastor’s wife told me to get used to it because it would be happening about the same time every night, which is the reason many people will not be able to come to the crusade. They could not come to church until the cows came home.

Laying out of church until the cows come home is not an excuse, it is a valid reason not to show up. I probably won’t ever use that one for church, but I will find its rightful place in my life. My life is too hectic. I need some cows.
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God Gave Me a Song

We are good Baptists. At least we were good Baptists. We may have turned a corner this morning at the Baptist Church at Topa de Crisa. It goes without saying that being in the presence of believers of another tongue is an amazing experience. When they sing an old hymn in the native language it is euphoric. All was well with our soul until communion.

The bread was passed and taken without incident. Then it came time for the cup. In the Bible Belt the wine is grape juice, Welch’s, fortified with antioxidants and Vitamin D. You can buy Baptist Bible Belt communion juice next to orange juice and just down the aisle from cheese at the Piggly Wiggly. In Romania, communion juice comes from the vineyard, off the vine, aged, fermented, wine!

There I stood beside Pastor Othneal, facing the congregation, and also facing the front two rows filled with our Bible Belt mission team. I knew what was about to happen. The communion cup looked like that of the Piggly Wiggly variety, not of the vineyard variety. Appearances can be deceiving but, your throat knows the difference. The moment our team took the cup, the look on each face declared this stuff was not from The Pig.

If I could have video taped the expression that came across my naive, raised under shelter, independent Baptist Christian School educated, wife’s face, I would be a shoe in for the $10,000 prize on Funniest Home Video. Her face shouted, “It burns, and I think I am drunk.” Joan began to hack. Some of the men in the group looked as if they wanted seconds. Watching the whole thing I almost got the Holy giggles. The Holy giggles is that laugh you get in church and you can’t stop. But the service continued and the beads of sweat that formed on my forehead begged it to stop before I busted a gut in front of the godly Romanian people. The Bible says that there is much rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents. If all of Heaven had its eyes on Topa de Crisa this morning, it was surely entertained.

Following the afternoon service, we were invited to the home of Dana and Nel. Dana had, for lunch, already fed us one of the greatest meals I have ever ingested. Dana taught me that Americans have no idea what to do with beef. We are not the beef people. Romanians now hold the title. Following the afternoon meal the team began to inquire about each of our host’s stories during the communist reign. What was life like for them? What was church like for them? We all sat in stunned shock over the stories we heard. It was convicting and encouraging all at the same time. I know I kept voicing a monotonous, “wow”, but trust me each “wow” was a tone of worship and awe. It is hard to sit in a room of people to whom faith means something far different than the garden variety faith we have in America and not sense the presence of God.

Pastor Othneal told us of a great Romanian composer who wrote over 8,000 songs of faith during communist rule. He said that the communists arrested this man and imprisoned him in a camp. They broke his hands and wrists so that he could no longer compose songs. One night in the winter the guards marched the composer out into the cold, stripped him naked, and forced him to stand in the elements while the guards stood in the warm and ridiculed him. After many hours they brought the naked, frozen composer back inside and asked him, “What did your God do for you out there?” His reply was simple, “God gave me a song.”

There is so much more I have in my heart to share, but there is not enough ink, nor is ink adequate to catch the movement and emotion of the Holy Spirit in my life as I listened to these amazing people. As I listened to them, God gave me a song. The Holy Spirit brought my spirit to marvel at the wonder of the grace and power of God upon the persecuted. He also questioned me. What is the fabric of my faith? From what sort of loom am I woven? My faith, and that of so many who call themselves Christians is so fickle. Forgive me for being so blunt, but some of the garbage I cough up from my heart and the garbage that I deal with as a pastor in a Bible Belt church is not welcome in the room I just left; it is a disgrace. Bible Belt believers of the Piggly Wiggly variety need an hour in the home of Dana and Nel. It is an awakening to what should be done with beef and what should be done with faith. It is the gospel and it is salvation manifested in the story of a family and their people.
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Gypsy Beggars

So far I have almost been run over by a bus, a Mini Cooper, an Opel, and a bicycle. You must be careful while crossing the street. Today we walked through the city. At every corner there is a light signal that displays a countdown of how many seconds you have to get to the opposite sidewalk. I think it is a countdown to your impending death. At one crosswalk our guide said that the cars had to yield to pedestrians. After the dude in the itty bitty car almost tagged my leg I gathered that she might be wrong.

One aspect of a mission trip is the work, which we begin formally tomorrow. Another aspect of a short mission trip is the cultural experience. When you are in someone else’s city they enjoy showing you the culture. While in Budapest I read an article about the Romo. Apparently Romo is a derogatory term for gypsies. Today, while in Oradea, we ran into several gypsies. All of them were beggars. The women were dressed in brightly colored wraps with lots of beads. They looked much like Americans do when they dress up like gypsies for a party or for Halloween. The problem is that in this culture gypsies are a source of racial tension, crime, and are known for begging. One member of our group gave a gypsy boy one Lei (I think that is the way it is spelled) and he was quickly reprimanded. He was told that he was only encouraging the Gypsy boy to continue to beg. The boy approached Shannon and she reached into her pocket for a piece of gum. The boy didn’t stick around for the gum but instead turned around and ran off in a sprint. I thought Shannon had either said something to offend him or had threatened him with Karate. I soon realized why he ran off when I turned my head to see the police passing by.

While in downtown Oradea we visited a Romanian Orthodox and a Catholic Cathedral. Both were well over 300 years old, both were ornate. The Orthodox Cathedral was so full of life, color, beauty, and icons it was almost too much to take in with the eye. I took a seat on the side of the Cathedral just to take time to scan the architecture and art. While there I watched a woman praying in front of a metallic piece of art that was the likeness of Jesus. She was very intense. I wondered what it was that burdened her so much in her prayers. As she prayed I prayed for her. As she finished, I noticed that she payed for her prayers. Another woman paid the priest for a blessing over her bread. By the door was a gift shop where people could pay for religious paraphernalia. From what I know of the Orthodox church and from what I observed, it seems they paid for the favor of God.

In a strange, ironic sense the gypsy and the Orthodox are both beggars.

As I walked around the city I reflected on the Great Commission in Matthew 28. This morning I meditated on that passage and shared it with our team. While in the city, watching gypsies beg, watching the Orthodox pray, I thought about what Jesus meant when He commanded us to make disciples of every nation. People are colorful, ornate, and iconic in their own ways. This makes discipleship a daunting task. It requires us to immerse ourselves in a culture, in a life, while at the same time introducing people to another culture and life in Christ. How do you bring a gypsy beggar and a woman begging a metallic Jesus down the same path? How do such different beggars manifest Christ likeness?

Today has been a surreal day. It has made manifest the color and variety of the Great Commission. We speak of it so nonchalant; as if it is something you do on a Tuesday afternoon if you have the time. Yet the Great Commission is as you go, walking into the bold colors of life and culture. It is immersion. It is personal. It is something that I have failed to fully appreciate. Jesus will bring the nations to himself, and He has invited us to take a walk and be participants in the mosaic masterpiece that true discipleship becomes.

I saw two women beg today. As I watched them I prayed for them. I am not judging them. I can judge very little about people I hardly understand linguistically or culturally. Yet, I prayed that they both know Jesus Christ as Savior. As I watched them, I too begged. I begged God that He would make them disciples of Jesus Christ His Son.

If you want to see pics of the gypsy lady they are posted in my most recent Facebook album. If you are not on Facebook and want to see my pictures, Facebook forces you to beg to be my friend! How ironic.
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Crossing the Border With Swine Flu

So far today (6/5) has involved more travel. Though the journey is a relatively short distance between Budapest, Hungary and Oradea, Romania it takes some time. A few kilometers takes several kilo-hours. It only takes a few kilo-minutes in a car to realize that Hungarians and Romanians are ready for NASCAR. I am confident that soccer “futbol” is not enough to release European tensions. It seems they experience their release while driving. There is no road rage as such. No one seems angry to get cut off, it is just the way it is. The roads here are like Talledega. Forty cars separated by only inches going as fast as they can possibly go. Romanians are experts in the slingshot pass. They cinch up to the bumper in front of them and then when there is a space between cars greater than 3.5 inches they make their move. I stared several Mercedes 18 wheelers in the face today. Romanian truck drivers have nice teeth but bloodshot eyes.

While crossing the border I was lectured on the dangers of the swine flu. Because we are American we are contagious. The border guard asked us to pull over and then it seemed as if he paged the boss. The boss came up to the car and through a translator told me that even if I felt fine today I could be carrying the swine flu. Apparently the virus can incubate for ten days in your body, maybe 15 if you are American. After the lecture we all had to get out of the car and go into a little booth so we could sign a small paper declaring we did not have the swine flu. I don’t think I have the swine flu, so I declared it. However, I did not want to tell the man that last week the cardiologist injected me with radiation. If I had the swine flu it is either dead or it has mutated into something far more sinister, like cobra flu, or angry orangutan flue, or rabid pit bull flu. Even still, I may glow in the dark but I do not think I have swine flu.

My sincere prayer is that we are contagious with the gospel. While in Budapest I asked our guide about the religious influence in the city. He said there is very little evangelical influence. I tested the waters by asking two of our tour guides, both probably in their late 20’s, if I could pray for them. Neither of them knew what I was talking about. I told them a little about who I was and why we were here. We were here to share the gospel. I might as well have said, “We are here to suck the Danube River dry with a straw.” My whole life, the idea of being a pastor or a person who was doing something for Jesus seemed foreign to them. Strangely, the female guide said she was Catholic. I did not get the opportunity to share much with them about the gospel, but I could tell they were in desperate need to hear the whole amazing story.

Budapest needs missionaries. 2 million people need good news. At the very least the gospel may help ease their driving tensions. Catholicism and soccer are not working.
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Chicken Soup in Budapest

This is my second trip to eastern Europe. The first one was to Russia in 1993. In both cases I would describe day one the same, as the day that never ends. You fly out in the morning, get to New York after a few layovers in the evening, and start across the pond just before sunset. You eat dinner, struggle to get comfortable enough to sleep, give up, and crack your cabin window open just far enough to see the sunrise at 12:30 a.m. You land geographically at 10:30 a.m.; mentally and physically it is 3:30 a.m. You feel like a missionary with a hangover. You are a missionary with a ‘tude. Every statement you make in your 10:30 geography with your 3:30 mouth is short, snappy, and laced with ill. Perhaps this is why on both of my mission visits to Europe our contact has a strategic plan called “take a tour of the city.” Pen the ill pot missionaries up on a bus, do not allow them to speak to the natives, they will love Jesus again after jet lag burns off.

In short, Budapest, Hungary is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. Moscow was amazing because it was so old, cold, and scary. Budapest is not only old but elegant. I asked our tour guide how Budapest compares to other European cities. He said there are five that a person must see: London, Vienna, Paris, Rome (I think he said Rome), and Budapest. I have now seen one of the five must see cities in Europe. Perhaps I will be able to visit the other four on my next cranky day tour during a future mission trip.

We ate dinner tonight in the Citadel on a hill called Panorma. I got the impression that since we were an American group they wanted to feed us something familiar. So I looked at Brent to my right and said, “I never really pictured myself eating Chicken Noodle Soup, fried chicken, and fries in a European Citadel in Budapest listening to a Hungarian String Band.” Yet, my non-dream has become a reality. I have walked Red Square, baptized my eldest daughter, and eaten “Chicken Noodle Soup, fried chicken, and fries in a European Citadel in Budapest listening to a Hungarian string band.” My life is complete. Yes, like a tourist, I bought the Hungarian string band CD.

Tomorrow (6/5), we travel to Oradea, the actual site of our mission. So far this mission has been the surreal moment I wanted it to be. Standing at Panorma overlooking Budapest it was hard to believe that I was actually there with my family. There would be no thought of “I can’t wait to tell Shannon about this,” she was there. My daughters saw what I saw. We experienced the never ending day and its cranky tour together. I could not ask for anything more. I am blessed. God is good.
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Off to Romania

On Wednesday my family and I will be headed to Oradea, Romania. I want to thank all of you who have supported us and have made this trip a reality. I believe God is not only going to speak great things into my life while I am away, but I truly believe God is going to do something incredible in the life of my wife and daughters. Morgan is nine years old and God has given her such a unique opportunity to see His glory at a time when she is so moldable but yet influences, ideas, and memories become so concrete. I believe this trip will shape the rest of her life. As for Kiley, just pray for her and the flight, her mother and the flight, me and the the flight, and everyone else on the fight! So many of you have invested in this, trip and for you I am eternally grateful.

While we are away I will be posting to the blog as often as possible. We are also taking a camera along for Morgan. We thought it would be interesting to see this trip through the eyes of a nine year old girl. She is actually a very good photographer. I will try to post those pictures as well. So please check back often over the next couple of weeks. As you know, on mission trips posts could come at odd times and in odd circumstances.

Please pray for us and for the people of Oradea, Romania. May God be glorified and may many people be born again through His Son Jesus and be filled with His Spirit.
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