Saturday, April 28

Do not fear, only believe!

"These signs will accompany those who have believed:
in My name they will cast out demons..." Mark 16:17a

The following is an email received from my brother Greg Muse. I previously blogged about him in an El Paso Times newspaper article entitled At 45, former lawman finds a new road as an agent for God. Greg and his family live in the tiny town of Fort Hancock, TX on the border with Mexico. He is pastor of the First Baptist Church there.

Normally I wouldn't share a family email like this on my blog, but this email deals with an issue encountered in evangelism and church planting that few are willing to openly talk about. While the Gospels are full of Jesus dealing with demonic confrontations, we today, would rather ignore the whole issue and hide our heads in the sand. If the following weren't from my own brother, I admit I would probably be a bit skeptical reading something like this. But it is from someone I know well. I invite you to read what follows and decide for yourself...

"On Tuesday, I was asked to meet with one of the Mexican worker's on the M_____ farm (members of our church). I was informed that this man had a daughter who was either mentally ill or demonized. I met with him and he said that other pastors and/or teams had tried to minister to his daughter without success. I asked what would happen if these other pastors said "Did Jesus Christ come in the flesh?" He said his daughter would not answer but would instead roll her eyes up so only the whites could be seen and her jaw would drop and just shake/tremble. I asked what would happen if they mentioned anything about the "blood of Jesus?" He said she would roll her knees to her chest and her hands would turn inward like claws and her eyes would roll to the back of her head and then she would look like a dog...grit her teeth...and growl! He wanted me to come talk to her. He said she was getting worse...I agreed to go to his home across the border on Thursday...

I asked three other believers...[to] come with me as a team. They agreed. We arrived at the house on Thursday. There was a crowd of about ten people--family and friends--already waiting. Our team had already agreed that the purpose of our trip was to share the Gospel. So, right up front I asked each person what was their relationship to God? I shared the Gospel and the mother and older sister got saved! I looked at the one daughter, V_____who was the one we were to minister to, and asked her if that was the first time she had prayed and received Christ? She was not sure if she had done this before but did it that day! I then asked her if she could say "Jesus is Lord." With big tears welling up in her eyes she said it...and then the tears flowed. I believe this was the first time she truly accepted Christ...because there was no type of any demonic manifestation of any kind with her after that when we were ministering to her...

In the meantime, one of the members of our team noticed a woman wandering around the outside of the house and said that she looked like a witch! This woman came into the house after the salvations had already taken place! She caused a disturbance, bumped into things, and her face, especially her eyes, just did not look right. I asked who she was and the crowd said she was the aunt. I asked if she was saved and they all shouted a loud "no".

I had already asked if V_____ wanted to share anything personal not in front of everybody else back in another room. She had already said yes, so, I was taking one of the female team members with me to the back when all this happened. I asked one of the ladies present (perceiving from her testimony that she was a believer) to go through a tract that I had brought and share it with the aunt.

While in the back with V_____ I recieved a word of knowledge that V_____ was sexually molested in her past...I did not say anything but my team member said, "Greg, I believe this girl was violated sexually in her past. Would you ask her about it?" This was before anything was said at all... V_____ said, yes, and told us that when she was five years old an uncle had sexually violated both her and her cousin. I asked about the cousin and V_____ said well, her mom is was the aunt [in the other room.] V_____ shared she has problems sleeping because she always has night terrors. She said one night someone appeared at the foot of her bed and said "when I am through with your aunt, you are next!" I then felt impressed to go immediately to witness to the aunt.

So, I returned to the living room and saw the aunt laughing as the other lady tried to share the tract with her. I sat in front of her and boldly shared the Gospel. She did not want to accept. I expounded the consequences (judgement not in book...etc.) Still no decision. The crowd said, "do it" ... I said, "no, sometimes some accept and others reject..." I then noticed that she was getting tense and I told her, "there is a tremendous battle going on and satan has got you in his grip." I then said, "you have rejected Christ, why???" She then tensed, then relaxed a split second and said "I accept" real fast...then turned her head from me, grabbed her coat and covered her face, and let out a loud wail...and started crying, crying, crying, and crying...I finally said, "stop it, let's pray and ask Christ into your life..." I said, just say after me "Heavenly Father" ... as soon as I said that she collapsed to the floor, on her back, turned her face away from me and yelled out "I can't!" I had goose bumps from the bottom of my spine shoot up all the way to the back of my head and my hair (what little there is) stood up on its end, and I said to myself, "Oh Lord, what do we have here?" However, instantly I remembered when I was a trooper I had full authority and power regardless how the person was reacting in front of me...I then remembered that Matthew 10 says Jesus gave me the power (authority, right, priviledge) to cast out demons. So, I said, "In Jesus Name, evil spirit come out..." She kept on writhing on the floor wailing...two of my other team members came in and immediately began praying... Nothing seemed to be happening until it came to my mind to say "In the name of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, I bind you satan." Then the woman shut her mouth but kept moaning...I then said "all evil spirits come out of this woman." I then thought, forget the "sinner's prayer" I told her to just say "Jesus is Lord!" She said "I can't"...I said, "yes you can." She then struggled and belabored each word (all in Spanish of course) and said "J...J...Je...Je...Jesu...Jesu..." and so on and finally got out the name of Jesus...I said good, now say "is"...and she struggled with that we had "Jesus is"...then I told her to say "Lord"...that took forever and was such a battle struggling and stutterring and finally got out the word LORD! Immediately it was like a storm broke and there was perfect calm and peace...she looked directly at me (for the first time) and sat up...I said say "Jesus is Lord" and she perfectly and peacfully said "Jesus is Lord"... I asked her, "where is Jesus?" ...she said, "in this room" ...I said, "where else?" ...she said, "in me!"....we all shouted praises to God! We helped her off the ground...she was asked if she had any physical problems that needed healing...she said she had a knee that was in pain and swollen...we laid hands on her knee...rebuked the inflamation...commanded the pain to leave...and for the knee to be healed in the name of Jesus! She stood up, I asked her to kick her leg...she did...I asked her where was the pain...she said, "it was gone!" I was told that they had tried to take this aunt to church before and she would come forward during the altar call but then would collapse and manifest in the manner she had just done. They said this was the first time their was a breakthrough. The Bible I brought ended up going to her!

[On our way home] I was embarrassed and confessed my lack of belief...lack of faith...because going over there I [had] told God... "I know that Your Word says you have given me the power and authority...but if it does not work...Your Name is at stake...and if it does not work...You are the one to blame..." However, He lovingly showed me that He had given me the power! I said, "Thank You Jesus...lesson learned!" Do not fear, only believe."

Wednesday, April 25

House church double wedding

Saturday night I married two couples from one of the newly planted house churches. Both have only recently come to know the Lord through the ministry of one of our national team members, Marlene Lorenti.

Pedro and Patricia (not their real names) have lived together for over 20 years without ever marrying. Their daughter, "Maria," has been living with her boyfriend, "Mario," for three years now following in the steps of her mother. Mario and Maria have their own daughter who is two-years old.

When all four came to know the Lord a few months ago, they themselves said "we need to make things right with God, and with each other." So mother and daughter, along with the guys set up an appointment with me through Marlene, the church planter who had led them to Christ. I listened to their testimonies and heard first hand how Christ has totally transformed their lives. They were concerned about having a good testimony in their community and asked if I would marry them. Both couples want to serve the Lord, and since the church meets in their home, they figured it was time to make things "right."

Saturday night around forty invited guests met on the terrace of one of the homes. Marlene and others had decorated and set up tables and chairs for everyone. All the way through the ceremony, the two-year old daughter threw a tantrum (see above photo) trying to get her mother to hold her. Finally, someone came and took the little girl outside, but that was even worse as she began screaming and crying all the louder!

We eventually managed to get through the ceremony-- even though neither couple was able to get their rings on due to having bought sizes too small. After the bridal kiss, we all sat down together for the wedding banquet which had been prepared by Marlene and members from her house church. Of course, before we were able to eat, I was requested to accompany them in our car to go get the food which was being kept warm at Marlene's house. We had the standard chicken and rice, along with potato salad (here pineapple, peas, carrots, onion, and corn are standard ingredients for potato salad--quite tasty!)

After eating, Pedro comes up to me and asks if I would sing #68 on page 44 (out of our green song books we use.) I told him I would be glad to, but what was the song? He said he couldn't remember, but surely I must know--missionaries know everything! :) I told him I didn't have any idea what #68 was! He told me it was his favorite and to sing it anyway. Just as I was about to get up and sing "something", it was picture taking time and he was rushed off by his new bride, WHEW!

Both Pedro and his new wife Patricia are currently in our Wednesday night COSECHA church planting training course. They are thrilled to be working together now as a team in their section of the city as house church planters/leaders. Marlene will most likely turn the work over to them now, so that she can go plant a new church elsewhere.

Would you just pause a few seconds and whisper a prayer for Pedro, Patricia, Mario, and Maria that the Lord would use them greatly in reaching the thousands of people within a stone's throw of their house church? Thanks!

(Top photo is shot from their balcony, bottom photo is part of the church that meets in their house.)
P.S. For the few readers familiar with our green "cancionero" #68 on page 44 is "Sin yo quererte, tu me quisiste". It was the first thing I looked up once home. Great song!

Monday, April 23

And Then Came Pentecost

For years I have subscribed to Maurice Smith's "Parousia Weekly Update Letter" and been challenged by his thought-provoking articles. The latest PWUL is no exception...

"Easter is over and most churches have returned to "life as usual." Indeed most churches go to great length to celebrate Easter... But Easter was not the end of the story. It was only the beginning, the prologue if you will, for what was to come. Luke tells us as much in Acts Chapter 1, declaring that his previous work (the Gospel of Luke) was "about all that Jesus began to do and teach" (Acts 1:1). What came next? Pentecost - the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit to empower the Church for the task of proclaiming the good news of Jesus' victory over death and the promise of salvation to all who believe to "the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

God is shaking His church today in ways not imagined a few years ago. He is shaking existing structures and paradigms and raising up new ones. The rise of the modern house church movement is just one example of the shaking currently underway. More is coming. Prepare to have your paradigm shaken!

Some 100 years ago a powerful movement of the Spirit of God swept around the world, shaking old paradigms and raising up new ones. This worldwide movement of the Spirit between 1904 to 1907 gave birth to a new paradigm that found expression in the Welsh Revival of 1904 and which gave birth to the modern day Pentecostal movement. Then, it was a new paradigm for a new day. But people and movements eventually get trapped and become the prisoners of their paradigms. The paradigms become institutionalized, trapping its members inside and fending off outsiders who might bring change. When that happens it isn't long (and 100 years isn't long in God's sight!) before God moves in a fresh way, challenging and shattering "once new/now old" paradigms, whether Evangelical or Pentecostal, and bringing in new paradigms for a new day.

What does it mean?

It means that God isn't done yet. It means He has more to teach us. And it means that He fully intends to accomplish His original stated goal of empowering and equipping His Church to be His witnesses "even to the remotest part of the earth."

I believe that house churches represent one of God's new paradigms for this time. And I believe the River of Ezekiel 47, the River of the Water of Life, is another of God's new-but-old paradigms for His people...I believe that God is about to bring these two "new" paradigms together in these last days in a way that is more powerful than we, our fathers or our grand-fathers ever imagined...I believe that the River of Ezekiel 47, the River of the Water of Life is about to flow in unprecedented power through a new paradigm of networking house churches, resulting in renewal, revival, awakening, empowerment and a great harvest.

The issues will not be baptism, tongues, healings or any one experience or gifting. The question of the day will be, "Are you standing in the River?" Everything else - empowering, gifts, evangelism, etc. - is a by-product of The River.

As the Church of God prepares to celebrate the Liturgical Season of Pentecost, culminating in Pentecost Sunday (May 27th), it is a good time to reconsider the River of Ezekiel 47 and to pray that it will begin to flow through your home and the church that meets in your house!"

Friday, April 20

Interrupted Plans

I continue to be blessed by the Elisabeth Elliot daily devotionals received from Back to the Bible. These thoughts from April 11, 13 & 15 have been especially pertinent to some personal family difficulties we are going through these days...

"We like things to go smoothly and as planned. Very often unexpected things intervene, and our plans go awry. We think we've got "problems." There is another level at which everything that happens is being engineered. "God has no problems," Corrie ten Boom said, "only plans." When ours are interrupted, his are not. His plans are proceeding exactly as scheduled, moving us always (including those minutes or hours or years which seem most useless or wasted or unendurable) "toward the goal of true maturity" (Rom 12:2 JBP). Believe God. Turn the interruptions over to Him. He is at the controls...

Being very much of the earth--earthy--we always want tangible, visible things--proofs, demonstrations, something to latch onto. If we always had them, of course, faith would be "struck blind." When Jesus hung on a cross, the challenge was flung at Him: Come down! He stayed nailed, not so that spectators would be satisfied (that miracle, his coming down, would have been a great crowd-pleaser), but that the world might be saved.

Many of our prayers are directed toward the quick and easy solution. Long-suffering is sometimes the only means by which the greater glory of God will be served, and this is, for the moment, invisible. We must persist in faith. God has a splendid purpose. Believe in order to see it...


When we are puzzled by delays and detours, let us think about the great purpose of life: to glorify God. The lessons He wants to teach us "in the wilderness" are priceless means of providing us with a song we could not otherwise have sung: "In Thy constant love Thou hast led the people!" (Ex 15:13).

"Our troubles are slight and short-lived,
and their outcome an eternal glory which outweighs them far.
Meanwhile our eyes are fixed, not on the things that are seen,
but on the things that are unseen"
(2 Cor 4:17, 18 NEB).

To read a more personal account of some of the trials we are going through, I would invite you read my wife's blog entry Heartbroken. We would appreciate your prayers for us these days.

Tuesday, April 17

Prophets and prophecy in the church today

So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers,
but fellow citizens with the saints,
and members of God's household,
built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.

According to Eph.2:19-20, God's household, the Church, is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

Much has been discussed about the role of apostles, who they are, whether or not they continue to exist, etc. (See recent examples, Bart Barber's Are missionaries apostles? and Strider's On being apostolic.)

But little has been shared about prophets. They are the other half of the team who Paul writes are the "foundation" of God's household. Who are these people? What is their role? What do they do? Are they still active today?

Wolfgang Simson in his, "Houses That Change the World" says,

"A prophet's perspective is radically different from that of the pastor. He hears from God and quite mercilessly questions everything, including the pastor, from God's perspective. That, however, is his healthy and God-given duty. For that reason, there is also a historical tension between the pastor and the prophet: one is a defender of the status quo, who wants to maintain the community; the other questions everything and is seen (rightly) by may others as a threat, because he disrupts things and wants 'movement now'."

A.G. Gardiner, as quoted by Arthur Wallis, "In the Day of thy Power", adds this thought...

"When a prophet is accepted and deified, his message is lost. The prophet is only useful so long as he is stoned as a public nuisance calling us to repentance, disturbing our comfortable routines, breaking our respectable idols, shattering our sacred conventions..."

I believe there is as much need for prophets/prophecy today, as there was in the first century church.

I would like to explore the subject of prophets/prophecy by presenting some Pauline teachings and thoughts gleaned from observations taken from 1 Corinthians 14.

I begin with a quote from George Patterson which sets the tone for my own understanding of the prophetic word in today's church (emphasis mine)...
The apostle Paul defined New Testament prophesy not as foretelling judgment, which it often was in the Old Testament, but, as he revealed in 1 Corinthians 14:3, “One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.” As believers talk together and listen one to another, their gifts from the Holy Spirit are made “manifest” through words of encouragement and works of mercy. You must coach new worship leaders to enable groups to converse and interact as 1 Corinthians 14:24-33 requires, not depending on sermons and lessons alone to meet everyone’s needs. --MentorNet45, George Patterson
The emphasis of chapter 14 is less on the issue of "tongues" and weighted towards the role of prophets and prophecy in the church.
  • We are to earnestly desire to prophecy. 1Co 14:1 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
  • We are to prophecy to each other for mutual edification, exhortation and consolation. 1Co 14:3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.
  • Prophecy is intended and directed towards believers. 1 Co 14:22b ...But prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers.
  • More than one prophet should be given the opportunity to address the gathered believers. 1Co 14:29a Two or three prophets should speak...
  • The believers have a role in evaluating the prophecy and speaking to the prophecy. 1Co 14:29b ...and the others should evaluate.
  • We should be eager and have an ernest desire to prophecy. 1Co 14:39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy...
  • What is the end result of prophecy in the church? Conviction. Accountability. Secrets of the heart are disclosed. The falling on one's face and worshipping God. The clear understanding that God is among you. 1Co 14:24-25 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
  • How does the above manifest itself within the church? The whole church participates actively according to their gifting for mutual edification. 1Co 14:26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
Paul's teaching on what should be taking place when the church gathers is quite different from what is usually practiced in today's institutional churches. One question for me is, do our current worship traditions and practices lead to conviction, accountability, secrets of the heart being disclosed, falling on our faces in the worship of God, a clear understanding that God is in our midst?

If our honest answer is no, could it possibly be because we have ignored the role of prophets and prophecy within our churches? Like apostles, we don't know what to do with prophets and prophecy, so we simply substitute them for more comfortable structured church programs.

I think what has taken the place of prophets and prophecy in today's churches is pulpit preaching. Preaching is certainly not bad, but what we have done is relegate to the pastor and pulpit that which was intended for the entire church. Instead of observing the above admonitions of Paul, we now look to the pastor/pulpit to fill the needs which Paul places upon all the congregation.

I would be interested in your understanding of these things and interpretation of the 1 Cor. 14 passages quoted above. Where do prophets and prophecy fit in today's churches? Why has prophecy all but disappeared from most churches today? Or, if it hasn't disappeared, what shape does it take it today's church structure?

Saturday, April 14

Praying for Guayaquil

The Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de Guayaquil was founded on July 25, 1538 by Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Orellana.

Guayaquil (for short) was originally built upon a hill known as "Cerro Santa Ana". The area of the hill known today as "Barrio Las Peñas" is a popular tourist attraction. At the top is a lighthouse overlooking the Guayas River. From there one is able to see a 360 degree panoramic view of the city. All along the 444 steps to the top are shops, cafes, art galleries, restaurants and photo lookout points. All the houses and shops are painted in bright colors and have been refurbished to appear as they did during colonial times.

This Saturday morning several hundred believers gathered at the foot of the "cerro". They came from all over the city, representing dozens of denominations. All had come as part of a general call to prayer asking God to "Save Guayaquil." At the bottom of the steps we gathered for prayers of repentance voiced by various pastors and denominational leaders. These were followed by a series of declarations, petitions and blessings read over the city. To each declaration, all the people shouted "Amen!"

From there we began the slow climb to the top in the blazing sun. People spontaneously sang out praises to God as a long stream of people took the 30-minute climb to the top. At the summit, one sees the city extending out to the horizon in every direction. People spread out and began to cry out for God to have mercy on the city. Then we gathered again as more declarations, prayers, petitions and blessings were voiced over the city. It was a moving time as hundreds of voices were crying out aloud to God all at once. Many people openly wept. As part of this prayer covering for Guayaquil, a printed prayer has been distributed throughout the city asking everyone to stop and pray for Guayaquil everyday at noon.

Will you please join us in praying for the salvation of Guayaquil? If you view the panorama below and pray, will you drop us a line in the comments below so we can share with our brothers and sisters here of the different people from all over the world helping them to pray for their city? Thanks!

To see a panoramic view of Guayaquil
from the top of Cerro Santa Ana, click HERE.


Thursday, April 12

Church Planting Movements

Look to the nations; watch and be utterly amazed for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told.

The following video comes from the IMB and is a good introduction to Church Planting Movements and what they are all about. Locally, we use a Spanish translation of this piece in our training of new church planters. Please watch this video and give thanks to God for the utterly amazing things He is doing in our day.

The last paragraph in David Garrison's book "Church Planting Movements" is a call to action...

"It can't happen here. This is what they said in Vietnam until they saw it in Cambodia. It's what they said in Cambodia before they saw it in China. It's what they said in Central America before they saw it in Bogotá. It's what they said in Sudan before they saw it in Ethiopia. Perhaps it's what they are saying where you live. Satan would have us remain silent and skeptical. But Christ would have us shout it from the roof tops, "Be no longer unbelieving, but believe!"

"Doubt is contagious. But then so is faith. God offers us the chance to believe and join him in something so amazing that you wouldn't believe it even is you were told. Well, how about you? Do you believe?"

Monday, April 9

If the world were a village of 1,000 people

If the world were a village of 1,000 people, it would include:

· 584 Asians
· 124 Africans
· 95 East and West Europeans
· 84 Latin Americans
· 55 Soviets (includes Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians & others)
· 52 North Americans
· 6 Australians and New Zealanders

The people of the village have considerable difficulty in communicating:

· 165 people speak Mandarin
· 86 English
· 83 Hindi/Urdu
· 64 Spanish
· 58 Russian
· 37 Arabic

That list accounts for the mother tongues of only half the villagers. The other half speak (in descending order of frequency) Bengali, Portuguese, Indonesian, Japanese, German, French and 200 other languages.

In this village of 1,000 there are:

· 329 Christians (187 Catholics, 84 Protestants, 31 Orthodox)
· 178 Moslems
· 167 "non-religious"
· 132 Hindus
· 60 Buddhists
· 45 atheists
· 3 Jews
· 86 all other religions

* One-third (330) of the 1,000 people in the world village are children and only 60 are over the age of 65. Half the children are immunized against preventable infectious diseases such as measles and polio. The other half are not.

* This year 28 babies will be born. Ten people will die, 3 of them for lack of food, 1 from cancer, 2 of the deaths are of babies born within the year. One person of the 1,000 is infected with the HIV virus; that person most likely has not yet developed a full-blown case of AIDS.

* With the 28 births and 10 deaths, the population of the village next year will be 1,018.

* In this 1,000-person community, 200 people receive 75 percent of the income; another 200 receive only 2 percent of the income.

* Only 70 people of the 1,000 own an automobile (although some of the 70 own more than one automobile).

* About one-third have access to clean, safe drinking water.

* Of the 670 adults in the village, half are illiterate.

In the village of 1,000 people, there are:

· 5 soldiers
· 7 teachers
· 1 doctor
· 3 refugees driven from home by war or drought

The village has a total budget each year, public and private, of over $3 million - $3,000 per person if it is distributed evenly (which it isn't).

Of the total $3 million:

· $181,000 goes to weapons and warfare
· $159,000 for education
· $132,000 for health care

What does all this mean? Based on numbers alone, what in global missions must be realigned to address the disproportional imbalances?

This study comes from a Dona Meadows article. Other articles by her can be read at The Global Citizen.

Thursday, April 5

Things I miss about the USA

While we love living in Ecuador, as evidenced by our recent Things I Like About Living in Ecuador, there are some things we miss about our home country, the USA. What are some of the things that come to mind?

1) Family. Most missionaries I know consider missing their families back home the greatest hardship and personal sacrifice of serving our Lord overseas. One can usually adapt and adjust to a different culture and lifestyle, but one never gets to the point of not missing family back home. Missing weddings, births, funerals, holidays, and seeing nephews and nieces grow up is without a doubt some of the hardest things about being a missionary. Then there is the guilt about not being there with sick family, or having aging parents, and the reality of one's children not really knowing their relatives back home.

2) Walmart. Ahhh, Walmart. The #1 shopping destination of every USA missionary on the planet! The truth of the matter is that Walmart is a very intimidating place to go. There are just so many choices! Not only that, when we are Stateside my wife will send me to the store for ONE ITEM and I will invariably return home having spent over $100 every time. I don't think we have ever been in a Walmart in our lives that we spent less than $100. And yet there is something magnetic that simply draws one inside to spend, spend, spend on mainly stuff that we don't need, but once you see it in Walmart you wonder how you ever were able to live without one! Right after Walmart for me come Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, and Best Buy!

3) Convenience foods. Actually this is also one of the most stressing parts about a visit to the USA. There is so much to choose from! So many new foods to try out. It becomes mind boggling with so many choices in just the cereal row at the grocery store! But my wife loves all of the great tasting, easy to fix, packaged, ready-to-go instant foods filling grocery stores shelves back home. When one is used to spending so much time in food preparation, one really appreciates all the packaged, pre-prepared convenience foods.

4) Security. This is one that most people living in the States do not worry about too much. But it is quite different here. To get in our house it takes six keys, a high cement wall, an electronic security gate, two metal doors, and a bolted wooden door with three locks. Even so, if a thief wanted to break in, it would be a cinch. Our home has already been broken into on two separate occasions. Both times everything we had of value was stolen. The house was cleaned out, every drawer and filing cabinet dumped. Even my wife's wedding rings were taken--twice! We live in a dangerous city where crime, violence, assaults, robbery are everyday occurences. I have personally been held up at gun-point twice, had my head split open with the butt of a pistol and left bleeding out in the street in an attempt to steal our vehicle. Our car has been broken into so many times I have lost count, tires stolen, car radios stolen, and windows busted to get things left in the seat. While we realize the USA has its security problems too (9/11 anyone?), one still feels "safe" living in the USA. I love the freedom one has there to just get in your car and go places and enjoy them without having to worry about security issues.

5) Dr. Pepper. I sometimes think I could live here forever if they would ever just figure out a way to get a continuous supply of DP. There is one store in the entire city that gets in a case or two every month. What they have in stock is usually immediately bought up at outrageous prices per can by the first person who happens to check the store when the shipment arrives. The last time I was able to time my visit to the store in order to buy a six-pack was six months ago! Dr. Pepper is only one of many wonderful American products that always taste three times better overseas where they are not readily available as they taste when one lives in the USA. Don't believe me? Just come down for a short 10-day volunteer trip and see how quickly you will lay down the $$$ for a Big Mac when you get back home!

6) Respect for rules. People actually stop at "STOP" signs. When it says "Don't Walk On The Grass" or "No Litter" people obey. The idea of people waiting in line and not cutting in or stampeding to be first. People Stateside don't throw their trash out the car window. I love the general attitude of considering littering as a real "no-no". These may not seem like a big deal, but once you live in a society where few rules are respected, one does realize how much nicer things can be when people abide by common sense rules.

7) Service oriented businesses. Unless you have ever lived overseas it is hard to appreciate the friendly, excellent service in establishments one takes for granted in the USA. So often the attitude we live with overseas is that they are doing you a favor by assisting you, and could really care less if you do business with them or not. The more they have what you want, the worse service tends to be. They know you will put up with about anything in order to get what it is they have to offer.

8) American values. I know many people in the USA think America has lost its values and principles, but it only takes a few weeks living outside the USA to realize how much we take certain things for granted living in the USA. For example: honesty, fairness, justice, equality, work ethic, honor, appreciation for beauty, respect for the environment, safety precautions, respect. All of these tend to be values here as well, but not nearly as strong as they are in the USA. This one could be the subject of an entire post, but suffice it to say, we miss that part of society that hold these values in high regard.

9) Good roads and public services. Most missionaries simply do not understand why people gripe and make a fuss when it comes to Stateside public services such as the U.S. Postal Service, roads, utilities, etc. Granted, you have to pay for them with taxes and a good portion of your monthly check, but few people worry about not having running water, consistent electricity, good roads, dependable phone service, flawless TV reception, etc. What a blessing!

10) Wholesome and fun activities for the family. One of our favorite family activities in the States is to visit the local public libraries. What a priviledge to have all those books just sitting there waiting to be checked out and read! Getting your hands on a good novel or one of the latest books everyone is talking about is a luxury item overseas. While there are a few fun things to do where we live, we have already done them so many times, they have lost most of their appeal to us as a family. There are so many things to see and do back in the USA and all of us look forward to them. Things like eating out, parks, museums, shows, theme parks, the zoo, swimming pools, ball games, rodeos, musical events, conferences and programs, special school and church programs & activities, shopping, putt-putt golf, visiting the malls, and just driving around looking at all the nice houses people live in.

11) Beauty of the land and its people. This is something I always look forward to when going back to the States. The beautiful land. There is so much to see and appreciate and I never tire of travelling around the country viewing the sights. While our host country is also very beautiful, we love the USA national parks, and all the gorgeous scenery that varies from region to region. It is also nice to not "stand out", but to just be another person. Here we are different. We are outsiders. Foreigners. Gringos. When we are Stateside, we just fit in easier with everybody else.

Sunday, April 1

Training house church planters

Two weeks ago we began a new round of training for church planters. All those coming to the training are so-called "lay leaders" coming out of the evangelical churches scattered around the city.

From past experience, we know what is taught and modelled in the few weeks of training is critical. Those first few training session will make a huge difference in the kind of church that gets planted.

Most trainees come in with preconceived ideas about the church and what their role is in church planting. We are very careful to model in word and action those desired attitudes, concepts, and practices that are essential for a servant-leader planting a new work with new converts.

Our basic C.O.S.E.C.H.A. training manual is a 50-page, 20 step-by-step guide to starting a church from scratch with newly won believers. Our vision and strategy is described in our first training session of COSECHA and sets the stage for all that follows.

FAQ for house church planting in Guayaquil covers many of the common questions we get.

What a Guayaquil house church looks like in action can be read here. And for those interested in a case study there is a lot more of the background and a critical evaluation of "Starting house churches in Guayaquil."

The church in your house is a list of 13 values that continue to guide us as a church planting team.

This past year, I have benefitted greatly from the writing and personal teaching of Aussie Alan Hirsch. Recently he posted on his blog a YouTube video that really caught my attention.

This 1:00 video is an experiment done with fleas, but has a HUGE LESSON for all of us involved in any kind of training. I especially found this experiment relevant to our training of house church planters.

Please watch and then feel free to share your observations and applications to ministry.