Category Archives: missionaries

When the voodoo lords tried to kill him, Nestor Kouassi had to pray and stand up to them

nestor kouassi christianity vs voodooNestor Kouassi had seen the voodoo priests and witches do unutterable things: make statues move, bury people alive who later come out of the jungle, send bird spirits to kill enemies.

So when he accepted Jesus in 1997 and started what became a high-stakes spiritual battle with them in his town of Houndjohoundji, Benin, it was a fearful thing.

“A lot of people didn’t like it that we were calling with fire and praying all night,” Nestor says. “They threatened us they would kill us. They make false accusations. Anything to get us in trouble.”

Nestor got introduced to the gospel even when there wasn’t a single Christian church in his village of 1,400 people. His nation, Benin, is renowned for being the worldwide birthplace of voodoo. Even the name of his village was a satanic incantation.

voodoo ritualPeople feared the voodoo lords. Christianity couldn’t crack the town.

But then one Christian, a certain Mr. Lawson, when he came to visit his mom in town from time to time, would preach and share the gospel with anyone who wished to listen.

“We would mock him,” Nestor remembers. “People would insult him.”

Then his best friend, Cyrille, accepted Jesus to get cured of a nasty, prolonged stomach pain. Cyrille was a “rough man” who would steal and fight for nothing, so when Nestor saw an authentic change in him after two weeks, he became convinced.

“He completely changed,” he says. “I said, ‘If this guy can change, there must be a God. I want to get to know that God.’”

HoundjohoundjiBut Cyrille didn’t remember the “sinner’s prayer.” So they just read the Bible together 4-5 hours a day. After one week, Nestor was born again.

“Something happened in my life, and I knew that I knew that I knew that I had met the man Jesus,” Nestor recalls. “It felt like a liquid fire going through my soul, and all of my fears of witchcraft and voodoo disappeared and the river flowed from the inside.”

The nearest church was seven miles away. When they couldn’t attend service there, they devoured the Bible together. After two weeks, they were inspired to share their faith.

“We could not hide it anymore. We took to the streets and wanted to share with people our new discovery: Jesus of Nazareth, woo!” he recounts, relishing the memory.

The power of Jesus began to be proclaimed and demonstrated with healing miracles in town, and the town chief and ruling class — all priests and witches of satanic magic — didn’t like the competition.

“Our preaching was met with hostility like you’ve never seen before,” Nestor says. “What made them furious is that we would pray for people and they would get healed. People would say, ‘If you’re sick, go to the Jesus guys.’”

V4Another friend, Valentin, converted and the three friends read the word and ministered in the streets together. But nobody else dared cross the powers of the town and join their group, even though they viewed them favorably.

The prayers of Nestor and his friends began to disrupt the voodoo power, he says. So the witches attacked them.

“They didn’t want real Christianity. It disturbed them,” Nestor says. “They wouldn’t be able to operate anymore. If we’re calling upon Jesus, there is a power struggle. The witches cannot operate when we are calling upon Jesus.”

The witches had a technique they called a “spiritual gun,” and the victim target of their incantations would writhe in pain from what felt like shards of glass cutting his insides. But the gun didn’t work on Nestor and his buddies, he says.

The priests had a special “founder drum” that when they beat it and pronounced their incantations, lightning would strike the targeted victim even when there was no thunderstorm. Again, it didn’t work.

For six or seven years, the arm-wrestling match continued. Nestor was going to high school in the biggest town in the area nearby, Grand-popo. He would face off with the voodoo priests on weekends and vacations.

The voodoo festivals began to misfire. Things didn’t work. The supernatural tricks fizzled. The town was abuzz with the goings-on.

“People began to question the witches’ power,” he says. “They said, ‘These Jesus guys must have something.’ They were scared. They listened to us, they admired us, but joining us was a real problem.”

Tensions were rising and the threats were increasing. When the chief witch threatened Nestor’s mother with her son’s death, Nestor went to confront him. He found all the witches together in their afternoon gathering in the public place.

“They told us they would reduce us to nothing. I told them nothing would happen,” Nestor remembers.

“In this battle, you will definitely see Jesus,” he responded to their threats. Find out what happened in this power struggle between this new Christian and voodoo witches and priests in Benin.

Barely — miraculously — escaped from rebels in Sierra Leone

pa gbino

Pa Gbani

When the Sierra Leonean rebels swept through Kabala torching houses and government buildings, Pa Gbani decided not to run. In his room, he read his Bible, prayed and waited for the inevitable.

As a detective at the police barracks, Pa was among the targets as 30 rebels trained by Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gadaffi doused buildings with gas and fired rocket-propelled grenades during the 1994 attack.

church kabala sierra leone

Pastor Ralph’s church Kabala, Sierra Leone, circa 1994

Miraculously, the fire died down before reaching his room. In fact, the same thing happened for everybody in his church.

“Nobody was killed or injured or had property loss that was in our church,” says Pastor Ralph Bowen, a missionary from Santa Monica at the time in Sierra Leone. “God just protected them. It was a day of miracles.”

It was Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego all over again.

One church member hid in a banana tree. Two guys lay quietly on top of a thick wall hidden in the dusk. Pastor Ralph had the good fortune to have a vehicle, in which he fled with his wife and a few disciples.

ralph bowen missionary africa

Pastor Ralph and Brenda Bowen

At one point on the road out of town, a total stranger came out to him and warned him to head down an alternative route. The rebels were ahead, he warned. Ralph found out later it was true.

There were an estimated 50 deaths in the rebel attack on Kabala.

The deliverance of the American missionary’s church members was extraordinary because they weren’t known for caution. The fact of the matter is that Ralph and his street-preaching disciples courted danger as a result of their boldness. Read the rest of the dramatic details of American missionary under attack by Sierra Leonean rebels in 1994.

A skateboard missionary?

shaun hover skate pro.pngShaun Hover is a skateboarder missionary.

The Michigan native never thought he would amount to much. He did not have any career ambitions, and he never even thought he would be successful, because as he says on a “This is Me” video on YouTube, “I didn’t have anything to give.”

He hung out with fellow skaters, smoked weed and took six months to learn how to do an ollie, one of the easiest tricks. He loved being on a board and loved to go out and film with his friends, but did not think he would ever be a pro skateboarder.

Yeah, it’d be great to become a pro skater, but that’s not possible, he remembers thinking. Looking back, he says, “That was a bunch of insecurity. And lies. And I believed them.”

shawn hover barcelonaNevertheless, by his late teens, he found himself sponsored. He was a professional. Skateboarding was more than a hobby or even a job. “It was my identity,” he says.

When he turned 19, he found his other identity. He decided to read the Bible his brother gave him two years earlier.

“At the time time, I thought it was the worst birthday gift ever,” Hover says. “But now, I’m pulling this Bible off of the shelf and I’m like, ‘ God, I don’t if you’re real. I don’t know if I believe. I don’t know if I’m talking to anyone right now. But I’ve heard this is your Word. I’ve heard that You are faithful to deliver on your promises. If this is You, will You speak to me?”

Growing up, he had parents who believed in God and went to church, but he says, “I just didn’t grab ahold of it.”

But his brother’s gift opened his eyes to the Gospel of Jesus. The Word and the Spirit moved powerfully on his heart and he told God he wanted to turn his life over to Him, and wanted to trust Him with everything.

shaun hover skater missionaryHover was born again and received a new identity in Christ!

“As soon as I started reading the Bible, He gave me this hunger for his Word that has not left. I couldn’t put it down,” he recalls.

Shortly after that a friend called him on the phone. “Hey you wanna hang out, skate and smoke weed like we do everyday?’

“I’m reading the Bible right now,” Hover replied.

He knew that God might not call him to skateboard anymore, but he turned that part of his life over to Him anyway, saying, “It was like, I’m giving You my identity. If You want me to skate, if You don’t want me to skate, whatever.”

Clearly, he perceived that God wanted him to skate and he started skating more. He won contests, got a sponsorship with DC Shoes, and moved to Los Angeles.

He loved Jesus and skating! What more could he do with his life but marry the two in ministry? He started connecting to Youth With a Mission.

At first, he didn’t have a vision of how he could use his skating for Jesus. “People would say to me, ‘You need to start a skateboarding discipleship training class.’ And I would say, ‘That sounds so lame.’”

shaun hover familyIt was unusual to think about a skateboarder school that doubled as a discipleship class.

“I was going to our local skate park every Friday. We’d have barbecues. We’d have a skate contest. We’d hang with the skaters,” he says. “Skateboarding to me was just like a side ministry. But the more I spent time at this local skate park, the more the Lord was growing my heart for skaters.”

Then God spoke “in a gnarly crazy way.”

Don’t you see that I’ve been preparing you for this? God impressed on his heart. Don’t you see that skateboarding is a people, it’s a culture? It’s a community that I want to reach.

God told him to multiply the skate barbecues for “the entire planet,” he says. Read the rest of skateboard missionary

Pastor prayed and fasted for neighborhood, one ‘hooligan’ responded

Nigeria missionariesBy Lortoume Hang’andu —

Bitwell grew up in Lusaka, the red-soiled capital of Zambia. Along with his friends, the fatherless teenager assaulted people to fund his drinking habit. They also engaged in hooliganism at the local soccer stadium and fought rival fans.

His mother, a Christian, tried in vain to control her son.

Then a pastor moved in across the street and fasted for seven days for the neighborhood. The Spirit moved on Bitwell’s heart. At 24, he was tired of endless crime and alcohol, so he began attending church.

“I wasn’t really converted,” he says. “I just went to church.”

Then Bitwell got struck with Cupid’s arrows. He saw Mary walking to the store and struck up a conversation with her. Mary was a more serious Christian and refused his advances. He persisted, and Mary laid down an ultimatum: Either he go to church seriously or give up hopes for her.

Bitwell still drank, but he worked hard to hide it from Mary. The first time he went to Mary’s church, he was hung-over. Three years later, they were married.

Back to AfricaSeeking a better life, Bitwell and his wife applied for and were granted a tourist visa to visit a friend in Chandler, Arizona. Bitwell flew to the U.S. three months before his wife.

He was on a layover in New York on 9/11 when the Twin Tower terrorists struck and he was grounded at the airport. Eventually, Bitwell took a Greyhound bus to Chandler to join his friend, a zealous believer at the Door Church.

Bitwell accepted an invitation to attend church. He never heard preaching like that before. After hearing moving sermon after fiery sermon, he decided he needed to get serious about God. With his wife at his side, he gave his life to God and was born again.

Pastor Joe Campbell became a father figure to Bitwell and Mary. He gave them a car and was constantly checking up on them. They matured in the Lord and participated in ministry for four years.

One day, Pastor Campbell called them into his office. Would they go back to Africa to pioneer a church? They belonged to a group of churches that focuses on church planting.

It was no light matter. They had overstayed their visa and were “illegal.” If they left the country, under current rules they would not be granted a visa to America for at least 12 years.

“God called me to go,” Bitwell says. “When I was in America, God provided for me. So I thought that if I went to Africa, God would still provide for me.”

Jesus says to count the cost. For every Bitwell, there are hundreds of illegal immigrants who get saved, called, and decide not to return to their home countries. The American Dream often holds greater sway than the dream of ministry. Don’t miss the surprise ending of pastor returns to Africa.

Tammy (Lortoumi) is Pastor Mike Ashcraft’s student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Los Angeles.

I’m in Guatemala again

Mission to Guatemala ChurchIT’s been nine months since I visited my old church in Guatemala City. This time I was able to bring five people from my new church in Van Nuys AND my pastor from Santa Monica, Rob Scribner of the Lighthouse Church. It’s exciting to see how God is rescuing people.

Send a missionary to Sierra Leone during its Civil War? It made no sense. But it created a wave of church planting.

Sierra Leone ChristianityTo many observers, it appeared foolhardy to send such a fruitful worker to such a hopeless nation. A lot of church planters in the Christian Fellowship Ministries, following prevailing wisdom, looked to plant churches in resource-rich England and South Africa.

But Pastor Harold Warner didn’t flinch when he launched firebrand preacher Alvin Smith into Sierra Leone in 1989. He had heard from God. And nearly three decades later, the results are dumbfounding.

The original church in Freetown has exploded to 80 churches. The nation that once was classified as the second poorest in the world now has planted churches in Liberia, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, Togo, Benin, Congo, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.

African missionaries in Europe

Pastor Desmond Bell, from Sierra Leone, in Marseille France.

They have even sent three missionaries to Europe.

“To take people, to take young men and women from one of the poorest countries in the world and (for God to) say, ‘I’m going to shape and I’m going to fashion them because they are going to accomplish my purpose not only in their own nation but also beyond the boundaries,’ is one of the greatest privileges of life,” says Warner in a 2018 conference video. “I just sit back and chuckle because this has to be God.”

Not even the African pastors could believe how God would use them when, as young men, they converted to Christ in a ramshackle school building with no lights where they listened intently to Pastor Smith preach his heart.

pastor harold warner tucson door church

Pastor Harold Warner from the Door Church in Tucson

“Pastor Smith was instilling into our spirit that we were going to all the world to preach the gospel. In the minds of many of us, we were like, ‘This is an impossible dream,’” says Edward Saffa, who took over the headquarter church in Freetown. “All of us were from nothing — nothing.”

Sierra Leone was a diamond rich nation racked by government corruption and successive civil wars. The average life expectancy was into the 30s, and people ate only one meal a day. The worst kind of malaria wreaked havoc on the population, and the guerrillas chopped off limbs of civilians to sow terror.

That’s the milieu into which Alvin Smith, a retired US Air Force helicopter pilot, injected himself with his wife Renee.

“We owe something to Pastor Smith who left America. He came in the time during the war. That was a lot of sacrifice,” says Aruna Bangura, now pastoring in Marseille, France. “When people are too educated, they become logical when it comes to serving God. But for us, we were just explosive. We want to go to church everyday. Whenever it is time to go to church, we were running to go to church. We were coming from distance.

“I can still remember that old rugged, dirty building. All the windows were battered. We were using candles. But there was a life coming out of that building. That’s how God works. God likes to do things the way man cannot do it.”

The young men who attended Smith’s sermons often lacked adequate clothes, but they didn’t lack zeal. Or maybe it was the absence of material distractions that helped them to center all their attention on God.

They had nothing, so they had nothing to lose when they put their faith in God. Pastor Smith challenged the youth to get married, regardless of their financial situation. Some of the leaders today set up cardboard partitions in their parents’ living rooms to consummate their wedding. Read the rest of the story of improbable revival from Sierra Leone.

This changes everything in missionology

reaching parachute students for ChristWhen Howon Chun showed up at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica, he was a confirmed atheist.

“I thought religion is for those who are weak psychologically,” said the Korean foreign exchange student. “Christianity was just one of many religions, and I was not really interested at all. I thought Christians were unstable and just wasting their time going to church. I thought the church was corrupt and only wanted to get their money.”

His perspective changed after a year of hearing Bible class and then voluntarily attending a Bible conference in Tucson with his host dad (who happened to also be his principal and teacher).

evangelizing parachute studentsHe was surprised by the thousands of people whose joy was evident. He decided he should at least re-evaluate his atheism.

If this many people believe they are saved by Jesus, how can I ignore what they believe? he thought.

“I liked their energy. I wanted to have a purpose in life like them. I learned that Christians weren’t weird. They have a loving community. They weren’t corrupt.”

Howon wound up hanging around for three more years at Lighthouse. He just graduated, acing the SAT math with a perfect score, and enrolled in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to study business. Part of his college choice based on accompanying his host dad, who is planting a church nearby Pismo Beach.

Howon’s story upends the traditional missionary model of sending workers into the foreign field. Here’s a vein of gold. The Christian Examiner reported that 300,000 Chinese students alone enrolled in American schools in 2016, and they prefer Christian schools, regardless of their government’s atheistic values.

There’s much discussion about how the surge in foreign students, who pay higher tuition than natives, has been a blessing to struggling private schools (public schools have strict limits on the amount of foreign students they can receive).

But there is precious little discussion about making a concerted effort to evangelize them. Read the rest about evangelizing parachute students.

A missionary with Muscular Dystrophy

IMG_4500As the #2 executive at the biggest waste hauler west of the Mississippi, Chris Banducci was the envy of his friends. He lounged in a nice house, drove a hot sports car and wallowed in money. “Work hard,” his neighbors told their kids, “and you’ll be a success like him.”

Then, at 29 years old, Chris was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, and his world fell apart.

“I was angry. I was lonely. I was miserable and full of self-hatred. I just wanted to die. My drinking got worse; I drank myself to sleep every night,” Chris recalled. “I couldn’t imagine that any woman could love this ‘cripple.’”

taiwan-missionary-in-wheelchairToday, Chris Banducci, 61, is a Christian missionary in Taiwan. With God’s help, he overcame many obstacles and took on increasing challenges as his body began to fail him.

Looking back at his early years, it would be hard to imagine Chris answering a call to the mission field. After he graduated from high school, he drove a trash truck.

“This was the best job I ever had,” he said. “I learned how to operate every bit of equipment at that place, to prepare for a supervisory role. Then I began to learn from my leaders how to manage people and make good business decisions.”

He felt some early physical symptoms of his disease, but shrugged it off.

As a supervisor, he was hated and feared.

cfm-pics-chris-banducci“I mistreated people,” he said. “I stepped on people, lied, cheated and eliminated competition. I was not an easy person to be around. My reputation with women was such that they avoided me.”

Through raw ambition, Chris worked his way up to the director of recycling and resource recovery, second only to the owner and CEO. He reached the pinnacle of success.

“My neighbors would tell their teenage and college-age sons, ‘Look at him. If you work hard and apply yourself, you can be like that!’”

It was heady stuff. But while he relished the admiration, Chris knew on the inside he was a mess. His family lived up north, so he was lonely. He was good at intimidating people but not at making friends. He was drinking heavily.

Then he walked into the doctor’s office one day and received the jolting news. Read the rest of Muscular Dystrophy Missionary.

A NY exec meets a true-life Tarzan boy in Guatemala

IMG_5251

Jamie Waller with Francisco Tzoy, the Tarzan boy

When a New York tycoon met one of the last feral “Tarzan boys” in Guatemala, he knew it was a match made in Heaven.

Jamie Waller, a Wall Street darling who recovered from alcoholism and became a missionary, took on what was to become perhaps his most difficult case, helping a boy who became a savage after he was abandoned following the death of his parents, forced to fend for himself in the jungle.

That boy, Francisco Tzoy – who suffered from mental disability — crawled on all fours and fought off dogs for his food in the dense mountainous terrain of Guatemala. Francisco is now diagnosed with the mental age of a 9-month-old.

Centro-de-estimulacion-integral-guatemalaThanks to God working through Waller and the Guatemalan government, he now keeps his clothes on, stands on his feet, smiles and no longer eats his own excrement.
.

“That’s a good success story,” Waller said. “He can sit still, play a little bit. He doesn’t scream all the time anymore. He can participate in group activities. Prayer has been big. People have been praying for him and with him throughout. His infectious smile touches me. When he’s happy, the whole world smiles with him.”

A New Jersey native, Waller started using drugs in boarding school in the 1970s. He drank daily through college. When he started having kids and getting into corporate life, he limited his liquor consumption to weekend drinking.

In 2009, his wife left him. While this was another boat-rocker in his life, it seemed at the same time to open doors for him to travel and do ministry. He flew to Guatemala with his son and visited 10 orphanages. The last hospital he visited so moved him that it became the one he now works in.

Francisco-Tzoy

Francisco Tzoy

 

“It was the Holy Spirit,” Waller said of the remarkable career boomerang. “I worked in New York and wore a suit to work. I never had real interest in special needs folks. I probably was guilty of ignoring them like most people do. The Lord changed my heart. Something clicked in my head when I visited this one. I was only there for an hour, but it changed my life.”

Though he had no background with special needs patients, he threw himself into the work in 2009. He hired a physical therapist to “volunteer” at the Abrigo Bienestar Integral home to give the patients some badly needed stimuli. He prodded government officials to make ABI less of an institution where patients were kept behind bars and more of a center of joy and improving patients with their social skills.

Today, Waller runs a 12-member staff on a $50,000 budget through Fundaniños, and they serve at a government-funded institution that houses and cares for some 100 special needs patients abandoned or abused by their families.

In eight years of service, he has opened an annex facility that during the day takes some of the higher-functional patients and provides them physical therapy and improves motor and cognitive skills.

Perhaps their most remarkable story of transformation involves their former Tarzan boy, Francisco.

When two police agents spotted him in May of 2010 cowering among the brush of rural Santa Cruz of Quiché, they first thought he was a wolf. He emitted guttural sounds and moved around on all fours. His unkempt, matted hair flowed all over his naked body. Read the rest about Tarzan boy.

Somebody has to die

rogue-one-deaths

I was shocked and pleased when Disney killed Hans Solo. I would’ve thought they lacked the guts to kill off such a beloved hero. But it made the plot 100 times more credible and compelling.

Now in Rogue One, Disney (spoiler alert) decimated all the good guys. They all had to sacrifice their lives to get the plans out of the Death Star to expose its structural weakness that could be exploited to destroy it. This is the backstory to the first Star Wars film.

landscape-1470743574-rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-donnie-yen-600x400Such willingness to script stars out of the franchise reflects reality and distances Disney from its sanitized fable fodder (and everyone lived happily ever after). Without sacrifice, nothing of good is accomplished.

Jesus sacrificed Himself. I’m sure He really didn’t want to go to the cross, but He did — and thank God for it. I would never find salvation under the impossible Old Testament system of animal sacrifice for every sin. Yup, me, hell-bound.

rogue-one-crew-posterSo this sacrifice stuff is inspirational, if not tidy. It might your tyke cry. But it teaches a valuable lesson. When I went down to Guatemala, I endured innumerable dangers and hardships — all to get the gospel to a needy people. Today’s Christians are too self-focused, too self-serving, too self-pleasing. Oh, they’ll throw a prayer and an offering (out of their excess cash) at world missions. But most of the time, they’re looking to minimalize personal discomfort.

In Rogue One, a lot of the characters excused themselves from the battle. They wimped out. That’s why the heroes called themselves “rogues.” They went against the council’s command to retreat in fear.

Boat missionaries along Mozambique coast see witch get saved

398df99e-2bf0-4320-ab51-7658916b4632-harrell-1By Justin Berry

Brian Harrell and his wife, Becky have persevered in their outreach to the 300,000 Makhuwa Nahara people in villages that dot the shores of Mozambique along the Indian Ocean.

These hamlets are so remote they are best reached by boat. Since 2004, the Harrells have steered their small wooden vessel through coastal waters to bring the Gospel to the small villages that fell to Arab traders and their Islamic faith 1,000 years ago.

Animism is also blended with Islam to produce a toxic spiritual brew. Because infant mortality is high, people resort to “spiritual protection” in the form of witchcraft.

adelina“Women fear for their children,” Becky said. “They perform ceremonial witchcraft to protect that life and to protect themselves from evil spirits during pregnancy.”

A certain witch in the village named Adelina “aided” her fellow villagers with divinations and spells in a grass-roof hut next to her home.

But amazingly, she also opened her home to a Bible study with the Harrells and listened intently. However, she didn’t convert and renounce the witchcraft under the preaching of the Southern Baptist missionaries — to the point that the Harrells despaired and almost quit.

78bff2a8-f1f7-4106-a3e6-dd005ccb1cba-harrell-5“We just couldn’t continue sharing the gospel right there next to this witch doctor hut,” Brian told Baptist Press. “What was the message that we were sending to the local community?” Adelina had been meeting with them for a year, with no sign of change.

But finally, one day before prayer… Read the rest of the story.

Handfuls on purpose: God’s blessing on finances

God FinancesFinances are a dreary necessity that underpin the true joy of saving souls. I don’t believe that God’s main purpose is to bless His people. Yes, we are children of the King, but the Child of King didn’t have a home, much less a bank account.

Having disavowed the prosperity gospel heretics, I would wish to proceed with a balanced exposition on finances. I was struck by this reading Ruth: Let fall also some of the handfuls on purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glen them. (Ruth 2:16).

Boaz is a picture of Christ because he redeems her from deplorable poverty. Gleaning was a back-breaking job: 12 hours under the blistering sun only to pick up enough grains for one meal. Boaz makes the decision to improve her lot significantly.

We can, therefore, ask God in prayer to drop “handfuls on purpose” for our ministries.

Fear and loathing in Los Angeles (and Guatemala)

IMG_9721

I conquered fear for 16 years. As a result, there’s a church and Christian school in Guatemala.

It was a contest of scary stories, but these were real — about assaults. The people one-upping each other were pastors in Guatemala. As the only gringo in the group, I begged them to stop since they worked worse in my mind. The Guatemalans gave accounts of the times they were held up at gunpoint or at knifepoint sometimes out of humor. I never got the joke.

Eventually the terror of the reigning insecurity in Guatemala got the best of me, and I high-tailed it to the U.S. Guatemala is nation dominated by drug-traffickers. Government officials are too busy stealing from the country. Police officers join the fray. You never know who to fear more, the crooks or the police officers.

IMG_0006

By the time I succumbed to fear, God had raised up leaders to take over and keep the work going.

I held out in faith for 16 years, but when I got held up by pros, after exchanging money at the bank, I was afraid for my kids. They would rapt them and demand ransom.

Please don’t be glib. You can spout scripture (“perfect love casts out all fear” comes to mind) from here in the United States where you face virtually no threat. But I’ll listen to a person who has been through worse things than me.

IMG_9748

The smiles are worth whatever fears I had. People have come to Christ.

Not all fear is bad. As David Bowie observed grimly: There are no atheists on the battlefield. Those who face death daily don’t have the luxury to flout their intellectual pride and declare themselves free-thinkers. Those who face fear hold to faith. I believe David Bowie, after promoting so much sin during his musical career, came to God at the end. Selling records and making money was cool, but it was useless to solve the death problem. Only God can do that.

Have you conquered all fears? Maybe you just haven’t had a big enough trial yet. You don’t fear God? Some go into eternity sticking to their pridefulness and insisting they don’t believe in God.

 

Fun, fellowship and discipleship at a Christian school in Guatemala

Christian school Guatemala

Hosea with Teacher Banner.

Whenever Pastor Michael Ashcraft visits Guatemala, he wants to play soccer with the private school, and this time he won with Teacher Banner Ajcip’s team 10-8 over Teacher Mario Ajcip’s.

The sporting event included the visit of Pastor Mike’s son, Hosea, who was born in Guatemala and studied at the private school until third grade. Hosea, who had an innate skill for goals as a kid, hit the inside of the net three times. Father and son played together on the team of Teacher Banner.

Liceo Bilingue La Puerta zona 1 ciudad guatemalaPastor Mike realized two assists before moving to the defense to stop the attack of superstar opponent, Carlos Marroquin, a 9th grader. With 200 pounds weight and 6’3″ height, Pastor Mike presented a formidable defense. Nevertheless, the youth broke his ankles various times. Even so, Pastor Mike limited his goals and contributed to the victory.

While the guys played soccer, the girls preferred basketball and indoor soccer adjacent to the soccer field.

soccer guatemala christian school capital city

After two hours of straight playing, most of the boys got tired and left. These are the survivors.

“I can learn a lot from Guatemala,” said Hosea. “I want to return to the United States much better than everybody because I played here in Guatemala.”

The field trip and sports event is important because it allows the students to make friends and inter-relate. Everything the Door Bilingual School does is focused on an integral formation of youth: mind, body, emotions and spirit. The Guatemalan Christian school has maintained this focus in Guatemala City since its beginnings when Pastor Mike started with only three students in the Colon neighborhood.

Now, the Door Bilingual School is located on 6th Avenue 2-34 Zone 1 in front of the San Sebastian Park in the City of Guatemala. The original story appeared in Spanish here.

Ingrid Bergman got saved playing the role of a missionary

Bergman-movie-posterIngrid Bergman, the Academy Award-winning actress famous for her role in the film Casablanca, got saved after playing the role of a missionary to China, and the irony is the missionary didn’t want Bergman in the part because of the star’s well-publicized adulterous relationship with an Italian director.

When Bergman was named to play the part of missionary Gladys Aylward in the 1958 movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Aylward expressed her disapproval, and she prayed with Madam Chiang Kai-Shek who, after praying, told her God would “take care of it.”

Aylward assumed “take care of it” meant the infamous actress would be replaced. Instead, it apparently meant that Bergman’s own heart would be transformed by finding peace and joy in Christ.

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was based on the life of sacrifice and fruitful ministry of Aylward, an English girl who was originally rejected from the Chinese Inland Mission at age 26 because her lack of schooling made it unlikely she would be able to learn Chinese.

gladys-aylward-1With no official sponsorship, Aylward made her way to China on her own. She worked as a maid so she could buy a ticket for the Tran-Siberian Railway. She got her ticket in 1930 and traveled to Yangchen to work with 73-year-old missionary Jeannie Lawson doing household chores.

Soon after her arrival, her patron died, and she took over the Inn of the Eight Happinesses (Hollywood changed its name for the movie). She lived in China at a time the nation was facing great upheaval, and many people suffered dire poverty.

When she happened upon a mother who offered to sell her own sickly, infant daughter for only nine pence, Aylward was moved to tears, paid the money and adopted her. She named her adopted daughter “Beautiful Grace” and nursed her back to health.

This adoption was the beginning of her orphanage ministry that swelled to 100 children.

Aylward was contracted by local authorities as an inspector to enforce the new national law banning foot-binding, an age-old custom of deliberating thwarting normal growth because tiny feet on females were thought to be attractive.

Because of her relationship with authorities, Aylward was called upon to quell an uprising in a local prison. The warden, calling her to account for her boast that God was capable of doing anything, sent her in as prisoners were rioting and even killing prisoners in protest of the squalid conditions. She walked straight up to the ringleader, who brandished a butcher’s knife, and commanded he hand over the knife.

Then she told the prisoners to form into ranks and explain why they were rioting. Her report and subsequent negotiation with the warden on behalf of the prisoners led to reforms and more adequate living conditions.

Though the Chinese were distrustful of foreigners, Aylward won them over with her continuous good works, and they called her “Ai-weh-deh,” a Chinese approximation of her name that also means “Virtuous One” in the native dialect.

In 1938, her city was attacked by the Japanese. Rather than face certain massacre, she embarked on a march with her 100 orphans to Chinese nationalist territory. In 12 days they marched 300 miles, sometimes sleeping on the mountainside under the open air.

The column of children had to run to escape Japanese bullets and avoid checkpoints. They were only able to cross the Yellow River by the miraculous appearance of a boat (all vessels had been seized by the Japanese) that offered to ferry them. Continue reading.

The progress of the gospel in Japan

a-japanWith less than 1% of the nation Christian, Japan has been called the “missionaries’ graveyard.” In Africa missionaries died from exotic diseases, but in Japan Christian workers often face burn-out and leave with very few conversions after major commitments of time and money.

And yet, one missionary has hopes that recent events bode well for revival.

“The Japanese are not antagonistic toward the gospel at all,” said Gary Case, pastor of the Potter’s House Church in Tokyo. “If anything, they seem mildly avoidant and politely skittish.”

jack garrot baptism

Jack Garrott baptizes a believer

For months, Case met with Mr. N., an atheist retiree who attended his church to learn about being a better person. The two studied the Bible together over coffee, discussing God, Jesus and salvation until Mr. N. finally accepted Jesus as his personal Savior and Lord.

Japan is one the most secularized nations in the world, according to a World Values Survey. Because loyalty is one of their core values, Japanese see leaving their traditional Buddhism and Shintoism as a family betrayal. The average church has only 30 members. A brief revival after World War II netted significant converts, but many of those are graying, and some of the churches left behind are dwindling.

The Japanese wear crosses as a fashion statement but have no idea what the cross signifies. They celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus and gift giving but ignore completely the story of Christ’s birth.

Jack Garrot's churchAmid the bad news, many see cause of hope. Japanese Christian leaders point to the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear plant meltdown of 2011 as a time that began to soften the self-reliant Japanese character and open the Japanese to the need for the gospel.

“There’s a sense of hopelessness for the future. You can see it in their faces,” said Stephen Matsumura, pastor of the Mizuba Community Church, in a Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusade video. “There’s a high suicide rate here in Japan – issues of loneliness and isolation – which is a huge indicator of a bigger need.”

If natural disaster brought greater openness, so too is gospel music. The 1992 movie Sister Act starring Whoopi Goldberg popularized the musical genre. Since then, there have been workshops and gospel choirs formed, attracting non-Christians. In 2011, CBN reported that some 50 churches had formed gospel choirs.

“It opened the church to the community,” said Pastor Masahiro Okita. “And it’s a very unique ministry because the target of the outreach are the choir members themselves.”

In the 15th Century, Portuguese traders brought priests, based in the port of Nagasaki. These Catholic Christians won converts but eventually were expelled by the ruling class who reverted to isolationism. Many converts became “hidden Christians” and worship Christ in their hearts while at the Buddhist temples. They passed their faith on to their children, a UCAnews video on YouTube reveals.

Japan Tsunami Relief and Rebuild

Some 40,000 Christians who failed to hide their faith were boiled to death in many of the nation’s scalding thermal mudpots, the video says.

Jack Garrott’s dad was part of the missionary movement in 1930s and 40s, landing in Fukuoka, Japan. In 1981, he returned to Japan as a missionary himself in Omura, Nagasaki.

“I am told that the number of committed Christians is growing, but that appears to be in metropolitan centers, where people are perhaps more loosened from their traditional roots,” Garrott said. “There are growing, vibrant churches in major metropolitan areas like Tokyo and Osaka, but they are virtually nonexistent in the ‘boonies,’ which could be described as the ‘soul’ of Japan.”

Editor’s Note: This article, originally published in God Reports, is special to me because two of the men interviewed, Gary Case and Jack Garrott, are friends. I follow Jack’s blog. Please pray for their churches and for revival in Japan.

Missionaries in the Philippines battle gunman with prayer

Jaquith-Daniel-and-Colleen

They were awakened abruptly by the sound of two explosions as a masked gunman burst into Daniel and Colleen Jaquith’s missionary complex in the Philippines and demanded money.

The gunman shot a Filipino pastor in the foot, pointed a handgun at his head, and demanded to be taken to the Americans, according to a report by Christian News Northwest.

The Jaquiths shared about the March 4, 2014 incident on a home visit to Newberg, Oregon recently.

Awakened by the explosions, the Jaquiths were then startled to see the gunman appear in their doorway with the pastor as hostage. “Give me the money, or I will kill you!” he shouted.

In response, the Jaquiths dropped to their knees and began to pray. “Colleen and I were desperate and defenseless there on our bed,” Dan said. “In our desperation we both began to unitedly cry out to the Lord with very loud and intense prayers. I prayerfully went to my knees.” Read the rest of the story.

The missionaries website: http://btti.org