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My Front Row Seat to Gospel Transformation

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Life transformation can come in all different shapes and sizes. 

There’s superficial, shallow, and trivial life transformation. Like when I sink my teeth into one of Patisserie Justina’s fresh out-of-the-oven cinnamon rolls on a Thursday morning, the icing making my fingers a sticky mess, and the comforting warmth of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon melting in my mouth. Those moments make me sigh in contentment and think, “My life will never be the same again.”

Then there’s actual, substantive, and legitimate life transformation. Like when I receive a diploma for years of study that open endless doors of possibility to me. Or like moving to a new country, a new home, a new people group. Those moments make me flinch and think, “My life will never be the same again.”

But then there’s deep, profound, and lasting life transformation. Like when the Creator of the cosmos breathes life into my heart of stone, draws me out of the pit, and gives my life purpose. That moment, dwelt on again and again, makes my heart cry out, “My life will never be the same again!”

Last week was full of life transformation. Some moments were inconsequential (like eating one of those cinnamon rolls for the first time), but the majority of the days were filled with moments that have the capacity to reshape lives. Through the local church in Haiti, deaf families were given goats, which provide them with a source of food. Deaf families received solar lights, giving them safety and the ability to communicate after the sun goes down. Deaf families received water filters, giving them access to clean, safe drinking water.

But the weightiest transformation took place in a dimly lit room with drapes askew and knick-knack porcelain figures scattered on a shelf. A chaos of colorful paintings clothed the table and the medley of colors melted into an odd assortment of pots and pans stacked under the table. Yoyo (the man on the left in the image above), a deaf man from the village of Leveque, stood leaning against his doorframe, his relaxed body language belying the intense focus and attention he was giving Mike, a deaf man from Canada. In one hand Mike was holding a small slip of white paper, three small tears defacing its otherwise smooth surface. In the other hand, Mike held a small slip of white paper, whole and unmarked. One hand held a life broken and marred by sin. The other hand held a life of righteousness to be freely accepted. I sat back and watched as Mike laid out the gospel, giving visual representation to what Christ had done for the world He so greatly loved. My eyes flitted back and forth between Mike’s face, intent and joyful in the truth of the gospel, and Yoyo’s face, intent and pensive in the decision that was laid before him. Mike’s hands stilled as he came to the end of the gospel story and Yoyo stood, unmoved for several beats. And then a broad smile stretched across his face. “I have heard people talk about the Bible, but I have never clearly understood what Jesus did for me. I want that. I want His righteousness and forgiveness.” And in the space of that tiny room, with only the buzz of mosquitos breaking the silence, Yoyo’s life was transformed by the power and love of a great and gracious Savior. 

That gospel life transformation doesn’t stop in that moment of belief; not for Yoyo, not for me, and not for you. Our journey of life transformation will not be over anytime soon. The good work that was started when Yoyo humbly placed his faith and trust in Christ is only just beginning (Philippians 1:6). What hope there is in that promise! The reshaping of my heart when I bowed at the foot of the cross is continuing degree by degree, from glory to glory (1 Corinthians 3:18). What assurance there is in that truth. The bruises and hurts your heart has sustained since that joy-filled salvation moment are all being turned to God’s gospel purposes to grow in you hope, perseverance, and the character of Christ (Romans 5:1-5, 8:28-29). What a blessed assurance. And, Believer, we were not drawn out of the mire of sin to stay safely within boundaries of comfort. No, we were created in Christ for good works (Ephesians 2:10). We were saved to be sent, to be stewards and ambassadors of a message replete with reconciliation and hope (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). 

Having a front row seat to life transformation this week made my heart pause in thanksgiving and reflection. What beautiful, simple truth the gospel is. And how powerful it is to transform lives. Be encouraged that it has transformed yours. Be challenged to continue that transformation through the Spirit. Be willing to be used by the Spirit in the transformation of others. And be overwhelmed by the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice. Let it transform your life.

Trending Reads | October [GO Month]

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The Goal of Missions May Not Be What You Think

When the gospel goes out, we should expect new churches to form. The end game is not one believer, or even a few believers with a vague idea that they somehow share Christ. No, the goal of worshiping Jesus is accomplished by local churches—gathered bodies of believers, under the authority of elders, who are discipling others, holding fast to sound doctrine, practicing the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and seeking to obey God...

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Evangelism is More than a Task; It's Part of Our Identity

Evangelism is the first step in making disciples of Jesus. According to the Bible, everyone in the world who is apart from Christ is spiritually dead in their rebellion against God (Ephesians 2:1-10). They stand under condemnation from God for their offenses against Him, and that condemnation is completely just (John 3:16-18). God owes us nothing, but in His free mercy and grace He has provided one and only one solution to our eternally deadly problem of sin. That solution is the gospel...

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My Mercedes Went to Missions

The financial advisor chuckled and said to my friend, “That’s it? You must have more than that!” 

“No. That’s all I have.”

My friend had chosen the path of generosity. He tithes, gives sacrificially, and pours out his life and income for gospel advance. He chose not to be rich. Despite his education, capabilities, and family wealth, he chose generosity that looks radical by comparison.

But in that moment, across the table from his advisor, he felt a flash of shame...

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Travis Walker is Pastor of Student Ministries here at First Family Church. He and his wife Kaci have two daughters and a son, and reside in Ankeny, Iowa. Travis is a casual Michigan Wolverines fan, and a hardcore Chip and Joanna Gaines fan. Contact him at  and follow him on Twitter.

My Unchanging God in My Ever-Changing Life

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Change – unsettling, disquieting, and ominous. It’s a small, six-letter word that can knock the wind right out of you. As a missionary in Haiti, my home is in a place where the sands of time and shadows of change shift slowly. But there are people I love in the States where time is a raging river that carries change at immeasurable speed. Change is impossible to escape. 

Being a missionary in a country that is forever fixed in the sweltering sway of summer has its advantages. Vitamin D deficiency is virtually non-existent. This fair-skinned bookworm has started to take on a skin tone that no longer matches the color of the pages she reads. Precious storage space isn’t necessary for bulky sweaters, coats, and scarves. Your wardrobe is virtually the same for the whole year. The palm trees are always green, the ocean is always blue, and one never has to worry about the treacherous nature of snow, ice, and slush. 

Being a missionary in a culture where the pace of life equals the slow, steady rhythm of a gentle stream eroding a rock bed also has its advantages. The flower of change is slow to take root and even slower to bloom here. You learn to take life day-by-day, moment-by-moment. You learn flexibility and to make the best of the situations you are in. You learn to value quality over quantity, depth of relationship over surface acquaintanceship, and intentionality over casualness. 

Perhaps it is these virtues that weave together to create a web of false stasis around my life, an imagined sense of constancy and permanence. But it doesn’t take long before that facade of predictability is shattered. 

Sometimes it is simple changes that make me smile at the blanket of constancy I cling to. For example, I fly to Haiti in January, leaving the bitterly cold, snow-blanketed plains of Iowa behind. When I return to Iowa in May, my eyes still expect to be blinded by the glare of sun on ice, my skin expects to recoil at sub-zero temperatures, and my ears expect to ring with the silence of gentle snowfall. Instead, the shroud of white has been replaced with a patchwork of recently plowed farms and green sprays of spring, the cold replaced with hints of warmth, and the stillness replaced with the chirps of crickets and hum of cicadas. The Christmas trees have all been tucked away and the rich colors of the season have been replaced with the bright palette of new life.

Other times it is weightier changes that make my heart ache with their heaviness and import – The church I called home for fifteen years of my life is no longer being pastored by my father. My sister’s family grows by nine pounds, one ounce and 19 ¾ inches. The soul of a bright, joyful young man in my home church is no longer for this world but is finding rest and repose in the arms of his Savior. He is shortly joined in Glory by a fellow missionary from my home church who labored hard for the Kingdom and made lasting impact. My kindred spirit, my partner in interpreting and all things adventuring meets a man, dates, gets engaged, and is married. My little brother – my greatest childhood antagonizer, partner in crime, confidant, and friend – meets a woman, dates, proposes, and is married. 

In the midst of change my heart is unsettled, trying to grasp at straws, clinging to what I think I know, and trying to find purchase in a world that is always shifting. And my heart is so quick to jump to the realm of “what-if’s.”

Fear. What if the changes in the lives of those I love causes them to love me less?

Worry. What if my relationships with the people I love are never the same?

Regret. What if I had been able to be present for the entirety of all those changes?

But it is in the middle of these thoughts, this churning of emotions and agitation of spirit, that my heart in all of its flailing finally finds purchase. The Spirit whispers and imprints the words of the Father on my heart – 

I am the Lord, I change not… Malachi 3:6

I am the same yesterday, today, and forever… Hebrews 13:8

In Me there is no variation or shadow due to change… James 1:17

How do I combat the dark hands of change clawing at my throat, threatening to steal peace and stillness of heart? I turn my heart to the One who never changes. Just as David remonstrates his heart to hope in God in the midst of his depression and turmoil in Psalm 42, I must preach to my heart the truth of who God is and what His promises are. God is constant. In a world where the best laid plans often go awry, I can rest in my Heavenly Father who is immutable and unaffected by change. I don’t have to fear the loss of love because I have a profound love that is richer, deeper, wider, and stronger than anything in this present earth (Ephesians 3:18-19). The Redeemer will never love me more or less than He does in this moment. I don’t have to worry about losing relationship because I have identity and purpose in my relationship with a Father who adores His children. The Restorer who pursued me in the wreck of my life will never leave or abandon me (Deuteronomy 31:6). I don’t have to regret not being present. The Creator who sees, knows, and hears is present for me (Psalm 139).  

In the wise and discerning words of A.W. Tozer, “All that God is He has always been, and all that He has been and is He will ever be.” His promises will never be rescinded or overturned. His unchanging nature shines brilliantly against the backdrop of change that is inherent in the world of mankind. And it is in this nature that my heart must rest. 

Just as change is an arrow that points to the immutability of God, it is also an indicator of hope. As hard as it is to swallow, the reality is that fundamentally, change is a good and gracious gift from God. Redemption’s ongoing story is one of change, transforming from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18). And without God’s sanctifying hand of change in my life, where would I be? The changes God has wrought in my heart and life all happen for the greater purpose of conforming me more into the image of His Son. The changes that God gently, or perhaps not so gently, introduces into your life all fall under His sovereign, omniscient hand that works for your ultimate good and sanctification. It is because He loves us that He changes us, our loved ones, and our circumstances. What hope is found in this truth!

That small, six-letter word has taken on new connotation in recent days; the disquiet is replaced with rest, the unsettledness with peace, the ominous fear with hope. Let change point your heart to the one who is changeless. And be thankful with me that He continues to change us in order to bring to completion His good work in our hearts.

 


Courtney Johnson lives and ministers to the people of Haiti.

 

The Gospel Spreading in Central Asia

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In June of this past summer, I moved back to Central Asia to do gospel work among my dear people who Christ purchased with His precious blood. Many of them do not know about the glorious good news of the cross. So, that is why I am here: to serve and help make Him known in this nation.

This summer was super busy for me. When I got back from the states, I met my new team that God had already provided for me to serve with here. I got to know them pretty quickly, and we began to pray, fast, dream and envision our future ministry in Central Asia. God opened so many doors for us to begin to do what we love: preaching and teaching the gospel and doctrine.

In the middle of the summer, we started five weeks of membership classes. After those classes, we collected around fifteen members that were interested in being part of our local congregation. We praise the Lord for these men and women who want to be a part of what the Lord is doing here.

Then, early in the fall of this year, we launched our first congregation. Over 70 people showed up to worship and hear the word preached at our launch! After the service, we had a big celebration of thanksgiving to our Sovereign God for His faithfulness and for everything He provided for us to launch this local congregation in Central Asia.

Just three weeks later, we moved to a physical building. Now, we have a place to meet on Sundays for worship and hearing the preaching of the Word.

We are very excited that God did all this in such a short period of time. 

I want to thank my God and Savoir, Jesus Christ for His mercy, grace, and strength to do all this with His sovereign power. I thank all of you, my prayer warriors and partners in the gospel. Thank you so much for your prayers and support. I couldn't do all this without your help. Please continue to support and lift me up for His glory and our joy. 

 


Timur Nesbitt lives in Central Asia and seeks to win the his native country to Christ.

 

What do the numbers say about Australia?

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It is hard to imagine, but our family is getting close to our 11th year of life in Australia. We continue to be amazed at this opportunity. Even as the seasons of life change with children getting older and ministries maturing, we continue to thank the Lord for the gift of serving in our adopted home. 

As the years progress, Australia continues to become part of our DNA. We have a ever-present love for our American heritage, but we feel our love of Australia grow. It is not easy sharing the Gospel in this melting pot culture, but with the various ministries and people we work alongside the opportunities continue to present themselves every day. We enjoy sharing this experience with visiting friends, family ranch mission teams, but we have to remember that most of our visitors have a very limited view of our sunburned homeland. 

One thing that is very different to America is that in Australia, it is compulsory to vote and to fill out our census form. Due to this requirement, our statistics are exceptionally accurate. Based on our last census report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and McCrindle Research, here are a few statistics that might help people to see that Australia is a very different place than they thought.  

1. If Australia were a city, at 23.5 million it would still only be the world’s seventh largest (after Tokyo, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Jakarta, Seoul and Delhi).

2. The average street of 100 households has 10 babies (aged under 3), 27 cats and 45 dogs.

3. The average Australian stays with their employer just 3 years and 4 months – only a third of the way towards long service leave. If this plays out in the lifetime of a school leaver today, it means they will have 17 separate employers in their lifetime. 

4. In Australia, there are almost 100,000 more women than men, with six out of our eight states and territories experiencing a man drought.

5. Three decades ago, the median age of an Australian was 30.5, today it is 37.3, and in 2044 it is projected to be 40.

6. The average Australian spends 10 hours and 19 minutes each day on screen time – and due to ‘multi-screening’ this is achieved in just under eight hours of linear time.

7. By the time generation Z (five-19-year-olds) begin to retire (beginning in 2063) the average median capital city house price will exceed $2 million and the average retiree will need $600,000 more than today for a comfortable retirement.

8. If you lived on an average sized street in Australia comprised of 100 households, on that street there would be a marriage every 9 months, a death every 7 months and a birth every 14 weeks.

9. Currently, there are almost 105 baby boys born for every 100 baby girls born in Australia

10. The most widely said Australianisms are “no worries” (74 percent of Australians have used this phrase), “arvo” (73 percent), and “G’day” (71 percent).

11. Swimsuits in Queensland are known as togs, in NSW cossies, but in Victoria, bathers. And while Victorians use the word cantaloupe, in the rest of the country the fruit is known as rockmelon.

12. Australia is currently growing by 1 million every 2 years – that’s an additional city of Adelaide every 2.5 years.

13. Three decades ago, almost two in three Australians were married, while today, less than half are, and the “never married” proportion of Australians has increased from a quarter to a third.

14. There are more people in Sydney today than lived in all of Australia a century ago.

15. A quarter of Australians (27 percent) were born overseas and almost half of Australian households (46 percent) had at least one parent born overseas.

16. The average age of a first marriage is 29.8-years-old for men and 28.1 for women.

17. The median age at which men first become a dad is 33, and women have their first child at 30.7 years.

18. Australia is growing faster (1.8 percent a year) than any other country in the OECD. 

19. Australia’s death rate is at an all time low. And Sydney is the state capital with the lowest probability of death (5.3 deaths per 1,000) while Darwin and Hobart have the highest capital city death rates (6.6). 

For people who love to analyse numbers, these are fascinating numbers and help us to see where we need to be reaching people, and figure out unique methods of reaching Australians. Australia is not the same as the US, and we need to adjust our strategies for reaching people for Christ. 

The one statistic that grew the most over the since the last census is the number of people who said they were 'non-religious.' Going to church is not a regular thing for our nation. Sunday is considered Sport Day. It is a time for football, cricket or netball. 

To merely start a church is not going to reach the people of Australia. We have to have active evangelistic endeavours to reach people. We do this through workplace evangelism and unique events in cinemas. We are seeing fruit through these ministries at City Bible Forum and Reel Dialogue

Not to be discouraged, through these evangelistic efforts we are seeing church growth throughout our nation. With partnerships with Geneva Push and local pastors, we have seen a steady rate of churches starting and growing throughout Sydney. Alongside Pastor Ben Kwok, we have been serving for the past three years with the Rouse Hill Bible Church family. We are seeing regular growth and exciting stories of people coming in contact with Christ for the first time in their lives. 

We want to thank you for your regular support, prayers, and teams. It is a world away, but it means so much to us and helps us to continue the work of the Gospel in the land of Oz. 

 


Russ and his wife Cathy, along with their four children, live in and minister to the people of Australia. To learn more about their ministry, visit http://www.matthewsdownunder.com.

 

Seeing Gospel Opportunities in the Unexpected

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What if?

What if you won a million dollars? What would you do with it?

What if your car is stolen? What’s your immediate response? The next day? One week later?

What if a government official walks into your church and asks you what you believe?

Would any of these questions be easy?

For me, the million dollar question is way too easy. Why, I can spend 100 million dollars fairly quickly. Yes, mission work would be the main beneficiary, and the need is great.

The stolen car question was asked in three parts, because the three timelines can have three different responses. Shock? Disappointment? Anger? I think it was The Simpsons that taught me the chain of responses in a crisis situation is known by the acronym DAFBA: denial, anger (D’OH!), fear, bargaining, and acceptance. There’s no right answer. For me, the stolen car question has other implications. Some neighbors of ours in France had their car stolen recently, when someone broke into the house to find the keys, hanging on a hook by the door, and off he went with a free car. That could happen to us, although our car is not the most attractive. The real issue for me is if one doesn’t find our keys sitting out waiting to be taken. What happens when someone doesn’t get a “free” car?

Finally, the government official question. Or it may be a news team. Or in the office, or a co-worker. Or on the street... anyone that you don’t expect, as if the question startles you: what do you believe?  Or “who are you?”

Unexpected circumstances can yield gospel opportunities.

1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Who would ever ask me? Maybe we should expect that more. Maybe we should interpret someone’s comment as his way of asking that question: “I don’t know what to believe anymore...” Is that not a wide-open door, begging you to walk through and share your faith?

Maybe the reason no one asks us about the hope we have is because no one knows we have this hope?

Lord, help us to keep our ears open, and especially our hearts open, for neighbors, co-workers, kids knocking at our doors during Halloween, suffering people around us, and help us to love. Help us to be ready to give a response for the hope you give us. Protect all those in areas where crime rears its ugly head, so that your children will rise up and be witnesses for your glory. Amen.

 


Gary, along with his wife and children, minister to the people of Lille, France.

I'm Not, but I Know the One Who Is

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There are some days in Haiti where the hours simply fly by. I reach the end of the day, float up the steps, waltz through the door, sink onto the couch, and my heart sighs in contentment as it looks back and smiles at the joy-filled, productive, and victorious moments of the day. 

There is the stooped and wizened old man who leads me from the hot, dusty road of Leveque past the cactus fence, through the bent and angled corrugated tin gate into the cool shade of his front yard. His eyes become animated pools of simple joy as he gives me a botany lesson about each vegetable, flower, and herb in his garden, his hands gently informing, telling a story. It is the simplicity of moments and friendships like these that my heart cherishes.

There are the moments when I step on to what feels like thin ice. I sit down next to Lydia or Rosenie in a room thrumming with sewing machines and chatter, take a deep breath, attempt to draw forth the entirety of my Creole knowledge, and talk about the weekend. I listen carefully, brows furrowed, trying to discern the sounds of abbreviated and shortened words and connect what I’m hearing with the vocabulary files that feel like they are at the far, far reaches of my brain. My face relaxes and my mouth tips up into a smile as I start to put the pieces of a story together. Moments with family. Days spent cooking. Hours of laundry. Mornings filled with church. Time spent in prayer. And then it is my turn. My brain scrambles to remember grammar and syntax. Amidst smiles, encouragement, and shared laughter, I haltingly verbalize my weekend. Moments with my own Haiti family. Adventures in Port Au Prince. Sweet mornings worshiping and learning in church. I come to an end of my known Creole vocabulary and my voice trails off. They smile at me and they tell me how well I am doing with my Creole. I grin back and say that I have the best teachers with the utmost patience. We laugh, share a hug, and continue with our work. It is small victories that deeply encourage my heart.

There are moments when the joy that comes from using the gifts God has given completely overtakes my heart. 142 pastors, shepherds, spiritual leaders converge on our pastoral conference center. Framed on one side by the uninterrupted stretch of azure waves and by interminable mountains on the other, they sit, gathered around circular tables ready to learn from God’s Word. The comfortable murmur of chatter rises and falls as I make my way towards a table where chatter does not break the air with vibrations of sound, but instead cuts through physical space with hands that are transformed into tools of communication. Three Deaf pastors are joining the training, and I, along with another interpreter, have the privilege of opening the door to communication access. Old Testament survey. New Testament survey. The authority of Scripture. How to understand the words of God. Questions. Answers. Prayer. Worship. My heart swells with gratitude as I see the light of comprehension on the upturned faces before me, the nods, the knowing smiles. Here are three pastors who will take the light of understanding, the light of truth, the brilliant light of the Messiah to which Scripture points to their churches, to the people of their village. Facilitating understanding for the ultimate end of spreading God’s glorious gospel... this is the best kind of productivity.

But then there are other days, when I reach the end of the day, drag myself up the steps, trudge through the door, collapse onto the couch and my heart laments the frustrations, calamities, and difficulties that have passed. 

There is the rough, calloused hand that grabs my own hand, noticeably absent of callouses, and pulls me to a front door that has recently been marred. There is something missing. The lock, meant to keep the safety and comfort of home in and the danger of disorder and peril out, has been destroyed. The door looks vulnerable, bereft of its shield, telling a story of loss. I turn and listen to the story unfolding from the hands of a beautiful, resilient, aged woman with streaks of black peaking through the striking white hair pulled behind her head. There is no vulnerability in that face; only strength and simple peace that echoes the story of trust in God amidst the suffering that her hands so quietly tell me. She drops her hands, her story told, and I smile and thank her for her hospitality. I squeeze her hand, turn to go, and catch her eyes one last time. The question floats between us, unvoiced but looming. Can’t you help me? My heart catches as I feel the weight of being white and hearing come crashing through my equilibrium. 

There are other moments when the question is voiced. I sit across from Guy, merriment spilling from eyes where I can see the wheels turning, anticipating the next moment to make me smile with a clever quip. I laugh out loud as he looks at me slyly, his hands unfolding for my eyes a story of exaggerated proportions. He leans back in his chair and grins in satisfaction, and then the amusement is replaced by concern as he tells me about the people in his village, members of the Deaf community. The frustrations and difficulties pour off of his hands. Water. Jobs. Commuting. Safety. Theft. Discrimination. And then his head tips forward, his face even graver than before. What do I think about this? My brain goes silent. And then the call to action. What can I do to solve these problems? And my heart again bows under the expectations that come with the color of my skin and the ability to hear.

There are the moments where grief and sorrow rip through the heart. It’s Friday and I find myself in a church sitting on a bench next to my friend. We are the minority here. Like two small flecks of sugar that accidentally got thrown in with coffee grounds. The pastor’s voice rises, falls, stops, and a young woman in the front rises to her feet. She squares her shoulders, turns, and I look into the broken and wounded eyes of one of our employees and friends. I am at a funeral for her mother. The ache to understand the purpose in the loss of life is almost palpable.

There are such highs and such lows. Extremes on the spectrum of emotions. And as that spectrum starts to tilt and tumble from the heights, I can hear whispers of defeat.

The need is too great and you are too small.

The hurt is too deep and you are not equipped for this ministry.

You are not in the right place. You are not meant to be here.

How easy it is to blindly believe the lies of the enemy. But as I center my heart on the timeless, ancient words of Scripture, I find the lies dissolving in the face of truth. I hear the quiet reassurance of the Spirit.

Friend, I see the great need. Know that I am greater.

Beloved, I am the healer of all hurts and have equipped you for every good work through my Word. My power is perfected in your weakness.

Child, I knew you before the foundations of the world were put in place. I am holding you in the palm of my hand.

The wild worry and ache of my heart calms as I rest in truth. Truth that I am not the healer of broken hearts. But I know One who is. Truth that I cannot heal the hurts of the world. But I know One who can. Truth that my presence cannot bring peace. But I know the Prince of Peace. Truth that I cannot inherently instill hope. But I know One who is hope. Truth that I am powerless to use something evil for good. But I know One whose power is limitless. Truth that I cannot grasp the big picture plan. But I know One whose understanding is infinite. And He is good. He is faithful. His heart is kind.

My heart again sighs with contentment as the frustrations, calamities, and disappointments find their divinely appointed purpose in Christ. The victorious and joy-filled moments are juxtaposed with difficult, painful days. It’s a trade-off. And I find myself thankful for both sides of the trade.

Christianity in South Korea

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Since I arrived in Seoul, South Korea in February 2015, I was in awe of the many steeples that dotted the mountainous skyline throughout the city.

According to The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Korea sends out 1,014 missionaries per 1 million church members, putting them at number five on the list of missionary sending countries in the world.

How did this once predominantly Shamanistic (and later Buddhist) nation turn out to be one of the top missionary senders in the world in such a short amount of time? As a Christian history geek, I was eager to find out.  

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tour Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery in Seoul with a local English ministry I serve alongside. We set up an English tour guide to take us through the cemetery and accompanying museum. 

Overlooking the Han River, the cemetery is surrounded by large, modern buildings. The guide explained to us that when Catholic missionaries came to Korea in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, the king sentenced them to death along with thousands of newly converted Koreans. To sum it up, the main problem that Korea had with Christianity at the time was the fact that, under God, we are all equal. Traditional Korean society had (and still has) many cultural barriers due to age hierarchy, as well as economic status. 

Over the next few decades, a handful of missionaries tried to enter Korea, but most were killed almost immediately upon arrival. One soldier was even later converted after he killed a missionary, when he later discovered and read the missionary’s bible.

In 1863, things began to look up for missionaries to enter the Hermit Kingdom. King Gojong, the final king of the Joseon Dynasty, came into power wanting to establish diplomatic relations with western civilizations. Finally, the door was opened for missionaries to freely come to Korea. These missionaries were able to minister to the physical needs of the people by providing medical care, opening schools, and caring for orphans. 

I don’t have enough space to write about every single missionary buried in this cemetery, as there were so many, but I picked out a handful who caught my eye to give you a few highlights.

Henry Appenzeller came to Korea before it was legal to preach in public. He set up a missionary house and traveled on foot and bicycle around Korea preaching the Gospel. Even though he wasn’t a doctor, he was able to save many lives with only a little training in western medical care. At the time, all Bibles were written in Chinese, which was only studied by the royalty and upper-class citizens. Appenzeller opened a publishing company that provided the first Bibles to Koreans written in the common language. 

Sooda Gaichi was a drunkard who collasped and almost died, when a Korean Christian man saved his life and shared the Gospel with him. After this, Sooda and his wife dedicated their lives to raising Korean orphans. Due to Korea’s relations with Japan at the time, it is quite remarkable that a Japanese person wanted to serve even the lowliest of Koreans. I think this is great evidence of his changed heart. 

The last person I have to share with you is Horace Grant Underwood, who is oftentimes called the pioneer of missions in Korea. He helped found the first Presbyterian church in Korea, as well as establish Christian schools. Most importantly, he was able to assist in translating the Old and New Testaments into Hangul, the language of the Korean people. He passed away in 1916, but his family stayed in Korea until 2004! 

As I visited the gravesite museum for these missionaries, one thing stood out to me: none of these missionaries became very famous.

There aren’t any famous biographies written about them, and even the museum in their honor didn’t contain much information to tell.

Many of them died when they were only in their thirties.

Many of them lost spouses and children.

They all gave up the comforts of the Western world to come to a place where they were unsure of their safety.

The power of the Gospel drives us to do amazing things for the fame of Jesus.

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