Paraguay (Part 2)

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Of all the places in the world, why would Don Hess and I choose to go on a prayer trip to Paraguay?

Paraguay a country of 6 million people, about the size of California, land-locked by Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia has welcomed immigrants from all over the world.

From our standpoint as persons of Mennonite descent, we were interested to learn that Paraguay now has about 50,000 people who are Mennonite or of Mennonite ancestry. Many of these Mennonites are German speaking. They are from German ancestors who had been invited by Catherine the Great to Russia in the late 1700’s to develop the Ukraine. They prospered greatly there for 100 years. Then following World Wars I and II, unwanted by Russia or Germany or anyone else, they found a safe haven, some in Canada, but more in Paraguay, in the undeveloped western Chaco region of Paraguay, known as the Green Hell.

This was a time of great suffering for these Russian Mennonite settlers as they struggled to eke out an existence from this inhospitable land.

Mennonites in the United States reached out to help their “Mennonite brethren.”

Don Hess in doing some family research discovered that his Grandfather Hess had been touched by God to respond to these Russian Mennonites in the process of settling in Paraguay and had contributed a sizable amount of money to their needs.

Today 70 years later these Russian Mennonites are now prospering greatly. This “green hell” is now producing food for the nations. They ship the very best quality beef to Israel and other countries. And they have schools and hospitals and industries and businesses of all types and some have risen to positions of power and influence in the land of Paraguay.

Their churches are large. On Sunday morning we attended a service in a beautiful church building in Filadelfia with 1000 German Mennonites in attendance. We met on Monday with leaders in the Mennonite Brethren Church. We learned of their hearts for mission and their active and effective mission programs throughout the country as well as their interest in doing missions in other countries.

The question still remains: Why would Don Hess and I go on a prayer trip to Paraguay?

The answer will need to wait for another post.

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Paraguay (Part 1)

paraguay-1

Don Hess and I are on a prayer trip to Paraguay. We know that it is a spiritual harvest time and we are exploring possibilities for partnering with Christians in Paraguay for this great harvest. Today we are in Filadelfia in the Chaco where a Luis Palau Crusade was just completing.

This morning at breakfast we had time to talk with Evangelist Palau now age 82. (Sometimes referred to as a second Billy Graham.)

I was surprised to learn that Palau’s headquarters are in Oregon. (Palau is originally from Argentina but wife is from Oregon).

Palau plans to be in Pennsylvania this coming year at a mushroom festival. Don who has major business connections with the mushroom industry will connect with Palau again when he is in our area.

Molly’s Trip to India

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My good friends, Don and Kathy Hess, have a 21 year old daughter, Molly, who because of a severe disability has never been able to walk or talk. However, when certain music is played, especially the song “My Redeemer Lives” by Nicole C. Mullen, a well known contemporary Christian musician, Molly shows pleasure with a smile and certain inarticulate sounds.

Early in Molly’s 18th year, God appeared to Don in a dream inviting Don to fill out a blank check for his heart’s desire. When Don awoke he filled out a check writing on it “For Molly’s Healing.”

Don still carries that check in his wallet till this day.

For Molly’s 18th birthday Don arranged for Nicole C. Mullen to come to Elizabethtown College Fine Arts Center for a concert attended by well over 500 people. It was truly a miracle that Nicole was able to come for that birthday celebration.

Now for Molly’s 21st birthday Don has arranged for Nicole C. Mullen to do a concert in Delhi, India, along with “Live Jam” a contemporary Christian band, well known in India. In addition Don has taken a team with him to minister in some of the churches of PTL-India, a large network of Christian churches directed by P. C. Alexander. PTL-India is a part of Kingdom Life Network of which New Testament Fellowship is a part.

Just two days ago Kathy and Molly and Molly’s nurse and brother Joe left for India to join Don and his team.

On Saturday evening (Saturday morning our time) Don will wheel Molly onto a stage before a large crowd of people. The stage will be shared by Nicole C. Mullen and Live Jam. They will sing and Molly will speak her message, though her voice will not be heard.

What is the message that Molly speaks to the world through this stage in India?

In a prayer meeting with Don and others before Don left for India, I felt the Holy Spirit revealed the message of Molly’s life. The circumstances of Molly’s life have placed her in an unimaginably constricted space. She can not walk or talk or blink her eyes to communicate.

In this very constricted space Molly does something truly amazing. She worships. In response to the music of Nicole C. Mullens she smiles and expresses her joy to the best of her ability. And Molly worships.

All of us have experienced constrictions and limitations in our lives, some life-long and some for a season. We have had financial limitations, relationship limitations, chronic health problems, limitations in the work place and so forth.

What do I do when I experience a chronic or an unexpected limitation in some area of my life? Historically, I have tended to Work harder or to Worry more.

But Molly teaches me that I have another option. I can Worship. When life presses in upon me, depriving me of space I once had or of space I felt entitled to, I can worship.

I can worship the Redeemer that Molly worships. I can worship Jesus Christ the Lord of the universe, who for our sakes was unimaginably constricted to become a servant of mankind and to die on a cross with no place to move, but only the voice to worship as He died, saying, “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit. “

So that is the message of Molly’s life. “In a constricted space I worship Jesus, my Living Redeemer.”

Oh, and there is one more part to this message.

Don, Molly’s earthly father, who loves his daughter beyond words, will push her wheel chair onto that stage in a stadium in India, positioning Molly so that the world may hear her message.

In a similar manner the Heavenly Father, who loves us beyond words,is positioning us so that the message God has worked out in us in the midst of our limitations may be heard by a broken world.

And this broken world, overwhelmed with worry and fruitless work, is desperately in need of this message of Hope; the message that no matter how much life has constricted us we can choose to worship the Redeemer who Has come and Will come to Save us.

Someday He will return to receive His children onto Himself. And Molly will get a new body. And Don will cash His check. And those who have learned to Worship Him here will worship Him forever in the unrestricted spaces of Heaven. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!!!

Feet on the Street

On Sunday I preached at Feet On The Street, a church in Reading, PA, experiencing a youth revival, pastored by Daryl and Rebecca Zimmerman and founded by Daryl’s parents, Marv and Bev Zimmerman.

As I arose to preach I experienced the strange but clear word from Holy Spirit that I was to give my shoes away. Now it happened that I was wearing a new pair of shoes which I really liked and I was not looking to give them away. But when the Spirit speaks you either respond or you go into disobedience.

So I announced to the Congregation that I was giving my shoes away. It happened that my shoes were an exact fit for a striking young man in the front row, Jesus Diaz. I learned quickly that just two days before he had come to the pastor and they had agreed that he would step out in leading a new ministry to early teenagers in the congregation.

The gift of shoes became a powerful encouragement to the young man and to the congregation that God’s anointing was on Jesus for this new ministry and that God would guide his steps and bring great blessings to the community through this ministry.

I went home from ‘Feet On The Street’ in stocking feet but with a full heart. God is so amazing!

New Testament Fellowship Assembly

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Positioning himself on his knees in prayer, John Harris prophesied to the gathered New Testament Fellowship Assembly at LifeGate on Friday night, May 20th, “ ‘From this position my Church shall be elevated’ says the Lord.”

Vaughn Martin followed this word with a teaching from Isaiah chapter 6.. Uzziah, king of Judah, became very successful and in his success he arrogantly entered the temple to offer sacrifices and was stricken by God with leprosy. In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah found himself in a heavenly temple. He knew that as an unclean man in a holy temple he would suffer the same fate as King Uzziah. He would be killed. However the fire that could have killed him actually cleansed him. The Holy Spirit has been poured out as fire to cleanse us of our fear of man and our love of money. In the book of Acts, Peter, who at the crucifixion had been afraid of the words of a servant girl, was transformed by the fire of God to a boldness that confronted the nation with the gospel of the resurrected Jesus. And the early Christians were so cleansed by the fire of the Holy Spirit from their love of money that they sold everything that they had and gave it to the poor. May this Holy fire of the Holy Spirt baptize and cleanse us.

Alejandro Colendres followed with the word, “ When you look out your window into the world, ‘What do you see?” You see brokenness and despair and bondage and devastation. The next question is “What are you going to do about what you see out your window?” Yes, start in prayer and in allowing the fire of the Holy Spirit to cleanse you, but then ‘Rise Up and Do Something!” You must Do Something! Go into the streets and embrace people with the love and power of God.

In the final part of the service, Alejandro demonstrated his teaching by moving into the congregation with embraces and prayers and strong prophetic words. The Spirit of God came on the assembly as the apostles moved among the believers praying and prophesying under the power of the Holy Spirit. Hearts were mended, bodies were healed and prisoners were set free.

Sonya Pena and the worship team were like the angels crying “Holy is the Lord,” as the fire of God swept though the congregation.

Yes,” the Lord is Good. The Lord is Good and his mercy endures to each generation.” Blessed be the name of the Lord.

India (Part 8)

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Alex arranged for Marita and me to conduct today’s seminar attired in garments traditional for Kerala. Here I am attired in the dhoti, a rectangular piece of cloth wrapped around the waist at least twice and knotted at the waist(ours had velcro). It feels cool but you have to develop the knack and lack of inhibition involved in lifting your ‘skirt’ to facilitate your ease of walking.

Our seminar today was in a church of the Indian Pentecostal Church of God, the largest indigenous Pentecostal denomination in India. The language was Malayalam. Several of Alex’s relatives are ministers in this denomination. We were warmly received.

We left at 8:30 pm after the Wednesday evening service to travel approximately 2.5 hours over mountain roads to the Kochin airport for our 4:20 am departure for home on the Etihad airline.

We had a very productive trip. Thanks be to God. Marita and I are both eager to get home following this two week trip. (Marita and Todd’s 20th anniversary was the 16th)

 

Coptic Connections

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It feels as though God is doing a new thing when the leaders of the local Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church invited a team of us from LifeGate to address their youth on ‘living a holy life in an unholy culture.’

Through presentations, testimonies and panel discussions, seven of us from LifeGate shared with the full house what it means to follow the Holy Spirit in a culture where many choose to follow the desires of the flesh rather than the direction of the Holy Spirit. It is apparent that whatever one’s cultural background, choosing to follow Jesus places you into a countercultural position.

We met tonight at the Coptic Church. We will be meeting again tomorrow, November 28th, from 5-8 pm. Tonight we dealt with issues of sexuality and tomorrow we deal with addictions, including drugs, alcohol and pornographhy.

May these new relationships yield much fruit for the Kingdom.C

Promised Land Inheritance at His Gates

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From Mt Pisgah’s Lofty Heights

I returned from India this past Friday evening and then Ruth and I flew from Baltimore to Asheville, N. C. to spend the weekend with John and Camrin Harris and the congregation which they pastor called “His Gates”. We participated in the commissioning of two elders, a worship leader and a church planting husband and wife team.

John and Camrin, members of New Testament Fellowship of Churches, have blessed many of us with their accurate and life-giving prophetic giftings. When I discern God’s leading for a certain issue in my life and ministry, I will often call John for his perspective. He freely shares what he is sensing from God for me. At other times he will call or text me with a dream or revelation God has given him for me or for the church.

On a memorable day in his late twenties, John was immediately and dramatically delivered by a personal encounter with Jesus Christ from severe, disabling addictions. God filled him with the Holy Spirit and powerfully gifted him for ministry. God has used this humble, unpretentious man to minister life to the high and mighty as well as to the lowly that others might easily overlook.

Vaughn,our son, has valued John’s training of the students in the Ukunda Mission School on how to experience and walk in the gifts of the Spirit.

Through my relationship with John, I have developed a greater appreciation for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the gift of prophecy, in the life of the church.

As Paul says in I Corinthians 14: 1-3 : “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy… The one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.”

This one year old ‘His Gates’ congregation consists of people hungry for the things of God. The congregation meets Saturday evenings from 7- 10 pm for their weekly worship services. The presence of God is treasured above all things. Services are often characterized by signs, wonders and miracles. People from religious traditions that do not place the same value on the manifestations of the Holy Spirit often attend the services and subsequently carry new life with them wherever they go. Thus this congregation is impacting the entire Asheville region and beyond.

On this weekend Ruth and I came to know the wonderful group of people God has placed around John and Camrin in leadership. These people pursue an intimate relationship with Jesus, walk in the giftings of the Holy Spirit and humbly seek to follow the direction of the Holy Spirit in daily life, be it sharing faith with someone in the grocery store or graciously forgiving an injustice. And further God has given this team a genuine unity and mutual respect and love for one another.

I was honored and humbled to participate as a bishop in this commissioning service in which these leaders humbly committed themselves to serve Christ and His church whatever it may cost.

John and Camrin are effectively multiplying themselves in the teams and leaders they are training through their ministry at His Gates.

On Sunday afternoon John and Camrin and their foster son Jeremiah, took us on a drive ,through the breathtaking expanse of Pisgah National Forest. (Pisgah was named after Mt. Pisgah where Moses was taken by God to view the Promised Land).

We did feel that our time with the His Gates Congregation gave us a greater view of our ‘promised land’ inheritance in Jesus Christ.

Doctorate for PC Alexander

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The Bible says in Romans 12:10 that we should take delight in honoring one another. I took delight today in honoring my friend P. C. Alexander by participating in the granting to him of an Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree and by participating in his ordination as a Bishop. He can now be referred to as Dr. P. C. Alexander, Bishop of PTL India.  

His humility does appear intact as he is most of all focused on the ultimate honor: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joys of thy Lord. “

Whirlwind Trip to India

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Bishop Stephen on the left; Alex on the right.

WHY DID I GO TO INDIA FOR THIS WHIRLWIND TRIP

These are difficult times for the Christian church in India. The entire Christian Church in India represents 3% of the population. ( Hindus represent 80% and Muslims represent 13%). However 3% of the 1.2 billion population of Indian still represents millions of people.

Radical Hindus in India often view Christians as agents of the West with an assignment to change the culture. These Hindu activists are predicting that within a few years they will achieve their goal to eliminate Christianity from India and restore India to its fully Hindu roots. The present government in India, the world’s largest democracy, has alliances with the radical Hindus. Consequently the government often does not effectively respond, turning a “deaf ear and blind eye”, when churches are burned or pastors and church members are persecuted for their Christian faith.

Historically following India’s independence from Britain in 1947, the Anglican Church had a recognized position with the Indian government.. By contrast the rapidly growing Evangelical/ Pentecostal churches were organized originally as independent societies without the legal definition as churches. As a consequence they often needed to get someone from a church within the Anglican tradition to give legal validation to their marriages.

As pressure develops against the church, the independent evangelical/pentecostal churches found that there was a need for more administrative structure for their own protection. Thus they attempted to position themselves within the administrative structures recognized by the government for churches so as to have the legitimate support of those structures, as long as such positioning did not lead to compromise of their faith and values. Recently Evangelical/ Pentecostal churches have formed organizations which meet government specifications and give participating pastors an administrative structure with legal authorization to legitimize marriage ceremonies and to do the other functions of church life.

One of these organizations is called CEFI (Churches Episcopal Fellowship International). CEFI organizes pastors in dioceses with bishop oversight. Pastors must have passed basic theological studies. Thus CEFI offers independent pastors the opportunity to be organized under one administrative umbrella. Pastors credentialed by CEFI are recognized by the state and have a certain protection from the State. Although CEFI uses an episcopal administrative structure , the CEFI doctrine and mission remains fully evangelical/pentecostal. This CEFI administrative structure relates to how pastors and churches relate to the State and does not involve itself in the administration or control of the church apart from the state relationship.

For over ten years I have partnered with PTL-India, a church with over 20,000 baptized believers and organized in 100 congregations. This network of churches, primary/secondary schools and a college was founded and directed by my good friend and brother, P.C. Alexander (“Alex”). I chair a board which represents the interests of PTL-India in the States. this board is called PTL India Partners.

Recently I learned that P.C. Alexander and his pastors were thinking of joining CEFI. Alex asked me to pray and participate with his leaders in the discernment process. As we sought to hear the mind of the Lord, it became clear that God was calling PTL India to join CEFI. The leaders of CEFI share the same heart and vision for missions as do the leaders of PTL India. I met and interacted with the bishops and leaders of CEFI. I found them to be men of prayer, of faith, of love and of good works. They have a love for and commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord which makes them immediately recognizable as brothers. I was honored to have learned to know them.

CEFI is a servant of the Church and will in no way be involved in the administration or control of PTL india. PTL India churches, as well as other churches in CEFI, continue to be “evangelical/ pentecostal from ‘head to toe’.”

Membership in CEFI will give participating pastors in PTL India the ‘legal identity’ as pastors with credentials authorizing them to legitimize marriages and perform the other duties of a pastor. This membership will also provide the opportunity for PTL India pastors to relate to an even broader network of evangelical/pentecostal pastors throughout India.

Tonight I will represent Kingdom Life Network (KLN), the global network of churches of which PTL India is a member. in a credentialing service. I will participate with the Leaders of CEFI, as they credential the pastors of PTL-Inda. Tomorrow I will participate in the ordination of Alex as a bishop within CEFI.

I came to India because, as one Indian brother said, “You have a heart in the shape of India.” I was eager to stand with Alex in this time of discernment and decision making. I wanted to insure along with Alex, that this new association with CEFI would in no way compromise the ministry and calling of PTL India. I praise God for the clarity He gave to move forward with confidence. And I praise God for the way He prepares and connects His people for even greater fruitfulness in this time of the great end-time Harvest.

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