Paraguay (Part 3)

paraguay-3

As most of you know, who follow my posts, the Ukunda Missionary Training School in Kenya, founded by my son Vaughn and his team has now entered its fourth year of classes. God’s blessing has been on this school in great measure. Pastors in other countries have now asked Vaughn to consider starting a similar school in their countries. Plans are presently being made by Vaughn and team to start schools in the Congo and in Tanzania within the next two years.

In the midst of this planning we learned of a facility in Paraguay which was developed to house a missionary training school. However the brother, who constructed the buildings, died before he was able to fully implement his training program. We at first, upon learning of the potential availability of this facility, had no interest in pursuing this situation in light of our other commitments .

However in prayer, God revealed to Vaughn and his team that He wanted them to start a missionary training program, considering the possibly of using this site, and utilizing the model they had developed in Kenya. He further instructed them to work with churches in Paraguay in developing a missions movement that would work with the missionaries trained in this program. The vision is to train missionaries from all over the region, Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia in cross cultural missions and to send them out into the region and then into the uttermost parts of the world.

One might ask, “Does it make sense for you to start a missionary training school in Paraguay at this time?” When God speaks, you do not say, “Well, if makes sense and I can find a way, I will do it.” Rather you say, “God, if you say so, I will do it with my whole heart confident that you are ‘pro’ the vision and will ‘pro’vide what is needed to fulfill the vision.” In other words, by faith I must allow the word received in prayer to shape the reality of what I do, rather than allowing my sense of reality to define, limit, and shape what God said to me in prayer.

So with the prayerful confidence that God would go before us and prepare people who would respond to the vision, Don and I set off for this week in Paraguay. We were simply seeking to connect with people who would be open to hearing about the vision and who would consider sending students to the school. I knew no one in Paraguay except Eloise Gwinn the widow of Richard Gwinn the founder of the training school in Escobar, Paraguay. We had been given the names of several church leaders whom we were to meet in the Filadelfia area of the Chaco. Apart from that we were totally dependent on God-ordained encounters.

And God has ordained “heart connections’. Within minutes we have seen total strangers become friends who are open to the vision. Sometimes our approach would be as simple as saying to a stranger at a store or at our motel, “Do you speak English?” In the ensuing conversation, following an affirmative response, we would discover that they shared our Christian faith. In several cases they would then invite us to their homes for extended conversations. Finally after hours of sharing, sometimes with tears, we would exchange contact information promising to stay in touch.

Today we had a two hour conversation with a pastor in Asuncion who a number of years ago started a ministry to provide sex education lectures for public schools throughout Paraguay and other countries. They and their team have spoken from a Christian perspective to hundreds of thousands of students. This pastor and his wife are open to us sending teams to share the vision with them and other Christin leaders. They also had suggestions of persons whom they thought would be ready and even eager for training such as we are offering.

As Don and I now prepare to fly out of Asuncion at 2 am Wednesday to arrive at Dulles at 2:30 pm, our hearts are filled with joy and thankfulness to God for the God-ordained connections throughout the trip. We consider each connection a gift to be treasured. This trip further convinces us that God is in this work and will unfold each step before us as we take steps of faith to obey Him.

Paraguay (Part 2)

paraguay-2

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.

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.

Survivor’s Guilt

survivors-guilt

How does one handle ‘survivors guilt’?

We just completed a great week at the Ukunda Missions School. Vaughn and I and his leadership team are in a two day planning retreat at Chale Island. The setting is beautiful and God is moving us into clarity and unity about next steps.

But then I hear from Ruth and read on line about the historic snow storm back home. I am writing this at 3 am as the waves at high tide crash against the shore, spraying me with their mist. This spot is perfect but I struggle to be present to the beauty of this moment for my mind and heart are back in the States at a home alone Old Hershey Road.

Will Ruth and everyone else be safe? She says they are fine. She will wait till tomorrow to determine if the snow blower will work properly. I am believing God for everyone’s safety.

So should I delight that I have escaped the biggest snow storm of the last 100 years or should I feel some vaugue mixture of guilt that I am not home, mixed with regret that I will never be able to say, “I lived through the Storm of 2016.”

Whatever I should feel, I do feel something of all of the above.

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11-13:

“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content….For I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

So thank God, He enables us to enjoy Him whether we are in a blizzard or on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

The Gift of Presence

presence

I have spent 40 years learning and practicing psychiatry. And I have spent a lifetime learning to know and to follow Jesus Christ. For at least part of my career I think that I tried to allow psychiatry to inform my faith. But now I would say that my faith informs and shapes my psychiatry. In other words I ask, “How does God see psychiatry?” and not “How does psychiatry see God?”.

This week I am teaching students at the Ukunda Missions School who are training as missionaries. The students are passionate about sharing their faith in Christ with those as yet unreached with the Gospel. They have sacrificed having families, or in some cases being with their families, in order to follow God’s call into missions. And they have sacrificed their desire for jobs and successful careers. It is as though they are, with Moses, esteeming the reproach they may receive for following and preaching Christ to be of greater value than the treasures this world has to offer.

As I face the students each day, I know that these young people, in their twenties, thirties and forties, are prepared to suffer and even to die for Christ. So I find myself praying, “God, of all the things you have shown me in my lifetime, including the things you have taught me from psychiatry, what is most important for me to share in these five days?”

It is rather like “special forces training.” I want these highly motivated young people to be equipped in every way for effective participation in the most glorious task of laboring and even dying in God’s harvest field. But time is short and we must impart the most essential elements.

I have sensed that my part has to do with helping the students become ‘incarnate’ to others even as Christ laid aside his glory and took on human form. The challenge is to lay aside our entitlements, our preferences and our prejudgements and to truly enter into the experience of another so that they can say, “Yes, you have understood me; yes, you have loved me. Now speak to me.”

Years ago one of my mentors, an atheist psychiatrist, said, “Our patients most value the gift of our ‘presence’ to them. They are willing to offer good money for that.” And for money I am willing to attempt to be fully present to my patients. But with those closest to me I often allow distractions to take me away from being fully present and truly listening to the needs of their hearts.

So I am using the Gospel of John chapters 13-17 as the foundation of my special forces training on “Servant Love.”

Amani

amani-guesthouse

On my way to Ukunda to teach for a week in the Ukunda Mission School.

Spent the night at Amani Gardens Inn, a beautiful oasis in a Nairobi region booming with new construction.

The password for the Wifi was a clue that this Inn used to be known as the Mennonite Guest House. The password was Zurich followed by a date in the fifteen hundreds when the Mennonite Church was born.

I felt connected when Lillian, the gracious Kenyan manager at the front desk, both knew the origins of the password and knew my son Vaughn, founder of Ukunda Mission School and a not infrequent guest at Amani Gardens.

The assistant to the manager had no clue as to the origins of the password. So I proceeded to give him a free lecture in Anabaptist history. And he gave me a free lecture on the meaning of Amani (peace).

Fishers of Men

fishers-of-menI feel as though I have been traveling in the biblical book of Acts this week with a flow of reports of signs, wonders and miracles. I have been talking with persons, many of whom a year and a half ago were unclear about their direction in life. During their training at Ukunda Missions School (UMS) they received input from teachers from all over the world and they received practical training in evangelism during which they saw hundreds come to the Lord through their efforts. Following the seven month training at UMS they were energized and anointed by the Holy Spirit to go to the nations of the world with the Gospel.

Ten of these first year graduates are now missionaries working from four bases established along the eastern coast of Kenya. The missionaries pray over the town, connect with the town elders and then systematically make door to door visits. They then establish house fellowships for Discovery Based Bible Study. There has been an abundant response to their efforts.

The missionaries gave reports of supernatural healing. One missionary was pondering how he could communicate with a man he just met. He noted that the man was blind and needed to be led everywhere. The missionary sensed that God wanted to heal this man. He asked the man and his family if he could pray for him, assuring them that God could heal him. I will pray in Jesus name.”

They said,“No problem, just pray.”

The missionary prayed, “Oh Lord in Jesus name, I speak healing. He is blind but I know you will heal him in Jesus name.” Although the blind man was not immediately healed, the missionary left with joy and confidence that the Lord would answer his prayer.

The next day the missionary was located by the man’s brother who informed him that his brother could now see and could move around the house to take care of his daily business without being led, for the first time in 17 years. Subsequent to this, the man who had been blind and his brother became followers of Jesus.

Another missionary on a house to house visit asked a stranger if she could speak with her. The woman responded that she did not wish to talk about Jesus. The missionary responded, “ Could you give me a minute to tell you what I wish to talk about and then you can decide if you wish to talk further based on what I have said.”

The woman agreed and the missionary shared briefly; however this led to a prolonged conversation which ended with the woman praying to receive Jesus. The missionary then prayed over her and left.

Several days later the missionary learned from a contact on the street that this new Christian was trying to find her to inform her that when she prayed to receive Christ earlier that week she had at the same time been healed of a chronic bleeding disorder of one year’s duration. The missionary had not known of the bleeding disorder at the time of the prayer for salvation.

The missionaries joyfully reported the day by direction by the Holy Spirit and empowerment to do things they had never thought possible. They pray about every step, “Lord show us which houses to visit today; show us what to say…” And God intimately guides those who cast the details of their lives upon Him.

As I spoke with the missionaries I recalled Paul’s words that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise and He has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty…” These missionaries whom I last saw a year ago at their graduation are now mighty in word and deed under the training and guidance of the Holy Spirit. They go everywhere preaching the Gospel.

“We have the favor of God; we are called to posses the Land; we have no fear!”, proclaimed one of the missionaries.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Pro-vision for the Vision

UkundaPro-vision for the Vision

It is an awesome responsibility to have fifteen people, ages 22 to 60, from all walks of life come to Ukunda Missions School (UMS) to train for seven months to become missionaries to the Moslem nations of the world. Some of the students have been street boys; some are pastors; some are medical doctors. Some are fathers and mothers with young children. Some have college and university education; some have not finished high school. Some have adequate resources; others are trusting God to somehow supply the very modest school fees of $350 (which includes room and board) for the seven month training program.

But all the students are convinced they were divinely directed to UMS and that there is no other place in the world that they would rather be. They have put aside all other work and responsibilities and have ‘placed themselves on God’s altar’ with one passionate request;, “Lord, speak to me! Speak to me; and I will do whatever you direct me to do, even though it costs me my life.”

The students are taught to hear the voice of God and to walk in the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit with miracles, signs and wonders following. They are taught to live in community with love and holiness. They are taught to trust God in impossible situations. They are taught to pray for boldness to take the Gospel into places hostile to the Gospel. And they are sent our two by two as ‘lambs among wolves’ in multiple mission assignments across Kenya throughout the months of the training program.

Last year’s class, (the first graduating class, graduating in April 2014) saw hundreds come to the Lord throughout the seven months of their training program. Four bases were established in four different locations, to disciple these new believers and plant house churches. Each base is staffed by at least two graduates from last year’s class. These staff are given a monthly stipend from the school to cover their living expenses. Angel, a young woman graduate from last year has developed a deep burden for the young early teenage girls of her base-town whose families see marriage at this young age as the only option for their daughters in that they have no way to provide for them. Angel is recruiting resources to take the whole gospel to these girls and provide training that will help them delay sexual involvements and marriage and will help them to get their high school education.

Vaughn Martin, founder and director of the UMS, counts himself greatly blessed by the high quality leadership team that God has placed around him. These are multi-gifted persons of great commitment to the vision who have made great personal sacrifice to be a part of the ministry. (Often people are attracted to a new work by what they hope to get financially from the work; but for these men participation in the ministry has come at significant sacrifice of business and income opportunities.). The team includes Mbali a building contractor who is now pastoring the newly formed Ukunda Missions Church. Mbali is a wise leader who is respected for his compassionate involvement with people in the Muslim community surrounding the school. Katana is the third person of the administrative team. He had an electronics repair business and led a family gospel band. Katana is a powerful worship leader and he is now school administrator. Vaughn’s team spends significant time daily listening for God’s direction for dealing with issues and for discerning next steps. Even ideas which seem intuitively good on the face of things, are laid before the Lord for His answer. God has blessed this style of careful listening for His direction with success far beyond what anyone would have imagined in this first year and a half of the school’s existence.

Vaughn has drawn teaching faculty from across Kenya and around the world. Dr.Solomon is the capable professor of Moslem evangelism. He has very effectively led teams into areas in Kenya where the gospel has never been preached. In one of these areas, the village leader, an imman, asked the UMS to start a school for their village so the children do not have to cross a crocodile infested river to go to school.

Other teachers include an American couple living in Kenya who teach a one week course reviewing basic Bible Doctrines. They also, at the same time, train the students in how to teach this course to others. Alejandro leader of a large network of churches in America teaches at least a week on power evangelism. John Harris of North Carolina who moves with a prophetic gifting, trains the students in activating and walking in the gifts of the Spirit. He also ministers prophetically to each student. Joa Ephraim of Belgium teaches on team ministry and church planting.

I teach a one week course on “Creating a Culture of Blessing.” I train the students in how to hear the voice of God and in how to create a space so that those they are ministering to can hear the voice of God. In addition to lecturing and class exercises and demonstrations. I spend at least an hour with each student listening to their life stories and then enabling them to hear the Spirit of Truth for their life and issues. This concludes with giving each student the blessing of the Heavenly Father. God has moved in amazing ways in these experiences.

This new class of students is eagerly preparing themselves for their first missions outreach assignment. In addition to their daily class work from 9 am till 5 pm., they participate in local house churches and in weekly evangelistic meetings at the school.

The UMS administrative team is sensing that God is leading them to do some further building on the school site. They plan to construct a building to provide classrooms for the school. They also plan to construct a number of apartments for staff, students, and Muslim believers who accept the Christian faith and are then banished from their homes.

Vaughn and his team are also sensing that what they are doing is part of a move of God in releasing a new passion for missions across the church. They are sensing that they will be establishing missionary training schools across Africa similar to UMS. They are stirring up a new interest in mission in the Kenyan Church and in European Churches as well as the American Church.

The passion for this vision is fueled by the conviction that in these last days of global chaos, turmoil, violence and immorality, God is raising up an army of ‘bond servants’ who are completely committed to Jesus Christ and who are fearless in their passion to take the glorious gospel to the world. Their motto is the motto of UMS: “ They overcome by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony and by not esteeming their lives unto death.”

The rapid explosion of growth of the UMS has led to an expected increase in monthly expenses. Even though staff work for very low stipends, the number of staff has increased because of the need for persons to staff the four bases. Therefore each month the prayer is “ Lord, you gave us this vision and you blessed this vision; now we ask you to be “pro” this vision and provide the necessary ‘provisions’ to meet our obligations.”

And God has been faithful.

 

The Cry of Ishmael

The Cry of Ishmael

And God heaUmsd the cry of Ishmael ( Genesis 21:17) and sent a messenger from heaven. God continues to hear the cry of Ishmael’s descendants and again he is sending help from heaven. Within months after the Ukunda Missions School (UMS) was opened, an attractive mosque was erected on public school property within a short distance from UMS. The money for this structure was undoubtedly provided by people from other countries who wanted to strengthen the daily cries ascending to heaven from Ukunda.

Today, Friday, as I concluded a week of teaching the students of UMS on ‘Developing a Culture of Blessing’, the rains came down in heavy torrents. As I stood at the edge of the makuti (the thatched roofed, open walled structure where classes are held) and observed the heavy rain falling on the spire in the near distance, I knew that God was answering the cries of the sons and daughters of Ishmael and raising an army of men and women here at UMS who are destined to bless the nations with the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ. These are the days of the latter rains.

 

Lord, Give Us Heavenly Manna

John Harris and I arrived in Mombassa today. Drove with Vaughn and Mbali through the streets in Mombassa where a riot occurred yesterday. A Moslem cleric was killed and angry young men left the mosque where he was the senior leader and. burned a Salvation Army church about a block away. Today soldiers stood on the corner,machine guns in hand. As we drove through the streets I attempted to discreetly get some photos. But apparently I was not as subtle as I thought, for Vaughn advised me that a young man had made a threatening gesture toward me as he saw me attempting to photograph the area.

I did have a strong sense that we are in not only a natural battleground but in a spiritual war zone.

We were warmly welcomed at the Ukunda Missions School just outside Mombassa. There 23 students are just finishing the first month of a six month residential program in practical evangelism training. The students are highly motivated and unified. Just yesterday they spontaneously conducted an outreach and 15 people made decisions to become disciples of Jesus.

Today Vaughn and his team baptized six persons in the Indian Ocean. One of these had just been delivered from alcoholism. As the baptism was occurring a young man who had been with his friends at the beach came over to the ‘baptismal group’ and gave his heart to the Lord.

As I said,it is a spiritual war zone. Yes the baptism in the Indian Ocean made a pretty picture. But then you realize that as people renounce their former life with its allegiances and now covenant to follow Jesus Christ the Son of the living God, they are stirring the rage of family and friends and of Satan himself. But the God of heaven records their names as sons and daughters and releases signs and wonders and miracles including His divine protection and empowerment.

So I am on my face tonight crying out for His divine intervention. Without Him none of us can make it but with Him we can ‘plunder the Strong Man’s house. ”

So this week I and John will be teaching at the school. I have never felt such a need for ‘heavenly manna’ to share with the troops on the battlefield.

Ukunda Church

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