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.

Post-Election Reflections

Post Election Reflections

Then Daniel praised the God of heaven. He said, “Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. Daniel 2:19- 21

God says, “Don’t raise your fists! Don’t raise your fist in defiance at the heavens or speak with such arrogance. For no one on earth– from east or west, or even from the wilderness- should raise a defiant fist. It is God alone who judges; He decides who will rise and who will fall. Psalms 75:4-7.

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. Romans 13:1-2.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. I Timothy 2:1-3.

Let us pray that our current leaders and the newly elected leaders will create and maintain an order in the house of the State that allows God’s people to freely be the hands and feet of God to all people regardless of their immigration status, their orientation, their race or their choices. It is my observation that the Church, although it has often failed in its calling to do the above, is better equipped than the State to show sacrificial love and compassion to those in need.

Let us rise up in this hour with renewed determination to lay down our lives for the wellbeing of those God brings into our lives. “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion– how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. I John 3:16-18.

Yellowstone (Part 3)

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Reflections From Our Recent Trip to the Yellowstone

It strained my ability to be present to “this moment”when I observed my three grandsons Josiah, Justus and Jobe, ages 17, almost 13 and 10 respectively, watching a YouTube video on Minecraft one evening after a day in Yellowstone.

We were in a beautiful house in the Jackson Hole area of Wyoming, a perfect setting after a perfect day. Why would anyone want to bring Minecraft into this setting?

I admit I knew little about Minecraft and I had absolutely no interest in learning more about it. From the little I did know, I would have been happy to have had my grandsons all abandon the game and commit themselves to Bible study or something positive like that.

The next morning in our time of reflection and anticipation I brought up the topic of Minecraft.

Forcing myself to be interested and to keep my opinions to myself, I asked each of my grandsons to describe the game and to tell what appealed to them about the game.

Apparently Minecraft is like a digital 3-D sandbox in which you have certain basic tools which you can later enhance in type and effectiveness in order to create your own world with buildings and even cities, while maintaining your health and protecting yourself against enemies.

The game can be played alone or you can play with friends you know or with new friends you meet on the internet who are into the game. The game is ongoing as is construction in a sandbox. You can create your world day after day as long as someone does not destroy your creation.

Josiah gave an example from the game of being dropped into a wilderness setting and having 12 minutes to develop a protective shelter, find food and arrange for a light source to disperse the demons of the night.

The game was developed by a Swede known on line as “Notch”. The game has been wildly successful with 40 million players. Two years ago Microsoft bought the intellectual rights to the game for over 2 billion dollars.

My grandsons found differing parts of the game appealing; for Jobe it was being able to construct things; for Justus it was constructing and also learning from others on YouTube how various game issues had been addressed; for Josiah it was strategy and competing with others playing the game on line.

Seeing my grandsons’ intense interest and preoccupation with the game I proceeded to learn what spiritual values there might be to this game. Sure enough, one blogger believed “Notch” to be a Christian who had developed a game based on a world of conflict between darkness and light, between good and evil, which would predispose millions of gamers to understand the basic Christian message and even receive it. I rejoiced.

But then this same blogger expressed concern that a new game developer was now in charge and that occult themes were creeping into the game. I grieved.

Another blogger, a Christian mother, wrote that when she looked in on what her sons were doing in the game she found them being unkind to one another in the game. She concluded that the best thing was for parents to get into the game and play it with their children.

“Oh, great,” I thought, “Does this mean I need to start playing Minecraft in order to have a meaningful relationship with my grandchildren?”

“I refuse. I am not interested. I am too busy. I have more important things to do.”

But then I remembered that God took the time to become incarnate in my world because of His great love for us.

Well, I do love my grandchildren, so I will enter their world. I will learn about Minecraft and discuss their experiences and values. I will come along side them, especially should they ask me.

I will applaud them in playing their own game even as God does not control us but gives us the freedom to play our own game, though he gives us counsel and power to play it in a way which honors Him.

Maybe that is what a grandparent is: an observer, a sometimes participant, the story teller and the bridge between the generations. And the one who carries the wellbeing of both generations deep within his heart and prayers.

Yellowstone (Part 2)

yellowstone-2

Perspectives

I saw a log; they saw a canoe. I saw a picturesque setting for contemplation; they saw a place for grand adventure. I saw risk of danger of the log falling on someone’s head ; they saw possibility of challenge and excitement.

I chose to make their reality mine.

The maturing of a grandfather.

Yellowstone (Part One)

yellowstone-1

It was in January that my grandson, Josiah, age 16, said, “I would like to go to Yellowstone National Park.”

I responded, “If you read four books that I recommend and give me a report on them, I will take you.”

Before the end of the conversation his father Chauncey and my other son-in-law, Todd and his two sons, Justus, age 13 and Jobe, age 10 had all indicated their interest in reading the books and going to Yellowstone.

(The four books were: “Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness”, and “Everything You Wanted to Know About God But Were Afraid to Ask”, both by Eric Metaxas and “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripken, and the biblical book of “Daniel”. )

So this past Friday morning we flew out of Baltimore for Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

I said to Josiah as the six of us were driving through Lamar Valley just yesterday, “What was it that made you say that you wanted to go to Yellowstone?

He responded, “This!”

I pondered his answer for a moment and then realized it was both simple and profound.

“This” is what we had planned for, anticipated and now were experiencing: the bears, the bison, the elk, the moose, the antelope, the big horn sheep and the fox pouncing on his prey. “This” was observing in awe the Old Faithful Geyser, the new lake created by the Madison River Canyon Earthquake of 1959, the thermal springs and swimming in sub freezing temperatures in the warm Gardener River fed by the Boiling River. “This”was hiking for seven miles and swimming in an isolated water pool in the Lamar River.

And “This” was the “present” as opposed to the past and the future.

I will admit that at times I struggled to be present. My mind kept going to the future, to things I must do; expectations I must meet. My wife, knowing the pressures I was facing had encouraged me to be present and not to detach.

But this morning at breakfast in a little mountain cafe, surrounded by mountains partly obscured by the newly falling snow, I sat with the five people I love very much and we shared about how we maintain faith in the midst of trials.

Josiah had started the conversation but we all joined in. Tears flowed as faith stories were shared.

Then I realized that “This” is it. “This” is being truly present to one another and sensing that God is present with us in that moment; And that God is placing His benediction on the present moment- “‘This’ is the day of the Lord’s favor. “

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!!!

Happy Birthday, Ruth

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Happy Birthday, Ruth.

I started out being quite insecure and uncertain about many things. God in His mercy gave you to me to help me become what He wanted me to be, a work still in progress.

He knew I would need a lot of encouragement, patience and love. And you have given me these in abundance.

I bless the day you were born and they said “It is a girl and her name is Ruth”. And I bless the day now over 51 years ago that you said, “I will!”

And I bless this your birthday when we have both surpassed the “three score years and ten” and we both have finally come to see that our age does not define us but we are defined by “every word and every promise that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

And I would propose to you again.

Elisa

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When your life with God begins with a miracle at age 11, what is your life with Him like eight years later when you’re in the middle of college, dating, and the busyness of life? That is what I want to learn from my 18, almost 19-year-old, Belgian granddaughter, Elisa, in our hike through the Ardennes mountains.

At age 11 Elisa said to her parents one day, “I don’t know if there is a God, because he never speaks to me.”

Her parents responded, “Why don’t you take your new guitar and go to your room and worship, because God often speaks as we worship him.”

Sometime later Elisa came back from her room with a big smile and stated to her parents, “God spoke to me: He gave me a song, the words and the music.” She played the song as her mother and father listened through their tears.

Shortly thereafter Elisa was assigned to give a talk in school about an object . She informed her parents she would talk about her guitar and play ‘Yankee Doodle.’

Her father said, “Why don’t you play the song that the Lord gave you?”

She responded, “I could never do that; I am the only Christian in my class; everyone would laugh at me.”

Her father then encouraged her to go to her room and pray for boldness.

She immediately went to her room to pray. She was soon joined by her younger sister Ruby, and they joined together in fervent prayer for boldness. After an hour of prayer she informed her parents that she would play her song at school.

On the appointed day after giving her talk about her guitar she stated that she had a song that she plays at her church. Her teacher invited her to play it.

Elisa closed her eyes tightly and sang loudly so she would not lose her courage. When she opened her eyes, the teacher was crying as were many of the students. The teacher said “That is so beautiful; why don’t you bring your guitar every day and we will sing together as a class?”

This became an almost daily ritual for the rest of the school year.

Elisa’s faith grew stronger as the years went by. She composed more music; she produced an album of her music, and she was invited to sing at country music concerts where the secular participants joined in singing, “Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.”

This past year has been very demanding. Elisa expects a lot of herself and is very careful and detailed in her work. As a consequence she placed at the top of her class in graphic design college.

However, as we walked together, she admitted that in order to achieve this success, she put everything into her studies and in so doing she sacrificed time with God, her boyfriend and her family.

“Now,” she continued, “I have the satisfaction and acclaim of having done well in college in my first year, but I long for the intimacy of my relationship with Jesus again. It has been over a year since I have written a worship song.”

“I want to open my heart again. I want to find a way to balance my life in the coming year and years so that I don’t push the really important things aside as I did this past year.”

As we walked together, I found myself praying, “Oh, Lord, give Elisa the desire of her heart, and while you’re at it, give me at age 72, the desire of my heart, that we can both find the way to daily nourish our intimacy with you so that You are the inspiration and direction for all we do. “

So I conclude this time with Elisa with the firm conviction that what brought the first miracle brings every miracle, the passionate desperate cry, “Oh God, please ….”

For You did say, “Ask you and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened unto you.”

Ruby

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“Do you know my story, Grandpa?” Ruby my 16 year old granddaughter asked.

“Well, parts of it.” I answered, catching my balance as we descended a mountain trail in the Ardennes.

As I turned to face Ruby, memories associated with this vibrant young woman flooded my mind. I remembered the time as a three-year-old when Ruby almost died of febrile convulsions. (My son reminds me that I learned of this accident during a bishop board meeting and that I led my fellow bishops in prayer, crying out, “Let me die, not her.” When my son later questioned my theology, I informed him that grandparents may not be the best theologians.)

I remembered how Ruby as a fifth grader was quickly developing skills as a gymnast. But a severe concussion and coma from a playground accident changed that trajectory, and she decided that she would become a nurse.

I recalled Ruby as a skilled horsewoman, as a sometimes saxophonist and recently as an archery competitor.

And, of course, I knew Ruby as friendly, outgoing and often the center of good times.

But I knew there was more to learn so I responded, “Yes, parts of it;” grabbing on to a branch to slow my descent. “But, tell me more.”

Ruby began, “Well, several years ago I found myself very much enjoying and being influenced by my friends, subtly drifting away from my Christian values.

“Then at a youth group retreat I had a powerful encounter with the loving heavenly Father. He changed my heart; He changed everything. He gave me a freedom to express myself among my friends. If my friends disagree with me, I do not let it trouble me; I just continue expressing God’s love to them.

“Recently a teacher came to me and said with a big smile that she would always remember me because of what happened last year in class. The teacher had said, ‘Oh,God!’ And I immediately said, ‘Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vain.’

“On another occasion a Muslim boy told a friend, ‘I want to talk to that Protestant girl (as distinguished from Catholic) because I have been reading the Bible and I want to discuss with her what it means.’

“My fellow students and I have discovered that if on occasion we want a break from lectures, we can engage a teacher in discussion. On one such occasion I said, ‘Let’s have a discussion about evolution.’ My fellow students groaned and said, ‘There goes Ruby again.’ One such discussion lasted for over an hour. The teacher asked me why I did not believe in evolution. I responded that I find it more satisfying to believe that I was created by a loving heavenly Father than that I evolved from a monkey. The teacher was so amazed by this that he contacted me again to continue the discussion.

“Several times on my way to school, I encountered some people who are part of a religious cult. I discussed this with my youth leader, and I studied the tenets of their beliefs. The next time I met them, we carried on a conversation and then I asked if I could pray for them. They refused, stating that I would not use the right words. After learning the ‘right words’ I said I could include those words in my prayer. But they still refused.

“But my best story happened recently. I was facing my final 11th grade English exam. It was an oral exam and I needed to be prepared to tell a story and to report on a book. I asked the teacher if I could report on the Bible; she responded that she wanted me to read and report on another book in that She felt I was too familiar with the Bible. I persisted, asking if I could report on a book and still discuss the Bible if there was time. The teacher agreed.

“In the exam I started off by giving the story of how God’s love impacted me. At the end the teacher said ‘I hope what you say is true.’

“Then I asked her if I could pray for her. She seemed somewhat taken aback but agreed. So I prayed that her ‘hope would become a certainty’ for her. She thanked me for the prayer. I later learned that she had given me an ‘A’ in the exam. “

As I reflected on my conversation with Ruby, I realized that she is a climate changer . She enters a ‘space’ and immediately declares that Jesus (not the latest pop singer, actor or athlete) is very important to her. This creates an atmosphere in which faith in Christ is “in the air.” Then people have the freedom to either agree or disagree. But even in disagreeing they are still thinking about faith.

May the contagious faith and love of Ruby help ignite a youth movement in Europe.

And may grandfathers, such as I, become less self-aware as we abandon ourselves anew to our great calling as ‘climate changers.’

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