Mission Trips

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One of the things we encourage Christians to do to widen their horizon and learn about God’s work worldwide is to take a mission trip and experience it for themselves. For some, it’s an eye-opening and heart-opening experience that they will not learn even if they have been Christians for years, had they stayed within the confines of their own church. For others, it changed the direction of their life mission such that they become outward instead of inward focused. At the very least, many become more supportive of missions, both in terms of prayer and finances.

Yet some remain hesitant, feeling that they are not gifted evangelistically, nor are they bible teachers, so what could they offer? This is a common misunderstanding about the nature of mission trips, about what they can give as opposed to what they can learn from such an experience. True, if you know how to share the gospel and can nurture young believers, that would be a great contribution toward a mission team. However, what the participant receive from the trip is just as important. We expect team members to be learners, not experts who are there to solve all the problems their hosts are facing. Expertise is good, but not essential to the success of the endeavor.

Mark 4 26-27 a

In the Parable of the seed:
* Mk 4:26-29 And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

All the man did was to cast seeds and put in the sickle, presumably watering in between. But how the crop grows, he did not know. It grew by itself. Similarly our job is to sow and harvest, we don’t need to know everything. God grows the harvest naturally.

1 Corinthians 3 7-9

Within the Church:
* 1 Co 3:6-9 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Some sow, some nurture, but God causes the growth. What each individual member does is not the most important thing. What’s important is that we are God’s fellow workers, and God will cause the growth. So don’t get too hung up about your particular ministry. As all of us do our part, the work will get done collectively.

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Let me conclude by quoting Neil Maxwell, “God does not begin by asking us about our ability, but only about our availability, and if we then prove our dependability, He will increase our capability.” Are you available? If you are, He is able. Prove yourself dependable. He will make you capable.

Satan’s Schemes

As we visited mission fields in three continents, we noticed that while the missionaries worked very hard to advance God’s kingdom, Satan worked just as hard to tear their work down.

* 2 Co 2:11 so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
* Eph 6:11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.

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One of the schemes he used very effectively is to spread strife, to divide and conquer:
* Prov 6:14 Who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, Who spreads strife.
* Prov 6:19 A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.
* Prov 16:28 A perverse man spreads strife, And a slanderer separates intimate friends.

There is a Chinese proverb (鹬蚌相争,渔翁得利) which tells a story about a clam sunning himself on the beach. A sandpiper comes along, sees the open clam and a big meal waiting, tries to pick her fleshy dinner. The clam quickly closes his shell to protect himself, with the sandpiper’s beak caught in between. Neither side wants to give in, until a fisherman comes along, sees them engaged in a bitter tussle, and easily captures both of them. The moral of the parable? When two parties fight, a third-party benefits.

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The devil utters lies to sow discord among brothers, separating even intimate friends. When brothers and sisters fight among themselves, Satan can just fold his arms and watch the church fall apart. She will waste her time and energy arguing over trivial issues, while important matters like evangelism, making disciples and loving one another get ignored.

house divided 7

The Lord Himself taught:
* Mk 3:25 If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. (Mt 12:25, Lk 11:17)

Yet Christians everywhere fall into Satan’s trap. Be warned. Watch and pray:
* Jn 13:35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Man Proposes, God Disposes

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I shared our mission trips with brothers and sisters at our church retreat over the long weekend. Here is the first of several bible teaching portions of our sharing. Hope they will be helpful to you.

2nd journey

Scripture
* Acts 16:6-9 They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
* Acts 16:13-14 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

Macedonia call 2

Observations
Paul and his companions were on their second missionary journey. They wanted to preach in Phrygia and Galatia (modern Central Turkey), but the Holy spirit forbade them. They then turned north-west to Mysia and Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit that either. So they went west to the coast of the Aegean Sea to Troas, where Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia (modern Greece) calling to help. From a human standpoint it seems that Paul’s mission trip was a failure, as whatever he proposed to do God over-ruled. But Paul was flexible and always followed where the Spirit led.

Paul had his strategy. He knew the best time (Sabbath day) and the place (place of prayer) to meet his prospects. But God has His plan and surprises. In the vision a man of Macedonia appealed for help, but the first convert in Europe was a woman, and the second missionary journey was a great success as the gospel made a breakthrough from Asia into Europe.

Lydia Philippi 1

Lessons
1. Man proposes, God disposes. So be flexible. You may think you have the perfect plan, but we know only so little. Do your due diligence but leave room for God to change your direction anytime. He knows best.
2. In your service to God, there will always be frustrations and setbacks, some from the enemy, some from the Lord Himself because He knew better. But a setback is a set-up for a come-back:
* 1 Pet 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;
* 1 Jn 3:13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.

3. Always follow the leading of the Spirit:
* Rom 8:14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
* Ga 5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

The Biggest Family in the World – Mully’s Children’s Family

Last Sunday we got a treat in our worship service. The Mully Children’s Family (MCF) from Kenya was taking a cross-Canada bus tour and presented in our church. The founder, Charles Mulli, had a poverty-stricken childhood, abandoned by his parents, and lived on the street between the age of 6 and 16. Then another street kid led him to Christ, and his life was changed. He worked hard, slowly turning his life around and building up his business from one taxi, then a fleet, then a bus company, then adding a transport company, a real estate and security company, and finally an insurance company.

But in 1986 his car was stolen by a gang of street kids, which led to an inner conflict between hanging onto what he had, and giving everything up to assist the street children. After 3 years of struggle between the world’s and God’s call, he finally surrendered to God and started MCF, adopting first 3 children, then five, taking them into his home and treating them like his own children. That was 27 years ago. Through this period he and his wife had taken over 10,000 children under their wings. Some had “graduated” and started family of their own, but currently over 2,000 still live with them, getting a proper education and making a contribution instead of ending up broken and a drag to society.

Mt 25:40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Mulli gave back to the Lord who multiplied his ministry far more abundantly beyond all that he asked or thought (Eph 3:20). What about us? Are we willing to respond to His call?

Bribes – To Pay or Not to Pay? (2 of 2)

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(Continued from yesterday)

However, the Bible seems to condone giving a gift to expedite matters, as well as to smooth potentially disastrous situations:
Prov 17:8 A bribe is a charm in the sight of its owner; wherever he turns, he prospers.
• Prov 21:4 A gift in secret subdues anger, and a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Hebrew word “shachad” is translated both as bribes/bribery and, depending on the context, as gift/reward/present. And often the case is NOT that we slip some money to the officer in charge to grease the palm, but that the officer asks for money in return for:
• doing what he’s supposed to do as part of his job e.g. issuing your license on time, or
• not carrying out some threat e.g. finding some imaginary problem with your passport and denying you entry into his country, which could jeopardize your whole short or even long-term mission.
In essence, they are extorting you. Do you give in to their blackmail?

Before you brush these scenarios off as unrealistic or few and far in-between, let me assure you that they happen often enough to business travelers and missionaries alike. The former may have no qualms about paying and writing it off as a business expense, but what about the latter who tries to follow the Bible faithfully? What is the right thing to do? This is where the current debate lies. To give or not to give?

Those who feel that it is OK to give noted that none of the wrong motivations of giving bribes apply here. There is no trying to do something illegal e.g. smuggling in prohibited goods through paying a customs officer to turn a blind eye, or perverting justice by paying off a corrupt judge. The victim is just trying to do what is required e.g. getting a license, through proper means. The problem is with the greedy official, not the victim.

Furthermore, they pointed out that there is actually no direct Scripture that condemns giving in to such a request. Some see it as equivalent to giving a tip for services rendered. It is not mandatory, but if you tip you get faster service. Others see it as similar to giving gifts to smooth relationships. Vendors give gifts to buyers routinely as part of the cost of doing business. So long as they get the desired results and no one gets hurt, it’s OK.

But do the ends justify the means? I do not think so. First, while the fault lies primarily with the officer asking for a bribe, to comply with his demand is to participate in his wrongdoing, to become his accomplice. If there’s no giving there can be no taking a bribe. It takes two to tango. Secondly, even though there is no direct Scripture forbidding giving bribes, the nature of the transaction is that it is “under the table” because it is illegal and unethical. We should not do something in secret which we would not do in public.

I believe the tip or gift analogy do not fit. A tip is a reward for good service after it is rendered, not a demand prior to the job being done. Giving gifts is permissible in the Bible, both to establish a relationship and to appease wrath. Jacob gave a gift to Esau (Gen 33:11), Abigail gave to David (1 Sam 25:27) etc. But like a tip, giving gifts is voluntary, not coerced in a threat. So while tips and gifts are reasonable, giving bribes is not.

Even if the bribes were lawful, which they aren’t, they would not be appropriate:
1 Co 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
• 1 Co 10:23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.

Paying bribes are “profitable” only in the sense of eliminating unnecessary waiting time, but they could also be the first step down a slippery slope. If your work requires you to deal with certain officers regularly and you paid a bribe the first time, they’ll expect payment subsequently. You will be “mastered” by the illicit arrangement. Bribes also do not edify anyone, not even the recipients, because God sees their hearts as corrupt. Would a bribe testimony bring glory to God? Most certainly not! On the contrary, if we state our Christian stand boldly and politely, God is honored and we may even gain an opportunity to share the gospel.

What if it’s some issue critical to your mission like entering the country? While difficult, there are still options. Some played dumb and ignored the hint for a bribe. Others responded courteously but firmly, noting the officer’s name or badge number and asking to speak to the supervisor, which does not always work as the supervisor may be just as corrupt. Your mission may be stalled or delayed, but if you are representing God, then I would do things God’s way rather than take it into my own hands. That’s my humble opinion.

In your specific case, if I violated the traffic code I would pay the fine rather than a lesser amount to the policeman. That’s my short answer after a long-winded elaboration. Hope that helps.

Bribes – To Pay or Not to Pay? (1 of 2)

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Q. I had a minor traffic violation in Panama and the policeman demanded a bribe to waive the ticket. What would you have done?

A. This is fairly common in the mission field, where cultures and customs are very different from that in N. America. Some see bribes as a black and white issue in that they are never justified. However, others see bribes as a grey area in which “gifts” and “tips” are a normal part of life and can avert major problems, and acceptable under certain circumstances. There are faithful missionaries on both sides. Which is correct?

Before I give you my opinion let’s examine what the Bible has to say, starting with God’s character where all ethics originate. Our God is righteous and will never take a bribe:
Deut 10:17 For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.
• 2 Chron 19:7 Now then let the fear of the LORD be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the LORD our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe.

Taking a bribe will compromise His impartiality, so our God never take bribes. We are created in His image and follow His example, so neither should we take bribes.

Second, let’s look at the consequences of taking bribes:
Ex 23:8 You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.
• Deut 16:19 You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.
• Deut 27:25 ‘Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.’ …
• Prov 17:23 A wicked man receives a bribe from the bosom to pervert the ways of justice.
• Prov 29:4 The king gives stability to the land by justice, But a man who takes bribes overthrows it.
• Eccle 7:7 For oppression makes a wise man mad, And a bribe corrupts the heart.
• Isa 1:23 Your rulers are rebels and companions of thieves; Everyone loves a bribe and chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, nor does the widow’s plea come before them.
• Isa 5:23 Who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!
• Ezk 22:12 In you they have taken bribes to shed blood; …
• Amos 5:12 For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate.

The effect on bribe recipients consist of:
• blinding his eyes to distort justice;
• perverting his words;
• being cursed;
• corrupting his heart;

The effect of bribes on those being manipulated include:
• subverting the cause of the just;
• striking down innocent person;
• overthrowing stability;
• ignoring widows and orphans;
• justifying the wicked;
• stripping the righteous of rights;
• shedding innocent blood; distressing the righteous;
• turning aside the poor.

On the contrary, those NOT taking bribes will never be shaken and will live:
Ps 15:5 He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
• Prov 15:27 He who profits illicitly troubles his own house, But he who hates bribes will live.

So taking a bribe is always wrong.

(To be continued)

Six Degrees of Separation

6 deg of separation 4

It’s a small world after all. Three years ago we went on a leadership course, and met a Vancouver couple (A&B)* whose work is missionary care within a denominational mission agency. We kept in touch, and recently when they came to Toronto to conduct a training workshop we had breakfast together to catch up. It turned out we had more things in common than we realized.

The first connection was when Ellen started learning Spanish two years ago and looked for a tutor. My brother’s wife said her brother has a niece from Guatemala who is visiting him in Toronto. She speaks Spanish fluently and could give Ellen some pointers. We met, and it “happened” that this niece is a Christian who attends the church where A&B used to pastor in Guatemala City! That’s four steps from us to them, had we not known each other directly.

The second link was through one of our engineering classmates C in university. C and his wife D have two children. Their younger son E initially also studied engineering, but did not enjoy it. Interestingly, he went on a short-term mission to, of all places, Guatemala City, where he met A&B. C&D were concerned about E’s safety, and wrote A&B to look after him. E liked missions so much that he returned to Canada to attend bible college, and after graduation moved his family to Guatemala to start a bed and breakfast place for ministry. C&D visited them to show support and became friends with A&B too. That’s three steps from us to our missionary friends.

The last connection was through Ellen’s sister’s (F) husband (G). F&G went on a reunion with his extended family to Hawaii. However, in the middle of the celebrations G’s brother’s (H) wife (J) was struck with meningitis, and had to fly back to Calgary for treatment. H&J are dedicated members within their denomination, and active in promoting missions in Chinese churches. That’s where they got to work with A&B. When J recovered sufficiently, H threw a thanksgiving dinner and invited all their friends and church brothers and sisters, including A&B. That is again three steps from us to A&B.

My first thought was it’s a small world after all! True, our sample may be skewed by the fact that we are Chinese Christians involved in missions, but still you can’t help but wonder our circles are so limited and intersect with each other. Don’t do anything foolish, or else it will spread to who knows where, even without email, FB or WhatsApp!

6 deg of separation 2

The second thing that comes to mind is “six degrees of separation“, the theory that everyone everywhere can be connected to any other person by way of friend introducing friend, in six steps or less. Our example took only 3 or 4 steps, but even if it were a complete stranger in a foreign land, the theory is that you can be connected to him/her in a maximum of six steps.

Mathematically this seems possible. In a random network of n nodes, with each node having k acquaintances, the average distance between two nodes is ln n/ln k (ln = natural logarithm). Assuming the world’s population to be 7 billion people (n), and that each person knows an average of 50 people (k), then the average number of steps to link one person to any other person is:
ln 7,000,000,000/ln 50 = 22.67/3.91 = 5.79, rounded to 6.
Obviously, the larger k is, the lesser the number of steps.
If you solve for k in ln 7,000,000,000/ln k = 6, the largest integral value for k is 44. In other words, if each person connect with at least 44 acquaintances, then anyone can be introduced to anyone else in a maximum of 6 steps.

This has interesting implications for evangelism and missions. We tend to think of reaching the world for Christ as “too big” a task and would require a very long time. But let’s assume the message to be delivered is the gospel. If I find the right contacts with the right connections, then I can share the good news with anyone in the world, including the top Muslim cleric, or the Dalai Lama, within six links. This assumes that those who received the message are ready and willing to pass it on, and that some will have to cross geographic, linguistic, cultural and/or class barriers. But what this tells us is that it is not an impossible task, and that we can share Christ with anyone anywhere in the world, so that they can make an intelligent choice whether to follow Him.

*Names changed for privacy purposes.