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    Verdicks in Karamoja


    • Tue, 31 Jul 2018 16:21:45 +0000: This Busiest Month - Verdickmoja
      July, already one of the busiest months for Akisyon a Yesu Presbyterian Clinic, has been especially active in 2018. While Chloe and I took a few days away helping to see the Okken family off, I got the call from the nurse who had been left in charge that they had seen 113 patients my […]
    • Fri, 13 Jul 2018 13:39:54 +0000: Bittersweet Goodbyes - Verdickmoja
      Goodbyes, goodbyes, how I wish to bid you adieu Farewells, farewells, if only you would take your leave This week, we said goodbye to dear friends and teammates Dave and Sunshine Okken with their children Caleb, Megan and Jacob. It is difficult to say how much they’ve impacted and shaped our work here. It all […]

    Okkens in Karamoja


    • Fri, 27 Apr 2018 19:53:00 +0000: Big News - Karamoja Okkens

      Greetings from the Okkens! We have some big personal news to share.

      We praise the Lord for His wonderful guidance and provision with regards to our next place of service. I have received a call to serve as a pastor at Shiloh Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. During multiple Skype interviews I enjoyed getting to know the pastor, elders and deacons. Then the church graciously flew our whole family from Uganda for a ten day visit in March. The congregation was truly wonderful and the visit went very well. The Lord led us to the decision that, should the call come, we were ready to accept. On April 8th they voted unanimously to extend that call. We decided to wait on announcing it until it was approved by the presbytery. That happened today. I am so thankful that they allowed me to meet with them by Skype. I was interviewed and the call was approved.

      I look forward to working alongside Pastor Matthew Holst, whom I so enjoyed getting to know. In addition to helping with the preaching, teaching and pastoral care, I will also focus on leading the congregation in outreach and evangelism. We plan to return to the States by the middle of July and then arrive in Raleigh by the end of the summer, Lord willing.

      Okay, our other huge news: Sunshine is pregnant! Of course, we praise the Lord for this precious new life. But this was a most unplanned and unexpected surprise. We learned of it while we were candidating in Raleigh! Many of you remember our scary experiences with pregnancy and malaria in our early years in Karamoja. We would never have chosen to go through it again all these years later during our last months on the field. So, truthfully, this was a reality which was not easy for us to process ourselves, much less were we ready to share the news publicly or even with our prospective new church family at Shiloh (as wonderful as they are.) Talk about an emotionally charged couple of weeks! Sunshine did a fabulous job pulling herself together as we met with the folks in home after home as well as in church.

      We so praise and thank the Lord that Sunshine has been malaria-free and has done well. We decided to wait to share the news until after our first ultrasound. That also happened earlier today (what an eventful day!). Tears filled my eyes as we heard a normal heartbeat while seeing on the monitor what appeared to be a healthy little baby moving around. We are only a couple of weeks away from being out of the first trimester, the most dangerous time for a pregnant mother to get malaria. Needless to say, we covet your prayers as much as ever.

      “…call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15)

      In Christ,

    • Thu, 18 Jan 2018 07:21:00 +0000: Okken News - Karamoja Okkens
      We write both with some exciting Karamoja ministry news as well as some pretty big personal news.

      I guess we’ll jump right into the personal. Many of you are already aware of our plans though others are not. This will be our last term of service in Uganda. We were due for a furlough this past November. Instead, we extended the term to conclude this coming summer at which time we plan to return to the U.S.

      A significant factor which led to this decision was our desire to be closer to and better able to help our parents as they become older. But there were other factors as well. The bottom line is that we believe that the Lord is leading us to a new place of service somewhere in the States. Though we are convinced that this is the right decision, it has not been an easy one to make. All of the challenges and heartaches of life and ministry in Karamoja notwithstanding, we have been so blessed to be part of this work for what will be seventeen years in May. It is has been a privilege to serve under the Committee on Foreign Missions of the OPC. We thank the Lord for their leadership and care for us. We have been so blessed to serve alongside wonderful teammates. It will be extremely hard to leave them behind. And we will miss our African brothers and sisters among whom it has been such a joy to live and minister the gospel. We take comfort in knowing that the sorrows of what will be a painful farewell cannot begin to compare with the joys of that reunion which will soon be ours in glory as together we behold the face of Christ!

      What is next for the Okkens? I have been pursuing a pastoral call in the U.S. In God’s providence, the opportunities which are before us are well east of the Mississippi. We had hoped to find something in or at least close to Southern California or Arizona where our parents live. On the other hand, anything in the States will be much closer to them than Uganda is and so we are warming up to (speaking for myself, even excited about the adventure of) serving the Lord in a new and different part of the U.S.A. I will share more about those details as things develop. We appreciate your prayers. For our remaining days in Karamoja and then wherever he leads us next, we want to be doing what will be most useful in the service of Christ’s kingdom.

      We will depart confident that he continues to build his kingdom in Karamoja, even through the labors of this mission. We leave behind a team of fine servants. And they will be joined by two new families both arriving in February: the Baardmans and the Van Essendelfts. Dr. Flip Baardman will serve as the new doctor. He and his wife, Anneloes come from the Netherlands. Mark Van Essendelft will serve as our new facilities engineer. He, his wife, Carla, and their eight children come from North Carolina. Please pray for these new teammates as they prepare to come and then transition to their life and work here.

      Also, please pray that the Lord will raise up another pastor to labor with David Robbins. It has been a blessing to work with him. I am so thankful for his enthusiasm and fresh ideas. At the risk of this update becoming too long, I wanted to share some very encouraging news about a ministry recently carried out at his initiative.

      We have long hoped and prayed for a more effective ministry to the old men in Karamoja. They tend to be a tough group to reach. David came up with a great idea for how to share the gospel with them. We do have two old men, Loyep Daudi and Loduk Peter, who have become members of our church within the last year. They probably did not have much experience or skill in sharing the gospel. David thought that if we gave them a bit of training with a more experienced brother, they might be able to have a more effective ministry to their peers than we have had.

      Under David’s direction, Lokwii Paul Omena spent much time with these older brothers discussing verses from the Bible, particularly Romans, to use in sharing the gospel. They also made use of an excellent tract David has written on the animal sacrifices. Finally, they went out for the first time. They brought some “chapatti” (Ugandan bread which is kind of like a thick tortilla) as a way of honoring the “mzees” (a term for African elders) and they began to speak with them.

      David R. wrote about what took place:

      “Lokwii Paul was concerned that Loyep might not have the courage to speak to the elders without compromise. As it turns out, Loyep Daudi was formerly the highest of all the elders in the area - we didn't know that! But when they began to talk to the elders, Loyep and Loduk both spoke faithfully and clearly about God's final sacrifice, Jesus, and told the elders that the cultural sacrifices of Karamoja are actually offered to demons (1 Corinthians 10:20).

      The elders said they had never heard this before (or at least they have not really received it until now). They said something like, "Do you want us to [i.e., think we should] migrate from the old god to this new God?" Omena explained that the God of the Bible is the one true God and that he is older than the cultural god - that he created everything. And the elders listened.

      Omena was really overjoyed by this, and we are rejoicing, too! It seems the Lord is really working in the hearts of these elders! Please pray with us that the Lord would use these meetings with the mzees to turn their hearts from idols to serve the living God. Tomorrow is another mzee outreach in Nakaale. We are hoping to send Loyep and Loduk to both villages once a week for a time and see what the Lord will do.”

      Since David wrote this, another meeting has taken place. Again, it went very well. Of course, this was not the first time we have shared this message with the elders. But perhaps God is blessing seeds which have been planted over the years such that there are some who are beginning to hear it for the first time. The brothers are inviting these elders to be coming to church. We hope that this account will encourage you to continue praying with us for the work in Karamoja.

      In Christ,



    • Mon, 29 Apr 2013 12:24:57 +0000: SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT! MAY NEWSLETTER 2013 - Serving Inkas
      It is our tremendous privilege to be able to share some exciting news with you today. Please read our latest news here: Special Announcement     Share on Facebook See how else we’re doing and how you can help: Join our team!
    • Mon, 15 Apr 2013 23:11:05 +0000: Fear, prejudice and preference - Serving Inkas
      Juan Pablo is a Colombian brother who is young in the faith.  He is passionate about evangelism and loves to preach on the street corners and on public buses. When I received an invitation to preach with him, my first instinct (Having finished seminary not too long ago) was to kindly redirect his misguided perceptions [...]
    • Tue, 25 Dec 2012 14:14:53 +0000: ¡Feliz Navidad….and some special news! - Serving Inkas
      Click below to see our Christmas card and special news: Click here if you would like to see the PDF version: GutierrezfamilyChristmas2012   Share on Facebook See how else we’re doing and how you can help: Join our team!

    The Gutierrez Gang


    The Blairs


    • Tue, 10 Apr 2018 05:59:00 +0000: Easter in Beijing - Mark & Dayna's Blog

      He is Risen…in Beijing!...and Everywhere!!                                           April 2018

      Easter morning over 600 in Beijing International Christian Fellowship Zhongguancun joined the global Church giving praise to our Risen Lord Jesus. Six new family members – from USA, UK, China, and Thailand - professed their faith through baptism. One very sweet and powerful moment was when a 10-year-old boy who was baptized shared his testimony, “I know I have broken all 10 commandments except maybe for the adultery one”! His sincere gratitude for God’s gracious redemption brought tears to all our eyes. After the service many of us enjoyed a celebration lunch…

      Easter Night many students gathered for a worship celebration followed by Ceilidh dancing!

      Good Friday night we again heard the Words of the Savior from the cross as people from Uganda, USA, Ghana, The Netherlands, Uruguay, Canada, and China shared their reflections on His saving love.

      Text Box: Coming to California! It has been 3 years since we have visited family, friends, and churches in California. We are eager to see many of you this summer – June, July, August. Please let us know when it might be convenient to share with your church, home meeting, or people interested in ministry.

      Pregnant! Not married!!

       An ancient global challenge. In our church full of University students, it probably happens more than we know. It is not unusual for our African students to put on heavy winter coats in the Fall and not take them off until Spring. They have never felt cold like our Beijing winds! But eventually someone noticed a bit more to skinny Sally (not her real name).  She and Roger (not his name either) are country-mates from a faraway land. They gained the courage to share with some of our African church leaders who eventually guided them to me. After sharing, crying, and praying I asked if they wanted to confess to the church.  They did. So, as I stood behind the communion table on the first Sunday of 2018, I invited them to come stand with me. I shared they had given me permission to let the church know they are with child, and not yet married. That’s one way to get people in the pews to stop looking at their cell phones! Then I handed the mic to Roger and Sally. They both humbly, tearfully, and clearly shared their love for God and their sorrow about letting Him and the church down. Then I asked the assembly if someone among us had never sinned to raise their hand. Not one hand went up! I asked again, but none. So, I told Roger and Sally we are all on the same ground before the cross – guilty and grateful! And I prayed for them and the baby. After the service there was a long line of friends to give them hugs. They then contacted their families back home in Africa. They expected problems because they’re from different tribes. But both families showed their Christian character by quickly replying with love, understanding, and acceptance of the other. They
      joined our marriage course with several other couples. They also attended a Tuesday Training class on “The Gift of Life.” Sally shared candidly, “When I realized that my sin lead to creating a child I feared I would not love the child. But as I have received forgiveness from God and the church I am so grateful for this child and eager to be a wife and mom.” One Sunday in March they were married. One week later they were parents! Roger is finishing his PhD and Sally her Masters this semester, God willing. Now they plan to go back home to Africa this summer, married, parents, and graduates!



      Bible Teaching

      This month Mark will teach a BICF Seminary class on the book of “Hebrews.” After preaching through this book last year, he has really gained a deeper appreciation of this important New Testament book. The course demands most of two consecutive weekends. Pray for God’s strength and leading and for students to be able to make this time sacrifice amidst everyone’s busy schedules.


      It was a great joy to host our good buddy that introduced us many years ago, John Svendsen. Chinese New Year, when schools close and students are free, is a great opportunity for ministry training.  Here was the last day of a Bible week that he taught. We had a wonderful time considering the “Christ-Centered Bible”and the “Christ-Centered Believer.”

      Being someone’s Instagram friend gives a sometimes interesting glimpse into their lives. Stuck in the middle of this class is vibrant sister from Uruguay that we baptized 3 years ago who often shares prayer requests for her classmates. Just one of our faithful members shining God’s light and love with friends from everywhere.

      We hosted a 5-week “Alpha” Marriage Course with a great group of newly married and to-be-married couples in our church from Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Romania, Costa Rica, China, and USA. Now we are in the midst of 2 courses with another dozen couples. We’re hosting one and our dear colleagues in the far left of the picture are hosting another.

      We rediscovered the power of pizza recently. We bought a bunch of “New City Catechisms” to share with our church families. Yet, we wondered how could we get parents to focus for the hour we needed to introduce the idea of catechism and the tool itself…with all their little kids keeping them busy! So, we enlisted our high schoolers for small-kid-crowd-control for the price of a pizza lunch afterwards. It worked!

      During the Chinese New Year break we had the joy of seeing our own kids in Oregon. What a blessing to watch Nathan and Heather dedicate KaMakanaOKeAkua “the gift of God” to the Lord in their church in Portland. Makana is 1, and brother Kekoa is already 3! We also enjoyed a few days with Aaron who came up from Eugene. Even after all these years, it never gets easier to be family stretched across Kazakhstan, Beijing, Hawaii, and the 48. So, we praise the Lord for the times we can be together. We also went to Chicago for a few days to celebrate Dayna’s 40th anniversary of graduation from Moody Bible Institute.

      We are very grateful for your faithful support and prayers as we have a wonderful opportunity to declare and demonstrate the Good News amidst 70,000 International students from 120 nations in the capital city of the world’s most populous nation.

      In the joy of Him who Died and Rose Again for us, Mark and Dayna Blair

      Our Mission  Pioneers - 10123 William Carey Dr - Orlando, FL 32832 USA   

      Checks to ‘Pioneers’ – with attached note: ‘Mark and Dayna Blair, Beijing.’                     

      (Our Account # is 110565, Mark and Dayna Blair)

      Blog  www.blairstan.blogspot.com  Skype  blairstan  New Site  www.pastormarkblair.org

      Our Ministry Beijing International Christian Fellowship www.bicf.org/zgc


      BICF Sermon App for Apple or Android: www.bicf.org/#app   (ZGC Sermon Tab)

    • Sun, 31 Dec 2017 06:27:00 +0000: Christmas in Beijing - Mark & Dayna's Blog

      Warm Greetings from Chilly Beijing,                                            December 2017

      Like many of you, we have been on intensive holiday mode since before Thanksgiving. In a city of 23 million, nearly everything – including holidays - are on steroids! Actually our “days” of Thanksgiving and Christmas are normal work days here. Members of our church carry on their normal duties of work and study. Yet it seems the “forbidden fruit factor” makes people yearn even more for these holidays they cannot have – believers and not yet. So, holiday time is gospel harvest time!

      Christmas Eve Sunday was a wonderful day at Beijing International Christian Fellowship ZhongGuanCun! Our Lord who came to save was praised all day long – in Mandarin, Korean, Indonesian, Japanese and twice in English. Each service was filled, some came for the first time, and many who had long ago memorized the carols.

      Arriving Sunday morning we were greeted by a squad of policemen with scanner wands sent to “keep us safe” (thanks, guys!) and a Muslim couple from Bangladesh who said they always wanted to attend a Christmas service if that was alright with me? “Of course, welcome!” A highlight of our morning English service was Pacific Islanders (from Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Hawaii, and Haiti), including Mama Dayna, dancing to “The Christmas Star.”

      Afterwards the entire church was invited to a University dining hall across the street for an 11-course Chinese lunch for  $ 6 usd (40 RMB)! About 200 happy eaters joined in. Then our “scouting carolers” set off!

      We’ve heard a lot in the local news about how “western traditions” i.e. Christmas! must stop being imposed. So, we wondered whether caroling near the busy mall might end with new prison epistles? As we sang our carols a couple dozen people quickly gathered, nearly all of them taking pictures. The security guards concluded we were blocking foot traffic. But they just asked us to move slightly aside. Then the manager of the mall came and invited us to sing on their center stage that night! So after the evening service a big group (above) went to sing, and handed out lots of Christmas tracts and candy canes!   

      More than 150 people scurried in from campus and workplace to enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner on November 23rd. We gathered in “Café Heaven” - operated by members of our Korean congregation. Since Turkeys are expensive here, and we do all we can to keep things cheap for our many students, we wonder if the pilgrims also enjoyed spaghetti and fish sticks? We did! Best of all we enjoyed the rich fellowship of brothers and sisters and seekers from 50 nations!

      Thank you for praying for our trip to Kazakhstan in early November. We had the privilege of introducing John Ensor the President of Passion Life to friends and former colleagues in ministry there. His message of life in Jesus –  beginning at conception – was much appreciated in that land so badly scarred by abortion. John and Mark had a full day sharing with many of the pastors of Almaty, a number were our students back in the last century! It was also a joy to introduce John to the current staff and students of the Tien Shan International School where Dayna taught for a decade and our three sons graduated. See more at www.passionlife.org (Of course, we loved being with Josiah and Maylee for a week there!)

      Thanks also for praying for the teaching Mark led in November. He modeled “Leadership” in getting other pastors to teach 2 of his 4 classes – a fellow BICF pastor and a seminary classmate we had not seen for many years Pastor Tom Kenney. Then, since nobody sent suggestions of how to re-brand his course, “Life and Work of the Pastor” we went with “Thriving in Ministry.”  Here are the people we tried to fool, but they soon discovered behind the new brand was the same old teacher with the same old notes!

      In October Dayna and over 50 ladies had a great 3-day Retreat studying through the Book of Ruth.

      Every year BICF is one of the host locations for the “Global Leadership Summit” from Willow Creek Church in Chicago. This conference seeks to encourage and instruct leaders in church and society. Each year we share this equipping opportunity with local leaders in churches, business, and government. Depending on the winds of change, sometimes it has been labelled too much “foreign religion” and numbers are limited. This year the wind was favorable and we were able to host the 2-day program in our largest auditorium, nearly filling its 2000 seats with many who said it was their first time to hear the Good News. It was great!

      One of our members, a doctoral student from Tanzania, said he had a few of his classmates from South Asia – India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh – Christians and Muslims, coming over for an exploratory Bible study group and time of fellowship. Here is what those few friends – fields ready for harvest – looks like…

      We were again welcomed by the Haidian Christian Church to hold our International Christmas program in their large auditorium. For 2 nights, December 8 and 9, we shared with almost 2000 people that “Jesus is our Peace” in songs, drama, dance, and preaching. Each night we invited people to join discussion groups to ask questions and think more, more than 300 lingered. Those who hurried off took Christmas tracts and the Gospel of John in Mandarin and an apple (the Mandarin word for “peace” is like “apple”!) This was the 7th year we have had this marvelous opportunity to share the Christmas Gospel in this large church open to all people. Our teachers were allowed to invite all their students and our students were able to invite all their classmates. Lots of them came. Pray for the Gospel seed to bear much fruit.

      Preaching through the last chapters of Genesis have been a vivid reminder of the grace and mercy of God for us and our families. If it were me, I would try to find the most noble people possible to steward the blessed promise to Abraham for the blessing of the nations. Maybe God did. But it is painfully evident even the noble fall so short of his glory! Dads who play favorites. Sons who sleep with Dad’s woman, kill all the men in town, and sell their brother off as a slave! But God’s relentless grace does not quit before all those bad boys have bowed their knee to him and made their peace with each other. What man intends for evil, God can use for good, and the saving of many people! 4000 years later, He still holds the world in His grip.  

      We pray that the year ahead will be one of great blessing for you and your family. The promise of Abraham is ours in Christ. As we now sojourn through earth, may your hope be fixed on that City where all of us in Jesus will gather with great joy!

      In the joy of Him who has Come and will Come Again, Mark and Dayna Blair

      Our Mission  Pioneers - 10123 William Carey Dr - Orlando, FL 32832 USA   

      Checks to ‘Pioneers’ – with attached note: ‘Mark and Dayna Blair, Beijing.’                     

      (Our Account # is 110565, Mark and Dayna Blair)

      Blog  www.blairstan.blogspot.com  Skype  blairstan  New Site  www.pastormarkblair.org

      Our Ministry Beijing International Christian Fellowship www.bicf.org/zgc


      BICF Sermon App for Apple or Android: www.bicf.org/#app   (ZGC Sermon Tab)

    • Wed, 11 Oct 2017 13:45:00 +0000: Double Door Opening in Beijing - Mark & Dayna's Blog
      Autumn Greetings from Beijing!                                                                October 2017

      We are encouraged by the Lord’s double blessings in recent days – our work visa was extended and permission for our church to operate was granted - both for one more year. (They only give one year at a time!)  We praise the Lord and thank you for your generous prayers and support which have kept us going strong here. We have entered our ninth year in Beijing…

      In Beijing International Christian Fellowship our sign of Autumn is lots of new people! Students from many nations, coming to attend the 82 Universities in our neighborhood, are finding out there is a church in China! Some who hid their Bibles in their luggage weep tears of joy when they can openly gather to sing His praises. Not-yet-Christians who never dared investigate Jesus  and the Bible at home are coming to find friendship.

      We just finished our first International Student Camp. October 1 is China’s “National Day” and the whole week is off for most of the nation. Isn’t God wonderful to slot an empty week for these students cooped-up from their first month of studies, ready to bust out and have some fun!
      We had 63 people from 31 countries, about 10 seekers. One student said, “Jesus is the gateway to ultimate success. He is the ultimate success.” Another who is not yet a follower of Jesus said, “if this is the Christian life, to be so peaceful, one has to be Christian.” Praise the Lord for this time of gospel growth.

      Having the motto “Gathering, Growing, Going” has helped focus our church. Though good-byes don’t feel good sometimes, we can rejoice that we’ve had a small part in equipping many for
      Kingdom-service in distant lands for many years, we pray. It was bittersweet to bid farewell to Chukwunweike Okeke. He returned home to Nigeria a Ph.D. in Pharmacology, a Church Elder, a faithful expository preacher, and a dear brother in the Lord. We will miss him! On a happy note, faithful Daniel from Ghana who served in every possible ministry during the four years of his Bachelor’s program, is back for his M.A for three more years of studying, serving, and growing in the Lord.!

       Dayna has led “Sister2Sister” for more than three years now. Each month women from different nations and generations share life together. The group has been a catalyst to start a Book Club, Guitar Class, and a Read-through-the-Bible group. Later this month they will hold a retreat.

      Pray for them as they plan for Bible teaching and fellowship. Mark recently photo-bombed them…

      This Fall Mark is preaching through Romans on Sunday nights and Genesis 37-50, in the mornings. We started Genesis 1 in 2010, the end is in sight!

      Later this month we plan to spend a long weekend in another city in China. A family from our church here moved there several years ago. As they left I shared with him that since their city had no international church, they should pray about getting one started. They had served here faithfully - teaching Sunday school, small group leaders, an excellent Preacher, Deacon… Well, the new international church there has been meeting for several months! A team of leaders has formed. And, now we’re invited to come see and share! Jesus is still building His Church!

      Next month we hope to visit our son Josiah and granddaughter Maylee in Almaty, Kazakhstan. We connected church leaders there with the founder of www.passionlife.orgwho became a friend through his visits and teaching here. So, he’s asked us to come along and make some introductions for the Gospel-focused, Christ-centered, Pro-Life teaching he will share with leaders there in November. We are happy to do so – it is wonderful news! We look forward to sharing again with dear friends in the churches we served there for eleven years.

      Mark is also scheduled to teach two classes in November, “Leadership” for our Tuesday Training program and “Life and Work of the Pastor” for our BICF Seminary. (We’re scratching our heads trying to “re-brand” that course since everyone knows Pastors don’t work…or have a life! Suggestions appreciated!!)  

      In August we saw our sons and grandsons and daughter in law Heather. Here Kekoa (3 in January!) is with his dad Nathan while his brother Makana (6 months now!) enjoy time with “Funcle” Aaron. (“Fun Uncle”!)

      In these days of storms, earthquakes, and rumors of war it is so good to know Jesus and the eternal promises of His saving grace. We are privileged here to have a front row seat to see “the blessing of Abraham” transform peoples of all nations. Be encouraged friends, Jesus wins!

      In the joy of our King, Mark and Dayna Blair

      Our Mission  Pioneers - 10123 William Carey Dr - Orlando, FL 32832 USA   

      Checks to ‘Pioneers’ – with attached note: ‘Mark and Dayna Blair, Beijing.’                     

      (Our Account # is 110565, Mark and Dayna Blair)

      Blog  www.blairstan.blogspot.com  Skype  blairstan  New Site  www.pastormarkblair.org

      Our Ministry Beijing International Christian Fellowship www.bicf.org/zgc


      BICF Sermon App for Apple or Android: www.bicf.org/#app   (ZGC Sermon Tab)


    • Thu, 06 Apr 2017 12:31:00 +0000: 20 More Things I Have Noticed Upon Returning to America - Gleanings from the Field

      About one week after our family returned to the United States after spending the last four and a half years living and working in Bangkok, Thailand, I wrote a blog about "20 Things I Have Noticed Upon Returning to America."  Those were my initial observations.  But now that our family is more than two months into our stay in the U.S, I have noticed a bunch of other things that I didn't run into during my first week here.

      Reverse culture shock is the gift that keeps on giving, and while I don't walk around every day feeling stressed, there are still a lot of things that make me think, "Well, they don't do it like THAT back in Thailand!"  Sometimes, that is a good thing.  Sometimes that is a bad thing.  But sometimes it is just neutral. Not good - not bad - just different.

      So, without further ado, here are...

      20 More Things I Have Noticed Upon Returning to America

      1. Static shocks!  You just don’t get that in a humid country like Thailand.  It makes me afraid to touch things.
      2. Marshmallow furniture.  Furniture so soft that you feel like your behind is tumbling into a bottomless abyss. 

      3. Heat lamps in bathroom. Not everyplace has these, but in the place we are staying currently, my wife is completely loving these red in-ceiling heat lamps to dry you after a shower.

      4. Unknown breakfast cereals. While visiting someone’s home for breakfast, my 7 year-old daughter asked, "What are Cheerios?” Looks like we have some cultural orientation to do.

      5. Telemarketing.  Ugh.  In Thailand I got 3 calls in 4 years.  Within one week of getting a mobile phone in America, I got 3-4 calls. Ugh.

      6. Soap at every sink.  It is awesome.  This may sound mundane, but up until recently I lived in country where you only get a soap dispenser on the far wall at the end of row of sink basins in a public restroom.  But here in America, no more awkwardly reaching around the guy at the next sink to get soap.  

      7. HUGE pickup trucks.  I didn’t even know they made pick-up trucks this big.  Some of these are so high and so wide, you’d think they were built to haul a tank. 

      8. Options!!!!   Choosing bread, ketchup, and other necessities has never been so complicated.  And for some reason, every processed food product needs to come in one million flavors, as if I really needed 15 varieties of Oreos to choose from.

      9. America LOVES gift cards.  Everyplace has a gift card to sell you, and at the supermarket there are racks and racks of gift cards for every store imaginable.

      10. Organic everything.  Or nearly everything.  And gluten-free is all the rage too.  Even places like Dominos Pizza has gluten-free options.

      11. No condom vending machines in public restrooms.  This is fantastic because I no longer need to come up with a vague, evasive answer when my son asks, “Dad, what does that machine sell?"

      12. Keyless cars!   I rented a car twice and both times we got a keyless car. I am starting to get used to it but it sure is weird.  It doesn’t feel right to not stick a key in the ignition.

      13. Cup holders everywhere!  I think the car we bought might have more cup holders than seats.

      14. Decaf coffee everywhere.  Almost no place in Thailand has decaf.  I asked for it once at the coffee shop I frequented in Bangkok and the guy at the counter just laughed.

      15. Americans are very informal and dress-down.  It is much harder to determine social status just by looking at what someone is wearing.

      16. Driving is so much less stressful.  People aren’t cutting me off all the time or running red lights.  The roads are big.  Signage is often clear and well in advance of where you need to turn.

      17. Sometimes the toilet paper is so soft and cushiony, it almost feels inappropriate to use it for its intended purpose.

      18. Starbucks is not just for the wealthy.  In American Starbucks locations, you find a fascinating cross-section of humanity with eccentricities, odd social manners, and weird ways of dressing.

      19. Most people are unaware that sticky rice is an entirely different variety of rice, not just regular white rice cooked differently.

      20. Seller beware!  Businesses are very careful to keep customers are happy, lest they are sued or have bad publicity.  It is often really easy to return things to the store.


      Sometimes people ask, "Do you feel settled now?" and I don't know how to answer that question simply. Even though we have been here two months and are no longer living out of a suitcase, I don't think we'll ever feel really settled (unless we moved back to the U.S permanently, I suppose).  I am sure there will be more cultural differences that my family and I will run into along the way during the remaining four months of our home assignment. There are lots of things that we are really enjoying about the U.S. but it doesn't quite feel like home. The phrase "Back in Thailand..." is never be too far away from our lips.  But then again Thailand never feels 100% like home because we are not Thai.  But that's okay.  Our philosophy is to enjoy where God has placed us for any given season because he has good plans for us where he has put us.

    • Sat, 28 Jan 2017 13:31:20 +0000: 20 Things I Have Noticed Upon Returning to America - Gleanings from the Field

      After spending the last four and a half years living and working in Bangkok, Thailand, our family recently came back to the United States for a six month home assignment (furlough).  My wife and I grew up here, though our kids have spent most of their lives (so far) in Thailand.  For all of us, however, there have been many new or not-as-familiar-anymore aspect of life in America to get used to. 

      Many people have heard of culture shock, the experience of unsettledness and uncertainty when you experience a foreign culture.  Fewer people, however, are familiar with reverse culture shock, the experience of unsettledness and uncertainty when you re-enter your home culture after being in a foreign culture for a long period of time.  But I can verify that reverse culture shock is a real thing because our family is experiencing it.  Although “shock” might be too strong of a word for it, there are certainly a lot of things to get used to again.  Here’s a list of several things that I have noticed this past week about life in the United States, after having lived in Thailand for a number of years.

      20 Things I Have Noticed Upon Returning to America

      1. Cars sometimes pro-actively stop for us to cross the road before we even step into the road.
      2. Plastic bags at the supermarket checkout counter cost 10 cents now.
      3. Roads are big and wide.
      4. It is VERY quiet at night - no construction noise, no racing motorcycles, no rattling of cars going over road gratings next door, no cat on the roof, no bumps in the night.
      5. Electrical outlets don’t spark when you plug stuff in.
      6. Things in homes are big and fluffy, very comfortable.
      7. Cars drive really fast in the U.S. It's as if they don't expect stray dogs or motorbikes to suddenly dart in front of their vehicles.
      8. Laws are really important to people here.  Governments are serious about enforcing even minor laws.  Statements like “It’s the law!” carry weight.
      9. It feels weird to have the steering wheel on the left hand side of the car.  I feel claustrophobic because usually I have a whole lot more space in the car on my left hand side.
      10. Pedestrians take their sweet time to cross the road as if cars are not even there. 
      11. It feels like every business wants you to fill out a survey.
      12. Washing machines are VERY big.
      13. Hot running water at every faucet. Ahhh.
      14. A pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream does not cost $12.
      15. Almost no median strips on the roads.  I suppose that this reduces the temptation to drive the wrong way in the breakdown lane, which often happens in Thailand.
      16. I almost don’t recognize my own children because they are wearing blue jeans, hats, mittens, and other stuff that I never see them wear.
      17. It is difficult to just buy 1 pen or 2 razors. It has to be 5 pens or 10 razors. It doesn't matter if you only want to buy 1. You gotta go big or go home empty handed… Oh wait, I just found a single razor. One brand, one choice for just 1 razor. But if you want 10 or more, there are tons to choose from.
      18. Food products at the supermarket have names as long as 18th century books, such as “Organic, No Fat, Non-GMO, No Oils, Sprouted Honey Wheat with Flaxseed.”  (this was a loaf of bread)
      19. Coloring books for adults (?!)

      My kids have also had some interesting observations about the United States.  Our oldest (10 yr. old) attended kindergarten here and was six when we returned to Thailand in 2012.  Our middle child (7 yr. old) was two when we went to Thailand after last home assignment and remembered nearly nothing of the country.  Our youngest (3 yr. old) was born in Thailand and this is his first time outside of Thailand.

      Observations from Our Oldest Child (10 yrs)

      • "There is a lot more Star Wars stuff to look at here"
      • "The most difficult thing to get used to is everybody speaking English"
      • "Everything is clean and orderly here. Why is that?” [I later pointed out all the trash scattered along the side of the road as we got onto the freeway. “See, America, has a trash problem too!”]

      Observations from Our Middle Child (7yrs)

      • "There is much more grass and trees here.  Why aren’t there any skyscrapers at all?"  

      Observations from Our Youngest Child (3 yr)

      • "There is no sprayer" [next to the toilet]
      • "Where is the rice?!"
      • "School bus!"
      • "I see a fire truck!"

      Overall, our family is really enjoying our time in the U.S. so far and have been blessed by many kind and helpful people who’ve given us rides, given us cold weather clothes, and called/visited to welcome us back.  And Dr. Pepper.  It was great to have Dr. Pepper again. It still feels weird to be here but with some time I am sure we will settle in and feel at home… probably just in time to leave again.  But God is good and He provides for his children, so we choose to look for and rejoice in his blessings wherever we go.

    • Wed, 28 Dec 2016 20:53:53 +0000: My Top 5 Books in 2016 - Gleanings from the Field

      At the beginning of 2016, I set a goal of reading 50 books this year.  It was an ambitious goal but I thought I could do it.  It turns out that life happened, 2017 is upon us, and I only ended up reading 36 books this year.  Not as much as I would have liked, but probably more than I would have read if I hadn't been aiming at 50.  Out of the 36 books I read in 2016, I picked my 5 favorites and have included a brief review of each.  These are not necessarily the best of books that were published in 2016, but are my top picks (in no particular order) among the books that I read in 2016.   Read one of them and maybe you'll find a new favorite! 

      The Way Thais Lead: Face as Social Capital

      This was an excellent, well-written book with lots of insight about the different types of "face" that Thai people (especially leaders) strive for... and fear losing.  The author draws out the implication for relationships between leaders and followers, and drives towards a conclusion that presents an alternative indigenous way of leadership in Thai culture that flies in the face of less noble (but more common) alternatives.  The author got his Ph.D from Fuller Seminary, but this book is very obviously for a general audience, so he stops short of offering any biblical or theological reflection on the topic of face and Thai leadership.  All the same, this was a very engaging book with lots of colorful quotes from Thai leaders.  It gives a good framework for understanding what is happening all around you in everyday social interactions.  It is a must-read if you live in Thailand.

        Buy from Silkworm Books (within Thailand)


      Miracles: A Journalist Looks at Modern Day Experiences of God’s Power

      miracles book cover

      Long-time “Christianity Today” journalist Tim Stafford says that he did not write this book as an apologetic to win over those who deny the possibility of miracles, nor did he write it to dissuade those who rejoice at every miracle they hear about.  Rather, he wrote it for people (like me) who believe in miracles but are skeptical about reports of miracles because they often turn out to not be true.   This book chronicles the author’s own search for understanding, combining the personal experiences of himself and others, a survey of the biblical data about miracles, interviews with various church members and ministry leaders, and critical reflection on all of the above.  The final chapter summarizes the author’s conclusions, the majority of which are solid and biblical, providing a hopeful faith-filled attitude towards expecting miracles, but is also grounded in a holistic view of God’s providence that emphasizes the various ways in which God works, both natural and supernatural.  His sections on the nature, purpose, and frequency of miracles are especially good.

      The one weakness of the book is that the author goes too soft on some extreme Pentecostal pastors and prophets who, in my judgment, go beyond the Bible and twist Scripture.  His desire to be fair and even-handed is commendable but he is too generous to various miracle ministries and ministers, even as he often goes on to express disappoint with their exaggerated claims and abuse of Scripture.  It seems that the author wants to counteract the unbiblical and unsubstantiated claims made by these ministers without turning off readers who like them.  The fact that this book was put out by charismatic publisher Bethany House tells me that the author’s target audience is broadly charismatic/Pentecostal and evangelical.



      The Girl in the Picture

      "The Girl in the Picture” is about a girl and her family caught in the midst of the war in Vietnam. The girl, Kim Phuc, was the subject of the famous war-time photo of a young girl running naked out of a village that had been hit by napalm.  It is a riveting, page-turning, biography, and gives a good window into what life was like for a normal family before, during, and after the war in Vietnam (not to mention an interesting picture of life in Castro's Cuba). I learned many details about the Vietnam War that I had previously just heard in passing but not really understood (such as the significance of the Tet Offensive).  Interestingly, when Kim grows up she becomes a Christian through a church in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), although this part of her experience makes up only a minor part of the narrative.  This book is a biography as well as a cultural and political history, and author Denise Chong gives a sympathetic and well-written account of Kim Phuc’s life and the global events in which she became an unexpected participant.  You definitely learn about Cold War politics in this book, but the author seems to do a good job of telling the facts without turning the book into a political statement.  It is Kim’s story, rather than a political agenda, that drives the narrative. 



      The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism

      Covering post-WWII to the present, “The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism” presents a panorama view of how evangelicalism has grown and changed from a largely Western, North Atlantic movement to a broader, more diverse global movement.  I greatly appreciated the scope of this book, providing balanced coverage of not only North American, but also British and Commonwealth evangelicalism, as well as other places in the world where English is used in Christian discourse.  This was a pleasant change from many books about evangelicalism that are American-centric. 
      I learned in greater depth about later 20th century leaders and authors that I had only heard about in passing, and was not very familiar with.  I particularly enjoyed reading about 1) how evangelicalism developed differently in Britain compared to the United States, 2) the watershed significance of the 1974 Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism, and 3) the tension between evangelicals (largely from the U.S.) who sought a narrow focus on “soul-winning” and those (largely from Latin America) who sought a more holistic definition of mission as applied to other areas of life and society. 
      An important theme which the author discusses at various points in the book, especially in relation to the hugely significant Pentecostal-charismatic movement, is the increasingly divergent streams of evangelicalism in the early 21st century that bring into question whether it is still possible (if it ever was) to identify a common core of beliefs which define evangelicals.   As regards evangelical identity, there is a big question mark as to whether or not the authority of the Bible (sola scriptura) will continue to be a hallmark of evangelicalism.  There are strong movements in many places around the world where following the leading of the Spirit as mediated through personal experience is prioritized over Scripture, and in many cases syncretized with an emphasis on this worldly health, wealth, and blessing as the core of the Christian life.  This is true particularly in areas of Asia and Africa where animism has an important role in the background and worldview of Christian adherents.  However, the author believes that reports of evangelicalism’s demise are premature and the movement as a whole has displayed an historical resilience and ability to redefine and refocus its center over the course of different eras.  It is difficult to say where evangelicalism is headed, but this book provides a good overview of where evangelicalism has been during the last 70 years. 
      “The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism” is book 5 in is a series on the "History of Evangelicalism: People, Movements and Ideas in the English-Speaking World"  



      No Graven Image

      This is a phenomenal book but if I didn't know the author was Elisabeth Elliot, I might have guessed it was written by a cynical former missionary who abandoned the faith, or went emergent or something. "No Graven Image” is a novel about an idealistic missionary seeking to reach the mountain Indians in Ecuador, set in the 1960s. It gets right up in the face of just about every aspect of evangelical missionary sub-culture and its triumphalistic cliches and pat answers. The main action of the book takes place in the mind of the protagonist, Margaret Sparhawk, as her expectations of what a missionary should be and do are challenged by the realities of missionary life. She questions the unquestioned assumptions and party lines that missionaries (and their supporters) often employ. When the book came out, Elisabeth Elliot received severe criticism and it is not hard to see why. This was a devastating novel with a tragic ending, that bears reading by every missionary. Not every missionary will like it, however.




    ESL with Mission to North America: http://pcamna.org/esl-ministries/
    Blair–Beijing International Christian Fellowship: http://www.bicf.org/english-service
    Eby–Westminster Theological College & Seminary (Uganda): http://www.wtcwtsuganda.org/
    Phillips–Serge: http://www.serge.org/
    Zadok–HaGefen Publishing: http://www.ha-gefen.org.il/len/,
    Zadok–Christian Mission to Israel: http://www.cm2israel.org/
    Joshua Project: http://www.joshuaproject.net/
    MERF: http://www.merf.org/
    Mission to the World (MTW): http://mtw.org/
    MNA Hispanic American Ministries: http://pcamna.org/hispanicamerican/index.php
    MTW Network Magazine: http://mtw.org/Pages/RESOURCE_Network.aspx
    OMF International: http://www.omf.org/
    OPC Committee on Foreign Missions: http://www.opc.org/committee_fm.html
    Wycliffe: http://www.wycliffe.org/

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