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    Verdicks in Karamoja

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    • Fri, 15 Dec 2017 18:18:27 +0000: Job, the Beloved - Verdickmoja
      Suffering. We’re all acquainted with it in some form. It is acute to anyone who’s humanity began in Eden, the perfection we were made for and will never experience in this life. Death, disease, neglect, poverty, these things simply were not, but now they are and there’s no escaping them. That does not mean, however, […]
    • Tue, 12 Dec 2017 13:35:09 +0000: A Case for Advent - Verdickmoja
      Uganda has about ten Christmas songs. Anywhere you go in town or village, you will hear the same ten songs (Holly Holiday, Born on Christmas Day, Jinger [sic] Bells, etc.) over and over again. At Akisyon a Yesu, the staff started the Christmas disc on daily rotation sometime in early November. More recently, members of […]

    Okkens in Karamoja

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    • 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,
      Dave
    • Sun, 24 Dec 2017 20:15:00 +0000: Merry Christmas - Karamoja Okkens
      Dear Friends,

      Christmas greetings from Karamoja! When you have lived through enough of them in this place, you don’t even bother dreaming of a white one. It is dry, windy and hot as is typical for this time of year. But, the more unpleasant the weather, or whatever other circumstances, the more precious the truth which we remember. God left the glories of heaven and dwelt in the barren wasteland of this fallen creation. Out in the fields, the shepherds were shown that the glories of heaven had broken into their dark world. In that little baby, lying in a manger in Bethlehem, the Word had become flesh and was dwelling among us (John 1:14).


      It was a privilege for me to preach about those shepherds this morning, first in Akuyam and then in Nakaale. Additionally, Lord’s Day worship is now taking place in a new place. Some weeks back, we had become overwhelmed in Nakaale by attendance of folks from Nakasien. This is a village where we have done evangelism and village Bible study teaching for years. Suddenly, the Lord was bringing people from that area – by the droves. So we decided to organize a separate service to take place there. We thank God for our two brothers who have been helping lead that service: Aleper Emmy and Lokeris Simon Peter. More recently, Angyela Paul has enthusiastically joined them. Please pray for these three brothers and for all the people in attendance that God would do great things to build them up in the grace and knowledge of Christ.


      As I suggested in my sermon today, the shepherds were given a picture of their own future if their trust would be in that newborn baby. It is this hope which we share with the Karimojong and with all who trust in Him, the hope of singing with the angels in heavenly glory forever. Such a marvelous reward was purchased by the Christ-child who, in being born, had already begun that perfect work which would culminate in his death and resurrection for our salvation.


      We pray that this Christmas season and always you might enjoy every blessing in Him!


      David, Sunshine, Caleb, Megan and Jacob

      Summer visit to San Diego - beach family photo

      December Team Retreat
      Karimojong friends enjoying new fishing lines

      Christmas cookie decorating with friends


    Servingkas

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    • 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

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    The Blairs

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    • 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

                                                                                                                           

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    • Wed, 12 Jul 2017 09:43:00 +0000: Mao's Home Town - Mark & Dayna's Blog
      Dear Brothers and Sisters!

       We are so grateful for your prayers and support that keep us going here in Beijing. We praise the Lord that He is doing wonderful things in our midst.
       
       As is normal for our church, about a third of our members are leaving in these summer weeks. The only way we can keep ourselves from inconsolable grief is to remember that’s why we’re here! Our motto is “Gathering, Growing, and Going”! With 82 Universities and more than a million students (100,000 Internationals from over 100 countries) in our neighborhood, we have a big pond to fish from! We see our mission as equipping young leaders from around the world who are getting higher degrees here to be Kingdom workers in their homelands. But it is hard to say good-bye to loved ones we have served the Lord with, some for 7 or 8 years….Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD’s straight through…
       Here are some specific praises…
       
       Dayna was part of a small team to the home town of our church Administrator to share the love of Christ with hundreds of young students. Terry, our Administrator grew up in this city which is the hometown of Chairman Mao. There is no church there! So no gospel witness! Our invitation was to come and share English language. Our little team of four was from Hawaii, England, Ghana, and China. But how can you share “English” without citing the Book that has most-shaped the English language/civilization? 😊 So, they had lots of friendly and well-received times of sharing about our Lord.
       The leaders of the four schools they visited are eager for us to send more teams! Pray for our future relationships.





      Other things going on here that we ask you to pray for…


      Praise for the new connections we have made with one of the migrant schools in Beijing. Pray for wisdom as to how we might best meet their needs with our church’s skill set and time allowances.


      Praise God for the 40 people who attended the “Ready to Return Home” seminar in late June. Pray they and all those leaving Beijing will transition well back into their home cultures and get connected to healthy churches.


      The small Portuguese Bible study group has been meeting. Pray for Lidia leading, that they'll keep going and support one another.


      The French “Alpha” group has also been meeting. Pray for Ruth leading this, that students will turn to Christ and grow in him.


      Pray our Int’l Students “Summer Fun” will build community and reach students outside our fellowship.


      Pray for our 2 International Student Ministry interns, Yueying and Heather, who are doing a 6 week summer internship - that they will grow in Christ and their love for international students.



      Here are with our “daughter” from Uruguay. She met Jesus in our church two years ago. I baptized her. She is a vibrant, enthusiastic, always-talking-about-Jesus, growing believer! She often brings not-yet-Christians to church and small group meetings. She just received a scholarship from her University for her program next year (majoring in Mandarin!). She is translating a Christian book into Mandarin for her graduation project. This is creating lots of good discussions with her professors.



      Gratefully in Him, Mark and Dayna Blair




    • Tue, 16 May 2017 09:33:00 +0000: Singing in the Streets - Mark & Dayna's Blog
      Summertime Greetings from Beijing!                                                      June 2017


      We hope this letter finds you rejoicing in the goodness of the Lord. We too give thanks for His sustaining mercy and the many doors of Gospel-opportunity He continues to open for us here in the Capital of the world’s most populous nation. Here is some of what we have been doing the last couple of months…


      Leader’s Retreat / “Serve the City”


      In April we enjoyed an overnight in the hills outside the city with a number of our Beijing International Christian Fellowship Zhong Guan Cun ministry leaders. We were blessed to have Jerry McCarty (in the plaid shirt next to Dayna) from “Serve the City.” He did a great 



      job letting us know ways their organization is helping to advance the Kingdom of God in word and deed in 100 cities around the world. Pray with us in ZGC for the His wisdom as we want to faithfully share the compassion of Jesus with our city.

      Women’s Retreat


      One weekend in May Dayna joined with 80 ladies from around the world on a BICF Retreat. She was a Small Group leader and really enjoyed the time of sharing and growing together. The theme was “Covenant Relationships” and lots of good friendships were formed.



      The Chinese man who owns the hotel/resort where the ladies stayed was especially interested in their Bible studies. As they were leaving he asked if they could send a Bible teacher for his 80 employees to learn the wisdom of this Ancient Book! We connected with a brother who lives nearby, pray for God to open hearts as the Word is opened!

      Great Friday


      As one-third of the members BICF ZGC leave every year, there are few traditions! One that has stuck for several years has been reflecting on the saving work of our Lord by hearing His “seven words from the cross” on Good Friday. Here are this year’s seven preachers. They did a great job taking us back to that awesome “ground zero” with fresh eyes of faith. Hallelujah! What a Savior!


      I had the joy of baptizing Kwame, standing next to me in the front row, on Easter 2016. This year he declared “It is Finished!” By the grace of our Lord, he just became the first citizen of Ghana to earn a Ph.D. in China’s prestigious Tsinghua University! Pray for him and all those who return home.


      Biggest Baptism!


      Easter Sunday we joined with the Church around the world rejoicing in our Risen Lord. It was a special joy to baptize the largest number of new believers since we began serving here in 2009. Young brothers and sisters from Uganda, Ghana, Viet Nam, China, Indonesia, Mauritius, Mozambique, and USA professed their faith in Him who died and rose again. The young lady from China seen here reading her testimony joked about how all her classmates in Canada mispronounced her name….not sure if I got it right when I baptized her! 

      Clara, on the far right, is a first-year student from Mozambique who speaks very little English. Lydia, standing behind Clara, is a fifth-year student from Mozambique who has learned English AND Mandarin and came to faith in Jesus here in China! So Lydia now brings a bunch of Portuguese speakers every Sunday and translates for them. Clara heard AND HEARD and decided, even if she could not understand the pastor (few can!), it was time for her to take her stand of faith in baptism. Prior to interviewing Clara for baptism I had no idea we had this Portuguese flock! Now we have supplied them with discipleship and evangelistic materials in Portuguese. And now a small group of 8 meets weekly in Portuguese. Pray for them as they just found an entire dorm floor of a nearby Uni is filled with all Portuguese speakers!



      Like any church we enjoy the random surprises of just who God will bring on any given Sunday. In a city of 24 million, we get a lot! Easter Sunday 300 of our 650 worshippers walked to a nearby University dining hall for a 10-course lunch (for just $ 5 usd!) after service. Dayna’s table had a family of Samoans who “just happened” to be in Beijing on Easter. (Momma, hands on her 12 year-old daughter’s shoulders.) Her other daughter, far left, seems to have found a friend in one of our Samoa young men who just became member of our church (he is a University student).


      Julia, in the beige coat is a dentist from here, newly returned from living several years in the States (where she came to faith in Jesus). Easter Sunday she told Dayna the Lord put a burden on her heart to offer dental care to any of our students in need. Then that afternoon Anne, a student from Kenya, confided in Dayna that she has been struggling for several months about how she might get her teeth fixed!! Introductions were promptly made, and Anne is smiling pretty again!


      Forgiveness and Friendship


      Our newly launched Japanese service has become a model of God’s restoring grace. They have been meeting for almost two months now, and the growing congregation (40 last Sunday). Our Japanese Pastor Kosei models reconciliation even in his marriage - to Ruth (from Korea!), they have three fine Japanese/Korean children who love the Lord. They have served here in China for 20 years, showing that love and forgiveness from Jesus transcend political bitterness and barriers. A growing number of Chinese Christians are learning Japanese and sensing a call to share the Gospel in Japan. Half of our newly forming congregation in ZGC are non-Japanese who want to reach Japanese! Pray for them.


      There are a number of Japanese communities in this big country that are asking Kosei for his help. As far as we know he is the only Japanese Christian pastor in this nation of China! If you know any Japanese pastors…this is a Macedonian call!


      Singing in the Streets for Easter!


      After great worship and way too much good food, why not go sing the praises of the Risen Lord on the busy streets of Beijing? We did. No troubles. Lots of curiosity. And several sincere inquiries.

      Faith@Work



      With our congregation so full of University students, many doing graduate degrees, we feel the weight of equipping Kingdom workers for decades of service. And, like all believers, they will spend many more hours “on the job” than in a church. As they should! We want to encourage them to see their “calling” is to the make Christ known in the marketplace and public square. One Saturday in April we learned from four men who have been doing this for decades. Over 80 young adults “invested a day for a lifetime of Kingdom service.” And we then launched a monthly group that now meets to think and pray about Faith @ Work. 

       MICN in KL

      The first four days of May we attended the Missional International Church Network meetings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (www.micn.org) We had the privilege of presenting a workshop to our colleagues entitled, “Integrating International Students & Returnees with International Churches: A Highly Strategic Interface.” We had a great discussion with fellow pastors from Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. God is moving people around the world, we’re hoping that more and more Christians see this as a Divine Opportunity to reach out with the love and truth of Jesus Christ.


      June Courses

      This month of June Mark will teach two courses here. For our “Tuesday Training” program he will teach the “The Doctrine of Man: Who are we? What have we become? What can we be?” And for two weekends he will teach a course for the BICF Seminary, “Apologetics: Reasons for Our Hope - Defending and Commending the Christian Faith in Today’s Complex World.” Please pray for extra strength to teach and carry on with other preaching and pastoral duties this busy month.


      It is also the time that many of our beloved students will graduate and return home. We rejoice that they’re following Him to carry the Gospel from “everywhere to everywhere.” We try to say “a hui hou! (see you again!)” but as they head off to distant times zone it can feel like good-bye! One day we will rejoice together in His presence with all the stories of His mighty works!


      We pray you will have a fruitful summer in His service! We are so thankful for all your prayers and support that enable us to serve Him here in Beijing!


      In the Wondrous Name of Jesus, Mark and Dayna Blair  


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


      Checks should be made out to ‘Pioneers’ – with a separate note attached saying: ‘Mark and Dayna Blair, Beijing.’                 

      Electronic transfers can be sent to: https://give.pioneers.org/p-75-give-to-a-missionary-or-project.aspx  (Our Account # is 110565, Mark and Dayna Blair)



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      ,


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    • 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.


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