Birthday Becomes Ministry

This week I had a house guest—an American missionary serving in Romania.  Sandy didn’t come so much to see Milan as to just take some time off and relax.  And it’s a good thing, since everything worth seeing in Milan can be seen in a day, two at most.  So while she did do some sight-seeing, she didn’t wear herself out going from place to place.  I had only been back a day when she arrived, and as the weekend approached, I realized that it would be Pastor Fabio’s birthday on Sunday.  So I asked Sandy if she would like to go with me, since Pastor Fabio lives up in the mountains a couple of hours from here.  She said yes.  So we made arrangements and caught a train.

On the train, Sandy confided to me that it was also her birthday, and that she was delighted to spend it up in the mountains of northern Italy.  But she asked me to keep her birthday a secret.  “I don’t want to take any attention away from Pastor Fabio, since it’s his birthday.”

One thing I thought that Sandy would be interested in seeing was the church’s ministry house, La Casa.  The ministry house is open as a refuge for marginalized people, particularly homeless people with alcohol and/or drug dependency issues.  Since Sandy works with gypsies, I thought she would find the ministry interesting and encouraging.

My involvement with La Casa began while it was still a dream in Carlo’s mind.  Pastor Fabio had sent Carlo to meet me at the train station a couple of years ago.  I hadn’t known Carlo except to see him at church whenever I went up there.  As soon as I got settled into the car, Carlo began talking to me about his idea for La Casa.

Little did I know, but he and his wife, Concetta, had agreed with Pastor Fabio that La Casa was to be a carefully guarded secret between the three of them until God gave further instructions.  Carlo had wanted me involved because of my prayer ministry.  As Carlo poured out the whole idea to me in the car, Concetta was in the backseat wondering if he had lost his mind, blathering their secret like that.  My spirit’s instant and strong response told me that this was definitely a God thing, so I immediately began praying for Carlo and his family, and for La Casa.

So I called Pastor Fabio to tell him that we were coming. When I told him that Sandy was a missionary in Romania, he contacted Carlo.  Normally I stay with others of the church, often with Pastor Fabio and his wife.  The reason he arranged for us to stay at La Casa was because there are two Romanian families currently staying at La Casa.

Most Italians are deeply prejudiced against Romanians.  They consider all Romanians gypsies, and therefore thieves who come to Italy to live off of hard-working Italians.  Part of the problem is in the name: the Italian word Rom (gypsy) sounds like a diminutive for Rumeno (Romanian).  There is a political party in Italy that advocates the immediate expulsion of all foreigners from Italy (not just Romanians, but also yours truly).  Of course it is as ridiculous to think that all Romanians are gypsies as it is to think that all gypsies are thieves or that foreigners are the source of Italy’s problems, but that’s the trouble with prejudices—they are pre-judgments before knowing the facts.

Romania is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and since Italy is close, and since Italian is most similar to Romanian, Romanians often leave their country to come to Italy and look for work.  The Romanians I know are honest, hard-working people who simply cannot earn a living wage in Romania.  Because of the prejudice against Romanians, they do not receive a warm welcome when they arrive in Italy.

So, Pastor Fabio arranged for us to stay at La Casa.  I was thrilled because I had wanted Sandy to see La Casa and to meet Carlo and Concetta.  When Pastor Fabio told me about the Romanians staying there, I knew that this was the right place to stay.

Concetta picked us up from the train station and took us to La Casa.  It was different than I had remembered—bigger.  It turns out that it’s a different house, though in many aspects similar to the other.  Now, that’s really something amazing because that day when Carlo and Concetta met me at the train station two years ago they had been a family of four living in a pickup truck style camper for a year.  They had practically no possessions, and certainly were not wealthy.  Their dream at the time seemed as unreachable as the moon on a stepladder.  But prayer works, and prayer together with a God-given dream is unstoppable.

Within just a matter of months, donations came pouring in and Carlo and Concetta had gotten the house for practically nothing.  Now they were in a second (and bigger) house, and Concetta told me that they have their eyes on a third house: one exclusively for women and children.

We met the two Romanian families: Steffy, a young woman with her two children and mother, and a young couple with their daughter.  Steffy and her mother were gypsies.  She had left her abusive husband (who was not a gypsy).  He had brought the family to Italy, where his abusive behavior had increased.  Steffy now has a good job and will soon be able to support her family.  For now they live at La Casa.

The young couple, Miriam and Lino, had also come to Italy in search of a better life.  Miriam had succumbed to the thinking of many ex-pat Romanians: that Romania was a place to be hated, never to return again.  No doubt the Italian prejudice against Romanians plus the terrible poverty of Romania has a lot to do with the ex-pat hatred of their homeland.  But after coming to La Casa and also to faith in Jesus, Miriam has done a complete turnaround.  Now she and Lino look forward to returning to Romania as missionaries.

All the Romanians were delighted to meet Sandy, and Sandy was delighted to minister encouragement to them in their native language.  Sandy also played with the children until we were all called to lunch.  Later, while Sandy was resting after lunch, I spilled the beans.  I told them that it was Sandy’s birthday.  They had already been planning on making a cake from the donated apples that were in super-abundant supply.  Instead of making one cake, they made three: an applesauce cake, an apple-chocolate marble cake, and an apple upside-down cake.  In the meanwhile, they called Carlo with the news of Sandy’s birthday, and he picked up a beautiful scarf to give her as a gift.

When dinner was ready, Sandy came and took her place at the table beside me, her Italian translator, never even suspecting that a birthday dinner was in the works.  We enjoyed a lovely fish dinner donated by a local restaurant, and then out came the 3 cakes, one with a candle in the top.  Sandy turned to me in shock.  I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I’m not so good at keeping this kind of secret.”

Over her shoulder I saw Lino, who suddenly had tears welling-up in his eyes.  Steffy explained to me in Italian that Lino was feeling emotional because Sandy reminded him of his mother.  When I translated this to Sandy, she stood up and went to Lino, who stood up, too.  She wrapped him in a hug that made all the eyes around the table well-up.  Miriam told me that in Sandy she had rediscovered both “mother-in-law” and mother.  Sandy gave Miriam a big hug, too, as Lino wiped away tears.

Although her work in Romania is administrative, it became abundantly clear that Sandy has a mother anointing.  Playing with children is one thing, and I play with children because I feel like a child more than an adult most of the time.  But Sandy’s mother anointing is quite another thing.

I was once again struck by how God had arranged all this.  My ministry of encouragements is often like this instance—encouragement happens, but not because I go with the intention of doing something to encourage missionaries.  No, it happens because I follow where Jesus leads me, and encouragement naturally just seems to flow.  This whole thing made me realize that my desire for Sandy to see La Casa had been from God, and it had been confirmed by Pastor Fabio.  It is humbling to realize that it all had very little to do with me or anything I am able to do.  The biggest thing I did—the only thing I really ever had to do—was to let go of the controls and go where God leads me.  He does all the work, and my work doesn’t feel like work so much as just fun, play, and enjoying friendships.  What a life!  God is good, so good!

What do You Want for Christmas?

What do you want for Christmas?  A new car?  A tablet?  A big screen TV?  A better job?  Phenomenal weight loss?  A billion dollars?  A whole new life?  Or perhaps something more universally beneficial like world peace?

People want all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons.  And sometimes they think of God as a big, cosmic Santa, ready to fulfill all their needs and desires.  God is good, and His goodness is being emphasized by many Christians these days.  But God is not a trained poodle, and He’s not your Heavenly winning lotto ticket, either.  Your comfort, entertainment, security, and well-being are not very high on God’s list of priorities—especially if God’s will isn’t at the very top of your own list of priorities.

Don’t get me wrong, God wants what is best for you.  But like any parent-child relationship, sometimes yucky Brussel sprouts is what the child gets instead of the candy she wants and asks for.  God wants to give us Salvation, Revival, Rapture, evil conquered once and for all, and the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ.  And most Christians will say that they want all these things, too.  But first, they want those other things, and focus their prayers on their own desires—if they even pray at all.

TV’s, tablets, phones, etc. are not bad things, but the enemy has used them to distract us from God’s priorities.

The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming, (2 Peter 3:10-12, emphasis mine).

Jesus is coming—and soon!  What are you supposed to be doing to speed the coming of God’s Kingdom?  What are your excuses for not doing it?  Your job?  Your spouse/kids?  Or do you think that things will keep going like they’ve always gone.

Here’s what I want: I want to see the Body of Christ functioning in all the Spiritual Gifts—I want to see healings, miracles, signs and wonders.  We were promised all these things, but we got tired, overworked, lazy, and distracted by our own desires and the cares of life.  We’ve left our First Love for things that don’t even last.

What I’m doing right here, right now, today is what I am supposed to be doing.  When I’m in Europe I do missionary support and encouragement through Prayer, Hospitality, and Collaboration.  While I’m in the US, I speak to as many churches and church groups as I can about Europe as a mission field, and about GoMissions.  Today I am traveling to Texas to speak to churches, individuals, and groups.  There are also some missionaries I will be meeting with while I’m there, encouraging them while they are home on furlough.  And in both places I write about it all.

Now, do I always feel like jumping in the car (or on a plane or train)?  No.  There are times when I just want to hibernate and rest.  It’s two full days of driving to Texas from North Carolina, and frankly, it’s not convenient for me to go.  I’m tired.  But my love for God and for His missionaries is so strong that I simply can’t say no to Him.

God is good, and I want to share His goodness with the world.  God wants to give everyone in the world Salvation, Revival, Rapture, evil conquered once and for all, and the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ.  Those things will come eventually, but I want to do all I can to speed up the process and bring Jesus back.  I repeat, God is good!

20 Ways to Refresh the Hearts of the Missionary Saints on Furlough

The following is re-blogged from The Gospel Coalition‘s blogsite, guest blogger: Jason Carter–enjoy!

In my own experience, church members often appreciate missionaries, admire their sacrifice for the Gospel and think highly of their ministries. Yet it’s hard to understand that returning for furlough to one’s “home” country can be a highly exhausting and stressful experience for many missionary families. Between the tension-filled task of an international move, setting up a new place to live, a frenzied travel schedule and finding one’s missionary budget stretched to the limit, a missionary faces a multitude of challenges during furlough.

Many missionaries that I know get reprimanded by their mission leaders to physically rest, spiritually recharge, invest in their marriages and reflect on ministry practices during furlough. These are formidable challenges amidst busy schedules. To borrow a phrase from Henry Nouwen, many missionaries come home on furlough as “wounded healers” who desperately need the body of Christ during their home assignment.

Recently, Jason Helopoulos challenged us to be like Philemon in encouraging the hearts of the Lord’s people. The apostle Paul commended Philemon as embodying traits which refreshed the body of Christ: “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people” (Philemon 1:7).
What would it look like for the body of Christ to refresh the hearts of missionaries on furlough? Here are a few practical ways that you can serve those who serve:

• If you are part of a bible study or small group, adopt a missionary family from the supported missionaries of your church. Pray for them regularly. Send care packages, birthday cards and encouraging letters.

• Buy a kindle for a missionary. Tell them to make a long list of books they want to read. Regularly buy kindle books for them when they return overseas.

• If you are a dentist, offer free or discounted dental work. If you are a lawyer, offer to update their last will and testament. If you are a counselor, offer free marital counseling (i.e. a marriage tune-up). Use your vocational gifts to bless the missionary body of Christ.

• Offer to host a dinner party where the missionary can share about the ministry. If there are financial needs, share those needs with the group so the missionary doesn’t have to.

• Offer to keep in storage some of their earthly belongings while they are serving overseas.

• Send a missionary to a Christian conference or spiritual retreat where they will be equipped and refreshed for the ministry.

• Purchase return plane tickets for the missionary’s family. Two overseas trips in a short time frame (to the States & back to their field of service) are extremely expensive for most missionary budgets.

• Offer to give the missionary couple a date night every week or two. Instead of inviting the whole family to dinner, offer to take the kids for a night.

• Own a condo or time-share? Gift a week (and spending money) to a missionary family.

• Nominate yourself as Chairperson of their Furlough Committee. You might be a committee of one, but you can scout out housing in advance of their furlough, equip the place with some furniture and leave a Fruit Basket (or Krispy Kreme donuts) on their front step when they arrive from overseas.

• Loan (or give) a car to a missionary family to use during their furlough, and find a couple car seats for their children.

• Tell the missionary all the ways you have diligently prayed specifically for them.

• If the missionary family homeschools, offer to buy some curriculum or books for the missionary kids.

• Have your own kids adopt a missionary family. When the family returns overseas, encourage your kids to pray for the missionary kids’ international or home schooling, friendships with national kids, foreign language learning, good health, and that the kids will come to love and serve Jesus Christ.

• Ask to see the pictures. All of them. Via photos, see their adopted clan, meet their missionary colleagues and get a feel for their ministry context. It´s cathartic for missionaries when people are interested in their life and ministry.

• Ask the missionary family for a list of movies they want to watch during their next term overseas. Purchase 25 DVD movies so that the missionaries can enjoy a “movie night” during their next term of service. Netflix and quality DVD movies (gasp!) still are not available in many countries.

• Set up a home office for their furlough: desk, chair, computer and printer.

• Encourage your kids to invite the missionary kids over for playdates, play on their soccer teams and take them to youth group. Remember, while the parents may enjoy long-lasting friendships with members of their home church, missionary kids often experience all these new people as strangers.

• Let them know you are filled with joy at their service and sacrifice for the Gospel.

• Tell them all the ways you will be praying for them during their next missionary term.

One of least-helpful things people often say to missionaries on furlough is this: “Let me know how I can help.” That places the missionary in a difficult spot – is this person just saying that to be kind? Do they really want to hear about our deepest frustrations and concerns right now? Are they asking to be on our support team?

A better idea would be to choose 1-2 practical ways to refresh the hearts of the missionary saints among you. Pray for them. Invest in their ministry. Become personally invested in their lives and in their ministry. Take the challenge: dare to be a Philemon to a missionary. I bet you’ll be glad you did.

Why Am I Studying Hebrew?

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;

to search out a matter is the glory of kings, (Proverbs 25:2).

I admit, I have wondered why people would go to all the trouble of studying Hebrew—especially given the very few opportunities that most people ever get to actually speak Hebrew.  I have been interested for a long time in the original language of the Bible, but that alone didn’t motivate me to study Hebrew.  So what changed?  Why am I now signed up for online Hebrew classes?  Let me take you step-by-step in taking my initial interest to the next level, which is a quantum leap.

In 2010 I became a full-time missionary, and read The Mysterious Bible Codes by Grant R. Jeffrey.  In the book, Jeffrey explains how he learned about the Bible Codes in which hidden words are found throughout the original Hebrew text of the Bible that relate to people, places, events and other items all through history up to the present time.  These words were encoded in a pattern called equidistant letter sequence (ELS).  Discovering these ELS patterns would have been practically impossible before the age of computers because some of the patterns are found at as much as 100 letter intervals.  Using the ELS code, for example, the Hebrew phrase for equidistant letter sequence, shalav a’ot, is found in the Hebrew text of each book of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

There are other Bible code books: The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin (who has followed up with several other Bible code books), Cracking the Bible Code by Jeffrey Satinover, and Yeshua by Yacov Rambsel.

Then I heard a sermon on YouTube in which the plan of salvation is encoded in the names of the first ten generations of men: Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech and Noah.  Adam means man in Hebrew.  Seth means appointed; Enosh means mortal, frail, or miserable; Kenan means sorrow, dirge, or mournful poem; Mahalalel means Blessed God; Jared means shall come down; Enoch means teaching; Methuselah means his death shall bring; Lamech means lament or despairing; and Noah means relief or comfort.

Adam              =          Man

Seth                 =          Appointed

Enosh              =          Mortal

Kenan              =          Sorrow

Mahalalel         =          The Blessed God

Jared                =          Shall come down

Enoch              =          Teaching

Methuselah      =          His death shall bring

Lamech           =          The Despairing

Noah               =          Rest, or comfort.

Put it all together and you get: Man (is) appointed mortal sorrow; (but) the Blessed God shall come down teaching (that) His death shall bring (the) despairing rest.  Very cool stuff!

I also learned that each Hebrew letter has a numerical value, and that numbers have specific meanings in the Bible.  For example, the number 7 is the number of perfection, and 6 is the number of man (who falls short of perfection), and the number 666 is the number of man repeated 3 times, which emphasizes that the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:18) is indicative of humanism.

I heard another sermon in which the preacher explained about the sign Pilate wrote to hang over Jesus’ head at His crucifixion: Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.  It was written in three languages: Hebrew, Latin, and either Greek or more likely Aramaic.  Some churches show that sign with the letters INRI, which is an abbreviation for the Latin Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews).  I had always wondered why just the letters, but the preacher said that they wrote signs like that: just the initial letters.  And that by taking just the initial letters in Hebrew, you come up with The Tetragrammaton, the four letters representing the unpronounceable Name of God: Yodh, He, Waw, He.  That was why the Jewish leaders were so insistent that Pilate rewrite the sign.  But, of course, he refused.

But the most intriguing thing, and the one that won me over is that each Hebrew letter also represents a word.  For example a friend of mine who is a student of Hebrew told me that the Hebrew letters of the Name of God have this meaning: The first letter, Yodh, means hand.  He means behold.  Waw means nail.  And when you put all that together, it’s exactly what resurrected Jesus told Thomas: The hand, behold!  The nail, behold!  Or as John put it in his Gospel, “See My hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into My side,” (verse 20:27).  And Thomas, knowing the four letters representing the Name of God, dropped to his knees, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”

So I investigated Hebrew classes, and the more I looked into it, the more excited I became.  Next thing I knew, I was signed up.  The online classroom can accommodate my busy travel schedule, which is a really good thing.  So, classes start the first week in December, and go for nine months.  They say that by the end of classes, I’ll be able to read the Bible in Hebrew.  Woo-HOO!  God is good!

True Faith Sees It!

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,

Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,

Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (emphasis mine)

The Lord has been showing me a lot about faith lately.  It all boils down to this: true faith sees the thing.  You ask God for anything: healing, wisdom, a financial miracle, etc., and then you see it.  Visualization of that prayer request granted.

Many Christians shy away from ideas like visualization because of New Age implications.  But as with so many other good things (God things!), visualization has also been copied by the enemy.  The enemy copies all the best things and corrupts them because he is incapable of inventing or creating anything, himself.  When we use something like visualization (or meditation or dance or filmmaking or music or anything that the enemy has corrupted), we simply do it God’s way, and with a holy focus.  If we do it this way, we won’t go wrong.

So ask God for healing, for example healing from a fever, then see (visualize) the healing: the person is out of bed and joyfully functioning normally.

Ask God for wisdom, then see yourself making good choices with good results.

Ask God for a financial miracle (be specific about the amount that you need), then see the money and the thing the money is intended for (a bag of groceries, a car, a house).

When praying for a financial miracle you must be sure that your priorities are right.  If you’re not already honoring God with tithes and offerings (that is a minimum of ten percent of your income), then don’t expect God to bless you financially.  And don’t ask God for money to fulfill a desire of your flesh.  He won’t give you the money to have a TV in every room of your house, and seven cars for a family of three.  Financial blessing will not come until you are fully submitted to God’s will.  One person I met recently said that she and her husband are praying for financial blessings so that they can tithe 90 percent to God, and live off the remaining 10 percent.  Imagine the good that God’s people could do if we all prayed and sowed into the Kingdom that way!  That is the kind of giving heart that God will bless generously.

When you pray and back it up with visualization, another amazing thing will happen: you won’t rob yourself of the thing asked for by the things you say.  I want to scream every time I pray for someone and as soon as we say, “Amen,” they sigh and say, “Well, I hope so!”  This is not about hope.  By saying you hope so, you’ve just shown how little faith you have, and God will not answer prayers that are based on no faith.  So when you say, “Amen,” start immediately to see your prayer answered—and see it in a specific way.

The Bible says: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV, emphasis mine).  See it, and have it.  Faith is substance—something you can see and touch.

God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did,” (Romans 4:17, NKJV, emphasis mine).  In this, God is modeling faith for us: see it and speak about it as if it is already done.

Another method I heard about lately is stepping into Heaven, taking what you’ve asked for, and then releasing it here on earth.  You stand praying, for an opportunity to talk to someone important, for example.  Next you take a step forward after prayer and say, “I step into Heaven and take the keys that open the door for this opportunity,” and you take hold of them with your hand, seeing them in your mind’s eye.  Then you take a step backwards again and say, “and I open the door for this opportunity here on earth,” while unlocking a door with those keys (always seeing both the door and the keys in your imagination).  Then watch and see the Lord give you time and place, and the undivided attention of that important person.

You can also step into Heaven and take healing, step back and release that healing into the life of the person you’re praying for.  Really, this is just a way of boosting your visualization by adding action to it.  Like God, you’re calling those things that don’t exist as though they did, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Remember, the satanic visualization techniques are cheap copies of real and powerful faith.

How did you receive salvation?  By faith!  Are you in Heaven yet?  No, not if you’re reading this.  So how do you know that you’re saved?  Faith!  It’s the same with anything else that you pray for: receive it by faith.  It might not be substance right now, but it will be.  Just as surely as your welcome in Heaven, the thing you pray for in faith (seeing it) will be given to you.

Are you ready for the coolest part?  Jesus said: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father,” (John 14:12, emphasis mine).

That phrase, “very truly,” means that He wants us to really understand the truth of what He is telling us.

“Whoever believes in Me,” is universally inclusive of all believers.

“They will do even greater things than these,” means that Jesus’ miracles are like a miracles starter kit to what we will do.

The only thing holding us back is the meat between our ears—our own mind.  We don’t see other people doing Jesus’ miracles, so we don’t think that we can do them, never mind greater works.  But that is walking by sight—what our physical eyes see, which is the opposite of walking by faith—what our spiritual eyes see (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Faith is one of the nine fruits of the Spirit—one of the things that every believer is given at conversion, though it must be developed into full maturity, just like a small, green fruit on the tree needs to develop into a large, luscious red apple.

Faith is also one of the nine gifts of the Spirit, which are supernaturally enhanced by the Holy Spirit.  How do you get supernatural faith?  The same way you got ordinary faith.  The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” (Romans 10:17, NKJV).  If you want more faith, get into God’s Word.  And even better is hearing God’s Word.

I have an audio Bible on my MP3 player, along with Christian music that I’ve collected over the years.  I recently discovered that when I select “play all” and put the player on shuffle, it plays a random chapter of the Bible or a random song.  And God has used this to speak to me in some surprising and encouraging ways.  I also like to play a game with myself.  I guess which book of the Bible is being read.  Some parts are very easy and obvious, like Genesis and the Gospels, and some parts are very challenging, like the Minor Prophets or some of the books of the law.

Pardon me for that little rabbit trail, but the point is that however you do it, you’ll have more faith according to how much of God’s Word you get into your heart—but it gets there through your ears.  Imagine listening to the audio Bible on the way to work instead of some filth-spewing shock jock.  You’re sitting in traffic just the same, but this way your faith grows.  And when you arrive at work, you’re not stressed, but blessed instead.

So visualize, step into Heaven and take hold of whatever it is that you need.  And above all, develop your faith.  God is good!

Best Moments at Tabernacles

Bjorni worship

Greetings from the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) in Poland!

It has been a whirlwind week of late nights and wee-hours worship, early mornings and midday meetings, and all that adds up to little sleep.  Twenty-four hour worship over seven days is both challenging and wonderful.  I always say that I can sleep after Tabernacles, but I hate to miss a moment while I’m here.  I can’t believe that it is almost at the end now!

Last night a group of us got together in the hotel restaurant for some friend time after the church’s coffee shop had closed.  Someone asked the question: what has been your best moment here at Tabernacles?  The answers were as personal and varied as we were.  Some people experienced miraculous healings, while others experienced God’s presence and help in a moment of their own inability.  But for each of us the best moments were intimately personal God encounter moments.

My friend, Guy, had a miraculous healing.  The day before coming to Tabernacles, he hurt his back.  The pain got worse and worse, so that he couldn’t even carry his guitar.  Max went to his house and brought Guy, his luggage, and his guitar back to my apartment for the night.  In this way we were able to wake up together as a group (four of the five members of Team Albania) for our early morning trip to the airport.  Of course, we prayed for healing, believing that God would touch him.  But at first the pain got worse and worse.  It broke my heart to see Guy walking slowly and carefully—an old man’s shuffle on a young man.  Then one night Guy and Max were worshiping together in their room—with Guy laid-out flat on his back.  Then Max said that Guy’s eyes shut and began to flutter.  So Max went to bed, but was using his phone, so there was a little bit of light in the room.  Then from around the corner, Max saw someone jump into his line of sight, and the jump became a victory dance: Guy was healed!

For me the best moment was a surprise invitation and welcome to the home of friends who I had barely known before.  I had gone to the train station with Joseph, the church leader assigned to facilitate transportation and lodging.  I was there to buy tickets for the Italian team’s return trip to the airport.  We arrived at the train station at 3:39 in the afternoon on Saturday.  Joseph hadn’t known the ticket office’s schedule, but only knew that the hours on Saturdays were shortened.  As I stood in line, Joseph pointed out the posted hours for the ticket office: closing on Saturday is at 3:40 in the afternoon.  I could feel God smiling on me.

Once I had their tickets, Joseph said that we were also there to pick up Boris, who was coming in from Ukraine.  In the car, Joseph asked me if I was in a hurry to get back to the church.  I said, “No, and probably Boris is tired from his trip.  Let’s get him settled first.”  So he took Boris to a house in a new development just outside of town.  Boris went into the house, and Kasia came running out.  She said something to Joseph, and Joseph asked me, “Would you like to go inside for a cup of coffee or something?”  Of course, I said yes.

Inside was the entire team from Russia and their children, plus Kasia and Andrey’s children.  I was ushered to a chair among the couches and chairs that encircled the square coffee table.  The coffee table was hardly visible underneath mounds of goodies.  Kasia had baked two different kinds of cake, cookies, candies, pretzels, coffee mugs, tea cups, napkins, a stack of clean plates and utensils, and as if that wasn’t already enough, Kasia had the children bring in cups of ice cream with strawberry syrup for everybody.  I regretted that I was still full from lunch.  I didn’t want it to seem like I was unimpressed with her hospitality, when the truth was that I wished to have such a hospitable gift for my own guests’ sake.  So I accepted an ice cream and a cup of tea.

But more than a heaping tableful of delicious welcome treats, the thing that made me feel most loved and welcomed was the fact that everybody in the room immediately switched to English for my sake—even when they were in conversation with each other.  I was the only native speaker of English present, and some of them spoke it with difficulty, so the effort on their part was very kind, and it’s something that I will never forget.

Then Joseph announced that he had to go pick up his daughter.  He asked to be excused, and was concerned that I might feel abandoned.  Instead, I was very glad not to have to cut my visit short, since he had stayed only about half an hour.  Then Andrey asked me if I wanted to see his garden.  So we went outside, where he has made several tree grafts.  He has a gardening business, and he had grafted exotic trees onto stronger base trees for a hardier result.  He pulled off dead leaves with such a practiced hand that it was obvious to me that he has that green thumb so necessary to gardening.  This is a gift that I admire because I have the opposite effect on plants.  It’s almost as if plants see me as the Grim Reaper and give up without a fight.  I told Andrey that his grafts are scriptural because we (Christians) are the wild olive that has been grafted into the olive tree.  Plus, mankind’s first job was taking care of the garden.  I can imagine Andrey would be very at home in the Garden of Eden.

Then the children came out with a soccer ball and began kicking it around.  They made some obviously invitational passes to one of the adult men, who happily complied.  Soon the boys of all ages were kicking the ball to each other.  One man, a pastor from Russia, had his tablet and was watching a video on it, but that didn’t stop him from kicking the ball every time it came in his direction.  I was enjoying the show.  One by one, both men and boys began to get tired and thirsty, and drifted away from the game.  One boy seemed never to tire, and relentlessly chased the ball down wherever it flew.  He was engaged in play with the last man standing.  I remarked, “I believe he’s not going to stop until it’s too dark or his mommy calls him in.”  The man laughed and agreed.  And right on cue, Mommy called her little soccer player inside, and the game ended.

A new round of treats and drinks was set out for us, and then we gathered around to pray for our hosts.  I was glad that we took the time to pray for them because it had been on my heart not to leave this house without praying for them.  Each person prayed for them in English—much to my surprise.  Although I am fluent in Italian, I still struggle to pray in Italian.  I think it’s just because I am so used to speaking to God in English.  The only time God has ever spoken to me in Italian was when He had a specific word for an Italian-speaker, and I think He wanted to save me the trouble of translation.

This visit and the warm welcome that I had received (not only from our hosts, but from everybody there) had really brought home the message that I am loved.  In a powerful way, I understood that I am loved.

Of course, being here in my capacity as midwife to bring new worship teams to Tabernacles is the best overall aspect of Tabernacles.  I have said again and again that I don’t feel like I really did anything.  All this was birthed from my determination to bring Italian worship to Tabernacles last year—even if that was only me alone.  Then God put Team Italy together for me.

This year the Italian team contacted me, saying that they are coming to Tabernacles, but that they don’t need me on their team.  I was overjoyed: the baby had been successfully born and is now walking.  But I did wonder what I could do for Tabernacles.  And almost as soon as I wondered about it, the phone rang, and it was Max.  He said, “I hear that you bring teams to the Feast of Tabernacles in Poland.  I want to go.”  So, Team Albania came together from a group of worshiping friends and it looks like this: Max, who is Albanian; Guy, Ivorian; Sally, British; and Allegra and me, Americans.  We are from four different countries and three continents, and we all met just a year and a half ago in Milan.

Friends who only see me once a year at Tabernacles have asked if I’ve moved to Albania, and how it is that I’ve brought an Albanian team this year.  I tell them: “The short answer is God.”  God is good!

The Matchless Gift of Presence

Greetings from Latina, Italy!

When I was in my early twenties, I passed up an opportunity to attend a close friend’s wedding because of the cost of getting there, buying a new dress (and probably new shoes, too), and the time to travel there, etc.  Then a few years later, my friend was killed in a highway accident.  I had passed-up my friend’s biggest life event—and the last.  What I didn’t pass-up was my friend’s funeral, and by then I lived even farther away.

The funeral was a sorry substitute for a wedding that I should have been there to celebrate.  But I learned from this experience, and I have tried to make it a priority to celebrate life events with those I love.

That decision turned out to be an important part of my ministry of encouragement.  When I show up for a surprise birthday party (as I did in August) or a wedding (as today), the surprise and joy at seeing me is priceless.  Likewise, my presence at a friend’s funeral or at the funeral of a friend’s close relative (mother, sister, or child) gives comfort that words never could.  In fact, in those sad moments, silence and a loving presence is far better than ten million eloquent words.  Although I missed the funeral by a couple of days, I went to be with friends after the death of their baby (see Come Now Let us Reason Together).  In each case, my presence was not only welcomed, but actually celebrated.

I am reminded of Job’s friends.  They had probably celebrated his wedding and the weddings of each of his seven sons and three daughters, so they also came to be with him in his time of loss.  They sat with him in silence for seven days and nights as he sat in misery and loss, scraping himself with a shard of pottery (Job 2:13).  That kind of friendship has all but disappeared from the world.

Tomorrow I am going to Poland to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).  There we will celebrate with 24 hour worship over the entire 7 days of the Feast.  The thing that keeps me returning to this little town in Poland year after year, and the thing I long for more than anything is God’s presence.  This will be my fourth year at Tabernacles in Poland, and each year God shows up in a marvelous and completely new and unexpected way.  God is good!

Bodies and Clothing—What Will Happen at the Rapture?

Left Behind

I love the Left Behind[1] series of books.  I’ve been fascinated by the Rapture for many years now.  However, there are a couple of details that I think they’ve gotten wrong: the antichrist will come from the ancient Roman Empire, but not from Europe.  Many Bible scholars are now saying that he will be a Muslim from the eastern part of that empire.  And there is very good evidence for that belief.  The other thing is the part about people being raptured out of their clothing.  I think the authors got that from the fact that Elijah left his mantle (2 Kings 2:13).  But Elijah wasn’t raptured out of all his clothing, just his mantle (which is like a coat).  The mantle was a symbol of Elijah’s anointing, which Elisha had asked for—and got.

“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather,” Matthew 24:27-28 (emphasis mine).

I had always read these two verses as though they appear in separate paragraphs.  The original Greek (Greek is New Testament, Hebrew is Old Testament) has no punctuation.  Punctuation was invented centuries after the New Testament of the Bible was completed, so the punctuation and paragraph separations are ours.  Both the New International and the King James Versions of the Bible have these two verses in the same paragraph.  But it wasn’t until this morning that it finally dawned on me that when we are raptured, we might leave our mortal bodies behind.

I had read The Christ Clone Trilogy[2] by James Beauseigneur.  He has a pre-Tribulation Rapture scenario in which all the believing Christians just die.  When I read that I rejected it immediately because of Enoch and Elijah.  If Enoch’s body had been left, then how would those around him have known that he had been taken by God?  Wouldn’t it just look like he had died?  And the other prophets went to look for Elijah after his rapture, but they couldn’t find him.  If he had left his body behind, they would have found it (2 Kings 2:15-18).

Clearly, both Enoch and Elijah were raptured away in their bodies.  But that might be because they will be the two witnesses in the Tribulation who are going to be killed after preaching and prophesying for 1260 days (Revelation 11:3).  (The reason I say that it will be Enoch and Elijah is because Hebrews 9:27 says that humans die once.  I know many people saying that they will be Elijah and Moses because they appeared together on the Mount of Transfiguration.  And with Moses and Elijah you have the Law and the Prophets, which seems right.  But Moses died, God buried his body, and the people mourned (Deuteronomy 34:5-8).  So it can’t be Moses because he has already died once.  The only two people in the whole Bible who never died are Enoch and Elijah.)

But after reading Matthew above this morning, I double checked it with Luke 17:34-37:

“I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” “Where, Lord?” they asked. He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather,” (emphasis mine).

Then I realized (perhaps divine revelation) that perhaps The Christ Clone scenario is the correct one.  After all, there has never yet been a worldwide mass Rapture before.  Enoch and Elijah were raptured in their mortal bodies for a specific purpose.  But the Word says that flesh and blood will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:50—which interestingly comes just before Paul describes the Rapture).  Between that and the “carcasses and vultures” statement of Jesus, I now think it’s a good possibility that we will leave our bodies behind.

Our lifeless bodies will be yet another factor in the chaotic aftermath of the Rapture.  I have already described what I believe that aftermath will be like (see The Rapture and the World Left Behind).  In a nutshell, it’s going to be major chaos, violence, bloodshed, looting, and so forth.  And there will be no modern communications of any kind—at least not initially.

So we will leave our clothing behind if we also leave our bodies behind.  And, really, who cares about all that?  I’m looking forward to my extra-dimensional (glorified) body and my wedding day.  God is good!

[1] (The Left Behind Collection, 2014)

[2] (The Christ Clone Trilogy, 2006)

The View from the Summit

Christian political Europe

Greeting from Amsterdam!

I am here with Operation Capitals of Europe (OCE) as intercessors for the European Economic Summit, being held at the Dominion Centre.  The purpose of the summit is “to introduce new Biblical paradigms on finance and economy and to present transformational businesses as new models for poverty alleviation and sustainable solutions.”

One of the perks of praying for the summit is being invited to sit in on the evening session.  Last night the speaker was the head of the Power Group, a South African construction company.  He shared his story of rising to the top, only to discover that he was sacrificing time with his family on the way.  He became a Christian, and started the Unashamedly Ethical business community (you can like them on Facebook, too).  His talk was Combating Systemic Poverty and Corruption, which is the goal of Unashamedly Ethical.  They get businesses to work together toward the common good without sacrificing the bottom line.  And in doing so, they are preventing people from being trafficked and combating poverty by providing jobs.  I think that this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a truly possible solution to poverty.

Tonight’s speaker is a member of the chairing committee for the Global Think Tank on Business as Mission, (you can like them on Facebook).  He spoke on Transformational Business.

We have had the opportunity to meet some of the business people here.  A few of the business people have skipped some of the sessions and come to join us in the prayer room.  We gathered around them and prayed for them, since that’s what we are here for.

One surprise is that my friend, Bill, from Bulgaria is here.  Neither of us knew that the other would be here, so it was a mutual surprise.

If you are a Christian business person, I highly recommend checking those links and coming to the next summit.  You will not be disappointed.  God is good!

Dutch Salv Army

Speaking at Church

My gut clenches, sweat beads on my upper lip, my mind races is twelve different directions, my mouth goes dry, and my hands shake—why?  Because I’m speaking at my church this evening.  And it’s not because anybody has twisted my arm—I want to do this.  When I’m in the US, I want to speak as often as possible to anyone who will listen about Europe as a mission field.  But I’ve always had a fear of public speaking, and even though it usually goes really well, and the audience is very sympathetic and supportive, that fear is lurking just out of sight, ready to make my voice crack or make me forget what I was going to say.

Fear of speaking in public is one of the most common fears around.  Most of us would rather face a roaring lion, armed with nothing but a Twinkie than speak in front of an audience.  But like I said, I want to do this.  Facing-down this fear is the measure of how strong my calling is for Europe.  If I didn’t do this, I would feel like I had abandoned my calling.

Europe is the forgotten mission field.  A professor of foreign missions at Abilene Christian University told me that he asks his students at the beginning of the semester what is the mission field with the most need.  They invariably answer Africa.  Then after he has demonstrated to them that Africa is far more Christian than Europe, he will ask them again, and many times the answer is still Africa.  The economic need tugs at their heartstrings, even though Europe is in far worse need spiritually.  Operation World calls Europe by far the “most secular, least Christian” continent on earth (pg. 79).  Europe also has the most un-reached people groups of any region in the whole world—including the Middle East.  Africa is now sending missionaries to Europe.

  • Slavery – Human trafficking is epidemic in Europe because the relaxed borders have made it easier to transport people from Eastern Europe (primarily Ukraine, Czech Republic, Moldova, and Romania) to Western Europe (Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Germany).
  • Poverty – People think of Europe as a rich peoples’ playground.  And it’s true that rich people do vacation in Europe, but the average European makes far less money than the average American, and lives a simpler life.  Furthermore, the third world exists throughout Europe at the edge of every city: in gypsy camps of staggering poverty.  The gypsy children live in shockingly unsanitary conditions.  Many gypsy children are denied an education due to their nomadic family life.  Gypsy children are expected to bring money back to the patriarchs, the grandparents.  They beg, steal, or work as prostitutes to bring money back to the family, and if they fail to bring back money or to bring back enough money, they are beaten.  Sometimes their legs are broken and set in crazy ways that will turn your stomach.  Sometimes their legs are cut off—giving them more sympathetic appeal.   Many gypsy children are sold to sex traffickers or organ traffickers.
  • Homelessness – Homelessness is a huge problem.  Budapest has an estimated 30,000 homeless people.  I saw lots of homeless people when I was there, and the homeless of Budapest are unlike homeless people I’ve ever seen anywhere else.  There are so many of them that they have simply lost all hope.  They don’t even ask for money, they just curl up in doorways and in the subway entrances.  (This is all recounted in my book, Look, Listen, Love.)
  • Suicide – Suicide is rampant throughout Europe, especially in the current economic climate.  Fourteen of the top twenty countries with the highest suicide rates are in Europe.  Switzerland legalized suicide in 1941, and under Swiss law, you do not have to have a lethal diagnosis to ask for physician-assisted suicide; you don’t even have to be Swiss!  That means that if someone is depressed and wants to end their life, they can go to Switzerland, which is conveniently in the middle of the continent, and pay a doctor to help them kill themselves, and they don’t have to get any kind of counseling.  In fact, the doctors would be against counseling because they make money on each suicide.  Now suicide is also legal in the Netherlands. In Milan, where suicide is still illegal, and Switzerland is only an hour away, about once a month or so, somebody jumps in front of a speeding subway train.  In fact, it is such a common occurrence that people have lost all sympathy for the victim and his or her family, instead they just become annoyed at the inconvenience that the suicide has caused them as they rush through their day.
  • Drugs – The city of Amsterdam is uniquely problematic because they have de-criminalized both prostitution and marijuana.  Legalizing pot use has been discussed from time to time here in the US.  The arguments for legalization seem very logical and reasonable, particularly when it comes to saving taxpayer money and law enforcement manpower.  But before getting onto the bandwagon, you should take a trip to Amsterdam to see what legalized pot use looks like.  Marijuana is only legal in the marijuana coffeehouses, but it doesn’t stay in the coffeehouses.  And because pot is legal, tourists think that other drugs are also legal—they are not.  No matter how harmless you may think it is, the fact is that marijuana is a gateway drug.  The dealers of illegal drugs situate themselves along the canal in the Red Light district (more about that in a moment) and peddle their drugs to passers-by.  They don’t stand around looking villainous, but instead they are very friendly.  The dealers speak English and often the major European languages.   Amsterdam is the number one partying destination in Europe, possibly in the world.  So lots of young men travel to Amsterdam for legal sex with prostitutes and legal marijuana use.  Many of them are lured into trying the harder drugs as well.  The result is that the streets of Amsterdam are filthy with trash and vomit and people that are either homeless or too high to remember how to get back to where they are staying.  The streets are also very loud all night long, with the sounds of hell-raising.  There are so many people who are addicted to heroin that the city has started giving out free needles to try and keep the risk of HIV transmission low.  So the parks are full of addicts that are shooting-up.  And the free needle program has done nothing to stop the spread of HIV.  Prostitution – Legalized prostitution in Amsterdam was supposed to help prevent the spread of HIV by having the Dutch Minister of Health responsible for making sure that all the window girls stayed healthy and conducted business in ways that reduced the possibility of transmission (i.e. washing the customers and using condoms).  However, that has turned out to be impossible to enforce.  Plus, the presence of legal prostitutes has not stopped or even slowed down illegal prostitution in the Netherlands.  Let’s face it, supply follows demand.
  • The idea behind legalizing prostitution seemed like a good idea, but prostitution plays a part in all the above behaviors, like a European version of “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but worse because of the whole drug issue discussed above.  People believe that the window girls are independent businesswomen—they are not—at least not all of them.  Many of the window girls come from other countries, mostly Eastern Europe and Africa.  Those girls got there because they answered ads for jobs, and some even paid intermediaries who turned out to be traffickers to get them illegally into Europe.  Few, if any, of them set out to work in prostitution.  Like I said, the relaxation of borders within the European Union has actually worked to the traffickers’ advantage.  And even if some of the women are voluntarily working in the windows of the Red Light district, they have invariably been sexually abused as children.  As a woman, I can tell you that no little girl dreams of having dozens of sweaty, smelly men use and use and use her all day and all night long.  Prostitutes use the same survival strategy that victims of physical abuse use: they have learned how to zone-out and not be in their bodies while it is happening.  Despite the lies that the johns tell themselves, that doesn’t sound like it’s something they enjoy, does it?  All of this means that Amsterdam, an otherwise lovely city, has become a haven for potheads, traffickers, drug dealers, and drug addicts.
  • Cynicism – The young people of Europe are among the most hopeless and cynical in the world.  They go to university only to find that they are still unemployed and unemployable.  East European youth are leaving their homelands in droves, seeking employment in the west.  The employers take advantage of that desperation and pay them lower wages, and giving them the jobs that West Europeans don’t want.  Most of the janitors in Italy are Romanian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, or Polish.  Because they feel powerless, the youth are drawn into witchcraft and satanism.  They recognize that there is genuine spiritual power therein, but don’t have the discernment to know the good from the evil.  Turin, Italy is the European capital for satanism.  Every so often, there is a ritually sacrificed body (either human or animal) found in the woods near Turin.  It has become such a common occurrence that the news agencies have stopped reporting these findings.  Many of these young people consider traditional religion a waste of time, and they don’t want to hear about anything of a religious nature.  For this reason, missionaries in Europe have had to be very creative in sharing the Gospel.

I could continue, but I think this post is long enough.  So, I take a deep breath, pray for at least an hour, and go pour my heart out for an hour or so about Europe.  Suddenly, I understand exactly what Jeremiah meant when he said that if he tries to keep silent, God’s Word is like a fire shut up in his bones.  God is good, and I want more missionaries to share His goodness with this lost and dying continent.