I BECAME A CHRISTIAN IN SAUDI ARABIA

I Became a Christian in Saudi Arabia

Missionary to America Rev. Tesfait Tesema

Surprises. Any one involved in mission work has had them; I have.

When I was the pastor of Christ Memorial Lutheran Church in East Brunswick, New Jersey we asked the poor in our community how we could help. We found there was a need for affordable day care. None of us knew how to start a day care center, so we did what you do when you don’t know something – we formed a committee. But most of all, we prayed. A secular early learning center was already using  the area where the new center would be; income from the existing center was helping us pay what, at the time, was an onerous mortgage.  I would be lying if I said we went into this without some trepidation.

After the committee was formed, two people joined the church who had started day care centers. The business of one member was tasked to invest $50,000 in a community project and loved what we were doing. The first year we used the donation. The second year of operation we cleared  $20,000 and gave $10,000 to another church starting a Christian day care. Years later, the learnings from that experience helped more than sixty new child development centers begin in the US.

So, what does that have to do with the Missionary to America, Tesfait Tesema?

Tesfait grew up in Ethiopia, in a time of civil disruption.  His early years were spent away from his family’s Orthodox Christian faith – looking for fulfillment in drugs and immature personal choices. When the Ethiopian monarchy ended, a famine was raging , and a Soviet style Communist government took over. Tesfait joined the Communists. Eventually he fell out of favor with the new leaders; he was arrested once, and, to avoid further imprisonment, in a  harrowing escape, he and two young women fled across the desert to Djibouti.  This was not the dream he had for his life.

He was finally able to contact his parents in Ethiopia and begged for their help. By God’s grace, there was an uncle, a trader, who brought goods from Saudi Arabia to sell in Djibouti. The uncle agreed to bring the young Tesfait with him back to the country that contains the sacred sites of Islam. Then, after a few weeks, the uncle left Saudi Arabia to ply his trade elsewhere.

Alone, left to fend for himself, Tesfait Tesema signed onto a building project out in the Arabian desert. He would have to live in a compound, segregated from the general population. Could life become any more difficult? But then, an invitation.

One of the workers in the compound, a Chinese man, invited him to study the Bible with him and a Chinese friend of his. Tesfait, now a young man, did not know any one “studied” the Bible.  To him, the Bible was a talisman – something that was brought out on holy days to kiss, or put under your pillow when you were sick. With nothing else to do, in a compound out in the desert, he accepted the invitation. Then, the surprise.

His first step was going to the Bible Study. Once there, the Word of the Lord pierced his heart like the sharp, double edged sword it is. That night he lay awake, terrified at the recognition of his sin, longing for the healing of his soul. He rushed through the Bible given him by the Bible study leader, furiously trying to find the text they had studied; but with no knowledge of Scripture,  no sense of how to search God’s Word, he was at a loss. Then, surprise. He discovered that God was taking a step towards him.  in the front of the Bible he found “A Sinner’s Prayer.”  He got on his knees, and he prayed:

“Dear God, I know I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sin and that you raised Him to life. I want to trust Him as my Savior and follow Him as Lord, from this day forward. Guide my life and help me to do your will. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

After that, his life began to change. First, more trouble: he wanted to tell everyone what he had learned – including Muslims. That ended poorly. God then used his fear and pain to do miraculous things to and through His servant, Tesfait Tesema. For some time he led an evangelistic outreach in the Sudan, and began the first church to worship in Amharic. Eventually, he was surprised to find himself in the United States, starting new missions and leading a growing, ethnically diverse, congregation in San Jose, California.

For all those whom God has called, all who take the first step, a surprise always awaits. As Peter said, (Acts 3:12), “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you?”

To hear the rest of Tesfait’s video interview, click here I assure you, you will encounter many wonderful surprises.

A Gun To His Head

The Missionary With A Gun To His Head

Missionary to America Rev. James Roy

Three men forced him into a car and drove him to a place where no one would hear the gunshot. James Roy had been the executive director of a Christian care ministry in Bangladesh. In his role of directing various relief efforts, he did not shy away from using words to relieve spiritual pain, telling hurting people about the love of God, shown chiefly in God’s Son, Jesus. Now three Muslim extremists were trying to convince him to eschew that type of relief. When one of them put a gun to his temple, he knew they were serious. It was also a reason to leave Bangladesh. James knew it was time for him to step back from evangelistic ministry for a while. His agency helped him leave quickly, and settle in New York City.

He was offered a coordinator position for an educational ministry on Long Island. He was all set to accept their $60,000 a year offer, when a different call came out of the blue, rather, out of the subway. James was emerging from the Jamaica, Queens, subway station when Pr. Udit, a missionary from Guyana, approached him. They had not met before. Missionary Udit stopped James Roy and said to him, “We need someone to preach to Muslims in New York. Maybe God has chosen you.”

James was astounded; he did not know how to respond. Pr. Udit asked for his phone number and three days later James heard from Udit’s boss, Rev. Dave Born. Rev. Born offered him $1,200 a month to begin an outreach to Bengali speaking refugees in New York City. The education ministry on Long Island was tempting, for many reasons. In the end, James Roy could not ignore the call to again bring Jesus to Muslim hearts.  He says, “If I did not go and preach to Muslims, I would have been like Jonah.” Today Rev. James is a missionary/pastor to a Bengali congregation in NYC.

It is a gift to be able to know when one should end a ministry.  It was clear in Rev. Roy’s time in Bangladesh. St. Paul had to end his dream  of bringing the gospel to Asia when he saw the door had closed to Bithynia. It took faith and courage to move on. That is when the Spirit showed him the open door to Europe, via Macedonia.

Maybe you can see the end of a ministry. You may be afraid, or guilty. Instead, look up – there is another door that is open, even if it is hard to see right now. After all, who saw the door God would open for Israel through a sea, or above all, the open door of the tomb where Jesus was placed. Tell me, if God can open the closed door of a tomb, wouldn’t He be able to open any closed door?

 

 

Missionaries Are Different

Missionary to America Kasongo Gui Kabeo

Missionary Kasongo was forced to flee his home country, a country on the west coast of Africa,  the Congo.  A revolution forced a president from power, and Kasongo and his family had to flee to America. From his time working in the banking system in the Congo, he had made friends in the United States. He was known as someone who was smart, hard working and intelligent – just the kind of people needed in the US. He was confident he would become successful in his new country.

Kasongo had been active in his home church; he was a lay leader who took on difficult projects. But the most difficult was yet to come.

He and his small family landed in Chicago, Illinois. Kasongo had dreams of “making it big in banking.” He had heard the stories of wealth in his new country; he knew he had what it would take to become a leader in that industry. But for Kasongo, first things first: he had to find a place of worship for his family.

He tried a nearby Christian church, but the worship services were in English. The immigrant from the Congo spoke some English, but French was his heart language. He could not understand the English sermons, hymns or prayers.  Other immigrants near his family’s small apartment were in the same situation as the Kabeos. Kasongo Kabeo was not someone to give up easily; he began a house church, in French, in his apartment, inviting the immigrants who spoke French to worship in the house church. The church grew to over thirty in that small apartment.

African worship is a little more lively than it is in most American worship services. There are guitars, and drums, and loud singing. Like Lutherans in general, they sang boldly.  As you might expect, that did not go over well with the other renters, particularly those above and below the house church.  A move to Milwaukee by the family only caused the church to grow – to fifty, sixty, seventy; but this time it was in the welcoming walls of a Lutheran Church.

Part of the genius of this Missionary to America was that it was not just the number of worshipers that was increasing.  Kasongo recruited leaders to work with him, and, with the encouragement of Rev. Peter Kelm, he recruited and trained missionaries to begin French speaking churches in other parts of Wisconsin and Illinois, and that is what makes him a missionary. Local churches offered financial support, as did the mission arm of the South Wisconsin District of the LCMS.

Missionaries are different. They do many pastoral tasks, but, they are different from pastors. This is not well understood. I learned this when I was in Japan for the fiftieth anniversary of the Japan Lutheran Church. The Lutheran Church sent wonderful missionaries to Japan, however, they were forced to leave too quickly. They had nurtured great Japanese pastors, but did not have enough time to teach them how to be missionaries. Fifty years later our partner church in Japan was just beginning to take steps to become a  “missionary church.”

We need pastors who will care for those who are already followers of Jesus. I know it sounds strange, but today in America, we also need pastors who will be missionaries. We need missionaries who will see part of their ministry as finding laity, women and men, who have a heart for starting new churches – like Kasongo, like Aquila and Priscilla, who had a church meeting in their house. It is for this reason that some seminaries now offer a distance education track to prepare pastors and missionaries without having to abandon the missions they had begun.

Missionaries are different: they take more chances, they are not afraid to fail, they see themselves developing a mission field, not caring for just one congregation. We need pastors, and, today in an increasingly agnostic America, we need missionaries. Like Kasongo Gui Kabeo.

To see a short introduction to Rev. Kabeo’s missionary heart, click here.

To see a longer, twenty two minute video interview, click here.

The Missionary Who Didn’t Escape

The Missionary Who Didn’t Escape

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Missionary to America Alfred

This is the one year anniversary of Mission Nation Publishing. We began on the Epiphany, January 6, 2016. Since then 31 interviews of missionaries have been placed on the www.MissionNationPublishing.com website. Mission Nation Publishing was created “To give a voice to the Missionaries to America.” We begin the second year by hearing how the Lord called one man from India into missionary work in the United States.

Alfred grew up in India, in a Lutheran Christian family. Why are you surprised? There is strong evidence and tradition that the Apostle Thomas went to India to share Christ. Alfred’s grandfather brought Christianity to the village where Alfred grew up. His grandfather set up a school, and began four churches.

Alfred knew from childhood that he wanted to serve the Lord, but he never wanted to become a pastor; his parents never wanted him to become a pastor. It was in college that the Christian chaplain raised the idea he should become a pastor. As a college student, he became the General Secretary of the Christian Student Movement in India. Still, he saw no future for himself as an ordained pastor.  The Christians around him encouraged him to become a pastor. Even after finding success as part of a Christian mission team, going into surrounding villages and sharing the gospel by speaking the gospel through a hand held megaphone, still, he resisted the call to become a pastor.

As he looked back, he realized God was leading him in a specific path.  Alfred became successful in the information  technology field. He was so good at what he did, he was brought to the United States.  As soon as he arrived he looked for a Tamil speaking church and became involved. His family arrived in America on September 7, 2001. One of the first things he did was to take his family on a tour of his office, in the Twin Towers.  He was not in his office on September 11. Why Lord? Why was I preserved? What do you have in mind for my life?

His pastor in America,  encouraged Alfred to become his assistant, and take leadership in the Tamil church at Our Savior, in Rego Park, Queens. “But” Alfred protested, “How can I feed my family, how can I pay my rent if I quit my job to go to seminary? More important, if I leave New York and go to seminary, how will the Tamil service continue?” Pastor David Born explained that in New York in could attend seminary in the evening, part time.

In India, Alfred had never heard of a “part time” seminary; he never knew there could be such a thing as a part time pastor, until the Lord brought him to the United States. It took four years, but Alfred, missionary to America, was ordained.

The man from India could not escape the calling the Lord had planned for him. He now serves as an assistant pastor at a multi-ethnic congregation, leading worship services in Tamil, working as a chaplain at a New York psychiatric hospital. He also raises funds from his church to send to India to provide education for children.

Many pastors can tell a similar story – having others tell them they should listen to the Lord’s call, hesitating, until the Lord opens a door – and provides His way to enter the ministry. St. Paul had to be prepared before he was called – he never would have entertained the thought of becoming a pastor, until the Lord opened his eyes.

Maybe you have been given an opportunity to serve in the Lord’s vineyard. Maybe you are hesitating. Maybe you need to open your eyes. If the Lord wants you in ministry, there is little you can do to turn your back on Him. You may not be able to find the way, but trust Him, He will provide the way.

If you would like to see an introductory video of my interview with Alfred, click here.

To see the full eighteen minute interview, click here.

The Danger in Praying

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THE DANGER IN PRAYING

Praying can be dangerous; ask Philip Saywrayne.

Philip grew up in Liberia, the country to which 19th century America sent its liberated slaves. As a child he grew up among Christians and Muslims, but to tell the truth – even though his father was a Pentecostal pastor and his mother a faithful Roman Catholic, he wasn’t interested in religion.

There came a time when he was growing up  when is mother insisted he choose: Pentecostal, or Roman Catholic. Because he didn’t like all the shouting and noise going on in the Pentecostal church, he became a (nominal) Roman Catholic. But it didn’t stick. Until one night when all that changed.

Pr. Saywrayne had been going with his mother to the Catholic church and had been taught to pray the Lord’s prayer. The prayer did not hold a lot of meaning for him; he learned it because he was told he had to. Then he had a dream that he was with a group of people and was asked to pray the Lord’s Prayer. In the dream, he prayed – in the dream nothing special happend. But the next morning, when he woke up, he says he was “changed.” He needed to tell everyone about Jesus. He went to his pastor and begged him to commission him to go out to evangelize, to tell the good news to everyone! He aspired to be someone who brought the love of God to everyone.

As he grew, he searched for a ways to learn more; he looked for schools that would help him grow in spiritual understanding. When he became a young adult, he approached a former pastor to  help him. The pastor contacted a friend in America – and Philip arrived to study the Bible in Cleveland, Tennesee. His biggest surprise in America? Free Bibles. In Africa Bibles are precious, too dear for most Christians to own. One of the first things he did was to call home and tell people, “They gave me a box of free Bibles!”

When he had finished his schooling in Tennesee, he wanted to be closer to his wife, who had looked for a job in the US – she is a nurse. She had found that job in New York City.  Philip joined her there, on Staten Island.

In the 1990s the color of Staten Island was changing.  Immigrants, especially African immigrants were coming in droves, to live, to ride the Staten Island Ferry to jobs that would sustain their families, and to worship. Philip couldn’t  help himself, he began a church for these Africans – an African style church, where the worship services run three and four hours – with loud singing, and guitars and drums, and some shouting too.  And where the worshippers stayed after for African food prepared by the members. They outgrew the space where they had started and found St. John Lutheran Church on Staten Island,  a community of white Christians that welcomed them. Not without some initial consternation.

Pr. Robert Morris, Pastor of St. John, wanted to make the Africans full members of St. John, and offered Philip the position of assistant pastor. Pr. Morris invited the Africans to be full members of the church, worshipping alongside the current members.  Rev. Dave Benke, president of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and Rev. David Born, the district’s mission executive, gave their full support.

Twenty five Africans accepted the invitation to join St. John congregation. This was a grand gesture on the part of the established congregation. However, without guitars, without dancing their offerings up to the altar (a typical African practice), with only a one hour worship, which had to start and end on time, in six months only Pr. Saywrayne, his wife and three children still attended worship. Not what they had expected.

Pr. Morris was wise enough to realize things had to change. When Philip asked to start over, in the church library, with the small group left – but with guitars, and drums and loud and long singing, the pastor and the church agreed. Soon the small group outgrew the library; they were given space in a house the church owned. They outgrew the house, and were given the Church’s school gymnasium for worship. When that was no longer adequate the church and the Atlantic District’s Church Extension Fund helped the African congregation (now known as Christ Assembly Church) find a building of their own.

It took seven months, and countless prayers, but the church found a home, in a re-purposed building, a building that  just before the church took over was a bagel factory!

Today Christ Assembly Church is the largest LCMS Lutheran church in the city of New York, with an average worshipping congregation of three hundred. It is a diverse group. There are African Americans, immigrants from several African countries, people from the Caribbean islands, along with a number of white English speaking people.

Just to reiterate, this whole thing began with a prayer, prayed in a dream, the Lord’s Prayer. Praying can be dangerous – it might lead you to places you never dreamed possible. It did for a Missionary to America named Philip Saywrayne.

To see a three minute introductory video of Missionary Saywrayne, click here.

To see the full, twenty minute video, click here.

 

 

Visit A Mission Laboratory

Visit A Missional Laboratory

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Missionary to America Johnson Rethinasamy thought he was leaving India to live in New York City. He was going to go to be the pastor of a Tamil speaking Indian Church. He had been looking for a way to attend graduate school, and then an invitation from the Tamil group in Rego Park, Queens came. It seemed a way to secure a base for his studies and to continue to be in ministry. His plan was to return to India to teach. But missions do not always turn out the way we think, or the way they should.

Yes, he received the Doctorate, but instead of returning to India, another door was opened. According to CityData.com, New York City had the largest number of Black citizens, and the second highest percentage of people born outside the United States. It is the only city were four of the five major ethnic groups make up at least 10% of the population. This was the perfect place for Johnson to experiment.

The Tamil speaking group in Rego Park had asked him to be their pastor. Then, a White English speaking church extended a call for him to be their pastor. Eventually, the two churches came together. One church, two worship services. But it did not end there. Besides the Tamil speaking worship service and the English worship service, a Manderin Bible study began at the church, with more than 50 Mandarin speaking young adults attending. The church is Immanuel Lutheran Church, in Whitestone, Queens. Dr. Rehtinasamy saw this as his “Mission Laboratory.” A place to learn more about church planting in a diverse community.

What can we learn from this?

First, that multi ethnic churches are viable.

Second, for this to happen, a passion for mission is essential in the leadership.

Third, it is important to raise up leaders from within the ethnic group.

I know there are those, even some of our church leaders, who believe churches of one ethnicity cannot reach out to folks of other ethnic groups.  I have met them, so have you. But, if that were true, the church should have remained Jewish; Pentecost would have infuriated these people. In fact, that is what happened – take a look at Acts 2:13.

The point is, the gospel has a power that crosses all ethnic groups. Paul said it, Luther was overcome by it – Romans 1:16, “The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first the Jew, then for the Gentile (the “Peoples,” ALL the peoples.) That is not a mandate, and it is more than a statement of truth. It is a promise.

Experiments add to our learning. Dr. Rethinasamy’s “experiment” is teaching us the power of the gospel to unite different ethnic groups, the power to come together even though we might worship in different languages, at different times, on different days. It is an experiment that won’t go away. Thank God.

To see a short three minute video clip of our interview with Dr. Rethinasamy, click here.

To see the full interview, click here.

 

 

Are You Giving Up, Or Getting Up?

Missionary to America Shing Me Wang (Mimi)

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Are You Giving Up, or, Getting Up?

Not many of you know Mrs. Shing Me Wang, although she is quite well known among the Chinese immigrants of New York City. She is quiet, self-effacing, and a great blessing to many young adult Chinese immigrants. Plus, she has a remarkable story to share.

Shing Me, or Mimi as she likes to be called, is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Whitestone, Queens, New York City.  As she explains in the video interview, she and her husband came to the US so her husband could pursue a doctorate at Fuller Seminary in California. After receiving the doctorate, he was called to New York to pastor a Lutheran church in Bayside, Queens. Early on he earned recognition as a psycoanalyst by the State of New York. Mimi, her husband and children were settled in New York and felt destined for a wonderful ministry; but that was not to be.

After five months in New York Mimi’s husband suddenly passed away., leaving Mimi and the children to make their own way in their new land.  It would have been easy to give up, maybe go home to China.

Anyone involved in starting a new mission has had to make friends with disapointment, disapproval, disagreement and disaster. If you want an example, look at St. Paul. He gives us a list of the abuses he suffered:

I have been in  perils of rivers, perils of robbers, perils from my countrymen, perils from the Gentiles, perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, perils in the sea, perils among false brothers; in labor and travail, … in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, and in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are outside, there is that which presses on me daily, anxiety for all the assemblies. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is caused to stumble, and I don’t burn with indignation?”                                                     ( 2 Corinthians 11:25-29). 

Or, consider Jesus. Celebrated on Palm Sunday, cruficied on Good Friday.

But He returned on Easter Sunday. God has a way to transform ministry in ways we never thought or imagined.

Mimi Wang didn’t give up, she got up – and stayed in New York. It was a struggle of more than ten years. Today Mimi is an assitant minister at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Whitestone, Queens, New York City; she helps her pastor, an immigrant from India, reach out to Chinese immigrants. Every week more than fifty Chinese young adults  gather for Bible study and prayer at Immanuel. Once a month a worship service is held in Chinese at Immanuel. Mimi receives phone calls, sometimes after midnight, from Chinese young adult immigrants looking for spiritual comfort and guidance. Besides all this, Mimi directs a choir of over 100 Chinese speaking immigrants from the five New York City boroughs.

Out of dispair the Holy Spirt can bring determination; out of disapointment He can bring delight; out of diaster new life can emerge. Just like Easter. If God could raise up Jesus from the dead, don’t your think He can get you back up on your feet? Just ask Mimi.

Please keep Missionary Mimi Wang in your heart, and in your prayers.

If you would like to see a three minute interview with Mimi, click here.

To see the longer interview, seventeen minutes, click here. 

 

Taken Out of Haiti

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Missionary to America Jean Gardy Cenat

TAKEN OUT OF HAITI

Jean Cenat is nothing if not resilient. In the midst of many challenges, to ministry and to family, he can still say, “If God took me out of Haiti and brought me here, it was for a reason.”

Missionary Cenat grew up as a poor child in one of the western hemisphere’s poorest nations.  In the area where he grew up he was challenged and threatened by Voodoo worshipers and Voodoo priests. His Christian mother kept him close to Christ, encouraging him to stay in school, and in church. By God’s grace he is today an accountant and a missionary in New York.

After he immigrated from Haiti to New York he was brought to St. Paul Lutheran Church in Canarsie, Brooklyn (you can see the story of his life in the “Full Video” section of this website). With the support of Pr. Christoph Schultze and the people of St. Paul Lutheran, starting with just three people, he began a French speaking mission in Canarsie.

The work is difficult. Immigrants come to Canarsie, learn English, get a job, save some money, and then move to areas outside the city. You have to be resilient to continue in this kind of mission. He sometimes wonders if he should have stayed to preach the gospel in his home country. When he first came to the United States he was afraid – afraid he would not be able to reach as many people for Christ as he was doing in Haiti.

Today, he is God’s vehicle to spread the gospel much further than in his home island nation; he now is able to spread the gospel all through the United States. You see,  when a family he has evangelized leaves for another place, Missionary Cenat  sends them as missionaries, missionareis he has prepared to spread Jesus’ love in another place. Still, it is hard to lose a family that has been a part of your community, your life, your mission.

Missionary Cenat’s resilience comes, in part, from a faith that it was the Lord who took him out of Haiti, for a reason.

Any new venture, even a new mission start, looks like a disaster at the beginning. The missionary cannot see far into the future. All they can see are three people, bills to pay, resistance to invitations to worship, problems with finding a place to worship, or someone to help with music, challenges with finding income to support their family and themself.  What sustains them is a conviction that God has sent me to do this. With that attitude the missionary is only reflecting the resilience, the perseverance of God.

Jesus began with one disciple – and gradually grew to just twelve, twelve he trained as missionaries.

The crowds that eventually turned out to listen were fickle. Some stayed, many left. What did not leave, what did not change, was Jesus’ conviction He was sent, by the love of the Father. It was, is, a love that transcends all barriers, every fickle person, each disaster, persecution and challenge. God’s love sent Jesus to earth and took Jean Cenat out of Haiti and brought him to Canarsie – God’s persistant, persevering love.

The love that took Missionary Cenat out of Haiti is the love God has for you. There is a reason the Lord brought you to where you are. That reason is always found in His persevering love.

Please remember Missionary Cenat in your persistant prayers.

To see a two minute introductory video of Missionary Cenat, click here.

To see the longer, 15 minute video interview of Missionary Cenat, go to the “Member” section of this website and choose “Full Videos.”

 

Rev. Greg Seltz: “Know This Word”

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Rev. Greg Seltz, Speaker for The Lutheran Hour, interviewing a Missionary to America

I will be in Bronxville this weekend for the installation of Rev. Dr. John Nunes as the ninth president of Concordia College. President Nunes has asked a few of us to participate in a discussion about cross cultural mission – also, I will be preaching in chapel on Friday (If you are around, why not attend?).

In place of the usual blog this week I am sharing with you a recent sermon by the Lutheran Hour Speaker, Greg Seltz. Greg has been a big supporter for Mission Nation Publishing: he did the first interviews with Missionaries to America while we were at Concordia, Irvine, California. In this week’s lesson he shared part of the story of the evangelist, Gagan Garung (you can see Gagan’s video and other videos of Missionaries to America at https://missionnationpublishing.com/the-missionaries-to-america).

Here is Rev. Seltz’s sermon from Sunday, October 16, 2016:

“Know This Word — Your Life Depends on It”

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Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 16, 2016
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Hope Amidst All the Terror?)
Copyright 2016 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: 2 Timothy 3:16

(The Scripture is) able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia.

Have you ever wondered why Christian pastors and church leaders put so much emphasis on reading the Bible? Well, I can’t speak for all of them, but I can tell you why I think it’s vital for you and for me. Read the Bible, really get know the Bible. Why, because your life, now and in eternity, depends on it! A real issue today is that even Christians don’t know God’s Word like they should. Several years ago George Barna conducted a survey of self-pronounced Christians and found that the majority of them were woefully biblically illiterate. So, 20 minutes on Sunday in a sermon is good, but you need to dive into the Word of God for yourself because Paul reminds us that these words, these truths, knowing this Savior equips us to live life boldly, abundantly, and eternally with Him.

The lesson for today is a word from a person who’s at the end of his life and is telling all those he loves; this is it, this is the big thing, this is the one thing to hold on to no matter what. St. Paul is sitting in a Roman prison cell waiting for Emperor Nero to order his execution and he writes a letter to Timothy, a young man who has been a faithful partner in sharing the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. This is one of those letters to your leaders; those who will serve when you are gone!

So Paul says it straight to Timothy. He cautions Timothy that ministry in Christ for others; it is not going to be easy. In fact, his words of warning fly easily off the pages of this letter into our 21st century ministries as well, as he paints a picture for Timothy that looks much like what we are facing today. In the context around this passage, he speaks of the reality of pain and struggle when a nation turns its back on God, when its people become lovers of money and lovers of themselves rather than lovers of God. His description of people then sounds a lot like people today. He says ministry in Christ for others is going to be tough because, “people will be proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than being lovers of God.” He even reminds Timothy that when it comes even to religion, they’ll just find people who say what they want to hear or tell them to do what they already love doing, no matter if it is evil or not, to live any way they choose as long as it makes them happy. Sound familiar?

It looks like a snapshot of today. But Paul, ever the realist, goes on. He even warns Timothy that “Things are going to get worse. ” It is like he is saying to Timothy and to us, “Buckle up! Don’t be naïve and think that everything is going to be okay.” Paganism, belief in everything but the true God, is going to grow bolder. As Christians, believers and followers of Jesus alone, we are going to be persecuted, silenced, harassed. Our persecution may not involve imprisonment, beatings, and torture as we have seen in Sudan, parts of China, Indonesia, and in many Muslim countries, however, Christians are already experiencing persecution in more subtle forms even in North America, persecutions that include ridicule, public embarrassment, being made the butt of jokes, being passed over for a promotion, ridiculed in media and movies, being shunned, and even ostracized from friends and family because of one’s faith.

There is an old story about the man who was told “Cheer up, things could get worse.” So he said, “I cheered up, and, sure enough, things got worse.” That in a nutshell is the message that the Apostle Paul is sharing with Timothy and with us today.

But, hear me clearly and I mean this sincerely. Hear me clearly today; this message isn’t a feel sorrow for believers message. It’s not a depressing message of hopelessness. It’s just dealing with the reality outside of Jesus so that you can see the power of faith in Jesus. You know, there is a radio host who calls himself the mayor of “realville.” Well, I’m not the mayor of realville, but like the Apostle Paul, “I’m the pastor, the preacher, the herald of the Gospel” of the city of realville!

There is a message of hope in for the city of realville. There is a strategy, not just for survival, but to thrive in the midst of the chaos of the things of this life. So, if you are asking today, “What can we do? How can we survive? Where can we turn for help?” that’s a question that Paul says you can be sure of right now in your life!

He says it this way, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

So, let me say this up front. The answer you really need when your life depends on it; is not going to come from politics, from the economy; it’s not going to come from your strength or giving it your best. More is demanded than that. More is needed than that. Trust me on this. History is clear on this and of course the Bible is clear on this too. We need to have strategies not just to survive life’s chaos, but to thrive amidst it, even then.

Just in our everyday world, people are beginning to see through the empty promises of progress, to see through the empty promises of living life on our own terms, our own way, as if we ever could. In a whole host of ways, people have been made aware then of the possibilities of our modern day’s lifestyles and inventions, as well as being made aware of the new inherent dangers too. But more and more, people are seeing the need to prepare ourselves for the things to come, the parts of life that can’t be measured with a ruler or reduced to an email or a Facebook post!

There’s an answer and it pertains to the things that really matter; life, faith, love, joy, and peace, and the answer to those questions is in the Word of God; the things of life that come in Christ by faith, through faith, with faith in Him.

Today we can proclaim loud and clear, “Do not despair, we have the manual to life and the proof that it works. Here’s not just a survival guide to all that you face, here’s a thriving life guide, a grace life power to tackle life head on!”

The Apostle Paul says. “Listen up. Here is a Word from God for your very life and salvation.”

To Timothy and to us, Paul says, this is nothing new. Like the survival literature that’s time tested and true this is for you too. He reminds Timothy, your mother had it, your grandmother had it, and now you have it. Trust it!

The Holy Scripture, the Bible, has the plan of survival, but also a plan for abundant, thriving life laid out for all who hear and believe what it shares. Since the beginning of time, God’s plan for His people has been clearly explained in the Holy Scripture. The Scriptures are the words which will save you. Paul says, “They will make you wise for salvation.”

You know, I’ve been traveling a lot lately and every time I get on the plane, the flight attendants do what? Yes, they go through that whole thing about seat belts, oxygen masks, escape doors, lighting on the floor, etc. I find myself saying, “Why this again. Why this again.” But then I remember there might come a time when every word they are saying will matter so I’d better pay close attention. There are those words that you need to hear over and over again, right? Those are the words that you usually need to hear when all hell is breaking loose in life. St. Paul says, “The Bible, it’s that kind of Word and more!” But not only for survival and thriving; this Word offers real armor and protection for life.

Wouldn’t you like to have a word that deals with those questions that you are asking yourself right now, deep inside; the kind of questions that you don’t want anyone to know that you are asking? Questions like, “Does anyone love me? How can I even love myself, knowing what I know about me? Do I have purpose in this world? Can my work, my life, my leisure, can it actually mean something? Who can protect me from the wrong answers to all those questions?”

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul explains the armor of protection one needs to be wearing in the midst of this battle in life. He encourages, “Wear the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith and the helmet of Salvation.” Then, he reminds us to take up the greatest offensive weapon we could have, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. It’s a Word that tells us of God’s love, His care, His concern for people just like us.

The Bible, the Christian’s sword, is the only weapon available to fight the battles of life and faith. A sword, however, is absolutely useless if it is left in the scabbard. You have to take it out and use it. A Bible left on the coffee table or on a bookshelf is useless too, unless you pick it up and read it.

But even more, in this Word, the Sword of the Spirit, there is a word of hope over hopelessness; peace over strife; forgiveness over guilt; and life in spite of death!

Martin Luther understood the importance of this sword when he said, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” From the most educated scholar to the small child, the Bible conveys a message of truth that lays out a way of winning the battle. As we trust this Sword of the Spirit, as we use it and share it in a troubled world; put it to use like a powerful sword that takes over once we use it and share it. It can break hardened hearts of stone and turn them into living breathing hearts of faith. When we share the Word, the Holy Spirit moves it to the heart; it slays our sin-dominated natures and enlivens the hearer. The simple message of grace and peace in Christ alone as a gift is so powerful that it cuts to the heart and soul changing the thoughts and intentions of a person.

And the power of these Words, this Sword of the Spirit, rests not in our own expertise or craftiness, but in our willingness to share it on its own terms in our lives and through our lives to others!

John 3:16 says it clearly. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” God totally understands the battle that you and I are fighting. He knows, as the Bible warns us, that Satan is like a roaring lion walking about seeking whomever he can devour. But the very Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit gives strength amidst even struggles to “Resist the devil; to stand firm in our faith, knowing that the same kinds of sufferings are being experienced by brothers and sisters all throughout the world.” The very Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit gives hope in all circumstances as 1 John says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” And even more incredibly Jesus Himself promises, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31). That’s power, that’s freedom, that’s strength, that’s the Word, the Sword of the Spirit for you!

But one last blessing for being a reader, a knower of this Word; well, in this Word, through this Word there is a strong foundation for life now and forever!

In a world of disinformation and changing values, the Bible gives us a firm foundation upon which to stand. We can depend on it to shape our faith, to guide our thoughts, to direct our actions.

The Word of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, can change the lives of those who have “turned from the truth and even wandered away into myths.” Robert Scudieri, in his blog Mission Nation, tells the story of Garang Gurung, a Nepalese man from Bhutan who lived for twenty-two difficult years as a refugee in a Nepali refugee camp. His life seemed like a house built on a failing foundation, never being settled, never being sure of anything or anyone.

One day a Christian pastor in the camp suggested that he get to know the Bible, even study it at a Christian College. Garang knew nothing about the Bible and had no interest in becoming a Christian, yet he felt he had nothing to lose and it would be a way of getting out of the refugee camp.

At the Bible College, he was taught to read the Bible. As hard as he tried to understand, it seemed like nonsense until what he describes as a miracle happened to him. The head master of the school organized a twenty-four hour prayer vigil, and Garang was chosen to fill the midnight to one a.m. slot. He came to the prayer room but he didn’t know what to say to God. He didn’t even know if there was a god; or if there was a god, would he even be listening? He closed his eyes and he waited. That is when it happened. According to Garang, a white light fell on him – and then he began to pray, and pray, and pray. For the rest of the night he remained there praying as other students came and went. When he finally went back to his room, he opened his Bible, he began to read and now he could understand everything he was reading. As the words of the Bible seeped into his heart, he began to weep. He cried so hard the pages of the Bible were saturated with his tears. It was as if he was now in his heart anchored on solid ground, secure, sure.

Garang returned to the refugee camp in Nepal as an evangelist, eager to tell everyone who would listen about the Good News of God’s unending love. He told how Jesus could even love and forgive a person like him who had no understanding of a God Who would love him enough to give His Son to die for him. Now he had a life to live; not just for himself, but for others. And not just for now, but forever!

So, why should you read this Word? Paul says, “Because it’s God-breathed, full of God’s Spirit and life, able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Secondly, the Bible provides a strategy for survival. It is the only weapon that can defeat the devil, the world, and even the struggles of our own flesh. And finally, it’s able to break hearts of stone and replace them with living hearts open to God’s truth. A word that can anchor you on God’s enduring foundation; one that will hold you no matter what comes your way.

Get to know this Word with me here at The Lutheran Hour. Get to know this Jesus with me. You’ll be glad that you did, now and forever. Amen.”

“I SEE YOUR BAGS PACKED”

“I SEE YOUR BAGS PACKED”

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Rev. Pedro Rosado, Naples, Florida

“I see your bags packed.”

At those words, Pedro Rosado’s eyes opened wide. Startled, a slight breeze would have knocked him over.  For years he had been searching for the Lord’s will, asking the Lord if it was time for him to begin a new mission field in SW Florida. He had a full ministry in New Jersey, but there was this disquieting urge to begin a new mission.

Then, during a worship service, Rosado had his eyes closed, silently praying, asking the Lord if it was time for him to leave everything in New Jersey and move his family to Florida. From behind, a man reac hed out and put his hand on Pedro’s shoulder. A friend’s soft voice said, “I see your bags packed.” This was the assurance the missionary needed.  He left his job, his home, packed all he owned and transported his wife and little girls to the sunshine state, eager to share the true Son.

Let me say at the outset I am a firm believer in strategic planning; other words for strategic planning are “good stewardship.”  Jesus says as much in Luke 14, “28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.”  Each of us has been given a set amount of resources to work with to serve the Lord. However, that is one part of the story. But there is another part, where the Lord says “Go,” and gives no instructions on how or where.  

In Genesis 12 the Lord said to father Abraham, ” “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”  Abraham had not planned this. The same with Philip, Acts 8:29, “The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Philip hadn’t gone into the desert between Jerusalem and Gaza thinking he would find an official of a royal court. When the Lord calls, you go.

When I was a pastor at Christ Memorial Lutheran Church in East Brunswick, New Jersey we conducted a survey of the poor in our community. Discovering that most of the economically poor were single parents, we realized there was an urgent the need for a day care center. None of the seventeen people on our planning group knew anything about starting a day care – but we did what you do when you don’t know what you’re doing. We formed a committee. And we prayed. Now, this was a congregation that had just started making payments on its loan from the Church Extensioon Fund after not having  paid anything for seventeen years.

After the committee was started two people joined the church who had helped start day care centers. A member of the church approached us to say his company was giving grants to local service projects; we received a grant that covered our costs for the first year.

One month before we were to open the director we thought we were hiring informed us she had been offered more money by her current employer and would not be taking the position. However, another day care center west of us was closiing so one of our committee called to see if we could purchase any of their furniture.  The director said, “No – but are you still looking for a director?” This director had been chosen by Rutgers University as a site for bringing students to observe how a day care should be run.

In my experience it takes at least three miracles to begin a new mission, more to start a mission field of several new churches.  Itt has been five years since Missionary Rosado began the first new mission; seventy Spanish speaking people are now gathering every Sunday in a rented space to find strength and worship the Lord. This was miracle two.

A third is needed: if anyone knows of a property in the Naples, Florida area that the church can have, or purchase at a reasonable price, please let us know. Faith is having confidence in the guidance of the Lord, like Abraham, like missionaries, like Pedro Rosado. Missionaries in particular know the reality of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. What about you? I see your bags packed.

To see the video interview with Pr. Rosad, click here.

To look at our list of mission oriented books for sale, click here!