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May the Great Commission never be something you only read about

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Teenagers as People of Peace in Refugee Communities (Notes from Refugee Highway Partnership Roundtable)

These notes are from my table talk at the 2014 Refugee Highway Partnership North America Roundtable in Phoenix, AZ:


Characteristics of a Person of Peace (Luke 10:3-9; Matthew 10:11-14)

  • Welcomes the Messenger - protection; provision
  • Receives the Message - perhaps not at first
  • Extends their Influence - "oikos"; reputation; relationships
    • Luke 8:15
    • Mary & Martha - Luke 10:38-42
    • Other NT Examples - Samaritan; Demoniac; Zacchaeus; Cornelius; Lydia; Philippian Jailer

Characteristics of Refugee Teenagers as Persons of Peace

  • Welcome; Receive; Extend
  • Interpreters
    • Bilingual - translates for the gospel worker
    • Bicultural - helps family/community, as well as worker, figure out respective cultures
  • Navigators
    • Learn - gently teaches family/community in practicalities, norms, etc.
    • Lead - assists family/community in critical decision making (from their natural social position/family role
  • Gatekeepers
    • Information - passes on/withholds information to family/community as needed
    • Influence - submissively opens family/community to gospel influence

Challenges (potential/probable)

  • Various levels of fidelity to first generation
    • Conforming and Committed
    • Rebellious and Recalcitrant
  • Age and birth order considerations
    • Oldest
    • Favored
  • Gender considerations
    • Male influence
    • Female influence
  • Other considerations - top three factors, in order, in measuring influence with family/community (according to our case study)
    1. Wage earners (this trumps them all)
    2. Age (the older the more influence)
    3. Respectful (submissive not subversive)

Case Study - Karenni Teens in Clarkston, GA

  • In the past 4-5 months, our workers have seen at least 9 Karenni households baptized as followers of Jesus.
  • The first followers of Jesus in each of these homes were teenagers, but now include younger and older brothers and sisters, parents, and grandparents.
  • The families were reached by an American, English-speaking worker through the interpretation (in all cases) and even direct influence (in some cases) of the believing teens.
  • Common factors include:
    • Lots of time spent with whole family previous to their response to gospel (4 years)
    • Careful in observation of cultural dynamics/taboos (not being alone with opposite gender; getting permission from parents; being on time; etc.)
    • Faithful in providing practical acts of service for teens and families
    • Extensive discipleship of believing teens who were faithful to share the gospel with and teach younger siblings, as well as peers
    • Combination of bold gospel proclamation and demonstration of love/power through service (including deliverance/healing) - How households came to faith in Jesus:
      • Gospel Only                      - 1
      • Service Only                     - 0
      • Both Gospel and Service - 8

Discussion Questions

  • What are some simple ways to identify people of peace in your community?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the premise that teenagers can be people of peace in their communities?  Why or why not?
  • How might a refugee teenager, as an Interpreter, be a person of peace?  A Navigator?  A Gatekeeper?
  • How have you seen these challenges play out in your local context?  What other challenges exist for you?
  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of working so heavily with teenagers?  What is the potential for future success/failure?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Turning Obstacles into Opportunities for Fruitful Cross-Cultural Ministry (Notes from Refugee Highway Partnership Roundtable)

These notes are from my table talk at the 2014 Refugee Highway Partnership North America Roundtable in Phoenix, AZ:


3 Universal Obstacles

  • Foundations
    • Mark 4:1-9
    • "When conditions are right, receptivity to the message will be high.  If receptivity is not high, then work on the conditions, not the message." -Mark Snowden & Avery Willis
    • Move from OUTSIDER to INSIDER in 3 difficult steps ...

1.  Obstacle #1:  Context (Location)

  • Focus on People (over programs/platforms)
  • Use the 4 P's to overcome this obstacle (from Alan Hirsch, "The Forgotten Ways")
    • Presence - Be Near; "Wherever you are, be all there." - Jim Elliott
    • Proximity - Be Available
    • Powerlessness - Be Humble
    • Proclamation - Be Upfront; 30 minute rule

2.  Obstacle #2:  Communication (Language)

  • Focus on Stories (over statements/propositions)
  • Try these 5 Keys to open this door (from Mark Snowden and Avery Willis, "Truth That Sticks")
    • Be Simple - Memorable and repeatable
    • Be Unexpected - Surprising
    • Be Concrete - Use everyday language; Give credence to context and culture
    • Be Credible - Integrity
    • Be Emotional - Heart; Not just Head; Heart will lead to Hands

3.  Obstacle #3:  Culture (Lens)

  • Focus on Worldview (3 primal, affective paradigms:  Innocence/Guilt, Power/Fear, Honor/Shame - most refugees are from P/F, H/S worldviews; 90% of UPG's are from H/S)
  • Look for these 3 Opportunities
    • Bridges - Common ground; Redemptive analogies; Points of agreement/similarity of stories
    • Barriers - To belief; Which must be addressed?  Ignored?  Timing?
    • Gaps - Introduction of new concepts
    • "...Applying the right stories to the right people and the right time."
    • *Finding a "Person of Peace" is a sacred shortcut in overcoming these obstacles! (See Luke 10)

3 Practical Opportunities

1.  Opportunity #1:  Homestays - Be a Learner

  • Learning language
  • Learning culture

2.  Opportunity #2:  Hospitality - Be a Trader

  • Giving and receiving honor ("saving face" and face to face)
  • A Muslim understanding of "neighbor" (Islam, in general, has about 5 basic rights it extends to a person, regardless of their faith background, as a neighbor - up to 40 doors on all sides)
    • Return his greetings and accept his invitations
    • Refrain from doing any harm to him
    • Bear, with patience, any harm he does to you
    • Serve him to meet his needs
    • Guard his honor

3.  Opportunity #3:  Harvesting - Be a Storyteller

  • Sharing "Good News"!
  • Be a "Person of Peace" - Loving your neighbor - the ultimate opportunity (Luke 10:25-37)
  • Hugh of St. Victor - “To my dear brother Ronolfe, from Hugh, a sinner.  Love never ends.  When I first heard this I knew it was true.  But now, dearest brother, I have the personal experience of fully knowing that love never ends.  For I was a foreigner.  I met you in a strange land.  But that land was not really strange for I found friends there.  I don’t know whether I first made friends or was made one, but I found love there and I loved it and I could not tire of it for it was sweet to me and I filled my heart with it and was sad that my heart could hold so little.  I could not take in all that there was but I took in as much as I could.  I filled up all the space I had but I could not fit in all I found so I accepted what I could and weighed down with this precious gift I didn’t feel any burden because my full heart sustained me.  And now having made a long journey I find my heart still warmed and none of the gift has been lost for love never ends.”

Discussion Questions

  • Which of the 4 P’s resonates most with you and why?  How have you seen this worked out in your location?
  • Which of the 5 Keys to communication have you tried and seen work for you?  How have they worked?  Which ones are you planning to try next?  How will you put them into practice?
  • What other barriers, bridges or gaps in worldviews have you observed with the people you are working?
  • What other universal obstacles exist in ministry with refugees?  How can these obstacles be turned into opportunities?
  • What other practices can be employed as a learner?  A trader?  A story-teller?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Update: Kingdom Ventures

Our family's work with Global Frontier Missions continues to grow in fruitfulness - glory to God!  Nathan is the Multiplication director for GFM - Atlanta.  His work with GFM is multi-faceted, but could be described with 3 words:  Connect - we are working to build a network of disciple makers and church planters throughout Atlanta; this includes individuals and churches.  Engage - we are also working among several Unreached People Groups locally, sharing the gospel of Jesus, making disciples and planting churches.  Advance - we are raising up, coaching and sending out teams into the 10/40 window.  Please continue to pray for our family as we serve in Clarkston, Atlanta, and across the globe.

Besides our ongoing work with GFM, Nathan is currently working on several other kingdom ventures.  Here's a little update on some of them:

  • Nathan is a part of a local team who have been given a grant through Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.  This will be a year-long venture.  Nathan's primary role will be to connect our team with local refugee pastors and Christian leaders.  You can read more about that here.

  • Nathan's dad, Bert, is co-host of a daily radio program ... Exploring the Word.  Soon, Bert will be hosting a new weekly program called Exploring Missions.  The program seeks to mobilize the listening audience to be active participants in God's mission in the world by connecting them with mission principles from God's Word and mission practices and practitioners who are making a difference in the world.  Nathan has been helping his dad with this program and will be co-hosting from time to time.  The first episode airs Sunday, July 20, at 1:00 pm Central on American Family Radio.

  • Another ongoing work that Nathan is involved in is with PeopleGroups.Info.  This is a demographic/mapping project from the IMB and NAMB.  Think of it as Joshua Project for North America.  Nathan will be working with others in trying to identify which people groups live in the Atlanta metro area.  Unfortunately, although we know a lot of information about people groups living on the other side of the world, we know very little about those in our own neighborhoods.  This venture is an attempt to change that for God's glory among the nations living among us!

  • In a couple of weeks Nathan and Grant (GFM's founder/director) will be flying to Phoenix for the Refugee Highway Partnership - North America Round Table.  While there, training and networking, Nathan will also be presenting a couple of workshops:  "Turning Obstacles into Opportunities for Fruitful Cross-Cultural Ministry" and "Teenagers as People of Peace in Refugee Communities".  Please pray for Nathan as he travels and shares - that God's people would be better equipped to serve as effective gospel workers.

  • Nathan has just begun working with a new homestay company.  In fact, he's the new Atlanta homestay director.  He'll be working with international students on 5 college campuses around the Atlanta metro.  Pray for this venture as there promises to be lots of opportunities to make a global impact and see God's kingdom advance!

As you can see, we are very busy.  We haven't yet mentioned about Rachel's administrative work with RTN-Atlanta, as well as her ESL class ... PLUS the new baby!  Andrew is 3 months old and growing.  We really appreciate your prayers.

Baby Andrew - 7lbs, 10oz at birth;
Now - 15lbs and growing!

Also, we invite you to consider supporting us financially - would you be willing to give $30, $60, $100 or any amount a month?

If interested in other ways of partnering with us in this gospel work, CLICK HERE.

Or HERE if you'd like to donate now.  Be sure to type "HARPER" in the comment box.  Thanks!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Father, His Children, and a Call to Obedience (A Guest Post from Urban Nations Outreach)

My very first exposure to Diaspora Missions was about five years ago on a short term mission trip to New York City.  There, I met Larry Holcomb who is the director of Urban Nations Outreach.  Over 20 years ago, Larry moved his family from Alabama to a neighborhood in Queens.  I remember how overwhelmed I felt the second I stepped foot off the subway and into Jackson Heights - the diverse neighborhood (more like a small city), where Larry ministers.  The sights, sounds and smells immediately took me out of the USA and into multiple cultures all at once.  There, thousands of immigrants from Bangladesh, India, Latin America, Tibet, etc., are living within a few blocks of one another ... this video will give you just a little taste.  Not long ago, Larry posted this brief reflection on Facebook.  He graciously gave me permission to post it here.  Please pray for Larry, his family, and all of those serving with Urban Nations Outreach in NYC.


    By Larry Holcomb:

When Linda and I moved to New York City twenty-one years ago, the very hardest thing for me to deal with was the thought that my precious little babies (Joshie was 2 and Tori was a newborn) would grow up in this horrible place (it really was a horrible city when we first moved here!) ... I feared that my kids would become druggies, gangstas, or worse!  I worried incessantly about their safety, their potential emotional scars, their education opportunities, etc. ... but, I finally just totally gave it up to God like an Abraham/Isaac sacrifice thing, and God let me know "it will all be OK."

Twenty-one years later, I'm so relieved that I trusted God's will - as opposed to my own logic and worries.  My 4 kids have all "survived NYC" and are all incredibly talented, finely educated, aware and connected to the whole world, compassionate, and committed to serving Christ here in the city ... they're not perfect, and have had to deal with many challenges, but basically, they are some of the best kids you can find on earth!

I know it is not our great parenting skills, nor the wonderful life "we provided" ... the glory can only go to God.  I give God even more credit, when I realize what COULD have happened, if I had refused to follow His plan and selfishly stayed down South where things would have been a lot easier and a lot more "Christian" for my family.

Now I work with hundreds of church groups, and I have seen saddening problems with many of the church teens from down South ... BIG problems of self-centered materialism, muted racism, life-consuming sports addictions, and a myopic, lassaiz-faire view of the lost world and its problems.  When I stop to reflect and pray for these kids and their suburban Bible Belt church families down South, I always think, "Wow, that's how my life and my family may have turned out if I had not left and obeyed God."

When I look at my kids, I thank God that they are a blessing to me and others ... and I am always reminded that, just like He has taken care of my kids for the past 20 years, when we follow His will, He will take care of everything, and bless us beyond anything we can imagine.

Friday, June 27, 2014

HARVEST WEEK: Summer 2014

This past week we led GFM's 20 Summer Interns, plus some more staff and other participants, in some intentional disciple making at a local, Clarkston apartment complex.  Our week began on Saturday evening with a few hours of training.  We picked up with more training on Sunday afternoon.  Then, we went to the apartment complex for some prayerwalking.

The apartment complex we worked in is a large one, with approximately 400 units.  90% of these units are filled with refugee families (mostly from the 10/40 window).  The majority are from the Horn of Africa countries of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.  However, we talked to people from the U.S., as well as over 12 other nations like Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Congo, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and more.  There is a lot of crime in this particular neighborhood, as we heard and saw evidence of drug deals, murder, sexual assualt, theft, etc.  It's really a spiritually dark place (we encountered all of the THUMB religions plus others), and is in great need of the light of Jesus to shine through.

This is why we had come.  Also, to assist our partners, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, who had been working in this complex for the past several months.  In fact, they have seen the beginnings of three house churches in one corner of the complex, among several Eritrean/Ethiopian believers.  Our overall goal during Harvest Week was to identify 4 or 5 people of peace, so the team from JFBC could continue follow up and discipleship.

On Monday and Tuesday, after a little more training, we sent the team out to knock on every door.  Their instructions were simply to engage with people in their homes, pray with them in Jesus' name, and give a small gift of a Jesus film DVD in the appropriate language.  We were able to pray and share with approximately 50 families.

For Wednesday and Thursday, we returned to those 50 homes for follow up.  We told them our stories (testimonies), and Jesus' story.  One group was able to even do a Bible study with a Burmese family.  Those families that responded positively to Jesus' story will be followed-up with by the JFBC team in the next couple of weeks.

In all, we were able to identify 8 potential people of peace!  One of these men of peace was a Muslim man from Sudan.  On Sunday, as I was prayerwalking, I heard the Muslim call to prayer coming from the open window of a nearby apartment.  Immediately, the Lord impressed upon me to pray for a person of peace named Mohamed.  I voiced this prayer with urgency, and the brothers that were walking with me joined in with my plea.  A couple of days later, another group knocked on a particular door, waiting to give the DVD and offer prayer.  As the man opened the door and greeted the group standing there, the Lord whispered to one of the Summer Interns, "This man is a person of peace."  Of course, his name was Mohamed.

The same group returned to Mohamed's house to share with him their stories and Jesus' story.  Mohamed was very interested.  He invited the group to return to tell more about Jesus.  We are praying that he will invite more of his family and friends to hear about Jesus the Messiah!  Please pray for Mohamed and his family as they hear more of the Gospel.

Also, please continue to pray for the Johnson Ferry team as they follow up with the other families.  Harvest Week - Summer 2014 was a huge success!  We can't wait to hear how God continues to work and transform this community.  Thank you for your prayers.  To God be the glory!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

3 BIG Questions for Global City Church Planters: #3 ... HOW?

When determining to obey Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all nations”, it is a good idea to work toward and answer to a few basic questions:  WHOdo we focus our energies on?  WHAT is our plan for engagement?  HOW do we begin the process of making disciples?  To assist disciple makers in this, we are sharing the concepts and visuals below.  These should be seen as tools to help disciple makers think through, visualize, and answer these initial questions, especially as the disciple making team begins to work in a new field.

Process [HOW?]

The disciple making team must also determine how they will start the process of making disciples.  The process begins while the team prioritizes their work and engages their plan.  Early in the work, there are two primary ways to begin making disciples.  The first deals with being, and the second deals with doing.  It is essential to keep these in the proper order – being before doing.  

As each disciple maker abides in Christ through prayer and God’s Word, they are partnering with God, spiritually saturating the soil as God is preparing hearts to receive the gospel.  This state of being in an abiding, loving relationship with Jesus overflows into actions of evangelism.  The team will engage in abundant seed sowing, sharing good news with as many pockets of people and in as many spheres of society as possible.  Both an abiding relationship with Jesus (see John 15), and this broad sowing of gospel seed is essential to see a disciple making movement.  Both, along with the continued faithfulness to the entire process, will reap the rewards of a harvest of praise for the One who is worthy!

In the above diagram, we first notice that each of the previous questions of WHO? and WHAT? Are answered.  The answer to “Who should we focus our energies?” is answered by two actions.  The first of these is to identify the PoP.  In Luke 10, Jesus tells his disciples to go out and find “people of peace” (PoP).  These are people who welcome the messengers and the message of the coming of God’s Kingdom in Christ.  A person of peace is also a person of influence in his/her social life.  This circle of influence is known as an Oikos.  Workers are to make sure the gospel is spread through the circle of influence.  A person’s oikos (“household”), is made up of their Friends, Relatives, Associates and Neighbors.  Each person of peace that the disciple making team encounters should quickly make a list of these FRAN’s.

The answer to the question, “What is our plan for engagement?” is answered by another pair of corresponding actions.  The first of these is to Evangelize the lost.  Every abiding follower of Jesus knows that there are only two kinds of people:  the lost and the saved.  When he/she meets anyone who is lost, they make it a point to evangelize them.  When a disciple maker meets a person who is already following Jesus, or they lead someone to become a follower of Jesus, they Enlist and Equip them to become disciple makers themselves.  As this newly enlisted and equipped disciple maker goes out, they then continue the cycle by looking for a person of peace and/or becoming a person of peace for their own oikos.  Then, they gather their oikos and begin evangelizing the lost and enlisting/equipping the saved.

The diagram also addresses the question, “How should we begin the disciple making process?”  The answer to this question is given through four more actions:  Abiding, Seeking, Applying and Planting.  As the gospel worker is abiding in Christ through prayer and the Word, they are saturating the soil and preparing for the next phase of seeking.  During the seeking phase, the disciple maker is primarily sowing the seed.  This means they are entering the community, working hard to become insiders.  They are also evangelizing the lost where they find them, especially among any people of peace and their oikos.

In the applying phase, the disciple maker will disciple new believers, as well as enlist and equip those who already follow Jesus.  This enlisting and equipping  involves leadership development.  Leadership development mainly involves raising up, training and appointing elders for the newly gathered oikos, which is quickly becoming a church.  The final phase is planting, where the church is formed and released for service in the world.  The harvest is ready for the new church to reproduce itself, multiplying disciples makers to begin the whole process over from the beginning!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Being Poor and Ugly (A Guest Post from Proskuneo)

By:  Josh Davis

Josh Davis is the founder and president of Proskuneo Ministries.  Josh has a real heart to minister to people of every culture.  Being gifted as a worship leader, singer and songwriter, he's had the opportunity to minister to thousands of people.  In fact, the music of Proskuneo has reached over 30 countries and has been translated into various languages:  Spanish, French, Creole, Korean, Arabic, and Russian ... to name a few.

Not only that, but Josh is a good friend, a neighbor, and an excellent co-laborer in Clarkston.  Check out Proskuneo, listen to some tunes, and consider supporting them through prayer and financial giving.  Read to the bottom to check out a sample of Josh leading multicultural worship.


Being Poor and Ugly

I was reading this morning in Acts chapter 3 when Peter and John encountered the lame beggar near the temple.  And, I was listening to what Peter said to the man with fresh ears.  "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."  The first part of that statement captured my attention today.  Basically, Peter was saying, "I don't have any money."  I don't know if Peter just didn't have cash on him, because he was carrying his credit card.  But, I seriously doubt it.  I don't know if Peter had a stash of gold back at the upper room, but I doubt it.  I think Peter probably didn't have much expendable income.  I think Peter was relatively poor.  By current American standards, he may have been incredibly poor, in fact.  And so many times we can look at poverty as a negative thing.  But, in this instance, I stop to ask myself, "What if Peter had money on him at that moment?"  That was clearly what the lame man was looking and asking for.  (Pause for a moment to wonder how many times we settle for asking for something lesser - like money - when what we really need is something greater - like healing.  That's another blog entirely.)  If Peter had money on him, the whole situation may have turned out differently:

               Man sees Peter and John and asks for money.
               Peter reaches into his pockets and hands him a coin or two.
               Peter says "have a nice day!  God bless you!" and goes away with a good feeling.
               The lame man keeps being lame, but has some money for a meal that day.

I have found that often, when we have plenty of physical resources, we can rely on those to solve the problems that arise.  I'm sick.  I have insurance.  I go to the doctor and get medicine.  Problem solved.  My daughter needs clothes.  I figure out what store is having the best sale and I go buy them.  Problem solved.  My car is out of gas.  I go to the station and fill it up.  Problem solved.

There have been times in the last year that someone in our family has been sick, and we couldn't afford to go to the doctor.  There have been times in the last year that our kids have needed clothes and we couldn't afford to go to the store (even the thrift store!) and buy them.  There have been times in the past year when our van was out of gas, and we didn't have money to go fill it up.  And, here is what I have learned:  Having fewer physical resources can make it easier to focus on our spiritual resources.  I pray more often for healing when I don't have money to send someone to the doctor.  I am quicker to celebrate how the Body of Christ can share resources (like hand-me-down clothes!) when I don't have money to buy clothes.  And so on.

Clearly, being poor can be a really good thing.  James 2:5 says that God has chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him.  It's interesting that I am much more aware of the promises of God when I have less money in my bank account or gas in my tank.  The promises of God are my insurance policy.  The promises of God are the currency by which I can live and move.  Hmmm.

Do you find it noteworthy that when God sent His son into the world, he sent him to be poor and plain-looking?  We as parents want our kids to be rich and beautiful.  But, God the Father (who has all resources and all authority) sent Jesus into the world to be just the opposite.  2 Corinthians 8:9 tells us that, though He was rich, Jesus became poor so that we, by His poverty, might become rich.  And, Isaiah 53:2 tells us that Jesus had no beauty that we should be drawn to Him.  Jesus was poor.  And, if not ugly, at the very least he was plain-looking.  And, I wonder what would have happened if Jesus had been rich and handsome.  He certainly would have been a better presidential candidate that way.  But evidently not as good of a Redeemer.  More people would have been drawn to Him, but apparently, God is not as concerned with big numbers as we are and, it's possible the people would have been drawn for the wrong reasons.  Maybe that's more important than we realize.

It is not wrong or bad to be rich and beautiful.  (But, our society communicates this message very clearly.)  So, today, I want to emphasize that it's OK to be poor and ugly.  In fact, it can be really good.  I truly desire to be rich in faith, for without faith, it is impossible to please God.  Whether I am poor or rich, I want to trust in God's promises more than any insurance policy or money in my pocket.  And whether I am good-looking or not, I can decide what (or who) I will depend on.  And you can too.