Monthly Archives: February 2009
I’m back from Cambodia. For all of you that prayed I want to give a heart-felt thank you. During this trip, I joined three other missionaries (one from Australia, one from Nepal, and an American missionary living in Thailand) in teaching the Simply the Story workshop to national pastors, missionaries, and Bible school students.
Although there has been significant church growth over the past 20 years, Cambodia is still a Buddhist nation recuperating from the horrific communist bloodbath that took place under the leadership of Pol Pot between the years 1975-1979. During this time Pol Pot’s regime literally killed off the nation’s intellectuals and sought to create a society composed of nothing but rural farmers. Pol Pot’s extreme brand of communism brainwashed the people into suppressing individuality and downplaying critical thinking. When you combine the twin factors of Buddhism and Communism (both of which downplay individuality and critical thinking) with a historically reserved people and, to top it off, translation difficulties, teaching the value of telling stories and formulating discussion made for a very challenging task.
But the Word of God prevailed!
One by one the workshop attendees began to come alive to the Word of God. Even some that were skeptical in the beginning came around towards the end. By the end of the second week, we left a core group in place committed to telling Bible stories, and teaching others to do the same.
Here are two examples:
When the story of Namaan was presented (2 Kings 5:1-27), one young Cambodian man was touched by the fact that Namaan’s servant, who was an Israeli that had been captured by the Syrians (remember that Namaan was a commander of the Syrian army), instead of being bitter towards Namaan, the girl told him about Elisha the prophet so that he could be healed of his leprosy. Seeing in this story a lesson about forgiving enemies, the man stood up and said, “My grandparents were killed by some of Pol Pot’s soldiers and for so many years I was bitter and only wanted revenge, but since the talk about the war crimes tribunals over the past few years, I’ve learned that I need to forgive. Learning this story validates the decision that I have made and I hope that we as a people can learn from this servant girl’s example.”
The second example came during the second week. A Filipino missionary that was new to the country was sitting in a small group listening to the story of Jesus being rejected by his hometown (Mark 6:6-6). The storyteller was a workshop attendee. One of the things that this workshop does is it gives people a chance to get their feet wet in telling stories and formulating discussions. Although I felt that the storyteller in this case was grossly underprepared, it didn’t matter to this man. When it came out in the story that Jesus was rejected not only by his hometown, but also by his family, the man went off to the side and wept. It turns out that this Filipino man had also been rejected by his family. From the story he learned that although Jesus did everything he could to reach his relatives, He didn’t let their rejection of Him stop Him from moving forward in His ministry. Another life touched by the power of God’s Word!
Such is the beauty of stories. One of the things that I’ve learned throughout this process is that it’s very easy to botch a sermon (Yes, I’ll admit. I’ve botched a few sermons over the years), but if I focus my energy on telling a story, and I’ve made sure that my listeners have heard the story enough so that they are sure to remember it after they leave, then the story itself will continue to teach the people long after I’m gone.
I’ve read so many books over the years that have tried to teach me how I as a missionary need to make God’s Word relevant to the people I minister to. Now I’m wondering why I read all those books. The very idea that I, a minister of the gospel, need to make God’s Word relevant is based off a faulty premise. As if God hasn’t already made His Word relevant! As if God when He wrote His Word didn’t have every single culture or type of audience in mind (and, yes, that includes a postmodern audience).
No, I don’t need to make God’s Word relevant. God has already done that! My job is to tell the stories He has placed in His Word, tell them accurately, and let the stories become the teacher. I have a feeling that God’s Word is a much better communicator than I’ll ever be.
Think about it,
Rhiannon and I are enjoying our time in Farmington, New Mexico. Since we’ve been here, I’ve had invitations to speak in four different churches. Just the other day we were meeting with a pastor of a good sized church here in Farmington. It was about 20 minutes before the mid-week service began and I was sharing with him the power of taking simple Bible stories and anchoring messages from the stories (as opposed to beginning with pre-existing points and taking bits and pieces from several stories to prove the points). The pastor was so excited that he immediately introduced me to his son, the youth pastor of the church, and asked me to take the youth service for the evening.
Normally, not having time to prepare a message would have rocked my boat, but since I already had several stories in my repertoire, all I had to do was pick one. I ended up telling the story of a leper that was healed by Jesus but disobeyed His orders to not tell anyone about what had happened. The story is found in Mark 1:40-45. After I told the story, I was able to throw out questions to the youth group to make them think about what the story teaches about grace, healing, the character of Jesus, how we should treat others, and, ultimately the price of disobedience. I could tell the young people were blessed, which in turn blessed me because I don’t get a chance to speak to young people very often.
Next stop: Cambodia!!
I’ve been to Cambodia three times in the past. One of those times my wife was with me. To give you a brief history. From 1975-1979 the Cambodian people suffered under the brutal regime of Pol Pot, one of the most cruel dictators in human history. Millions of people were relocated from their homes and forced to live in agricultural communes. Those deemed as a threat to the regime, like intellectuals and Western sympathizers, were tortured and killed. By the end of the nightmare, somewhere around 2 million people were killed, which is why the words “killing fields” are often used to describe the tragedy of Pol Pot’s rule.
But thanks be to God, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ has grown exponentially since that awful time period! Shortly after my wife and I arrived in Farmington, New Mexico I was invited to Cambodia to join a team of three other men who will be teaching the “Simply the Story” method to missionaries and national pastors throughout the country. The format will be the exact same format used when my wife and I went to Thailand in November. To give you an idea of the power of this workshop, I’d like to share a report from a missionary in Thailand about what happened as a result of the last trip that we took. Shortly after the workshop, some Karen Bible School students decided to cross the border into Burma and put into practice what they had learned. Here is what happened:
I didn’t get out of the (name of the camp omitted) until later in the evening, then a trip down to (name of the camp omitted) where I had a chance to speak with (name omitted) regarding his STS usage during the December evangelism campaign. (name omitted) is just recovering from Malaria, so you may want to keep him in your prayers.
Anyway, (name omitted) said that he and (name omitted) took 15, 3rd year students and went to 3rd & 5th brigade which covers 20 villages. I’ve been to 5th brigade and it is a heavy war zone. He shared of one very close call where Junta troops attacked the village just as they left from ministering STS.
These area’s are heavily Animist and reluctant to the gospel. (name omitted) did say roughly 2 dozen adults received Christ as a result of STS. He said there were so many children acknowledging Jesus that they promised to return to the villages this March after Bible school graduation and try to disciple them.
They had several invitations to return to the villages as the leaders want to hear more of this “Jesus”. Doesn’t that just sound like the days of ACTS?
I count it an honor and a privilege to have played a small part in this. Please pray that God will do similar things as a result of the Cambodia workshop. I’ll be out of the country from February 6th-24th.
I can’t wait to give you a positive report when I get back!
While there is still time,
P.S. If you would like to make an online contribution to our ministry, please go to my website.