An altar that stands above Golgotha.

Arturo

Some dear old friends of ours have recently gifted us with tickets to Israel – just now, in the first days of Lent. I can hardly believe the generosity! We returned from our pilgrimage a few days ago. Let me share with you a few reflections. On our first day … [Continue Reading]

Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Some dear old friends of ours have recently gifted us with tickets to Israel – just now, in the first days of Lent. I can hardly believe the generosity! We returned from our pilgrimage a few days ago. Let me share with you a few reflections.

On our first day in the Old City of Jerusalem, Cindy and I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Maybe some of you have had the privilege, too. We thought to begin there, at the site proposed for Golgotha and the borrowed tomb, upon the recommendation of none other than Mark Twain. “One naturally goes first to the Holy Sepulchre,” he famously advised in a memoir of his travels.

This mighty cathedral is ancient, that is sure. Here, we are told, we find the very rock of Golgotha and the tomb in which our Lord once laid. Writing in the first years of the fourth century, Eusebius claimed that the site had been venerated and recognized as legitimate since the days of the apostles themselves. Constantine built a church upon the site in 325. During the period of construction, Helena is said to have found the remains of the cross itself.

I was impressed by the layers of accretion that have accumulated through the years: layers upon layers, in loud and gaudy array. There were stone layers laid down through centuries of building and rebuilding, from Constantine’s day, to Byzantine times, through the Crusader period, and to modern times. There were layers of silver and gold, candelabra and censer, kneeling rails, altar spaces, main chapels, side chapels, tapestries, plaques and engravings. There were layers of footprints throughout the place: millions upon millions of visitors have worn the floor smooth. There was iron scaffolding to hold up failing stone, plywood barriers to conceal (I suppose) ongoing renovation, boxes for offerings, receptacles for votive candles, and rope lines to shepherd the immense crowd of visitors that press in day by day. There were layers of worship, too: praying, kneeling, anointing, chanting, and here and there quiet meditation. There were Catholics and Coptics, Orthodox and Syriacs, Armenians, Ethiopians, and many more. Protestants seem to have added the largest accretion of all – an entire alternative site for Golgotha and the tomb, not far from the Damascus gate, outside the walls of the Old City.

An altar that stands above Golgotha.

An altar that stands above Golgotha.

There you will find additional layers of gift shops and chapels, long lines, narrow spaces, books, guides, pathways, interpretive inscriptions, and so on. (But not as much incense.)

In all the confusing flood of images, smells and sensations – one engraving leapt out at me, in particular. It wasn’t chiseled in stone; it was engraved in magic marker. It wasn’t a thousand years old; it could have been written last week. A pilgrim named Arturo left the little artifact, on a stone in the floor just opposite the bathrooms and a few paces from Golgotha. He drew a heart on the surface of the stone. Inside he scribed, “Arturo loves Jesus.” Here, it seemed to me at last, I could identify.

Our missionary trajectory through the centuries accumulates accretions of one variety or another, almost irrepressibly. We add (unwittingly, for the most part) cultural accretions, denominational accretions, layers upon layers that were not perhaps inherent to the first century church. We add worship styles, preferred worship languages, confessions, institutes, regulations and constitutions. Yet I wonder how much our many accretions lead us in the end to Jesus.

But Jesus is precisely the point.

There are so many very sophisticated ways to think about Lent and Holy Week. So many theories and theologies regarding what, precisely, happened at Golgotha and how, precisely, to get in on it. There are so many competing layers. They may become a blur for us.

But the core of Lent and Holy Week is really very simple: Arturo seemed to capture it. One can have all the sophisticated accretions in the world down pat and understood – all the philosophies, theologies, histories and archaeologies planted in one’s head – but if this simple core is absent in one’s heart, well, the whole lot gains us nothing.

God loves you. Enough to give his Son for you. Enough to raise him from the dead – “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

I am not sure, frankly, that I will remember forever the dates of construction at the Holy Sepulchre, or its principal architects through the ages. But I will remember Arturo. Faith must be simple, I think, if it is to be deep. This Lent and Holy Week, remember to keep things simple, as Arturo seemed to do. The world doesn’t need our sophisticated theology, after all. The world needs Jesus.

Just Tell Them About Jesus

About three years ago I slipped into a meeting of Twin Cities pastors to hear a well known and somewhat controversial systematic theologian speak on the topic, Preaching Christ In An Age of Religious Pluralism. An inner-city pastor asked, “Should I really be trying to convert the Asian Buddhists who … [Continue Reading]

About three years ago I slipped into a meeting of Twin Cities pastors to hear a well known and somewhat controversial systematic theologian speak on the topic, Preaching Christ In An Age of Religious Pluralism. An inner-city pastor asked, “Should I really be trying to convert the Asian Buddhists who have moved into our neighborhood?” When he received a solid affirmative he went on to ask, “How?”

The theologian’s response surprised me and warmed my heart. Many missiologists and theologians would have said something like “dialogue, build a relationship, start with the known and work toward the unknown, or find some common ground.” His answer: “Just tell them about Jesus.”

Just a month ago, on the other side of the world, I saw it happen. From a human point of view the circumstances were all wrong. The speaker was a western female in a male-dominated society in the eastern world. She was not a native speaker of the language she used. Only about half of the listeners spoke that language as their first tongue. The audience, with the exception of two small girls, was made up of adult males. The traditional stance of all was anti-Christian. The story was told with a flannel graph, an aid normally used with children.

What could one hope for under these circumstances? Heckling? Boredom? Walkouts? Antagonism? Indifference? There was no introduction. No invitation: “Let’s talk.” No apology for taking their time or for interrupting their activities, not even “thanks for coming.” The storyteller walked into the hospital ward and announced to the patients, and more specifically to the relatives who were accompanying them, about 50 in total, “We are going to have a lesson now.” She set up the flannel board and started telling the story of Jesus.

In half an hour she took them from the angel’s announcement to Joseph to the resurrection. From the first sentence she spoke to the final word, the audience was enrapt. I did not understand the language, so I occupied myself in observing the listeners. That the Holy Spirit was at work was obvious. There were no objections. No questioning of motives or authority. The only reaction was a drinking in of the Word, and many requests for the written Gospel in their mother tongues.

The theologian was right. Just tell them about Jesus!

Bob Andrews served as WMPL General Director from 1985-1997. He and Joyce are now retired and living in Little Falls, Minnesota. A former colleague recently asked permission to use this story from The NEWSLETTER (February 1992) as the foreword in a book she is writing; we thought it timely to publish it again as well.

God’s System of Justice

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) In April 1992 California was preparing for its first execution in 25 years. Robert Alton Harris was on death row for the murder of two teenage boys from San Diego. His … [Continue Reading]

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

In April 1992 California was preparing for its first execution in 25 years. Robert Alton Harris was on death row for the murder of two teenage boys from San Diego. His execution was scheduled for April 21st. As the date approached and it became increasingly apparent that he would indeed be executed, protestors came forward. They claimed for one reason or another that, no matter how great the crime that had been committed, killing another human being was not the answer. I also felt some sympathy for Robert Harris. I could not explain why I felt that way; he was certainly deserving of death for the crimes he committed. Each time I saw the parents of the victims speak out I was struck with the immense grief that they must have felt, but as the execution approached I still felt uneasy with the idea of capital punishment.

For weeks I considered my own feelings toward this case and paid close attention to the protestors. Then one day it occurred to me that out of all the many protestors, not one of them offered to take the place of the man on death row. Out of all the people who believed that this man should not be killed, why was there not one who would be willing to die in place of the convicted killer so that he would be able to live? I quickly answered my own question. Of course nobody made that offer, the man was guilty! Why would anyone give up their own life in order to save a criminal from his punishment of death? There is no real compelling reason to do that. Yet isn’t that what Jesus did for us?

In our system of justice not many of us have reached the same level of guilt that this man had, but in God’s system of justice all of our sins are so great, and create such an enormous separation between us and God, that it becomes useless to compare one person’s sins against another. Paul writes that at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for us. He also writes that God demonstrated his love for us in this: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is one thing to protest against the death penalty. It is an entirely different thing to die in place of a guilty man condemned to death, yet that is exactly what Jesus did for each of us. What a gracious and merciful God we serve!

In February we were able to pay all of our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. We used $39,533 from the General Fund to meet these needs, leaving a General Fund balance of $133,329 at the end of February. Our Benefits Fund carried a balance of $106,541.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

Pleasingly Uneventful

The year 2013 was an interesting year for World Mission Prayer League finances – not for its remarkable occurrences, but rather for the lack of them. Most years contain some sort of drama that we would probably rather avoid. But last year was mostly uneventful, in a good and restful … [Continue Reading]

The year 2013 was an interesting year for World Mission Prayer League finances – not for its remarkable occurrences, but rather for the lack of them. Most years contain some sort of drama that we would probably rather avoid. But last year was mostly uneventful, in a good and restful way.

Our Annual Report in 2008 focused on the recession in America, a steep drop in the stock market, and how God provided for our fellowship throughout. There was a lot of uncertainty at the time. Last year many major market indexes continued their steady climb from their 2009 lows and reached new highs.

During most of the past decade the rising cost of health insurance has been a topic of concern for our fellowship and for our nation. New health care laws prompted us to change our health insurance carrier at the end of 2013, but the result has been positive. The new plan comes with a decrease in monthly premium and little change in coverage. For the Prayer League, this “big story” has so far turned out to be somewhat of a non-event.

In 2009 we reported that our missionary allowances were short by $130,000. In 2011 we paid only 81 percent of our target allowance for the year. Last year 100 percent of allowances were provided for all of our missionaries for the entire year – the first time that has happened since 2004. Short allowance payments were not only a non-event, they were non-existent.

Over the years, even when we were able to pay full allowances and all of the bills, we experienced some uncertainty along the way. On two occasions in 2006, an entire month’s needs were met by a margin of less than $100. On another occasion we received $34,000 in the very last days of a month in which we expected to pay less than half of target allowances. We still fell a bit short that month. Yet God showed himself faithful… as he has again, and again, and again. We have experienced story after story of his wonderful – and sometimes stressful – provision just in the nick of time.

Last year was pleasingly uneventful in that way. God provided what we needed for the year, much of it already in our accounts in 2010- 2011. Our bottom line seemed to show a negative balance at the end of the year. That may have been true for the fiscal year. But we did not spend any more than we received; we simply received God’s provision ahead of time! We are overjoyed when God provides the correct amount at the correct time. What a blessing when he provides even earlier! That is just what God did for us in 2013, and for that we are thankful.

In January we were able to pay all of our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. We used $34,429 from the General Fund to meet these needs, leaving a General Fund balance of $143,526. Our Benefits Fund carried a balance of $145,670. Thank you for your ongoing support!

By Andy Coan [CC-BY-2.0]

Patrick!

I have recently read a psalm that called to mind a date in March, that reminded me of a singular, passionate teenager in old Ireland and his radical conversion to Christ, his irresistible calling to mission, and the evangelistic movement that followed him and reached across a continent. Patrick (ca. … [Continue Reading]

I have recently read a psalm that called to mind a date in March, that reminded me of a singular, passionate teenager in old Ireland and his radical conversion to Christ, his irresistible calling to mission, and the evangelistic movement that followed him and reached across a continent.

Patrick (ca. 385-461) was sixteen years old, we are told, when a band of Irish pirates stormed his village in Britain and carried him away to Ireland. He spent the remainder of his teenage years in slavery. [1]

We know very little of these difficult years. They were not so pleasant, I think.

Patrick was born into privilege, the scion of an aristocratic, land-owning family. Perhaps this is why he was targeted. His captors set him to work as a shepherd, Patrick later reported. But God set to work as well. “God worked powerfully in Patrick’s suffering to remake him from the inside out. He freed Patrick from dependence on wealth and his place in society. God rescued Patrick from himself and made his heart captive to the love of Christ.” [2]

Patrick remained a captive, it seems, for six odd years. In his early twenties – maybe he was 22 – he found an opportunity to escape and took it. He returned to his homeland in Britain, now a committed Christian, captive only to the love Christ.

Yet in spite of the comfort that surrounded him again and the inheritance that awaited, Patrick found no peace. He felt himself deeply burdened for the Irish pirates who once held him captive – and indeed for the entire Irish nation. Soon he was plotting his way back again to Ireland, now as an ambassador for Jesus Christ. “The shepherd-boy slave had become the slave of Christ and apostle to Ireland.” [3]

In the middle of March every year we celebrate his story. St. Patrick’s Day falls on March 17.

A psalm, as I say, brought all of this into view. I am thinking of Psalm 84 – and verse 5 in particular. “Happy are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”

By Andy Coan [CC-BY-2.0]

By Andy Coan [CC-BY-2.0]

It was the idea of pilgrimage that caught my attention especially, and made me think of Patrick. The parallel halves of this verse illuminate the meaning of “strength in the Lord” – and it does not mean what we might have thought. It is not about bulwarks or citadels, chariots or armies, carefully laid defenses, aristocracies or wealthy inheritance. It is about “setting one’s heart on pilgrimage.” It is about moving on, pressing forward, diving in, and engaging risk. It is about undertaking the journey, as pilgrims do, while the destination remains beyond the horizon. It is about “setting one’s heart” on things like these. Not on walls and parapets. But on the road.

This was certainly true of Patrick. He called himself a “pilgrim,” in fact. And the young people that followed him (they were mostly young people), he called the “peregrini.” Patrick sent them into the whole wide world to “go pilgrimage for Christ.” And so they did! The pilgrims carried the gospel (or, better put, were carried by it) across the British Isles, onto the mainland and across the continent. They became a mobile, flexible, radically contextual, Scripture-fueled, white-hot missionary movement. They became the most significant missionary movement of their day – and for centuries to come.

It seems so counterintuitive.

Patrick himself was an inexperienced youth, uneducated and poor. Through much of his life, the bishops of the Roman church held him in disdain. He was too untraditional. He didn’t do Latin very well. He didn’t do churchiness, either. And he seemed too friendly with the Celtic unbelievers he yearned to evangelize. This was a threat to the church of his day: he wanted to evangelize the Celts – not to Romanize them.

Yet Patrick knew Jesus.

Patrick’s strength did not come from playing it safe or settling down. It came from “a heart set on pilgrimage” – risking it all for the One who rescued him, that he might be used to rescue others. “I am Patrick, yes a sinner and indeed untaught,” he wrote in his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, “yet I am established here in Ireland where I profess myself bishop. I am certain in my heart that ‘all that I am,’ I have received from God. So I live among barbarous tribes, a stranger and exile for the love of God. He himself testifies that this is so.” [4]

So when March 17 rolls around this year, maybe you will want to think about Patrick. But don’t be content with things Irish or green. Read Psalm 84. Think about strength in the Lord. And set your heart on pilgrimage.

1 You can read an interesting account of Patrick’s life and legacy in Movements that Changed the World, by Steve Addison (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2011), pp.15ff.
2 Ibid., p.16
3 Ibid., p.17
4 http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/ctexts/p02.html

Estate Gifts

Day-to-day giving to the World Mission Prayer League has remained pretty consistent through the years, with steady but modest increases. Donations come from churches and individuals all across the country. Some give once per year, others quarterly, monthly – or even every week. I am sure that there are many … [Continue Reading]

Day-to-day giving to the World Mission Prayer League has remained pretty consistent through the years, with steady but modest increases. Donations come from churches and individuals all across the country. Some give once per year, others quarterly, monthly – or even every week. I am sure that there are many hours of significant prayer that accompany these regular gifts. These regular gifts and regular prayers are absolutely essential to our ministry.

In addition to this regular giving, the Prayer League receives donations from the “final estate” of brothers and sisters who have gone on to their heavenly reward. Often enough, these are folks who have prayed and contributed to the missionary cause for years, and have decided to leave one last financial blessing upon their departure. There can be no doubt that hours of prayer have preceded these final gifts.

Unlike day-to-day giving, estate gifts vary greatly from year to year. Last year, for example, $72,000 was contributed to our estate fund. In several recent years, however, we have received two or three hundred thousand dollars in our estate fund – and in two separate years the amount was greater than $1 million! These gifts allow us to fund projects that we might not otherwise be able to fund, and permit our daily gifts to go farther. In the past couple of years we have used estate funds to pay for about one-half of our missionary benefits (health insurance, housing, etc.), which has enabled more of our day-to-day donations to go directly toward the support of missionary allowances. This permitted us to pay full target allowances to all of our missionaries throughout 2013. The estate fund has also been used to support Bible schools, summer camps, leadership development conferences, and other projects and activities around the world. Some of our estate funds have been used for capital expenses related to our office here in Minneapolis, too.

This mission operates with the understanding that all gifts are God’s provision. Gifts received into our estate fund are often a final financial gift from partners and co-laborers who have supported the Prayer League for years. They are different, in some ways, from regular day-to-day gifts – but in most ways they are not. They are simply God’s provision, contributed by brothers and sisters who have lived their lives in support of God’s mission in the world.

In December we were able to pay all of our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. We used $33,344 from the General Fund to meet these needs, leaving a General Fund balance of $114,977. Our Benefits Fund carried a balance of $194,493. Thank you for your ongoing support!

St. Luke's Theological College opening ceremony in Bor

St. Luke’s Goes On!

One of our newest African involvements is located in the world’s newest country, South Sudan, christened on July 9, 2011. The last half of 2013 revealed the rapid development of St. Luke’s Theological College in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State – both in terms of physical infrastructure and in … [Continue Reading]

St. Luke's Theological College opening ceremony in Bor

St. Luke’s Theological College opening ceremony in Bor

One of our newest African involvements is located in the world’s newest country, South Sudan, christened on July 9, 2011. The last half of 2013 revealed the rapid development of St. Luke’s Theological College in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State – both in terms of physical infrastructure and in terms of curriculum development for several programs of study at the certificate level.

Chaos broke out throughout the country in mid-December, as you have likely heard reported in the international press. Much violence was centered in Bor itself. Within days most of the students of St. Luke’s had fled into the bush, and Prayer League worker Matthew was evacuated via U.S. military transport to Nairobi. Thankfully, his wife Achol and young son Emmanuel had made their way to Nairobi some days earlier.

Matthew remained in telephone contact with the Managing Director back in Bor and reported to us on the last day of December: “All the furniture such as mattresses, chairs, computers, projector… have been taken. Furthermore, our security guard’s body was found dead.”

The future can be uncertain in light of such loss and devastation, but Matthew is determined to wade through the destruction to reach God’s preferred future. He observed that rebel forces may have “taken over” the campus once occupied by St. Luke’s students in Bor. “But they have not taken St. Luke’s,” he insisted. “St. Luke’s means teaching the Bible. We can take that anywhere in the world; it does not depend upon a campus. St. Luke’s goes on!”

Matthew was quickly drawn to ministry opportunities in refugee camps – even among his previous students. He arrived at Adjumani Refugee Camp in northern Uganda on January 15. There he saw children without parents and people without food, shelter or water. He saw children and adults without a word of hope or comfort. Since the people cannot come to the College in Bor at this time, Matthew is convinced that God is calling St. Luke’s to go to the people.

Students at St. Luke's

Students at St. Luke’s

“I can’t bring them water. I can’t provide much food,” Matthew explained. “But I can bring them the Word of God.”

Much has happened in the space of several months! St. Luke’s has lost its campus. What will it look like now without walls?

 

Please join us in prayer:

  • Pray for peace and reconciliation throughout South Sudan.
  • PRAISE! for the recently signed “hostilities cessation agreement.” Continue to pray for leaders of integrity for this new nation.
  • Ask the Father to protect and provide for those who are caught in the crossfire between warring factions. Give thanks for the relative safety available in neighboring countries where many have fled as refugees.
  • Pray for wisdom for William Obaga, stationed in Nairobi as our new Associate Director for Africa. Pray for God’s good direction.
  • Pray finally and often that God would use this fluid situation for the ongoing advance of the gospel.
This story draws from phone conversations between General Director Chuck Lindquist and Matthew from late December to mid-January.
Go.

Why Serve?

For the first time in the history of planet earth, the Christian church is a truly global phenomenon. And it is not barely global, either. Approximately one out of five of our Christian family is an Asian sister or brother. Our African family will soon represent one out of four … [Continue Reading]

For the first time in the history of planet earth, the Christian church is a truly global phenomenon. And it is not barely global, either. Approximately one out of five of our Christian family is an Asian sister or brother. Our African family will soon represent one out of four among us. Another one out of five is Latin American – not to mention our family in the South Pacific and those that remain in the West.

For the first time in history, the Christian cause is a truly global endeavor, as well. The World Mission Prayer League makes its headquarters in Minneapolis and Camrose: these are our North American hubs. But thriving missionary “hubs” are found today in southern lands and eastern lands, as well. For most of the modern era, a “typical” missionary looked rather like me: middle-aged (and aging), northern-latitude, Scandinavian. A “typical” missionary today, however, is more likely to come from southern latitudes. She is more likely to speak Spanish than English. He is more likely to eat ugali than lefse.

In light of changes as dramatic as these, a friend of mine recently wondered aloud, “Why continue to serve?” Perhaps “hubs” like ours in Minneapolis and Camrose have simply had their day. We have fought the fight and run the race. Maybe now we should go home.

I can understand my friend’s question. But it is easy to answer.

Go.The command of God remains, for one thing. We are to make disciples of all nations, Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). And we will not find a caveat or conditioner, try as we might. Wherever we go in all the world, the people of God are called – permanently – to make disciples.

The unreached remain, as well. The church has become truly global, it is true. Yet there remain many, many disciples to be made. It is estimated that one out of three of our entire human family, approximately, remains unevangelized. They have yet to receive a meaningful opportunity to respond to the Good News of Jesus.

There is the wonderful promise, too: this remains secure. “I am with you always,” Jesus assured us (Matthew 28:20). I do not mean that we should serve in order to enjoy the promise of Christ’s presence. Yet when we serve, wherever we serve, the promise of Jesus applies.

And there is, perhaps, a more fundamental reason to remain in service to the mission of God. The mission of God is basic to our DNA. It is part of who we are. When God made us believers, by grace through faith, he made us by grace into missionaries.

This may not seem entirely obvious. But it will not be due to unclear or insufficient biblical evidence. The Bible is perfectly clear: the people of God are the result of the mission of God, and swept into its cause. Consider, for example, Paul’s famous declaration in 2 Corinthians 5 – the one that concludes, “So we are ambassadors for Christ” (v.20). Paul’s missionary conclusion is based upon the irresistible missionary logic that precedes it. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (v.18). This is why we serve: it is basic to our DNA. The reconciled are made reconcilers. The redeemed are made ambassadors. We do not exist for ourselves, as it turns out. Christians exist for mission.

If this seems less than obvious, somehow, it will be due to the biases we bring to our reading of the texts. Here in the West we suspect at some level that we do exist for ourselves, for one thing. We believe that human beings are created to be independent, self-reliant, rugged individualists. Existing for anybody other than ourselves somehow offends us. Even existing for God.

But our DNA is clear, in spite of our cultural biases. Asking a Christian “Why serve?” is rather like asking a plant “Why grow?” or a child “Why eat? Why giggle? Why speak?” We are born to some things, as it turns out. Christians are born to the mission of God.

The Remedy

“Huh…?”

A few days ago, I stumbled upon an interesting report from the world of psycholinguistics. It had to do with “universal words.” It turns out that “mommy,” or something rather like it, appears in many languages around the world. This is what my grandchildren call their mother here in Minneapolis. … [Continue Reading]

The RemedyA few days ago, I stumbled upon an interesting report from the world of psycholinguistics. It had to do with “universal words.”

It turns out that “mommy,” or something rather like it, appears in many languages around the world. This is what my grandchildren call their mother here in Minneapolis. In Ecuador or Mexico, they might call her “mamá.” In French-speaking Congo, they might say “mère” and in the Philippines, “nanay.” It is all pretty close. But linguists do not consider the common expression universal, exactly. And “papa” doesn’t qualify, either. There is simply too much variety, as it turns out, from tribe to tribe and tongue to tongue.

There are a few words, however, that are more reliably “universal” across languages and cultures. One of the most widely acknowledged, believe it or not, is that trusty old standby, “huh?” You have used the expression yourself, I do not doubt, since you were a child.

This is a word that appears almost everywhere and with very little variation. Everywhere it means the same thing, more or less: “You’ve got me… I haven’t an idea… There may be an answer somewhere – but you won’t be finding it with me.”

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics have recently reported this interesting finding. They describe “strikingly similar versions [of “huh”] in 10 languages across five continents” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, November 17, 2013; p.A12). Norwegians say “huh.” Indians say “हुह”. The Chinese say “呵呵”. Filipinos say “huh.” Kenyans say “huh,” too. And they say something similar in Bangladesh, Romania, Peru, and Mongolia, as well – almost everywhere.

This finding from the field of psycholinguistics, I thought to myself, is just the sort of thing we should expect of a fallen and rebellious race, at odds with their planet, their own human family, and Almighty God. We are universally clueless. Every language, everywhere, it seems, corroborates the malady. We don’t know where we’ve come from (Isaiah 1:3).

We don’t know where we’re going (Jeremiah 8:7). We don’t know how or why the world is so complicated, or our lives are so frustrated, or our hopes so diminished, or our possibilities so regularly dashed (Romans 3:9ff.). We think it simply a rotten, inexplicable bit of bad luck. We think its remedy to consist of brave perseverance, if only we can manage it, in the eager, witless hope that our luck will one day change.

“Huh?”

But the Bible describes another perspective. There is a reason for our dashed hopes and diminished possibilities: it is sin (Romans 3:23). And the condition is not at all inexplicable: we are ourselves at fault (Ephesians 4:18; 1 John 1:8). Yet we are not left alone in our woeful condition: there is a remedy for our sin. And the Remedy has come to live among us: it is Jesus, the Savior of the world (Romans 6:23). The Creator of all things has made Jesus to be sin on our behalf, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He is the Cure for our ruined world. He is the Hope for our hopeless condition. Jesus is the Remedy.

This means, of course, that people like you and me have a very pressing job to do. Just listen, even for a moment, in any language or culture of the world: you won’t have to listen for long, I think, to detect evidence of our collective cluelessness. You will hear echoes of our lostness, our brokenness and sin… everywhere.

And you have been entrusted with the Remedy (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). There is Hope – even for the clueless – in the reliable fact of the gospel. Jesus is the Answer! No dithering “huh?” about it.

John Johnson in San Fernando, Ecuador - 1970

East Chain Revival

As told to Honor H., WMPL Communications Intern Every so often, we encounter stories that revive our deadening spirits and remind us that the fire of the Holy Spirit is roaring just as vibrantly today as it was in the first century church. The gospel does not begin with nostalgic … [Continue Reading]

As told to Honor H., WMPL Communications Intern

Every so often, we encounter stories that revive our deadening spirits and remind us that the fire of the Holy Spirit is roaring just as vibrantly today as it was in the first century church. The gospel does not begin with nostalgic sentiments like “Once upon a time,” or “There once lived…” because the good news is still being written and lived out just as it was thousands of years ago.

One of these particular chapters takes place in East Chain, a tiny village nestled into the southern edge of Minnesota. There are probably 35 inhabitants, and at present, almost no stores. A few miles down the road one can find the East Chain Lutheran Church, a picturesque countryside church with a parsonage. Swedish immigrants founded it in 1886, and although today as farms become larger and country church congregations grow smaller, in the 1930’s the attendance was around 250 members.

East Chain Lutheran Church - 1995

East Chain Lutheran Church – 1995

In the aftermath of a pastor leaving due to some trouble, two women of the church began praying furiously for a new pastor and a revival in the community. They set aside time every morning at 10:00 a.m. to bring these matters before the Lord in prayer. In 1937 God delivered an answer in the form of a man named Arthur Gustafson.

Retired WMPL missionary John Johnson, born and raised in East Chain, reflects on the initial reactions of the congregation: “As pastor he began to visit the membership and started with the deacons in the church, including an uncle of mine…”

Pastor Gustafson knew there was much to pray for and many hearts to be transformed. His messages were widely admired and the church embraced the surge of members. During the weeks, he would invite evangelists and other pastors for weeklong meetings, and people from surrounding communities flocked to hear what was being shared. Gustafson launched a series of Bible studies, weekly prayer meetings, and Sunday evening services. Church became a way of living, not merely a building to occupy on Sunday mornings. One by one, people were moved to genuine repentance.

During those years, a great spiritual movement began spreading in the Lutheran church throughout the Midwest. World Mission Prayer League was emerging, and Paul Lindell and other missionary candidates were traveling around visiting churches, including East Chain. Gustafson challenged the congregation to pray that 25 young people would be called into full-time work in the church and overseas.

“So we began to pray, and God began to call out laborers,” John said. “The first two were Ruben Pedersen and his fiancée, Twilah Pilcher. He went on to seminary and then spent his whole life as a missionary in Tanzania. His first wife passed away in childbirth there.”

The youth began rising up, intensely studying the Word and compelled by the Great Commission. Some went to seminary, while others, like John and his wife Audrey, went to countries like Ecuador and Mexico.

Meanwhile, God began moving in people’s lives to help support the missionaries: “I remember one of our neighbors whose name was Anton Peterson. He was a Norwegian who spoke rather broken English, but the Spirit of God did a marvelous work in his life and he committed his life to Christ. One Sunday a missionary spoke, and Anton felt God was telling him to support this missionary. So he prayed about it and began to support Ray Rosales, who was working in Bolivia at that time.”

Some time later, another missionary visited the church, and Anton once again felt compelled to offer his support. This continued to happen. Eventually, the farmer came to support seven missionaries, as well as his own family. One summer he was out in his field cultivating the corn when he saw clouds forming in the west that looked ominous of hail. Anton stopped the tractor, fell to his knees and cried out, “Lord, you know that it is with the money from this crop of corn that I am able to support these missionaries, and if you allow the corn to be ruined by the hail, you will have to find someone else to support those missionaries.” He watched as the clouds split in two before they reached his crops. Neighboring fields to the north and south suffered significant hail damage, but Anton’s corn was left untouched and he was able to continue supporting the seven missionaries.

Although they did not reach the goal of 25 full-time workers as a result of the revival, Pastor Gustafson and his family eventually became missionaries in Bolivia themselves, so in some ways the prayer was fulfilled.

“It is interesting to note that in the 127 years since the church was founded, all of the full-time workers came during the Gustafsons’ eight years of ministry, except one,” John said. “To God be the glory for the marvelous work His Spirit performed in the life of the people at East Chain Lutheran Church.”

Time and time again, God uses ordinary people in ordinary places to embark on world-changing adventures. Telling and retelling testimonies like these reawakens our souls to the raw, audacious power of prayer.

John Johnson in San Fernando, Ecuador - 1970

John Johnson in San Fernando, Ecuador – 1970