Annual Report 2014

In 2014 God provided the World Mission Prayer League with more than $2.6 million in regular day-to-day donations – mostly through donors like you. It was the highest operating income we have ever had. More than 1,300 individuals contributed nearly $1.2 million, while 185 congregations contributed nearly $1 million more. Other contributions came from Bible study and fellowship groups, the Thrivent Choice® program, and donor-advised investment funds. In addition to regular contributions such as these, … [Continue Reading]

In 2014 God provided the World Mission Prayer League with more than $2.6 million in regular day-to-day donations – mostly through donors like you. It was the highest operating income we have ever had. More than 1,300 individuals contributed nearly $1.2 million, while 185 congregations contributed nearly $1 million more. Other contributions came from Bible study and fellowship groups, the Thrivent Choice® program, and donor-advised investment funds. In addition to regular contributions such as these, nearly $900,000 was contributed to our Estate Fund as the final testimony of 20 faithful supporters who have recently passed away. All together, God has blessed the Prayer League with $3,658,603 in income for the year.

So how was that money used? As is the case every year, more than half was used directly on missionary support (which includes both allowance payments and benefit expenses). Allowance payments went up slightly in 2014, due in part to an increase of approximately two percent in target allowances and in part due to increasing family size. Even so we were able to pay 100 percent of target allowances for the entire year.

Missionary benefit expenses were just about the same as the previous year. About 80 percent of our missionary benefits costs are health related – which means that as go health insurance costs, so go our benefits expenses. Overseas health insurance costs increased by 12%, which amounted to $50,000 over the course of the year. This was offset by a 13% decrease in U.S. health insurance premiums, the result of a change in carrier.

Designated support fund donations are the primary source for missionary allowances and benefits. When these don’t meet our target goals, the General Fund may be used to supplement missionary allowances while our Estate Fund, if available, may supplement benefits expenses. Last year 51 percent of all support needs were met by designated support fund gifts. Thankfully, we had enough in the General Fund and Estate Fund to cover the remaining 49 percent.

Office and Property expenses increased in 2014 due to an unexpected repair begun on a major retaining wall at our Minneapolis office location. This issue is not yet resolved and will mean additional expenses in 2015. Please pray with us for a reasonable resolution. Another significant administrative expense was the result of a non-recurring increase in our audit fees.

Last year we were able to have more representation at mission and church conferences around the country. We believe that these are great opportunities to let others know of the opportunities available to pray and serve in missions. This higher level of participation was the largest factor in the 20 percent increase in expenses related to information and publicity.

A detailed Statement of Revenue and Expense for 2014 can be found at wmpl.org/financial-report. The report remains unaudited at this point. Audited Financial Statements are typically ready by the end of September, and are available upon request. It is a pleasure to pray and work and serve with you in the task of world mission. Thank you for your partnership and ongoing support!

lonesome-galaxy

Nothingness and Nobodies

I relish Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians – the most personal and poignant of Paul’s wonderful epistles, it seems to me. I relish chapter one. All the promises of God, Paul reports ecstatically, find their “Yes!” in Jesus (v.20). I relish chapter two. “Who is sufficient to represent Christ in the world?” Paul asks (v.16). “Only simple folks will do – who simply stand in God’s presence and speak what they speak by his … [Continue Reading]

I relish Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians – the most personal and poignant of Paul’s wonderful epistles, it seems to me.

I relish chapter one. All the promises of God, Paul reports ecstatically, find their “Yes!” in Jesus (v.20).

I relish chapter two. “Who is sufficient to represent Christ in the world?” Paul asks (v.16). “Only simple folks will do – who simply stand in God’s presence and speak what they speak by his grace” (v.17, my paraphrase).

I relish chapter three. No one can be competent for service in themselves: not one of us. If we are competent at all, it comes only and always from God (vv.4,5).

And I relish chapters four and five, maybe especially. (But I relish the rest of the book, too.)

Here is a morsel that I have savored recently…

“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:5,6).

God needed nothing to build the universe. Out of nothing itself, in fact, God created everything. It is the doctrine of creation “ex nihilo” – out of sheer nothingness, God created the world. “What is seen was made from things that are not visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

And God needs nothing to create faith in our hearts. He needs no worthiness on our part – no prior suitability, special aptitude, or spiritual fitness. God creates the faith that saves us out of sheer nothingness, “ex nihilo.”

It is spoken into being, as God speaks light into darkness.

God creates faith in our hearts, St. Paul explains here, in a manner directly parallel to the creation of the universe itself. Faith bursts into being with no antecedent whatsoever. It is spoken into being, as God speaks light into darkness. It is called into being, as God calls dead men from the tomb. It emerges by pure miraculous fiat, without precedent and without precondition – as sheer and outrageous as the galaxies that swirl into being when God breathes, “Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3). “Let there be faith,” says the Creator of all things (cf. John 14:1). “The centurion answered Jesus, ‘Only speak the word…'” (Matthew 8:8).

And this is how God builds his Kingdom in the world. God employs nobodies. He calls them from nothingness. Out of no-accounts and no-names – even “things that are not” – God creates his Kingdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:28). He calls them into his family. He makes them his very own (cf. Matthew 10:1ff). He speaks them into existence, as he breathes fire into the stars.

And he does so as he does every good thing in the spiritual life: by grace, through faith, “ex nihilo.”

“God… didn’t choose you because you were big and important,” Moses reminds us elsewhere. “The fact is, there was almost nothing to you” (Deuteronomy 7:7, The Message). “I don’t see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you,” echoes St. Paul. “Not many influential, not many from high-society families” (1 Corinthians 1:26, The Message). “God deliberately chose… ‘nobodies’…” (v.28). “The Lord spoke and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Psalm 33:9).

Do you hear him?

“You did not choose me but I chose you,” says Jesus with creative power. “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…” (John 15:16).

“You are the light of the world,” says Jesus with creative authority. “Let your light shine…” (Matthew 5:14,16).

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” says the King of kings. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:18,19).

Jesus chose no-account Paul, once long ago – “the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9). He made him what he could not be, graced him with what he could not earn, and sent him into ministry (v.10). God made him his ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Do you hear him? Listen closely. You may discover that God’s grace speaks you into service, too.

Courtesy of Charles Clegg

A Week of Prayer for Unity

For more than a century, the Christian church around the world has dedicated a week in January to prayer for Christian unity. I have often participated myself. This year the effort seems especially relevant. Our own nation is as fractured as it has been in my lifetime. We are quick to blame and slow to compromise, quick to judge and slow to respect and deliberate. Many have lost confidence in their government, trust in their … [Continue Reading]

For more than a century, the Christian church around the world has dedicated a week in January to prayer for Christian unity. I have often participated myself. This year the effort seems especially relevant.

Our own nation is as fractured as it has been in my lifetime. We are quick to blame and slow to compromise, quick to judge and slow to respect and deliberate. Many have lost confidence in their government, trust in their neighbors, peace in their homes, and hope for their future.

Courtesy of Charles Clegg

Courtesy of Charles Clegg

The world itself seems fractured as never before. It is in your face with the evening news: violence, tribalism, chaos, murder and mayhem. We are frac­tured as a race, it would seem. We do not see in one another “human family.” We see other. We see danger.

The spaces within our own hearts are pretty fractured, too. “I decide one way, but then I act another,” St. Paul complained long ago. “My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions,” he went on. “Something has gone wrong deep within me” (Romans 7:15, 20, The Message). But St. Paul’s problem is as current today as it was twenty centuries ago. We are broken. We are fissured and unwholesome.

The week of prayer for Christian unity falls strategically between a pair of ancient commemorations. A day commemorating the Confession of Peter falls on January 19. The Conversion of Paul is observed on January 26. The commemorations are perfect bookends for a week of prayer for wholeness, it seems to me.

On January 19 we remember that famous encounter between impetuous Peter and his gracious Lord.

The encounter is notable for its simplicity. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus queried. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter replied. He did not pull out the catechism. He did not convene a theological committee to study the issue. Peter looked simply to Jesus, and found in him the Center and “Yes!” to all the promises of God (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20).

Jesus didn’t convene a study committee, either. He acknowledged the simple truth of Peter’s confession. “You’ve got it,” he said (I paraphrase.) “The Truth about Me has made you a Rock. The church will stand as long as it stands on this simple confession of faith” (cf. Matthew 16:13-20).

On January 26 we remember the blinding light that knocked Saul from his horse and made him an Apostle.

This encounter is notable for its simplicity, too. “What ever are you doing?” Jesus queried (I paraphrase). “Well, who are you to ask?” was Paul’s reply. “You’re talking to Jesus,” the Savior continued. “Now get up. And get going. I’ve got work for you to do” (cf. Acts 26:12-18).

Once again, we find no catechisms or doctrinal committees. Just: stand up. Just: get going. Then: point the peoples of the world to me.

The apostles were called to get over themselves, you might say. They were called to reevaluate their own exaggerated estimate of their special abilities, theological insights, and missional significance. Peter thought that he knew all there was to know about the promises of Messiah: but they didn’t lead to Jesus. Paul thought that his service to tradition was doctrinally pure and missionally strategic: but it had no room for Jesus. He needed to be “knocked off his high horse.” (This is where the saying comes from, I think.) The great apostles needed to take themselves less seriously before they became apostles, and simply follow Jesus.

This is where Christian unity is born and peace finds a footing. This is where missional significance actually happens – not in our impressive theologies and accomplishments, but in our relationship with Jesus, the Savior of the world. This is where we are made whole.

I love this week in January. I participate every year. I love the way that it sweeps from Peter to Paul, confession to conversion, preconceptions and disharmony to wholeness and faith. Christian unity is radically simple, really. We look to Jesus for our confession. For our commission, we point people simply to him.

“I’m sending you off,” Jesus told Paul, “to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God. I’m sending you off to present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me” (Acts 26:17-18, The Message).

Our fractured and unbelieving world doesn’t need additional divisive distractions, after all. We need Jesus. Simply Jesus.

The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds by Thomas Cole.

Telling the Story

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:17,18, NIV) There are a few experiences in our lives that we cannot help but share with others. When I lived in southern California, earthquakes were like that. Each time there was an earthquake we all shared our “earthquake experience” with everyone … [Continue Reading]

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:17,18, NIV)

The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds by Thomas Cole.

Cole, Thomas. The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds. 1833–34.

There are a few experiences in our lives that we cannot help but share with others. When I lived in southern California, earthquakes were like that. Each time there was an earthquake we all shared our “earthquake experience” with everyone else, even though we all experienced it. It was just something that we could not keep to ourselves.

Imagine how the shepherds must have felt on the night Jesus was born. It was probably a night like any other for the shepherds, until without warning an angel appeared “and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9). The angel told them that the Messiah had been born. Israel had been waiting for the Messiah for generations, and now these shepherds received the birth announcement directly from an angel. To top it off, a great company of the heavenly host appeared, glorifying and praising God! What a night! After the angels returned to heaven the shepherds went to Bethlehem to see Jesus, and they saw for themselves everything that the angel had told them. This was an experience which they could not keep to themselves. They shared the story about the baby Jesus and everyone was amazed.

The story of Jesus’ birth and the shepherds’ experience that night has been passed on from generation to generation and has made its way to each of us. We have also had our own experiences with God – amazing, unbelievable stories of grace, mercy and miracles, stories which we must share. We share them with those who have had similar experiences, and of course we share with those who have never heard the story.

It is the desire to share our “God experiences” with those who have never heard that motivates us to come together as the World Mission Prayer League. It is why we work and pray together, and why we send and go to unfamiliar cultures. We have all been motivated and called to this task, but in our day-to-day lives even these heavenly experiences can tend to fade a little, so it is good to remember again how wonderfully amazing the birth of Jesus was. It is good to celebrate the goodness of God and praise him together, reminding ourselves of the unforgettable things that God has done, and in so doing reignite the irrepressible desire to tell others.

In October donations to missionary support funds paid for 53.6 percent of all support expenses; $38,726 was used from the General Fund to supplement missionary allowances and $32,812 was used from the Estate Fund to supplement benefit expenses for the month.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Incarnation

The Incarnation is so very many things. There are so many other things, of course, that it is not. The Incarnation, in particular, is about God become a human being – and not the other way around. The Incarnation is about the Son of God pouring himself out, taking on human flesh, assuming the form of a servant and becoming obedient unto death (Philippians 2:5-11). It is about the Word made flesh come now to … [Continue Reading]

The Incarnation is so very many things. There are so many other things, of course, that it is not.

The Incarnation, in particular, is about God become a human being – and not the other way around. The Incarnation is about the Son of God pouring himself out, taking on human flesh, assuming the form of a servant and becoming obedient unto death (Philippians 2:5-11). It is about the Word made flesh come now to dwell among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). It is about the Eternal Father entering the actual conflicted life we too must live (Isaiah 9:6). And he enters to redeem us (Luke 19:10).

A few days ago, one of my five-year-old grandsons debriefed with me, a little, his Sunday School lesson from the weekend before. “We heard about the Sea of Galilee, and stuff,” he reported with some enthusiasm. “I think that’s where God used to live.”

My grandson had his theology pretty close to correct, I think – except for the tense. God still lives in places like the Sea of Galilee. And in places like your heart and living room, too (cf. Isaiah 57:15).

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message). This is the place and we are the ones among whom God has come, set up shop, introduced heaven, sought and healed and redeemed his wayward ones. This is what the Incarnation is about. In Jesus Christ, God the Father Almighty has appeared on the scene to reconcile the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Come Thou Long-Expected JesusThe Incarnation is not, however, about human beings becoming divine. It is not about human flesh aspiring to heaven. It is not about divinizing the world that surrounds us, as if tawdry earth were progressing inexorably heavenward. The Incarnation is about heaven descending to earth, not earth on some slow rise to heaven.

And the Incarnation is not about some divine spark in human hearts, which might be fanned into flame with the proper inspiration. There is no divine spark within us. There is only a hole, as St. Augustine so aptly described, which cannot be filled in any way whatsoever – unless God by his grace should fill it.

The Incarnation is more like an invasion. It is about the King crossing enemy lines to claim as his own what is rightfully his. It is about Rescue and Redemption. It is about the Righteous One coming to make us righteous and the Holy One coming to make us holy. It is about the Great Healer coming to heal cracked and wayward things – not to bless or complete their natural “spark” of goodness, somehow. It is about the Redeemer of the world coming to win the world and its peoples to himself.

You may get a feel for the Incarnation of God by the proclamation that characteristically follows: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (Matthew 3:2). Repentance is the only reasonable response – not some comfortable progression, or cozy meditation, or fanning some “spark” into flame.

In Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven has revealed its amazing design. In Jesus Christ, we have learned the King’s name and seen his deepest heart displayed. He has come to us in this Baby, this Boy, this Rabbi and Messiah, this Crucified and Risen Lord.

In Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven has come radically near – and calls us now to repentance and faith. Not to look within, but to look to him. Not to fan some flame within us, but to enter the bracing light of Day.

So now, at Christmas time, let us pause to remember what the Incarnation is all about.

It is about a Baby, certainly, the visit of shepherds and angels’ songs.

It is also about an Invasion that changes everything forever, and calls every heart to faith. This Child, you see, is the Creator of All Things, the Eternal Father, the King of kings. And He has come. He is here. He comes to lay claim upon your life and mine. He comes to redeem us, then make us agents of his redemption throughout the world.

Paperclips

One in One Hundred

Here is yet another way we get our callings wrong. We think them rare, or heroic, or extraordinary. We think them exceptional, somehow unique, almost beyond belief. Like winning the lottery, maybe. Or coming down with an unusual, life-changing disease. Yet if we think missionary callings extraordinary, we have misunderstood the callings of God. You are called by God into the mission of God in the world. So am I. “If anyone is in Christ, … [Continue Reading]

Here is yet another way we get our callings wrong.

We think them rare, or heroic, or extraordinary. We think them exceptional, somehow unique, almost beyond belief. Like winning the lottery, maybe. Or coming down with an unusual, life-changing disease.

Yet if we think missionary callings extraordinary, we have misunderstood the callings of God. You are called by God into the mission of God in the world. So am I.

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation,” St. Paul tells us. Everything becomes new for them. They get a new identity, a new perspective – and a new purpose in life, too. “All this is from God,” St. Paul goes on to say, “who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation… So we are ambassadors for Christ…” (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18, 20). This means you.

Not everyone will go, of course. All Christians are enlisted in the cause. Not everyone is called or specifically gifted for cross-cultural missionary outreach, however. Yet the numbers of the called and specifically gifted may be larger than you think – better percentages, certainly, than the odds of winning the lottery.

Some years ago, I was privileged to study at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. One of my professors was a fellow named C. Peter Wagner, an expert in the study of spiritual gifts. Dr. Wagner estimated that one out of one hundred Christians, in general, has been entrusted with the specific set of spiritual gifts associated with effective missionary service.

Paperclips

Paperclips by Javier Gazzari • CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If Wagner is correct in his estimate, how many may have received missionary gifting in a typical Lutheran congregation? How many, do you think, in your own congregation? The mathematics are not complicated. If you have 100 members on your membership roster, you may expect one of them to be specifically gifted as a missionary. If you have 1000, you may expect ten.

This means that you may expect someone to be gifted as a missionary specifically – in every average Lutheran congregation across America. In larger congregations like my own, you may expect many individuals to be gifted as missionaries.

I don’t mean missionaries from down the road or across the state, who may come by for a visit from time to time. I mean missionaries in your own homegrown fellowship – people you know, whose faces you recognize, your own neighbors, your friends and family. Maybe even you.

If Wagner’s estimate is remotely correct (personally, I think that he under-estimates) we may expect missionary gifting everywhere. Every believer a part of the cause. And giftings and callings are distributed widely.

Dr. Wagner’s estimate underscores a simple fact, often overlooked or unrecognized: missionary gifting is normal. Missionary callings are normal. Missionary service is a normal condition for normal Christian fellowship. I don’t want to alarm you unnecessarily, yet I think that you should know. When you go to church this Sunday morning, you are likely to shake hands with someone gifted and equipped to be a missionary.

If you are a pastor, you may wonder how to respond to such a situation. If you teach Sunday School or Confirmation, you may wonder what to do if missionary-gifted individuals turn up in your class. Maybe you will wonder if the condition is contagious.

Here are some simple suggestions.

1. Don’t freak out: missionary gifting is normal. Where the people of God gather to worship and pray, you may expect to find missionaries. It should cause you more alarm if you did not. Don’t treat callings as aberrations.

2. Think stewardship. You may feel inclined to think of the called as curiosities, or maybe even problems. Think of them as assets, instead. God has gifted your faith community with a role in his mission. The called among you are part of his strategic provision. Steward them.

3. Think obedience. “Be sure that you do not refuse to hear the voice of God,” the writer to the Hebrews advised (12:25, Phillips). “Obedience is the test of whether we really live ‘in God’ or not” (1 John 2:5-6, Phillips). Don’t minimize the giftings and callings among you. Callings are resolved by obedience.

4. Count on the grace of God. “He who calls you is utterly faithful and he will finish what he has set out to do” (1 Thessalonians 5:24, Phillips). The gifts of missionary calling and suitability are, well, gifts. Like every spiritual gift, they are received by grace through faith. You may depend upon God – not only to give his good gifts, but the grace as well to fulfill them.

If you are a missionary-gifted individual yourself, my advice is the same. Don’t freak out: the condition is normal. Steward it. Aim always to obey. And lean your whole weight on the wonderful grace of God.

These are some ways to get our callings right.

Missionary Allowance Increase

In October our Home Council voted to approve an increase in monthly missionary allowances, which will go into effect on January 1, 2015. Paragraph 39 of the Mission Handbook explains a little about our philosophy on missionary allowances: The Mission’s financial policy believes and assumes that God is faithful, and may be counted upon to provide in every way, both spiritually and materially, for the advancement of his kingdom’s work around the world. The Mission, … [Continue Reading]

In October our Home Council voted to approve an increase in monthly missionary allowances, which will go into effect on January 1, 2015. Paragraph 39 of the Mission Handbook explains a little about our philosophy on missionary allowances:

The Mission’s financial policy believes and assumes that God is faithful, and may be counted upon to provide in every way, both spiritually and materially, for the advancement of his kingdom’s work around the world. The Mission, therefore, does not curtail or delimit its activities on the basis of a formal budget…. No stated salary is pledged or promised to any worker wherever assigned…. A certain sum is specified as a goal for monthly living allowances to be paid each worker when there are sufficient funds on hand. But if funds are not sufficient for full allowances, the workers receive allowances in proportion to the funds on hand.

The “goal for monthly living allowances” is what we commonly refer to as “target allowance,” which, as you can see, is not a guarantee but rather the amount we hope to pay our missionaries. Paragraph 40 of the Handbook has this to say regarding allowances:

The missionaries and workers live and conduct their work in as simple a fashion as possible, while seeking to maintain health and good order.

The target allowance is intended to enable our missionaries to do just that.

The Council reviews and sets target allowance goals annually, but first a couple of things are done. Each year the Personnel Office asks our missionaries directly through a survey to report if their needs are being met. This survey gives all of our workers the opportunity to give feedback on the appropriateness of the current target allowance in their own situation.

While this is happening, the Business Office also reviews the history of WMPL allowances on an inflation-adjusted basis. Then, after hearing from our missionaries, reviewing the history of allowance payments and spending time in prayer, the Finance Committee makes a recommendation to the Council regarding the next year’s target allowance.

The January 2015 allowance increase will be about three percent for the average missionary family. This is an amount slightly higher than inflation for the year, but it is meant to offset the recent trend of allowances not keeping pace with inflation.

In September donations to missionary support funds paid for 43.3 percent of all support expenses; $39,910 was used from the General Fund to supplement missionary allowances and $45,261 was used from the Estate Fund to supplement benefit expenses for the month.

Thank you for your partnership in this ministry, your concern for those in the world who have not yet heard the gospel, and your support of WMPL fellow workers who have answered God’s call to go and share the Good News in word and deed.

Darjeeling Hills Bible School, 1961

Darjeeling Hills Bible School: Sixty Years in Ministry!

Darjeeling Hills Bible School & Seminary develops Christian Leaders in the Nepali speaking world. This past February marked 60 years of ministry. In this year of their Diamond Jubilee, the General Board gives thanks to God for His faithfulness and will host a grand celebration with honored graduates on November 27-29, 2014. Below is our contribution to their souvenir publication. Written by Pastor Charles Lindquist, Director, World Mission Prayer League. Darjeeling Hills Bible School has reached … [Continue Reading]

Darjeeling Hills Bible School & Seminary develops Christian Leaders in the Nepali speaking world. This past February marked 60 years of ministry. In this year of their Diamond Jubilee, the General Board gives thanks to God for His faithfulness and will host a grand celebration with honored graduates on November 27-29, 2014. Below is our contribution to their souvenir publication. Written by Pastor Charles Lindquist, Director, World Mission Prayer League.

Darjeeling Hills Bible School has reached its sixtieth anniversary! We represent the oldest Bible School serving the Nepali-speaking church. No school or institution, I should think, has contributed more to the development of biblically grounded leadership for the Nepali church through the years – and especially in its early days.

God has been faithful along the way!

Permit me to share a few reflections, on this our anniversary year. I was not present myself during those early days, sixty years ago: I was barely a child. Yet I know many who were. They are my heroes.

Darjeeling Early Years

Darjeeling, c. 1954 • Monrad Ulveseter, Betty (Hanson) Simrose, Roy & Alma Hagen, Helen Hjelmervik, Vallie & Al Berg, Herman Simrose, Fran Swenson, Ruthie Overvold

From hectographs to iPhones…

Ten years ago, I had the privilege of participating in the fiftieth anniversary of Darjeeling Hills Bible School. I consider the event a highlight of my missionary career. As I walked the campus, strolled the surrounding hills, visited with staff, students and other guests, I felt myself standing upon the shoulders of so very many who had gone before – heroes of the faith, visionaries and pioneers, expatriate and national colleagues and friends.

Fran Swenson was one of them – one of my dear friends and personal heroes, now at home with the Lord. I knew Fran for many years. I served with her in our Home Office here in Minneapolis, upon her retirement from service in Nepal.

Fran was impressive to me in so many ways. She was an astute student of the Bible: she knew the Scriptures well. She was an able student of language and culture: she communicated in Nepali, as I understand, almost as well as in her mother tongue. And she was eminently practical. A farm girl, she knew how to milk cows, butcher chickens, pound nails, paint barns, and so on. This impressed me, too.

And Fran knew how to write and duplicate Bible study guides. She taught a few of our early Bible courses, with Pr. Roy and Alma Hagen – who themselves carried the founding vision for Darjeeling Hills Bible School.

Fran was a fan of the latest and greatest practical technology. She employed something called a “hectograph” for duplicating her earliest Bible Study guides. The device consisted of a cake pan, more or less, filled with something like gelatin. The gelatin would receive an image from a specially inked paper. You could duplicate the image on another sheet of paper by pressing it into the gelatin. You could create many copies in this way, apparently, one sheet at a time.

While walking the campus ten years ago, I was surprised to see a hectograph still on a shelf in a storage room: I was told that it was Fran’s. It was stored neatly at about eye-level, as if Fran herself might show up at any moment to make a few copies. I suppose that it is gone by now. Today you might print things wirelessly, I should think, from your iPhone. (Even during Fran’s day, the school used a mimeograph and small offset press in addition to their hectograph.)

The world has changed so very dramatically since Roy and Alma, Fran and the team made lessons on a hectograph.

The campus has grown – from three small cottages, once upon a time, and two classroom spaces, to the expansive campus we see today.

Darjeeling Hills Bible School, 1961

Staff & graduation class, 1961. Al Berg, seated.

Kanchenjunga still towers above the horizon, as it did sixty years ago. Today, however, internet cafes stand at its base. Tea is grown on the fertile slopes of West Bengal, as it was sixty years ago. Today, however, it is marketed electronically around the world. A steam locomotive still courses through the hills from Darjeeling to the plains below. (Some things do not change quickly.) And most Darjeelingers, I think, still walk wherever they are going. Yet today you can hire a late-model car, too, and travel comfortably from Mirik to Bagdogra or Siliguri in a matter of hours.

Most notably of all, the church has grown. Sixty years ago, we measured the Nepali-language church in the dozens and hundreds. Today we measure it in the millions. There were no Bible Schools serving the church sixty years ago. Today the church has many missions and ministries, projects and institutions, much vision and leadership, energy and dynamic possibility.

We have grown through the years – from the era of hectographs to the world of iPhones, and from a handful of believers to a burgeoning church. The transition presents us with the challenge – and wonderful opportunity – to reinvent ourselves for this new day. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. Yet we strain still forward, toward the horizon of God’s calling and mission in this new day.

From planting to harvest…

I have many other heroes, as well.

I think of dear Roy and Alma Hagen: I have known the Hagen family for very many years. I think of Becky Grimsrud and Millie Hasselquist (now Tengbom), who rented Gurung Cottage in 1951, with sister Ruth Mukhia. They became the nucleus of what became the Bible School. I think of Jonathan and Evie Lindell, Ruthie Overvold, Al and Vallie Berg, Herman and Betty Simrose, Berit and Luther Eriksson, and others. They taught the Word of God. They entered Mirik market, maybe played an accordion, and sold tracts. They opened a little dispensary. They shared the wonderful Gospel story, encouraged inquirers – and then a growing handful of young believers. As young believers appeared, they discipled them.

Theodore Manaen, 1994

Theodore Manaen, 1994

These were our “planters,” we might say. They sowed a seed of Gospel vision and power. Today we are harvesting the fruit of their labors.

I think of Theodore Manaen in this way – another personal friend and hero. Theodore is a sower and planter of the first order: it is one of his principal spiritual gifts. I have witnessed his gifts first hand as I served with Theodore and his dear wife Arun in our Home Office in Minneapolis. I know Theodore as a brother with wide missional vision – though his physical vision has been failing of late. He is rooted in Scripture and faith, expansive in missional concern, creative in his thinking, and faithful and effective in his relationships. He has a pastoral heart as well. He has been a pastor to me, from time to time.

Theodore envisioned the harvest while Darjeeling Hills Bible School was still planting. Theodore pictured full grain, mature upon the stalk – harvestable, and ready to produce seed of its own for planting again. He helped us to imagine generations of students and ministers, pastors and deacons, Sunday School teachers, counselors and evangelists.

Theodore is a model of prayer, as well. Prayer continues to fuel his vision, and helps him to see beyond our own challenges and uncertainties to the dependable certainties of God’s word and promises. Theodore prays daily for the World Mission Prayer League, I happen to know. He prays for me, personally. I do not doubt that he prays as well for our colleagues and friends at Darjeeling Hills Bible School – where, of course, he has often served as President of our Board of Directors.

We have done much planting through the years; we are harvesting, too. Prayer, we might say, provides the dynamic link between planting and harvest. Prayer factors the promises of God into our thinking and plans, our lives and ministries. We say that “prayer changes things” – and it is certainly true. Prayer also changes us. As we speak to God, he also speaks to us. He reminds us of his grace for our calling, his power for our inadequacies, his faithfulness for our wavering – and his appointed harvest for our obedient planting. “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth,” God says. “It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

There is still planting to do. And there remains a further harvest in the Nepali-speaking world. Darjeeling Hills Bible School is still called to participate.

From pioneers to partners…

I have still other heroes in mind.

Sixty years ago, expatriate friends pioneered much of this important ministry. They invested their lives in a vision that they believed in. They became our pioneers.

Pioneering today belongs to another generation, now from local contexts. They invest their lives in the same dynamic global vision. We are partners with these friends in God’s wonderful kingdom: expatriates and national friends, old-hands and younger colleagues, staff and students, generations of alumni and fresh-faced recruits – the entire ministry community of Darjeeling Hills Bible School.

It is important to note that our pioneers and founders were always, in fact, expatriate and national friends partnering together. The threesome that rented Gurung College included Ruth Mukhia, the younger sister of Pr. K.D. Mukhia. Our earliest faculty included Pr. Tshering and Rebecca Rai, at its very core. Our earliest boarding program could not have functioned without Harkamaya Mukhia. Our first advisory board, as I understand, included fourteen Nepali Christians… and two expatriate workers.

Rev. Dr. Kamal Rai, 2004 (50th Anniversary Jubilee)

Rev. Dr. Kamal Rai, 2004 (50th Anniversary Jubilee)

I say “our” ministry with intentionality. Our ministries in Mirik have been “partnered” and shared from the very beginning. They have not “belonged” in any unique or exclusive way to the expatriate community – or the national community. Indeed, our entire ministry community, expatriate and national, belongs itself to Another. We partner together in the greater Kingdom of God.

Another of my friends and personal heroes represents this shared, partnering spirit. I think of our current Principal, the Rev. Dr. Kamal Rai.

Once Fran and Ruthie, Theodore and Arun, Roy and Alma, Al and Vallie – and many others – pioneered the work of Darjeeling Hills Bible School. Today the pioneering belongs to a new generation of colleagues and friends – people like Dr. Rai, and the students and staff he has assembled. They represent both past and future of our shared ministry. They stand themselves on the shoulders of others; future generations stand on theirs.

These are people rooted in the Word of God: this is what they offer to the world. These are people redeemed by grace. They are not themselves the “cornerstone” of our edifice: Jesus alone is our Cornerstone. These are people built upon the one and only Savior of the world, redeemed by his grace, equipped by his Spirit, and enlisted for service in his wonderful Kingdom.

Our Lord advises us to build with people like these, as they are built upon the Savior (Ephesians 2:20).

In common service to the King…

It is the Savior himself, the King of Kings, who makes this partnership possible.

For we do not serve, in the end, a denomination, or nationality, or language group, or favorite institution – not even the illustrious Darjeeling Hills Bible School. We serve the King. We are enlisted in his broad and wonderful Kingdom. It is he who draws us ever to the horizon, and then beyond. He is the one who has called into being Darjeeling Hills Bible School, many years ago. He is the one who leads onward.

Old Worn Bible

Getting Our Callings Right (Again) …

There are so many ways to get missionary callings wrong. One of the most common, as I mentioned last month, is to suppose that we are called to go some­where and to do some thing, first of all. Well, no, we are not. We are called to Someone, first of all. Only then do we discover some place to serve and some concrete thing to do. Another common misconception is that specific places and activities … [Continue Reading]

There are so many ways to get missionary callings wrong. One of the most common, as I mentioned last month, is to suppose that we are called to go some­where and to do some thing, first of all. Well, no, we are not. We are called to Someone, first of all. Only then do we discover some place to serve and some concrete thing to do.

Another common misconception is that specific places and activities don’t matter in the end. We come to believe that we can serve in one place as well as another. We can do one thing as well as we can do another. It doesn’t really matter.

This is like saying that the main thing about a journey to Chicago is one’s sense of comfortability along the way. It doesn’t matter so very much if you head to the north or south, east or west, by freeway or back roads specifically. Roll down your windows, turn up your radio and be at peace. You will get there (or somewhere) eventually.

It turns out that specific places and particular activities do matter. They matter explicitly and in detail. Yet not in the way that we sometimes imagine.

Sometimes we imagine that our spiritual lives will remain forever unfulfilled if we do not discover the one, precise, pre-ordained place – and the one exact career – established for us from before the beginning of time. I have met people like this; maybe you have, too. They may feel unfulfilled perpetually.

This attitude, I am convinced, is a dreadful mistake. It is based in pride, I think – as if you were so extraordinarily special that heaven itself must hold its breath until you discover your magnificent destiny. The attitude may become a bludgeon in marriages and families – as if your marriage and family were all about you and your vocational fulfillment. It is an attitude that is consumed with your specific need for your specific fulfillment in your specific career. It is less consumed with Christ.

Sometimes, on the other hand, we imagine that places and careers matter only theoretically. They are abstract concepts; in real life, any old place will do and any old profession will suffice. You may as well choose some place and some profession that make you happy (and maybe a lot of money.) It only matters in the abstract.

This attitude is a mistake, too. Once again, I think, it is based in pride – as if your own likes and dislikes, whims and fancies were so dear and important that heaven’s own agenda must take note. Everything else becomes abstract. Your own prerogatives and personal fulfillment become paramount.

Old Worn BibleHere is what I sometimes counsel missionary inquirers along this line: get your heads screwed on straight – square your priorities and convictions with biblical priorities and convictions – and then do what you have before you to do. Do, in fact, whatever you like. But do it with joy and abandon, as your Kingdom service and responsibility, in response to the calling of God in your life, and to please your Lord Jesus Christ.

“Building biblical priorities and convictions” – this is the key here. It is surprising how poorly we accomplish it.

Biblical people are possessed by Jesus Christ, first of all. They are bought and redeemed by the Savior of the world, and to him they belong hook, line and sinker (1 Corinthians 3:23, 6:20).

Biblical people consider themselves sojourners in the earth (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11). They are always moving out and pressing on (Philippians 3:13ff.). They are hearers (Matthew 4:4). They are sharers (Hebrews 13:16). They are disciple-makers along the way (Matthew 28:18ff). They are ambassadors for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Biblical people are reflectors of the light of Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:14) and sounders of his wonderful grace (Romans 10:8f). They are eager to work among “the least of these,” specifically (Matthew 25:40, Mark 2:17, Romans 15:20, Isaiah 52:15, etc). They work in the light of the great throne in heaven, around which every tribe and tongue will one day gather (Revelation 7:9). They work in the interim to make disciples from every single one (Matthew 28:18ff).

So if you feel that you are called to hibernate in some cozy little corner, I sometimes tell inquirers, think again. If you believe that you are called to something comfortable – something manageable, at least – think again. If you believe it doesn’t matter, really, in the end, then you better start thinking, too.

But if you are possessed by Jesus Christ, redeemed by his love and fueled by his grace – if you are moving in direction of the lost and the poor, with the love of Christ in your heart and the word of the gospel in your mouth – why, then, the entire world is your field of activity. And you can do almost anything.

Gift Card Breakage

I recently read that a well-known restaurant chain reported $1.7 million in earnings for one year, from gift cards that were purchased but never used. The financial report referred to this as “gift card breakage.” That was amazing to me. Nearly two million dollars were given to the company for food – food never requested and never received. What a waste of money! But it was only money. The free gift of God is tragically wasted, too, often enough. It can be wasted in … [Continue Reading]

I recently read that a well-known restaurant chain reported $1.7 million in earnings for one year, from gift cards that were purchased but never used. The financial report referred to this as “gift card breakage.” That was amazing to me. Nearly two million dollars were given to the company for food – food never requested and never received. What a waste of money! But it was only money.

The free gift of God is tragically wasted, too, often enough. It can be wasted in more ways than one. Salvation and the forgiveness of sins, for example, are available to many who have never even heard the Good News. This is the motivation behind the Great Commission and the very purpose for the existence of the World Mission Prayer League.

Jesus is the only one capable of paying the price to defeat death and sin. And he has done so! But there are too many who have never heard this Good News. They are in remote parts of the world where information is limited – and in our own neighborhoods, as well, where information may be plentiful but misunderstanding is plentiful, too. We have a job to do! It is our job to get out the Good News wherever God has put us, through prayer and faithful obedience.

But God’s gifts involve more than eternal salvation. He also gives us the Holy Spirit and the power to lead godly lives. As we continue to live by the Spirit, God leads us into greater righteousness and prepares us to share the Good News with others. God through his Spirit makes us discerning and puts us in the way of opportunity. We see opportunities to pray for the lost and share the Good News. This is another gift from God that is too often wasted.

“Gift card breakage” is silly – a waste of money on the part of the consumer, through negligence or laziness. But the consequences are not so very bad. To be negligent or lazy with the gift of God, on the other hand, has tragic and eternal consequences. Jesus has paid the price already. It is now up to us to continue to draw closer to him, throwing off sin and allowing God to work through us. We must do this in order to bring the message of a salvation that has already been purchased to those who have never heard or understood it.

In August donations to missionary support funds paid for 44.1 percent of all support expenses; $39,779 was used from the General Fund to supplement missionary allowances and $47,508 was used from the Estate Fund to supplement benefit expenses for the month.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

Missionary Compensation

In July we paid our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. This marked the 24th consecutive month in which full allowances were paid, overseas and in the Home Office. This is the longest period of “full allowance” during my time of service as Business Manager, and we are all very thankful for God’s provision. Here is a quick look at what it means to pay full allowance and how it happens. In a typical … [Continue Reading]

In July we paid our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. This marked the 24th consecutive month in which full allowances were paid, overseas and in the Home Office. This is the longest period of “full allowance” during my time of service as Business Manager, and we are all very thankful for God’s provision. Here is a quick look at what it means to pay full allowance and how it happens.

In a typical month we need about $150,000 to meet all of our missionary compensation needs. About $77,000 of that is used to pay allowance directly to our people. This puts bread on their tables and gasoline in their cars. Allowances are determined entirely by family size; years of experience or job title are not considered. We are all “missionaries,” and the mission desires to provide enough to meet our family needs.

The remaining $73,000 is used to pay for “benefits,” which include health insurance, housing, social security taxes, and so on. You will notice that we consider housing a “benefit” rather than a part of allowance. This is due to the fact that housing costs vary so much from country to country; it would be difficult to include housing in an allowance based simply on family size. When reporting to the IRS, of course, housing is included as income. But for our internal accounting, we consider it a “benefit.”

When we talk about paying “full allowance,” we mean family allowance calculations; benefits are considered separately, as fixed expenses that must be paid each month. This monthly family allowance is not guaranteed: it depends entirely on designated gifts. Health insurance and housing may be paid in full, even if allowance is not.

When you give $100 to a missionary’s Support Fund, your entire donation is applied to a missionary’s monthly family allowance and corresponding benefits. We consider missionaries “fully supported” if they have received enough donations to cover both of these amounts – allowance and benefits for the month. Paying full allowance in any given month, however, does not mean that all of our missionaries are “fully supported.” Missionaries who have not received donations sufficient for their allowance and benefit needs may have their needs supplemented by our General Fund or our Estate Fund. We use our General Fund, if available, to supplement allowances, and our Estate Funds, if we have them, to supplement benefit expenses. So far this year, our General Fund has covered 49% of all missionary allowances, and our Estate Fund has paid for 55% of benefits. To date this year, donations to missionary support funds have paid for 48% of total missionary compensation.

In July donations to missionary support covered 52.9% of all support expenses; $37,277 was used from the General Fund to supplement missionary allowances, and $35,740 was transferred from Estate Funds to supplement benefit expenses for the month. Let me know if you have questions about a project or missionary you may be praying for in particular.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

Fully Given Over to Jesus

Getting Our Callings Right …

A few weeks ago we completed our annual Missionary Candidates’ Briefing Course. Fifteen candidates and missionary inquirers from here and there around the country (and a few from elsewhere in the world) gathered at our offices on Clifton Avenue. We spent nearly a month together – in lively dialogue about kingdom ambitions, missionary commissions, strategic futures, effective training, preparation, and many other things. It has set me to thinking about callings. There are so many … [Continue Reading]

A few weeks ago we completed our annual Missionary Candidates’ Briefing Course. Fifteen candidates and missionary inquirers from here and there around the country (and a few from elsewhere in the world) gathered at our offices on Clifton Avenue. We spent nearly a month together – in lively dialogue about kingdom ambitions, missionary commissions, strategic futures, effective training, preparation, and many other things.

It has set me to thinking about callings. There are so many ways to get our “callings” wrong.

Sometimes we suppose that our fundamental calling is to go somewhere, for example – one of the most basic and errant ways we get our callings wrong, in my estimation. The kind of people who come to Briefing Course may sometimes think this way.

Sometimes we suppose that our fundamental calling is to go somewhere and then to do something – an elaboration of the same, basic misconception. This, too, is a common misunderstanding among the sort of people who come to Briefing Course. People, maybe, like you.

Our fundamental calling is not to go somewhere, or do something, or perform some activity, or practice some profession. Our fundamental calling is to Someone. Christians are called to a relationship, first of all. We are called to be – and only then to do anything at all.

Fully Given Over to Jesus

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people,” Jesus advised his disciples (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17). But please note: the following precedes the making. We aren’t called, precisely, to fishing. We are called to Someone, first of all. We become something. Only then – only then – are we made to fish, or do we find a place to cast our line somewhere in the world.

This dynamic is true for the entire Christian life, in fact. We don’t build holiness into our lives by force of will; we become holy by relationship to the Holy One. We don’t build goodness, discipline, contentment, or effectiveness into our lives by an act of mental fiat: we cannot will ourselves to Christian goodness or missionary effectiveness, one fine day, as we might will to change our wardrobe. We are called to Someone. We build our lives and ministries always in relationship to Him.

It is important to keep this straight.

If we do not have this fundamental reality straight, we might come to think that our mission in life is to spread the knowledge of Christianity, for example. Most definitely, it is not. We may think that our mission is denominational or institutional in character, that it is a matter of theological propositions or intellectual assertions, that it is effected by jumping particular churchly hoops or enlisting in particular projects or activities. Our mission, I suppose, may involve all of these things from time to time. But these are not our calling.

We are called to know Jesus Christ. We are called to surrender before him. We are not called to spread religion around the world – not even Christianity. It is our mission to spread the knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. “Through us, [God] brings knowledge of Christ,” Paul reminds his Corinthian friends (2 Corinthians 2:15. The Message). “For we are the aroma of Christ to God” (NRSV). We are simply called to know Jesus; we are called then to make him known.

This is the basic perspective of faith – and it puts everything else into perspective.

I like to tell our guests at Briefing Course that God isn’t particularly interested in all of their fine abilities, all of their impressive skills, all of their brave resolve to go anywhere and do anything for him. He wants them. He wants you. He wants to hold you in his lap, call you to his side, look you in the eye, and say: “You are mine.”

He wants you!

And once he has you – why, then, you will see – your brave resolve will follow in its time. He will fill you and imbue you with the aroma of Jesus Christ. He will make you his aroma in the world.

It is important to get our callings right. We don’t start with fishing; we start with following. We don’t start with doing; we start with being. We will find a place to cast our line and join in the harvest effort, somewhere in the world. Yet we don’t start there, exactly.

We are called to Someone. We start with Jesus.

Read the follow-ups to this article, Getting Our Callings Right (Again) … and One in One Hundred