“In Case Of Emergency…”

img_5947-002img_5947-001Whenever I fly, I try to get exit row seats. As I got on my last flight into Asia, I saw this written on the side of the plane and realized it wouldn’t really matter where I sat. If there was an emergency, I’m supposed to…do what?! The flight attendant failed to say exactly how I was to exit the plane should we plummet from the skies. No mention of any bulkhead cutting tools located under the seats next to the life jackets. No blow torches where the oxygen masks were. I had extra leg room and all the pretzels I could want for the next two hours and I’d just sit there listening to the droning engine, but if there was an emergency, it would take a miracle to escape…

I was in our second training location in this country. In the room were fifty-seven men and women actively planting churches. All of them are working in Buddhist areas. Almost 100% of the people they live among have no idea who Jesus is, and Christianity is at best thought to be a mythical belief in a nameless god.

At the end of our second day, two of our men went to a hospital to visit the family of a man from one of their villages. Three days before this man had slipped into a coma-like state and now the family just sat in the room. People came and went, brought food, sat for a few minutes or hours. Basically, you just sit and talk.

When these two men came, they took their turn sitting. They asked if they could share a true story. It was about a man named Jesus who cared about a girl who had died and cared also about her family. So they told the story of Jairus’ daughter. The oldest woman in the room said this was a nice story, but doubted it was true. If this Jesus was real, why hadn’t they heard of him before? So our two guys started telling other stories – Jesus healing a blind man, Jesus healing a lame man lying by a pool, Jesus healing a boy filled with evil spirits, Jesus healing a bleeding woman.

The two men told me that after about an hour, “They kept listening so we kept talking.” They started sharing the story of the paralyzed man lowered through the roof and how Jesus told the religious leaders he wanted to show them he had authority to forgive and also heal…”And that’s when the man in the hospital bed in the coma sat up and started shouting ‘I’m like that man! I’m like that man! I’m like that man!’…”

The hospital room went berserk! The man kept shouting and was trying to get out of bed! The family was trying to hold him down and figure out what had just happened! People in other rooms and doctors in the hallway came running in because of all the commotion! And everybody was talking all at once!

I asked my two guys what they did. “Well, there were so many people and so much noise, we just left. But we think they’ll let us visit tomorrow.”…

As I got on the plane a couple days later to leave, I saw the same instructions on the side of the bulkhead. Sitting in my exit row, I smiled. If there was to be any possible escape from this plane, it would indeed take a miracle, and I grinned thinking about the miracle of a bunch of Buddhists hearing about a Jesus they had never heard of before, a man in a coma who somehow heard all they talked about for an hour, and a God who wanted to prove to an entire hospital floor that he has the authority to forgive sins or heal or both.

[un]noticed women

Think of the names of the first ten people from the Bible that come to your mind.

How many of them were women?

In Jesus’ day, just as in our time, women of many cultures are marginalized in importance of a society. That is an over-generalization, but you get the idea. In many cultures women’s tasks are assumed to be those related to the house, children, and meals.

But think of the women in the Bible who made impacts that defined cultures, altered decisions, and impacted individuals who impacted masses. God continues raising up these humble women today.

I just got an email from a pastor friend in a south Asian country. A week ago he told me he was taking five women to a coastal village to teach other women. Two of the women could read. I don’t know how many of the village women could, but from experience in this country I would be very surprised if three or four of the twenty-five women coming for the training could read at a second grade level. Starting at about age five or six, these girls have spent years patching clothes and nets and going to the market for their fishing-dependent families.

image (1)This was the first time somebody had come to specifically teach these Christ-loving women a ministry skill.

This was the first time these five women trainers had ever trained anybody else too.

In a church made of bamboo and banana leaves and elevated on bamboo poles to keep from flooding, these women spent two days together. They taught each other stories. They talked about them. They went out at night and told other women in the village as they were making meals and chasing dogs away from the pots.

In this small Buddhist village on the coast, these unnoticed women talked about Jesus. And people’s lives are different – their neighbors as well as their own.

Sweaty multiplication

(Highlights Of The Past Year series)

IMG_1154 cropped adjustedA couple weeks ago I got back from Africa.  It was the hardest trip I’ve done – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  Believe it or not, it was the first trip I’ve ever gotten sick on.  My host and I miscommunicated several times, effecting the training schedule.  We drove for hours, four men wedged in the back seat sitting shoulders sideways, windows down in 120o and dust blowing in.  I got back to the US and was completely drained.

But it was a good trip.  I could share about how many people came to the trainings and comments they made, but let me share a bit about four men I saw God move in during this trip.  We pray for churches to start and people to become believers in hard to reach places and those are the “cool” things to share, but notice in Matthew 9:38 that Jesus says to pray for laborers.  This has been my biggest prayer this year, shaping the trips we’re taking and how we’re making decisions – are we preparing qualified laborers who can train others?

IMG_1123We pulled up to our first training, surgically separating ourselves from each other as we climbed out of the backseat.  Eugene came up to me and I forgot about trying to get my spine realigned again.  I recognized his huge grin from last year when I was training in a different part of the country.  He gave me a huge hug!  “Pastor, it is so good to see you again!”  Last year we talked one-on-one about how storying could fit in his church.  “Let me tell you how the Lord has worked among the people of…”  Eugene had changed his preaching to a story approach, inviting interaction and asking people to share the stories with other people before the next Sunday.  Then in church they review the story, visitors ask questions and members of the church (not pastors!) stand to answer.  “Pastor, the people are talking to Muslims about Jesus without fear!”

IMG_1220Last year I had the most incredible translator I’ve ever had anywhere.  This month Obed was my translator again and basically became the fourth member of our training team.  Like I mentioned, there were several miscommunications with our host about schedule issues, which most of the time we didn’t find out until we started speaking, so I’d have to say something like, “OK, Obed, we were supposed to have two more hours, but I was just told we need to be done in thirty minutes.  Doing this with translation is going to kill us.  You’ve seen me do this part several times.  I need you to run with it.”  OK, yes, I was taking advantage of the situation to see what Obed could do.  I watched him float around to groups, answering questions, clarifying things, giving encouragement, people tracking with everything he said.  We watched a man move from being a gifted translator to passionately teaching his countrymen.

IMG_1088 IMG_1174On this trip, I took two young American men with me.  Jack is moving to Africa in the future to live among a Muslim people group and has been doing storying discipleship with the youth group he pastors.  Ben is going to an animist unreached people group in a couple years.  This was the first time they had done storying training, so I gave them plenty of opportunity to lead different parts.

On the last night in country, we sat in our room.  It had dropped to a chilly 97o and we had three fans blowing on us, which basically felt like standing in front of three hair dryers on high.  We talked about an invitation from Eugene to come to a nearby Muslim country to do training.  “Guys, I can’t do it then.  Wish I knew a small team who could.”  Then I sat back, closed my eyes, and listened to three young men – two Americans and an African who had met each other just ten days ago – talk about training church planters in a Muslim country later this year.  Even the heat didn’t seem all that bad right then.


(Highlights Of The Past Year series)

With two minutes left, Ryan says he’ll sit out the rest of the game so we can put Kenny back in.  Kenny had never touched a basketball until December.  He’s short, a little nerdy looking, and had no clue what to do on a basketball court.  My son and I have been working with him this season to give him some confidence.  But he still hadn’t scored a basket.  Actually, he could barely get the ball to the rim.

But these last two minutes are Kenny’s time.  Whatever we need to do, even lose our last game, Kenny was going to get a basket!  We designed a special play just for him called “the Cannon”.  The first few times we ran it, our bench started yelling “CANNON!  CANNON!  CAN…”  The ball came to Kenny…and he missed the pass.  The next time, Justin hands him the ball and Kenny tries dribbling… and dribbles the ball off his foot out of bounds.  Next time down, Blake makes a beautiful pass to a wide open Kenny and – zip – the ball flew right past him.

The whole gym knows what’s going on.  Parents from both teams start yelling “CANNON!  CANNON!”  Kenny misses the pass again.  “CANNON!  CANNON!”  Kenny gets the ball and shoots…and the ball somehow goes behind him.  “CANNON…”  Aaron gets the next rebound, runs the ball down the court, gets it to Kenny, who shoots…there’s a huge sucking in of breath in the gym…and it hits the rim and bounces out!  “NOOooo!  Come on, Kenny!  CANNON!…”

Our team is standing up.  Parents are yelling.  Thirty seconds left.  Nobody’s paying attention to the score.  It’s just pure fourth grade basketball mayhem!  Blake gets the ball, passes it to Justin, who hands it to Kenny who is already facing the basket!  Kenny sets, raises the ball, the defender jumps, giant sucking in of breath, Kenny shoots…

If Kenny makes this basket, who’s happier – the kid who scored his first basket ever?  The crowd cheering on the underdog?  Or two coaches who got to see the kid they have been working with for three months make the biggest shot of his life? 

By the time you read this, we’ll have a team heading to Africa for two weeks.  We’ll be training a thousand believers.  But that’s not nearly as exciting as what happens two weeks after you read this letter.  A thousand people will be back in their villages telling stories.  There will be Muslim families hearing about Jesus.  Many won’t know what to do with this.  They’ll argue, they’ll miss ideas, they’ll have questions, they’ll get confused when what they’ve been told to believe clashes with what they are hearing, and they’ll get restless in their hearts.  But these thousand followers of Jesus will keep “getting them the ball”.  It’s their time.

Do the crowds in heaven watch, cheering the names of people playing in this “game”?  Do they suck in their breath each time a story, a truth, a biblical reality is passed to them, shout “NOOooo” when it’s dropped, and then stand up to cheer them on with even more adrenaline?  How big is God’s grin when it all comes together for that one lost person, that family, and they finally get it? 

We’ll never know what happens in most of these villages until we’re in heaven and can ask people how in the world they ended up here when all the odds were against them.  But we’ll have plenty of time to hear the story.

And you can ask Kenny what happened in the last thirty seconds of our game, too.


(Highlights From the Past Year series)

My oldest son and I are coaching a fourth grade basketball team this year.  Some of the kids have never touched a basketball.  We had three practices before our first game.  The first one I was happy that most of the balls hit the backboard.  Layups looked like klutzy ballet moves.  So Brady and I had them work on footwork.  Then passing.  Then defense.  “Coach, when are we going to shoot the ball?”  Learn to dribble first.  “Coach, when are we going to scrimmage?”  Learn to pass first.  “Coach, when are we…”

At the third practice, we had them work on two things only.  When you’re on defense, keep your hands up!  When you’re on offense, spread out!  (There’s a herd effect in games, where the basketball has this sudden mysterious magnetism that pulls on the eyelets of basketball shoes and draws ten kids into a five foot square area and then causes everybody to yell, “Pass it to me!” even though they’re only six inches apart.) 

The guys didn’t like that practice.

In our first game, guess what?  We led at halftime 28-0.  It wasn’t that we were better.  It was that the guys were doing the simple things well.  All our points came because guys were spread out and passed on offense and we stole the ball on defense.

Recently I was thinking back over the past year and all the trips and training that took place.  (Hence this Highlights Of The Year series of catch up blogs!) There’s a human urge in almost anything we do to do more, better, faster, and with a bigger splash.  But I really am a believer in simple things done well.  This past year, we’ve been praying and going off the beaten path to difficult places to teach believers who are persecuted for their faith how to…tell stories?  There’s a human desire to say, “Coach God, when can we do something bigger and cooler and sounds more spiritually deep than telling stories?”  Learn the basics first.  They are important…

336In an Asian country, seven people we trained last summer went to a remote jungle village.  For two days they shared stories in the village.  Twenty-eight Buddhists accepted Christ.

In a west African country, a group from a church that went through a one day training shared parts of the Gospel of Luke through stories.  Twenty-six Muslim men stood up to say they believed what they were hearing to be true about Jesus.

From a group in Asia along a closed border that we visited, I got an email.  “The brothers are seeing more fruit than we have seen in a long time.  When can you return and teach somewhere else?”

One friend asked me last month, “How do you make the ministry better this next year?”  There are plenty of things that can be improved, but we won’t lose this perspective – do the simple things well.

All-nighter in Africa

Benin is the birthplace of voodoo.  The voodoo that is in Haiti and New Orleans can be traced to Africans brought from Benin as slaves.  Today it is still very active.  Many houses have small altars at their doorways to make small chicken sacrifices or egg offerings.  In Ouida there is a small round building with one hundred pythons that are worshiped and attended to by priests.  Once a week the doors are opened up so that the snakes can roam the village at night to feed before they return on their own to their home.  In one village nearby there is a pile of human heads from ritual sacrifices.  Voodoo is very alive.

Ode is a believer in one of these villages.  He came to the first day of training on how to use stories for evangelism in his village.  The first night we gave them “homework” to go share one of the Bible stories we had done.  But the second day Ode didn’t show up.  On the third day, he came apologizing for being absent.

“I was walking to my village along the ocean. I saw some of my friends working on nets.  They asked where I had been, why I had not gone out today.  I told them the story [of the demon possessed man].  I was asking questions, but some people came and I had to tell it again.  Then they got some friends and I had to tell it again.  So we sat on the beach talking about it.  Then they asked if I had another story.  I told them the paralyzed man.

 One of the older men said to me, ‘Why haven’t you shared this with us before!  I am very upset with you.’  They stayed until the morning.  Then they went home and I fell asleep on the beach.  That is why I didn’t make it yesterday.”

OT stories with Muslims

Recently I got this email after a seminar.  I cleaned up my reply and post, hoping  it helps others see some of the thinking that goes into choosing stories to share with our friends.

Hi Tim, I was following up with you on my question I had for you at Perspectives. I’m sorry I could not stay and hear the answer that evening. I had asked what five stories would you pick to share, starting with the old testament to the new to share the gospel. The reason I ask about bringing in the Old Testament is because i think it would be more effective to Muslim’s. I would love to know your thoughts. Thank you for your time and ministry.

 In Him,


Hey Amanda.  Thanks for writing me about this.  Here’s my quick thoughts.  Would be more than glad to talk more if you want.

I completely agree in many situations with bringing in OT stories with Muslims, for a few reasons.

1.  Common names and background (even if details are different) builds trust with Muslims as we talk about the stories.  We’re not combating them.  It also as builds credibility for God as you walk through stories about Him.

Semere Training2.  Many Muslims haven’t ever talked about OT people that Christians believe with Christians and think we only want to
talk about Jesus with them.

3.  The Koran says that the Book (Bible) is to be known.  While they believe that we have corrupted the Bible, by finding a more comfortable ground to talk with them on (OT) we invite them into some “softer” areas of discussion before we talk about Christ, which can be more tense.

4.  A friend once told me after he shared the Jesus Film with dozens of villages that he felt he was “giving them dessert before giving them a meal”.  How can you understand the gospel without understanding why the gospel had to be?

But what 5 stories would I share?  That’s a tough one b/c of all the variables.  Not to make it too analytical, but you have to consider how devout and how cultural Muslim are they, what are their views of Christians, of the Bible, how do they view Jesus, what is your relationship with them, and others probably.

But I’d think of using a story set along the theme of promise.

God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-9, 17:1-8).

God’s promise to David (2 Samuel 7).

Isaiah 52-53.

Then a story about Jesus having authority to forgive sins and heal such as the paralytic lowered through the roof (Mark 2) or maybe Zacchaeus (Luke 19) b/c Jesus says this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham, tying it to the earlier story.

Then I’d condense the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection (a lot to put together) into one longer story.  This ties all three OT stories together.

Then end with Jesus time with the disciples before his ascension, which gives you the reason you are sharing this story with your friend in the first place, because the prophet Jesus who was the Son of God said to obey him is to tell others about him.

Street ViewThese could sound a bit dry since the first three are all prophesy sections, but you could add some context around the promises to make it more living.

Or take 2 or 3 stories from David’s life instead of Abraham and Isaiah.  The theme of promise still fits, but you frontload the stories with some non-conflict ones about a common person, David.  Maybe 1) David as King, 2) David and Bathsheba, 3) Nathan confronting David.  Shows that even great king David was a sinner like all of us and needed God’s grace, which leads to Jesus.

These are just thoughts.  I would hesitate to give you a prescribed list because the goal isn’t to just share stories that are redemptive, but to have the person engage in these stories.

Having said all that, I also would recommend Carl Medearis book “Muslims, Christians, and Jesus: Gaining Understanding and Building Relationships”.  I agree with a lot of what he says about when talking to Muslims, keep it on Jesus rather than trying to use a lot of OT, for example.  You can share five stories about Jesus very effectively, breaching the barrier they have to his deity and sonship.  In some ways it can be much more natural because you are talking about a common figure both religions and discovering truth and differences.  This isn’t confrontation, it’s journeying together.

Cairo WomenSo, before I confuse you any further, I hope you’re seeing that there is no one prescribed good way to share stories with Muslims.  It totally depends on the person you’re friending.  Some will feel more comfortable beginning with a common footing in the OT and you can approach areas of redemption progressively.  Others you’ll feel more comfortable talking about solely Jesus and making a loving case for your friend to think about.



Lost vs Unreached

A couple days ago I had a conversation with a friend about unreached people groups and why people sometimes just have a hard time with that concept.  I wanted to share three of the basic important issues for the Church to consider that we talked about.

First, there is a critical difference between “lost” and “unreached” peoples.  Obviously each group has people that don’t know Christ in it.  The lost group is one where the gospel is present now, but isn’t well received by the majority.  The unreached group is one where the gospel is not yet.  We don’t stop doing ministry to people lost people groups in order to go to unreached people groups, but putting aside not yet places by placing them in the same category as is present now places would be wrong thinking.  They have different and strategic issues to consider on how to minister within.

Second, there is a biblical command to go to those peoples.  The Great Commission wasn’t the Great Suggestion, but we treat it often with the same attitude we have with those black and white signs with numbers on them along the road.  “I understand why they say 65 and I agree with it one hundred percent.  But we know they don’t really mean for us to drive that.”  In the last things we have recorded that Jesus said we don’t have much room to pick and choose if he really meant it or was it something flippant he said as if he were casually leaving someone’s house after dinner.  When Jesus says in Mt 28, “Go make disciples of all nations (ethne – people),” it means, well, all.  Acts 1:8 isn’t an either/or, but a both/and.  If we as a church don’t have that aspect in our missions engagement, we need to honestly ask if we are being obedient.

Third, semantics can be a real hang-up.  Some people just don’t like the phrase “unreached people groups” because it’s a jump-on-the-bandwagon thing.  I’ve also been told that it’s inaccurate terminology.  “If there’s a church there, technically it is no longer unreached.”  (Once somebody actually said to me, “They keep calling this group unreached, but we’ve sent missionaries there.  I think they are trying to sensationalize it so they can get more funding.”)  If wording is a problem, use different words.  Call them hard to reach, least-reached, frontier people groups, hidden peoples, beyond-the-church’s-touch people, it doesn’t really matter.  I like the definition of an unreached people group given in Operation World (962; 2010).

An ethnolinguistic people group among whom there is no viable indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize their own people without outside (cross-cultural) assistance.

The real presence of unreached people groups should cause a dissonance in us, either a holy restlessness as we join in what God is doing that is outside of our norm, or a holy discomfort as we wrestle with imbalances, obedience, or our historical thinking.

BMP Connections:  Yesterday I had an hour phone call planning to go to train believers in a Muslim part of Africa that hasn’t known peace for decades.  Storying is one way that we can help establish churches in this area.  Are we bragging, saying we “get it” while others don’t?  No way!  We are simply one of the parts of the larger Body that gets to focus on these places.  The Church can’t ignore either the local unchurhed, the lost, or the unreached.  There are other places we could go that have people who need Christ that would be a lot safer, we’d be more warmly received, have internet access, and eat better food.  But as part of the Church, this is a place where we (all of us, the Church) need to be going.

After 2,000 years there remain billions of people who today could not hear about Jesus if they screamed at the top of their lungs for somebody to tell them.  There is a reason the gospel hasn’t gotten into these hard to reach places – they’re hard to reach.  As you’re praying with us, you’re engaging in taking the gospel into some of them because God is inviting us to join Him there.

“My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard.”  Romans 15:20, NLT

Advice vs News

OK, so it’s been too long since we wrote a blog entry.  Much has happened, but much has not been communicated through here either.  I could make excuses and justifications, but it would be like my kids telling me why they didn’t get their rooms cleaned up – believable reasons, good reasons, even legit reasons, but the fact is the room still resembles a chemistry lab experiment gone bad.

Buddist TempleRecently I’ve been reading Timothy Keller’s book King’s Cross and have several sections underlined. Very good stuff as the author walks through Mark’s account of Jesus’ life.  In chapter 2, Keller talks about what a gospel was in the times of the Romans, giving examples of it being “news of some event that changed things in a meaningful way…something that’s been done for you that  changes your status forever (p. 15).”

He then says,”Right there you see the difference between Christianity and all other religions…The essence of other religions is advice; Christianity is essentially news.”

When I read that, I immediately thought of the people we’ve been with this year.  A few months ago, I was in a part of India
that has much persecution for believers.  One of my best friends and I were able to spend two weeks with different groups of men and women who have committed their lives to seeing the gospel known among their people.  As we shared with them the natural  way that stories communicate, one man said to me that hehad been trained in many methods of ministry, but stories were simple enough that he could see people telling others once they hear it themselves.  I believe there’s at least one simple reason why.

Advice is something that you feel you have to have a degree of proficiency achieved before you are able to give it to others; why would anybody listen to you otherwise.  News is something that is shared because it has an immediate impression on us.  What do we text, tweet, and FaceBook?  News.  Why?  We want to leave an impression.

Semere RetellingThe gospel – the whole Bible! – is news, but many people in the world either don’t know it, or have reduced it to advice. By telling other people the stories of this news, they are seeing it leave an impression on those around them.  A friend in West Africa recently took some of the training we did together and shared it with twenty-five other believers living in an almost all Muslim region.  They have since started many groups in remote villages who gather to listen to stories underneath trees and by wells.  It is news that is leaving an impression and spreading.

Looking forward to doing a better job at communicating more news to you in the coming months.

2010 Updates!

2010 brought with it some trials but also some wonderful opportunities for growth, both professionally and personally.

Here are the highlights for BMP:

– Approximately 300 people were trained in Storying- a simple way to share God’s Word

– Four trips were taken: Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo, and two trips to India

– Africans trained in Benin going to train Church Planters in Togo

– Kids with Muslim background in Benin trained to share stories with friends at school

– Pastor at our training is now sharing Stories on radio in Benin

– Pastor Joseph, after his life being spared, went on to share the method’s taught by Tim to a conference of 650 people

– 50 People have been saved in a VooDoo area and a new Church started

– Took on first staff member: Operations Director, Amanda MacLeod

We have a lot in the works for 2011 and would love your continued support in prayer and any other ways the Lord may lead you!