« February 2013   |   Main   |  April 2013 »

March 14, 2013

You’re Not From Around These Parts

By Andrew Sharp
Staff Writer

They are scattered in countries all around the globe. They struggle with new words, resolutely chew strange items labeled as food, and amuse the locals by waving hello with the wrong hand. They are ambassadors of the Christian faith—missionaries. Like bananas in a Minnesota supermarket, they are a long way from home.

Why? Sure, Jesus told the church to go to the ends of the earth with the faith, but why did these people in particular choose to be the ones who went to the “ends”? I asked several missionaries connected with Rosedale Mennonite Missions about this.

To avoid confusion, I should clarify the terminology in this article. One missions worker I talked to told me all Christians are missionaries, commissioned to share their faith with those around them wherever they are. He is certainly not alone in that conclusion in missions circles. Others would define a missionary as someone who goes to a Developing Country to do nice things. For the purposes of this article, however, I use the term “missionary” to specifically refer to those who leave their own home and culture and go to another one to share their faith, leaving a discussion of the broader definition for another day.

All the current or former missionaries I talked to spoke of a sense of calling. Aha—the famous “call to missions.” What does it sound like? Turns out, none of them talked about a dramatic moment when they saw a vision of people crying out for help and knew they had to go buy a plane ticket, or a crisis experience when they rushed forward at a missions conference to pledge their service. For these missionaries at least, it was a slower process, often a gradual arrival over time to the conclusion that missions work was the right task for them.

That’s how it was for Art and Paula Shore (the names are changed because they work in a sensitive location in the Middle East). “If a person has that desire in their heart—and I believe it’s God that puts that in people’s hearts—it’s been my experience that I don’t always know what my next step is going to be,” Art said. “God opens one more door and shows us a little more direction … so yes, I believe we need that call, but that call, in my experience, may not be totally unveiled to us at the beginning of this process.”

Art said in the church he grew up in, some kind of short-term missions or voluntary service was normal, almost expected. So he got involved in short-term missions service in Germany and Africa. Through those kinds of experiences and exposure to the need for missions workers, he began to feel that God wanted him to continue in missions work.

Paula said she had been involved in missions in Canada and helped with leadership of an outreach to homeless children overseas. Through getting to know Art, however, she became aware of the need in the Muslim world. “A wife can’t go on her husband’s call, she has to feel that very personally, and with time God did that in my own heart,” she said. “I think the value of going and just living among them was impressed upon me when I saw all the overwhelming needs.”

Elmer & Eileen Lehman
In 1961, Elmer and Eileen Lehman were among RMM’s first mission workers to go to Latin America, where they were pioneer church planters in Costa Rica. Elmer said when he was a child, there were two missionary couples from Canada that worked in Argentina, and he was always fascinated to hear them speak when they visited his home community. As he grew older, he sensed that he would be involved in some kind of ministry, although at the time he thought it would be on his church’s pastoral team. When he and Eileen got married, they both had a strong interest in doing voluntary service. Then four months after they got married, the trailer they were living in caught fire. “We said, ‘Well, what do we have here to take care of, we’ve lost almost everything we own,’” Eileen said. “It seemed to be an invitation.”

A position opened up in Puerto Rico for two years, one that matched their talents exactly—a children’s home needed a couple with farming experience and teaching experience. It was while they were there, Elmer said, that they began to feel God wanted them in missions long term. They came back home and Elmer went to college to prepare. After he graduated, they ended up in Costa Rica, where they worked at church planting for more than 20 years.

Dan Byler
Dan Byler, who spent years with RMM in Nicaragua and South Asia, is currently working in Bangkok, Thailand. His entrance into a life of missions was also gradual. When he was a student at Goshen College in Indiana, he was planning to go into teaching, but wanted to do some voluntary service time first. He went to Nicaragua as part of a study term with the college, and liked it, so he contacted RMM about joining their VS program in the country. After three years there, he went back to the U.S. to start his teaching career. At that time it was hard to get a teaching job, and while he was looking for one he heard a speaker talk about the importance of missions. “I thought, there is a need for more mission workers, and there isn’t a need for more teachers, so I looked at that as a call from God to return to Nicaragua,” he said. When he went back, the work went well and new opportunities kept opening up. “I gradually sensed that this was something God was calling me to,” he said, and he never went back to the States.

Leon Zimmerman served as president of Rosedale Bible College before he and his wife Naomi and their children went to Albania for several years, to help transition a church there from missionary leadership to local leadership. He said when he and Naomi were dating, they both thought they would like to do missions work sometime. But after they got married, life got busy and children came along. Their call to missions was not necessarily a strong sense of God’s command—Leon referred to it as a “kind of an inner sense of call to some degree.”

“I would say [it was] just a sense for both of us that in our maturing years that this is something we would like to do that would fit us. I think we encouraged each other with the idea.”

Leon Zimmerman Family
When Leon took a sabbatical from his work at RBC, they decided to take the chance to spend time with some missionaries. They made good contacts, and Leon said “The doors opened well and quickly.” When the opportunity to go to Albania came up, they prayed about it and got a clear sense it was something they should do.

That sense of being in the right place, along with a commitment to stay in the right place, was a big part of what kept these workers going when discouragements came up. “We couldn’t throw in the towel and quit because we had a strong sense [of] God’s call in our lives to be involved in missions,” Elmer said.

“I think it’s that call, that confirmation that we’re in the right place regardless of external appearances, how well it goes or how well it doesn’t go,” Art said. “We may have just a small part in bringing the gospel to a region, but we can be faithful … there will be opposition, there will be suffering. That’s a normal part of the Christian life.”

It would be a mischaracterization, however, to portray these workers as wishing they could go back to their own cultures and only staying because of a sense of calling. Instead, they spoke of rewarding experiences that helped keep them going.

Elmer said it was sometimes difficult to be away from family, like at Christmas time, but they soon grew close to the believers there. “They were our family, and we had good times with them … we really plugged in with families from our church and really had some very good Christmases overseas.”

The Lehmans have been able to see the dividends from their life’s investment. After three years, the church in Costa Rica had just four baptized believers. But as the new believers started reaching out to their families, the church expanded rapidly. A few years ago Elmer and Eileen returned to Costa Rica for a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the work, where the church there honored them for coming to share about Jesus. They were able to meet with a number of the original believers. “Just to see them … continue on in their Christian walk, that was really a highlight,” Elmer said.

Dan talked about how even when things are difficult, he sees God working and people coming to faith who are excited about sharing with others. “Those are the kind of things that really are rewards and joys and keep us working here on the field,” he said.


Locally Grown: I’ll Come to Church If I Can Bring My Motorcycle

By Andrew Sharp
Staff Writer

They come to Pond Bank Mennonite Church in their Sunday best—engines clean, windshields spotless, and chrome lovingly polished. For the congregation in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Harleys and Hondas in the sanctuary is all part of the fun on Motorcycle Sunday, held every year since 2008.

Joel Sollenberger, a biker who developed the idea for the event and helps organize it, said the service is held the Sunday before Memorial Day (so they aren’t competing with holiday rallies). The children have a hard time focusing on Sunday school classes as the motorcycles start to arrive for the 10 a.m. service. The first 10 or 15 riders who show up wheel their bikes into the sanctuary and park them around the room, and the rest fill up the church parking lot (those who prefer four wheels park across the street). The church brings in a speaker, usually a musician who can provide an entertaining concert along with a message about the gospel. The church feeds everyone a meal at lunchtime, then the bikers go on an organized ride that ends up back at the church, where everyone shares ice cream sponsored by local businesses.

The goal, Sollenberger said, is to promote the kingdom of God through people’s interests and share about Jesus. In the first couple of years of the event, more unsaved or unchurched people came through the church doors than in many previous years of special revival meetings, he said. “That makes you step back and say, ‘What are we about, what are we doing here?’ That sort of wraps it up in my mind as to why we do it.”

The organizers try to put on a quality event with good music. Singers have included Steve and Annie Chapman (Steve is part of the motorcycle riding community himself), country/folk singer John Schmid, and instrumental guitarist Richard Kiser (with his guitar made from a Thunderbird muffler).

Bikers have come from many different places to participate. Motorcyclists form “quite a community,” Sollenberger noted, so they are able to get the word out by posting the information on different websites that cater to riders. They also put up signs around the community. They don’t have much convincing to do—bikers don’t need much of an excuse to get out and ride, Sollenberger said. One group even travels down each year from Ontario, Canada. The event has grown from about 25-30 riders the first year to 75 in 2012.

Some of those who participate in the event have started attending Pond Bank, and of that number several were not church attenders before they came to Motorcycle Sunday. Marlin Ebersole, who serves on RMM’s board and was pastor of Pond Bank at the time Motorcycle Sunday started, said the event has served its evangelistic purpose. While people usually haven’t responded to the message during the service itself, some have come to faith later. Ebersole said the event was also a good way to connect with the community and has helped the church overcome preconceptions about Mennonites.

The congregation loves the event, Sollenberger said, even those who don’t ride. “We have fun… the only thing we can’t control is the weather; however, God has smiled on us.”

The event has inspired at least one other ride. The Mennonite World Review reported that Mercersburg Mennonite Church hosted a Motorcycle Sunday in September 2012, and its organizers had been inspired by attending the event at Pond Bank.


Sounds of Southeast Asia

Although people all around the world can hear American music in coffee shops, malls, and on radio stations, people in the United States are usually stuck listening to their own music (or a few hits from Europe). For those interested in broadening their musical horizons a little, the two songs to the right are a sample of some music from Southeast Asia.

These songs were recorded by Pon, who was part of the fellowship RMM workers started in Bangkok, Thailand. He has moved back to his native country, which borders Thailand, but still relates to the team and has a vision to spread the kingdom of God there. While he was in Bangkok, he used his musical ability in leading worship for the meetings and introduced the team to Thai worship songs.

His music career is currently on hold because he has opened a sushi business, but in the past he worked as a singer in Bangkok restaurants, and entered a singing contest on a Thai cable TV station, making it to the final six before being eliminated. During the show, he had a chance to talk about his faith in God.

He continued singing occasionally at parties and festivals. A producer heard him sing and asked him to record an album of original songs. One of them even became the most-requested song on a local radio station for a while!

March 13, 2013

Efraín Brings Some Help Back To Thailand

Efraín, from Nicaragua, was working with the RMM team in Thailand in 2011 when he was diagnosed with acute leukemia, an aggressive form of cancer. In the fall of 2011 he returned to Nicaragua for treatment. Nicaraguan churches and the team in Thailand organized fundraising for his medical bills and many people prayed. He responded well to the treatment and his cancer is now in remission.

Efraín married his fiancée Sujen at the end of September 2012, and in January 2013 they went to Thailand to join the team there. They will live near Kasem Bundit University where Efraín will continue his English studies. Sujen will focus on Thai language studies for the remainder of 2013 and will also be looking for a job. They will both be involved with ministry to university students. Efrain has received good news on his health after a checkup at a Bangkok hospital, but will continue maintenance treatments to make sure he stays healthy.

To help support Efraín and Sujen, click here to donate online.