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October 28, 2014

Getting to Know Al Raber

Al is planning to begin his assignment in the Amazon River Basin of Brazil in 2015. Right now he is putting together his Missionary Support Team (MST), raising funds, training, and preparing to go. If you’d like to partner with Al in God’s work in this unreached area of the world, please visit donate.rmmweb.org.

Can you tell us a little about your growing up years?

I was born into a large Amish family in Holmes County, Ohio. I am the second to youngest of twelve children. I attended elementary school thru the 8th grade and then began to work in my father’s sawmill at the age of fifteen. Growing up we were never farmers but always had various animals on our property, like horses, steers, dogs, and chickens. We always kept a large garden which we tended to religiously every morning during the summer months. We were never rich nor poor as dad, mom and all of us worked hard to keep food on our table.

How did you come to know Jesus?

Early in my life, I was introduced to God and his Word in the Amish church we attended, but I rejected God for a ten year period of my life. During that time, I went through the “rumspringa” (a rebellious adolescent) phase in my life. As alcohol and other worldly pleasures left me empty inside, I began to seek a deeper purpose for my life. Through several influential people, I came to give my life to Christ in the summer of 1999.

Where are you currently living?

I still live on the property near Berlin, Ohio, where I spent most of my adolescent years.

What is your home/sending church?

Berean Community Church, near Winesburg, is my home and sending church.

How did you get interested in this part of the world? What is the need there?

Shortly after my baptism in 1999 Pastor Dave Clemens asked me if I would be interested in going on a short term missions trip to the Amazon to do some construction. I was fairly miserable on that trip and wanted nothing more than to leave and never go back. But, I went back the following year and grew attached to the Amazon and its people.

Could you tell us some fascinating facts about the Amazon River Basin?
The Amazon is the world’s largest river system per volume of water and the second longest river in the world, possibly being the longest as nobody has been able to determine the exact source of the Amazon. Twenty-five percent of the world’s fresh water flows down the Amazon. The Amazon has the largest contiguous tropical rainforest in the world. It spans five different countries with the bulk lying in northern Brazil. The river rises and falls as much as 43 feet every year during the rainy and dry seasons. It is home to an extreme variety of fish, birds, reptiles and other animals. Some of the more familiar are: anacondas, piranha, caimen alligator, howler monkeys, toucans, macaws, capybara, tapir and the freshwater pink dolphin. On top of all of this are countless species of insects, chief among them, the pesky mosquito.

What is your biggest challenge in getting ready to go?

So far, I think my biggest challenge has been planning and preparing for my eventual departure. Having to decide what to keep and what to sell (think rifles, shotguns and fishing gear) has been difficult. Do I keep my bed? Do I sell it? Do I store my car or sell it? But then I think of Elisha who burned his plow and slaughtered his oxen to serve God.

What is the heart of what you’ll be doing in country?

The missions organization (SEARA) will be giving primary oversight to my assignment. SEARA exists to evangelize and aid the river people of the Amazon. There are approximately 33,000 river communities in the amazon with only about 3,000 of those having the evangelical gospel. I will be working with SEARA to make evangelical and humanitarian trips by boat to these communities. Currently, SEARA is working in approximately 140 villages. I will also be making trips to help SEARA’s missionaries who live and work in these communities, with my long-term goal being to eventually live and work, evangelizing and discipling the river people in the interior.

Do you have a projected departure date?

I am hoping to leave around May of 2015.

What is the most different aspect of the culture that you’ve experienced in past trips?
Hmm… this is a difficult question as there are many very different aspects to the ribeirinho (river people) culture. But, I think the biggest thing is simply the difficulty of living in the Amazon with a hunter/gatherer subsistence lifestyle. Hunting and fishing (both of which I currently do just for fun) are a daily part of simply staying alive.

What is something that the culture has taught you and that you want to internalize?

The village mentality, where everything is basically communal and pretty much all items are shared for the common good. If one family has a net full of fish, it is shared. If one family’s net breaks, a net is borrowed from someone else, and so on.

What is the typical way you get around?
In the interior there are no roads so all transportation is by canoe or a motorized canoe called a rabeta. In the bigger towns there are taxis, buses and motorcycle taxis. Large passenger boats run between the bigger towns and villages.

What is your favorite local food?

I love several fruits such as cupuacu, acai, tucuma and mangoes.

What is the most recent prayer that God has answered in your life?

I was looking for someone to live with my Mom when I leave. Shortly after making this known to the RMM prayer warriors, God provided someone to do so.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I look forward to representing RMM in the Amazon. I will do so to the best of my abilities. I want to thank everyone involved with RMM for first believing in me and second for sharing my vision. I deeply appreciate it. Also, I want to thank everyone at Berean, especially Pastor Steve and the mission board, for their support and financial backing. And I want to thank Pastor Dave and Erma Clemens for the years of mentoring and tutoring. Without them none of this would ever have been possible. I covet prayer like nothing else; please, please pray for me!! Thank you and God bless.

Thank you, Al! We are so thankful for the way you have heard and been obedient to God’s call in your life. We are excited to see what he will do through you!


October 22, 2014

Praise from our friend Pon

By Tom,* RMM Asia regional director

Pon is a young friend from a neighboring country who came to know Jesus through the RMM team in Bangkok. Several years ago he returned to his home country and now lives in the capital city, Vientiane. He's gotten married and he and his wife, Nam, are expecting their first child in February! God has been blessing Pon in many ways over the last few years. During a recent visit, Pon excitedly shared with us about how he's seen God at work in and through his sushi business. When he started selling sushi, he wasn't sure that he could make it work. He had only a little capital and even less experience, but he prayed a lot and asked for God’s guidance in all the decisions he had to make. In the past year Pon’s business has begun to grow quickly. He’s opened a second kiosk and in the near future will open a shop where he will sell sushi and other Japanese food. He's quick to give God the credit for this and said that he prays about everything – even small details like the design of his logo. Praise God for all the good gifts God is giving to Pon and pray for continued wisdom for him in managing his business and hiring employees. Pray that those who work with him would be drawn to God through his witness.

*Last name omitted for security reasons.


October 15, 2014

Update from Sarah and Josiah

Excerpted from newsletter. If you would like to receive regular updates from these workers in North Africa, contact the RMM office at info@rmmoffice.org to be added to their mailing list.

School is off to a good start for our three oldest children! We're grateful for a smoother start this year and for some budding friendships for them. Thanks to all who have been praying for them!

A dear friend lost her mother several months ago. She invited us to join her family (“in place of my mother,” she said) during the Feast of the Sacrifice (Sunday), the high holy day of the Islamic year and an important time when families gather following the loss of a loved one. It's also a day of a lot of work, and both our help and presence seemed deeply appreciated. Join us in praying for this family’s peace.

I've been challenged to reevaluate my priorities on several occasions recently, having arrived ready to work on the straw bale house/appropriate technologies center (pictured above) with high expectations of what we'd accomplish, only to find that a significant life event was going on in the village. One day we’d worked several hours when my companions informed me that one of the men in the farmers’ association was hosting a meal in honor of his sister's wedding. So we cleaned up and joined 50 other village men for four rounds of Qur’anic recitation interspersed with two rounds of tea and a meal. As I sat through the gathering, my foot tapping to get back to work, I thought about how much time Jesus spent as a guest in homes. The Gospels tend to highlight the visits when dramatic things happened, but we’re told that Bethany—and the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in particular—was a place he loved to stay. I, like Martha, need to be reminded that being with Jesus and those he loves is always better than doing something for him.

Grace and peace, Josiah and Sarah

*Last name omitted and names changed for security reasons.


October 13, 2014

Greedy for Jesus

By Tom,* RMM Asia regional director

My first trip to one of the most densely populated countries in Southeast Asia was even more intense than I had expected. I’ve never been anywhere so crowded, noisy, or generally overwhelming! My introduction to the city was an auto-rickshaw ride that covered 15 kilometers and took nearly two hours in the blazing afternoon sun. At the time, I was sure that I’d never been so hot in my life. Later I discovered that the traffic never really gets any better and that the heat, noise, and smells are a normal part of life in that amazing city.

I only spent one week in the country—not nearly enough time to begin understanding life there. But I was able to spend a lot of that time with our team of national workers, Hiralel* and his wife Bindu* and Protap* learning more about their ministries. I saw some of the many challenges they face, but also some exciting glimpses of what God is doing through them.

On a Friday evening, we went to the “student mess” (a communal living space for university students) that RMM helped start in the capital city. Students from all over the country come here to study, and this weekend there were even more than normal because of the university entrance exams taking place. After a long auto-rickshaw ride through the traffic jam, we walked down a dirty back alley in the old part of the city. I’d expected the “mess” to look something like a dormitory, but it was more basic than that. Six young men who have come from other parts of the country share two small rooms. We met in one of them, sitting on the beds and the floor. A couple of desks were covered with stacks of textbooks and newspapers and their clothes hung on lines that cut across the corners of the room. All of these young men come from Hindu families—and a couple of them still identify with that religion. But all of them gather every evening for a time of Bible study and prayer. Those who have decided to follow Jesus shared their stories. In every case they were discipled by a cousin or friend who had come to faith while living in this hostel. They took their new faith back home with them and shared it with others. None of their parents are believers, but these young men shared that as they came to faith, and as their lives began to change, their parents did not stand in their way. They recognized that something good was happening to their sons, and while they are still not ready to join them in following Jesus, they aren’t hindering them. In some cases they are even defending their sons to other relatives or local religious leaders.

As we sat on the floor and ate fruit and a spicy snack mix (and shooed away a huge cockroach) they continued sharing. Another common theme in their stories was the criticism that they do face from friends and others at home. Christians have gained a bad reputation in this country for enticing people to switch religions in exchange for material gain. So these new believers are accused of being greedy because people assume that they left Hinduism in pursuit of money. Mithun, one of the leaders at the mess, told me that night that he doesn’t let these accusations bother him. He said, “I am greedy. Greedy for Jesus!”

On another evening I met with a group of about one dozen believers and seekers from a low-caste Hindu group. For years this people group has been “kept in their place” by society and governments. They’ve been assigned the unwanted job of “sweeping,” which includes cleaning the latrines and sewers of government buildings. A few years ago two young men heard about Jesus and saw in him a hope for their future. They’ve been telling others and now this group meets regularly. We met in one of their homes where he lives with his wife, daughter, and parents. Their community is a strip of very small, tin-roofed houses tucked behind a Hindu temple. His parents are still Hindu and keep an altar to one of the gods where they offer flowers and food.

We met in a bedroom for a time of singing, sharing, and prayer. The believers talked about the opposition they are facing from their tight-knit community. Living in such close proximity naturally exposes their faith, and it also gives them plenty of opportunity for sharing God’s love and the hope they now have with their friends and neighbors. As I heard them talk, I was reminded of Jesus’ parable about the yeast and the dough. Their situation demonstrates that clearly. They, as the yeast, are few in number and could easily seem overwhelmed by the “dough” around them. Yet God promises that even a small measure of his kingdom will, in time, bring tremendous change. Let’s pray for this to become a reality in that community!

Dinonat is the first older adult to be baptized in his region. He first heard about Jesus as a schoolboy when an Italian missionary shared at his school. Years later when his adult son heard about the gospel from a friend, Dinonat was eager to learn more. After this young man shared with him what he’d experienced, Dinonat also believed. He can’t read very well and has a limited education, but he immediately began sharing everything that he learned with his wife and other members of his household. When we met with him earlier this month he told us that every day at noon he gathers his household together for a time of teaching. He asked Dan, Hiralel, and Protap to teach him more about how to pray and what kinds of things he should pray for. Even though he is a very new believer himself, and although he doesn’t have much knowledge about the Bible, he is hungry to learn more and ready to teach what he does know.

Throughout my trip I was continually reminded of both the tremendous needs and potential in this country. Our team there is small, and they are doing very difficult work, attempting to disciple a people group with whom no one else is working. I’m so glad that we, as an agency, can partner with them to do this work. We probably won’t send foreign workers to this area. The limitations on their work and the stress of living there would be great. We can, however, continue to support and encourage the work of Protap, Hiralel and Bindu. God is changing lives among these people groups and it is bringing gradual transformation to entire families and communites.

Your prayers and financial support of RMM are making this work possible. Since I returned, Dinonat’s wife has been baptized, and he is continuing to share with his extended family and community. Pray for him as he becomes a spiritual leader, and pray for many others like him.

*Last name omitted and names changed for security reasons.


October 07, 2014

Shining the Light of Jesus on a University Campus

By Nixson and Rhonda*

Nixson:

After an intense day of class, I left the classroom building and headed to the dorms. I was planning to go rest for a while before doing my homework, but on the way to my room I passed many of my friends who asked me to go the fitness center with them. My desire to build a relationship with my friends and show them the love of Jesus was greater than my desire to rest. So after changing out of my school uniform, I headed to the fitness center, where my friends were waiting for me. After working out for a couple hours, we went to eat supper together and had a good evening of sharing with each other. Instead of feeling tired, I felt reenergized after being with them. I headed to my room to get ready for bed, but more people came to see me in my room. They just wanted someone to talk to, someone who could listen and give them advice, someone who was willing to just stay up late and watch TV with them. So before going to sleep for the night, I spent a few hours talking and sharing with my friends in my room.

I started studying at KBU in Bangkok, Thailand in 2010. My goal in studying was to prepare myself to get a job in Thailand in the future, but even more than that, my goal was to have a ministry on campus. I will always remember the first people that I got to know at the university. I was far away from home and missing my family, and many of the other students were also far away from home and missing their families. One of the first people I got to know became one of my best friends.

Por is a young man from northern Thailand, and was really struggling in his first few months at KBU. I met him when I was moving my stuff into my room my first day at the university, and he came to help me. We started spending time together and sharing with each other. We became like brothers, and eventually he felt comfortable opening up to me. He shared with me how his mother had died, and he was in conflict with his dad, because his dad didn’t take care of his mom while she was sick. Also, his girlfriend left him, and he felt like he didn’t have any reason to live. Many times he thought it would be better for him to die. I believe that God brought us together in his perfect timing. I shared with him about Jesus and about God’s plan for our lives. No matter what is happening in our lives, God still has a plan for us. We started to study the Bible together, and he started to discover and understand the things I was sharing about. The Holy Spirit was working in his life, and he changed faster than I knew was possible. He became a believer and eventually was baptized.

The beginning of my time at KBU was easier than the end. It was very exciting at first, getting to know people, being able to share my faith with them, and seeing them interested in the Bible. But as people became believers and went deeper, they had more tests to their faith, and it became harder for me to disciple them through many tough situations. I had to rely even more on God for strength and wisdom as I walked with my friends.

The first relationships I made opened the door to additional relationships which enabled me to disciple more people. Pong was another one of my good friends. We got to know each other through going to the gym together. Even before I shared my faith with him, he was able to see that there was something different about me. He always had a lot of questions for me. Questions like: Why are you different from the other foreigners? Why are you so calm and not stressed or worried about things? My answer was always Jesus. Through those conversations, I was able to share my faith with him, and he continued to ask me more about Jesus. Every time that he had trouble or needed someone to talk with, he came to me. When he was having trouble with his girlfriend, he came to me and I was able to encourage him and help him through the situation. When he was trying to find a job, he came to me to ask for advice and prayer. Before, when Pong was feeling down about something, he would go out and get drunk. But later, he would come to me. I know that it wasn’t what I was doing, but it was the way that the Holy Spirit was working is his life, and using me to be part of that.

"I know that it wasn’t what I was doing, but it was the way that the Holy Spirit was working is his life, and using me to be part of that."Another opportunity I’ve had through my relationships at the university is getting to know the families of my friends. Over a holiday one time Pong went to visit his family in Northeastern Thailand. In his first couple days there, he was sharing with his family about me and how I was different than his other friends. He shared with them how it was Jesus that made me different. His family wanted to meet me, so Pong called and asked if I could travel there and spend the rest of the holiday at his home. I was able to spend a few days with Pong’s family, sharing with them about my faith in Jesus. And the next time Pong went home, I went with him again to spend more time with his family.

One of the biggest challenges in working with Thai people is their lack of commitment. They are open to accepting any religion for other people, but it is hard for them to make a change like that in themselves. Buddhism is so deeply engrained in the Thai culture that it is usually very difficult for a Thai person to make a commitment to Jesus and leave their Buddhist beliefs behind. Many seekers say that they are “part Christian” and “part Buddhist.” That is easier and more comfortable for them than trying to change their whole life and being ridiculed by their family and friends. It usually takes Thai people a long time to make a full commitment to Jesus. My job is to patiently continue working with them and teaching them as they grow in their faith, and to allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives.

It is hard for a Thai Christian to have a healthy dating relationship. It is very important for Thais to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. To them, it is better to have somebody, even if they don’t like them that much, than to be alone. For Christians, it is hard to find a partner who shares their faith. It is hard for them to be disciplined and wait on God’s timing to bring the right person into their lives. Nobody wants to be alone. For Christians and non-Christians alike, this is a tough area. It is a good opportunity for us to share with them, but can also be disappointing when we see believers losing their excitement about Jesus because they are in a relationship with a non-believer.

I will never regret the time I lived on campus and was able to experience life with my fellow students. In my opinion, it is one of the best ways to reach young people in Thailand. Most university campuses in Bangkok are filled with immorality and need someone to shine the light of Jesus. There is a huge need for more workers in Thailand. There are many good international universities in Bangkok with English programs. You can get a good education at a fraction of the price you pay to go to college in the US. I feel that more young people should be encouraged to consider studying in Bangkok, and doing something much bigger than just getting a degree. You can get a degree while sharing the love of Jesus with people who may never have the chance to hear it without you.

I have lived in Thailand for five years. While there, I met my wife, Rhonda, who was also working on the RMM team in Bangkok. We were married in Ohio in June, and plan to travel to my home in Nicaragua in September. In January we plan to return to Bangkok, where we will continue working with university students and shining the light of Jesus into the darkness.

Rhonda:

I first went to Thailand in December 2010 on a REACH team. My team studied culture and language and taught English at a Buddhist temple school. We worked a lot with the long-term RMM team and did our best to support them in their different areas of ministry. During my time there I felt that God was calling me to return to Thailand sometime in the future. Tom and Candice asked me to return the next year as a missionary assistant to their family, and I knew that was what God wanted me to do.

My year in Thailand with their family was a very growing experience for me. I was able to learn more language and culture and communicate better with the Thai people. In my first few months back in Thailand, I knew that was where God wanted me to be long term. I was able to embrace Thai culture and I loved spending time with Thai people. My relationships with my Thai friends went much deeper, and I was able to share more with them about Jesus and the Bible. I enjoyed discipling friends I had met during REACH. My home was a one-room apartment across the hall from a Thai family. We had become close friends when I was in REACH, and when I returned I mostly lived with them. We spent a lot of time doing things together like going to the market, making food, eating meals, and having birthday parties. We also spent time praying and reading the Bible together and hosted a weekly Bible study with some other Thai friends and team members. I was also able to be more involved in ministry at KBU and with other university students.

"...it was amazing to see how God had put everything together. We were able to minister to some of the couples on campus through our relationship."When I returned to Thailand for that year, I had no idea that God had my future husband waiting for me there! I started to spend more time with the university students, and it was easier for me, as a female, to work with the girls than it was for Nixson. Nixson and I started to get closer as well. We started dating, and it was amazing to see how God had put everything together. We were able to minister to some of the couples on campus through our relationship. Before I left Thailand, Nixson proposed and I said yes! Nixson stayed in Thailand to finish his studies, and I went to Nicaragua to study Spanish, so that I would be able to communicate with Nixson’s family and the Latino team in Thailand.

Now we are married and preparing to return to Thailand in January. We are so excited about the opportunities God has for us as young people to work with the university students in Bangkok. It has been so awesome to see how God has put everything in place for us. Before we even knew each other, God had placed a call on both of our hearts to minister to Thai people, and now we are so excited to be able to do that together. We feel blessed that we get to live in Thailand and make it our home.

Nixson is from Teustepe, Nicaragua and Rhonda is from Winesburg, Ohio. They enjoy studying the Bible together, going on walks, playing games, and reading. They are excited to be reunited with their Thai friends in January. Rhonda and Nixson are in the process of seeking partners for their work in Thailand. If you’d like to be a part of their work and give financial or prayer support, please visit www.donate.rmmweb.org.

Studying Abroad

As Nixson mentions, university campuses in Thailand are wide open to foreign students, and the opportunities for relationship-building and disciple-making
are endless. A wide variety of study options are available and the cost is a fraction of what you would pay in North America. Our team in Bangkok is
ready to partner with students who come to study. We can provide support
and coaching to those interested in living out their faith in this exciting city.
If you are interested in learning more contact RMM's Asia Regional Director, Tom* at tom@rmmoffice.org.
*Last name omitted for security reasons.


October 01, 2014

The Unbelievers

By Phil*, RMM worker in Malaga, Spain

The recent release of the movie "The Unbelievers" is noteworthy, not from its huge box office success, but because it highlights a significant cultural phenomena of relevance to Christian witness in the West. The movie features spokesmen for the new atheism movement that is attempting to rid the world of the remnants of pre-scientific beliefs, especially religious beliefs. Unlike the old atheism of the previous generation, the new atheism does not lament the passing of theism due to the enlightenment attained through scientific inquiry, but rather sees this as an important development on humanity's road to a better corporate life together. Christian witness in modern western society thus finds itself on the defensive. "Christian witness in modern western society thus finds itself on the defensive. It is seen as representing an inferior, antiquated belief system that is actually holding society back from making progress."It is seen as representing an inferior, antiquated belief system that is actually holding society back from making progress. The new atheism is less tolerant about allowing religionists to continue to harbor their outdated beliefs. Religious beliefs, since they are not based on empirical evidence (as the secularist sees it), are uncertain and at times dangerous. Society is better off without the error and fanaticism they engender. The new atheism thus questions the propriety of allowing parents to keep on inculcating these erroneous religious beliefs in their children. Richard Dawkins, a leading voice in the new atheism movement, asserts that this is a form of child abuse. The future is shaped by the present education of the young and so it cannot be left in the hands of the religionists who are seemingly spurning the scientific worldview.

Home schooling here in Spain, as in a number of other European societies, is frowned upon, if not illegal. It is therefore difficult for parents to keep their children from being inculcated with the prevailing secular and naturalistic belief system. Our local evangelical camp is trying to overcome this, not only by offering an evangelistic summer program for church youth, but also by building a bridge into the state school system. The Christian Camp where we are helping with Farm Day Out.A day out of school studying farm life or nature is required each academic year. The "Springs of Life" Camp intends to offer a farm day out to the two hundred or so schools within driving distance. The hope is that students will not only attend a farm day out at the camp but come to a more evangelistically-orientated summer program. A REACH team is due to come in December to help get the program off the ground. Maybe in this way at least some children in Spain will get to see a different perspective on life.