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April 26, 2018

Searching for Peace

A compilation of updates from Phil and Maretta, RMM workers in Spain

It’s not too long ago, in the Franco era (1939-1975), that the evangelical church in Spain was an underground movement. One brother tells us of how his grandfather was sentenced to death for publically attacking the idolatry and Mariolatry in the Catholic Church. Fortunately, his grandfather’s future wife had some relational connections to the local authorities and so the death sentenced was commuted to imprisonment in an internment camp. His father, then, was born in the internment camp, in the company of other evangelical believers who Franco had locked up along with communists, socialists, and others he deemed as enemies of Catholic Spain. Another brother recounts how even up to the early 1970s the Civil Guard would come in and break up meetings of believers that got bigger than the size of a family gathering.

So, it was a great turn around for these believers when recently the church’s children’s and adult choirs were asked by the municipal authorities in Rincón de La Victoria to perform in the central Constitution Square as part of a cultural event put on by the town hall. Different individuals and groups performed throughout the evening and then there were cameo presentations at the end by each participant for the closure. The children’s and adult church choirs had the opportunity to sing out their faith publically and then during the closure to sing “Amazing Grace,” in Spanish to a crowd of about a thousand people who had gathered by then.

“Freedom to associate as believers, to publically witness to the gospel, and to have ready access to the Bible in Spanish have been scarce commodities in Spain for hundreds and hundreds of years.”In church, the following day, the associate pastor, a man in his early seventies, who has seen these changes in the fortunes of evangelical believers in Spain firsthand, pointed out to the congregation the historical significance of what they were witnessing. Freedom to associate as believers, to publically witness to the gospel, and to have ready access to the Bible in Spanish have been scarce commodities in Spain for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Amazingly, in our small fellowship here in Rincón de La Victoria, there are believers from all sorts of different backgrounds, social situations, educational levels, countries, and belief systems. There is a lady who was a school principal in communist Cuba before coming to Christ here in Spain, a local man who was a drug dealer in a shadowy underworld, a Muslim-background believer from north Africa, a brother from Catalunya (which is intent on separating from the rest of Spain), people who work in the medical profession, those who work as street vendors in kiosks, shop assistants, procurers, teachers, house-cleaners, painters, believers from France, Germany, Belgium, and Sweden, former atheists, agnostics, secularists, Buddhists, etc.

While there is a good core of local Spanish believers, everybody is so different from everybody else that the only overriding commonality is a commitment to Christ and the gospel. The key to church growth is supposed to be outreach along family networks and to people who are very like ourselves but this has not been the case with this congregation. It seems to defy the sociological norms that are thought to control such things. But that is also the charm of the congregation where human barriers and distinctions, and even past hostilities, are being overcome through the strong, reconciliatory and redemptive peace of Christ.

This peace is constantly affecting regular church attendees, as well as newcomers. One day Isabela unexpectedly joined us for an early-morning prayer meeting. She came along with a friend of hers who was herself a regular at the meeting but it still seemed like jumping in at the deep end. When asked to introduce herself to the group, she let us know she was a Christian, that she believed in God, and Christ, but especially, she wanted us to know, she believed in the Virgin Mary. A pastor in the meeting explained in response that we were studying the Bible and praying together and that she would be welcome to comment on what we read if she wished.

Her first challenge was finding the book of Acts in the Bible she was handed. Then the group helped her distinguish chapter numbers from verse numbers in order to navigate to the passage in Acts 15 that we were considering that morning. She managed to get through the verse that fell to her as we read around. It seemed like a new experience for her but she seemed to go along with it okay and even joined in part of the discussion that, at one point, ensued. When the time for prayer requests came around, she shared her burden for her oldest son who was in a country in Latin America but was not living a good life. The group tried to help her think in terms of being willing to trust the Lord with her son’s situation, as well as praying with her for his welfare.

That was the beginning of Isabela’s journey to faith and an understanding of the gospel. The following Sunday she was in church with her friend and she continued to attend the weekday prayer meeting and the Sunday service from then on. She has since publically put her faith in Christ as her Lord and Savior during one of the prayer meetings. She has also told us that it was the search for peace that brought her to the church fellowship and the love and support she experienced there that kept her coming back. A couple of weeks ago she brought her young daughter to a special Saturday Christmas children’s fun and Bible study day that was held by the church. She liked it, got to know the other children at the church, and then her brother wanted to come to church the next day. Isabela’s husband reluctantly agreed. He’s not a believer yet but he’s more open now as he sees how the gospel has helped his family. The son in Latin America is doing better too. Hopefully, the whole family will soon enjoy God’s peace in Christ.

Response to the gospel brings about a new creational bond of peace between God and His people as well as among his people. This is a reality we have been privileged to experience at the small fellowship we collaborate with here in Rincón de La Victoria.

Please pray for a continued redemptive peace for both the country of Spain and the individuals within it. Pray that Phil and Maretta would be filled with wisdom and hope to continue encouraging this church and sharing God’s light with those around them.

April 20, 2018

Nearing the End of ‘Normal’: A REACH Update

By Shontel, REACH Team Indochina

Life here still looks the same on the outside. We teach at school five days a week. We plan lessons. We eat dinner with friends. We play team games. We cook. We babysit. We hang out with teens and college students. Anyone peering in wouldn’t notice anything spectacular or different from the previous months we have spent here. But internally we have been processing a lot, well at least I have. Knowing that in less than a month, we will be leaving this place puts a new tone on life here. It’s like I’ve begun to see things through a new lens. Sometimes that feels like a good thing.

Sometimes it makes it easier to be intentional, because I know our time is short. But other times, that lens brings into focus contemplating the future and stressing over looming changes. It’s hard, because as much as I want to, I can’t remove this new lens. I often long for the earlier days when life here didn’t seem to have a time measurement, when homesickness rarely crossed my mind, and when decisions for the next season of life didn’t have to be made.

“I often long for the earlier days when life here didn’t seem to have a time measurement, when homesickness rarely crossed my mind, and when decisions for the next season of life didn’t have to be made.”So I’m here in what feels like a new season. Many days I come to the Father saying, “I don’t feel like I have strength for today,” or “Teach me to live here, throwing myself into each opportunity,” or “Father, I feel too weak and tired, with too much to process, so be enough for me today.” I can testify that he is faithful in the days where he answers in miraculous inspiration and strength, like in my most recent lesson plan for our writing class. I felt so drained the night before and wished Kara and I hadn’t used the excuse that we were busy to wait until 10 p.m. Sunday to plan our Monday class. But then, as I showered and prayed, the Father filled me with a fun and well-organized lesson idea. It was a simple but encouraging answer to prayer, a reminder that he is here. I can also say he’s faithful when that same lesson plan falls apart. Instead of teaching an orderly class with students having fun and participating, we dealt with complaining third-graders and a student refusing to listen to my instructions which resulted in summoning the principal, which then led to rearranging our lesson, and then to me finishing the class feeling scatterbrained and unsuccessful. Yes, he’s faithful even in that moment. At first I couldn’t see it, and even now I don’t fully understand, but I trust he is here. A simple example, but through it he continues showing me that I don’t have to be enough because he is. When I feel inadequate and struggle with the lies of the enemy, that I am too this or not enough that, I press into my Father, asking for his truth. He never leaves me. His grace is enough, and he works even through my weaknesses.

He is showing me how to declare this over every season of my life both in the times I feel like a mess and in the moments where everything feels like a blessing.

He is faithful.

Over and over and over again, he’s proved this to be true. In every change of life, somehow I forget and doubt, but he keeps patiently showing me his grace and consistency. When he is my anchor and resting place, the concerns of this world slowly fade. I am learning oh-so-slowly to daily live out this truth, even while nearing the end of normal.

Please pray for all of the REACH teams as they think about leaving their outreach locations in the next month. Pray for closure with the places and people they connected with and clarity about their future.

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April 13, 2018

The Best of the Old and the Best of the New

By Jewel and Richard Showalter

Over the last two years, CMC and RMM have developed relationships with KMM in South Asia – a rapidly growing network of churches, training centers, and schools. We traveled in South Asia for five weeks last fall accompanied by KMM’s president, Jolem*. We encountered both encouraging glimpses of new work and amazing stories of Mennonite connections with this group that date back over 100 years.

We sat in house church meetings in the middle-class homes of recent Hindu-background believers in the mud-walled village home of a house church leader on an island. We met dozens of house church leaders who are part of KMM, an exciting web of resourcing and relationships.

In multiple communities EduCare Centers for underprivileged children are springing up alongside these house churches. They’re sometimes sprawled in vacant lots or on the verandas of neighborhood schools – and in one case, the yard of a Hindu temple where space is donated by a local Brahmin priest.

One such center is beginning in a city. So far it’s only a bare plot of ground that floods in the rainy season, but KMM sees the possibilities. They are determined to give the children from the neighboring slum a chance to receive a good education. We visited the plot to hear the children’s program of songs and verses as the children sat cross-legged on reed mats in the empty field.

After the program we strolled through the neighboring slum. Soberly, Jolem pointed out the home of a young girl who used to attend the children’s center. Last year she hung herself with her saree – discouraged and hungry after being robbed of food by her brother.

Jolem has a soft spot in his heart for disadvantaged children. He knows how quickly children can find themselves living on the streets. Although his own parents had come from a line of wealthy Brahmin Hindus in a neighboring country, the family lost everything during the communal riots in the 1970s, and they migrated to South Asia. Then when a work accident blinded his father, they were reduced to abject poverty.

Jolem had grown up in a Christian orphanage where he received care and education intermittently while also helping his blind father beg on the trains to support their family. He became the first person in the orphanage to take a Bible correspondence course offered by a Bible institute which was initiated through the efforts of the United Missionary Society (formerly Mennonite Brethren in Christ) in 1963. At the time he knew nothing of those Mennonite roots.

There was yet another Mennonite connection which is only now becoming clear. Isaac Burkholder, a member of a KMM support team in the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania area found a 1905 letter from Amos Horst to his great-uncle Henry Burkholder. Horst had just arrived with his family in the area as a missionary.

Horst had been sent out by the Hephzibah Faith Mission in Iowa, a holiness group which appealed to many Mennonites. He was met in South Asia by D.W. Zook, another Hephzibah missionary, who helped him settle in. (Jewel’s grandfather, A.D. Wenger, had also met Zook in South Asia on a trip around the world in 1899.) Horst died in 1908, perhaps of yellow fever.

When Jolem learned of this, he shook his head in amazement. Now he’s more determined than ever to treasure both his old and new Mennonite roots while simultaneously thrusting down new ones. He reaps the fruit of the sacrificial service of those who have gone before while sending out more runners into every district of South Asia.

Though the churches planted by the efforts of groups like the Hephzibah Faith Mission and the United Missionary Society (which merged in the 1940s) grew strong among the tribal peoples of South Asia, there are still very few believers in Jesus. As a first-generation South Asian follower of Jesus from Hindu background, Jolem is determined to see that change.

Most of those who work in the KMM network are first-generation believers from Hindu background. They know firsthand the pain of shunning and ostracism. It can’t be avoided as most live in multi-generational, joint families.

One woman told of how their oldest son, a married man who lived with them in a home they had built from their life’s savings – ordered them to leave. Life became so unpleasant in the joint family they moved into small rented quarters in another town.

But their second son is also a believer. He’s dedicating his life to reaching out in witness to this new community. Along with another government worker, this young civil engineer has started several house churches in the region.

“I’ve lost my one son, but I’m giving my second son to the Lord,” his mother said, smiling even as she wiped away tears with the tail of her orange-red saree.

Another pastor who lay in a coma at death’s door after being drug from his cycle and beaten over the head, recovered with assistance from KMM. He’s back to leading a house church out of his home. Different from most other KMM associates, his family was sent as missionaries here to the north of the country some thirty years ago.

For three nights we stayed in the joint family compound of Ropah* and his wife Alina,* long-standing leaders in KMM’s largest district. They work in the small village where they share a compound and surrounding farmland with three of Ropah’s brothers. Through the leadership of this couple, there are now twenty-six house churches and numerous EduCare centers springing up in surrounding villages. Even after more than 10 years, two of Ropah’s brothers remain hostile, shunning the believers. Only recently did his oldest brother become sympathetic. After he lost his wife, Alina supplied him with food. At first he was too ashamed to take it from her hand, but she left it on the doorstep. Then he broke, overcome by her kindness.

On our visit he opened his home to give us lodging. Ropah is known as “Brother Jesus” throughout the region. Tirelessly visiting the young house churches and their leaders, counseling, mentoring, and providing transportation.

After bouncing along a narrow dirt road on a dike between two rice paddies we joined one of the neighboring house churches. They’d invited the community for this special event. The leader’s wife and daughter led beautiful worship singing as fifty curious villagers sat cross-legged on reed mats. The church planter runs a small copper business in the village. Even his wife isn’t fully a Christian yet – but she loves the music and joins him in supporting the work of the growing house church.

Further south in a community near a big city, a retired railway worker who’d grown up in a nominal Christian community began reaching out to his neighbors after attending a KMM equipping seminar. The church he knew didn’t seem to care about the lost. Gripped with a new vision to reach South Asia for Jesus – and with his own resources – he now leads a thriving house church in his spacious home. As we joined the worship, the group was passing out blankets to widows and other needy persons they’d invited to their meeting that day.

“Resources are always welcome and further our work – but that’s not what drives our vision! God does.” “We don’t have the resources to support the church planters,” Jolem said. “But we try to give some ministry support. There’s so much more we wish we could do. Someday we hope to have a training center in each district, and better buildings for the children’s centers.” Currently the new training center – where two out of four planned stories are completed – serves as a base. But there’s a plot of land in another region poised to become a training center for that area. Even before the first center is finished there are plans for a computer center on the second floor – an income-generating business that could provide some ministry support. Still in the planning stages, this could provide a model for sustainability in training centers in other districts. “Our vision is to mobilize and equip for mission in South Asia,” Jolem said simply.

A few of those who serve under the KMM umbrella are veterans of work with other Christian organizations. Most are new believers eager to begin house churches in their home villages along with tent making work like farming, teaching, tailoring, barbering, or bike repair. “We long to see the church really rooted here, indigenous,” Jolem said. “That is our focus. The needs and opportunities are enormous. Resources are always welcome and further our work – but that’s not what drives our vision! God does.”

In the meantime, there is already a KMM network of 68 house fellowships, with more being rapidly planted. The goal is to see a house fellowship in every one of the more than 30,000 unreached South Asian villages. It is a God-sized vision, and opportunities for partnership abound.

Please pray that the good news would continue to spread throughout West Bengal. Pray that the believers there would boldly share their faith so the name of God is known and loved in every village.

*Names changed for security

April 11, 2018

I Am Just Like Them: A REACH Update

By Morgan, Team Thailand

A few days ago my teammates and I were led for the first time through areas of Bangkok that we, up to that point, had only heard about. An area filled with so many broken people in search of fulfillment. As we walked through floors upon floors of closed curtains, cracked open doors, and bars filled with people, it was easy to feel a sense of hopelessness and desperation. But as we continued passing through, I couldn’t help but think, I am just like them!

I am a sinner in need of a savior.

I am in need of grace.

I have a Father who has a heart for His people and He’s calling me to Himself and pursuing my heart.

I, apart from the Father, am hopeless.

As we silently walked through different areas of Bangkok, my heart was saddened to see the darkness that loomed in those streets. I couldn’t help but wonder what the Father was thinking about it all and how His heart was breaking for these people, even more than mine was. In addition to asking for these souls to know the Father and place their identity in Him, I felt led to specifically lift up His little children: to protect their minds despite them being exposed to unhealthy lifestyles, to show them what family and relationships are supposed to look like, to bring people into their lives to tell them about Him, and to escape the cycles of hopelessness and dead ends, and enter into a relationship with the Father.

I invite you to fight along with us in the battle of ending the cycle of human trafficking. It’s easy to forget or underestimate the power of talking to the Father, but we’ve been called to come to the Father on behalf of our hurting brothers and sisters who don’t yet know His heart.

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