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Fire on the Mountains

May 4, 2013

Excerpt from book “Fire on the Mountains” by Ramond J. Davis,  published in 1980. ISBN: 0919470-03-3

The history of the beginnings of SIM work in Ethiopia from the 1920’s.

Ethiopia Fire on the Mountains (small)While [Diasa] was sitting there, he noticed the chief of all witch doctors in Wallamo seated not far from him.  This witch doctor was a peculiar looking fellow with seven bunches of long hair on his head, braided in seven parts.  Everybody in the entire Wallamo tribe feared him greatly.  He was believed to have killed hundreds of people through the curses and hexes he put on them.  His compound was a great enclosure.  Passing through the door of the first enclosure, one entered a second enclosure, then a third.  No one but the witch doctor himself could enter the third enclosure—a narrow circle around the house where the witch doctor went to meet the devil when he wanted to call upon the spirits.  This enclosure was surrounded by a fence made of speakers, and every spear had come from a man whom he had cursed.  When a man died upon whom he had pronounced a curse, the relatives were duty bound to give the dead man’s spear to the witch doctor.  It was no wonder that the people feared him and trembled in his presence.

Diasa, however, was not afraid.  He continued telling the people that it was not necessary to weep as they were doing. He told them of Jesus Christ and His power to set men free from the power of satan. The people grew restless, fearing that this teaching would not please the witch doctor, and they began to try to silence Diasa. 

‘Be careful,’ they said. ‘Watch out. Don’t say that any more.’

But Diasa would not be quieted and talked louder and louder.

Finally the witch doctor spoke.  ‘Shut up!’ he commanded.

‘Who are you to tell me to shut up?’ Diasa replied. 

The people were terrified at Diasa’s boldness, so fearful were they of this man. They did not want Diasa to be killed by his curse.  ‘Be quiet,’ they urged again. ‘Don’t say anymore.’

But Diasa would not be stilled.  ‘Who are you to tell me to be quiet?’ he continued to the witch doctor.  ‘The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, told me to tell people this message everywhere, and no man can tell me to shut up. The Lord has told me to tell it.’

Then the witch doctor became very angry.  ‘Do you not know who I am?’

‘Yes, I know who you are,’ Diasa said.  ‘I know you are a witch doctor, and I know what you do not know Jesus as your Saviour.’

‘Do you not fear Gotcha Godo (chief of the witch doctors)?’

‘No, I do not fear.  I revere Jesus Christ.  You are the one who is causing the people to be bound in fear, who is giving them so much trouble.  Jesus Christ is able to save. He can break your power, and He can give life and light and liberty to the people when they believe on Him.’

The bold words of Diasa enraged Gotcha Godo. ‘Before six months are up,’ he shouted, ‘before the next meskal (big celebration of witchcraft every six months) comes, one of the white men’s servants is going to die!’

‘There are many people that follow the white man’s teaching.  Even so, it is not the white man’s teaching, but God’s teaching, and there are many of us here who follow God.  It is quite possible that some one of them would die during the next six months.  Now if you mean me, why don’t you call me by name?’ Diasa spoke calmly.

Gotcha Godo became even more furious.  Looking directly at Diasa, he extended his thin bony hand and put the long fingernail of this forefinger down on the ground, pointing the other fingers at Diasa.  His voice rasped as he spat out the words.

‘ Before six months are up, before the next meskal season comes around, you will be dead!’

There was a heavy silence as the people who heard the curse pronounced scarcely dared to breathe.  They drew back and watched in wide-eyed wonder, expecting something evil and violent to happen to Diasa immediately.

Turning to the people and lifting up his arms to prevent any uproar, Diasa spoke. ‘You have heard what this wicked man has said.  He is a liar, and his father is the devil, who is the father of lies.  Now you have heard this, I want you to watch.  If his evil curse upon me works, if I am dead before the next meskal comes, six months from now, then go ahead and worship the devil and follow him.  But if I am alive, I want you to turn to Jesus Christ, accept Him as your Saviour, and come and worship God with me!’

What Diasa had said and done never happened before.  He had no only challenged the chief witch doctor of the Wallamo people, but, in fact, the devil himself.  There can be no doubt that he had been given courage and empowered by the Holy Spirit that day.

Yet even an Elijah experienced fear.  that evening a trembling Diasa came to Mr. Lewis, before he went to work, to tell what he had done.

‘Teacher, did I do right?’

Mr. Lewis replied, ‘Yes, you did right, but you have to remember now that you have challenged satan.  But do not be afraid.  The Lord Jesus Christ is more powerful than satan. But do not be afraid.  The Lord Jesus Christ is more powerful than satan.  Christ Himself has said, ‘Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ He has said, ‘All power in heaven and earth is given unto me.’ He is the All-Powerful One, and He is the One who has power over satan.  You know, Diasa, since you are a believer and have trusted your soul to Christ, He will protect you.  The devil cannot curse you.’ Together they read in the Word of God the promises of assurance and of God’s abiding presence, and Diasa was strengthened.

‘Let us pray about it and commit the matter entirely to God.  You must be very careful where you go, where you eat. This witch doctor and all those who support him are going to try in every way possible to bring about the fulfillment of this curse he has pronounced upon you. If you sit down to eat somewhere, somebody might try to poison you.  Therefore be very careful for these next six months, where you go, where you eat, and how you conduct yourself.’

Evening by evening as Diasa came to work they prayed together.  God gave strength and courage so that he was relived from his fear and his heart was filled with peace.  Only a person who had himself experienced the bondage of satan’s slavery and has been freed from it can fully appreciate what it meant to Diasa and the other believers to have challenged the hosts of wickedness– and now to be experiencing deliverance from satan’s awful power.

At the end of six months the time for the meskal celebration arrived.  It was held out on the broad plains six or seven miles from the mission station near the home of Gotcha Godo, the great witch doctor.  People gathered that day by the thousands.  Mr. Lewis describes took place:

‘Diasa mounted one my horses.  Desita, another of the believers, rode one, and I joined them.  We crossed the valley to the witch doctor’s place.  The plains were filled with horsemen, six hundred or more, playing games and throwing spears at each other.  We approached the place where the witch doctor sat, and there were the devil dancers.  The seven devil drums were being beaten incessantly.  A huge tree, particular species use only for this purpose, had been cut down.  The branches were left intact, and it was set in the ground so as to appear it was growing there.  Little bunches of grass were tied to its branches.  The people were dancing to the beating of the drums.

‘Then suddenly the drums changed beat. It was time for the people to assemble. They gathered in closely for the sacrifice of the great Passover celebration to satan.  In the midst of this place with hundreds and hundreds of people gathered round, we stood near the old witch doctor himself.  The drummers again changed their rhythmic beat– the dance took on a more portentous, ominous note.  The people began to sing in the worship of satan as preparation was made to offer the sacrifice.

‘ Diasa sprang to his feet and addressed himself to the witch doctor.  He said, ‘Gotcha Godo, do you remember me? I am the one you said would not be living on this day.  I want to testify that your god has no power, that the devil is a liar, and that you are a liar! I am here, and I am in good health! You said I would not live in the time of the meskal, but here I am!

‘ Now’, said Diasa, turning to the people, ‘you remember what I said? I said, if I am dead, then go and serve satan, but if I am alive, then turn to God.  There were many of you there that day who said you would do just this.  Now here I am, well and alive. I want you to turn to Jesus Christ and accept Him as your Saviour.’

‘It was still as death.  All eyes were riveted upon the witch doctor.  No one dared to move or speak.  Never before in living memory had anyone dared to challenge the life-and-death power of this priest of satan.  Fear was etched deeply upon their faces. What awful thing would happen now? Surely Diasa would be struck dead on the spot.  They dared not touch him.  Those nearby drew back in cringing unbelief— it could not be that any man could defy the Gotcha Godo and live.

‘ The drumming ceased and the dancers stood motionless. The witch doctor glared in anger at Diasa. The silence was almost unbearable. Diasa and his companion stood alone, singled out from the crowd.  The agent of satan and the child of God faced each other for what seemed an interminable interval.  Bewilderment wreathed the witch doctor’s face and his hands fell weakly at his side. He turned and like a whipped animal retreated to his enclosure.

‘Pandemonium now broke loose as the spell was broken and the people fled from the place in terror. That was the end of the witch doctors meeting, and his powerful hold on the people was broken.’

In the first decade of missionary work in Ethiopia less than 50 people believed in Jesus, along with Diasa.  However, in the 1930’s Italy, as part of a Nazi-Fascist attempt to conquer the world, invaded Ethiopia and all missionaries were expelled or killed.  Upon the return of the missionaries after World War II, the little church among the Wallamo people had grown to more than 100 churches and more than 10,000 believers.  Today the Kale Heywet (Word of Life) Church birthed during this time numbers as many as 8 million believers.  The tribes of the Wallamo are nearly 100% Christian and are now sending missionaries into other countries.

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Enoch: Who Would Not Die

May 3, 2013

Ethiopia DSC04366 (small)Enoch, or Henok in Ethiopian, is a missionary evangelist who has served God in many remote areas of Ethiopia.  Five years ago he served in a desert region which borders Somalia. While he was serving there by evangelizing and trying to plant a new church he heard the Holy Spirit speak to him clearly.  The Holy Spirit told him there would be a great temptation and trial coming to him, so he must fast and pray for 18 days.  He immediately started his fast drinking only one small cup of water with some gruel each evening during the fast.  He sought God and prayed for his protection, but he received no further instructions.

After 18 days he completed the fast and satan sent a woman to meet him.  She tried to seduce him and even tried to get into his house to sleep with him.  He refused her.  He assumed this was the challenge and so he rejoiced that he remained strong.  He then took the actions of the lady to some Christian women and asked them to counsel her.  They did so, but this made the woman furious that her seducing was made public.

Many times, while he was on mission reaching into these unreached areas people would cook food for him.  So, one day he was brought some food.  It was normal Ethiopian food and he ate it.  However, this woman had poisoned the food.  Within hours he laid in his little mud house in intense pain and then he died.

When he died he found himself in the presence of two mighty angels.  They were large angels and grasped his arms on each side and took him ascending into the heavens.  He questioned the angels, “What did I do?  Why did you kill me?”  He was almost angry to be headed to heaven, but they remained silent.  They took him to a large house where a tall and handsome man walked out and faced him.  He asked again, “What did I do?”  And the man said to the angels, “Set him free”.  He then came back to life in the little hut the next day.

Immediately he was completely restored and he continued to share about Jesus and how God saved him from death from poisoning!  A small group of believer was formed.

It was not long after that, that the woman decided to try to kill him again.  She arranged to poison the food again and once again, he died.  This time he did not see angels or meet his Savior.  He does not know exactly how long he was dead, but it was the next day before he came back to life again.  Once again Jesus defeated the power of death again.  By now, word was spreading that this Christian man could not be killed.  This was a staunchly Muslim area, but Enoch refused to retreat even after being killed twice with poison.  After each poisoning, he was brought back to life again.

Many people began believing in Jesus seeing the power of God being stronger than death! A small church was born and began to grow.  However, the woman, unknown to Enoch, was not satisfied with killing him twice.  She poisoned him again, for a third time using stronger poisons to somehow make him “more dead”.  Again Enoch died.  Yet, again, a third time Jesus brought him back to life, in the presence of others, after being dead for many hours.

After the third murder, the woman came to him and bowed weeping before him and confessed that she tried to kill him three times.  She explained how she was able to poison his food that was brought to him, yet when he died, each time he lived again.  When he died, he knew someone had killed him, however, his response was simply to continue sharing Jesus with everyone.  He didn’t leave the dangerous region and try to go back to home, or retire.  He simply continued to share the love of Jesus because he knew that this trial was the larger one that the Holy Spirit had warned him about.  The lady convicted in her heart then came weeping before him.  She said that she saw Jesus in him.  Then, before the man she killed three times, she prayed to accept Jesus in her heart.

In that place near the Somalia border among people who were formerly Muslim, there is now a thriving group of Christ followers numbering more than five hundred. The woman who poisoned him is one of the worship leaders in the church. Enoch has now moved to other remote areas of Ethiopia and is serving God by sharing the love of Jesus among others who may also try to kill him again.

After hearing this story, you may have some of the same questions I had.  I asked him, “Who was the man that you met with the angels?”

Enoch, replied, “I never asked his name.  But, I think it was Jesus.”

Enoch of Ethiopia, your mother gave you a very fitting name. Enoch of the Bible was taken up into heaven and never knew death. Enoch of Ethiopia has known death three times, yet lives to share the love of Jesus.

Ultimate Jet Lag

April 29, 2013

Star Date 2556.  No I am not a Star Trek fanatic; that is the year in Cambodia.  Our year started on April 15th on the moment that the new moon was complete.  The year is based on a calendar linked to the date of the death of Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha.  They follow a lunar calendar so, holy Buddhist days are linked to the phases of the moon every 15 days.  However, in the ever-increasing modern Cambodia most people are using the Christian calendar (i.e. 2013) which is based on Pope’s Gregory who tried to date the Birth of Jesus more correctly in 1582, it followed a correction of a calendar established in AD 325.  (Note: AD refers to Anno Domini which is Latin for “In the Year of Our Lord” which is followed by the date, i.e. AD 2013.  AD is correctly written in front of the year, not behind.  BC, however, is derived from English, not Latin and means “Before Christ”, meaning before the birth of Jesus, thus it is written after the year, i.e. 962 BC.)

So, last week I was visiting Ethiopia. In previous years I had trouble with my wife because her visa for Ethiopia was marked “valid in 2003”, however, we were issued the visa and traveled in 2011.  Then I discovered that Ethiopia has a completely different calendar.  Ethiopia follows what is called the Julian Calendar which is also based on the birth of Jesus, however, is more accurate.  The reason why the church switched to the Gregorian calendar was the fluctuation in the annual celebration of Easter, however, the date of Jesus’ birth is likely closer to the Ethiopian calendar. It was also a point of competition between Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Catholic) Christian leaders. Therefore, right now it is the year 2005 in Ethiopia!

Flying from Cambodia, via Dubai to Ethiopia causes extreme jet lag.  I leave Cambodia in the year 2556 and land in Dubai some 543 years earlier! That is quite a confusing 6 hour flight! When then after a brief transit in Dubai, I fly another 4 hours and end up 7 years back farther, landing in 2005.  If that wasn’t enough, Ethiopia has 13 months, not 12 as in most countries.  12 of the months are evenly spaced at 30 days each, however, the 13th month has either 5 or 6 days depending on leap year or not.  I was so confused by the year I never even knew which month I was in.  And if you thought I could possible make my travel even more confusing, Ethiopia is one of the few countries in the world which does not subscribe to the GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) for world time-zones in which the entire world is divided into 24 time zones of approximately 15 degrees each.  Though Ethiopia lies in the time-zone GMT+3, it has its own time.  The time is based on the sunrise.  Therefore, about 6:00am at GMT+3 time the sun rises and in Ethiopia time becomes 1:00am.  Noon by GMT is actually 6:00am while sunset around 6:00pm is actually noon in their time.  Midnight doesn’t come until 5:00am!

Well, after a week teaching in 2005 I am headed back to 2557.  It didn’t take that long at maximum warp speed.  Within 12 hours I had reached 2557 at GMT+7.

Fortunately, I didn’t take time to visit my friends in Nepal.  They just celebrated the New Year last month and welcomed the year 2070!  I have no idea who’s death or birth that is based on. Rumor is it is based on one King’s victory over another King 2070 years ago.  And just to be unique, they chose to also modify the GMT time zone where they are geographically located.  Neighboring India, chose to be different from their political and religious rival’s Pakistan and Bangladesh which were all in GMT+5 and +6 respectively, so they adjusted their time zone by 30 minutes to not be linked to their rival’s times.  Nepal, which sits directly north of India should be in the same time zone, but wanted to be unique as well, therefore adjusted their time by an additional 15 minutes.  So Nepal’s time zone is a unique GMT+5 plus an additional 45 minutes. Therefore Pakistan is at GMT+5, India at GMT 5:30, Nepal at GMT 5:45 and Bangladesh at GMT+6:00 though they are geographically in the same area.

Whew, you see why jet lag is such a problem when traveling.  I think I am going to get some sleep then try to figure out what year I am in.  Good night. . . or day. . . or. . . never mind. I have jet lag!

Prayer at a Higher Level

April 25, 2013

Just by seeing this title with the word “prayer” in it I think will limit the number of people who will bother to read this blog. While, as Christians, we talk about “prayer” regularly, how many of us really pray?  I mean, actually stop what you are doing, sit down, or kneel, or even more bizarrely prostrate yourself, shutting out all distractions, and talk to the creator of the world?   Here is where I lose even more readers! I know many of you are thinking, “you mean really pray?”

At the same time our churches talk about prayer all the time, yet honestly, for most of us, the only prayer we do is the brief 35 seconds before we chomp into our dinner or the couple of 45 second transition segments between singing a hymn, a scripture passage and the Pastoral message on Sunday.  So, are we people of prayer? Are we people who commune with God and know his heart?

Many times when I visit churches I invariably get invited to speak at an early morning group of “prayer warriors” who meet regularly at a coffee shop, or in an office at a church; and quite often before 6am.  This is what we jokingly call an “ungodly hour”.  Why do we joke like that?   As a visiting speaker I can’t decline these early morning invitations because it would look odd for the visiting missionary to decline a “prayer meeting”.  Also, my personality is one which would rather please others than to show any discomfort. So, out of religious and personal duty I attend.  Let me tell you what I usually find at 6:00am prayer meetings.  In a church of 800 regular worshippers on Sunday there will definitely be less than ten people.  I have been in churches of around 2,000 people and had the same small number show up.  In fact, I have been in churches of more than ten thousand with the same result; All over America, and the world.  It is not a Western phenomenon, it is global.  I laughed at an experience I had when I was invited to an “all day fasting and prayer meeting” at a church in Cambodia.  It started at 9:am and went to 1:pm, only four hours long.  It started after breakfast and finished only an hour after the regular lunch time when the entire group of those who assembled to fast and pray went to an all-you-can-eat buffet  restaurant to ‘recover’ from their fasting and prayer.  I kid you not.

I am not going to try and convince you that I am something I am not.  Do I pray? Yes, and often, but I rarely spend hours in prayer at one time.   I don’t set rules and standards that insist that to be a pastor with me you have to kneel for 5 hours a day praying to be accepted, though I have heard some do that.  I do know that prayer has great value.  I am blessed to have thousands of people who pray for me and I know it affects what I do and the spiritual strength I need to accomplish the ministry God has given me.  When I tell a person I will pray for them I really do.  I don’t just say their name out loud with a general “God bless Billy Bob” as I send out an e-mail saying I am praying; then only to quickly jump back to a TV show I was watching.  That kind of “prayer” has little value to me.

Right now I am in Ethiopia and one of the things I have been so blessed with was to join with the Ethiopian’s prayer times.  They pray with anointing.  They pray with power.  They pray with their whole bodies: standing, sitting, jumping, prostrating, as God leads them and without inhibitions.  So, here in Ethiopia I heard about an annual missions fasting and prayer gathering.  It is held on the annual Orthodox holiday of the “Day of Epiphany”.  I had no idea what that was, I had to look it up.  It is the day that Orthodox Christians celebrate the baptism of Jesus.  It was at this time that the Trinity was demonstrated in the voice of Father God and the dove of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus.  So, here in Durame, Ethiopia (if you check Google maps you will see simply a blur, because to the Google minds there is nothing of value here to put this small town into high resolution) the Christians gather annually to pray for missionaries to reach the lost.  Yet, Durame is a kind of “end of the earth” destination.  Even in Ethiopia there are plenty of people who have no idea where Durame is.  But God and his angels certainly do.

Get ready to be encouraged.  Do you know how many people showed up this last January?  Nearly 100,000 people.  These 100,000 people showed up to fast and pray for missions.  Now, let me tell you a bit about Durame.  It is the homeland of the Kambata people, but several other tribes live nearby as well.  There are no paved roads anywhere near here.  Electricity rarely stays on for more than an hour at a time.  There are no “mega-churches” in the town, but there are plenty of “small churches” of about 300-500.  There are a few churches with have over a thousand people, but none are especially large.

So, now you know the number of people who come to fast and pray is pretty amazing, but that is not the most amazing part.  Can you imagine where they meet?  It’s not exactly like any place in Durame, Ethiopia, much less the capital Addis Ababa could host a crowd of 100,000 people.  They hold it each year at the top of a mountain, a pretty high one, overlooking Durame.  So I asked one of the Christian leaders who attends the gathering each year what was up at the top of the mountain.  “Nothing”, he replied.  It only a bare mountain top with one large tree.  There is no road or path to the top, it is only a slick red clay mountainside that all of these people need to climb up.

DSC_8754 Ethiopia (small)

Not only that, the prayer service begins at sunrise.  So, these people walk in the dark for at least 3 hours up to the mountain in the dark just to pray and fast for the day. They come down before nightfall. Regardless of rain or frigid temperatures (it is usually quite cold, even approaching freezing in January) they walk up the mountain to carry a special offering for missions.  The leader of this prayer festival, Dr. Desta has now trained and sent out more than 130 missionaries across Ethiopia from this mountain top.  Looking at the steep mountain, it would probably take me at least 5 hours to walk up it.  But honestly, when I heard about this I thought this is something I would love to do.  I would love to pray, I mean really pray, with 1,000 people, but can you imagine 100,000 people praying on a mountain top?  I cannot imagine that God would not be close to them.  I cannot imagine that such commitment to prayer would not draw a person closer into the loving embrace of the Father.

What does it take to be this kind of person of prayer?  Well, I can tell you it doesn’t take a fancy church.  All their churches here are made of compressed mud.  You’ll never see one of these churches on a post card, or turned into a museum. It doesn’t take money, because the people I have met here in Ethiopia are much poorer economically than most nations I have visited, including Cambodia.  It doesn’t take a giant state-of-art facility, for these people.  To them an unnamed barren mountain top three hours walk away seems perfect.  It doesn’t come out of a point of personal need, because they are not going there for their own personal prayer requests and needs, but to pray for the unreached people of the world and to offer personal sacrifices to God there.  These sacrifices to God could me money, it could be crops, or it could be their own life.  It is not selfish, but it is an attitude of giving which drives them.

So, what causes this passion for prayer to be so strong that they want to walk hours up a mountain in complete darkness, and sometimes in the rain too, to fast and pray for others?  I believe it comes from the conviction that they know prayer really makes a difference.  I believe they think their group of Christians, united and praying for the lost people of the world, will make a difference.  They believe lives will be changed.  They believe that God will use them to change the world.

On the side of this mountain is based the Kale Hewyet School of Missions.  This is where I annually teach.  Though I have been invited to speak in large and prestigious theological seminaries, this mission school has my highest priority every year.  It is here that God teaches me more about him.  It is here, not where I love to teach and imparting new knowledge to students, but where God can teach me new things and where I can learn from simple people.  Though they are simple people and have great passion, they truly believe that through prayer and the power of God, they can indeed change the world.  And they are doing it, from Durame, Ethiopia.

From Victim to Victim

April 18, 2013

I was shocked, just like the nation and much of the world, at the bombing of the Boston Marathon.  In the first video feed I saw an elderly runner fall off his feet, likely hit my shrapnel.  My eyes fixated on him.  People didn’t know what to do.  They didn’t know what happened.  Yet, in a millisecond, they knew that terrorism had struck them.  Panic hit.  A second bomb and the scene was utter chaos.  Some ran away, others ran directly to the bombsite.  That is not natural.

I was immediately taken back to another bombing, almost exactly ten years ago.  I was with hundreds of leaders getting ready to preach here in Cambodia.  My wife was home making dinner for me.  I got a call from my Mom moments before I was to step on the stage.  Uncharacteristically I answered it.  It was then I got the news that my Dad had been gravely wounded in a bomb attack in Davao city, Philippines.  I rushed home and called my travel agent to get a flight to the Philippines.  In those days, airplanes did not fly into Cambodia at night, so I had to wait till the next morning to fly out.  I too turned on the news: CNN, BBC, and Channel News Asia  to get any information.  Because of its remoteness there was only one video clip taken at a distance away from the blast site and the Singaporean Channel News Asia aired it.  Some kids were playing in the street with their parents when a massive plume of smoke and shock wave hit them and through the wobble of the camera you could see the blast.  Soon after, another call came from my Mom. Dad was gone.  Everything after that didn’t matter.

For nearly a week, my Dad’s face was on all the news networks.  The Iraq war had not yet started, even though everyone knew it would be soon, so they had nothing much to talk about except my Dad.  Arriving in the Philippines my Dad’s face was on the front of every newspaper.  I had few thoughts.  I was grieving, but I did think and pray continuously about my response.  Sitting on a Kuwait Airways plane in route to the Philippines God spoke to me about how to respond: Vengeance.

We all knew my Dad was killed by Muslim terrorists because the group called MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) claim responsibility for the attack.  It came weeks before a US and Philippine military exercise near the Muslim region in Cambodia.  The US FBI classified my father’s death as an official “Victim of the War of Terror” which opened the door for some federal support.

Boston.  Another bombing on US soil.  Growing up in the Philippines, unfortunately, bombings are common.  I have seen them.  I have had other friends killed in other bombings.  It is a regularly way used by cowards to bring terror into the lives of innocent and random people;  Hence the term “terrorism”.

When you were born, you inherently had rights as our Declaration of Independence says,  “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”  When that bomb went off in Boston, your rights were violated, and these rights are unalienable, which means ‘they cannot be taken away’.  You have the right to respond.

In the Old Testament, we can see clearly what are your “unalienable rights” and what the punishment for violating those rights are.  The Bible says, “Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:21).

Governments are ordained by God and they will extract some form of justice, however, the justice of the modern era is always politically tainted.  In fact, as a victim, I am sorry to say you may never see justice in your lifetime.

When my father was killed, no one was ever put to justice.  I have never heard anything from the FBI nor the State Department and only a few unofficial words from US Military Intelligence.  The Philippine Government never pursued any perpetrators, nor those who claimed responsibility: the MILF.  In fact, not only that, but to rub salt on the wounds of decades of atrocities, they gave amnesty, autonomous land, and even allowed them to keep their weapons and militias and give little or no honor to victims of the seemingly never-ending violence.

Fortunately, I have never put my hopes for justice in any government.  A response to the violation of my rights and my family’s right is my personal quest.  It is my right to respond.  I choose vengeance.   My father was targeted for several reasons:  He was white, he was an American, he was a Christian living in what Muslims consider a “Christian enclave” in Davao City.  In previous years my Mom and Dad were even put on a list of those whom the Muslims wanted to kidnap and hold for ransom in Mindanao.  What work did they do?  My father was a teacher.  A music teacher and Bible teacher.  He led choirs.  He worked in development providing poor farmers with capital to grow their farms.  He taught pastors how to love their neighbors and those who hate them too.  He provided relief to Muslims when their villages were bombed by the government forces.  For this he was killed.

Why were runners, citizens of Boston, and tourists from around the world targeted?  We don’t know the motive, and may never know, but we can be sure why they attacked Boston.  It is famous.  The race is famous, probably the most famous marathon in the world.  Boston is known as a “Catholic city” even though it is certain that every faith, or atheist faith, lives in the city, as too for Davao City.  They were attacked because of their freedom and their expressions of their freedom.

Victims, honestly, may never see justice in their lifetimes.  Rest assured, however, God will ensure eternal justice.  All victims of the bombing have the right of response.   No one will condemn you for your response.  Some will respond with anger and some with hopelessness.  Some will respond with unusual compassion for others and forgiveness.

I would put forward that a defensive posture will not help you.  You cannot simply hide and hope evil will never come your way again.  It is coming.  I grew up in a country where these bombings are so common they barely make the news unless several people are killed.  Evil will always seek to destroy good.  Peace cannot exist on an island and hope that violence will never come to its shores.  It will come.

I made a decision to be as aggressive and calculated with love as evil is with destruction and terror.  I purposely return to the Philippines, not to the beaches, but the Muslim areas, every few months to extract vengeance.  My vengeance is love.  These evil people tried to destroy my family with a bomb.  They tried to kill compassion with their evil.  They tried to conquer peace.  I refuse to allow evil to win.  Since that carefully planned and calculated bombing ten years ago I have calculated my vengeance in Mindanao and around the world.  Without going into details, I work with pastors to establish centers for empowerment, centers for love and centers for education around Mindanao.  There are more than 200 centers right now and I have not yet fully extracted my vengeance.  I will continue.

From victim to victim I would like to encourage those whose lives have been forever altered by violence.  Don’t lose hope.  The nation loves you.  The world loves you.  The government will seek a form of justice.  All you need to concern yourself with is healing and your response.  Some people made an immediate response and ran into the smoke to deliver aid to the wounded.  This is not natural.  This is love. If you respond with anger and violence, it is your right, no one will condemn you.  However, the most damage you can do to the enemy is to respond with forgiveness and love.  Anger and violence will only breed more evil and hatred.  However, forgiveness and love will conquer the enemy.

Victims of Boston: I really pray for you, not just with fancy words, but really taking time to pray to our Lord God for you.  I pray for your response.  I stand with you.  I pray you seek vengeance through love. Boston is historically known as the birthplace of revolution in America.  I pray your response ignites another revolution:  a revolution of love.

Day of Hate

April 17, 2013

My wife Noit, along with all the other people who were living in the capital city Phnom Penh were considered worthless city people.  The Khmer Rouge leadership had determined that all the nations problems could be traced to the city people.  They were viewed as oppressors because they were rich and they acted like it.  Those wealthy people in the capital city knew they were a wealthy and educated elite and tended to treat the poor farmers poorly. Therefore, the sinister Khmer Rouge leader determined rather than to be executed, which would have been an easy punishment and a waste of bullets and manpower, all city people would be put to work like animals.  They would be worked to death.  Of the terrible slogans they had, one recalled, “Blood makes the ground grow softer.”  This is referring to the blood of these city people used in producing more rice in their agrarian dreams.  When they died, their bodies were simply dumped into the fields, bushes and ditches with minimal effort.  They rarely even covered the decaying corpses. These people were called, “17”.  Noit was labeled “17”. Her name, her life, her age and her identity were all irrelevant.  To the Khmer Rouge she had no value because she was born in the capital city.

khmer_rouge_april 17The number 17 comes from the day that the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh: April 17, 1975. Since the defeat of the Khmer Rouge the country celebrates a national holiday called the “Day of Hate” on the day when they routed the Khmer Rouge from the last of the cities in Cambodia. The actual holiday is officially called in Cambodian “Tngie chong kumhung”  which literally means “Day of Bitterness and Rage”. It has been celebrated every year since 1979 when the Vietnamese beat the Khmer Rouge out of Phnom Penh. Those who celebrate it are those who were called “17” by the Khmer Rouge.

I don’t believe that a person can move forward in emotional healing while still celebrating a day of “bitterness and rage”. Remember, absolutely, but continue to stir up bitterness and rage, no.

A few years ago, Cambodia’s most unlikely witness of Christ gave a message of healing and forgiveness on national television.  His name was “Duch”.  He was a Khmer Rouge officer who oversaw the torture and execution of more than 20,000 people.  While still with the Khmer Rouge fighting in the border regions along the western border with Thailand, he had heard about Jesus.  Someone gave him a Bible and he read it cover to cover. He accepted Christ and was going around spreading the good news of Jesus.

duchQuickly, once people knew who he was, he was arrested and after a decade of detention was charged with “crimes against humanity” and “genocide”.  His trial lasted nearly two years.  Actually, the court was limited to only prosecute the most senior members of the Khmer Rouge, but no one was talking except Duch, so they put him on the stand.  He said repeatedly, “I should be prosecuted for the evils I have done in this world, but for me I know that whatever happens to my body, my soul is safe with Jesus.” His very Christian witness on the stand each day often infuriated judges and victims of the Khmer Rouge. Many, never knowing what Christians believe, were puzzled by his confessions and seeking forgiveness.  No other Khmer Rouge leader ever admitted to atrocities.

Finally, the trial was coming to a close.  He had requested that his punishment be “death by stoning” so that he could die like the worst of sinners in the Bible.  The court refused but he had a chance to give his final defense and beg for his life.  What resulted was the clearest presentation of the gospel I think Cambodia has ever heard.  Mind you, the entire trial was broadcasted live on every television station in the nation.

Instead of begging for his life, he started out.  “I know many of you wonder about my faith in Jesus and how that contradicts with my role in the Khmer Rouge. I want to talk about that.”

Summarizing his twenty minute remarks about religion he said, “I have studied Buddhism and was fully dedicated to following all the precepts, yet I found no peace in this.  I studied Islam and read the Koran cover to cover, but I found nothing there to draw me.  I was introduced to atheism under the communists and I strived as hard as I could to be the best communist I could.  Yet, I found nothing.  Then one day I heard about the teachings of Jesus. I was given a Bible and it studied it thoroughly cover to cover. In the Bible the teaching of Jesus says to ‘love your enemies’ (Matthew 5:44). I knew that this was a radical teaching, unlike any other religion.  I have studied all these religions and only Jesus teaches this. I appeal to my fellow Cambodians to believe in Jesus and follow his ways. Jesus is the answer for Cambodia.  If we all believed in Jesus there would be no more wars, no more hatred between people and no revenge. I appeal to all of Cambodia to believe in Jesus.”

Upon concluding his gospel presentation, the defense rested. Many in the court room scoffed; some looked puzzled; others contemplated. His sentence was later passed down which would ensure he spent the rest of his life in prison.  Cambodia saw and heard with their eyes how Jesus changes lives. As Duch illustrated, forgiveness is the only way to bring healing to the land which still celebrates a “Day of Hate.”

Many people have asked how a nation deals with the emotional and psychological trauma they experienced.  How did Noit deal with it?  The answer is simple.  Jesus healed her heart when she forgave the Khmer Rouge.  Jesus even gave her a chance to share the gospel with the Head of State of the Khmer Rouge, the very one who masterminded the plan to torture and exterminate her entire family and all those labeled “17”, with the only desire to give him the peace and forgiveness that only Jesus can bring.

Your Global Impact: 20 Feet

April 16, 2013

Your Global Impact: 20 feet

Over the last few years I have been thinking and praying a lot about what it takes to impact a nation.  I have considered traditional strategies as well as the internet and the power of the digital word being broadcast out through so many channels like YouTube, Facebook, Word Press blogging and websites.  Literally I have had readers of my blog in every country of the world on my blog site, except North Korea.  However, what is my impact?  Am I seeing lives changed though my digital footprint? Is it global?

I also considered the most common strategies for reaching Cambodia. I can’t tell you how many times, hundreds of times, that I have heard people talk about reaching Cambodia and their strategy is to simply plant a little church in Phnom Penh and put a flag up on the wall in their head office.  Mission accomplished?  Well, only about 10% of Cambodia actually live in the capital.  While there are thousands of foreign Christian witnesses, hundreds of churches, and hundreds of ministries which have an office in Phnom Penh does that equate with “nation-wide impact”?  Countless times I have also heard of strategies whereby all of Cambodia can be reached simply by starting one project/church/office or sending a staff member or church planter on a 3 day “mission” to each of the 24 provinces in Cambodia.  Do you think Cambodia is reached then?

Welcome to reality. 

There are 14,106 official villages in Cambodia, there are 2-3,000 unofficial ones that have been started in the last few years and have not been put on any map yet.  There are 15 million people in Cambodia from 31 different indigenous ethnic groups.  1,800 new Cambodians are born every single day! Only about 5 indigenous groups have Christians living among them.  More than 20 indigenous groups have never met one Christian witness, ever.

What has been the result of all these typical nationwide strategies?  Phnom Penh could have as many as 1,000 worshipping groups.  Nearly every single road in the entire city of Phnom Penh (more than 700 roads) has multiple churches on them.  There are more than 40 churches within 1 km of my office alone.   However, the average size of regularly attending worshippers in Cambodia is only 19 people. And I know for a fact, that while there are 3 churches within 50 meters of my house, yet none of my neighbors know anything about Jesus other than they are noisy (one church has a huge sound system).

There are 24 provincial capitals in Cambodia.  Guess where the missionaries live? My educated guess: 95% in Phnom Penh; 1% in Battambang (the second largest city at 250,000 people); 1% in Seam Reap (the largest tourist town in Cambodia, home of Angkor Wat and many western restaurants, plus an international airport); 1% in Sihanoukville (a tiny little town of less than 50,000 people, but it has a nice beach!); All other 19 provinces combined have the remaining 1% (many of these places still don’t have electricity!).   So, with such a strategy when do you think Cambodia will be reached?  Do those 4 urban areas have enough influence to impact all of Cambodia with the gospel?

My personal quest:

I have been trying to reach Cambodia for years; nearly two decades now.  I have planted churches in 19 provinces and I have ministered in every single province and nearly all of the nearly 200 districts of Cambodia.  I never need a map, because I have been there before. . . where? Everywhere.   Last year I helped to start a church in Poipet which is one of the fastest growing cities in Cambodia.  There are a few Christian witnesses in this town, but not many even though it is the fourth largest city in Cambodia.  The town has a bad reputation:  Casino’s, gangs, drugs, human trafficking and there is no beach, but plenty of mud, mud, mud.  Well, the little group of worshippers on the northeast side of town is centrally located in a neighborhood of more than 50,000 people who live within 1 km of the church.  It is densely packed here.  All the roads are mud.  Most of the homes are just shacks made from recycled garbage and bamboo.  Well, over the last year the church has averaged nearly three hundred people which is pretty large for Cambodia (remember the average size church is 19 people).  So, I decided to track our “impact” in the city of nearly 150,000 people.  Do you know what I found? Honestly?  I found our impact was about 3 blocks!  That’s it!  Why only 3 blocks?  Because nearly everyone walks to the church and literally they only come within a three block radius.

So are we reaching Poipet?  Nope.  Will we reach Poipet, even if we grow to a thousand member church?  I doubt it.  Realistically speaking.  This caused me to ponder even more how it is possible to reach a country.  It is easy to say we have a nation-wide or global vision, but how does one actually do it?

Last week I was walking what I called the “Freedom Walk”.  This walk took me nearly 250km across Cambodia by foot.  I primarily stayed on a main road (road number 5), but many times I would go off the main road into villages and meeting with people.  Along my 250km journey I found so many churches.  I was encouraged.  Some were big fancy ones.  Other’s clearly funded by Koreans with big gaudy red crosses on the roof.  There were Christian orphanages.  There was a Christian hospital.  There were Christian organizations.  There was also several Bible schools along the way.  I was passed by multiple missionaries and their vehicles moving between population centers as well.  Literally I only found one village along the entire 250km journey that didn’t have Christians, and that was because the lone Christian had just died. All of these things were on the main road.

Yet, when I walked off the main road; sometimes leaving the main road by only 100 meters I can tell you the whole spiritual atmosphere changed.  Not only were there very few Christians, but I met people who had never heard of Jesus.  They were just 100 meters away from a Christian thoroughfare.  I even had one person tell me that she knew of Christians, “but they didn’t travel back where she was” (she was 5km off the main road! That’s only 3 miles!)

I thought and prayed about how to impact this nation.  I thought about strategies brining in yet another church into the capital city.  I thought about the “every province” strategy.  I thought about the heart of Cambodian’s which always say they want “every village in Cambodia to have Christians”.  It is a constant desire and prayer of the Christians.  There is even an organization made just to promote that vision.

My Conclusion:

I came to an epiphany as I was walking.  As a Christian I carry the Spirit of Jesus within me.  Wherever I go, Jesus goes.  Wherever any Christian goes, Jesus goes there too.  Yet, he is only relevant to others when I do or say something which points them to Jesus.  Just walking is meaningless.  Driving by, or flying over a village has no value in transforming lives.  Just staring at a map and plotting points is meaningless.  Having one church of 19 people, or even a thousand, in the same geographical province is irrelevant to the other million people who live away from those followers of Christ. I only have an impact for Jesus when I stop and talk to someone.  When I pray for them.  When I say “hello”  and listen to them laugh or joke about me.  When I listen to their stories.  When I care about them.   I can really only do that within about 10 feet, or 20 feet at the most, of my present location.  Then it came to me. . . I was convicted that my total global impact is the 20 feet around me right now.

Whether you are in the biggest city in Cambodia, or the smallest little jungle village you have the same impact as me: 20 feet.

I think our strategies have been in error.  I don’t think you can reach a country, any country, through its capital city.  I don’t think you can reach a province through its provincial capital.  I don’t think you can reach a county or district by its county seat.  Every one of the 15 million people in Cambodia are special.  They are all made by God and they are all unique.  The only way we are going to reach a country is to physically go (the big word is ‘incarnational’) to every person, within 20 feet, and present to them Jesus.  Show them we care about them. To love them.

I am not going to reach Cambodia for Christ with a blog.  I am not going to reach the nation with my thousands of hours of radio broadcasting.  I am not going to reach this nation through our big church in the capital city, nor through any other national-strategy I have heard about.  The only way I am going to have an impact on the larger nation of Cambodia is to get out of the car, move to areas off the main roads and go village by village meeting people within my 20 feet of space.  Then and only then, according to what I do and what I say, will have an impact on Cambodia.

What is my global impact?  Yep, its only 20 feet.

So, who is in the 20 feet around you?  If you find that space is only full of family and the faithful followers of Christ, you’re not going to be much of a catalyst for changing the world.  We are all going to have to step out of our comfort zones, leave the main highways and slow down and meet people.  We need to get within 20 feet of people who are not like us, who are broken, who are impoverished, who are angry, who are addicted, who are hurting and be their friend.  Then, in those 20 feet, we can change the world.

personal space