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Sharing the Love of Christ in the Midst of a Pandemic | May 2020

Dear friends,

When World Outreach missionaries move to another country or integrate themselves into a community to share the Gospel, they know the work can often look different and require a bit of creativity. During a global pandemic, when many countries are issuing stay-at-home orders, that need for ingenuity is heightened. We want to share the way three missionary units are working creatively to demonstrate and proclaim the love of Christ in these unique circumstances. 

J & F
J and F live in one of the poorest states of a large country in South Asia. For a few months now, their country has been on a strict lockdown; this has made ministry very difficult as they are not allowed to leave their home. The impact on the virus has been felt by all, but most strongly by the poor. These underprivileged communities have struggled not only to feed and care for their families, but also to get home to their own villages after working in the city. J and F have a good friend who is part of one of these communities and knows the struggles these families are experiencing because of the virus and lockdown. Working together, J, F, and their good friend raised money and provided food for 50-60 of these families.

Ln & Ls
For Ln and Ls, COVID-19 has opened opportunities to minister and share God’s love through medical care, even though their middle eastern country instituted stay-at-home orders which initially seemed to end opportunities. Normally, they run a medical clinic which offers free care for refugees, but when refugees were no longer permitted to leave their homes, the clinic closed. As Ln and Ls prayed, God showed them a way they could continue to care for their refugee community and reach them with the Word. They set up a system to purchase needed medicines, and local Arab Christians (who have more liberty of movement) volunteered to deliver them to refugee homes following protocols to stop contagion. This system keeps refugees safe within their homes and provides these local believers with opportunities to share the Gospel when delivering medication. Ln told WO, “The Lord is reaching them, providing for their needs, all in the name of Jesus Christ.”

S & A
In the Detroit area, S and A live and minister to a community of over 100,000 Bangladeshi Muslims. Last summer, The World Outreach Summer Mission Jam brought high school students from several EPC churches to work under S and A’s direction and serve this Bangladeshi community. Last month, S informed World Outreach that the pandemic had brought about a severe need for food and face masks – especially for 300 families who had arrived in the States just prior to the pandemic. The EPC reacted quickly and sent emergency relief funds to S and A. At the same time, church sewing groups got to work making face masks. These donations allowed S and A to quickly organize food and mask distributions to the neediest families. When these Muslim families learned that the masks and food were from Christian churches (the same churches who had sent their kids to serve last year!) – there was a tremendous response of thankfulness. S says that many of his friends now have a whole new perspective on Christianity. 

So as the country re-opens, let us celebrate that the Gospel was never bound by restrictions or social-distancing. In fact, even now, the Gospel breaks down barriers and moves beyond limitations, all to the Glory of God. 

Community Life

EPConnection

Read the EPConnection articleabout local EPC church sewing groups answering the call for face masks in Michigan. 

SMJ: Replanted

Summer Jam events in Hamtramck and Sacramento have been cancelled in light of COVID-19. While we cannot gather together this summer, we’re challenging our churches to reach out in their own neighborhoods – and we’d like to help you in this outreach. Read our flyer for more information.

Revival in the Midst of a Pandemic

Read this article from Asia Harvest giving witness to God’s work in China and the stirring of a revival.

Caring for Your Global Workers | April 2020

Dear friends,

We are in such a time of uncertainty and relational isolation; we must be looking at ways to stay connected.  This is especially important with our missionaries who are also very much isolated from their second family networks in their country of residence and their first family networks in their country of origin. As EPC pastors, elders, and missions leaders, our care and commitment to the missionaries we support is important to prioritize. As one of our missionaries said to me: “we are your staff in another place.”   We need to know them and their needs in order to be better informed as how to pray for them, how to support them, and how to tell them that we really appreciate their service to our Lord.

My wife, Doris, and I have visited many of the ministries/missionary units supported by Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church (CCPC, Englewood, Colorado). As retired Ruling Elders, we know that the Lord has called us to visit these missionaries, American and indigenous. Our purpose is to be with them, in their homes and their location of service. We do not go as tourists. Our time with them is spent discussing in detail the questions posed below, and praying frequently about each of their concerns, challenges, doubts, and personal issues.

Having had the opportunity and privilege to travel to visit CCPC’s international staff, the blessings we received far outweigh what we have done for them.  Seeing firsthand, the work they do and the conditions under which some of them live, helps us to better understand the sacrifice many of them are making serving Our Lord and being faithful to their special call.  They love the people with whom they work; some live in places where they have seen very little response to their sharing the gospel witness.  Still they remain and continue to present God’s love to the people they serve. 

The one issue that is common among most of the missionaries we have visited is loneliness. Prayer letters are sent to financial and prayer supporters; but often very little, if any, responses. Very few of their supporters respond in an e-mail, letter, telephone call, video call, or offer to visit them. Assuring appropriate national etiquette, a brief e-mail inquiring about a specific topic in a prayer letter will result in a more informative response that provides our local Mission Committee to know how to more effectively pray for that missionary.

We have discovered another method to support a few missionaries is to establish frequent contact with their college-age children. With the latter, they have become our “grandchildren.”

Neal Pirolo has written a book titled “Serving as Senders Today.” This challenges those of us who stay on the home front to actively support our missionaries.  This means we are serving those who have answered God’s call on their lives to be Christ’s witnesses to the unreached.  How can we be the people of God who serve – to support, not just monetarily, but with a real presence in the lives of those who are serving God outside the USA?  What is God’s call on our lives to be that support?  We are needed!

Written by World Outreach Committee Member, David VanValkenburg, from Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church

Some questions you and your congregation can ask, to get to know your missionaries and their ministries better.

  • Which countries are your EPC missionaries serving?
  • Are you able to delineate each person’s primary ministry focus?
  • Do you know any EPC missionary’s faith journey? Do you know how God led them to their current field of service?
  • Have you ever corresponded with a missionary? Do you read any of the newsletters from your EPC missionaries?
  • Has a missionary ever stayed in your home?
  • Have you ever sat around a table and had a conversation with a missionary?
  • Have you visited a missionary in their place of service?
  • Do you know major prayer requests of your EPC missionaries? Do you know their major challenges and concerns?
  • Do you know how your missionaries receive daily spiritual nourishment and fellowship?

Community Life

Serving as Senders Today

Read Neal Pirolo’s book to learn about how to partner with missionaries in six areas of concern, as they minister on the field. 

Church Partnership Resources

If you’re interested in creating a missions focus in your congregation, and cultivating relationships with WO missionaries, visit our Church Partnerships page for more resources.

Connect with Your Missionaries

Sometimes writing to missionaries can create anxiety – you don’t want to put them in a precarious position. Put your mind at east and download this information card with guidelines for connecting with your WO missionaries.

EPC World Outreach’s Response to COVID-19 | March 2020

Dear friends,

As WWII drew to a close, a young Russian soldier-mathematician was arrested and condemned to imprisonment and permanent exile for privately criticizing Stalin. Imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp, later suffering from cancer and given just weeks to live, it seemed that all the plans, hopes and dreams of his life were shattered. But what Stalin meant for evil, God used for good, and the arrest changed the course of Aleksankr Solzhenitsyn’s life so that the soldier-mathematician became one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century.  

The COVID-19 pandemic is shattering many of our plans and dreams, but how is it affecting EPC World Outreach? It is causing us, like you, to be on heightened alert. We are talking with and listening to government sources, other mission agencies, and our own colleagues around the world to try to keep up with changing situations. But, above all else, we keep in mind that God is in control, and there is no virus that can do anything without God using it for His good purposes.

The EPC World Outreach staff in Orlando is doing the same things that many of you are — working from our homes, canceling all but essential travel, postponing events and changing meetings to video conferences. We have stepped up text, audio, and video calls to stay in even closer communication with our global workers to pray with them and help them think through their responses.  

World Outreach is neither requiring, nor forbidding any of our workers to return to the States. We believe these decisions are best made at a team level by those most aware of local situations. Two of our workers, in exceptional circumstances, have returned to the States in the past week. The rest are heeding local medical advice, postponing travel and adopting social practices to inhibit spreading the disease. As they have long prayed for spiritual breakthroughs in their communities, they are now waiting in hope for opportunities to be God’s ambassadors to neighbors in need.  

The message that our global workers tell their neighbors is the same message they tell themselves: in a global pandemic the only safe place to flee to is the arms of God.  

Thank you for remembering our missionaries even as you face your own challenges. Thank you for praying for them as you pray for your own families; thank you for giving to support them, even as you deal with your own financial reverses. Please continue to pray. 

  • Pray for our missionaries’ health and stamina, especially for those working with the poor, and providing health care in difficult settings.
  • Pray for World Outreach leaders to be full of grace and truth as we respond to our colleagues’ questions and needs.
  • Pray for all of us to be radiant ambassadors of the kingdom of God, sharing the good news that brings life to the dying.

Looking back at the surprising course of his life, Solzhenitsyn wrote this prayer:

How easy for me to live with you, Lord!
How easy to believe in you!
When my mind casts about
or flags in bewilderment,
when the cleverest among us
cannot see past the present evening,
not knowing what to do tomorrow –
you send me the clarity to know
that you exist
and will take care
that not all paths of goodness should be barred.
At the crest of earthly fame
I look back in wonderment
at the journey beyond hope — to this place,
from which I was able to send mankind
a reflection of your rays.
And however long the time
that I must yet reflect them
you will give it me.
And whatever I fail to accomplish
you surely have allotted unto others.

Let us live these days of the COVID-19 pandemic so that, when it has passed, you and I will look back at it in wonderment as a time where God’s glory was most radiant.  

Grace and peace,

Phil Linton
Director, EPC World Outreach

The Great Commission in Old Testament Law | February 2020

Dear friends,

Where do we find the Great Commission in the Bible? Most of us probably think first of Matt 28:19, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’ Or maybe ‘You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). We’d probably have to scroll way down our playlist of favorite Bible verses before it occurred to us to look for the Great Commission in Leviticus or Deuteronomy, those long lists of Old Testament laws.

But as Chris Wright reminds us, “The mission of Israel was to be a light and blessing to the nations. The ‘mission’ of the law was to shape Israel for that task.”* What does this look like? First, we see God’s mission in the relational context of the law. We also see God’s mission in the purpose of the law. And in the Old Testament law God reveals his own character.

The RELATIONAL context of the Old Testament law
Read Exodus 6:6-8. “I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians… I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.”

The Old Testament law isn’t an abstract set of moral principles. Instead it forms the contract, or covenant, God made between himself and the nation of Israel. These laws concretely lay out how they will live as ‘my own people.’ This relationship is based on God’s promise to their ancestor Abraham that “I will make you into a great nation… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:1-3), and on God’s rescue of the Israelites from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt. The primary requirement in this covenant relationship is single-hearted commitment to God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut 6:4-5). God’s mission is to bring people from all nations into a restored relationship with himself. The most important thing Israel is to demonstrate to the nations around them living as God’s people? Absolute relational faithfulness.

 

The PURPOSE of the Old Testament law
Read Exodus 19:3-6. “Out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

God didn’t choose the Israelites because they somehow deserved it, or because he didn’t care about the rest of the world. He chose this group of people to be a ‘kingdom of priests,’ that is, to represent him to the rest of the world. They were ‘holy’ not in the sense that they were perfect or super-spiritual but in the sense that God set them apart for his own special use. The nation of Israel was to serve as a sort of planned community showing the other nations what it looks like to live in close relationship with God. The laws God gave them through Moses were their instructions for how to model that relationship in every aspect of life.

God’s CHARACTER in the Old Testament law
Read Exodus 34:4-7. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Many of the specific instructions in the Old Testament law seem strange to our 21st-century ears. But in these details not only do we see God’s love and willingness to forgive sins, we also see his compassion for the poor, for women, for the marginalized, for migrants – especially when contrasted with other ancient laws like the Code of Hammurabi or Code of Ur-nammu.

Leviticus and Deuteronomy are full of prescriptions to guarantee the just distribution of land, to assure that slaves will be treated well, to protect women through marriage and dowry rights, and to welcome the stranger. The Israelites also receive the protection and benefits (‘blessings’) of being in a contractual relationship with an all-powerful deity – the one who claims to rule over the entire earth. This is the God they are to represent to the nations.

So how does this work out? Do the Israelites remain 100% faithful to God? Do they teach the nations around them to know God? Is God’s true character demonstrated in the ways the Israelites treat each other and their neighbors?

Sadly, no. In the end Israel’s failure to keep the Old Testament law merely proves people’s need for a different way to live in relationship with God. (Spoiler alert: Jesus!) In the Bible’s unfolding story it will take a new rescue operation and a new covenant to reconstitute God’s people as a new community – the church – called in new ways to represent him to the world. But as we look at God’s relationship with the people of Israel, spelled out in the Old Testament law, it becomes clear that from the very beginning God’s people are commissioned to take their place in his mission to the nations.

*Christopher J. H. Wright, “Mission and Old Testament Interpretation,” in Craig G. Bartholomew and David J. H. Beldman, eds., Hearing the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2012), 185.

Image – Les Dix Commandements by Marc Chagall

By Rev. Dr. Stephanie Black, World Outreach Co-op Worker with Serge

Community Life

Theology on Safari

If you’d like to keep up with Stephanie and her ministry, we’d encourage you to follow her blog: Theology on Safari.

World Outreach Report

The World Outreach Report gives a look at WO’s values and mission, as well as a numeric snapshot of our progress. We hope you are encouraged by what you read.

Perspectives

Learn about God’s mission, how the global Church has responded, and what the greatest needs in the world of evangelization are today – and how YOU can be a part of God’s story as he redeems people from the nations to himself. 

A Missionary Conflict for Posterity | January 2020

Dear friends,

 

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned…” (Gal 2:11)

When Simon Peter journeyed to Antioch, he must have discovered a reality different from his ministry context in Jerusalem and Judea. The leadership there was multi-cultural (Acts 13:1) and the make-up of the church appears to have been predominantly Gentiles.

Peter was familiar, of course, with the passion of new believers and the excitement that accompanies their incorporation into the church. He had seen many thousands brought into the kingdom in Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 21:20). Those thousands were Jews, zealous for the law.

Make no mistake, Peter understood perfectly that Jesus’ kingdom extended to the Gentiles. That vision of a sheet lowered from heaven provided a lesson Peter would never forget. He understood that God doesn’t play favorites (Acts 10:34).

So what was the problem? What caused Peter to withdraw from table fellowship with the Gentiles?

It was the arrival of some of the brethren from Judea. Apparently, these Christ-followers of Jewish background held to their pre-conditioned assumptions. The shape of the new thing had not sufficiently displaced their old reality. Their old wine-skins had not yet burst…and Peter was their pastor, their apostle. The pressure must have been great because even Barnabas was led astray (Gal 2:13).

So Peter, the rock, let himself be squeezed into their mold. He held himself aloof from the Gentile believers and ate only with the Jews.

Well, tenacious Paul, with not a hint of concern for the Jerusalem pecking order, springs into action, rebuking the leader of the twelve to his face. For Paul, breaking table fellowship over the issue of ethnicity (including language, culture, religious background, etc.) violated the very heart of the gospel. He would not tolerate it.

For us who live in the contemporary atmosphere of the immigration ban and many other expressions of ethnic tension, the lesson is that the gospel does not merely include and embrace other ethnicities and cultures. The gospel, by its very nature, must include and embrace all ethnicities and cultures. Therefore, the church (our churches) must include and embrace all ethnicities and cultures. Anything less is sub-gospel, or perhaps even anti-gospel.

The Last Supper with Twelve Tribes by Hyatt Moore

Paul’s passionate rebuke of Peter means that the inclusion of the nations is more than a “nice outcome.” It is at the core of the gospel! It is an imperative, not an option. If every Christ-follower is not of equal value at the foot of the cross, then it is not the real deal. Paul is prepared to go to the mat for this. The same conviction pours out again and again in his letters. “The dividing wall is broken down.” The true children of Abraham are those who share the faith of Abraham. There must be no distinction.

But there is another lesson not to be missed. Before Peter bids good-bye to this world, he pens his own epistles in which he makes a passing reference to Paul.

Notice the deference: Peter reasons that Paul’s letters contain many things that are hard to understand which the “ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). Peter could have taken one last jab, right? He could have said “Paul makes simple things hard to understand, so leave it to me (i.e. the “real apostle”) to make it clear.” No. For Peter, Paul’s writings are on the same level as other Scripture. They are worth the struggle to understand and defend against unstable minds.

Peter’s journey to Antioch held a tough rebuke for him. But he must have accepted it with grace, without a hint of bitterness towards Paul. No vindictiveness. No veiled self-promotion at the expense of a fellow apostle.

It was a missionary conflict for posterity. The apostles left us with two gems of authentic servant-leadership. Paul gives us the all-nations determination of the gospel and Peter gives us the authenticity and humility of a true shepherd of the sheep. He accepted correction. We, the church, would do well to ensure that we also build on that apostolic foundation.

By Mike Kuhn, World Outreach ITEN Missional Theology Specialist

Community Life

SMJ: Sacramento

Registration for SMJ: Sacramento has been extended until February 15! Learn more about this mission trip for high school students on our website.

Finding Hagar

If you have a heart for displaced people, we’d encourage you to read Mike’s book, Finding Hagar. In it is a powerful “reminder of God’s abundant grace towards all people at a time when there is much division and animosity towards the descendants of Hagar.”

Understanding Muslims

There are many resources avaliable on our website that offer opportunities to learn more about God’s heart for our Muslim neighbors and dispel myths about Islam.