by wpengine | Jun 17, 2020 | Biblical/Missional, Uncategorized
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,
Director, EPC World Outreach
by wpengine | Aug 27, 2019 | Church Partnership, Uncategorized
The Islamic Center is located directly across the street from the library I frequent. So for two full years I had prayed for the people there and had felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to pull into the parking lot and talk to someone. And for two full years I didn’t. Which is fairly troublesome for a pastor who claims to support and encourage missions.
The Holy Spirit had also convicted me to reach out to Muslims in my area, but I had no idea how to start. I had met dozens of our EPC missionaries who had traveled to faraway places in order to share their faith with people who were indifferent at best, and governments who did not want them there. Yet how many Muslims had moved right into my backyard – people who were much more accessible (in every sense of the word) than those in foreign countries.
Enter Mark. Mark had introduced the concept of reaching Muslims to our presbytery (Great Plains) and moreover, to me, personally. Mark and I had been forming a good friendship over the years because of our mutual desire to see God reach the unreached.
For at least the last year Mark and I had tried several times to go to the Islamic Center so that I could take that first step and meet some Muslims there. Finally the day had come and we walked in together to a midday prayer time (Salat al-zhur). Mark was his usual calm, yet gregarious self; I was beyond nervous, yet thrilled to finally initiate this first step, and so we began to converse with several men after they had finished their prayer time. They were quite gracious and receptive to our presence and interest.
Although at times it was somewhat awkward – as you might expect – Mark paved the way toward good relations by simply sharing personal information, asking questions and appreciating their faith in various ways: Mark: “That’s a beautiful prayer rug. Did that come from overseas or from here in the US?” Reply: “Yes, this came from Turkey!” Mark: “How many different countries are represented at your mosque?” Reply: “Somewhere between 30-35 countries. Therefore, we have to conduct our services in English.” And on it went.
After 20 minutes or so we were actually exchanging phone numbers and email addresses – which, I must admit, freaked me out more than a little! And yet, there again was the Lord’s peace, joy and purpose – that feeling of being stretched far out of my comfort zone and right where God wants to take me; and not just for me, but so that I could eventually invite others to this engaging process, this clarion call to honor and obey him. Which I am now beginning to do.
Over the course of time following our initial encounter, I then pursued a relationship with the imam of that mosque. We now meet weekly to continue our friendship and learn from one another about the commonalities and differences of our respective religions. Over the last three years I have learned as much about my own faith as I have about his faith. My favorite encounter was the time he told me that our Christian religion is unfair. He explained that, as a Muslim, he will stand alone before God to be judged; but that we believed that Jesus would stand with us to pay for our sins. After I thought for a moment, I replied, “You know, you’re right. That’s not fair…that’s what we call grace.”
Mark’s example and leadership, including walking with me into the mosque, has stretched me in my faith, and also emboldened me to lead my friends, family and congregation in the same way. Our church has now completed our first Bridges Course with a good degree of success. And I believe that the Lord will continue to not only make us more aware of Muslims around us, but He will move us to initiate bridges of friendship with many in order to win some.
By an EPC Pastor
by wpengine | Aug 27, 2019 | Events, Uncategorized
Join the EPC on a one-of-a-kind mission endeavor!
What are you doing this summer? Don’t miss out an a unique mission opportunity for your high school students. Summer Mission Jam is a new, entry mission and outreach equipping conference for students, serving among Lebanese, Bangladeshi, Yemeni, Iraqi, and Pakistani peoples in America’s most diverse neighborhoods of Dearborn and Hamtramck, Michigan.
Students will learn how to ‘bridge the gap’ with Muslims and be the fragrance of Jesus through supportive and instructive teaching and service outreach opportunities. Summer Jam starts Monday evening, July 8, and wraps up Saturday, July 13. Registration is $450 per student and includes delicious meals, comfortable accommodations, and the best missions training you can receive.
If you already have plans for this summer, consider bringing a few student leaders to check out Summer Mission Jam for future summers (Fremont, CA in 2020 & Michigan in 2021).
Summer Mission Jam is an amazing opportunity for churches, big and small, to invest in their students as they learn more about Muslims and how to interact in a way that is loving and beneficial for the Kingdom. This summer, step out and be a part of something new with the EPC denomination. We are positive it will impact your world and give you new ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus in your own communities.
You can register and learn more about Summer Mission Jam by going to our website: www.epcwo.org/summermissionjam or reading below!
If you know of anyone that might be interested in attending Summer Mission Jam, we invite you to pass it along and share on social media!
Learn More about Summer Mission Jam
by wpengine | Feb 7, 2019 | Field Story, Uncategorized
Imagine a country with (officially) zero churches and zero Christian citizens. The country’s laws permit the employment of foreign Christians, but don’t allow those foreign Christians to practice their faith openly. Citizens of the country can hear the gospel via satellite tv and the internet but have no access to what is absolutely essential in most people’s conversion – the opportunity to talk over questions with another person. The only way that can happen is if a non-citizen comes, overcomes the obstacles, and starts talking about peace with God through Jesus.
Several years ago, Jim and Shannon were appointed by World Outreach to go and make disciples of Jesus in such a country. As Jim completed his professional credentials in order to qualify for job openings, he and Shannon began World Outreach’s TAG internship in Detroit. There they met people who were immigrants from their target country. They soon became close friends – so close that when Jim accepted a job offer in their country, those neighbors made sure their relatives back home gave them the warmest of welcomes on arrival.
Over the next several years, Shannon developed deep friendships with the women of this extended family. She talked with them about Jesus, and shared stories about him from the Bible. Last Christmas, Shannon told the women that she had a special gift for each of them – the most valuable thing in her possession – and gave a (smuggled) Bible to each woman of the family, so that they could read the stories themselves. As the women read about this Immanuel revealed in the Bible, they sensed God speaking to them. And, earlier this year, the first of this group took the brave step of putting her faith in Christ. Soon, she was joined by another – two sisters in Christ, captured by His love for them!
Jim and Shannon’s neighbors are like millions of others around the world whose only hope to have their deepest questions answered is that some outsider will come to them. That outsider could be a Filipino Christian housekeeper, a Chinese Christian construction worker, or an EPC engineer/businessman/English teacher. It could be you.
Why not devote 2019 to putting yourself in a posture to hear God’s answer to the question, “What do you want me to do about people without access to the gospel?” Here are a few ways to start: watch this short video about the task that still remains; take the Perspectives course to understand God’s mission, how the global Church has responded, and what the greatest needs in world evangelization are today; or join the TAG internship, like Jim and Shannon, to take part in Kingdom living among those that don’t yet know the love of Christ. Make 2019 the year you find your part in declaring God’s glory among people walking in darkness!
by wpengine | Feb 7, 2019 | Field Story, Uncategorized
Are missionaries really necessary today? After all, as one YouTube video puts it: “Since the world is becoming a global village, Christmas is now celebrated in every part of the world!” But the worldwide spread of Christmas paraphernalia actually does little to communicate the Christmas message. As one of our WO colleagues writes:
“The only signs of Christmas in our town are the made-in-China, blow-up Santas that appear for sale in the street market in December (they’re cheap novelties that puzzle our neighbors), and the signs in some restaurant windows for Noel Specials. If they notice it at all, our neighbors assume Christmas is some kind of Western New Year’s celebration. When I walk around my neighborhood on Christmas morning, there is nothing to indicate this day is different from any other work day, and certainly nothing that sets it apart as the day God was born into our world to save it.”
Even here at home, cultural unease often limits us to sharing the Christmas message only with people who already know it. WO global worker, Susan, cries a little thinking back to the day she moved into a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Detroit, to participate in World Outreach’s 9-month TAG (Training Apprentices to Go) internship. She remembers looking at the robed and veiled women in the park across the street and thinking, “They are so different. How could I ever become friends with a Muslim? I wouldn’t know where to start.” When asked why she’s crying, she says, “Because now those same veiled women are such dear friends, that I can hardly bear to leave them!”
As Susan pushed herself to spend time with Muslims, they changed from a scary, nameless crowd to distinct individuals she could love. The same thing happened to a small group of EPC folks who attended an Encounter World Outreach event to investigate missionary service with WO. One evening, the participants timidly went out Christmas caroling in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. They came back full of joy, and a Muslim neighbor posted this on Facebook:
“Hello Admin, perhaps a change of vibes would be appropriate with all the animosity going on lately. This video was captured at my humble home. It features a group of wonderful carolers spreading the joy of the holiday spirit. My family and I invited them in for some tea, and a fresh batch of cookies. An extraordinary exchange of love and respect took place. Conversing Muslim-Christian pairs filled the room. The difference of religion was overcome by a more common understanding, HUMANITY! I hope this sheds even the smallest glimpse of light in these dark times. A special thank you to everyone that was caroling that night. Thank you for stopping at our house. Thank you for spreading the love. Thank you for your presence. May Allah bless!”
Christmas reminds us that God so loved us that he came to us with good news, and that being a Christ-follower means doing the same. Next summer, WO is inviting up to 100 EPC high school students to spend a week with Muslims in Detroit, sharing good news with love and respect. It can be a life-changing experience. For information on how students from your church can be part of the 100, visit us at www.epcwo.org/summermissionjam.
Grace and peace to you, this Christmas season.
EPC World Outreach Director
by wpengine | Jan 5, 2017 | ITEN, Uncategorized
By Steve Woodworth, Associate Coordinator of ITEN
The paved highway ended and we turned onto red dirt roads made slick by the rainy season. Two lanes soon become one and turned upward through a potholed maze of boulders and washed-out trails, that twisted our truck higher and higher into the thickening canopy. When the trail stopped, we faced a swollen river and a weary ferry driver unable to navigate our vehicle across the water atop his wooden raft. With hippos grazing along the banks downriver, we boarded dug-out canoes and turned our bows upstream to let the current point us towards the far bank.
Greeted by a throng of villagers eager to catch a glimpse of white visitors, we quickly saddled awaiting dirt bikes that carried us deeper and deeper into the jungle. We raced our way along battered paths, trying to beat the setting sun. Pouring rains had caused local rivers to spill their banks and fill our shoes as the bikes tore through the water into the coming darkness. We gripped the sides of the bikes and learned the rhythms of shifting our positions on the back seat when climbing the root-littered embankments, or plunging down a sudden drop.
Our drivers travel this same path dozens of times each day, their expertise proven when swamped headlights went black and memory and moonlight was the only thing guiding us. For twelve hours we pushed deeper and deeper into the forests of Sierra Leone until the cycles came to a stop just 50 miles south of Guinea.
We had made this journey to meet a family.
Nestled in the heart of this Muslim village was a man named Dominic who had left his job as a lab technician at the University of Sierra Leone in order to bring the gospel to a people who are trapped in a syncretistic world of witch doctors, animism, Islam and folk religion. For over a year, he and his family lived on the concrete floor of a small schoolhouse until the locals pushed him out into the borders of the community.
Eventually, Dominic built a home and signaled to the village that he was committed to staying, to preaching, to living the gospel before their very eyes and loving them into the Kingdom of Heaven. Dominic and his family have made sacrifices that both humbled and inspired me. He is desperately alone ministering 23 miles, through the thick jungle, to the closest church in the region. And he has surrendered every comfort his family once knew in the city of Freeport. During our meal after worship, Dominic’s wife removed the bare chicken bones from my plate and placed them on her own to try to remove anything I might have missed.
But there was laughter and there was joy. There was vibrant worship, and abundant fruit from the labor.
In the years since Dominic first made the journey to these people, the local Muslim Chief has given permission for parents to allow their children to become Christians. When we preached at Dominic’s church the following morning, this same Chief made his first appearance at the worship service. The village’s Muslim Treasurer asked for our prayers simply because “the prayers of Christians are powerful.” The congregation Dominic shepherds is full of young faces who signal a change sweeping through the jungle, a new era when the demonic powers of Secret Societies, spells, and spirits are finally broken. An age in which the Spirit of the living God comes to set the prisoners free, casts out all fear, and allows the people of Sierra Leone to finally cry out “Abba, Father.”
There is no darkness in this world through which the gospel cannot shine.