Monday, July 7, 2008

Saturday's Conference (part 1)

The conference on Saturday went from 9 AM to 9:30 PM, and if you could stay awake for the play Juliet, you could stay up till 10:30 PM. I didn't! (It wasn't Romeo and Juliet--this Juliet was about a Christian woman in Romania whose husband was imprisoned.)

On Saturday morning the speaker that impacted me most was Steven Khoury, a Christian Palestinian pastor. In Israel and Palestine, Christians are very much in the minority. There used to be a substantial Christian presence in Bethlehem, where Steve grew up--but most of them were Christian by birth and not by "second birth". Due to increasing pressure from Muslims, a lot of these Christians have emigrated to other countries. The remaining Christians are a double minority. They are hated by the Palestinian Muslims because they don't hate the Jews. And they're distrusted by the Israelis because they are Palestinian. I was impressed with Steve's message. He told a number of moving stories about miraculous salvations, escapes from death, and courageous Christians. For a guy who's about my age, Steve has really had a dramatic life. I brought home a copy of his book, Diplomatic Christianity. The basic premise of the book is that as Christians, we tend to be too diplomatic ("politically correct") when telling other people about Jesus: afraid to just come right out and tell them the truth about Jesus!

I was impressed by Steve, but I was even more impressed by what I learned about his father, Naim Khoury. In a way, Steve is simply living out what his father has built into him. Naim was the first in his family to turn from dead orthodoxy to a living relationship with Jesus. Naim is the one in his family who first became a lightning rod for persecution. Steve has grown up in the middle of it. Their church in Bethlehem has been bombed 14 times. At one particularly violent season they used to keep buckets of water at the front of their church so that when someone threw a Molotov in, they could just pour water on it and keep going.

Steven is now trying to start his own church up in Jerusalem. Actually he's started it up several times, but it is incredibly hard to get a permanent location. Whenever they find a place to rent, Islamic vandals attack it so badly that the landlords evict them.

You can learn more about Steven and his father by watching this short video on their web site.

At lunch, there was supposed to be a picnic on the grounds of OWU. I'd already paid my $5 for a ticket. But it started raining so the picnic had to be moved inside the gym. I got in line and noticed the line was moving very slowly. So I decided to go back to my room and drop off some of the things I was carrying and then come back and get in line again. Once again, God used a seemingly random decision to guide my steps. When I was almost back to the line, I bumped into Brad Heil, who is the director of Kids of Courage, VOM's children's curriculum. Last summer we'd worked together at the Kids of Courage booth in the Arizona Families for Home Education convention. Here's a picture of me with Brad's wife Diane at the booth.

And here's a picture of Brad with area coordinator Dave Clayton in Brad's office. (Brad is on the right.)

Anyways, Brad saw me walking by and invited me out to lunch. I gave my picnic ticket to a guy in line who didn't have one and we drove to Arby's.

This turned out to be "a God thing" because Brad and his wife are going through a tough time now on more than one front. He has a heavy workload (there are only two people in the Kids of Courage department, including him) and he and his wife are primary caregivers for his mother in law. It was amazing how similar his mother in law is to my mother's father, who just died earlier this year. We had gone through many of the same struggles with Grandpa that he and Diane are going through with "Mom", so I was able to really identify with the pressure he's under. It was great getting to pray for him and I appreciate Brad being so transparent about how he was really feeling. Perhaps in God's providence part of the fruit of this pressure may be the lives of children transformed by their encounters with Kids of Courage.

I later heard that the picnic wasn't all that good anyways -- not enough food to go around.

In the afternoon, Michael Wurmbrand got a chance to address the whole group. He shared more classic stories from his childhood. (And no, I didn't take this picture either.)

When he was 11, his mother was arrested. She never had a trial so she never knew how long she would be in jail. The policemen confiscated all of the household belongings, made a list of them, and made Michael sign the list. Then he was left on the street to fend for himself.

When he was about 17, the police called him in. It turned out that the officers who had confiscated all of the furniture had made some money on the deal. They had deliberately written down inferior descriptions of the furniture they confiscated. (For example, a nice piano bench was written down as "piano bench with 3 legs".) They then sold the nice furniture on the black market and substituted damaged furniture that they'd gotten elsewhere. So, as things happen in Communist regimes, these officers later fell out of favor and were imprisoned themselves. Under torture they confessed to this furniture sleight of hand. Now at this point we would expect that the police would apologize to Michael and give him the nice furniture back. Nope. They told him he had collaborated with criminal theft against the government by signing the inventory. They said, "Since you are young we will have mercy on you and not put you in prison, but you will have to pay back the amount that was stolen from the government, with interest." This came to about $80,000 US. For the remainder of his years in Romania, they garnished 20-25% of his wages. He never would have gotten it paid off if his parents had not escaped from Romania and sent him the means to repay the debt.

Another anecdote: one of Richard's torturers told him, "You'll never get out of the country. You'll never see Westminster Abbey." Why he would specifically mention Westminster Abbey I have no idea, but the torturer was later jailed himself, and Richard later preached at Westminster Abbey.

Richard was preaching in a meeting shortly after his escape from Romania in 1966. A woman in the audience was crying almost the whole time. She came up afterwards and showed a clipping from a 1948 newspaper talking about Richard's imprisonment. She had prayed for him for 18 years without knowing what had happened to him.

A Romanian Christian (I believe his name was something like Kiefer Martin) walked 3 miles to a train station. When he arrived, he realized he had forgotten some important papers at home, but he didn't want to carry his suitcase all the way home. So he decided to hide it in some bushes and pray that God would protect it from being stolen (thievery was rampant). He returned home, got his paper, went back to the train station, looked in the bush, and his suitcase was still there. He was jubilant, thanked God, and thought, "Now I can handle it from here." He walked up to the ticket counter to get his ticket, set down his suitcase while he was talking to the clerk, and when he looked down his suitcase was gone! The lesson he learned was that we always need God--we are never truly able to handle life on our own.

The verse of Scripture that Michael highlighted for us was Job 1:9 -- "Does Job fear God for nothing?" He asked us whether there was something "commercial" about our relationship with God. Are we in it just for what we get out of Him, and not for God Himself? The story of Job is a reminder that the real battle is between God and satan. The question in dispute is whether we "fear God for nothing". May we say with Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him."

The second half of Saturday was even more important to me than the first, but you're going to have to wait to hear about it until my next post!

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