Friday, December 31, 2010

Trouble in Amish Paradise

My parents and I just watched a BBC documentary on the internet called “Trouble in Amish Paradise”. It was really wonderful. I would say probably the best thing I have seen on the internet in several months.

It traces the lives of two young Amish families who come to genuine faith in Jesus and get excommunicated from the Amish church. Yet they maintain a heart for their people and keep some of the external Amish cultural traits (haircuts, clothes, buggies) so that they are able to share the gospel with their family members more easily. (Somewhat reminiscent of the way Paul related to his Jewish kindred.)

Then there were a couple of twists to the story that grabbed my heart.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you. Suffice it to say that you may find it worth the hour it takes to watch the documentary. I think kids over about age 10 would also enjoy it and there are no “seedy” parts to the story that you need to cover their eyes for.

I think even the BBC film producers were impressed with these young evangelical families. The slant of the documentary is definitely favorable to them—does not make them look like crazy zealots.

Because of the YouTube 10 minute limit, the documentary is split into six segments. Here’s a link to the first. If you pay attention, you can follow the trail from 1 to 2 and from 2 to 3 and so on through all 6.

I hope it blesses you as much as it has me. 

After you've watched it, you'll want to check out a web site which gives further updates from Ephraim and Amanda:


Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Random but Stimulating Conversation about Missions

Recent emails exchanged between myself and a friend who leads a small but strategic missions organization.  I am blessed to have friends who force me to go deeper.

Hi B____,

Sure, if you have a way to use it this weekend, go ahead and keep the DVD!

A few other questions that have been rumbling around in my noggin lately (don’t feel pressed to answer these right now if you are in the middle of working on other things; I know you are busy!):

  • If the Lord ever opens the door for me to travel to a restricted nation, I am wondering if my Facebook posts and blog writings that are related to the persecuted church would prove to be a hindrance to me being able to get a visa.  To say it another way, do the people processing the visa applications ever search online to find out about the people who are applying for visas?  For better or worse, if you Google my name it doesn’t take long to find out that am a Christian and that I raise support for the persecuted church .  Should I try to start leaving my last name off of all of these web sites?  On the other hand, if I search under {your name}, {your ministry's} web site comes up fairly readily.  So maybe you haven’t found it necessary to try to stay “invisible” online?
  • I have been particularly burdened of late for those persecuted believers who are not strong in the faith and who may be Christian only in name/culture and not truly born again.  Often in these same areas it seems that illiteracy tends to be a problem, preventing these people from reading God’s Word for themselves.  I think particularly of Egypt and Pakistan, although I’m sure that you would know of more countries that fit this description.  I am more concerned about these churches than I am about the churches of say, Vietnam, Iran, Eritrea, Cuba, or China (which seem to be stronger spiritually?).  It would seem that these Christians are probably both the greatest barrier and the greatest strategy to the evangelization of the non-Christians around them.  Right now, they are not experiencing and demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, so their witness (if they even attempt to witness) is powerless.  But if they do get genuinely converted and discipled and the non-Christians around them see this change, it would really catch their attention.  So I guess I have three questions about this.  First, is my perception of this situation correct?  Second, if so, what is the best way that we in the US can aid in the “evangelization” of these “Christians”?  (To some extent I fear the results of exporting typical American evangelicalism overseas.)  Thirdly, what might be some practical ways my own church could get “hands on” with this?
  • Have you heard of Paul Washer and the HeartCry Missionary Society?  They are a small organization with US operations based in Virginia.  They support native pastors and evangelists in many of the least-reached regions of the world.  They do a better job of training and discipling the native workers than any other missions agency I know of, including even {a very large one}.  There might be some way that they could be of help to {your ministry}.  I would be happy to send you a DVD and a copy of their latest newsletter if you are interested in checking them out.  
Because of Jesus, 


As you can see I am very behind in e-mail replies. Thanks for this note and your patience. Here are my concise answers to your questions.

1.        Yes, ultimately our activity on the internet may hinder us from getting visa’s and entering into some countries. I have only been denied one visa in my life and that was M______. I believe this will increase with time. But I do not believe we should hold back from being bold on the internet. Today is the day of ministry and our bold witness may affect ten others to be courageous in their faith. God is the one who opens and closes doors. Therefore continue to bold as a lion and shrewd as a serpent. You may be lead at time to have an alias. My pen name for Islamic site is ____________ ___________.

2.       Yes, you are right on the money with the cultural Christians with Pakistan and Egypt. You can include cultural Christians in any other country of the world certainly but those two do have a particular pronounced problem. Prayer is key. The spiritual bondage of human traditions must be broken. Only God can ultimately do the work. As we pray and God opens doors we can participate with better teaching materials, radio, TV internet etc are all tools. (But they are poor and the Holy Spirit must help in them getting these materials and using them) Visits and teaching is part of the solution as God allows because the Kingdom of God is about relationships. The old Chinese proverb is appropriate here. The start of a 1000 mile journey is the first step. None of us can “fix” the cultural Christianity problem in these countries but we all can take one step in alleviating it. How can you have hands on in serving these believers? 1. Invite a speaker like F_________ from Pakistan, or Brother J_________ from Egypt. Get your church interested and read books, videos etc from these countries. Arrange a short term trip with M______ to Egypt or a trip to Pakistan. God is awakening cultural Christians within these countries. They are and will be persecuted as they become more bold in their faith. We need to support and encourage them.

3.       I would love to know more about Paul Washer and the HeartCry Missionary Society? Please send me the information. By the way how have you been able to evauluate their effectiveness?  I appreciate your insight but want to know what that is based upon. I greatly admire {a larger organization} and obviously you believe this group is doing a better job. Can you tell me how you have come to this conclusion?

You are a wonderful and faithful servant of our Lord. I hope my notes helped. Keep up the good work,


Hi B_____,

Well, at least you now know that you are not the only one who has trouble keeping up with his emails!

Thank you for the insights you shared with me in answer to my questions.  This was very helpful.  

Your question about how I would measure the effectiveness of Heart Cry is a good one.  I certainly didn’t mean to denigrate {the larger organization's} work.  They are much larger than Heart Cry and for that reason alone, they are probably more efficient in their use of funds than Heart Cry, if measured as simply “bang for buck”.  I guess the main way that I see Heart Cry being effective – this is going to sound weird, and I’m not even sure this is the right way to measure effectiveness – is that they are very effective in bringing conviction to my own heart!  

HeartCry seems to have been gifted in clarifying the gospel.  Evangelicalism has slowly become enmeshed in its own traditions, similar to (although of course not as severe as) what happened to the Church in the Middle Ages.  The gospel has become “assumed” and surprisingly few evangelicals can even articulate it any more.  God has used HeartCry to awaken in my own heart a greater realization of my own tendencies to revert back to “religious formulas” (works righteousness), a greater reliance upon simply the cross, a greater amazement at God’s mercy in saving me, a greater joy in Jesus’ all-sufficiency, and a greater confidence in the power of the Word of God and the Spirit of God rather than human technique in my own evangelism.  Of course, it isn’t just Heart Cry.  In recent years God has also used people like Ray Comfort and John Piper and C J Mahaney and even the leaders of my own church to clarify my understanding of the gospel.  HeartCry is just somewhat unique in the way they take this gospel clarity and combine it with a passion for native missions.  

The DVD and newsletter I gave you last week will give you an opportunity to evaluate this for yourself.  Many more videos and newsletter back issues are available on their web site at  Some of their field reports are a bit flat.  But often one or two in each issue will be really gripping.  

On another topic, thanks again for your hospitality last Thursday!  When you do future mailings, I may be able to help you with ideas on how to streamline, if needed.  I am sure you already know that there are paper folding machines.  Of course, some of the really big ones are very expensive, but some small ones are fairly reasonable (I found one that can do 1800 pages an hour for about $152 through Sears online (  It’s also possible that your church might have one you could borrow?  
I might also be able to figure out you could print addresses directly on to your envelopes.  And the date code could be printed directly on to your reply envelopes.  These ideas would save time—and the cost of the labels—but require more training for your volunteers.  And it would probably cut down some on the delightful fellowship among the volunteers as they work (partly because using machines to do the work would require more concentration, and partly because the work would go faster and thus give less time to talk).  This “efficiency versus relationship” trade off only you can weigh. 

May the Lord bless you and your family with a wonderful Christmas and a blessed new year!


    Monday, December 20, 2010

    Mom Gets Out (Hurray!)

    {Sent last Thursday}

    Hi {friend},

    I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for this afternoon. Because of all the craziness while Dad has been sick this week with his intestinal bug, I wasn't even sure until the last minute how many of us (if any) were even going to be able to make it. Thankfully Mom and I haven't gotten it, so we suspect it may have been bad food he ate at the church potluck on Sunday.

    You and {your wife} are great hosts! My mother loved her time there this afternoon. Even her being able to stay as long as she did is really remarkable. Your house is about as bad as they get for fragrances. But since the breakthrough at the Courageous Living Conference she's been steadily testing her physical boundaries. She's been to our own church (First Southern in Cottonwood) twice now. Last time was communion Sunday, and she got to have communion with the gathered church for the first time in at least 12 years. (People have come out from church with communion during those years, of course, but it was a special joy for her to have it in person.) She also went to Phoenix (Mesa, actually) with us on Thanksgiving and we celebrated Thanksgiving with my brother and his family for the first time in their marriage (they have been married 18 years). So today she decided to just see how she would do in an even more challenging (environmentally) building. She enjoyed being around normal people for a change. 

    So, thank you so much for your hospitality, and making her feel welcome. I'm sorry we couldn't stay longer.

    I'm hoping to have time to write you more later about some ministry things, but for now...

    the Lord's blessings to you, brother!


    Friday, December 3, 2010

    Microsoft's Free Antivirus Program

    For several years, Microsoft has offered a free antispyware program called Windows Defender.  Now, thanks to loyal blog reader Gerard, I've learned that they have released a new product that also incorporates antiviral technologies.  Best, it's totally free for home and small business users (up 10 PC's).

    Until now, I've recommended AVG for antivirus software.  But when my paid AVG subscription expires in February, I will switch over to Microsoft Security Essentials.  I recommend you do the same.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    I Like Skype (5.0)

    Just a quick note to tell my fellow Skype users that I have upgraded to 5.0 and it works great for me. 

    This is significant because Skype 4.x never did work good for me.  I had tried it a couple times and wound up reverting back to 3.8.

    But so far 5.0 looks like a keeper. 

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Encouraging News

    From a friend (and loyal blog reader) on Sunday:

    Wonderful news about your Mom!!  I sure hope she did not suffer consequences from her outing and can enjoy many, many more like it.

    Rev. Bill Witt did a very informative and persuasive slide presentation for our church service today about the work of the VOM.  It held the entire church audience spellbound (except for the younger kids). Good information which is NEWS to many.


    My reply (today):

    Thanks for your prayers for Mom.  She did go and seemed to tolerate it fairly well.  The Sunday School classroom was more stuffy and harder for her.  During the church service, she sat in the foyer of the sanctuary (where she could still hear and see) with one of the big doors open to get fresh air.  This worked well, other than being chilly.  But she was thrilled to be there and does plan to go again.

    When they heard about this, my brother’s family (who have desired for many years to have us share a holiday with them) invited us to have Thanksgiving dinner with them.  In the 18 years my brother and his wife have been married, Mom’s health has prevented her from having a holiday with them, outside of one time that they spent New Year’s Day here.  The 2 hours each way will be tough for Mom, but I guess she is getting gutsier in her old age!  (But do keep this trip covered in prayer!)

    Thanks for the good report on Bill.  He is indeed a great public speaker.  He is also a good one-on-one encourager/mentor.  He is the one who suggested that I harness my passion for the persecuted church by becoming a VOM Area Representative.  Occasionally now I tease him about what he started!


    Monday, November 15, 2010

    On Death Row for Jesus

    I sent this email to some of my VOM colleagues today and thought you might find it interesting too. 

    Hi team,

    It is very unusual that at this time there are two Christians in the world with official death sentences awaiting execution.  Normally governments are not so obvious about their evil intentions; this seems to indicate that they are bowing to the pressure of local fundamentalism Muslims.  We hope and pray that both of these death sentences will be overturned by higher courts before they are carried out.  They are good ones to focus on in your presentations and letter writing.  Perhaps God will even use the obvious evil of these rulings to evoke public outcry against the laws that they are based on, and bring about greater freedom for Christians in these countries.  

    Asia Bibi in Pakistan:
    She is the first woman to be sentenced to die under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

    Youcef Nardarkani in Iran:
    This one has an extra twist.  It appears Youcef is apparently a part of a cult known in the US as the Branhamites.  They are as “far out” as Mormons or J.W.’s.  But I’m sure the Iranian government sees him as a Christian.  What happens to him will have repercussions for the true Christians in Iran.  The irony of this situation is that he might die for Christ and yet go to hell.  This underscores the vital need for solid teaching for persecuted Christians.  We tend to think that persecution automatically imparts spiritual strength.  But sometimes, as we can see in 2 Thessalonians and in Hebrews, Satan attacks the church from two directions at once: false teaching from within and persecution from without.  (See for a basic introduction to Branhamism)  My heart goes out to Youcef Nadarkhani.  He is the same age as I am. has contact information for both of these prisoners.

    One colleague wrote back to my email:

    Thanks for your e-mail.  For IDOP I placed a huge poster board of Asia and Youcef in the hallway of our church saying they were on Death row and a blew up their Prisoner profiles really big.  I did have a few people show interest and one that said he was going to write.  I don't understand how people aren't crowding around the poster looking to see their family on death row and what they can do about it.  Too many people see them as people far away and not our true family.   I know it's in God's hands. I am going to change how I pray for Youcef and ask that he find Jesus through this.  Now I can write him in prison and witness to him.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    The Door Opener

    Hi praying friends,

    God has been doing some wonderful things. Keep praying!

    First of all, Mom was able to go to the persecuted church conference in Cottonwood last Saturday. Her ankle had been very painful and somewhat swollen for the previous two weeks, but on the morning of the conference when she woke up it was much better. She took that as a sign she should at least try to go. She figured that if the fragrances inside the church building made her sick, she could at least stay out in the car and pray for the conference. However, she was able to stay inside and listen to all of the speakers. It was not because there were no fragrances in the building—I could smell them, the normal combination of perfume, laundry detergent, hand lotion, etc. that most people live in and carry in their clothes all the time, and which seem to be particularly noticeable in church buildings (perhaps because people “dress up” when they come to church?). A friend of hers who is a member of that church and who has the same sort of allergies as Mom gets sick whenever she goes there. I thought perhaps the adrenaline of the moment – the excitement of her being able to be inside a church building, worshipping and listening with other believers for the first time in 10 years -- was simply causing Mom to ignore the symptoms of sickness which normally occur when she is exposed to fragrances. However, she experienced no repercussions from her long exposure to fragrances.

    Praise God!

    We’re not sure whether this was just a temporary miracle for that one great Saturday, or whether He’s opening the door for her to be physically present with the body of Christ on a more regular basis. But as a sort of test, she’s decided to try going to our own church tomorrow. Pray, OK?

    The conference last Saturday was a great blessing in other ways. Over 700 people showed up. I met a local man who shared an interesting testimony with me. As a youth, he went to a Christian college and majored in accounting. He entered the workforce with the specific intention of sharing Jesus on the job, of being an “accounting missionary” if you will. And the Lord did give him many opportunities to evangelize in many different offices. However, over the years he began to lose his boldness. He began to hold his tongue. In retrospect, he says he’d become dependent on his salary and didn’t want to risk losing it. Ironically, God then allowed him to lose his job. Now, the only work he’s been able to find is as a janitor in a public school. He’s still looking. But meanwhile, he is back to sharing the gospel at work without fear. He figures he has nothing to lose now, he’s only a janitor!

    One of the speakers was “Fred”, a man from a restricted nation. Apparently Fred’s first language is Arabic and his second language is Spanish. They had a Spanish-speaking woman lined up as an interpreter. But one of the attendees “happened” to be the pastor of an Arabic church. It had not been advertised that Fred would be present at the conference. When the pastor arrived and found out about Fred on the morning of the conference, he offered to translate from Arabic, which would be easier for Fred since that is his heart language. The conference organizer didn’t know the pastor from Adam so he didn’t know how it would work out, but he decided to go ahead and give him a try. He proved to be a fantastic translator, matching Fred’s personality and passion like a twin brother. It was like they were two mouths with one heart.

    What's the common element in all these stories?  I think it is that God is the one who opens and closes doors.  This should drive us to seek God's favor more, and men's favor less. 

    "...[P]raying...for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ" -- Colossians 4:3 (NASB)

    The Courageous Living Conference was evidence that this is one prayer God loves to answer!

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Biblical Volunteer Management

    Hi ______,

    I heard you mentioning your plan to provide some training in managing volunteers and staff.  I have something that may be of help to you, which you are welcome to borrow.

    When VOM bumped me from being an Area Representative to being an Area Coordinator (overseeing and training other reps) a few years ago, they provided me with a fantastic training course called “High Impact Volunteer Management”.  Honestly, I’ve not had any other training in this field so I had no idea what to expect or what volunteer management involved, but I was afraid it was going to be a bunch of psychobabble imported from the business world, with a few Bible verses tacked on.  

    I was pleasantly surprised to dig in to the training and discover that it seems to be thoroughly founded on Scripture.  It is also some of the most “compacted” training I have EVER received.  By that I mean, the whole thing is compressed into one 45 minute DVD and two audio CDs.  About 3 hours of material altogether.  But I found myself repeatedly having to stop the recordings so that I could catch up in writing down important points that the speaker was making.  Very little fluff in the material.  After watching the first part (the DVD) I understood for the first time why the nursery at my church was always short on volunteers. :)  It gave me a solid track to follow in the volunteer management process.  I can also say now with several years of experience using it that it has worked very well.  That is to say, I feel like it has helped VOM attract, screen, train, and develop excellent reps.  (As far as rep skills are concerned, from my experience, I am towards the bottom of the pile.  VOM has some really neat reps.)  One of the HIVM teachings is that anything you do with staff members you can also do with volunteers, if you manage the process right.  Normally people think that because staff people are paid, they will have a higher commitment level than volunteers, but such doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.  

    The only bad thing about the HIVM training is how expensive it is.  If you buy it on their web site, it’s $150.  (  VOM provided it to me at no charge, for which I’m thankful (although I hope they got a discount!).  You can buy additional workbooks for $15. 

    (But I’m not sure if they have revised the material since I went through it in 2006.  The materials I have may be several generations behind by now?)

    There is very little of the material available for free online, but here are a few links that are available.  They will give you a small taste of what it’s like:

    In any event, if you would like to borrow the DVD and CDs I have, you are more than welcome to them.

    Because of Jesus,

    Daniel Bartsch
    Area Coordinator (AZ, UT)
    Voice Volunteer Network
    The Voice of the Martyrs

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Preparing for IDOP

    From a friend...

    Hi, Daniel......

    You offered assistance for IDOP for the persecuted church, and I would like to have a list of prayer requests and/or names of people and/or families who are imprisoned and persecuted for sharing Jesus.  Pastor R____ has asked me to put together a presentation for Nov. 14th.  I already ordered the kit and have received it. 

    Thank you, Daniel, for your love and dedication to those suffering in so many ways for the cause of Christ!

    Love in Christ,

    My reply...

    Hi L______!

    Thanks for your note.  Here are several great resources that might help:  (free, downloadable PowerPoint presentation containing 9 prayer requests from 9 nations)  (free, downloadable list of prisoners with mailing addresses)  A few of the most prominent prisoners, with printable case backgrounds and photos and contact information.

    It’s great you have the kit.  It has a lot of good stuff in it.  The DVD this year is quite touching. 

    Let me know if you have any questions or need anything else.  May the Lord bless your church as you bless our suffering brothers and sisters!


    Since sending this note, VOM has also added a printable bulletin insert to their resources:

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    The Hidden Generations

    Sent this morning to some relatives:

    Howdy from Arizona!

    Until 3 days ago, the furthest back I knew in our family tree was about 1850.  Then a friend mentioned he was interested in discovering more about his genealogy, so I did a little searching for helpful websites for him.  The last time I had examined the “genealogy world” online, my understanding was that the sites would only give you a little info for free and then you had to pay—something I was not interested in.  (I must have some Scotch blood?)

    But this time I discovered that there is a wealth of information available for free.  I now have traced parts of my Bartsch side back as far as 1485, and parts of the Lyons side as far back as 1570!

    I am wondering if any of you have done any research on the Lyons/Rester family tree?  If so, I’d love to get the data you’ve collected.  Because there are still some missing gaps that I have not yet been able to fill in.

    By the way, the two best websites I’ve found for FREE genealogical data are:

    I am also using the free version of a software program called Legacy 7.4, which you can download free here: 

    Saturday, October 30, 2010


    The Bible says, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy..." (Titus 3:5, NASB)

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Join Me at the Courageous Living Conference, November 6

    Dear friends,

    It’s not often you get to meet men who have literally risked their lives for Jesus.  Particularly when you live in a smaller population area like the Verde Valley.  

    That’s why I thank the Lord for my friend David Witt hosting the Courageous Living Conference in Cottonwood on Saturday, November 6th.   Even as Christians in the supposedly “free” West, we are often bound by spiritual chains of fear that hold us back from boldly sharing the gospel with the non-Christians who surround us.  At this conference, we’ll have the chance to be encouraged to walk in freedom, by men who have tasted more danger than many of us ever will.

    You must have a ticket to attend; but if you pre-register online, you get a discount.  

    Hope to see you there!  (And if you can’t attend, would you pray for those of us who are there, that God will challenge, convict, and change us?)


    (P.S. I apologize if you receive duplicates of this announcement.) 

    • International speakers and authors Russell Stendal, Marius Chelmagan and David Witt
    • Saturday, November 6 from 8:30am to 4:00pm.
    • Special American/Romanian praise band and youth choir concert from 4:30pm to 5:30pm.
    • Courageous Kids Conference for children 5 to 12 years old
    • Courageous Youth Track for ages 13 to 18 years old
    • Drawing for prizes - including an airplane ride in the Verde Valley with Pilot Russell Stendal on Sunday afternoon, November 7th
    • Sack lunch will be provided.
    • Verde Baptist Church - 102 S Willard St - Cottonwood, AZ 86326 - 928-634-3645

    Additional information from David:

    During the conference the speakers will address their messages from Acts chapters 3 and 4. The four main messages will be in this order: Courageous Faith, Courageous Repentance, Courageous Truth, and Courageous Witness. We invite you to begin to read over these chapters, pray for God to prepare your heart and bless every aspect of this discipleship conference. Many more faith building activities will fill the rest of the day.
    Elementary age children will be learning some of the same principles in the Courageous Kids conference being held simultaneously in another building. Likewise the adolescences have the Courageous Youth track. They will join the main sessions in the morning and then at lunch they have some special activities planned for their growth.
    The conference is scheduled from 8:30am to 5:30pm. We have a few special events planned throughout the day. Starting at 7:30am we open the doors for coffee, fellowship and prayer. At 8:00am we are having a pastors’ lead prayer session in the sanctuary. (If you are a pastor and would like to participate, please let us know.) To add some fun we are having some door prizes. One will be an airplane ride for two with Russell Stendal on Sunday afternoon, November 7. (You must be present at the concert to win.) We are also having a silent auction to raise funds for the courageous believers in Colombia. All the ministries (Spirit of Martyrdom, Youth 4 The Kingdom, Radio Shine, Colombia For Christ, The Voice of the Martyrs) have donated unique and valuable items for auction. We will take a love offering for any conference expenses that have not been covered and the remaining proceeds will be donated to the courageous believers in Colombia through Russell Stendal’s ministry called, Colombia For Christ. Last of all, we hope to end the conference on a very high note with celebration through music. A special concert is being held by a Romanian/American band and youth choir from 4:30-5:30pm. We hope you do not miss this unique experience. Please feel free to contact us with any other questions.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    Tabernacles, Trellises, and Thunderstorms

    A church in California recently built a full-size replica of the tabernacle of Moses.  They used it to teach their own congregation about the symbology of the tabernacle, and how it foreshadowed the work of Jesus.  When they were done, they made it available for free to any church that would come and get it, as long as that church would give it away for free to the next church.  And so on.

    The tabernacle in California.  Photo courtesy Eric Lawrence.

    A group of churches in Sedona, Arizona, found out about this offer.  They sent over a team of people, rented a 26 foot moving van, and loaded all the tabernacle into it.

    It was erected on a vacant parcel of ground on Main Street in Sedona, next to Walgreens.

    The call went out for volunteers to serve as greeters and as tour guides.  I was excited by the evangelistic potential of the tabernacle.  After all, it is one big "picture" of Jesus.  And Sedona is well-known to be a place with a lot of spirituality and religion, but very little of the true gospel of Jesus.  What better place to bring the tabernacle?

    So, I volunteered to take a few shifts as a tour guide.  I must say, this role really caused me to start digging into Exodus and Leviticus.  Here is a tour given by Joy to a group of homeschool kids and their parents. I am one who recorded it on a cheap digital camera. The video quality is not great but it picked up the audio fairly nicely.

    For my first two shifts we had unseasonably warm temperatures, in the 90s. I discovered how stifling the real tabernacle must have gotten at certain times of the year in the Sinai peninsula. We gave as much of the tour as possible standing outside under a shade tree before we brought the guests inside. Even so, I got mildly sunburned.

    My third shift was just the opposite: freezing!  A major storm system blew in, bringing very chilly temperatures (I actually started shivering), wind, and rain.  A number of the curtains surrounding the courtyard were in danger of destruction by the wind and had to be taken down.  The wind began to threaten the curtains over the tabernacle itself.  The rain threatened damage to the furniture of the tabernacle (which was made mostly of wood, without the metal that the real furniture had), so we covered them with big plastic bags.

    I was scheduled for a fourth shift, but before that day came, the storm worsened.  The rain softened the soil, allowing the wind to pop out the stakes that were holding the tabernacle frame in place.  With the structure damaged and unsafe for the public to visit, and only 4 days of scheduled tabernacle tours remaining, the decision was made to close and disassemble the tabernacle.  It has now been repaired and is available for another church to come and get.

    In the approximately 10 days that the tabernacle was open for tours, from what I heard, about 1000 people toured it.  For the tours that I gave, at least, most of the visitors were Christians, or at least from a Christian background.  I did have one Jewish couple and in retrospect I wish I had been more bold in sharing the gospel with them.

    The entire tabernacle episode prompted some deep reflection in my heart.  It seems symbolic to me of the reasons for much of my ineffectiveness as a Christian, and of the ineffectiveness of the American church as a whole.  It was the living expression of what I learned in "The Trellis and the Vine" which I reviewed on this blog a few months ago.  Simply put: we cling to "structures" as tools for evangelism.  A structure can be something like a church building, an evangelistic method, a training program, a pre-packaged Bible study curriculum, a homeless feeding ministry, or even a blog.  Structures make evangelism easier.  In the case of the tabernacle, it was very easy to share the gospel with visitors because the whole tabernacle simply shouts "Jesus!"  It's also easier to attract volunteers to build structures than to do raw evangelism, because it's much more pleasant to drive a nail into a board than to drive the law of God into a sinner's conscience.

    But structures all come with a cost.  The bigger the structure, the easier the evangelism, but the bigger the cost.  They seem to require more money, meetings, minds, maintenance and materials than anyone initially expects.  Like the tabernacle, they are vulnerable to the unexpected thunderstorm of problems.  When we are honest, we must admit that structures often become black holes of labor, rather than logistical aids.

    Structures are addictive because they feel "safer" than raw ministry, they keep us very busy, and they have just enough positive results to make us think that we are accomplishing something worthwhile.  It is like setting up walls to protect us, only to discover that we have made ourselves prisoners. 

    I am still processing how all this should impact my life, and what structures in my own life need to go.  I'm not advocating for a minute that all structures should be eliminated from anyone's life.  But I think if we look at the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, it seems that they operated most efficiently on a bare minimum of structure.  Structure is necessary; but only a little bit, far less than we probably imagine.

    One thing I see the need to prune is my blogging.  I love blogging, and it appears to allow me to minister to many people very efficiently.  It's far less messy and far more professional-looking than talking to a real person.  But while many people may read my blog, I have little reason to believe that it is accomplishing much effective ministry. 

    So much of my life consists of sending and receiving mass communications.  It's rare that I actually talk or write one on one with another person any more.  I'm so busy with producing or consuming blogs, mass emails, sermons, books, Tweets, and Facebook messages that I don't have time for personal ministry.

    So, for now you'll probably see a decline in the quality and number of my blog postings.  Those that I do put up will be emails I've sent to or received from individuals (I will trim the personally identifiable details before posting).

    Life is too fast and short to unnecessarily squander more time on infrastructure.  I've spent an hour just writing this message.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Where The Battle?

    A man I'm training to become a Voice of the Martyrs Area Representative asked me what kind of spiritual warfare I've faced since becoming a rep.  That was an astute question, which I have not been asked before.  After some reflection, here is what I wrote him.  I think in many ways this applies to all forms of ministry, not just to VOM work.

    The spiritual warfare question is an interesting one. I’m not actually sure that I’ve experienced any as a result of my ministry with VOM, but it does seem that some reps experience it, and it may be that I have as well.

    I would say from my experience the biggest challenge that reps face is busyness. A surprising number of our most talented reps have dropped out after the first year because they discover that they are overcommitted already. I’m not sure whether to chalk that up to spiritual warfare or just to our human tendency to try to be over-achievers. I struggle with this tendency myself but so far the Lord has given me the grace to step back and re-prioritize and my VOM work has thus far always survived the pruning.

    Probably the second most common problem is the development of cynicism towards local churches. Once the mindset creeps in that “they don’t want to hear what I want to share with them” it begins to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (If people sense that we have a judgmental attitude towards them, they instinctively become defensive.) I have wrestled with this one too. And truth be told, a lot of churches do seem unresponsive to or uninterested in persecution. We just have to fight through in prayer to have a compassionate heart even for these. Most of the time when I get an opportunity to share, I’m surprised. The seeds I thought surely would sprout, often don’t; and the seeds I place very little hope in sometimes do! Again, I’m not sure, but I guess you could classify this as spiritual warfare.

    The third most common thing that brings reps down has been health problems, either for themselves or for their family members. It seems that God allows us to suffer so that we will be more able to passionately and compassionately represent our brothers and sisters who suffer. One rep had prostate cancer, another rep had major surgery (and her husband spent 8 weeks in the hospital after a bypass operation), another rep’s wife got bone cancer, another rep had a stroke, my own mother was very sick last year and we thought she was going to die, another rep lost his job and had surgery on his wrist, another rep had a heart attack and cancer, another rep had a prematurely born baby, and another rep’s wife suffers from terrible migraine headaches.

    Looking back over these three areas, I guess they could all be called spiritual warfare. It seems that the battle in all of them is to believe. Like Paul said, “Fight the good fight of faith.” When health problems strike, we must fight to believe that God is ultimately in control of them, and that He allowed them because of His love for us. When local churches seem as interested as a stone in the suffering of our precious brethren, we must fight to believe that God can change their heart of stone into a heart of flesh. (And remember that He is the one who softens our own hearts.) When we are crowded with urgent demands from various parts of our lives, we must fight to believe that putting God’s kingdom and righteousness first really will result in all the other things being added to us as well.

    I do hope that helps a little in anticipating what challenges you’ll face as a rep. One nice thing about this particular form of ministry, though, is that the persecuted church, rather than sucking you dry, winds up encouraging you to keep fighting. It’s sort of a self-fuelling ministry, if that makes sense!

    Because of the One who is able to keep us from stumbling,


    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Kudos to Canon (and Christ!)

    Canon PIXMA MP640 Wireless Inkjet Photo All-In-One Printer (3748B002) Not long ago our faithful Canon iP3000 gave up the ghost.We loved it (as we have loved all our previous Canon printers) because it was cheap to feed. (OK, it helps being in the printer supplies business!)

    In searching for a replacement, we eventually settled on an iP4700 and found a brand new one on eBay for just $70 including delivery.  We picked it partly because it uses cartridges almost as inexpensive as our old printer.

    When we got the printer, we had some difficulty getting it to accept the print head, and a little plastic piece broke off the machine.  (They don't make printers like they used to!)

    So Dad called Canon for support.  Eventually he got the print head working and figured out that the plastic piece was for a feature we never use anyways.

    But about a week later, we got a call from polite woman with Canon support who spoke perfect English and called from Virginia, not Mumbai!  I told her everything was working fine now, and that the broken piece wasn't anything important.  She said, "If you don't mind, I'd like to send you an upgraded printer as a replacement!"  Shocked, I checked to see what cartridges the "upgrade" printer (an MP640) used.  They were the same as the iP4700.  I'm not the brightest light in the world, but this sounded like a good deal to me.  The MP640 had two features that the iP4700 doesn't: network connectivity and a scanner/copier.

    Canon was as good as their word; the new printer arrived in a week, including a prepaid label to return our iP4700.

    Now that's customer service.

    Now, let me contrast the customer service of Canon with the customer service in China.  Of course, China is a big country and it's wrong to make a blanket statement about their business ethics.  I will say though that in China, abysmal customer service is far more common than it is here.  I've found some fascinating articles giving specific, overwhelming examples of this.  Take a look and I think you will be shocked:

    Now I don't mean to denigrate the Chinese people.  I have many wonderful Chinese friends.  And if Americans found themselves suddenly living in Chinese society, my guess is that most of them would quickly stoop to equally scandalous ethics to protect themselves.

    My question though, is this: knowing that human hearts are equally depraved everywhere in the world, why is China such a "dog eat dog" culture, while our American culture is still relatively trusting?  Why is it that in America, Canon will send me a better printer up front and trust me to return the first one without even a contract to compel me?  Such an exchange would never take place within today's China, because neither party would be willing to put themselves at risk of being robbed by the other party.

    What created this cultural difference between China and America?


    Huh?  What does religion have to do with it?

    Simply this: our country still has the ethics of Christianity as the basic fabric of social interaction.  Christian ethics start with the fundamental concept that God gives gifts even to us, who have rebelled and flaunted Him.  The sun rises and the rain falls on the just and the unjust.  Talk about taking a risk.  This was not a risk, this was a certainty.  We would misuse God's gifts, and God knew it.  We worship the gifts and reject the Giver.  We deserved no trust and God gave to us anyways.  God took human flesh in the person of Jesus, making Himself even more vulnerable to harm.  True to our wicked character, we nailed Him to a tree.  And yet God planned even this act of barbarity as the very means by which He would offer us redemption from our wickedness.  And even this offer of kindness is abused by us.

    So Christianity starts with the idea that God gives to the untrustworthy, and ends with the idea that we should do the same thing.

    This philosophy made possible the culture of trust that we have in America.  But it is, dangerously, no longer at the foundation of our culture.  Nowadays most people are trusting because most people do not abuse their trust.  But when the immediate benefit of abusing trust begins to outweigh the long term price of losing trust, whenever it becomes more attractive to steal, the fabric of our society will quickly become Chinese.

    And it will then be only the true followers of Christ who continue to give to the wicked.

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    "Lord, why was I a guest?"

    Last Saturday's regional conference in Scottsdale was a great encouragement to me.  I actually went down on Friday afternoon to help with set up.  When I walked in, Getaneh Getaneh recognized me immediately and gave me a hug.  What a great start!  Then after a few hours' work, a bunch of us went for dinner at Boston Market. 
    Conference coordinator (and emcee) Matt Rose drove this VOM truck all the way from Bartlesville, Oklahoma.  It was fully loaded with conference materials.  He spent the night in Holbrook, Arizona.

    The man who had initiated the process of bringing the conference to his church (Scottsdale First Assembly) also opened his home for me to stay in Friday night.  He met me at the church before dinner and asked if I wanted to borrow his "garmen".  His what?  It turned out that this middle aged guy is quite tech savvy.  I thought I was being really nerdy to have printed out Google Maps showing how to get to Boston Market and to his home.  But eventually I figured out he was offering me the use of his Garmin GPS to navigate around town!

    If you frequently drive in unfamiliar areas, I can certainly recommend this Garmin.  It apparently costs about $150 but there is no monthly fee thereafter.

    The Garmin proved very helpful in navigating unfamiliar streets.  But when I got to Boston Market, none of the others were there.  This worried me, because they had all left the church before I did.  Had I gone to the wrong Boston Market?  But then I looked over and saw Russell Stendal and Jim Dau sitting in another vehicle.  And then Mujahid drove up and got out and gave me a hug.  These three had come from their hotel which was nearby.  It turned out that the Garmin had really worked well and somehow got me to the restaurant about 5 minutes before the others who had been at the church.  (And no, I didn't speed.) 

    We had a wonderful meal together.  I wound up sitting next to VOM President Jim Dau, who says he isn't a good communicator but kept us all regaled with amazing stories from his life!  I kept marveling at God's goodness to me in allowing me to share a table with men who have truly risked their lives for the name of Jesus.

    I asked Russell (who was just a couple seats away) if he still wrestles with fear.  When he was 27, he was held hostage by FARC guerrillas in Colombia for 142 days, tied with a nylon rope to a tree.  The rope went around both shoulders and around his neck, so that if he tried to free himself it would strangle him.  He replied, "What really helped me with getting over the trauma was forgiving the men who had held me hostage.  And then looking for ways to give to them."  He said that he had a struggle with God after his release the first time his brother asked him to accompany him on a ministry trip to the guerrillas.  God won, Russell went, and he discovered a new level of freedom from fear.  In a way, that was God's preparation for his current ministry, because Russell and his family are being used in incredible (although often dangerous) ways to bring the gospel to Colombian guerrillas, paramilitaries, and soldiers. 

    I also asked him why the guerrillas released him (because I haven't yet read his book, Rescue the Captors, which tells the story!).  He said the short version is that God supernaturally caused the guerrillas to become more frightened of him (their captive!) than he was of them.  Now I've got to read the book!

    The conference on Saturday was touching.  I won't even attempt to recount for you the messages of the speakers.  If you're that interested, you'll just have to go to a VOM conference for yourself.  (There are still five more coming up this year.)  There were approximately 465 attendees, some from as far away as Albuquerque and Huntington Beach.  It was neat to see the faces of people who were in the middle of getting their priorities rearranged. The other VOM reps and I met many of them as we worked at the resource table during the breaks.

    Afterwards there was a dinner held for about 35 invited guests, including the speakers.  The volunteer VOM reps were also among the invited ones.  So again I found myself dining with people in the room who have suffered much for Jesus.  And then my reps decided this was the perfect time to turn the tables for the surprise birthday party I had pulled on a couple of them earlier this year.  They knew that my birthday was the next day, so they surprised me with a card and led everyone in singing Happy Birthday to me.

    I got to thinking about the promise of Jesus to those who lose their families because they follow Him.
    Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.  (Mark 10:29-30, NASB)
    It seems that this promise somehow overflows not only to those who are directly persecuted themselves, but also to those who aid the persecuted.  As a result of my volunteer work with VOM, I feel like I have received many new brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers.

    It also seemed to me like a faint foretaste of the great marriage supper of the Lamb that followers of Jesus will share in heaven.  There, too, I will be the unworthy guest not only with even more martyrs of our faith such as Abel, and Graham Staines, and Stephen, and Jean (John) Hus, and Peter, and Jim Elliot, but with the Author and Finisher of our Faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  I will meet the unnamed martyrs of Hebrews 11 "of whom the world was not worthy", and together we will worship Jesus and marvel that He would die for us.
    While all our hearts and all our songs
    Join to admire the feast,
    Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
    “Lord, why was I a guest?

    “Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
    And enter while there’s room,
    When thousands make a wretched choice,
    And rather starve than come?”

    ’Twas the same love that spread the feast
    That sweetly forced us in;
    Else we had still refused to taste,
    And perished in our sin.
     (From the hymn, How Sweet and Awful is the Place, by Isaac Watts)

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Lots to Share

    Hi friends,

    These days I am in the middle of several exciting things.  Last Saturday was the Voice of the Martyrs regional conference in Scottsdale.  It was a great blessing and encouragement. 

    This week and next week there is a full size replica of the tabernacle of Moses on display in Sedona, and I am working several shifts as a tour guide.

    So far I've been too busy to write any of it up for my blog.  Keep praying for me, and I hope to have time to share some photos and thoughts with you soon.


    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    How Blessed Are His Sons After Him

    "A righteous man who walks in his integrity--how blessed are his sons after him."  (Proverbs 20:7, NASB)
    Me, my brother, and my father (Dad and I are wearing dashiki shirts that my brother and his family brought back for us from Uganda)

    If you haven't already seen it on my Facebook account, we had a surprise birthday party for my Dad last month. This YouTube playlist shows Dad coming in for the surprise, my brother telling a humorous story from his childhood, and me sharing 3 things I appreciate about my Dad.

    Posted by Picasa

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    Singing a New (Old) Song

    The song "My Song is Love Indeed" was recently introduced at our church.  I confess, the first time I heard this song's unusual melody, I thought it would be exceptionally hard to learn.  But after practicing a bit with this YouTube version, I have found that this song is really hard to get out of my head!

    Not that I want to get it out of my head.  The words are rich.  They would have to be, to remain in use after nearly 350 years.  May they nourish your own worship of our crucified and risen Savior!

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Deception from the Inside

    Through a friend on Facebook, I found the blog of a young LDS man who is on a mission in Chile.  Never before have I had such an inside look at what life is like for an American Mormon missionary.  It is heartbreaking for several reasons:
    • He is completely deceived and entangled by his religion.
    • Even though ultimately his choice of this wrong belief system is not simply a matter of ignorance, but of willful rejection of the truth about God that is known to every human (Romans 1:19-20), it is still sad to see a fellow human spending his life for what in the end will lead him to hell.
    • He is leading other people into this same belief system.
    • And what is perhaps most frightening of all, he bases his faith on the same things that many professing Christians do: spiritual experiences, mental impressions, and pure faith. (Faith in faith does not save; only faith alone in Jesus alone saves.)
    If you find your own faith shaken by looking at "Elder" Matthew Ward's blog, perhaps this is a good opportunity for you to re-examine what your faith is really based on.

    I have another friend who was an LDS missionary in Argentina.  Brad Melton's experience as a missionary actually led him to discover the falsehood of Mormonism, and now he teaches Christians why Mormonism is wrong, why the Biblical gospel is true, and how to share it with Mormons.  Here is a short video with some excerpts from one of his talks.  Maybe you'd like to have Brad come share at your church or Bible study?

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Captured by Orphans

    My brother and his family returned safely to the US last month from a two-week trip to Uganda, Africa.  But maybe it wasn't completely safe, because love is never a safe thing. Although their bodies returned to the United States, chunks of their hearts have been imprisoned in Uganda.
    Two of the orphaned girls

    They came up to visit us last weekend and showed us pictures and videos and told stories.  They read us handwritten letters given them by the orphans saying heart-grabbing things like, "We'll never forget you.  Please don't forget us."  My brother told me, "When we went I expected that we would be changed by the experience.  But what I didn't expect was how we would actually be able to bless them."  And God did indeed bless them through my brother's family.  The unique talents each family member had, God used to help the orphanage, from cake decorating to automotive mechanics to math to digital photography to simply being a good listener (to name a few).
     Brent wrote me, "Oscar was born with his lip unattached and he would drool/slobber all of the time making simple tasks of eating and drinking extraordinarily challenging.   He actually already has had some surgery since being at OTW, and he has a sense of gratefulness that he is a bit more normal.   He has an amazing sweet spirit, and silently warmed up to me rather quickly."
    My brother said the two most amazing things were how quickly his heart became attached to the orphans (within hours), and how little he even wanted to think about life back in the US while he was there.

    There are far more stories and pictures than I can share with you here, but I really want to encourage you to take time to study their blog, photo gallery (over 1000 photos), and YouTube collection.  Here are the links for you:

    Blog Remember, with a blog things are in reverse date order, so to see it chronologically you can go back to the beginning and read forward.
    Photos (each photo on the main page is actually a folder containing many pictures, click on each to see the pictures within it)
    YouTube (make sure to watch both the Uploads and Favorites)

    I'd encourage you to sponsor an orphan there.  After hearing my brother's family's stories, I'm sponsoring a boy there myself.

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    A Tribute to Charlie Wedemeyer

    Charlie's Victory: An AutobiographyLast year when Mom was declining so rapidly, a friend gave us a copy of Charlie's Victory, a book about a Hawaiian football star (and subsequent coach) who contracted ALS.  Charlie Wedemeyer was originally given a year to live when he first was diagnosed in the late 70s.  Thanks to incredibly devoted care from his wife and friends, he did not decline as fast as predicted.  But by the mid 80s, he had lost the ability to speak, breathe, and eat on his own.  The only muscles he could move were a few in his face.  Yet amazingly, God used these incredible hardships to bring the Wedemeyer family to faith in Jesus, and then used them to minister to hurting people all over the world.  He became a sought-after public speaker, even though he couldn't speak (his wife read his lips).  Charlie also continued coaching football as an assistant coach. As we were finishing reading the book, I decided to check online to see how long Charlie lived.  The book was written in 1993, and he was still alive at that time.  I was stunned to learned that Charlie just died on June 3 of this year.  He had lived well over 30 years with ALS.  Amazing!  And, despite being so physically incapacitated, Charlie truly lived--he didn't simply exist.

    The Wedemeyer's story was a tremendous encouragement to me.  Learn more on their web site at, and by watching the video below!  We've also purchased the complete documentary DVD from, which you might enjoy as well.