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)

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