Pastor Chuck's Takeaway

Monday morning theological reflections

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A Lutheran in Lebanon

What is this? Having recently returned from two weeks in Lebanon as missionary, nomad, and tourist, I am still processing all that I experienced, enjoyed, and absorbed. Our six-person mission team worked with True Vine Baptist Church in Zahle, about an hour east of Beirut. Going in, I thought we’d stay in tents and be eating a rough diet, but we actually had comfortable accommodations and tasty food. Our mission work focused on reaching out to the Syrian refugees forced to leave the country due to the Syrian War and Isis-related activity. There are more than 5 million Syrian refugees and 2.5 million relocated right across the border to Lebanon. These are not established camps sponsored by the United Nations with peacekeepers around to keep order. These are basic, make-shift settlements, less than sanitary, where the landowners permit them to temporarily reside if they pay rent. Each day we traveled to two or three of these encampments to provide children’s ministry, dramatize a parable, sing songs, hand out shoes or toys, and preach the gospel. Wherever and whenever we showed up, we were swamped by these beautiful children, a fair number of mothers, and even a few men. There were plenty of translators on hand to help us communicate, but between tossing the children in the air, playing with the parachute, and taking thousands of pictures, we didn’t need translators as much as you would think. While the joy of the children boosted our spirits, their lack of a future and the poverty broke our hearts.

What does this mean? The immensity of the need is overwhelming and the fact you have seven years of refugee children who have not been educated is reason to be full of sorrow. The boredom, hopelessness, being homesick for Syria, and just trying to survive make life for refugees worse than just exile. Yet, as is so often the case, God shines a light into the darkness of the refugee wilderness. True Vine’s senior pastor, Pastor Jihad (no kidding), told us that they believe God has given them an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with their Arab sisters and brothers. In partnership with an enormous Egyptian church, they are pouring their manpower, manna, and ministry into these refugee settlements. As hard as it is to believe, the pastors suggest that what has opened the door for Christianity in the Middle East was the horrific events of Nine-Eleven. When local Muslims experienced the violence of, not only the regimes in power, but Al-Quaeda, Isis (home-based in Syria), and the Muslim Brotherhood, many rejected the Muslim faith. Whatever the reason, the Holy Spirit is moving in the Middle East. True Vine has weekly baptisms, a medical clinic, a thriving school, and an active outreach for children, all in the last six years. I know it is difficult for we science-centered Westerners to comprehend, but we heard countless stories of miraculous healings, faithful Muslims having visions and dreams of Jesus causing them to convert, and many planning to return to Syria to share the gospel with Muslim family there. On the ground, it feels like another Great Awakening, right out of the Acts of the Apostles. Our host pastor said something rather prophetic, “Here we (the church) started and here we will end”. On the first Pentecost, the disciples went out to make disciple of all nations. Now, the church is right back where it started, witnessing to the last frontier for evangelism! Thanks be to God who is always more active, invested, and intrusive than we believe.

What is the takeaway? The whole experience was so humbling. Who was I to witness the work of the Holy Spirit in such God-forsaken circumstances? With a dynamic team from Egypt and the True Vine people, I was basically a pastoral waterboy. Holding their coats, while they fought the good fight. Even still, it was energizing and I hope to bring that home to my congregation. If I had doubts about the gospel going nowhere in this world, that got blown up, big-time. This is all God’s doing. My hope is others will rejoice in hearing what God is doing among the Muslims. Mercifully, may God be active and on the move in our churches. We in the American Church tend to arrogantly believe we are so essential for mission work to get done around the globe. Pastor Jihad offered a refreshing viewpoint closer to Scriptural reality, “You know, we don’t really need your financial support here. We have God and the Holy Spirit that have been supplying us with all we need”. Amen. After the mission, a friend and I enjoyed a few days in Beirut; relaxing, sight-seeing, and having a beer overlooking the Mediterranean. This pilgrimage had all the elements that I look for in travel; exotic destination, encounter a different culture, and experience God at work in new ways. I have been blessed to see God at work first-hand- calling, redeeming, blessing, changing, forgiving, and reconciling in unexpected places; a cancer hospital, an orphanage in Mexico, building houses through Amor, a drug and alcohol rehab center, and now in the refugee camps of Lebanon. The really good news is the same Holy Spirit is at work in your congregation in unexpected ways. May God give us eyes to see, faith to believe, relationships to reinforce, and experiences to comprehend this holy work in our lives and churches. This Lutheran is constantly surprised and refreshed by God’s amazing grace!


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Endgame: Miss Caroline Drives Herself

What is this? It has been almost a year to the day when Caroline started driver’s education and just this week received her driver’s license. It has been a hard year for me, Caroline, too, I think. Twelve months ago, we started with 911 Driving School, where former police officers run a very law-n-order program. One driving instructor, “Joe” (not his name) was Caroline’s nemesis, snapping at her, questioning and correcting her every move. So I tried to be the Anti-Joe, encouraging, sometimes harassing Caroline to come driving, and holding my tongue when I wanted to scream as certain death approached. Relational education is part of life, we hopefully learn the signs before us to relate to the people we love. Of course, everything you thought you knew about your kids goes right out the window when they hit adolescence. There is a reorientation for teenagers (personality disorder) and parents (your head explodes), as children move toward adulthood. I’ve always loved Luke’s story of 12 year-old Jesus telling his parents to “chill out” when they are in a panic trying to locate him, asserting his independence from Mom and Dad. Since Jesus never sinned, that means his rebellion is not wrong, just routine as one grows up. Still, you wish the relationship police were around to pull others over when they can’t read the signs and won’t obey the rules. If they had a hot line, I’d turn my own kids (and Elizabeth) in.

What does this mean? One of the relational rules, a sign that I see a lot more often is “Road Closed”. Communicating is much more than the words we say, there’s eye contact, body language, voice inflexion, and what I hear much more these days, VOLUME!!! There have been times when I have pushed, prodded, & preached at Caroline, “time to practice, have to get those 5000 hours of driving in”. What I get is a painful look, a loud groan, and a long list of reasons why this won’t work for her (she is in her pajamas watching “Teen Mom Season 2”). My tendency has most always been to press someone when I want to talk about something I deem important. My family has helped me to learn, that simply does not work. To get along, you have to respect boundaries, be aware of timing, and be open to approaching some topics in a different way, head-on is not always the way to go. It is telling in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, that the Father waits for the lost son to come home while he seeks out his elder son when he refused to come to the party. In my relationship with God, I have experienced God waiting on me to “come to my senses” and other times seeking me out, even slapping me upside the head to get my attention. While I have matured in my relational skills, now I have to withstand the verbal assaults of my children when they want to discuss their topic NOW! As I put up my own “Road Closed” sign, I am watching NBA basketball (hey, it’s the playoffs), I realize how annoying I have been all these years, so maybe it is God’s perfect justice in the form of parental payback.

What is the takeaway? All the drives, coaching, encouraging, and near-death driving experiences boiled down to taking the written and skills test. Piece of cake, right? Not quite, we walked-in for the written test, waiting, waiting, waiting. Caroline is as anxious as can be, this is thee right of passage. She goes in while I sit, waiting. As parents, we sure spend a lot of time waiting, watching, hoping, praying, in suspense, rooting for our kids to pass the test, make the right choice, meet the right person, find the right job. We are so invested, yet so helpless. In some ways, so is Our Father with us, his earthly children. Sadly, Caroline did not pass, so tears, sadness, discouragement follows. I told you this was hard on me. Caroline wanted to take it the next day. Finally, she passed! We went to THE HUB to celebrate, she did it. But, now there is the skills test. Just as I learned to play basketball, repetition, repetition, repetition, so she was going to prep for the test. Ninety minutes before the test, we practiced parallel parking and backing around the corner again, again, and again. When it came time for the test, I told Caroline I arranged to have her old nemesis Joe accompany. “Not funny, Dad!” When she passed the test, Hooray, and we went to DMV for her official license, it was sweet victory,. I think Caroline was happy, too. This chapter was over, she had accomplished a milestone and we could relax. As we enjoyed a delicious Mexican lunch in Bremerton, she asked about getting a car.

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Retirement: The Promised Land?!

What is this? Coming up on 59, I’ve been wondering what will retirement look like. I still enjoy my work. That is good news, because the reality is I am an old parent, kids are expensive so I won’t be retiring for a long time, or so I’ve been advised. Having said that, how is our Christian vocation modified and transformed in this new chapter and in what ways does it remain the same. Elizabeth and I have discussed mostly in the abstract “The Promised Land”. We have financial plans and hope to be prepared. However, retirement seems like one of those things you don’t really know until you get there, you have to see for yourself, find out what works for you. Plenty of church people have invited me in to help them discern “WHAT DO I DO NOW?!” In my experience, those “greatest generation” retirees, mostly men, have the most difficult transition, work had always been their identity. So retirement can be a time of loss, they are looking for something to give them purpose and fulfillment. Some of my marriage counseling is for retired couples who are now both at home and wondering, “why is this person in my space all the time? They need to find a job, a hobby, some friends, or the senior center, in other words, ‘get a life!” I do marvel as some retirees that strike a marvelous balance; service to the church without being an indentured servant, support the grandchildren without being a full-time daycare provider, and travel/recreation without emptying the retirement account. I can imagine that kind of meaningful, family-oriented retirement with some merriment tossed in for good measure.

What does this mean? Over the last seventy-five years, retirement has been marketed as the never-ending vacation, with days filled with golf, happy hours, naps, and leisure. For those that can actually afford that lifestyle, people get bored. In 2019, seniors can expect to live for 20-30 years into retirement. Not only do you have to fund that, but you need to find purpose and community, what an opportunity for the church. When seniors tell me they have served long enough, I quote a favorite Christian author, “You are not done until you are dead”. Scripture is full of people being called to the ministry well beyond retirement age. There is Abraham and Sara, parents at 100 and 90 respectively, Moses comes to the burning bush and gets his Exodus assignment at 75ish, and prophets Simeon and Anna who hold the baby Jesus soon after his birth. I’ve been blessed to have some remarkable leaders and impact players in my congregations, that shatter the sad stereotypes of docile, irrelevant, and bland retirees. The church should lead the societal revolt by calling, encouraging, and challenging our older population to make a difference at whatever age. There is no denying that advancing age brings serious anxieties; losing your independence, loneliness and accumulated losses, and, most of all, death and dying. No question, God saves the most difficult, demanding, and unpredictable part of life for the end. And remember, we are all going to be there. I would say that if the purpose of the church is to prepare every soul for eternity, then the day of retirement to your deathbed are critical and concentrated for Christian formation.

What is the takeaway? Retirement does bring some “Promised Land” possibilities but also some inevitabilities that we do well to consider realistically. Plus, for all the plans and pipedreams you anticipate, things happen. Suddenly, you have a serious health condition or a family member does so you become the de facto caregiver. I know many of you have been through or will be going through those kinds of interruptions. With all the blessings, uncertainties, possibilities, and potential hazards of retirement, you need Jesus more than ever. For many, retirement is the second call, a new season of service, reflection, and spiritual growth, finishing school for eternity. To papaphrase the old Star Trek theme, as believers when a new adventure comes along, we ought “to boldly go” where we have not been before. We can do that because Paul reminds us that, “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s”. That means by faith you are free to do most anything in retirement; take some risks with a new venture, rest when you feel like it (I’m looking forward to regular afternoon naps), utilize your talents, possessions, and experience for the gospel, and remember and rejoice in the family and friends God has given you. Part of our Christian stewardship is to be intentional in leaving our legacy. Yes, your financial legacy to your family and to the church, as well. But, also to consider your relational legacy, how will your children and grandchildren remember you? Who have you blessed and who do you still need to bless? And if mobility or mental issues arise, someone you love is dying or does die, you are going to need to lean on the Lord more than ever. But, the promise is God’s grace is sufficient for you and me from birth to middle school to parenthood to retirement to deathbed and on to the real Promised Land. Take heart, you are the Lord’s.


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Mr. Mom’s Perspective

What is this? At a recent bible class on Genesis, we were trading insights and insults (in fun) about what it means when God declares, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him”. The creation account in Genesis 2 is more intimate, pedestrian, and “on-the-ground” than the view from On-High you get in Genesis 1. Here, God takes the time to evaluate the situation, contemplate a solution, make the woman from the rib of the man, literally bring her to the man, and the two shall become one flesh. Such a mystery yet such a necessity, so extraordinary yet so everyday, so magical yet so very functional. One of the great gifts of marriage is the division of labor, especially if you get a hard-working, efficient, intelligent, and committed partner like I did with Elizabeth. For many years, I admit I have taken that for granted, Elizabeth will get that done. So I can go merrily on my way: saving souls, writing sermons, counseling hurting people, and enjoying those leisurely pastoral lunches. Well, that has changed recently. Elizabeth, the stay-at-home mother/household CFO/repairman/shopper is now working a full-time teaching job and many of her former duties have fallen to me. Now don’t worry, she still does the really important stuff like banking, taxes, and making big purchases. But, now I am Mr. Mom with two high school students learning first-hand just how much Elizabeth and mothers in general have done, are doing, and are expected to do everyday!

What does this mean? When our children were young and I would return triumphantly home from another ministerial day, I’d burst through the front door, “Daddy’s home!” Of course, the kids were napping and Elizabeth was enjoying a few moments of tranquility, until I would blow it up with my grand entrance. Such has been my naivete about how mothers operate. One of my new responsibilities is to supervise, most nights, preparing meals and making sure all are fed sufficiently. This was easy for a while, I wondered what was the big deal. I’d just take a survey 30 minutes before mealtime, “What do you want tonight kids; pizza, burgers, Thai, or teriyaki?” and go get carry-out. A couple things happened to upend that strategy, the credit card bill exploded and Caroline, our 16 year-old became a nutritional Nazi. So we scaled back on take-out and started planning and preparing together simple (and they better be healthy!) meals. I respect and revere women and men who are skilled and creative cooks, what a daunting task! I don’t care what internet resources you have or how good your cook books, it is a real challenge, to do this undervalued, indispensable task everyday. Yet, mothers have been doing this since the dawn of time; planning, gathering (shopping), get the firewood (cooking), feeding (critics, too), and then being expected to clean up, too. NOW, I feel your pain.

What is the takeaway? What may be the biggest takeaway of my Mr. Mom experience is that you are always on-duty, always on-call (I need a ride NOW!!), always an ATM, must accomplish everything behind-the-scenes, with no need of acknowledgement or gratitude. DO YOUR JOB! There are moments I feel that way, I can’t imagine how much the REAL MOMS experience that. We are blessed with two great kids, as different as can be, who at their best, won’t clobber each other. Never know when Armageddon will begin. I’m sure I’m sounding like a martyr, but I am actually enjoying and embracing this time in life. Before they launch, I get to teach Caroline to drive a car and instill in Mark fitness habits. What I most appreciate is being able to be there when they get home from a stressful day at school, to hear of Caroline’s friend drama, and Mark’s escapades. Many days, we all go to the YMCA together. Mark pretends he doesn’t know me and Caroline is so into fitness, she doesn’t know I’m there. Then when we return to the house, we scatter to our respective screens for a few minutes before we come back together for dinner. Around then, the real mother shows up so we all check in for a few minutes. Having been on her feet all day, Elizabeth is a bit overwhelmed with the welcome. I remember I was on a Mexico Mission trip with a friend of mine. We were stuck in traffic in our rental van and started joking, “My wife is not here to tell me what to do, I am totally lost!”. There is more truth in that than I want to admit. The mothers are the heart, soul, captains, (brains, too), of the family. So much more than a suitable helper! Thank you Lord, for mothers!!

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Mother Mary vs. The Crown Prince MBS

What is this? Ralph Peters of the NY Post writes the world is descending into tyranny in 2018. Vladimir Putin was re-elected by 77% of the vote in a rigged election. He works hard at home to project a mythological figure, bare-chested and bold, like the czars of old. President Xi Jinping of China engineered a lifetime tenure (who needs an election?) and is the nation’s most powerful leader since Chairman Mao in his heyday, the latest Chinese emperor. The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, dubbed “The Punisher” by Time, launched his war on drugs resulting in thousands of murders by his death squads. There is Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan, a would-be sultan, and good old-fashioned desert chieftans like President Bashar Assad in Syria and veiled in religion, the Ayotollah Ali Khamenei of Iran. The latest, greatest, and most lethal newcomer to this exclusive strongman club is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. MBS had the nation’s wealthiest princes and businessmen arrested, held captive at the Ritz-Carlton, in what was basically a shakedown. MBS had the Prime Minister of Lebanon kidnapped. Most recently, the CIA has concluded that MBS orchestrated the brutal murder (15-man team with a bone saw!) of a dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

What does this mean? Peters claims tyranny is flourishing because not everyone sees freedom as their top priority, preferring security. Many who are inexperienced in freedom, equate it with anarchy. Tyrants may oppress you, but they never demand you take personal responsibility, it is not your fault. They will find a scapegoat to blame and/or an enemy to demonize. Tyrants offer certainty, all you have to do is get out of the way, let someone tell you what to think and do. The Roman Empire was run by a tyrant, Caesar who claimed the title, “King of King, Lord of Lords” before Christ hijacked it for his own purposes. More locally, Mary and Joseph lived under Caesar’s governor and the regional desert chieftain, King Herod the Great. Talk about a paranoid, violent, and vicious strongman, killing his own wife and sons among others, to protect his power and throne. MBS could learn a few tyrannical tricks from cruel King Herod. Into this brutal world of Caesars, Herods, and repression, the Angel Gabriel comes to adolescent Mary with a shocking announcement, “Greetings, O Highly Favored One, the Lord is with you. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you will call him, Jesus”. One writer suggests both Gabriel and Mary are trembling at this point, because now it is all in Mary’s hands.

What is the takeaway? As to Christmas, Martin Luther claimed there were three miracles. One, that God became human. Two, the virgin gave birth. Three, that Mary believed, and that is the greatest of the three. Mary’s call is God’s response to a world of intimidation, tyrants, injustice, and bone-saws. The Christmas gospel is precisely what Paul is referring to, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength”. Christ comes at Christmas to disrupt the power structures and change the hearts of people, as Mary sings, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty”. Christmas brings a new day, a new reality, a new power from outside is coming to expose our poverty and enrich us with his eternal, expanding, and ultimately unstoppable grace. Right now, we see only glimpses of such grace, but they are there. Advent is a time to be on the lookout for God sightings. Next May I am joining a small group traveling to Lebanon to work in a refugee camp with an Egyptian missionary (Pastor Fawzi) and his wife (Haydi). Due to Assad and the Syrian war, refugees pour into the camp. Their specific ministry is to minister to young girls, think of Mother Mary’s age, who have been sex slaves to Isis. The hope is to witness the Holy Spirit bring healing, wholeness, and Christian faith to these young girls. I decided to go because I want to see first-hand how the power of God works among the wounded of this world. This is the hope of Christmas, the promise of salvation.

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Blessed are the Peacemakers

What is this? Division, discord, and rupture have been around since the dawn of biblical time. Cain killed Abel out of jealousy of his brother. When Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, refused to lighten the tax burden for the other tribes, the nation was divided into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel. Fellow missionaries Paul and Barnabas separated over a serious disagreement regarding personnel (Acts 15). The Great Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Church of 1054 was basically the formal end of a bad marriage. Three of the four congregations I have served as a pastor have had their own church split. Churches, families, friends, and nations are all subject to such division. Our nation is as divided as it has been in my lifetime. The rupture is everywhere and it’s surpassed the usual Democrat vs. Republican, Pro-life vs. Pro-Choice, and Christian vs. Secular separation. Now we must demonize and demolish each other; Black Lives Matter and Law Enforcement, President Trump and the media, haves and have-nots, Judge Cavenaugh supporters and Dr Ford advocates,  evangelicals and main-line Christians, nationalists and migrants. As a nation we just experienced the bomb scare targeting Democratic party leaders and the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue, resulting in eleven deaths. Nevertheless, as the mid-terms approach, the vicious campaign rhetoric is escalating, political parties blame each other, and its more difficult than ever to a civil conversation around the kitchen table or in the fellowship hall.

What does this mean? In my opinion, part of the problem is when one side comes at a complicated and emotional issue with a sense of absolute certainty. It shuts down any possible dialog. Few things irritate me more than pastors who publish their own version of a voting guide. I told my people I was planning to send out my own voting guide this year and they couldn’t stop laughing. It is equally absurd for a pastor to preach her politics from the pulpit, that is the ultimate one-way communication. I am just another citizen with a right to vote. Or at least, I didn’t get that gift of political revelation. Now, to preach against injustice is one thing, something we/I don’t do often enough, be prophetic. Sadly, sometimes our differences of opinion lead to family or friends terminating the relationship. This happened to me in the past year, when a friend of twenty-five years, essentially ended our friendship because he did not agree with my views on same-sex marriage. After a couple of long-winded lectures via email, he stopped communicating and I haven’t heard since. I confess that broke my heart because this guy was/is a brother in Christ to me. All I can conclude is being right was more important than being in relationship. In the current political climate, when our church faces difficult issues and positions are hardened, I challenge the brothers and sisters to see this as an opportune time to witness to the world, what it means to be Christian sisters and brothers. That may be the most persuasive witness of the day.

What is the takeaway? First of all, today is All Saints Day, a day in the church year when we remember all the saints, living and dead, who have been baptized into the body of Christ. It is not a spiritual hall-of-fame, it’s the collection of God’s peculiar treasures, that great cloud of witnesses the book of Hebrews claims surround us. The prayer of the day says “whose people are knit together in one Holy Church”. Since we are “knit together”, it means we are connected, attached, related, and bound up in this life together. Part of our responsibility is to treat each other like this is the baptismal reality and operate like we belong to each other. Christ’s life and death emphasizes that, for God, being in relationship is more important than being right. Jesus said it, but it doesn’t get near enough attention, “blessed are the peacemakers”. I see a peacemaker as a bridge person in a community. They have the intangibles, personality, and inclination to have the respect of all parties. This is not a people-pleaser, but someone who takes seriously their stewardship to work for community. They listen carefully, speak when needed, often a real truth-teller, have the courage to challenge the congregation, and yet (SOMEHOW) makes it clear they value all sides. As a pastor, I’ve been blessed to see peacemakers repair, restore, even bring reconciliation to a divided community. My All Saints Day challenge for you is to get out there and play the role of a bridge builder. I believer many people in the church have this gift, but have not exercised the power. Today is a good day to do just that, take serious your stewardship to work for community. Some of us aren’t even sure if we have that specific talent. Only one way to find out, PRAY, TAKE COURAGE, AND BE THE BRIDGE!

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From the Front Lines of Islam

What is this? This past weekend I was driver, manager, host, and all-around handler for an Egyptian evangelist, Fawzi Khalil. Through a mutual friend and fellow pastor, we arranged for Pastor Fawzi to spend three days with our church and we, especially me, were blessed. I arranged for him to speak in a couple different venues to small groups. From the time I met Fawzi at baggage claim, I knew he had a heart for the gospel, a humble spirit, and a fiery faith in Jesus. Being the same age, same vocation, and and having the same slapstick sense of humor, we connected immediately. Fawzi grew up in Egypt in a nominal Christian family, was entrenched in the communist party until he came to faith in Christ while studying at the university. His church, Kasr el-Dobara, in Cairo worships 10,000 with eight services on a weekend. The church leadership sent him as a missionary to Morocco to start-up, develop, and lead underground churches in a Muslim nation. He was imprisoned at one point and eventually exiled to Spain. With the ongoing refugee crisis of the Syrian War, in 2015 Fawzi’s church sent him to Iraq to oversee the mission work in the refugee camps. There Fawzi met his wife, Haydy, a missionary to young girls who escaped captivity (yes, sex trafficking and outright slavery) from Isis.

What does this mean? Now Fawzi, Haydy, and incoming baby John (Haydy is nine+ months pregnant) will share this ministry. Yes, the plan is to take the baby with them to the refugee camps. They supervise 35 missionaries from their congregation in places like Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, and Turkey. The miraculous stories Fawzi shared of Muslims converting to Christ were like something out of the Book of Acts. He says Haydy has this gift with the young girls, who have escaped their enslavement (often when the guards get drunk) and find their way to the camp. With the burden of family shame, the parents will often refuse to receive them back. The cultural context is so different. These girls are the age of my own 15-year-old daughter or younger. They have been through violence, trauma, and degradation we cannot even imagine, and now have no home. Not even Jesus can restore these girls?! Not so fast. Haydy and her team welcome these lost girls, spend the first 30 minutes simply holding them, no talking. Then they start the long road of recovery. Along the way, they share the gospel with them. Fawzi will work with the families, prodding and persuading them, these are your children, they did not choose this. Fawzi claims that when the violence and vindictiveness of Islam is exposed, specifically during a war, there is an authentic often anguished opening for the gospel. So he reports there are fifty converts per day, being baptized and connected with a local congregation. They are in these refugee camps because that is where the harvest is.

What is the takeaway? In the wake of our Fawzi weekend, I am still processing all that I heard and experienced. My sense is God had a hand in bringing Fawzi to us, but I am not exactly sure why it would be a good thing for an Egyptian evangelist to encounter an older Lutheran congregation. A couple of things I can say for sure. One, it is always a joy and a jolt to hear first-hand what God is doing and how the church is thriving in unlikely places. Especially, when we are saddened by the decline of the North American Church. Muslims conversions, underground churches, traumatized girls restored! Two, Fawzi’s take on Islam is sobering. When I say that, I deplore the tragic American label that every Muslim is possibly part of a sleeper cell. This is not what Fawzi is saying. Even when you figure that he is ministering to the victims and violence from Isis, Fawzi makes a point that the God of Islam is not the God of Judaism and Christianity. Yes, we share historical roots, Abraham is a father figure in each tradition. But, when you look at the character of Allah, see the impact on the people, Fawzi calls him distant, unpredictable, and demanding, it is far from the grace of God and forgiveness of the cross. Three, I will have to see Fawzi’s mission field for myself. It won’t be this year or next, but I will go to the front lines. Don’t tell Elizabth! Believe it or not, Fawzi takes small mission teams to Lebanon to work hands-on with the people, play with the kids, and see evangelism to Muslims at work. This is not a delegation that stays at the Ritz Carlton and drives through the camp waving to the refugees. You sleep in a sandy refugee tent, you are there to work, and they have translators all around. Fawzi prefers this to financial support, although he doesn’t discount economic help. Nothing challenges and nourishes my faith like hearing the gospel preached and seeing the church minister in unexpected places. Such glimpses of God at work keep your faith going until you meet Jesus face-to-face.