Waking Up To My Calling

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I have told this story over the years in different venues from churches, to chapel at my alma mater to the class I teach at LPC—Multicultural Evangelism. But now, might be the time to share the story here, a little background on where I came from, and how I got to where I am. Oh, and to add in a missing piece to this story that has haunted me for a couple of decades–who was that speaker at camp?

I love sharing the crazy way that God worked with me or in spite of me to get me where he wanted me, the mission field. I still get chills thinking of how incredible God is at getting us to the places he wants us to be. I am blown away when I reflect backwards on the pathway God used to place me in the middle of where he wanted me—his calling.

The story of calling is an interesting thing. We don’t often define calling well, that mysterious thing that grips our heart and compels us onward in God’s mission. Calling is that thing we return to again and again when questions, doubts, and concerns assail us. We come back to a confidence that God has a purpose in what he is doing in and through us. Yep, “Calling” keeps us going.

My calling came to a distinct point of grabbing my heart 20 years ago, the summer before my senior year in high school. And I remember it vividly to this day. Sometimes, there are moments that simply burn themselves into your mind, memory burn. The distant memories surrounding my calling stick with me like it was yesterday.

At 17-years-old, I went to summer camp for the first time with my new church, the Foursquare church in Woodstock, IL.

You might ask, Why did I go? The same reason many teenage boys go to camp, because a cute girl invited me. This was reason enough to approach my football coach and ask out of two-a-day practice ahead of my senior year, ahead of my time to shine as a varsity starter. I gulped, gathered myself, and asked coach if I could get out of practice. It was not his favorite idea of the year, but he relented and allowed me 24 hours.

Yeah buddy!! I was on a solo mission as I drove my beater of a car the three hour drive into the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin to arrive at Spencer Lake Campgrounds. Tired, frazzled, worn out, but excited, I made it to camp. No matter, I had energy reserves ready to kick in. Quickly, I found the kids from my youth group at the line for dinner. That cute girl, however, was strangely difficult to locate. No worries, the dudes were around, and we were able to pass the time by being stupid guys.

Fast forward to the evening service. Worship was awesome. I sang, danced and praised my heart out during a hot August night in 1994. Anticipating a great message for missions.  That is when the disappointment set in.

The speaker was a guy that I had heard the previous Sunday at my church, twice. As I retold this story over the years, beginning with a graduation brunch with the then President of our movement, all I remember is that an old guy was speaking at our camp, an old guy who spoke twice at my church. I had no excitement for what he was going to say. Don’t get me wrong, I like the stories our elders have to share, but I was not looking forward to story time. I wanted passion, fun, and something that connected with where I lived as a teenager.

Now, my tired body, pushed to the limit by football practices, had nothing left. The adrenaline high of seeing my friends, of jumping around in a worship service, of being in the presence of God drained out of me. Quickly, I went from being alert, tuned in, and full of life to a drowsy boy. As soon as the speaker started, I knew he was giving the same message he gave at my church, a good message, a solid message on missions, but the same message. I was ready for something new, but had little ability to stay awake for the same message again.

The next thing I knew, I was jerking my head up, yanking myself awake. I couldn’t sleep through the only night of camp I went to, could I? The answer: Yes. I gave up the battle of trying to stay awake. My head stopped bobbing up and down, stopped pulling back awake, and gave in to the battle of sleep as I folded my arms over my lap and drooped my head down. And I was oblivious to the world around me for I don’t know how long, maybe 45-60 minutes.

When I started coming to, dragging my sleepy head back into the world of the living, I heard the speaker beginning to call people to a response. He was wrapping up his message and concluding it with a call to mission. The speaker was calling people into two categories. One were going to be like ducks and another like beavers. The ducks would be those that would fly, would travel, would brave long distances to take the gospel to other peoples. At the same time, the beavers would stay back home, building, gathering, and compiling resources to support the ducks in mission. Both were needed. We needed those that would go, and those that would send.

But I was still catching up to the story. I wasn’t sure what this related to. In fact, I was still quite groggy and felt super confused. I was not from Oregon and did not know my zoology super-duper well. I wanted to ask what does this have to do with mission and evangelism. I was lost  in the middle of the analogy when suddenly the middle became the end.

The speaker began to call people forward in response to what God was doing in their hearts. He called those who felt the burden to go, to be like a duck to one side of the platform. Meanwhile, he called those committed to support, to resource, like the beavers to another side of the platform.

I couldn’t help myself as I was drawn out of my seat toward the front. I couldn’t say emotion of a great service grabbed me, no, this was bigger than that. I felt compelled to go forward and stand with the ducks, the group committed to go, to be on mission with God. There was no doubt in my mind where I should stand, although the cobwebs were still in my head keeping me from fully grasping what was happening. But I was there. I responded to the call for missions with my friends.

However, I completely rearranged what God was saying. I didn’t want to accept the going as the call and wanted to be a missionary to my people, to my city.

Long story short, I avoided the mission’s call to the best of my ability. I avoided the girls in Bible College with a call to missions. I ducked my calling without even knowing it. In my mind, I was staying on track to be a pastor, a church planter to Chicago, a missionary to my city. My plans made such good sense to me.

But all of this changed when I met my wife shortly after graduating Bible College.

When things started to get serious, she informed me of her calling to missions. Immediately, my heart dropped. I thought, how could this be. I worked so hard to get by without getting in a relationship with a missionary. She wanted to lay out the framework for how things were going, make sure her calling didn’t get derailed.

She gave me three options:

  • We could continue dating, and if things progressed, we could date while she served overseas for a year and get married when she comes back.
  • We could continue dating and if things led to marriage, go overseas together for a year.
  • Or, we could break up.

And the story ended happily ever after as we ended up going together as a married couple.

Soon I discovered this was my calling. Soon I came around to understand that I fulfilled what God spoke into me that night when I slept through the message. I became the missionary, the duck who would fly far to take the gospel to distant places. I ended up on God’s path all along even though I worked hard to get around it, to juke Him. He would not be juked or jived. God took me where he wanted me to be.

I found that it doesn’t matter if we forget our calling, as long as we stay close to God we will get where he wants us to be.

Now, for years, one thing plagued me. Who was the speaker? I usually remembered the different camp speakers who impacted my walk. I was good with names, but not this one. As a punk high school student who knew nothing about anything, I totally missed the significance of who this was. I went on my way never giving a second thought to who it was that spoke into my life. I could not tell you who that divine contact was for the life of me.

I told the story again and again merely calling him some old dude. But now, after years of serving overseas and now teaching on the subject, I wanted to know who it was. Who was this man that gave me a passion for missions?

Where could I turn to find the answer? I asked around to those from my church, to others who might know with no results. Finally, I sought the answer from the former camp director’s wife. I messaged her on Facebook and after several attempts, she sent me the answer. When I heard who the speaker was, I was floored. I could not believe it.

Don McGregor.

Yes, the one and only, Don McGregor. I was clueless at 17 who he was, but as a student at Bible College, I found him fascinating when he spoke in one of my classes on leadership. I still remember things he said there.  To this day, I have stored away some of the nuggets on leadership I learned from this giant in missions. But our interaction was short-lived. It was not for a much longer time later that I met him again.

In our last year as missionaries, we met the then, 84-year-old missionary statesman at a conference. He quickly became one of my heroes. As one of the pillars of Foursquare Missions, he blazed a path that still has fruit throughout Asia. Oh, and in his mid-60s, he spoke at my little camp, the night I awoke to my calling.

Tell me this. What was your calling like?

That Was So Worth It

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Sometimes we ask, “was all that effort worth it?” Well, since you asked, here is a story that highlights my feelings on our six years in Thailand. The short version is: Yes, It was so worth it! The long version follows. “I am too old to change” she told him. One of our best friends in Thailand from the very beginning, Simon, repeated this story to us time and again. He told us more than once how he desperately wanted his family to know God. As a teenager, Simon came to know Jesus and began following him. When he shared his story with his parents, they agreed that God is real. They intellectually assented that God was the way to go and even supported him in his faith—something rare among Thai families. The social norm in Thailand dictates that families shun Christian converts. Our friend’s parents just couldn’t fully come to know God. For them, they said they were too old to change. In Thailand, like much of the world, the culture and religion are inextricably linked. The Buddhist worldview shapes every aspect of how people live. So to be nearing retirement, a Thai person looking at Christianity as the way to go has to weigh completely changing all of who they are. They are not simply adding Jesus to their life and gaining a positive outlook. They are taking on a new understanding of how to live. For Simon’s parents, the thought of changing at this point in their life was daunting. No, for them, it was impossible to change. Fast forward five years. Ovarian cancer struck Simon’s mom, and our friend carried a heavy heart for his mom’s health and her soul. The diagnosis was bleak as cancer hits hard in the villages of Thailand. What could Simon do? The church we led quickly came around him in prayer and emotional support. Simon’s anguish doubled as he lived in Bangkok far from his hometown and parents in the north of Thailand. We joined him in the prayer that his family would come to know God and soon. But the distance made us feel more than helpless. Coincidently, at the same time of her illness, Our Home Chapel had a team of leaders and youth going north for a youth camp. I hoped we might have an opportunity to visit Simon’s mom while in the same province. We did, because she came to the hospital in the provincial capital, Chiang Mai (only three hours from their village) where the national youth camp was held. The day before camp began; Simon went up early to visit with his family. Once again, he gave his heartfelt plea that his mom know God. In all of this God was working on her heart. Incredibly, what seemed impossible for years became reality that night. His mom, through many tears decided to give her heart to Jesus. Her future was more uncertain than ever, but now her life was in Jesus’ hands. The next evening, our team went over for a visit with Simon and his mom. We sat around doing what friends do in Thailand, eating snacks and shooting the breeze. We teased Simon about girls, talked about life in Thailand. Oh, and his mom loved getting to see pictures of Ellie. What Thai person didn’t want to see our cute tow head—a small minority in their country. Before we left, the OHC team asked to pray with Simon’s mom. We gathered around her to lay hands on her and pray. At this, one of the mom’s (what we called the older ladies) in the church put her hands on Simon’s mom’s abdomen and began to pray with fervor. As I listened to her pray in Thai, I felt God stirring. But we wouldn’t know if anything happened for some time as Simon’s mom had just come from the hospital that morning. The doctors gave her an updated diagnosis and treatment plan. She would not come back for another month. The next time she showed up to the hospital four weeks later, the doctors decided to run the blood work one more time before beginning treatment. To their shock and disbelief, the cancer was gone. There was not even a trace that the cancer had been there. Simon’s mom was released with a clean bill of health that day. God did the impossible. Jesus intersected her life far after the point in which she thought she could change. As I reflected over the past few days, I had this one thought. This is why Jesus gave his life—that people could be made whole in body and soul. Furthermore, this is why we gave our life to go to Thailand. Stories like this make it all worth it to leave behind the comforts of our home, family and friends to invest in the lives of people who do not know God. God is the God of the possible—even when we are convinced it is impossible.

Do you have any stories of God doing the impossible?

Public Worship: Worship as Mission 2

The edict went out via courier with great haste. The riders carried the new law to all corners of the empire. Soon everyone would be clued into the king’s grand new aim for worship.

See the king of this vast land set up a 90-foot image of gold on the plain of Shiner. The edict now decreed that all inhabitants of the empire would bow down to this idol when the music began to play. The king even offered strong incentives to insure all the people would participate in his new ritual.

The incentive was that the people got to keep their life if they worshipped in the way the king now prescribed. That is if they didn’t, they would be thrown into a fiery furnace.

We know this famous story from Daniel 3 as the one in which three young Hebrew leaders in scripted into the service of a pagan, conquering king of Babylon stood up to the king. Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego refused to bow down to any god other than the almighty God, the one with a capitol G.

It is not just in this story that people worship in broad view, in the public eye. No matter whether we are talking about traditional religions at a tribal level, or modern day faiths, I do not see the people of the world being as private as we have become. I think of walking through the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, aka the temple of the emerald Buddha, only to watch person after person show honor and worship to the image of the Buddha. They aren’t being showy with their faith, well, most of them aren’t. But they aren’t worrying about others as they come forward to burn incense, offer coins in the donation box, or place food in front of their spirit house.

Should worship be a private matter?

Waiting for Others

“Let’s go, Ellie. We are ready to go to the next attraction now. You wanted to go before, but now you don’t?” That’s what we were saying to our daughter as we wandered around the Littleton Historical Museum (best part, it’s free).

We thought she was losing focus, but really she hadn’t at all. Our little girl knew exactly what she was doing. We soon realized that Ellie had seen another little girl a few months older than her and her family. She wanted to wait while they finished looking at the school house before going with them to the next site. We traveled around with the family for the next 15 minutes, all the while they didn’t know why we kept so close to them. In Thailand, where Ellie was born and spent her first two plus years, she learned life in a collective culture. In a collective culture, people wait for each other and travel together. The collective works on shaping the individual, while in America, we are quite the opposite. The individual works on shaping the collective. Secondly, time is totally different in Asia. They have no problem waiting for the group. While we are wrestling through issues of reentry, but Ellie is learning to live in a new culture.

In America waiting goes against our nature, right. We go when we want to go, and wait when we want to wait, but our individualistic society rarely has us waiting for others. We just thought Ellie was being a burgeoning individual.

But in fact, she was being the collectivist she was brought up as in Thailand. She learned we do things in groups. We share memories together. We live life together. When she spied out a new friend and family to join on our fun day out, she took them on as her own.

At one point, the family even told her that she didn’t have to wait for them. Ellie would have none of that. She went ahead only when they caught up to her. Sometimes she lagged behind as she got distracted with history, but she ran to keep up with the group.

Processing culture happens for us all at a different pace. It is fun watching how our little girl processes life at her young and impressionable age.

How do you do in waiting for others? What is hard or easy about it?

Fan Club for Jesus

The other day, we were showing our directors of Foursquare Missions International, Jim and Melinda Scott around Bangkok when we walked into a classy mall, Terminal 21, themed in travel with every floor decorated to look like an exotic city around the world. When we entered off of the Sky train platform, we heard ear piercing screeches from 100s of teenage girls. Why? Well, this occasion for the enthusiastic crowd came as a Korean singer was performing in the middle of the mall.

In Bangkok, fan club takes fanatic to new heights. They change their dress, vocabulary, manners and more to express their adoration of the latest pop star or pop group.

Teenage girls are the same around the world

This picture jumped out to me when we were talking to some of the people in our church here in Bangkok. We were talking about what does a disciple look like in Thai understandings. How are disciples thought of from the Thai perspective?

They answered first with the idea of sticking close to Jesus, following him and similar descriptive language. As they explained a little more, they blurted out  like his fan club. At first, I wanted to discard this comment as flippant. But  I came back to fan club again in the conversation and they agreed wholeheartedly.

That is when I started to remember how passionate a person gets as a member of someone’s fan club. They go all out in following their celebrity. Isn’t that what we should do in following Jesus?

Can I be a groupie for Jesus? Can you be a groupie for Jesus? How do you define disciple?

Seing with Fresh Eyes

Last week, three travel wearied children and their parents stepped off of a plane in Bangkok beginning a new journey as missionaries in Bangkok, Thailand. For our part, we get the privilege of helping them get settled as they learn the language and culture in seeing God’s kingdom expand in this country.

With good things like new cool friends always come unintended benefits.

One such benefit for us comes as we see Thailand afresh through new eyes. So often, we grow accustomed to the ways of Thailand and the Thai people that we miss subtle nuances that have changed over the five plus years we have lived and served in Bangkok. We get to see this place once again through a new lens.

I love all the fresh excitement bubbling over in their kids even as they grapple with living in a new place where few people speak English. Things that have become commonplace to us, jump out to the newest members on our team as they see a band clump lying tossed in a field. I didn’t even remember banana trees grew in this concrete jungle known as the city of angels, the literal meaning of Thailand’s capital.

The new experiences and observations bring memories flooding back to us of our first days in a new country. Memories of pure joy, and sometimes thoughts of what were we thinking coming to live in such a strange place. Now this strangeness seems so normal. Yeah, normal to ride a motorcycle taxi sidesaddle with a baby strapped to your back as my wife recently tweeted. Oh yes, normal eat tasty food off of the street vendors carts. We just don’t ask how long the meat has been outside. Yep, this milk tastes normal. We forget how it took us over a year to be able to drink it plain.

As we are reminded of our initial bumps on the road and uncomfortabilities with the new life we took on, we have had a chance to reflect and see how we processed change and transition. I remember long nights lying awake in bed debriefing with my wife about observations and experiences. I remember asking our friends and other missionaries to describe and articulate what was happening around us. Another tool that helped us assimilate came in the form of a super friendly older man in the church who also taught in the school. He loved sharing his joy and passion for his homeland with all of the foreign workers that came to Thailand. He helped us take excursions around Bangkok and the surrounding area to see the traditional and ancient sides of Thai culture. We rode elephants, ate in restaurants built from bamboo on stilts over the Gulf of Bangkok, shopped in the famous floating market, visited Tigers, and a host of other activities. We fed off of his joy in seeing us soak in the beauty that is Thailand. Our friend, no adopted elderly uncle, loved prompting us to take pictures. I think he was almost as excited as we were to catch a glimpse of the monitor lizard on the side of the river bank. No, maybe he was more excited when he saw our love for his country grow.

Even as we reflect on our initial impressions of Thailand, we also see anew how culture continues to shift in Bangkok. This city is in hyper flux as it bounces from one fad to another led through such mediums as Youtube and Facebook. Bangkok recently became the world’s No. 1 city for Facebook with over 8 million users. But other things have changed as girls dress far more risqué than five years ago. Couples might be seen holding hands in public when that was a big taboo, even five years ago. Meanwhile the foundation of Thailand’s political stability continues to be fluid.

As we come along side our new teammates, we get an added benefit of reflecting on our own understandings of Thailand. I always hope to be a person that reflects and learns from my experiences. It is good to have a new perspective to Thailand again.

I must say, we love this place and the sweet people here.
(Andy)

Are there spirits all around?

A lady came rushing up to me needing help. She wanted someone with spiritual power to pray against the demonic.

The spiritual world is wreaking havoc on our little neighborhood in the eyes of this woman. As Westerners, we neglect the spiritual realm as affecting our physical world. In Thailand, people believe spirits are in play with everything. If they are not appeased through spirit houses, offerings and other traditional rituals, the spirits can bring turmoil into this world…thus people in Thailand live in fear.

The fear was all over this woman. Here is how the story went.

I was taking our puppy for her morning walk when this Thai lady came up to me saying, pastor, pastor. This was a twist to my morning ritual. I should say my rather new morning ritual the past couple months. Laguna, our Golden Retriever, helps motivate me up early for some strong prayer time. Oh boy, she loves to get up early.

I have begun using these walks to pray over our street. The morning walks give me an opportunity to pray for the church members who live on this street as well as those on this street that God is drawing to know him. The middle-aged, Thai lady came to me noticeably concerned. I thought, how does she know I am a pastor? Thailand never ceases to amaze me.

She told me that things have been difficult on this street and implored me to pray for the people. I told her that I was praying, but she insisted that I pray more. As she explained, I felt God confirming in me that he is watching over the street. To summarize, the concerned woman wanted me to know that basically, the happiness index of the street had gone down, jobs were not as good, problems in the lives of the people and so on. All of this was due to the evil spirits, she explained.

I stopped with her right there at that moment and prayed intentionally that god would be present with us in power.

The spiritual strongholds fighting to maintain their ground and prevent God’s kingdom from coming in are persistent. But God will win. I believe God wants to unleash his kingdom power on this city, beginning with our street in Bangkok in the near future. I continue to pray for an outpouring of his Holy Spirit.

When you observe problems in your community, do you blame evil spirits or circumstances…or something else?