Pchum Ben-Festival of the Dead

Phnom Penh is a ghost town.  For 3 days, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic while people fled as if a tsunami was coming up the Mekong from the Gulf of Thailand.  Every year at this time, Cambodian families leave to pay homage to their ancestors in their home village. Almost everything is closed, except maybe a gas station and a few shopping markets.  It’s like the only time I can get over 30 mph on my bike – once a year!

Alana visited for a week, and loved it; teaching English at DOVE(Develop Our Village Economy), visiting schoolmates, spending time with her step-siblings, Johnnathan and Yorean. She ate all her favorite Khmer dishes. Then she missed her flight booked through some fly-by-night Chinese Airline; so we got an extra day with her.  Good bye, Kids!  🙁

Three kids and one teen from HOP were integrated back to their home villages yesterday and today. In some cases, this is a good thing. In other cases, it’s a tragedy.  I have lived with and been a part of these kids’ lives for 5 years now. They call me “daddy.” Every time I have been called “daddy,” it startles me and makes me think: am I being a good example of a father? Am I loving them, and encouraging them? My time with them has allowed me to love these children in a way that has eluded me most of my life. Miss Chanta, 12 years old, a tough cookie and a HOP scrapper, knew her time was down to the wire; soon to be shipped out to a distant aunt. For the last week – every day – she escorts me out to where I park my motorcycle, slips her arm into mine and off we go.  Upon firing up the Baja, she hops on the back and I drop her back at HOP. The next day, she waits for me to come home from work and goes through the same ritual. My soul has been shaped (living in a community of children nobody really wanted) in ways that would never happen in a conventional world.

 I am now teaching the “Missional Church” block in ONYX. We are discovering that God is a ‘sending God’ and we, as his people, are a ‘sent people’ – pushed out of our safe and comfortable nests into uncertainty to bring hope to the marginalized and rejected. Local pastors don’t like this block as they are interested in keeping the actions within the church building where they believe: they are in control, there is no risk, discomfort, nor leveling of power. The students are into this concept though and are surprised to find this principle everywhere in the Bible.

It worked out well when most ONYX students joined in an interfaith tree-planting event in the vanishing jungles of Cambodia for four days.  It was truly a holistic mission at its best. I had planned to go but Bophal’s assistant smashed her knee and I got to mind ‘Fort Banchee.’
It has been fun and this 5th-year cohort has been the most responsive to all we do. I love this group as they choose to be vulnerable, curious, fun and open to new paradigms.  We have two from HOP this year. ONYX Phnom is also a very close Christian Community and missional. We’ve got all the right DNA. 

Bophal and I would do well to savor such times as tremendous gifts. The more organic we become and the deeper we go (personally, HOP and DOVE), the more elusive funding becomes. The correlation escapes me.  Maybe recovering our souls is part of the cost issue.  The structures and systems that served so well in the past don’t seem to fit the revived soul.

 

Peace to you,

Brian and Bophal

 

A Man Who Walked on Water

Over two thousand years ago, Jesus gave us His Great Commission:

“Therefore, go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Currently, we are living in one of the greatest times of harvest in the history of the church. More and more people are coming to a relationship with Christ now than ever before. Recently, I visited Lebanon and Greece. I firsthand heard eyewitness reports of Muslim refugees having visions and dreams of Jesus.

One story in particular made me shiver in awe:  A refugee relief worker shared a story of a family just off a refugee boat in Lesbos, Greece, adamantly looking for someone who knew about a ‘man who walks on water.’ A local Christian missionary serving these refugees met this family. They continued to ask, “Who is this man that walks on water?” The missionary asked, “Why are you asking about a man who walks on water?” The father told the missionary, as they were on the boat one evening, there was a storm. The ship almost capsized. Their young daughter, in the blink of an eye, got separated from them and they lost her. She was thrown into the water. Frantically, the parents looked for her, but couldn’t find her. They were in complete despair. When the parents awoke the next morning, their daughter was back on the boat. They couldn’t believe their eyes! They asked her: “How is it that you are here? We lost you in the storm.” The daughter replied that, in the storm when the waves hit the boat, she was separated from her family and fell into the water. She said ‘a man who walks on water’ caught her and put her back on the boat. The missionary shared: “The man who walks on water is Jesus Christ.” That day, this family became followers of Jesus! Incredible!

Millions of refugees are being displaced from their homes and their families. For most, they leave behind a closed society where freedom of religion is not practiced. Now they have the freedom to learn new ideas. Many missiologists call this time a ‘Kairos’ moment (an opportune and decisive moment). Per Finishing the Task Network (https://www.finishingthetask.com), there are currently 1,347 ethnolinguistic, unengaged, unreached people groups in the world. This is where a church-planting movement does not exist because there is no indigenous church capable of reaching the group without cross-cultural missionary assistance. Generally, an unreached people group is less than 2% evangelical. ‘Unengaged’ means there are no full-time Christian workers attempting to do evangelism and church planting.

Historically, BelPres has always responded to major crises in the world. I believe God is revealing Himself, through visions and dreams, for the church to rise up and finish the task Christ set before us. Is God calling you to go and disciple these unreached peoples? We need to respond to this moment. BelPres, God is calling you to go and make disciples of all nations and to bring God’s healing.  It begins with you.

 

Behind the Scenes with Heather Hedlund

Where is God calling you? What is your passion and purpose? Many of us are searching for answers to these questions. But even as a child, Heather Hedlund knew the Lord was calling her.

As a young teen, God put issues of justice on her heart and she daydreamed about how she would one day solve some of the world’s problems – perhaps the answer to homelessness or the path out of poverty.

When Heather feels a nudge from the Holy Spirit, she acts on it.  She prays for direction, educates herself, and takes initiative.

For example, after listening to former pastor Dick Leon’s call to the congregation for an assault on poverty, she joined a group to pray about it and study how poverty affected elementary-aged children in our local area. Soon after, KidREACH was established in Bellevue; a program Heather helped lead for 13 years.

“I will never forget the way Heather advocated for children and families as the director of KidREACH,” says Lisa Phelps, director of early childhood. “Heather truly loved each child and family, and advocated for them at school, in immigration matters, and for basic needs. God gave Heather a humble heart and the strength to serve in difficult situations, as Jesus did,”says Phelps.

Heather describes her service with KidREACH as a time of great learning. “My years in KidREACH opened my eyes to the issue of poverty and the pathways out of poverty. My views were challenged and I had to rethink the issue once I was exposed to real people who were suffering. It caused me to open my mind to new ideas,” she says.

After 13 years, and with much prayer and thoughtful decision-making, she stepped away to await God’s next call. “I wanted to be intentional about my next project. I knew God had called me both into and out of KidREACH, and I wanted to take my time to listen for my next calling,” says Heather.

A year later, while listening to guest speaker Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil speak on racial justice, Heather felt another nudge from the Lord – one she had apparently been preparing for and knew she couldn’t ignore.

“I had read several articles on racial justice and reconciliation, heard many news reports, and was aware of the unrest, hurt, and struggle of the country – but I hadn’t found a way to act on my passion,” Heather says. “I didn’t know what my next steps would look like, but I felt the Holy Spirit within me and I knew I had to learn more. I began to feel the same passion for racial justice and reconciliation and the Justice Team as I had for KidREACH.”

“Heather has an enormous caring heart,” says Elizabeth Hayford, director of missions administration. “Through her work leading our KidREACH program and now guiding our Justice and Reconciliation Team, she shows Jesus’ love by building bridges to connect and care for many who are marginalized,” she says. “Supporting Heather in her roles at church is a pleasure and gives me a glimpse into a person after God’s heart who is seeking to build God’s kingdom every day.”

As leader of the Justice and Reconciliation Team, Heather has broadened awareness of social justice issues by helping to bring opportunities to the congregation, like Frames and Filters and Under Our Skin workshops, Anti-Racism Bible studies, book groups, and more.

Tom Brewer, director of community outreach, describes Heather as dedicated to serving others, especially those more vulnerable. “Heather is a supremely capable and conscientious leader who demonstrates empathy, compassion, an indomitable spirit, and a get-it-done attitude,” Tom says. “When something important and challenging needs to be achieved, Heather is a leader you can rely on.”

“Opening myself up to new things and putting myself outside my comfort zone have taught me how to be teachable,” says Heather. “I discover not only what I know, but also what I don’t know. It has taught me humility,” she says, “so that I’m not so set in my notions and more willing to learn.”

Lisa Phelps, who has worked alongside Heather in KidREACH and attended several justice learning opportunities, sees Heather’s gifts firsthand. “The Lord has called Heather to serve the poor, seek justice, and share her God-given gifts. She has a remarkable intellect, curiosity, patience, and love,” says Lisa.

“Heather thinks and prays about what she has learned, and quietly works with others to create opportunities for all of us to learn, act and consider Jesus’ example.”

“I have gained so much,” Heather says. “My faith has been stretched by these opportunities. First, I have learned to depend on God. When the problems look too big to solve on my own, I trust that God will provide.

“We often hear Pastor Dudley pray ‘Break my heart for what breaks yours, Jesus.’ That is my prayer too, and my work in the areas of poverty and justice are places I feel clearly called by the Lord and led by the Holy Spirit.

“My advice to others is to find areas you are passionate about and listen for spiritual direction. There is so much we can do together to make a difference.”

Heather is married to husband Magnus and is the mother of Elise and Erik.

 

Behind the Scenes with Wyatt Cook

Life experience and perspective are gifts we gain with age. We look back and realize the life lessons we’ve learned over the years from the good times and the hardships we faced. Is there a way to share our hard-won experience with those who are struggling with similar life issues?

At Eastside Academy (EA) they’re always looking for adults willing to “share life” with a teen. Many young people are eager to connect with an adult who can help guide them through life’s twists and turns. For the past four years, Wyatt Cook mentored at Eastside Academy. Wyatt is an engineer, a pilot, an Auto Angels participant and long-time BelPres congregant. He has enjoyed his relationship with two EA mentees, with his second one just graduating in June 2018.  “Kids need a consistent adult in their life,” says Wyatt, “someone who will listen, share a relationship, and give them guidance. Ninety percent of being a mentor at EA is just showing up,” he explains, “and when you show up, you build trust and the rest naturally follows.”

Wyatt has attended BelPres for over 20 years and has lived in Bellevue most of his life.  He grew up with a very involved dad who spent considerable time doing activities with the family – from flying to fishing to skiing. He valued their relationship and the time they spent together.  He treasures their times together learning to restore an airplane, fly a plane, re-build a car and boat, as well as taking long, leisurely vacations with the family.

As his children moved into adulthood, Wyatt has spent some of his newfound free time volunteering at BelPres – “paying it forward” through his work with Eastside Academy. He sees less parental engagement in our society today, with families torn between increasing commitments and longer working hours. He feels strongly that kids need an adult in their life to help them through the confusing time of growing up.

As a mentor, he meets for lunch once a week with his mentee, and may take him on an outing 2-3 times a year. Wyatt has taken his mentees to the Museum of Flight and Mariners games.  He sometimes gives advice on education, career, or life choices and at other times just simply listens.  “I try to model a Christian life and be empathetic. But my consistent time with my student is what is most important – just knowing I am going to show up each time,” he explains.

Wyatt and his mentee Josh share an interest in engineering.   “My mentor, Wyatt, is my favorite thing about Eastside Academy,” says Josh. “He’s a pilot and knows a lot about what I want to do in my life. He helps me make plans for my future. We hang out at least once or twice a week, and I’m helping him construct an airplane at his house,” he says.

“As a mentor, your role is not as a friend or a parent, but more of a guiding adult in someone’s life. A rock for a younger person to lean on – an oasis to rest in.  Confidentiality is key. Eastside Academy has an excellent manual that helps you understand your role, and mentors meet quarterly at information meetings,” Wyatt explains.

With just a few years left until retirement from his job as a pilot for American Airlines, Wyatt enjoys the opportunity to mentor at EA and plans to start with a new student next year since Josh has graduated. He encourages others to not let the extreme issues kids are dealing with stop them from mentoring. He reminds us that after all, teens are still kids at heart.

“Wyatt is a fantastic part of the Eastside Academy Mentorship program,” says Anny IIlisoi, EA mentor and alumni coordinator. “He is very committed to his role as a mentor and it shows in his dedication to Josh and the school. Mentors are an incredibly important part of a student’s life at EA. Wyatt is a great example of how mentoring can make a positive impact on students in different areas of their lives,” she says.

Wyatt expects to stay in touch with his mentees in the years ahead. “My highest honor would be for one of them to call me someday in the future to talk – not to solve a problem but just to catch up, see how they are doing, and help them if I can,” says Wyatt.

Wyatt also volunteers for Auto Angels most Saturday mornings, where he can put his engineering expertise to work and where a handful of EA students also volunteer.

#belpresserve

 

 

Leatherberry Letter from Greece

I am in Athens, Greece following up with BelPres’ pastors and ministry leader partners working among Muslim refugees. Many refugees are experiencing Jesus’ love, grace, and truth through the tireless efforts of these pastors and ministry leaders.  Consequently, large, unprecedented numbers are coming to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Never before has this happened in Islam.  The task in front of us is to disciple these new believers to become conversant with the life and character of Christ.  This is a unique time that we have to respond to what God is doing in the Middle East.  Isaiah 19 looks ahead to the day when God takes charge to do a new thing in the Middle East.  Isaiah writes:  “In that day, there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians (modern day Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria) will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria.  The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day, Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.  The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork and Israel my inheritance.’”  This is a remarkable vision and we believe we are living in a time when God is fulfilling it.

After Athens, I begin an Extended Study Leave and will be away from the office until Dec 1. I am very grateful to our Personnel Committee who makes this possible and the Mission and Serve staff for the extra workload they carry while I am away.  During this time, I will look closely at discipleship, studying Jesus’ signature discipleship sermon (Sermon on the Mount), reading and interviewing leaders who are doing good things with discipleship.

One more update I want you to know about is our Roadmap Initiative around racial justice.  Mission and Serve was selected to receive a new pastoral resident to provide focused leadership around racial justice.  I am excited to welcome Anthony Ballard to our team!

Anthony grew up in a very diverse area of Compton, CA.  Before BelPres, Anthony’s ministry included work at the Boys and Girls Club, helping found a young adult ministry in Los Angeles and working with “Reality Check,”   http://www.realitycheckla.org.   He facilitated “Reality Check” events in churches and public schools in Los Angeles.  Anthony will be working closely with our Justice and Racial Reconciliation Team and with Pastor Harvey Drake.  You will often find him in the lobby on Sunday mornings.

 

That’s my update for now.  See you in December.

 

Grace and Peace in Jesus,

Rich