Survivor Cambodia

The DOVE Phnom Penh Onyx students, staff and volunteers headed to a retreat on an island off the coast of Cambodia, Koh Rong. It was the location for two seasons of the “reality” show, Survivor. As we approached the coast, it started raining. Tropical Storm Pabuk was in the Gulf of Thailand and authorities warned boats to expect high waves. On the bus ride, I wondered if we were going to make a new episode of Survivor. The staff monitored and prayed about the storm.
An Onyx lesson asks students to imagine that they are a boat, first undergoing repairs in dry dock and then setting sail to test seaworthiness. Lay, the DOVE Phnom Penh Coordinator, thought it fitting to end the year departing from a real port to sail on the ocean. When I heard they were going to Koh Rong, I was afraid I would get seasick crossing in a fishing boat. When Lay said they would take the 50-seat express ferry which is smoother and only takes 45 minutes, I decided to go. Despite Pabuk, the ferry was still running so we took off. I recalled that Jesus is Lord over the wind and waves.

Overall, the only significant effect of Pabuk was that we got seasick. When unloading another group of passengers at an island, waves near shore were so strong they couldn’t step onto the dock. Being tossed up and down, everyone started to look green.  I took off my life jacket and stood near the front deck where there was a breeze. We waited while a smaller boat was sent to transport the others ashore. We continued to Koh Rong and were able to step out on the dock. Friday night, the high surf washed up lots of trash and flotsam onto the beach, but it cleaned up quickly.

Making a scrapbook for the ensuing year, students spent Saturday morning reflecting on what they learned about God, themselves and relationships with others. They also made 2-3 year plans to fulfill or discern God’s vision for their life. That night, they took turns sharing and then prayed blessings for each other to fulfill those visions.

Because of the waves on Saturday, the ferry wasn’t running. The ferry ran again on but arrived late with oversold seats. After some discussion, they let everyone board. Lay and some other passengers wound up standing or sitting on luggage. I noticed two staff members, Serey and Virak, put on life jackets. I followed their lead! The ride back was a lot rougher, so I was grateful to dock back on the mainland. The one thing that approached a Survivor episode was Serey killing a 2-inch centipede crawling next to me on my bed. I carefully shook out all my clothes before and after packing at home.

The real survivors at Koh Rong were the Onyx students persevering the past year to finish the program. Instead of forming alliances against each other to become the sole survivor, they became a family where people share honestly.  Moreover, they’ve shown they have the heart to serve others.  Two students, Ngechsor and Pheakday, travel back to their province on Saturdays after class to share the Onyx lessons with the local church youth. Also, another small group planned and carried out a children’s outreach at a resettlement village near Phnom Penh, where one of them lives. As these students set sail after Onyx, we look forward to hearing further adventures of how God works through them to bless their communities.

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.

 

Broadcasting Hope: First Response Radio

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Following the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Indonesia, people were desperate for information to rebuild their lives: “Just tell us what is happening!” they urged.

We felt it was important to get a radio station on the air, but had never done this before in disaster conditions. First Response Radio (FRR) got its start in the aftermath of the tsunami. It took a month to get the radio station up and running in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. While that was a great achievement in difficult conditions, we didn’t think it was fast enough as we missed the whole Emergency Phase of the disaster. We subsequently made it our goal to set up a radio station within 72 hours of a disaster striking and start broadcasting critical information to the affected community.

FRR is not a company or an organization. It is a network of networks made up of radio broadcasters, NGOs, and government partners. In each country, it is also a network of responders.

Our strategy has improved dramatically since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and the approach of FRR now is to buy equipment, train teams, and practice in disaster prone countries such as the Philippines, India, and Indonesia before disaster strikes. The equipment is then left in the country, and the local team responds to the next disaster.

We refer to the equipment we leave as the “Suitcase Radio,” which is really three suitcases or bags that include: a complete studio, FM transmitter, and an antenna. Each case is less than 45 lbs and can be checked as luggage on any airline. If set up properly, this station can reach a radius of 12 mi or more. However, the real secret to our success is not the equipment, but rather the training we provide.

We combine radio, NGOs, and government staff into a team and lead a five-day training workshop where they learn to run a radio station in a disaster zone. The NGOs learn from the radio announcers and vice versa. While the training we have given to people has been important, the “magic” really happens in the three-day field trials that we conduct. This enables us to put things into practice in a disaster-prone area under realistic field conditions. Sometimes the next disaster even strikes during the training event! FRR spends more time and resources on capacity building as that is the key to a good response.

An independent research paper (1) showed how FRR broadcasts in 2013 helped members of the community to recover following Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines. In summary, the disaster radio (FRR) provided reliable information that decreased fears. Through an understanding of what was happening, community members developed a sense of control and the ability to adapt:

“If you know what is going on . . . it is much easier to do right.”

“You could get information on what was going on, how I could rebuild my house.”

“They told us . . . to get food . . . and they told us about roads . . . and so on.”

Hearing voices and music played over the radio reminded the survivors of normality and offered moments of rest from the fight for survival and recovery. Some participants expressed that the joyful music played influenced them so much that they could feel happiness, and endure:

“I think that the music also . . . it made me feel . . . like normal . . . for a while. To rest my brain.”

 “It was a kind of silence that is deafening. And the radio broke through it, someway. The music and to hear another voice, in the middle of the night, that made me able to hang in there for one night more.”

Also following Typhoon Haiyan, Alexandra Sicotte-Lévesque, at the time the Advocacy and Communications Specialist for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said:

“Well done to First Response Radio! We have been going around radio (stations) in Tacloban talking about our (mobile) medical missions for pregnant & breastfeeding women . . . every day in a new barangay – we identify these women in advance in each community, but it’s not possible to identify everyone of course . . . so radio really helps. When our nurses went on First Response Radio the turnout was incredible – 250+ women showed up in one morning (compared to only 40 the previous day).”

Since 2004, our FRR teams have responded to 20 disasters with the most recent being the 2015 Nepal earthquake, Typhoon Koppu (Lando) in the Philippines, the South India floods, and the Afghan-Pakistan earthquake.

Out of catastrophe in Indonesia, we developed this network to empower victims of natural disasters. We hope to continue our field trainings and provision of equipment, which allow these countries to not only protect the safety of their citizens through the dispersal of critical information but also to provide comfort and hope in the midst of disaster.

(1) Karin Hugelius, Mervyn Gifford, Per Ortenwall, Annsofie Adolfsson, “To silence the deafening silence”: Survivor’s needs and experiences of the impact of disaster radio for their recovery after a natural disaster, International Emergency Nursing (2015), doi: 10.1016/j.ienj.2015.11.009

 

Song in the Desert–Missionaries and Music

Our family attended the 11am Modern Worship Service this last Sunday, July 10. Our oldest son was the scripture reader, and with all of our kids middle and high school ages, that’s the place to be on Sunday mornings. It was a beautiful, moving service, full of worship. I love both worship styles at Bellevue Presbyterian Church, and very much recommend that everyone check out both Modern and Sanctuary worship this summer. Everyone involved is giving their best to our Father in praise, and I think it gives us a good idea of what to expect in heaven.

This Sunday, I didn’t bother to look at the order of worship, for some reason, so I was not prepared when Desert Song, a Hillsong United song started up. Back in 2008, when I first heard this song, we were still worshipping with the Wamena International Fellowship in Wamena, Indonesia. We were selling off all our worldly goods and preparing to move back to America after four years on the mission field with MAF. My heart was not ready to leave that place, though it was clear that God was sending us home.

It was the most heartbreaking time of my life. If you look at it on a map, Wamena is in the middle of the island of New Guinea, just North of Australia. But as the airplane flies, it’s much farther. Our usual flight route was Seattle>Taipei>Singapore>Jakarta>Bali>Jayapura (on the coast)>Wamena (in the highlands). That’s three days (THREE!) of flying. Google maps won’t even plot if for me. So when we were leaving there, I knew that if I ever went back, it was going to be a long, long distance into the future. I was heartbroken. All the friends I had made, the Indonesian ones, whom I would likely never see again. The Dutch, Swiss, New Zealander, Irish friends, whom I would likely never see again. And the American/Canadian friends, who might come to Seattle on furlough, but still, it would be a long time before I would get to see them again. And the culture, which I had come to love and understand. Not to mention the sense of failure that Ted and I, who had planned to be lifetime missionaries, felt at having our expected career—our calling–cut short. It was a confusing, emotionally, sad time for our whole family. God knew what was going on, but I often felt that I was wandering in the dark.

Then, we began to sing this song in worship:

This is my prayer in the desert
When all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is the God who provides

This is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved
Of more worth than gold

My "Produce Department"
My “Produce Department”

So refine me, Lord, through the flame

I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice
I will declare
God is my victory and He is here

This is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I’ll stand

I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice
I will declare
God is my victory and He is here

All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice
I will declare
God is my victory and He is here

This is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be emptied again
The seed I’ve received I will sow

And I was heartbroken. I fell into this song and stayed there. For nearly a year I cried my way through this song. I was so grateful that when I returned to worship at BePres and the Modern Worship band started playing it. The words and music were my rock in the massive tumult of my soul.

I clung to the idea that through Jesus, I had the victory. That whatever the season of life, that I could praise God. I could have access to the certainty that God knew me, God cared for me, and that, as my desire was for his glory, I would know joy again.
So this last Sunday, as we gave God glory in this song once more, I wept, as I always have with this song. But eight years later, I am, by God’s grace, in a place of greater understanding of God’s heart for hurting people. For people who believe that God has one plan, but then he shows them a new, not always welcome plan. God loves those who serve him with their lives. God’s reasons for bringing us back were not clear to us for a very long time after our return. But we have a better idea of what God was doing then, now.

Missionaries who leave the field have a hard road to travel, almost always, back to whole life in their country of origin. My story, and the influence of the Desert Song in my journey back to wholeness in Christ, is only one of many. It is my hope that we would all stand in prayer with the missionaries in our church, and in our lives, no matter where they are in their mission journey. Pray that God would give our missionaries the strength to give him praise in every circumstance, as Job did when he said “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” –Job 2.10

God is for us, in every trial, in every joy, in every situation, God is for us. He is forming us to be more like his son, Jesus, which is our ultimate good. If we can rest in that truth, then we can indeed sing:

All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice
I will declare
God is my victory and He is here