Jesus For All

She sat across the table from me, her young sons flanking her, one on her left and one on her right. Seven days earlier they had given everything they had left to a man in Turkey to take them to Athens. The journey took them through the forest, along a muddy path by the river, evading fences, wild animals and border guards. They traveled at night and hid during the day. On the fourth day, they ran out of food. On the seventh day, they arrived in Athens, cold, wet, dirty, hungry and with no possessions. She had no one to turn to for help and no place to go. But then someone told her about a church, which was helping refugees, so she went there. They welcomed her and found her a place to stay in an old unheated building. Now she was sitting across from me to receive a free meal. I, along with a small team from

Seattle, had come to serve her and the nearly one hundred other refugees who were there that day. As she told me her story, her hands shook uncontrollably. She didn’t know if it was the cold weather or the trauma she had been through which caused the shaking.

Her story was that after a few years of marriage, her husband began to beat her regularly. Several times he made arrangements to loan her to his friends for a price. Finally, she had enough. She got brave and divorced him. At first, he didn’t want anything to do with her or the boys. So he gave them to her. But then he changed his mind and asked his friends to help him kill her. So she fled and left her country out of fear for her life. First, she went to Turkey. But when they told her they were going to send her back, she found the man who took her to Athens. “Today,” she said, “I am going to apply for my papers from the government.” These papers would allow her boys to go to school in Athens and permit her to work. But documents like this, she lamented, could take several months and sometimes up to a year to receive. After we ate, I gathered our group around her and prayed for her and her boys. Then she left.

The next day, we came again to serve meals. There she was, sitting at a different table, a big beautiful smile foretelling the announcement she was about to make. She had received her papers! But Jesus goodness and love was not unnoticed. Her oldest son explained that the reason why this happened was that we had prayed to our God! And like so many Muslims before them, who have fled their countries in the Middle East, this mother and her two boys eventually committed their lives to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Two months later, the pastor of the church we served in baptized them.

We are living in unprecedented times. We see the most significant turning of Muslims to faith in Christ since the birth of Islam. Coincidentally, Christians have been praying for Muslims to encounter the Risen Christ for over 30 years. Today’s movements are fueled by three decades of faithful prayers.

I am telling you this because May 6 marks the beginning of Ramadan for our Muslim neighbors and continues through June 4. Ramadan is the holiest month for Muslims. I want to invite you to join with Christians all over the world in praying for them and using something called the “Muslim World Prayer Guide” to help you. The Prayer Guide will introduce you to specific Muslim people and places where they live, like Egypt, Malaysia, Turkey, and Sudan. You will read the stories of Muslims who have encountered Jesus and learn specific things to pray for during this holy month. You can pick up a copy of the “Muslim World Prayer Guide” in the lobby today or download a PDF version at www.30daysprayer.com. Join the movement.

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.

 

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