Category Archives: Church

Heroes of the Faith

I’ve been back from Nepal only a few days and it has not been an easy adjustment.  The physical recovery is only part of the challenge. The greater one is processing everything that I experienced and trying to figure out how it all fits back into life at home. Having gone through the re-entry process a handful of times in the past, I have found that writing is helpful for me. Thus, I will continue to blog about Nepal even though I am now home. I hope it is not only therapeutic for me but also encouraging to you.

God is the main character of the Bible. The Word is a revelation of his character and actions in real time and history. That being said, God, by His grace, uses people to accomplish His purposes. As they obey Him, these people can be examples to follow. The apostle Paul said, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” This is true not only of characters in the Bible but also other saints through church history. In this way, these people can be called “heroes of the faith.” In Nepal, there are countless numbers of them. Here are a few that I had the privilege of meeting.

Pastors
Having been in pastoral ministry for nearly twenty years, I always have a heart for local pastors. Whether here or abroad, the life and call of a pastor is a demanding one. In Nepal, I had the privilege of meeting some of the main pastors at Gyaneshwor (NIM), the first church in Kathmandu. Pastor Robert Karthak and his brother-in-law, Pastor Dr. Rajendra Rongong (pictured far left) were pioneer missionaries and church planters who by faith followed God’s call to reach Nepal. Despite many obstacles and great persecution, these men along with a band of faithful believers, persevered over the past sixty years for the sake of the gospel. Much of the spiritual fruit currently being harvested throughout Kathmandu is the result of God’s grace planted through their years of faith and obedience.

Another pastor I providentially met in a restaurant where Sonia and I were enjoying lunch. Pastor Babu (center) has a wonderful testimony that includes coming to Christ after searching out various religions in college, adopting two girls and pastoring a local church that follows his lead in speaking and living out the gospel. His passion and joy is contagious. It was through and with Pastor Babu that we were able to purchase and deliver supplies for the village. He is constantly on the phone tending to the growing needs of his flock and organizing relief support for the villages.

Another thing that encouraged me was meeting the next generation of pastors that God is raising up to continue in the footsteps of pastors like Rajendra and Babu. I had the privilege of meeting Pastor Arbin of Crossway Community Church. He is a man deeply committed to making disciples who make disciples. I met young pastors in Gyaneshwor as well as in the village we visited (pictured on the right). There is great hope for the continued multiplication of the church in Nepal as the Spirit continues to lead others through faithful men like these.

Missionaries
The reason I originally came to Nepal was to speak at the annual conference of an international missionary organization. It was a privilege to serve nearly a hundred missionaries from all over the world. They are followers of Jesus who left their families, their friends and their homelands all for the sake of answering His call to reach Nepal. They are truly people who walk by faith and not by sight.

Heros-MissionariesHalfway through the trip, I got a 24-hour stomach bug. I was miserable. The missionaries were very empathetic because this is commonplace for them. Whether illness or weariness or loneliness, the challenges are ongoing in the life of a missionary. I never sensed any bitterness or despair in any of them but I know it must be easy to feel forgotten or unappreciated when serving so far from home. Like pastoral ministry, being a missionary is a call that often comes at a high cost. The suffering can be great but the glory is as well. Despite numerous setbacks, the faith of the people we met was deep. Tested, but deep. There is no sense of regret in their voices. Joy marks their obedience. They were inspiring.

You don’t have to be a pastor or a missionary to be a hero of faith. All you need to do is be faithful to whatever God has called you to. That’s what the men and women I met in Nepal have done. By their faith and through their faithfulness, God has called them, humbled them, used them and blessed them all for His glorious purposes. May the same be true of us here in America that, like the Nepali church, we too might see a rapid and powerful growth of the gospel!

If you know a missionary in the field or a pastor in your church, let me invite you to send him or her a note of encouragement and/or a gift of support today. Small things make a big difference. Even heroes need help!

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Fastest Growing Church in the World

Nepali_Church

When I was preparing to go to Nepal, I heard on various occasions that the Nepali church is the fastest growing in the world today. Nepal?!? Really?!? I did some research and found out the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, based at Gordon Conwell Seminary, published a study that reported that the Nepali church is indeed growing at the fastest rate in the world. Reverend Manoj Shrestha, former principal of the Nepal Ebenezer Bible College, reported the same thing saying,

The only reason I can think of [for the growth of the Nepali church] is the work of the Holy Spirit…If you come to Nepal, you will see many similarities between the church in Nepal and the first century church as described in the Book of Acts — in the religious life of the people, how the church is being persecuted, the excitement of the believers, how the power of God is being demonstrated through healings, exorcisms

When I told my missionary friend in Nepal about what I heard, she said based on what she’s seen, she wouldn’t be surprised if this true. Based on my limited experience with the Nepali church, I wouldn’t be surprised either. I have heard first-hand testimony after testimony about the rapid growth of the church through the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Fastest_Church

First church in Kathmandu

This past Saturday, Sonia and I attended worship service at the oldest church in Kathmandu and the second oldest in all of Nepal. The Gyaneswor Church was started by pioneer missionary and pastor, Robert Karthak. Raised in Darjeeling, Karthak felt a strong call to go to Nepal and in 1956, moved there with a small group of believers. Gyaneswor Church was planted a year later. Today, the church meets at five locations around Kathmandu with over 10,000 total in attendance. The largest site has multiple services with 2,000 attendees at each. We had the privilege of visiting the original site which was much smaller. Sonia and I were sitting very close together so we could share a wireless headset for English translation. After I settled into my seat, I realized all of the women were sitting on the left side of the room and all of the men were on the right. I was on the left and felt so embarrassed. There was no room to move so I was just praying that everyone would think I was a really big, ugly, hairy woman.

Pastor Robert is now 89 years old and rotates every week to preach at each of the sites. On the Saturday we attended, he happened to be there. Not surprisingly, he was a great preacher! Pastor Robert shared that the last time he was at this particular site, it was the day of the earthquake. He was preaching that if Jesus is in the boat with you then you don’t have to worry about anything, not even natural disasters! Five minutes later, the earthquake hit and the people in the sanctuary didn’t panic but left in an orderly fashion. A children’s class that was meeting outside had some metal siding and bricks fall on them but fortunately, all the kids were OK. Pastor Robert went on to preach through nearly a dozen texts that refer to the earth shaking but his primary text was Hebrews 12:25-29,

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

The sermon was primarily focused on the sovereignty of God in all circumstances and he saw the earthquake as a wake up call for the church to share the gospel in both word and deed in an even greater way. Wow! If the Nepali church was already the fastest growing in the world before the quake and this is the message now being preached, it puts the rest of the global church, especially in America, to shame!

Pastor_KarthaI had the privilege of meeting for tea and snacks with Pastor Robert and some of the elders in a small room immediately following the service. He is a gracious man that exudes wisdom and faith. It was like meeting John Piper, Tim Keller or Billy Graham in person but waaaaaay better. Kathak’s English is excellent so it was inspiring to hear from him and his brother-in-law (also an elder) how the seeds of the church were planted nearly 60 years ago by faith. I asked them why they thought the church was growing at such a rapid rate. Their answer, “the movement of the Holy Spirit.” Funny, same answer as Reverend Manoj Shrestha. It’s all about God and His glory. It’s by Him, through Him and for Him. All praise and honor to Him!

 

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Family Farewell

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On April 16, 2006, I joined these people to plant a new church in Chino Hills. Yesterday, nearly nine years later, I worshipped with them for the last time while serving as their lead pastor. The day was inevitable but definitely not an enviable one. It left me emotionally and physically exhausted.

How do you suddenly say goodbye to people who have been such an integral and intimate part of your life for so long? People who partnered with me shoulder-to-shoulder in ministry. People who cried on my shoulder and allowed me to cry on theirs when life’s pain was unbearable. People whom my children call “auntie” and “uncle” although very few of them are actually blood-related.

In fact, when we brought Eden home from China, we had a hard time explaining the difference between the new “aunties” and “uncles” that she celebrated the holidays with and the dozens of people at church whom we celebrated the Lord’s supper with. After a while, we stopped trying. Partly, because it required further language acquisition, but mainly because we wondered if it really mattered at all, anyway. After all, these people are not just fellow church members. They’re family. And that’s why it hurts to know our journey with them is over.

Yesterday, I was naive enough in my male pride to think I wouldn’t shed a tear. My wife wisely made me put tissue in my pocket before departing the house. I should have stuffed some in my back pockets too. When I arrived, the first person I bumped into is the eldest and one of the godliest men in our church. He began to express his appreciation of me, how much he was going to miss me and how God was going to use me in mighty ways in the near future. He was blessing me. How did I respond in return? With a quivering lip and teary eyes. I cried during my sermon. I cried during the program they had in our honor after the best potluck lunch I have ever consumed. Why all the tears? Because Lifesong is our family.

Today, as I try to get over the emotional hangover, I hold onto the truth that they’ll always be family. Yes, our relationships are going to be different but I also know they do not end. Bloodlines in the family of God run eternal. God sent His Son to redeem us in order to adopt us. In other words, the Father wanted us to be family forever. The sweet joy of Heaven is by far God Himself but the icing is the family that he gathers around Him. At times, when our paths cross and even join while pursuing God’s mission this side of Heaven, we get a small taste of that delight and we don’t want it to end. True fellowship is like that. It’s a shadowed taste of Heavenly koinonia promised in and through the Son. So when it does end, we are left longing for more. That’s the way it should be.

Thank you, Lifesong, for being family to me and my household over these past nine years. My heart for you echoes the words of the apostle Paul in his affection for the Philippians, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

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The EFCA

Recently, I have not posted any entries because I have been at the EFCA Annual Leadership Conference in San Diego. Although Lifesong was planted by a Baptist church and a Presbyterian church, we ended up being a part of the Evangelical Free Churches of America (EFCA) for three primary reasons:

  1. Doctrine: The EFCA’s doctrinal statement is theologically conservative without being overly constrictive. When the statement of faith was modified a few years ago, it was adjusted to be more explicit in some very important matters (i.e. historical Adam and Eve, substitutionary atonement, etc.) yet it still allows for a broad theological umbrella that includes many within evangelicalism.
  2. Mission: The EFCA exists “to glorify God by multiplying healthy churches among all people.” Our denomination exists to bring God glory specifically by planting new churches that plant new churches. Personally, I believe this is God’s primary way of fulfilling his great commission to make disciples. And although the EFCA’s historical roots are strongly Swedish and Dutch-Norwegian, they have worked hard over the years to truly plant churches among all people. This is evident by the growing diversity of people that are represented at this annual conference.
  3. Relationships: I have been personally encouraged, challenged, equipped and inspired by the EFCA’s President, District Staff and fellow pastors. The more I spend time with my EV Free brethren, the more I am proud to be in association with them. We are unified in Christ and his purposes.

All this is to say that if I blog less this week, it’s because I’m hanging out with fellow believers that I have grown to love and look forward to partnering with more.

Me with EFCA President, Bill Hamel

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