Stan Slade

Learning to run... stretching forward!

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A little more than a week after ABCNJ's terrific Annual Session (!), I had the chance to observe our three little neighbor girls at play.  The youngest, Hadley is full of zest for life—and full of passion to catch up with her big sisters.  In typical full-tilt mode, she giggled and bounced down the driveway on her toes.  Hadley is just two.  Far from steady on her feet.  The driveway is steeply sloped.  I was transfixed… caught somewhere between panic-stricken and awe-struck.  Part of me wanted to rush over and scoop her up, before her reckless run down the driveway led to a tumble into the asphalt, complete with tears and major road rash.  Part of me wanted to cheer her on, amazed by her fearlessness and her success!  Little Hadley, on the brink of disaster for at least ten yards (a lot of steps for a two year old!) actually made it to the flat sidewalk at the bottom, grinning and victorious!  Hooray! Little Hadley is learning to run… by running!  Ultimately, that’s how we do it.  At every level.

It is a long, long way, from two-year old Hadley, toddling on her toes, to the Olympians Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce taking the gold for Jamaica in the 100 meter sprint, and Stephen Kiprotich carrying the Ugandan flag across the finish line to take the gold medal in the 2012 marathon in London.  But the distance is covered by running.  Disciplined, determined, daily running.

Of course, there is much to learn about technique, about strategy, about equipment.  But without running, none of that would count for much.  And, surely it is true that not everyone’s body type sets them up to reach the same level of achievement.  But the best genetic preparation in the world would be useless without… running!  They call it training.  But, mostly, it consists of running.  Focused, faithful, fully committed running.

Living for Jesus is like that.  We learn to do it, actually, by doing it.  Whether bouncing on our toes on the brink of disaster, or striding purposefully toward the finish line or, yes, twisting an ankle, taking a tumble and losing some skin as we collide with the ground.  We learn to follow Jesus by… following Jesus!  As with running, there is a great deal of learning to do as we follow Jesus.  But as with running, for our study (of Scripture, history and so many aspects of our context) to become real learning, we have to be active, engaged, actually following the Lord with our lives.

One of the images Paul used for the life of faith is that of athletics.  In his first letter to the congregation in Corinth, he urged them to learn from what they could see runners and boxers doing to prepare to compete (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  Athletes’ disciplined way of life was focused on a goal.  Paul urged the followers of Jesus to pursue the much greater goal of serving the world-changing mission of Jesus with the kind of discipline and determination they could see in the athletes around them.  (This was an important word to a “team of rivals,” clearly distracted by intra-team squabbles.  But I digress….)

Paul again used the metaphor of running as he wrote to the congregation in Philippi, urging them to persevere, to stay focused on Jesus and to press onward toward the finish line of God’s Reign.  Like a runner reaching out for the tape, Paul said he was stretching forward with every muscle, focused on the finish line.

I love the metaphor, especially if we remember that following Jesus is “a team sport.”  It is about running together, about encouraging one another, urging each other to reach our personal best and, especially, picking up our teammates when they take a tumble, as we all will.

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During BereanSafari last August, I had the chance to serve as player-coach with Sara, a bright young Ethiopian woman who is honing her skills as a Bible study leader by… leading Bible studies!  Whenever I can, I love to use teaching opportunities not only to help participants gain more knowledge, but to help them become those who do their learning by serving the learning of others (2 Timothy 2:2).  It was a privilege to run alongside Sara throughout the week, matching stride for stride and learning together how best to assist our group in their own learning!

I was grateful to be able to join Sara as she stretched forward to develop leadership skills.  I am grateful for all whose prayers and gifts make it possible for me to join people like Sara around the world.  I am grateful for all whose prayers and gifts to the World Mission Offering are making it possible for International Ministries to “Stretch Forward” into a third century of responding to the call of Christ in mission.  Thank you!

May the Lord enable you to run with faithfulness the race that is set before us all, stretching forward toward the amazing goal the Lord has established, when God’s redeeming desires will be fully realized, “on earth..."--in New Jersey... in the U.S.... throughout the world...--"on earth, as in heaven!”

"God sent you to me today!"

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I usually keep a pretty low profile at the gym.  (Well, if the truth be told, the, er, "profile," is actually a bit different than I'd like.  There is nothing quite like joining the kings and queens of Spandex for a few minutes to make one aware of... um... "profile" issues.  But I digress.  And, you know what I meant:  though I'm a fairly extroverted person, when it comes to the gym, I usually try to slip in and out as inconspicuously as possible.)But today I varied a bit from the routine.  It was all because of my friend Mike.

Mike is a fellow missionary.  His official assignment is to help the American Baptist Churches of Michigan serve the mission of Jesus Christ as faithfully and effectively as they can.  But, like the other missionaries I know, his love for the Lord and for people continually finds expression in ways that go well beyond his official assignment.

Mike and I had a great conversation a little while ago, as part of International Ministries' Responding to the Call discernment process.  One of the things that have stayed with me from that inspiring conversation was when Mike said,

"The gym is my congregation!"

Mike has been working out a lot in recent years.  And, in the gym, Mike is just himself.  No  "Pastor Mike."  No "Rev," let alone, "Rev. Dr."  Just "Mike."  And people talk to him.  He listens.  They notice.  So, one day another guy figured it out, and asked Mike to pray for him.  In the whirlpool.  With a bunch of other guys.  So God has given Mike an unexpected "mission field":  the gym.

I loved Mike's stories about mission in the gym.  As I listened, I decided that I would basically continue to keep my "low profile" (see "Spandex, Kings & Queens of," above), but stay open to opportunities as God brought them my way.

Today, as I was slogging away on the elliptical trainer, one of the guys I often see in the locker room called out to another guy that he, "D," was going to take a trip to Vietnam and Thailand.  Whoa.  Time to move to the next level.

D is a runner, and looks it (see "Spandex, K...").  He is also a car salesman and a Deacon.  (Hey, it's not like I've been totally anti-social at the gym!)  So later, in the locker room I asked D, "You going to Vietnam for a race, for church or for a vacation?"

"You know Vietnam?"

"Yeah, a little.  Mostly Saigon."

"How?"

"Been there to work with pastors and leaders in some of the churches."

"Churches?  Oh man.  God sent you to me today!"

And we were off and running.  I don't yet know where this will lead.  So far, we have mostly talked about food, accommodations and such.  But "D" did begin to explore with me how the gospel gets shared in places like Vietnam and Thailand.  Lord willing, at the very least our conversations will help to connect D's faith--and that of his congregation--with what God is doing through brothers and sisters in Vietnam and Thailand.  I'm praying for more.  We'll see.

My conversation with D was far less dramatic than Mike's impromptu prayer meeting in the whirlpool.  But the point is the same:  mission is where you find it--or better... where it finds you!

I continue to be grateful for the way God nudged me through the experiences Mike shared in our conversation.  Maybe the Lord will do something similar for you today.  In any case, I pray that the Spirit of God will keep the eyes, ears and hearts of all of us open to the opportunities to serve those whom the Lord brings into our lives today... in unexpected places!  To whom is God sending you today?

But... it's not right!!

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"But... it's not right!!!" There are a lot of "not right" things in the world these days.  Syria. Ukraine.  South Sudan. Malaria, hunger, infant mortality.  Slavery and trafficking.  And on, and on.  It is a pretty overwhelming list!

But my companion was not focused on the world. What was "not right" was America.

Fair enough.  Lord knows, we have plenty of "not right," too.  The list of things that need to be put right in my beloved country is very long.

But Caleb was not actually focused on anything that might appear on such a list. He was focused on "the whole America."   Hmmmm.  That's how he refers to the jigsaw puzzle map of the U.S. we had just put together.

At the outset, he was very proud to announce that the puzzle had "the whole America."  But at the end, he was beside himself.

"It's not riiiiiiiight, Grandpa!"

Much wailing ensued.  And, of course, Caleb was correct.  If you look closely at the photo, you can see that California has clearly suffered earthquake dislocation.  Nevada and Arizona seem to have gotten out of place, too.

Caleb could see that our assembled puzzle was not perfect.  And he was distraught.  No amount of grandfatherly balm could sooth him.  Much less, Grandpa's explanation that jigsaw puzzles assembled on carpets just cannot be made to lie flat.  Caleb has a very clear vision of how things are supposed to be.  He knows our puzzle is just not right.  Grandpa's assurances that it is "fine," "good enough" and "the best it can possibly be on a carpet," do not touch his agony.

Caleb had another go-round on this theme later the same day.  He was making a picture.  A marvelous 3-year-old expression of color and energy.    Mom Emily has put quite a collection of them on the wall in the basement that serves as an office.  As an unbiased grandfather, I love them, of course.

Caleb's Gallery

But sometimes when you are working very, very hard to make sure your marker delivers its ink fully to the canv... er, page, well, disaster strikes.  "Disaster," in the form of a centimeter long tear in the darkest part of the paper.  Ruined.  Wailing.

I thought I had the fix.  A bit of tape on the back side of the paper and, voila!  Good as new.   See, Caleb?  Silly Grandpa.  Of course my sexagenarian eyes thought it was great.  But Caleb knew.  Not good as new.  In fact, not good at all.  In fact, ruined.

Tough day in the life of a 3 year old.  I wish I could somehow enable Caleb to leapfrog over this pain over the less-than-perfect puzzle and less-than-perfect picture.  I cannot.  He has to work through it himself.  But it is worth it for Caleb is working on an important life lesson.  In fact, his grandfather is still working on it.

How many times have I been right there with Caleb, wailing over some project that was "ruined," only because it was not perfect?  Wow.  Hanging out with your grandkids is risky business!  You never know when a grandchild will turn into a mirror!

What is "good enough"?  How do we cope with the gap between the ideal we can imagine and the real that we live and achieve?  Especially if we are followers of Jesus, and know that God desires to make us more and more like him?  How do we live with the gap?

Grace, of course.  Thanks be to God, we do not have to have arrived to be loved, to achieve in order to be loved.  Grace always comes first.  It is acceptance that calls forth achievement, not the other way round.

But that's pretty easy to forget.  At least for Grandpa.  So I am grateful I was present as Caleb was working on this life lesson.  It was a good reminder that the difference between Caleb and his Grandpa is often much less than the 59 years between our birthdays.

Lord, thank you for your mercy and love.  May your grace enable both Caleb and his Grandpa to find deep joy in "good enough," even while "perfect" awaits us in Your Future.

Monday, Monday

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That hit song from 1966 floated through the back of my mind last night.  It was popular when I was a teenager, the only song by the Mamas & Papas to make it to #1. It came to mind because I was listening to Monday, on Tuesday.

"Monday," or more exactly, "son, born on Monday," is the meaning of the Ghanaian name, Kojo.  I was listening to Rev. Kojo Amo who, after providing leadership to the Ghana Baptist Convention for ten years, is now the Chairman for West Africa for the All Africa Baptist Fellowship.  Kojo is in town as part of a mission trip.  He is touring a Ghanaian Baptist mission field.  The U.S.A.

With Ghana Baptist Convention leaders and Francisco Litardo in 2001

As I listened to Brother Kojo last night, I had a complex experience.  As I said, the background soundtrack was Mamas & Papas.  The visuals were from a brilliant day in October of 2001, when I took these photos as Francisco Litardo and I spent a couple of hours in Accra with the leadership of the Ghana Baptist Convention.  The foreground soundtrack was a highly summarized report of Ghanaian Baptist mission work in Canada (Toronto and Montreal), New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and now, New Jersey.

This is definitely not your great-grandmother's world of mission!

The smiling face of my friend Samuel Escobar also flashed through my mind as I listened.  For, Brother Kojo was describing a marvelous Ghanaian example of just the kind of thing Samuel has been speaking and writing about for years:  mission in our day is truly "from everywhere to everyone" (The New Global Mission, InterVarsity Press, 2003).

From everywhere to everyone.  Mission in our day moves in every conceivable direction.  And, if we're honest, we have to admit that many of today's mission directions are "conceivable" to us only after we've bumped into the fact that they are "actual"!  God's surprises just keep on coming!

So, Kojo Amo is visiting Ghanaian mission sites in the U.S.  They are places where Ghanaians who have joined the millennia-long stream of immigrants to North America are busily reaching out to their neighbors with the faith in Jesus that has sustained them on the journey.  It is an exuberant faith.  Contagious.  Their churches are growing.  And, in excellent missionary fashion, they are eager to partner with what God is already doing in the places where they are planting churches.  Are we equally eager to partner with them?

ABCNJ is!  We were sitting in the living room of Judy and Paul Hart, at a regularly-scheduled meeting of the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey's Go Global Mission Taskforce, which Judy chairs.  It was an exciting evening, as members of the group shared about the ways God is leading New Jersey Baptists into mission in Brazil, the Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, Haiti, India... and... and... in partnership with Ghanaian Baptists, New Jersey!  At least 150 of the world's nations are represented in New Jersey.  Lee Spitzer, Senior Regional Pastor for ABCNJ says, "We can accomplish 2/3 of the Great Commission in our day, at least symbolically, without even leaving the state!"  Lord willing, there will soon be a new Ghanaian congregation growing in the heart of New Jersey, aided and abetted by their American Baptist neighbors.

So, Monday was speaking on Tuesday night.  He was describing mission from a former "receiving" country to a former "sending" country.  And we joyously celebrated the fact that the Lord invites us all to be both "senders" and "receivers" as we participate in what is truly God's mission, "from everywhere to everyone."

In 1966, "Monday, Monday" was (and for some of us, still is!) engaging--despite the fact that it was a wistful lament for a lost love.  This week, Monday/Kojo is engaging in a totally different way:  he is bursting with life and contagious enthusiasm for the good news of Jesus, bearing witness to the way God is at work in our world.

Thanks be to God!

May the Lord surprise and encourage you this week with glimpses of the surprising ways God is at work in your own neck of the woods.  Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Silly Grandpa!

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"Duh!"  That's what I said to myself when it finally hit me.  Hey, the fact that I'm in the over-the-hill gang does not mean I cannot pull this off!  So, standing on a train platform in the middle of Asia, I whipped out my phone and recorded video greetings to each of the grandkids.  "P-r-e-t-t-y slick," I congratulated myself, as I hit the "send" button. Well... maybe there is a little more to it than I thought.

Oh, I managed both to record and to send the greetings.  But, somehow, by the miracle of modern technology, when my little video postcard made it halfway round the world to Ames, Iowa, 2 year old Caleb (hmmm... make that 2.5 year old, about-to-become-a-big-brother, Caleb!) immediately spotted a problem:  "Silly Grandpa Stan.  Upside down!" Whoops?!  Fortunately, Caleb knew just how to fix things.

His full statement was, "Silly Grandpa Stan.  Upside down.  Get some coffee!!" Oh my.  Has he really been making and archiving his own little video recordings throughout these last 2 (er, 2.5) years?  Yep.  He has clearly spotted the fact that when Grandpa Stan comes to visit, a dramatic change occurs in coffee consumption at Caleb's house!  I wonder what else those little recordings in his brain contain?

While I wonder what fresh observation will spring "from the mouths of babes," I will take strength from the observations of many of my students this week.  At the end of a very intensive week of Bible study, they were full of energy and excitement.

"I love the way you draw things out of us!"

"You find a way to affirm and encourage us, even when we share off-the-wall ideas."

"The more you encourage us, the more we see!"

That's it!  I was hoping they would notice.  Unlike my coffee drinking with Caleb, that is something Grandpa actually wants people to notice.  Not for my sake, but for theirs.  I pray that they will see what happens when study leaders use their position of authority to create a safe space for people to risk sharing what they think they see in the text.  When they feel safe and encouraged, participants begin to trust their eyes more.  They begin to trust their insights and their questions more.  And as they do, they see more, and see better.  And that is exciting.  For all of us!

Our study was focused on the Gospel of Mark this week.  I always love to see people have a fresh encounter with Jesus, as they have a truly fresh encounter with Mark's inspired way of telling Jesus' story.  Once again, by the grace of God, that happened.  And that is a wonderful reward, all by itself.

But I always hope for something more.  I hope that participants will notice not only what we are learning together, but how.  I am eager for them to catch a vision for how they, too, can nurture the adventure of discovery in others.  I hope the impact of the week together will be multiplied.  My prayer is always that participants will take what they have learned, and use it to help others enter into the same joy of discovery and encounter that they have experienced.

Time will tell, on this week's study.  We live and serve in hope.

Of course, it is also nice, from time to time, to learn that the hope gets fulfilled.   I'm grateful to report that happened again recently.  A former student sent me an email that made my day--and more!  The note explained that Bible study time in a church in the middle of the U.S. has been revolutionized as the new pastor has put into practice with them the approach he learned as we looked at the Bible together in a classroom, several years ago.

Thank you, Lord, for the chance to be part of what you do in the world.  And thank you, Paul, for passing along the word!

And thanks to all of you who make these ministry activities possible, with your gifts and with your prayers!  I am grateful for your partnership in the mission of Jesus.  Wherever this finds you today, may you be blessed... and be a blessing to others!

Now... I'm going to give it another try with the phone camera.  Caleb, have you seen Grandpa's coffee cup??

(not quite) Home for Christmas

It's not over yet, but we have already had a wonderful time as a family this Christmas.  We did not manage to get everyone together in one place.  That was the amazing blessing of 20121122-AllFamilyThanksgiving for us this year:  the whole family together again for a few days--wow!  This week it has been our turn to share, as two of our three next-gen families were blessing the in-laws with their presence.  We were very grateful for the technology and the opportunity to talk with them on Christmas day.  And we were delighted to have the other next-gen family right here with us:  Anna, Tim, CJ (5) and Naomi (10 months).  For all of these blessings, thank you, Lord! I have been immersed in the enjoyment of this great gift this week.  But the mind is an amazing thing, able to be almost 100% present while still occasionally zipping off for a few moments in unexpected directions.  And then, even with a houseful, there are the times of solitude.  I've had more than the usual quota this year.  (Memo to self:  among the many ways to move through the time of preparation we call Advent, spending the last 2 weeks on the other side of the planet is not the most effective for clear-headedness on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  The 12 time zone adjustment obeys its own biological imperative... bestowing, along the way, sleepiness when one wishes to be alert and alertness when one wishes to be sleeping like the others.)

So it is that I have found myself often engaged in prayer for Kachin Baptist brothers and sisters over these last few days, mostly in the middle of the night, but also from time to time throughout the day.

Some 100,000 of them have had more in common with Joseph, Mary and Jesus than with me, this Christmas.

Luke's Gospel tells us that as Jesus' birth drew near, Joseph and Mary were on the road, due to the requirements of the imperial census.   It was a very curious kind of "on the road," though.  The place Joseph actually took Mary, in order to register with the census-takers, was... home.  Since his family was originally from Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary made the trip south from Nazareth, so that Joseph could do his duty.

So, that first Christmas, Joseph, Mary & Jesus were in their ancestral homeland.  But, curiously, Luke tells us they were not in the ancestral home.  They were outside the main house.  With the animals.

Luke doesn't give us the details.  We don't know if there was "no room" for them inside because the rest of the family reacted less nobly than Joseph to Mary's not-the-usual way condition.  Or maybe it was that Joseph's particular branch of the extended family had been away from Bethlehem so long that their arrival caught everyone unprepared (neglecting to text their ETA from the road was a filial failing that had not yet been invented!).  Perhaps the issue truly was just a matter of space:  perhaps the rest of the extended family had already occupied every nook and cranny of ancestral housing by the time Joseph and his precious cargo finally came straggling in.

Whatever the reason, Joseph and his little family spent that first Christmas both "at home" and very much not "at home."  (Matthew's Gospel adds that things quickly got worse for the little family:  they rapidly morphed from "internally displaced persons" to full-fledged "refugees" as they crossed the border into Egypt to protect the life of their infant son.  But that is a story for another time.)

There are something like 100,000 Kachin people, most of them Baptists, who spent Christmas of 2012 in a similar situation.  They are an ethnic minority people whose ancestral homeland includes Kachin State, a part of northern Myanmar (Burma) that borders China.  Like other ethnic minority groups in Myanmar (most famously, the Karen people), the Kachins have been struggling with the central government for decades.  Just as that government has begun to take significant steps to cultivate better relationships with the rest of the world (and especially, with the U.S.), it has cast aside a 1994 ceasefire agreement with Kachin independence forces and launched a major military operation into northern Kachin State.  The estimates are that military operations over the last 18 months have produced 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), living in camps along the border between China and Myanmar.

I am very far from being an expert on this conflict.  The complexities of the history and the dynamics that feed the current violence go beyond my understanding.  But it has been much on my mind and heart since the second week of Advent, when I discovered it was very much on the minds and hearts of my hosts and conversation partners in Myanmar.  The leader of the large and very dynamic Baptist movement throughout the country arose from our conversation in his Yangon office early in the week to travel to the northern border and visit the camps.  Later in the week, a long-time leader of the NGO community in Yangon urged me to look for ways that American Baptists could more effectively stand with our Kachin sisters and brothers.

Sign in Yangon Kachin Baptist Church, made of photos of IDPs in the camps

And the last thing I did before boarding the plane to leave Myanmar was worship at Yangon Kachin Baptist Church.  There, our prayers for the suffering families of Newtown, CT, were mingled with our prayers for the suffering families of Kachin State.

They are in their ancestral homeland.  But, whether living as IDPs in border camps or as traumatized survivors in contested territory, they are anything but "at home" this Christmas.

I do not yet know all of what I, or International Ministries, will be led to do on behalf of our Kachin, Karen and other sisters and brothers in Christ who are home but not "at home" this Christmas.  (And those suffering in Syria?  And those who are still picking up the pieces of their shattered lives post-Sandy?  and post-Sandy Hook?  And those who are still displaced almost three years after the Haitian earthquake?  And...?  There is truly no shortage of disrupted lives in our world!)

So far, I've been praying.  I plan to continue that.  God loves the Kachins (and the Karen, and the Syrians, and the Americans and the Haitians and...) infinitely more than I do.  God's patient work in the world--the whole world--is the only framework that keeps me from falling into overwhelmed despair in the face of the needs we can see.  Praying is what puts me in perspective.  It reminds me where I fit in the big picture.  I certainly feel called to "do something."  But unless the first (and last!) thing I do is to pray, I will quickly lose perspective on how the tiny contribution I might make could be part of the much larger, much longer, much deeper work of God in history.  Without the bigger perspective, my too-puny efforts will simply become paralyzed.

Spending part of Advent in Myanmar has both reminded me of an element of the Christmas story, and added another dimension to my prayers that God's Reign will fully come and God's good and redeeming will be fully done, on earth, as in heaven.  I am grateful for the foretastes of that redemption I am privileged to witness and to experience, while I pray for--and play a small role in--God's work to bring about infinitely more.  May you, also, have the joy both of receiving and of extending to others the grace and love of God that is surely bearing us toward that "infinitely more."

Music to My Ears

You've been busy!!  I have been inspired by the glimpses I have caught of God at work through New Jersey Baptists, and heartily thank God for you!  May the Lord continue to multiply the impact of your witness in work and word, as people continue to recover from Hurricane Sandy! I have prayed for, given to and tried to stay informed about your ministries from afar this last week, as I have been serving among our sisters and brothers in Nicaragua.  Here's a glimpse of what I've been up to:

"I thought I knew these stories in Acts, but I'm amazed at the new things I found." "What I really liked about this study was that the speaker did not come to tell us what to think, but helped us to discover the meaning for ourselves."

It was, as they say, music to my ears. The music was playing in CEPAD's Nehemiah Center in Managua, where I had just spent three days with pastors and congregational leaders (CEPAD is Nicaragua's Council of Evangelical Churches for Denominational Alliance). Gilberto Aguirre, affectionately known to all as El Profe ("the Prof"), was conducting an evaluation session at the end of our inductive study of the Book of Acts.

I appreciate positive feedback as much as anyone. It is a wonderful encouragement to be thanked for our efforts. It is very affirming to be both warmly welcomed and eagerly invited back. Feels great.

But the kind of response I both pray for and work for goes far beyond "getting strokes," as good as that feels. My desire is to be used by God to help people grow, not only in knowledge, but in capacity. I am especially eager to help people expand their capacity to discover the meaning of Scripture by working together as a learning community. I am no Paul of Tarsus, but I share his desire to work in a way that helps us all to grow into maturity in Christ (Colossians 1:28).

There is nothing I can do to force that outcome. Sometimes what I don't do is the most important thing. Waiting. Resisting the urge pour out my own views. Or, at least, resisting that urge long enough to allow others to do some creative thinking.

Of course, not everything is unprompted discovery. I share not only silence, but also the fruit of learning I've had the privilege to do previously. But, if I can couple that prior learning with careful listening to the observations and questions in the room, I can use it less to supplant and more to support the learning that others are doing. If I can affirm and encourage fellow learners to risk sharing their own observations, questions and hypotheses--even, or perhaps especially, when their ideas do not quite seem to me to be "on the mark," it builds confidence in the group and accelerates their rate of discovery. Delightfully, it can accelerate my own rate of discovery, too!

At the end of the evaluation session, Dámaris Albuquerque, CEPAD's executive director, spoke on behalf of the group and the whole organization: "Thank you for coming and for giving yourself to us again this week. Please express our gratitude to International Ministries for enabling you to come!'

I am, indeed, grateful to International Ministries for the opportunity to serve in Nicaragua this week. I am also deeply grateful to New Jersey Baptists for the prayer and financial support that makes this service possible!  It is great to be in the service of God's Reign together.

missionARY - mission FIELD

"When we went to Mexico, we saw ourselves as the missionaries. What we discovered is that we are the mission field."
Chuck & Ramona Shawver

That's how my friend and veteran IM missionary Chuck Shawver put it, when we were together this summer. His words have stuck with me. They capture something important about my own experience, too. It was true in El Salvador, where we lived in the 1980s. It has been true in the many places I have visited and served since then. It is true in Valley Forge.

I see it also, over and over, in Scripture. God sends messengers, people called both to carry and to embody a message for the sake of others. But God is always also at work in and on those very messengers, calling them more deeply into the message they carry. From Abraham's encounter with Abimelech (Genesis 20) to Peter's experience with Cornelius (Acts 10)--and at many points in between--the missionaries discover they are also the mission field.

This dimension of our walk with the Lord came up again last night in Dover, Delaware, during a conversation with the good folks of Dover's First Baptist Church. We touched on the global context of mission today, and the dynamics at work in the worldwide Christian movement. But we focused primarily on the practice of mission, whether our mission service takes us across an ocean or across the street: we are always both agents and objects of mission, both instruments God is using and clay that the Divine Potter is shaping and filling with the treasure of the gospel.

I have come to love the spot in his letter to the believers in Rome, where Paul catches and corrects himself on this very point: "For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you--or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine" (Romans 1:11-12).

Missionary or mission field? Paul saw himself as both.

May the Lord give us grace always to see ourselves this way, too. It is a wonderful thing to be used by God. It is a humbling, but no less wonderful thing, to be a work in progress. It is normal--but not for being "normal," any less wonderful--to be both.

Last weekend I bought some tea at the Hy-Vee supermarket on the west side of Ames, Iowa. What a mess. The parking lot is torn up. The inside of the building has temporary walls all over the place. There are many, many clear vinyl sheets hanging about, to keep the dust of construction activities away from the food they are selling. But, they are, indeed, selling food. Lots and lots of it. There's more food under that roof and surrounded by those plastic drapes than in many a small village around the world. That supermarket is clearly both "on the job" and "under construction." Just like me.

Stan and Berean Safari participants in Kenya

Thanks for your partnership in the gospel. Whether today finds you feeling more like an "under construction" mission field today, or more like an "on the job" missionary, may you take heart in the calling to be both.

In 10 days... / En 10 días…

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So much happened this last 10 days… God is good and faithful and we are blessed to be at His service in Spain, alongside our sisters and brothers in this land. We are grateful for your sharing with us this common journey. We spent a weekend in Lorca (visiting their ground zero, El Buen Camino, and sanctuary) and Elche (leadership workshop and church visit) and then continued with our class in Valencia on Monday (EBEVA) and our time at the church in Requena on Wednesday, completing our 10 days today at the church in Carlet. God has been at work. You can find the full testimony here.

EBEVA, another night of learning…

We'd like to point out our trio connection between ABCNJ, Stan Slade and us at EBEVA. Each Monday evening, for the last four months, we’ve been sharing Isaiah and an Introduction to the Prophets with a group of more than 20 faithful participants from different churches in Valencia. Despite the cold winter, and even rain, they have come for our two hours together. We begin with a devotional time where they have learned to understand and use the method of inductive study that Stan Slade shared last October at our annual session but that these participants did not have an opportunity to learn then (which those in Dénia did enjoy). As an extension to what Stan did, we have shared with them this valuable Bible study tool provoking important insights that they have for the rest of their study of the book of Isaiah. The participants are always eager for more; two of them traveled to Elche last Saturday to be at the workshop we held there for the southeastern region. Monday 13th is our last session and with it we complete the commitments we had in Valencia, Dénia, and Xàtiva for this academic cycle that ends in June with other classes and professors. We are grateful for the opportunity to share wisdom, knowledge, and discipleship in each of these places where we have been blessed to learn as we prepare and as we are with these sisters and brothers who thrive to prepare for better service.

Thanks for your faithful and generous support of ministries like the Borquists in Brazil, Stan Slade around the world, and us in Spain. In partnership we have made much more!

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Ha pasado tanto en los últimos 10 días… Dios es bueno y fiel y nos sentimos bendecidos de estar en Su servicio en España, junto a nuestras hermanas y hermanos en esta tierra. Te agradecemos que compartas con nosotros nuestra mutua peregrinación. Estuvimos un fin de semana en Lorca (visitando lo que queda tras los terremotos, El Buen Camino y la iglesia) y Elche (para talleres y visitar la iglesia) y continuamos en Valencia con la clase del lunes (EBEVA) y nuestro miércoles en la iglesia de Requena, completando estos 10 días en la de Carlet. Dios ha estado obrando… Puedes leer todos los datos en www.internationalministries.org/teams/50-bonilla-giovanetti.

EBEVA, otra noche para aprender

Queremos resaltar la conexion del trio ABCNJ, Stan  Slade y nosotros en EBEVA. Cada lunes en la noche en los últimos cuatro meses hemos compartido Isaías e Introducción a los Profetas con un grupo de más de 20 fieles participantes de diferentes iglesias en Valencia. A pesar del crudo invierno, y hasta con lluvia, han llegado para las dos horas que compartimos. Comenzamos con un tiempo devocional donde han aprendido a usar el método de estudio inductivo que Stan Slade compartió en octubre en la asamblea anual pero que estos participantes no tuvieron la oportunidad de disfrutar (como los de Dénia). Como una extensión a lo que Stan hizo, compartimos esta valiosa herramienta de estudio bíblico y han surgido reflexiones importantes útiles para el resto del estudio del libro de Isaías. Los participantes siempre quieren más; dos de ellas viajaron a Elche el sábado anterior para el taller del sureste. El lunes 13 es la última reunión y con ello completamos los compromisos que teníamos en Valencia, Dénia y Xàtiva para este ciclo académico que termina en junio con otras clases y profesores. Damos gracias por la oportunidad de compartir sabiduría, conocimiento y discipulando en cada uno de estos lugares donde hemos sido bendecidos al aprender preparándonos y estando con estas hermanas y hermanos que crecen en su preparación para un mejor servicio.

Gracias por tu apoyo generoso y fiel a los ministerios de los Borquist en Brazil, Stan Slade alrededor del mundo y nosotros en España. En coparticipación hemos logrado mucho más...

"I like it!"

Group shot of January 2012 intensive course participants, UCNH.

That's what Dr. Monel Jules, Dean of the Theology Faculty at the Christian University of North Haiti (UCNH) had to say at the end of our intensive course in Genesis last week.

Two years after the earthquake, I was grateful for the chance to add a small contribution to the big investment New Jersey Baptists (and other American Baptists) have made in the life of Haiti.  These are wonderful brothers and sisters facing huge challenges.  As so many of you have learned, it is a privilege to walk with them.

Monel was excited about the way students grew in their ability to discover the meaning of Scripture for themselves as we immersed ourselves in the text and threw ourselves into spirited--and Spirit-ed!--dialogue.  Thank you for the prayers and gifts by which you made this week of growth possible!