Thursday, June 26, 2014

Conference in Munich

I just returned from a conference in Munich on the Importance of Measuring Ministry Effectiveness. The event was hosted by the Maclellan Foundation, who invited several of their European grant recipients to participate. I attended as a representative of the National Council of French Evangelicals (NCFE) along with one of my French colleagues. We both work with the NCFE Church Planting Learning Community--a project that is partially funded by a grant from the Maclellan Foundation.

Because my name badge identified me as working with the NCFE, others naturally assumed that I was French. Since participants came from more than ten different countries, the sessions were conducted in English. I cannot tell you how many times someone said to me, "Wow! You speak English really well. You barely have an accent!" At which point, I would admit to being American. But I was left wondering if I do actually have an accent when I speak English!

For the purposes of collaboration and synergy, we were put on inter-organizational teams. The five people on my team ranged from a Dutch guy who ran a sports ministry in the Netherlands to a Romanian chap who works to encourage church planting movements all across Europe to a German fellow who cultivates new ways of doing church in Germany to an American man who works with an on-line ministry in Turkey to a British man who leads a prayer ministry in England to me--an American Girl working with Church Planting in France. And THAT is but a small sampling of the people and ministries that were represented.

How refreshing to be among Kingdom People who are committed to doing Kingdom Work for the glory and honor of the Father! These people passionately engage in the ministries set before them, excited to see God accomplish his purposes on earth. None were proud, positioning, or parading their successes; all were humble, hopeful, and happy to learn.

One ministry team was particularly striking as one colleague was from Russia and the other was from Ukraine. As they introduced their organization they joked, "And look! We haven't killed each other." They are colleagues from countries poised for war against each other, yet they remained united in purpose as children of God.

I was deeply impressed by the Maclellan Foundation! They go way beyond simply funding ministries. They invest time to build relationships and offer training that empowers ministry success. The entire event was carefully planned, excellently executed, and the things I learned were both valuable and useful. Above all, I was blessed by the connections that I made with people doing awesome work all over Europe. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Beginning of the Bac

Remember the SAT?

Now imagine if it didn't only have English and Math sections, but chemistry, biology, history, and TWO foreign languages. Then imagine taking that test in a language other than English.


THAT is what Chandler began today. He is the French equivalent of a Junior in High School, and he was required to take the French Written section of his Baccalaureate Exam today. On July 1 he will take his French Oral exam. Next year he will test in all of the other subjects. Grades do not matter when it comes to earning a High School diploma (Baccalaureate) in France, one MUST achieve a certain combined score on his final exams. 

This morning, as I got ready to drive Chandler to his exam, I wanted to tell him how proud I was of him. So I looked him in the eye, and started to speak, but I got totally choked up. What that boy has accomplished in these four years in France is impressive. He's virtually mastered a second language! But even more impressive is the spirit with which he's achieved this lofty goal. Chandler has been a picture of perseverance, faithfulness, and optimism. He has been tenacious but kind, dogged but hopeful. 

The results matter. This test will affect his future. But the most important results have already been determined. Chandler is an over-comer. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Do you wish to get well?

Jesus stopped at Bethesda.

Bethesda was a pool or a spring in Jerusalem that had special healing powers. According to the book of John, in certain seasons an angel of the LORD came down from heaven and stirred the waters. The first person to enter the waters after they had been stirred would be healed from whatever disease with which he was afflicted. 

A multitude of sick, blind, lame, and withered people gathered at Bethesda, waiting, waiting, waiting for the waters to dance. Then they would struggle to be the first person in. If such a place still existed today someone would make a reality show about it. Can you imagine? Suffering crowds competed for the coveted place in the pool--their only hope for healing.

Or so they thought.

Enter Jesus. 

As the Great Physician, he could have easily healed the masses.  He doesn't. And as far as we can tell, none of the sick asked to be healed. I find this shocking! Jesus enters a crowded corridor of sick people, people who are supposedly seeking to have their health restored, and no one approaches him.

Jesus looks around and he notices a man who has been suffering for 38 years. Day after day, the man waits for the waters to start moving; but, when they are stirred someone else always beats him to the pool. This is the man that Jesus singles out. 

"Do you wish to get well?" Jesus asks.

And suddenly I wonder if I am like all of those broken people waiting at the pool. They remain focused on the waters, desperate, when there in their midst is the One who could cure them, body and soul. They no longer need to wait on the angel, they are in the presence of the Great Physician. Healing is theirs for the asking. But they don't ask. Which prompts this question from Jesus:

"Do you wish to get well?"

How often I struggle with the sin and brokenness in my life simply because, in my heart of hearts, I just don't wish to get well. I'd rather cherish the status quo than risk having to get up and walk. Oh sure, I say I'd like to be free from the crippling effects of sin, and I even make efforts on the outside that put me close to the pool that might one day make me whole. But I dilly dally, and make excuses, and hem and haw, until deep down, I've actually given up on being healed. I just stick around Bethesda to keep up appearances. 

"Do you wish to get well?"

Have our churches and Bible Studies become the corridors of Bethesda, where the sick gather, talking wistfully about the idea of being cured, but ignoring the One in our midst who could cure us? Do we wallow in the same illnesses, day after day, week after week, as if the Healer isn't among us? If we truly believed that walking in wellness was an option, would we choose it?

"Do you wish to get well?"

Today, Jesus is asking me this question. He has put his gentle finger on a place where I am paralyzed in my life. He has made it clear that He can heal me--free me from the stuck place. But if he does, you see, I will have to walk. I've been lame in this area for a while. I've gotten comfortable with my cot. I'm downright scared to stand up again. What if I fall?  Ah, but that isn't really the question, is it? The question is "Do I wish to get well?"

Interestingly, the man at the pool of Bethesda doesn't answer Jesus' question. Instead he justifies his position. 

Yeah, I've been there, too.

Full of grace, Jesus gives a command. "Get up!"

I hear it. He's not waiting for me to work it all out. He doesn't bother with asking me to count the cost. He doesn't question whether my faith is strong enough. He just tells me what to do. The only question that remains is whether or not I will obey.

The man at Bethesda gets up and walks. But I wonder, if he hadn't moved, would he have been healed?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Say it in French

It was time for my thirty-minute one-on-one with Leighton Ford. Only I didn't know what I wanted to discuss. Isn't that just the way it goes? I get thirty minutes of uninterrupted time with a spiritual giant and I find myself at a loss of words.

He welcomed me warmly, made small talk, and then gently asked, "Was there anything in particular you wanted to talk about, or would you just like to visit?"

"Well," I stammered sheepishly, "if there's one thing I'm really struggling with in my ministry it's the French language. Perhaps you can speak into that."

I went on to share an experience about a time when I completely flubbed three simple sentences in front of a room full of French leaders.

"What were the sentences?" he asked.

So I spoke them in English.

"Say it in French," he said. 

So I spoke them in French.

"I do have a story that you might relate to," he said.

And then he told me about a time when he was working on a Billy Graham Crusade in Australia. He had been fighting a cold, and between the travel and all of his speaking engagements he had almost entirely lost his voice. In the midst of that time, he was assigned to preach at the Air Force Base. He found himself in a giant hangar (at which point in the story he said, "you know what that's like, since your husband is a pilot." I don't ever remember telling him that my husband was a pilot, but that eighty-three year old man doesn't seem to forget anything.). Hangars have the worst acoustics imaginable, so he was grateful to see a microphone, through which he would proclaim the Gospel to about 500 airmen. When he took the stage, the microphone was positioned too low, and as he tried to adjust it, he broke it. With no voice, no amplification, and poor acoustics, he croaked out the high-speed version of the Good News, and left. He was horribly discouraged by the whole ordeal.

But then, a few days later, he received a phone call from the chaplain of the base. Since Leighton had preached, over 25 men had come to see the chaplain and decided to follow Jesus.

"Thus," he concluded, "it seems that God can do his work whether or not he uses our words."

I nodded appreciatively. Our time was drawing to a close. I took a token photo of us, thanked him for his time and wisdom, and went on my way.

The next morning, our last day together, Leighton was leading us in a time of sharing and gratitude. He asked us to reflect on the things that we saw, heard, tasted, smelled, and felt during our time together at Apple Hill. As there were participants from at least eight different countries in the group of 24 people, I said that I was blessed by hearing English spoken with lovely accents by those who were speaking English as a second (or third!) language.

Another person was about to jump in to share, when Leighton gently raised his hand to hush the group. He looked directly at me, deeply into me, and he said, "Say it in French."

Tears welled up in my eyes, and I began to tremble, conscious of the many French speakers in the room who would surely hear my mistakes. He waited patiently. They all waited.

"J'aime entendre l'accent des gens qui parlent anglais comme une langue étrangère."

Just then a young man from Angola asked (in heavily accented English), "Does she have an accent in French?"

I bowed my head, defeated. I know the answer. I have a horrible accent.

"It's poetry," came the reply from the only French person in the room. "It's poetry."

How easy it is to hear the beauty of another's accent. How difficult it is to acknowledge that the same could be said of mine. I'm sure people are just being kind, extending grace while cringing from within. And yet, the Spirit can speak, does speak, in spite of it all. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Nest

"I am in a place in my life and ministry where I feel like I am being pushed out of the nest."

These were the exact words I used to describe my condition during a small group yesterday, here in the North Carolina Hills, where I am attending a gathering for mentors.

When we arrived in France almost four years ago, I had to go back to zero. I've been learning a new language, navigating a new culture, making new friends, and starting over from scratch where ministry is concerned. I  felt diminished, like at forty God had sent me back to preschool. It was humbling, and agonizing, and I could easily relate to stories of people who were recovering from a stroke, having to relearn the basics.

What I hadn't realized--perhaps because I was so overwhelmed by my incapacity--was that God had placed me in a pretty safe incubator. I was weak and needy, but I was also protected, nurtured, and encouraged.

Now, after having been strengthened for a while, I am being  called to fly. Its time to leave the nest, but this little bird is no longer sure she can fly.

These were my thoughts yesterday, sitting in a lovely setting, surrounded by new friends, listening to the Lord.

During a fifteen minute break, I felt the need to get some fresh air. I walked just a little ways when suddenly a flash of movement streaked through my peripheral vision. Turning my head, I saw a baby bird lying in the grass on his back, feet straight up in the air. His tiny chest was pulsing--he was alive. Just then another bird swooped down to his side. Though I moved threateningly close, the guardian bird stood his ground, unflinching.

And so the three of us stood in silence, waiting. A minute later, the fallen bird righted himself, and flew away, though he stayed low to the ground. Only then did the guardian take flight.

All morning I had been contemplating the idea of leaving the nest, wondering if I would dare to fly, fearing that I would likely fall.

Indeed, I will fall.

But I have a guardian, and knowing this might just give me the freedom to go. To fail. And eventually, to find a way to flutter on.