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Keeping country churches alive

This is the passion of Village Missions, and our family has developed that same passion. We long to see the church in rural North America be a vibrant testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to see individuals, families, and communities be radically transformed by the gospel, informed by the all sufficient word of God. Here is another way to look at the situation in rural North America (very generously lifted from Village Missions material)

  • There are as many as 200,000 churches in the US that are in rural settings or are made up of rural people.
  • North America is the only continent where Christianity is not growing.
  • It is estimated that 5-7 existing churches close their doors every day
  • Only 1/3 of residents in the US and Canada will attend church on a regular basis, and church attendance has dropped by 10% in the last decade.
  • There are vast multitudes of people in North America who will live and die without ever hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In rural North America, churches close for painful reasons, but God has supernaturally used Village Missions to provide help:
  • Problem #1 – The church cannot afford to support a full-time pastor. Village Missions provides financial support.
  • Problem # 2 – The church is unable to find a pastor for their rural community. Village Missions finds and places pastors.
  • Problem # 3 – The church cannot provide spiritual guidance and support needed to keep a pastor long term. Village Missions provides regional leadership to help pastors and the local church achieve long-term ministry.
Village Missions has a long history of serving in rural North America, which is one of a long list of facts that made it easy for us to partner with Village Missions. Founded in 1948, Village Missions has served over 1000 rural communities. From these churches, tens of thousands have been saved. Hundreds of church leaders and pastors trace their roots back to churches served by Village Missions. In fact, we were stunned by the number of people we know who, once they heard of our journey with Village Missions, shared with us that they grew up in a church served by Village Missions and pointed to that season of their life as being truly life transforming. Today, Village Missions serves close to 200 churches in the US and Canada, and we are both thrilled and honored to be able to partner with them to keep country churches alive.

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What I shared with my boys last night at dinner

Two quick preamble statements:

1. As I alerted you to in the first post of this blog (scroll down, find the first post, then read #2) I would occasionally take the time to provide cultural analysis and feedback. This post will fit into that category.

2. I am willingly choosing to not be specific in names of people or institutions. I’m sure I could draw more traffic to this blog by doing so, but in this instance, I’m not interested in that.

With that out of the way, let’s dive in. If you own a computer and find yourself on the internet every now and again, or if you own a TV and sometimes watch it, then you certainly know about the happenings in a university town in Pennsylvania. Though I do want to be sure that I still honor the “guilty until proven innocent” principle, it does not look good for the man in question. Regardless of guilt or innocence, it still has provided me another opportunity to teach my boys a big lesson, and one that I hope many parents will have the courage to share. Yes, it is awkward and uncomfortable. Yes, I/you wish we didn’t have to give warnings like this. Yes, it does scare them a little bit. Yes, it is responsible and necessary for you to teach this to your children, and to do so early and often.

The beautiful bride and I have, on several occasions, taught our boys that their private parts are their private parts. We have instructed them that no one – other than a doctor with either Mommy or Daddy standing next to them – is to ever look at or touch their private parts. Ever. We have also taught them that they are not to ever show their private parts to anyone, for any reason. With all of the news coming out of Pennsylvania, it seemed a good time to have that discussion again. Perhaps next time I won’t do it over sirloin roast and garlic mashed potatoes, but then again, you take advantage of the opportunities when you get them.

I instructed my boys that if anyone tries to look at or touch their private parts, they are to yell, scream, kick, bite, jab, stab, cry, holler – whatever they can do to bring attention to the situation and/or get out of the situation. In a previous time, I demonstrated the yelling, which caused two of the three kiddos to burst into tears, so I did not practice yelling this go around, but wanted them to get a picture as to how loud I want them to be. I’ve practiced wrestling with them (in a playful way, but to hopefully develop some skill) and holding them in a way where they would have to fight to get out – I want them to know how to get away from someone who might have unpleasant intentions, or at least to create a disruption (the 4 year old loves the “going for their thumbs” trick, and has used it on me repeatedly and effectively).

The other component to that is telling. We have instructed them that if they are ever put into that situation, or if they see one of their siblings in that situation, they are to tell Mommy and Daddy immediately. We reassured them that we would never hold them responsible for those actions, that we want/need to hear that information, that they would not be disciplined for telling us, that we would defend and protect them because they told us, and that we would be thankful to them for telling us. We want them to know and understand that they can always talk to us about anything, even something as creepy and evil as the subject at hand. We’ve told them that there are people in the world who like to prey on children, and that those people: 1. need Jesus, and 2. need to go to jail for a long time, so please, please tell us so that we can get going on both of those things (definitely starting with #2 though).

There are a gajillion different ways of communicating this with your kids. We’ve chosen to be direct, without being graphic. You as a parent will know how to speak to your children. The question is whether you will or not. I am pleading with you, please teach them. We have been blessed that our children have not experienced this. But we know families who have, we know children who have, and we know the destruction it can/does cause. I am not suggesting that the people we know did not prepare their children – in fact in one instance, the child quickly alerted their family and the perpetrator was quickly addressed – but rather, to demonstrate that this kind of stuff happens more often and much closer than you would expect.

If you are looking for a helpful resource, particularly with younger children, I would commend the book “Yell and Tell” to you. There is a boy version and a girl version of this book, and presents a suitable action plan (if you can’t figure that out, re-read the title of the book) to help parents communicate with their children. If you have older children, I think you can, and possibly should, be far more direct and graphic. You should help them to see the ugliness, the grossness, the evilness of people who like to prey on children, so much so that they grow to detest it as much as you do, and if you have a larger family, they can also be a part of looking out for and guarding your younger children. Help them to see that it is not a “sickness”, or an “illness” but it is sin and a perversion of God’s intentions. Perhaps you have other resources, or another plan – if so, great. My hope and prayer is that regardless of your strategy, that you will arm your children with some plan of action if ever some potential pervert/sodomite/aggressor/abuser chooses to prey on them.

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One example of what Village Missions does

This is kind of a “reward” post, particularly if you were able to make it through the post the preceded it. It is also a reward in that if you took the time to get to this blog, you will get in 8 engaging minutes what Village Missions does.

The video below is about a Village Missions church, Jennings Community Church, in Jennings, MI.

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The backstory

Hi, thanks for coming to see us! We’re pretty sure that what drove you here was getting something in the mail from us about our next steps with Village Missions. Thank you for thinking enough of us to follow us on our journey.

But before we can get too far into our journey with Village Missions, it seems it would be a good idea to describe to you our journey to Village Missions. In our letter, I posited the following: what do frequent trips to local farms, a seminar on grief, a trip to Niger, and a love for the local church have in common? The answer was that these were occasions used of God to shape us and steer us towards Village Missions.

Now, grab a tasty beverage (doesn’t a 32 oz Nalgene bottle filled with unsweetened, iced green tea sound refreshing?) and sit back for the tale.

After leaving a previous church position, we thought we had a pretty good grasp on a possible timeline of what would be next. Notice the use of the words “we” in the previous sentence; while we certainly had an idea (or ideal) God had different things in mind, and bit of a different timetable. If there was a job out there that seemed remotely connected to either my education or skill set, I applied for it. I made it far in multiple searches, both in ministry settings and in the marketplace. But, each of them ended in disappointment and confusion.

While that is going on, other things are taking place. The beautiful bride and I adopted a way of eating that placed a pretty high priority on getting as much local and fresh stuff as you could. We grew a garden that was more successful than we anticipated. We started going to local farms for our eggs and milk. A friend of ours raises cattle, and together with friends and family, went in on a share of a grass fed cow (which we are still eating and delighting in every juicy morsel). We find ourselves fascinated by farmers markets and farms and farmers and found ourselves having mental wanderlust towards moving to the country.

At the same time, there was still a prompting to continue on in ministry. We love the local church. We believe God has supernaturally and uniquely established the church for the proclamation of the gospel with an eye towards repentance and maturity. We believe in having fellowship with believers, and equipping believers to sacrificially serve those who do not yet know Christ. God used others to kindly affirm my call to ministry, and we expectantly waited on God to present us a door.

Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “ok, that sounds great, but how do Africa and a grief seminar fit in?” I’m glad you asked.

Several years ago, our church “adopted” an unreached people group in Niger, West Africa. As a part of that adoption, our church has committed to regularly pray for this group and the missionaries serving among them, to send short term teams to participate in missionary life in Niger, and to pray that God would raise up people from our church to go as full time missionaries there. I had the privilege almost two years ago to go on a short term trip to Niger, and loved it. One of the settings that fascinated me the most was a little village in the far western part of the country, mere minutes from the border of Burkina Faso. Seemingly out of touch with the rest of the country, and perhaps the world, this little village was full of life – a booming and popular market, quaint huts sprinkled throughout, a school building, and even a church building made from millet stalks (a more permanent building was/is some state of construction). Anywho, right there, God showed me the power of the gospel in small places, and it alerted me to the need of small, out of the way places to have a continual gospel testimony. I had no idea what I was to do with that (am I supposed to learn French and Hausa and move there?) but I also knew that I could not dismiss it.

“But what about the grief seminar? How does learning about how to help someone when someone dies explain how you ended up hooked in with Village Missions?” Well, aren’t you getting a little antsy?

I did not attend the seminar, but my super awesome father in law did. It was held in Tacoma last FebruaryMarchApril (can’t really remember now what month it was in) and while there, he sat at a table with someone representing a Village Missions church. They got to talking, he knew all of the things that were running through my mind and got information from this Village Missions pastor. He then passed that info on to me.

Truthfully, at first, I did nothing with it. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It sounded pretty fascinating, but for some unexplained reason, it stunned me – not in a shocking way, but in a “does not compute” way. Slowly though I started to look into it. I read every jot and tittle on the website. Six times.

The information I was given included the phone number and email for the Northwest District Representative for Village Missions. Vern and Cindy Wilkinson have been with Village Missions for 20+ years and they are within easy (i.e. short) distance from us. Before getting too far into a process, I asked Vern if he would be willing to meet with me and let me pepper him with questions. He very graciously agreed, and we met at coffee shop in Tacoma, the day before we left for a family reunion/vacation on the Oregon coast. For two hours, we covered all kinds of ground. I left that meeting encouraged, intrigued, and inspired.

While on vacation, I passed around the information and resources Vern gave me to my super awesome father in law and my two super awesome brothers in law. The material made it around to each household of our family. Each one gave it the thumbs up. “No, it can’t be that easy can it?” was my prevailing thought.

We came home from vacation and we began the application process with Village Missions. Even at that point, we still were not sure if we were hearing clearly, but we knew our hearts were stirred. Vern and Cindy came to our home for dinner and a four hour interview, and while we were growing in both our interest and desire to join Village Missions we didn’t know exactly whether they wanted us. The day the letter came inviting us to Candidate School ratcheted up our desire. Candidate School built that into a flame. Following Candidate School, we were informed that we were accepted as Village Missionaries, and now we can’t not talk about it. “Why?” you might ask. We were hooked by Village Missions passion to reach neglected and ignored communities. We have bought into their passion to see Christ honoring churches even in places with 200 or less people. We love the beauty and simplicity of their philosophy, which is “Preach the Word and Love the People” and find that in addition to being two of our favorite things to do it fully jives with our convictions and passions.

So, there, in close to 1300 words you have the explanation of how we came to join Village Missions. We are so excited about what God might have in store for us. We’re honored that you would take enough interest in what God is doing with us to visit this blog, and even to suffer by plowing through this slightly verbose post. I’ll try to exercise greater brevity in future posts. Please do come back often and get updates, and by all means, toss in your comments and questions!


How to shop for a home, and welcome to this blog

In the current housing market we are in, where there are tons of homes up for sale, and most are at a price cheaper than what you could have purchased one just four years ago, it seems that it would be helpful to look at a potential home not so much for what it is, but what it could be. Potential seems to be the word of the day, combined with value. If you are able to see the potential, the value seems to increase.

While I/we are praying along those lines for our actual home (by the way, if you or someone you know is interested in a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath home on a dead end street in a gated community in University Place, WA, have I got a deal for you!) that is also the approach I am taking with this blog. Over time, I’ll increase the curb appeal, or whatever the blogosphere equivalent is, with hopes that you will come back often and eventually settle in.

The purpose of this blog is threefold:

1. To keep you updated on our journey with Village Missions – raising support, awaiting assignment, prayer requests, etc.

2. To provide a forum for some modicum of cultural analysis – that is, I’ll write about things that I think are noteworthy or worth commenting on. While I will reserve the right to deviate every now and again, most of that cultural analysis will be placed in the categories of advancement of the gospel and the sufficiency of Scripture.

3. As we move forward with Village Missions, to keep you up to date on what is happening on whatever field we may end up on, the status of the church, sermon outlines (and hopefully recordings) and whatever else may arise.

With all of that said, thanks for dropping by. I’d be grateful for your comments as we move along, and I look forward to sharing with you all that God is up to in our lives.

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When having a TV is useful

Which actually is not that often.

Our tv is not used terribly consistently. Usually, it hides behind a map of the world, and if I did not share that with you, if you were a first timer to our home, you would not know that one existed. We’ve in general given up on tv being a part of our family. So far, we’ve not really missed it.

There are some exceptions. The occasional football game is viewed, but most often, in the world of sports, it will be a soccer game. I can’t believe I’m going to say this as it is contrary to my southern roots where football is at minimum a second religion, if I had to choose just one sport to watch for the rest of my life, it would be soccer. Feel free to ask me for my justification.

The other exception I plan to discuss here (there are a limited number of others that I won’t get into) is documentaries. We’ve become hooked on documentaries. We’re educated, amused, perplexed, and challenged by them. We’ve viewed quite a few, so much so that I’m able to offer a top list of documentaries.

Here we go, in no particular order, except the first one:

  1. Divided. I place this first because it adds meat to why I left my previous church position, and because it assigns high priority to the sufficiency of Scripture for church and family life.  It presents an alternative, in biblical categories, for the current/modern practice of youth ministry.
  2. Super Size Me. Yep, it is 7 years old, but still worth viewing. Language gets blue in some places, but worth watching and asking “do I really need to eat there?”
  3. Marketing of Madness. It is unfortunate this was produced by the group it was produced by, which is why I won’t link to it or name the group – bottom line: this group does not excel in Christian orthodoxy or Christian orthopraxy. However, they have done a great job of showing the tremendous dangers of how we medically treat “mental illness” and draw some stiff conclusions, that, as with many other documentaries, are informed by this warning – follow the money.
  4. Food, Inc. If you don’t want to know where your food comes from and if you don’t want to know how it is processed before it comes to you, then skip this one. If though, you think you are being deceived by what is offered in grocery stores and restaurants, then take a peek.
  5. King Corn. Tightly related to Food, Inc. this one will scramble your brain. It will make you think twice before buying another ear of corn, or any other product containing corn. They are not against corn, but rather how it is grown and served to the average consumer.
  6. Agenda. I make this recommendation just in time for election season! Take a gander at this one and notice how easy it is for a socialist agenda to work (or has worked) its way into American life and how it is an affront to how this country was founded.
  7. The Business of Being Born. This one gets a little goofy in places, but is a wonderful encouragement for you if you are considering a different means of delivering children. If nothing else, it will arm you with some great questions to ask your doctor or midwife.
  8. The Mysterious Islands. Vision Forum travels to the Galapagos Islands, “Darwin’s Eden”, and examines the evidence, which very clearly points to a creator. Great history work as well, demonstrating Darwin’s God-hating ways, and how his work fueled the efforts of the framers of our modern school system and how his work contributed to the culture of death in our country today, beginning with Margaret Sanger and the modern day extension of her efforts, Planned Parenthood. The cinematography is stunning, the worldview presented is compelling, and the questions that are answered are convincing.
  9. Expelled. Ben Stein at his absolute best Ben Stein-ness. Takes Darwin’s theory, examined it, reports on its influence on history, and takes up the cause of creationists and/or intelligent design proponents who are getting clobbered or shunned by traditional academia. Rather engaging.
So, there is my list. Disagree with it or agree with it. Watch them yourself first though. These are not the most thoughtful reviews ever written (far more thoughtful men have done better work before me) but just my extra two cents. If this post served no other purpose than to keep you from watching another episode of whatever sludge is being served up on tv, then I will have accomplished what I desired.