Finish

Dr. Neil Gilliland

Finish

Mark your calendars: January 12, 2020. It will prove an important date for many people. Research suggests 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions give up on them by that date. About half of all New Year’s resolutions revolve around health issues (eating less, getting more exercise, etc.). Our goals are seldom reached simply because we lack personal discipline. I am not trying to be critical or harsh, just truthful. Anyone who has ever made a resolution can identify with those who “give up.” What we began with great enthusiasm now lies in the heap of the unfinished.

The disciples gathered around as the Lord shared some last instructions just before His Ascension. A few simple words, and He was gone and a new era began. 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts1:8-9, ESV)

I wonder if Peter turned to his companions and said, “Boys, we’ve got a job to do.” Nearly 2000 years later, we are still about the task. Why? The answer is simple, the task is unfinished. As long as there are those who need our witness in Jerusalem we can’t quit. As long inhabitants of our Judea remain in darkness the task is unfinished. As long as the people of Samaria have not heard a clear presentation of the gospel the mission is uncompleted. And as long as men, women, boys and girls in the ends of the earth do not proclaim Him as Lord and Savior, the task rests unfinished.

That small band of men grew exponentially in the ensuing years as the Church put its shoulder to the task. Undaunted through the winds of adversity and persecution, the flame of the gospel spread across the known world and to the ends of the earth. They did not quit. The flaming arrows of the evil one came to naught as the Church moved forward.

The gospel moved from Asia Minor to Europe, and its flame became a mere flicker. Then a monk in Germany tacked his theses to a monastery door and the gospel’s flame once more burned bright. It was transported to the new world and was the basis for the foundations of the new country, eventually called the United States of America.

And in 1935, a small fledgling denomination sent out its first missionary to the ends of the earth and we have not turned back. We have not quit. Many January 12s have come and gone and we are still about the task. Why? It is simple…the task is unfinished. As long as it is unfinished, we will keep on praying, sending, and going.

Pray for ETEAMs

Dr. Neil Gilliland

Pray for ETEAMs

Every summer since 1992, ETEAM has welcomed Free Will Baptist students from around the country (and even other countries) as they gather in Nashville. Anxious but proud parents say goodbye, leaving their teens to be trained and sent to the four corners of the earth to minister alongside our missionaries.

Now, 27 years later, it happened again. Nearly 100 students along with their leaders boarded planes bound for life-changing experiences across the globe. Some will minister with career missionaries who began their own journey to reach the nations on ETEAM.

The ETEAM staff has prayed for these students since the day they were selected. Their parents have prayed for them since they received the letter with their destination. We invite you to join us in praying for these students. You might even want to follow their journeys.

You can pray specifically for:

  • Safety. We do everything to make these trips safe but we can’t guarantee it.
  • Good health. The students will eat new foods and be in a new environment.
  • Travel. Flights, connections, and various forms of travel can be a challenge.
  • Effective ministry. Even though they will be limited by language, these teams can play a significant role in the ministry of our missionaries.
  • People. ETEAM is designed to reach people. Pray for the people who will meet our students and pray they will sense the love of Christ through them.
  • Spiritual revival and renewal. Often ETEAM students’ lives are radically changed by these experiences. Pray they will hear and obey God’s call on their lives.
  • Parents and Grandparents. The most difficult role may be as the parents of ETEAMers. Some, though very proud of their children, are anxious as their “little” ones have flown the nest and are in other countries.
  • Thanks. Thank the Father for students willing to answer the call to go and parents and grandparents who let them.
  • ETEAM staff, especially coordinator Hanna Mott. Hanna and her team spend thousands of hours preparing, planning, attending to myriad details, training, sending off, and debriefing each team.
  • Free Will Baptists. Thank the Lord for IM and a denomination willing to invest in the youth of our denomination.

Hanna’s Journey

Dr. Neil Gilliland

Hanna’s Journey

Hanna didn’t grow up Free Will Baptist. Her family had been out of church for quite some time but started attending a small Free Will Baptist church in Hector, Arkansas, where her great-grandmother attended. When her family moved to Wichita, Kansas, they attended the Westside Free Will Baptist Church. It was there Hanna actually accepted Christ and started her journey of faith.

A couple of weeks after her conversion, a young man in her church gave a presentation on his recent E-TEAM mission trip to France. Hanna was so impressed she said, “I want to be a part of that.” So she applied to E-TEAM, searched online to find other information, learned there was a Free Will Baptist college in Nashville, and signed up for Senior Days in January. She was accepted to E-TEAM Spain.

“I still remember opening the acceptance package and seeing I was going to Spain. I was thrilled.” The young man who did the presentation reapplied for E-TEAM and was assigned to E-TEAM Cuba. Eventually, he had to drop out and was replaced by a young man from Michigan.

Hanna attended Senior Days at Welch College in January. In June, she arrived at the Nashville airport to report for E-TEAM. Met by a former E-TEAMer, the husband of the E-TEAM coordinator, they waited a little while, because the boy from Michigan was about to arrive. Hanna’s trip to Spain was life-altering. She went home for the rest of the summer, then left in the fall for the only college she applied to…Welch.

Four years later, she graduated with a degree in psychology and a passion for missions born on E-TEAM. The day after graduation, it was the young man from Michigan’s turn to wait…for Hanna as she walked down the aisle to become his new bride.

Today, Hanna, with her husband Dakota Mott, demonstrates her contagious passion for Christ and missions. The young man (Heath Hubbard) who picked her up at the airport now serves Christ in Japan with his wife Joni, the former E-TEAM coordinator.

Guess who replaced Joni? That’s right, Hanna Mott. The high school student who knew very little about Free Will Baptists or missions is now responsible for E-TEAM.

Please pray for Hanna and our ten teams that will circle the globe this summer. Who knows…some of them may one day serve overseas as missionaries or join the stateside team.

Our First Christmas in Africa

Dr. Neil Gilliland

Our First Christmas in Africa

Our first Christmas in Africa provided me with two of the greatest gifts I have ever received. They were not wrapped in paper and tied with a bow. I couldn’t hold them in my hand or put them on a shelf or in a drawer. However, I have held them in my heart for 30-plus years.

I wasn’t sure how that first Christmas would be. The year before we were in language school in the French Alps, so having the Christmas spirit was relatively easy. The ground was covered with snow. Chestnuts were actually roasting over open fires in our little mountain town of Albertville, France. It “felt” like Christmas. But what was it going to be like in Africa? Dry season arrived about a month earlier and the air was filled with the “brown fog” of the Harmattan, winds that swept down the Sahara Desert. It was hot…I mean Africa hot. There were no frosty noses. No need for a coat. I wondered if I would languish in the slough of despond.

A number of things transformed what I thought would be the worst Christmas ever to the best. The first happened in my office one afternoon. I was preparing to speak for an upcoming Sunday service. Suddenly, a smell blew through the fan perched in the window to try to abate the heat. I must admit it was not the most pleasant smell. The smell of sweaty bodies. Soon after, I heard their voices as they sauntered past my window. Three African ladies had walked the four miles from town to our campus in the blistering heat. One of them was great with child. I whispered to myself, “That may be a better picture of Mary and Joseph than the pristine pictures I’ve always seen.” It put Christmas in perspective.

The second was some visitors. Our best friends were a Christian and Missionary Alliance couple, Evan and Jewel Evans. His dad and mom were coming for a visit. They had spent 25-plus years as missionaries in Viet Nam. He had helped bury five of his missionary colleagues who had been martyred in Viet Nam. While I was anxious to meet these heroes, I expected them to be rather stoic and austere. As became our tradition, Sheila cooked a huge Christmas Eve meal and we shared it with the Evans. They invited us for Christmas breakfast (baked grapefruit). We spent nearly every day and evening with them. We became part of the family. Oh, these two soldiers of the cross were far from austere. Mom Evans may be the classiest lady I have ever met with a sweet and gracious demeanor. And Dad Evans…well if you looked up the word “LIFE” in the dictionary I think you would see his picture. I have never laughed so much in my life, enjoyed a holiday so fully, and felt so much alive as that first Christmas in Africa.

Just Past Ward’s Run

Dr. Neil Gilliland

Just Past Ward’s Run

Just down our winding country road, across State Route 140, past the bridge over Ward’s Run, and up the hill sat the tan brick building with stained glass windows. It’s my “home” church. The old run-down house next door, where three bachelors lived, has been replaced by a modern fellowship hall named after our long-time pastor and his wife, Forrest and Evelyn Chamberlin. Asphalt covers the gravel driveway and parking lot and the outhouses in the back have moved inside. That church and her people hold many memories for me. Other than my home and school, it is where I truly grew up. I am thankful for that place.

Porter Free Will Baptist Church was the first place I had the opportunity to speak in public. When I was 12, the teacher of the senior adult class chose me to be his assistant. WHAT!! His family had a string of illnesses that year and I found myself standing in front of the eldest people in our church. I am confident I never taught them anything, but they taught me a lot and gave me the opportunity to stand in front of people. I am thankful for those opportunities.

Our pastor’s messages were always about 20 minutes long. I learned, as a speaker, you don’t have to ramble on forever to make your point. (I am afraid that’s still a work in progress for me.) He was a kind, soft-spoken man. I have never known our church to argue and it was a result of the gentle and kind nature of our shepherd. Our deacons invested significant time in a group of young boys. I am thankful for the leadership which invested so heavily in me.

However, I am most thankful one thing. Our church was strongly connected to the larger denominational movement. Which meant, regularly, people from our denominational agencies visited our church. Dr. Johnson, Paul Ketteman, Jack Paramore, and other denominational leaders filled the pulpit. I am thankful for our involvement with our movement.

Some services at that little country church etched a line deep into my soul. Any Free Will Baptist missionaries traveling through Southern Ohio found their way to our church. They were always welcomed. I was always excited when missionaries came with the tableful of things from exotic lands and slideshows I could have watched all night. They often sang or spoke in the languages they had learned. As soon as I returned home, I grabbed the encyclopedia, searched for their country, and was transported to another land and culture. Porter was also the home to a missionary—Bessie Yeley. It was extra-special when she visited. I can still close my eyes and hear her sing “Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain” in Spanish. I am so very thankful for Porter FWB Church and the long list of missionaries who visited and shared the world’s need for a Savior with a skinny little boy.

Little did I know, I would one day visit churches, too. I am thankful for that little country church just past Ward’s Run and the global heritage I received.

Heraclitus and an African Proverb

Dr. Neil Gilliland

Heraclitus and an African Proverb

Welch College asked me to teach an upper-level class this fall—The History and Systems of Psychology. Seriously, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to teach a class whose title evokes hours of red-eyed, near comatose reading and hours of lecture to students who will have more drool puddles on their desks than lines in their empty notebooks?

Early in the class we were reading about Heraclitus (if you are looking for baby names…). You all remember him, nice guy who believed everything derived from fire. He thought nothing ever is; it is becoming. He even said, “It is impossible to step in the same river twice.” I stopped reading at that point. An African proverb says, “You can’t put your foot in the same river twice.” I found that various cultures around the world used a similar proverb. Maybe old Heraclitus was on to something.

The point is life is in a constant state of change. Nothing is ever the same. Did you ever want to relive some wonderful life event and tried to recreate it, only to find out you really couldn’t? Did you ever want to undo something you said or did? Life moved on, whether we wanted it to or not. We can only move forward. Even if we could go back, it wouldn’t be the same.

Sometimes I find myself thinking more about the past than the future. I wish I could l redo childhood or have a second try at a few things. But there is no future in the past. Recently, I was on a trip with a small group of men. At 62, I was the youngster. Do you know what we talked about most? Elementary and high school! I graduated from high school 44 years ago. But it was fun to talk about “the good old days.” By the way, do you know what the old folks talked about in the good old days…you’re right, the good old days. I thought to myself, these will be somebody’s good old days.

I have learned a few lessons:

1.     Life moves on, so make each moment count.

2.     We can’t change the past nor relive it.

3.     Make sure today will be a positive good old day for someone.

4.     Live today.

5.     Keep my eyes focused on the future.

James wrote: For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanishes away (James 4:14).

Change

Dr. Neil Gilliland

Change

One of the major papers I had to write in graduate school was about my theory of change. That is, what are the underlying factors in the change process? It seemed a rather simple assignment but became more complex as I began to unravel my theory of change. Somewhere in my files, I still have the paper. The professor made a few comments throughout, but the final comment was the one I remember: “Very well done, but it could have been more psychological and less theological.”

Well, I disagree with my professor; a significant change takes place when someone puts his trust and faith in the living God. It is an inward change that transforms outward behaviors in a way no psychological construct can explain. Change is a part of the human experience. When someone tells me they don’t handle change well, I want to say, “Then you don’t handle life well, because change is part of life.” Change is life.

This whole concept of change has given me pause lately. For more than 30 years (over 20 as an employee), I have been closely associated with FWBIM. One of the significant changes I have observed has been the average person’s perception of missionaries. As a young boy growing up in the hills of southern Ohio, I considered missionaries who visited our church larger than life. They traveled to exotic and strange lands—places I had only seen in my family’s copy of World Book Encyclopedia. After a missionary’s visit I would run home and look up those exotic places and wonder what life was like there. When they spoke or sang in a strange language, I was fascinated. Our Appalachian brogue was the only language we knew.

My observation is that that perception has changed. I am confident part of the reason is the shrinking of the world. At one time, the only people who traveled were military, missionaries, and the very rich. Now, with the ease of travel and modern technology, the world is a ticket away. Our E-TEAM program has sent hundreds of high school students around the globe. Many churches organize and send mission teams to the places that held me spellbound as a child. Please understand, I support those programs and have been actively involved in them. However, my sense is that it has changed our perception of missionaries. (By the way, I use that term only for those who have crossed at least two cultural barriers and have committed their career to His service. I think He calls us all to be witnesses, but a select few to be missionaries.)

No missionary I know wants to be put on a pedestal and thought of as something special. They do what God called them to do and are obedient like anyone else. But for many years they were our heroes, not just mine but “ours.” I never understood the fascination for superheroes because I found mine in the pages of Heartbeat magazine. I suppose, in total disclosure, I am saddened to think the perception of our missionaries has changed.

As I think about the financial strains of Free Will Baptist International Missions I wonder how much the change in our perception of missionaries has impacted our stability. The underpinnings of our funding issues are far more complex than I can put my mind around.

For the record, our Free Will Baptist missionaries are still my heroes. 

Gift-wrapped Shredded Wheat

Dr. Neil Gilliland

Gift-wrapped Shredded Wheat

Not a day has passed since July 1987 that I have not thought about Ivory Coast, West Africa. That July my wife and I packed our meager belongings in a few boxes and left the land, people, and ministry we had come to love. Sheila’s recurrent and severe bouts with malaria made it unwise for us to remain, but to this day I still miss it.

I miss it most at Christmas time. Ash drifting in the air from nearby fields being burned was our only snow. It was hot…Africa hot.

I have had to work hard at not being a Scrooge here in the States. I simply loved Christmas in Côte d’Ivoire. Our ministry was at the boarding school for MKs (missionary kids). Our “job” was to be mom and dad to 20 high school boys every year. They were at school roughly three months at a time and home with their parents for a month between trimesters. Early in December, the boys would leave to be with their own mom and dad. When the last boy left, the dorm became significantly quieter. Soon after, we hosted our annual field council meeting. It was always good to see and hear from our missionaries who worked on the other side of the country. Once the meetings concluded and everyone returned to their stations, our Christmas began.

Sheila decorated with the few things she brought from America to make our little living space feel like Christmas. But it was what wasn’t there and what we did that makes my heart long for those days every year. Christmas was not commercialized. You might see a few things in town or perhaps more in the capital city to buy but, for the most part, it was devoid of any of the traditional hustle and bustle of Christmas. Instead, we had time to think about the Incarnation and the incredible gift the Father gave to us in His Son.

Gifts actually meant something, although we might laugh at such gifts here. Sheila bought and wrapped up a box of Shredded Wheat cereal for me one Christmas. I bought my friend Evan a jar of peanut butter. There were also special gifts. Hanging on the wall in front of me is a painting Evan had painted for me. It depicts a skinny African man (me) standing outside a hut, wearing an Ohio State t-shirt, holding a racquet and banjo, with a Slocum Station sign in front I had eggs carved out of various materials (different woods, ivory, etc.) and found a bird’s nest to put them in it for Evan. The bottom line is gifts meant something.

We even had annual rituals. Sheila and I always found a turkey. She cooked a big meal on Christmas Eve that we shared with our dear friends the Evans. Sometimes others would join us. On Christmas morning, we shared in the Evans’ tradition of baked grapefruit for breakfast.

All the staff gathered each evening to sing Christmas carols. The final night we would try the Hallelujah Chorus. It was always a musical disaster, but being together to celebrate the One who had called all of us to that place was what mattered.

So, if you happen to see me this Christmas and I seem a bit “humbuggish” or have a distant look in my eyes, at least you know the struggle inside. One thing has never left me: I always carve out time during the season to really reflect on the Incarnation and the One who has given me life, hope, and reason for being.

Who knows, maybe Sheila will wrap up another box of Shredded Wheat.

Yay!!! November

Dr. Neil Gilliland

Yay!!! November

I hate October. Okay, maybe that’s a little strong. I do like the arrival of autumn when the Father paints the landscape around my home with His fall colors. I like that football season is in full swing. I like that, most years, October means the mowing season is over. Wait…maybe I do like October; maybe I just don’t like Halloween. I hate Halloween (apart from the candy).

My disdain for Halloween is not the same as some my fellow Christians who trace its origins to pagan rituals, witchcraft, sorcery, etc. While that troubles me a bit, it is not the primary reason I dislike Halloween. I don’t like scary! Please, do not ever suggest to me that a wonderful evening is watching some horror movie. I would run faster than a fox with hounds on his tail. Haunted house? You have to be kidding me. Walking through a house in the dark, having things touch you, jump out at you, or bleed on you is not my idea of fun. Why would anyone ever want to have the daylights scared out of him and then say, “Wasn’t that great!” No, it was absolutely awful.

I have a pretty healthy dose of fear in my life. Some of it stems, I am sure, from childhood. We rode our bikes a lot. My brothers had 26” bicycles and mine was a 20”. That means I was not only closer to the ground, but I had to peddle twice as fast to keep up. We often rode by a house with about five German Shepherd dogs guarding it. My brothers would fly by the house, laughing at their little brother peddling for all he was worth with dogs nipping at his heals. I was scared to death. Sometimes I walked to church and had to pass a house with a dog that barked and growled. I strolled past the house as fast as I could, singing, “If Jesus Goes with Me I’ll Go.”

The truth is, I have enough fear in my life. I don’t need any more. Halloween is full of fear and my cup is already full, thank you. But perhaps there is more. Halloween reminds me of my fear of what my grandson will face as our world continues to crumble into a moral desert. I fear the world will descend into economic and political chaos. I fear the Church and Christian values will become more and more socially irrelevant.

I have another fear. I fear for a world of people bound for eternal separation from God if they are not told the glorious news of the gospel of Christ. I fear our friends who have left these shores to bear the news to lands still in darkness will have to stop their efforts because they do not have the resources they need every month to sustain their ministry. I fear that we as a movement will become so apathetic that we prefer token acknowledgement of the lost and are unwilling to do whatever it takes to reach them.

I am thankful for November. For, I can switch my focus to being thankful for those who have heeded the call and those who are faithful to support them. Yay!! November.

FIghting for Freedom

Dr. Neil Gilliland

FIghting for Freedom

I like to ask students, “If you lived in another era, when would it be and why?” Typically, a multiplicity of responses ensue—with some interesting reasons for their choices.

My answer is always the same: I would love to have lived during World War II. It was a time when our country seemed unified. The war brought the country together in an unusual way to support our troops. I have studied the history of the war, read biographies of soldiers who bravely fought, and watched many movies. Each time I am moved, often to tears.

I have even visited Normandy. It is a sobering place when you recognize that on June 6, 1944, those beautiful beaches were literally covered with thousands of young men’s bodies—to insure the freedom of Europe, and my freedom. I have wept at the sight of rows and rows of white crosses in the cemetery.

The city of Châteaubriant, France, lies about 165 miles south of that cemetery. Châteaubriant was active in the war effort that resulted in the freedom of France. Today, another war is being fought in this historic town. The battle is intense and the enemy is strong. It is another battle for freedom…but this time it is not from the tyranny of an evil empire. This time the freedom being sought is from the bondage of sin and the grip of the evil one. If this battle is to be won, it will take all of us being united in our support of our troops (Steve and Becky Riggs). Pray for their encouragement and that the Father will honor their efforts as they plant a church in Châteaubriant.

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