A French Christmas

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A French Christmas

By David Reeves

My journey to France has been a little different than most missionaries. I’m a country boy from Kentucky, who has the honor and privilege of being married to Myriam, who happens to be French. The Bible says when a man finds a wife, he finds a good thing. I can say with certainty that has been so true! She is the best helpmate and partner in ministry, and I am so grateful. Her knowledge of culture, language, and contacts has given us a head start in ministry. For that, we give the Lord thanks.

Marrying into a French family gives me the unique privilege of celebrating Christmas from the perspective of another culture. First, in France a Christmas celebration isn’t just opening presents on Christmas morning. Or, even, a couple hours with your whole family on Christmas Eve. In France, for our family, Christmas is an all-day event!

The Christmas celebration usually starts in the afternoon. However, most years we spend multiple days together. Most of our time centers around good food, time spent laughing, and enjoying everyone being together. Meals come with multiple courses, including seafood (shrimp, crab, langoustine, fish eggs, et.). After the entrées (appetizers), we move on to the main course—usually a special cut of meat with potatoes and veggies. Wait, there’s more! A cheese course follows, then dessert.

The amount of food is one reason the meal takes so long (hours), but (and this is, perhaps, my favorite part) everyone just loves being able to savor the time together in the same place, at the same time. It may be a little loud and crazy at times, but you can’t help but enjoy all the little things. Kids run the halls, playing games and laughing. Across the table, Uncle Silvain and Uncle Marc crack jokes. A little farther down the table, Mamie (grandma) tells Myriam and Lydie about days gone by. Myriam’s mother, Julie, leads the kids in a song of thanks to the Lord.

The book of Revelation tells of a marriage supper that will take place in heaven when God has gathered all His people to Himself. Every generation of the faithful will gather around the table. The French family Christmas is the closest on earth I can imagine to that. Everyone together. No matter what is going on in the world, for a moment, we share peace, love, and laughter. All because a loving God saw fit to send His Son to us.

It’s the same for all of us. As the years pass, we will see empty chairs around our tables. People will move far away or pass away, but thanks to Jesus, that celebration in Heaven is going to be one to remember! Our family looks forward to meeting you there.

Our First Christmas in Lobi Land

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Our First Christmas in Lobi Land

Guest blog, Lorene Miley

Picture Little House on the Prairie in a hot climate and you have a good setting for our family’s first Christmas in Africa.

No one had even hinted anything Christmasy should be included in the three barrels we packed for Africa. Christmas was far down our list of priorities as we drove 450 miles inland to the back side of Nowhere—where we planned to spend the rest of our lives, and the next four in particular. Our first priority was preparing to send our three children off to boarding school. Lynn, grade nine, traveled a thousand miles away to another country, Guinea. Lynette, seventh grade, and Larry, fourth, attended school in our country, although still a two-day journey. We brushed the tears away with the thought: Come Christmas, we will all be together again.

Lynn flew back from Guinea for Christmas, so we took off for Big Town to meet him. Abidjan gave us our only taste of Christmases we had known in the States. Although familiar, the trappings of Christmas seemed out of place in this dark land. It would take more than a few months to sort through our materialistic Christmas culture and come up with one we were comfortable with our African Christians mimicking.

So what exactly made that first Christmas different? What we could have, we had; what we didn’t have, we didn’t need.

What We Did Not Have

  • No tree or decorations. Christ was unknown in our village, so anything we wanted, we had to create. No one was very creative that year. Lynette’s teacher visited her over the holidays. They returned empty-handed from their search for anything green to call a tree. I didn’t dare ask how they’d planned to decorate it.
  • Almost no gifts. LaVerne and I hadn’t been Africanized enough to know of treasures to be found in the African market. Lynette remembers receiving one stuffed dog (a small one!) period. Just one gift.

Church programs. Our fledging class of immature schoolboys offered a promise of the future, but did little that first year to fill our void.

What We Did Have

  • Precious family unity and togetherness. For one full month, we were all together under one roof. Since our moments together were few, we made every one count.
  • The peace of knowing God’s will. At night we pulled the mosquito net around the bed, listened for the wail of the bush baby or the distant beat of the drum, and drew a contented sigh. We wouldn’t have traded places with anyone.
  • Hopes and dreams for the future. Today, as I read reports from my adopted land, I bow in sheer amazement. God, only You could do it. You take a tiny mustard seed and grow a giant tree. You take a tiny seed of faith and build a church. At least one seed was planted that first Christmas in Lobi Land.

 

Just a Spark

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Just a Spark

Olivia Hefner is eager to serve the Lord by participating in E-TEAM through IM. A member of Fairview Free Will Baptist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Olivia is a junior at Broome High School. She is active in cross country, student government, Beta Club, and the debate team. An active honorary member of the Women Active for Christ Ministry at Fairview since she was a very young, she listened intently each month as the lives of our missionaries unfolded during meetings. Missionaries visiting Fairview stirred a passion in her heart as they shared burdens about the countries where they minister. Her interest in missions deepened further at summer camp, where she was exposed to E-TEAM.

The first place she served was St. Croix, Virgin Islands. She looked forward to the preliminary events at Welch College, preparing for the culture, and connecting with her teammates and others. Her faith never wavered when she thought about the cost of raising her funds.

On her last Sunday before leaving for Welch College, my husband and I noticed Ronald, her dad, crying after Sunday School. We were both concerned, knowing he had been hesitant to let Olivia fulfill her dream to serve with E-TEAM and travel so far away from home. We approached him, thinking we could comfort him in some way. We explained we understood his reluctance in letting his “little girl” go so far from home. He hadn’t visited St. Croix to make sure it was going to be a safe place for his daughter.

After we had said what we thought he needed to hear, he looked at my husband and I and, with big tears flowing down his cheeks, said, “You don’t understand; I’ve already lost her.” Tim and I glanced at each other; we really didn’t comprehend what he meant. He added, “I have already lost her to the mission field.” He explained that he knew she was burdened for the regions beyond, for people who need to hear the gospel. Tim and I finally understood his tears.

Olivia served on E-TEAM Brazil this year (second from left). Her enthusiasm has been contagious to our congregation and among the teens at Fairview. Another girl from our church saw Olivia’s passion. Raegan Price spent her first E-TEAM experience in Chicago. Olivia is proof “it only takes a spark to get a fire going.”

About the Writer: Pam Hackett is an alumnus of Welch College and the University of South Carolina Upstate. Pam was recognized in 2013 for more than 25 years of teaching by the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools. She has been the South Carolina WAC coordinator for ten years and a member of the WNAC board since 2009. Pam has served as mission study chairman for her local WAC ministry for 28 years. Her husband, Tim has pastored Fairview FWB Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for 28 years.

Originally published in ONE Magazine.

A Church is Born

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A Church is Born

Eighteen people from many different backgrounds filled the main room of the church, joining as the Body of Christ in Alpedrete.

One lady told us she couldn’t believe a church was finally in her town. The tears streaming down her face reminded us God had providentially placed us in Alpedrete, a town where the motto is “Heart of Stone.” Many stone-cold hearts in this small pueblo needed to be softened. And this was just the place God planned for people to come and find out about His love for them. It’s a church!

The early days were filled with late nights of preparation, little sleep, and lots of spoon-feeding as we taught members how to grow as a church. As missionaries, we led music, taught classes, preached sermons, cleaned the church, and spent many hours laying the groundwork for what would become a new church plant.

As we busily ministered, we also tried to teach others to do these things. Soon, they began to try out their training wheels. They took on new responsibilities like sponsoring ladies’ meetings, organizing evangelistic events in a local fair, and working with the Evangelical Olympics in Madrid. They found their God-given talents and used them each Sunday to teach children’s classes, lead music, preach sermons, and do what needed to be done in the church. They attended Bible studies where they learned about spiritual gifts and doctrines and apologetics. They soon became a mature group of believers, serious about loving God and ready to share His love with those around them. This newborn church was growing.

We are almost to the other side of planting a church in Alpedrete. As we look toward this transition, we remember the admonition Paul gave the new church at Philippi: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6). May God fill each person in the Alpedrete church with this vision as they walk into the future and continue to fulfill the good work God began in them a few short years ago.

We couldn’t be prouder to announce: “It’s a CHURCH!”

Excerpted from an article by Kristi Johnson in ONE Magazine. Read the full article where Kristi compares raising her children with the development of the Alpedrete church.

Welcome Home!

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Welcome Home!

When we returned to the States a year ago, it seemed everybody greeted us the same way: “Welcome home!”

Reentry into our “home” culture can be a major transition for missionary families. We carry an American passport. However, culturally, we are no longer 100% American.

Wonder how you can make re-entry easier for the missionaries you know?

Recognize they feel like foreigners in their own birth country. Get to know them, their likes and dislikes, their favorite foods. Include them in special events, concerts, or family outings. Invite them into your home and learn about them. Understand they may be grieving. Be a friend!

Pastors, when they call you to schedule services, understand they’re not trying to disrupt your preaching schedule. They want to assist you in helping your church accomplish the final order Jesus left us: make disciples among all nations. Please respond to their calls.

Be sensitive to missionary children. Attending school in the States is not always easy. They live most of their lives in another culture and see the world through different lenses. They are going to be different.

Remember missionaries are just like you: they need friends, encouragement, and acceptance.

At the same time, they are different. Having lived most of their lives and raised their family in another culture, they have adopted different lifestyles, languages, and cultural tastes. Following Paul’s example, they have become like the people they serve to bring them to Christ.

Understand they will never again be 100% American. Accept them as they are and reach out to them. Don’t assume anything. Listen to their experiences and their stories, and you will learn a great deal about them. Include them. Understand they want to know you as well.

We’ve been back in Oklahoma almost nine months now, and we’re getting used to Fahrenheit, gallons, and inches. We’re building deeper friendships and finding our niche. We’re beginning to feel more and more at home. To mimic Paul, we’re learning to be content, no matter where we live.

Condensed from Judy Bryan’s ONE Magazine article, the full article is available here. Judy and her husband Robert served 50 years in Côte d’Ivoire and France.

From Rock Thrower to Church Builder

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From Rock Thrower to Church Builder

Nerieda didn’t attend church with her husband and four daughters when they began attending the church Stan and I were starting in Parita. She had other, more pressing things she thought she needed to do. She and others in the town felt we were trying to destroy their traditions. They wanted Stan and me to leave. Along with others, she threw rocks at our building during the services.

Nerieda helped develop and motivate an antagonist group. They marched around the town chanting “ni un bloque más” (not one more block) as we tried to build cinderblock walls on the church. They also planned to vandalize the property. At the same time, an ETEAM was in Panama. The students intended to help construct concrete pillars for the fence around the property. The police stopped the protestors that day—just as the ETEAM arrived. We found our chairs had been cut up and the pillars destroyed the night before.

Only God could change Nerieda’s heart. And, He did!

Eventually, she began attending services. Through Bible teaching and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, she became a new creature in Christ. She now teaches Sunday school at the new Chame FWB Church.* Her daughter, who was in my class as a preschooler in Parita, also teaches Sunday school. God’s Word is so powerful and it blesses me to know I had a small part in their growth.

* IM has approved an Impact Panama Chame Church project which is helping this newly-formed congregation purchase a property previously owned by New Tribes Mission.

This is an excerpt of an article written by Brenda Bunch for ONE Magazine. Read the complete article here.

Brenda Bunch and her husband Stan were appointed to overseas missionary service in Panama, Central America, in 1983. While in Panama, the couple and their three children Jonathan, Alicia, and Amanda helped to start three churches. The most recent officially organized August 27, 2011. Today, the ministry in Panama is under the leadership of Panamanian Free Will Baptists.