The Streets of New York – in the 1980’s

This past week my husband spoke to the residents of the Teen Challenge Center in Saginaw, Michigan.

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This is not the first interaction we have had with this organization.

Our first experience with Teen Challenge occurred in 1985 in New York City.  Just one year after we were married we spent two weeks at the center in New York working on the streets with Christians from all over the United States.

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This center was started by Dave Wilkerson.   A pastor of a small church in Pennsylvania, in 1958, after he saw a photograph in Life Magazine of seven teenagers who were gang members and on trial, he felt led by the Holy Spirit to go to New York and share God’s love with them.  When he entered the courtroom and asked to speak to them, the judge had him removed from the courtroom.

His burden for the young people caught up in the gangs became so strong that he began a street ministry to the young in New York.  His work with the gangs was very successful and he founded Teen Challenge to continue that work.

His story was made into a movie The Cross and the Switchblade in 1970.  By today’s movie standards the movie itself would not measure up to the acting and directing skills of today.  But the message is powerful and if you have not seen it, I encourage to look it up.

We met each morning as a group sharing a simple breakfast and then a time of worship.  Afterwards we broke out into smaller groups of about twelve or fourteen.  We spent a few minutes sharing how things were going for each of us and then we hit the streets of New York.  We partnered with member of local churches as we walked the streets talking and sharing with those we met on the streets and in the subways.

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This was our team.

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This woman was in her 70’s and we were so impressed that an “old woman” like her would join us on the streets of New York.  (Now I’m 71 and my husband 79 – maybe she was not so old.)

For someone from the Mid West this was quite an experience.  This was not the New York of today – but the New York of the 1980’s.

The city was near bankruptcy.  With the introduction of crack-cocaine, there was widespread drug addiction and violence.  Our team was told when we walked down the streets in Manhattan to always have the woman walk on the outside with the man next to the building entrances.  They said women had been pulled off the street into drug dens.  Some neighborhoods we entered we told to not take pictures because we might get shot for taking a picture of a drug deal going down.

Walking in Manhattan we saw signs like this everywhere.

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Stores like this were everywhere.  Our team moved among this neighborhood inviting people to our evening services.

 

Graffiti was everywhere.

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My husband on the subway.  In the 1980s, over 250 felonies were committed every week in the system, making the New York subway the most dangerous mass transit system in the world.

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On schools

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On stores

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Even on churches

What was really sad to me was when I saw beautiful murals that the local population had painted – and they did not even respect their own community – but painted graffiti on the murals.

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There were burnt out cars sitting on the streets and we often saw people sleeping in them.

 

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Each day we walked the streets in a different community and each evening we held street services in the area where we had spent the day.

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And how did all this walking the streets, holding services, meeting the drug addicts and homeless people on the street work out?

We will never know for sure in this life.  There were many different reactions.

  • While holding a service in Washington Square, a young man came up to the area where the musicians were playing, turned his back to us and mooned us.
  • In Manhattan a young man cursed at me and told me to “mind my own business.”

But then there were:

  • Several homeless drug addicts listened to us and came back with us to the Teen Challenge Center where they stayed and committed to the 12 month program to beat the drug habit.  Again, I have no idea how many stayed with the program but I do know the Teen Challenge program in New York has had a high success rate helping people beat addiction.  It was good to see the ones who came back with us in the beginning of our two-week stay.  To watch their eyes go from a blank, glassy look to a clear, coherent look.  To see their listless walk become a brisk lively walk.  To see the dull expression on their face turn to one of hope and smiles.
  • One young man my husband talked to had never heard that Jesus loved him.  After praying with my husband, he wept with joy.  We did not leave these people after such an encounter.  The local churches we partnered with continued to mentor and help them in their attempts to turn from cocaine and to begin a new life with Jesus Christ.
  • On the subway one day we found a pimp beating up on one of his “girls.”  Scared to death, but unable to ignore this, our team of 14 stepped in between the pimp and his “girl.”  He threatened us but we did outnumber him.  He got off at the next stop and we took the young girl with us back to the shelter to help her get free from prostitution and start anew.

The years have gone by and we often wonder about some of those we talked to, shared that God loved them, that there was hope and offered help.  Where are they now?  Did they stay with the program, with the local churches?

We will never know in this life, but I think how awesome it would be to meet one of them in heaven some day and hear their story of victory over cocaine.

So thankful that New York City did finally clean up much of the city and I hear today it is a beautiful place to visit.  Doubtful that I will never get back, but thankful for the two weeks spent on the streets of New York City in the 80’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Past – Maligayang Pasko

Well it seems I am on a roll – memories of Christmas past just continue to occupy my mind – especially at bedtime.  Maybe it’s just that I am getting old.  Maybe it’s spending this Christmas in a new home in a new state far from what was familiar.

The memories are for the most part happy ones although the last post I made did include one Christmas that was sad and lonely.

Christmas Past – Laughing Through the Tears

Still, I’m thankful that the happy times far outweigh the sad ones.

For a girl growing up in the Midwest Christmas has always meant:

  • Christmas trees and decorations

 

  • Caroling

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  • cold temps

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  • sometimes snow

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But I will never forget the one Christmas I spent without all the trees and decorations, without caroling, no cold temps and certainly no chance of snow.

I spent Christmas of 1991 at the beach on the island of Panay in the Philippines.

My husband and I had gone to the Philippines with our youngest daughter to teach in a Bible school.  While there we also spoke and often gave classes to the ministerial staff at local churches.  Our daughter began a Kids Klub with the local neighbor hood children.

I wrote about her experience there in:

The Piped Piper of Iloilo City

It never really felt like Christmas there.  The temperature was much too warm.  It was  lonely thousands of miles from our family.  There were few bright lights.  In the gated community where many of the other missionaries lived there were trees and lights.  But in our neighborhood no one could afford such luxuries.  Many of our neighbors did not even have electricity for any lights.  Most struggled to provide food for their families and there would be few, if any, presents and certainly no Christmas tree.

There were decorations in the stores downtown, but none like we were used to.  The mall downtown had some beautiful ones made from bamboo.

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The only Christmas decoration we had was a nativity set we found at a local store.  It was amazing to us that even in the Philippines, the nativity set portrayed Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus as white.  Clearly Jesus would have been dark-skinned like those from the Middle East but somehow we have made Him into an image totally foreign to what He would have been.

We held a birthday party for Jesus with the kids in the neighborhood.  We had a birthday cake, played games and had so much fun with the kids.  It was a joy to also share with them the story of the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas day we shared a picnic at the beach with another missionary couple from Norway.  Like us, it seemed strange to have no snow or cold temperatures.  As you can see, from the pictures, we really dressed up for the day.  NOT!

As I look at these pictures today I wonder where those children are now.  How many had the privilege of completing school?  How many even survived to adulthood?  It is my prayer that we did make a difference in their lives while we were there.

This year as we feel the cold temperatures, I do think how nice it was that year to enjoy sunshine and the ocean.  But I still am glad to be here with my family.  Wherever you are, whatever your Christmas is –

Maligayang Pasko – or Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being a Christian in Eritrea

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Eritrea is the most restricted nation for religious freedom on the African continent.  Rebels, inspired by the Chinese Communist Revolution, led a bloody revolution for 30 years (from 1960’s to 1991) leading to the country’s independence from Ethiopia.

The independent nation fought again with Ethiopia in one of the bloodiest conflicts in Africa’s history.  On July 8 of this year there was a formal end to the war.

Eritrea was Africa’s largest single source of refugees to Europe from 2014 to 2016. Over the past decade so many people have left that Eritrea has been called the world’s fastest-emptying nation. It has been likened to Cuba and the former East Germany.

The sole legal political party, People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, has isolated the nation.  All media is state-run and there is no provision of freedom of speech, press or religion making the country ranked just behind North Korea for press freedom.   The Human Rights Watch indicates that the Eritrean government’s human rights record is among the worst in the world.  In the middle of this political conflict, thousands of Christians are subjected to treatment and conditions that would be considered criminal in the U.S. if used just on livestock.

Christians have been locked in metal shipping containers in the unrelenting desert sun.  The containers sometimes contain so many people that there is no room for them to sit down.  Provided little food or water they are also subjected to emotional and physical abuse.  Just for sharing their faith in Jesus or refusing to deny Him.

Their president, Isaias Afwerki, has failed to ratify the nation’s constitution, canceled presidential elections, outlawed other political parties and has embraced atheism.

One father is now raising his four children alone in a fugitive camp in Ethiopia after his wife died in prison because she refused to deny Jesus.  After his wife’s death he realized there was a strong chance he would be imprisoned and there would be no one to take care of his children.  To reach the fugitive camps in Ethiopia he and his children traveled by night trying to avoid the Eritrean guards.  If caught, his older boys would be forced into the military while the younger children would probably, with him, be sent to prison.

Miraculously they made it safely to Ethiopia.  While life in the camp is not the best of circumstances, at least they are safe from prison and can worship God in freedom.

When asked about his family’s experience with being a Christian in Eritrean, he replied.

“The Bible taught us that we should take up our cross.  We have to lose our life for Christ, and it happened to my wife.  This is the history of Christianity.  It is not strange, it is not something new.”

While not new in history or in many other countries, it certainly is not the gospel that is preached today in many churches.

Will you today take a moment to thank God for your freedom to worship (or not to worship) as you choose?

Will you today take a moment to pray for the Christians, not only in Eritrean, but around the world who do not have that freedom?

 

 

 

The Day I was Mad at God

I remember the moment I held my daughter in my arms.  It was overwhelming to realize I was a mother, personally responsible for this tiny baby.  Looking at her, I whispered that we were going to be the best of friends.  I shared with her my hopes and dreams of the hours we would spend reading, playing in the park and listening to music.  Four years later I once again held another daughter in my arms.  How happy I was – two beautiful daughters!

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My girls were my world.  As a mother, there was nothing I would not do to make them happy.  As time passed, my oldest daughter and her husband gave me the joy of being a grandmother.  Robert was born and his first year was filled with precious memories watching him beginning to walk and say his first words.  One year later a beautiful granddaughter was born.  As I walked into the room where my daughter lay holding this new grandchild, my heart skipped a beat when she held the baby out to me and said, “Mother, meet Barbara Rose!”  She was named Barbara after me!

In the midst of this joy, my heart was torn.  In just a few short weeks I would have the honor of dedicating this little child to God.  However, a few days after the dedication I would get on an airplane with my husband and youngest daughter and fly to the other side of the world to serve as a missionary in the Philippines.

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Several months before Rebekah had become pregnant with Barbara, God had opened a door for my husband and me to work in the Philippines for a couple of years teaching in a Bible College.  At the time I felt everything would be okay because by the time we left Robert would be over a year old and Rebekah and Rob would do fine as new parents with this little boy.  While I would miss Robert, I would have had that first year to share and treasure while we were gone.  But now my daughter, who had married very young, had not one, but two children less than twelve months apart.  She and her husband were both college students.

As I looked at them struggling to keep up with their home, their studies and two little babies, I wondered how can this young couple make it.  Holding Barbara Rose on dedication day, my heart ached as I realized I would not be there to see her sit up, take her first steps, and say her first words.  When I came back, she and her brother would not know who I was.

Yet, I knew God had called us to go.  I thought of the verse in the Bible that speaks of loving God so that in comparison it may seem we hate our family.

Rebekah and Rob went with us in the airport as far as they could go before security barred their way.  The last look I had was the two of them standing there, each with a baby in their arms, and the saddest, forlorn look on their faces.  I felt my heart would break.  I was deserting them when they really needed me.

We settled in the Philippines and while my heart still ached, I became busy in the work and prayed the time would pass fast for them.  A couple of months later, we had a call from my daughter.  Our little granddaughter was having digestive issues and it looked as if she might have to have surgery.  How I longed to go home, but we had just arrived and our budget did not really include money to make a trip home.  Rebekah assured me they would be fine and did not need us, but I could hear in her voice the longing for her mother.

Hanging up the phone, I went into my bedroom, laid on the bed and told God how mad I was at Him.  I said, “I sold everything I had, gave up my time with my grandchildren to obey You.  The least you could do is take care of them.  I feel as if I am turning my back on my daughter.”

God did not strike me with lightning for speaking that way.  That’s the beauty of a relationship with God.  He knows our hearts, He understands our pain and He loves us.  I have never understood those who feel we cannot be totally honest with God – as if He does not already know our very thoughts.  He understood the love of a mother for her children.  He loved me in spite of my hurt and anger.

But quietly I felt that “still small voice” of God speaking to me.  He said, “I turned my back on my Son for you.”

For the first time in my life I got a little idea of how much God really loved me when He sent His Son to die on that cross.  John 3:16 took on new meaning for me.

And the end of the story – Robert and Barbara quickly developed a love for Grandma and our relationship is very close.  God also has given me many more grandchildren and I believe the example we set putting God first in our lives has had a tremendous influence on my children.  Putting God first is sometime hard, but always in the end, brings great blessings.

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Two Views of Dealing With Our Enemies

I recently watched a pastor of a mega church on television (which I don’t do on a regular basis) and was amazed at his message.

He started off speaking of all the parts of our culture that Christians do not agree with.

  • He spoke about the damage pornography does to our society.  (I said Amen!)
  • He spoke about the many lives that have been killed through abortion.  (I said Amen!)
  • He spoke about the anti-Christian attitude in Hollywood portraying Christians as idiots or bigots or worse.  (I said Amen!)
  • He spoke about the terror from Islamic extremists.  (I said Amen!)

But then he lost me!

He said our duty as Christians is to “identify these people and RUN THEM OUT OF HERE!”

Now I am not sure what he meant about “running them out of here.”  Maybe he just meant we need to stand up for our beliefs and not let them scare us from speaking out.

If so, I say Amen!

But the body language and the attitude he displayed when making that statement I found so offensive and so not like Jesus Christ.

Later that week I went to a conference where I heard a different viewpoint on our response to those who take a stand against our Christians beliefs.

It was a Voice of the Martyrs conference where I heard stories of Christians being persecuted around the world.

I saw pictures of young men badly beaten for refusing to deny Christ.

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This young man lost his right eye and was brutally disfigured

I saw pictures of churches destroyed by bombs or fire.

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This was the communion set retrieved by the congregation after their church was burned

Then I listened to their response to how they treated their enemies.

Over and over those who had been persecuted asked that we not only pray for them, but pray for those who persecuted them.

Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs said:

“It was in prison that we found the hope of salvation for the Communists. It was there that we developed a sense of responsibility toward them. It was in being tortured by them that we learned to love them.”

“I have seen Christians in Communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold–and praying with fervor for the Communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was poured out in our hearts.”

Martin Luther King, Jr said it so well:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

But the best voice of all for loving your enemies is Jesus Christ who said:

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Maybe if we prayed more for those who take a stand against Christian principles their hearts would be changed.

Will you join me in praying for those who you disagree with?

 

 

 

 

 

Two Kinds of Christians

there are two kinds of Christians: those who sincerely believe in God and those who, just as sincerely, believe that they believe. You can tell them apart by their actions in decisive moments.”     Pastor Richard Wurmbrand

Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs was born in Bucharest, Romania. Highly intellectual, Richard was fluent in nine languages.  A couple of years after marrying Sabina Oster, they were led to a faith in Jesus Christ in 1938 and Richard was ordained as an Anglican, and later Lutheran, minister.

During World War II, they tried to share Jesus with the occupying German forces. Preaching in bomb shelters they were arrested and beaten multiple times.

When the Romanian Communists seized power in 1945 Christians there soon realized they had only traded one oppressor for another.  Russian troops poured into the country.

The communists scheduled a Congress of Cults.  At that conference many religious leaders praised communism and swore allegience to the new regime.  While listening to the high praise from religious leaders, Pastor Wurmbrand later reported that his wife, Sabina, challenged him to “stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ!” When he responded that to do so would mean she would lose her husband, she said “I don’t wish to have a coward as a husband.”  (Tortured for Christ…Richard Wurmbrand)

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After being kidnapped by the secret police, Richard spent several years in prison.  The police also placed his wife in a workers camp where she had to endure unspeakable hardships.  This left their nine-year old son on his own.  Christian friends did take him into their homes risking imprisonment also.

After 14 years in prison Pastor Wurmbrand and his wife were able to leave Romania.  They founded an organization to help those who are in prison for their faith and their families.

 

I have written about this organization and the persecuted Christians around the world before but I feel so strongly that they are a neglected group of people. Christians in America feel they are persecuted when someone makes fun of their belief or a show portrays Christians in a less than favorable light.  But we really have no idea what real persecution is.  
I love some of the quotes by Pastor Wurmbrand.  They reveal his strong faith in Jesus Christ.  These quotes are all taken from his book Tortured for Christ.
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Joy in sharing the gospel

It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their [the communists’ ] terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.” 

Caring about the here and now

“churches assert their wish to save men from a future hell. Then they should prove their love toward men by helping save the world from today’s hell of illiteracy, hunger, misery, tyranny, exploitation, and war.” 

Concern for Western Christians

 “I tremble because of the sufferings of those persecuted in different lands. I tremble thinking about the eternal destiny of their torturers. I tremble for Western Christians who don’t help their persecuted brethren. In the depth of my heart, I would like to keep the beauty of my own vineyard and not be involved in such a huge fight. I would like so much to be somewhere in quietness and rest. But it is not possible… The quietness and rest for which I long would be an escape from reality and dangerous for my soul… The West sleeps and must be awakened to see the plight of the captive nations.” 

The Joy of Being Number 2

We all love a winner!

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We hold parades, parties, all kinds of celebrations when our team becomes state champion.  Coming in second in a state-wide contest leaves people feeling so dejected.  They seem to forget that being second means they have beat out many other teams.

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In the Olympics, athletics say they are going for the gold.  You don’t win silver, you lose gold.

This desire to be number 1 is not necessarily a bad thing.  To try to do your best, to succeed, to take pride in what you achieve, to have a healthy self-esteem are all good qualities.

But when that desire to be number 1 becomes so important that it leads us to step on others to reach the top, to despair when we do not achieve first place or to be overly prideful when we do, it has become a negative influence in our life.

For years I struggled with being number 2.  As a pastor’s wife, I worked right alongside my husband.  I visited women who were in the hospital, counseled those who were struggling with issues of life.  I taught Bible classes, played the piano and led the Christian Education department in the churches where my husband was pastor.  My youngest daughter and I went to the Philippines with my husband as missionaries.  While there we also taught classes and worked with churches.  Many Sundays, we each went to a different church to speak.  My daughter conducted a Kids Klub and the children in the neighborhood called her “Tita” or “aunt.”  I conducted a Bible class for a group of professional women and taught leadership classes to one church’s leadership board.

Yet when we returned to the states and visited the churches who had supported us to give a report of our work, they always introduced my husband and talked about the work he had done there.  It was usually

We are glad to have Pastor Paul and his family with us today.  Pastor Paul recently returned from the Philippines where he……..

A few times my daughter asked me “Were we there too?  Did we do anything?”

But slowly God helped me to see that my motive in working for God must always be to do His will and not to expect or even desire recognition for my efforts.

And it was through reading about Barnabas “the Encourager” in the Bible that I found  my role model for all I do.

We first meet Barnabas in Acts 4 where we are told his real name is Joses.  But the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas “Son of Encouragement.”

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And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

I love that thought.  To be a person that so encourages others that he becomes known not by his real name but by the nickname of “The Encourager.”  That has been my prayer – that I would be someone who encourages, builds up, strengthens others.

The next time we meet Barnabas the gospel has been received in Antioch.  When news of the new group of Christians there reached the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to meet with the Christians there.  And there again he encouraged.

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.   When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.   He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

We see Barnabas having success in the work at Antioch.  So what did he do?  He headed off to Tarsus to find Saul (who became known as Paul, the writer of much of the New Testament). 

Barnabas had been Saul’s friend when he first became a Christian.  The church at Jerusalem was afraid of Saul because they knew how he had persecuted the Christians.  But Barnabas, stepped in and told them Saul was a new man. 

When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

Barnabas brought Paul back to Antioch where the two of them worked together sharing the gospel with the new church there.  As you read the story in the book of Acts, you see for quite a while it is “Barnabas and Paul.”  Later in the story it becomes “Paul and Barnabas.”

This is the joy of being willing to be number 2.  Barnabas brought Paul from basically exile in Tarsus and encouraged him to become a main leader in the early church.

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The church writes, speaks, quotes Paul a lot.  There are churches all over the world named after him.

But it was Barnabas, “the Encourager” who no doubt encouraged Paul to follow the calling of God on his life.  We know God had called Paul to the work of bringing the gospel to the Gentiles so he would obviously do that because God is in control.  But I like to think that God used Barnabas to help Paul step up and fulfill the call of God on his life.

Finally we see the heart of Barnabas when later in his ministry with Paul, the young man John Mark wanted to go with them on their second missionary journey.  Paul refused to take John Mark with them because he had left them halfway through their first missionary journey.  Paul was not willing to give him a second chance.  But Barnabas’ heart was that of an encourager.  He insisted John Mark be given a second chance.

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”  Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them,  but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.  They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,  but Paul chose Silas and left,

Most Bible scholars believe this John Mark was the one who wrote the Gospel of Mark.  So again Barnabas was instrumental in helping another young man fulfill the work of God in his life.

That’s what I have asked God to help me be.  That one that encourages others to follow the call of God on their life.

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When we get to heaven, I imagine the lines will be long for those wanting to speak to Paul.  That’s okay.  But I’m going to look up Barnabas and tell him how he was my role model in life.

 

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.          1 Thessalonians 5:11