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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Looking back ... how did we get here?

In just a few days our team will leave for the Philippines. I have been pondering just a bit lately about how we got to this point.

It all started when I was pastor of two small churches in Williston, North Dakota. Williston, of course, has become famous as an oil boom town, but in the days when we lived there it was an economic sinkhole, both in terms of agriculture and of petroleum. One of the churches I served was right in Williston; the other was about twenty-five miles outside of town. A couple began attending the church in town (Good Shepherd Lutheran) -- he used to be a pentecostal pastor in the deep south, in a denomination called "Foursquare." (It's similar to Assemblies of God if that's more familiar.) Gordy spent a lot of time on the internet as sort of a fascination / hobby. One day he came to me with a suggestion. He had run across a church -- a Foursquare church -- in the Philippines -- that was trying to raise money to renovate their building. They needed about $1500 to complete the project. (Note: The local economy in the central Philippines means that American dollars went a long way.)

I emailed the pastor at Grace, a guy named Ronald. He emailed back. We communicated for a while. He sent pictures of the church, a financial plan, and detailed information of what they were going to do with whatever money their appeal brought in. We talked about it. We prayed about it. A few key people at Good Shepherd grabbed ahold of this project and started raising money. In a bad economy we came up with a few hundred dollars, and a pastor friend of mine in a larger church pitched in from their mission fund. Ronald and his congregation at Grace finished the renovations and sent more pictures and a statement of how the funds were used.

Ronald and I kept emailing back and forth. I found out that in addition to being a pastor, he also taught business at a local college, and he also served as president of a pentecostal Bible college. It was the Bible college that became the focus of our conversations. Ronald invited me to come and speak at their graduation in early April.

It didn't work out that year. And it didn't work out either of the next two years. Then my family moved to Minnesota, and that year I was in a new job and there's no way I could go to the Philippines. Every year Ronald invited me, and we talked and prayed about it, and it didn't work out, doors closed, and I kept asking God to open the way.

Then came 2005. The new job was not quite so new, and Central was in the process of growing more and more mission oriented. It made sense to go speak at graduation at the Iloilo Foursquare Bible College. Ronald invited, and we accepted. Ronald said, as long as you're coming, would you be willing to do some training for local pastors?

So Julie and I went to the Philippines. I spoke at two seminars with almost 400 people attending, talking about God's heart for the local church and what kind of leadership it takes to give God room to do his kingdom-building work through the church. I spoke at IFBC's graduation, and at the baccalaureate service. Julie and I got to taste some of the freshest tropical fruit you could ever ask for, including the best mangoes in the world.

Along the way, of course, I talked about Alpha. Certainly when I was telling stories about how God does his best work in the local church, lots of Alpha stories came up. One night after our seminar in Bacolod, a pastor asked me to come back to his church for a leaders' meeting where they were going to talk about (guess what?) Alpha!

It was an amazing trip. When we came back to the States, the Alpha leaders at Central got some dollars together and sent an Alpha starter kit to Ronald. He ran a couple Alpha courses. The church leaders we got to know there have a heart for evangelism. Just like in the United States, many Filipinos may attend church from time to time but have no personal relationship with Jesus.

In 2007 I thought we might be returning to the Philippines and I began to make plans, but that didn't happen. 2008, 2009 and 2010 had us focused on a lot of domestic issues, dealing with needs at Central. Along the way, I began to dream of not only Julie and me going back, but taking a team of Alpha leaders along to train Filipino church leaders to lead Alpha..

About the same time, the people who run Alpha International came up with something they call "GAT" which stands for Global Alpha Training. The idea is, experienced Alpha leaders from one church go on a mission trip to an area where church leaders have asked for help learning to do Alpha.

This year we are returning, with a team from Central's Alpha leadership, on a GAT mission. We'll lead Alpha training seminars for right around 500 church leaders, using three separate locations. We're bringing a suitcase full of Alpha print and DVD resources along to distribute to the churches in the area. Our goal, our prayer, is to help churches in the central Philippines learn to do Alpha, and do it well. From day one, we've seen God take what the prophet Zechariah called "the day of small things" and make significant stuff out of it.

Looking forward to seeing what he does this trip!

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