Compassionate Conviction —
By Kimberly D. Reisman —
One of my regular reads is a substack called The Free Press. It has essays that range from one end of the social and political spectrum to the other and is always a refreshing break from mainstream media. Earlier this month there was an essay by Katherine Boyle on the topic of purpose. She talked about how all kinds of values are on the decline these days – at least in the U.S. – things like religion, community involvement, and even having children.
Boyle describes this decline as replacing “Love thy neighbor” with “Get off my lawn.” She asserts that these diminishing values are creating a void and one of the things she believes is moving to fill that void is a relentless focus on the self that tells us “You are enough.”
You are enough. What a pervasive thought that is these days! Just google the phrase and you’ll get a gazillion memes that are perfect for posting on Facebook. I’ve even texted things like this to my kids when I know they’re having a difficult or stressful time in their lives.
You are enough. You are so enough it is unbelievable how enough you are.
It sounds great, doesn’t it? And from a Christian perspective it’s true. We are enough. God’s love for us is unconditional. We don’t have to earn it. We don’t deserve it. We are enough, and God loves us exactly as we are. Of course God doesn’t leave us that way – but, that’s a talk for another day.
Sadly, though, that’s not the world’s understanding of “you are enough.” The world would have us believe that everything we need can be found within ourselves. We simply need to “trust our feelings.” There is no greater truth than our own truth. There is nothing greater to believe in outside of ourselves. A little self-love and self-care and we’ll be fine.
And yet, we’re not fine. We’re in a thrashing time, a time marked by our breathtaking ability to do violence to each other. We hurt those we love with our words and our deeds. We let others down by the things we do and the things we don’t do. Our lives are marked by anxiety and depression, broken relationships, and damaged hearts.
Did you know that teenage depression began trending upwards in a dramatic way around 2012? Coincidentally (or not) that was the same year Facebook bought Instagram and the word “selfie” entered the popular lexicon.
Did you also know that around that same time, young people’s negative understandings of themselves began to grow in a significant way. More and more began to agree with these kinds of statements:
- I feel I do not have much to be proud of.
- Sometimes I think I am no good at all.
- I feel that I can’t do anything right.
- I feel that my life is not very useful.
Friends, we are currently eleven years into the largest epidemic of adolescent mental illness ever recorded. One in ten adolescents say they have made an attempt to kill themselves.
We aren’t enough. Everything we need cannot be found within our own selves. We need to discover something bigger – something greater – beyond our own selves.
And yet, amidst all this mess, I still find it amazing how God works so tenderly with each one of us – meeting us right where we are.
About 10 years after we graduated from college, a Jewish friend of mine was in the hospital recovering from an illness. He ran out of things to read so he randomly opened a Bible to the Gospel of John. He had never seen a Christian Bible before, and when he was growing up, talking about Jesus had been forbidden in his family. But by the time he finished the book of John, the Holy Spirit had moved him so deeply he accepted Christ right then and there – all alone, in the quiet of his hospital room.
I have other friends who have had much different experiences of the Holy Spirit. Theirs have been powerful, public experiences – in the context of worship or in response to preaching.
I’ve also spoken with people whose experiences were different from either of those. They have been visited by Jesus in dreams and visions and have come to recognize Jesus for who he truly is only through conversation with patient friends.
How amazing it is that God reaches out to us in just the way that we need! Calling to us in exactly the way in which we can hear.
And now we have the Asbury Outpouring that happened just a few months ago. What a wonder! I love how consistent all the descriptions of that incredible time were. Over and over people kept using words like joy and peace and tenderness. My favorite was from Dr. Suzanne Nicholson of Asbury University. She described “a sweet gentleness” that permeated the entire chapel where everyone was gathered.
She talked about young people publicly confessing addictions to porn, anger at God, bitterness of heart, despair because of difficult family situations. And yet, these same students went on to proclaim healing, joy, and a deep love of God like they had never before experienced.
How awesome, that amidst all this thrashing, the Holy Spirit chose to move with a sweet gentleness. In an age of anxiety and violence, depression and deep woundedness, God is reaching out to us with tenderness and peace.
Friends, we follow a God who opened his arms to us while we were yet sinners. While we were still broken. While we were still thrashing. While we were still depressed and anxious and trying to convince ourselves we were enough – God was there.
That’s tremendous news. God loves us first. Before we get our acts together. Before we fully understand how God wants us to live, Before anything and everything else, God loves us first. That’s one of the deepest convictions we hold as people who follow Jesus in the company of the Wesleys. God loves us first.
One of my dearest mentors, Billy Abraham, once told me something that profoundly affected how I came to understand evangelism. He said, “Some things cannot be said until after other things are said.”
As Christians we hold a lot of convictions – and that’s a good thing! But sometimes we think we need to tell people about all those convictions right from the start.
Well, we don’t.
Billy was right. Somethings can’t be said until after other things are said.
And all our other convictions can’t be said until we share this first one: the conviction that God loves first. Before anything and everything else – God loves first. That’s one of our foundational convictions and one of the most important messages our hurting world needs to receive.
So the question is, how are we carrying this deeply held conviction of ours? Are we holding it with open hands so people can see it? Or are we holding our conviction with a closed fist? Gripping so tightly that people confuse it for self-righteousness and anger?
Jesus calls us to live out compassionate conviction so that people can come to understand that yes, they are enough. They are enough because God already loves them more than they could ever imagine.
And no – they aren’t enough. Everything they need cannot be found within themselves. They aren’t enough to carry all their burdens alone; to shoulder all their anxiety and bitterness and anger by themselves.
But! There is one who is greater than they are, greater than all of us. One who knows the weight of our burdens and the depth of our pain. And loves us anyway, offering healing and mercy and grace.
In this thrashing time, our convictions alone will convince the world of very little. Especially when we hold them in a tight fist. But when we hold them lightly, with compassion and grace, in an open hand, that’s when the Holy Spirit moves with the sweet gentleness our world so badly needs.
Kimberly Reisman is Executive Director of World Methodist Evangelism (worldmethodist.org), a ministry that equips the global Wesleyan Methodist family of Christians for the work of evangelism. This article is adapted from her presentation at the “Beyond These Walls” conference held earlier this year. Image: Shutterstock.
Thunderstruck: John Wesley and the Ministry of Deliverance —
By Peter J. Bellini —
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12, KJV)
John Wesley not only believed demons exist and encountered them as well, but he also practiced deliverance in his ministry through what he would call “ordinary means.” The father of Methodism employed the same ordinary-extraordinary distinction regarding the work of the Spirit to the practice of deliverance and exorcism.
In his “Letter to the Lord Bishop of Gloucester,” Wesley lists “casting out devils” as one of the chief extraordinary or spiritual gifts. Casting out demons by “extraordinary means” involved the gift of faith. Elsewhere, Wesley separated ordinary, saving faith from the gift of extraordinary faith that works miracles (“Letter to the Rev. Dr. Conyers Middleton”). In his comment on Matthew 12:20, Wesley called this mountain-moving faith “a supernatural persuasion given a man, that God will work thus by him at that hour” (Notes on the New Testament). Consequently, by extraordinary faith, demons may be expelled directly.
Although he did not lay claim to this extraordinary gift, Wesley was convinced that ministers could also expel demons by ordinary means, such as hearing the Word, repentance, prayer, and worship. Wesley would employ these ordinary means in his deliverance ministry.
In his sermon “A Caution Against Bigotry,” Wesley identified two of the ordinary means by which all ministers of Christ may cast out devils: hearing the Word and repentance. “By the power of God attending his word, he brings these sinners to repentance; an entire inward as well as outward change from evil to all good. And this is, in a sound sense, to cast out devils out of the souls wherein they had hitherto dwelt” (Notes on the New Testament, Matthew 12:20).
Striking demonic manifestations would accompany Wesley’s deliverance ministry. Frequently, people under conviction were “thunderstruck” and dropped to the ground in spiritual combat by the power of the Spirit. “Thunderstruck” refers to God’s ‘thunder and lightning’ judging sin and Satan. These encounters were attended by all sorts of peculiar demonic manifestations, such as howling, groaning, roaring, convulsing, speaking in strange voices, and other eerie expressions. However, the result in most cases was repentance, deliverance, and peace with God.
In an April 17, 1739, journal entry, Wesley was preaching from Acts chapter 4, when he asked the Lord to “confirm” his Word. At that very moment, an individual cried out in “the agonies of death.” Wesley and the others present continued fervently in prayer. Two others then joined in, “roaring for the disquietness of their heart.” Not long after, all three found rest. The latter two broke out in praise, and the former was “overwhelmed with joy and love, knowing that God had healed his backslidings.”
While Wesley was preaching at Newgate, several people “dropped on every side as thunderstruck. One of them cried aloud. We besought God in her behalf, and he turned her heaviness into joy. A second being in the same agony, we called upon God for her also; and he spoke peace into her soul. In the evening I was again pressed in spirit to declare, that ‘Christ gave himself a ransom for all.’ And almost before we called upon him to set to his seal, he answered. One was so wounded by the sword of the Spirit, that you would have imagined she could not live a moment. But immediately his abundant kindness was showed, and she sang of his righteousness.”
Thunderstruck! Wesley perceived that the Spirit of God, human will, and demonic powers were all active and engaged during these conflicts. He understood these occurrences as primarily a work of the Holy Spirit, battling against the enemy to claim the person’s soul. Through the preached word, the sword of the Spirit exposes and penetrates the shackled heart. The blow to the stronghold of darkness causes the persons to drop to the ground, or as Wesley frequently described it, they were “thunderstruck,” which is quite a graphic description for an even-tempered man not prone to hyperbole. The battered enemy refuses to release the soul from its clutches. After much convulsing (demonic) and supplicating, the individual finds repentance and relief. Wesley identified these struggles as the “chief times at which Satan is cast out.” With that clear, succinct statement, Wesley acknowledges what is occurring is actually deliverance.
Wesley also often used an image of the sword of the Spirit ‘wounding and healing’ the sinner. One was “struck through, as with a sword, and fell trembling to the ground” (Journal, July 19, 1759). As Wesley would preach, “God was present, both to wound and to heal” (Journal, July 30, 1739). Wound sin and Satan! Heal the soul! The imagery is graphic and violent but appropriate for a battle account.
In his letter to the Bishop of Gloucester, Wesley quotes the Bishop, who is quoting Wesley recounting an instance of a “mass deliverance” during Wesley’s preaching. ‘Mass deliverance’ was a phenomenon that frequently occurred during Wesley’s field preaching: “those who had lately cried out aloud during the preaching. I found this had come upon every one of them in a moment, without any previous notice. In that moment they dropped down, lost all their strength, and were seized with a violent pain. Some said they felt as if a sword were running through them; others, as if their whole body was tearing to pieces. These symptoms I can no more impute to any natural cause, than to the Spirit of God. I make no doubt it was Satan tearing them as they were coming to Christ.”
Wesley speaks directly: “Those outward symptoms which I had met with before, bodily agitations in particular, I did not ascribe to the Spirit of God, but to the natural union of soul and body. And those symptoms which I now ascribe to the devil, I never ascribed to any other cause.”
Wesley’s commentary on the violent dynamics of being thunderstruck suggests that the Spirit of God works conviction through the preached word. The sword of the Spirit pierces the heart and strikes the devil. The person attempts to turn to Christ in repentance. The devil violently digs his clutches into the heart of the person, desperately attempting to maintain his stronghold. Since the body is connected to the soul, in Wesley’s view, there are collateral effects in the body. The person shrieks in pain, cries out, loses balance, and drops to the ground while shuddering, until eventually they are delivered.
While Wesley witnessed deliverance through preaching and repentance, he also witnessed deliverance through other ordinary means of grace, such as prayer and worship. In a journal entry for October 1, 1763, Wesley records a powerful four-and-a-half-hour deliverance session that ended with a woman being set free through corporate prayer and singing. For years, the woman was haunted by a demon that tormented and tempted her to kill her father and herself. She unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide on several occasions. She would often throw raging, violent fits until her brother had her fitted for a “strait waistcoat” that meticulously bound her limbs together and to her bed. Nonetheless, with uncanny strength, she often broke free effortlessly with a mere twisting of her limbs. Her doctor concluded that her condition was “partly natural, partly diabolical.”
One day Wesley came to visit her. He interviewed the woman. She claimed to be possessed of the devil and did not want prayer. Wesley prayed anyway. She convulsed and began to scream in agony, swearing, cursing, and blaspheming God. Wesley did not stop praying until the convulsion and screaming ceased. Two days later, he followed up. Although more lucid and able to pray, the woman still insisted that the devil was going to kill her. Wesley exhorted her to have faith and continued to intercede.
Later, Wesley led a group from 10:30 in the evening until 3:00 in the morning to pray for her deliverance. She was once again restrained and strapped to the bed. She began to roar, convulse, and “bark like a dog.” Wesley painstakingly described her demonic manifestations. Her face was grossly distorted. Her mouth stretched from one side of her face to the other, and her eyes were crossed and bulging out of the sockets. Her convulsing throat and body were swollen as if she would burst. The intercession went on into the morning. Several individuals left, unable to sustain the exhausting battle. Along with the straps of the waistcoat, four men sought to hold the woman down with all their strength (reminiscent of the Gadarene man).
The more that they prayed, the more violent she became. Suddenly, she had a vision of the tormenting demon and began to cry out to God. Then, the group felt led to worship and sing. The Spirit fell mightily. She continued to cry out for deliverance and the power to believe. Immediately, she became quiet. Wesley invited her to sing a hymn with the words,
“O Sun of Righteousness, arise With healing in the wing/ To my diseased, my fainting soul Life and salvation bring.”
At 2:30 a.m., the demon said he would kill the woman, but “instead of a tormentor, he sent a comforter. Jesus appeared to her soul and rebuked the enemy … and she mightily rejoiced in the God of her salvation,” Wesley exclaimed!
She was fully delivered, set free, and saved through the power of intercession and song. Praise God!
Peter J. Bellini is Professor of Church Renewal and Evangelization in the Heisel Chair at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of several books, including, Thunderstruck! The Deliverance Ministry of John Wesley Today. This adaptation is taken from that book by permission. It is available through Amazon. Photo: John Wesley statue outside Wesley Church in Melbourne, Australia. It was sculpted by the British sculptor Paul Raphael Montford in 1935. Photo: public domain.
“Beyond These Walls” Propels Missions —
By Lindsey Corley and Steve Beard —
“I believe God is doing a new thing, and I want to be a part of that new thing,” proclaimed the Rev. Dr. Jerry Kulah of Liberia during his opening plenary address at the “Beyond These Walls” missions conference in late April. “And I trust that you, too, can be a part of it, in Jesus’ name…”
Kulah serves as Dean of the Bishop Innis Graduate School of Theology, and Vice President for Graduate and Professional Studies at the United Methodist University in Monrovia, Liberia.
With more than 600 participants from the United States, Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America, the event was held at The Woodlands Methodist Church outside of Houston. The primary sponsor of the event was The Global Methodist Church – with more than a dozen mission agencies also supporting the event.
In his address, Kulah recalled the final words of John Wesley before his death on March, 2, 1791. Surrounded by friends and family and having completed his mission here on Earth, Wesley stated, “the best of all, God is with us.”
“As I reflected upon John Wesley’s parting words, I became deeply motivated,” said Kulah. “One of my motivations for speaking here tonight is the fact that despite all that the church of Jesus Christ has gone through, is going through, and may go through, God is with us.”
Kulah challenged the assembly: “Our task is to take the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ beyond the walls of the local church to our Jerusalem, our Judea, our Samaria, and to the ends of the earth… We do this so that every tribe, every language, every people group, every race, every color, every creed, every social or cultural background, every gender might hear the word of God and have an opportunity to say yes to Jesus.”
With worship led by Mark Swayze – known for his leadership at New Room events – and other musicians from The Woodlands congregation, the globally-focused conference included a series of talks and workshops that dealt with subjects as diverse as evangelism, church planting, discipleship, and community development from international practitioners.
In his keynote sermon, the Rev. Dr. David Platt taught on the scene in the gospel of Mark when Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers and those selling offerings and accuses them of being a den of robbers. Despite the activity surrounding the temple, Platt pointed out, the people were missing the fear, reverence, and awe of God.
A nationally-known pastor in metro Washington, D.C., Platt earned his Ph.D. at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Radical, Something Needs to Change, and Don’t Hold Back.
Platt pointed out that there are many similarities to what Christian believers face today and the scene with the money changers. “They had people, the Word, worship, and religious activity… Is it possible for us to have all of these things, and miss the point? Is it possible for us, like them, to have all these things and miss God?” Answering his own question, he said, “Absolutely, it is.”
Platt challenged the assembly to keep an eye on God. “For people who gather every week before the holy, holy, holy God of the universe, could it be that we’re missing fear and reverence and awe before God?” He declared that “the call today is not to get all the nations to come to a temple. We are the temple. We have the Holy Spirit. It’s not nations come to the temple; it’s temples go to the nations.”
Seminars dealt with numerous topics: “The Relationship Between Wesleyan Theology and Mission,” “Moving Into the City and Serving the Urban Poor,” “Holistic Economic And Community Development,” “Wesleyan Discipleship,” “How You Can Make a Mission Trip More than A Bucket List Experience,” “A Wesleyan Understanding of Evangelism,” “How to Raise Up Great Mission Leaders in Your Congregation,” and “Medical Mission and Christian Ministry Integration.”
In her closing address, Danielle Strickland focused on the way that God utilized women in unexpected ways in the ministry of Paul in the Book of Acts and to expose injustice and oppression. Paul’s casting a demon out of the slave girl disrupted the status quo of the culture – “These men are Jews and are throwing our city into an uproar” (16:20) – and resulted in Paul’s imprisonment.
“When Paul sacrifices himself, when Paul sacrifices the success even of the gospel,” Strickland said, “when Paul sacrifices his life and his freedom, when Paul willingly gives up his life for an enemy – for a slave girl – you are witnessing the power of God.”
Based in Toronto, Strickland has truly made the world her parish. In addition to her preaching ministry, she has endeavored to combat global human-trafficking. Her podcast has a global audience and her latest book is entitled Better Together: How Women and Men Can Heal the Divide and Work Together to Transform the Future.
Strickland spoke about the need for disruption. She said that we need to be willing to go into a situation with nothing but the gospel to offer and be open to the unexpected. That same power that Paul utilized to cast out the demon, she said, is “a power that is fueled by love. And love is demonstrated by giving our lives, using our power and privilege in solidarity … placing people over every other aim.”
Strickland concluded her time by leading the assembly in a time of confession and honesty before God. She encouraged the participants to pray aloud for God to open their hands and lives in a “posture of surrender and generosity.”
“That’s what the world’s longing for,” she said. “Would we be open? Would we be open? Would we be open?”
Hearing and responding to the call to world missions was one of the motivating factors behind the “Beyond These Walls” event.
“The conference was just a taste of what the Global Methodist Church aspires to be,” said Cara Nicklas, Chairwoman of the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council. “The blend of different languages, cultures, and the challenging speakers made this one of those conferences that will continue to pierce our hearts and fire our imaginations for years to come.”
Lindsey Corley is the editorial assistant at Good News. Steve Beard is the editor of Good News. Photo: The Rev. Dr. Jerry Kulah preaches the opening plenary sermon at the “Beyond These Walls” missions event held at The Woodlands Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas. Photo by Justin Owens, Media Manager, International Leadership Institute.
Young People Drive Church Growth in Kyrgyzstan —
By Tim Tanton, KARA-BALTA, Kyrgyzstan (UM News) —
A mighty sound emanates from the small sanctuary where about 60 people, mostly youth and young adults, are praising God. They are packed shoulder-to-shoulder, lifting their voices exuberantly to the beat of a praise band.
The Holy Spirit is in this place, and songs will be sung, testimonies shared and a sermon preached over the course of the next two hours. The one-story building is home to the largest United Methodist congregation in Kyrgyzstan. Towering next to it is the frame for a two-story structure that will accommodate 200 or more people for worship on Sundays when it is complete in the fall.
For Alex Kutsov, 21, Livespring United Methodist Church in Kara-Balta is more than a place to worship.
“It’s my family,” he says. “… I love this church. I see every day how God blesses me and my family in this church.” He has been involved since childhood and plays drums in the worship band. “It is my service and my calling,” he says.
About 60 to 70 people are meeting at Livespring United Methodist Church, says the Rev. Artyom Golov, pastor. While the congregation is age diverse, at least half of the members are young people.
After the worship service, Kutsov and about 70 other young people from the church and community will drive to the nearby mountains to go sliding in the snow, sitting on empty pet food bags and other slick-surfaced items. Then they will grill chicken over a charcoal fire, hear a faith-sharing message, and continue the fun with archery and shooting.
The United Methodist Church is growing in Kyrgyzstan largely through its emphasis on young people. The denomination has six congregations in the Central Asian country, and it operates or ecumenically supports other ministries, such as a residence home for young men leaving orphanages, sports clubs and a computer club, and a gym where young people can work out and hear about faith.
Combined with six congregations in neighboring Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyzstan churches form the Central Asia District, overseen by the Rev. Dmitrii Lysin. The 12 churches and Bible groups comprise about 280 members. A visitor gets a sense of close-knit community among the members, as well as the spirit of a growing movement.
“All of our churches in Eurasia started after 1990,” says Bishop Eduard Khegay, whose Eurasia Episcopal Area includes Central Asia.
The churches do much with limited resources, in some cases even using their sanctuaries as dining areas, and members are hands-on when it comes to improving their space.
At Kainda United Methodist Church, for example, Lysin’s handiwork is evident in pews that he has worked on, as well as electrical wiring and even a refurbished billiards table. Villagers were puzzled by his decision to plant grass instead of potatoes in the church yard, but he had a bigger vision for providing recreational space for young people. He brings creative ideas to his work, having started a magazine for the district three years ago and now working on obtaining equipment for doing videos and podcasts featuring Methodist pastors.
Government rules limit the churches’ ability to share the gospel with local people and invite them to worship. “This is a Muslim culture,” Lysin says. Proselytizing is discouraged. “This is very hard.”
However, they can invite people to youth camps and other activities, and those interactions provide a foundation for building relationships. An annual English forum draws about 70 people and usually results in two or three baptisms, Lysin says. It’s like an evangelical camp, and nonbelievers are invited.
The church also holds seminars for Christian youth in the conference and three to four other camps for nonbelievers that attract about 120 people. A person can attend a camp and form relationships, and over time they may decide to attend a church service.
Lysin says that he came into the church through one of the camps 15 years ago. He and his wife, Elena, are first-generation Christians, as are the other members at Kainda United Methodist Church, he says.
The church has about 20 adults and 20 children on average, with more on holidays, says Elena Lysina, who helps lead the church and also works as a physical education teacher.
Kainda United Methodist Church grew out of an outreach to kids several years ago. Fyodor Seriakov, a lay person with a passion for youth ministry, began hosting gatherings of young people, many of whom came from difficult family situations. He gathered them for social and recreational activities, and the gatherings led to the start of church meetings.
Three of those young people are now adult members of the Kainda church women’s group, which Elena convened on a recent Saturday. Gathered in a semicircle, the women discuss prayer concerns and joys as well as relate news of their families.
The church’s work is generating favorable buzz in the community. It had once received negative feedback about being a sect, but now people are saying it’s a positive place and good for kids, says Olga Solomkina, a women’s group member. “We are really confident that God is helping us and that God is on our side,” she says.
“We have a very good church,” she adds. She is grateful for Dmitrii and Elena because they attract a lot of young people, many of whom have nowhere to go.
In nearby Bishkek, Anton Sharopin and his wife, Nadiya Sharopina, provide a ministry for young people who similarly have nowhere to go. Their program is for young men ages 18 to 23 who have left orphanages and need somewhere to stay as they transition into society. Most of the men come through referrals and, typically, a young person will stay for a year.
Last year, the couple hosted 11 kids, the maximum number they can accommodate in three rooms with bunk beds. Not all of the residents behaved ethically, and things were stolen, Sharopin says.
The men don’t have skills to live in society, he says, explaining that the orphanage system leaves them helpless because everything is done for them. Nadiya Sharopina says the young men need training to change their linens, take showers and even to read and write. Socialization is also an important part of the program.
“We do birthday parties for them,” she says. “We gather together and teach them how to wish each other well and sing a song.”
Sharopin says he and Nadiya don’t force them to go to church, but they give them Christ and hope they find a church.
Setting an example by faith is a common theme among pastors and leaders in the church in Kyrgyzstan. With the government restrictions, Lysin says he tries to witness through how he lives. He says people can see his life and he can tell them, “This is my faith.”
The personal witness can be powerful. Many church members and pastors share stories of transformative experiences that have become part of their witness to others.
Golov dedicated his life to God when he was 17. He had finished 11th grade and was working in an ice-cream factory when he nearly suffered an on-the-job injury. He was helping move iron gates and saw that one of the large gates was falling on top of him. He felt that he was pulled back by a strong hand, but when he looked back, he didn’t see anyone. The next day, he fell sick for a month and spent much of the time thinking about what had happened. One evening, as he was praying, he saw a light with mist fill his room.
He heard a voice filling his body: “Artyom, your life [was] finished that day. You must serve me.”
“I will,” Artyom replied. “I don’t know how, but I will.” The next day, he was healed, he says.
He went on to become a teacher — he teaches astronomy and geography at a nearby Christian school — and answered the call to ministry in 2009. He and his wife, Amina Golova, have a multifaceted ministry that includes not only working with young people but also helping teen girls in need. Amina herself was raised in a children’s home and came to Christ at age 16.
“I never dreamed to be a pastor,” Golov says. But, he says, “always in my heart, I want to serve God. I have in my heart a calling from God. … I can be a light here.”
Golov inspired Seriakov to pursue ministry with young people. Now 36, Seriakov has been working with young people for 18 years. He realized that if kids serve in church, they stay in church, and if they stay in church, they will love the church, he says.
It has not always been easy. Seriakov has been physically threatened for his work with young people, and at one point he had to meet with government officials in response to a complaint by a Muslim policeman who was upset about his son’s involvement in the church. But he says God has given him a heart for youth. “I really love to evangelize,” he says.
That is a calling that resonates with others also, such as Max Abramov, a young adult and leader at Kara-Balta United Methodist Church.
“I really love this church,” he says. “I love my pastor, brothers, sisters, every person here.”
He wants to work with young people, who account for half or more of the people in the church.
“I want young people to really love God and go after Him, go after Jesus,” Abramov says. “I want young people to dedicate their life to Jesus.”
Tim Tanton is chief news officer of United Methodist Communications and director of UM News. Photo: Eugenia Tachieva (left) and Irina Tachieva raise their hands in praise during worship at Livespring United Methodist Church in Kara-Balta, Kyrgyzstan. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
Praying for Camels —
By Jenifer Jones —
For a couple of TMS Global cross-cultural witnesses (CCWs), part of ministry includes praying for camels – by name.
Richard Brown* and his wife Pam* serve an area of North Africa that hasn’t had much exposure to the gospel. At least not for the past 1,000 years or so.
This part of the world is home to Bedouin tribes. These nomadic people groups have traditionally viewed camels as a cornerstone of their way of life.
Richard Brown says a colleague with a Bedouin background told him, “Anything of value in nomadic communities must come on the back of a camel. If the gospel does not come on the back of a camel, our people see it as something foreign and Western. It has no value because it does not belong to their culture.”
So a couple of years ago, Brown and his team launched a camel ministry. We helped people who had previously been nomad herders for the wealthy and ruling class to purchase their own camels. We helped them to establish small scale trading among the nomads.
This year six people have come to faith in Christ through camel evangelism.
Camel trading is an important part of Bedouin society. Camel evangelists travel as part of a caravan and connect with specific communities repeatedly. Because they now own their own camels, these Christ followers can determine where they go and who they communicate with on their own schedule. They pray for collective conversion. They want to see groups of people come to faith in Christ at the same time.
In Bedouin society, collective identity is vitally important. If a person comes to faith in Christ, he or she may be the only person in their family, clan, or community who is following Jesus.
“To be the only one is a frightful, frightful thing,” Brown says.
Loss of family and identity aren’t the only challenges for people in this region. Following Christ can also lead to prison or death.
“Right up front, we share the cost,” Brown says. “This can cost you your life.”
But in the gospel, Brown says, Bedouins are seeing an alternative hope for their people – and a means of bringing reconciliation and grace.
“Years ago I met a chief who told me his previous faith had no resources to bring peace to his people,” Brown says. “It was his search for a source of reconciliation and peace that led him to faith in Christ and embracing the gospel. He now functions as an evangelical pastor in his own community. Because in the gospel, he found resources for peace and reconciliation.”
Brown says people in this region may also see the gospel as a point of connection with who their people used to be, many centuries ago. After all, the great Christian theologian of the early Church, Augustine, was born in North Africa and served there.
Because of security issues Brown and his teammates cannot name the evangelists bringing the gospel on the backs of camels. But they can share the names of the camels.
“We circulate the names and images to connect our people with prayer,” Brown says.
We encourage you to pray for the people of North Africa, that they would come to know Jesus as Lord. And even though, for security reasons, Brown can’t give us names of people to pray for, he can give us the names of camels. Consider praying for The Traveler, The Gazelle, and The Rocket. Pray for protection and boldness for their riders, and that the Bedouin people would be receptive to the message the camels carry.
Jenifer Jones is a communicator for TMS Global (tms-global.org).
* Pseudonyms are used for security reasons. Photo: Camel in Merzouga, Morocco. Photo by Megan Schultz (Unsplash.com).
The God Who Sews —
By BJ Funk —
God just made creation, gives man the opportunity to name all of the animals, places restrictions on which tree was prohibited for food, and watches Adam and his wife attempting to cover their naked bodies with makeshift clothes. Leaf clothes using leaves that started to die before Adam’s sin hit the front page of Eden’s Times.
Then God comes down. “Where are you?” God calls, more for the couple’s admission of disobedience than for their actual place in the garden. Adam admits his fear because he disobeyed their Creator. He feels guilt and embarrassment and ushers in mankind’s response to shame.
“The woman you put here with me – she gave it to me, and I ate.” God turned to the woman. “What have you done?” She follows Adam’s answer and blames the serpent. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Quickly God gives his penalty to the snake, the woman, and the man. We’re only into the third chapter of the first book in the Bible, and God’s plan for mankind is thwarted. He offers them grace on a silver platter; they offer him a paper plate carrying dead leaves that cover fruit seeds they had just spit out of their mouths.
His heart feels a short current of pain as he thought of the many roads in front of his children. He knows Satan will pounce on them again. His plan – his perfect plan – is that this first family stay in the Garden and enjoy its beauty forever. The rest of us would inherit the same. That won’t work now.
He calls his Son to join him. Sitting down at the edge of a bubbling spring, God kills an animal. Maybe a pig, goat, or a sheep. As the blood runs, God says to his Son somberly, “Remember this day. This is the first day of sacrifice. Blood will form the basis for the forgiveness of sin. And, as you already know, our ultimate plan calls for the shedding of your blood. The final sacrifice.”
As the blood flows, God takes out his needle and thread and makes new coverings for Adam and Eve. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). These coverings are so much better. Adam and Eve almost forget they are being punished as they admire God’s handwork.
Centuries pass. Psalms are written, and one in particular dances out of the pages of history prompting God to pick up his knitting needles. This psalm lets us know that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-seeing. He gives each of us a wrapped gift when we are born. It says, “I will always be for you. I will never be against you.”
“You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). Not only does God choose the shape of your nose and the height of your body. He also decides your smile, your hair color, and the placement of your organs. Then he grabs a stapler and connects a tag under your skin. Your expiration date. We all come into the world with one. No one can read that date but God.
“Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).
Next, he staples a valentine to your heart with the words, “I’m yours. Will you be mine?” That’s all God ever wanted – to be close to you. To have an intimate walk of love with you. For you to call on him and take him into your daily life. To present you with the greatest gift he has, that of allowing you to know him.
Verses 1-4 of Psalm 139 paint a picture of an intimacy you never imagined. If you stand up, he knows. When you sit, he knows. He even knows when you go out and when you lie down. He knows what you are thinking.
Our mighty God who sews wants to live inside your heart. And if you mess up really badly, he will make a new covering for you.
Oh wait. He already has. Jesus Christ, your covering and mine when we decide to taste the fruit from the forbidden tree.
B.J. Funk is Good News’ long-time devotional columnist and author of It’s A Good Day for Grace, available on Amazon. Photo: Pexels.