The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff- they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long. Psalm 23
Friends, we wish you joy and hope in this season of Advent!
I (Rich) taught my last class sessions for two different courses this past week. One course, “Fundraising”, was for a group of ten NGO leaders and Pastors, mostly from Sri Lanka, who are nearly finished with their MA in Organizational Development from Lanka Bible College. The other course, “Mission in a time of COVID: Biblical Resources and Contemporary Models in a Time of Chaotic Change,” was for a group of 11 Biblical studies students at Alpha Omega International College in Malaysia. While I knew the passage would be familiar to them, I ended the teaching for each class with the same Bible study, a look at Psalm 23 and John 10, and a meditation on the Good Shepherd and his abundant provision and selfless protection of us, his sheep. We also discussed what we must do to be good shepherds. The upshot of the reflection was that one cannot be a good shepherd if one does not have a good shepherd.
Especially when we are talking to people about funding our ministry, or when we are considering our leadership choices in a time of resource constraints and planning uncertainty, we must cultivate contentment as sheep in the flock of our Lord, the Good Shepherd, letting his wise leadership guide us in right paths, and his rod and staff protect us from harm. We were especially struck as we pondered John 10 that when we are not contented sheep in the provision of our Lord, we will be tempted to act as “a thief” who sees those they lead as sources of their own provision, as fodder or funds for their ministry, rather than as God’s sheep, precious to him and worthy of our care. If we do not know the protection of the Lord as the good shepherd, then in the chaos and scarcity of the present we will look out for ourselves first. We will flee conflict, struggle, or suffering to protect ourselves. These are tempting for anyone in ministry, indeed for all of us, the more so during a time of chaotic change and uncertainty.
We arrived back in the US a few weeks ago to have some time with our family (kids and Lisa’s mom) in North Carolina. We returned sooner than we’d planned, since an event in Ukraine was postponed due to rising COVID cases and more stringent health measures put in place. With no further in-person ministry to do in Ukraine, we (once again) changed our flight plans and flew back to the US. It has been a sweet time with family, and a good setting for us both to wrap up a few courses, and for Lisa to continue work on her book.
We have wanted to write an update detailing a retrospective on our year, especially our fall in Eastern Europe, and to tell you of our upcoming plans. But every few days those plans seem to shift, with the new Omicron variant news, and shifting government policies closing down what once was opening up. This of course reminds us that we are not really able to plan with certainty—only to consider possibilities and trust that God will open doors he wants us to walk through when the time comes. (This has been something of a refrain of our recent letters.)
We will be in California for a couple weeks, then in January we might be flying to Malaysia, or Hong Kong, or Thailand, or none of the above, depending on how things evolve in those countries and their readiness to welcome us to their shores. I have an in-person teaching invitation in Ukraine toward the end of January, to which I had hoped to fly from Malaysia, but of course even the Ukraine trip seems a little uncertain given that that country is facing war cries and threats from Putin’s Russia, and the war (that never stopped since 2014) is looking like it might enter a new hotter phase early next year. Please join us in holding Ukraine in your prayers.
As we remind ourselves often, our inconvenient closed doors and plan-shifting don’t to the real suffering of our brothers and sisters all over the world, even in the countries in which we are teaching, live or via Zoom. We are precious sheep in the flock of the Lord, and he has provided and continues to provide us green pastures, still waters, good ministry to do, partners to sustain us, and guidance via open and closed doors. Please join us in looking to the Lord, the shepherd of our souls and sustainer of our ministry.
Eager to Hear More?
If you would like to read more (and see more photos) about our recent ministry in Eastern Europe, we invite you to read what our partners are telling others about my visits:
We continue to entertain the bold hope that we might be able to enter Malaysia on a 90-day tourist visa as soon as mid-January. This lane just opened in early November, seemed to slam shut with Omicron, and has now (today) been re-opened. The news changes almost daily, so we are holding off on purchasing tickets, researching housing, etc. Our partners there are working on a longer-term visa, which could be months away, so we would gladly take this 90-day option as a start. Please pray that if the timing is (finally) right, we would be able to enter and serve alongside our partners there more effectively.
Lisa has valiantly fit her writing into the cracks of ministry and travel for several months. Please pray for Lisa as she brings it to a close and sends it to her publisher soon, in the midst of our travel and uncertainties. She hopes this book will be a gift to pastors as they rebuild after a hard season.
Thank you for your faithful friendship and partnership in the gospel. We always enjoy hearing back from you and look forward to Christmas family newsletters and photos, which of course we appreciate especially when it comes electronically, though we are set up to receive them physically as well.
With Love and gratitude,
Rich and Lisa
With staff, Ukrainian students and 3 international students in Lviv, after a weekend studying the book of Habakkuk Nov 5-6, 2021.
I (Rich) love doing what I do every day, which is study the BIble with people who are committed to allowing it to challenge them, and to applying it to their lives. In general my routine is sprinkled with a lot of non-formal teaching and training (ie, not-for-credit teaching of staff and pastors and lay leaders in non-formal settings). This year, I have met regularly with three groups of pastors and one group of lay women leaders in India, as well as campus ministry staff in Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia and Moldova all via Zoom. These weekly meetings have formed a consistent backbone to my calendar, keeping me busy roughly 10-15 hours week. On top of these regular commitments, I have taught a number of courses for institutions in Malaysia, Nepal, India, and China, which of course has required some preparation (syllabus and curriculum) as well as some grading, on top of the teaching. My teaching almost always follows the same model, using Scripture inductively to help people understand ministry and leadership principles, usually from the Sketches of Leadership materials I have developed over the years and in the last year especially.
Formal Courses I Am Teaching (Click to download a sample syllabus)
Biblical Leadership Development: This course is designed to give a general introduction the topic of leadership, in general and Christian leadership in particular, making wide use of Scriptural case studies and didactic teaching from both Old and New Testaments. The course will model the use of scripture in leadership development, specifically in skills and character training and discipleship, and in ministry vision, equipping and empowerment. (Three times in 2020-21)
Gospels Survey: Ministry Insights from Jesus: This course is designed to give a general introduction to the life and teachings of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, and to focus that study toward practical insights for evangelism and discipleship ministry today. We will read the gospels with a view to understanding: comparing and contrasting the style, structure, and purpose of each of the gospels writers. Significantly, however, we will also be focused on mining the gospels for direct applications to the preaching, teaching, training, discipleship and evangelistic strategies of leaders today. The course will model the use of scripture study as a source of insight into ministry, specifically in skills and character training and discipleship, and in ministry vision, equipping and empowerment. (Three times in 2021)
Mission Amidst the Covid-19 Crisis: Biblical Resources and Contemporary Models for a Time of Chaotic Change: This course is designed to look at Biblical stories of renewal and revival, from the time of the Kings of Israel to the post-exilic narratives, when the people of God experienced tremendous external forces imposing change, or when God’s leaders were raised up to help the people of God respond to crises with resilience and fortitude. We will draw general principles for the leadership of God’s people in times of crisis, but also specifically apply these principles to the context of the church today impacted as it is by the COVID-19 pandemic. We will look Paul’s “Plan B” ministry activity in the book of Acts, and at contemporary models that can help the church retain and advance its evangelism and discipleship mandate and mission. The course will model the use of scripture study as a source of insight into ministry, specifically in discipleship, ministry vision, equipping and empowerment, organizational development and change. (Twice in 2021)
Fundraising: This course will provide students with new skills and increase their confidence in fundraising for their ministry or organization. Using the examples of Moses, David and the Apostle Paul, provides a biblical foundation for fundraising together with a biblical view of stewardship. The course will equip students with a practical approach for developing funds from local sources, including the development of a “Case for Support”, which can be used to share funding needs in a variety of contexts. Although recognizing that funding from western charitable foundations is increasingly difficult to obtain, the course will also enable students to develop funding proposals specifically for foundations. (2021)
The New Testament in Focus (Mark): (Co-taught with Lisa). This course engages in depth with particular Mark passages, as well as to explore the themes and unique emphases of Mark as a whole. (2021)
Work, Money and MIssion: This course is designed to look at Biblical passages covering the headline topics of work, money and mission. We will build a Biblical theology of work and money using passages from Genesis to the Gospels and Paul’s letters We will build . The course will model the use of scripture study as a source of insight into ministry, specifically in discipleship, ministry vision, equipping and empowerment, organizational development and change. (January 2022)
The Ministry of Mentoring: This course approaches the art of mentoring from a leadership development perspective, and is based on biblical role models and principles. Its aim is to provide clarity around different kinds of mentoring relationships, and an opportunity to develop essential competencies and characteristics of an effective Christ-like Mentor. It also addresses the role of the Mentee in seeking to become the Christ-like leader God designed them to be. The course covers autobiographical writing, listening and questioning skills as well as ways to give effective feedback. Building on these essential competencies, the material outlines the process for a mentoring relationship and suggests both spiritual and pedagogical preparation. Finally, a framework for establishing a formal mentoring program within an organization is provided. (February 2022)
Paul’s Prison Epistles: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, Philemon: This course is designed to give a general introduction to the life and writing of the Apostle Paul as found in the letters to the churches in Ephesus, Colosse, and Philippi, and the pastoral letter written to Philemon. We will read these texts with a view to understanding: comparing and contrasting the style, structure, and purpose of each of the these texts. Significantly, however, we will also be focused on mining these texts for direct applications to the preaching, teaching, training, discipleship and evangelistic strategies of leaders today. The course will model the use of scripture study as a source of insight into ministry, specifically in skills and character training and discipleship, and in ministry vision, equipping and empowerment. (May 2022).
Rich and Lisa Lamb