“So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Mark 13:29-32
Dear Friends, We have now been back in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for almost 6 weeks. We are grateful to be here and able to teach for St. Paul’s Theological College. I (Rich) am also teaching a course for another school here and a leader training program in China. I am also teaching in various settings in India, and would like to share about a striking session last night (Saturday).
I have been going through Mark with one group of pastors and church planters in the state of Odisha, India. Lisa and I visited them in early July during our time in India, and now I am back to weekly Zoom sessions with them. Last night, we were looking at “The Little Apocalypse,” Mark 13. It is a widely misunderstood passage, as the question he is answering for most of the chapter is “When will the temple be destroyed, and what will be the signs?” But during his answer, he says things like, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.” So of course, it is easy to take this as language describing the end of time. But, in context, with some Biblical background and understanding, Jesus is using apocalyptic language. Strip that away, and Jesus is saying “during those days, after the suffering [of the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD], the temple will be destroyed. The Jewish establishment’s verdict of “blasphemy!” will be overturned, as the Son of Man goes before God to receive divine authority.” (If you would like more background and insights about this passage, please consider reading my Sketch 107, “Birth Pangs and Death Throes”.)
So, Jesus was not answering the question, “When will the world end?” He does bring up the topic, when he says (13:31), “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” But of the timing for the end of time he knows nothing because not even he knows when it will come. Jesus only mentions the end of time to stress that everything that we see on this planet is less durable than are the words and promises of Jesus. The words of Jesus—they are what is solid, not buildings, or organizations, or even governments and nations.
As we neared the end of the Bible study last night, I mentioned hearing many Christian leaders and authors interpreting the “signs of the times” indicating that we are in the final days, and that this or that political leader was going to usher in the age of the anti-Christ, the rapture, the final battle and end of time. I wondered aloud if they were familiar with similar leaders coming along with prophecies about the end of the age. They all quickly agreed that they too had heard similar prophecies, and they mentioned specific dates and signs that had been given. But Jesus is clear about the difference between “those days” and his extensive knowledge about the timing and signs of the destruction of the temple, and “that day” of which he has no knowledge (and no signs to be given); in fact only the Father knows.
But my point in the class, and in fact a meta-point in all the teaching I do, is that Jesus’ words are reliable, as is seen when you see all the prophecies in Mark 13 in light of the 40 years after the death of Jesus, culminating in the destruction of the temple, within one generation of his prediction. As he says, when we see these things having taken place just as he said, we can see that he is “near, at the very gates,” that he is in control and his words did indeed come to pass.
Jesus’ words are unshakable, and they, beyond all else, will endure. Building a life, a ministry, a family, a church, or a legacy on the words of Jesus is the only thing that will ultimately last, because any other foundation will one day pass away. Currently I am Zoom teaching 3 weekly groups in Orissa state, 2 in Tamil Nadu, one group of IFES-India student ministry staff, 2 groups of women leaders in Madya Pradesh, and one group in Maharashtra, with new groups starting up next month as well. My goal with each of the 20 hours per week I spend leading Bible studies with pastors, seminarians, and student ministry workers in India, Malaysia and China is to help them build this kind of lasting ministry, with rock solid confidence in the word of God and the promises of Jesus.
I share this story as a small glimpse of what I love about what I do: the pastors and students learn about particular passages but they also gain confidence in the insights we find there together. Greater confidence in God’s word and Jesus’ timeless promises yields fruit as they then teach and train others. It is immensely satisfying work, as you all know if you have led others into life-giving Bible study.
We have less than 2 months here before we must leave Malaysia, as we are still on 90-day tourist visas. Please pray for God to open doors for us to be able to stay long-term here, as we continue to see many opportunities for us to invest here and elsewhere in Asia, but cannot fully make plans until we settle our visa problem.
We are so thankful for your prayers for us throughout our seven weeks in India. It was an unforgettable journey—we learned so much and we felt sustained, protected, and blessed. As we return to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, our hearts are full. I (Lisa) will offer a summary of our last four weeks since our previous letter, but first a few general reflections. Apologies for the length! Please do not post or share this. The photo above is from a gathering of IFES graduates (and their families) in Bhopal. It is always great to be together with IFES staff and alumni; we feel immediate close kinship with them! More photos on our website.
We enjoyed our time in this bustling city very much. Rich had begun teaching a leadership class weekly via Zoom for a seminary there; he taught it daily the week we were there. Lisa taught an Advanced Homiletics seminar each day. We also both preached for their chapel and had many long talks with faculty and students. They were thoughtful and sharp. Their residential model for both students and faculty creates a strong and nurturing community. Students work for 45 minutes each weekday afternoon as part of how they pay for their education. This work time is sometimes followed by a lively cricket match, with students and faculty joining in! We left very impressed with the vision and mission of this school, and aware that their aging buildings need replacement.
We won’t mention the name of the city to which we traveled next, and sadly not share photos, because we worked there with a ministry that can meet with resistance from the government and from its community. A good friend from the US has been serving this very poor area, working primarily with women who now follow Jesus but remain culturally Muslim or Hindu. He and an Indian leader on the ground there have trained these women to be essentially social workers. They walk even poorer women through processes like getting birth certificates, so they can access government funds they had not been aware of. They also offer literacy classes and create small lending groups that fund micro-enterprises for themselves and their husbands; this has lifted them, if not out of poverty, up to a level where they are keeping their kids in school longer, accessing cleaner water, and feeling great pride in their work.
Along with poverty alleviation efforts, these women have been learning to retell Bible stories to their families and neighbors. Rich has been leading them through his biblical leadership materials via Zoom for nearly two years, and they have become very dear to him (which seemed quite mutual) so it was a huge joy for him and for them to finally meet. For three days, about thirty of them sat on a concrete floor with a thin rug (we joined them as our knees allowed), while we worked together through several more narrative passages of Scripture, with Lisa offering a workshop on storytelling skills. As each session ended, they took several moments to share eagerly how the stories connected with their lives. It was remarkable what they clued into in Scripture and how different their points of connection were from the typical ones we might expect in a Western context.
In Bangalore, we were frankly grateful for a little less intense pace, so we could catch up on grading for Malaysia classes and other details. We are primarily there at the invitation of a dear friend, Tim Shah, who is doing important work to bolster religious freedom globally. We’re taught several sessions at Southern Asia Bible College and preached and taught in a few other settings. We were delighted to spend time with Tim and his wife, Becky, and her parents, Vinay and Colleen Samuel, who have been serving Bangalore, India, and the global church in innovative and courageous ways for decades.
Our final week proved the most challenging for me. Our host began a Bible College just last year with a vision to educate pastors who may not even have completed high school. Its first class is just 20 or so students. The final day, each one shared his or her testimony with us. Some were quite harrowing, such as drug addiction at age 10. The challenge of the week for me was the long car rides to rural areas on three different days to train pastors there. The windy roads and potholes exacerbated the low-level tummy troubles I’ve had the whole journey. Still, we were so impressed with the vision of this young school.
Back to Kuala Lumpur! Tomorrow, August 18, we will return to KL, just in time for “Induction Day” for the new class of students at SPTC, with courses beginning the next week. We are looking forward to being there, and we feel hopeful that a long-term visa solution is in the works.
Whew! If you read to the end, thank you for your interest! If you jumped to here, we get it.
Prayer Requests as we return to KL:
After a day training for pastors and spouses. The extended family of Pastor Steven, after the end of a long
day of training for pastors and lay leaders hosted in his home.
Our first week, in Delhi, we had few expectations in terms of ministry. We simply hoped to adjust to the time zone, climate, and culture, while teaching final class sessions for courses in Malaysia and continuing a few other non-formal courses in China and India. We did have the honor of meeting two wise and inspiring men while there. Saji Easo is the General Secretary of UESI (IFES) for all of India, and he and his wife welcomed us warmly. Harsha Shringla is the former Foreign Secretary for India; he also hosted us graciously and shared many insights into India. We also learned a lot about the history of India through visits to the Red Fort and the National Museum. The week was not easy—I (Lisa) got sick, the heat and humidity were extreme, and the crowdedness of the city was challenging to navigate.
In stark contrast, our second and third weeks, ministry opportunities have abounded! We’ve been in a much more rural setting. About ten people came out to the small regional airport to greet us with hugs and choruses of “Praise the Lord!” while placing floral garlands around our necks. Rich has been teaching the pastors in Pastor S_______’s network for two years, and they were so excited to finally meet him in person, often remarking that he was much taller than they’d imagined from his little Zoom tile! Pastor S organized a three-day gathering for leaders in the area. We taught three sessions each day, in a simple church building with wavering electricity and with chickens, goats and cows grazing right outside.
On Sunday, we preached for Pastor S's church in town and then headed out to his family’s village, where we preached for his parents’ church, of which his brother was serving as pastor. This visit was so lovely. At one point it began to pour, and several ladies dashed out to bring in their laundry. I stopped preaching and shared about how that had happened to me in Thailand more than once, and we connected over that simple shared reality. I was struck by how remarkably undistracted they are, downpours aside, as they listen to sermons seated on the ground, with unbroken eye contact. After church, a grand-uncle demonstrated their village’s distinctive weaving techniques, the children showed us their art projects, and the parents showed us their wedding photo album—sweet ways they could connect with us without a lot of language in common.
On Monday we got up at 4:30 AM to visit the church of one more member of Rich’s zoom cohort, 150 miles away. We were on muddy roads for many miles of that journey, and the cows here firmly believe that the roads are theirs, which is cute at first but really slows progress. I will admit to wondering if it was worth it as we bounced through endless potholes. But again, the welcome was incredibly warm and folks were so excited that we had made the journey to be with them. The pastor had gathered his church leaders and several local pastors for a day-long seminar on leadership, and they held a special evening service where I preached. I said to Rich later, “I think that was my favorite time preaching ever.” It was mostly the sheer intentness with which listeners engaged with the sermon.
Essentially everyone wanted prayer afterwards! We each snagged a second translator and prayed for them one by one. Several people in the very rural and poor places we’ve been in the last ten days come with the complaint of feeling weak, and the sobering likelihood is that they are simply malnourished. But we’ve also heard a range of hard stories of bereavement due to Covid, infertility, etc. So, prayer is both a delight and a burden, as we can feel overwhelmed by the sufferings we hear about as we pray. But love compels us to pray boldly and hope alongside them for all for which they hope.
After another long hours drive, we are now in Nabrangpor, another small city where Rich has been teaching via Zoom. It is a mountainous region, so we are enjoying a break from the heat. The first day (Thursday) we preached for two house church gatherings, again praying for nearly everyone afterwards. Friday we had more of the same kind of meeting, including bringing a message to children in an orphanage, and several church services. We are enjoying Pastor Maher’s insights into India and stories from his own life. We have now received marigold garlands in at least five settings. We are humbled by the generosity, kindness, and warmth of our hosts here.
Next week, we head to Visakhapatnam, where Lisa will guest-teach a mini course in homiletics for a seminary cohort which essentially lost that course due to the pandemic. Rich will continue teaching a course in Biblical Leadership, meeting his Zoom students for the first time in person.
We are so grateful for your prayers for our time here. It has held much joy for us, and some challenges as well: interesting showers, internet access, incredibly spicy food among them. We ask your prayers for stamina as we continue to teach, pray, and hope for all things for those we meet.
Rich and Lisa in clothing given by our local hosts. Pastor Santosh and his wife and the door he carved. He learned this skill to help support his family while in ministry.
India is...everything! Hard to capture it in a few words; hence my looong post, an A to Z summary of our first week here:
Please pray for our journey through India! Our flight from Chicago to Delhi leaves in a few hours.
We have spent several good weeks in the US, connecting with family and old friends while still teaching multiple courses in Malaysia and India from the east coast. We are grateful for this time, and now we are eager for our time in India. My (Rich’s) connection to India began with a chance to teach the gospel of Mark in an inductive study for church planters there 13 years ago. Since then, at various times I have had to say no to invitations to return, due to the cost of the travel in time and money. So, when the pandemic forced even rural pastors to master the rudiments of Zoom, I was able to say yes to multiple opportunities to train leaders in several cities. A desire has grown to meet in person these vibrant, faithful leaders when the pandemic had receded enough for it to be safe to travel there.
Lisa has prepared four workshops for pastors and seminary students on: narrative preaching, thriving in ministry, bringing ourselves to our sermons, and ending sermons with impact. She also has written a more formal lecture for the faculty of the two seminaries we will visit, on the nature of hope and how to preach hope in difficult environments today. We will both preach several times, and she has chosen to preach on the woman who anointed Jesus with nard (possibly from India…), breaking her precious alabaster jar in a beautiful act of grateful devotion.
Our preparation has also included the lighter project of watching several Bollywood movies, some of which tell the story of India under the British Raj and some dig into modern India’s treatment of women, religious worldviews, etc. Our top recommendation is Padman, which tells the inspiring true story of the brave and persistent entrepreneur, Arunachalam Muruganantham.
As we have prepared for our trip, I have been thinking about Jesus’ words to his disciples when he sent them out in Mark 6:7-13. He sent them out with relatively little, including no extra money. We are bringing a little money to support the ministries we are coming alongside of, and we have more than one tunic apiece, though we are traveling much lighter than the last time we left the US. But we are going in faith, to teach and to pray for people. We expect to learn a great deal, to be challenged but find strength both in our hosts and in God. We desire to see and honor people, to enjoy meals in their homes, to attend to them even when they speak to us at times in languages we cannot understand, while we wait patiently for translation. Our time will not be our own, and we will seldom control what we eat. We will depend on God and his people, our brothers and sisters, people who are or will become dear to us. Finally, Jesus sent out the apostles with partners, two-by-two. We are grateful that God has sent us to India with our partner and best friend. We help, or cheer, or crack each other up daily, and together we rely on God.
A fairly ambitious itinerary has emerged, with visits to 8 cities in 7 states over seven weeks. So, we ask your prayers for health and stamina, patience and good humor between us, and God-given connections across linguistic and cultural barriers that will allow for rich fellowship and mutual encouragement.
At the end of our time in India, we will head to Malaysia, where we plan to teach in two of the schools we serve there. We are quite confident we can get a 90-or even 120-day tourist visa for this, and fairly hopeful that a long-term visa will be granted to us by early 2023.
As always, we are so grateful for your friendship and support on this journey. We would love to hear from you! Hit reply and share how we can be praying for you.
We’re grateful as always for your gifts and prayers that make our ministry possible.
With love, Lisa and Rich
Below Photo by Evgeny Nelmin on Unsplash, though cropped inartfully by me.
[This is a review of our last two years and our decision to move to Malaysia.]
Background: In 2019, after our kids were married and supporting themselves, we realized that we did not need the six figures of income we were together earning, but could take our teaching ministry to Asia by raising a (much smaller) income and living simply.
How did we decide on Asia? When I was 24 years old, just having gotten back from Urbana 84, sharing in a small group, I was answering the question, "Why aren't you planning to be an overseas missionary?" My response at the time was "I want to be in student ministry in the US when I am young, because in student ministry youth and energy is valued. When I get older I want to go to Asia, where age and wisdom are valued." It wasn't a cop out at the time--I had taken a seminary course on the church in China and had long thought about ministry in Asia, but it didn't seem to be the right time. Three years ago, when we began looking for places to go, our son was living in Hong Kong, and our daughter had just moved to Durham NC, where her husband was in school at Duke. No one lived in California, or seemed likely to do again soon. So we explored theological teaching opportunities in Asia. Lisa went to the Asian Theological Association in Singapore in 2019, where she kept meeting Malaysians, often people who had studied at Fuller Seminary and knew people she knew. Several of them suggested that Malaysia would be an easy place in Asia to come, where the teaching language is English and she could be effective right away. By early 2020, she had an invitation to join the faculty of St. Paul's Theological College. LIsa had been teaching preaching courses at Fuller since she completed her PhD in 2008, including lots of teaching in an on-line format. So when COVID delayed our entry into Malaysia, we both started receiving invitations to teach courses.
What is your vision? The vision that unites our work, Lisa's theology and homiletics teaching and my Bible studies on leadership and discipleship, is bringing leadership development and resources to emerging leaders in Asia, where the church is growing and in need of more leaders, but especially where the number of resources falls behind the need and the opportunity. Malaysia is a key place because it has populations of both ethnic Chinese believers and ethnic Indian believers, and the church is young and growing there. We are resourcing people who want to grow in their faith and who, in the course of their theological education, are given a vision for and a calling to ministry, whether in the workplace or in the church. We also have a vision, for example, to serve rural church planters who wouldn't have funds to pay for seminary in Singapore or even Malaysia or Bangalore, but could go to a Bible college in the state of Tamil Nadu where they receive three years of training even if they haven't completed a high school diploma. These are the kinds of students being touched by our ministry.
Lisa has been invited to join the community of scholars who are helping to prepare a group of Malaysian PhD candidates for theological education. She has done this as well for India and Nepal, helping to read dissertations, serve on doctoral committees, etc. I don't have the formal theological education, but I will be beginning a DMin degree in Penang, Malaysia, taking courses led by Asian faculty, focusing on ministry development in Asia. My dissertation research will focus on the challenges of bringing inductive teaching in an Asian (Chinese and Indian) church context. This I feel will both be fueled by my own experience but will help to sharpen and extend it.
How has the pandemic affected your ministry? While doors were closing to in-person ministry in Malaysia, they were opening up via technology, through Zoom teaching on-line. In the past two years Lisa and I have taught more than 20 courses at seminaries and Bible colleges in Malaysia (3), the Philippines (1), Nepal (2), India (3), Sri Lanka (1). Beyond that, I have begun teaching non-formal classes to church planters and leaders in India, with my partners translating my teaching into Hindi, Oriya, Tamil and Urdu. I have developed leadership Bible studies called Sketches of Leadership. Now there are about 150 different Sketches of Leadership, including many that have been translated into these different languages. I use these Sketches in my formal classes and in the non-formal trainings, and am currently on pace to teach between 500 and 600 Bible studies per year (10-15 per week), usually though not always one of these Sketches. The sketches are translated so that the leaders I am training can turn around and use them with the people they are training, and that is starting to happen. One of the purposes of our trip to India this summer is to extend that ministry and to deepen its impact.
I’ll be honest. I’ve never particularly liked labyrinths. I’ve walked them on a few Christian retreats, dutifully meandering my way to the center, grousing under my breath the whole way that this could clearly be done more efficiently. I’ve been sorely tempted to hop over the lines to get to the center faster. I wish I were the sort of person who thought deep thoughts and met God in profound ways while walking labyrinths, but the reality is they usually just try my patience.
However, since our lives have come to resemble a labyrinth played out over time, I have been compelled to ponder the invitations that come to holier walkers of them than me. Labyrinths invite us to savor and enjoy the journey. They compel us to cultivate patience and to trust that progress is being made even when the path involves lengthy detours. They also push us to clarify what is at the center, what our hoped-for destination is. If I define the goal of our current journey as, “getting a long-term visa to live in Malaysia,” I will view the season in which we find ourselves as a frustrating detour away from it. But, if the goal is abiding in Jesus while serving church leaders in South and South East Asia, then we are continuing to move toward that, even from our current, unexpected perch in Massachusetts. So, I will seek to practice trust, cultivate patience, and enjoy the journey. Read on for where our recent meanderings have taken us and where we hope to go.
Ninety Days in Malaysia: We are so grateful for the time we were able to be in Malaysia! We were able to have long talks over meals with colleagues with whom we’ve been working for nearly two years from a distance, and with students we’ve been teaching via Zoom. We got to know some of the amazing leaders of Alpha Asia Pacific and of Holy Trinity Bukit Bintang, the church where we worshiped in downtown Kuala Lumpur. God provided abundantly for us at every turn, from housing to health to enjoyment of Malaysia’s food. We feel much more hopeful about a path to a long-term visa, though the process will take several months. For now, we only have the 90-day tourist visa option, and we don’t know how many times we can use that. We are confident we can go once more that way, and we want to make those days count, so we are waiting to return until the start of the fall term, in mid-August.
Two Months in the US: We returned to New Mexico at the end of our visa to attend our Paraclete Mission Group biannual conference, a welcome time of fellowship and reflection. Then we headed to Durham, NC to reconnect with Lisa’s mom and our daughter and son-in-law. They hosted us generously, but both of them work from home so staying there for more than a few days doesn’t really work, since we are both teaching quite a bit. May—June is a common time for 5-week intensives in Asian schools, and between us we are teaching four of them.
Rich is teaching for Biblical Leadership for Bible College of Malaysia and Pauline Epistles for Alpha Omega International College. We are co-teaching a practical course, the Ministry Development Research Project with St. Paul’s Theological College. This course teaches students to critically evaluate a ministry as it currently exists, conduct extensive research into how it could be strengthened, read relevant literature, and reflect theologically on the process. I am teaching Homiletics for the Bible College of Malaysia. Rich continues to teach non-formal Bible courses for pastors in various parts of India.
We are so grateful for the gift of a home on the East Coast from which to do that teaching. As we said yes to several teaching commitments for this season, we prayed to be able to do so from a good time zone, not really knowing what would emerge. We love California and Californians, but 7 PM classes in Malaysia are 4 AM in CA, whereas they are a more doable 7 AM from the East Coast. So, we were delighted by the offer of generous friends to spend about five weeks in Massachusetts in their summer cottage before they spend their summer here. Mid-June, we’ll make one more visit to our North Carolina family and then head to India.
Seven Weeks in India: (June 27—August 15) As Rich has taught myriad Bible studies over the past two years, he has become more and more convinced of the value of an inductive, collaborative learning process. But he has hit an interesting impasse. He knows how to lead inductive processes, but he suspects that what is subsequently transmitted to others is the deductive distillation of what he has taught. (Sadly, his “cultural informants,” the translators and convenors of these groups, confirm his suspicions.) It is hard to overcome years of inculcation in a deductive or even rote teaching style. He believes that meta-level “training about training” in person could help these leaders to press past that barrier, equipping them to bring more transformative learning experiences to those they lead, and his partners in India are eager for this. We are also both eager to meet the men and women he has come to know and care about through many hours of shared learning online. I will prepare some sessions on inductive and narrative-based learning in preaching and on how preaching can help the church to heal as it emerges from the pandemic. We both will seek to care for and encourage leaders who are serving in very challenging circumstances. While I will admit that India has always intimidated me and that at first this idea sounded like another huge detour, God has worked in my heart a gladness for this journey, and I find myself very much looking forward to our time there.
Ukraine Update: Ukraine is like the backpack that I wear as I walk the labyrinth—of course it is nothing in weight compared to those who live there, but Rich and I do carry the suffering of dear friends there wherever we go, and its welfare is never far from our thoughts and prayers. Many of you have kindly asked about our partners there. They are all fairly safe, many having relocated to Western cities such as L’viv or Ivano-Frankivsk. We are incredibly inspired by their faithfulness, as they continue to serve the many students who have also fled west and the many internally displaced refugees who are either settling there or resting there on their way to Poland, Moldova, and elsewhere. Rich has led several Bible studies recently for the Moldova IFES team and been inspired by their tireless work on behalf of the thousands of refugees who have fled to Moldova. You can read more about the work and welfare of the Ukrainian staff team here.
Please pray for us:
We’re grateful as always for your gifts and prayers that make our ministry possible.
With love, Lisa and Rich
Students and staff at the SPTC retreat: Our first chance to meet students we had been seeing in Zoom boxes for almost two years!
I said to you, ‘You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has given the land to you; go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you; do not fear or be dismayed.’
All of you came to me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us to explore the land for us and bring back a report to us regarding the route by which we should go up and the cities we will come to.’ This plan seemed good to me, and I selected twelve of you, one from each tribe. Deuteronomy 1:20-23
We came to Malaysia on a 90-day tourist visa, an exploratory trip to confirm the sense that we had that the LORD was calling us to Malaysia. It was perhaps a bit like the exploratory trip the 12 “spies” took into the promised land. What was intended as a trip to give confidence to the Israelites that God would give them victory did not work out that way for them, and their faithless response cost them another 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. We hoping for a better outcome for our trip!
We believe we have read many signs indicating a calling to Malaysia, but we came here to confirm those signs and begin the next steps. Getting a long-term visa has become more difficult since we first began considering this move, and so we wanted a clear sense of calling, which didn’t emerge immediately upon our arrival. Last month we asked for prayer for clarity and wisdom. God has been at work answering that prayer!
So, in the last month we have seen many signs of fruitful ministry we can do here, as we have taught or will teach both at Saint Paul’s Theological College and at 2 other Bible colleges in Malaysia. We have met several Malaysian pastors who have described leadership development needs in their own churches and among tribal people as well as immigrants and refugees. It is clear that we could come alongside efforts already underway but in need of more resources.
We leave Malaysia in late April (at the end of our 90-day visa) and we expect to return to Malaysia in late August. We are beginning the process of applying for a long term visa. The clarity for the decision to apply itself was an answer to prayer, but now of course we need prayer for our application to be favorably received.
Summer in India and Pakistan
(From Rich) If you have been reading our letters you know how much I have enjoyed my Zoom Bible studies with church planters and Muslim-background believers in India. I have hoped that, after COVID, it might be possible to travel to India to meet people I’ve been teaching in their own cities and towns, enjoying their hospitality and teaching and training in person rather than sitting in tiny boxes on a computer screen.
That hope is becoming a reality this summer. We plan a six-week itinerary in India, visiting 5 or 6 different locations. We will be teaching church planters and lay and emerging leaders, both men and women. After this time, we will spend about 10 days in Pakistan, where both Lisa and I will be teaching in-person courses for a theological college there. We are very much looking forward to our time in India and Pakistan.
Our Friends in Ukraine
We receive almost daily news from our friends in Ukraine, the staff team of the IFES movement there. Their lives have been turned upside down, as you can imagine. Those who lived in Kharkiv, Odessa, and Kiev have mostly moved toward the Western parts of the country, and those who lived in Lviv have stayed and welcomed many of their colleagues and have housed many refugees, students, families, the elderly. All of our colleagues are, every day, involved in hands-on ministry, helping to provide necessities to those whose lives have been even more directly impacted by the killing and destruction wrought by the war. We invite you to read more at the links below, with photos and stories:
The IFES Team in Ukraine During Happier Times
Friends, we very rarely send out special appeals for gifts. We are doing so today in light of the news of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine. Our dear friends who are incredibly faithful campus ministers are becoming internally displaced refugees or are likely to become ones very soon. CCX, the sister movement to InterVarsity in the US, has created a fund specifically to help their staff, who live on very low budgets, weather this dislocation. While there last month, we listened to the fears of this team, which includes a pregnant woman whose husband will be called up in the military reserves and staff members who wondered aloud how they would get not only themselves but elderly relatives and siblings with disabilities out of cities under attack. Several of the team members used to live and work in Crimea, and have already been displaced at least once after the Russian invasion in 2014. Staff live in cities of Kiev, Kharkiv, Odessa, and Lviv. At least three of these cities are now under direct attack, and staff are waking up this morning with a new reality facing them. So we urge you to join us in prayer for them, and as you are led, we encourage you to join us in giving, and use this link. If you do decide to give, please let us know.
Thank you so much for your love and prayers, for us and for our friends in this time of distress.
Our “Travel Bubble” quarantine package included several fun outings.
[After his leprosy was healed, Naaman said to Elisha], “Please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” “Go in peace,” Elisha said. 2 Kings 5:17-19
Dear Praying Friends,
The narrative of Naaman’s healing ends on an odd note. Preachers understandably often end the story at verse sixteen, avoiding this section in which Elisha can seem to condone idolatry. As we navigate multiple cultures these days, I find comfort and wisdom in Elisha’s words to Naaman. Naaman began the story a blustering and inflexible man, fulminating about the superiority of his nation’s rivers and frustrated that his healing did not proceed in the manner he had expected. He ends the story humble and profoundly grateful, exclaiming, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”
When Elisha refuses a monetary gift, Naaman changes course and instead asks for a gift: the gift of dirt. I (Lisa) love that. He wants some of the essence of the land where God has met him. He may intend to use it to build an altar. But he also foresees a conflict: he is still enmeshed in a complex system in which he must honor his king and even accompany him into the temple of the god Rimmon. Rather than erecting a barrier for Naaman, Elisha perceives his sincere heart and gives him a gracious benediction: “Go in peace.”
We arrived in Malaysia three weeks ago. Though all our teaching remains on-line, we have had the joy of meeting students and colleagues that, before this, we had only seen in tiny Zoom boxes on the screen. I’ve been amused at the number of people who have said to Rich, “Oh, you’re quite tall!” Because, of course, they had never seen him other than in one of those tiny zoom boxes too. As we navigate the newness (to us) of this land, we want to receive its gifts with the humility of Naaman at the end of the story, confessing in advance where we will inevitably fall short due to our own cultural blinders. And we hope to navigate the differences we’re already encountering here with the graciousness of Elisha, speaking peace rather than turning molehills into mountains. Intercultural ministry is complex—we knew that before we landed here of course, but some of the specifics here have surprised us. On any given day we relate to at least four sub-cultures:
Malay Muslims, who make up about 69% of the population of Malaysia. We are getting used to seeing women in hijabs, even when in swimming pools, and hearing the call to prayer on the loudspeaker near our apartment. Malay food is delicious, the Malay people are friendly, and we have learned several basic phrases with which to greet them, but our interaction with them is of necessity limited. (If you don’t understand why, feel free to ask us in a reply e-mail.)
Chinese (23%) and Indians (7%): These ethnic groups make up the bulk of the rest of the population of Malaysia, and most of the students at SPTC. The differences between them and the ethnically Malay people are complex and hard to summarize here, and we are still learning the histories between the people groups here.
British: The school we are primarily serving here was founded by a British team and is part of a larger British missional endeavor, an Anglican renewal movement anchored in Holy Trinity Brompton, in the UK. They are wonderful, faithful disciples and have welcomed us warmly. The sheer number of contextualized-for-Asia Alpha groups they have initiated with their Asian partners (over 5,000) is truly inspiring. However, at times we have hit slight differences between American and British sensibilities around what makes for a good theological education, or what is appropriate to ask or to reveal in a conversation. We’re learning to use kilometers to discuss distance, kilograms to discuss weight, Celsius to discuss the weather, and 16 to refer to 4 PM. And I now mark papers rather than grade them.
Middle Easterners and other immigrants: This was a surprise. Within three blocks of our apartment are many good and inexpensive Middle Eastern restaurants, run by immigrants. Many came as refugees from Yemen, Syria, Iraq, etc. As vegetarians, we find that these are some of the most reliable places to find non-meat items on the menu, so we have eaten more lentil soup and tabbouli than we would have predicted! Another large refugee population here is Burmese, and we have already met Christians running several different schools or other ministries to serve them.
As you can imagine, that is a fair amount to navigate. Add in the sheer concrete-jungle density of the city and its heat and humidity, and the fact that we’re about ten years older than we were when the pandemic began, and it’s no wonder we end our days a bit tired. (Okay, that last one is more a feeling than a fact, and more often expressed by me than by Rich.) And yet, we are so very grateful to be here.
What’s next? We have viewed this ten-week sojourn as an opportunity to serve and to discern. If we sense God’s leading to invest long-term, as we think is happening, we need a visa solution. One that we are exploring would involve safely parking some funds in a bank account here and jumping through a series of other hoops that would take about six months. We are leaning toward beginning that process and will likely decide that in the next couple of weeks, so we’d appreciate prayer as we discern with our partners here and make a final decision.
Rich and Lisa Lamb