Greetings to you, friends. This week I (Lisa) taught the last class session for a small group of gifted and dedicated leaders in Nepal and India. The vision that excites me as I give myself to groups like this is that of growing national, Nepali professors for the seminaries and Bible colleges of Nepal. Currently there are very few Nepali Christians with Ph.D’s, so almost all theological education is done by foreigners. This is in contrast to many seminaries in the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, India, and other Asian countries, where Westerners today play only small supporting roles and faculties are mostly Asian. The church in Nepal is young and poor, but the vision of a more locally grown class of theological educators is a worthy one. So, twice now I have taught for the small set of students in Nepal who are doing an advanced degree beyond their M.Div. degree, an M.Th. in preparation for Ph.D. work.
It was a challenge to teach this course from three different locations (Chiang Mai, Thailand, the Carpathian mountains of Ukraine, and L’viv), with unstable internet, time zones to juggle, and cultural differences to keep in mind. But those minor challenges pale in comparison to the challenges they overcame. One student gave birth the week before class began. One student had severe Covid and lived in her very spare church building for three weeks to quarantine herself away from her family. I can see a corrugated tin roof in one student’s home, and I worry for her family in the cold months ahead. The student who joined us from India lost good friends to Covid and other illnesses during our term. The church in Nepal and India has endured a season of great suffering. In the midst of all that, we managed to laugh together often as we worked on the craft of preaching.
I learned so much from these students! Not everything I taught was a fit. For example, I talked in one session about how to handle criticism of your sermon from your congregation only to learn that that essentially never happens in Nepal. (I’ll admit to being a bit jealous.) Fascinatingly, I learned that there is a sect of Hinduism that believes in Jesus’ life on earth and death in so much agreement with the church that they hold a joint Good Friday service. In both countries, the church wrestles a great deal with how much to participate in their surrounding culture. For example, most churches in my student’s region of India do not participate in Diwali, the festival of light, but in other regions some churches do. In Nepal, they do participate in the tradition of putting Mehendi, or henna crimson powder on the bride on her wedding day. But more than the finer points of inculturation, I learned from these students’ passionate dedication to Jesus and his church. They are selfless servants, gracious and loving leaders, and highly committed disciples. Their coordinated “Thank you, teacher” screens at our break during the final class session was a sweet moment. I am so grateful for the chance to teach and to learn from these faithful students.
This class ends as another one has begun. Rich and I are sharing the teaching of a course in the Gospel of Mark at St. Paul’s Theological College in Malaysia. That course is larger, 27 students, and so challenging in a different way, as we struggle to learn names and facilitate discussion within the limits of Zoom for a bigger group. In the first hour I teach a theme, such as Mark’s concealing and revealing of the identity of Jesus, or the theme of honor and shame throughout the book. For the second hour, Rich leads an inductive Bible study in a passage—something he has a bit of experience doing! This is actually my first time teaching the gospel of Mark in several years, and it is reminding me why we love this gospel so much, and its main character.
I will also teach one class for Fuller, starting late September, and it looks to be a delightfully diverse group, as is so often one of the joys of Fuller teaching. Rich is teaching a course in fundraising for NGO leaders and pastors in Sri Lanka (and elsewhere) through Development Associates International, https://daintl.org and continuing to teach and train in India and elsewhere.
We continue to enjoy our time in Lviv, and will be sorry to leave it. We got a tour of “the dark side” of the city last weekend, when friends took us to the Citadel, a hill outside the city which became the site for the murder of thousands of Jews during the holocaust, and then for the murder of political dissidents during Soviet occupation. We were grateful to learn that history in the midst of our appreciation of the “bright side—” the warmth of the people, the beauty of the downtown architecture, the abundant chocolate, etc. We continue to cheer on the nation as it celebrated its 30th anniversary last month and as it navigates ongoing challenges on its borders. On the 19th of this month, we will head to Moldova, at the invitation of the IFES student movement there. We will likely stay there for about six weeks, then return to Kiev, Ukraine for a conference in November, and then return to the US for several weeks. Rich will add a side trip to Armenia in October. I am a little tired of the rootlessness of our lives these days—Rich thrives on it and we often need to navigate our differing tolerance levels and appetites for change. And for dresser drawers. But we both sense the sustaining gifts of the Lord in our midst.
We are grateful to each of you for your prayers and for the gifts that make our ministry possible. As always, we love to get replies to these emails, with updates and ways we can be praying for you.
Arriving in Ukraine was a bit like coming home after three months in quite new-to-us Thailand. We met with dear friends (like Marina pictured above) and joined the Ukraine national staff team for their end of summer staff team conference, where we both taught. While of course it is not home, Ukraine is a place we have spent many weeks for the last 20 years, and many hours connecting with staff on Zoom in the last 1.5 years. We have another month here before we head to Moldova.
About three months ago the dean of a Bible college in Nepal where I have taught before asked me (Rich) if I could put together a course he titled, “Mission Amidst the Covid-19 Crisis.” The college was looking to offer timely and relevant help to people trying to keep evangelism and discipleship ministries moving forward in a changing context. I told the dean that I was not actually leading a church or ministry during the COVID crisis, and did not feel I could give out time-tested answers to this question, but I said that if I were to attack this issue, I would look for contemporary readings about leadership during change and crisis, and mainly look for Biblical examples of “leadership when you don’t know what to do.” The dean was happy with my approach, and so the first day we arrived in Ukraine I began teaching the new course for one college in Nepal. I will also teach the same course for another college in Malaysia in September.
One passage that came to my mind during that initial call is the story when King Jehoshaphat of Judah was told that a huge army of several smaller states was united and marching upon Judah, to attack it. This happens when Judah is much diminished in power from the mighty days of Kings David and Solomon, and Jehoshaphat knows he doesn’t have military power that could possibly meet the threat. The scripture commentary in this chapter puts it bluntly: “Jehoshaphat was afraid.” So he seeks the LORD and asks all Judah to join him.
The surprising part of the story is when he has everyone gathered and he has the microphone—they are all looking at him expecting kingly leadership. This would be the time battle leaders encourage the troops, a la Aragorn: “A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day!” But instead, Jehoshaphat says, “we do not know what to do,” and he both looks to the LORD and encourages the people to do so as well.
The second surprise is that he allows God to speak, not through him, but rather through the priest Jahaziel, who brings an encouraging word of promise that God will indeed fight for his people, if they trust him to. If they are willing to go out to face the enemy, God will show them his victory. This they do, but it is surprising that, in this crisis time, Jehoshaphat leads the people not by knowing what to do, but by knowing how to lead people into trusting God despite not knowing how God will work.
This is a good picture of leadership in a time of crisis and chaotic change. The pandemic is a new situation, and we really don’t really know what to do. But we can make space for God to work, for God to speak, for God and others to lead and show the way, and we can follow with courage and boldness when he opens the door and shows us. Leaders willing to acknowledge that they don’t quite know what to do would be refreshing and powerful in this age.
The Indian Women’s Jamaat Leaders Update
I have continued to lead a Bible study with Muslim-background believing women who lead jamaats, or Bible studies, for other Muslim-background women in a city in India. My friend R______ has been working with and training these leaders for several years and their ministry is really growing. My focus is really training Ravi to use the Urdu translations of the Sketches of Leadership his team has produced, so he can continue using them beyond the work we do together.
Two weeks ago I was doing a Bible study on “Asking Good Questions,” looking at how Jesus asked questions of people who came to him for healing. It involved training on good questions, open-ended questions that draw other people out. At the end of the session I suggested that everyone go back to their husbands and ask “What was the best part of your day today?” After R_____ translated my suggestion to them, they all burst into laughter. I had no idea what was funny, so R_____ explained after they quieted a bit that even the notion of their asking their husbands any question was funny to them. They hadn’t ever considered doing that.
The social distance between husband and wife, in Muslim India especially, is very great. It might for us feel odd to ask such a personal question to a distinguished professor or to our medical doctor while he is examining us. It might seem impertinent. So they hesitated, but the women in this leadership training Bible study are good students of the word, and soft-hearted, and to a one they applied the study by asking their husbands about the best part of their day. When we next met, they reported their husbands’ responses.
What’s ahead for us: Well, like Jehoshaphat, we are not entirely certain of that! We know roughly what we will be doing for the fall, as we both have full plates of teaching in Malaysia, Nepal, India, and elsewhere, but our location past September is not fully decided, as we weigh a few factors, from invitations to ministry to Covid trends. We ask for your prayers as we seek God’s guidance for our next homes when our time in Lviv comes to an end in a month’s time.
Please pray for Ukraine.This prayer station, one of several at the conference, reminded us that the war is ever-present in Ukraine, and sons of Ukraine are dying at the hands of an invading force from Russia. The gold and blue streamers and flowers are from Ukraine’s flag, and the sunflower is Ukraine’s national flower.
“And with many other exhortations… he preached good news to them.” Luke 3:18
I (Lisa) had a delightful opportunity to host a seminar on Zoom the other day for students preparing for ministry at St. Paul’s Theological College (SPTC) and current pastors. I had been noticing a pattern of otherwise strong sermons fizzling out at the end, and I decided to drill down on the skill of making the final moments count. I began with a look at change more generally, first with a Bible study in the seemingly harsh words of John the Baptist which the people receive gladly. During a season of diminished control, John imparted hope by giving them them agency and concrete, doable exhortations, rooted in the promise of the coming of the Messiah. I then integrated insights into how human transformation happens that I had gained gained from picking the brains of a few therapist friends, reading Chip and Dan Heath’s excellent book Switch, and pondering my own recalcitrance to change. We then homed in on how the closing moments of the sermon catalyze change, using clips from three of my favorite sermon conclusions and two of my favorite preachers reflecting on endings. With over 60 participants in the seminar, verbal participation was limited to the breakout sessions, but the very lively Chat space indicated resonance and appreciation throughout. (See our blog to find links to these resources.)
This is just one of many opportunities that have been made more possible by our time here in Thailand. Yet, as we near its end, we have mixed feelings, and what follows is my reflection on why that is. If all goes well, we will fly to Ukraine on July 26. (This is not at all a certainty since a flight we had booked for the 24th was cancelled. There simply are not enough people in the air yet to field flights. So, as with many things in our lives, we say, “We hope to fly on the 26th.”)
As cross-cultural workers, we feel a certain dissonance because the typical model of entering a new culture to serve would be that one throws oneself in, experiences difficulties, and navigates all sorts of differences, but is sustained through that by deepened love for the people one befriends, and by a growing appreciation for the new culture. In a global pandemic, all bets on that model are off.
The classic Stages of Culture Shock paradigm describes an initial Honeymoon Phase in which, upon entering a new place, one delights in new sights, flavors, and customs. This euphoric stage cannot last, but it serves an important purpose: it gives cross-cultural workers the energy they will need for the hard work of language and other learning during the next phase, which is tellingly called Frustration and Fatigue. Not surprisingly, entering a new culture by way of a 7-day mandated quarantine in a hotel room, only leaving the room for two Covid tests, is not an ideal set-up for creating a euphoric encounter with a new culture! I entertained lofty hopes of doing some Thai language learning during our quarantine, but threw up my hands in defeat upon learning of its 70-letter alphabet, complex tonal system, etc. I settled for learning the basic words of greeting and thanking. Befriending Thai people has been essentially impossible, between the language barrier and the pandemic lockdown. And the truth is, it was not why we came here.
The black line added to the familiar depiction of culture shock is a bit of self-mocking and does not actually reflect our enjoyment of the beauty of the geography, culture and people here. At the risk of sounding like we were ‘using’ Thailand, we came here for the time zone, and what it would make possible. And it has made so much possible: staff meetings with the team at SPTC that were in the wee hours of the night are now easily doable. I attend three different weekly meetings, each of which launches side conversations on Slack or WhatsApp throughout the day. We co-taught a weekend intensive course for SPTC, a portion of the course I have taught asynchronously all term. I have begun an evening course in Nepal, two evenings a week. Rich has been teaching in China, India, Armenia, and Nepal, and begins a two-week intensive in Malaysia this Monday--all at much saner times than when we were in Pasadena. So, we are grateful for our three-month perch in Thailand, and we feel little guilt about ‘using’ it—we have contributed to its much-desired goal of reviving its tourist industry, and we have sought to be gracious visitors. But we will leave it with a certain dissonance and regret, in part because our approach to it goes against so much of what we would normally pursue and value in a cross-cultural sojourn.
And we have had our share of frustrations and fatigue. I have had a painful ear infection, and we have battled other minor but irritating physical ailments. They pale in comparison to the challenges of our partners in this region, especially in Malaysia and India, who continue to live under severe lockdown and to endure the seemingly relentless spread of Covid. But that has cast a wearisome shadow on our lives, as we carry the stories of suffering and mask up for every outing, just a tad envious of the freedom from masks in more of the US. So, I am on the lookout in these final two weeks for ways to end strong here in Thailand—ways to care for local people, enjoy Thailand’s beauty, or simply treasure the scent of Plumeria on a walk.
What’s ahead? Well, hopefully Ukraine will feel somewhat different. We both know the Cyrillic alphabet and are reviewing basic phrases. We also know several people there and Rich especially has a long history of partnership with the IFES movement there. Our first week will be at the national staff gathering, at a camp in the Carpathian Mountains. But our reason for going there is similar: we still cannot get into Malaysia. Our Thai visas near expiry, and we want to go somewhere that keeps us in a good time zone for the teaching commitments we have made for the fall. So, it will be another ‘perch,’ and we ask your prayers for stamina, cheerful hearts, and a willingness to invest wherever we can.
Summer/Fall Teaching Lisa:
Gratitude as we go:
We are so grateful for the couple who host the guest house in Bangkok and the family that opened their home to us here in Chiang Mai during their visit to the US, to our friends Leo and Sunita who made nearly every weekend in Bangkok more fun, and the three Paraclete missionaries here in Chiang Mai who have welcomed us here. We are as always grateful to each one of you for your friendship and generosity. We welcome replies to these emails, with your updates or requests for prayer.
 I recommend all of these sermons but played their final five minutes:
Dear Friends, (from Rich)
We continue to be grateful to be in Thailand, even though Covid is surging throughout the region. We mourn with our many new friends and partners here as they endure harsh lockdowns, or in some cases contract Covid or have friends or family members who are sick. It is not an easy time to be here, and our hopes that Malaysia’s borders might open up to us during the 90 days of our Thailand tourist visa are obviously not materializing. (See below for our tentative plans in light of that.) But being here has allowed us to participate in many St. Paul’s Theological College (SPTC) staff meetings and Zoom calls, and to teach in various countries at much saner hours. I am teaching in China, India, and Eastern Europe. Let me share one of the most rewarding and inspiring groups I have the privilege of teaching.
Last week I began to teach a new group, pictured above. These women are Muslim background believers who have been trained to serve almost as social workers for their communities, helping very poor people connect to social services. One hole in India’s safety net is that the poorest people are eligible for aid and assistance from the Indian government but because they are uneducated they don’t know how to access these services. These women have become believers in Issa (Jesus) and as they reach out with the good news about help from the government, they also share about the good news of Jesus. Many of the women they serve have become believers, and the women gathered in this room lead “Jamaats,” gatherings where the women gather to pray and learn about Jesus.
It has been very touching for me to have the privilege to teach them leadership principles from the scripture. The church planter who is translating for me is Ravi, whom I met on my trip to India 12 years ago. His movement of women who are doing this work is growing rapidly, and he has felt a growing need to teach Biblical leadership to these women, so that they in turn could lead other Jamaat leaders. He has been eager to use the Sketches of Leadership materials and has a team working at their translation. We began our leadership Bible study last week looking at Psalm 23 and John 10, the image of God as a shepherd. It was a very lively time, after a bit of a slow start due to technical issues, and I received this letter, lightly excerpted, from Ravi afterwards:
Dear Bro.Richard, Salaam in Jesus name.
I take this privilege to share our first experience with the Sketches studies with the women house church leaders. I am very glad to share that the women are encouraged to participate in the discussion by following the guideline from the Sketch…
It was a great excitement for all of us yesterday with you studying the first Sketch. I was experiencing how the Urdu and Hindi translation is working. Women in the beginning were a little nervous, but as time went by they enjoyed the subject and greatly appreciated connecting with you; Feeling great within, all women are interested to continue with the zoom class again. …
Yesterday, there were 12 women where 3 are Hindi and 9 are Urdu speaking church leaders.
Shalom in Isa, Ravi
We met last week on Monday, and then again on Thursday. As we discussed biblical teaching on shepherding, I asked about “wolves” that come into the group not to learn but to feed on the sheep, seeking money and abusing the trust of group members. I asked if anyone had experienced this in their groups. One woman responded, “We all have had such “wolves.” She then went on to tell the story of a woman who was seeking money, and when she heard from the leader that that wasn’t what the group was about, she stopped coming. But after a while, this leader visited her again, and invited her to come back to the group. She did come back and has been growing as a believer. I reminded them that “wolves” can also be sheep, and our shepherding extends even to them, though we must also protect the flock. It was such an encouraging story.
But the most touching story was about a woman who had been in the group for a little while until the leader found at that this woman had been borrowing money from group members. The total, she reported, was about 500 rupees. When the woman was confronted and asked to repay her debt, she left the group and was not seen again. The group decided to make those women in the group who had been cheated whole, by the others contributing to repay that debt, which she said took several weeks to do. Now, 500 rupees is a bit less than $7.
I am very moved to hear the stories of these women and to partner with Ravi in his teaching and training. My real focus, of course, is Ravi, as he teaches with me the materials he has already translated into Urdu. I will teach this course once, but it will be an investment in Ravi who hopes to use these materials again with other groups of leaders after we have gone through them together. Ravi and his wife are precious leaders, and their grown children are all involved in their wholistic evangelistic ministry to Muslims in and around Bhopal, involving dozens of women leading hundreds of women, and working with men as well who are establishing communities of Jesus followers in this largely Muslim population.
Updates on Our Plans
We have now spent about seven weeks in Thailand and have another 6 weeks on our 90-day visa. Lisa has begun teaching regularly for St. Paul’s Theological College in Kuala Lumpur, though because Malaysia in the middle of its worst ever COVID case numbers, all teaching is still being done via the internet, either through videoed lectures or via Zoom. We just ended three days of Zoom teaching where we were able to be partners for her class on preaching and teaching. She led the class in some exercises aimed to help them be more confident in impromptu speaking, such as sharing “a word” when you don’t have much time to prepare, and I led Bible studies on how to lead Bible studies. The students had fun and did very well with the short impromptu exercises, and we had lively discussions about passages that illustrate good Bible study, beginning with a look at Mark’s telling of the Parable of the Sower.
Lisa has been knit into the staff meetings, WhatsApp chats, and ad hoc meetings, let alone chapels and classes, in ways that weren’t possible before. It really does feel like she has joined the team. And yet, uncertainty remains, including questions about how long we will stay in Thailand. Our plan is to head to Chiang Mai next week, where we’ll stay in the home of a missionary on furlough through July 15. We are ready for a break from the density and bustle of Bangkok.
I have been invited to teach in person at the national gathering of IFES staff in Ukraine in early August. We could not easily go there and return to Thailand (we’d need another expensive two-week hotel quarantine), so our thought has been to simply stay in Ukraine, where we can much more easily enter for 90 days. It is a challenge to find flights since there are so many fewer flights in the SE Asia region.
So, you see that our lives are marked by some uncertainty. I had also been invited to teach in Sri Lanka in person in early September, but that is now moved online. Lisa will teach a homiletics course for students in Nepal starting mid-July, and she has changed the time for the students, on the theory we’ll be in Ukraine. As we try to say yes to invitations in the midst of uncertainty, we are inspired by the faithful women of Bhopal, who daily say yes to Jesus’ invitation to serve others, despite the much greater challenges of daily living that they face. It’s a privilege to learn alongside them what it looks like to follow Jesus in challenging times.
Specific Prayer Requests:
WIth our friend Leo, an MA student at St. Paul’s living in Bangkok.
(Photo Credit to Sunitha, Leo’s wife and fellow student in the program.)
Dear Friends, (from Lisa)
I have always loved the rings on the sand by the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles. At some point between dips in the ocean and strolls on the pier, my kids and I would gingerly say, “Shall we give the rings a try?” Athletic locals alternated with nervous tourists in line at the rings. I was somewhere in the middle, mentally urging my body to remember its days on the uneven parallel bars in high school and summon the strength to grab the first two rings, then swing and swing and swing to get momentum, let go of the back one, and reach with all my might for the next. If by glorious miracle that worked, it was time to summon all my strength, swing and swing and swing, let go, and reach for the next. On a good day I could get about five rings down the row before landing in a happy puddle on the sand, exhausted but exhilarated.
Much about our last year has felt like that long moment where one is holding the first two rings, trying to get momentum, to get the sense that the timing was right to let go of one and reach for the next. A ring got added when we let go of our home, dog, mom, etc. only to find ourselves still in Pasadena for many months. We were suspended—not home, but not yet where we hoped to be. We couldn’t quite relax, but we couldn’t reach for the next ring, either.
Now, we have more fully let go of the familiar homeland of the US. We have caught the next ring, though again, it is an added one we had not foreseen. We are learning from the many sojourners in Scripture who spent seasons that felt like detours, such as the Israelites in the wilderness, the family of Jesus in Egypt, Paul and Timothy in Troas, and Elijah in the Wadi Cherith. The Lord has much to teach his people and good gifts to give them when they are between home and hoped-for destinations. I have come to love the many promises in Scripture for travelers, such as this one: “You'll travel safely, you'll neither tire nor trip… Because God will be right there with you; he'll keep you safe and sound.” (Proverbs 23:26, The Message)
Many of you are also persevering through a suspended feeling in some aspect of life, restless, frustrated perhaps, and seeking discernment about the right time to let go of something and strain to reach the next ring. What shape does that take for you, and what do you need to thrive there? Part of what I love about the metaphor of the rings on the beach is that they are fun! The cheering folks in line bring a spirit of camaraderie, and the soft sand brings freedom to fail. We are embracing those values of joy, freedom, and grace, a lot these days, and I wish them for each of you who read this as well.
For us, Malaysia remains at least one ring away, but given where the world remains regarding Covid, it feels like a glorious miracle that we made it here, vaccinated and in a place where, despite a spike, case rates remain very low. We are still suspended, still in between, but we are in general enjoying our days and not exhausted. We are tired at times--Bangkok is challenging to navigate. We face a steep learning curve on everything from gauging when to do the wash so it can line-dry before the next downpour to figuring out how and where to buy groceries when we can’t read a single label. (We recently bought some spices on spec--the only word we could read was, “Spices.”) But the Lord has provided a peaceful home for us here. Though it is just a block away from a bustling, noisy thoroughfare filled with motorbikes and street vendors, our little apartment is tranquil. In normal years it is part of a lively retreat center, sadly now empty except for us and the Canadian couple who arrived last March hoping to host those cancelled retreats.
What are we doing? Well, in many ways we are doing just what we’ve been doing all year. I continue to teach one course for Fuller. A course at St. Paul’s Theological College in Malaysia began two weeks ago, and I am in conversation with a dean about a course in Nepal this summer. I am finding a few hours each week to make progress on a book project. Rich continues to teach for church planters, leaders, and campus ministers in India, China, and Moldova, coach leaders in Russia and Ukraine, oversee translation projects for his Sketches of Leadership in six languages, and build a website that will make them much more accessible. His teaching has shifted from the 4 am—6 am time slot to evenings, which is more sustainable long-term. Check out a draft of his website and his video explaining how to use Sketches here: https://www.sketchesofleadership.com/
What’s different? Well, we are needier, which has made us more prayerful and more grateful for help from a few amazing locals. Julie, a lovely woman we knew some from our campus ministry days in Boston, heard that we were here and has walked us through various challenges such as getting phones enabled. A young married couple who are both taking my course at St. Paul’s from here, took us out to dinner last weekend and yesterday on an amazing bike ride adventure all over a little island in the middle of the river here in Bangkok. (Check out the 2 minute video at our blog.) They seem to tolerate our advanced years and claim to be eager to introduce us to other hidden gems of Bangkok. Seasoned missionaries, in Bangkok for a few days last week, were willing to let us teach them Codenames for a fun game night. We receive these as gifts, lifting and propelling us to the next ring.
We are deeply sorrowful for the suffering of many in South Asia—Rich hears heartbreaking updates regularly from pastors who have become dear to him. And sorry for many reasons to see case numbers rising in Malaysia.
I pray God’s blessing of the gifts of patience, peace, stamina, and hope as you navigate these challenging times along with us.
Give Thanks with Us:
Lisa and Rich Lamb (see us below with (former) King Bumibol of Thailand)
We have arrived in Bangkok! We are in a hotel under strict quarantine for a week. (This was just recently reduced, for those who are vaccinated, from two weeks, so we are very grateful for that). Many thanks to those who prayed for safe travels. I (Lisa) actually enjoyed the flights for the most part. In particular, I sensed God encouraging me through the stories of two women who trusted God in amazing ways in their missional journeys in Asia. The first was Jackie Pullinger (above, left). I listened to Nicky and Pippa Gumbel's conversation with her on the flight. You may have heard of her courageous work with persons addicted to drugs in what was for many years a very dangerous part of Hong Kong, the Walled City. What I had never heard was how she discerned her calling. She knew God was calling her to Asia but God had not given her more specifics than that. So, she waited in England to hear more, getting turned down with various mission agencies. A vicar had this odd suggestion: just get on a boat headed for Asia, one which stops at many ports. Be prayerful throughout the voyage, and get out when God tells you to. She did, and at the second-to-last stop heard a very clear call to Hong Kong. I loved this story because it puts our past year, and our somewhat odd decision to come to Thailand, in perspective. It can feel like a speculative venture since we simply do not know when borders to Malaysia will open up, but Jackie's pastor sensed she would hear God better by leaving home and getting closer to her perceived calling, and we hope and trust that the same will be true for us. The podcast is here: https://www.alpha.org/blog/leadership-conversations-with-nicky-gumbel-podcast-jackie-pullinger
The second woman whose story is inspiring me these days is Gladys Aylward. I read much of her gripping autobiography on the flights. She felt called to China, but was rejected by missions agencies and lacked money for a ship passage there, in the 1930s. Determined to get there, she took a train across Europe and Russia, suffering cold, hunger, train tracks blocked by warring soldiers, etc. But God did so much good through her life and witness when she got there, saving the lives of many orphans and converting many people. It puts our minor setbacks of the past year in perspective to read of all that she endured, and again, challenges me to have greater faith for what might be ahead. I highly recommend this short book: https://www.amazon.com/Gladys-Aylward-Little-Woman/dp/0802429866
These women are fueling faith within me and reminding me to be patient with the minor inconveniences of our quarantine. We chose one of the cheaper quarantine packages; thus our hotel is a somewhat older building, and the food is fairly simple. But, we have a long balcony and a living room as well as our bedroom, which will help this week as we each teach sessions.Rich will continue to teach in India, China, and Moldova, and I will be doing asynchronous teaching for St Paul's Theological College in Malaysia, and for Fuller. We both hope as well to make progress on writing projects. Beyond that, I am attempting to learn some Thai letters (there are 76...) and phrases. We are cycling through our four games, and so far continue to enjoy each other's company. In the coming weeks, please pray for health, the ability to connect with folks doing good work here, and, of course, for the borders of Malaysia to open up to us in God's timing.
With love, hope, and gratitude, Rich and Lisa
Dear Friends, If you don’t have time to read the encouraging story below, the top-line is that we received our Thai Visas and will be arriving in Bangkok Saturday night, April 17th, to begin a two-week strict mandated quarantine. Praise God and please pray as we discuss below. But I do encourage you to read the following powerful story, a reflection on 2 Kings 6.
“Alas, master! It was borrowed!” 2 Kings 6:5
I love the quirky story of the borrowed axehead in 2 Kings 6. This hapless young prophet is the patron saint of all those who lose their keys or their rings and who pray to the LORD for their recovery. Does the creator God of the universe care about our lost keys? Apparently he does. Still, it is an odd miracle at a time when miracles were rare, even for Elisha. Many lepers remained lepers, many dead sons remained dead, and many lost things remained lost. But here, when Elisha makes the axehead float, God shows mercy to Elisha’s young padawan and gives hope to all of us who have avoided minor calamities when we call out to God for help to recover a lost item, however precious or mundane.
The remainder of 2 Kings 6 shows that often the work of God is unseen. The king of Aram, knowing that Elisha is his enemy’s secret weapon, sneaks up on him in the middle of the night with an overwhelming armed force. Elisha is calm when it appears, but his servant, responding using the exact same phrase as the trainee prophet in the previous story, cries out in alarm at the urgent threat facing them. “Alas, Master!”
Elisha remains calm because he knows he is doing what he is supposed to be doing. He is trusting in his Lord. So he can see the imposing heavenly army on his side and fears no threat. But it is surprising that, seeing the armies of the Lord, he doesn’t assume they are there to slaughter his enemies. Instead, his divine perspective gives him the courage to walk up to the opposing army and offer to lead them to the “man that they seek”. They are blinded by the Lord and go on with Elisha as he walks them right into the walls of Samaria, to be completely surrounded by Israel’s troops with weapons.
The king of Israel assumes that he should kill his enemy’s troops, as he has them in his power. But Elisha once again, knowing his team has the military advantage, does not assume that advantage is given in order to use it for death and destruction, but rather he teaches the king to use it to pursue peace: welcome the army, feast them as friends, and they will become so! And that is what they do.
Elisha is the main character in this story, but two characters can serve as models when we face overwhelming odds or confusing circumstances:
But the forces with us are greater than those against us. God can use the divergence of our plans to carry out His Plan, while we can only see the next step. We asked recently for prayer for our Thai visas, and we received them, amazingly since it seemed that the consulate was scrutinizing and demanding, signaling a decision to decline to issue them. So God has left the door open to move ahead, and we believe that we will not be ashamed or endangered, but led to friends we have not yet met. God’s purposes for us and plans for our ministry will unfold over time.
From Lisa: We are sending a quick note with two specific prayer requests. First, we applied today for visas to enter Thailand. While our hope very much continues to be to serve in Malaysia, Thailand has opened its borders to tourists who are willing to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel. We had been waiting to pursue this until we were vaccinated. When we received our first shot, we quickly began to pray and work toward entry into Thailand, to at least get onto the same time zone where we will both be teaching courses this spring. The past ten days have been a whirlwind of efforts to track down the multiple documents required for the visas. The team at St. Paul’s Theological College in Kuala Lumpur continues to warmly welcome us, and they are very happy about this plan. They are hopeful Malaysia’s borders will open in the next 2-3 months.
We are so grateful that we were able to pull all the documentation together before we leave this Wednesday for a visit to my newly vaccinated mom and our daughter and son-in-law in North Carolina, and Rich’s sister in Kentucky. If the visa application comes back with a green light, we will have just two weeks to pack, say goodbyes to friends, and be ready to fly on April 16. So, we would ask for your prayers for that Thai Visa approval and the many details it would set in motion.
Secondly, Rich will begin teaching his Sketches of Leadership courses in a few new places this spring and summer, and so is pursuing getting them translated into several more languages, including into Chinese and Hindi, both of which will be useful in Malaysia, and in other countries as well. This would greatly expand the reach of his curriculum and teaching. Please pray for these new opportunities, and for the teaching and translation processes which he is working on from a distance.
Thanks so much, and as always, we love to get notes in reply here.
Rich and Lisa
Recently I (Rich) have been teaching parables in the gospels and have taught Jesus’ Parable of the Sower from either the gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Luke, and every time, this verse draws much conversation: “For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Mark 4:25, Luke 8:18).
I have been teaching these parables to church planters in India and seminarians and pastors in Nepal. This passage bothers them because they thought Jesus was speaking about wealth. But of course, though Jesus speaks much about wealth, its proper uses, dangers, and deceits, the context shows that he was not speaking about wealth in Luke 8 or Mark 4, but rather about response to the Word. He gives them a parable about how the word, his teaching, goes out and lands in various soils, the soils of people’s hearts. Some hearts are hardened to it, or just not interested, and it bounces right off, never even germinating. Some hearts receive the word but only superficially, not allowing it to really take deep roots. And some hearts receive the word and act on it faithfully, consistently, persistently, and it grows and bears much fruit.
I usually ask, “What type of soil are you?” Of course, we all want to be good soil. But I will then make the point that in fact we all are all the soils, at different times. Sometimes I hear a sermon in a Zoom worship service and I am distracted by whatever else is clamoring for my attention that day, and the seed goes out from the Zoom preacher into the soil of my heart, only to bounce off as I can scarcely remember what passage was being preached even just a few minutes later. Sometimes I will pay attention for a while, but the distractions come soon after my hearing of the word and I don’t really ponder it—it doesn’t really take root nor bear fruit. And sometimes I will hear the word, ponder it, try to work it out, allow myself to be surprised by it, and even humbled by it, as I realize it contains a message that I need that day, a message that softens my heart toward my wife after an argument or toward the poor after the social isolation of our current global predicament. The seed sown by the preacher has taken root and born good fruit.
Though this may not be a new idea to many of you, it is often a fresh idea for the people I am teaching, and a welcome one. They can recognize in themselves the same pattern I describe in myself. This prepares them to hear Jesus’ admonition, therefore, to “Pay attention to what you hear, for the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given to you.” The Indian church planters admit that they have often preached the latter part of this verse, using it to talk about money, the measure you give in offerings will be the measure that God returns to you in blessings. But, in context, that is clearly not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is warning people not to lazily hear the Word of God—when the word is being read or preached, “Pay attention!” We should do this because the measure we give (of attention) is the measure we will get (of understanding), and still more (teaching, words, understanding) will be given.
All this comes before the dramatic conclusion to this teaching, in either Mark or Luke, when Jesus says, “For to those who have, will more be given, and from those who have not, even what they have will be taken away.” Part of my role as a teacher is to coax out and engender interest in the text, in the word of God itself. Happily, most of my teaching is with very motivated students: seminarians, pastors, church planters, IFES campus staff workers and staff supervisors, or IFES student leaders. I have been blessed with many very motivated groups of people. (And Lisa is similarly blessed as well, teaching seminarians and advanced theologians who are ready to ponder the word deeply and to preach it thoughtfully.) But in any group, there will be those who have more (interest, attentiveness, eagerness to learn) and those who have, well, less. So my desire is to help people to grow in their moreness, growing in interest and attentiveness to the word. Then I am glad to, as Jesus did, give more (attention, teaching, coaching) to the people who have more (interest and attentiveness).
As to the meanness of “even what they have will be taken away,” I for one do very little taking away. But it is true that those who don’t listen well, or pay attention, or act on what they hear, or seek more understanding—for those people, over time, what little understanding they do get flies out of their brain as they turn their focus on to other things. It isn’t God, Jesus, or even the teacher being mean, it is just the way the brain works. (So pay attention to what you hear!)
I have been teaching six days a week, usually 1.5 to 4 hours/day, for the last seven months. That is far from full-time, so when I am not teaching, I am grading, or preparing. I’ve done a lot of writing of short teaching tools called Sketches of Leadership, which Lisa mentioned in the last letter. This has been tremendously satisfying for me. New ones (and old) can be found here.
But I have a number of relationships with people who, over the years, have had much and have sought more, and I am available to them because, as Jesus said, to those who have, more will be given. So I spend extra time answering questions about assignments, or taking calls from IFES staff in various parts of Eurasia, or praying for church planters in India through WhatsApp. Yesterday, I was on a call with Team Leaders in Ukraine, talking with them about the ministry of supervision and helping them to be better developmental coaches in their supervision role with the staff they lead. My friends in Ukraine have much and I am always glad to give them more, as they have appetite for it.
And in fact, in yesterday’s call, one of the principles of supervision I was talking about was, “To those who have, more will be given.” Because, though it can seem counter-intuitive or at least unfair, it is the principle by which Jesus invested in his disciples, and they in theirs, and it has made the difference in my own life, and indeed is right at the heart of the discipleship model of anyone successfully doing the work of passing along the ministry to the next generation. I am so pleased to be able to be fully devoted to this work.
So what are you doing with the Word you’ve heard recently? I hope that in this season of Lent, God is meeting you richly as you dwell in his Word.
Prayer Requests and Updates:
As you can imagine, we wish we could describe for you a clear plan and timetable for getting to Southeast Asia. The best plan we have is that we will book tickets a month or so out from when we get our first vaccination. At that point, if Malaysia has not yet opened to folks from the US, we will seek to enter Thailand. We are both teaching courses in Malaysia in the summer for which it would be really helpful to be in the same time zone, and Thailand would at least get us that. And it should be easier to enter Malaysia coming from Thailand than from the US.
In the meantime, we ask for prayers for health, patience, cheerful hearts, and that we would seize opportunities to serve from a distance as well as we can.
We are so grateful for each of you being on our team, and we would love to hear how we can pray specifically for you, so hit reply here and drop us a note!
Rich and Lisa Lamb