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.
Call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.
Dear Praying Friends,
I think January 2022 qualifies as a day of trouble globally. For us personally, it has certainly been a confusing and challenging few days. Please read to the end for some specific ways you can join us in prayer, calling on God for his deliverance. Our frustration and disappointment pales in comparison to the discouragement our partners here in Ukraine (pictured above) have faced. We write to enjoin your prayers for them in their day of trouble more than for us.
We arrived here in L’viv on Sunday, only to learn Monday night that the conference we came here to help lead was cancelled. This was due more to the spike in COVID than to the political unrest, but as you can imagine, the threats to their border weigh heavily on every Ukrainian. The two together feel like a pair of punishing blows to a nation and a student ministry team that has endured so much this past year.
We want you to know that we feel safe to be here this week. L’viv is roughly 700 miles from active conflict. We have met with two families the last two nights here in Lviv for delightful evenings of food and warm dinner table conversation. These are some of our oldest and most beloved friends and ministry partners here in Ukraine, and we enjoyed the reunions around the meals together. But those lively conversations were shaded and the mood darkened by the very real prospect of war with Russia.
The senior staff team for IFES in Ukraine is still going to gather Thursday through Sunday for a strategic planning meeting they had already scheduled for later next month. The leader of this team has expressed eagerness for our presence at this gathering. We are honored to be invited to join them. Our hope is simply to listen, care for, and encourage them.
If all goes well, Sunday evening (Jan. 30) we will fly to Malaysia. Malaysia has opened a travel bubble for tourists, which means if we stay on a Malaysian island for a week and pass daily COVID tests, we can enter the rest of the country for 90 days. This works out about right for us, as we need to return to the US for the conference of Paraclete Mission Group at the end of April.
While it is encouraging and exciting to be able to enter Malaysia after such a long wait, a discouraging setback last week was the news that the long-term visa we had applied for was denied. We are not sure what God is up to with this turn of events. It is not our last option to pursue for living in Malaysia, but the other option we will try is a lengthy one. So, we find ourselves yet again living with quite a bit of uncertainty about the near-to-medium-term future. We’re getting good at this!
We are both teaching evening courses in Malaysia May—July, and we had been eager to teach those courses in person, so the visa news was a real disappointment. Failing that, we would love to be in SE Asia to be in a good time zone to teach via Zoom. If that does not seem feasible, the East Coast is at least a better option than the West (7 PM classes in Malaysia become 6 AM classes on the East Coast, and 3 AM ones on the West Coast.).
Our prayer requests:
Rich and Lisa
With our kids, Mark and Becca (photo credit: Avery) at Duke in early December.
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).
A few months ago I wrote about a new course I was teaching in Malaysia, entitled, “Ministry in a time of COVID.” In that course we looked at a number of Biblical leaders to gain insights into their ministry and leadership choices during crises. One leader we looked in the course at was the apostle Paul, in a series of Bible studies I entitled “Plan B Ministry.” Plan-B Ministry is, as it sounds, the ministry choices and opportunities that emerge when Plan A, for whatever reason, is made impossible. Much of Paul’s story in Acts can be described as “Plan-B Ministry.” One short passage caught my eye:
ACTS 16:6-15: They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8 so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.
What are some of the elements of Plan-B Ministry in this passage?
Moldova is one of the smaller former republics of the USSR, territory that during the Ottoman Empire was for a while part of Romania. The citizens of Moldova speak Romanian and also Russian. While here, we both have had on-going teaching (Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, China, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus). I have taught in Bălţi (pronounced “Bults”), Comrat, Tiraspol (in the breakaway region between Ukraine and the Dniester River –hence called Transnistria), and on Saturday I will be in the town of Ungheni. These cities, and the place we’ve spent most of our time, Chisinau (the capital) are highlighted in red points on the map at the top.
Lisa has found many ways to serve the team at the St. Paul’s Theological College in Malaysia. She attends the weekly staff meetings and recently offered a mini-workshop for them as they think through transitions to online learning, considering the pros and cons of hybrid, asynchronous, synchronous, and blended in-person/zooming options. She has seen it all, in her years at Fuller, and it seems they found this quite helpful.
Lisa and I have also really enjoyed co-teaching the gospel of Mark to students in Malaysia. She brings a scholarly perspective on a theological or historical theme in the gospel in the first hour, then I take students into an inductive, close look at a passage. It's a great blend of our strengths!
I am also proud to announce that a book Lisa has been working on in the cracks of our nomadic lives has a publisher, Wipf and Stock, and is nearing completion! The tentative title is Resonate: Preaching that Reconnects Us after a Season of Distance. We hope it will be a gift of encouragement to pastors who have toughed it out through this long stretch of the road.
With Love and gratitude,
Rich and Lisa
Rich and Lisa Lamb