Embracing the Stranger Next Door

It was estimated that last year over 50 million people were displaced from their homes, with around 19.5 million forced to live as refugees. These people have been driven from their homes by war, violence, persecution, and disasters.  They have lost their culture, friends, security, sense of community, and often their dignity.

These are people with names, dreams, and hopes. These are people just like you and me. These are people loved by God. And they are coming to our communities.  Every year refugees, students, and other internationals are coming to our communities.  They are becoming our neighbors.  God is bringing the nations to us, and the church has been called to take the Gospel to all peoples.

How can we embrace the nations and reach out to those from other cultures that God is bringing to our communities?

  • Smile and welcome them.  Grace and kindness work in any culture.
  • Open your eyes to those that God has brought to your community.  Take time to see the server at the restaurant, the cashier at the convenience store, the nurse at the hospital, the new person in your office, or the neighbor across the street who may look, dress, and speak a little different from you.
  • Consider adopting a refugee family through your small group or church family.  The Kentucky Baptist Convention Missions Mobilization Team can help you connect to families through partnering ministries.
  • Start a conversation.  It can be as simple as asking someone their name and where they are from.  Ask them about their family or homeland.  Inquire about religious beliefs in their country.
  • Be a good listener.  Seek to be a learner.  People tend to listen to others who really listen to them.
  • Pursue genuine friendship.  Many internationals would love a real friend in a new land.  You are called to share with folks in a relationship, not sell the Gospel.
  • Be an ambassador for Christ.  Let them see Christ in you.  A good ambassador knows when to talk and when to listen.
  • Practice hospitality.  Share your phone number if they need a friend’s help or guidance. Invite them over for tea or coffee.  Drive them to the doctor or help them at a grocery store.  Have them over for a meal at your home.
  • Pray for them.
  • Share your faith story.  Tell them what your life was like before Christ, how you came to Christ, and what Jesus means to your life now.  Try to work on being able to share this in two to four minutes.  Avoid church words like lost or saved, as unbelievers often do not understand the internal language of Christians.
  • Remember the goal is not to win debates, but to passionately share your faith.  Stand strong on what you believe in a loving manner.
  • Finally, be ready for the day when your new friend wants to know how they can have a relationship with God through Christ.  Be prepared to share in everyday language what sin is, who Jesus is, and what the Gospel is.

 “Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time.  Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6).

How to Uniquely Involve the Uninvolved

Have you ever felt that only a small number of church members were doing the majority of the work?  It’s pretty common in churches, at least the ones I’ve been a part of, for us to depend upon the same few individuals to teach Sunday School, sing on the praise team, lead the men’s ministry, serve as deacons and coordinate the discipleship ministry.  When this happens, we are observing what is called the 80-20 rule or Pareto principle.

The Pareto principle, named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian mathematician and economist,  states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the inputs or causes.  What if we’re observing the 80-20 rule in our churches because we don’t provide opportunities for the uninvolved 80% to be involved in ministry that utilizes their gifting, skills and experience?  Ephesians 4 teaches that believers have been gifted and should be equipped for the work of the ministry.  Ephesians 2 reminds us that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  So, what if we’re not seeing more believers involved in ministry and missions because we’ve limited the ministry opportunities made available to them?

An example of this was recently seen when one of the international missionaries with whom we partner needed someone to come alongside them to help with the artificial insemination of dairy cattle on a Muslim island where a plaque had killed most all of the cattle population.   Several Kentucky farmers with the experience and knowledge stepped up to meet the need, and provided a Christian witness too! These farmers may not have volunteered to lead a VBS class or sing in the choir, but God had gifted them uniquely for “such a time as this”.

There are many unique missions opportunities that allow believers to find joy and fulfillment in serving because they’re using the talents and gifts God has equipped them with.  Christ followers want and need to serve – but not all are given the chance if ministry opportunities ONLY exist within a very narrow window of mission experiences.

Here are just a few of the many ways that Christ followers can use their passion, skills, talents and experience to be uniquely on mission.

  1. Athletes are needed to help with sports camps (football, basketball, archery, etc). 
  2. Help is needed with literacy classes or after school tutoring
  3. Farmers are needed to help with artificial insemination of cattle & crop production
  4. Business and leadership classes for professionals in other countries
  5. Cooking and food service help is needed in disaster relief work
  6. Business owners can help with the development of micro-businesses that provide income for indigenous church planters and missionaries
  7. Volunteers can learn how to install and repair wells that provide remote villages with fresh water
  8. Those with construction experience are needed to provide ramps or make repairs for the handicapped and elderly
  9. Plumbers and electricians have skills that can be utilized internationally or here at home as a witness
  10. Skilled chainsaw and heavy equipment operators are needed in disaster relief work
  11. Car mechanics could provide assistance to single mothers and the elderly
  12. Medical professionals can serve through clinics in remote villages or in areas of poverty here in the U.S.
  13. Small motor repair courses can be used as a ministry in many cities throughout the world
  14. Woodworking, leather or metal work may provide income for church planters in many places if they are trained and provided start-up resources
  15. Retirees have years of experience to offer and should prayerfully consider using their unique skills and gifts for an extended period of time
  16. Students should consider giving a month or a summer to serve in a mission opportunity related to their major or degree program

Every skill or talent can be used for God’s honor if we give it to Him through missions opportunities.  The next time you observe the Pareto principle happening in your church, let me challenge you to consider how a unique missions opportunity would involve that unengaged believer to use his passion, gifts and talents.

Are You Prepared for a Disaster?

Studies indicate that those who are prepared for disasters have a greater chance of survival than those who are not prepared.

So how can your family be prepared for a disaster?

  1. Be Informed.  What are the most likely disasters that could occur in your community?  What are the best safety practices that our family should enact if disaster threats happen in our community?  What risks do they impose on my family?   How can I mitigate the risks?
  2. Make a Disaster Plan with your Family.  How will we respond in an emergency? Does everyone know what to do if a tornado siren is heard, if flash flooding is occurring, or what to do in an earthquake?   How will my family get to a safe area?  How will we get in touch after the disaster to ensure everyone is safe and accounted for, or where will we meet if phones or computers are not working? And remember, practice insures everyone understands how to implement the plan.
  3. Put Together an Emergency Kit.  An emergency kit should include:
  • 3-5-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day).
  • 3-5 days of ready-to-eat food supplies
  • a first aid kit
  • paper plates, cups, and utensils
  • toilet paper
  • garbage bags
  • flashlight with extra batteries
  • plastic bucket with tight lid
  • disinfectant
  • household bleach
  • battery operated radio with extra batteries
  • 3-5 days of cash
  • essential medications
  • non-electric can opener
  • pliers
  • duct tape
  • matches in waterproof container
  • aluminum foil
  • pencil and paper
  • signal flare
  • wrench to turn off gas and water
  • water hose for siphoning
  • candles
  • good, sturdy shoes
  • rain gear
  • blankets or sleeping bags
  • warm clothing
  • box for important papers
  • whistle for signaling

No one knows when a disaster will strike.  However, we can and should be prepared in the event a crisis happens. Being prepared, may save you and your loved ones.

One last note, even secular disaster entities concur that those with a spiritual foundation, survive better and recover in healthier ways during disaster events than those lacking a spiritual refuge.  So, the greatest way to be prepared for a disaster is to rest your life on the Solid Rock of Jesus Christ!

“A shrewd person sees danger and hides himself,
but the naive keep right on going and suffer for it” (Proverbs 27:12).

Being Prepared for a Flood

Flooding is the most frequent disaster that impacts Kentucky.  Kentucky averages about 56 flooding events a year with an average yearly loss of 30.4 million dollars.

Sometimes, floods develop slowly, and forecasters can anticipate where a flood will happen days or weeks before it occurs.  However, flash floods can occur within minutes and without any sign of rain.  Floods can happen anytime and anyplace.  Being prepared can save your life and give you peace of mind.

How can you be ready?

  • Talk to your insurance agent and make sure that you have proper coverage, particularly if you live in an area prone to flooding.
  • Copy important documents.  Keep a copy at home but store additional copies in a secure place outside the home.
  • Take photos of your possessions and store them in a secure place with documents.
  • Have an emergency plan that includes best contact phone numbers and an evacuation plan.  Have an emergency kit that includes a flashlight, matches, batteries, candles, blankets, and a three-day supply of food and water.
  • Monitor weather warnings in your area and heed official instructions.
  • Always follow evacuation orders.
  • Seek higher ground.
  • Never walk or drive through a flooded area.  Turn around; don’t drown!  Six inches of water can cause control issues and stalling.  A foot of water will cause many cars to float.
  • Stay away from downed power lines or other electrical wires.
  • After a flood, check for structural damage before entering your home.  Remove wet and damaged contents and dispose of them properly.  Sanitize affected areas to prevent mold growth and contamination.  Mud and water from flooding can contain chemicals and raw sewage.

“A shrewd person sees danger and hides himself,
but the naive keep right on going and suffer for it.” 
(Proverbs 27:12)

How is your vision?

I have never had issues with my eyesight.  Well, until recently.  As I am now fully into my mid-40s, I am noticing that my vision is becoming a bit blurry.  Distances are not quite as clear as they once were.  I have yet to do anything about this new middle-age challenge.  Perhaps I should go to the eye doctor.  If I do, the doctor might prescribe me glasses, which would affirm my lack of clear vision.

Seeing clearly is important.  As Jesus traveled through cities and villages he saw people, and he felt compassion for them because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).  How sad it would be for us to see and yet not see the needs of people all around us. Because Jesus saw the people (Matt 9:36a), he felt compassion for them.

In other words, Jesus seeing people first led him to have compassion.  Compassion has been defined as sympathetic pity for the distress of others with the desire to alleviate it (Merriam-Webster).  Believers cannot look on the hopelessness of others and not be moved—moved not only with compassion, but with the desire to bring hope.

The Missions Mobilization Team of the Kentucky Baptist Convention exists to mobilize KBC churches for gospel impact.  We might say, to mobilize KBC churches to bring hope.  One of the ways we desire to help KBC churches see clearly is providing vision trips to various North American and international partnerships.  These vision trips are designed to expose KBC churches to the hopeless peoples and places throughout the world.

By seeing it, touching it, tasting it, hearing it and overall experiencing it, our prayer is that KBC churches will see the people, feel compassion for them, and do something gospel-centered to bring hope.  Making the most of a church’s time on a vision trip is crucial.

Be prayerful—With Paul, pray always.  Be in prayer as you travel from point A to point B. Pray as you walk and talk.  Pray as you hear from planters or missionaries. Pray as you return to your room.  The point…pray!  Ask the Lord to lead you in how He would have you partner in this place.

Be flexible—the time is short and filled with much to see and hear and experience.  Be prepared to spend long days with potentially shifting schedules.

Be attentive—take careful notes both on paper and in your head of planters/missionaries, stories, and situations that stand out to you.  What might speak to you now might be forgotten if you do not write it down and make note of why it impacted you.  Be observant of the area you are in (what is the community like, the people, the needs, etc.).  Take whatever notes necessary, so that you can make a prayerfully discerning decision about partnerships later with your leadership team.

Be interactive—this vision is meant to be an experience, not simply an informational dump load.  When able, talk with the planters/missionaries about the city, the needs, ways to be involved.  The point is to be engaged in the vision trip.

Be willing—to partner as the Lord leads you.  As David Platt suggests, bring a blank check (of your life) to the table and ask the Lord to fill in the amount.

So, do you have a clear vision for missions?  Learn more about KBC vision trips and partnerships at www.kybaptist.org/vision.

Tornado Preparedness

Tornadoes are one of nature’s most destructive and violent weather events.  A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground.  The whirling wind of a tornado can reach wind speeds of 300 mph.  Most tornadoes move from Southwest to Northeast but can move in any direction.  They may strike quickly with little warning, and in a matter of seconds can cause devastation.  Because wind is not visible, you cannot always see a tornado.  Every year, around 60 people are killed by tornadoes, typically from flying debris.

Kentucky lies in Hoosier Alley and averages 21 tornado events per year.  Peak tornado season for Kentucky is from April through June, but tornadoes have struck in every month of the calendar year.

Tornado Signs:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
  • Loud roaring sound, like a freight train
  • Funnel cloud

Know the Terms:

  • Severe Thunderstorm Watch – severe thunderstorms are possible in your area
  • Severe Thunderstorm Warning – severe thunderstorms are occurring in your area
  • Tornado Watch – tornadoes are possible in your area
  • Tornado Warning – a tornado has been sighted or spotted by weather radar

Be Prepared:

  1. Preparedness increases our ability to survive disaster events.
  2. Develop a family disaster plan and discuss the plan.
  3. If a tornado watch is issued, remain alert, monitor weather, and be prepared to execute disaster plan.
  4. If your area is under tornado warning, you should seek safe shelter immediately.
  5. Avoid windows.
  6. Get as low as possible.  A basement or storm shelter is the safest place to be.
  7. If your home does not have a basement, seek a small interior windowless room, like a closet or interior hallway.  Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
  8. Get under a sturdy table and/or cover your head and neck with your arms and cover your body as best as you can with blankets, pillows, mattress, or heavy clothing.
  9. Do not open windows.
  10. Do not stay in a mobile home during a tornado.
  11. If you are in a long-span building (shopping malls, theaters, gymnasiums, airports), stay away from windows, and seek to get to the lowest level.  If there is no time to get to a lower level, try to get under a door-frame, table, desk if possible.  Remember to protect your head and neck.
  12. The worst place to be in a tornado is in a vehicle.  Always get out of the vehicle and seek the nearest sturdy shelter.  Do not try to flee from a tornado in your car, and never get under your vehicle.
  13. If you are outdoors, try to get to a sturdy structure for shelter. If you are unable to reach a safe place to shelter, lie down in a gully, ditch or low spot on the ground.  Protect your head and neck with your arms.  Avoid areas with trees.  Never shelter under or near vehicles.  Do not shelter under overpasses or bridges.  Find something to hang onto.  Be aware that lightning, flooding, and hail can accompany tornadoes.
  14. If you are trapped, do not panic.  Seek to attract attention to your location with loud noises or by calling for help on your cell phone.

“A sensible person sees danger and takes cover, but the inexperienced keep going and are punished.”   (Proverbs 22:3)

“Hey, Come Over Here!”

As the Apostle Paul began his second missionary journey strengthening previously planted churches, he planned to travel northeast, toward modern day northern Turkey.  However, the Holy Spirit forbid him to speak the word in Asia (Acts 16:6).  In fact, the “Spirit of Jesus did not permit them” to go there (Acts 16:7).  Instead, they traveled west toward Europe under the Lord’s leading.  Why? Because Paul had a vision during the night of a man in Macedonia (present day Greece), saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).

So, immediately they concluded that the Lord was calling them to preach the gospel to them, and they went.  The first city they came to was Philippi.  Paul and his traveling companions went to the riverside outside of the city to find people who would be gathered there for prayer.  Women were there, and as Paul shared about Jesus, God opened the heart of an influential business woman named Lydia and she believed (Acts 16:14).  Paul and his team then shared with her whole family and they all believed and were baptized (Acts 16:15).

What an incredible start for this mission team as they were sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  The gospel is shared for the first time on European soil and a house church is birthed.  Lest one think that things always go this well, the following events take a different turn for Paul and Silas.  As they continued to stay in Philippi for many more days a slave girl with a spirit of divination began following them.  She continually said, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17).

Paul finally has enough and casts the spirit out of this girl.  Her master sees that his form of profit is now gone and drags Paul and Silas before the authorities, accusing them of throwing the city into confusion by proclaiming unlawful customs (Acts 16:19-21).  The authorities beat them with rods and throw them into jail.  Things definitely have turned downward…or have they?

While in jail Paul and Silas sit shackled singing praises to God.  Around midnight an earthquake rocks the jail and all the prison doors and shackles are unfastened (Acts 16:25-26).  Fearing that the prisoners had escaped, the jailor intends to kill himself, but Paul cries out to him, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28).  The jailor then asks the question of all questions—“Sirs, what must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:29)?  “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” Paul and Silas reply, “and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30).

Here are a several take-aways from this visit to Philippi.  First, gospel advancement relies upon the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Where do we go?  Just be faithful to go and trust God to lead you in where to go.  Second, gospel advancement involves engaging people where they are.  Go where people are gathered and engage them with the gospel.  Third, share the gospel and trust God to open hearts.  Ours is not the responsibility for results, but for faithfulness to share.  Fourth, gospel advancement often involves opposition.  Here is the bottom line, the devil does not like for us to advance the gospel.  Therefore, don’t be surprised when opposition arises; in fact, expect it.  Last, gospel advancement, amidst opposition, often leads to opportunities for God to do the unimaginable.  God can use demon possessed girls, earthquakes, and jail cells to change sinners’ lives.  If we will simply listen, we might hear the faint cry of someone “over there” saying, “Hey, come over here.  We need your help!”

What the 2017 Hurricane Season Taught Us

The year 2017 will be remembered as one of the worst hurricane seasons in U.S. history. Three major hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, and Maria) caused almost 370 billion dollars in damage, and it was only the second time in history for two Category-5 storms to make landfall at that intensity.  Two areas received over 60 inches of rain, one island was left almost uninhabitable, and September 2017 became the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record.

This hyperactive hurricane season left thousands trying to recover, and stretched the capacities of every major disaster response entity.  What are the lessons to be learned from this active response season?

    • Disasters create opportunities for the church to demonstrate the love of God and to share the hope of Christ.  Closed doors open when we show up to offer His love in deed and in truth.
    • Partnerships are vital to effective response efforts.  Working in partnership increases effectiveness and broadens our ability to help more hurting people.  We can do more together than any of us can do alone.
    • Trained volunteers have the greatest impact in disaster response, and greatly increase response effectiveness.  The best way to help in times of disaster is to be trained and connected with a reputable disaster relief organization.  You can get connected and sign up for a 2018 Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief training by going to http://www.kybaptist.org/dr/ .
    • Untrained volunteers create challenges for effective response, but spontaneous volunteers are always going to show up in disaster events with extensive media coverage.  Though untrained volunteers often create response issues, they can fill a needed gap when channeled in a right direction.  God used Southern Baptist untrained volunteers from our churches in amazing ways in the midst of the suffering and devastation, but they were most effective when paired with trained Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers.  Send Relief through the North American Mission Board gives us a vehicle to effectively utilize untrained volunteers effectively, if we develop a strategy from our lessons learned this hurricane season.
    • Disaster sites were overwhelmed with spontaneous loads of collected resources, such as used clothing, bottled water, and other resources.  Before collecting items for disaster victims, we should make sure items are needed and wanted.  We were reminded in 2017 that the best way to help those affected is by giving monetary donations, which enables those affected to both maintain their dignity and to purchase what they really need.
    • Recovery takes time for those affected.  Recovery often takes years for those affected from the loss of disasters.

    • Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the best ways to donate to those affected by disaster.  100% of every dollar given goes directly to meet the needs of those affected.
    • Southern Baptist Disaster Relief remains as one of the most effective disaster relief entities in the world.  Southern Baptist volunteers prepared more than 3 million meals, served over 90,000 days and witnessed more than 700 people profess faith in Christ as they ministered to hurricane survivors in 2017.  Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers brought help, healing, and hope to thousands of people affected by this extremely active hurricane season in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

“And our people must also learn to devote themselves to good works for cases of urgent need, so that we may not be unfruitful.”  (Titus 3:14)

When Our World Is Shattered

Last week a quiet rural community was jolted awake by a school shooting that left scores of young people, adults, and families reeling.  Marshall County, Kentucky continues to grieve as they seek to recover from an almost unspeakable act of violence, that left two precious young people dead and eighteen others wounded or injured.  This was a tragic and horrible day for this community and for every family involved.

As the community tries to recover, things will normalize but will be forever different from how things were before.  “Different” in these type of tragedies is an understatement.  According to the National Center for PTSD, 77% or more who witness a school shooting may develop post-traumatic stress disorder.   PTSD is triggered by frightening or life-threatening events.  Symptoms include pervasive and disruptive anxiety, nightmares, sleep difficulties, flashbacks, aggression, emotional detachment, social withdrawal,  on-going emotional distress, and even physical pain symptoms.

These responses are often temporary and ease with time.  However some individuals may need psychological and spiritual counseling to be able recover and cope with PTSD.

What can we do to help those who have gone through and survived such a terror-filled event?

  1. Observe behavior of those affected.   Are they demonstrating symptoms of PTSD?  Are they demonstrating behavior that demonstrates they need help or support?
  2. Be there.  People often do not need wisdom or advice, they just need to know that they are not alone and someone cares.
  3. Acknowledge their pain and confusion.  Let them know that you understand that this is a painful, overwhelming, or hurtful time.  Assure them that they are having a normal reaction to an abnormal event.
  4. Intentionally listen.  Focus on the person.  Follow what the person is saying.  Be conscious of body language.  Maintain eye contact.  Be comfortable with periods of silence.  Fixate on what you can do, not what you cannot help with.   Listen more than you talk.
  5.  Actively offer comfort.  Be with them.  Listen to them.  Walk alongside them.  Shield them from further harm.  Help them discover resources to help.
  6. Promote calming.  It is OK to weep with those who are grieving, but remember that you are there for them and seek to focus on their needs not your own.  Seek to help them reestablish normal activities and routines, such as eating, sleeping, exercise, etc.
  7. Allow them to grieve and express their grief.  Grief takes time and most people pass through several stages of grief before ready to move on from the grief event.  Everyone grieves differently and will pass through grief on their own timetable.
  8. Hugs and appropriate physical touches can offer healing and comfort.
  9. Pray with those hurting.  Prayer connects people with God, who is the ultimate source of hope.  Do not underestimate the healing that God often gives through prayer.
  10. Do not try to answer the why questions or offer theology lessons on how God acts in certain events.  In the crisis, people need to know you care, not what you may or may not know.  Let God speak for Himself to the person.
  11. Offer spiritual help when appropriate.  Those with spiritual foundations recover from disaster events in more healthy and positive ways than those without spiritual roots.   Remember to share how God has helped you in crisis times, not seek to force your faith on those affected.  Be cautious in seeking to share Christ to those who have experienced emotional trauma, as we never want to wrongly manipulate vulnerable people.

“Lord, be merciful to us! We wait for you.
Give us strength each morning!
                         Deliver us when distress comes.”  (Isaiah 33:2)

The Command to GO “Trumps” the Need

I am so thankful for the literally thousands of missionaries who serve the Lord in Kentucky each year through a variety of ministries.  Whether one serves as a long term career missionary or a short term volunteer, you are considered a missionary, “if in response to God’s call and gifting, you leave your comfort zone and cross cultural, geographic or other barriers to proclaim the Gospel and live out a Christian witness in obedience to the Great Commission” (North American Mission Board of the SBC).

Missionaries have met many of the physical, emotional and spiritual needs in Kentucky.  Through personal sacrifice and service you have fed hungry children, provided shelter for homeless families, offered accountability for a recovering addict, discipled prisoners in the jail, provided job training for the unemployed, built a wheelchair ramp for the physically handicapped, and cooked meals for the hungry following a disaster.

Why did you go on that mission trip?  What prompted you to leave your job and move your family in order to serve?  What motivates you as a missionary?  Perhaps it is your compassion for the outcast, sympathy for the poor, or simply an overwhelming desire to help those in need. Our primary motivation for serving as a missionary should be the command of Jesus to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).  Our obedience to His call should trump any and every need that exist.

We must be aware of the needs around us and always looking for ways to meet them in the name of Jesus.  There’s nothing wrong with feeling compassion for the lost and hurting.  But His command to “go” should be our driving force, not the hungry faces, homeless families or children in need.