Saturday, February 20, 2016

Combo Team Trip

Camel Ride

You never know when the chance to ride might materialize.  

Riding in the New Lunar Year

After all the mutton dumplings of Lunar New Year celebrations, we planned a trip to visit the northwestern provinces of Mongolia.  We have churches that belong to our association in both Arhanghai and Hovsgol Province.

We left on Monday morning about 7 am, and arrived at Tsetsereleg about 7 pm that night. We stayed two nights there in the home of then leaders that joins the church hall.  The family vacated their home so that us 5 could sleep in their beds!

Our team consisted of 4 Mongolian teachers.  They taught on Celebrate Recovery, Financial Freedom, Family Counseling and Godly Character.  Not all the lessons occurred int he small church hall.  Much of the teaching happened in the local school.  The lesson on character was well received by close to 100 high-school students.  Financial Freedom courses were being asked for by their teachers who appreciated CAMA's expertise in organizing savings groups.  Pray that CAMA's services will be a blessing to churches and communities around Mongolia.

Wednesday morning we left at 7 am across more snowy roads to Hovsgol Province's Moron City, the capital.  We got in there closer to 4 pm.  We had to follow GPS because the dirt road in places is covered with snow and hard to find.  Without someone who knows the road, you run the risk of getting lost.

The road was also rocky in places.  Probably trying to make too good of time, we may have traveled too fast over some, and had a bad blowout flat tire.  The thing just exploded!

Thank God we had a spare that worked, and being mid-day, was not too unbearably cold to change.  We all got fair bit dusty but were grateful to be underway again.

In Hovsgol, we were received by a "Vacuum" CR rehabilitation center.  They had around 10 guys living there to follow the steps to sobriety and new life in Christ.  The center is so-called because it is tightly controlled.  They're not supposed to be let out of the center, like no contact with the culture around them.  I met guys with 3 and 4 years sobriety.

We again slept in a church building.  Down sleeping bags are required even inside with a fire.  I was a bit chilly in the night, even though the temps outside were above zero F.

The next day our team taught at a different church the Financial Freedom philosophy.  We left just after noon.  We stopped and saw our old neighbors in Bulgan.  Otgonbayar and his wife fed us more mutton dumplings.  That is all we ate in Tsetsereleg as well.  But I was able to balance out all the grease with Aaruul, or dried yogurt, and lots of tea.

I had coffee with some Pioneer missionary friends at their home in Hovsgol before we left.  They are amazing examples of persistence raising 5 kids over 20 years in Mongolia.

We got back to Darhan around 7 pm.  When you think that before the blacktop, that trip would have been at least 16 hours, it makes you grateful for development and progress.

Getting some new air and blowing out of town after a big bunch of feasting and celebrating the New Year is a good idea.  Out Mongolia team of teacher enjoyed it too.  I think the churches we visited and our Cama "Combo" team were all mutually encouraged.

To God be the glory.  It's good get a way sometime and 'ride in the new year'.

I even got to ride a camel along the way, far smoother than tiny Mongolian horses.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

To Rest is Best

I had a great rest last night.  As one of our previous field leaders used to say, "sometimes the most 'spiritual' thing you can do is sleep." I can't say slept like a baby, but I slept well.

Work is great, much better than boredom. It is the great equalizer and often a cure for what ails you.  I can even sometimes give thanks for problems, because they are a challenge to solve and a chance to do some good, add value, gain exercise and and get stronger.  Work is not a curse, but can be an invitation to cooperate with God in creation.

Even in the case of God's work, it is also good to rest.

In a world that has gone almost berserk with work, and business, where is your rest?

On one side, if our 'work' was physical like it was a century or even decades ago, people would be a lot more sane and get more rest. But as much of our work is mental and 'electronic' these days, there are seemingly more stresses on the minds of the multitudes.

I see it everywhere in business and ministry, in America and Mongolia, the constant 'work' of texting, emailing, and talking makes a 16-hour 'work day'.   When was the last time you answered an email or text past 10pm, or before 6am?  I bet it was this year or this week.

Reading today in Hebrews 4, I saw again the importance of people, especially people who serve God, getting proper rest.  Work that is honored by God and honors God rests.

Good News:  We get to rest, if we're faithful.
Bad News: Failure to rest is working to fail.

Hebrews 4Good News Translation (GNT)

Now, God has offered us the promise that we may receive that rest he spoke about. Let us take care, then, that none of you will be found to have failed to receive that promised rest. For we have heard the Good News, just as they did. They heard the message, but it did them no good, because when they heard it, they did not accept it with faith. We who believe, then, do receive that rest which God promised. It is just as he said,
“I was angry and made a solemn promise:
    ‘They will never enter the land where I would have given them rest!’”
He said this even though his work had been finished from the time he created the world.
For somewhere in the Scriptures this is said about the seventh day: “God rested on the seventh day from all his work.” This same matter is spoken of again: “They will never enter that land where I would have given them rest.” Those who first heard the Good News did not receive that rest, because they did not believe. There are, then, others who are allowed to receive it. This is shown by the fact that God sets another day, which is called “Today.” Many years later he spoke of it through David in the scripture already quoted:
“If you hear God's voice today,
    do not be stubborn.”

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

One Step Forward...

If you were to read our blog or newsletters, you might wrongly understand that the kingdom is always advancing, never receding or retreating.  That would be incorrect.

We who stand for God's truth must not only present His truth when things go well.  We can also be honest with God and His people when things fall apart.

Cama reaches out to visit area prisons with Celebrate Recovery and other services.  When some were released late last year, we saw one of them join CR, our church and become a fixture around the center.  So much so we had to explain that we are an office that can't be interrupted at increasing intervals with smalltalk and requests for help.  Especially when the person was put into jail for attacking a person who stopped giving him money.

So this week Cama workers met to interview and hire a new employee.  When our newly freed friend and constant presence at the center did not get the job, he appeared drunk and angry.  We urged him gently to leave and not start any conversations in his current state.

But he insisted and resisted on an emotional tirade, ending in the Mongolian men having to physically remove him from the the premises.  He even called by phone afterward to try to continue his argument.  We had told him earlier when he was sober that he was not going to be hired because of a temper issue that had surfaced with church leaders.

So this appears to by a One Step Forward, Two Steps Back moment in the life of one Mongolian in need of redemption, and in the mission of the church and mission.

Let us hope that this parting of ways will be a learning experience for all involved.  And may God, in his wisdom and power, turn this toward good and growth for his kingdom.

"Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Farmer and the Rancher Should Be Friends

Shepherd and Sower - Farmer and Rancher

I’d rather be a shepherd than a sower, a rancher rather than a farmer.  Farmers like Cain seem to work so hard that it makes them mean.  Ranchers may be looked down on jealously and even called lazy, but God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected his brother’s.  Why?

God knows that roasted meat smells better than roasted fruit or grain!  But seriously, why was Abel’s offering accepted and Cain’s rejected?  

Was it about the attitude of the heart?  Abel humbly cared for his animals.  Sure he probably spent time in the heat of the day catching a siesta under his hat in the shade of a tree on a bluff in the breeze looking down occasionally on the green valley below.

Picture Cain seething, tilling the soil in the scorching sun.  All the hotter because of his rage that Abel did not have to work as hard, and in a hurry to plant before the rain fell at the wrong time. Cain feeds on fury and fear.

In Mongolian winter Abel would wake up to snow, and his work continues.  He feeds the animals out of the fodder he has stored up.  He travels out to search for water, to break the ice, finds the flock home before dark.

Cain, however can rest easy, his crop already harvested and safely stored.  He can travel to distant warmer lands.  He can sleep in or rise and watch the shepherds go out into the cold winter mornings and nights, to watch and guard against wolves.  Soon he starts to get restless, feels lazy, himself, starts to get fat and sinks into self-loathing.  He complains about the weather, and can’t wait to get back into the fields, forgetting their heat. 

Abel will meekly overlook the stares and glares of his older brother.  He will humbly herd his animals to green pasture and still waters and see them give birth and gain each spring.  Like a tortoise racing a hare, Abel in the end proves faithful and able with what was entrusted to him.  So he offers a portion of his flock, his best, to the Lord who gives the increase.  And the Father and Lord of his soul, the Creator of all, is smiling and pleased.

God’s favor rested on Abel, but His wrath remains on Cain, whose jealous anger made him a murderer, coward, slave to fear, and a wanderer.

I’d rather be a tortoise than a hare. Turtles live longer.  I’d rather be a shepherd than a sower, a rancher than farmer.  Meat and milk tastes better than bread alone.  Humble honest work over the long haul yields a better gain than hot and hasty hurry, sweating in the sun and cursing the dry.

Better still, Abel and I wish the farmer and the rancher could be friends. 

This is only possible when each of them can in the words of Galatians:  “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.”  (6:4)

How do you test your actions?  Seek God, consider his thoughts, and let him into yours.  He knows them and your attitude and motivation anyway.  If your motivation is to seek and please him, he will know it and bless and accept you.  If both offerings are accepted by God, the three of you can sit down and enjoy a meal of meat, vegetables, bread, and butter!

A better meal than bread and water, or meat and milk alone, pleasing God is much more satisfying than the contentious curse of constant competition.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Happy New Year Again: New 'White' Moon and Month

So here we are already one month into 2016!  And would you believe the New Year celebrations are heating up again?  This time its for the Lunar New Year, which begins next Monday on the even of February 8th.  The morning of the 9th, Mongolians will be watching the sun rise with their most important kindred, and getting their yearly "embrace" with the family patriarch, or matriarch, whichever is the oldest member of the family, or most influential.  I say embrace with quotations because its only sort of a hug, with the older person sitting, the younger standing.  They each sort of sniffs the cheeks of the other, which they refer to as a kiss, but it's really like an Eskimo kiss.  Then the younger gives the older an offering of cash money.

When all the ceremony is done, they sit down to mutton dumplings with all the trimmings and libations then repeat at one house after another until the feast stretches through all their friends and family for about a week or more of mutton grease, horse milk and vodka.

We foreigners obviously have less of a palate for all of this, especially since we're in the throws of our annual budgeting process.  Planning does seem to be a good activity, as does feasting for the freezing sub-zero temperatures we're getting out there.  It's about -15 Fahrenheit every morning.  But it warms up to about 10 degrees above by 4pm most days.

The worst part of all the feasting is that most folks go into debt putting out a spread they can't afford to impress or at least keep up appearances to people they hardly ever see.  It's worse than the Christmas card wars, and at least as bad as the materialism of our winter holiday.  Their gifts may not be as expensive as ours, but they might give out 1000 little t-shirts, day planners, souvenirs, toys to all their visitors they receive over the week.  Most families prepare more than 3000 dumplings.  If you figure each guest eats an average of 3 'bodes' or sheep meat dumplings, then how many visitors are they expecting!!?

So Happy New Year.  Once for January 1 and another for the Lunar New 'Moon', which is synonymous with 'month' in Mongolian.

With the marking of this celebration the Mongolians will start saying it is spring.  It won't matter if the thaw doesn't come for another month or two.  By their lunar calendar and experience they figure the worst is over and start greeting each other: "are you having a nice spring?"  Let us hope they are hopefully and positively correct on both counts!