Are we taking Christmas back?

returnWhen you first hear the words “Taking Christmas Back,” what comes to your mind?  Tom and I recently arrived in America for our annual ABWE leaders’ conference and we’re also getting ready to celebrate our second Christmas with family on this side of the ocean.

While out and about doing some last minute shopping, we were both amazed at how much “stuff” is in the stores just waiting to be purchased.  The sales are abundant and somewhat addictive, too. (Does anyone pay full price for anything these days?) We organized a shopping list of “needs” and did our best to stick to it.

2take-back-christmasSo I have to admit, something that comes to my mind when thinking about “taking Christmas back”  are the anticipated and dreaded long lines of customers who, on December 26th and thereafter, will be doing just that – “taking Christmas back.” They’ll be getting refunds, making exchanges, and probably looking for special deals to purchase even more stuff.

Prior to coming to America on this trip, we started our celebration of Christmas in Cape Town with our kids and grandkids on that side of the ocean as well as our forever family at both churches, Mountain View Somerset West and Mountain View Hermanus.  Tom started the annual Anticipate Christmas series and each week leading up to Christmas MV’s theme of “taking back Christmas” has been emphasized using these words: Light, Glory, Grace and Truth.  After all, Christmas belongs to us…God’s people.  It’s not about people anticipating the “presents” and the various traditions of Christmas – but rather celebrating the incarnate “presence” of the Saviour of the world!  Taking Christmas back is acknowledging that the world has hi-jacked the celebration of one of God’s most important events—the one we’ve set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Son of God.

So, as we all Anticipate Christmas this week…think about what it means to “take Christmas back.”  Would you join us and your South African brothers and sisters in Christ and “return” Christmas to its true meaning?img_7239
With love from our family to yours…have a joyous and Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving Specials (And we don’t mean Black Friday!)

2015-11-25-1448482240-4534072-happythanksgivingpicsThe Thanksgiving holiday is not celebrated around the world but it can still give everyone a good reason to pause and give thanks, no matter where we are. What makes Thanksgiving special for many of us is family and close friends that we love and for whom we are grateful.

Nancy and I love being parents to our four daughters and amazing son-in-laws God has given us, as well as being grandparents to our six grandchildren (and counting!). We give thanks to God for His awesome work in their lives as they have graciously endured the rigors of ministry life, separation from their parents for extended periods of time, and still choose to pursue their walk with Jesus and raise their children to love Jesus, too. None of that was ever, or will ever be, taken for granted. It is a daily answer to prayer. “Thank you Jesus for blessing us as a family and keeping us close despite the distance and separation we’ve often felt through the years.”

IMG_6075Today is also a special time to say “thank you” to all of you who have faithfully stood by us and supported us over the years. You are part of what God is doing in Southern Africa and we give thanks to you for your partnership, friendship and the love you have shown us throughout this journey.

We celebrated our Thanksgiving holiday with a good ‘ole South African braai (barbecue) on Tuesday with the special ministry partners God has given us at Mountain View. Our prayer is that you will enjoy your Thanksgiving, and even if it’s not on your schedule for Thursday, and you are not in a place where you can get together with the ones you love, our prayer is that it will still be a special time of thanksgiving as you praise God for “the specials” – those people who, by His grace, God has brought into your life.

We just posted a family update (Where Are The Wolf Girls Now?) with some new pictures. Please go to the About Us tab and share in the thanksgiving with us.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!

Here There and Everywhere

mission-slide-variants-001The Church on Mission: Here, There and Everywhere is the heartbeat of God. Like you, we take the Great Commission personally. Some stay “Here,” as God leads, while others make the trek to be used of God “There and Everywhere.”  That’s been our journey and what a delight to be used of God here in South Africa.

Here, There, and Everywhere was the theme of our annual missions conference at Mountain View. For five consecutive Sundays we heard pastors and missionaries tell us of their journey to full-time ministry and the Biblical truth that calls us all to work toward the reality spoken of so vividly in Rev. 7:9-10, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belong to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

So, in keeping with that theme, this is what’s happening in our part of the vineyard…Southern Africa.

img_6670Here – Mountain View as a church continues to grow spiritually as well as numerically and we have been seeing an influx of visitors. What a joy to work alongside Pastors Dave, Mark, Wade and Matt as we serve the Lord in two church locations, Somerset West and Hermanus. In Somerset West we hosted a Family Fun Day as part of our missions conference complete with food from around the world and some local home made cookies too! It was such a success that next years’ outreach event is already in the making!

img_8726There – Hermanus is a town about one hour from our first church plant in Somerset West. You wouldn’t think with that distance there would be much difference between these two church communities, however, we are finding the cultural climate and variety of people residing in this area to be unique and new to us. Wade McComas is the lead Campus Pastor of this church plant, now over one year old. Wade, Tara and their children are doing a great job connecting with the people in the community. img_8694Wade is also teaching Bible classes at the Overberg Bible Centre while Tara (and Aislinn) serve in a pre-school within the township (sub-economic area). We are seeing fruit, howbeit, ever so slow but sure. We recently changed to a new location for our Sunday services to better reach the various people groups in our community. So far, so good…especially with all the kids who are coming.

fullsizerenderEverywhere – Pastor Mark will be taking over the role of lead pastor at Mountain View in Somerset West allowing Nancy and I to continue helping with the Hermanus church plant while also focusing more time on the Regional Director responsibilities with ABWE. There are exciting new adventures awaiting us in 2017. You may have heard us mention a survey trip to the country of Mozambique with our Brazilian Portuguese-speaking ministry partners who are looking to send missionaries “everywhere.” Please pray for us as we plan and prepare for this trip in April, 2017.

So, what’s happening in your part of the vineyard? We’d love to hear about it! Just drop us a line in the reply section or send an email to twolf@abwe.org – we promise to pray for you, as we know you are so faithfully praying for us. We appreciate you so much!

Want to be the next spiritual casualty?

As I take time to write this month’s blog post, I’m aware that it’s possible only a few will actually relate to the topic or be willing to consider it’s personal implications. But I am telling you – it’s real and it’s scary. It’s even with trepidation that I write…so, read on if you dare.

Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2015-09-03 22:29:17Z | http://piczard.com | http://codecarvings.comLast month I was in a meeting where my friend said something like this,“There can be no more pedestals in our organization.” He was referring to the number of good men and women of the faith who fall and become what is known as a spiritual casualty. It was a sincere comment related to the number of people whom we’ve looked up to for years, giants of the faith, who in our eyes were elevated to the status of “hero” and placed on a pedestal of high honor…only to fall off. Spiritual heroes who sometime, somewhere, somehow let things go wrong. When news like this hits related to someone you know or have even observed from a distance, it’s alarming, it’s incredibly frightening, and it’s also sad and discouraging.

bummer-of-a-birthmark-1Why? First of all, when someone who is “in Christ” hurts, we hurt. When a fellow believer is caught in sin or admits to a failure and comes forward, it affects all of us who are in the body. I don’t know about you, but I also feel afraid for myself and for others when these incidents happen, because I’m exceedingly aware of our need to be on high alert. Seriously, we all know things like this don’t just happen overnight, therefore, it should cause each one of us to immediately do a reality check and ask, “Am I next?” What prevents Satan and his demons from making me or you their next target?

I actually wrote this blog post several days ago and was uncertain if I should post it. I didn’t research the topic nor did I have anyone in mind. I just wrote from the heart as God kept bringing me back to my own personal responsibility to Him, my family, the hundreds of people in churches that partner with us, our mission agency, and the ministry partners that are part of our lives. What happens if I succumb to temptation and fall? What would be the ripple effects?

So, instead of putting my nose in someone else’s business or engaging in “spiritual gossip” about someone who recently fell, or even unintentionally contributing to throwing another pastor/missionary under the bus for being a disappointment to the multitudes, let me instead share with you five things that I desire and need to preach to myself. Reminders that I hope will help me stay at the task, remain faithful to the end and avoid becoming the next spiritual casualty.

  1. No More Pedestals. I’m blessed to have several personal “heroes of the faith” in my life. In addition, I have tremendous respect for the authors whose books I read and pastors whose messages I’ve listened to for years. However, I believe my friend is right. We have inappropriately glamorized and placed ordinary sinful people…because that’s all they are…on spiritual pedestals. My guess is that even in all their greatness and perceived success, they never really wanted that kind of treatment or status anyway. The truth is, the higher we hold them, the further they have to fall. And then it happens — they fall hard, people are hurt, and God’s reputation is damaged. As for me, (not that I’m on anyone’s pedestal or anything) I’m committing to daily preach the gospel to myself as a reminder that I am but a sinner for whom Christ died.
  1. No More Isolation. Trouble comes when we isolate ourselves from others, and that can so easily happen. We can become so independent that our accountability is gone. It’s even possible to develop a double life, being one person in public and another in private. But we need to live in community with other believers, engaged and willing to bring our own fears, pain, and struggles into the light and get help from those we trust. So, I commit to being the same person in private as I am in public. And when I struggle with something, I will reach out to a trusted friend or brother in Christ with full transparency — no hiding in isolation.
  1. No More Dry Days. That’s what I call the days when I don’t spend time alone with God, both reading His word and in prayer. You see, I know what it’s like to “lead on empty” — and every pastor reading this knows what I mean. bible-readingI know the distress of preaching with a heart that’s not right and a spiritual tank that’s running dry. I know the pain that comes from seeking the audience of many, hearing their hurtful criticism one day and their empty praise the next, instead of seeking the audience of one and serving for His glory alone. Being in the Word and in communion with God through prayer is what will carry you and me. You already know this, and so do I, but sometimes we trade our personal quiet time for time in the Word focusing on what we will teach and preach to others. Skipping personal time with God is one sign that you are headed toward becoming a spiritual casualty. It’s often subtle. It’s always blinding. And it’s amazing how long you can go before the cracks are seen – at least by you. Join me in committing to spend daily, regular time alone with God, reading His Word and praying.
  1. No More Denial. The most effective way to become the next spiritual casualty is to think it won’t happen to you. How crazy are we to possibly think we are immune when in most cases we are just one decision away from failure? Built on the platform of denial is a person who is overconfident and in need of a stark reality check. When life is going well, it is easy to become dependent on ourselves and less reliant on God. We can begin to minister in our own strength and giftedness and be deceived into thinking we won’t fall. Today, I commit to pray regularly for God to do whatever it takes to keep me humble and reliant on Him, realizing that in my own strength I can do nothing but fail.

*At the end of this post is a quick test to see where you are on the spiritual casualty spectrum.

  1. No More Sexual Escapes. Most of us are afraid to write or talk about it, but I can’t avoid the issue of sexual sin when considering spiritual casualties. Certainly, you’ve noticed how many failures or casualties are related to sexual sin and misconduct. It has to be the number one arrow that Satan employs and all of our eyes and hearts are prone to wander. Let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard work to stay “in love” with your spouse. It can be extremely hard for singles to abstain. And we can’t bury our heads in the sand and ignore that it’s hard for some who fight the sexual attraction they feel toward those of the same gender. What’s the answer? Well, numbers 1–4 help. So does making a commitment to having no secrets. No lies. In our marriages, let’s be willing to ask the hard questions so we can stay honest and sexually pure in our relationships. Be careful with all types of media and don’t let pornography creep into your life; I don’t care how soft it is…it’s a slippery slope and it only gets harder to resist the further you go. protecting_your_family_from_porn-title-2-still-4x3The statistics of men (and yes, women) using porn are staggering. As much as I would like to think it’s not true of believers or those in our camp, I have to say to myself, “All the reports can’t be that wrong.” So, I commit to setting a high standard of purity in my speech, my meditations, my media and viewing habits. I will commit to keeping the love alive in my marriage and boundaries in place to avoid areas of temptation in my life.

As you now know, I decided to go ahead and post this article, and for good reasons. I did it for my wife, Nancy, for my daughters and their precious families, for my parents and siblings, for my trusted, godly and hard-working colleagues, for our ministry partners, our fellow missionaries and a few dear and close friends who come to mind. And, I also wrote and posted it for me. It’s a humbling and scary thing to write and speak this way, especially if you are a fairly reserved person, which I am. It makes me feel very vulnerable, but also highly accountable. I think it’s worth the risk, if only to hold my feet to the fire as I seek to follow Christ.

fullsizerenderIn closing, I want to encourage you, plead with you, to join me in making these commitments. Let’s not be counterfeits that lead to casualties. Let’s be real, authentic, and passionate for Jesus and what really matters as we strive to finish strong in this Christian life. Most character building happens in private, so let’s spend more time building below the water line. However, we also need to live authentically in community with one another. So, let’s be less enamored with those we perceive as heroes on pedestals, and also less worried about how others perceived us. If you need help, please get it and get it now. Ask God to help you seek those who can help you avoid becoming a spiritual casualty.

*Spiritual Casualty Test – When it comes to finishing strong, you can actually rate yourself. No kidding. Here are four questions and then the correct answers. (Questions adapted from Finishing Strong by Steve Farrar, pp. 40-41)

  1. Do you spend personal time with the Lord in prayer and reading Scripture at least three times a week?
  2. Are there at least one or two people in your life with whom you have built a friendship based on trust, confidentiality, and accountability? In other words, do you have a friend who is close enough (that means you can’t con them) and loves you enough to get in your face if he or she needs to?
  3. Are you currently spending a significant amount of time with someone other than your spouse (someone you work with, or a person you are counseling, etc.)?
  4. Are you absolutely sure that you will finish strong?

Correct Answers: 1) Yes 2) Yes 3) No 4) No

If you have one wrong answer, you are at risk of heading for a spiritual casualty. If you have two wrong answers, you are moderate risk. Three wrong answers, you are a bad risk. Four wrong answers, you are dead meat.

Teach Many, Reach More

Wolfs MinistrySeveral years ago we revamped the look of our Wolfpack logo. However, the core of our ministry, making disciples, stayed in the center because it’s at the heart of equipping leaders, planting churches, developing communities and multiplying mission movements.

Perhaps you are part of the Wolfpack Team and you’re not quite sure what “Multiplying Missions” really means and how it practically applies to our everyday lives and ministry. So we thought we’d highlight a couple of things we are doing right now to fulfill this part of our calling.

IMG_2827 (1)In early July, Nancy had the opportunity to use her ESL training to teach several full-time servants of God from several different countries, such as Chad, Guinea, Uzbekistan, Cape Verde, Morocco and Sudan, as they participated in a program which teaches Christian leaders how to use sports ministry in their community. Many African countries report that 50% of their populations are under the age of 25 and sports is a wonderful way to share the gospel and invite young people to church. That’s one of the ways we are equipping leaders and thereby multiplying missions.

DSC00029We are currently in America for a mini-furlough and we just finished helping to facilitate a program at ABWE called Essential Mission Components (www.abwe.org/training/emc). We worked with many veteran and pre-field missionaries who were learning ABWE’s church planting philosophy which includes both methods and models for effective church planting in various parts of the world. We are actively involved in church planting ourselves, but how much greater our impact for Christ when we help equip others to go out and do the same!

Mozambique MapOne more way we are working to multiply missions, and one that we are very excited about, is our upcoming survey trip to Mozambique. It is scheduled for later this year and we’ll be traveling with the ABWE’s Regional Director from Brazil and the President of a Brazilian Mission Agency. The purpose of the trip is to see where missionaries are needed, what ministry needs are there, and how we can best partner with Portuguese speaking missionaries and Mozambique believers to reach the unreached people in that country. Yes, there are still people in Mozambique who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. Creating partnerships and mobilizing people will multiply the mission efforts in that country and many, we trust, will come to know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.

Years ago the quote “Each One Reach One” became popular. Well, we say “Teach Many, Reach More.” And that’s exactly what we are busy doing. Won’t you pray with us and even consider how you can help partner with us in specific ways…pray for God to open doors for Mozambique. Pray for God to place a burden on the hearts of those He will send to minister there.  What about you—would you go?  How can you get involved?  Got some thoughts — just write us twolf@abwe.org as we’d love to further involve you in the “multiplication” process God is doing! Thanks again for all your prayers and support!

Time for a Retake!

IMG_6075Sometimes it’s fun to look back, compare where you were then to where you are now, and to see how much has changed. We had a wonderful opportunity to do just that this past month while the family was here in Cape Town for our youngest daughter’s (Morgan) wedding. Here are two favorite “retake” pictures that we re-created while our family was together. 13220724_10100274812551654_7560242252571380146_oIt was so fun and encouraging, but it was also a bit sentimental and sobering – the years seem like they’ve flown by. I’m sure most of you know what I mean. Tom, who has lovingly been called “George Banks” for years (Father of the Bride), took it quite hard!

In much the same way, we are also looking back and remembering where we were in our ministry life when those pictures were taken and where we are now. Check out this retake!

IMG_6052These two pictures look pretty much the same, but with one major difference. We now have a fully established and completed church building (thanks to many of you reading this update). However, we are missing one important thing – a parking lot (or a car park, as we say in South Africa).

This is where we are now – Mountain View has saved almost half the funds needed and we have just started a faith-promise campaign aimed at receiving financial commitments from the forever family that we trust will be given to complete the project. God willing, the final building phase of this church plant will be completed in 2016.

Slide1God Will Provide. This is true, both for our family and the new parking lot. The proof is in the pictures. The amazing, all powerful, and sovereign God who provided and led us here over 15 years ago, with four girls in tow, is still providing everything we need. He’s proven that to our family and to our church. It’s a humbling, awesome, praise-worthy truth…from then until now, God has been faithful.

It makes us excited for the “retakes” in the years to come. Especially as we see the new church plant in Hermanus taking off and starting to mature. We say it each month, but it’s worth repeating, thank you for your partnership in our ministry. Together, we are making an impact for Jesus!

 

The Dreaded Day…A Missionary Response to the Donn Ketcham Investigation

image001Ephesians 5:11 says it much better than we can. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

Our ministry and personal blog site is not the place to rehash the horrific sins of ex-ABWE missionary Donn Ketcham, nor of the sins and neglect of multiple ABWE leaders who knew about it and did nothing, or the agency and its representatives’ treatment of the victims. It is heartbreaking and grievous, and we pray that at the very least, truth and transparency will lead to some amount of healing for those who have been hurt.

ABWE’s website includes the interim President’s declaration of ABWE owning the facts as we know them and the agency’s request for forgiveness from the victims and all those affected by this tragedy. In addition, the Pii investigative report has been made available providing more details than most of us will want to expose our eyes and hearts to.

Although long overdue, Nancy and I, along with the ABWE family, have been anticipating that this report would someday be released. As we read it along with you for the first time, we were overwhelmed with a deep sorrow, a fierce anger, overwhelming discouragement and a sense of betrayal in the organization that has done so much good for the cause of Christ around the world. This is our missionary family, our friends, people whom we admire, respect and look up to. The release of the report was a shattering day in many ways for us, not to mention the grief we felt, knowing that Christ’s reputation has been hurt and in the coming days and months will continue to be dragged through the dirt.

We’ve already started receiving emails with questions like, “What do you think or what will you do now?” So we thought we would answer that question briefly, as best as we can now, and also ask you to resist reading or listening to rumors and gossip. Instead, go to the ABWE website that details many of the pertinent questions you may have and what we believe to be an honest response. This matter needs to be openly dealt with and time allowed for people to process the facts and address the actions.

cropped-p20307662In the end, let’s make no excuses. No more hiding! No defenses! Is it too little…too late? YES! What we all want is transparency, taking ownership of poor decisions, forgiveness, healing and ultimately reconciliation – that is the heart of Jesus who in the end is the one who has been disgraced. All of that to say, may we not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:16). The task of the Great Commission is still at hand, God is on His throne, His promises are still true and we are spending ourselves to that end!

So, what will we do? And what should you do?

  • Pray for the victims and those who’ve been so tragically hurt and have lived with this pain for many years. And that includes Donn Ketcham’s family.
  • Pray for ABWE and its leaders (and the Board) as they strive to make it right, as right as they can at this point. Pray for the upcoming meetings with those victims who are willing to meet.
  • Pray for all the ABWE missionaries around the world (especially those in Bangladesh) who, like us, are expected to have answers but are trying to process the matter themselves.
  • Pray for God’s name to be lifted high, even though our true enemy, Satan, would love to see further damage done.
  • Pray for Christ-like patience and discernment. Be careful what you read and what conclusions you draw. Avoid making decisions without clear guidance from the Lord. Pray! And we will do the same.

Many of us are feeling the pain and grieving the consequences of this situation. We are also grateful for the continued support of our churches and individual supporters who stand by us personally, even though their disappointment with ABWE as a mission organization is great. Thank you for the emails and messages you’ve sent our way. Our ministry in South Africa is strong and remains effective in spite of Satan’s efforts to kill and destroy it from the top down.

We can attest to the implementation of the changes presented in the ABWE material made available for you to read and the seriousness and sincerity with which this investigation is now being handled. ABWE’s current leaders, none of which were part of the coverup themselves but are paying the price for it dearly, are embracing their responsibility as best they can to make sure this does not happen again. We pledge to do our best within the realm of our influence here in Southern Africa to do the same.

Our call to world missions that began in 1998 has not changed. We believe this is where God wants us and we are being faithful to our responsibilities each and every day. The role of our leadership here has never been more important than it is right now as Tom leads the missionaries in Southern Africa as Regional Director through these uncertain times. They need us and we are committed to help and serve them as never before. We are also committed to Mountain View Baptist Church and the national leaders with whom we have the privilege to serve here in South Africa.

If, after reading the information on the ABWE website (abwe.org) you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact ABWE’s Child Protection Response Team at 717.909.2315 or by emailing protectingourchildren@abwe.org.

Praying with you, Tom and Nancy