From last August 20 through the end of December it was our privilege to serve the Lord Jesus Christ as missionary associates in a city in China.
The seeds of our deep desire to serve the Lord in China had been sown gradually since we adopted our three daughters as infants from China. The Lord had planned from all eternity that Hannah, Elizabeth, and Rachel would be our daughters who we would love and nurture to know and love Christ.
Through the process of adopting our daughters, the Lord gave us a deep bond and love for the Chinese people. When we returned home after adopting Elizabeth in 2006, God placed a deep desire in our hearts to return to China to serve Christ. The Lord orchestrated the opportunity for us to serve in China. Our missionary was due for a furlough and pastoral ministry was needed for our Mission in China during his absence. We are so thankful to the Lord for giving us this opportunity through Mark Bube, Doug Clawson and the Committee on Foreign Missions.
We were profoundly and permanently transformed by our experience in China! Debbie and I remember the people and our time there and speak of different remembrances daily.
God used these new experiences to expand and strengthen my calling, and remind me of the power of the gospel to redeem those caught in the bondage of sin and living under the darkness of communism. The base of my ministry was teaching conversational English to fifty freshmen students. I wondered before we left about how would I be able to help these students since I will only be with them for four months? How would I build relationships with them to share their lives and the gospel?
The Lord opened many deeply meaningful opportunities to get to know students and to share the gospel with them. Students were eager to spend time with me over lunch and talk to me in the hallway or during my office hours. As they shared their hurts, their joys, and their needs, the Lord gave me opportunities to love them in really tangible ways and share the gospel with them.
The greatest impact made on the students was through our family. Most of them were the only child in their family. Over and over they would express amazement that we would adopt three children from China. What a great opportunity God gave through this. I explained to the class what I believe the Bible teaches about God adopting us into His family and that it was an expression of God's love for us to adopt our daughters.
On the last day of class we had a Christmas cultural lesson. I presented the good news from Luke 2, that God out of love for his people sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins. My family came to this class, and we sang Christmas carols as part of the English lesson. We were thankful for this opportunity to share Christ's love with the students.
Several of my students who had suffered from living in a broken home, told me that they were influenced by seeing the love of our family for each other and for them. This was a testimony to God's love working in and through us to bless the students.
God opened unexpected doors for ministry abroad as a pastor and deepened my understanding that the gospel is working powerfully wherever his servants are. These opportunities to build relationships with and care for students broadened and expanded my vision that the gospel is bearing fruit throughout the world.
Alongside of teaching students, my main responsibility was shepherding our missionary associates who served there. One of the pastoral responsibilities I was given was to lead our team meeting, which included a Bible Study, time of sharing, and prayer. This was a great opportunity to teach the Word of God and encourage our MAs serving under the pressures of the communist system. These pressures can be depleting as they battle under the constant oppression of a system opposed to the gospel. But these very pressures created a longing to be recharged spiritually by the Word of God. I taught the book of Hebrews, which was written to persecuted Jewish believers. Applying what we learned to the pressures and temptations we faced in China opened up fresh insights and the opportunity to shepherd our MAs who needed God's Word to equip them to evangelize and disciple their students.
Serving short-term in one of our missions will strengthen not only your commitment to missions but your congregation's. We faithfully receive Telenews and pray for our missionaries. But the real test of our church's commitment to the Great Commission came when we had to sacrifice my ministry as a pastor for five months to provide a furlough for our missionary and his family. Our family's service in China, tested whether the congregation was committed to missions if it cost them their pastor and his family. The direct fruit was a deeper partnership with our China missionaries and the work of the gospel in China. Our church prayed and prays for missions as never before. It tested our faith because we had to make a sacrifice beyond prayer to glorify God.
As pastors, we firmly believe that God has a plan for His church in which we are privileged to serve as undershepherds. While this plan is not dependent on us, as faithful shepherds, we may wonder how the sheep will be provided for in my absence. The answer the Lord gave me was "abundantly". The Lord provided Pastor Lendall Smith and his wife Sherrill to serve during our service in China. They served our New Berlin, Wisconsin, church with great love.
God's plan for His church will go forward in ways you never dreamed if you take the step of faith to serve through short term missions in our denomination. Your congregation will see God is always faithful and that He blesses a church that is committed to the Great Commission of Christ. My family and I were revitalized as the Lord brought us out of our comfort and put us into China where we had to learn a new language and relate to people in a different culture. This required us to trust the Lord for everything from taking a taxi downtown to buy groceries to learning to be very cautious when presenting the gospel.
Our daughters began to learn the priority of being willing to give up the comfort of the familiar to minister God's love in a different culture. Loving God first and loving others sacrificially are the most important purposes in life.
Through teaching an English Bible class at a large registered church, I had many opportunities to evangelize and pastor Korean/Chinese Christians and non-Christians. When a retired middle school teacher came to me before our class, I asked him if he was taking the class because he came to this church. He replied "No, I am a member of the communist party and Mao taught self -sufficiency." I talked with him for a half hour comparing Mao with Christ. I challenged him, "Mao did not die to take away your sins but Jesus did." These are the kinds of experiences that live in my heart now and God keeps using to compel me to share the gospel of God's grace with others. So many are learning God's Word because of an initial interest in the English language. The Lord does work in wonderful ways.
We discovered that while we went to China to serve and support our missionaries and MAs, God was also doing the work in us. We learned so much about trusting God, loving people who are very different from us culturally but share the same need for Christ, and encouraging believers to serve Christ in our mission. I needed what I experienced in China to be refined by the Holy Spirit, humbled, and melted to serve Christ in a fresh way in Milwaukee. Our congregation has learned to pray with greater zeal for missions, and to think of fresh ways to partner with our missionaries and MAs.
To God be the glory for His work of missions!
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