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Mission Life in Southeast Asia: God is Constant

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Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:14 - 16

In a week that included getting stitches, a minor car accident (everyone is fine), hosting guests, feeling utterly exhausted, incapable and ineffective, and getting completely off schedule, there is still some very good news – God is constant and does not change. Praise God that our desire and love for Him does not determine His desire and love for us. Praying and worshiping were two of the last things we felt like doing this week. Reading the Bible was exceedingly difficult, fellowship with believers wasn’t easy, and there was no desire to reach out to others. Praise God that our salvation isn’t based on what we do or don’t do, but on what Jesus, our great High Priest, has done for us. It was a bad week, but God’s grace was still there, unchanging and abounding in our messy circumstances.

Being a passionate follower of Jesus in Southeast Asia is no different from being a passionate follower of Jesus in America. Some days we see God move greatly, prayers answered, and His Name glorified in the good works that He has called us to do. Other days, we are dragged down by difficult situations that envelop our entire lives and render us without capacity to accomplish anything. It is God that allows us to experience both types of days, and it is God whose presence accompanies us throughout both as well. May we all learn to respond to difficult days as the author of Hebrews exhorts, "with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We have such a great High Priest in Jesus who sympathizes with us in our weaknesses and continues to loves us deeply.

Even with knowing God’s presence in the midst of these difficult situations, we are happy that this past week is over, and are looking forward to getting back into the “normal” swing of things. We would appreciate your prayers for rest and recovery from this past week and for God to continue to lead us in the work that He has called us to here. May God bless and keep you all in His presence and grace!

Mission Life in Southeast Asia: Ramadan

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It’s a typical hot and humid day on our island. I perpetually wipe my forehead with the folded up paper towel I keep in my pocket.  We load the girls up into the car and head out to one of the six malls on our little island. The road is jam packed with cars and motorcycles zipping in and out of traffic. The mall is adorned with green and yellow decorations and there is Arabic sounding music playing in the background. The nearly empty restaurants have curtains draped over their open areas so that people cannot see in. There are big sales and promotions in nearly every store and there is a holiday feeling in the air…. this is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast for an entire month. Their fast begins each day just before sunrise and ends right at sunset.  This month of fasting is one of the five pillars, or most important aspects of Islam. Throughout this month there is a kind of hyper-spirituality that consumes the entire community. On the streets and in the stores you see people walking around in Muslim garb, vendors selling special snacks for breaking fast in the late afternoon, and Mosques blaring prayers, sermons, and chanting from their loudspeakers. Our house is sandwiched between a couple of very loud mosques that continually bombard us with their loudspeakers from about 6 - 10 p.m. every night during Ramadan. Surprisingly, our kids are able to sleep through it, and it doesn’t affect their bed times much, which we are very thankful for. 

Throughout Ramadan, Muslims wake up very early, often around 3 a.m., in order to cook and share large meals with their families before fasting for the day begins. At sunset there are often large events and get-togethers for people to break the fast together.  The fast is usually broken by eating a date, which is how their prophet Mohamed traditionally broke his fast. This season presents good opportunities to get together with our Muslim friends in the evenings and join them for “breaking fast” meals.  We can’t help but notice the Christmas-like feeling that this season has on our community here, characterized by family gatherings, feasting, and holiday decorations with music. The end of the fasting month culminates in a day of feasting and celebration called Idul Fitri, where Muslims and their friends enjoy special meals together and visit one another in their homes. Idul Fitri is a great day for us to show honor to our friends here and have meaningful visits with them and their families.  

Over the last number of years, we have asked many of our Muslim friends why they fast and what the overall meaning of the fasting month is. We have heard a great variety of answers, such as: trying to make up for sins they have committed in the past, earning points with God for eternity, refraining form sin, showing devotion, and empathizing with people who don’t have enough to eat and drink. It is one thing to Google the fasting month and then assume all Muslims believe the same thing and practice it in the same way, however, in reality, Muslims are complicated individuals who have their own differing thoughts and opinions on the subject. Our job as ambassadors for Christ here is to meet people where they are, address the issues that they are dealing with as individuals, share truth, and welcome them into God’s Kingdom through Jesus. Please pray for us and for our relationships as we seek to be light and share truth here during this hyper-spiritualized fasting month, when the issues of sin, righteousness, and eternity are closer to the forefront of peoples’ minds.