When Buddha Didn’t Answer

Sunday Chronicles #266 9/19/21

In 1974 while working as a writer in A/G Foreign Missions offices, I sat in on an interview with David Yonggi Cho and Philip Hogan, Executive Director of Foreign Missions. Cho told us his story, and I prepared it for publication. Today’s blog relates how he came to know Jesus and is excerpted from that article, “When Buddha Didn’t Answer.” Cho died this week at age 85, after a long and successful ministry.  He served in many leadership positions, including co-founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church and the World  Assemblies of God Fellowship.

My family lived in North Korea. War broke out, and we lost our home. As refugees, we traveled south to Pusan, South Korea. Money and food were scarce, and I worked hard to eke out an existence on one meal a day and continue my education. One day at work, blood came up and filled my mouth. Soon it was coming from my nose also. and I lapsed into unconsciousness. When I came to, my clothing was soaked in blood. I struggled to my feet and managed to reach home.

All night I was in and out of a coma; my fever rose, and when I coughed, blood gushed out. By morning I was more dead than alive. My parents took me to a hospital and a doctor examined me. He took X rays, then he said, “I am very sorry, but we can do nothing for you. You have less than a month to live.”

“Doctor,” I cried, “are you telling me the truth?”

He showed me the X rays and explained, “Your right lung is completely destroyed by tuberculosis. The upper part has collapsed, and gangrene has set in. Your left lung is also tubercular. Malnutrition and hard work have caused your heart to enlarge, and it cannot circulate the blood properly. There is no medical help for these things, so I have no choice but to tell you the truth.”

 At home my father tried to reassure me. “My son, there is no life and no death, no joy and no sorrow – only in Buddha is there reality. Forget about life and death and have peace.” I said. “My suffering is real. Buddha and your philosophies have not helped me. I reject them all.”

I lay there in the only shelter I had – a shack – covered by a dirty, torn blanket, waiting to die. One day desperation overcame me and I cried out, “Is there any God? If there is anyone called God anywhere in the universe, please come and help me! I want to be made ready to die.”

God answered my prayer, but in a way I least expected! A young girl knocked at my door and entered, carrying a Bible. I was stunned, for in our culture men dislike being taught by women. Arrogantly I ordered her to leave, but she said, “I can see that you are dying. I want to tell you about Christ Jesus my Savior.”

I became angrier and cursed her. I told her that millions of tuberculosis germs were flying around and that she would become infected. She only replied, “My Christ will protect me,” and continued to witness to me. Finally she left, and I said, “Bless Buddha, she is gone!”

The next morning, she was back again. This time she sang songs and read aloud from her Bible. I cursed and called her a Christian dog, but she did nothing against me. All day she talked of Christ.

On the fifth day when she came, I asked why she continued to come and pray for me. “There is Someone who constrains me to come here and pray for you,” she replied.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“My Jesus,” she answered, and tears began to roll down her cheeks. Suddenly my obstinacy was broken, and I too began to cry.

“Your Jesus I want to know,” I said. She gave me a Bible, and I began reading at the place she indicated – the first chapter of Matthew. After a few minutes I exclaimed, “This is like a telephone directory. How can this help me?” She told me to read on and I would find a wonderful story. After praying again, she left.

I read on, expecting to find difficult philosophy such as I had studied in Buddhism. But I found the Bible was about a Man called Jesus Christ, the Son of God! I read about Jesus healing the sick. If only I could come to this Jesus, I thought, He would help me! But I could not come. I had cursed and hated Him! I tried to find a Scripture showing that Christ hated sinners, but I could not find one. Instead I found that He healed the sick and sinful. Slowly the realization came that although I was the poorest of the poor, a great sinner and dying with tuberculosis, Jesus Christ would receive me!

Since the day she had given me her Bible, the girl had not returned. I did not know her name or how to locate her, but I needed someone to tell me how to contact this Jesus. I struggled out on the street and made inquiries. A man told me about a mission where there was an American “priest.”

I was so weak that I could walk only about 10 paces before I had to rest, but I begged the man to take me to the mission. When we arrived, the people were singing. Their faces glowed with happiness. The American “priest” stood up to preach. He had to speak through an interpreter, but the words penetrated my heart. When he invited sinners to come forward, I was the first to reach him. He took me into his office, told me the plan of salvation and asked me to pray the sinner’s prayer.

As I prayed, great peace showered down upon me. Every cell in my body seemed charged with new life. Something began to bubble up inside, and I thought I was going to vomit blood, but I found it was joy! I wanted to sing, but I didn’t know how.

“Is this real? Am I hypnotized?” I asked the man, who was Louis Richards, an Assemblies of God missionary.

He answered, “You are not hypnotized. Jesus, the fountain of life, has come into your heart. This is the witness you feel!” I returned home, and the joy and peace went with me. When I told my family what had happened, my father said that I should leave his home. I took my few belongings and went to my uncle’s house. He met me on his porch and said, “Unholy Christian dog, you are not welcome here. Go away.”

I had nowhere to go, but still the joy and peace were with me. I decided to go out to the mountains and wait for death. Then another thought came to me: I should go pay my last thanks to the American who helped me find Jesus. At his door I said, “Brother Richards, I sincerely appreciate your kindness in leading me to Christ. Since I have accepted Him, my family has disowned me, so I am going to the mountains to die. But I wanted you to know how I thank you.”

Brother Richards drew me inside. He and his wife made a place for me in their home. Sister Richards prepared good food, and we sat down to eat. I cried as I ate. “Brother Richards,” I said, “You are not related to me. How can you love me like this?” He answered, “Because Jesus has saved me, too.” My conscience would not let me stay in their home and expose them to tuberculosis. By the help of God, I rented a small room nearby.

Brother Richards continued to teach me God’s Word. He said, “The Word of God has tremendous creative power. It will heal you.” This news was almost too good to be true, but he showed me many Scriptures. I memorized them, and one day I was ready to test them. I locked the door of my room and began to pray. “Jesus,” I said, “I want to meet You and have a consultation about my future.” I waited, but Christ did not come. Then I shut my eyes, hoping He might come in a vision. But no vision appeared. I prayed all day. By midnight, strength had left my body, and I lay down to rest. Suddenly, the room became bright. Billows of what I thought to be smoke rolled in. Thinking the house was on fire, I tried to call for help, but no sound came. In desperation I looked about, and beside me I saw two feet. I looked up higher and saw a white robe. Then I looked into a face that was like a powerful sun with rays of light going outward. Still

I did not know who He was until I saw the crown of thorns piercing His temples; blood was streaming down. I knew then that He was Jesus Christ. His love seemed to pour over me.

My gods had been gods of fear and curses. Always I had gone into their temples to beg them not to punish me. But Jesus was different. I felt His love, and joy came from my inner being. My tongue and lips began to speak. I tried to stop, but it seemed that another Person was controlling them and forcefully expressing himself. I did not know what was happening, but I realized that the more I spoke, the better it felt, so I spoke and spoke.

When I became aware of my surroundings again, Jesus had gone, but the glory was still in my soul. I forgot about the pain in my heart and lungs and ran to the mission house. I told Brother Richards that I had seen Jesus and had spoken in a strange language. He opened his Bible to Acts 2 and explained that I had been baptized with the Holy Spirit as the early believers were. We cried for joy. This new experience made me want to witness more. I went out on the streets and told people about Jesus.

One day I realized that I no longer suffered from heart pain or shortness of breath. I went to the hospital, and after examinations and X rays the doctor told me that my lungs were well. No tuberculosis! Even my heart was its normal size.

The Assemblies of God missionaries encouraged me to attend Bible school in Seoul, so I went for training. I had no money, and in the cold weather one of the missionaries loaned me a coat to keep me from freezing. But I had God, the Bible and peace. Later I began to preach in a ragged tent on a vacant lot. A handful of poverty-stricken believers met there. I told them what God had done for me and that He would do the same for them. Soon the tent was packed, and people were standing outside. Property was purchased in downtown Seoul for a church, and the revival continued. We moved to a new location and built a larger building.

Yoido Full Gospel Church grew because we preach Jesus Christ “the same yesterday, today and forever.” When I was dying, He saved, healed, and filled me with His Spirit. The world needs more than a philosophy, more than a religion. It needs the presence of Jesus Christ.

“For Such a Time as This….”

Sunday Chronicles #265 9/12/21

“For if you remain silent at this time, liberation and rescue will arise for the Jews from another place, and you and your father’s house will perish [since you did not help when you had the chance]. And who knows whether you have attained royalty for such a time as this [and for this very purpose]?” (Esther 4:14, Amplified Bible)

The Biblical Book of Esther is unusual. It is the only book of the Bible in which God’s name is not mentioned, but His providence is everywhere present. Also, it is one of only two Bible books named for a woman. (Ruth is the other.) Furthermore, most of the events recorded in Esther take place in the king’s palace of the Persian empire, centered in what is now Iran. One of the largest and most powerful empires in the ancient world, it stretched from Europe’s Balkan Peninsula in the West to India’s Indus Valley in the East.

The events related in the Book of Esther take place in the Persian Empire’s capital city Susa (also spelled Shushan) during the years 478 B.C. to 473 B.C. Main characters include Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman; Mordecai, a cousin who had adopted and raised her; the Persian king, Xerxes; and the king’s prime minister, Haman, the villain of the story.

Haman hates Mordecai, who has the King’s favor.  Apparently the King doesn’t know that Esther and Mordecai are Jews. Haman convinces the king to sign a decree to allow the killing of all Jews throughout the Persian Empire on the 14th of the Jewish month of Adar (12th month on Jewish calendar; 6th month on ours.) When Mordecai learns of this decree, he tells Esther that she must approach the king to speak for the Jewish people.

She is somewhat reluctant, because she can only go into the king’s presence when invited. If she goes in uninvited and the king doesn’t reach out his scepter to her, she can be given the death sentence. Mordecai tells her that perhaps God has brought her to the position of queen “for such a times as this!” (Esther 4:14) Esther requested Mordecai to have all the Jews in Susa to fast and pray for three days, as she and her maids will do, then she will approach the king. “If I perish, I perish.” (4:14) (Mordecai is seen by some Bible students as a type or foreshadowing of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I agree with that thought. When the Spirit brings something to our attention, we need to cooperate with Him as Esther did with Mordecai.)

After the days of fasting, Esther arrayed herself in her royal robes and stood in the inner court. She had been queen for five years at this time, but the king still was pleased to see her and held out his scepter.

He asked what her request was and promised he would grant it “up to half his kingdom.” But Esther was wise in Persian etiquette; she invited the king and Haman to a banquet which she would prepare. The king accepted and sent Haman word. Haman was “over the moon,” sure that he was in for a big promotion. Esther did this two more times. On the third occasion, she revealed her request: to write another edict allowing the Jews to defend themselves. This was necessary because a law signed by the king of Persia could not be changed. When the king understood Haman’s role in the matter, he had him hanged on the gallows that Haman had prepared to hang Mordecai. Haman’s attempt to destroy the Jews was a demonic attack to try to kill the Messianic line that would bring forth Jesus.

Esther remained queen mother far into the reign of her stepson Artaxerxes and seems to have had considerable influence in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls and the return of some Jews from captivity.

Take-Aways from the Esther story:

1.God guides people who listen to and follow Him. Wherever you are, He wants to use you to bless others.

2. God is present in dark times when we don’t feel or see Him. Listen for His still small voice.

3. Jesus is the light of the world; as His disciple, are you using your influence and prayers to share God’s love and hope with those around you?

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Personal Notes: A summer-like Sunday afternoon in Springfield, MO, with temps in the low 90’s and filtered sunshine, perhaps coming through smoke from Western wildfires. Fall is at the door, with the sun setting earlier and nights lasting longer. So far the trees here have shown very little fall color. I’ve read a few predictions that winter weather in Southern Missouri will be colder than average. With no prejudice to the forecasters, I hope they have misread the signs.

Thanks for the prayers for my motorized chair to be approved. I have finished all the requirements that I was asked to complete, and now waiting to hear from Bach Medical. Keep praying! Chaplain Oberg announced today that residents in Independent Living (this building and the duplexes and apartments) can start attending chapel services in person next Sunday. I’m not able to go, but it will be nice to see people in the chapel again. I watch on Ch. 84 here.

Thanks for your notes, cards, e-mails, letters,…I’ll take any form of communication! I’m talking to myself more now…too much alone time! Peace, jwb

REFLECTING THE LIGHT

Sunday Chronicles # 264, 9/05/21

While we were at Ridgedale, working to plant a church, we had some discouraging days. One such Sunday, I felt I could not go on. Our crowd was smaller than usual that day, and a couple in the area on business came to visit our morning service. Nelson invited them to sing and testify, and they sang “Thank God for the Lighthouse.” I had never heard that song, but God used it to let me know that He had a purpose for the church there. It was to be a lighthouse to that community. Nelson’s failing health caused us to leave in 2012, with much work still to be done. The present pastor is leading the church in fulfilling that need.

Having lived my young life here in Central U.S., I read about lighthouses but had never seen one until I was invited to various districts for ministry. After visiting a few working lighthouses, I understood how vital their ministry is to guide ships into a safe harbor. With a bright light on the top of its tower, a lighthouse helps warn sailors of dangerous areas and serves as a navigational aid to keep ships and boats safe.

The first “lighthouses” were probably bonfires on the beach. The remains of early lighthouse towers, some over 2000 years old, have been discovered along Egypt’s coast. Archaeologists also found evidence of more than 30 lighthouses built by ancient Romans. The first British colonial lighthouse was built in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1716. All had the same purpose: to guide ships past dangerous areas and into safe water.

The first requirement of a lighthouse is to have a light strong enough for sailors to see on stormy nights. Before electricity was available, the lighthouse keeper climbed hundreds of steps inside the tower, carrying gallons of oil, to keep the lamps burning. It wasn’t a job for weak or inexperienced people. If the keeper failed to have oil in the lamp, the light went out and ships had no warning of danger.

In Jesus’ teaching He made many statements about light.

  • “I am the light of the world. He that follows me shall not walk in darkness” (John 8:12.)
  • “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).
  •  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matt. 5.14-15)

We are not the origin of the light: Jesus is! We shine brightest as we reflect His presence, often without knowing He is shining through us. If we shine from being with Jesus, we do not need to wear a label telling others that we are His friends.

In my childhood before many homes had electricity, people often had fireplaces with a mantle above, where they sat candles or a kerosene lamp to light the room. If they hung a mirror on the wall above the mantle, it reflected the light from the candles or lamp and dramatically increased the light in the room. To achieve that effect, all the mirror had to do was hang there. It had no light of its own; it only reflected the light. To me, that’s a picture of our role in being the light of the world.

Many of us see our world as becoming darker: Climate change is now producing more powerful hurricanes and forest fires; pandemics spread faster because of modern lifestyle and travel; more civil unrest in our nation is sparked in part by the availability of increased communication technology. But light overcomes darkness! The darker the world becomes, the brighter our reflected light should shine! In a dark room even a tiny night light, plugged in and burning, can give enough light so that you can avoid stumbling and falling..

The Bible sometimes uses oil as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. (See the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, Mt. 25:1-13.) In our churches we used to sing, “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Give me oil in my lamp, I pray. Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Keep me burning till the break of day.”

As the darkness deepens, may the life of every Christ-follower reflect the light and love of Jesus who said, “I am the Light of the world.”

Please continue to pray for Afghanistan… especially for safety of Christians, women and girls, and those who assisted U.S. troops.

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Personal Notes: A near-perfect fall day in Springfield, MO, with sunshine from horizon to horizon, cooler temps, and bright green grass refreshed by recent rains. Many patios are sporting colorful fall flowers.

Thank you for your prayers concerning my motorized chair. It has not totally quit, but does not hold a charge as long as formerly, so I have to plug it in and recharge at least twice a day. I have an appointment this week to get another evaluation done, but I have been told that new chairs may take as long as 2 months to arrive. Pray this one will hold out until I can get past the hurdles.

Health problems related to old age continue. I find comfort in reciting Psalm 23 to help me cope, perhaps because it starts with green pastures and still waters and ends with living in the house of the Lord forever! What could be better than that? Thanks for visits, cards, e-mails …all the thoughtful things so many of you do…to make my life better. In return I pray for our Heavenly Father’s tender care for all of you. Peace, jwb

“ONE MORE TIME”

Sunday Chronicles # 263. August 29, 2021

Greetings from Springfield, MO, on this last Sunday in August. We had a lovely rain shower about noon, but it passed over quickly, and now we are back to hot and humid. One of my projects this week (with help) was to check the hard copy files of my blogs, dating back to 2013. In going through them, I re-read a blog from August 2019, and the Holy Spirit impressed me to repeat its message “one more time.”

The MV chapel speaker that day was Rick DuBose, Assistant General Superintendent of the A/G. He titled his message “One More Thing” and went through several Bible stories where doing “one more thing” made a difference. He mentioned Naaman, who came to the prophet Elisha for healing of leprosy (2 Kings 5:9-14). Elisha’s message to Naaman was to go dip in the Jordan River 7 times. Naaman was offended by the lack of personal attention and went away angry, but one of his servants convinced him to do as the prophet said. If he had only dipped 6 times likely nothing would have happened. But he did it “one more time” and was healed.

Another “one more time” instance was Elijah’s prayer for rain on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:42-46). After praying 6 times, not a cloud in the sky! Elijah prayed “one more time” and his servant brought the message of a cloud “the size of a man’s hand”; I probably would have given up then, but Elijah saw in that small cloud the promise of a coming deluge!

Among the examples of doing something “one more time” Bro. DuBose mentioned how God provided manna for the Israelites during their 40 years of wanderings, but they had to gather it daily except on the Sabbath. They could gather enough on Friday to keep overnight. Any other day, a two-day supply rotted! He mentioned the feeding of the 5,000 when Jesus had the disciples break a few pieces of bread and two small fish (a little boy’s lunch!) into pieces and hand out to the crowd. They didn’t have a sack full all at once, but as they broke off pieces, they had enough for “one more person” until all had been fed.

He emphasized that as we give out, even if we have only a small supply, God gives back to us. He referred to the widow’s story recorded in 2 Kings 4:1-7. Her husband, a prophet, had died. She had a debt with no means of paying. Creditors were coming to take her two sons to sell as servants to get their money. She called on Elisha for help; he asked what she had; she replied, “Nothing but a small pot of oil.” He told her to borrow all the vessels she could get, go in and close the door and keep pouring oil into each vessel. She poured until there were no more vessels to fill. She sold the oil and paid the debt. Since oil is a type of the Holy Spirit, I see this as giving out of the little we have, God pours in enough for us to do whatever He has called us to do “one more time.”

My physical handicaps have increased, to the point that even getting myself dressed is difficult. Sometimes in despair over how little I can do, I ask God to let me go on to Heaven. This message from August 2019 spoke to my heart again this week to keep doing what I can “one more time.” August 2021 has not been kind to me; it included more time-consuming visits to medical people, more struggles to keep living alone. Thanks for reading my efforts to write “one more time” and for all your acts of love and kindness. Trust God to pour in the oil of His Spirit as you give out “one more time.”

Prayer Points for “One More Time”

  • Please continue to pray God’s protection for believers in Afghanistan who are in danger. Every time you hear a news story about that nation, pray “one more time” for God to send a mighty move of His Spirit. Pray especially for the protection of Christians, church leaders, and women and girls.
  • Pray for protection of those in the path of the storms coming in on the coasts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Even after the storm passes, the clean-up and rebuilding will take months if not years. Pray “one more time.”
  • If you are praying for a loved one to know Jesus, keep praying “one more time” until your prayer is answered. Even if you die before you see the answer, your prayers will still be effective. I witnessed this in my family. My mother prayed for her oldest grandson who had known God as a young person, but then turned back. She died before the answer came, but God continued to reach out to him until He made a new commitment and testified before he died that he was ready to go.
  • Pray that churches of all faiths in our nation will experience another “Great Awakening” and that students on high school and college campuses will be renewed in their faith by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit similar to the one that took place across America in the early 1900s. Don’t give up; keeping praying “one more time.”
  • Chaplin Oberg was again the only person allowed in the chapel today due to positive COVID tests in that building. Please pray “one more time” that we can have two weeks of negative tests so in-person chapel service can resume.
  • On the personal side, the motorized chair that I depend on to get me around for daily living needs to be replaced. It passed the 5-year mark this month and doesn’t hold a charge as long as usual. Medicare is supposed to help pay for a new chair, but they have added more paper work and an “in-person” meeting with a doctor, which I did this week…..now there’s at least one more “hoop” to get through. Please pray that this chair won’t “die” before I can get a new one.

Thank you for reading and for praying. “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). jwb

God Is Not Taken by Surprise

Sunday Chronicles # 262. 8/22/21

A Sunday in Springfield, MO, with bright sun and blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds. Temps are going up, but August is moving on toward September.

This has been a week of heartache as we watched the breakdown of law and order in Afghanistan. News stories and photos are heart-rending, especially for people of faith.

A person with knowledge of the danger Christians there are facing posted a prayer request on Facebook. Someone commented: “No evidence that intercessory prayer has ever changed a situation.” That person needs to do a little research. From the beginning of time, intercessory prayer has changed more situations than we have numbers to count.

Out of the hundreds of answers to intercessory prayer reported by missionaries, one situation stands out in my memory. A missionary to Indonesia, a nation made up of 17,508 islands strung along the equator southeast of Asia, had arrived back in the U. S. to attend special meetings in July 2000. About 6,000 of the islands are inhabited. Some are accessible by air travel, others only by boat. On his first night back in the U.S. the missionary was checking his e-mail. One of the messages was from the Maluku area and described the dangerous situation of Christians on the island of Ambon. Paramilitary forces, attempting to wipe out all Christians, had forced a group of believers to one end of the horseshoe-shaped island, where they were without shelter and sufficient food.

As the missionary read e-mails describing the need, he heard God say, “I’m sending you to Ambon.” He turned around, thinking perhaps his father had come into the room, but no one was there. God didn’t ask him if he wanted to go to Ambon; God said. “I’m sending you…”

When the missionary returned to Indonesia a few weeks later, he wasn’t sure what to do until he got a call from a pastor in Jakarta, who asked, “Do you know anyone in Ambon?” He told the missionary that his church had taken up an offering to help the Christians there, but needed someone to deliver it. Now the missionary knew why he was there, but he needed a contact person in Ambon.

A few days later as he was teaching in the seminary in Malang, he talked with a student. When he asked the student where he was from, the student answered “Ambon!” His parents were pastors there. Now the missionary had a contact and a purpose. A few days later, he was on a Boeing 737 going to Ambon. The flight was almost empty; no one wanted to go to Ambon, but flights out were packed.

The only way to get from the airport to the Christian enclave was by speedboat on the Bay of Ambon. Snipers regularly shot at anything going to or from the Christians’ area, so for his protection, the missionary lay on the bottom of the boat out of sight. Here is what he saw on Ambon: “The magnitude of the need overwhelmed me. …I found several hundred refugees from Assemblies of God churches. Each family had a wooden pallet with a bamboo mat on top for a bed. Cardboard boxes held their few possessions from their burned and destroyed homes. Children whose parents had died were alone. My heart was broken by the many needs.”

The missionary placed the offering he carried at the leaders’ feet. He told them to buy food, clothes, medical supplies… whatever they desperately needed. This gift was the first financial help the refugees had received since the conflict began months earlier. They wrapped their arms around each other and wept. In their excitement they kept repeating, “Do you remember last July?” Finally, the missionary asked “What happened last July?”

“Last July we were about to be overrun. We fasted and prayed for a week, asking God to please send someone to help us. Today our prayers were answered.” At the same moment God had said to the missionary, “I’m sending you to Ambon,” these Christians on Ambon were praying.

Now it’s August, twenty years later, and the need for intense prayer has shifted to the other side of the world. Here is part of a report someone on the ground in Afghanistan posted on Facebook asking for prayer for Christians there:

“The Taliban has a hit list of known Christians they are targeting to pursue and kill. The US Embassy is defunct and there is no longer a safe place for believers to take refuge. All borders to neighboring countries are closed and all flights have been halted, with the exception of private planes. People are fleeing into the mountains looking for asylum. They are fully reliant on God, who is the only One who can and will protect them.

“The Taliban are going door-to-door taking women and children. The people must mark their house with an “X” if they have a girl over 12 years old, so that the Taliban can take them. If they find a young girl and the house was not marked they will execute the entire family. If a married woman 25 years or older is found, the Taliban promptly kill her husband, do whatever they want to her, and then sell her as a sex slave.

“These are our brothers and sisters in Christ—many of whom have been serving as leaders as the Afghanistan church grows at a historic rate. Although people are heading for the hills, many want to stay in the country and continue to advance the Gospel.”

PRAYER REQUESTS

Please pray for the Afghan Church to have strength and endurance. Believers continue to lead Bible studies and prayer meetings, and are proactively evangelizing during the very events you are seeing in the news. Pray for them to be hidden supernaturally by the hand of the Lord just as in John 8:59 when Jesus disappeared into the crowd.

The Afghan Church believes that the best days for the church are ahead, and we will witness the greatest movement of salvation among Afghans from the ashes of this catastrophe.

• Pray for those fleeing to the hills to be protected (Psalm 73, Psalm 91)

• Pray for miraculous protection for women and children being forcibly taken and those that have already been taken for their protection, salvation, and deliverance. (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5)

• Pray that the Afghan Church steps into her identity in Christ and walks in unity with the Holy Spirit. (Ezekiel 37, Romans 15:5-6)

• Ask God to send His angels to protect Christians and pastors. If some suffer imprisonment or death for His name, pray that God’s presence will give them strength to be faithful until the end.

If we are faithful in prayer, perhaps in August 2022 we will be saying, “Remember August 2021? God heard our prayers for Afghanistan.”

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Personal Notes: This morning, as I listened to the Maranatha chapel service on TV, a dove lit on the railing just outside my patio door. Doves make me think of my only sister who died in 2019. She was a woman of faith, and she believed that seeing a dove meant God was sending you a message from Him. This has been a week of continued physical difficulties, so I’m hoping the dove is a forerunner of better things ahead. Thanks for your prayers, visits, cards, encouragement…all the kind things you do in Jesus’ name. You will not lose your reward. Peace, jwb

God Sees THE BIGGER PICTURE

Sunday Chronicles #261   8/15/21

Pastor Chen was being interrogated by two Chinese officials. His crime: leading a project to bring one million Bibles into Swatow on China’s south coast. The Bibles had arrived safely and been distributed to house churches before the officials were aware of the plan. Now they wanted names of pastors and others in the house churches. They threatened Chen that if he did not co-operate and give them names, things would get much worse for him.

Chen knew how to handle these interrogations; he had survived similar during the Cultural Revolution. The questioners already had their minds made up. Chen closed his eyes and prayed.  After threats didn’t work, they took Chen into the prison courtyard. They decided a beating wouldn’t help, since Chen was a frail man, and not afraid of dying. So they put a rope down from an overhead beam and tightened it around his neck. Then they had him stand on a narrow wooden box about 4 feet high. If he swayed or his legs gave way, he would hang himself. Two policemen were assigned to watch him. They spent the time playing games.

Thinking his end was near, Chen decided to witness to the two policemen.  He asked, “Have you ever heard of Jesus?” “Quiet!” one of the men said.  “We don’t want to hear about your Jesus.  It’s just a myth.” But Chen told them how Jesus came to earth, died for our sins and rose from death on the third day. “He loves you, and He loves me. Because He’s my Savior, I know I will go to heaven when I die, so I’m not afraid.” One of the men laughed and told Chen, “When I get to be 70 and look as unhealthy as you, I won’t be afraid of death either!”

Hours passed and Chen remained standing. His legs developed cramps, and he nearly hanged himself trying to shake them. As days passed, he lost all feeling in his legs, and they swelled to twice their normal size. He was given nothing to eat or drink; his only relief was the rain. By sticking out his tongue, he got a few drops of water; the rains also served to wash his clothes and give him a bath!

After more than a week, word began going around the prison. Chen  had been standing the whole time with no rest, no food, and no water except the raindrops. His guards watched as days ten, eleven, and twelve passed. Then on Day 13 a thunderstorm rolled in; rain poured and lightning flashed. The rope tightened, and Chen fell forward, unconscious.

He came to because someone was splashing water over his cracked lips. Slowly, he realized that his wrists were being rubbed, and that his legs were propped up on a chair. Blood was pumping into his arms and legs, and at first, he could do nothing but cry from the pain. As he became more aware, he saw that it was the two guards working on him. Why were they trying to revive an old man they had made fun of? And why had he not been strangled by the rope?

One of the men pleaded, “Don’t die, please. You’ve got to wake up!”

Chen was puzzled. “Why? What’s happening?  Where am I?” Chen could feel the man trembling. “Please, we want to know your Jesus.”

 “I don’t understand,” Chen said. “Why?”

“Because He saved you,” the second man said. “Just as you fell, a flash of lightning cut the rope above your head.  Don’t try to tell us it was coincidence.” The tears of all three men fell freely as the investigators repented of their sins and received Christ.

The story of Pastor’s Chen survival spread around the prison, and he was later released. No investigators wanted to face a man with his courage, so they let him go.

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But God does not always deliver His servants as dramatically as He did Pastor Chen. Peter was delivered from prison by an angel, but James the son of Zebedee was put to death.  Paul was freed from prison once, but later was beheaded in Rome after the great fire of A.D. 64 for which Nero blamed Christians.

Our plans/ideas are often not the same as God’s.  Had Paul not been imprisoned the second time, we would not have much of our New Testament. The letters he penned from his dungeon to the churches he had established were added to the four Gospels and Acts to form the basis of church doctrine and practice.

A modern case in point that God works for the greater good is the life and death of Missionary Jay Tucker. After he and his wife had served 25 years in what today is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (formerly Zaire), during a time of civil disorder, Jay was held prisoner by a terrorist group. Two days before Thanksgiving, 1964, he was clubbed to death. The next day his body along with bodies of other victims was taken 50 miles into the jungle and dumped into the crocodile-infested Bomokandi River. This river flows through the Nganga area inhabited by the Mangbetu people who had been totally resistant to the Gospel.  Noted missionary C. T. Studd had attempted to pioneer in that area, but was never able to win even one convert. Another mission also tried for decades but never made a convert among the Mangbetus.

After the rebellion had eased, the chief at Nganga persuaded an experienced policeman known as “the Brigadier” to move to Nganga as chief of the police department. The Brigadier was from Isiro, where Brother Tucker had lived. He had accepted Jesus through Tucker’s ministry and became an active witness for Jesus. In Nganga the Brigadier discovered that the Mangbetu culture had a belief that their land and the river that flows through it was theirs personally. Since Tucker’s body had been thrown into “their” river and his blood had flowed in “their” waters, they must listen to his message. This cultural belief opened the door for them to hear the Brigadier’s gospel witness. Individuals began to accept Jesus as their savior. Soon the Brigadier was sending messages back to the national church in Isiro, requesting pastors and evangelists to come and open churches.  A revival broke out; thousands accepted Jesus as Savior, hundreds were healed and some were even raised from the dead! By 1986, Nganga, after centuries of rejecting the gospel, had 30 Assembles of God churches. Young people are studying in Bible school and going out to minister. As soon as an update is available, I’ll add the rest of the story.

When Jay Tucker was killed, his death seemed like a waste of missionary talent and the end of his ministry. Instead, it opened the door for an entire people group to know Jesus. Our Savior’s heart is filled with love for those who need Him.

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Personal Notes: A quiet, calm Sunday afternoon in Springfield, MO, after a t-storm late yesterday came across Maranatha and a lightning strike took down a large tree. Lightning also knocked out some electrical devices for a time, so I turned off my computer and read a book! Health issues continue to cause problems, and I appreciate your prayers for wisdom as to how to deal with decreasing mobility. A card in the mail always makes my day and sometimes my week; thanks to Ruby Wesson and Joy McFee for cards I received this week. I pray Proverbs 11:25 for each of you.  “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” May the peace of God refresh you each day.   jwb

Footnotes:  
1.    Information on Jay Tucker’s ministry and death from World Missions files.)
2.   Chen’s testimony condensed from an article by Jess Taylor, who has written for Open Doors, a ministry to the persecuted church. Recently reprinted in a Guidepost book, “Do You Believe in Miracles?

Mary of Bethany: She served by listening

Sunday Chronicles. # 260. 8/08/21

The New Testament mentions six women named Mary. The two best known are Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene. Mary of Bethany would be next. She lived with her sister Martha and brother Lazarus in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem near the Mount of Olives and less than two miles from Jerusalem. Their parents are not mentioned, so I assume they had died. Jesus and His disciples often stopped there when they came to Jerusalem to celebrate Jewish holy days.

On a spring day not long before Jesus would be arrested and crucified, He and His disciples (probably 10 or more men who had walked for miles!) came to Bethany, possibly unexpected (no telephones or e-mail service!) and stopped at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The family must have been quite wealthy, because they had rooms large enough to entertain groups of friends.

When the men arrived, practical Martha began immediately to prepare food, probably with the help of maids. Jesus and His disciples occupied another room, and Mary stayed in the room with the men, sitting at Jesus’ feet, and listening to Him teach. This was a breach of social customs, and apparently Martha was concerned about Mary’s behavior. A woman could not presume to “sit at the feet” of a master teacher (see Paul’s statement Acts 22:3).

In her concern, Martha went to Jesus and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do the serving by myself? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41, 42). Martha loved Jesus, and she showed her love by serving, but Mary chose to show her devotion by listening to His words. Each sister was expressing devotion in her way. John11:5 tells us “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.”

The next time we hear from the sisters, they had sent a messenger to tell Jesus that their brother Lazarus was sick (John 11:1-45). Jesus had left the Jerusalem area because the chief priests and Sanhedrin were seeking to kill Him. He and His disciples went to a place known as Perea, across the Jordan River from Jericho. By the time Jesus and the disciples returned to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and buried four days!

Friends from Jerusalem had come to comfort Mary and Martha, but when Martha was informed of Jesus’ coming, she went to meet Him. She said, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Jesus engaged her in conversation and Martha expressed faith that He is the Son of God. She then returned to the house and quietly informed Mary that Jesus has come.

Mary immediately went to meet Jesus and repeated Martha’s statement, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus sees Mary and others with her weeping, and He is deeply moved. He asks, “Where have you laid Him?” and they led Him to the tomb. Jesus prayed a short prayer to His Father in heaven, then had the stone taken away from the entrance of the tomb. He calls, “Lazarus, come forth!” And Lazarus came out of the tomb, still bound in grave clothes! Jesus commanded those nearby to help Lazarus break out of the clothes of death. Mary and Martha must have been beside themselves with joy!

Earlier in His ministry, Jesus raised at least two other people from the dead: Jairus’ daughter (Mk. 5:35-43; Lu. 8:49-56) and the son of a widow in Nain (Lu. 7:11). Nain was a village in Galilee, and while the location of Jairus’ home is uncertain, it is likely that it also was in or near Galilee. While the news of these events may have drifted down to Jerusalem, apparently the chief priests were not disturbed by them. But when Lazarus was raised, with a crowd of witnesses from Jerusalem present, the Jewish high religious court voted to arrest Jesus and seek to put Him to death.

Once more we see Mary of Bethany in action. The occasion was a dinner at the home of “Simon the leper,” apparently someone who had been healed by Jesus. True to her gift, Martha was serving, but Mary was listening to Jesus try once more to tell His disciples that He was going to suffer and die. They were still focused on His declaring Himself King and giving them prominent positions in His kingdom. Perhaps they thought He was telling a parable, but Mary understood His meaning. She brought her most precious possession, an extremely costly perfume (My idea is that she had been saving it for her wedding…) and while Jesus was reclining at the table, she poured the perfume on His feet and wiped them with her hair. According to Matthew, she also anointed His head (Mt. 26:7). John tells us “he house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3). Judas criticized the “waste,” but Jesus told him to “let her alone for she was anointing Him for His burial.” Mark records that Jesus also said, “Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mk. 14:9).

Some take-aways from this story: Mary and Martha each loved Jesus and served Him according to their talents. Jesus valued both for their service. Martha provided food for Jesus and His disciples. Mary gave attention to Jesus’ teaching. Understanding His sorrow at His coming suffering and death, “she did what she could” …an anointing of perfume that “filled all the house.” I have often prayed that the presence of Jesus in my life would bring comfort and peace to those around me….that His love would “fill all the house.” I have not fully attained all this, but it’s still my goal that His love will shine through me.

In case you’ve wondered about the other three Marys mentioned in the New Testament, they are:

  • Mary the Wife of Cleopas. She was among those standing at the cross of Jesus when He was crucified (John 19:25). She is also identified as being the mother of James the younger and (Joses) Joseph (Mark 15:40). Cleopas is mentioned again in Lu. 24:15. He was one of the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ resurrection when Jesus joined them. Perhaps the other disciple was his wife Mary, but she is not mentioned by name here.
  • Mary the Mother of John Mark. The mother of the man who wrote the Gospel of Mark is recorded as having a prayer meeting at her house when Peter was delivered from prison by an angel of the Lord. It is at her home that Peter shows up after his escape from prison. “He went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying (Acts 12:12). Her home provided a meeting place for the church in Jerusalem during its beginning.
  • Mary, a Member of the Church in Rome. This hard-working woman is included in a group of people Paul asked to be greeted in his letter. “Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you” (Romans 16:6). That’s all we know about her.

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Personal notes: Grey skies with peeps of sunshine between light rain showers…hot and humid, with more heat to come in the next few days. August is behaving like August! Two more COVID-19 cases –one a resident, one a staff member–continue to bring lockdowns to the Rehab and Manor buildings. Again today Chaplin Oberg had to conduct a Sunday service alone in the chapel. He began a series of sermons on Heaven. As our bodies weaken and this world becomes more turbulent, our longing for Heaven increases. How wonderful that our Lord promises we can live free from sin and pain forever with Him!
As the song says, “I want to go there, don’t you?”
I’m thankful for the small services He allows me to offer to Him — including prayers for His people in nations where Christians are suffering and words of faith for those whose load is heavy. May our prayers be as Mary’s ointment and spread a sweet spirit around us. Thanks for your continued prayers and care for me. Peace, jwb

God’s Communication System: The Miracle of Prayer

Sunday Chronicles. #259 Aug. 1, 2021

“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of…”
(Alfred Lord Tennyson)

A Canopy of Swords

At one point during her years as a missionary, Gwen Foth had to return to the United States because of illness. Her husband, Oliver, remained in South India to complete the building of a Bible school. One day Oliver sent a cablegram, telling Gwen that the principal of the Bible school was critically ill. Immediately she sent word to various churches, requesting prayer. A great burden of intercession fell on the Women’s Ministries group at the Assemblies of God church where Gwen attended. It lasted several hours before they felt they had prayed through to victory.

A week later Gwen received a letter from Oliver, explaining the principal had suffered an attack of angina pectoris, a painful condition in which the heart muscles are deprived of oxygen. He was so near death that all the members of his family were called to his home. Hour after hour they remained by his bed. To relieve them, two Bible school students spent the night sitting by their principal’s bed, watching and praying.

Suddenly the door of the room opened. The students saw a line of men dressed in shining white garments and carrying swords. They filed into the room and completely surrounded the bed. Thinking they were dreaming, the students spoke to each other. When they realized they were both wide awake, they were filled with awe. They saw the men unsheathe their swords and hold them up, the point of each sword touching the point of the sword on the opposite side. A canopy of swords covered the bed.

Realizing they were in the presence of God, the students asked, “Who are these, Lord?” The Lord then spoke to their hearts. “These are the prayer warriors in America who are praying for your principal. As they continue to pray, the enemy cannot press through and harm My servant.” The students looked up. Dark satanic forms were gathered above the canopy of swords – held back by the power of prayer.

The principal was restored to good health and continued his ministry. His life was spared because intercessors travailed in prayer and drove back the forces of Satan.

(Adapted from Gwen Foth’s story, “A Canopy of Swords.” Gwen and Oliver Foth were missionaries to South India from 1946 to 1951.)

The Ants Came Marching

Missionary Murray Brown was severely burned in an explosion. His hands, abdomen, and legs were heavily bandaged, and he lay in a 5th floor room at a Kumasi, Ghana, hospital. Doctors had told him he would need skin grafts. Early one morning, he watched as an army of African ants marched into his room, got upon his bed and under the bandages. They began chewing on his tortured flesh. Murray called for help, but at that hour no one was on duty to hear his call. Three times he repeated his anguished cry. No one came.  But on the other side of the world at midnight in Scottsbluff, NE, a friend of Murray’s was awakened by his cry.

At first the friend thought one of his children was calling, but he checked, and they were all sleeping soundly. He returned to bed, heard the cry again, checked on the children a second time, but they were still sleeping. Back in bed, he distinctly heard Murray’s voice calling, “Help! Isn’t there anyone to help me?” He awakened his wife and told her, “I’ve just heard Murray Brown’s voice calling for help.” They prayed until they felt the need, whatever it was, had been met.

Back in Ghana, to Murray’s amazement, the ants suddenly left his bed and marched out of the room just as if someone had called them. When the doctors changed the bandages, they found new flesh growing, even on the areas most severely burned. No skin grafts were needed. Months later Murray learned God had allowed his friend to hear his call for help and respond with prayer. (The Browns retired in 1980, after nearly 40 years of ministry in Africa.. Murray died in1981, and Marjorie in 1995.)

“Prayer lays hold of God’s plan and becomes the link between His will and its accomplishment on earth. Amazing things happen, and we are given the
privilege of being the channels of the Holy Spirit’s prayer” (Elisabeth Elliot).

Facing Death in Tibet

Over a century ago, God sent Victor Plymire to carry the gospel to Tibet.  In obedience, he established a base mission and then traveled across that nation, using yaks and horses for transportation. Two Tibetan men accompanied him as helpers. Travel conditions were dangerous, especially crossing high mountains and raging rivers. They had to carry food for themselves and their pack animals. Winter began with deep snow and icy rivers. Travel was slow and tortuous.

Plymire told hundreds of Tibetans about Jesus and gave out New Testaments in their language. Many welcomed him, but after weeks of travel, they entered an area controlled by a local chief who intended to kill Plymire and his helpers. Although Plymire was warned, after prayer, he felt he should go on. The chief called a death council and brought Plymire and his friends before them. Seated on the ground before the council, they heard the decree: Plymire and his two helpers were to be beheaded.

This chief’s vicious scheming had not gone unnoticed by the God of Heaven.  Back in Olympia, WA, a dear old saint who lived in constant contact with God was awakened from her sleep. She asked God to show her what the need was. She saw a vision of a group of men standing in what resembled a tent. They were dressed in long robes of skin or heavy cloth and had swords. More imposing than the rest was a man seated on a low platform. On the ground in front of him sat three men…one had lighter skin than the other two and wore a leather jacket. She studied him intently and recognized him as a missionary who had spoken at their church, but she could not recall his name. Then the Holy Spirit whispered to her, “Pray for Mr. Plymire.  His life is in great danger.”  Immediately she went to prayer.  The vision faded, but the woman’s fervent praying persisted.

In the meantime a traveling merchant, who had been befriended by Plymire, arrived in Lhasa. He told others about Mr. Plymire’s approach and the news reached the Dalai Lama. Wondering why the local chief had not informed him about Mr. Plymire’s expected arrival, the Dalai Lama wrote a reprimand, informing the chief that if any harm came to Mr. Plymire, the chief would be executed. To insure quick delivery, the letter was sent by a runner.

Back at the tent, a Tibetan, fearing for his life, felt he had to speak up. Years ago in a different city, Mr. Plymire had washed and treated sores on his feet and prayed for him. Surely such a kind person should not be put to death. The man made his plea hoping to save Mr. Plymire’s life. But the chief was adamant; the execution must proceed. Mr. Plymire and his two helpers got to their feet and started toward the door …and death. Just then the runner from Lhasa arrived. Pushing through the crowd, he presented the Dalai Lama’s letter to the chief. As the chief read, his proud look changed to consternation. If he obeyed the Dalai Lama’s orders, he would look foolish; but if he didn’t, he would be the one executed! Deciding that embarrassment was better than death, he told the guards: “Release the men. There will be no execution.”

Back in Olympia, the elderly woman felt God’s assurance that her petition had been heard. She wrote Mr. Plymire, telling of her vision and included a rough sketch of the tent, the men involved, and the clothes they wore. By checking the time of her vision and prayer, Mr. Plymire discovered that she was praying at the exact time of his trial. As for the sketch, he said, “If a photographer had been present, he could not have made a more accurate picture of the situation.” (Adapted from Ch.10 of David Plymire’s book “High Adventure in Tibet.”)

“Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message,
oppose our arguments, despise our persons,
but they are helpless against our prayers”  (J. Sidlow).

An older woman approached a missionary in tears, “I would love to help you in your work, but I can do nothing except pray.” The missionary replied, “My dear sister, prayer is the work!”
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Personal notes: Rain showers late yesterday in Springfield, MO, provided cooler weather today and less humidity. Pain levels have dropped some, and I enjoyed the visits of my children and granddaughter Elizabeth. Now I must adjust to being alone again except the hours my kind and gracious caretaker Becky is here. I now talk to myself and answer myself, so if I don’t like the answers, I have no one to blame! Prayers, visits, mail…every contact is appreciated! Thanks for making the days brighter.  Peace, jwb

“Sing It Again!”

Sunday Chronicles # 258, July 25,2021
Story adapted from a report of a 1970s Bernhard Johnson Crusade in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

A GRUFF MALE VOICE said harshly, “Hullo! What do you want?”

Startled, Maria Lourdes began praying: “Lord, you were supposed to send a girl for me to witness to, and now I’m stuck with a man who is mad about something!” The man was screaming now. “If you’re not gonna talk, I’m gonna put the phone down!”

Maria was so shaken by the angry voice that she couldn’t remember what she had planned to say! Even though she was a new believer, Maria felt strongly her responsibility to share Christ with others. But was her first “fish” going to get away before she could remember what to say?

Maria’s hometown, Porto Alegre, is a city of a million people located in Southern Brazil. Maria, a blond German girl, was one of 10,100 people who gave their lives to the Lord in a Bernhard Johnson crusade. Maria responded to the altar call on Wednesday night. It had poured rain all day, and city streets were flooded. At 6 p.m. the crusade leaders decided that if ten people showed up at the stadium, they would have a prayer meeting at the downtown Assembly of God. When one of the staff went to the stadium about 7 p.m. he found 30,000 people standing in ankle deep water, waiting for the service to start! He rushed back to bring Brother Johnson. Johnson preached about 20 minutes in pouring rain.

He thought, “If anybody gets saved after this lousy sermon, it will be a miracle.” But 1,200 people came forward to make a public profession of Jesus as their Savior. Maria Lourdes was one of them. When Johnson finished leading the Sinner’s Prayer, Maria kept on praying loudly. Then she made a beeline for the platform. She threw her arms around Johnson’s neck and said, “Brother Johnson, thank you for bringing Jesus into my life. I was raised in a religious home, but I never met Jesus. Tonight, I saw Him for the first time!”

Maria came back on Thursday night and in the middle of the sermon God baptized her in the Holy Spirit. Her voice resounded all over the stadium without a microphone. Again on Friday and Saturday nights she was there and could be heard. On Sunday morning, Maria attended a service at the downtown Assembly of God. One of the speakers challenged the people, “How many souls have you won to the Lord?” When Maria heard that question, she put her head in her lap and said, “Lord, I’m ashamed of myself. I have been saved since Wednesday night, filled with the Spirit since Thursday night, and I still haven’t won a soul or witnessed.” She determined to start witnessing to anyone who sat by her on the 40-minute bus ride to her home. Dozens of people got on the bus, but no one sat by Maria. By the time she got off, she was embarrassed and told God, “Maybe this witnessing thing isn’t for me. Maybe I’m not capable.” She almost ran the half block to her apartment. When she stepped inside and closed the door, the Holy Spirit said, “Start witnessing now.” Maria whispered, “Lord, I live alone. If anybody’s here for me to witness to, it’s a thief!”

She waited several minutes, but heard nothing. Then the Holy Spirit said again “Start witnessing. There’s the telephone.“ Perplexed, Maria prayed, “Do you mean I’m to pick up the phone, dial any number, and if someone answers, I can start witnessing?”

“That’s it,” the Holy Spirit said.

Maria picked up the telephone directory, closed her eyes, and pointed to a number. She dialed that number and prayed. “Lord, I know You are going to send a girl or woman for me to witness to.” The phone rang five times, and no one answered. Maria said, “Lord, this witnessing thing isn’t for me. If no one answers, I’ll give up the whole thing.” On the sixth rang a male voice answered angrily, ”Hullo! What do you want?”

The unexpected response made Maria forget everything she had planned to say. All she could remember was a song, so she sang it:

“Just as I am, without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me.

And that thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!”

After a moment of silence, the man’s voice, sobbing and broken, said, “Young lady, please, please sing it a second time.” So Maria sang it a second time.

Again there was silence, followed by a woman’s voice, “Please sing that again for my husband and me.” Maria sang the song a third time, and the man’s voice said, “Young lady, my wife and I want to thank you a million times over. You have just saved our lives!”

Johnny Souza and his wife Clara had been married seven years, could have no children, and were too poor by government rules to adopt a child. Then six months earlier Johnny had lost his job. They were down to their last few cents and expected to be put out on the street the next day. Discouraged and desperate, that morning, they took the last of their money and bought poison. They agreed to drink the poison and die together. Johnny mixed the poison, gave one glass to his wife, and picked up the other. When the poison was just about to touch their lips, the phone rang! He told Maria, “You saved our lives. Now what are you going to do about it? You’ve got to tell us more about God. Where can we meet you?”

That Sunday night over 60,000 people gathered for the closing service of the crusade. Maria, dressed in bright red, slipped under the rope and stood by the platform. A few minutes later, with all the crowd looking on, a couple joined her and put their arms around her. They prayed together and then took the seats that Maria had saved near the platform. When the altar call was given, Maria, Johnny and Clara were right up front. Later, Maria brought Johnny and Clara to meet Bernhard Johnson. He wept with them, counseled and prayed with them, before he left Porto Alegre the next morning.

But that isn’t the end of the story. At a church service that week, the Souzas received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and were called to ministry. They attended Bible school and then became the pastors of a thriving church in Santa Rosa, Brazil. Their story started when Maria Lourdes obeyed the Holy Spirit and allowed God to use her to touch their lives with a telephone call and a song.

Bernhard Johnson and his team held evangelistic crusades in 65 nations, 225 of them in Brazil where 1.8 million people came to Christ. Since his death in 1995, family members have continued his missions ministry.

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Personal Notes: Clouds rolling in to Springfield, MO, on a very hot afternoon; t-storms expected later. Mother Duck has taken her chicks and left! Eggs began hatching Thursday, and when I looked out Friday morning, she was moving around on the nest, apparently trying to get comfortable on top of wiggling chicks.

By 1 p.m. the nest was empty except for one egg which didn’t hatch. I did not see them leave, but late Friday afternoon about sundown, I awoke from a nap to see her and four chicks on the sidewalk in front. She led the four chicks out on the parking lot; they trotted hard to keep up. She went in the direction of the creek, so I assume they are living there. I was disappointed that they didn’t stay with me, but perhaps they will visit again. Mother Duck knows that food is available under the bird feeder here. I think that’s why she chose to nest here.

Saturday night as dark was settling in a skunk was prowling around the edge of the patio. He must have smelled the egg shells …because later they were moved around.  I’m not interested in being a surrogate mother to skunks! Waiting to see what God sends next. Your prayers are much appreciated!  Peace, jwb

Phoebe: Crossing Center Stage

Sunday Chronicles # 257, July 18,2021

The Apostle Paul introduces her in the opening verses of Romans 16.  Here’s what we know:

1.    Phoebe’s home was in the eastern port city of Cenchreae, eight miles from Corinth, where Paul likely spent the winter of A.D. 56-57 in the home of Gaius, one of his converts. That winter he wrote, among other things, a letter to the church at Rome. As soon as spring weather allowed sea travel, Paul planned to take a ship to Jerusalem to deliver an offering from the Gentile churches to the suffering church in Jerusalem. Phoebe was planning a trip to Rome on some sort of business. She carried the letter Paul had written to the leaders of the church in Rome.

2.    The gospel had been preached in Cenchreae, possibly by Paul or one of his converts, and a church established there – a church where Phoebe was a leader.

Phoebe was a Gentile who had accepted Jesus as Savior. For a non-Jewish woman to denounce her gods (her name comes from myths about their god Apollos) and believe in Jesus, a Jew whom the Romans had killed in Jerusalem, over 1,000 miles from her home, must have taken a huge amount of courage. Less than 30 years after Jesus’ death, Phoebe was a devout Christian! The written gospels were not yet circulating.

3.    The word Paul used when he stated that Phoebe “is a servant of the church in Cenchreae,” is the Greek word diokonos,  translated  “servant” here in some Bible versions. Paul used this word 22 times in the New Testament books attributed to him. He describes himself, Apollos, Timothy, Tychicus, and Epaphras with this term. These men were all full-fledged pastors, teachers, and evangelists.

Perhaps Phoebe had carried the gospel to her own small city and opened a church there! Paul said her work blessed not only him but “many.” She must have been well-known and respected in her hometown. Fortunate is the church that have such women among their leaders.

It seemed that Phoebe would be traveling to Rome alone, so I’m assuming she may have been a widow. Paul asked the Roman church to receive and welcome Phoebe “in the Lord.” When traveling, early Christians depended on the hospitality of those of like faith. Phoebe would probably stay in the home of a Roman believer, whether Jew or Gentile.

4.    We do not know why Phoebe was traveling to Rome, whether it was some need of the church she led, or personal business. The extreme persecution of Christians was still about 6 years in the future, but Nero was already emperor. His mother had poisoned her husband Claudius so Nero could have the throne. Forces that would come against the infant church were gathering. Perhaps Paul, better than anyone else, saw the need for Christians to bind together in love and assist each other.

5.    So in the spring of A.D. 57, Phoebe, a Gentile woman, a leader in the church at Cenchreae, noted for the help she had given others, even the great Apostle Paul, started on her journey to Rome. She carried with her a letter of introduction to Paul’s friends and fellow believers there. The written words in her keeping were the first great theological document of the Christian faith. We have them in our Bibles as “The Epistle to the Romans.”

Note that Phoebe, unknown except for these two verses in Romans 16:1, 2, was from a small town. Whatever difficulties she may have encountered on her trip to Rome, she faithfully delivered Paul’s letter to the Roman church. It isn’t always folks from big cities or prominent people whom God uses. In our nation today we see ominous signs of gathering spiritual darkness. It’s our turn to cross the stage with a message from God so that our children and grandchildren in generations to come will be courageous in the battle for “one nation, under God.”

Photos by Andrew Booze

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Personal Notes: Cloudy, humid, with more rain coming to Springfield, MO, today. Birds are enjoying the feeders and a squirrel is trying to get to one, but he hasn’t been successful. Mother Duck is still staying on the nest. According to Google, it may be as long as 14 more days before we have ducklings.

Grandson Andrew has been with me since Friday. He will be a senior in Kansas State University this fall. Keep him in your prayers for God’s guidance as he moves into the future. Please continue prayers for me. I’m still dealing with unresolved health issues. Thanks for all the kind things you do for mel Peace, jwb