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Hope Amidst Chaos

God, from ancient times, has done unusual, unexpected, and sometimes unwelcome things in order to draw the attention of mankind to the fact that is is the one and only God and that He is at work in the affairs of mankind.

Isaiah 41:19 – 20 reads:

I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.”

Cypress is something that we have a lot of here in Florida. When Isaiah writes that God will set the fir and the cypress together in the wasteland, he is indicating that God is about to do something spectacular. Cypress is the quintessential tree of the vast swamps of Florida (OK, they call them hammocks down here, but that is for a different discussion). The cypress is the buttress-rooted tree that requires vast amounts of water to stay alive and grow–not something you find in the middle of the desert.

A blue heron among the cypress trees.

A blue heron among the cypress trees.

Easter Sunday 2007 the Gospel According to Mark in the Somau Garia language (Xoiteupo Asinaku Kuna Makie Xayawoki) was dedicated to the Lord and distributed. This book has been in circulation for seven years. Our family has been away almost as long. The desert has come in those seven years.

A major player on the Somau Garia team became gravely ill a few years ago with a medical condition that left him weakened and virtually crippled. There was a resurgence of animistic practice among some of the villages. Satan unleashed his forces, lashing out at those who would be changed by the Word of God in the heart language.

Yet God delights in planting cypress in the desert. He is a good Father who listens to the prayers of his children and leads them in the way of blessing. Last year the very team member left weakened by crippling disease continued to work on drafting books of the New Testament in the hope of help from the mission community. He dropped by the Pioneer Bible Translators office in Madang and asked, “Did you see the Owen family when you were in the U.S.?” The response dripped with the oil of the Holy Spirit. “No. I don’t think that they will be back. But, go back to your village and pray and see what God will do.” This friend did that very thing.

God did something completely unexpected. About the same time, I set aside a day for prayer and reflection, not knowing anything of what was happening on the other side of the Pacific. I was finished with the day and packing up my things to go home when, as clear as day, God impressed upon my spirit, “It is time to return to PNG and finish what you started.”

It has been an arduous journey, yet God continues to work. The wheels are coming off of the bus of this world and yet God is still concerned with the poor and forgotten. He still loves and cares for those whom the world despises. Here in the middle of the tempest of 21st century life, God moves, God loves, God plants cypress trees in the desert.

What an opportunity lies before all of us.

Our prayer and our hope is to be on the field again by October 2014. God is working. God is raising up partners. God is answering prayers. He loves to surprise us, “that the people might see . . . that the hand of the Lord has done this . . .” Wow!

What an amazing joy there is in participating in what God is doing in this generation!

How Best to Partner:

  • We are in need of monthly ministry partners. You can click here to go to our Donate page to find instructions on how to get involved financially.
  • We are in need of special donations to cover expenses like airfare, set up costs, and the purchase of a four-wheel drive.
  • We are in need of intercessory prayer partners to take the needs of the Somau Garia people and our family before the throne of God. You can download a 31 day prayer guide by clicking here.

Please feel to drop us a note by clicking here with any questions, comments, etc. We’d love to get better acquainted.

 

 

 

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Old Photos and New Life

Memories sit on the shelf of the mind quite often collecting dust and serving little purpose, like old family photos placed in a hall closet and forgotten through most days. There they sit until relatives land in town for a few days or one of the kids is home from college. Then they see the light of day.

I’m pulling a few of those memories from the closet today as I reflect on something that happened thirty-two years ago today (April 11, 1982). It was that Easter Sunday that I surrendered my life, my rights, my past, present, and future to Jesus Christ. I was buried with him in baptism and raised again with him to new life.

Why was that? Why would I have made that decision? How did it really change anything?

Walk to the shelf with me. Let’s pull out one of the photos from years earlier. The photo is shadowy. There is a six year old boy, wearing pajamas. His sallow face is swollen, hair tussled. A small pair of plastic-framed glasses lay on the night stand. He is kneeling under the table, eyes squeezed shut, hands folded. It looks as he could bolt at any moment, running for his life. There is a caption below: “Please God, I don’t want to die.” He had been told a few hours before that he might only have six months to live.

How about this one. Look at this. This photo is of an eight-year-old boy, sitting on the bench seat of a moving truck. He is holding a Orange Crush soda in his hand, his big eyes gazing up at his dad, grinning like a possum eating sweet potato. He gets to ride with Daddy on the first leg of the trip south to a new home. That new home would end up being southeast Kansas. Caption here: “What will life be like there? Will I fit in? Will they like me?”

What’s this? In this photo our little boy is alone, face tear-stained, shaking. Small towns can be cruel. Sometimes older siblings can be too. This photo was “taken” just after he was left at home, everyone else headed out for pizza and fun. Caption here: “Why?” Pause for a moment and consider this one. Lonely, alone, hurting, fearful, sick, desperately looking for . . . acceptance. We place this photo back in the box. How depressing. But wait . . .

Here’s an interesting one. There is our boy sitting in a church pew. The cushions were red, the hymnals that sort of 70’s burgundy that found its way onto Lincoln Continentals, velvet suits, and church hymnals in those days. The crowd is small–must’ve been a Sunday night–definitely. The preacher at the edge of the picture isn’t wearing a tie. Definitely Sunday night. White knuckles. Right there in the center of this photo. Our little boy is white-knuckling the back of the pew in front of him. He has talked to the preacher. He knows about Hell . . . and heaven. He knows about sin and its wages. He knows the price of rejecting God. Yet, the knuckles are white, the boy stationary.

What’s this one? This photo is different than the others. It is effusive, almost glowing. Can photos glow? In this photo the boy is dressed in white. His hair drips, water running down his chin. Is it water or Spirit? His eyes are bright, his face no longer sallow but warm and ruddy and alive. He smiles and feels clean, pure, new, and empowered. It seems like it must be the same boy from the other photos, yet not. There is still fear in this photo, yet it is a holy fear, not one born of dread and death. Oh yes, Easter Sunday. 1982.

That photo was taken 32 years ago today. Death died that day in me and became Life. Dark was dispelled by Light. Lost became found. Rejection was redeemed by the One who had been rejected without cause. Loneliness was removed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit came to make a new home in me.

Aged Todd Portrait Photo

I thank God today that He looked at my sickness, my loneliness, my pain and buried those in the grave. I thank God today that by the power of the resurrection and by His Spirit he raised me to eternal life, lived in Him. I thank God today that he has given me opportunity upon opportunity to put hands and feet on “thank you.”

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Please Pray, March 5, 2014

Grateful for the opportunity to call believers to faith and to good works which God prepared in advance for us to do–by means of the Spring Forward Campaign. Why is it a privilege? Hebrews 11:6 reads: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

If I truly care about my brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God, then it follows that any call to deeper faith and greater obedience to Jesus is an act of love, mercy, and solidarity.

  • Pray with us today and throughout the next two months that God will open doors and unleash the resources needed to get us to the field this year. 
  • Pray that God will show us clearly who to approach, how to connect them to this vital project, and when is His time for this.
  • Pray that we will stay encouraged and have the presence of mind to put on our spiritual armor each and every morning before launching our day.

Thank you for praying with us.

Blessings

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Day 39: Please Pray, December 30, 2013

I’ve been asking the Lord to give me direction for the coming year. What should 2014 look like? What should our goals be? What does the time line look like? I’ve been asking for very specific areas. Aside from a few personal “nudges”, the Holy Spirit has consistently pointed me back to basics and to some overarching principles to walk and work by:

  1. Our primary and foundational strategy for ministry is prayer. It is our desire for 2014 to be characterized by transformational prayer. This concerns not only our personal prayer practices but also how we train, organize, inform, and inspire our prayer partners. Pray with us that God will grant wisdom, discernment, strength, and power to overcome the enemy–that we might honor Jesus’ name by fulfilling the duties of our ministry wisely and with zeal.
  2. God is in charge of the calendar and the activity of ministry. We have placed July 2014 on the calendar to return to Papua New Guinea. I look at the months on the calendar, the $$ needed and all that must take place and, honestly, I cringe. That cringing is not a faith act, though, it is a fear or flesh actPray that we will have an increased awareness and sense of God’s timing in all that he has ahead for us. Pray that we will have willing and submitted hearts regardless of the specifics of the Call. Pray that we will enthusiastically put our hand on whatever plow the Lord holds out to us and to serve wholeheartedly. Pray that our faith in God’s provision and plan will survive the purifier’s fire.
  3. Our season of building a prayer and provision team will result in praise and glory for God–especially in the faith-stretching and impossible-to-see moments and events. Pray that we will have deep awareness of God’s work in life and ministry. Pray that we will be able to tell His story well, that we will be able, by the power of the Holy Spirit, encourage and inspire his people in their faith. Pray that this season will also be a powerful testimony to the Somau Garia people as they watch and wait for the Word to be made available in their heart language.

As I review what I’ve written here, I’m reminded of the famous words of Sherlock Holmes: “Elementary, my dear Watson.” All these are elementary to true faith and Biblical ministry. Yet it seems like the basics are often the battleground. Please pray with us that as we move toward Papua New Guinea, toward telling the story again and again and again, that we will do that which is most elementary in the Christian life: put a smile on God’s face.

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Day 35: A Call to Prayer

December 26, 2013 Cape Coral, Florida —

Our youngest daughter hummed, sang, and listened to Christmas music from October until at least yesterday. Yesterday, the Christmas story was read, prayers were prayed, turkey eaten, presents opened, time shared with loved ones.

Today feels different. The Holy Spirit has been pressing on my soul for some time now to be really prepared for 2014 in a number of areas. I and Angela see both challenges and opportunities in the coming year and are vibrant with anticipation of what God has in store for these coming days. It is critical that as we prepare and anticipate God’s work in the days of 2014, that we call believers to pray with us. We need to live in the shadow of the Almighty. We need to call on his name. We need to experience ongoing answers to pray that all might behold His glory.

Would you pray with us in the coming days that:

  • We will recognize God’s leading and be able to know the difference between His plan and our desires (when they are not the same).
  • We will have God’s wisdom in planning and in executing the plan for developing ministry partnerships.
  • We will be equipped and ready in every way to depart for Papua New Guinea in July 2014.
  • Our Somau Garia co-workers will be protected from the attacks of the enemy as they continue to draft Acts, James, etc. in preparation for our return.
  • We will be fully submitted to Christ in all things as we proceed toward the goal of living and working, once again, in Papua New Guinea.
  • God will continue to grant grace and mercy as our family is dispersed to colleges, jobs, and callings.
  • God will grant us new financial partners even before the close of 2013.
  • God will raise up the prayer team He is designing for us.

Thank you for praying with us. Our heavenly Father is pleased beyond measure when we put our trust in Him in prayer.

What will our daughter be doing in the coming months? She will still be singing, humming, and being enthusiastic, but I think it will be praise songs from church, hymns played on the piano, and enthusiasm about making the trip across the big pond to Papua New Guinea. I hope, too, that of all her enthusiasms, she will also be praying.

Blessings, friends!

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Day 14: What Will Today Bring?

There is a reason that people like reading authors like Clive Cussler or Tom Clancy. The reader can vicariously experience an adventure through the medium of the page without leaving the comfort of their recliner, beach chair, or favorite nook. The stories (fortunately) show us only the highlights of the adventure and don’t waste endless pages talking about how many times the main character took a potty break or waited in line or clipped their toenails. The reader gets only the details that carry the story forward and the rest is left out.

Missionary stories are much the same and, I think, that is one of the reasons that missionary life seems so exciting or so attractive to the Christian reader. Biographies, newsletters, blogs, sometimes even personally scribbled letters share the highlights and spare the reader the humdrum details of daily life.

It is the humdrum details, though, help the reader understand the missionary better, gain a clearer picture of what is involved in “the going” aspect of the Great Commission, and might even give the reader a whole new dimension of understanding and clarity in prayer. What does a day in the life of a Bible translator look like in Uria Village, Papua New Guinea?

It is often pointed out that Jesus went out early in the morning to pray, before it was light. Not always, but often, our village days started when the sky was starting to blush in the east, with Bible study and prayer. Missionaries don’t do this because they are so much deeper spiritually than others. They do it for survival. Out in Uria Village there is no Christian radio piping preaching, encouragement, and uplifting praise music into the house. We usually just hear the sound of the bamboo growing (you can hear it grow after a hard rain), the raucous call of the friar bird, or the clack, clack, clack of someone chopping dry firewood with a dull machete.

Uria house

After a bit, I would usually head down to pull-start the small generator and plug in the water pump. Our two main tanks sit on the ground and water must be pumped up to the roof so that we can have running water in the house. Angela would start preparing breakfast and getting the kids up and around. If we had it, she’d cook oatmeal or rice, I’d percolate coffee on the stove top. Sometimes it was pancakes or scrambled eggs. While eating breakfast we talked with the support staff in Madang on the 2-way radio, reporting in and doing business (supply or food orders, logistics, and one morning a week a devotion together).

Uria Workshop01a

At work together away from Uria Village in Madang, the Provincial Capital

At that point, depending on what was on the agenda, I’d head the 50 feet or so to the translation office (our original house) to meet with my Somau Garia co-workers to work on training, translation, or other stuff. If they were not scheduled to be working with me, I’d usually retreat to my home-office to study and prepare for coming sessions. However . . . 

The Bible translator is also the local carpenter, plumber, electrician, Head Master, civil engineer (sort of), ambulance driver, advisor,  first-aid giver, preacher, and teacher. Thus, any “emergency” can take the agenda and toss it right out the window–and often does. Common agenda breakers: medical runs to Walium, the aid station about 15 miles south and east of Uria or to Madang, about 40 miles away; repairs on the house; building of coffins when someone has died and needs immediate burial; first aid; prayer for the sick or dying; road repairs to our four-wheel drive trek; repairs to any number maintenance on the house or mission station. Other occasional interruptions: hikes to distant villages to train or teach or preach or mobilize or for funerals. Some of our greatest adventures have happened off the agenda at 2 a.m. I’ll leave those stories for other posts.

At mid-day we would all break for an hour or so. I’d join my family for a simple lunch, the guys would eat a light lunch and refresh themselves. A few of the afternoons a week, if they men were not in Uria to work on translation, I’d do maintenance or yard work. The mission station requires a lot of maintenance as we average about 190 inches of rain each year. When it’s not raining the equatorial sun takes its toll.

Taro feast, 2003

Angela and girls visit with Garia ladies, 2003.

Angela and kids of course worked on school during the day and the kinds of chores that none of us escape–laundry, cooking every meal from scratch, house work, etc. Angela spent time in the afternoon with local ladies and their children–being Jesus and being a good friend.

Dinner prep usually started around four, dinner at five or five-thirty. The evening was for baths, and reading together (we read out loud to the kids stories like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings and of course the Bible) and sleeping. Sometimes there would be evening events, but not usually.

Sound pretty droll? In these moments, these daily regularities, Jesus showed up–in a kind word, in the text we were working on, in an exhortation, a laugh, always a living, breathing presence in us working through us. The adventurous stuff? Icing on the cake.

Opportunity Abounds!
You have an opportunity to be part of the daily presence of Jesus amidst the Somau Garia people and part of the adventure, too. You can join the provision team by clicking here to visit our Donate page. You can join the prayer team by clicking here to drop us an email to let us know of your commitment to pray with us.

Thank you, friends. A bit of good news–today a family joined the provision team and a family joined the prayer team. PTL!

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40 Days to Freedom Podcast Update

The 40 Days to Freedom Podcast Update is not only the story of people who prayed for a mission trip, it is the story of a God who answered prayer after prayer after prayer. Please take a few minutes to be encouraged and inspired to engage in the adventure of prayer!

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 32

September 11 (Day 32) — Wednesday. Today Aruamu speakers will be traveling to Tiap for the meetings. Ask God to give ample divine appointments and coincidences today. Pray for Todd to connect at a heart level with Aruamu leaders, translation team members, and villagers. Pray for opportunity for Todd to reconnect with friends. Pray for clarity, spiritual sensitivity, and physical stamina for Todd. Also ask God to help Todd to rest well while here. Pray for his heart to be clear, pure, and singly-focused for the coming days of preaching and ministering the word.

 

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 17

August 27 (Day 17) — Tuesday. Continue to pray for Todd’s trans-Pacific journey today. Pray today that one of the Somau Garia friends who has been praying for and anticipating the Owen family’s return will get the word and be able to get into town to meet with Todd and make arrangements for the trip out to Uria Village. This trip involves buying food and other supplies, riding in the back of a flat bed truck for 40 miles, from the main road into the village for a couple of miles, finding a place to sleep for the week (if the house is greatly damaged—a genuine possibility), and setting up housekeeping for the week. Pray for God’s mercy in making these connections and basically getting it done.