The National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star game takes place on February 16-18 in Los Angeles. However, the REAL all-star gathering takes place a couple of weeks later in Sun Valley, a suburb of Los Angeles on March 7-9, for the Shepherds Conference. What makes it an outstanding event is not (only) the fact that it has one of the best line-ups of speakers a conference can put together, but because it is truly a star-studded event in the biblical sense of the term.
Paul says of believers that they are to be “…children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…” (Phil 2:15b-16a).
Daniel prophesied that, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)
The light of the Gospel is shining during Shepherds Conference. Around 1,000 volunteers from Grace Community church labor before, during and after the conference to provide next-to-none hospitality, putting Christian love and servant-heartedness on display for all in attendance to see.
Pastors from around the country and the world flock in every year to affirm their commitment to the Word of life and be refreshed by the preaching, the brotherhood and the time away from the every-day toils of the ministry. Someone summed it up well by calling it the “Christian Disneyland”.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to go to the US from February 27th to March 14th and thus am very excited to be able to spend time with my heroes; those who proclaim God’s Word faithfully from the pulpit and the no-names who serve Him devotedly. I also am granted the privilege to be of the speakers at a missions Conference, where I will talk about the central role of the Church in missions. The TMAI conference I will attend is on the very same topic and the Shepherds Conference will also be on the church! What a feast!
What makes it even more special is that my brother in the Lord and pastor Haja Ralambomanana will join me. We will be able to share this very special time. Very much looking forward to it and would appreciate your prayers for the whole trip.
The purpose of our new Youtube Channel is to present the realities of the mission field in Madagascar with the purpose of inspiring people, especially locals to be involved in the Lord’s harvest work.
Our first videos are a 2-part interview of Dr. Ted Watts, surgeon missionary from the UK, who gets ready to serve at the Good News Hospital in Mandritsara, with his wife Rachel, and 2 children, Ethan and Jamie. You can follow find out more about them and follow their updates on their blog.
Praise God for men like him committing his whole life to serving God and proclaiming the Gospel. Our country still needs many more missionaries, many more vocational skills. And our country needs people who have the desire to train locals so that we, in turn, can train others also. We at Madagascar 3M share the same heart for the proclamation of the Gospel and the equipping of indigenous men for the work of ministry.
Hasiniaina and I were in Tamatave on the East Coast last weekend, ministering to a couple of churches there and doing some groundwork for some of the Madagascar 3M projects for this year. We decided to fit into our schedule a visit to two churches from our denomination in the vicinity of a town 18 miles away. We have had a series of trials on our vehicles, mine with a wheel coming off leading to other related damages, and his with the drive shaft giving way 2 days before our scheduled trip. We ended up going to Tamatave by public transport and were blessed by an unexpected upgrade to a “VIP” bus because of a glitch in their booking system. That was very enjoyable. Once in Tamatave, some friends allowed us to use their scooter bike; hence, we had our means of transport for our 18-mile journey.
We wanted to visit these churches in order to bring a few words of encouragement to them as we were aware that the recent cyclone Ava did some damage to their homes and livelihood. The first church we went to was in Antanimenakely, one location we visited during our teaching trip last August. It was heart-wrenching to see the house of the pastor completely wrecked.
The church building also had some damage and needs to be repaired as we are right in the middle of the rainy season.
But the church in Antanambao Nosybe suffered even more harm as it has been totally destroyed. The concrete slab on the picture is what remains of the church.
In the middle of such sights of destruction, we were the ones encouraged by the faith, resilience, and contentment of the people. They welcomed us into their homes, where 3 or 4 families were living as some houses were ruined by the hurricanes. They still found it in them to offer us coconut juice fresh from the tree and a hand-made basket, both being meager sources of income for them. They had big smiles as they were telling us how thankful they were that no one got hurt. They shared with us, in a non-complaintive tone, how they had to leave everything behind during the cyclone and run towards the higher grounds, crawl in a bunker-type building together with dozens and dozens of other people. They told us how happy they were to be back, trusting that God will continue to be with them as they rebuild. We were supposed to be the ones bringing words of comfort; we were the ones challenged and rebuked by their example of faith and serenity amid dire circumstances. Please pray with us for these dear congregations. Please pray that God will provide for them and for rebuilding the churches; that many will come alongside them and enjoy mutual encouragement.
Tuesday, January 13th, 2015. My first day of seminary. I was completely jetlagged and confused. We had landed the prior Saturday evening, gone to church the next day and met one of my heroes, Dr John MacArthur. He told me during our brief discussion that I had come to the right place to study because The Master’s Seminary is dedicated to train men and then send them into the world so that they can train others also. That conversation solidified my resolve not to allow my seminary experience to simply be an academic exercise but to be a time through which I would be shaped more into Christ-likeness and develop a desire to see others come to Christ and His service. I knew from that first day of seminary that I was blessed with a unique opportunity to not only be a recipient of great teaching but a conduit of that truth to others. My wife and I had committed from the time we left that we will return once my studies completed to serve in our home country and get as many as we can to benefit from what we received.
Saturday, January 13th, 2018. We have been back in our home country for 5 months now. In God’s gracious plan, the time has come to pass on the baton. 41 men and young adults attended the first session of the 3-year training program in our local church called LAFATRA (An acronym of the Malagasy for “Men After God’s Own Heart.” You can read more about it here.)
What a joy to see these men alert and ready to study the Word on a Saturday morning at 6:30am! What a thrill to hear them all commit to the reading, praying, studying, sharing and loving one another involved in the program. What a delight to see them undergo the first-day assessment and hear them mentioning how it was an enlightening moment for them as they realized how much they still needed to learn. I remember scoring 28% on my initial test at The Master’s Seminary; I remember scratching my head wondering what I had done during my time in the Word up to that time. I know many of them are asking themselves the same question, and that’s healthy. A prideful and blasé Christian is not honoring to God; one who constantly hungers for more of Him is healthy. The Lord is unsearchable (Psalm 145:3), there is and will always be more to learn about Him and His will.
Please pray that we will each remain humble, with teachable hearts and malleable minds as we embark on this journey together. Please pray for the families, ministries (present and future) and churches represented by these men. Please pray for a new generation of unashamed and approved workmen, correctly handling the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15).
The Lord wants us to grow in our trust in Him and reliance on Him. He made it clear to my family and me through our first major trial of the year. We were driving back from Tamatave, on the East Coast of Madagascar, after a few days of ministry and rest. 60 miles into our trip, I started to feel the steering wheel shaking and vibrating more than normal. I told Lily that something was not right and that we would have to check it when we get to the next town. Yet, 7 miles before reaching our desired pit stop, I was overtaking a slow mover when the wheel came off…literally. 4 out of 5 tire mounting studs cleanly broke, somewhat inexplicably. It flew 200 yards down the side of the road into a ditch. I managed to keep control of the car and let it drift towards the grassy curb. Then started a 23-hour adventure, fixing the car. We all came out unscathed from the incident, and we learned much from it.
First, we realized we were truly unprepared for the unexpected. Yet, if there is one thing to assume on the mission field, traveling in the countryside a day before the tropical storm Ava is to hit the coastline, it is that something is going to happen. We lacked, to mention a few, tools (ever thought of always carrying a 36-mm wrench in your pocket just in case? … Now I do!), spare parts, emergency contact numbers and proper rain gear. This made solving the problem at hand even more difficult. We learned. We need to be more proactive in anticipating difficulties and making sure we have a bare minimum of the things we would need to face them.
There is so much that could have gone worst in this incident. We could have hit the truck that was coming from the other direction as we lost our wheel, but we didn’t. The cyclone could have hit at 3am as it was expected to, as we were still busy fixing the car, but it didn’t. Lily and the kids could have been in the car for the whole 23 hours, but they didn’t; someone kindly stopped by and offered to take them back to Antananarivo 4 hours into the ordeal. I could have had to deal with the situation alone, but I didn’t, my brother-in-law, Melchi, was traveling with us and stayed with me the whole time. We also had a couple of brothers and a sister in the Lord who traveled all the way from Tamatave, staying up with us through the night and helping us fix the car. We could have been stuck as the nearby town of Brickaville doesn’t have many repair shops and as most of the people were locking everything up to get ready for the cyclone’s arrival; but we were not. We managed to find one man in town who had a welding machine, got him to agree to give us the phone number of his welder who lived 6 miles away, went to collect him to find out he is a Christian (!), and worked with them until 11pm to get the broken pieces of studs out of the tire disc. The car could have started at 1:30 am when we finally got the wheel back on, but it didn’t as the battery was flat. We found out later it was the Lord’s interposition as it prevented Melchi and me from driving off immediately that night, and probably get into serious problems given the weather conditions; instead we drove off the next morning at 8:30, which made it a lot easier to avoid potholes and also stop to get out of the car and tighten the bolts every 25 miles as they kept loosening. We made it safely home after a 7-hour drive.
These are evidence of God’s sovereign control over our circumstances and of His caring hand over His own. We were praying all the time, and we know we are prayed for. The Lord intervened in amazing ways.
One of the things that amazed me is how calm we all remained. I didn’t panic when the wheel came off and even had enough consciousness of the situation to ask my brother-in-law not to lose sight of the wheel as it was bouncing downhill at quite a speed. The kids did not panic as they were all busy watching a movie or reading on their tablets. None of us lost our nerves when, after fixing the wheel for 13 hours, the car did not want to start. Edginess would have made things worst for sure. The Lord gave us remarkable peace of mind and composure. I am so grateful for this.
As you have read so far, it was one trial after another. Getting the disc off was a struggle, getting the broken studs off the disc was a pain, putting everything back on in the pouring rain and with a cellphone as our only source of light was very trying. Dealing with a flat battery at 2am in the middle of nowhere and with nothing like AAA at hand was difficult. It took us a while to locate it under the passenger seat. Then, we could not get it off as we didn’t have the pipe wrenches necessary for the task. We tried to tow it, but our towing lines kept breaking. When the morning came, some of us went to town to find everything closed because of the approaching cyclone. The others stayed and had to regulate truck traffic under the pouring rain as they passed by our car. Just as we decided that the only solution was to go back to Tamatave to get some help, we met a recovery car which was coming to help a stranded passenger van. They had the tools we needed and helped us charge our battery. And just like that, problem solved. God is good.
I can see an obvious parallel between what we went through and spiritual trials. What do you do when you go through a time of trials, temptation or seeming silence from God? First, it does not come to you as a surprise as you have prepared yourself to it through Scripture reading and memorization (Psalm 119:105). Then you prayerfully lift your situation up to God and trust Him to work out things for your eternal good (Phil 4:6; 1 Pet 5:7). You keep your poise, having confidence not in yourself but in your omniscient and omnipotent Father (Psalm 23:4). Finally, you persevere; knowing that the trial, the victory over a temptation and the persistence in spiritual disciplines when God seems far away, all produce some measure of growth in your likeness to Christ.
We can truly glorify God… even when the wheel comes off!
There are two things that make a Christian camp a unique experience. First, they provide an opportunity for a group of people, with some sort of connection between them, to spend a focused time studying a topic from God’s Word, usually away from their daily-life setting. It is a “spiritual spa”, a time of healing and reconstruction for the soul, for building friendships and seeking spiritual strength. Secondly, they are an apposite setting for the enemy to attack. As the deceiver, he would actively prowl seeking to discourage, distract or mislead any person seeking to find truth or grow in it. It is a “spiritual boot camp”, where spiritual muscles are stretched and tested.
The 88 of us experienced both aspects last week during our time in Morondava, on the Southwest coast of Madagascar. I am thankful for the opportunity I had to be part of that camp. We were blessed by the study of Ephesians 6:10-18, on the soldier of God and his dependence on God’s strength and armor to fulfill his duty.
We were also blessed by the various trials we experienced, enabling us to put into practice what we were learning. Logistical hitches, adverse weather, tyre bursts, delays in food preparation, power cuts, unavailability of water in a region averaging over 100 deg F (38 deg C) during the day, material losses through theft, a few moody campers, tested our ability to adapt, to be content and have servant hearts towards one another. It was especially pleasant for me to see the team in charge of the camp out their heads down and pile through one hassle after another.
It was a pleasure for me to teach alongside Camille, a dear brother who was already part of the staff at the camp I attended in July 1994, yes, 23 years ago, the very camp where I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. It was an emotional moment for me as memories were flowing back as we embraced and talked for a short while. I was elated to see him teach again so many years later. He is such an example of steadiness and faithfulness in the Lord’s work. He is truly passionate about teaching the youth and God gifted him uniquely for it.
It was a time of growth, for me personally and I think for many of these youths. They are the future of this country. The Christian club motto says: “A Christian Manager, that’s different.” That is true if that Christian manager does not compromise on ethics and lives as a testimony to the Gospel. I pray that the teaching they have received this week and what they have gone through will have a lasting impact on their lives, growing their endurance, as well as their dependence and trust in God, so that they would be radiant lights at school and in their future workplaces.
A few campers stood up to proclaim their desire to follow Christ or renew their commitment to Him one evening. I pray it was not an emotion-driven decision but that they will faithfully persevere in their walk with God. As a conclusion to the camp I left them with 2 Tim 4:5 “Fulfill your ministry.” Each believer has a God-given mandate to accomplish. Each believer is a soldier in God’s army and must endeavor to do what pleases Him. May we each keep pressing on until our Captain returns or calls us home. Let us be those who live in light of His First Coming to be the Suffering Servant dying to atone for our sins, and His Second Coming as the Conquering King, who will come to crush His foes and reward His faithful soldiers.
Tomorrow, I will be traveling to Morondava as one of the speakers for the INSCAE Christian Club annual camp. It will be an evangelization camp attended by approximately 70 to 80 students from this major business administration school here in the capital city. The 14-hour bus ride will take to the beautiful southwest coastline of Madagascar, famous for its baobabs, seafood, and scenic sunsets.
The theme of the camp is “God’s Soldier” based on Ephesians 6:11. It should a very exciting journey into this last section of Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians. As I have been reflecting and preparing to teach on this topic, I noticed that there are often misconceptions about being God’s soldier, probably induced by Hollywood movies and childhood fairy tales.
First, we want to be the hero of the battle. Who in my generation hasn’t marveled at Rambo’s bravery? Who did not want to be the gladiator in the middle of the arena defeating wild animals and fiercely mean people? Well, maybe a few women only, but you guys know what I am talking about. Well, in the context of Ephesians 6 and the spiritual battle, you are not the hero. You are the target. The battle takes place around you, so far above your head, and your soul is the bounty. You are weak and dependent upon a power that is not yours (Eph 6:10). God is the hero of the story. It’s His power, His armor, His victory. We sometimes want to usurp that from Him to be acclaimed for our valor. A wrong slant guarantees an adverse outcome to the battle.
The second delusion pertains to the nature of the battle. We imagine Lord-of-the-ring-type scenes, with epic battles, acts of incredible heroism, a dragon and a princess locked in a dungeon. The spiritual battle often has a more mundane setting. Commonplace is the most dangerous place, as it is where the soldier puts his guard down. Those are the seemingly meaningless conversations, the trivialities of life and the outwardly innocent choices. The schemes of the devil (Eph 6:11) are seldom coming with a big billboard giving away their nature; they aim to catch you when you expect it the least.
Finally, there is a misconception in the approach to the battle, as we come to it as if it were an even fight in which we hope to have an edge. We forget that greater is He who is inside of us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). We forget that Jesus, Our Captain, has already defeated the enemy and that victory is ours in Him (1 Cor 15:55-57). We need to come to the battle prepared, strengthened and equipped, but we must also have poise, courage, and faith in the certainty of our victory if we abide by our Captain.
There is no room for nonchalance in this fight, nor is there room for fear and apathy. We are called to do what pleases the One who has enrolled us for battle (2 Tim 2:4); let’s be faithful to that task.
Wait, what am I doing? I’m preaching again, can’t help it, it seems.
Thanks for your prayers friends. This camp will be a spiritual battleground.