Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fools! Scum! Refuse!

Dirt. Grime. Mud. Dirty slush under the feet. Refuse. Dung. Trash. Ash. That black grit that drips off your car tires when you wash them. This is what we have become. But we are in good company.

Rubbish burning in Sierra Leone
My last blog post was a year ago today. This past year Lisa and I have been through disillusionment, discouragement, and mental derangement. We have experienced doubt, destitution, and have felt dumbfounded. Silence is the last thing a leader should give people. But I am no leader. I have been silent because I am refuse. I am scum.  

A couple of years ago I spent a day cleaning a year's worth of rabbit dung in Sierra Leone. Let me tell you, it ranks up there as kind of ... well ... rank! But I consider that a walk in the park compared to the misunderstandings, misperceptions, and mountains I've had to climb as a missionary.

Cleaning the rabbit cages
Many people are inspired by what we are trying to do in Sierra Leone. But there are others who, when they look at how difficult, how costly, or how long things take, form other opinions. We have been labeled irresponsible, arrogant, or just plain crazy. We have been neglected, abandoned, and attacked. The worst feelings are those of being pitied or thought cocky when all we really want is to help the people of Sierra Leone. Such criticism must come from people outside the church, right? Actually more often than not the reverse is the case.

But I am content to be counted among those crazy, foolish scum of the earth--the refuse upon which the church is built. The apostles of Jesus, those entrusted to pass on the message of Jesus Christ, the very men upon whom the church was first built, those upon whose shoulders every Christian stands, were considered the scum of the earth too: 
For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)
If a short, bald guy with bowed legs who wasn't a stellar speaker showed up at our churches to preach and ask for money for his mission work, would we turn him away? That was the apostle Paul. Perhaps little has changed in two millenniums. We seem to have forgotten that the very first apostles, along with Jesus' brothers, were also missionaries just as Paul was (1 Corinthians 9:5). They were fishers of men. The word "apostle" and the word "missionary" both mean "one who is sent." Missionaries are sent with the gospel message--a message which runs counter to this world. Thus, the missionary is often rejected and misunderstood.

One of the liberating things about being refuse is that you are liberated from what other people think about you. If you are thought ill of already, you might as well speak your mind!

In the words of Brian Regan, I don't mean to step on anybody's toes but here we go ... When I look around at our churches, I am disheartened at our meager missionary efforts. I know many of you reading this are doing some great mission work. Good! Do more! But on the whole we in the church seem more concerned with beautiful buildings than with straying souls. We care more about having perfect pitch in our music than having crushing poverty crushed. God loves the foreigner; we merely tolerate them (Leviticus 19:34). In May I met wonderful, mature Christian African American woman who has been a missionary in Uganda for the past 15 years. When asked what the number one obstacle in her mission work was she replied, "Self-centered Christians in America." We care more about how large-a-crowd we can gather inside the church than how many missionaries we can send outside of it. Why? Large crowds boost our ego. Sending missionaries isn't sexy enough. Bad ROI. Hard to measure the spiritual benefit thousands of miles away in another culture upon people whom we have never met. Too difficult. Too costly. Not quick enough. I wonder what the cost/benefit analysis was like when God thought to send Christ to die for our sins? Our method seems to be that of effectiveness rather than faithfulness. We're more concerned to do things right than to do the right things.

Let me be blunt: By-and-large the church in America today does not care about mission work. We say we believe in mission work, but this is just lip service. Our professors do not teach about it; our pastors do not preach about it; and our churches do not fund it. We believe in building our brand and bolstering our borders, but we don't believe in mission work. Yes, there are missionaries here and there. Yes, we send teams on short-term mission trips. But I have found that missionaries are tolerated rather than celebrated. If the church in the West put half as much effort into mission work in the most needed places around the world as it does into prettying up our churches here, the world would be turned up-side-down (or right-side-up if you like)! It's not just a matter of money; it's a matter of motive. If we do not care about lost souls, perhaps we have lost our own souls? If we believe in the gospel, then we believe in mission work. If we are not engaged in mission work, then what do we really believe in? Have we lost our faith in the gospel? Is Jesus' mission to make disciples of all nations no longer relevant in the 21st century?

Over this past year we have been pruned, we are on fire, and we have seen God do the miraculous. Report on miracles to follow.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What we learned over the summer

This past year and especially this past summer, God has been stretching us and growing us in great ways. Growth is rarely an easy process. Often times the most valuable lessons are learned through the most difficult of circumstances. So we are thankful for the trials by which God is teaching us wisdom. Here are some of the key insights we've gained recently:

Confidence. Having worked with two different churches over the past year in order to develop our mission work, we've gained experience and, more importantly, confidence. It has been tremendously encouraging to have them take our calling to Sierra Leone seriously. Through our fairly close interactions with these churches, we've come to feel much more confident about how we ourselves are functioning. We have a plan. We are building a team of disciplined people--a team that can trust each other to deliver. On the backside of these experiences, we are actually more confident in the way in which we are going about our mission work than we've ever been. 

All in. A second lesson (a recent prompting from God really) is that we need to be "all in." Granted, we have been steadfastly committed to Sierra Leone for a number of years. But there have also been hesitations and worries. "What if we can't pay our bills?" "What if we can't educate our children properly?" These are valid questions and we are right to do everything we can to prepare for such contingencies. So we are trying to be responsible for today while also trusting God for tomorrow by not giving up hope that God will answer our prayers and advance our mission to Sierra Leone. If we are "all in," we have to trust that God will provide--today, tomorrow, every day. And since we've adopted this perspective, the resources have already started to show up in unexpected ways.

It's on our shoulders. I've talked before about taking responsibility for what you lead so that it's on your shoulders. We feel this now more than ever. Our efforts to partner with churches in the past has not succeeded. In light of this, we are now shouldering the responsibility ourselves for whether we prevail or not.

As a result of our changed thinking, we've made bold plans for 2013. We are confident we can make these plans work and ask for your prayers as we forge ahead ...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…


Today's Leaders 4 Life update is brought to you by "mama Lisa" as she is called in Africa. 

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start …(for those Sound of Music lovers!)

                So Chris began applying for pastoral jobs mid-November 2011. We prayed God would open doors for us and we wanted a church that was missions-minded and would be a place where we could still do our mission work in Sierra Leone, even if it looked different than what we imagined it to be. Surprisingly, not many responded to Chris’ resumes.

                By March, I was discouraged and frustrated at nothing opening up or silence. I vented to a friend that day, March 19th (thanks, Stephanie!) and on my drive home from work had an out loud talk with the Lord. There were no tears or shouting, just an honest conversation with Him. It went something like this, “Okay, God, I am pretty frustrated with no doors opening. No answers. Silence. I need You to show up and do something! I need to hear from You! I can’t keep going on like this…” Pretty pathetic, I know. The night was pretty normal – come home from work, eat dinner, hang out with kids, baths, bedtime – but Sara was sick that day so she had napped on her first day of Spring Break and thus stayed up later than usual. Earlier in the evening, I had asked Chris if he had looked at Fuller’s website on their job board since he graduated with his MDiv from there. He checked it out, but we got distracted throughout the evening and he left the tabs opened, but forgot about it…until it was about 10:30pm and Sara was finally asleep and we were headed to bed. One of the tabs was a job Chris wasn’t interested in. The second tab was intriguing to us – Saddleback Church was doing a major church-planting effort in 12 cities worldwide, including Freetown. We couldn’t believe our eyes! There had to be another Freetown, not THE capital of Sierra Leone!? Sure enough, it was and this gave us a renewed sense of hope and energy. Thank you, God, for answering me as I cried out to You on this day! I went to work the next day and apologized to my friend for my rant and shared with her what had happened on my drive home and this new opportunity!
A skunk that lives at Saddleback's Rancho Capistrano campus.

                Right away God gave me a verse to put my trust in and know He was a part of this: Ephesians 3:20 in the NIV says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” I remembered this and told Chris about it and knew God is in this journey with us.

                Fast forward to June 23, 2012 – last full day of our time at Saddleback for the Church Planters Assessment and training at their Rancho Capistrano campus. We go in to have our exit interview with two men – one who will hire for the 12 cities and a guy named Steve who was an outside consultant that week. Steve asked if he could close our time in prayer and wouldn’t you know it, he used that Scripture – Ephesians 3:20 – in his prayer! We saw my younger sister and her daughter that afternoon and then were dropped off at the Saturday evening service to attend with the other candidates at 5pm. And wouldn’t you know it, the pastor used Ephesians 3:20 at the beginning of service. Both times this day Chris and I just looked at each other and smiled that knowing look, like, “okay, God, we hear ya!”

                We came back to Phoenix and a few days after we return, Chris sends a short email to pray along with us as Saddleback decides. The next morning, Chris comes in from running and hands me his phone and my heart jumps because I think it’s an answer from Saddleback and I don’t want to see it and he’s like, “c’mon just read it!” and smiles big! I should have known – a new friend and prayer partner signs her emails with Ephesians 3:20 (Thanks, Deb!).

                One of our friends, Julie, wants to see me before she leaves on a trip in case we move before she’s back (gotta love her optimism!) and so we meet at Starbucks on Saturday morning, June 30th. I begin to share the story with the verse God gave me back in March and she stops me and says, “Lisa, I prayed for God to give me a verse to memorize for today and it’s Ephesians 3:20. I think that is meant for you!” (Thanks, Julie! Hope I quoted you correctly)

                Our dear friend, Lesleigh, had checked in with Chris to see if we had heard anything from Saddleback and Chris briefly mentioned Ephesians 3:20 to her. She sent me a package with a card in it saying she was praying for me. Chris picked up the card and said, “Did you notice the verse?” with a smile on his face. No – missed it! ~Duh ~ I grabbed the card and it was Ephesians 3:20, of course! When I called to thank Lesleigh, she said she grabbed the first card on top of her stash to send with the package and without opening it she knew it had Ephesians 3:20 in it! (Thanks, Lesleigh!)

                Then my sweet friend, Shannon, from work returned from vacation and I got to catch her up to speed with all the Ephesians 3:20 confirmations and she said she thought of me when she was away because the family she stayed with had that verse on their fridge! (Thanks, Shannon! And glad God continues to give that verse to you, too J)

                And last, but definitely not least, I was reading “Kisses from Katie” (thanks to my lovely friend, Laurel) and on page 148 in her book she mentions Ephesians 3:20 and I literally put the book on Chris’ forehead and laughed and he knows that the verse is there, too! (Thanks, Katie Davis – and most importantly thank You God!)

                We know that God is in this with us, has our backs, and cares for us, our calling and our dream to go to Sierra Leone. No matter the answer from Saddleback, we are sure that “God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” Ephesians 3:20 from The Message. (Thanks, Eugene Peterson!)

                And, “thanks” to all of you for praying for us, encouraging us, and journeying with us as we prepare to go to Sierra Leone and begin the work God has called us to! With love and many, many thanks! Lisa for the Chandler clan

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Missionary hearts

Over the weekend, Lisa and I had a chance to sit down over lunch with a fellow missionary friend. She and her husband have huge missionary hearts. They've done mission work in Haiti as well as among the Native Americans of Arizona. She is an optometrist and her husband is in medical school--career choices they made in the hopes of one day doing medical missions together. I suppose, with such passion for mission work, that their decision to give her diamond wedding ring to help the people of Sierra Leone comes naturally for them. Lisa and I, however, are always humbled at such amazing gifts ...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Harder road, more fruit

I was recently struck by a quote from Alex Kendrick. Many of you know Alex from his movies like Facing the Giants (2006), Fireproof (2008), and most recently Courageous (2011). A friend of mine (another Alex) introduced me to a wonderful resource called I AM SECOND--a collection of short films detailing some amazing testimonies. Alex Kendrick's story is one of them. The film opens with Kendrick speaking these words:
God said something to me. It's like He spoke to me so clearly I heard Him word for word. And He said, "Alex, would you rather have an easier road with less fruit, or a harder road with more fruit?"
You know, when God asks us a question He's not looking for information, He's looking for a response from us. He's eliciting faith within us. When I heard the question God asked Alex Kendrick, it resonated so deeply within me that I responded with tears. I have believed for many years this very thing: God is doing something hugely significant through Leaders 4 Life, but the path to get there will be long and difficult, kinda like the old Elvis song, "True love travels on a gravel road."

The last few years have been really hard for Lisa and I and our team. There have been difficulties of many kinds--relationally, financially, and organizationally. In January our personal checking account balance registered $2.63 before a check came in. February wasn't much different. I'm not asking you for money, because money won't necessarily solve the things we're going through right now. We're not worried about it either, so please don't you worry. My point is this: we walk this long, difficult gravel road because 1) God has called us to and, 2) because we know at some point God will intervene in a big way. And God has already been intervening. In quiet but significant ways, God has started healing those fractured elements in our lives and in our ministry. In the meantime, we remain faithful, consistent, and we set our faces like flint toward the goal of establishing and creating this mission.

So I ask for your prayers. In this next season I want to spend some time praying about the next step for us to take. We feel ready. Our faith has become stronger and stronger and our confidence in the mission has never been higher! We believe now more than ever that God wants to do something significant through this ministry entrusted to us called Leaders 4 Life. We believe it cannot be stopped by trial or tribulation, although our unfaithfulness would surely have a damaging effect. So, our trust in God to come through cannot be quenched!

Here is the short film on Alex Kendrick's story: Alex Kendrick - I Am Second

Thursday, February 16, 2012

We Need Your Help! Major Changes happening

It has been nearly two months since my last blog post and there are some major changes to report.

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others" is a motto we strive to live by. While we have a wonderful community scattered around the globe, the community we have been developing here locally in Phoenix is still fairly thin. So after much wrestling in prayer and listening to wise counsel, I have decided to begin pursuing full time pastoral work here in the U.S. We don't see this as a step backwards at all, but we believe such a move has the potential to create a community of people who are passionate about mission.

So, I need your help. Pastors know churches looking for pastors. Please forward this blog post to your pastor, asking if he knows of any churches looking for a pastor. If you yourself know of churches which are passionate about mission and which are looking for a lead/senior pastor, teaching pastor, or mission pastor, please let me know! I would love to talk with them.

A second major change which has occurred is that our church here in Phoenix with whom we have been trying to partner over the past couple of years has lost its pastor. Earlier this month I had the privilege of preaching on the first Sunday we were without a pastor. I addressed what Scripture says a church should be looking for in a pastor. You can listen to my message The Good Pastor in its entirety, or you can listen to a short clip below. Thanks for your help in passing the word along!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Values 1 of 3

“Values” are demonstrated in behaviors. Leaders 4 Life has three main values: 1) preaching the gospel and building the church; 2) leadership; and 3) expertise. Below is an explanation of the first of these three, along with a few additional aspects which flow out of this first value. 


First Presbyterian Church, Freetown

·         Preaching the Gospel & building the Church – We preach the gospel. It is the only thing which can remedy the basic problems of humanity by changing the human heart. We build up the church. The church is the vehicle which God has ordained to bring redemption to the world. Out of this value flows the following traits …
o   Prayer – Prayer is woven into who we are and into everything we do. We cannot produce true and lasting transformation without God’s help, so we pray.
o   Discipleship – The “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:19 does not prescribe evangelism per se, but commands that we “make disciples.” The preaching of the gospel and the making of fully-committed followers of Christ is the essence of the church’s mission.
o   Compassion – We strive to be people who exude compassion and love in both our attitudes as well as our actions. We seek to be compassionate whether we are engaged in evangelism, leadership training, or providing clean water.
o   Responding to the Holy Spirit – Just as the Holy Spirit empowered and guided the early church (Acts 2), so we seek to be sensitive to the Spirit, submitting to His leading and relying upon his power. This means we submit our plans to the Spirit but we are also flexible enough to capitalize on un-planned for, Spirit-led opportunities.
o   Integrity – Integrity (honesty, truthfulness, uprightness) is basic to the Christian faith as well as to the running of any organization. Integrity instills confidence in those who partner with us. Unfortunately, corruption is rife in Sierra Leone. The lack of integrity in some charities also causes mistrust. Therefore, we seek to be transparent in our dealings, especially with our finances, and we refuse to participate in bribery or corruption of any kind (Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19). In addition, we seek to have integrity in dealing with the vulnerable, especially children.