Dallas, Texas January 7-9
This is my first time being part of what is known as the Texas Roundup. This annual gathering consists of Christian leaders from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and this year, Kansas. More than 140 leaders gather for fellowship, teaching and inspiration to lead God's church in the coming year. This meeting has been going on for at least 12 years.
First, we hear good news from around the region. There were 140 baptisms in the Dallas church, including 45 campus students. The church in College Station has grown from 35 to 85 members and sent out 55 to other churches, including interns and full time ministers. The Lawrence Church has grown from 55 to 150. Many other blessings of a non-numerical nature were also mentioned. The first talk is by Tom and Kelly Brown. This is great joy for me personally, as Tom studied the Bible with me 39 years ago when I became a Christian. The church he and Kelly help to lead saw 75 campus baptisms last year and have 240 students overall. Their talk was on "Growing Your Church." Their main point was praying for all the members of the church and committing to personal relationships which can raise up disciples of Jesus to their full potential.
I have been invited to give a series of talks about Christian Evidence. My first talk is on the Christian worldview and why it is so obviously superior to other world views, such as atheism, postmodernism, Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam. Tuesday I teach classes on "Answering the Hard Questions" and "Evidence for Jesus." The leaders here appreciate that even in Texas and Oklahoma, we are entering the post-Christian age and the kinds of evidence we need to use to help people come to faith in Jesus is changing. We also hear from Robert Carrillo, encouraging us to engage with HOPE worldwide. It is a great joy to renew dozens of relationships with friends in Texas.
Seoul, Korea January 11-14
Wednesday is a travel day. In the middle of a 14 hour flight to Incheon, Korea, we end up with an emergency landing in Anchorage. I land two hours late in Korea. We rush off to a midweek meeting in the satellite city of Ilsan for a lesson on God and science. This is a smaller city of about 100,000. There are just over 100 members in this group and about 100 at the service. I feel warmly received, which is a good thing because it is very cold here. Seventeen degrees when I land and I hear it will get down to about two degrees Fahrenheit in the morning. As we return to the hotel, I am told that the border to North Korea is only about 30 minutes to the north.
On Thursday morning, I travel one and a half hours to Seoul to teach a three hour class on church history, mostly for the church staff. There are about 40 at the class. I am very impressed that a brother named Alexei who lives in Vladivostok, Russia traveled all the way to Seoul just to hear the classes I am teaching. I also meet Jungho and Joy who lead the church in Ulan Batur, Mongolia. Just yesterday I had been praying to find a contact for the church there, as I wanted to visit. Then the next day, I meet these two. Pretty encouraging.
This is my second time in Seoul. It is a city of 15 million. It is a very busy and crowded city—the principle metropolis of a country of 50 million. This is the only country I have been where the parking lots have conveyor belts that carry the cars vertically into the parking lots. The food here is wonderful, but with all the fermented vegetables, especially kimchi, it is quite different for American palates. Of course, tension with North Korea is always present here, but right now there is discussion of peace talks, so it is slightly less tense than a few weeks ago, with the North firing so many intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The churches in Korea have about 800 members and six churches. The majority are in the Seoul area. They are led by Inhoe and Aeja Bae. Continuing the long day, I next travel by fast train to Daegu. The trip from the Northwest of Korea to the southeast is about 300 kilometers, but with speeds of well over 200 kilometers per hour. We arrive in only 90 minutes. The countryside is quite different from my experience. There are factories and high rises even in the countryside, dispersed among very well organized farms, and lots of mountains. This is a beautiful yet crowded country.
I arrive in Daegu, a city of 2.5 million. I am told that this is a very conservative city. The majority here are Buddhists, yet I see many churches. Christianity has become a major force in this formerly predominantly Buddhist country. They seem to take their Christianity fairly seriously here, but then Koreans take almost everything seriously. Koreans are almost painfully polite. When I ask someone their opinion about controversial topics, they are too polite to express their thoughts, unless I insist. The politeness is different but also charming.
There are two churches here in the southern part of South Korea. One is here in Daegu, with about 40members. The other is in the second city of the country, Busan, with about 55 members. There is one full time leader couple here, Tongjin and Hyunji Kang. I speak on Living by Faith, from Hebrews 11. The disciples here are so encouraged; it is hard to describe. They have never had an outside speaker in the almost 20 years the church has been here. Many travel more than 100 kilometers from Busan for the class.
Saturday morning includes an early morning train ride back to Seoul. I teach two classes, one on God and science and one on Freedom in Christ. The house is packed, with about 250. Their faith is so impressive. Sunday is a great day. The men meet in the morning, with more than 250, and the women in the afternoon, again with more than 250. The singing is really beautiful. My lesson is "Malachi: Faith or Faithful" about the need for us to be faithful to God. I spend the afternoon with Brandon Park and his beautiful family. They lead a region of the church. We travel to the top of the Lotte Tower. It is 125 stories tall—by far the tallest I have been able to climb. Seoul is a beautiful city at night.
Countryside in Korea
I am up around 4:00 AM for a flight to Cebu. Please consider visiting the churches in Korea. The church is mature and very loving. One thing that is needed is a revitalization of the campus ministry. Will one of you consider coming to this wonderful country for a One Year Challenge to help build the campus outreach in Korea?
Cebu, Philippines January 15-18The flight to Cebu, Philippines is four hours. This is the second largest city in the Philippines. It is on the island of the same name. Cebu is one of the islands in the region of the Philippines known as the Visayas. This is the central section of the archipelago. They speak Visayan here. Of course all also speak English. Cebu is a city of about three million on an island with more than five million. This week is the festival of Sinulog. This is a massive Roman Catholic celebration, highlighted by the carrying of the Christ idol through the streets. The Catholicism here seems to me to be quite superstitious, yet the faith of the people seems sincere. People pay women to do a ritual dance and pray for healing, wealth or children. The city is practically shut down for this event.
It is good to get time with my good friends Danny and Gurly Cabadsan. They are the only full time paid staff for a church of 340. They really could use some help, as they also oversee eight churches in the Visayas area. The church has grown steadily. They were 250 last time I was here. I meet with the four sector leader couples for fellowship and a short lesson on Life in Christ. None of them are paid. I am so impressed by their service and love for God's people. I would like to get around to see the city, but traffic due to Sinulog makes this really hard. Tuesday is two lessons for the Bible group leaders, one on Malachi, on having faith versus being faithful, and another from Paul's farewell address. With a long question and answer session, the evening goes for over two hours. They are really hungry for the scriptures and to grow. It is great to see so many campus leaders. Wednesday, I meet with the church. The lesson is on Freedom in Christ. The zeal and excitement are palpable.
From my conversations with Danny, I realize that the church in Cebu really needs help with the ministry. The church here is self-supporting, but could really use campus or singles who would be willing to come here for several months or for the One Year Challenge to build up the singles or campus work. It would be so rewarding. People here are very warm and friendly, the food is great and English is prevalent. Please consider this.
Manila, Philippines January 20-23
I am here to teach for the Asia Pacific Leadership Academy (APLA). This is perhaps my seventh time in Manila. Despite the traffic and the hot weather, I love this city and the brothers and sisters here. The people are so sincere and make me feel much appreciated. The church in the metro Manila area has about 2,200 members. There are more than 30 churches across the islands. Most of the churches are growing. A great need here is with the full time ministry staff, as many churches have no paid staff at all. Here in Manila there are groups of more than 200 led by couples who work full time. This is doable, but a challenge. It would really help if some young singles or campus students would consider coming here for a One Year Challenge. Also, if an empty nester couple could come here they would find very fruitful service for God and be infinitely appreciated by the Christians here. Please consider this. Remember that English is spoken here, so for many, there is no language barrier.
Manila is a city of nearly 25 million. It is bustling city. Make no mistake about it, the traffic here is legendary, but the people are very patient and so warm and friendly you have to experience it for yourself. There is a massive volcano about 200 kilometers to the south, near the tip of the island of Luzon which is erupting right now. The Philippines have many earthquakes, typhoons and volcanoes—more than its share of natural disasters. They are also experiencing a very controversial presidential administration under Duterte. The biggest problem here in the politics is massive corruption. Duterte promises to make progress on this, as he did when mayor of Davao on Mindanao, but his policies are brutal and thousands have died in extrajudicial killings. Not without reason, many fear a return to a military dictatorship, but others forgive his rude comments and unpredictable behavior because he promises stability and economic growth. Let us pray for the Philippines.
I am teaching a 15 hour class on Christian apologetics. This is a three day commitment. Nearly all the students have regular jobs, yet there are about 140 students making this commitment. I am really impressed. The schedule for me is tough, with teaching eight hours a day, plus being sick, but it is so rewarding seeing these students, many of college age soaking up the knowledge, wanting to share with their friends.
After teaching for three hours on Sunday, I travel to downtown Manila to preach for one of regions of the church here. Four sectors combine for the service, with 800 members. There are well over 900 in attendance. This group is very encouraged. Their theme for the year is "You are the Light of the World", so I preach a sermon on being the light. Afterward, I am honored to attend a 50th birthday party for Lili, one of the sisters. The highlight for me was a concert by Tyrone Ty and his band. He is the worship leader for the church. They are amazing. Monday morning, I am off early for home.
Well, it did not exactly work that way. I have a layover in Tokyo and a very unusual snow storm hit the city, closing the airport. I spend the night trying to sleep on a marble floor. There was utter chaos in the airport on Tuesday, but I arrive at home after 50+ hours of travel, tired, but fulfilled by the opportunity to serve God's people in this way.
Evidence for Christianity