The Gathering! – We have freshly returned from our time in Italy working with the mission organization Adventive Cross Cultural Initiatives (ACCI). I love this organization! Their staff and administration carry an amazing heart in caring for their missionaries. We found ACCI and S2S Ministries share a very similar philosophy of ministry. I taught in the morning and evening sessions and Patty and I, as well as a few others led small groups. In the afternoon Patty and I met privately with individuals and couples for debriefing and counseling. We felt honored to be trusted to bring a voice to missionaries and ministry leaders living and working on the front-lines.
We met many amazing people. One person we met was a remarkable African man from the Republic of Burundi, eastern Africa. Burundi is home to the infamous Hutu and Tutsi tribes. He had actually made his way out of Burundi to live in South Africa but eventually the Lord called him back to his home to serve Him. One of the sessions I taught was on forgiveness. He later shared a testimony with the entire group of how the Lord used that teaching to help him forgive some people who had done him much harm. The Lord goes to amazing lengths to encourage, bless, heal and free His children. We look forward to future connections with ACCI and their missionaries!
We had the privilege of working with Saint Stephen’s Society, the 50 year ministry of founder and director Jackie Pullinger. Jackie is the author of the heart-impacting book, Chasing The Dragon. This humble and successful ministry is primarily focused on those ensnared in addictions, but also extends to others trapped in various forms of poverty, pain and hopelessness. We worked alongside “the brothers” (those living in the facility) sharing meals and hearing their stories of redemption and hope. It was also wonderful to work with “the helpers” (the staff) and hear their amazing stories of how the Lord called and led them to such a joyful-yet-costly work.
Many stories were shared as we worked alongside “the brothers”. Over lunch, one man I will call Bai, who happened to be my age, shared with me his story. As a young man he worked on cargo ships that traveled the world. Because of his entry into international ports he developed a fairly prosperous drug trade. But, as his drug habit grew, his health began to fail and he ended up back in Hong Kong, sick, severely addicted, jobless and broke. His young wife let him know he was not welcomed home. Bai came across a friend who he had formally shared needles with. Bai told me his friend’s face was bright and full of life! He asked him “what happened”? Bai’s friend had given his life to the Lord and with the help of Saint Stephen’s Society was clean of his drug habit. That very day Bai’s friend took him to meet Jackie Pullinger who welcomed him into the Home. Bai gave his life to the Lord and a new addiction-less, hope-filled life began! He was later reunited with his family. Bai, with his amazing Chinese smile, took my hand, looked me in the eye and said all of his children were Christians and also college graduates! His joy and gratitude were uncontainable! Bai now has a job “on the outside” but returns often to “give back” to those who are seeking the freedom that he knows only the Lord can provide!
The 7 times 70 Approach – The primary focus of Saint Stephen’s is to bring the addicted first into a relationship with Jesus and then, through the power of the Holy Spirit walk them through breaking addictions. But this is not a straight path! It is not unusual for a brother to run away, sometimes several times. Their heart approach is ALWAYS to welcome the brother back, celebrate his return and to once again start with him the journey to freedom. The parable of the Prodigal Son is enfleshed on their bones!
On the left is Emanuele Euadagno, diretor of Elim’s Smile, at their new distribution center.
This was my sixth trip to Italy. It was a great combination of working with old friends and making new. It was wonderful to reconnect with Luke and Dawn Mann of Adventive Cross Cultural Initiatives. Working with the Mann’s and their organization
Luke and Dawn Mann, ACCI
was my primary focus for this trip. It was also wonderful to reconnect with Elim’s Smile. You may remember from last year this fledgling organization was birthed in the hearts of an amazing group of Italians, both young and old, to reach the poor and needy. They present the Gospel in and word and deed
and they are making an impact. The Lord is blessing their work and it continues to grow.
Honduras – I recently had the privilege of spending time with the Miller family in the beautiful mountains of Honduras. Mike and Kim Miller and their beautiful daughters have loved their way into their local community and the hearts of the children they care for.
The central focus of the ministry is the Hope of Jesus Children’s Home. Each child in their home comes from a situation of great need. My many years of experience with Children’s Homes in Thailand caused me to smile at the structure of their work. The children are in smaller, nurturing homes making every effort to create a family environment. It was a joy for me to hear the children’s voices singing at full volume during the chapel service! Their mission includes community development projects as well as a coffee growing project with a goal to help offset some of the expenses of the Home. My role was to provide some training as well as some guidance on some transitional direction for the ministry. From my perspective, it was clearly a God-ordained and Spirit-led time and I think the Millers would agree. Please continue to pray for this family, their staff and the work they are doing in a country that is known for its danger and violence.
TASMANIA – I always find it difficult to translate our ministry experiences into written words. It is challenging because those experiences are many, varied and most often deeply personal. This certainly describes our recent outreach to Tasmania. Couples, families, individuals and groups were our ministry connecting points. A real highlight was once again working with the Directions Tas team in providing a Men’s Retreat. In my estimation it was profound ministry. The location of the retreat was rustic and format of the retreat was quite unique as it beautifully opened sacred space for hidden hurts of men’s hearts to be healed. And indeed some were! One man, after allowing the Lord to take him to a deep place of forgiveness, wept many healing tears in my embrace. His whispered words to me were “the poison has come out”. He, as well as others left the Retreat with a greater capacity to experience the Lord, life, family and even some laughter.
Kenya is an amazing country punctuated with harsh violence, beautiful yet rugged land, heartbreaking poverty and needy people that our Lord dearly loves. It is an heart-impacting place.
Kijabe Hospital – Our team visited the amazing work of the
Kijabe Hospital. Our team members had the privilege of spending time in the HIV/AIDS ward, visiting folks in their homes who were at the end of their lives, going on rounds with hospital chaplains and holding sick babies. Our good friends Andy and Mardi Steere, SIM missionaries, are key individuals in the work of the hospital. Andy, a civil engineer, as funds are available is constantly improving the infrastructure of this 100 year old facility. Mardi is the Medical Director of this hospital that does 10,000 plus surgeries a year. Their patients are poor, sick and needy. We experienced firsthand the incredible burden of the prioritizing of funds and staff necessary to keep the hospital functioning. Sadly, during our stay, the oxygen producing plant failed and three infants did not survive. Please keep the Steere’s in your prayers as they wholeheartedly serve the Lord while also raising their own family.
SIM Conference – SIM gathered their missionaries serving in Kenya and Tanzania for a four day Spiritual Life Conference. Our Team provided child care, fun with teenagers and worship. My role was to provide a one day Marriage Seminar, debriefing/counseling, ideas that create longevity in the Field and a seminar for single missionaries. My schedule was full! I had the privilege of working with Dr. Judy Frey, local member care director. I think in all the countries that Patty and I have worked with missions organizations, this group may have been the most open, engaged and invested. The feedback has been amazing! While I returned to the States as tired as I can ever remember, thanks partly to the African Weight Loss program (smile), my heart was full. I believe our partnership with SIM will continue and expand.
OM Italy Staff Training
My time in Italy was divided between two very different organizations. The first, Operation Mobilization. This was my fourth time working with OM, Italy. OM is an excellent organization, established many years ago and is active in 100 nations. In general they are organized, staffed and focused. However, like all organizations they have their strengths and weaknesses. OM Italy was/is in an acutely critical season of transition and the word from the Italian director on down confirmed the timeliness of my visit. Much of what I was involved
Giuseppe, the OM Sicilian Cook (along with Dawn Mann. I loved his smile and his cooking!
in is simply too sensitive for publication. I came prepared with a particular focus of teaching and ministry and by the Lord’s grace it seems to be exactly what was needed. Luke and Dawn Mann, our wonderful friends, coworkers and missionaries with ACCI were once again critical to what was achieved during my time in Italy.
The “young” team being trained at a farmhouse.
The second and very different organization truly captured my heart. It is a fledgling ministry that is reaching out to their community by serving the homeless, drug addicts, neighbors and friends. They are unique because they are primarily Italian. The younger folks of the group are first generation Believers. Their families are not Christians and they receive no support; financially, spiritually, emotionally or otherwise from family or churches. They have simply banded together to share their love for the Lord in a practical demonstration. And the Lord is blessing their work! The older folks of the group are also amazing. Sadly,
The “Oldies” at their “Free Clothing Center”
the local church frowns on caring for the poor and needy (yes, you read correctly), but unsupported and undaunted these oldies pool their resources and reach out to the Gypsies, Muslims and the poor. And lives are being changed! Their joy, energy and unity were absolutley infectious. While I came to this group as teacher, encourager and trainer, I was the one encouraged!
C 3 Church, Hobart, Tasmania
What an incredible time in Tasmania! Diversity of ministry was the name of the game. The ministry venues ran from a high tech church conference center in the city of Hobart to rugged Wadamana, deep in the Tasmanian wilderness. The one phrase that I heard over and over was “Ray, the Lord has you are here at the perfect time!” And I too believe that to be true. There is much I could say but I will share with you two portions of feedback I received. The first was from a young man, a husband and a dad who I actually knew when he was a little boy when we lived in Tasmania. After I spoke on gaining freedom from past hurts that have affected our lives he told me “Ray, I wept my way through your message. So many roles and expectations were placed on my life as a child. Thank you for bringing the truth I so needed to hear!”
In a sleeping bag, covered with a blanket, wearing two shirts, wool socks, a wool hat – and still cold in Wadamana!
I also had the privilege of once again working with Directions Tasmania. S2S and Directions are ministry partners. Directions, directed by my good friend Phil Harback, along with the amazing Directions team is a powerful outreach to men. My roles, as I participated in the JourneyRetreat included meeting with men one-on-one as the need arose and being a support to the staff of Directions. As you know, the primary focus of S2S is to help people in ministry stay fresh, motivated and healthy, in order to see them fulfill their “calling” to reach the lost and hurting. Below is an excerpt from a letter I received from the wife of one of the Directions staff. “My husband has come home from the men’s retreat with more passion and more commitment to his ministry for and with , men. He mentioned you were one of the major parts of the encouragement he received on the weekend and I am writing to say thank you for YOUR commitment to helping others in their walk as men and people of God”.
I love Tasmania!