John Stumbo Video Blog No. 16

November 12, 2014


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“What man intends for evil, God is actually turning around on its head and using it for good and drawing people to Himself.”


Hey, team, it’s good to back with you today. Last month I asked a question: “Why is there so much beauty in this world?” Today I want to ask a different question, and I’m coming to you from a very different location.

I’m actually in [a creative-access country]. I’m with a few dozen of our international workers, many of whom serve in very limited-access regions of the world. These workers are serving in places where the cultures are oppressive, often limiting the rights of women and limiting access to the gospel. They are serving where the message is opposed, where they are, at times, interrogated or at least followed by the secret police. They have been watched; they have, at times, been harassed; and I have heard stories of a break-in, a bomb, a fire; that some of them bear the scars of wounds to the soul, or scars in the flesh, or pins in the wrist. But they serve, and they continue, and they do so with street-wise savvy. They do so with the joy that Christ gives to them. I don’t sense any gloom or solicitation of pity or anything like that. Instead I find a team that’s realistic, seasoned—although some of them are quite young—but having been called by God and so serving us and serving the Lord in places that aren’t the easiest on the planet.

I want to introduce you to some of our team members today, not by face or by name, but I’ve asked some to answer the question, “Where have you seen the hand of God in the midst of difficult times?”

Worker 1: So how do we see God at work in dark times? We see Him as the giver of hope. Just a few weeks ago, we got to visit a refugee family who had gone through a horrible tragedy. They’ve had to move, obviously, out of their country into a new setting, and they’ve been now in this refugee status for a number of years and are trying to find something, trying to find something better for their life—hope for their kids. And they got word that they might be able to travel outside the country and get a fresh start, get a new beginning. They were just—the hope that they felt was almost palpable. They were just beaming and excited. And it was because this hope was present; it was real to them. And it was a fresh reminder to me of the fact that we have this hope.

A couple weeks ago, we got to go out and take some pictures and watch as the local Muslim community engaged in the feast of sacrifice, a ritual they go through where they slaughter sheep. And it was a stark reminder for me of the difference in the hope that we have. And that hope is not present in the things that they are doing, in these efforts they are taking, these lengths that they go to sacrifice sheep to connect to God. As Hebrews 6 says, “This hope is the anchor for our soul.”

Worker 2: Every year across the Muslim world, there are two really big holidays. And as international workers, we always make sure we go visit our friends, our Muslim friends, and congratulate them.  Usually, it involves going to their homes and sitting down, drinking tea—endless rounds of tea—enjoying little pieces of candy and maybe even a meal to spend time with them and honor them on their holiday as we seek to value them as individuals and where they are at.

One of the things we also do is always send a round of celebratory texts congratulating them on this holiday. And we always send two groups—one group of texts goes to our Muslim friends, telling them “Happy Holidays,” that kind of thing.  Another group of texts actually goes to our new believers that they, especially young men in our area, that we are working with, who through our ministry have come to faith. And in years gone by, that has only been a handful, just maybe up to five texts, that kind of thing. But this last year, we were able to send out 19 texts to our believing friends. Nine of those 19 came to faith since July. It’s an amazing thing how God is using this time of incredible instability, where we think, you know, maybe the walls are closing in on us, that the time here is drawing to an end. But actually, what man intends for evil, God is actually turning around on its head and using it for good and drawing people to Himself.

Typically in the Middle East, you don’t see many people making professions of faith because the cost is so high. And in our region just 20 years ago, there may have only been 20 believers completely across the whole region. But yet today, we are seeing so many more people trusting Christ, making life-changing decisions because God is revealing Himself to people who are living in darkness.

Worker 3: I live and work in the Middle East, and one night I woke up with my daughter screaming in fear as black smoke billowed into my bedroom. We quickly jumped up and called the other kids’ names as we tried to go into the hallway. The smoke was so thick and so hot; we couldn’t even walk into it. But our kids followed our voice through to find us, and we went out onto our balcony. And as smoke was billowing out, with no way down, and two of my kids—one, my second-oldest daughter, who had a very hard year struggling with anxiety, and the only thought going into my head is, Oh no, what is this going to do for anxiety?—and out on the balcony, screaming their heads off that they were going to die.

So in the end, my husband jumped off the balcony and saved us—and broke his wrist in the process. The biggest thing we feared was that our daughter’s anxiety would get worse, and it was amazing that we actually felt like the opposite happened—that God burned away her anxiety. She went through one of her greatest fears—of fire—and came out of it realizing we were all OK. God took care of us, and she has not dealt with anxiety in that area, or any area really, since that time. So God used that way to show that He is trustworthy and faithful.

Worker 4: I’ve seen the hand of God work in the life of a North African man who had come to live in Europe. I had come in touch with him and invited him to come and study about the prophets with us because he had shown spiritual interest. So he came, and he was struck by the fact that Abraham was called a friend of God. And that just amazed him that the fact that there could be a real friendship with God, not a kind of Facebook-type of friendship, but a real friendship with God.

Then a few weeks later, he asked me if I knew of a book that talks about the prophets and talks about Isa al-Masih—Jesus Christ. And I told him yes, and I gave him a copy of the Bible. So every night, he would go home and he would go to his room and close the door and read the Bible. And when he was done reading the Bible, he would take it and he would put it under his mattress.

Then a few weeks after that, I had a great conversation with him where he opened up and shared about his struggles, and that gave me opportunity to share the gospel with him. A few weeks after that, he came into our center, where we usually meet, and he was sad. He came to me and told me that his mom found out that he was reading the Bible, so she actually took the Bible away from him and she tore it apart, and she threw it in the trash. And as he was telling me this, he was sad. And then he paused for a second and he said, “Do you think we can read the Bible together here?” I said, “Of course we can read the Bible together.” And a few weeks after that, this young man made a decision to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

Worker 5: One of the difficult things about working in central Asia is 80 percent of the men in our country leave at some point in their life to go to Russia to work. And it creates a very difficult situation, where I’m working with a guy, I’m sharing the gospel with him, I’m seeing some fruits; then all of the sudden, he says, “Tomorrow I am leaving to go to Russia. My family needs money, and that is the only place that I can work.” And he leaves the next day.

I’ve gotten a chance this week at this conference to spend time with other people who are working with central Asians in Russia, and seeing their hearts for central Asians has just really blessed me, because oftentimes we feel like the central Asians are forgotten. And it is so encouraging to see that there are other people around the world in the Alliance family and in God’s Kingdom who are caring and loving the central Asians.

I met a young man recently who, while he was in Russia—he’s a central Asian—and he said he felt the whole time that he was there that he was just depressed. He felt like people looked down on him, until an expat couple came alongside him and shared with him the gospel, brought him into their house, and showed him love. And he went into a church for the first time, and he said that the moment that they started singing worship songs, it was like a burden just rolled off of his back, and he had never felt that way before.

He is now coming, and he is studying with us. And he just told me a week ago, “Times are hard; I might have to go back to Russia. But I don’t want to.” But I know that if he goes back to Russia, there will be people there who will love him, people there who will care for him and come alongside him. And that is exciting; and that is what God’s Kingdom is all about. God has not forgotten these people, and God will never forget these people, even if the rest of the world forgets them. God has a special place in His Kingdom for central Asians.

John: I don’t want to belittle any of the personal pain that these teammates or that perhaps you have experienced in your ministry. I have written and spoken elsewhere about how grieving well enlarges the soul. I’m an advocate for allowing grief to do its good work in our lives. But today, I want to celebrate that we can see the hand of God in the midst of adversity. We can see it in the work of these workers, and I have seen it in some of your work as well.

You know, you read the New Testament differently when you come to a place like this, and as I read Paul sailing and hiking across modern-day Turkey and Greece and throughout this region, I find that churches were planted for different reasons. In Ephesus, close to where I am, the church was planted because of an invitation—if you read Acts 18 closely. And in Philippi, the church is planted because of a vision that Paul receives. He tried to go to a couple of other places, but God had stopped him. And then he has this Macedonian call, and so the Philippian church is started because of a vision. An invitation, a vision—those are fun ways to start a church. Other churches in the region were started, for example Thessalonica, because Paul was driven out of Philippi. He faced persecution there, spent the night in jail, and is driven out of town. Galatia, Galatians 4 tells us, that church was planted because of an illness. Evidently, Paul got sick and the church was launched there. So whether your context of ministry feels difficult or relatively simple, I want to celebrate the fact that our God is at work in you and through you. God’s strength to you as you continue to serve.


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