Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tim Arlen's Short Term Trip to Asia

Following is an exciting report on a short-term missons trip I received from Tim Arlen:

Hi Tom,

Following up on the suggestion made at Thursday night hoops, here is a short summary of my recent trip to "a large country in Asia". It sounds silly to use this cryptic language, but I can assure you that the need for security in this country is real. My partner and I taught our 2-week training seminar in a rather remote neighborhood of the capital city. For the entire 2 weeks I did not see one other non-Asian, other than my partner, of course. Our mere presence attracted a lot of attention from the community. Our students came from various provinces around the country and did not have that "slick city look". Our comings and goings in the apartment where we held our classes arroused the suspicions of our neighbors who promptly contacted the police authorities at the end of our first week. We arrived to class the beginning of the second week and no one was there. A friendly contact was waiting in hiding for us and led us to another apartment in a different neighborhood for our final week of the seminar. The head of the indigenous mission agency we partnered with explained our strange behavior to the police in the guise of a travel agency coordinating English language classes for their clients. Of course this mission agency does make the travel arrangements, and we do teach some English in our seminars, but if they knew what we were really up to, my partner and I would have been deported and our students would have gone to prison. In fact some of our former house church pastor-students are serving prison sentences as I write you. All of this to say security is a very real issue. To my great frustration I could not exchange any e-mails or take any pictures of my students to share with our Grace Church family. They fear for their safety should any sensitive information fall into the wrong hands. Our dear pastors truly seek biblical training and equipping at great risk to themselves and to their families. And yet, emboldened by the apostolic pledge that they "must obey God rather than men" in fulfilling the Great Commission, they press on trusting in the Lord to protect them, their families, and their teachers. They are a true inspiration.

Our seminar was a rather unique one for the customs of the country. Most training courses are gender separated. Our seminar was for couples who serve in ministry together in various positions of leadership in the house church movement. We had 13 couples from 6 different provinces around the country. These couples came for 1 month of training in various subjects related to their leadership and ministry responsibilities. We completed our "Romans and Galatians" seminary course with them over the 2 weeks we had together. My typical day went something like this...up at 4:30 or 5:00am, prepare the morning devotion on two attributes of God fom A. W. Tozer's book The Knowledge of the Holy, shower and breakfast around 7:00am, morning teaching session from 8:00am-12:00pm, lunch and break until 2:30, afternoon teaching session from 2:30-5:30, hunting for dinner until about 7:30 or 8:00, and study of the next day's material until about 11:00 or midnight. Then we would wake up and do it all over again! This ministry is HARD work! And I absolutely love it! I am so grateful to the Lord and honored by the priviledge of having a small hand in establishing the Church in this great land. I have the sense that the Lord has been preparing me all my life to bear fruit for His Kingdom in this way.

I want to pass on a little story I heard to underscore the necessity of our training ministry in this country. The underground church is exploding in numbers. Estimates run anywhere from 80 to 100 million evangelical Christians, and growing by leaps and bounds daily. This is, of course, very good news. However, the overwhelming majority of pastors and leaders responsible for shaping the growing faith of millions have virtually no biblical or pastoral training whatsoever. To be sure, the Lord has graciously protected many of these dear pastors from cults and heretical teachings, but the fact is, cults and heresies are also exploding in this land. In one province, a house church launched a church planting campaign in a previously underevangelized area. Sixty new, vibrant evangelical house churches were planted. Within 1 year every single one of these churches were gobbled up by the cult known as "Eastern Lightning" which believes the Messiah is a woman living somewhere in their country today. What a tragedy! Such losses are attributable to the fact that neither leaders nor members are rooted and grounded in the sound doctrines of God's Word. The Lord did not commission the church to simply evangelize the nations, but rather to "make disciples" of the nations. Discipleship requires serious and systematic biblical training. And that is why we go. Our courses are transferrable. That means we take the responsibility to gather the groups and teach our comprehensive biblical and pastoral theology curriculum (around 26 courses) to our pastors and then train them how to take the same courses back to their churches and do likewise in their own 2nd generation groups. In this way we contribute to the formation of healthy churches rooted and grounded in the precious Word of God.

Another extremely exciting aspect of our involvement relates to the world-wide missionary vision of the indigenous mission agency we have partnered with. This so-called "Back to Jerusalem" vision was given originally to the founding heads of the house church movement. I had the priviledge of being asked by the head of the mission agency to draft a vision statement that captures the heart of their purpose. It is as follows: "To partner with mission-minded local churches in (country name) to fulfill the Great Commission through the inspiration, training, and support of missionaries for (country name) and all the world". The specific plan is to raise up and train an army of missionaries to make disciples from among the remaining unreached people groups in country, in the bordering countries, and then all the way west through the "10/40 Window" back to Jerusalem. In this way they hope to do their part in fulfilling the words of Jesus who said, "And this gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come" (Mt.24:14). What a thrill to know that our discipling efforts through BEE World are contributing to the training of that missionary army God will use to help fulfill his final mandate to the Church and bring about the consummation of his redemptive plan for all mankind! Yes, I am so excited to have an active role in that!

In conclusion, let me thank you and the Mission Board at Grace once again for your support. On the very first day of our seminar I announced to our students that there is a church in the small town of San Luis Obispo, CA, who loves them and is praying big prayers for their growth in the knowledge of God's Word and its application to all of life. I could see on their faces they were deeply moved to learn that a people far removed and unknown to them cared that much. I felt "proud in the Lord" to represent our people's commitment to exalt Christ in this part of the world. Only eternity will reveal the full redemptive scope of the love and sacrifices made on behalf of these pastors and the peoples they serve.

God bless you, brother Tom. Thanks for encouraging me to send you this report. If anyone wants further details, feel free to have them contact me.

Serving Christ Together with You,

Tim Arlen