Monday, May 22, 2017

The 45th & Proverbs 17th

It's been a tough 100+ days for the 45th president of the US.

His scorecard, thus far, is not very impressive. And there have been volumes already written about the current administration and its actions.
(Here's an example. And here's another. And more background on why it's not a good idea to populate a federal administration with former lobbyists).

But what I haven't seen much of is an objective, faith-based perspective on what's going on in the West Wing.

For the sake of simplicity, let's take one book (the Bible) and focus on one chapter (Proverbs 17).

Right off the bat, verse 1 (Proverbs 17.1) speaks to the general atmosphere of the West Wing. "Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting - and conflict." If there is one word that captures the past two weeks on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., it's conflict. The sidenote behind this verse is a subtle pitch for humility.

Verse 10 reads: "A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding that a hundred lashes on the back of a fool." A person of understanding seeks out advice and takes it. They don't need to be hit over the head in order to "get it." Last week the New York Times and other newspapers reported that the 45th president received several warnings to stay away from Mike Flynn. Those warnings went unheeded. Mr. Flynn is currently under investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee and has refused to turn over requested documents. His refusal could result in criminal charges.

How about this one: "Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out." (vs. 14) The 45th's tweeting history is a great example of how not to handle yourself in public. Almost every tweet (under his own name) is a negative reaction inviting or increasing conflict. Here's a sampling of the 45th's tweets.

The 45th has a tendency to deny any wrongdoing. It would do him well to remember that God doesn't like that sort of thing: "Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent - both are detestable to the Lord." (vs. 15)

Proverbs 17th even has something to say about building walls. "Anyone who loves to quarrel loves sin; anyone who trusts in high walls invites disaster." (vs. 19) Interesting that quarreling, sinning and trusting in walls are grouped together in one verse. Remember, building the infamous wall across the Mexican border remains a top priority of the 45th's. The 45th has gone out of his way to emphasize that it'll be a "huge" one. Here's some background on Trump's promise to build a "great, great wall."

The very next verse (vs. 20) mentions "the crooked heart will not prosper; the lying tongue tumbles into trouble." An investigation into the 45th and his campaign's alleged collusion with Russia to influence the presidential election is happening as this blogpost is being written. It's enough to say that the 45th's track record on this one has been a path of deep denial. Interestingly, he hasn't said much to clear his own staff. Mainly insisting that his character remains sterling. While other presidents have been investigated, I don't recall any of them having this happen to them so early in their presidency. Here's the Pultizer prize-winning Politifact's truth-check on the 45th.

Verse 24 tells us "sensible people keep their eyes glued on wisdom, but a fool's eyes wander to the ends of the earth." It's been reported that the 45th has a very short attention span, doesn't read books and gets his news from soundbites. It's also been reported that his staff is often sent scrambling because they can't get the 45th to focus on what's important. He's said things like "who knew health care was so complicated?" Not having a sense of detail is one thing. Not having the discipline to adequately consider complex issues is another.

The current situation that we're facing in Washington can best be summed up in verse 27 "A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered." The 45th seems to suffer from an inability to keep quiet and listen. His personal tweets are mostly thoughtless and angry. His interviews, to date, offer more of the same.

On the bright side, we're being offered a fine litmus test for use in our own lives, as to how not to conduct ourselves.

Here's the latest episode of PBS News Hours' analysis with Shields & Brooks.

Author's Note: All scripture quotations are taken from the New Living Translation, Tyndale House Publishers.

Second photo of (dark) White House by Bloomberg

Monday, May 15, 2017

John Lewis: Civil Rights Legend

In late March, civil rights icon Representative John Lewis (D-Georgia) spoke before the House during the initial debate on the GOP's health care bill. He said, "This is the heart and soul of the matter. We cannot abandon our principles, Mr. Speaker. We cannot forget our values. We have fought too hard and too long to back down now."

A few months earlier, the current president, in a tweet, called Lewis "all talk, talk, talk no action or results."

Rather than take time to discredit that statement, I refer you to David Remnick's excellent piece in The New Yorker.

One positive result of that infamous tweet was that a lot of people, including me, were curious to delve a little deeper into Lewis' history.

John Lewis grew up the son of a sharecropper in Troy, Alabama. He became sensitive to the reality of racial inequality while attending grade school. He noticed that white schools seemed to be newer, with more resources being given to them. Black students, on the other hand, were left with the hand-me-downs. Of course, growing up in the South in the early 40's, he experienced the "COLORED" and "WHITES ONLY" entrance signs guarding many public places. And some places, like the local library, he couldn't enter at all. His life and the life of most blacks living in the South was anything but "separate but equal."

So, by the time Lewis was attending American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, he was primed to take action when faced with the ever-present reality of inequality that surrounded him and his fellow African-Americans.

In his book, Walking With the Wind, Lewis describes how he joined efforts to desegregate downtown Nashville, beginning with  non-violent sit-ins at lunch counters. He eventually became a leader in the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

The logistics involved behind those early lunch counter sit-ins would become one of the templates used throughout the South to move towards civil rights.

For years Lewis was at the forefront of other efforts, like the voting rights drive in Mississippi. He was one of the original 13 "freedom riders," putting his life on the line, with others, to help ensure that black Americans had the right to vote. Previous to these efforts, Jim Crow - illegal means used to threaten and dissuade blacks from registering to vote - was the law of the South.

Lewis was alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on "Bloody Sunday" (March 7, 1965).

(You can see Lewis standing in the front row of the picture on the right, in a white coat). It was Lewis who actually had much more to do with the logistics behind the March than King. And it was Lewis who had his head cracked open by an Alabama state trooper's nightstick.

Despite profuse bleeding, he refused to go to the hospital, instead escaping back to Selma to speak at Brown Chapel to encourage other marchers not to give up hope. A few weeks later there was another, successful, march across the bridge to Montgomery.

In August of the same year, the first Voting Rights Act was passed. It was passed to enforce the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution. It read, in part, "no voting qualifications or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State... to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of their race or color."

By the time that the Voting Rights Act was passed, John Lewis had more than established himself as a leader in the civil rights movement. Both in the South and nationwide. Two years earlier, he spoke at the March on Washington in 1963, sharing the podium with Martin Luther King. Lewis' original speech was considered to be too strong by many of the other leaders of the March. In his book, Lewis recalls editing his speech, in an effort to keep the unity of the movement that was gaining momentum.

After that speech, Lewis went back to Mississippi to continue with voter registration and desegregation activities. He eventually left the SNCC in 1966, but continued efforts to enfranchise minorities. In 1986 Lewis was elected to the House of Representatives from Georgia, where he remains one of the most respected members of that chamber.

It was from that moral authority that Lewis helped lead a sit-in of 40 Democratic representatives on June 22, 2016 in response to the mass killings in Orlando earlier that month. Lewis sent out a tweet, "We have turned deaf ears to the blood of the innocent and the concern of our nation. We will use nonviolence to fight gun violence and inaction."

In summing up his life, Lewis said, "When I was growing up my mother and father and family members said `Don't get in trouble. Don't get in the way.' I got in trouble. I got in the way. It was necessary."

Monday, May 8, 2017

Meet Greg Brown: Author & Pastor

Greg Brown earned his MA in religion and MA in teaching from Trinity International University, a MRE from Liberty University, and a PhD in theology from Louisiana Baptist University. He has served over thirteen years in pastoral ministry and currently serves as chaplain and visiting professor at Handong Global University, pastor at Handong International Congregation, and as a Navy Reserve chaplain.

Greg married his lovely wife Tara Jayne in 2006, and they have one daughter, Saiyah Grace.

Currently you teach at Handong Global University and are pastor to the English-speaking students there. How big is Handong University and what is it like? Where is it located?

Handong Global University has over 4,000 students—mostly undergraduate. It is located in Pohang, South Korea. It is a small Christian school that focuses on training students to be lights in the world. The motto of the school is “Why not change the world?”

What’s the spiritual climate in South Korea? How did you decide to move and work there?

There is a strong Christian population in South Korea. It is has the biggest churches in the world and sends the second most missionaries in the world. However, like America, it is quickly becoming post Christian. The college students and young adults are becoming an extinct population in the church.

Do you have any concern living (relatively) so close to North Korea? Especially in light of recent development with North Korea attempting to test nuclear missiles? When Korea originally was split into North and South, there were many families that were torn apart. Is that still the case today?

We don’t have many concerns about North Korea. Our family members have more concerns than we do. But we’ve been here almost 6 years and the back and forth rhetoric is really repetitive.

In another interview you mentioned that you’re a visual learner. Can you describe what that’s like and how it affects your writing?

I’m specifically a visual-written learner. I learn primarily by writing, and I’m very nonaudio. I struggle when instructions are given to me auditorily and they’re not written down. So that always caused extra difficulties for me when I was young and in school. But, it’s great for writing. I want to know more about God and his Word and I have to write to learn. So, that works perfectly for publishing.

You’ve written several books for the Bible Teacher’s Guide series. Did you envision a series when you wrote the first guidebook?

After writing the first book, I definitely was hoping that God would make a series out of it. We had just finished preaching 1 Peter, and after editing and publishing it, it just made sense that the series would continue. However, going back and editing/re-writing old sermons is a lot of work, so I have a few sermon/lecture series that are just waiting. Right now, it’s enough work preparing new preaching series for publication.

Can you describe how you created the template you use for the series? (Big Question, Interpretation Questions, Application Questions, etc.)

Yes. It is really the format most preachers use when writing a sermon, though they probably ask the questions in their mind instead of writing them down. What is the main idea of this text—the Big Question, which becomes the theme? What things jump out in the text—Observation Questions? What does this text mean or specific parts of it—Interpretation Questions? What should we do about this text—Application Questions? So I write these out in order to guide teachers or help them prepare their own sermon or Bible study. These questions are also great to guide small group discussions.

Let’s focus in on your most current book in the series, Abraham: Living the Life of Faith. Why did you choose Abraham? Why did Abraham and Sarah’s life interest you?

A couple of years ago, my co-pastor and I were just praying about what to teach the next semester at our church. We hadn’t preached OT in a while so we both thought Abraham would be good. It ended up being a great series. Even when my co-pastor preached, I always prepared that sermon anyways since I have to train the small group leaders. It turned into a book, years later.

What did you hope to accomplish with this particular book in the series? What’s the main message you hope to pass along to readers?

As we consider the development of Abraham’s faith, we can see many of the same tests and trials in our own life. By learning from his successes and mistakes, we can be more faithful in our life journey.

It’s obvious that you really love the Bible. Was there a particular event in your life that caused this?

When I was going into my sophomore year of college, I started to struggle with depression and at times felt like I didn’t want to live. This was stimulated by several events—the end of my first real dating relationship, an injury that made me miss the majority of my sophomore year as a college basketball player, and a friend committing suicide, among other events. The only thing that gave me peace was studying God’s Word, worshiping him at church, or serving. So God’s Word, God’s presence, and his people became my retreat. Little did I know, God was storing up his Word in me and training me for ministry—and specifically writing ministry as I also devoured many Christian books.

How did you become a Christian? Was it a gradual process, or one, life-changing event?

My father was a 20-year Air Force veteran, and we were living in Belgium. I was only 7 years old. Because my family was going through some difficult times, we started to attend a Baptist church planted by some missionaries. It might have been my first time attending, but at the end of the service, they gave an altar call. I realized that I was a sinner, and I had no assurance of going to heaven. I went to the front, they walked me through the Romans Road and I gave my life to Christ. Around that time, both my parents became serious about God, and church became a regular part of our lives.

What’s your writing process like? Where do you write? When? How do make the time to write with being a husband, father, teacher and pastor?

Well, the fact that I’m a pastor makes my writing process easier. Essentially, I write one chapter of a book most weeks of the year, as part of a sermon series. Two weeks before preaching a sermon, I study the text with commentaries for 3 to 5 hours on Tuesday. I write the first draft which takes another 3 to 5 hours on Friday. Then I edit it and teach it to my small group leaders on Monday. Edit it and teach it again on Wednesday to my own small group. Then edit it again Saturday night and Sunday morning and then preach it. This allows each sermon to go through lots of growth including what God gives me as I teach it and what others share in small groups. Then over the winter or summer, I edit the sermon series two more times, then send it off to outside editors before publication. It’s a really thorough process. The fact that I work at a university with larger vacations in the summer and winter helps. I still oversee the church during those times, but my elders help out a lot more with preaching over the breaks.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention? (How can readers get in touch with you, find your books, etc.)

Most of the books, I eventually give away for free on in order to reach a larger audience. Check this link for those works, Please follow me at and at Also, please throw up a prayer for God to use the series to reach many people for his kingdom. Thanks so much!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Are the 'alpha males' back in D.C.?

Recent events in Washington, D.C. have resulted in a very small shard of sunlight emanating from the West Wing.

In early April, Stephen Bannon, the current president's chief political advisor was removed as a principal from the National Security Council.

To anyone with a forward-thinking approach to life, this news was most welcome.

As you may recall, Bannon, a former CEO at Breitbart News, was a proponent of "dismantling the administrative state."

While he remains as the current president's chief political advisor, Bannon's own ill-conceived ideas are no longer as influential in the West Wing.

In further good news, it seems as if Sebastian Gorka, an advisor on national security and a former co-worker of Bannon's at Breitbart, may also be on the way out. Gorka's the same guy who earlier boasted, "the alpha males are back," in Washington.

According to the New York Times, Gorka has been very vocal in stating that violence is an essential part of the teachings of the Quran. He was also a strong proponent of the infamous travel ban that has been twice thwarted in federal courts, being found unconstitutional.

Gorka also had high praise for Michael Flynn, former head of the National Security Council, calling his leadership "sterling," only 12 days before Flynn was forced to resign or face being fired due to lying about his ties to Russia.

In other news, over the weekend Congress averted a potential shutdown of the federal government. While the legislation still needs to be voted on, from all indications it should pass. It includes additional funding for the National Institutes of Health (going against the current president's wishes) and does not contain funding to build the infamous wall across the Mexican border.

The New York Times pointed out that this bipartisan effort may indicate that Congress isn't in total lockstep with the current president - bucking against his wishes to reduce funding for practically all federal agencies not aligned with defense, and not approving funding for the wall.

However positive these pieces of news may be, they are significantly minimized by the report that the current president has invited Rodrigo Duterte, the alpha-male president of the Philippines, to the White House.

Duterte has gained a sordid reputation internationally due to being accused of extrajudicial killings of over 7,000 drug suspects as part of his notorious crackdown on the drug trade.

The New York Times reported that it's not clear if Duterte would even be admitted to the US on a visa, due to human rights abuses, if he were not the leader of a country. "Trump is now morally complicit in future killings (of drug suspects)," said John Sifton, Human Rights Watch's Asian Advocacy Director.

In any event the possibility of Duterte coming to the White House has stunned both critics and allies of the current president.

In terms of the political outlook in D.C., there is still a long road ahead for any person with a progressive-minded world view. That's undeniable.

The current president has only been in office a little over 100 days. Thankfully, he has accomplished very little of what he told his followers he would do "immediately." He has not repealed and replaced our health care system. He has not begun to built a wall. The truncated tax reform plan he proposed will most likely not pass. It's actually a good thing that the current president hasn't been able to deliver on the promises he made to those who voted for him.

He has not yet dismantled the "administrative state," and that's a positive sign. After all it's the same "administrative state" that has given us social security, affordable health care for over 20 million Americans, world-leading scientific research and free public education (K through 12) along with a free press. And while there are constructive things that can be done to strengthen each of these systems, they are worth fighting for and retaining.

For extra credit, you can view Shields & Brooks' analysis of the current president's first 100 days.

Photo Credit:

Monday, April 24, 2017

Death & the fear of it

Recently I experienced the deaths of four friends over a span of a couple of months.

In fact, the services for two of them were held at the exact same time so I could only attend one.

Some of the friends were close, with years-long relationships. Some were not. Some involved several visits to a local hospice. Some included a single visit in a hospital. Notification came from friends, or through finding their obituary in the newspaper just a few days after another friend had told me they weren't doing well.

All of this to say that I've been thinking about death lately, on purpose.

Neel Burton, writing in Psychology Today, makes the point that "While we may be able to somewhat postpone our death, there is absolutely nothing that we can do to prevent it altogether. In the words of the ancient philosopher Epicurus, ‘It is possible to provide security against other ills, but as far as death is concerned, we men live in a city without walls.' All that we can do is to come to terms with death in the hope of preventing it from preventing us from making the most of our life."

So, if this is the case, then it seems that a lot of us in western culture are living as if death doesn't exist.

Kelvin Chin, who heads up the Overcoming the Fear of Death Foundation, says that oftentimes when we say we're afraid of death, we're actually afraid of something else. But death is still the trigger.

Various belief systems all have a particular focus on death.

Muslims and Christians both believe in life after death. That we continue to exist after our physical life has ended. (In fact, the apostle Paul very clearly emphasized that the Resurrection of Jesus was the cornerstone upon which the entire Christian faith rests.)

The Jewish faith, in general, doesn't have a specific teaching on the after-life. Depending upon if you're Orthodox or Reformed there are different flavors of this interpretation.

Buddhists believe that you are reincarnated and continue to experience life after your current physical life has ended, only in another form. It depends upon the sum total of your karma.

Practically all faith traditions hold that it's important to live a moral life. That living a moral life has consequences - both in this life, and in the life after this one.

So, maybe the issue of fear of death partly holds on what you believe?

Realizing this, the philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-62) offered what has become known as Pascal's Wager. He said a rational person should live as if there is a God because if there is, they only experience a finite loss of some pleasures in this life, in exchange for everlasting joy in Heaven.

The converse of the Wager is, that if there is no God, then at least the person has lived a moral life. No harm, no foul.

But regardless of Pascal, the crux of the matter seems to be that some fairly fervent followers of a particular faith are still anxious about death. Why?

Here's my two cents:

1. It's entirely possible to say we believe in a particular faith tradition while not actually believing it. If we don't agree with what our faith stream has to say about the after-life, we aren't going to be affected or consoled by it.

2. It's possible to believe in a particular faith tradition but not strongly enough to live like it. In this case, where we worship doesn't have much to do with how we behave the rest of the week. This isn't so much a case of a cognitive disconnect, but an emotional one.

3. If our faith doesn't leave room for reasonable doubt, we could remain in a continual state of denial or guilt or confusion. This is particularly true among followers of fundamentalist strains of any faith stream. There isn't much room for discussion of fear, including fear linked to death. Unresolved fear often festers into frustration and denial.

In all of the above scenarios we're leaving ourselves open to anxiety. Especially anxiety linked to death.

It doesn't help that in North America advertisers know how to capture our attention using this bait. Watch commercial television if you need evidence. All pain can be taken away instantly. New cars turn you into a beautiful/handsome person. The best cologne or perfume makes you irresistible. Drink the right soda and you suddenly become popular, social and charming. You only need the right products and material possessions to alleviate all anxiety.

As if there is actually such a thing as a fear-free, absolutely secure life.

Come to think of it, the current administration in Washington has done a great job of cashing in on this belief. It's this unspoken premise that is fueling the mantra that our country is the greatest on earth and deserves to be put first above all others. This fear expresses itself in an administration that is asking for an additional $54 billion in defense spending at the expense of cutting essential social and environmental programs.

When you think about it, war is actually a fear of defeat, or death. Ironically war turns out to be a fairly good source of death itself. Not to mention it's very, very expensive.

One thing we know for certain is that death is unavoidable.

It's perhaps the ultimate fear.

But we have the choice to admit we're afraid of dying and begin to free ourselves from the emotional consequences of living in fear of it. As Neel Burton said, "we can come to terms with death in the hope of preventing it from preventing us from making the most of our life."

How about you? What's your view on death?

Photo Credits:
Top -
Middle - thefamouspeople

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Case for Christ & Women in Ministry

about the life of Lee Strobel, and his transformation from hard-nosed investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune, to becoming a follower of Jesus.

THE CASE FOR CHRIST, at times, seems a bit over-the-top. But then, to be fair, it shows a very topsy-turvy part of Strobel's life so some melodrama is going to be part of the telling. Overall, THE CASE FOR CHRIST does a great job chronicling Strobel's journey. And leaves it up to the viewer as to the preponderance of evidence for the Resurrection.

I left the theater with two major take-aways:

I wanted to know more about Leslie Strobel, Lee's wife.

As portrayed in the film, she finds Jesus first and, more importantly, remains steadfast in her convictions despite dealing with her husband's almost two-year long mission to discredit her faith. (The majority of the film focuses on that timeframe). Between Leslie's acceptance of Christianity and Lee's he was a confirmed atheist. He was anything but understanding and oftentimes quite belligerent in his insistence that God, and Jesus, in particular, were a hoax.

After viewing the film, I considered Leslie to be the anchor of her family. The one, who, by example, led her husband to believe in God and Jesus. By the way, during Lee's period of investigating the couple already had a four year old with another child on the way.

Ironically, in an interview on Pure Talk, Leslie said, that, after she prayed the "Sinner's Prayer" with her neighbor Linda, she was unsure for about a year if she was "saved" or not. "I just didn't believe that it took," she explains.

Regardless of whatever was happening in her heart or spirit, outwardly, she continued to pray for her husband and extend mercy to him during a time when Lee, by his own telling, often came home drunk and angry. Perhaps out of frustration that his investigation into disproving the validity of Jesus wasn't bearing any fruit.

Things got so bad between them that it got to the point where Lee flat-out told his wife that he didn't see them staying together if she didn't change her tune.

She didn't. But he did. Eventually giving up his quest and turning to God. (In the film, there's a scene where Lee stands in front of a giant whiteboard, filled to the brim with questions and clips of information about Jesus. He raises his hands in the air and says, "OK God. I give up!")

I walked out of the theater lobby wanting to know more of Leslie's story. Even if it's not as dramatic as her husband's there is definitely something there worth exploring.

In an interview for a Jesus Calling podcast, Leslie said, "I just wanted to be a mom and raise kids." Her own transition to becoming a Christian was almost uneventful, in comparison to Lee's, which was much more of an intellectual exercise. "For me it was relational," she said. "It was never a question of needing any facts or proof."

She sums up, "It's been such a privilege and honor to be used by God. To have our story touch hearts."
Leslie & Lee Strobel

Which brings me to a second and final take-away, not necessarily linked to the film, but definitely nudged by it.

Why don't we hear more about women in ministry and their own faith journeys in mainstream Christian media? (I realize there has been great breakthrough in this area, at least in America, over the past 20 years, but it seems a lot more could be done).

Having just celebrated Easter, it bears repeating that it was women who first encountered the risen Jesus.

All four Gospel writers agree.

Matthew names Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" going to the tomb. (Matt. 28.1). Mark mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Solome (Mark 16.1). Luke records "the women" went to the tomb, and later mentions Mary Magdalene, Jonnna, and Mary the mother of Jesus as being there. And John tells us that it was Mary Magdalene who first encountered the risen Jesus

So, in a culture that was men-centric, it's very significant that four male writers record that it was women who first spread the word about the Resurrection.

Years later the apostle Paul wrote: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and so is your faith." (1 Corinthians 15:14).

For us, living in the 21st Century, this fact might not seem like much, but for the time in which Jesus was living, it turned the culture upside down.

Women had no rights. Were seen as men's property. Were not given leadership positions.

But yet Jesus and God chose to ignite the beginnings of what became the Christian Church by and through women. You could almost make another case: That if it weren't for the women among Jesus' followers, we might not be following Jesus now.

Here's the trailer for THE CASE FOR CHRIST.

Photo Credit: top, Pure Flix

Monday, April 10, 2017

Natalie Vellacott: Author & Missionary

Natalie Vellacott served as a police officer and detective in the UK for ten years before resigning in 2011 to become a Christian missionary. Her book, Planet Police, contains humorous and revealing stories from the front line. 

Natalie has lived and worked with street people in the Philippines. Her true story They’re Rugby Boys, Don’t You Know? (
published in 2014), relates her encounter with a group of street teenage boys abusing a solvent called "rugby" to help them forget the pain of hunger and poverty.

Natalie served on the Logos Hope Christian mission ship for two years. She published her adventures in The Logos Life in 2017.

What was your motivation to become a missionary?
The short answer is that I believe God called me into mission work. I had been involved in street evangelism with my church since I was saved as the urgency of sharing the truth with others became my priority in life. I had begun to find it more difficult to share with people while working as a police officer due to legal and organizational restrictions. I believe all Christians are missionaries in one sense and that if someone isn’t evangelizing at home, they won’t be motivated to do so if they travel abroad.

In your book, you mention becoming ‘definitely converted’ to Christianity when you were 23. Can you share what happened?
If you want to read the full story, my personal testimony is included at the end of all of my books. I was raised in a Christian home but drifted from God just after my baptism when I was seventeen. I spent six years living a worldly life—smoking, drinking, gambling and involved in non-Christian relationships. I was seeking satisfaction and meaning in those things but ended up miserable and empty inside. I knew the truth due to my upbringing--that my sin was an offence to God and that I was separated from Him. I reached a point where I couldn’t continue as I was, mainly due to witnessing changes in my younger sister that I knew could only have come about by God’s intervention. I basically did a 180—I confessed my sin to God asking for His forgiveness through Jesus and resolved to make major changes in my life. My story has similarities to the prodigal son story in the Bible.

What was the hardest part of your initial experience with the ‘rugby boys’?
Definitely seeing them abusing solvents right in front of me and being powerless to stop them. I knew they were potentially doing irreversible damage to their bodies and minds. Even after we had been working with them for some time, they still used this as a way to hurt me when they were angry or upset and it worked every time. I would have done anything at that point to stop them doing it. It was a painful and effective form of emotional manipulation that I had to learn to ignore.

Originally, you started your Filipino missionary work in Olongapo. Would you be able to share how things are in Olongapo now?
I last visited Olongapo in late 2015. The large group of children abusing solvents under the bridge hasn’t returned which is a mixed blessing. Some of the children did leave the streets, returning to their families or back to school, others are living permanently at the youth center. However, the solvent abuse continues with smaller groups of children now operating less visibly in other areas of the city.
I eventually had to leave Olongapo in 2014 because I couldn’t find a church to settle in and I needed more of a support network for the work I was doing. I joined a church in Manila (the capital city) where my new pastor suggested that I should try to focus more on working with girls. This was a low point for me as I had believed God was calling me specifically to work with the “rugby boys.” It wasn’t that I wanted to work with boys as such, but most of those abusing solvents were boys. After prayer and consideration, I realized that I must submit to the authority of my pastor--his point was valid because the boys I had been working with had grown older.
I continued working with several of the original boys after leaving Olongapo and visited some of them in rehab in Taguig and in the youth center in Olongapo. I am still in touch with many of them via social media and as I recently revised They’re Rugby Boys, Don’t You Know? I included the boy’s individual updates in the back of the book.

For those who haven’t read your book, what have you been doing since Dec. 2013?
I have struggled on and off with ill-health due to having an under-active thyroid. This necessitated several trips back to England and affected me in other ways as only those with the same problem will understand. After leaving Olongapo, in April 2014 I joined my church’s program in Manila, working among the street homeless. This included some “rugby boys” and girls. I joined a medical mission to Tacloban (the area that was hit by the devastating typhoon) and just generally took part in help and hope projects in the area. I left the Philippines in February 2016 for a furlough/break and haven’t returned to date.

My writing has become more of a ministry partly due to my health issues although my health seems to be stabilizing and I’m keen to get back to the mission field. I comment on contemporary Christian topics in my blog and write honest Christian-perspective book reviews using Goodreads as my main platform. During my recuperation, I had time to write Planet Police—my auto-biography about being a police officer in England for ten years and also more recently The Logos Life detailing the aspects of life on Logos Hope not covered in the “rugby boys” tales. I’ve tried to include humor and cultural oddities but all of my books have an evangelistic slant. Some readers find that off-putting but as that’s the main purpose in my writing I’m afraid it’s there to stay!

I have also been volunteering for an organization that shares Jesus with enquirers in chat conversations via the internet and I have spent several lengthy periods in South Carolina, America volunteering at the ministry center that supplies the Logos Hope ship with books.

What motivated you to move to the Philippines to do full-time, independent missionary work? How long did you remain in Manila?
Maybe I have covered this already in part. On joining the Logos Hope ship in 2011, I prayed that God would lead me to a country for full-time mission work at the end of my two-year commitment. On becoming involved with the “rugby boys” in the Philippines I started to believe that God was calling me to return to the country. The ship moved on from the Philippines in December 2012 and I prayed that if God wanted me to go back I would get further opportunities to spend time there. I was sent to Manila on a challenge team in April 2013 and when I arrived it felt like I was coming home. The ship then unexpectedly sailed to other ports in the Philippines that had been postponed so I had further opportunities to experience the culture and start learning the language.

Why did I go independently? That could be a long answer! I do believe there is a place for mission organizations in the society that we have created but I also believe that the church could fulfill that role. I prefer to operate by traveling from church to church rather than there being a third party involved. That is the reason I moved from Olongapo to Manila because being in a good Bible-believing church is essential for any missionary and I struggled to find one. I need a place where those who I witness to can be taught and discipled and to grow and be held accountable myself. Christians cannot function in isolation.

I was only in Manila for just under two years in the end. I am praying about whether or not to return to the Philippines at this time.

Would you be able to comment on what it’s like in Manila now, with the recent war on drugs (Giyera Kontra droga se Pilipinas)? Do you see it helping things?
I am only aware of what I see in the media and from occasional updates from Filipino friends. I believe the current leader Duterte is extremely dangerous, more so because the shame and honor culture will result in many Filipinos submitting to him. Although Filipinos are more aware of their human rights due to the invasion of Western culture, they are still a relatively shy people. Most hesitate to share their views or stand up for their rights unless repeatedly prompted. Many also tend to go along with the stronger personalities as they avoid conflict. This creates a power vacuum that Rodrigo Duterte seems to have stepped into.  In terms of the solvent abuse, as far as I’m aware, it isn’t covered under Duterte’s war on drugs—he is dealing with harder drugs. The country needs our prayer.

From your perspective, how widespread is the problem of solvent abuse in Manila? In the Philippines?
Solvent abuse among children and young adults is rampant in the Philippines and other third world countries. It is cheaper than food and stops the hunger pangs that they feel. It also allows them to escape their meaningless lives into a fantasy world where they can fight imaginary beings and feel invincible. They don’t think about anything beyond the twenty-four hours in front of them and most don’t care whether they live or die. Many are also covering the pain and rejection of problem families or other abuses by using this drug.

Can you talk a bit about the sort of projects funded through your Olongapo Christian Help & Hope charity?
My charity was set up with broad scope to share the Gospel and help the poor. We have purchased Christian literature and Bibles for distribution, bought clothes and food, funded medical procedures, helped some apply for jobs, sent others on a youth camp and even replaced a church roof in a slum area.

How has your relationship with God changed since you wrote your first book? Since moving to Manila? Since coming home to England?
I hope I have learned to trust God completely although sometimes I feel like a child learning the same lessons over and over again. Trusting God by Jerry Bridges is a great book for those struggling in this area. I have definitely realized that God’s ways are not my ways and that I cannot see the bigger picture as He can. I have stopped asking “why did this happen to me?” and started saying “okay that’s happened, what next?” I think that is biblical because we are told not to worry and not to be anxious and yet that is what we spend a lot of time doing without achieving anything.

Even now, I’m back in America at Operation Mobilization’s ministry center packing books for Logos Hope for the third time in the last twelve months. I’m here because I’m waiting for God to show me what is next but I don’t feel anxious in the way that I might have done in the past. I know God has a plan and that He will reveal it when the time is right. I just need to be obedient and serve where I am to the best of my ability.

Is there any wisdom you’d like to share with readers who may be considering missionary work?
The most important thing is to keep the Gospel central, it is far too easy to drift into help ministries but I believe that help without hope is the ultimate tragedy. People can be materially comforted, medically improved or successful academically with better career prospects, but if they die without Jesus they will still go to hell.
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul.” Mark 8 vs 36 (KJV)

I have included all of my spiritual lessons in my two mission related books. The Logos Life has a list of ten lessons towards the end of the book which I hope will help those considering mission work to adequately prepare themselves. I actually wrote the book with potential missionaries in mind believing that they could learn from my mistakes, challenges and experiences.

I also read a book recently which highlights some important areas, Letters Missionaries Never Write by Fred Kosin, I recommend this as a resource for those serious about mission. I met the author recently—he and his wife Jenny are missionaries to missionaries, they travel around the world encouraging and supporting missionaries on the field. They live by faith—praying for their material needs and waiting for God to provide--which is becoming a lost concept in current mission circles. They are well-equipped to offer advice with their wealth of experience.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

I just want to encourage those that are considering mission work to pray, take advice from Christians you trust and then go. If God calls you then he will provide for you. I have experienced God clearly opening doors and closing others which is what makes me believe that He will do the same in my current uncertain situation. The missionary life is hard but it is also rewarding and what greater work is there than to be sharing the Gospel--offering hope to those that are perishing?

Natalie served on the Logos Hope Christian mission ship for two years. She published her adventures in The Logos Life in 2017. A Kindle Countdown deal is now on at: