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The Fourth Man (Dispatches from the Front Episode 10)

The announcement of the latest release in the Dispatches from the Front series, Episode 10: The Fourth Man is welcome news! (Available from Westminister Bookstore by clicking the title link above.)

Among the very best missions video series available is  Dispatches from the Front by Frontline Missions International (follow FMI@Twitter). The intention of the video series is to bring “viewers up-close with sights and sounds from distant corners of the Kingdom.” Why? Because believers “everywhere desperately need a renewed vision of Christ and the unstoppable advance of His saving work in all the earth.”1 To this end, Dispatches from the Front succeeds in every way.

The sights, sounds, and reflective narration are informative, encouraging and challenging because they provide an inside look at real ministry done by real people in real places around the globe.

In this 10th installment in the series, Tim Keesee takes the viewer into new territory: The Middle East.

“He is risen!”—three words that change everything. This wonderfully good news that was first announced to the women at the Empty Tomb is still being declared boldly in the Middle East by the Risen King’s messengers! Dispatches from the Front goes into this region of centuries-old darkness and division that is now overshadowed by the fierce violence of ISIS terror. Yet, the Gospel is powerfully at work in the Middle East, and Christ is building His Church there just as He said He would. Neither the gates of hell nor the gates of Islam can withstand the work of our Risen King! From mega-cities in Arabia to refugee camps left in the wake of ISIS terror, The Fourth Man goes beyond the headlines to showcase the Gospel’s power to save, the mercy and love of believers, and their abiding joy as Christ walks through the fires of persecution with them.2

I have personally watched all of the previous episodes multiple times and have included them in the curricula of my college and seminary missions courses. So, add my name to the long list of enthusiastic endorsements, which include, among others, Tim Challies, Mark Dever, John Piper, Carl Trueman, David J. Hesselgrave, and Justin Taylor.

It matters not whether you are a seminary or Bible college student, a missions pastor, or a lay member of your church that knows nothing about missions, you can benefit from this series.

Dr. Craig A. Dunning, PhD
Lead Professor of Intercultural Studies/Missions
Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary
#GoBBCLife Change U!

The video clip below will give you an idea of what’s inside episode 10.

1 http://tinyurl.com/m4sgstg
2 http://tinyurl.com/l22meyh

THANK YOU to …

THANK YOU to the man in the Ford pickup truck in front of me at Taco Cabana this afternoon. When I pulled up to the window, the Taco Cabana employee opened the window and said, “The man in front of you paid for your order.” Wow!

When I received my order, I asked her if he said anything else. “No, he just said he wanted to pay for your order.” She went on to say, “We have customers like that all the time. Once, we had several cars paying for the car behind them, one after the other. I got so confused.”

I have no idea who he was, but he blessed me and gave me a smile.

Jairus and the Woman who Interfered

Last night in the small group I was leading we studied the story of Jairus and the woman who “interfered” with Jesus coming to heal Jairus’ little girl (Mark 5:21-43).

I put “interfered” in quotations because it had never before occurred to me that that may be exactly what an anxious father might have thought in that situation. “Why are you doing this? Why now? My daughter is dying and we need to get there!”

I’ve had to take my daughter to the hospital and know what it is to have a very sick child, one sick enough that I couldn’t do anything to help her. I also know the frustration of having to wait at admissions to get her checked in when she’s fighting for a breath.

I wonder what Jairus thought as he waited on Jesus to finish with the woman who had delayed the Lord. I wonder if he thought the chance to heal his daughter was passing by, perhaps the same way Martha felt about Jesus delaying to come to help her brother Lazarus’ (John 11).

I wonder if Jairus worried that Jesus might use up all his miracle working power on this woman and not be able to help the little girl. I wonder if he rejoiced in the Lord’s mercy on the woman who had suffered for 12 years. Or was he too focused on his own situation?

As I began to think about these things last night, I realized that rather than find anxiety in the delay, Jairus, the desperate father should have found hope and encouragement, even as he waited. After all, he witnessed the healing of a woman who had suffered terribly for 12 long, painful years. I hope Jairus said, “If he can do that for her, imagine what he can do for my daughter.”

I’ve been really encouraged lately as I’ve met some men whom Jesus has worked the “impossible” in their lives. And their testimonies encourage me to be hopeful in the way I hope Jairus was hopeful.

The Holy Land’s Underbelly

On Wednesday evenings, my friend Bill and I go to Tel Aviv to teach at the Sudanese church, which is located near the central bus station in south Tel Aviv. This an area that is heavily populated by foreigners – some legal, some illegal.

One Israeli described the demographics like this: “It’s so crowded with foreigners that it’s hard to find an actual Israeli there. And if you do, they are simply passing through going to or from the bus station.” His observations are pretty accurate. After our meeting with the Sudanese men, we generally get a bite to eat at the nearby pedestrian mall. Besides eating, we also wander around trying to strike up conversations with whomever we can; but mostly we are observing, trying to figure out how things work in this island of foreign workers.

Not only is this the foreign workers’ stomping ground, it is also an area with homeless people who have found themselves on the streets due to drug abuse or mental illness. I’m sure there may be some other reasons, but those seem to be the most prominent.

The homeless guys in the photo above, are sleeping in the shooting gallery. That’s where heroin addicts hide in the shadows and inject themselves  (see the video below). The place is littered with filth, all the things associated with homeless drug addicts: human waste, trash, treasures collected from dumpsters, rats, empty lighters, spoons, and old needles and syringes.

At times it’s overwhelming to see the collection of misery that has settled in that area. And, I’m talking about the majority of those in the area, not just the heroin addicts sleeping in their own waste. My heart aches both for the addicts and for those who have made their way to Tel Aviv – however they did that – to work one level above slave conditions (worse in some cases) in an effort to send some money back home, or to seek a better life for themselves.

What’s astounding is the emptiness and collective hopelessness that permeates the area. Pubs of one ethnic variety or another are the gathering places, the anesthesia that dulls the emptiness that is life for so many of these wanderers.

In contrast to this painful scene, are the men who meet us to study God’s word at the Sudanese church a couple streets over. They, too, have tales of hardship to tell, but they aren’t empty or hopeless. The difference? It isn’t in the hardship of their lives verses the hardship of those we painfully observe on the walkway each week, because their lives are equally challenging. The real difference is the hope of the gospel.

I’m encouraged every Wednesday night to sit with these men and see a real example of the hope and contentment the gospel offers; to see the effects of believing in the supremacy of Christ over all other suitors.

Here’s a video of two guys shooting heroin in the shooting gallery last night.

UPDATE: Here’s the same video with brightness and contrast adjustments:

Choosing Thomas

The Dallas Morning News has published a beautiful article Choosing Thomas, which details the heartbreaking and joy giving story of TK and Deidra Laux whose son Thomas was a victim of Trisomy 13.

As a parent who has walked this path, I want to complement the staff of The Dallas Morning News on a wonderful job of presenting this story, capturing the heartache and disappointment and fear that parents feel when faced with the terrible news: “There appear to be some serious problems.” The staff also did a wonderful job in capturing the surprising joy that a baby with “serious and fatal problems” brings to his/her parents and family and friends.

As I watched the video and read the accompanying article(s) and journal, I continually thought: This is our story. That’s what happened to us.

However, our story was different in that our Abigail Hope didn’t survive to birth; she was stillborn. Our story was also complicated by the fact that it took place in Israel, far away from our family and most of our life friends.

We were thankful that there were a few people here who hurt with us, but so many seemed to dismiss our situation as nothing too serious. Perhaps some just didn’t know what to say, which is common. But in many cases, it was simply a cultural callousness toward these types of things. At least one person assumed Abigail didn’t have a name yet, thus she didn’t have “person hood.” He was wrong on both counts. Others blindly followed the traditional Jewish thought that a life duration of more than thirty days establishes a human being as a viable person. If a child dies before that time, he is considered to not have lived at all.

The medical community offered no comfort either since they could only think of one thing to say: “TERMINATE NOW!” In fact, the country’s expert in 3-D ultrasound and genetic abnormalities was shocking in his callousness: In response to our question regarding the reasonable expectation of length of life for Abigail should she survive to full term, he said, “Not long, but I would hope she wouldn’t live one second! Her problems are too severe to want her to live. My advice is to terminate NOW!” Unfortunately, that wasn’t his only disaster in bed side manner, but I’m not interested to recount the others here.

“Terminate now,” was so foreign to our thoughts, the doctors all thought we had parachuted in from another galaxy. We insisted that we wouldn’t even consider killing Abigail, and the doctors looked at us in utter disbelief and disdain. Who were we to be so resistant to their advice? They were the experts; and they know the outcome of these situations. I knew our position was right, but it was nice to hear other parents in our situation agree with us – even three years later: Toward the end of the video report [in a voice over the funeral scenes] Deidre Laux clearly articulated our thoughts: “We didn’t not terminate because we were hanging onto some sort of hope there was a medical mistake or there was going to be some some sort of medical miracle. We didn’t terminate because he’s our son.” Because Abigail was our daughter! We loved her, broken body and all; how could we even consider breaking her body more?

Burial is another point at which our story and the Lauxes’ diverge. In Israel, most cemeteries are religiously segregated, which is to say that Abigail couldn’t be buried in a Jewish or Muslim cemetery, the most abundant cemeteries here. As it turned out, she wasn’t welcome to be buried in the evangelical Christian cemetery either, which is a story in itself.

This all happened so fast, and the hospital staff was pressing us for an answer regarding the disposition of the body. Dealing with death, especially that of our own child, in Israel was all new to us. We didn’t know to whom to turn. And it was late Thursday afternoon, which is to say that the Sabbath was quickly approaching and things would be shutting down for the weekend. We made a few phone calls, only to reach dead ends or endless stalling, which we understood to be a no without actually saying, “no.” Meanwhile, the hospital was pressing for an answer.

Finally, we decided to use the service of the Jewish burial society, who gathers the bodies of all children under the age of 30 days and buries them in an unmarked grave. I guess to their credit, even though they don’t consider the children to have genuine person hood, at least they give them a somewhat proper burial.

I recommend this video report to you. If you aren’t familiar with the emotions and thoughts and struggles that take place when parents are told, “there are some problems,” this report will give you some insight.

If you are struggling with the issue of termination, please watch the video – to the end.

In our days on this road, we leaned heavily on each other, but more heavily upon the Lord: “Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper! (Psalm 30:10)” He was, and continues to be.

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