Tag Archives: missions

To The Ends Of The Earth (All Of It.)

I’ve now been back from Ethiopia for a week. I rolled into town on Saturday night, and had to be at a conference on world missions literally the next morning. That conference ended this morning and now I have a moment to stop and gather my thoughts. I saw a number of encouraging and discouraging things on this last trip to Ethiopia, but fortunately it was mostly the former. Back in 2012 I began to pray that I would see God move, and that prayer has not just been answered, but continues to be answered in ways more profound than I knew I was asking.

My first trip to the Borana region along the borderlands of Ethiopia and Kenya was no exception. It was like no place I’ve been before. I wondered in a previous blog if it would be similar to South Sudan, due to its proximity, and the answer is that it wasn’t similar to South Sudan in either landscape or culture.

I’ve been to eastern Ethiopia a few times now, and whereas that region is dominated mostly by Islam, the southern region is mostly animist or traditional religion. Books and movies tend to have a somewhat romantic vision of animism, but when you actually go and talk to the people living it, you find out just how oppressive it is. I will probably get into the details of that in a later blog, but for now I’d just like to tell a short story about a woman (a girl really) that I interviewed last week, and how it relates to the western church.

My main function in going to the places I do is to tell the story to others when I get back, through photography, video, and writing. Consequently I always have my ears and eyes open for compelling stories when I’m out in the field. As I listen to reports of the indigenous church planters, patterns develop. One of those patterns is one of persecution. It’s almost universal, which is something the western church has a hard time understanding. This again is something for a future blog, and why persecution is not only to be expected, but in some ways is necessary to complete our calling.

So when I hear a story that goes completely against the grain of what’s normal, I take notice. I met a woman who was 24 years old, though honestly she didn’t look over 18. She was both quiet and unassuming, yet at the same time fierce. She had gone out to a village where the gospel of Jesus had not been heard yet, and in six months sixty people had committed their lives to Christ, and 51 had already been baptized. She was not being persecuted, and in fact more people were hungry to hear what she had to say.

When I bring this report home, the church is of course elated. It is, after all, good news. But then I started to think about it, and the broader issues of what this means.

You see, Jesus told us to go, figuratively speaking, to Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth, teaching all he commanded and making disciples. When we hear stories over and over again of persecution and people falling away because they are physically attacked, or rejected by their families, or they’re fired from their jobs, it’s easy for us to tell ourselves this is why we haven’t fulfilled this command. But when I meet a woman that goes to a new village and has huge success with no persecution, the truth comes out; the truth that there was a village out there that was hungry for the gospel, the the only reason they didn’t receive it was because in 2000 years since the instructions had been given, no one had bothered to go.

The good news is that it’s never to late to change our priorities, but how many have been lost in the interim? While we send 40% of our short term missionaries to Mexico, a nation with a sizable church presence capable of doing their own work, we virtually ignore the thousands of people groups that have never once heard the gospel. Oswald Smith said, “No one has the right to hear the gospel twice when there are those who haven’t heard it once.” I agree with him. We go repeatedly to the places that are easy and saturated, while ignoring the places that are hard. But awareness and faithfulness are everything. Now that we are aware, let us be faithful to do the job that we have been given.

I’m not putting up a picture of the girl I spoke of, but I am posting a few other pictures from the southern region of Ethiopia.

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Borana and The Southern Nations

I am back in the land of the internet. I’ve spent the last few days in the Borana region of southern Ethiopia. The Petros Network was invited here just in the last couple years to partner with a largely forgotten people, and I can say that the transformation that I’ve seen happening is truly incredible. Whole villages are changing for the good in tangible ways through the power of the gospel. We look at the people there, and they are so young that your initial thought is that they aren’t capable of changing the world, but thank God, we are being proven wrong again and again.

I will have stories to tell later as I go through the pictures and interviews from this past couple weeks, but for now I have pictures from both Arba Minch and the Borana region. Usually I have a few photos that I know are going to be some of my all time favorites, but this time there are just so many I’m happy with that it’s going to take me a while. Enjoy these for now, and soon I’ll have more.

The October 26th Update.

As you might have noticed, I don’t have a catchy title for this article. The fact is, I’m just too tired to bother thinking of one. I’m coming to the end of my time in eastern Ethiopia. Tomorrow I’m off to the south.

One of the things that’s always great about coming here is that I meet people that are bigger and better than me in so many ways, and it really allows me to center both my perspectives and my priorities for the coming time.

I met, photographed, and interviewed people this week who have been brought down to nothing and then miraculously restored. I’m met many people who have been beaten for their faith, and two who were attacked with swords. I met a man who was blind from birth until the age of 13, at which point someone prayed for him and he got his sight. I met a man who was freed from addiction issues and now sings to God with a beautiful voice about the ways he’s been saved.

Many of these stories I will write about in the future, while some I may not? But what is the common thread that runs through all of these stories? Grace and restoration run through them all, and a desire to continually become more and more like the one in who’s image they have been created.

I’m not going to say who’s story goes with which picture, at least for now, and some of these pictures don’t have a story that I know about yet. But these are some of the people I have met here in eastern Ethiopia, and one shot of some of our team. Until next time…

Simple Wisdom

I’m writing today from the field in Ethiopia, since I’m blessed to have internet in this part of the country. We spent the day today training and interviewing a couple hundred church planters. As usual, I’m on media duty, which for me is not a duty at all but frankly pure joy.

One of the great things about going to Ethiopia is getting to hear perspectives and simple wisdom from people I would never have contact with otherwise. Today’s simple but profound statement said to me by an Ethiopian brother was, “Jesus didn’t die to save buildings. He died to save people.” I wish we’d remember that whenever we refer to the building we go to as “the church.”

Here are a few pictures from today and yesterday. The first includes the man I was speaking to.

The Magic Canoe

I’m in the airport in Washington DC, waiting to board my flight to Ethiopia. If we’re honest, a jumbo jet is really not much more than a giant aluminum canoe with engines big enough to get it into the air. This makes the possibilities of what it is and what it can do even more amazing.

It was not that long ago that my mother rode a cargo ship to the mission field in Nigeria. It was not that long before that, that missionaries would board a sailing ship with their worldly possessions packed into a casket, because they knew that’s how they would be going home.

I’m truly blessed to be able to walk through a door, get onto the magic canoe, and 13 hours later walk through another door into a different world. If you’ve never been to Ethiopia, it truly is a different world. Ethiopia was never colonized, so there is very little westernization. Hardly anyone speaks English or any other European language. Foods are different. Ways of thinking and doing things are different. And all of these things make Ethiopia wonderful.

In about an hour I get onto the plane, and less than a day later I have the privilege of joining some really fantastic and dedicated people from the Petros Network, to train church planters and help facilitate what God is already doing there. I’m looking forward to posting pictures and stories of what happens in the next two weeks, if internet is available. Until next time…

Leaving the Devil Worshippers Back Home

I’ve decided to broach a touchy subject tonight that I’ve sat on for a while. When I write a blog, I often have a concept down, but there’s some part of it missing. That’s what happened with this post, until today.

As I prepare to go back to Africa, a lot of things go through my head. How do I prepare, physically, financially, and especially spiritually? This is also a continual thought as people approach me who want to be involved on the going side of missions.

I am always looking for people who will be involved not only with serving locally, but people willing and suitable to go and do the difficult work of traveling to remote places in Africa or Asia, with all of the discomfort and unknown factors that come with that.

Now God can and will use all kinds of people. I think of how incredibly naive I was when I first got involved with missions, and it’s proof positive that God will take someone with few skills who is willing and use them. God can take willing people and give them skills, but it’s harder to take skilled people and use them if they’re not willing. What I’m saying in a long-winded way is that I try not to look at someone and say, “I won’t take them. God won’t use them.”

However, there is one type of person I greatly hesitate to take overseas with me for Christian ministry and that is devil worshippers. At this point you’re probably saying to yourself, “what on earth is this guy going on about? Why would that even be an option?”

Well, there are far more devil worshippers in the church than is readily apparent, and I’m going to explain. A friend of mine said once, “Complaining is the devil’s worship music.” Let that sink in, because it’s completely true. There are people in the church that you can tell when they’re complaining because their mouth is open. A person with a complaining spirit sows all kind of discord around them and invites evil into their own lives. They cause division within a ministry group and make being a witness extremely difficult. They split churches and cause effective outreaches to cease.

There is a direct tie between true worship and effective ministry. There is also a direct tie between gratefulness, thankfulness, and an effective witness. In many instances in the bible, miracles and great acts of God are immediately preceded by worship, especially in times where that worship was under difficult circumstances and trials. I think of Paul and Silas in prison, in chains and having been beaten. They began to worship, the earthquake came, and their chains fell off. As a result, the jailer and his whole family were saved.

What does worship do? It takes our focus off of ourselves and places it squarely on God, where it belongs. Therefore there is also a direct tie between worship and humility. Worship says, “less of me, and more of You.” It is in this state that we are able to act and pray most effectively. As the scripture says, “if you ask for anything in my name, it will be done.” But that’s where people often go wrong. They pray, “in Jesus name” at the end of their prayer as if it’s some magic talisman and expect it to be done as if that’s what Jesus was talking about. No, we pray and act in Jesus name when our will lines up with his. How does that happen? When we seek his will by knowing the written Word, and by worshipping, which in effect says, “Lord, let me put myself aside. Show me your will.”

It is at this point, when we have put ourselves aside, when we are humbled, and we have a heart of gratitude, that our testimony is effective. Consider the words from the book of Revelation, speaking of the end of the devil. “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

Now contrast that with a complaining spirit, that continually says, “I have been wronged. No one defers to me. Someone owes me. I demand my pound of flesh.” All focus in this case is on me, not God. There is no gratitude, and no seeking anyone’s will but my own. Everything that has ever gone wrong was always someone else’s fault. Despite the fact that many complainers constantly engage in self-effacement, they are not humble, because humility is not about thinking less of yourself. Rather it’s about thinking of yourself less. You can’t do that when you’re complaining. I would go so far as to say, no one was ever saved from their old life because someone was complaining.

When ever I will be heading to the mission field, I go through a time of self-assessment. These are not just thoughts for “them”, whoever “them” is. These thoughts are especially for me. So to succinctly sum up what I’m talking about today, I’m finishing with the words from Philippians 2, which says the following.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Do Everything Without Grumbling

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Lazarus Didn’t Get Hit By A Pie Truck. (or Weekend At Lazarus’s

It’s been about six months since I’ve written. During that time, there have been a lot of distractions and tragedies, including the death of the man who’s been my father for the past 32 years. I’m sure I’ll write about that at some point, but in the meantime, I’m starting to write things down that have been on my mind for a long time. This is in preparation for going back to Ethiopia after a hiatus of a year.

Many people know the story of Lazarus. For those who don’t, he was a friend of Jesus. He was also either a friend or relative of Mary and Martha, who played a prominent role in the gospels. Mary and Martha called for Jesus when Lazarus became ill, but Jesus did not return for several days. In the meantime, Lazarus died. Jesus eventually came back, but in that time Lazarus had already been buried. All of this can be found in the book of John chapter 11. The end of the story goes like this,

” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

And as abruptly as that, the story ends. It’s a great story. I mean, Jesus raises someone from the dead. What more do you want, except maybe, what happened to Lazarus after that? I’ve never heard anyone ask that question before.

I can tell you what didn’t happen to Lazarus. He didn’t walk out of the tomb and get hit and killed by a pie truck. What on earth do I mean by that, you might ask?

What I mean by that is twofold. First of all, if you get raised from the dead, clearly God has a purpose for you. You don’t walk out of the tomb, everyone says “great trick”, and you die. You have some task that God has for you to accomplish.

The second thing is that whether he wanted to or not, no one would ever look at Lazarus the same again. No matter who he was or became, or what he accomplished, Lazarus would be known as the man who was raised from the dead.

There’s a 1980’s comedy film called Weekend At Bernie’s in which two people are invited to their boss’s vacation home for the weekend only to discover him dead. They are determined to have fun anyway, so they spend the whole weekend having fun but convincing everyone that their boss Bernie is still alive.

What does that have to do with Lazarus? Well, the only place where I can find Lazarus mentioned again is in the next chapter, John 12.

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.”

My point is this. Once Lazarus was raised from the dead, his very presence, just the fact that he was alive, proverbially shouted from the rooftops that Jesus was the savior and was God. People came just to see if Lazarus was in fact alive, or if perhaps was just propped up in the corner Bernie style. People were curious if it was possible, if in fact the dead could be raised.

Which comes to us. If we have been saved in Christ, then we too have been raised from the dead. The old man has been killed and we are now alive in Christ. And if that is true, then we have been given a purpose, that is to say, we should live for what we were saved for. Furthermore, we should ask ourselves if the life we live is truly a life in which, by the hand of God we’ve been made alive, or are we just a body propped up in the corner trying badly to convince others that we are in fact alive? For me, I want to be so alive that the forces of evil plot to kill me all over again.

In about a month, I go back to Ethiopia for the first time in a year. Each time I have to raise my own funds. I pay for a significant portion of it myself, but I still need to raise additional funds to fill in the shortfall. Some, like myself, are blessed to be able to go. Some can not, but all can play a role in one way or another. If my work is important to you please consider both praying for our team and giving financially. I’ve included a link here with a synopsis of my trip as well as a link to give. Thanks so much to those who have been a part of the sending team in the past in whatever role you’ve played, and to those who will in the future. https://petrosnetwork.managedmissions.com/MyTrip/johnwollwerth1

Multiplying What Is Possible

Over the past several years, my role in missions has changed. I have been to a lot of places I could never have imagined being, and formed relationships with people that from first glance I would have thought couldn’t be more different from myself. The latter part I of course couldn’t be more wrong about. My tasks have changed drastically as well. I am now in leadership in a missions organization. As such, I have been taking time lately to assess how I see things progressing or not progressing. I’ve been asking myself what the initial task was that God gave us, and asking whether we are still on that path or if we’ve strayed from it. As things begin moving, it’s easy to start looking out the side windows of the car and say, “Ooh, look at that!”. Pretty soon you find yourself off in a field looking at a replica of Stonehenge made out of junk cars. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to look at, but it’s definitely not what you were sent to do. As the quote goes, “The good is the enemy of the best.”

The good thing about having been involved with so many people and missions is that I’ve been able to see what works and what doesn’t. Which is what brought me to Luke 10 this week. It’s the chapter of the Bible where Jesus sends out 72 disciples in pairs as a kind of advanced party to everywhere he will shortly be going. It’s the only chapter where they’re mentioned, and until this past week I had never really though about who or what they were.

In reading, I’ve come up with a theory that is tied to Jesus’ leadership style. Some of the key points of how Jesus led, and consequently what we should emulate as leaders, are leading by example, leading through servanthood, and by delegating tasks to his disciples and allowing them to either succeed or fail. The last one is particularly key, because it’s clear that the disciples, and probably everyone, learned far more from failures than from instant success. Also key is that Jesus did not do everything himself, but delegated tasks, knowing that in order for success to continue past today or next week or next year, he had to raise up people who could and would do “greater things than these.”

So who were these 72 he sent out? I think we need to back up a chapter to Luke 9 where Jesus sends out his 12 disciples, his inner circle to do the following.

“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5 If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.”

In chapter 10 Jesus gives virtually identical instructions to the 72, and the reports when they get back from their journey are also almost identical to that given by the 12. So what does this mean? I think the key is in the number of disciples. How many times does 12 divide into 72? The answer is 6, with no remainder. I believe that as Jesus was a good delegator, he gave each of his inner 12 the task of training 6 others. Often the best way to make what you’ve learned stick is to teach someone else as you’re learning. Consequently Jesus sent out the 12 first, and what they learned they were then able to pass on each to 6 more. Why else would Jesus last instructions to his disciples before he was taken up to heaven be, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, teaching them all I have instructed you?”

There are two things I can take from this. The first is that missions will never be successful unless we are investing in people and raising up disciples. The second, and I think where missionaries and church leadership often makes the biggest mistake, is that Jesus didn’t try to do it all himself. He raised up leaders. He allowed people to fail, and in doing so he raised up more competent, passionate leaders. And if Jesus didn’t try to do it all himself, what makes us think we can? It’s something to think about.

Raising up leaders in the most remote parts of the world.

The Settlers, Part Two.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about settlers, and I implied that there would be a second part. Well, after more thinking on the subject, here is the second part.

The word “settlers” has a couple of possible meanings. It could mean someone who follows in the footsteps of the pioneers and sets up camp when everything is safe. This was the angle I took in the first part if this blog. But there’s another possible meaning to the word settlers, that being the name given to people who settle for second best, or third best, or settle for the worst for that matter.

I wish I could say it wasn’t true, but when I look around myself, and when I look inward, I see an awful lot of settling, an awful lot of “that’ll do.”

Before we were saved, the enemy used tactics like lust, greed, hate, envy, and lots of other seemingly obvious ways to tempt us. After Jesus saved us, we (hopefully) stopped falling for those things so easily, though we will still often struggle. So the enemy changed his tactics to a more subtle line of offense, that being to get us involved in all sorts of good things, so long as those good things were not the best things that God had planned for us. This allows us to feel good about ourselves while still being disobedient. It allows us to continue to put ourselves first, and our faith atrophies like an unused muscle because we ignored the call to the best things God had for us.

Before someone starts thinking that I’m suggesting something that is too hard, I want to point out one truth that has been proven to me over and over again. God almost always wants better for us than we want for ourselves. Our recurring problem is that we’re unable to see it, because being Americans we associate blessings with money and power and things. Well I would go so far to say that the person that God chooses to give nothing but material wealth is truly cursed beyond all men.

God is not looking for our good, he’s looking for our best. He’s not looking for sacrifice, he’s looking for obedience. God is not looking for perfection, otherwise he wouldn’t have chosen us to do his work. Rather he’s looking for excellence, and a willing heart. God is looking for people that see that even though we live in temporary bodies, we are eternal beings, and our decisions should reflect that fact. He is looking for people who are not willing to settle for second best.

I don’t know what God has called any one person to except myself. What I do know is that it’s a question I have to continually ask, because each time I take a step, the decision about the next step is brand new. Each man and woman needs to ask that question, and then have the faith to take that next step.

I’d like to finish with some verses from Hebrews 11, which sums up what I’m talking about. The chapter is talking about many people who lived by faith, and it’s summed up with the following verses.

Hebrews 11:13-16. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

Just as the people spoken of in these verses had the opportunity to turn back, so we have the opportunity to do the same. But just as they were pilgrims and strangers on this earth, so are we, whether we recognize it or not. We have eternity written in our bones, and we were built for far more excellent things.

Making excellence from imperfect things.

Bringing about excellence from imperfect things.

The Settlers, Part One

Recently I was looking at a group I follow on Instagram. It’s an organization that puts together short term missions trips for which people can get involved. They put up a map showing all of the planned trips for the year. There were a lot of them, and they were certainly going to be very busy. But one thing stood out immediately, and that was the blank parts of the map, places where there were no trips planned. The entire Middle-East was missing. North and Central Africa were missing. Central Asia was missing. In short, the planned trips were all to places where the gospel has already been heavily preached. All or nearly all where there is a significantly large indigenous church presence to take up the job for which we’re sending short term missionaries.

Even in the first century, the Apostle Paul talked about this. Romans 15:20 says, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”

The problem is this; when Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, going to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the Earth, we weren’t all supposed to go to the same place. God was looking for pioneers. He was looking for people who would do the hard work, going into hostile, uncomfortable places. That’s what pioneers do. But at some point the settlers came in. Settlers are people who see that the wolves have been killed, the land has been cleared, and the railroad has been constructed. Settlers want to do something worthwhile but don’t like risk. In short, settlers build on someone else’s work. They not only settle the land, they settle for second best.

What we have to realize is that the Great Commission was never about us. It was not about feeling like we’re doing something worthwhile. It was not about being or looking busy, or having a life-changing experience. Sometimes these things happen. It’s good to have a life-changing experience and have a heart change. But it’s more important to be obedient. When Jesus said to go to the uttermost parts of the Earth, he meant the uttermost parts, and not just the convenient and easily accessible parts of Mexico. When we go to these places, we often go to places where we are not needed, and local ministries often find themselves taken from critical work in their own communities to accommodate our insatiable need to feel like we got something done. In cases like this, it’s better to have just stayed home. I don’t want to sound harsh, but the more quickly we figure out that missions is not about us, the more quickly we can fulfill the actual commission we were given.

So the next time an opportunity comes up to get involved in missions, ask yourself, “Am I a pioneer or a settler? Am I doing the best God has called me to, or am I settling for second best?”