Stories of Hope: The Vulnerable Church at Work in Iran

by Tom Widmer

Iran is a unique place in the Muslim world. Why? Because it’s on fire for Christ. This may sound antithetical, but the Holy Spirit is doing a mighty work there. In fact, more people have come to Christ in Iran in the last 14 years than in the previous 1,400 years combined!

God is working through Iranian men and women to share the Good News of Jesus in many unique ways. House churches have been springing up in unthinkable numbers with hundreds of thousands worshipping secretly. A vast array of internet and satellite programming is available – in a country where satellite dishes are illegal! The programming includes leadership training, theological training, model church services and much more. And Iranian ministries outside of Iran are providing leadership training to church leaders inside Iran.

The Outreach Foundation
Crossing Boundaries with the Living God

by Juan Sarmiento

As the body of Christ, the church is charged to not only make the deeds of Christ visible but also to make the words of Christ audible. We are thus called to develop an evangelistic attitude that beckons us across boundaries and sends us in faith from one culture to another, from our own history to that of others with the glad news of God’s salvation.
     "Turn to the Living God, A Call to Evangelism in Jesus Christ’s Way," page 10

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a week at the Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cuba (an Outreach Foundation partner institution) for a time of discussions with Christian leaders from both countries on the subject of “Mission in Context.” 

The Outreach Foundation
Out of Style?

by Juan Sarmiento

Traveling to Cuba seems to be “in style” these days. With the easing of historically imposed restrictions by our government and the ensuing re-establishment of airline operations, the island is drawing increasing numbers of visitors from the U.S. Being here gives you a sense of the fast pace with which change is taking place: More and more of the architecture of the capital is now illuminated in ways that highlight its impressive contours, appealing restaurants are proliferating, newly installed digital screens announce the cultural offerings and the emblematic cabs from the 50’s and 60’s are now joined by a considerable number of recent models. 

The Outreach Foundation
Scripture-Shaped Living

by Jeff Ritchie

On a visit to Pakistan a decade ago I learned that the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan had translated the Psalms into songs that could be sung in the heart language of most of the believers (Punjabi). This may have been a legacy of the early Presbyterian missionaries who were singing the metrical Psalms in their countries of origin. By putting the Psalms to music, Reformed and Presbyterian believers in Pakistan effectively internalized the “prayer book of the Bible.” I was impressed.

In another former mission field of the American Presbyterian Church, Egypt, I saw the lips of older believers moving when the scriptures were read in worship. These believers had memorized the scriptures, especially the Psalms, through constant reading and hearing of the Word of God. Again, I was impressed. 

The Outreach Foundation
Where Your Treasure Is

by Jeff Ritchie

This week our grandsons, Alex and Matthew, taught us a lesson in giving. They collected all the money in their possession and asked “Grammy” and “Grandpa” to take them to a store where they could get birthday presents for their “Mommy.” They carried their dollar bills and coins in a bright red wallet and a plastic sandwich bag.

Seven year-old Alex had in mind to buy his mother a “necklace with a gem," and so we pored over everything in the jewelry section of Kohl’s that could be bought for $23. As you can see from the photo, we found something to Alex’s satisfaction and so he proceeded to count out all his dollars for the sales clerk. He was happy that he could shower his Mommy with love on her birthday! Three year-old Matthew settled on a bottle of nail polish, and he was pleased to provide his Mommy with a gift in such a shiny package.

The Outreach Foundation
Which Rules? Whose Values?

by Rob Weingartner

Many years ago I read about a most unusual bicycle race in India. The object of the race was to travel the shortest distance possible, in a given period of time, without falling off one’s bicycle.

Now, imagine if you showed up for the race but didn’t know the rules. The starting pistol would fire and away you’d go – to a remarkable defeat!

The scenario reminds me that it is important to know the rules.

People adopt and adapt to all sorts of different rules for how they will try to live their lives. And as that plays out, around us and even in our own lives, we see that it is possible to be a brilliant success in the eyes of the world and a failure in the things that are important to God.
 

The Outreach Foundation
Modern-Day Marys: Women on the Front Line of Mission

by Jeff Ritchie

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is might has done great things for me.  (Luke 1:47-48)

Last Sunday I sang a hymn that paraphrases the “Magnificat” of Mary, the praise she offered in the presence of her older cousin, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. “Canticle of the Turning,” as the hymn is called, is a stirring text that God is about to turn the world upside down through the one born of Mary. The lively Irish tune and the hymn text communicate the hope that God is going to intervene and that he is using this servant of the Lord to accomplish his mighty acts.

The Outreach Foundation
Joy in Sabanilla

by Rob Weingartner

If spunk is a spiritual gift, Mercedes Cardenas Hodelins must have gotten in line several times. A Presbyterian lay preacher in the Cuban town of Juan G. Gomez (familiarly called Sabanilla), Mercedes, slender and small at 87 years of age, has been a formidable force for the Gospel in her Presbyterian congregation since she was four years old. Many have observed that the impact of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba has been disproportionate to its relatively small size. That’s true of Mercedes, too.

The Outreach Foundation
Election Results

by Jeff Ritchie

We have just finished another presidential election in the United States. This four-year cycle of American society dominates the news for close to two years until the new president is chosen and inaugurated. Then, after about two years, it starts again. What is the point of this exercise? Is it a game, an entertainment, the ultimate power play? 

In our election fever we so easily forget that the purpose of getting elected is to govern well, to serve the people well. Unfortunately, forgetfulness of purpose is not limited to the political sphere. It also is found in the sphere of faith. Even the best of us forget why God calls us to be his children. In Mark 10 we hear some words that Jesus spoke to his disciples, words that we need to be reminded of over and over, lest we too forget why we have been chosen to be God’s people.

The Outreach FoundationKorea
Why We Go

Rev. Dr. John Daniel,  who serves on The Outreach Foundation's Board of Trustees, wrote the following blog this spring when Outreach had a team in the Middle East. We are happy to share his reflections:

From time to time I hear people question the value of short-term mission trips saying, "What do they accomplish?" Over the years of ministry I have never declined in my conviction of the deep and rich value of those who go for a week, two weeks or a month to the mission field. TODAY I have four friends who are in Lebanon and Syria VISITING and SEEING what God is doing in this world of His creation. They will not build a church, they will not treat the sick, they will not run a VBS (all of which have great value in missions) but they will sit with people whose very lives are threatened. And they will worship in churches where terrorists have tried to overtake life.  

The Outreach Foundation
Leaning into the Future of Mission: Korean and non-Koreans as Partners in the Mission of God

by Jeff Ritchie

I have just finished a two-week visit to Korea. Twenty-one of us took advantage of the invitation of the Rev. James Kwon to see the Korean Church at its best, and we were not disappointed. For those who have followed our trip blogs, I will not repeat our day-to-day observations (see www.theoutreachfoundation.org/news/trip blogs). What I would like to focus on in this blog is the biggest take-away for me from this trip, namely, the opportunity that non-Korean churches and mission organizations in the U.S. have to link with the Church in Korea and with Korean churches in the U.S. for greater faithfulness and fruit as we participate with God in mission. 

The Outreach Foundation
The Gift of God

by Rob Weingartner

Muhammed Ali died back in June. I had a lot of respect for him. Following his death, I heard an interview with his wife in which she described how he would often push himself to exhaustion at public appearances in order to sign more books, give more autographs, meet more fans, out of his belief that increasing the number of good works that he did might overcome the bad things he had done and possibly bring him to heaven. The interview brought to mind a man I met named Hassane. He told me his story.

The Outreach Foundation
Joyful

by Marilyn Borst

Unseasonably hot and humid last week, about 70 of us were uncomfortably packed into the only large (and un-air-conditioned!) classroom at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas – half of us had come from U.S. Presbyterian churches or organizations (like The Outreach Foundation) who had partnerships in Cuba and half were pastors or elders of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba with whom we partner.

The Outreach Foundation
God Loves You

by Rob Weingartner

 

When our board met recently in Houston, we were blessed with the presence of one of our dear mission partners, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Kirkuk, Iraq. He told the story of how, for seven years, his wife and a group of women have carried on a ministry to women in a nearby prison. Most of the women are in prison for prostitution or theft. Their families don’t help them, and they won’t even mention them because of the shame they feel.

The Outreach Foundation
The Church in China: A Constant Teacher over Thirty-Three Years

by Jeff Ritchie

Next month I make my 25th trip to China. This blog is a reflection on what I have learned about life and following Jesus from Chinese believers since 1983.

Devoted to God: One of the constant factors in the witness of Chinese believers whom I have met for over thirty years is their desire to know God, to praise God, and to serve God by making him known to those outside the church. The witness literally bursts out in the welcome our groups have received as we come into a church yard on the way to worship. 

The Outreach Foundation
"Come"

by Rob Weingartner

I love the Gospel lesson which describes how Jesus, after the feeding of the 5,000, made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. Then, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came the boat was being battered by the waves, far from the land, fighting against the wind. Early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. 

The Outreach Foundation
A Real Church

by Rob Weingartner

 

Samuel A. Moffett arrived in Korea in 1890, appointed as a missionary by the Presbyterian Church. After several trips to the northern part of the country, he decided to work in Pyongyang, becoming the first Protestant missionary to take up long-term residence in inland Korea. He faced much opposition and many difficulties. He was spat upon, shunned and, on one occasion, even was stoned by a group of young men. But he deeply felt called to the work. He remained steadfast, focusing on preaching the Gospel and founding schools.

The Outreach Foundation
Read it Again, Grandpa

by Rob Weingartner

Fresh off a wonderful weekend with our older son and his family, I find myself reflecting on our two-year old grandson’s request to read the same story over and over again. It wasn’t that long ago, or so it seems, that his daddy was making the same request.

Heather Turgeon explains, “Kids learn through repetition, so it’s not surprising that they tend to ask for the same books over and over – this is how their brains absorb the stories and language patterns within…. It’s likely that hearing the phrasing and structure of a story many times over helps children grasp and hold on to new vocabulary. 

The Outreach Foundation
Risking for God: Starting New Churches

by Jeff Ritchie

This week something big is happening in Brazil. The Olympics were big, but they ended two weeks ago. The impeachment trial of the current President of Brazil is big, but that is not what I am talking about. As I write this blog, almost two thousand people from several countries are attending a conference on church growth and church revitalization in Campinas, Brazil. Our Outreach staff for Portuguese-Language Ministries, José Carlos Pezini, is leading one of the many workshops.

The Outreach Foundation
Big and Little Much the Same

by Rob Weingartner

Last week, I had the opportunity to gather at beautiful Montreat with a wonderful group of folks who have been engaged for years in ministry with smaller membership congregations. “Smaller” now describes the majority of congregations in the United States, most of which continue to lose members. In the PC(USA) the median size congregation has 84 members; that is, half of the churches in the denomination have 84 members or fewer. At the meeting, I was given some time to share my reflections about small congregations with the group, and this is the substance of what I shared.

The Outreach Foundation