By: Emily Armstrong
International living has it’s ups and downs, that’s for sure. One question that has fascinated me for a while is when people ask me if I’m afraid to live in another country. And this week, a few things have happened to provoke deeper thinking on that topic – so I’m writing about it.
Scott and I were 26 years old when we first moved to the foreign mission field – Guatemala City to be exact. I’ve often said that God BLESSED us with a naive spirit and allowed us to continually think, “I guess that’s just the way it is on the mission field!” whenever something that should have made us anxious happened. I remember when we went to a town known for it’s kite festival, to see all the kites and experience a bit of Guatemalan culture. What we didn’t know, is that about 10,000 people were PACKED into one main street of the small town, making it a great place for pick pockets to wander around unnoticed. We were there for about an hour and during that time had our camera stolen (out of a backpack that I was wearing on my front!) and Scott had a slit in his front jeans pocket, where someone had tried to slice open his jeans to allow his wallet to fall out. These were PROFESSIONALS. And we walked right into it – pretty naive. Thankfully, the wallet stayed put – and the camera…well, we mourned that loss for a little while.
Fast forward 16 years and there are still things around us that could or some would even say should frighten us. Like the email that I got yesterday from the US Embassy in Santo Domingo which was titled – Alert: Security Alert which proceeded to warn me:
Security Alert – U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (January 7, 2020)
Location: Dominican Republic
Event: Heightened Middle East Tensions
There is heightened tension in the Middle East that may result in security risks to U.S. citizens abroad.
The Embassy will continue to review the security situation and will provide additional information as needed.
Actions to Take:
- Keep a low profile.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists
- Review your personal security plans.
- Have travel documents up to date and easily accessible.
Or the phone call that we got last night from Regional leadership asking about Scott’s trip to Puerto Rico this weekend. The Caribbean islands have been talking for months, if not years, about “The Big One” referring to a huge earthquake that should come someday because of the dozen fault lines that run through the islands. The most recent large earthquakes in Puerto Rico have increased the chatter, as well as our newspapers putting out advice on “What to do in the event of an earthquake”.
These are just a few things that have made me think about WHY my family serves the Church of the Nazarene as international missionaries. And the reason I come back to is because PERFECT LOVE CASTS OUT ALL FEAR. John wasn’t just writing that sentence in his first letter to the Church because he thought it would look good on a print, or embroidered on a pillow. He wrote it, because he believed it. John, the same John that was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the gospel, tells us that perfect love casts out fear.
My spirit is quiet and at peace, because God has called me to this work of international living, working and serving and I trust that He is in control. I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. So when these events happen – and assuredly they will continue to happen – I find my strength coming from loving Him. He really does cast out all fear – and my family and I are living testimonies of that fact.
If you find yourself anxious for my family, or any missionary family living abroad, I would ask you to pray for us. Pray that we stand firm in the faith. Pray that we love God with everything in us and we love the people around us. Pray that we have courage to take light into dark places. God hears and answers these prayers and we are grateful that you join with us in ministry in this special way.
By Dr. Stan Toler (1950-2017)
If you had a super power, what would you want it to be? I love to ask people that question. The responses are always interesting.
Flying tops the list. Others will say teleportation, invisibility, or x-ray vision. It’s fun to speculate about the good we might do if we had some unusual ability—or the adventures we might have!
That’s all fantasy, of course, but there really is a super power available to you, and to everyone—it isn’t so much a power we possess as it is a way to access the ultimate source of power. I’m talking about prayer.
When we pray, we have access to the presence of God himself, and His incredible power is available to us. As the apostle James put it, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
Here are four ways that we can tap into God’s power when we pray:
- God’s resources become available.
Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” That’s not a platinum card to take to the shopping mall. It’s a promise that God will respond to provide for those who ask in faith.
When we have a need, we often try everything but prayer to meet it. Begin where the power is. Begin by calling out to God.
- You experience a supernatural calm.
The apostle Paul said after you have prayed, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds” (Phil. 4:7). I don’t know about you, but I think freedom from anxiety would be a great super power to have! That can be yours when you pray in faith.
- You make the past disappear.
John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). A sincere prayer of confession releases God’s forgiveness, washing away guilt, shame, and regret. While you may live with some consequences of past action, your prayer heard in heaven will make the guilt disappear.
- You unleash God’s healing.
God is merciful, and He often releases his healing power to those who humbly ask. James wrote, “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well” (James 5:14). Is that a guarantee that every prayer for healing will be answered in the way we desire? No, but it does indicate the relationship between prayer and healing. We often miss out on God’s power because we simply don’t ask to receive it.
It would be a shame to have the super power of flying yet travel everywhere on foot; or to have super strength but allow yourself to be oppressed by others. And it’s unfortunate that many of us fail to use the truly amazing gift that we have available to us every day—prayer.
How active is your prayer life?
What would you do today, even now, to take advantage of this awesome power?
How have you seen the power of God at work in response to your prayers?
By: Scott Armstrong
Almost all of my life I have struggled with prayer. I am not talking about “arrow prayers” or praying continually (1 Thess. 5:17) throughout the day. I tend to do a lot of that, and it has been meaningful to see how God is at work in the mundane of every task or relationship.
I wrestle more with the focused times of intercession. Sometimes I have viewed those times as items on the to-do list, and other times I have found myself so distracted that I can hardly maintain a decent stream of thought – let alone conversation – with God. It is all quite embarrassing for a person who has been a Christian for 38 years and happens to be a missionary as well.
The two things that have recently given me hope are accountability (praying with someone else, namely my wife or kids) and using praise music to reflect and worship. I am growing in my understanding of prayer, and starting to enjoy it, thanks be to God.
Kallistos Ware, bishop in the Orthodox Church, http://myocn.net/metropolitan-kallistos-ware-prayer/tells this story: There was an old man who used to spend hours in church each day, and his friends said to him, ‘What are you doing during all that time?’ And he said, ‘I’m praying,’ and they said, ‘Oh, you must have a great many things you need to ask God for.’ With some indignation he said, ‘I’m not asking God for anything.’ ‘Oh,’ they said, ‘well, what are you doing all that time in church?’ And he replied, ‘I just sit and look at God and God sits and looks at me.’”
My best times of prayer have been when I lay my “list” to the side and begin to contemplate God. The requests are still shared, but the process becomes more of knowing – and being known by – Him.
In Luke 11, Jesus instructs us to ask, seek, and knock incessantly (v.9-10). However, he also identifies the best response to our prayer not as economic prosperity, physical healing, or the changing of our circumstances (things we often pray for), but rather his very presence:
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (v. 13).
Richard Rohr, the Franciscan Friar, puts it this way: “The answer to prayer is always the same – it’s the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Amen. Come, Holy Spirit. Help me to pray. Help me to know You abundantly and to be known fully by You.
This is the first step in the series: “Ten Practical Steps For Planting New Churches,” written by Rev. Manuel Molina Flores.
Prayer begins with the church planter or the mother church when they discover God is guiding them to plant a church in a particular place. Pray for:
- Local leaders who will participate in the project
- A strategy
- The people you hope to win to Christ
- The material resources you will need
- Community leaders
- Permits and approvals you will need
Prayer will become one of the disciplines of growth for the new disciples. It will become a daily part of their new lives.
We must persist in prayer with expectant hearts (Col. 4:2-4), expecting God to bring receptive individuals and to guide us in what we will say. In that way we will be sure it is NOT human strategies that guide our ministry, but rather the Holy Spirit. This approach establishes a pattern of dependence on the Holy Spirit essential for success in following the steps in our strategy as founders of the new church (Zechariah 4:6).
Through prayer, the Holy Spirit will come to be our guide when we allow him to direct our methods and most effective tools. Sometimes we do not have access to sufficient funds to purchase materials, but the Holy Spirit’s help will be fundamental in giving creative ideas to the church planter or cell group leader.
For example, we use a map to pray for the city. We put our hands on it and ask God to direct us to the place ready to receive the Word. Later, we pray while we walk the streets of some hidden place. Many times, the response of a family that will open their home to the church has come first in the streets where we begin to pray.
Prayer must be modeled by the church planter, not only taught.
***In the next article we will continue with Step 2.
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:1-4)
By Emily Armstrong
I think that we can all agree that Jesus was a pretty excellent teacher. After all, he always had hundreds or thousands of people following him, hanging on his every word. He told lots of good stories and lived out exactly what he taught. This teacher was also a prayer warrior, and I think it was wise of the disciples to ask the best teacher ever to teach them how to pray (v. 1). Can you imagine getting lessons in prayer from Jesus?!? Prayer is simply an act of talking to God, and Jesus couldn’t get enough of it.
Why is it so hard for us to pray? I think it’s because we still think there is only one way to do it – locking yourself in your dark closet and pouring your heart out to God for at least an hour every day. At this point in my life, I don’t even have an hour to sit down and eat lunch, let alone lock myself in a dark closet. I’ve found that having short times of prayer with God throughout the day has helped me remain consistent in my prayer life. Almost every day I have one main time of prayer, when I journal my thoughts, dreams, hopes, requests. This is my really focused time of prayer, and I’ve found that sitting down with my journal and pen really helps me block out the other distractions around me. BUT, I don’t just leave my prayer life once the journal is closed. All throughout the day, if I think about something that I need to pray about, I’ll stop and pray a 30 second prayer. Keeping prayer as a constant staple at all hours has helped me to keep focused on God throughout the day.
If you need to establish a better prayer life, the best thing to do is start small. Give God a few minutes every day and pretty soon you’ll start to realize that you can’t get enough of it – just like Jesus.
*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.
By Claudia Cruz Martinez
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce…Also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:5,7
I have missionary friends who live in Mexico, and none of them have thought about changing their citizenship. They are officially temporary residents. They’ve built houses and planted fruit trees on the properties where they live. Their children study at the schools in their cities. Societal and political problems affect them, even though they are not Mexican. They wish that the cities were safer, that there would be less trash, that the roads would be in better shape, and that there would be less delinquency and corruption. I have never seen them close their eyes to the social problems of this country, and I have never seen them indifferent to its needs. They have always felt like one of us, but they know that Mexico is only their temporary residency. It does not mean that they are anxiously awaiting a chance to return to their countries, but they are certain that God could take them to another country or send them back to their own nation.
God spoke his word through Jeremiah to a people who had been exiled from Jerusalem and taken as captives to Babylon. His advice was that they do everything necessary to live as residents because they would be there for a long time (70 years, according to Jer. 29:10 and Jer. 25:15). On top of that, they should seek peace for Babylon and intercede for the nation, because their own well-being depended on the security of Babylon.
As Christians, we know that we are foreigners on this earth, and that our presence here is temporary. Still, we enjoy life, and make an effort to live in a way that reflects the eternal. We cannot close our eyes to the needs of people around us. We must not be indifferent to caring for creation, since God designed this place for us. We cannot act as if we do not care for the hundreds of missing people, or the countless robberies and murders. We must not be indifferent! If the city is unsafe, we also feel unsafe.
Wherever we live, we must long to see people reconciled to God. Jeremiah’s counsel is for us today as well: we must intercede and seek peace for our city.
*Claudia Cruz serves as the youth pastor in the Betania Church of the Nazarene in Ciudad Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Mexico. She is also the Global Mission Coordinator for the Mexico Field.