Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Me and Jesus

As I was on the plane heading to Malaysia I had a lot of time on my hands (25 hours of flight time to be exact). So I watched a few movies, followed the in flight map, tried to sleep and gorged myself with succulent airline cuisine.

The whole time I kept thinking about the pain and hardship that the young people of the world are faced with as a result of poor choices that are made without guidance, input, advice and especially the standard of God's Word.

I've also been wondering why God led me to get involved in the prison ministry like he has, when all of my ministry involvement over the years has been with young people, and as I was 30,000 feet in the air somewhere in Russian airspace it hit me.

God has me working with hardcore prisoners so I can catch a glimpse of what hurt, pain, hardship and loneliness is all about. This glimpse not only captivates my heart and inspires me to share God's truth with them, it also allows me to share these insights with youth leaders around the globe of how critical their role in the lives of their young people really is.

Then as I was sitting there making this connection in my mind, a song by the band Stellar Kart came on my mp3 player. It's called "Me and Jesus" and it helped to solidify the reason behind why God has me doing what I'm doing these days...He's got me involved in rubbing shoulders with people who need to know that even at the lowest point in their lives, they are not alone, they've got "me" and Jesus. I will be there as best as I can but that's pretty fragile...Jesus on the other hand, is solid...He'll always be there for them.

Who are you rubbing shoulders with that needs to hear that you're there for them, and even more...Jesus is there for them?

This video helps to give a picture of what my ministry is all about.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Home from Malaysia

Hey everyone, I made it home safe and sound from Malaysia. The trip home was pretty smooth except for a delay in NYC and then JFK losing my bag, but other than that no problems.

Thanks to everyone who prayed for me while I was away and for my family as they stayed home. It's so awesome to have such a supportive group of friends and family backing us up every time I'm away and even when I'm home...Thank You!

I'm still catching up from my jet-lag as my body feels like it's only 12:00 noon but it's actually past midnight as I'm writing this...I hope I catch up soon.

The picture above is the name of the youth ministry where I spoke at the "Fishhooks" Conference in Penang, Malaysia. The conference was all about learning how to evangelize in such a way that we become fish hooks for Jesus. I love the by-line of their motto..."Famous in Heaven...Feared in Hell!" Too Cool!

I'll tell you what, the passion I saw in that conference was contagious! These students have friends who not only don't know Jesus, they are from families whose traditions are steeped in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and many other religions that are not only represented there on the island, but massive temples and mosques have been erected to the honor of their gods.

I visited several of the temples and mosques while I was there, and will write more about that later...Please pray for the students from the seven churches that were represented at Fishhooks conference from all over Penang, that they would really apply their faith, and live for Jesus on the front line...Famous in Heaven...Feared in Hell! I love it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Malaysia Update

I've got a about a day an a half of teaching yet to go and it's been so much fun interacting and strategizing with passionate youth leaders from all over Southeast Asia.

Yesterday after class a few of the students invited me to go with them to see some sights in Penang, so after class we headed out to see what we could see.

Penang is a city that is known for it's mix of religions in one place, and I can attest to that as within a 10 minute ride we passed, Hindu and Buddhist Temples, tons of Mosques, three or four Christian churches, the Jehovah's Witness compound, the Mormon temple and even the Free Masons house. In fact the place where I'm staying overlooks what they call the "floating Mosque" and the 5:30am call to prayer that is a key part of Islamic culture wakes me up every's right outside my window!

The picture above is taken at the Burmese Buddhist Temple and is a good representation of where some of the students are from, as we were all pointing to our country on the globe...notice I'm pointing around the globe to the US.

There are 13 students in the class. Please pray for each of them as they seek to learn how to effectively reach the students in their culture.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Malaysia Update

Well I'm about halfway through the week here in Malaysia and am having a wonderful time of teaching and training...I have had very little access to the internet so that's been frustrating but you have to adapt and be flexible right?

The students I have are amazing! In one setting I have students from...Malaysia, China, Philipines, Myanmar, Nepal, Brunai, India and Indonesia. Talk about an awesome mix of cultures and experiences, and multi-cultural passion for students, that is contagious!

The seminary is in Penang and is the most picturesque setting you can imagine...the picture on top is taken from my room and the one above is from right outside the chapel, and across from my teaching's spectacular!

The food has been great, and the discussion around principles of youth ministry has been even better.
In our strategy session one of the students asked for advice on ways that she can improve her ministry to the accident victims...I asked which accident? She said the Tsunami...She's from Sri Lanka and wants to start a youth ministry there! Unbelievable.

I appreciate your prayers it's really working...keep me in prayer as I speak at a big youth conference on saturday in Penang. I'll be speaking to several hundred students from all over Malaysia...3 sessions.

I'm trying to keep track of what God is teaching me and will probably have to report in terms of articles after I get home due to the lack of internet.
Thanks everyone!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Malaysia in the Morning

Tomorrow morning bright and early I'll be boarding a plane in Rochester, NY and heading to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a whirlwind tour of teaching, preaching and training.

I'll be updating the blog as often as I can so keep checking back to see what's going on.One of the things that I really enjoy about my ministry with YMI is when I get to travel to one of our CYM's and teach college students who are passionate about reaching young people in their culture, and are enrolled in the bachelors or Masters degree programs that we offer in 6 different countries.

I also love to connect with some of the students who are utilizing their training in their local church youth ministry by speaking in their churches, in their youth groups and various camps and conferences while I'm there.

This trip to Malaysia will involve a lot of's the basic schedule of what I'll be doing...

7/11 - Arrive in Kuala Lumpur

7/12 - Rest up and connect with staff

7/13 - Attend church in Kuala Lumpur
* Drive up the coast to Penang

* Meet Penang Youth Pastors and discuss Fish Hooks Youth Conference
7/14-18 - Teach YM 101 class at Malaysia Baptist Seminary - 8am-3pm each day

7/19 - Speak 2 main sessions and a closing session at Fish Hooks Youth Conference in Penang - 1:30-6:30pm

7/20 - Speak at Georgetown Baptist Church - 9am & 11am

* Fly back fromPenang to Kuala Lumpur and see some sights

7/21 - Fly from Kuala Lumpur to Rochester, NY arriving around 3pm

I'd really appreciate your prayers as I embark on this adventure of training trainers in Youth Ministry and ministering to the young people that these Youth Pastor Majors are passionately reaching for Christ.

Your prayers, funds, networks and on-going support of YMI has made this movement continue to grow and expand, with no end in sight! God is at work in our home team, our international team, our students and the young people that our students are being trained to reach.

We’re in the process of updating our ministry effectiveness report that gives a glimpse of the numbers of lives that are being impacted by YMI around the globe, as professionally trained and developed Youth Leaders work through the specifically designed curriculum delivered by our YMI Youth Ministry Professors in East Africa, South East Asia, Latin America, Eurasia and Western Europe.

The 2007 quantitative report covering the numbers of students in the program and the young people that the ministries they oversee touch on a weekly basis is staggering, and yet is only the tip of the iceberg!

From 2000-2007 YMI has accomplished the following…

- Churches Served by YMI informal and formal training – 1318

- Informal (Seminars) Youth Leaders Trained – 1281

- Formal (College, Seminary) Youth Leaders in the program – 183

- Institutions teaching YMI Program – 8

- Nationals assisting in training – 40

- Total countries represented by students in training – 20

- Young People (ages 12-24) directly impacted by YMI trained Youth Leaders – 122,365

Talk about exciting! God is using the movement of YMI to impact lives of young people for His Kingdom, and you are a key part in that progress, and these numbers aren’t even the latest figures.

So as I go to Malaysia for the next several days, please commit to keep me, the students, the young people they serve, the staff, the school and the churches in prayer as we seek to assist in the training of trainers in youth ministry world wide...It's a MOVEMENT!

Monday, July 7, 2008

No AC, No FM and No Regrets? - Lesson Learned Series

Last week I had one of those “epiphany moments” on my way to my weekly Bible study with my guys in the Monroe County Jail. I was all set to facilitate the discussion around the Lord’s Prayer and some other incredible prayers in the Bible, and as I was driving, and thinking and praying on my way, one of my favorite songs from Audio Adrenaline came on the car stereo.
It is a song that I have always enjoyed from it’s release on the 1997 album “Some Kind of Zombie” by the band I have always referred to as “Audio A.”

The song is called “Chevette”, and for a number of years and especially lately this song has served as a kind of anthem for what I would like my life to be about. Hopefully, a life that is about God’s agenda and not my own, and about God’s definition of success and not the world’s definition.

For me, the lyrics of this song sum up what I hope and pray will be said about me when it’s all said and done…check out the lyrics…

"Chevette" by: Audio Adrenaline

 Twenty years ago I watched in awe as my dad drove up the driveway, more than proud to have a brand new family car. Thirty miles to the gallon, 0 to 60, sometimes. I remember putting down the back seat and lying in the hatchback. Looking at the sky watching trees go by. I was the son of a preacher, and he was a rich poor man.

No A.C. No FM, and no regrets, in my Chevette.The winter cracked the highway and we tried to dodge the potholes. He never promised us it would be agentle ride. He never had a problem though, keeping it on the narrow road.
Now you may be wondering why those lyrics hold such a special meaning for me, and what kind of epiphany moment I had upon hearing them blasting in my car stereo.








Well, let me just say that for the last 11 years of enjoying that song, I have always resonated, and thought about what people would think of my ministry, my sacrifices, my hard work. My prayer has always been that even though I have never made a lot of money, lived in a fancy house, or drove an awesome car, my life could be summed up with the statement – “He lived God’s way and had no regrets!”

Those thoughts are still true, but as I sat there and listened again to the lyrics, I heard the line “Twenty years ago I watched in awe as my dad drove up the driveway. More than proud to have a brand new family car…I was the son of a preacher, and he was a rich poor man.”My mind immediately went to my kids.

All of a sudden I thought to myself, “I wonder if Ethan and Serena will feel this way about their mom and dad when they get older? I wonder if they will be able to look back and say…NO Regrets!”

It was as if a light went on in my spirit as God brought situation after situation to my mind of how he has been guiding my life to this point, and in the process every decision that I have made in accordance with His leading has also affected my wife and kids. I mean I knew that that is the way it works, but as I sat there listening to the song I was really blasted with the fact that every decision I make impacts others…especially my family.

I must be honest, that kind of reality scares me to death, because that adds a ton of pressure…I mean its one thing to follow God’s lead for your life, but when there are three other lives included in the decision, it changes things for sure.

My hope and prayer is that my kids, just like Mark Stuart of Audio Adrenaline can look back 20 years and say…”I was the son of a preacher, and he was a rich poor man.” And that my wife can say the same kinds of things about her husband, because the truth is, that this path of ministry that we’re on is never going to bring the things that this world points to as success and symbols that you’ve arrived.

I know that, I knew that when I signed up for ministry some 20 years ago, and I know it even more now that not only am I in ministry, I’m a missionary, of all things!

The drive, the song, the epiphany and the fact that I love to write got my juices going, and I couldn’t wait to get into jail and share with my guys what God was doing in my life. We had an awesome discussion about God’s faithfulness, His love and grace, and as I left the jail and worked my way through the maze of long hallways and intimidating barred doors, my mind was racing with the examples of the affirmations that God had given our family over the last few years as he prepared us for this life of NO Regrets!

I was pumped…until I got to my locker…

Every week when I check out of the jail, I go to my locker and retrieve my personal items that can’t be taken in. Things like keys, sunglasses, cell phones and such…this week was no different, and as I grabbed my cell phone I checked to see if I had any e-mail, and sure enough I had a couple in my inbox, so I quickly checked to see what messages I had.

The first one I saw was from the financial secretary of our mission, and it was regarding the monthly transfer that she had made into my checking account. It was payday, and she sent me an e-mail to let me know how much I would be getting this month.

I must be honest, as I looked at the e-mail and saw that the amount that she said was transferred, which represents the amount that was given the previous month to support my ministry and my family, was WAY LOW!

I mean, I don’t make a lot as it is, in fact at this writing we’re still only about 55% of what our mission has determined is what a family of four in ministry needs to live on, and it was even way below that amount…I was floored!

All kinds of thoughts were going through my mind, as I left the jail and proceeded to my car. The epiphany I had just two hours earlier was now the furthest thing from my mind, as I felt as if the wind that was powering my sail was completely gone! The emphatic phrase” NO AC, NO FM and NO REGRETS!” Now included a question mark in my mind.

I wrestled with God over that one for a long time…again it’s never been about money for me, it’s always been about ministry, but as I sat there wondering how I was going to make less then 25% support last for a month with 4 mouths to feed, and bills to pay…I honestly began to question and question hard!

“God what are you doing? Why are you allowing this to happen? I’m being faithful aren’t I? And many more questions similar to that filled my car as I drove home (with the stereo muted).

I wish that I could say that just like in the TV sitcoms we grew up watching, 23 minutes later everything was just peachy and the problems were all solved, I won the lottery and it was all good. That’s fairy tale land, and definitely didn’t happen to me. I was ticked, and for the first time in a long time began to wonder if what I was doing was what God really wanted me to do.
I mean missions is great and noble, but I also have a responsibility to my family as well.

Then as I was driving home, God did what He likes to do a lot in my relationship with Him; He started bringing back memories of the times He showed Himself real in my life. Times when He went beyond the everyday supplier that He is, and sent some “no doubt” kinds of things my way so that I could see clearly that He is God, He loves me, He has a plan for me and he will provide for me, and my family!

I’ve listed three examples that he brought to mind of his provision and I b
elieve, affirmation that He is behind this whole total faith in mission’s adventure that we’re on…

1. 1992 Subaru SVX – The very car I was driving on the way home was a gift…sure it is 16 years old and has over 200,000 miles on it, but it was an awesome gift, that God sent at just the right time. My wife and I really believed that God was moving and wanted us to become missionaries, we were working on getting rid of some debt so I sold my 2000 Grand AM to pay some bills.

We thought one car would work, and after like 2 days realized that it was not reality for us.So I asked a friend of mine who deals in cars to keep his eyes open for me, and I told him how much I had to work with.

Well, after about a week of looking based on my meager budget he basically told me that there wasn’t anything out there for what I could afford.Then he said “Brent, if you don’t mind me asking, why did you sell your Grand Am? That was a nice car?”I hadn’t announced to my church yet that I was leaving to become a missionary, so I asked if he could keep it under his hat until I told the church, and proceeded to tell him what God was doing in my life, and that I believed He was calling me to become a missionary.

He was a little surprised by that as he processed what he had just heard. Then he said “let me get this straight, you’re going to have to raise support, and live on faith that whatever people send in each month is going to be enough to provide for your family?” I said, “Yes, that’s right.”

He then said “wait here a minute, I’ll be right back…about 5 minutes later he returned with a piece of paper and a set of keys and said “here, this is my way of supporting your ministry…here’s the title and keys to a car!” Now not only was this a car, it was his favorite little sports car, the one he babied, spruced up and personally took care of…God provided!

2. 1996 Dodge Grand Caravan – Sure it has 156,000 miles on it and is 12 years old, but just like the Subaru it was a gift. A gift from some missionary friends after our 2001 Dodge Grand Caravan was totaled in a car accident that was a miracle in itself. Every Scar Tells a Story, chronicles that one.

3. Mission House – Upon announcing our resignation from our church and new adventure with our mission, the reality of having enough money to pay the mortgage on our house began to settle in.

A few months into the support raising process a friend of mine from college, who is now the Senior Pastor of a church in our town contacted me and said, “Brent, were excited about what you and your family are doing in this missions calling, and our church would like to help in some way. We aren’t taking on any new missionaries right now but we do have a house that is available for you guys to live in while you raise support…RENT FREE!

I could go on and list many more examples of His faithfulness to us, but the bottom line for me as I was driving home is that God is in this and knows what He’s doing. He is powering the deal, and will continue to power it.

He never promised me it would be a gentle ride; He never has a problem though keeping it on the narrow road.

I must be honest, it’s been a tough week, a week that has made me pause and contemplate and question. Then God did something that He often does with me in our relationship, he uses something my kids say to reaffirm that He’s in control.

The other day at the beach, my son was playing with a bunch of kids and one asked Him what his father does for a living. Without a second’s hesitation, he joyfully and loudly proclaimed to the child and everyone on the beach…He’s a Missionary!


Lesson Learned