The Power of Prayer

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“We Believe in Prayer” – Part 1

While I have been in Dallas for these past two months, I have been attending Crossroads Christian Church in the nearby city of Grand Prairie, Texas.  I have enjoyed the worship and the teaching at this church.  The membership is in the thousands, and so they offer three morning services as well as having a Wednesday night teaching service.

It can be difficult for me to attend church with the muscle disease that I have, but thankfully the building is relatively flat, including their main sanctuary.  In the sanctuary they have very comfortable theater style padded chairs that don’t hurt my legs.  The church also offers multiple Sunday School teaching classes during each service.  Again, I am thankful that their smaller Chapel room, which can seat over a hundred people, has nicely padded pews. So I have been able to attend a class in there too.

Right now, the church is proposing an amazing building expansion that will focus just on Children’s Ministries.  It is a huge step of faith to believe that they can accomplish this over the next year, but it has the potential to reach thousands of kids in the surrounding areas.  And so they just had a church-wide emphasis on prayer.  I would like to share the summaries of the lessons taught on prayer over the next four weeks in my Thursday postings.

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Lesson Overview:  “Jesus never questioned whether or not if believers should pray. In Matthew 5:6, he said, “When you pray…” Paul knew how essential prayer was. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul reminded believers to “pray without ceasing.” Still, most believers will tell you that they do not pray enough and many will confess their lives are almost completely without prayer.”

The key text that our leader focused in on during this first lesson was Acts 12:1-19. The background to the story in this chapter is that the church in Jerusalem was flourishing well in the months that followed after Christ’s death and resurrection. The Jewish political ruler at this time was another King Herod and he tried to keep the Jewish leaders happy as well as the powerful forces of Rome which occupied and governed Palestine.

In order to do this, King Herod started to persecute the early church and even had one of its leaders killed, James the brother of John. This pleased the Jewish leaders, and so King Herod went on and had Peter arrested and put in jail. This galvanized the Christian believers into action as we can see from verse 5, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Let’s now consider the main points that we can learn from this story in Acts 12.

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1.  “They were praying for the impossible.”

Looking at Peter’s situation from a human perspective, there was really no hope of Peter being released. Remember that Jesus had been arrested, put on trial, and killed in less than one day. The text also implies that James was immediately put to death. And to make sure that no one was able to come and rescue Peter, Herod put four squads of four highly trained Roman soldiers to guard him at the jail. And yet, the church’s immediate response to the situation was to gather the believers and pray.

2.  “They were praying specifically.”

It is possible that the Christians prayed about other things, but the text is very clear that they were earnestly praying to God concerning Peter. Looking at the Greek verb here, we also learn that this was not just a single prayer offered up, but they were continually, constantly praying to God. This sounds similar to the “Persistent Widow” in the parable found in Luke 18:1-8. That passage teaches us about the importance of persisting in prayer and then seeing the request being granted. The question for us to consider is whether we practice this kind of praying.

3.  “They were praying corporately.”

Verse 12 of our key passage tells us that “many people had gathered and were praying.” I believe there is an important lesson to be learned here. Think about what we do today. When we hear about a critical situation that needs prayer, what do we often do? Nowadays, we will usually get the news through an e-mail or perhaps by a telephone call, which does make it harder, but is our first thought to gather with other Christians and to pray together about this matter? Sadly, it is not.

4.  “They were surprised at the answer.”

I think this is the most amazing aspect about this story. The church responded quickly, decisively and specifically in prayer when the crisis happened. God answered their prayers and Peter was standing at the door outside, but the people did not believe this report of the servant girl that Peter was alive and standing at the door. For me, this actually makes the story more believable because it shows how human the early Christians were.

This raises the biggest question of all for us as believers. When we pray, do we not expect God to answer our prayers? Are we perhaps more similar to Thomas then we care to admit? Remember how Thomas heard the reports that Jesus was alive but it wasn’t until he saw Jesus with his own eyes that he believed.

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Recall what Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” and also 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” And finally, grab hold of and believe what Jesus said in Mark 10:27, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Dear reader, it is my hope that you will not only pray regularly to God yourself, but that you will seek out other believers to pray together with and truly experience the power of prayer.

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Shipwrecked Faith

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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Shipwrecked Faith

Why, O LORD, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes that are your inheritance. Isaiah 63:17 

“Wander from your ways” is powerfully descriptive as we consider how easy it is to move away from a right relationship to God. It doesn’t take effort to drift. You just quit trying. You lose focus. Staying close to God requires effort. We’re not talking about earning our salvation…that is not dependent upon our effort, but upon God’s grace. Maintaining and nurturing the relationship will mean giving ourselves to prayer, the Word, fellowship, and worship.

How many have shipwrecked their faith, not by deliberate rebellion, but by drifting away through inattention? Wandering aimlessly through life, we miss the Lord’s presence and His power to transform. Might that even be a picture of the 21st century church today as we wander away from the firm commitment to daily seek His face?

Oh God, forgive my tendency to wander away from You. I get so caught up in daily activities, that I find myself off doing my own thing and not paying attention to You. Like the hymnist I find myself saying, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”

–By David Butts, author of The Devil Goes to Church (Combating the Everyday Attacks of Satan)

Posted 3 Oct 2011

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This recent devotional thought from “Connections” has come at a very timely moment.  Yesterday, my younger boy, Glen, began the first day of his Army Boot Camp training.  Over the next four months, Glen will be subjected to all the brutal rigors, intense discipline and strict authoritarianism that goes with entering into the life of being a soldier.  He will need to be strong and also well-disciplined to keep his spiritual life maintained and healthy.

So am I concerned or worried about Glen?  Naturally!  That is, as a father, I will of course be concerned about his physical well-being and safety as he trains to be a soldier.  But I have committed my son into the hands of the Almighty God.  And I will be sure to pray for him every day, even as I also pray for my older son Eric, and his young bride Esther, every day.  As a Christian man, praying for my wife and all my children each day is as normal and natural as breathing air is, and is just as important.

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What is of greater concern to me is Glen’s emotional / psychological and spiritual health as he starts to enter into this world of the military.  In a number of conversations in the past with Glen, it became clear to me that God had placed this desire within him to walk this path.  I’m sure there will be some trying moments for him in the coming months and years ahead of him, but I do believe that Glen has a solid faith in God and a strong will to hold his ground if and when he is challenged.

But it is not so much the blatant and obvious challenges to his faith that I worry about for Glen.  No, it is more the quiet, subtle, slow drifting away from one’s “first love” for Jesus (as Revelation 2:4-5 puts it) that concerns me and has the possibility of causing a shipwreck to his faith.  But not just to Glen, to any of us who do not choose to place a high priority on our commitment to maintain a regular and healthy relationship with God.

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Let me restate one sentence from the devotional above that I think is the most important one:

“Maintaining and nurturing the relationship [with God] will mean giving ourselves to prayer, the Word, fellowship [with other Christians] and worship.”

This points to the importance of having an inner motivation to be proactive and disciplined about maintaining our relationship with God.  It will not be easy for Glen in some ways, since the Army will in many ways control every aspect of his life at first.  but he will get weekends off at some point, and he will have some personal time he can use to focus on his prayer life and devotional readings once he finishes Boot Camp.

I can say all this, because I once was where Glen is now.  The differences now are that I was a Reservist in the Canadian Navy for a year, while he will be in the Regular Army for the next four years.  But we have an agreement that I can phone him up or email him at any time and ask him if his faith is still “strong” and still “secure”.  (You can read my words to Glen in the article “Strong and Secure For God.”)

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This brings me to a natural concluding point and question here.  It is great when a person publicly declares that he is a Christian.  But is that person’s faith truly grounded well in God and in His Words, so that no external force would have the strength to knock them down in their faith? Or are they hiding in the crowds of people who appear to make them strong but are empty and brittle like the bamboo stalks can get to be.

And now it comes down to you, the reader of this article.  How would you say that your faith is doing?  Is your faith strong;  is it really secure?  Please, please do not drift slowly away from God, and risk the danger that you may experience having your Faith shipwrecked.  Amen!

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Worshiping God Produces Good

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Worship On The Way – Part 2

Two weeks ago, we began looking at the importance of joining together with fellow believers and worshiping God corporately. Many people will agree that when we worship God together with others that we can connect with God and therefore build our relationship with Him to be even deeper and stronger. And when we stay in connection with God, it is not unusual to find that God has put a bubble of protection around us to help us get through the coming week and all that it has in store for us.

These are the first two reasons that Atteberry gives for us to maintain our corporate worship of God in his book “Walking with God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel.” In this article,  we will consider two more reasons for going to a local church and worshiping God. We will come to see that worshiping God produces good not only within us but also has a positive effect on those who may be watching us.

1.  Worship Improves Your Outlook

Somehow, this reason for worshiping God with other believers in the local church should be rather obvious, and yet for many this is not the case. When we feel sick or tired or depressed or just frustrated with life, you would think that going to church would be a “pick-me-up” and so a positive thing to do. But instead of going to fellowship with other believers and coming out feeling better about life, I have talked with many who have believed that going to church would not help them, and so they stay home and often their mood or situation gets worse.

I do recognize that there are some places and some times that this will be the experience one might have, but it is my experience that this is the exception, not the rule. Personally, I think we need to check what attitude we have before we enter a church, and also try to determine what it is that we expect to find when we go to worship. Consider Atteberry’s words here:

I will tell you right now that if you go with the right spirit to the right church, and open your heart to God, you will come away with a brighter outlook on life. I don’t care how bleak and dismal your world looks when you walk in, worship just has a way of infusing our hearts with hope.  (pg. 136)

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Certainly in this ideal picture that he paints, we are bound to come away feeling more positive than when we first entered into worship. And immediately I can hear some people telling me, “But you don’t know our church!” And they’re right, I don’t know what negative things may be happening in their church. Perhaps it may be time for them to consider being in a better fellowship in order for them to experience God were positively.

But notice that I underlined three things within that quotation. Often, people will equate the “right” church with the “perfect” church. And as long as there are people involved with church (which is obviously the case) we will never be able to find the perfect church here on earth. As the saying goes, “A church is not a sanctuary for Saints, but a hospital for Sinners.”

More importantly, the other two important aspects in this quote have to do with you and me personally and are within our control. What is our attitude when we go to church? Is our heart truly open to receive a word from the Lord? In other words, if we go to church openly and honestly seeking God, we will find Him and be renewed and refreshed. Even in poor church situations we can still have these encounters with God, and that alone is a good reason to continue going to local churches to worship God.

2.  Worship Enhances Your Witness

Here is one last thing to consider as we talk about reasons to go to church on a regular basis. Think of all of the activities and behaviors that you display throughout a week and ask yourself this question, “What things do I do that people can see and will clearly know from it that I am a Christian?” Being nice to others is good, showing consideration and love is very good, but you do not need to be a Christian to show these kinds of attitudes and behaviors.

On the other hand, going each Sunday to a local church is a clear signal that you identify with that church, and it is assumed that you would in fact be a Christian. Now we do know that just going to a church does not make a person a Christian; believing in Jesus and accepting him as Lord and Savior of your life is what makes you a  Christian. Still, going to church regularly is a form of witness to your faith.

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This is how our family felt while we lived in our village in Papua New Guinea. There was a local church there, but it was based mostly upon ritual and form that had been imported by foreign missionaries decades earlier. There was not very much life in the church, and very little understanding of faith and the Gospel. But to not attend that church would send the wrong signal, and would likely have a negative impact later upon our credibility as “Christians”.

So even though we felt that was the “wrong” church for us, we still went with open hearts and a desire to seek God and worship Him. And you know what? We often still had a personal encounter with God, and the people appreciated us coming and identifying with them. This allowed us to build our relationships with the people and to impact them later in our ministry to them.

So there are some very good reasons for all of us to continue attending our local church, to worship God and fellowship with others. It pleases God, it can lift us up, and it can have a positive effect on others. Any one or all of those are good reasons for us to worship God corporately.

Giant Step For Bible Translation

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PBT & The World of Bible Translation

Two weekends ago marked a historic moment for Pioneer Bible Translators. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the celebration event, the Dedication of the new PBT office building in Dallas, Texas. There were at least 250 people, many of whom had flown in from all parts of the country, plus some of our missionaries from overseas, who came to attend this special event.

This is truly an amazing building that was just a dream a few years ago, and a hope for even longer than that. Inside this beautiful 5000 sq. ft. building there are many offices, a large reception, a conference room, and a huge dining room area with a kitchen nook. There is even more to it than that, but that should give you an idea of how large the building is.

What is even more amazing than turning Texas scrub brush land into PBT’s first permanent International Service Center building, is the fact that every area of the building is already fully staffed and operating. Our old modular building, which had housed up to five staff members in each small office area, sent over as many staff as it could, but it too is still operating various departments within each of its office spaces.

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To appreciate the rapid growth of PBT’s home office, let me take you back to 1994. This was when Jill and I and our boys moved to Dallas, Texas to begin my linguistic training so that I could become a Bible translator. At that time, PBT did not have any building at all. Rather, we were renting two small offices inside of the Pike building which primarily housed the library of SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics), a close partner of Wycliffe Bible Translators.

One office was for the president of PBT, Rondal Smith, and the other one was the administrative office of the finance people and receptionist. There literally was only a handful of staff members back then. It would be another six years or so before PBT built a three-wide trailer modular building to handle about a dozen staff members and also have an open front lobby area plus a large conference room in the center.

A good foundation was laid then by the time that PBT chose its next president, Greg Pruett, in 2006. We had seen steady but gradual increase in staff in the 12 years. The same can be said of our missionaries and our personnel on the field during this time. But considering the pressing need to get more Bible translation happening around the world, all of us knew that some changes would need to be made. It was time to really grow in order that we could get the task done that God had given to our mission.

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Let me explain what our sense of urgency was and still is. Linguistic research has shown us that there are almost 7,000 languages still spoken in the world today. But can you believe that there are over 2,200 of those languages that are still waiting for a Bible translation program to be started in their language? This represents hundreds of millions of people who still do not have even one verse of the Bible in their language.

It is our strong conviction, as well as for many others, that to be able to lead people to faith in Christ, to disciple these new believers, and certainly to plant strong and multiplying churches, it is imperative to get God’s Word to the people, especially in written form. And that is why PBT’s primary focus is to transform lives through translated Scriptures and supported by church planting and Scripture impact initiatives.

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Back to some historical data now, when we officially became members of PBT, there were about 85 career members. This too also grew in a gradual but steady upward climb, so that 10 years later there were 182 career members, with just less than half of them being missionaries in assigned overseas fields. But as I said above, our leadership knew that we would have to make some significant changes to address the global need for Bible translation.

Under Greg’s leadership, PBT envisioned recruiting 200 more members to more than double our organization, to begin a number of new projects and to start working in at least four new countries of the world. To do that though, a much stronger infrastructure and more support personnel would need to be put in place here in Dallas. That became a large part of the reason for why we needed a new permanent building.

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And so here we are nearing the end of PBT’s first six-year plan to expand our mission organization in order that we can in turn impact more language groups of the world. And how have we done you ask? We currently have 322 members, and so many recruits who are in the process of becoming members, that it looks like we very well may reach our goal. Also significant is that we have doubled the number of missionaries on the field, and we have just more than that in the number of members who are training to go to the field. This means we are looking at an explosion of growth in our projects around the world.

Let me now finish this article with an important thought. It may look like PBT right now is all about “numbers” and just growing the organization. That is the furthest thing from the truth possible. Rather, we have recognized the great need for getting God’s word into the hands of the people of all languages. We are simply mobilizing the resources that God has placed in front of us to see this task completed.

And one more important thing to mention. Above all else, Greg has emphasized that our fundamental strategy to see this being done is that of prayer. God has always challenged His people to dream big dreams and to pray for the impossible. That is when God shines through the best, and that is what He has done for PBT. Stay tuned, there are more great stories to come.

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Run The Christian Race

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Dumb Criminal & Christian Endurance

Probably many of us by now have heard a number of “Dumb Criminal” stories that make us chuckle as well as shake our head. Such as, did you hear about the criminal that the police were able to easily follow in the dark until they caught him? He had forgotten that he was wearing his sneakers that blink a bright red light every time you take a step. Or how about the bank robber who wrote, “This is a holdup,” on the back of a personal check that had his home address on it.

These stories sound both ridiculous and funny at the same time, don’t they? It really is amazing how some people can do the most foolish things, and also try to get away with things that ultimately will only hurt them in the end. Here is another story that illustrates this point:

David Posman 33, was arrested in Providence, R.I, after allegedly knocking out an armored car driver and stealing the closest four bags of money. It turned out they contained $800 in PENNIES, weighed 30 pounds each, and slowed him to a stagger during his getaway so that police officers easily jumped him from behind.

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Now consider what one person said after reflecting on this story:

David Posman is not the first person to make the mistake of trying to run while being weighed down. In fact, it happens spiritually all the time. The Hebrew writer talks about sin being a weight that keeps us from effectively running the Christian race. We can get bogged down with things that pull us away from God. And, by the way, as with Posman, those things that are weighing us down are not worth nearly as much as we thought they were when we grabbed hold of them.

And here is the verse in Hebrews that the person was thinking of:

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

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As we look at this verse in Hebrews, we will notice that there are three important aspects in this verse. First, there are the “witnesses” that surround us. Secondly, there are the things that weigh us down and the sins that ensnare us and hinder us from running a good race. And then finally, there is the aspect that we need to run our Christian race with endurance.

So who are these “witnesses” who are watching us as we live out our Christian lives? Many have felt that this is a spiritual reference to God and all the angels who are watching us here on earth. Textually, these witnesses could refer back to all of the “heroes of the faith” of whom we read about throughout Chapter 11 of Hebrews. Others have thought that this could simply refer to the people around us.

In any case, whichever interpretation we might agree with, there is one more imagery aspect that I want to highlight at this point. The idea of others watching as we run our race creates the image for us that we are in an Olympic type event surrounded by many spectators who were cheering us on to cross the finish line. That image helps us to understand the powerful point that the writer is trying to make here.

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Imagine an Olympic marathon runner wearing heavy shoes, extra layers of clothes, and carrying a heavy backpack. There is no way that runner could ever win the race, let alone even finish the race. And that is what our spiritual lives are being compared to if we allow sin or otherworldly distractions to keep us from focusing on our goal of winning the prize of being called to be children of God here, and inheritors of eternal life in the hereafter.

But not only are we called to live godly Christian lives, Scripture tells us that we are to run this race with endurance. That implies that it will be hard work, there will be sweat, and there very likely will be some pain and sacrifice involved. We must remember, that godliness is pursued and grown over an entire lifetime. The Christian life truly is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Personally, I have some great memories of being a long-distance runner when I was in school. I loved the feeling of being in good physical shape, and being able to run very long distances. And I also enjoyed the thrill of the competition of running against other athletes. As I said above, it did take a lot of work, dedication, and sacrifice to get to those competitions.

And even when we experience great pain or trials in life, we are called to keep pressing on. I still remember how that in grade 9, the night before the big competition, I sprained my ankle. The next day, I convinced my coach that if he put a tensor bandage tightly around my ankle I would still be able to run the race. And so I ran. And it hurt terribly. But I still came in third across the finish line. The next year, I won the inter-school competition of the 800 m run and was able to go all the way to the Calgary city finals.

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And so my friend, how are you doing in your Christian life today? Is there anything weighing you down in your spiritual life? Do you realize that other believers, God and all the heavenly angels, and perhaps even the “heroes of the faith” may be watching you and cheering you on to run this race.  May you have the strength and the courage to lay aside whatever it is that is keeping you from running this race well.

A Stricken Father

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Who Am I? – Part 20

In the last article of this series, “Living a Missionary Life,” I gave a brief summary of what living in Papua New Guinea was like for us as a family. Those were good years, and in many ways our family has looked at those years as the best years for our family. We were a solid family unit the four of us, living in our house in the tropical forest in the remote village ministering to the Papuan people by day and having many wonderful family times together in the evenings.

Just before we returned to PNG in 2000 after a short furlough to visit family and our supporting churches, we built a crate (4′ x 4′ x 8′) to send overseas thinking that we would spend the next 10 to 15 years over there working on the Bible translation project. This is what I had always dreamed about doing, what I have trained for, and what I was prepared to give my life for in service to God. Little did we know what lay around the corner for us.

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Now I do need to admit that living in our remote village was not easy. I think of all of us, Glen was the one who enjoyed village life the most. Partly because of his young age but also because of his personality he fit in well. Our older son Eric on the other hand, has always been more suited to larger cities and more Western-style living. And that’s okay, because God makes all of us uniquely different.

So shortly after our return to the field, Eric began asking us for our permission to let him go up to the highlands of PNG to live on a large mission base where he would live in a dormitory and attend an international junior high/senior high school. It was very difficult for us as parents to consider the idea of him living apart from us, but over time we came to realize this would be a better arrangement for Eric.

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In August of 2001, our family went up to the mission base and begin a new phase for our family. At first, our family all stayed together in one flat (apartment) in the house that PBT owned up there. Then Eric moved over into one of the hostels where other schoolchildren and the dorm parents lived while Jill, Glen, and I remained at the PBT house. The idea was to have us close but to still allow Eric a trial period of separation to see how he would do living at the hostel.

And you know what? Eric really enjoyed living there and going to the mission school for his 7th Grade. Actually, I think it was much harder on us to let him go than for him to leave us. This looked like it would work out well, and so the three of us headed back to our village in the lowlands. Thankfully, we did have a radio connection between our village house and the hostel so that we were able to talk to Eric almost every day.

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The first hint of a problem was when Eric got sick on a school outing and couldn’t shake it off after more than two weeks of feeling poor. At the same time, some troubling cultural issues developed among the villages of our language group and so the Directors of our Branch advised us to go back up to the mission center. So our family was reunited, but Eric continued to have throat and bronchial problems as well as feeling very weak.

We worried for our son, but the clinic doctors kept thinking that it was simply a bacterial problem. We were now getting ready to go back to the village but Jill asked the doctors to run one more test on Eric. Now whether that was Jill being a very concerned mother or was prompted by God I don’t know, but the fact remains that this one more examination proved vital for Eric’s health.

When the two doctors finally got together and reviewed the results, something suspicious in the blood work caused them to call us in so that they could talk to us. Being medically trained, Jill caught on much faster than I did as to the potential seriousness of the situation. The next thing I knew we were calling our health provider back in Canada and were advised to take Eric to Australia for more testing.

That afternoon and that evening is still a blur. Phone calls were made, neighbors watched over the kids, and friends came to help pack up all of our belongings from the house where we were staying. The next day we loaded up on the small mission Cessna airplane and headed towards Port Moresby, the capital of PNG. By the next day, we were in Brisbane and Eric was immediately admitted into the hospital. We got the unofficial word that night, and were officially told the news the next day. Eric had leukemia.

Even as I dictate this story into my computer microphone my voice gets choked up, and my eyes get misty with tears. As much as I love living in Papua New Guinea, putting my hand to the task of translation and being in service for the Lord, my love for my family was greater and my heart and my spirit were broken that day when we received news of his diagnosis.

That day in January of 2002 began a long cancer journey for Eric and our family. The chemotherapy treatments went on for 30 months, and Jill and I lived with the fear of the disease and the worry about the treatment during those months. But we entrusted the life of our son into the hands of our Father above. And in His mercy, God watched over Eric and brought us all through those cancer years.

There is so much more to the story that I cannot tell right now, but I will, Lord willing, in future articles. In all those years, I never remember saying, “Why Lord?” But I do remember often asking God, “Please Lord, spare the life of my child and give us strength to walk this path.” Looking back now, I’m happy to say that God answered both of those prayers.

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