Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bail Out!

1st Lt. Arthur Lewis - US Army Air Force
It was early morning on November 10, 1944. A B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber took off from Rougham Field just outside of Bury St. Edmonds, England. The plane climbed up to join 235 other bombers and 154 P-51 fighters all being deployed on a mission to disable the Luftwaffe airfield at Wiesbaden, Germany.

Positioned at the very front of the plane was a young First Lieutenant by the name of Arthur Lewis. As the plane approached its target, he peered through his Norden bombsight, lining up the cross-hairs on the airfield below and pulled the trigger to release his bomb payload. Just then, however, the plane was hit by flack immediately setting two of its four engines on fire and puncturing its Plexiglas nose. Some of the fragments of the clear plastic Plexiglas struck Lewis in the face blinding his left eye. The pilot immediately put the plane into a steep dive that succeeded in extinguishing the engine flames but which also left them at tree-top level, alone and separated from the rest of the squadron.

Running on just two engines, the crew attempted to get as far as they could back to England but realized that they would have to abort the mission somewhere over Belgium—hopefully behind friendly Allied lines. The pilot gave the order for the crew to “bail out” and one by one the men jumped out of the plane already at a dangerously low altitude. Lt. Lewis dropped out through the bomb bay and immediately pulled his ripcord deploying a white, silk parachute. Seconds later, he was on the ground, landing in the soft dirt of a farmer’s garden.

Possible field near where Dad landed with his parachute.
Note the remains of a former windmill.
For the past day here in Belgium, I have been reliving the events of this B-17 mission as I’ve attempted to relocate and explore the very places that my father experienced on that fateful day in November 1944. Thanks to some on-line World War II forums, I learned about the exact location where Edgar Prigmore and Jack Malahy, the pilot and co-pilot of that B-17 finally were able to crash land the plane in an open field. I’ve triangulated more or less where my Dad landed with his parachute and also discovered the house that belonged to Dr. Vander Schueren, a local village doctor who took care of my dad for a couple days helping to remove some of the pieces of Plexiglas from his left eye. 
Dr. Vander Shueren's former home in
St Levins-Houten, Belgium

Although the plane was scrapped and never returned to service, all of the crew survived and were soon reunited to fly more missions with the 94th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force. My father completed 34 of 35 missions before the war finally ended. That led him to feel called to return to Europe as a missionary and finish out his “tour of duty.”

Standing alone alongside those quiet fields in rural Belgium, it was pretty amazing to think how much my own life has been impacted by the events of that fateful day. From my dad surviving a dangerous mission and parachute drop to my growing up as an MK in Portugal and inheriting his passion for missions, I am deeply touched by the way God orchestrates the events of history to shape our lives.

And I hope something similar will be said of me some day what is written on his tombstone at the Fort Snelling veterans’ cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota:  He finished his final mission.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Very CRAF-ty!

For the past week, I’ve been participating in the Consultation Regionale d' Afrique Francaphone (CRAF.) This is a gathering of French-speaking ministry leaders who have met every two years for the past sixteen to share best practices in mission outreach across their continent. The venue of a vintage seaside hotel in Dakar, Senegal has been a great place for this meeting as men and women not only enjoy lively African worship in the lecture hall, but all sixteen workshops and training forms have been able to function during the day in the available boardroom/classroom facilities.

Despite the fact there are quite a few white faces in the mix (usually Western mission staff working in Africa) CRAF is totally run and managed by Africans themselves. Having attended way too many consultations dominated by Westerners, particularly Americans, I’m finding this distinct African flavor of CRAF to be very refreshing.

One of the sober highlights of the week was a poignant personal report brought by Anatole Banga, the representative from Central African Republic. The accounts he shared and even a short video taken secretly by a cellphone of the atrocities carried out specifically against Christians by the foreign insurgents was simply too horrendous to even explain or repeat. How governments like my own can stand by and give political excuses for non-involvement in such a human tragedy is simply beyond belief. And despite a few French troops now guarding the Bangui airport, Anatole claims there are still street killings every single day.

My reason for coming to CRAF was in response to an invitation to be one of the trainers for the CRAF Institute, a set of nine elective courses offered morning and afternoon. My topic was Biblical Stewardship and Resource Development – a fancy title for how to do local fund raising. Because many had never heard the word “intendance” (stewardship in French) before, hardly anyone signed up at first for my course. But by the time the word got around, I had about thirty of the 120 total CRAF participants joining me. And, it’s cool seeing how “intendance” has become a real buzz-word of this conference.

What really blew my mind, though, is how the folks in my course started making applications of Biblical stewardship to other areas of life besides just fund raising. “This would totally change how we ‘do church’ here in Africa!” said one person. “We simply have never really been shown that the Gospel is not just about spiritual restoration but also restoration of all areas of life.” As a result, I now have a standing invitation to return sometime to Senegal and lead a more in-depth exploration with local pastors of how to create practical applications in their own context of Biblical stewardship.   

One thing is for sure: it’s great working together with such CRAF-ty people!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Downsizing for Survival

It’s not what I came out here for. The original plan was a follow-up visit to this national Bible translation organization in northwestern DRCongo to provide the next stage of training in management and board governance principles.

 Instead, I discovered my friends here were grappling with a serious financial and management crisis that threatened their survival. Within two hours of stepping off the airplane in Gemena, DRC, I found myself addressing the board of directors and offering counsel towards an action plan than meant drastic downsizing.

Part of the reason I was recruited by Wycliffe Associates to provide organizational development training for national groups like these is because many of them have faced sudden transitions from being implementers of Western projects to now running complete programs all by themselves. Often feeling like they’ve been dropped into the deep end of the pool, many struggle to implement the basics of management without adequate training.

Meeting with board members and an after lunch shot at the director's home  
That’s why I wasn’t totally surprised to find myself trying to explain to both management staff and board members that an approved budget that has twice as much expenditure as expected income simply doesn’t work!  Even then, it took some colorful graphs and cash-flow charts to help them see how they had no more options left but to cut costs and downsize--immediately.

So, although this week here in one of the most remote parts of Congo did not unfold the way I had expected, it has certainly been one of swapping earned friendship and credibility for some tough advice that hopefully will allow this important Bible translation ministry to survive onwards and even rebuild itself on a new, stronger foundation.

Of course, not all has been hard-nosed management discussion.  I’ve been treated every day to a lunch and dinner of very authentic Congolese food consisting of fufu (boiled manioc), pondu (manioc leaves), chiquong (fermented manioc) and boiled plantain bananas!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ministry Update

Here are two ways that we are sharing updates about the past year of personal ministry.

The first is an infographic of ministry activity in 2013.


The second is this 2.5 minute video clip which you can watch on YouTube by clicking here:


When I especially think about the 170,051 airline miles flown this past year, I am so grateful for God's hand of protection and safety every step of the way. PTL!

Under His wings,

Jon Lewis

Monday, February 10, 2014

Cross-Cultural Class

Even though I never traveled more than a few miles from my home, I feel like the past few weeks have taken me around the world several times over. Why? Because I had my first experience of teaching a course on Cross-Cultural Ministry at Whitworth University. Every single day, during the three and half week period of Jan Term, I had the chance to share with seventeen students what God is doing to advance His Kingdom around the world.

As part of the Theology Department’s upper division offerings, TH317 or Cross-Cultural Ministry is an elective course designed to expose students to contemporary issues in global missions plus give an introduction to the cross-cultural understanding needed to effectively engage in ministry in a foreign context

It wasn’t too difficult picking the required reading for the course. First, my friend, Paul Borthwick’s brand new book, Western Christians in Global Mission was a must .Then I used David Livermore’s Cultural Intelligence as a great way of teaching how to adapt to cultural differences. Finally, Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert’s, classic When Helping Hurts was essential for teaching how to engage in ministry with true sensitivity especially for those of us from America.

To add a little fun and break up the long, three-hour class sessions, we had a daily cross-cultural snack, curtsey of volunteers from among the students. Together, we enjoyed such things as Swedish rice pudding, home-made German soft pretzels, Indian dhal and Japanese seaweed wafers.  Speaking of food, Anita and I had the entire class over to our place for an Indonesian feast of nasi gorang, chicken sate with peanut sauce, and vegetable gado gado.

What has made this teaching experience the most meaningful of all for me was what the students produced as their final project. Asking them to dream up a brand new ministry in a foreign culture, I had each write their final paper in the form of a proposal for support from a church or foundation. Included in the submissions were plans for a rehab home in Ukraine for trafficked women, a counseling center in Japan to address teenage suicide and micro-enterprise in India using recycled saris. Not only were all the papers done well, but I believe many could easily become real-life ministries.

Will I teach again at Whitworth in the future?  It depends if I’m asked again, of course, and if I can fit it in to my existing overseas workshop schedule. But for now, I’ve found this experience to be both enjoyable, fulfilling and a great way to travel the world without having to get very far from home!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Resource Development for Africa

The Lufthansa Senator Business Lounge at the Frankfurt airport feels a bit like a land in between realities. Whether I’m traveling to or from Africa, the few hours spent here always offer me a time to process where I’ve been and what to prepare for next. In this case, I’m on my way home from a week in Accra, Ghana, where among other things, I led a two day workshop on Biblical Stewardship and Resource Development.

The event was a leadership gathering of MANI – the African network focused on promoting a missions movement across the continent. Recognizing that they must learn new ways to fund and resource their ministries, this topic is of keen interest to African leaders today. So as I prepared to share with them, I worked hard at shaping the material so that it would be truly practical and applicable in an African context.

I had four key presuppositions:
  1. African ministries can no longer depend on 100% funding from the West
  2. Although West’s ability to contribute has greatly reduced, it still has much offer. But, it will take much greater understanding, wisdom and accountability to tap those funds.
  3. There is much more resource available locally in Africa than most might expect or believe.
  4. Learning to access funds either locally or from the West will take a whole new mindset about fundraising than what most African leaders have had in the past.
It was neat to see these thoughts strongly affirmed by the participants as well which, in turn, fueled their enthusiasm to learn all about a Theology of Stewardship which I proposed was foundational for this new fundraising mindset.  Thanks to some wonderful resources made available to me by my friends, Scott Rodin and Rob Martin, as well as a couple great Tim Keller sermons on radical generosity, I was able to explain how a paradigm of biblical stewardship totally changes the way we should think about fundraising for missions. Here are a couple of the PowerPoint slides that generated a lot of interesting discussion.

The second day was focused on as much practical advice as I could think of that would help my African friends promote their ministries among local communities and churches. We covered such topics as how to craft a compelling case statement, how to present PowerPoint with most impact, how to build an effective, portable display, and how to build a successful website. I tried to illustrate each point with a bunch of cool tech gadgets, such as mini LED projectors, Bluetooth micro speakers, presentation remote controls, simple digital HD cameras and even a half-size portable display. I guess I was successful in demonstrating their effectiveness, because I’m returning home without a single one of those items having sold everything to folks wanting to implement their use right away!

So, as I munch on piece of German swartz brot (black bread) with cucumber and tomato here in the Lufthansa lounge, I feel really good about this past week in Ghana.  I think it is a true indication that African ministry leaders are ready to take on new responsibility for resourcing their mission outreach and not only look to the West for their funding. 

And if that’s true, I just may find that this workshop could be in demand again sometime in the not too distant future!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

More eBook Christmas Stories

A few days ago, I announced on Facebook that I had just added four more Christmas stories to the Amazon Kindle marketplace making a total of eight short eBooks I now have available for sale. 

These are all part of a tradition I started years ago of reading a short story to my family every Christmas Eve. Although all of them have a theme linking them to Christmas, many were inspired by travel to other countries for visits with national ministry leaders. Here’s a bit of background on some of the latest stories I just uploaded to Amazon:

The Forbidden Christmas  The setting for this story is Timbuktu, Mali, site of one of the ancient Islamic university centers of the 1500’s. I've had a chance to visit Timbuktu on multiple occasions both while working with MAF and Partners International. My good friend, Pastor Nouh, gave me the official tour of the city, including a visit to the famous Sankore Mosque and a camel ride out into the surrounding desert. Unfortunately, Timbuktu has been the center of horrific rebel fighting during the past two years which has forced the evacuation of most Christians from the region.

The Christmas Card  Years ago, MAF was exploring how it might be able to start a flight program and possibly a radio communication service in the country of Kazakhstan. As the VP of Research back then, I was sent to check it out. Accompanied by John Charlier, we traveled from the capital, Almaty, all the way across the country to the fascinating cities of Actau and Atyrau, both on the Caspian Sea. Although our interviews with government officials didn't produce any new possibilities for MAF, it certainly gave me plenty of ideas for writing this Christmas story.

Bread Upon the Waters  My friend, Maher Fouad, founder of the Arab World Evangelical Ministers Association in Cairo, Egypt, was the reason for my visit to that city a number of years ago. Not only did we spend plenty of time discussing the challenges of mobilizing Arab church-planters across North Africa and the Middle East, but he also graciously arranged for a tour of the pyramids and the Cairo Museum. It didn't take long to dream up a Christmas story based on the sights and sounds of that ancient city.

Sorry – no cool mission trip connection on this story. It just happens to be the second one I ever wrote dating back to 1993.

The other four eBooks I have on Amazon are:

Hope you might have as much fun sharing some of these stores with your family has I have had reading them to mine.