I was born in a time of peace. Of course there is no such thing as perfect peace this side of heaven, but at least relative peace unique to most of history. The Vietnam War was coming to a close when I was born, so most of my friends and I were fascinated by this most recent of wars in our lifetime. Even though this relative peace existed for us, there was an impending feeling that there was more going on, and that the peace wouldn't last. There was certainly a war for those of us that were unborn with the recent rise of birth control and the decisive processes set forth by Roe Vs Wade that led to a significantly less overall birth rate for those of us considered Generation X than the previous generation.
The Lord even continued to prepare the Israelites for warfare even after they had gained victory over Canaan as described in Judges 3:1-2 These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience).
I grew up in a small rural area. We had plenty of woods and fields to roam and play. My most immediate friends could all meet me in the woods from their houses and we would play war together. Most of what we knew came from the popular Vietnam movies of the 1980's, so that is what we would play. Two of my closest friends were Andy and Huey. Andy always seemed to know the best way to play the games, and Huey was our comic relief. There was a Vietnam vet that lived on the same road as Andy. He lived alone and got in trouble a few times for growing marijuana. We all held him in awe because of his Vietnam vet status.
We would camp out in the woods, make lean to shelters with sticks, and sometimes just sleep in our ponchos in the rain for a realistic feel. We were always dressed in camo and smoked Camel cigarettes, because that's what they did in the movies. Our favorite game to play was BB gun war. We would actually shoot each other with BB guns. This was before air soft or paintball existed, so we had to improvise. Once I got shot directly in the eye. The BB looked as big as a basketball coming toward my face and by some miracle I was able to close my left eye about a millisecond before the BB smacked it causing it to hit my eyelid instead of my eyeball. It hurt so bad and I screamed so loud that Andy tried to cover my mouth to keep me from screaming. We made up a story of the BB ricocheting from a limb while shooting at a bird to tell our parents.
Huey sometimes did some crazy things. Once he and some other boys wrestled a giant loggerhead turtle out of ditch. For some reason Huey decided to kill the turtle. After he killed it he opened it up, put the guts in his mouth, and yelled “Navy Seals!” at the top of his lungs. Because of his desire to push the envelope, it is no wonder that he was the first one to die. I remember getting the call that he had drowned. He and two other guys that use to hang out with us had attempted to cross a flooded river and all died together.
One of our favorite pastimes was climbing a local radio tower. Even though there were radiation hazard warnings and a high fence with barb wire guarding the entrance we were undeterred. I never went all the way to the top, only to the middle level which was plenty high enough. Huey and Andy always went all the way up, and they didn't give me a hard time for staying at the middle level. I always wondered if the electromagnetic radiation at the top of the tower contributed to a brain tumor that Andy developed in his 20's. An operation successfully removed the tumor, but complications from the surgery left him an invalid. He required a breathing tube and ventilator for the rest of his life. His mother needs to be promoted to sainthood for the care she took of him for at least a decade and held on hope of recovery until he finally died. He was buried just a few yards away from Huey.
I don't know what it was that made us always long for war. I do know that the spiritual battle rages all the time and almost without relent even apart from a physical battlefield in an actual declared war with soldier's sent from sovereign nations engaging in mortal combat. I've seen that too, though. I've seen the look in the eyes of the guys that spent their days outside the wire in Afghanistan. They would come into the chapel and lift up praise to God with their rifle by their side. That same look exists in the eyes of some of the young men at the skatepark even though they have never set foot on an actual battlefield. Their war rages inside their homes and in their neighborhood.
I pray for those skatepark guys all the time. I was privileged to be able to have a long conversation about the gospel with them one night. One of the guys started up a conversation with me and began asking me a lot of questions about what the Bible says. Slowly everyone started to gravitate over to the area where we were talking and we finally all sat down on our skateboards in a big circle. They asked me what the Bible says about marijuana specifically, how it might relate to other drugs, and how it is different from alcohol.
We talked about the different aspects of all these things for a long time, but it boiled down to this. I explained that drunkenness was a sin, and that in this case there really wasn't a difference between getting high or drunk because they were both considered sinful. However, the moderate consumption of alcohol was handled differently. Jesus tuned water into wine and we see Paul even recommending for Timothy to use a little wine medicinally for some stomach issues he was having. The difference with drug use was primarily found with the English word sorcery that is translated from the Greek word φαρμακεία (pharmakeia). The conclusion being that recreational drug use is sinful. The conversation was great and I appreciated their openness to share and the willingness to listen as I answered their questions giving them the hope of the gospel in Jesus Christ.
It can be easy to forget that those of us in full time ministry are soldiers on the front lines of a battlefield and that there are real casualties. If satan can't get to us personally, then he will attack the weakest of those closest to us. It was difficult to wake up to a text recently that said a friend of mine was dead. He was a pastor of a church and took his own life. His family was falling apart and it seemed like the only solution to him of a way out. This death is such a stark reminder of the reality of the war and the fact that we have an enemy that comes to steal, kill, and destroy.
The same day that his mom was sending me texts about his funeral arrangements, I was in a Skype interview with the International Church of Ljubljana in Slovenia working out the details for me to come visit their church. So bittersweet. Something so joyful and so tragic occurring simultaneously. For the past year I had been praying about what God would have us specifically do beyond Haiti. Our previous experience with the International Church in Haiti, and specifically City on a Hill Fellowship at Respire showed us how effective a ministry to the international third culture in the English language can be.
One of the biggest struggles that we saw in Haiti was trying to integrate directly into the Haitian culture. The buffer of a third international culture with the common English language provided an amazing bridge. When we began looking for other international opportunities to serve, we began looking at International Churches worldwide. I had spent some time fasting and praying about this and came upon the International Church of Ljubljana in Slovenia the morning after breaking my fast. They were looking for a pastor and it seemed like a perfect fit for how God had gifted me to serve in light of our previous mission experience.
Lance and I went there for 2 weeks to visit. We spent a lot of time in prayer together with the leadership of the church. At the end of the 2 weeks they extended a formal invitation for me to come and serve as part of their leadership in the position of pastor and I accepted. The leadership team were all great hosts and made us feel welcome. Ram, one of the elders, was born as a Brahman Hindu in India and was led to Christ in a similar church while working in Yemen. The other two men that form the leadership are Todd from California, and Aaron from Canada. The bible studies that I had the privilege to lead were made up of Americans, British, Pakistani, Chinese, German, and Slovenian all learning and sharing together with the common language of English. Both of the church services that I was able to lead had visitors from other countries that were in Ljubljana temporarily, as well as international students from many different nations even as far away as Samoa.
Probably the most interesting person that I met while in Ljubljana was Chicken Joe. Chicken Joe is the stage name of an Irish street performer from Belfast, Ireland. Sporting lots of tattoos, a kilt, and a thick Irish accent, Chicken Joe was every bit as eccentric as his name hints. Chicken Joe advised that the secret to happiness is enjoying Monday's, because if you have a job that allows you to enjoy Monday then you're not just working for the weekend. Following his advice, I can say with certainty that there is nothing else I would rather be doing.
They don't eat cat in Slovenia like they did in Haiti, but they do eat horse. Lance could not wait to try a famous Slovenian horse burger. We walked up to a restaurant conspicuously named “Hot Horse” and ordered one. I reluctantly took a bite of Lance's, but he enjoyed it and ate the whole thing. I thought it tasted kind of like rubber. All I could think of was a giant horse replete with all the smells, whinnying, and neighing. It just seems like horses are not meant to be food.
Just a few days after returning from Slovenia we went to boys camp at Judson Baptist Retreat in Louisiana. I love camp and camp food. We were the missionary speakers this year and were able to share all about Haiti with boys ages 7-12. I think their favorite were the Journey videos Luke and Lance made, especially the one of torching tarantulas.
I feel privileged to be able to continue as a soldier, and that by God's grace He has called me to continue international mission work. Our plan right now is to move to Slovenia this fall, we just have some logistics to work out and some more monthly support to raise. The church is able to provide some money toward housing, but most of our income will still come through Disciples Outpost. I will continue to preach the gospel and go wherever my Lord leads looking forward to the day that the war is over and He calls me home.
Micah 4:2-4 2 Many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 3 He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 4 Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.