Thursday, October 1, 2015

Last Month's Lowlights

My friend/co-worker, Julie and I,  had a discussion today which led me to think about on how hard it is to be authentic when writing newsletters and reporting to the folks back home.  The struggle is real.

I like to think that I don't embellish or oversell what I'm doing overseas, but there's no doubt that, at the very least, I try to cast things in a positive light.  As a Christian I have every reason to be a "positive" person and from a mental health standpoint, I would think it's healthier to look for the "good" as opposed to dwelling on the bad. But do I unconsciously do it too much?

At the end of every month I send out an Email Newsletter to about 300 people. I've used the same format for almost 4 years- 3 Highlights for the Month followed by a primary story- almost always a highlight in itself.

In the interest of being more authentic and trying to communicate that it's not all rainbows and unicorns, I might make this a new monthly blog titled, "Last Month's Lowlights".

Lowlight #1- I keep a daily mini-diary- just a sentence usually that describes at least the main thing I did every day. Usually I can go a few days without writing because it's easy to remember what I did just a few days ago. Usually. But Sept, 1, 2, and 4 are LOST days to me. I have no idea what I did...which means I didn't do anything significant. Not for the Kingdom, probably not for me or anyone else either. I probably didn't sleep all day since my temporary roommate moved in right before that and I would have looked like a jerk sleeping all day. Nevertheless...I apparently didn't do anything to earn your money three days in one week.

Lowlight #2- I count 6 days in the month where I can honestly say I worked my butt off and I worked ALL morning till late at night. That includes 2 days when I endured 20 hour long train rides.  Then there were 4-5 days where I for sure worked a full-day- the kind of days that you work everyday.  The rest were half-days at best. It's not that I didn't do "anything" those days- most likely I accomplished what was on my list to do for that day...but I didn't sit at a desk or push buttons for 8 hours.

Lowlight #3- According to MailChimp Statistics, only about 25% of the 300 people who received my email newsletter bothered to open the mail. Only one person provided feedback. The day after sending my "highlight" newsletter, when the statistics are available, is often the day I most want to stay in bed all day or drink a bottle of wine.

Lowlight Primary Story- This one is the hardest to admit- but I didn't have a meaningful conversation with any unbeliever about Christ or anything spiritual all month. 

Thanks for supporting your favorite missionary.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The United States I was born in no longer exist.

Tonight I attended a Franklin Graham Festival of Hope- a one night crusade in Lviv, Ukraine.  I guess Franklin Graham does several of these per year around the world so it's a well-oiled machine. Organizers were hoping fill the stadium in Lviv- capacity 35,000.  Initial estimates is that there were 39,000 in attendance tonight.

My guess is nearly 10,000 people came forward during the Invitation (to Just As I Am no less). Many that came forward were escorting friends and again, initial estimates from a friend on the committee suggest there were at least 2000 first time decisions.

It was fascinating to me on several levels and I'm a little bit emotional right now.  Here are a couple observations.

1.  Franklin Graham is a chip off the old block. He looks so much like his father and sounds like him, too.  His delivery reminded me of watching his father on TV when I was a child. Here's the thing though: I have a few favorite communicators. I really like Ben Stuart at Breakaway Ministries at Texas A & M. He's brilliant, he's current/relevant, his sermons are "meaty", and he's witty without sounding like he's trying too hard to be. He's fun to listen to and I learn from him.  I'm not sure if Franklin Graham smiled tonight and I don't think there was a hint of humor in anything he said. There was no entertainment value whatsoever in his presentation. He proclaimed a super simple evangelistic message entombed in the Prodigal Son narrative from Luke 15.  I bet I could have delivered the same message.  I bet I could have read his message or maybe preached it with more passion and better illustrations (Franklin didn't use any illustrations...he just read the scripture and told the story). I bet I could have done that and possibly no one would have come down from the upper level.  Franklin did his best Billy imitation and the field flooded with people making a decision for Christ.

2. I remember a time in the country I was born in- the United States of America- when, if Billy Graham was holding a Crusade (usually a 5-7 night thing, right?) anywhere in the world, it would be broadcast on Primetime Network TV.  It would bore me as a child and I would be angry that my regular programming of All in the Family or Rockford Files was pre-empted...but I was young and stupid and didn't appreciate then how awesome it was that the world's preeminent evangelist was on national TV.

3.  At the same time that Billy Graham was on national network tv several times a year there were a couple other things happening in the world.  Ukraine- the country I live in right now- was behind the Iron Curtain. We in America considered everyone behind said curtain as godless atheist. The Church in America in the 70's and 80's bemoaned the direction of the Church, fearing we were headed for the same fate as the Church in Western Europe- dead and empty.

4.  And here we are today.  I can say unequivocally that Ukraine, even when it was behind the Iron Curtain I think, was and is far more conservative and generally more moral than the Disunited States of America.  That doesn't mean it is more "Christian" than the Disunited States (or the country that preceeded it, the United States).  By any measure the States would still be regarded as more "evangelized" and "Christian" than Ukraine where only 3-5% of the population identify as Born Again Christians.  But America is in a moral tailspin.  Much of the conflict in Ukraine over the past year or so is that many Ukrainians desperately want the freedoms and rule of law associated with the US and with Europe but they equally desperately DON'T WANT the lack of morality.

It pains me to visit large, beautiful,empty Cathedrals and churches here in Europe- the light is gone. You hear stories of many of them being turned into Mosques (it's happened before in Europe). But I've also been to some very solid, very vibrant churches in Europe. Most of them are meeting in rented facilities, no longer able to bear the tax burden of owning large properties (American Churches, you're next!).  Some are sizable; most are small. The numbers of Christians are few; but they are strong.

Could there ever again be a 5 night nationally televised major network Church Service in America? No, I doubt it. For the most part the "religious leaders" that get that kind of airtime in America today are nut job celebrities that rub shoulders with Oprah and wear a plastered hairdo to go along with a $10K suit while promising riches and ease.

No. The Disunited States of America is a Post-Christian Country. Culture and many (most) of our churches have slid way beyond the European Church it once feared.

Here's my prediction: American Culture will continue to slide toward (and beyond) Gomorrah.  There will be a lot of falling away within the American Church. But the few will grow stronger. Freedom probably grows churches far and wide, but persecution grows churches deep.  And by the way: The persecution hasn't started yet...America, get over yourself. None of the backlash you're facing now is real persecution. 

Monday, May 4, 2015


I am sort of fascinated by how "things" go viral on social media.

How in the world did Rebecca Black's "Friday" video go viral. She's a cute kid, but the song? Not so much.

And what about that stupid blue/black dress?  What the heck? And who cares?

I'm as addicted to social media (especially Facebook and Instagram) as anyone. I justify it by citing it's uses in "ministry".  It really is useful. For example, in two years of using Social Media based Crowdfunding tools like Indiegogo and Tilt, we've raised more than $30,000 for the Coffee House Ministry Center we're building here in Ukraine.

And now we're doing it again.

Actually, I'm mostly taking this one "off"- I figure I wore my friends out a few months ago while raising funds for the Coffee House (which is really make progress by the way and it'll be operational this summer and open in September!)

I recently created a page on Indiegogo to help my partners here in Ukraine with Ruka Dopomogy (actually a part of International Teams) to raise money for Summer Camp.

Supper Camp is near and dear to my heart. I love camp!  But with the currency devaluation here in Ukraine this past year (from 8 UAH to 1 USD to now more than 20 UAH to 1 USD) along with the fact that salaries have not increased...well, it's going to be really hard for families to send kids to camp.

The camp is cheap by US standards. We can feed and house a kid for a week and provide a pretty good program for only about $25 USD a week.  Last year that was about $200 UAH for a Ukrainian family...but today it would more than $600 UAH. It's still $25 to you and me but it's triple what it was last year for a Ukrainian family. It doesn't always make sense to me but that's how it works!

In addition to the increase in cost, we now have nearly 2 million internally displaced people (refugees) in Ukraine. Most are women and children who have fled or been sent out of eastern Ukraine. Many of them now reside in our region and we want them to come to camp. It's even more financially difficult for them.

That's why Ruka Dopomogy asked me to create the Indiegogo Campaign- to raise funds that will sponsor Refugee Kids and Teens at 100% for Camp this summer. In addition to that we'll let Orphans and Foster Kids attend for 1/2 price and we'll offer discounts for families with multiple children.

We'll do all that if we can raise the funds.  You can donate on the Indiegogo page and please share the link on your social media outlets. Wouldn't it be fun if it went "viral"?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Another Milestone

Nine years. Now it's been 9 years. I've been "widowed" longer than I was married.  And I was thinking recently that this past November, just a few months ago, was when I met Kim 20 years ago. My gosh! Time really does fly and it seems to do so exponentially faster the older we get.

I think I've written something every year on this "anniversary".  A friend sort of intimated a few days ago that I need to "move on" with my life.  I think she missed the point: I have moved on, but this week is never going to pass for me without notice and I wouldn't want it to.

When I was in Mississippi this past Christmas going through mementos and such I ran across the Eulogy my friend Margaret wrote and read at Kim's funeral. Margaret was as much or more Kim's friend as she was mine. She was one of my "ace" youth workers when I was a Student Minister in Gulfport but she was also one of Kim's co-workers at Memorial Hospital.  

I don't know how many of you have ever been in a position to plan a funeral. It's stressful with lots of snap decisions. I drove home from the hospital where Kim died in the wee hours of a Sunday morning and after taking a nap I had to notify the funeral home and write an obituary for the newspaper. Later that day I had to go to the funeral home and pick-out a casket and all the trimmings.The next day I had to arrange for the burial site.  Then I had to choose Pall Bearers and others who would be involved in the service including asking someone to provide the Eulogy. Regardless of stress involved, I can look back and know with certainty that I made the right choice in asking Margaret to perform that difficult task.  Here's what she wrote:

Kim White- one of the most unique, one-of-a-kind, loving young ladies that I have every personally known. I truly hope that this community, this church, her hospital and her entire family know that they had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have someone of her caliber...walking in our midst. 

Kim could have so easily whined, or felt sorry for herself or even have been bitter. She could have been consumed with her health problems- I am afraid I would have been had we exchanged bodies. Instead she never brought her sickness or health problems to light unless others pursued or forced the conversation. It makes me feel like a sissy- when I think of what she did with such significant issues. About a year and half ago Clinton and Kim moved into a new home. Some of us from church and her family worked together for a week or so painting and getting their home ready to move into. I can remember begging Kim to take it easy, to sit it out for a while. She basically gave me, in just a few words, that she wanted to be working. She was a very bright girl, who happened to have Cystic Fibrosis her entire life and who just happened to be a nurse.  She knew the things taking place in her body, the affect of the anti-rejection meds on her entire system. The possibility of rejection; and she let me know- life IS FOR THE LIVING. She changed out her IV drips running through her PICC line and then would pick back up the roller and paint harder than the rest of us. WITHOUT A BEAT- she had so much experience multi-tasking. Taking care of herself and living a full life. This is a huge part in credit to you- Mr and Mrs Batey, and Mary. You raised her up and supported her in a way that did not lend to her feeling or acting as if she had a disability, but instead she felt special, beloved, and protected by her family. She was so happy to have moved closer to her parents. She loved you all so much.

Kim was a great nurse. Bob and I actually experienced her intense TLC after one of his bad seizures. She knew how to get to the heart of your fears, give comfort, give skills and much compassion. She put a very intelligent mind, together with a huge heart and mixed in some really great clinical skills. The nurses that worked with Kim in Cardiac Observation were devoted to Kim, and Kim to them. All through the years I have heard first hand praise for her nursing from patients and her co-workers first from 4A and then the other 9 years from Cardiac Observation. Her manager, Cindy, relayed to me that she was always concerned with the well-being of her unit. She worried to the point of calling when she was sick to make sure the staffing was covered in her absence. She constantly was concerned with her co-workers well-being. She actually called last Tuesday to the unit to check on a co-worker who had illness in their family even while she herself was very ill. But her co-workers had her back also. Recently a co-worker actually locked the door on an employee from our environmental services who was trying to come in and strip and wax the floor. She actually had no intention of letting Kim cone in contact with those fumes. AND SHE WON!

Her co-workers thought so much of her nursing, that they turned her name in to Oprah's Person of the Year contest, and WLOX's Nurse of the Year Contest. So, Kim, we all know you are OUR Nurse of the Year. We know you were an example to all of us, the perfect nurse, a role model of caring. Her peers quote her as there to help in every time of need, quiet and respectful, patient-centered, always positive. SHE WILL BE IRREPLACEABLE at Memorial, where she showed us all the CALL and TRUE ART of NURSING.

Kim and Clinton were limited in starting a family. Kim physically never bore children, BUT WAS A MOTHER TO MANY. The last 9 years God used Kim and Clinton's marriage and home to provide an open door to all who entered. She had a loving heart, provided many a quick thrown together meal for the masses. Many a taco, and barbecued burger for 2nd Sunday Fellowships, Progressive Dinners for the youth...she had a tolerance that is beyond comprehension for the interruptions that we as a church and as a youth group would constantly give her. She laughed and giggled at the Life-Size Barbies the girls left at their door that would scare here when she opened her front door. She tolerated having her home toilet-papered so the girls would know the thrill.She acted in videos depicting how the life-size Barbie we left was kidnapped and through the imaginary investigation.

The kids would give no warning, night and day, they just appeared. And she loved them so. She would drive vans, pick up food for trips, drop us off early, pick us up late.We shared long distance trips and she nursed many a youth. She gave them words of encouragement, comfort for the sad, the lonely, the mis-placed, the scared and those in need of nurturing. She has always displayed "our home is your home". Instead of having 1 or 2 children that she devoted all of her time and attention, instead she mothered hundreds of kids through the 9 year mission she had as a youth minister's wife. So, for the Emily's, the Laura's, the Monica, Jana, and Ali's, the Justin, Tyler and Ben's, the Chelsea's, Heather's and Amanda's, the Jenna's, Scott's, Chip and Anna's- they would all want me to tell you how much Kim meant to their lives and how much they loved here. And I know Kim would want them to know she loved them too.

Clinton is such a great youth minister, much of this has to do with the support he received from his wife WHO VERY MUCH LOVED AND SUPPORTED HIM. She graciously took into stride when he was called away for weeks every summer and when the kids kept his ear and attention. She did this with seemingly ease because she loved SERVING GOD and she loved her husband Clinton.

Kim could see the good in everyone. I never once heard Kim say a negative or bad word about anybody. At Church, on trips and yes, even at work. DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT IS TO DO? I can remember thinking to myself so many times, HOW does she do it? How is one person so sweet? How can you stay so kind? So consistently? I am just sorry I never told her how she inspired me to be a better person. So Kim, I do so know.  This sweet spirit and attitude led her ability to be a friend. She had several lifelong friends, friends from church and friends from work. They were loyal to her and her to them.

Clinton, Mr and Mrs Batey, Mary and all of Kim and Clinton's family- we all cry and mourn with you. We will miss her in our lives. But we also celebrate and rejoice in the knowledge that she was taken into the presence of OUR LORD, JESUS CHRIST at 1:30 am on Sunday, March 12.

IN HIS PRESENCE, in a place that God has prepared for those who love him, His presence and the place he PREPARED FOR KIM, that she is now experiencing. A place in his presence that our ears have never heard, that our eyes have never seen and where our minds cannot even conceive. She is now with THE ONE who came to make all things new. Where now she is new, where she is basking in his brilliance and IN HIS MARVELOUS LIGHT.

Kim, you made it count. We love you.

Monday, February 9, 2015

TILT this!

This is the last week of a month long TILT Campaign to raise funds to open a Coffee House as a platform to reach University Students in Uzhgorod, University.

What's a TILT Campaign? TILT.Com is a social media crowd funding website like Fund Me or KickStarter.  It's the 2nd time we've used TILT. Last Spring we raised more than $10,000 and we're trying to do it again.

You can read more about the project on the TILT page:

The bottom line of this blog is: GIVE THIS WEEK. We are less than $1000 away from reaching our goal of $10K.  TILT works like other crowd funding sites: If we don't reach our goal then we don't get any of the money pledged on TILT.  But let's go even further: $10K just gets us through part of our current phase of remodeling, it doesn't finish the project. We need at least $20K. Don't give a few bucks to help us reach our goal; give sacrificially and let's finish the project.

We've already accomplished a LOT. We've remodeled and we've been using new office space for our ministry- International Teams- for more than a year.  We also turned one pretty horrid bathroom into beautiful separate men's and women's facilities.  We've installed heat and air conditioning and we've completed a Welcome Area (in the picture to the left). We share the restrooms and the Welcome Area with our Lead Partner Church next door. The Welcome Area is in use multiple times per week as a small group space for the church.

We want to have the Coffee House up and running by the time school starts back this Fall.  Because of the war in Eastern Ukraine, our city of Uzhgorod has received 400 transfer students from India and Africa. Our Indian Student friends are fired-up for the gospel- they not only want to reach their fellow countrymen (another 1200 students expected this Fall) but they want to reach Ukrainian students.  Having a core group of Christian University students has been the missing link for us having an effective outreach ministry to the universities in Uzhgorod.  We believe God is about to move in a new and big way in the University community here.

There's a couple ways you can give:

  1. You can give through TILT using the link above.
  2. You can give online at the International Teams website: be sure and specify that the gift for: Transform Uzhgorod, Ukraine/Coffeehouse Project
  3. You can give by check:
International Teams
Attn: Receipting Dept
411 W River Rd
Elgin, IL  60123
(again, specify the money is for Uzhgorod Transformation/Coffeehouse Project and if you give by check then send me a message so I can notify TILT since gifts received for this project at ITeams counts towards the TILT).

BOTTOM LINE: GIVE. The deadline for our Tilt Campaign is 3 pm CST Saturday, February 14.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

One more about some artist I know....

I'm sure I'm leaving someone out even thought I've perused my IPad's list of artist several times.  I'll conclude this series with two more bands.

One of them is a sweet voiced singer in her own band now but was one of the original's in another band called Rosco Bandana.

Both bands feature kids I knew when I was a Mississippi Youth Minister.

Emily is the youngest of three really talented siblings.  The oldest one was in college before we became friends but a few years later I was privileged to officiate at her wedding.  The middle child was our awesome drummer for the 605 Band mentioned in a previous post.  Emily I think was in the 9th or 10th grade, maybe younger, when I left Mississippi to begin overseas work.  Looking back on it and if I had stayed there instead of going overseas, then she probably should have been the next "face" and "voice" for our worship band.  She was...and is... RICH in talent.  Great voice, plays at least a couple instruments, and incredible stage presence.

Honestly, I really don't know much about her band or the music on the album she just released this week.  I don't know much about the other band she started with either, Rosco Bandana...but you should look them up and read some of the stories about them.
You can find Della Memoria on Facebook and also on ITunes.

The leader for Rosco is another kid I knew during my Gulfport days.  His name is Jason. He was always a really bright kid and he got it honestly- I always thought his sisters and parents were brainy.  Jason and I didn't always see eye to eye and he really wasn't active in our youth ministry but I generally considered all the kids in town back then as kids I cared for and ministered with.  His grandfather was a Deacon in the church I served so I did watch him grow up during those years I lived on the Coast.

A few years back (all this is long after I left Mississippi), Jason and some of his friends formed Rosco and then won an international competition at Hard Rock Cafe which led to, I think, Hard Rock Records first signed artist.  You definitely should look them up on ITunes- it's a really great rockabilly, folksy sound.  And they even have videos!

So what I have here is one of their videos that features both Jason and Emily (Jason is the lead vocalist and shows up first in the video with the head full of hair; Emily is the completely stunning brunette driving the car at about the 1 minute mark).

A concept video is cool and all that, but you really need to see them perform.  They performed in England as part of the Hard Rock competition and if they ever make it Central Europe, I'd like to see them.

And here's Emily's band jamming out in concert.  I couldn't find a vid of her singing.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Far less than 30 days of praise... worship artist that I personally know.

So I go to "songs" on my IPad and hit shuffle and start going until I land on an artist I know.

Right now, I'm having to re-think my definition of the word, "know".  Ok, not really...there's people I know and there's people I've "met".  They're not the same no matter how much I want it to be.

For instance- in all those years of being a Youth Minister back in Mississippi I had the opportunity to meet a LOT of well-known artist.  One of my Youth Minister tricks at summer camp every year was to find the camp pastor and/or worship leader and invite them to meet with my group during some free time- usually at night during a Debrief Time.  I always figured if my kids had a chance to meet and hear the heart of the people on stage every night that they would be that much more engaged.  I was right about that most of the time.

So, in the course of a lot of years of youth ministry I met people on my Ipad like Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, Billy and Cindy Foote, Matt Redman, Mike Weaver (Big Daddy Weave),  all the girls with the original Pointe of Grace, Stephen Curtis Chapman, Steve Camp, Michael Passons of Avalon, Chris Rice, Bebo Norman, Mac Powell, some less widely known guys and gals like Michael John Clement, Chris Davis, Kevin Williams, Chris Layton, Dave Hunt, Stephen and Star Smith, Steve Opie Thomas, Jake Gulledge, Jennifer Smith, my best friend's sister Janet Burns, and probably a lot more.

You can find music from almost all of them on ITunes or at least find them on the interwebz.  Jennifer Smith is one of those "kids" I first met at Mississippi Super Summer; she grew up and became a great youth leader and worship leader and a couple years ago raised funds from friends via a kickstarter-type campaign to record an album.  I really like it a lot!!  Some of those guys/gals above are itinerant worship leaders mostly in the Southeast; several of them serve faithfully on church staffs across the Mississippi and beyond.

Janet is a bit of celebrity in and around Copiah County. She's always had a great voice and couple years ago went to Nashville to record an album that's easily the most "country/gospel" on my playlist. She recorded one of the songs with her daughter Caitlyn (who is one of my most favorite kids in the world). You can find her ministry page on Facebook

I even went to school with a couple semi-celebrities.  The worship bands at the BSU (Baptist Campus Ministry) at Mississippi State were always phenomenal. During the years I was at State, the groups featured two singer/musicians that every KNEW would make it in the "industry".

Kim Hill- who has recorded numerous albums and has led worship for a ton of conferences etc and Jeff Slaughter.  Kim probably wouldn't know me from Adam but we have a lot of legitimate mutual friends.  Jeff and I shared some Mississippi Delta roots and we've exchanged pleasantries from time to time.  If you're Southern Baptist or if you you've ever used SBC Vacation Bible School material then you're familiar with Jeff. He's written the music for VBS since before the earth cooled.

My most recent musical acquaintance is Bria Blessing.  She's on ITunes, too.  She and her family are long-time missionaries in Ukraine- she's been here for something like 16 years. Earlier this year she took Ukraine's version of The Voice by storm. She almost won and probably more importantly, the exposure gave her an incredible platform to share the light of Christ (and it's BRIGHT in her) all over Ukraine, including several "USO" type appearances with soldiers fighting in Eastern Ukraine.  You don't have to know Ukrainian to understand what happens when she shares with the judges that she's an American (about 4:40 into the Youtube below).