Dec 12, 2014

The King Has One More Move

As shared with me from my friends in South Africa...



The king has one more move.

Today we stood at the graves of Werner Groenewald and his two children, Jean-Pierre and Rode.  When I said goodbye to Rode a month ago, after an incredible week of fellowship in China, I did not foresee that my next encounter with this beautiful young girl would be carrying her coffin to an empty grave. 

I kept on reminding myself the whole morning, over and over,  to "THINK KINGDOM"   I remembered the song sung by Christians in Egypt after their Church was burnt down in Minya last year.  After the sorrow of losing friends, family and fellowship they still declared bravely:  "We declare it to the whole world, our considerations are not like yours.  Our goal is the Kingdom of heaven."  I found comfort in this and yet we wept

I read again this morning in Acts 7 how Stephen, a young fearless disciple, was violently dragged outside the city by members of the Sanhedrin and then, under the supervision and approval of a young man called Saul, they stoned him to death.  I thought of Werner and the kids.  Where was God in all of this?  Has the presence of God failed Werner and his children when they needed Him most?  On the contrary.  We find one of the most beautiful descriptions of an ever present Christ in the Bible.  Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw God's glory and Jesus standing at the right side of God. What a glorious comfort.  This is the only place in Scripture where we find Jesus standing at the right side of God. Throughout Scripture we read that Jesus is seated on the right hand of God but in this occasion Jesus was standing up to welcome His faithful servant into eternity.  He was not absent nor ignorant.  He was there and Werner and the children knew this and probably echoed the words of Stephen.  I found comfort in this thought and yet we wept

Finally, at the service this morning, the Pastor shared a story that provided yet another seed of comfort.  This story has been told by Christian speakers as far back as 1955 when Billy Graham told a variation of it early in his ministry.

Two men are standing in front of a painting called Checkmate in an art gallery. In the painting, a man is playing chess with the devil.  The devil is grinning ear-to-ear because he has the man cornered. The title of the painting, Checkmate, indicates that the game is over. The devil has won the soul of his opponent in this chess match and he has no more moves left.

The first man looking at the painting wants to move on to other paintings in the gallery. But the second man, a chess champion, wants to look at the painting longer, so he waves his friend on and tells him he will catch up later. The chess champion stares and stares at the chess board, then suddenly he steps back, flabbergasted."It's wrong!" he exclaims. "There's one more move." He runs to his friend and together they look at the painting. "We have to contact the painter," the chess champion says. "It's not checkmate. The king has one more move."

Indeed, the Taliban might think it is game-over and that the Christian witness of the Groenewald family has been wiped out.  Check Mate!  Well, the king has one more move.  We believe this.  And as we wept we were once again reminded of Psalm 126:5  They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

Yes, there will be a reaping.  Yes, the King has one more move.  Yes, our considerations are not that of the world.  And yes, Werner and his family are now at a place where Christ stood up to welcome them.  There was a joy in heaven as the heroes received their crown.  We should rejoice with them!  And we are!

Please continue to pray for Hannelie and the family.  The loss is great, despite the promise of eternal joy.

Dec 4, 2014

"We Only Die Once, So It Might As Well Be For Jesus"

While in Asia recently, Teri and I had the opportunity to meet the coolest family, the Groenewalds, who had given up their careers in South Africa in order to help the people of Afghanistan.  Bill had a few great conversations about music with their son, JP, and gave him a couple of his CDs, including "Aroma, the fragrance of Costly Worship", the CD that has "Wear The Crown" on it.  Then just over a month after we met them, fellowshipped with them, and worshipped with them, came this news and story.  I want to share this with you, as it is so powerful.

29 NOVEMBER 2014:  Werner Groenewald and his two children martyred in Afghanistan  

This morning (Sunday 30 November 2014) our hearts are broken.  We have lost a dear friend, a faithful worker and a precious soul-mate.  Werner Groenewald and his two beautiful children, Jean-Pierre and Rhodé, were killed in a Taliban attack in Kabul on Saturday 29 November 2014.  Hannelie, his wife, was not at home during the time and survived the attacked but lost everything. 

Three gunmen and suicide bombers stormed the compound where Werner and his family lived in Kabul on Saturday, exchanging fire with security forces before leaving Werner and his two children dead.  Six other hostages were rescued after the afternoon attack while one Afghan worker also died in the attack

The bloodshed began around 4 p.m. local time, when a grenade was lobbed at the gate of the compound, after which the militants stormed the building. The men were carrying machine guns, grenades and wearing suicide vests.  A Taliban spokesman said in a statement that it was targeting "a secret Christian missionary and foreign invaders' intelligence center."

This report is not an attempt to explain another theology of martyrdom.  It is simply an expression of grief and anguish and an appeal for the wider body of Christ to share in the pain of the Groenewald family, especially Hannelie and Werner's parents. 

How do we express our deepest empathy and condolences with the family members who now have to face the reality of losing a son, a brother, a husband and two children in one horrific incident of terror?  What words or theology can relieve the pain?

Like Jesus at, the grave of Lazarus, we can only weep.  Words are insufficient but tears can be offered on their behalf before a loving Father who understands the acts of violence against a beloved Son.  Yes, we celebrate the life of three martyrs who loved Christ more than they loved life but we mourn the death of three dear servants, friends and co-workers. 

Our last time of fellowship together was a month ago in Asia when we contemplated the joy set before us of serving Christ.  In Werner's last message to the international group of co-workers he spoke on "Counting the cost of following Jesus".  His words will remain in our hearts forever as he closed the session with these words:  "We only die once, so it might as well be for Jesus."

We had invited Bill Drake to lead the worship, and we listened to him sing the song "Wear The Crown" and the words rang in our hearts "It is your time to wear the crown". We did not know that soon it would be their time.   Together we worshiped, we laughed and we cried.  Together we knew that the call to carry our crosses and deny ourselves is not a theology but a reality.  Today we know that Werner, Jean-Pierre and Rhodé are wearing the coveted crowns set apart for an elect few. 

May we appeal to you to set some time apart in your service today to pray for Hannelie and the family.  Weep before God as you share in the pain of a loving wife and mother who lost everything and an extended family who lost a son, brother and grand children.

We also pray that their death would not be in vain.  May the blood of the martyr truly be the seed of the Church and ignite something in the hearts of believers across the globe, especially in South Africa, to follow Christ unconditionally, whole-heartedly and faithfully.  May we be inspired to be Kingdom-minded and pursue the redemptive purposes that Werner's s family so faithfully pursued in Afghanistan.  May our live be a testimony of Christ, and our deaths ultimately point to His glory

We honour these three heroes of faith who have given their lives for those who hated them.  We celebrate the invisible victory that can only be seen by those who understand the cross.    

(this article was written by our dear friends at

Nov 22, 2014

A Note from Teri, and Incarnational Compassion


Bill and I went to the oncologist today to get the final report on the testing of the cancer tissue that was done over the last month. We were told that I would need to have chemotherapy due to the type of cancer they found.  Even though I don't have any cancer now, this is a preventative measure because they found that the cancer is HER2 receptor positive.  Here is a brief explanation of what that means:


About 15 to 20 percent of breast cancers are HER2-positive, meaning the cancer is fueled by over-production of the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 protein. HER2-positive breast cancers contain excess copies of this gene, leading to dramatically more HER2 protein on the surface of cancer cells. With more HER2 protein producing signals telling the cells to grow, they do so out of control, causing cancer.


The tissue was sent to 3 different laboratories to get three independent analysis.  They all came back with a mid-risk result regarding the HER2 protein.  There is a 20% chance of the cancer returning and in the cancer "world" that is high.  This isn't something I inherited from my parents so much as it's just the DNA of my body from what we can understand.  He also presented my case to a board of cancer specialists he is part of and with all the results that came back to him, he came to the conclusion I should have a year-long chemo treatment.


We really weren't expecting this kind of news today so it's taking some time to sink in.  We so appreciate the professionalism of the Doctor, and the lengths he went to in order to get to a proper diagnosis.  And we ARE thankful that it's all about preventative and not about trying to reduce a tumor etc.


Bill and I are both in agreement that I will go ahead with the treatment.  Of course we are a little bit staggered by it but not knocked out of our faith.  Bill actually told me earlier today that he had a "hunch" that things were going to play out this way given the way the Lord likes to use  things like this in the lives of His children to minister to the lives of other people in the midst of their pain.  Bill calls it Incarnational Compassion. 


Please know that one of the great sources of blessing in our lives is you all.  Your love, support, and encouragement are deep wells that we continuously draw encouragement from.  Thank you for being there for us and thank you for praying for us as we continue to try to navigate well the footprints that Jesus is leaving behind for us.


On the Potter's wheel,

Teri and Bill

Nov 13, 2014

Persecuted to the Persecuted

What do China, Nepal, India, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Sudan, the USA, Turkey, and Egypt all have in common?  These are places in the world where the church of Jesus Christ is being persecuted by various degrees.  And Teri and I recently had the incredible privilege of worshipping Jesus with believers from all of these nations, while being hosted in one of them - an experience that we both will never, ever forget.

Basically there were two conferences happening back to back:  a Summit, and a Missions Conference.  The Summit was a gathering of numerous believers from the above mentioned countries, in order to have fellowship, worship, inspiration from the Word and from one-another, and to pray for each other's churches.  The Missions Conference followed, and was hosted by the believers in our host nation, the most incredible people you'll ever meet, who basically pledged their lives as martyrs if needs be, but they would not miss out on the honor of being able to bring Christ back to Jerusalem whilst sojourning through some of the most violent places to the gospel in the world today.

One of our brothers from Egypt was running a short-term trip in the Sudan, when they were accosted by Islamic extremists, and four of his closest friends were shot before his very eyes.  He himself was taken into an interrogation room, and screamed at by a policeman, who said, "I have been told to deport you from our country.  I don't want to.  I want to keep you here, so you can see what else we like to do to you Christians here."  It is a miracle he escaped with his life, but as he says today, he doesn't have his life - he has already lost it in Jesus.  Everything that happens now, is for the glory of God.

And a brother from Iran, sharing about the incredible growth of the church in that country, even amidst massive oppression.  While describing what it is like to worship in Iran in an underground church, he shared this:  in the western nations, many a church will have a sign over their exit door, reading, "You are now entering the Mission Field", and hopefully for the parishioners, this is truth for them.  However, in the Iranian church, when you leave by the exit, there is no sign.  Just the Pastor of the church, shaking your hand, looking you in the eye, and as you depart, he says to you, "Are you willing to pay the price?"  This is the truth for them.

I'll close with this story, of a Chinese underground church pastor who makes it an annual field trip for his little children's Sunday School class - they visit the graves of the western missionaries who would not leave as the Boxer Rebellion over-ran the nation, and millions of people were killed and missionaries were beheaded.  Pointing to the tombstones the Pastor reminds them, "This is why we have the love of Christ, because these people loved not their lives, even unto death."  

In some ways, Teri and I felt extremely unworthy to be at these events.  We were invited by the South Africans who organized the Summit, and helped to pull-off the Missions Conference.  My role was to lead worship, and bring the message of "Wear The Crown", which I had the honor of doing at both events.  Teri had the privilege of giving the timeless written words of our Father to two precious women who previously did not have them.  But the enriching that went on in our hearts and minds, the purification of our priorities once again being around people of whom the world is not worthy, and hearing again and again the stories of persecution, and the honor that these saints feel for being called worthy to do so, is deeply impacting in a way that irreparably changes you.  

How can we be the same?  We have passed from death to life!  We have been made part of the family of God, having come from being outcasts in sin.  We are living stones, crafted into the living temple of the Holy Spirit, having been at one point useless rubble.  We were once lost, hopeless, without God in the world, but now, we have been brought near, and have been called out of the darkness into His marvelous light.  Hallelujah!  Amen!

Nov 3, 2014

"What is Lacking in Your Experience of Me?" (4th Post about Teri's and my journey with Cancer)

I have a category or two for folks who come to me and say, "I've got a word from the Lord for you, brother…"  Of course it depends on the messenger, the viability of the message compared to God's Word, the confirmation of the Spirit of God within me with said message, etc., but, I have over the years been surprised, and don't doubt at all anymore that God uses many different ones of us with different gifts to deliver precise messages at the right time.

That's why Teri and I listened, when one of our most dear friends (upon hearing of Teri's ordeal with cancer), came to visit us, arriving in our dining room with fresh flowers, and a 'word': "What is lacking in your experience of Me?"

First thing that came to my mind was, the repeat of this scenario: where the closest woman to me in my life is hit with breast cancer (I watched my mother die of this in 1975).  The Lord may want me to go through this again, but this time, with my being keenly aware of Him walking through every step of this with us, redeeming the moments, the relationships, and even the memories.  Teri was already modeling the same godliness I remember my mother exemplifying - one of the things that eventually drew me to Christ.  So I decided it must be something more, something even deeper...

Second thing took longer to dawn on me - trusting Him immediately and implicitly with the closest person to me in my life.  We have been spoiled, Teri and I, with her health.  She rarely if ever even gets a cold!  So this was a shock, an anomaly, and obviously an opportunity.  And such is the way we all who follow Jesus need to learn to see things.  To follow such a God, is to eventually come to the realization that the scariest thing that can ever happen to us is only what our loving Father God will allow, and therefore, He has it covered, either by the blood of His Son, the eventual outworking of His foreknowledge, or the overflowing nature of His love and goodness.  To be sure of such things, is to then abide in peace, the peace that surpasses understanding, for at a certain point, to rely solely upon all you know will fail, and one is then thrust into the arena of what you do not know - and now, now there is much room for God.

Third thing - and this is a bit more complicated because is it multi-dimentional - is the assured process of growth over time.  In Philippians 1:6 it says, "He Who began a good work in you will complete that work until the day of Christ Jesus.".  James 1:2-4 says, "Count it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have it's perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."  This 'completeness' is a maturity, an ever deepening process of growth, and I believe will accelerate into all eternity: making us more and more like Jesus, forever… Romans 8:28 says that God causes all things to work together for the good, to those who love God and are called according to His purposes.  2 Corinthians 5:19 says that 

"God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and He has now given us that same ministry of reconciliation".  Hmm.  That must mean that whatever is going on here, God is using this to add to the pantheon of experiences that help shape us into the tools of reconciliation that He requires, for whatever time, and whatever purpose.  

So what is lacking in my experience of God?  So much actually, but "He knows our frame, He knows that we are but dust" Pslam 103:14, and yet He continually draws us so gently, so graciously to Himself, where there is peace and completeness.  Paul sums it up nicely in Philippians 3:7-10:  We want to know Him.  And that will require the fellowship of His sufferings, and even the being conformed into the image of His death.  There is a purpose however - so that we may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Wow.  That's power.  That's purpose.  That's direction.  And true, satisfying Fulfillment.

I would add that Teri and I are more aware of His presence, more trusting of His will for us, and more keenly availing ourselves to His process of growth in our lives than ever before.  And not that we will ever attain to some sort of perfect state this side of eternity!  But we can more clearly say with Paul, more than ever before in our lives, "...forgetting what lies behind, and looking forward to what lies ahead, we press on toward the goal for the mark, for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."  Philippians 3:14.

Oct 1, 2014

The Prognosis of Peace

​Today at 10:30am we got the news - the cancer was .8 - 1.2 centimeters, and we found out it was "Stage 1".  Then we were told that now, after the operation, there is no cancer in Teri's lymph nodes (they biopsied 5 of them), and ​no cancer on the edges of the tissue they took out during the operation.  The Dr. told us that he believes he got all of it.  Praise God!

We then discussed the followup treatment options; there will be appointments to discuss followup radiation to quash anything that might be left over in the area, and oncology appointments to discuss what if anything needs to be done concerning her future risk.  Of course all of this will start on our knees - we don't want to get ahead of God, we refuse to go into fear, and whilst we are extremely impressed by the medical treatments we have received and deeply appreciate the wisdom and skill of the doctors who have all been giving us great care, our trust is ultimately in the Great Physician, Who has been making sure we stay taken care of on so many levels, not just physical.

But all through this journey, I have been nothing short of blown-away by Teri, by her faith, and her countenance.  I came to the conclusion that the way in which she was dealing with this, was either certifiable denial, or "the peace that passes understanding", and having walked with her through every step of this, there has never been a doubt - I am witnessing the super-natural workings of the Spirit of God pulsing through the heart and mind of a daughter of the Most High who is surrendered to Him and His purposes.

Denial is the refusal to acknowledge the existence or viability of a fact or a reality.  But Teri has faced this "head on".  She has been fully acceptant and even conversant in the facts of the situation.  However, she has never been acceptant of any of the possible negative outcomes, as they would only be projections into a future that has yet to been known or revealed.  Rather, she followed Jesus' command to not be anxious or fearful, but rather to trust Him moment by moment, step by step, revelation by revelation, and in that process, abide in the peace that kicks in when our human understanding becomes overwhelmed or insufficient.

And the results have brought joy, stability, and yes, the fragrance of Christ.  

I took Teri out to lunch today to celebrate the good news, and looking at me with those arresting brown eyes, her voice cracked with an emotion she had not expressed throughout any of this ordeal, and she said, "I had prayed to God that you would never have had to go through this again…"  I'm not sure that 1,000 blog posts could contain the immense range of feelings, memories, and responses that filled my heart and mind in that moment - in fact I'm sure they couldn't now… what kind of person is a person who is more worried about what another is experiencing or feeling, when they are personally facing what used to be a death sentence (or at least a pronouncement of myriads of processes and procedures that would all bring untold pain and suffering)?  I believe it is a person who is "full" of another person, who said "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" whilst hanging on a Roman cross.  

Talking about this later with her, she reiterated that she had entreated God at the beginning of our marriage 33 years ago, that He please not allow her to die like that, and to inflict pain on me like what I experienced as a 14 year old boy watching my mother passing away.  I never knew until now that she had prayed that...  But I was totally unprepared for God gently asking me through this ordeal, "Bill, will you praise Me this time…?"

More on that in my next post...

Sep 24, 2014

Follow-up on Teri

​I don't know if Teri or I have ever experienced something quite like the avalanche of love, encouragement, and support​ like we have over the last few days - it brought us to tears, to our knees, and to an ever greater awe of our Great God Who knows all, and holds all in His hands.

Teri and I are home now, after a 17 hour day, much of which was spent at the hospital, in three different stages.  All went extremely well, and the doctors tell us that they think they got all the cancer.  They have taken 5 lymph nodes to biopsy, just to make sure they are clear.  We will know in a week.

Please pray for this if you have a moment, that not only the lymph nodes would be 100% clear, but that 100% of the cancer is gone.  Thank you.

As a result of this, of course we have been thrust into another people group, many of whom are facing a much worse prognosis.  I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was 15, and it has permanently marked my life.  We know that many of you who read this are facing enormous challenges of your own, and we would be privileged to pray for you, much the same way you have leaned in for us.

Please let me add this - I believe that my mother's death has not scarred me forever - like Joseph toward the end of his life, I can say with full confidence that whatever evil was allowed to touch my life, God has turned it around for good.  Just watching Teri navigate this with such beauty, such grace, and such faith has demonstrated to me once again the enduring and persevering power of the Holy Spirit in a life completely surrendered to God AND what He will allow, knowing that He will most certainly use it in His divine time and efficiency.  "For these momentary light afflictions are producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison".  

Thank you Lord.

Sep 20, 2014

Beauty is the Reflection in the Eye of God

The subject of beauty has held men and women spell-bound, exasperated, and in constant pursuit for millennia.  It is at once elusive and subjective. Artists have tried to capture it with paint, rock, and canvas; poets and novelists in scroll, book and ink, only to then unleash it upon our imaginations, where it splashes its glory into a million facets on the sea of human consciousness.  

Brokenness has a beauty as well: that of the real, the honest, and the authentic.  In a fallen world, beauty is enhanced by the brokenness, especially when it relates to the process of redemption.  For example, in so many ways, the Cross is the most inhumane, grotesque of things, yet demonstrates/represents the most beautiful of portraits: the redemption of mankind.

Obviously, to see the Beauty in brokenness, one has to look beyond the surface, beyond the "now", and include the dimension of time - for therein is the culmination of beauty, to which brokenness serves as a guide.  It leads you to that for which it is longing: its healer, its validator, its culmination.

And that is why there is a picture of my beautiful wife at the top of this post.  I love Teri, and believe she is truly beautiful.  And all the more because we have just found out that there is something very ugly growing slowly inside of her:  cancer.  It is to be removed on September 23rd.  

But what I have found to be beautiful beyond the obvious refraction from the camera lens is the reflection from the Spirit of God inside of her.  She has not gone into fear or despair.  Instead, she is in rapt anticipation of how God might further glorify Himself through this particular journey we have been asked to embark on.  So many others have been on this one as well, including my own dear mother.

Pray for us.   May God extract the maximum amount of Glory for himself from this situation, and us His servants.  And may we allow Him to converge all the facets of our lives into the mosaic that He is currently assembling, in order to complete the artwork that He is making of our lives.  

Sep 8, 2014

Tale of Two Lads

I find that many times in my travels, that I am confronted with people and circumstances that leave me with huge questions, not the least of which is, "How did I get here, and why is this happening?!"  A close follow-up would be, "And what do I now do with this information?!"

Such was the case on Sunday, August 24th.  On the morning, I had the privilege to share in a partner Church in one of the more beautiful towns in San Bernardino County, California.  Their Missions Pastor has taken teams with me all over Hungary and northern Serbia the last six years, and because of them, I now have an awesome Son-in-Law!

One of the members of that team was an extremely talented young man named Joe, who could play the guitar, sing, and love Jesus all at the same time (!), seemingly without any ego, and with a heart the size of the state he lives in.  A finer young man you'll never meet, which is why it seemed so utterly tragic and useless when we discovered he was diagnosed with a ton of brain cancer in his head.  His subsequent courage, unfading devotion to Jesus, and consistent message and demeanor of grace, trust, and strength, has been an inspiration to so many of us, and I praise God for Joe, because the observance of his ordeal is causing all of us to draw closer to the Lord.

Speaking of tragedies, one doesn't have to go but less than an hour west down Interstate 105, and you will find desperation, degradation, despondency, and hope.  Watts is a district of Los Angeles, famous for it's avant-guard towers build by a "mad" Italian,  for its riots, gang violence, and one of the largest housing projects east of the Mississippi River.

And there, that afternoon, I got to see Jesus again.  He was in the hearts and hands of a family that couldn't be "whiter than white" when it comes to blond hair and blue eyes, but redder than red when it comes to the color of grace.  Running a bi-monthly service in Nickerson Gardens, the Taylors are laying it down and pouring it out, with arms and hearts open wide.  Jamming it out there on that hot basketball court in the middle of what some might call the center of gang-land, was an incredible experience.  Jessie even asked me to play some keyboards, share my testimony, and play an original song of mine that he really likes.  It seemed to be well-recieved.  

But going door to door with his three daughters in order to walk a young black girl home and visit those who couldn't make the service, well, I guess I need a new category - fearless, brimming with love, totally unintimidated, and unapologetically in the name of Jesus.  Wow.

And that's when Jadin "highjacked" me.  "Let me ride on your big shoulders, man" he exclaimed, coming out from under a tree he had just been trying to climb.  I told him that we could do a piggy-back ride, but shoulders?  Well, he had more faith than I did!!!

Carrying him around on my back was a joy I won't forget for a while - I haven't done that in way too long, as he told me to "giddy-up", "charge", and "get-'em!", every time we got near Jessie's girls.  My sunglasses went flying off, and another child grabbed them - only to be rescued by Rachel, who told me later we were about 5 seconds from never seeing them again!  No bother, it was just so FUN to play with the kids, and give them the blessing of "time".

I went to bed that night back in Chino Hills, thankful to God for what had been quite a stimulating, and incredibly varied Sunday - swinging from extremes.  Church in a building, church on a basketball court.  Meeting in one of the nicer places in Southern California, and meeting in one of the, well, you decide.  But at the end of the day it's not about geography nor even wealth or lack thereof.  It's about relationship.  And while one boy I hugged that day was white, and the other black, both are in the fight for their lives.

What difference could I make, in the few minutes I had with each?  Not sure, but I did leave a deposit for the Kingdom in each of them as best I could.  And prayer affords on-going investments into the lives of those we touch and lift up.

However, something else transactional happened that day.  They both made a deposit for the Kingdom into me - I got to meet Jesus twice that day, in the sick, and in the outcast, and it reminded me once again that the road to heaven many times is decorated by "the least of these", those that the world would find useless, or even excess.  

But I found in them Jesus, which is why they could bless me as much or more than I was able to bless them...  and it is still rocking my life...

Aug 10, 2014


One of the last places you might expect to find freedom would be in a former communist prison used for housing the most treacherous of​ offenders (such as Christians, or political dissidents), now serving as maximum security penitentiary in the city of Vac, Hungary (pron. 'vats').  But "Freedom" we did find, as we had the privilege of joining a group of about 75 inmates in the worship of the living God.

My latest tour in Hungary/Serbia saw us doing 11 concerts in 14 days; a few of them being in some very unlikely places.  But we follow the footsteps of the Lord into the places He leads us, and this time that included a Girl's Reformatory, a Co-Ed Sanitarium, and this Maximum Security Prison.  Yes, we got to do some things that many would find more "standard", or even "exciting", like opening the European Youth Festival that was taking place in the Kecskemét city square, where the organizers say that as many as 2,000 people were within sound of our songs, testimonies and dances (go here to check it out: <>

As the tour unfolded, we realized that we had an opening on the very last Sunday, and asked Attila, our tour organizer if he would be OK with finding us a church, or another opportunity to ministry – after all, we were there, and all of us were up for it!  Needless to say, God came through when in one of the first concerts, we met Zsofia, a lawyer ​who told us she had a great opportunity for us in a prison if we were willing!

Paul and Silas not-with-standing, my experience doing ministry in prisons has been quite encouraging, and have been in them in​ the USA, Mexico, Cayman Islands, the UK, South Africa, ​and now Hungary – and everytime, I am overwhelmed with how the inmates respond – genuinely, to authenticity, brokenness, and invitations to join in.  And this experience in Vac was no different.

The inmate carried the equipment up a couple of flights of hard stone stairs, filed into the room when it was time to start, and serious "rocked out" as soon as we hit the first downbeat!  We were opened by one of the prisoners, an extremely talented man who was a musician, songwriter, worship leader, and professional potter, making pots to sell to produce income to help improve prisoners lives.  He met Jesus, and his life was totally transformed.  He played the keyboard brilliantly, and led the men in worship – and we just soaked it in.  When it was our turn to take the stage, obviously the ground had already been plowed, and we just entered into the flow, bringing the Word of God through song and testimony.

James, our guitarist from England, shared with the men how he had been a drug addict and homeless – and how God rescued him through the ministry of Teen Challenge.  I shared of divorce, abuse, death of parents, and being suicidal, and offered to them the same choice Teri's College Pastor had offered me – kill self, or die to self.  It is such a wonderful experience to share with people who know exactly what you are talking about, have been through it, and are looking for answers.  Obviously nothing short of unconditional surrender to Jesus will ever bring the freedom that comes from shedding the grave clothes the enemy fashioned with us, and putting on the wedding garments that the Groom of Heaven has prepared for those who come to Him.

I arrive back in the "land of the free, and the home of the brave", wondering if we still know what we as a nation mean by that.  But that last concert in Vac serves to remind me that the physical constraints of body and bars in no way dictates where true​ freedom lives or thrives.

Mar 3, 2014

You Can Play this for us, Si?

I have had some amazing moments as a christian musician traveling around the world.  Like the time in South Africa when I was presented with a home stereo system to plug my keyboard and vocal mic into (didn't happen!), or putting my keyboard on saw-horses to hold it up (Eastern Europe), playing off the back of a semi-truck's trailer as a stage (Azerbaijan), or using an old-out-of tune stage piano when the 220V in Nottingham, England fried my American keyboard and modules…!

I thought I had seen it all, but no - I was wrong once again!  This gem came from Torre Pelice, Italy, in an old Salvation Army Hall.  It was the going away party for the local Captain and his family, and we had just showed up as our first visiting Sunday - one third of us from our Incarnate School having been assigned to this church as "our local fellowship" for the next three months.  When they found out that I played the piano, they were on me like ants on a picnic - "Brother, we need you.  You can play for us, yes?"  Actually, I had been forewarned by a lovely Dutch Omer serving here who attends the Salvation Army with her family - and I had agreed, as long as I didn't have to "read" music, and only if there were "Chord Charts".  I was told there would be.

What I wasn't expecting, was all lyrics in Italian (honestly, I should have known that part), but the kicker was the chord charts - they were all done in "Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do"  (you might recognize that from a famous movie made in the 1960's!)

Anyway, it was the most amazing moment - it was the exact parallel to what a translator must do with language on the spot - train my mind instantly to read Do = "C", La = "A",  Fa#m = "F#m".  Oh, and try to keep up the the obligatory Salvation Army Brass Band that was "bringing it" with amazing gusto and enthusiasm!  Man did we make joyful noise!  And the people sang!

What an experience!  Overall it did go well, even though I did hit a few wrong notes, was humbled once again, and will never forget my first cross-cultural musical experience in Italy!   

Tutto lode a Dio!

Feb 23, 2014

Religious Freedom or Freedom of Worship?

Standing at the Bonfire with the Valdensians the other night was kinda surreal.  I can only imagine what it was to gain the freedom to express one's beliefs without fear of retribution, and yet here they sang, celebrated, and lit bonfires all up and down the valleys of the Piedmont, signifying that day when the political powers that be in Italy decided that enough was enough - the Valdensians would be recognized, could worship freely, have their own schools, not be prohibited from jobs, not be imprisoned or hassled, simply because they did not adhere to the teachings and services of the prevailing religious powers…

My thoughts naturally went to the prevailing winds in my own nation, where Christians are just beginning to face a persecution of a different kind.  No one as far as I know has gone to jail yet, but some have been ordered by courts to either provide services they find utterly reprehensible, or close down.  When marriage laws were changed in Massachusetts for example, the largest provider of adoption services by far in the State had to change their policies (based on 2,000 years of faith and belief), or shut their doors.  Rather than violate their beliefs, they shut their doors.  Photographers and cake makers have been vilified, and court ordered as well.  Interesting.

So what happens when the State starts to dictate how a people should behave when their religious convictions run headlong up against what the States says such convictions ought to be?  We need to look no further than Nazi Germany, or the Roman Empire.  While both examples may appear at first to be extreme, it is important to realize that both persecuted Christians without guilt or quarter if they in any way spoke out against, not to mention acted out against State policy if it differed from Christ's commands.  The result at first is a lot of people got killed, and the result at the end is that God brought those powers down in ruin.

Watching the bonfire burn, the people sing, and the children running around gave me once again a glimmer of hope:  the motto of the Valdensian Church:  Lux Lucet In Tenebris, or, "The Light Shines in the Darkness".  What amongst many other things that bless me about these people, is not only their tenacity and perseverance against being slaughtered, but also their grace - as far as I can tell, they are not bitter.  So how do you not move toward anger and retribution when your rights are taken away, your woman and children killed, and your churches burned down?  I think the answer was in the bonfire that night.  You concentrate on being the light, staying connected to its source, focusing on delivering what you have been given, and not on what is being taken away.

To be continued...

Feb 21, 2014

The Artists Are Back!

The word went out by mouth, flyer, newspaper, internet, and phone call:  the Artists were back in town!  OM Arts School of Mission: Incarnate 2014 was about to begin, but first: an open house/reception.  We invited the community to come and meet the new students, view original art from the previous school, and enjoy some Italian musicians.  Some of the new students and teachers shared their visual and musical art as well.  The result?  A packed house, a happy crowd, reunions with some connections from the previous school, and a wonderful launch of Incarnate 2014.

Like other cultural universals, the Arts have an intrinsic drawing power; unlike almost anything else (other than a crisis or a family celebration), the arts tug on the heart strings of the imagination.  For all that enhances life (at best), or satisfies curiosity (at the least)—by what might be seen, heard, or experienced—the arts are compelling.  We experienced the gamut late last Saturday afternoon, as the facility here in OM Italy filled with local people meeting, greeting, and sharing life and art with us.  In a tiny snapshot of community, twelve nationalities shared food, ideas, and hearts, around artwork intended to stir the soul.

Dario, a local horn player, had enlisted Dan Mullis, our new Music Mentor, Dileep Ratnaike, our School Administrator, and Satu from Finland, one of our sax students, to help him deliver a fine arrangement of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  This hymn inspired the name of our facility here in Bobbio Pellice:  Forterocca.  Kirsty, a vocalist from New Zealand, brought a Gospel piece from CC Wynans.  Geinene Carson, founder of Artslink, presented a mixed-media piece that she had created 2 years ago.  Made from walnuts garnered from the local valley, the piece recalled Geinene’s process upon receiving news that her infant daughter had been born with brain abnormalities.  A number of us had tears in our eyes as Geinene's artwork spoke directly into the broken arenas that invade so many of our lives.  Bill Drake brought "Sovereign Lord", an original piece from his latest album Broken & Complete.  Its lyrics take up a number of themes that speak volumes from the history of persecution, martyrdom, perseverance, and mission that are part of the legacy of the Waldensians who live in these valleys.

Our time finished in typical Italian fashion as any good time in Italy should:  with the culinary arts!  People lingered well past the posted closing time, in fellowship and interaction as rich as the program had been.