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Southeast Asia Update

April 2, 2011

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isaiah 9:2)

Greetings in Jesus’ name!

We are long overdue in getting news out to those who are faithful to pray. The T.J. S****** Family is still alive and we are doing well. Our 4 children are healthy, bright, and enjoy doing school. Kham is doing remarkably well considering the load she bears teaching the children, running the household, managing the silk shop (soon to be turned over to another: LIBERATION!) , taking care of me, and just being Mom.

Attached are a couple of photos of a 2nd playground we have built here in L***. We actually had a lot of fun building this: it proved to be a very beneficial time working alongside some of our Hmong brethren. It always feels good to work with one’s hands, and the extra funds are quite welcome as the U.S. dollar continues to weaken overseas, inflation increases, and expenses for our growing family mount.

Towards the end of the job, my crew was expressing how much they enjoyed doing this kind of work and were curious as to whether or not we will have more jobs. I told them that I didn’t know, but that I hoped we would. I also stated that I was really enjoying this job, but that we had been working for almost three weeks together, and can’t remember preaching the gospel to a single person. (I know, I know. This is where I probably lose support.) All five of the guys kind of look down and answer, “Yeah.”

“I bet ol’ Lee Seng has been preaching to a lot folks,” I added.

“Yes. No doubt,” they all agreed.

“Look, guys” I encouraged them, “before we ask God for more playgrounds to build, let’s honor the Lord with the first fruits of our increase, and let him see us being faithful with the money we make. We are making good money here in the capital city while our brother Lee Seng is having a rough time up country trying to minister to folks.”

“Yes, Teacher. Good idea,” they said with absolute gravity.

Then I backed up a little bit and started to ask, “Is it? Is this guy for real? Is he genuine? Or is he pretending to serve God just as a show?” The guys kind of looked shocked, like they didn’t understand the question, or that they couldn’t believe I would ask. “Hey, you know the guy better than I do. Is he real?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

Now, I KNEW he was, and is, but I wanted the guys to be moved to helping their pastor based on his serving God, and not just based on him being a brother. Two of my crew are his actual blood brothers, and another is his brother-in-law.

Long story short, I proposed that toward the end of the job, whatever the 5 guys are willing and able to give, I will match it. They got really excited about the whole idea. Lee Seng had no idea what we were doing, for he was stuck 100 miles away in the sticks.

Time goes on and an unexpected death happens among the Hmong down here in Vientiane. Lee Seng travels down to help with the funeral and burial and provides us with a good opportunity to surprise him with this love offering we have gathered. What was really interesting to me was that some L** people who know him well jumped at the chance to give.

So, a few days after the funeral a bunch of us were taking advantage of the opportunity to have some Bible studies and meetings out at our farm. At the end of one of the meetings, I explained how thankful I am to have work to do and how well we sleep at night after building all day. Everybody smiles. Then I explained that when men are playing soccer and one man scores a goal, indeed it is only one man who scores the goal, but the whole team gains the point, the whole team wins the victory, and thousands and sometimes millions of people rejoice and cheer. I went on to say that right now God has Lee Seng up country scoring goals for him, and that we want to share in the victory.

So I passed the envelope over to Lee Seng with the words written on it: “To pastor Lee Seng, with love from Tha Din Daeng Baptist Church.”

He didn’t know what to do. I added that this money came from his brethren through much labor and sweat. Lee Seng started to say something but got choked up and couldn’t. He looked at the envelope and started a second time to say something but again didn’t know what to say.  Everybody in the room was rejoicing and saying “Amen.” Finally he mustered up the ability and stated, “This is holy money. This is how the Bible says it is to be done.” By that he meant receiving money from fellow believers in country as opposed to being hired out by churches or organizations in the West.

The whole thing was very moving, with a very ‘electric’ feeling in the room. Lee Seng felt two inches tall.

But it gets better! By this time you may be asking, “Who is this Lee Seng guy, and why is he so special?”

The Lee Seng Chronicles

Lee Seng is the name of a young man I had the honor of teaching the Bible to 5 years ago. I worked with, taught, and learned from Lee Seng over the space of about 2 years in a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand, where he was fleeing from persecution in L*** for being a Hmong Christian. We basically had Bible school every morning along with about a dozen other men who could communicate in L** language. Lee Seng was the best student and always seemed to be a couple of steps ahead of the others. But what made him stand out to us was the fact that he rose to the occasion and fed the flock of God in the camp, and in spite of his weaknesses, in spite of his lack of knowledge at the beginning, and in spite of his feelings of insufficiency, he stepped up and made himself available and God used him. He once told me that whenever he is preaching, before the message or lesson is over, he already knows what the next message needs to be. “That’s a good sign,” I told him.

Lee Seng went on to faithfully pastor the church in the refugee camp (over 400 people attending every service) for three years until they were all forced back to L*** by the Thai military.

Chapter 2

When the Hmong were forced back in 2009, they wound up scattered all over Northern L***. For reasons still being revealed, Lee Seng got stuck in a very remote, quite poor, and hard-to-access area.

As time goes on, and Lee Seng and his wife struggle to make ends meet by growing and selling vegetables, he continues to find people and minister. Over the course of months Lee Seng starts coming in contact with other Hmong pastors in L*** via cell phone. A couple Hmong pastors hear about Lee Seng and walk two days to his village to learn some Bible for a couple days, then walk two days back home before Sunday services. Then others invite Lee Seng to walk two days to a village of theirs to minister. Other Hmong pastors start calling him on the cell phone with questions about the Bible and God. He starts spending more and more time on the cell phone and studying, and, perhaps unfortunately, more of the vegetable workload falls upon his wife. Two months ago, a Hmong pastor, from the other side of the nation, called Lee Seng on a Sunday morning and asked if he could explain such and such one more time real slowly. Lee Seng didn’t know it at the time, but, as soon as he launched into the sermon, the humble Hmong pastor two provinces away turned his cell phone around and placed it in front of a bullhorn microphone so his whole flock could hear the word of God!

If someone wants the truth, God will get it to him.

When a man gets serious about getting the Word of God out, it can’t really be stopped.

Hmong pastors in the mountains of Northern Vietnam (HOT area concerning persecution. Danger!) are now calling Lee Seng and wanting him to come and teach their churches. Lee Seng is now arranging to get himself a passport, and has no idea how he will travel in Vietnam not being able to speak Vietnamese or English. This guy is operating on boldness that’s not his own.

Last week we had an earthquake in L*** (only the third earthquake ever felt in L***).  About half an hour later Lee Seng called us and asked if we had felt it. Kham said some of us did, others didn’t. Lee Seng said Hmong people from the North were calling him in a PANIC afraid the earth was falling apart. Lee Seng assured them all is ok, and that this is just a sign that we are coming to the end of the Bible. The last time I visited with Lee Seng he said that, with the pastors he knows and is now working with, it will take about 2 more years and all of the Hmong villages in L*** will have heard and understood the Gospel. “What then?” I asked. “Then Jesus will come back” he said with a sigh of relief. This guy doesn’t just think he CAN reach all of the Hmong villages, HE THINKS HE IS GOING TO!

Chapter 3

Now, I said before that the story of the Hmong brethren taking a collection for Lee Seng gets better. A few days after that incident, we found ourselves eating lunch on the job site and reflecting on the joy of giving. As I was sitting cross-legged on the cool tile floor enjoying my lunch of fried noodles, I heard one of the guys mention that if enough guys could give 10 or 15 dollars we could raise enough money to purchase a second hand motor scooter for Lee Seng. It’s worked! They have caught the vision of what can be done by collective giving!

I explained to them that we have 5 acres of overgrown jungle at our farm that needs to be cleared. Impenetrable thorns and bamboo. I said that Kham and I have been saving to hire a bulldozer to clear it. I told them that the bulldozer costs $300 a day and that,  when all of the dozer work is done, it will still be a big mess that needs to be cleaned. I told them I would much rather hire 30 Hmong workers for $10 a day, that way it will all be rather cleaned up afterward.

So, long story short, the guys got together and organized a fun Bible/work camp. It was fun! We had nearly all of the former church leaders from the refugee camp in Thailand come down from the different provinces in L***. It was a great reunion and time for catching up, for this was the first time some of these guys had seen each other (or even us) in two or three years.

It was a great week of working hard in the morning (Hmong people can be maniac-hard workers—think termites crossed with Mennonites), good lunch, more work in the afternoon, and then worship/Bible study in the cool evening. It was just a little taste of heaven.

At the end of the camp, during one of the evening services while Lee Seng was teaching, Kham and one of the Hmong ladies started calling the guys out one at a time to settle up payment. We gave them a travel allowance and $10 for each day they worked (generous wages for L***!). After paying each person the Hmong lady explained we were taking up a secret offering for Lee Seng to buy a vehicle for him. They were then handed a bag and told to go and put however much they want or can afford into the bag privately and then bring it back. We were amazed at how generous and ready to give  most of the guys were. Two pastors in particular (remember the cell phone disciples mentioned earlier?) who rode their little motor scooter down from Luang Prabang province (14 hours) gave every dollar back.

So, altogether nearly $450 dollars was raised. It was all kept hush hush and a couple of more up-to-date guys went out the next morning and found a 2nd hand Chinese motor scooter in good shape.

On the next day, the last day of the camp, during the evening service, one of the men stood up and started to make a speech. I don’t speak Hmong, so I’m not sure what was said, but Lee Seng had a pretty sober look on his face as some of the young mothers presented him with a giant cardboard cutout of a motorcycle key with a ribbon tied around it! As soon as he realized what was going on, the guys wheeled in the motorcycle with ribbons and bows all over it.

Lee Seng turned his face to the wall and wept. And as happened before, everybody in the room were laughing and rejoicing and saying “Amen.” I told Lee Seng that Kham and I didn’t buy this for him, but that his Hmong brethren (most of whom were either led to the Lord or discipled by Lee Seng) gave their money for this. I further explained that we didn’t all pull together to do this because we love him. We simply see him being used by God and want to help out so that we will have a share of rewards involved.

I know that, for many of you reading this, $450 for a motorcycle to be given to a preacher sounds small, but for the super poor, oppressed Hmong, it was a giant victory. God has used us to start a movement amidst the Hmong that is independent of foreign funds. The movement will not be stopped in the case of our being arrested, expelled, or returning home. Indigenous principles in missions are not for the impatient, but it IS the correct way and WILL work.

Please pray for us, and pray for Lee Seng.

In other news, we are almost ready to open our print shop and start printing Christian literature inside of L***. We can expect resistance on different fronts.

Also, we have found a very abbreviated and simple version of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress in Thai language. We have started translating it into L**. It is going well, just slow. I think this book will meet much of the new generation of L** readers right where they are. Pray for this project, as well. It may be the first book we print in-country!

Thank you for your prayers and support. We wouldn’t be able to be here having all of this fun without you behind us!!

Yours in Jesus Christ,