An Expensive Gift

I’m sitting in the teacher’s chair in front of a handful of students at a local church’s classroom. I’m teaching how to craft Bible stories, and right now we’re working on the story of the Demon Possessed Man from Mark 5. But the roles have been reversed. The teacher has become the student.

If you’re not familiar, Mark 5 tells the story of a wild man, possessed by an army of spirits, living among the dead with self-destructive behavior that means he’ll have his own grave soon. His family tried to stop him, but he can’t, won’t be stopped. Then Jesus shows up and the spirits start groveling before the all-powerful. Long-story short, The demons are exorcised and the guy gets his life back.

When we teaching a Bible story, we tell the story several times and then ask a series of questions to get people talking and thinking. I have already asked the question, “Was there anything you didn’t understand about the story?” No one responds. “Was there anything unclear in the story?” Still nothing. The terror of looking stupid is global problem.

So, I opened my mouth to get us talking. “Many times I’ve told this story, people struggle with why Jesus allows 2,000 pigs to die and the village to suffer such a financial loss. I don’t know about you all, but I don’t really understand this . . .” Short-story long, the army of dead afflicting this guy need a new home. They ask to possess the herd of nearby pigs. Jesus consents. Chaos ensues. The fallout is so bad that, once news gets out, the entire village shows up and ask Jesus to kick rocks; the implication being that Jesus may be bad for their health and bad for business, no matter who he saved.

The students were honestly dumbstruck that I was asking the question. I’m no stranger to playing devil’s advocate, so I insisted this really was unclear. The look on their face was the look of people accustomed to incompetence. If translated, I think the verbalized look would be , “Sheesh! Another one?” They instructed me this was the whole point of the story, that Jesus would rather 2,000 pigs die than this man—this man’s life is that valuable to Jesus.

Now it was this dummy that was struck. From my perspective, the 2,000 pigs are completely arbitrary. But my students-turned-instructors were right. Our salvation comes at a cost. The danger is we (Westerners at least) abstract salvation to the point we often think of it as a muttered prayer or a couple of lifehacks that cost us nothing. Untrue. Evil, true, unfettered malevolence, does not go quietly. These spirits were not going away until they completed their chaos with killing. Evil’s lust for destruction cannot be satiated without a ransom: something on which to pour out their violence.

C. S. Lewis famously illustrated this “ransom theory” when Aslan, the great lion, is killed by the White Witch. Aslan’s at the hands of his enemy breaks the long winter spell. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who ended up paying the ultimate cost for resisting evil, also taught that grace is not cheap: it is a costly discipleship. My
Malagasy students understand this. And Jesus considers the economic tragedy of 2,000 dead pigs a cost worthy of a man’s life. A person past the point of no return, no less. Yet, the true tragedy is that most of us, like the townspeople in the story, if we’re really honest, think it’s too high a price to pay for anyone’s life.

I thanked the students for reminding me of this. Salvation is a gift, but it is not cheap or free. 

Crafting Bible Stories: Four Rocks

There are a lot of aspects to crafting Bible stories. We often say it’s something you can’t explain, you have to experience it to understand it. I (Nathan) recently started teaching weekly at a local school for pastors. We thought it might be helpful to do a series of posts walking through the process of training others to tell and craft Bible stories. Would you like to see behind the curtain?

Continue reading “Crafting Bible Stories: Four Rocks”


Holy Spirit,
Jesus, Rabbi,
Master, Friend.

burn my lips and singe my tongue,
before my mouth starts fires.
Chasten me with enough humility to take a lashing
from others, 
to look back
and lament without forgetting inconvenient details. 

Take that withering shame and animal anger
to forge within me that courage for the other:
Sister, Brother, and even stranger Strangers. 
Help me to see others, 
not as threats or rivals,
but family. 

I have always wanted to be left alone. But
it seems I’ll just rot in there. It seems
like instead I need a family
You know I would rather just read books,
talk and then hide away.
But if you can save me, save us all from ourselves, by bringing us together,
do it.

I feel like I’m floundering, in 
over my head.
My past is regretful, our present in limbo and our future unclear. 
Give me at least some arms to hold onto
or others
to teach me how to swim. 

Malagasy Missionary Internship

Jonoro seeing the fruit of his ministry

For decades, a Malagasy pastor named Jonoro has been engaging people groups in southwest Madagascar with the Gospel. Jonoro has modeled personal sacrifice and a commitment to indigenous leadership, language and culture study, and advocacy for the most unreached. His example has inspired Malagasy Baptists as well as IMB missionaries working in the area.

Since January, Pastor Jonoro, with funding from Child Evangelism Fellowship, has hosted a group of 15 Baptist leaders from around the island—representing 8 different people groups—all passionate to learn to be Malagasy missionaries. Jonoro has worked with other Baptist pastors to put together this residential school for missionaries. These Malagasy missionaries-in-training have been immersed in the life and ministry of four local Baptist churches. 

Because of the longstanding relationship between IMB and these local leaders, we as IMB personnel were able to enter into this training as learners and co-laborers. We literally walked alongside the students as they practiced what they had learned about the missionary task (entering into a new area to evangelize, make disciples who then form a church, and investing in local leaders until such a time as the missionary can exit leaving behind new partners). We were not trainers only but students as well, learning from our Malagasy brothers and sisters, asking them how they did things and why, as all of us together learn how to make Malagasy disciples.

IMB Ministry Gifts of $150 were used to send these students to conduct an M-Task practicum among two local people groups (Masikoro and Mikea), one of which is still a UUPG. These students themselves represent 8 very different tribes from around the island. As they returned from 10 days of immersive hands on experience as missionaries, listen to what they were saying:

“I’ve never understood what Jesus meant when he said, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.’ Now I understand. There are so many people out there who are thirsty for Jesus. They are just waiting for someone to come and lead them. We have to send more leaders!”

Gaston, Sakalava tribe from Morondava

“It was very stressful to me the way the people lived. For 10 days we did not shower. I’m not used to that. But we were taught to enter into the life of the people, live as they live. So I think if we are missionaries we would not shower if we were working with them. That’s how we would show them God’s love.”

Lande, Bezanozano tribe from Moramanga

“We met with a young man who was ready to give up his charms. I told him the story of Legion about the demon possessed man. We asked him if he was ready to follow Jesus, and he said yes. We prayed for him and his stomach and legs were healed, no longer swollen. He said he wanted to follow us. But I told him what Jesus said to the man whom he healed. ‘No. Go back home and tell your family what God has done for you.’ So, the young man went back home and led his mother to turn away from her charms.”

Madera, Mahafaly tribe from Betioky

“I cried myself to sleep the first night after meeting these people and seeing the way that they live, the way that they eat, the way other tribes treat them. My heart is burdened for the Mikea people.”

Alex, Antanosy tribe from Tongobory

“It was hard for me to understand people and for them to understand me. Even though we are all Malagasy, I finally understood that we have to work very hard to understand one another. If we are going to take the gospel to other tribes, there is still a lot I need to learn about language and culture.”

Stephan, Betsimisarika tribe from Mahatsara

“I thought because I was a woman, I didn’t have much to offer on the trip other than to cook and to clean. But when I arrived in the village there were so many eager women. I asked them if they knew the story of Esther. They didn’t. So, I taught them the story of Esther, how we women must be like queens speaking wisely and protecting our family instead of protecting ourselves and leaving them to ruin. I told them we are to be like Mary, the mother of Jesus, bringing blessing to the world by raising our children well. I thought I didn’t know anything. But it turns out as I went to the mission field, I became a teacher.” 

Tina, Tanalana tribe from Toliara

Many of the students returned with a vision for reaching the tribes in their own backyard. The students from the east now have a plan to work together to reach the outlying tribes in their area. They will be casting vision with their local churches in the East. Two men from the Southern region have a plan for starting with their local church and cell groups to expand outward. They now have a plan for how to work through the missionary task with the goal of raising up more indigenous leaders. The impact of this practicum will continue to reverberate around the island. And it would not have been possible without the trust and relationship with indigenous, local churches founded by the gifts of Southern Baptists, who have now not only sent out American missionaries to cross cultures to fulfill God’s mission but now indigenous, Malagasy missionaries as well.

Time to Be Holy

Every day, same plan, 
same game every day:
Eat a little better, work a little harder, get a little smarter, make love a little longer.
The internet algorithms got us figured out,
a clip, an email, a picture or a twitter
la petite mort
a thousand little deaths has our 
veins thumping for another. But don’t bother
that your life is stringing you out.
You say I don’t have time any more
But it’s time to be holy
It takes time to be holy.
Don’t just hide in the garden with Jesus.
He’s out here walking the streets. 
We’ve got to go with him through the scum and the mud
use our skin as collateral.
Let him cut through the media hum
buzzing and fuzzing up your brain. 
We’ve got to feed on His Word instead of 
feasting on our feeds.
Keep up his pace, steady feet,
steady heart,
steady faith.
The more we look at him, the more we’ll look like him.
It’s time to be holy. 
Take the time time to be holy.
We keep calm and carry on as we sail on through this storm
Even though Jesus is strutting on the water.
Keep your eyes on him as you sink
beneath the waves
he’ll pull you down through the bottom 
into fountains of love.

Friday Family Update

It’s Friday family update time again! 🙂 It seems in many ways like the days and weeks run together with the changes COVID has brought–I’m sure some of you can identify! We’re working through the Jesus Storybook Bible with Chyella in the evenings, and she’s really taking in the details this time through! Nathan and I feel similar watching The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross this month: we’re learning a ton too!

Some highlights from the past month–Jairus’ teeth came through! He’s got two front teeth now. And he’s still not crawling, but he gets around. He’s also given us about a week of normal sleep (5 – 6 hours straight)! That has been amazing.

Chyella is excitedly anticipating her birthday next week. She said goodbye to some of her best buddies here as they returned to England this past month, but she’s hangin’ in there. She’s still full of joy and energy as always! She’s gotten to try out tennis this month with some friends, and also play with our neighbors’ baby bunnies!

We were very thankful that a distribution project with Send Relief was approved this month, so we’ve been working with three of the local Toliara churches to provide some food for some of the most vulnerable. The churches and pastors have been working so hard to serve their communities, and we’re thankful we get to be a part! Chyella provided her counting and chalk skills to help us keep track of our measured out bags of peanuts and lentils. 🙂

Temple Complex

Why are the nations enraged?
When you tear down the DOW
flip the market upside down and say,
“This was supposed to be about prayer!”

How do the governments survive?
When the parasites filling up 
slick suits and nice ties—
pompous puppets—finally suck their people dry?

Where are the pretend priests—
the pastors and their staff protecting—
their teeth sunk deep, their bleeding-out sheep?
After all, a man’s gotta eat!

Can the gods among men,
even hear you when 
they kneel to crush? 
How can they hear you, if you can’t breathe?
Hands in their pockets, do they even care if you praise them?

Yet you, Good God and Shepherd, show 
to mend broken hearts with your own clothes
to walk with the weary through the shadow 
straight through to tomorrow.

Our sacred cows are slaughtered,
Lady Liberty led off in chains.
Left to choose between the narrow gait or Broadway,
we sit to entertain ourselves, (unfettered . . . unbothered).

Skyscrapers fuel the pyre.
Not one Yankee-doodle cobblestone unturned . . . unburned.
Hosanna, Hosanna! He comes with fire,
germinating his own empire,
fed by the tears of the crushed and perplexed
that profit and priest never saw,
fallen through the cracks of the temple complex.