Thursday, November 28, 2013

Night of Joy

Praying for new council members
Once a year, the Lighthouse has an evening set aside where the church leadership discusses the finances for the previous year, the budget for the following year, updates on various church ministries, and outgoing council members are honored and new council members are voted in.

This evening is called the Night of Joy, and I had the opportunity to attend this year.  I was able to support my wife, who was to be voted in as a new council member.

The Lighthouse Church is a pastor-driven church, meaning many of the decisions for the direction of the church are discussed among the pastors on staff. At the same time, the Lighthouse has a constitution which they are bound to uphold. The church council is made up of around 10 people who have monthly meetings with the pastors to discuss various issues and to give reports on specific areas of the church that council members are assigned to.

New and old council members

The evening went quite well. After a time of singing and worship, the finances were discussed from the previous and upcoming year, including a plan to have more money available in the future for emergencies or for generosity towards those who need it. The budget for the 2014 year was ratified at the meeting and approved.

Additionally, the evening recognized that there is a full pastoral staff once again, with the addition of pastor Dan and Pastor KR.  Along with Pastor Mark, these three will be the core pastors, who oversee most of the services at the Lightouse. Pastors Ken and Steve will be specialty pastors to help with certain aspects of ministry, and Pastor Warren will be leading the team with the vision of the church. 

The core pastors at the church

Old council members were honored and new council members were approved, including two from the TLC-Jabriya service, which was really exciting!  It will be good to have representation from our off-campus location. Pastor Warren announced that a new villa has been found for the TLC service at the Jabriya Life Center to shift to, and also that negotiations were in process. However, it was mentioned that this new building is much larger and can easily accommodate about 30% more people than our current worship hall, which is reaching capacity. I'm really excited to see how this unfolds.

Pastor Warren talking about the Lighthouse
The meeting also honored the staff and pastors and concluded with our Senior Pastor Warren encouraging us in this time of building at the Lighthouse, and to make it a launching pad for future church plants all around the world.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Organization or Organism?

A few weeks ago, I attended a church leadership meeting at our pastor's house.  While there was plenty of business to discuss, Pastor Mark allowed time to connect with myself and the families of those on our leadership team on a more personal level.  He grilled American-style hamburgers and chicken, and the people who came all brought something, too.  While we had our 'official' meeting afterwards, it was equally valuable for everyone to just talk and get to know one another better.

This is a perfect illustration that the church is both organizational and organic.  Churches, like any other institution, have a business side.  Programs, initiatives, problems, committees, leaders, and a host of other things are all required for a church to function effectively, especially as a church begins to grow and expand beyond a few dozen people.

At the same time, the church is not merely another organization, business, or institution.  The church is God's bride, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.  Jesus gave us a command and a promise before He went to the cross, which is to love one another; the promise of this is that all people will know that we are His disciples.  This is one of the reasons why the theme for The Lighthouse this month is "Love One Another." 

As a teacher, I have meetings.  A lot of meetings.  All the time.  These meetings are critical for the instructors to be aligned with our students, other instructors, our tests and our curriculum.  However, though there are occasional casual discussions and jokes in these meetings, they are not bathed in love like they are in the church. In every church, there needs to be a balance.  Smaller churches tend to focus a lot on the love and connections, but may lack the business aspect.  Larger churches have the tendency to have a good corporate structure, but may need emphasis on loving and caring for one another. 

Our Jabriya worship service is a bit of both.  We are part of The Lighthouse Church, which is a large, multi-congregational international church.  Under the leadership of Pastor Warren, our senior pastor, and the rest of the pastoral team, The Lighthouse has been growing by leaps and bounds in terms of church structure and alignment across all congregations.

The Jabriya service itself has grown significantly from around 20 people at its start to averaging around 150 people.  This growth has challenged our service to also grow in our organizational structure.  What a few people could do in a 20 person congregation translates to a lot more in a 150 person congregation, along with procedures, processes and a chain of command.

One example of this growth and challenge would be outreach.  When our service started, a few of us could connect with all of the newcomers and tried to take them out to lunch or coffee with our families.  That was pretty easy in the beginning.  However, this is now nearly impossible with all the people we have each week.  With the growth of the service and the increase in responsibilities and time constraints for each leader, we realized the need to delegate to ensure everyone was reached. That's when the greeting ministry started, where we asked volunteers to be in charge of looking for new people, connecting with them and following up with them sometime during the week. Our service continues to do well at connecting people, but we are back in the growing pains of growing structurally while maintaining this love and care for one another. 

Please continue to pray for us as we go through this process of becoming a larger church service, and that God would raise up more volunteers and leaders to help with all the great things that He is doing in our midst.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Shisha: Cool or Criminal?

I spent a few weeks last summer in Jordan with a really good friend while I could take some Arabic classes.  He let me stay with him, and his wife was already back home in Canada.  Soon after I arrived, we decided to go out and celebrate.  We had a delicious Arabic dinner and he wanted to smoke some shisha afterwards.  I posted a picture of my friend smoking on Facebook to capture the event.  The next day, one of my Christian Facebook friends posted that it was bad for health and bad for his testimony.  Interesting food for thought. 

One of the most ubiquitous aspects of Kuwait and the Middle East is the smoking of water pipes known as shisha.  It can also be called narghila or hookah.  Whether in an upscale, high-end mall or on a crowded street corner, you will see all kinds of people enjoying this cultural tradition, sometimes as early as 6am. 

For those who are unaware, shisha is flavored tobacco.  Tobacco leaves are mixed with a gooey, molasses-like liquid along with the flavoring, whether it is apple, lemon, mint, grape, strawberry or an endless number of variations.  The tobacco mixture is put into a small, clay bowl with holes in it, and aluminum foil is placed on top with tiny holes punched in the foil.  On top are placed three or four pieces of coal, which heats up and slightly burns the tobacco.  The tobacco smoke then goes through a pipe and into water to cool the smoke, and is finally pulled into the user's mouth through a long plastic hose.

Popular restaurant for shisha outside

Because I have parents who are chronic cigarette-smokers, who have made many unsuccessful attempts at quitting, I am keenly aware of the addicting and enslaving power of tobacco.  I also know that we are not to make others struggle or be tempted by something, so it would not be something I would do around people who have struggled with being addicted to tobacco.

On the other hand, does smoking it on an occasional three or four times a month constitute enslavement to it or something that is wrong? Living in Kuwait, there is not a lot of outside or interesting events outside of eating at restaurants.  Therefore, smoking shisha could be viewed as a way to avoid always eating with people and a way to integrate with the culture. 

Friend smoking shisha while enjoying the weather

For example, I wanted to spend some time with my friends last night, but none of us were particularly hungry.  They didn't want to consume anymore calories for the evening, but they didn't want to just sit inside the apartment because the weather is really beautiful this time of year.  So, they decided to go to a nearby restaurant where some people could smoke shisha on the rooftop patio.  There were many other people there doing the same thing.  We spent a couple hours talking about our lives, the issues we are struggling with, and some of our plans for the future.  They did this while taking turns smoking a double apple and a watermelon and mint shisha.  My friends found it to be a relaxing way to end the evening and enjoy each others' company. 

What are your thoughts?  Should Christians stay away from this as a way to distinguish ourselves from the culture, or should we partake if we are doing it in moderation as a way to enjoy God's creation and integrate with the culture?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Life Group!

tea, coffee, and discussion
I am posting to talk about an exciting new change that is happening at the Jabriya Life Center.  We are launching a new life group this week, so we would like your prayers! We are praying that it would grow both in numbers and in spiritual and relational depth, and that the members who attend would be eager to serve and be open to each other.

A life group (also known as a cell group, care group, small group, etc.) is just an opportunity for people to gather together outside of church to connect on a deeper level with one another and grow in their relationship with Christ.  While any church service is a critically important time to gather as a body and worship God, give, and receive teaching from God's word, it is not sufficient for caring for each other.  As our service has grown to consistently include 100 or more people, we can no longer know everyone in the church well enough through only a short greeting time or after the service.  The Bible also mentions meeting together outside of the corporate meeting: "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes...."(Acts 2:46).  This shows that people gathered in large groups (temple, or the church) and in small groups (in the home). 

For the past four years, I have been leading a life group at the Jabriya Life Center.  I've mentioned this in a previous post, but it started as a tiny 5 person group and has grown to more than 20 people during its life span. However, it wasn't all continuous and amazing growth without any problems.  I made mistakes along the way, and there have been times when the group has contracted as well as expanded. 

One of the issues that I have struggled with over the last two years is the size of the group.  As the group has grown to around 20 people, it is no longer easily manageable as a gathering.  Besides the general struggles of accommodating an assembly of that size and keeping everyone engaged in prayer request and the discussion, there is the spiritual issue of caring for all of the individuals every week. A life group leader is not just a guy who facilitates discussion questions from the previous week's sermon.  The life group leader is truly a leader, a mini-shepherd who tries to love, encourage, care about, pray for, and spend time with the people in his charge.  With a group that size, I always felt like I was leaving someone out, leaving someone behind, or just neglecting certain individuals.  It's a tricky situation.

tortilla chips count as breaking bread together
At the beginning of this school year, after four years of leading the group and much prayer and deliberation, my wife and I passed the responsibility to another godly couple who faithfully attended the previous year and were willing and interested to lead the group.  This freed me to serve in other capacities, including helping other "younger" groups within our church grow and encouraging those leaders. But, the large size of the group remained and the life group grew even more with new people coming to our church and getting connected. With over 20 people coming on certain weeks, it was too much to ask of the leaders to keep it as one group. 

After talking it over with the leaders, the members of the small group, and the pastor, we figured it would be best to open another life group on a different day in a different location.  This would naturally allow people to choose a life group that would be a little closer to their area, because we had people coming from different neighborhoods to the one life group.  We also wanted a different day because three life groups from our service already meet on Mondays and we don't have any that meet on Wednesday. This could allow additional people from the church to join who possibly couldn't attend on the days life groups were currently offered. 

So, our first meeting is tonight and my wife and I will be leading the group.  The tentative plan is for me to lead for a few months, and then to hand it over to another couple who is interested in leading the group after attending for a while. 

Even though it's painful to not see everyone in the same life group, I think it's exciting because of the opportunity to form new friendships and continue to grow friendships we already have.  Please pray for its growth, and if you are living in Kuwait, please feel free to stop by and see what it's like!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Harvest Festival: Post Event

The Harvest Festival on Saturday was an exciting event and a major success.  While I can't speak for the whole festival, I did talk to many of the people who worked at the booth from our church service. 

It was the first time that the Jabriya Life Center participated in the Harvest Festival in such a major way.  Of course, people from our service have attended and donated to the event in the past, but this is the first time that we operated a food booth.  As I mentioned in the last post, one of the largest draws of the Harvest Festival is the food because you get to eat food from all over the world, and the proceeds go toward missions.

our "fearless" leader, flipping burgers
Since the leader who headed up the Harvest Festival is an American, he decided to have typical 'American' food.  Nothing is really as American as grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, so that was the food we sold- a big contrast to all the Asian noodles and other traditional dishes being served.

Nearly all the food was donated from various vendors, which meant that all profits went toward missions.  There were also four propane gas grills that people lent out to be used for the booth, and many volunteers worked hard to prepare the food and set up/tear down the booth.  In the beginning, it seemed like there would not be enough volunteers to make the workload light; the festival lasts from 9am-4pm. In the end we had more than enough volunteers for two shifts, a set-up crew, and a team for clean up. This allowed everyone to enjoy the festival at the same time as serving.

serving the tasty food
I was really happy to see the collaboration among friends and others who are in life groups at Jabriya.  I was also glad to see a lot of new people in the church taking time out to serve in this capacity.

I don't have all the numbers from the entire festival, but I know that the money brought in by JLC's hamburger food booth was 475 Kuwaiti Dinar- about $1,675USD!  This proved to be a major success and was still just a small part of the large contribution to missions.

the performance stage with children singing

The rest of the festival was a lot of fun, with many people eating, chatting and enjoying the different sights and sounds of the festival.  There was music throughout the day, along with hundreds of children playing on inflatable slides and getting 10 times their daily sugar intake from cotton candy.

Thanks to all those who served, attended, or prayed for the event. Please continue to pray that the money raised will be used to have a major impact on God's Kingdom throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

smile!- photo by Ptr. Mark, edited by me

Friday, November 8, 2013

Harvest Festival

 Every fall, the Lighthouse Church has a massive gathering called the Harvest Festival.  It's like a combination of a concert, a yard sale, and a cafeteria all inside the church compound.  This year, the Harvest festival will be Saturday, November 9th from 9a.m. until 4p.m.- tomorrow!  I would encourage all who can to come and support the event, and everyone else who can't make it to pray for it. 

For those who have never been, it is really an excited and nearly overwhelming experience.  It is like a sensory explosion of sounds, smells, and sights.  First of all, there are people everywhere.  This is really fun because you get to see friends from your church service and people from all the different services.  Pastors, elders, and church council members are all there.  At times, it's like a sea of humanity ebbing and flowing around the church compound.

There is also a lot of music.  From Christian rock bands to soloists to ethnic dance groups, there is definitely a wide variety of musical styles on display during the festival.  Last year, one man played several different instruments during the same song, including a pan pipe, which is pretty unique! 

There is also a second-hand book, clothes, and item sale that goes on during the festival.  As an avid yard sale explorer back in America, I always find this to be pretty fun.  It's like a treasure hunt, where I will one day find my pot of gold buried beneath old books and clothes.

Last, but certainly not least, is the food.  The smell of food wafts throughout the church compound, compelling you to come and try some.  Many different booths offer foods from all over the world, especially amazing Indian and Filipino food.  Additionally, there is a bake sale with all the best homemade cookies and brownies in the world right at your fingertips. 

This year, the Jabriya Life Center is contributing a stand to the food area.  Headed by one of our service leaders, it will be an American barbeque stand.  It will have burgers and hotdogs that will be every bit as delicious as you would get in Texas or Chicago.  Many people from our service have volunteered to help make it a success, so please try to come out if you can.

For those of you who are not in Kuwait, please pray for the event.  All the money that is raised goes toward missions, which include several mission organizations, orphanages, and shelters that we support in India, Tanzania, and around the world.  The Lighthouse Church is one of the strongest international churches in Asia, so it is our desire to use that strength and influence to raise money to help churches and organizations that need our support.  Please pray that it would be a total success, and that thousands of dinars/dollars would flow from The Lighthouse Church to missions all over the world. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Arabic Church

Near the beginning of the Arabic service
There was one activity that I had the opportunity to experience this week that I have not done the entire six years that I've been in Kuwait, which was attending an Arabic church service.  I have found a church home in Jabriya, and I am very happy there, but I have always felt that it would be interesting to see how Christians worship God in an Arabic worship service.  When I was in Jordan this summer, I went to a Sudanese service, because it has always intrigued and fascinated me to see how another culture and language worships Jesus.

The excuses for not visiting this service before have been plentiful.  I have passed it off as being a waste of my time because I don't know enough Arabic to understand anything.  I thought I didn't really know any vocabulary related to church or Christian things except basic words like God, Jesus, Christ, and the church. I also found the timings of the service difficult to attend.  There is a service on Sundays at 8pm, which is really late and the first day of the work week here, and I wouldn't get home until around 10pm.  The other service is on Thursday nights, and I never wanted to give up my free night (the end of the work week) to attend then either.

This past Sunday, I finally managed to push those excuses aside and convince a friend to go with me, so I wouldn't have to be alone on the drive or while I was at the service.  I probably would not have gone alone to do something so new and different.

It was at the main compound in Kuwait City, where most of the English language services are held.  They wrote down my name and the name of my friend as first time visitors when we entered the service.  I don't know if they do this for security purposes or if it was just to contact us after visiting for the first time. 

We took our seats in one of the pews and it started after a minute or two.  It seemed like a blur because it all happened in Arabic.  The man who opened up the service was dressed in a traditional Kuwaiti garment, and I presumed him to be Pastor Emmanuel Al-Gharib. (He is an ordained Kuwaiti Christian, and there are about 300 Kuwaiti Christians by birth, coming from 12 different families.)

The service itself was pretty interesting.  There were about four or five songs that we sang, and there was a keyboard and drummer who led the worship.  None of the songs were translations of songs that I have ever heard, and they all had a very Arab feel to the music in terms of the rhythm and chords that were played, relatively similar in style to Arabic music that is heard on the radio. It seemed like a fairly traditional service- for some songs we sat down, and for others we stood, the pastor the pastor reciting things throughout the service.  I say "things" because I truthfully didn't understand very much at all.  I could catch a word or two every other sentence, and I knew even less from the worship songs.  I had no idea what I was singing, but I tried to at least pronounce the words. 

Afterwards, another man in a grey suit came up to give the sermon.  I think he might have been Egyptian just from the way he said a few of the words. He preached from Ephesians 3:15.  One phrase that I did understand that he repeated a few times was "Everything is from God."  He spent most of his time expounding that and going through the Scriptures.  It seemed a little long, but mostly because I couldn't follow very much of what he was saying. Finally, they had something like a new members introduction because several people got up and the pastor spoke to them and they said "yes" at several points throughout the talk, so I'm assuming it was a charge for them as to their responsibilities in and to the church.
Middle of the service with the man in suit talking to us

After that, my friend and I decided to leave because it was getting late even though the service had not officially ended.  Most people seemed friendly just from looking around, and if I had to guess, I would say they are mostly Arabs from Lebanon, Syria and other countries in that region. 

Overall, I was a little discouraged about how little Arabic I knew, but I also remembered that I just don't have a lot of vocabulary to match something like a Christian religious service. Additionally, I was excited that I had that opportunity to see what an Arabic Christian service is like.  My friend mentioned to me hat it could be a place to take someone who would feel more comfortable communicating in Arabic than in English. 

Humbled by how little I knew, I thought about how hard it must be for all the Egyptians, Indians, Bangladeshis and others who come to Kuwait and are forced to learn English and Arabic very quickly to survive.  It makes me think more about showing respect and kindness to all foreign workers here, because of all the adaptations they have to make. It was a good experience, and one that I will probably draw from often.