Thursday, September 25, 2014

New Service at TLC Mishref

Last year, I was invited to go to out with friends to a very special dinner.  There was a new Texas Roadhouse restaurant opening up in Kuwait relatively close to my house, and my friends had tickets for themselves and for us.  The best part about this dinner was that it was free, which is one of my favorite words in the dictionary!  Because the restaurant was brand new, they wanted to try out the food, the staff, and the service on people before it went to the public.  They wanted to take care of any issues or problems that might occur before in a smaller, more contained environment.  This is what is called a "soft opening." I can't really get that angry about my steak being overcooked if I'm not paying for it, right?  Actually, everything went really well that evening, I had a lot of fun with my friends, and we had so much extra food that we had to take some home.

In much the same way, we have been having some "soft openings" for a new service at TLC Mishref.  Thankfully, the main service at the Mishref campus has grown a lot over the summer and has gotten even bigger with the return of many people from summer holidays and the recent outreach that we had.  So, now we are nearly reaching the capacity of our service each week, and the leadership has been talking for a while about opening another service at 8am. 

The leadership team decided to open the new service on October 3, but also wanted to have several soft openings to make sure all the bugs and glitches were worked out before we announced it to the entire church and the public.  We also started these soft openings so that if people from our 10:30 service wanted to come to the 8am, it would relieve pressure on the amount of people who are attending our main service and will allow more and more visitors to attend.

Our first soft opening for the 8am was on September 12th, and we didn't have any one running the sound or worship in the beginning, so I had to learn very quickly how to use a sound board and some of the controls.  It was also quite small, with about 10 people not including the worship team and other people who were serving in the service.  It was strange looking at all those empty chairs, but all new services have to start somewhere.  The original Mishref service also started at around 10 people over five years ago, and it stayed that way for a long time before it began to grow. 

The second soft opening was the next week on September 19, and it was a significantly improved church service.  There were plenty of people to run sound and media, a great worship experience, and pastor Mark, the primary pastor at both services, preached a really good sermon. We also had nearly 40 people that attended the service, not including volunteers.  It was a much improved crowd and I was surprised that so many people came.
We have one more soft opening on the 26th of September, and then we have our official opening of the service on October 3rd.  We plan on having breakfast cakes and snacks on the 3rd as a way of blessing the people who come to the official opening, and it should be a lot of fun.  Please pray that this new service would be blessed by Jesus and that we would have new growth.  We would prefer that new people come to this service who don't go to church, rather than people who are merely switching services out of preference.  It should be a very exciting event! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Gospel in a Land of Mirages

Kuwait is often about appearances.  While this is true nearly everywhere, it is especially true in the Middle East.  If you go to the mall, you will find most of the people extremely dressed up looking their best.  The women are wearing makeup, the latest outfits and six inch heels.  The men are wearing sunglasses that match their shoes and perfectly trimmed facial hair. 

I work at a university, and the same is true there.  Nobody wears their pajamas to class like when I was in university, but everyone is dressed up to the point where the professors often look less presentable than the students by comparison. 

Gyms are also wildly popular here, and you see extremely fit women and really ripped men.  Steroids are not uncommon and there are areas where used needles riddle the ground.  Along with this are a bunch of diet based restaurants where you can order something that's low-calorie to fit your bodily needs.

People live in amazingly beautiful multi-floored homes with stunning gardens and indoor pools.  In the garages are brand-new BMW's, Bentley's and Porsche's that are clean and ready to take a ride on the highway.  Keeping up the Joneses takes on a whole new meaning living here.

The weight of all that pressure can be crushing.  However, the gospel frees us from being trapped by appearances.

As Christians, we know the truth is that we don't have it all together.  There are days where I feel like my marriage is falling apart, like I'm going to get fired from my job, or that I just can't generally figure out my life.

We also need to be reminded that we don't need to have it all together.  That is the gospel.  If God loved us based on our performance, we would all be miserable failures and would be destined toward hell.  In the midst of a Muslim worldview, often the emphasis is on what we do and how we appear. Ramadan, for example, is where all Muslims do a month fast.  I've talked with Muslims who told me me they cheat, but not when they are in public, because they at least want to be seen as people who fast while they are in public. 

However, God loves us based on the performance of Jesus.  Only He lived a life that was perfectly pleasing to God.  We just trust in Christ, and He will change our hearts, and we will slowly but surely become more like Him.

Tim Keller, a pastor and author, said it this way: "We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope at the same time."

So, next time you feel crushed underneath the facade of appearances, cry out to Jesus and remember that He pierces through the outside and looks at the heart.

Photos Courtesy of Mohammad Raha

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Life Group Lighthouse Initiative

I've mentioned in other posts about the importance of small groups for Christians, so I won't do that here.  However, I did want to mention some of the initiatives that the Lighthouse Church, which is the English language congregation of the National Evangelical Church in Kuwait, is doing with life groups.

First of all, there will be a book series that all the life groups will be using for the next two years.  I think this is a great idea to have something in a book form that all life groups will be using.  The book is called Foundations for Living, and it's a series of four books written by Susan and Dick Driedger.  This will be exciting to have a clear method for all the life groups at the Lighthouse.

Second, these books are supposed to go through the Christian life, from being a non-Christian to having victory in the Christian life.  This is great because book one can be used to start new groups with those who are not Christians to introduce them to the gospel, and it can be used to help Christians get better at evangelizing and sharing the gospel.  The other books talk about who God is and basic Christian doctrine, having victory over patterns of sin in our lives, and how to live as a balanced and whole person.  These books go back to the basics of the gospel and what it means to be a Christian, and it can't be more emphasized or stressed to keep loving Jesus and what that means for us as believers.
Third, they flew the authors into Kuwait to conduct a  two-day training for all life group leaders and coordinators.  I thought this was a brilliant idea, to have the authors themselves explain how their books work and how to use them in a small group setting to maximize the impact they will have on ourselves and others.  The training was very successful, and there was a record turnout from all the other leaders.  There will be an additional training with the authors for those who could not make the initial weekend meeting.

Finally, there will be a life group presentation and an emphasis to for all the congregations to get involved in a group at all the Lighthouse services.  This will be Friday and Sunday on the 19th and 21st of September  There will be an encouragement from our senior pastor Warren about the importance of these life groups.  Additionally, there will be testimonies from different people who have been impacted personally and spiritually by being a part of a life group.  The pastor will also encourage people to join a life group, and there will be signups after every service for those who are interested to join a group.  The life group leaders will also be recognized, prayed for, and commissioned by the pastor of that service and the leaders will be available to help people sign up or answer any questions after the service. 

I believe this is the largest initiative that the Lighthouse church has done regarding small groups, so I want to encourage you to join one this year, or to get back together with your group from your summer holidays.  If you are not in Kuwait, please pray for our life groups this year, that the entire church would have deep relationships with one another and would grow in our love for Jesus!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bringing God on Vacation: Maldives

My wife and I went to the Maldives several months ago on an amazing vacation.  It's hard to describe the beauty and the majesty of this place because each of the more than 2000 islands that make up this archipelago are right out of a movie.  The tiny islands have beautiful white sand beaches, trees and palms growing and producing fruit right off the shore, and water that is as clear as glass.  We were so grateful for the opportunity to go.

While we were staying on one of the particular islands, we met another couple who was also staying at the same guesthouse as us.  They both lived in Germany, and we decided to spend some time with them on the same excursions and eating some meals together.  I thought it would be a good opportunity to build a relationship with them.  The man even spoke Arabic, and it was a great chance to practice with him.

One night we had dinner together, and the woman asked about my wife's tattoo which she had on her wrist.  Stephanie shared that it meant hope, and even though she has gone through some struggles in her life, she trusted in Jesus who would carry her through whatever the trials she was going through. 

Did the couple come to faith in Christ right then and there?  No.  However, what my wife did was plant a seed of the gospel through her testimony.  She also was honest and authentic with them about some of her struggles and trials, which I think allows that seed to go deeper than just an explanation of the gospel without how it affects us personally.

We will invariably meet other people on our holidays or travels, whether it's a European vacation or to the state park right next door.  Of course, one of the expectations of a vacation is to spend time with family and unwind, which is reasonable. 

However, we will naturally and normally find ourselves interacting with other people, whether they are staying near or hotel or campsite or a clerk at a grocery store, or just meeting people in passing.  So, all these interactions are opportunities to build people into your lives, even if it's just for a few days.  As Christians, we know that only God and people will be forever, so investing in other people is guaranteed to be one of the best returns on our time on this Earth, even if it's short-lived.  After the week was over, we haven't talked to that couple since, but we were glad for the memories we created with them, and we may end up seeing them again. 

Second, we need to be ready to share the hope that is within us, as the Bible says.  We weren't expected to share the gospel the night the woman asked about my wife's tattoo.  However, she didn't shrink back from sharing her story of how Jesus loves her enough to carry her through all the trials she faces in this life. 

Finally, we need to try to be authentic with people.  I believe that sharing the gospel and the four spiritual laws is great, and the more we do that the better.  At the same time, we need to inject how Jesus has personally affected and has changed US.  The world is watching to see if there is anything different about us.  Do we just seek the same pleasures of money, power and pleasure and just use Jesus as our ticket, like another person may use social skills to get the same things?  Do we self-medicate or pretend like everything is fine when we are suffering, or do we acknowledge the truth of our difficulties, shattered dreams, and pain while leaning on Jesus?  If the world sees that we are different as Christians, they will respond.  If we are just using Christianity as the thing to get what we want, then they will think it as one of the many options people use.  Let's use the opportunities we have to share the joy and hope of God's Kingdom here on Earth.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

TLC Mishref Fall Outreach

The Lighthouse Church in Mishref is having the annual fall outreach this Friday on September12th, which is one of the biggest outreach events of the year.  For those of you who are wondering,  here are some questions and answers regarding this event.

What is TLC Mishref?

TLC stands for The Lighthouse Church, which is the the officially recognized English language Protestant church in Kuwait.  It has a legacy of over 100 years in Kuwait, and officially has been given land by the Kuwaiti government to operate.  This is part of God's grace to the church, because land is only given by the government, and even Kuwaiti citizens need to apply for a house.  The Lighthouse Church is the English speaking aspect of the National Evangelical Church in Kuwait, which consists of multiple language services that happen every week.  TLC Mishref is an offsite location located in the district of Mishref, but is part of the Lighthouse.

Why do you have an annual outreach?

When I came to Kuwait over six years ago, I had a very difficult time finding a church.  My wife and I didn't know what it's name was or it's location.  I had tried to call the church, but the numbers seemed to be down and I didn't receive a response to my emails.  I remember walking around for over two hours trying to find the church, and eventually stumbled upon a service that was being held in the evening.  A wonderful woman reached out to us after the service, and explained all the different services and even gave us several rides to church going before we had a car. 

I don't anyone else to have to go through that difficult experience to go to church, which is how this outreach was born.  By removing some of the barriers to entry by making church accessible via the outreach, it will allow more people to get involved in church.  I know there are many Christians from multiple nationalities that are interested in going to a church, so we want to make TLC Mishref available for them if they are interested.

How do you distribute information about the outreach?

Most people who live in Kuwait live in apartment buildings with other people of the same profession.  For example, there might be an apartment building full of McDonalds employees or a building for all the teachers who are working at an international school. 
Making the bags of candy and having snacks

Because of this unique setup, we decided to create an invitation to church on this particular day.  The invitation is wrapped in a little bag, along with some candy, because even if you're not interested in going to church, we thought the candy would at least be a small blessing in the name of Jesus.  Who doesn't like candy?  If people are interested in going to church, they can use the information provided.

Once the bags are made, people who are already attending service at TLC Mishref will pickup the bags before the outreach and distribute them to neighbors in their buildings, coworkers, or friends who are not currently attending a service.  This year, we have created and distributed around 350 invitations and candy to multiple buildings.

What do you do on the actual day of the outreach?

At TLC Mishref, we have church on Friday at 10:30, and we will roughly keep to that schedule.  We will have worship and a sermon by pastor Mark Ingram, who is the pastor of that service.  After the service, we will have some sort of icebreaker or game to get people to get to know each other, especially new people who are at the service.  Afterwards, we will have a lunch for everyone provided by the church as a way to serve people and allow them to get to know one another on a more intimate level. 

Now What?

Come to the outreach on September 12th and bring a friend and we will all enjoy a good meal and fun!  If you are not living in Kuwait, please pray that this would be an effective outreach and that people would be able to find a Christian oasis in the desert of Kuwait.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tips for Coming (back) to Kuwait

  For many people, the the end of August is when many people come back to Kuwait or start their first job.  The summers in the Middle East are extremely hot, often rising above 120 degrees, so people save up their vacation to go back to their own countries or to travel, and many teachers in Kuwait naturally get the summers off.  It can be difficult coming back to work and to the rigors of life in Kuwait, especially if you, like me, have been living out of a suitcase for the last couple months, or have shirked most professional and spiritual activities.  Also, if you are new to Kuwait, it can be a strange and disorienting experience as a Christian being totally immersed in a radically different world view.  Here are some tips to help people coming (back) to Kuwait.

1.  Go to church.  This cannot be stressed enough.  Getting involved in a bible-believing, God-glorifying church is critical to your spiritual health in Kuwait.  You will be blasted with radically different beliefs about God, Jesus, heaven and hell upon entry or re-entry into the country.  You will also generally be confronted with things that are just culturally or linguistically different, which can be unnerving.  Finally, there will be a host of activities to get involved with, all pulling you in different directions.  Going to church will allow you to be with other Christians, receive some teaching, have your spiritual gas tank refilled, and meet others who are feeling similarly to you.  And don't just go occasionally, but make it something you are committed to, because that is how you will benefit the most from it.

2.  Get in a small group.  Personally, this is as big as going to church.  Going to church is ground zero for getting spiritual revitalization, but it's rarely enough.  Many of the churches in the Arabian Gulf and Kuwait are at a minimum of 50 people or more, and there is no way you can connect to those people in an hour and a half meeting outside a general greeting, handshake or hug.  A small group allows you to go deeper with other Christians, and to get to know their passions and struggles, and they will get to know you, as you pray, study the bible, and apply that the sermon each week to your life.  This has made what could have been a terrible experience in Kuwait into a wonderful one for my wife and I. 

3.  Get to know people.  Yes, this was partially covered in the point above, but it's good to make friends and see people outside of church and life group.  Try to pick at least one other night of the week where you are hanging out with the people that you love and enjoy.  That will bring a lot of stability and peace to your life, and will allow you to build some roots in this country.  Befriend some of the people in your life group or church, and invite them to dinner, lunch or even a cup of tea at your or their place.  Kuwait can be a lonely place, but if you make the effort, you can develop lifelong friends here.

4.  Get in a routine.  This one is just as important.  For those of us who are still getting over jet-lag, we know how insane it is to be out of a normal sleeping routine.  This is true for all aspects of living internationally.  I try to make sure I am consistent when I get enough sleep and go to bed at the same time, when I work out, when I spend time with friends, when I have date night, and even when I take time to relax and read a book.  Of course there are things that interrupt that routine, which is completely normal and acceptable at times, but it's good to have the routine so you can at least have a sense of control over that aspect of your life.

5.  Don't overdo it.  Don't do too much.  I had a friend my first year in Kuwait who tutored for 4-5 hours every day, 5 days a week.  He made a lot of extra money.  Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack that summer, and I believe part of that was contributed to his hectic work schedule.  I'm not saying it's wrong to work hard or even to tutor a little bit, but make sure you have a balance in your life.  Even if you came here to make money, don't let that be the idol you serve, because you'll never get enough and you'll run yourself ragged pursuing it.  God has you here not just for yourself or your family, but to advance God's kingdom, and maintaining a balance of God, family, work, church and ministry is critical to being able to realize it.