Looking back: Tidal Impact 2017

The following is a short article I wrote for New Germany Connections, following last summer’s Tidal Impact program…

Every 2 years, Baptist youth groups from across Atlantic Canada descend on a chosen region, ready to serve and to learn. This year they came Halifax, Lunenburg, and Queens counties.

Our two little churches (Barss Corner Baptist and Emmanuel Baptist of Parkdale-Maplewood) were matched up with the youth groups from Grace Memorial Baptist Church and Greenwood Drive Baptist Church of Fredericton, and also from Woodstock Baptist Church. In total, 41 youth and leaders blessed us from July 22-29.

These youth crowded into talks, rallies, and fun events with a couple hundred others at Bridgewater Baptist Church and Long Lake Camp. They got challenged to know Jesus and to walk more deeply with him.

They slept in local homes. People in our churches jumped at the opportunity to host them. One man said to me at the end of the week, “It was so nice, it was like having family in my house again.”

Mornings and afternoons, the youth worked hard. They spent time with the residents at Rosedale Home and Lohnes Rest Home; they painted the end of a house; they processed about 12 cords of firewood; they wed gardens; they moved hay; they forked manure; they picked up garbage; they scrubbed things at the elementary school; they mowed lawns; they collected food for the NG food bank, etc. (And they found time to swim in two lakes and one ocean.)

All of that is hard work. I expected to hear complaining. I didn’t.

Except once, it came close. A girl named Taylor had spent the morning weeding a lady’s garden. She came back to the hall tired. She approached me. She sighed. I thought, “Here it comes.” She said, “Sam, can we please go back there tomorrow? That is such hard work, and ___ is elderly and shouldn’t have to do it all herself.”

And then there was the time when two girls didn’t do what they were told. They had spent a morning forking manure out of a chicken coop. Their host family told them, “Tomorrow, if someone asks you to fork manure again, just say no.” But then next day when we asked for volunteers to clean out a sheep barn, those two girls put their hands up. You see, young people just don’t do what they’re told. Ha!Tiffany Sears - IMG_0352 painting house

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Sneaky Giving: How to Bless People Locally

tidal impact, woodpileDo you remember a commercial that used to be on TV, about a father and his children sneaking groceries onto their poor neighbour’s doorstep? There’s something really beautiful about blessing the people who live around us. There are big, effective organizations that help us to give to people in other parts of the world (which we should do). But where do you turn to give locally?

To try to learn to do this has been a (small) part of my work as a pastor. Let me share some keys to what I’ve learned:

Use a middle-man. If you want to give to a friend or neighbour anonymously, the most effective way to do so is to use a middle-man. He or she can say, “this is from an anonymous person who cares.” It works better than leaving the gift on the doorstep because (a) the middle-man can make sure the gift arrives safely; (b) there’s less risk of “getting caught”; (c) the recipient will enjoy being able to pass along their thanks and any other specific feedback; etc.

Find grass-roots programs that are already running, and figure out how to support them. For example, our local elementary school (New Germany Elementary) has a free milk program that provides free milk every morning to any children who want it. By making the milk available to all the children, we are more confident that the children who really need it will take it without stigma. The program is often under-funded, and the school can issue tax receipts to donors. The program costs about $400 per month.

Find who the local professionals are who see real needs, and figure out how to resource them. For example, ask your doctor if he or she sees a lot of poverty. If yes, then ask whether, if you gave some gift cards for a grocery store, if he/she would be able to pass them along. Some professionals will be very keen to do that, others might not. But you don’t know until you ask. You won’t know who the recipients are, but you will probably be able to trust that this professional’s inside view will make for some very effective gift-placement.

I heard one story about a medical professional passing along $200 of gift cards to a young mother. That mother used those cards to fill her empty fridge. Soon after the fridge was filled, Child and Family Services showed up for an inspection. If the fridge had been empty, the child would have been taken into custody. But the fridge was full. That gift made a difference that day.

Ask local trades-people if there are significant needs that they know about. E.g., ask your mechanic if he knows a vulnerable person driving an unsafe car due to lack of funds, and whether a few hundred dollars would make a difference. Or suggest that you could put some credit on a vulnerable person’s tab, to make sure they get their car fixed the next time the brakes or tires wear out. Or sometimes your plumber might have clients whose water he got running but who haven’t been able to pay. Once again, you won’t know the identities of who the people are you’re helping, but you’ll have the joy of knowing your money is probably making a difference.

Some of these kinds of gifts won’t provide charitable tax receipts. If tax receipts will make a big difference for you at the end of the year, then you may want to approach a local charity (e.g., the Lions Club, or your church) and suggest that you could run the gift through them to your targeted recipient. They may be pleased to partner with you.

If your ambition is to give larger gifts, then ask around to the charitable organizations and churches in your local area, to learn if there are particular social workers etc. to whom you could give your contact info. There are people whose job it is to help vulnerable people figure out how to find funding for things that they need (medications, transitions, power, heat, etc.). It is good for those workers to be able to add contacts to their lists, to be able to call to ask for help on behalf of their clients when strategic needs arise.

All of that being said, the most important practical advice I can give is to pray: ask God to help you connect with just the right people in just the right moments, to make your local gift-giving effective and joyful.

Ministry with Mexican Migrant Workers

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14 Dec. 2017, by Pastor Sam Jess, samuel.w.jess@gmail.com

Monday night this week I went to see three houses full of Mexican migrant workers, 30 men, to say “adios.” They were on their way to the airport. Many of them had been here 8 months working in the Christmas tree industry. Some of them have been coming to this community for 10 years or more. They are going home to their families. This year, some of them are going home with a new goal to take the presence of God into their homes in a fresh new way, and our two little country churches had a part in that.

In September of 2016, I knocked on the door of one of those houses, to say “hola” and to try to use my broken Spanish. Little by little, in a few months my family and one of my little churches bonded with one of the men, Felix. He is a committed evangelical Christian and was having a rough year when we met him. He welcomed our friendship and support, and came to really enjoy the worship and fellowship at church. And he became very skilled at helping me improve my Spanish. When he left a year ago, we prayed that he would return in spring and a second worker would join him at church.

God more than answered our prayer, in ways that only He could do. This past Sunday, Canadians were in tears in both of our churches, touched by God through these Mexicans. In the one church, where total weekly attendance is usually around 35, we were deeply encouraged by having 17 Mexican men worship with us their last day here. And in many of their lives we are able to see God at work. We baptized one of them, Esau, in a cold lake at the end of October, and he is eager to grow in his faith. As they arrive in cities and villages all over Mexico this week, I pray that God will keep working in them and through them, that our weak little churches would have the privilege of blessing that whole great nation.

 

Joys and Benefits. As much work as it has been to connect with these guys, here are some of the benefits it has brought to our church…

  • I as the pastor feel encouraged by the language and other skills that I’m learning. Many pastors have to pay thousands of dollars for courses and mission trips to feel this fulfilled.
  • My children grow up learning Spanish.
  • Our two little churches feel the joy of being “missional,” by using skills that they already have. People here have always been good at putting on big suppers. This year one of the churches put on a year-end Christmas dinner for the Mexican workers. The tables were set beautifully, the food was “rico,” or rich, and the atmosphere in the room was of grace and joy in both directions.
  • Sharing with the Mexicans makes us appreciate how rich we are. When the cold weather came, many of the guys didn’t have warm coats, and many people in the churches went into their closets and got extra coats out for them. (John the Baptist named that as an act of repentance, Luke 3:11.)
  • Mexicans help the churches to reach Canadians. It’s easy for people in the community to write the church off as narrow, old-fashioned, closed-minded, etc. But when they see the church engaging with the Mexican workers, and no one else doing so, then they take another look. Then sometimes Mexicans share the gospel with Canadians. E.g., I get invited to perform each year at a community Christmas concert, where about 150-200 locals attend. I usually try to put a good word in for Christ. This year I brought some Mexican guys to sing carols in Spanish. Manuel automatically suggested to me that he could speak to the crowd about Christ, if I could translate. He was very well received.
  • Our churches become training-grounds for new missionaries. Just as the work load was becoming too much for me this fall, God brought me some help. Two different Canadian guys came into our path, both of whom have the goal to serve as missionaries, and both of whom already started learning Spanish. Here is where they will learn, both the language and the cross-cultural ministry skills that they will need.
  • It is very healthy for these Mexican guys to get to spend time with children, families, elderly people, etc. Their families back home often don’t believe them at first when they describe being welcomed into Canadian homes on Sunday afternoons.

 

Challenges. Even though there are thousands of Mexican workers in Atlantic Canada, with churches all around them, very few churches are engaged with them. Here is why…

  • Very few of the Mexicans speak English, and very few Atlantic Canadian churchgoers speak Spanish.
  • Time and tiredness. The Mexicans on the Christmas tree farms here get on the bus to go to the fields at 6 AM. They work very hard. They get home around 6 PM. Then they are on a tight schedule to take turns to wash, cook, do laundry, talk to their families, etc. They have one day off, Sunday, when their bus goes into town for shopping. It’s a pretty big sacrifice for them to miss that bus, to come to church where they will get tired from trying to relate cross-culturally.
  • Food tastes. There are some foods that we consider staples (e.g., bread) that some Mexicans have trouble stomaching. I think they have a second stomach that is not full unless they eat corn tortillas. The guys are polite, but my wife has had to work pretty hard to discover what foods they clearly like.
  • In addition to the language barrier, I find that there’s a cultural difference when it comes to planning for things. I think it might be rude in Mexico to say no when you’re invited to something – that it’s more polite to say yes, and then back out at the last minute. This makes for some challenges when it comes to scheduling events, arranging rides, etc.
  • These Mexican guys are used to being exploited. It takes them quite a while to decide whether they think we actually care about them.

 

Key Tricks of the Trade

  • The more Spanish the people in the church can learn, the more effective this ministry becomes. One trick for that, I found, is to do my daily Bible reading in Spanish, and to listen to a Spanish Audio Bible. (I find that the NVI Experiencia Viva is very good, you can guy one gospel for about $5 at https://biblegateway.christianbook.com/nvi-experiencia-viva-mateo-audiobook/9780829764017/pd/DA20254-CP?event=ESRCG.)
  • Church is pretty boring when you don’t understand what’s going on, if it’s in another language. The guys have expressed how much they appreciate “las hojas,” or “the papers.” Each week I print off copies of most of the service’s content: scriptures, prayers, hymns, sermon notes, etc., with the English in a column on the left and the Spanish in a column on the right. Matching the English with what is projected on the screen, they’re able to follow along pretty well. To make those papers, I’m able to copy and paste Spanish scriptures from http://www.biblegateway.com, and I’m able to translate my sermon notes and the hymn lyrics at http://www.translate.google.com. It’s pretty amazing, that’s all for free.
  • We can’t conduct the whole church service in Spanish, but we can learn a Spanish chorus, read a few key verses of the scripture in Spanish, I can preach the key points of the message in Spanish etc. The English-speakers are generally patient during that, and the Spanish-speakers really feel honoured by it.
  • Eating together means a lot. Our church does an after-church meal once a month, so some of the ladies make sure there is lots of extra food that the Mexicans will like. The rest of the weeks of the month, the Mexicans who come to church will then go to someone’s house for lunch. While they wait for dinner, they will take advantage of wifi to connect with home. We often arrange for Canadians to come over to eat with the Mexicans, with me translating. Friendships are formed across the language barrier that way.
  • Since Sunday is their only day to shop, we drive them to town to do their shopping etc. after Sunday dinner. I never realized how complicated shopping is, but some things are pretty difficult to buy if you have a language barrier. They appreciate us helping them.
  • They appreciate having people they can call who can drive them places when needed. Their employer is able to provide them with the basics, but there are extras we can help them with. The key is to discern what to say no to, and what to make a priority: e.g., I say no when they call for a ride to the liquor store, but I say yes when someone needs to get his phone plan sorted out.
  • Lending them an old bicycle goes a long way.
  • We can show them local resources that they are welcome to use. Our church has a picnic and swimming park on a lake, close to where the Mexicans’ houses. They didn’t know about it until I showed them.
  • They appreciate any research I can do for them online, or online shopping.
  • Sometimes sending money home to Mexico is complicated. I made it a goal that I would not handle their money for them. But I will drive them to town to get their money transfers sorted out.
  • The Mexican guys love it when we drop off leftovers to them, after community suppers etc. Especially sweets. Also, locals often have a lot of deer meat to give away, and the Mexicans really enjoy it. One lady had some hens that stopped laying. She couldn’t stand to kill her beloved birds herself, but the Mexicans were happy to look after them.
  • Some of these guys have been coming here for years and have never done any sightseeing. On Thanksgiving I took three of them with my family to see the ocean. Next year we will plan many trips to the beach, and other tourist destinations.
  • With 12 tired men in a house, sometimes things can get tense between them. Various ones of them appreciate a listening ear, advice, and prayers for a peaceful environment among them.
  • Alcohol can be a big issue. More guys started to connect with us spiritually when they made sobriety a goal.
  • For new believers among them, there are some useful free Bible Study resources at https://losnavegantes.net/discipulado/.
  • It seems to work best not to work through the Canadian boss. I show whatever respect I can show to their boss, but it helps that I hardly know him and that the Mexicans don’t think of me as their boss’s man. There is another local farm that is starting to bring in more Mexicans, where I am friends with the bosses, and I think that will be a bit of a challenge to overcome.

 

Needs for the Future

  • I heard about a farm one hour north of us that has 200 Mexican workers each summer. That’s a lot just on one farm. As more farms, fish plants, etc. throughout our region bring more and more Mexican workers here, we need more churches to figure this ministry out.
  • Various guys ask about what it would take to bring their wives here, or to become permanent residents, etc. Our local MLA has recently taken a keen interest in studying those questions for me, and I’m grateful, since I’ve had a hard time finding answers myself.
  • The guys know that they need to learn more English in order to really thrive in future years here. But they don’t have a lot of time or energy to study during their work-week. I tried giving them English lessons on Thursday nights, but they were too tired and busy. In 2018 we will try making audio resources to listen to on their smartphones while they work. That’s a good chance to expose them to scripture: record a verse in Spanish, and in English, and work them slowly through a passage of scripture like that.
  • The biggest need is for Canadian Christians (especially men) learning Spanish who can engage in these relationships, figuring things out as they go. This is about the best opportunity anyone will get to practice Spanish in Canada, so I hope lots of people will benefit from it like I am benefitting.
  • This ministry came together for us because of one, then two, then three Mexican guys who are committed to Jesus and who opened the door for us into their coworkers’ houses. Maybe in other years in the past, if I would have knocked on the door, I wouldn’t have found a welcoming brother among them. All of this fits with Jesus’ instructions for mission, to go into a place and seek a “man of peace,” (Matt. 10:11-14). And maybe in future years, depending on who returns or who doesn’t, I may not find those key people in the Mexican workers’ houses here. Praying and trusting God to bring those key people is essential.
  • And they will need welcoming and supportive churches behind them, ready to try things and fail and try other things and learn, and to pray for God’s blessing to come, for God to bless Mexico through Canadians and Canada through Mexicans.

 

The Message God Wants Us to Give Them

   One of my big surprises has been to see just how strongly the gospel has spread in Mexico. Some of the men I’ve met have been deeply impacted by Bible-believing, gospel-preaching churches that seem to be advancing with strength. They come with stories of changed lives. Some of these guys bring us a strong sense of God’s presence with them. Others were impacted by the gospel in their youth, and sometimes it comes alive again by being around us. It makes me wonder what we have to offer them.

Others of these guys never visited a Protestant church until they came to ours. Many were raised in Catholicism, where they learned the fear of God (which is good) and a gospel of works-righteousness (which is bad).

    I’ve concluded that what all of these guys need to hear from us, whatever their backgrounds, is an emphasis on God’s grace. For some of the Catholic guys, hearing about salvation by grace is a very new message. For the guys who’ve been around Protestant revivals (Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, Charismatic, etc.), they have been pushed hard to demonstrate a changed life (which is good), and I can see them struggling to admit that they are puzzled by their lingering weaknesses (which is bad). They need to learn that not only our conversion and salvation are by grace, but also our growth and sanctification depend on God’s grace too (2 Peter 3:18).

That message of grace also fits with how we have been hearing God calling us to be generous to these guys.

My favourite interaction with these guys went like this. Last spring I was driving Felix and José home from shopping. They were talking about how much things cost.

José: “Nothing is free in Canada.”

Felix: “All the help that Pastor Sam gives us is free.”

Me, thinking about how people in these churches pay my salary so that I have time to help people:  “God’s grace is free.”

José: “Yes, God’s grace is free to us, but it was not free to God.”

Felix: “No, you’re right, it cost God dearly.”

 

 

Craig Keener on Miracles

A few weeks ago, I preached about miracles and I showed the church the big 1000 page, 2 volume book that Craig Keener wrote, which is full of well-documented accounts of miracles. If you don’t feel up to reading those big books, then you can listen to him tell some of the stories in lecture format. For audio, go to http://biblicalelearning.org/new-testament/acts/?enmse=1&enmse_sid=2&enmse_mid=7 for the first lecture, and then http://biblicalelearning.org/new-testament/acts/?enmse=1&enmse_sid=2&enmse_mid=8 for the second one… (I think the tail end of the second lecture is on a different topic, so don’t feel like you have to finish the second lecture.) You can also see the video of the lectures, to see the pictures he talks about, at http://biblicalelearning.org/new-testament/acts/?enmse=1&enmse_sid=2&enmse_mid=7 and then http://biblicalelearning.org/new-testament/acts/?enmse=1&enmse_sid=2&enmse_mid=2.

Interview with Rosaria Butterfield

Rosaria Butterfield is an important figure for Christians to listen to, for us to learn how to love and care for homosexuals while sharing the truth with them. She tells how she was well loved by a local pastor and his family and his church, and how that turned her world upside down. Hear her story at http://www.phc.edu/newsmakers/rosaria-butterfield. On that page, the video is above, and the audio only (for slow internet connections) is below.

Christmas in Colombia

To hear the news behind the Christmas Eve message, click here.

Video of our choir singing at an event at Bridgewater Baptist Church

On Saturday, Dec. 10 our choir ministered to people at Bridgewater Baptist Church. You can see the video of 5 choir pieces and a devotional at https://youtu.be/02QPnFcAKBM