This post was also posted on marknicklas.wordpress.com

Several weeks ago I was with our dental team in Southeast Alaska. After a week of serving Prince of Wales Island this was a day of recreation. The locals offered an array of opportunities for the team – sea kayaking, hiking, hunting, fishing and more. I took a skiff and went out with a few members of the team so they could fish. It was pure Alaska – cold rain poured down on us relentlessly. We only caught a few salmon and rockfish (I blame the guide) before heading in at noon to pick up those who wanted to fish in the afternoon. Given the weather there were only two takers.

Bubble 1The weather began to clear as soon as we set out. We had just dropped our lines when water began to boil about a hundred yards off the port bow. All of a sudden six humpback whales burst out of the water. They rose above the water and were high enough to see the side fins before they crashed back onto the water. They were “bubble feeding.” We had seen whales all morning, but this was something new. When whales bubble feed they work as a team to corral herring. They dive very deep under a school of herring and then blow bubbles as they swim up in a diminishing circle. Herring cannot swim through bubbles. The shrinking ring encircles them. When it gets small enough the whales swim upward with mouths agape swallowing thousands of fish. This was repeated again and again, sometimes only a few dozen feet from our skiff. The teamwork of these huge creatures was amazing!

Bubble 2As we were finishing our afternoon of fishing a group of about 15 to 20 Dall porpoises took an interest in us (or maybe it was the herring dispersed by the whales) and began to swim all around us. Dall Porpoises look like miniature Orca whales. They were lightning fast, jumping in all directions. It reminded me of the quick flashes of swimming creatures in the mermaid scene in thenPirates of the Caribbean. It made for a great end of the week for the two dental team members who braved the weather to go out on the water.

The dental team was the fourth of our teams to participate in ministry to Southeast Alaska. Two Beaverton Foursquare harvesting teams and a construction team served there already. One more construction team is slated for mid-September. The community of Coffman Cove seemed to come alive with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our team, led by Drs. Duy Anh and Melodee Tran, served beautifully. The people of Coffman Cove were overwhelmed with the idea that a group of medical professionals would come to their community, at their own expense no less, in order to serve people they did not even know.

The first day of clinic operation was Sunday. By Monday afternoon the locals were bringing gifts – smoked salmon, grilled salmon, fireweed honey, crabs, oysters and even smoked pizza. The clinic became a “water cooler” for the community. For those of us who are used to semiannual visits to dentists, this may seem a bit surprising. But if you have dealt with chronic dental issues and no way to get the help you need, it is a huge blessing.  The team kept telling the locals that it was arranged by the Foursquare missionaries to Southeast Alaska, Joel and Trish. God is granting them amazing favor with the people there, and we get to be a part of it. One woman said to Melodee, “I hated the way I looked. I can smile again and I now like the way I look.”  Another man said, “I have been in pain for so long! I cannot believe that you came here to do this for me.” I have been to this area numerous times and have never seen this type of community warmth. Everywhere I went in the village people were talking about it.

On our last day the team was able to represent “the Beaverton Foursquare clan” at a culture camp, which included the raising of four totem poles, traditional dance and singing, and a seafood feast fit for a king. At one point during the evening a number of people were recognized for their part in the culture camp.  The mayor said the following,

“For the past several years there is a group of people who have come to our island as friends. They came to work alongside us in our way – building friendships and respecting and loving our people and our culture. They came to put a new face on what it means to be missionaries and to demonstrate the love of God. I want to recognize our friends, the Foursquare Church. Will you please stand?” And there was applause. In just a few years we have gone from curious intruders to friends. Joel and Trish have done a superb job of coordinating the efforts of churches like ours in an effort to build the Foursquare presence.

)I thought about the amount of teamwork it takes to do bubble feeding. Whales do it thousands of times a year, so they get plenty of practice (the herring, on the other hand, not so much). When you do something again and again as a team you learn how to do it well. I am so grateful for the heart of our church in sending missionaries – long-term as well as short-term. We have learned how to go with servants’ hearts.  Our circling ring is not to feed on anyone, but rather to bring the freshness of the Spirit – to create an outpost of the Kingdom where God’s presence is palpable.  We only go where we are invited. The locals lead. We do everything possible to be a blessing and never a burden. That is exactly how Joel and Trish describe the Beaverton teams.  And by the grace of God it is how the mayor of Hydaburg introduced our team to the larger native community.



This post also appears at Jacob’s Brook

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Rom 1:8-12)

I was invited by friends to speak at a training event in Liaocheng, China. It is a small city about 50 miles west of Jinan in Shangdong Province. I don’t speak much Chinese, but with a trusty paperback dictionary and more confidence than wisdom, I nonetheless took the foray into a place where English speakers are rare. I was originally meant to take the train, but I was delayed. The alternative, if I was going to make the event, was to fly to Jinan from Beijing and then find local transportation. Simple enough, yes?

When in China I spend most of my time in Beijing. English speakers abound. If you find yourself off the beaten path, you simply ask around and someone usually can speak English. But when I arrived at Jinan airport and asked about how to get to Laiocheng I was met with either blank stares or rapid-fire answers in the Jinan dialect (giving alternative ways to get there, none of which I understood). I was finally able to piece together a plan; travel into downtown Jinan to the bus station and find a bus to Lioacheng. At the bus station not only were there no English speakers, but every sign was written in characters (and no pinyin – phonetic Chinese). I cannot read characters.

EncourageI went to what looked like an information desk (it might have been a baggage counter or even a tea stand, but it looked like my best bet).   I had the full attention of the person at the counter while I tried to find words in my dictionary. Then a crowd got off of an arriving bus. In America, lines are formed single file. Not so in China. People began to crowd around me and bark questions at the counter girl who was my only hope. I gave up trying to get her attention back. I went outside and picked a bus with the best information I had. Remarkably, it took me straight to Liaocheng. I got there at the same time as the train I had missed earlier. My hosts were there waiting for me to get off the train. “How was the ride?” they asked. “Perfect,” I responded.

I love China. It is always worth the crowds and travel challenges to go there. Some years ago I became friends with a group of Chinese pastors. Though we come from completely different cultures and have worldviews that were not shaped by common experiences, we have one thing in common; we follow Jesus Christ. That makes us family. And because of that, our differences pale in comparison to our similarities. We are unified in Christ.My Chinese friends teach me things about the love of God that I would not know from my experiences in America. And vice versa. The family resemblance shows – to each other and to those who see us together. When I am with them I do not feel that I am at a bus station with strangers trying everything within my wits to get someplace. I am home.

So we encourage one another in the same spirit that Paul wanted to encourage and be encouraged by the Romans in the first century. I get to celebrate the undeniable movement of the Spirit in China through my friends’ commitments to shepherd their people. I get to pray for God’s provision, increase and care. My friends and I have crossed cultural bridges to be together and are a strength to one another. That is the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed (John 17).