Okuhle: The Backstory

The earth is full of orphans. People without family, without destiny, who have never been loved. Hopeless, they wander. But God is the everlasting father. And when He adopts, He adopts for good.

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An introduction

In 2011, I went on my second overseas mission trip. Knowing nothing about my destination, carrying only a promise from God that my trip would be fruitful, I left American soil with a group of twelve friends. I had no idea this trip would change my life.

I landed in South Africa with no expectations, but it took less than 24 hours for me to fall in love with this country and its people.

For three weeks we worked closely with Floyd McClung’s missions organization, All Nations, sharing the gospel with the inhabitants of a small township called Masiphumelele. I found the Xhosa people in Masi to be incredibly beautiful. They were genuinely joyful in the midst of great poverty, they were receptive to the gospel, and they were starving for grace and love.

Compassion gripped my heart.

The Day of Salvation

On June 17th, a week into our trip, I met Okuhle. Another poor face on the street, another lost teenager who was completely broken. The only difference was that God sent me to him. I shared the gospel with him and three of his friends. His friends made fun of me and walked away. But Okuhle stayed. He heard hope in my message.

He needed hope.

Rejected at school and at home, Okuhle had turned to the dog-eat-dog gang life, looking to drugs and relationships with girls to numb his pain. His family practiced witchcraft and cult religions, so he had never known Jesus. By the time I met him, he had become addicted to tik, had stopped going to school, and had lost all hope.

But Jesus is hope. And Jesus introduced Himself to Okuhle through me. Okuhle asked me, “please tell me, how can I get to God?” I told him the simple gospel. He wanted Jesus immediately. He confessed his brokenness and surrendered to Jesus as Lord. Heaven rejoiced.

Strange, how God aligned it. Two teenagers from two continents with two very different stories whose stories converged at the intersection of two streets. Our futures suddenly connected at the cross of Christ.

We did everything together until I left. I poured all I knew into him. I taught him how to pray, how to read the bible, how to share the gospel, how to pray for healing, and how to worship.

When I left South Africa, I entrusted Okuhle’s discipleship to a Nceba, a Xhosa friend who worked with All Nations. Even though I had spent every second possible with Okuhle and knew I was leaving him in good hands, I left South Africa praying every day that Okuhle would make it.

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me and Okuhle on one of the last days of my trip

Three years

He did.

Several months after I left South Africa, I was sitting on a friend’s couch working on homework. It was my junior year in college. A familiar beep notified me of a new email in my inbox. I opened it to read a Facebook message from someone I have never met. And I screamed.

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Everyone in the house wondered why I had just screamed. But no one could fully understand what this Facebook message meant to me.

God is faithful.

For the next two and a half years I skyped with Okuhle every few months. From our conversations I learned that after accepting Jesus, the Holy Spirit filled him and supernaturally freed him from all of his addictions. I learned that after I left, he stood strong through persecution. I learned that Nceba faithfully took him under his wing and taught him how to read the bible, pray, and reach his friends for Christ.

I learned that he eventually moved into a YWAM house in Masi where he was discipled, refined, and loved like never before. I learned that Jake became like a father for him, giving him rides, clothes, food, and constant support. And I learned that he eventually did a YWAM discipleship training school, went on a two month outreach to Turkey, and that after he finished, he joined the school staff.

In three years, Okuhle had risen out of the ashes of a broken life and become a leader, a man of God, and an evangelist.

Meanwhile, I graduated from Baylor and went through Antioch Discipleship School. At the end of our school year we would be going on an overseas mission trip to one of four different countries. I hoped I would get to go back to South Africa.

After I found out I had been chosen to be on the South Africa team, I contacted Okuhle as soon as possible to tell him the news. We made small talk for a while, and then I surprised him, “I’m coming to South Africa in two months!” He freaked out!

The only problem was that he might be leading his two month outreach during the entire time I would be there. We agreed to trust God and pray that He would make a way for us to see each other in person for the first time in three years.

We knew that what God had started, He would surely finish.

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South Africa 2014: A Summary

My trip to Cape Town was one of clarity and maturity. Historic in so many ways, this trip was the kind of experience that I will write about in a memoir…if ever I find the time later in life to write it. God brought me back to my roots, showed me the Father’s heart, rekindled old dreams, and re-confirmed his promise to give me the best…

It all began in 2011. I went to Cape Town on a whim. God provided the funds. The scenery amazed me, the people changed me, and God overwhelmed me with his love. In the poor township of Masiphumelele, God led me to a depressed teenage gangster outcast who was addicted to drugs. Okuhle gave his life to Jesus. God adopted him for good…and surrounded him with a church family after I left.

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Then three years passed. I grew up. I experienced brokenness and triumph, mountain peaks and valley floors, pain and healing.

Okuhle grew up too. God set him free of every addiction, healed all his emotional wounds, and gave him a new future.

Everything began to come full circle when I found out I would be going to South Africa again. Originally, I was going to Cape Town with a team from Antioch Discipleship School, the capstone trip of our nine month school year. But with the timing of a live album recording I was playing electric guitar for, I had to postpone my trip until the discipleship school trip was finished.

Four days after finishing an album that was likely my most important musical project to date (Antioch Live – “It Is Finished”), I jumped on a plane to Cape Town, the city of hope and wonder.

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From day one, my experience was nothing like my first trip to South Africa. On my first trip we worked alongside strangers in a ministry called All Nations; on this trip we worked alongside Antioch family and friends in our new church plant. On my first trip we stayed in a small town on a flat plain by the ocean; on this trip I stayed in a suburb in a house with a family on the side of a mountain. On my first trip we spent every day in a township; on this trip we spent every day on campus at “the harvard of Africa”.

It took me a little while to adjust to this new South Africa…but once I accepted the fact that this trip would be completely different than what I remembered from the last time, I began to enjoy this different flavor of Cape Town.

What I Did

At the onset of my trip, I met up with friends in London. Jeff Jones, my college mentor and leader (who was also with me my first time in Cape Town), was the college pastor of Antioch Knoxville, and he was leading a short term trip from their college ministry to Cape Town. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and I immediately jumped in with their team.

knoxville team meeting

knoxville team meeting

Upon arrival in Cape Town, Mike helped me get all the essential groceries and things I’d need while staying on an air mattress in his room at the Kennedy’s house. The Kennedy’s are incredible hosts, and they did an amazing job of hosting not only every short term trip to their new church plant, but also me.

For the first couple of weeks, I did everything possible with Jeff and the Knoxville team. I was amazed by their unity and maturity, especially considering how young they all were. We spent a few days sharing the gospel with people in a nearby township, and spent most of our time meeting people at the University of Cape Town.

The vision of the Kennedy’s church plant is that college students from UCT (also known as the Harvard of Africa) would encounter Jesus during their college years, and then take what they learned about discipleship and church planting back to their home countries afterward. Considering the fact that UCT enrolls the upcoming leaders of every country in the African continent, this vision isn’t far-fetched.

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UCT

One fun way we connected to students was by setting up a free coffee stand near bus stops and dorms. In Cape Town, no one gets anything for free- not even tshirts. So free coffee certainly turns heads and provides a perfect setup to meet students and make friends. As the Kennedy’s say, “We believe if Jesus were here on UCT campus, He would want to give you something for free, not take anything from you.” This really is the heart of Antioch Cape Town.

coffee outreach

coffee outreach

After Jeff and the Knoxville team left, I had to decide how I would spend the last two weeks of my trip. God showed me that the best thing I could do was serve the long-term team, so I decided to spend most of my time with Mike and the Kennedy’s. That meant ministry looked like doing the dishes at home, joining the family for an afternoon at the mall, entertaining their toddlers, or just hanging out with Mike at the mall all day while he worked. It didn’t always feel like I was changing the world, but I knew that I was doing what God had led me to do.

beach day with the Kennedy family

beach day with the Kennedy family

Throughout the last two weeks, I spent a good amount of time with a team from San Diego and a team from Norman. With both groups, I tried to make friends and make people feel at home in Cape Town. Occasionally I would join them for an outreach or lead worship for their team time. And I got to go on both of their sightseeing days. Being a “floater” had its perks!

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The last week of the trip, I wondered whether or not I would be able to meet up with Okuhle. He was leading a YWAM mission trip and wouldn’t get back to Cape Town until right before I left. But one of the Antioch long term team members offered to drive me to the city Okuhle’s team would hold their debrief in (a 6hr drive away), so I was able to meet up with them. I wrote an entirely separate post to capture that story. That one day was worth my entire trip!

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetBy the end of the trip, I had shared the gospel with more than 15 people who had never previously heard, prayed for several people and they were physically healed, written several songs, and encouraged lots of people on the short term and long term teams.

Leaving Cape Town, I was more sure than ever that God is for me. It was one of the biggest themes of the trip – God is on my side, not against me. He is a loving and faithful father who wants the best for His children. If we are willing to submit to His plan and let go of control, in time He will always raise us up to a place we never could have dreamed of.

TEN

Well, I’m back. Almost two weeks, and American life already feels almost completely normal. I had no idea we humans were so adaptable. Or maybe it’s just me.

Here I am, in Waco, Tx, back to the schooltime routine of driving, cleaning my room, spending money, working, speaking English with everyone, and being in a thriving, established church. And it couldn’t feel more right.

I know that I’m right in the center of God’s will being at home. I could have stayed in Mongolia longer. But it would have been disobedience. God has definitely called me to be here in Waco in this season of my life. I’m right where I need to be, and honestly, where I want to be. I don’t want to be outside of God’s will. There’s no safety, assurance, or satisfaction there.

Before continuing, I feel that it’s appropriate considering the content of this blog post that you check out this new record by Kim Walker-Smith and her husband Skyler. I’ve been listening to it a ton since getting home and it is quite fitting.

The end of our trip came quickly and succinctly. We had a beautiful final team time with the Burr family (from Christ Fellowship in FW, they led the training school in Mongolia all summer), our last day at church, a goodbye party, and then a final cleaning session before moving out of our apartment.

The goodbye party was epic. We hosted it with a big budget, invited everyone we could, and had tons of people at our house. As we met toward the end, I felt like God said we had exactly 100 people there- which was the exact number we were believing for all summer! Later on I found out Ben Moss was counting and lost count at around 80 when he couldn’t see any further. Seriously, tons of people. An amazing confirmation that God will always fulfill his own vision and dream.

There were a surprising amount of people at the party we had never met before. A good 15-20 people were randomly invited by Mongolian friends and ended up in the middle of an intense worship session! It was powerful and thick with God’s presence. A couple Mongolians who had met Jesus over the summer shared their testimonies. Ben Moss, Hannah Franzen, Josh Crosslin, and Brandon Seibert all shared extremely moving words to sum up and reflect on the best summer of our lives. Then we worshiped with everything we had one last time. Several of our less consistent friends were deeply impacted in ways we had been praying for. Several unbelievers received prophetic words that blew their minds and encouraged their hearts. So cool.

After the party and the tears and the endless pictures and goodbyes, we got to cleaning. It took a while but we moved out of Enoch’s Pad once and for all. I’m gonna miss that place so much.

had to take one last picture off the balcony before we left EP once and for all

I had to take one last picture off the balcony before we left EP once and for all…

I’m super thankful I got to connect with Brandon before I left. We had lunch and spent time together the last 24 hours I was in UB and it was a great end to the trip for me. Saying bye to Brandon at the airport was VERY WEIRD. But as I boarded my flight out of Mongolia, I remembered that it’s only a season!

Since getting home I’ve only done a few things. I’ve visited home (so refreshing), gotten my room and belongings in order, reconnected with most of my friends, and jumped fully into this next season. There are a lot of little things I’m working on; lots of projects for World Mandate and preparation for this next schoolyear. Still, the biggest things remain uncertain- my job, my band Glenmerle, and what Antioch Discipleship School will be like.

ADS will start Monday, so that’s not remaining a mystery much longer. And my job and band stuff will surely fall into place soon. But the most important challenge facing me in everything I do is living out the lifestyle I learned in Mongolia.

Reflecting On This Summer

I left the USA excited for a cross-cultural experience, stoked for the gospel opportunities, expectant for God-encounters, thrilled about simply being in ‘the nations’, and relieved to get out of Waco and everything it had come to represent in a long and arduous time. I had been in Israel a few weeks prior, and still had the sight of Jerusalem in my eyes as I turned west and boarded a plane for Asia.

There is nothing more exhilarating than following Jesus into another country with no expectations or plans other than staying close by the Shepherd. And after becoming acclimated to this new place, this new language, these new people that had once been foreign but now had become friends; I found God in a way I forgot was possible.

He became my love again. I mean, really. He became all-sufficient again. He became the number one. The best one. He planted a seed inside of me that I, even now, cannot stop from growing. His relentless love was undaunted by cold times, days where I struggled to turn my heart towards him at all. And at the end of a summer with Jesus, I have found my hope anchored more deeply in Christ alone than it has been in longer than I can remember.

I learned that obedience is always best, whether I understand or not. So often I would have a plan or something I wanted to do that seemed good, but I would feel like God was saying to do something else. In the event I chose my own plan, it never quite worked (the store would be closed, the person wouldn’t show up, it would start raining outside, etc). But every time I obeyed what God said, things worked out strangely well.

Early on, it was hard for me to obey God- or to do much of anything good, honestly. I was comparing myself to others on the team, people back home, people in the church, and I constantly felt less-than.  In my confusion, I believed I was too far gone for God to set me straight without a miracle or crazy encounter with him. Yet He told me that he could change me with a single word. And He did. He invited me into His inner circle and told me that He was perfectly pleased with me how I am. I don’t have to behave like other people, have other people’s gifts, or live someone else’s life. Actually, He is proud of me when I’m completely myself, obeying Him…even if it feels unimpressive in the moment.

I also learned what rest and life are: Jesus. There is no rest or refreshment apart from Christ. There is no life outside of Christ. These truths have gone deep into my soul. And now I know that to ‘do something refreshing’ cannot be accomplished without Christ or without abiding in Him, according to Him. If it is, it will lack the very thing that makes it refreshing in the first place. And life is Christ also- life is something deeper than emotion and more profound in thought, and I have truly discovered that it is Christ himself. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

God stirred hunger deeply inside of me too. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so desperate for more of God, so thirsty for any bit of scripture or worship I find. It’s become more of a treasure to me than it has been in a while. I pray this only increases as I begin the discipleship school!

At the end of the day, what’s changed is my perception of God. It has increased: closer now to reality than before. And you know what? Apart from everything else, that is enough. I know God more. And it was all worth it.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;

my soul thirsts for you;

my flesh faints for you,

as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,

beholding your power and glory.

Because your steadfast love is better than life,

my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live;

in your name I will lift up my hands. (Psalm 63:1-4, ESV)

So here, on the other side of the world, I bring this blog series to its close. Thank you for keeping up with me. I hope you were blessed, envisioned, and encouraged by the stories I got to live in while in Mongolia. God is doing something incredible on that side of the world, and I shamelessly propose that you go and be a part of it sometime. I myself hope to do it again soon, as I continue to follow the Shepherd wherever he takes me on this wild adventure…

NINE

One week left.

It feels very strange to even think about this summer objectively. Being caught up in the daily life here—the relationships, the team schedule, the lack of responsibility—I forget that I’m in another country. I forget that I’m technically on a mission trip. Life here feels a lot like the norm now—not at all the schooltime routine of driving, cleaning my room, spending money, working, speaking English with everyone, and being in a thriving, established church. So to imagine the impending reality of America, Waco, Antioch Discipleship School is more than weird. I’ll leave that for my final post.

IMG_8465Since my last update, I’ve had a unique time here. Right after camp, the girls stayed a night in the Ramada hotel, and the guys had an awesome man night alone at the apartment. We ate a huge dinner at the coolest Indian restaurant and then had great conversations at home afterward. But the coolest thing that happened was the next morning–I had an encounter with God I will never forget for the rest of my life. If you want to know about it, ask me and I’ll gladly tell you about it!

After the sabbath day, we settled into the reality of our fast-approaching departure. But my week was defined by something I would never have expected. During our Tuesday church production meeting, we had a lot of things to plan because this last weekend was Antioch Mongolia’s 20 year celebration. We had more details to cover than ever before, and we wanted to make the Sunday celebration service as epic as possible. Brandon had the great idea of filming a video to play on Sunday, and though it was an extremely daunting task, we decided it would be worth it. Not only would it be a great encouragement for the church body on Sunday, but it would be a reusable tool to give Antioch Mongolia credibility on facebook and other online media outlets.

My partner in crime

my partner in crime

Literally all of the next 4 and a half days were completely dominated by the video project. I spent hours writing the script, capturing audio, and editing the soundtrack. Jeff spent hours filming in the city, and we both spent hours together editing, perfecting, and polishing the video. Despite lots of translation issues and errors, we finished the video during Jimmy’s sermon on Sunday morning (after pulling an all-nighter) and played it at the end of church. You can see it when it’s fully finished and uploaded online!

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20 Year Celebration

This year marks 20 years since Antioch began working in Mongolia.

The celebration was amazing. Although sunday morning church was awesome to say the least (one of our biggest turnouts yet, a 2 hour long service instead of one, and the one and only Jimmy Seibert preaching), the real deal was Saturday. Saturday was a four-ish hour long festival of a celebration with many of the older church network leaders, the Franzen clan, and all of the people from the good ol’ days. It was complete with a buffet, Mongolian worship, a waltz, a gymnastics routine, traditional singing and dancing, and of course, unbelievable stories.

I was blown away by the breadth of the Antioch movement. There were hundreds of people at this celebration (only a fraction of the church leaders, mind you), and hardly any of them spoke english. It was just amazing. I was in the same room as the Mongolian church. Not just “Mongolian believers” who are led by foreigners. I was standing among the Mongolians whose God is Yahweh.

Mextures

No words can describe what it’s like to hear Mongolians speak about the sacrifices they’ve made over the years for the gospel. To hear their impassioned cries of determination to see the gospel reach all of Asia. To see their faces as they try not to cry speaking about the worth of the cause of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not the missionaries’ god that they have somehow adopted and tried to follow. Jesus is their God. He is the Mongolian God. He really is their savior. And they really will follow Him till they die.

During this celebration (in the parts that happened to be translated) I learned that through the Antioch movement in Mongolia, we have churches and groups all throughout the Mongolian countryside, Russia, and other places I probably shouldn’t mention for safety’s sake. More than that, I found out that through the Antioch church network in Mongolia 6 previously unreached people groups have been engaged and partially reached!

Antioch is just a name. Jesus is the king and He’s the one impacting these countries. He would do it (and already is doing it) through anyone else if they were available. As Antioch, we’ve simply put our hand up in the air and made ourselves available! God, let us continue to keep our hand raised.

hope crosslin, pastor's daughter, cutest girl award, future spiritual legend

hope crosslin: pastor’s daughter, cutest girl award winner, future spiritual legend

Good News

Last Friday at the end of our open mic party we had worship and someone shared the gospel. I wasn’t there because I was still filming for the video. But when I came back to the Blue Sky (the hotel where our church meets), Eba told me he prayed and accepted Jesus! It’s a miracle! And literally 2 hours before I had prayed specifically for that night to be the night of salvation for him. God heard me and answered!

The downside is that he’s in the countryside again, and won’t get back till I’m about to leave. Hopefully I’ll get to hang out with him at least one more time. If not, Paul Triebel and Brandon Seibert are on serve team and they’re also friends with Eba! Oh the joy of long term church planting combined with short term missions.

Other great things that have happened:

– I’ve saved up money buying groceries and eating out less

– I’ve written on tons of new songs, some for Glenmerle and a LOT for church

– I’m starting to get some great vision for this next semester

– The new Antioch CD is gonna be sick

– I’m getting better at playing the Yatug

– Multiple people in others’ friend groups have gotten saved

– God is winning 24/7

Bad news: Karl Jreijiri went home already :(

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Two Adventures

This week I’ve been on two significant adventures in the mountains.

The first was on our Sabbath day (Monday). Everyday we look out the window and see this mountain

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just taunting us with its beauty, closeness, height, and glory. I’ve been wanting to climb it for a while, and thanks to Brandon’s pioneering, we made it happen.

Storytime. Elijah, Jeff, Brandon, and I ate at a delicious Xinjiang Chinese restaurant together and then took a taxi closer to the mountain. After sneaking through a construction site and crossing some railroad tracks, we came to a river. The water was freezing cold, but the sun was hot, so we waded chest-deep through and came out the other side smiling. Then we just climbed straight up the closest face of the hill.

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After getting to the first low peak, we noticed storms approaching. But they all seemed to be going past us toward the city. We continued up the mountain with little worries, oblivious to what might be on the other side of the mountain we were climbing.

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Halfway into the forested upper part of the mountain, the wind started blowing. Then we felt raindrops. By this time we were 80% up the mountain and needed to make a decision. Would it be better to turn around and go as fast as possible toward the nearest building on the side of the mountain (a 20 or 30 minute trip)? Or could we possibly find shelter at the top?

We decided to continue forward, but then the raindrops grew more frequent. Then it started raining. Then pouring. I saw some rocky cliffs toward the peak, so I bolted off the trail and up toward the cliffs.

Brandon, Elijah and Jeff quickly followed, running through dense underbrush that surrounded us up to our waist. We didn’t have time to avoid the evil Mongolian plants that give you a weeks’ worth of poison ivy pain in a one hour period. By the time we reached the cliff, our legs were burning, our clothes were wet, and we were getting cold.

Under the large cliff we found a ledge slanted enough to provide shelter from rain, so we huddled down together, too excited to feel the pain of the plants. Thunder crashed all around us and over us, and as the storm passed, we watched lightning strike the mountains in the distance.

Thankfully, what could have been a dangerous situation turned into an incredible moment of adventure. The rain passed, the thunder stopped, and we ascended the next 20 feet to the top. The view was certainly worth it!

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Our descent was rather peaceful, although the river rose a little higher from the rain. After a couple of hours, we were back home, warm, showered, and happy.

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The second adventure was yesterday and today- Brandon and I took a backpacking trip outside the city and camped on a hilltop. It was epic, it was unforgettable, it was really scary (still have no idea what that CREEPY noise was in the middle of the night), it was radical, and overall a blast. Crazy to think Brandon and I will be separated for such a long time! There are too many details to include, and I don’t know how to communicate them interestingly, so I’ll just show you a few pictures:

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Pray Pray Pray

These are my last days here! While part of it will be spent preparing for home, connecting with Brandon and other people here, and getting souvenirs, my biggest goal is to obey Jesus. I want to do whatever he says, and trust that it’s enough. I also want to prepare well coming home. Pray God gives me wisdom and clear direction for this last week, and pray that God uses me powerfully for the last days I’m here! It’s never too late to see someone healed, saved, or even just encouraged!

EIGHT

Two weeks from today I will come back to the USA. It’s surreal! But it’s the truth. So I’m making every day count. Camp last week was a total blowaway; God is really moving in our church. Now we’re in the crunch time of transition between the summer team and the serve team. Please pray the transition is smooth!

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Gachuurt

Camp was incredible. The location certainly helped, but it was also a blast playing games, spending time with Jesus, hearing incredible teaching, and worshiping Jesus. Thank you for praying- I think that part of why it was so good was the prayers of many friends around the world.

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Coming into camp, things were hectic. We had to plan and facilitate everything, and it was a huge endeavour. We were hoping around 30 or 40 people would come, believers and nonbelievers alike.

What ended up happening was so much more incredible.

When it came time to leave for Gachuurt, the village where our camp was located, there were close to 80 people who showed up. Half of the people there were complete strangers to our team- our church proved how bold they were by inviting many lost people! One of our girls invited literally just about everyone she knows. She ended up bringing at least 10 girls and guys, most of whom did not know Jesus.

One of the people she brought was a guy named Amara. He did not know Jesus, but throughout the camp he experienced the presence of God and heard the gospel. Through conversations and lots of time with Landon Weaver and Josh Franzen, he ended up deciding to give his whole life to Jesus. He was also freed of a smoking addiction, and he got baptized at church on Sunday after spending 3 extra days in the countryside with Landon, Alex, and Bret Franzen.

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Several other people believed in Jesus for the first time at camp- somewhere between 10 and 15. Of these, some were people who had never heard about Jesus, and some were people who had been in the church for years. All of them came to know God personally at a level they didn’t know was possible.

We also baptized 10 people in the river by our campsite. It was amazing to see Mongolians baptized! They really really get the gospel. I mean, really. And they fully understand the weight of following Jesus and being baptized. It was powerful. Also, a few people were re-baptized, including Jeff and Elijah. Those who were re-baptized did not understand the meaning of the gospel or the meaning of baptism when they were first baptized. This time it was a very significant experience done in obedience to Jesus.

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Two big highlights of camp for me were my personal times with God and the unity God was building in our church. Personally, I was in heaven. Gachuurt was one of the most breathtaking places I’ve been, and the whole time (with the exception of three or four unbelievable moments) it was completely surreal. The weather was beautiful, the hills went on forever, the mountains were tall, the river was wide and blue, the livestock roamed everywhere, gers dotted the plains, at sunset the light was heavenly, at night the stars were infinite, and there were actually trees. The whole thing was a huge gift from God.

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As for the unity of the church, I saw many friendships begin forming between new and old believers, as well as new church and old church members. This was HUGE! Every time I saw one of the old church girls hugging one of the newer members, or one of the new guys talking with an old church guy, I got so happy. God is doing it!

Although none of us really felt it at the time, camp was extremely monumental. At times it was freezing cold, exhausting, breathtaking, hilarious, physically challenging, overwhelming, and completely insane. But God was there. We met with Him in power- especially during our worship times. And many people’s lives will never be the same because of what happened there.

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The Bros

So I thought I’d let you in on some of the guys I’ve been reaching out to. Maybe sometime I can give you faces to go with the names, but for now the names will have to do.

Although I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve found the person of peace or the guy or guys, I have been able to really invest deeply in a couple of groups of bros. More importantly, I’ve been able to connect many guys to Antioch Mongolia- hopefully in a way that sticks!

These are just a few stories of what it’s been like to abide in and follow Jesus here…

Eba

Brandon met Eba and Battery in his first two or three weeks here. They were walking down the street with a guitar, and God highlighted them to Brandon, so he went and talked to them. He told them he communicates with God through music and through God’s spirit. “Spirit? What is that word- like a ghost?” they asked. “Yeah! It’s like ‘God’s good ghost’,” Brandon replied. Ever since, these guys have been affectionately referred to as the “God’s good ghost” guys (GGG for short).

Brandon and I have hung out with the GGG guys so much. Battery believes in science, Eba believes in shamanism, and their friends mostly believe in buddhism. The first time we spent time with them, Brandon and I both shared our stories and clearly communicated the gospel from creation to christ. They were very open to the gospel, but not at all ready to believe in Jesus.

As I have spent time with them since – at open mic nights, coffee shops, lunches, and walks in the city – Eba has become much more open to the gospel. He has a hard time believing it’s all not just a bunch of myths, but at the same time, he’s had some very interesting experiences recently that he can’t shake.

One night he had a really vivid nightmare in which demons were chasing him and trying to kill him. The next day, he got beat up by some drunk guys while walking down the street at night. When we talked that week, he didn’t know what to do with it all, and he finally asked God to show him if He was real (something Brandon and I had been telling him to do for weeks). He’s still figuring things out, but I believe that he’s close. If he comes to know Jesus, it’ll be huge in his family and in his friend group. And he’s also a very talented guitarist and musician, which we need.

Please pray for Eba! He’s the one I am fighting for the hardest, and probably my closest lost friend here in Mongolia.

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Zolboo

One day Elijah double booked. He couldn’t hang out with two guys in two different places at the same time, so he handed off one of the two to me. His name is Zolboo, and he was a barista at the coffee shop down the street we often hang out in. One day Elijah prayed for Zolboo, and he was so amazed- it was the first time anyone had ever prayed for him. I was excited to hang out with him! Elijah gave me his number, apologized to both of us, and then went out to the edge of town to hang out with his other friend.

I met Zolboo at the coffee shop and we walked over to a big square to find a restaurant. We had talked before at the coffee shop, but as we spent time together we really hit it off. Over lunch I found out that Zolboo believes in Jesus already- his sister’s friend was a Christian and had shared the gospel with him before. It was surprising and encouraging to find this out because sometimes it seems like Christians are hard to find. But God is at work- he has been and he will be!

Although Zolboo believes in Jesus, he’s definitely not a Christian. He believes in many things and thinks there are many ways to God. Still, he’s very open to the gospel, and clearly understands the difference between believing in Jesus and following Jesus. I told him about the exclusivity and inclusivity of Jesus’ call, and reiterated that following Jesus is a decision he has to make. Zolboo is another guy who’s close. Let’s pray God shows him Jesus is the only way!

Immediately after we parted ways, I felt like God told me I should pray for him. But I had already walked into my apartment and the elevator was already on its way down. Still, I felt a strong tug. A tug I couldn’t ignore. As the elevator doors opened before me, I knew I had to make a quick decision. I badly wanted to simply step onto the elevator, go upstairs, and rest. After all, by now Zolboo was probably pretty far away. Still, I want to live a life of radical obedience- of risk. Of faith. And would it really be that inconvenient to run back outside and chase Zolboo down?

I turned around with the elevator’s mouth gaping wide and sprinted out the door. As I ran through the courtyard I hastily pulled out my phone. I tried to make my fingers press the right buttons to call Zolboo as I raced in the direction I thought he left. Then I saw him! He had almost reached the street when he answered and turned around.

I was out of breath when I finally pulled up to him and explained that I wanted to pray for him. He gladly accepted and seemed blessed although nothing cool seemed to happen. But the best part had nothing to do with Zolboo.

Ulana and Aza

Right after Zolboo walked away, I turned- and when I turned I immediately saw two guys playing guitar on a bench. They looked like they were having fun. I decided to join.

One of the guys allowed me to play his guitar, so I pulled out my most impressive licks and then played along with Casablanca, the song he was listening to. They were enjoying it, so I showed them a few more songs. As we got to know each other, I learned their names, Ulana and Aza. Ulana is a particularly tall 21 year old with mediocre guitar skill. Aza is a thin 27 year old professional singer.

Soon after meeting them I asked what they believed in. Ulana said he believed in himself, and Aza didn’t speak English so I never got an answer. Then, I discovered they are in a band that practices in the building next to our apartment building. I invited all of them to our musician lifegroup the next day.

At lifegroup, Aza and Ulana connected well with our people and we found out some amazing things. First of all, their whole band wanted to spend time with us. Second, they loved us and they loved lifegroup. Third, Aza was a believer- actually, he used to be a worship leader! He didn’t know we were Christians at first, but when we started talking, he realized pretty quickly. He said he still believes in God, although he hadn’t been to church in about 10 years.

The next morning, his prodigal streak was broken. He and Ulana loved church, and Ulana was incredibly open to the gospel. Unfortunately, their band will be going on tour for about a month soon. But they’ve both hung out with us several times since, and although they aren’t following Jesus, they seem very open to the gospel. Aza is a good musician, too! I’m believing that when they get back, Brandon will be able to pull these two onto the worship team and into the church.

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Bumaa

My best friend in Mongolia. Bumaa doesn’t speak english that well, but he’s got such a great heart. And he speaks Russian. So we usually talk in a weird mix of Russian and English.

Bumaa’s sister Bubara is one of our key girls, and hangs out with my friend about 20 out of 24 hours every day. She and almost all her family are believers, and are involved in a couple of different churches here. I’m not sure how my friend met her, but she has been consistent, faithful, and so helpful throughout the trip. She and my friend fasted and prayed about whether or not she should join Antioch and felt peace about it, and ever since, she’s been nothing short of an answer to prayer.

Bumaa came to our musicians lifegroup with his sister several weeks ago, and we hit it off pretty quick. He’s got a great style, a great ear for music, and genuinely loves God. I think he’s been drained of community and life has been difficult, but being with our team has been really helpful for his faith. We’ve hung out a lot and played music together. One day I played Young Love for some people and he asked me to teach it to him- he picked it up pretty quick! He has such a good ear.

One thing that bonded us is his big dream of going to Hillsong College. If you didn’t know, that was my biggest dream in High School too. Looking back, I’m so grateful The Lord didn’t give me that dream – not because Hillsong isn’t amazing, but because if I had gone there I would have never had my life transformed the way it was in college and I would have never been a part of the Antioch Movement. And I feel ridiculously privileged to be able to say I’m a part of Antioch! I’ve never found another church family doing so much around the world for the gospel, reaching the unreached, and literally making history. Praise God, he always has our best in mind!

Right now, I need to make a crucial decision about Bumaa. I don’t want to pull him away from his church, but if he isn’t growing OR serving there, it would probably best for him and for the kingdom for him to jump into our community! Please pray that I would have heavenly wisdom in this situation, and that God would guide the whole relationship and situation. I really do want what’s best for the Kingdom, whatever that is.

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Other News

This weekend is the big 20-year celebration of Antioch Mongolia. As you know, my team is planting a new church, but all of our work is built on the foundation that has been laid by the older generation for the last 20 years. There is a movement of house churches throughout the nation, and our church in Ulaanbaatar is merely a piece of a really huge puzzle God’s putting together here. Jimmy Seibert and others who were involved in the church from the beginning will be here, and there will be a lot of celebration and thankfulness for what God has built here! He really does make all things new.

Other than that, I didn’t make a video update or anything, and there’s nothing else crazy that’s happened (other than one of the wildest experiences I’ve ever had with God- ask me about it), so I figured I could give you this instead:

Some of you may be familiar with this song. Some of you may not. It’s is a song from my new band Glenmerle. I made a really simple acoustic version while I was here in Mongolia, and although I don’t plan on selling it or promoting it right now, I wanted you to be able to at least hear it :)

Take it as a thank you for praying and staying involved in my life from thousands of kilometers away!

Prayer Requests

Please pray our team and our church stay unified. That is crucial. Pray that I know the Father’s heart and his love. Pray for our unsaved friends to have a revelation of Jesus that would cause them to open their heart and give their life to Him. Pray for us to continue to have divine appointments and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray for these last two weeks to be sweet!

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Thanks Josh Franzen for this sweet picture!