Mission field character training
I am sitting at the roadside under a torn canvas sunshade somewhere between Jaranwala and Lahore. A few minutes ago we tried to cross a badly arranged temporary bridge and the sharp angle of the steep ramp ripped off our whole exhaust pipe! It is about 44°, with a fierce sun and I guess we will be stuck here for over an hour while welders get to work.
Add to that a dodgy stomach and headache. Yesterday I broke the rule and drunk some tap water. They said it would be fine. Or perhaps it was shaking hands with countless people before eating with my fingers. Either way, since then the character training aspects of this trip have certainly intensified. In the home where we had lunch the toilet was directly adjacent to the kitchen where all the women were cooking and the toilet door had a huge hole in it.
“In some of the homes they have no door!” laughs Ghaffar.
Ghaffar Bhatti is my friend and leader of the ministry I am working with here in Pakistan called Gospel of the Kingdom Church Ministry (GKCM). Over the past four years I have had the privilege to build a relationship with him. Now I am back here for the second time to teach in his annual church camp and preach in a series of large public gospel meetings, known as crusades. As the guest speaker, I am asked not just to preach, but teach, counsel, lay hands on the sick and make courtesy visits to influential figures and precious members of the poorer Christian community.
Thus yesterday, after a team coaching morning led by Ghaffar, we had lunch with a family who can’t afford a proper toilet door and then took tea with a national PML politician and his son Hassan. Of course we take every opportunity to share the love of Jesus and pray for any needs. In this case I prayed for the politician’s back problem.
After commenting that he felt a change he suddenly tells a story, “I believe in these things which medicine cannot he explain. There was a man who got healed of kidney stones by witchcraft. After moving an egg over the man’s body they broke the egg and there were the stones inside!”
It was a kind of Moses and the Egyptian sorcerers moment:
“We are here to tell you that Jesus heals to show you that God is a loving Father. I am sure that witchdoctor has only a financial motive,” was my brief reply.
Later on we arranged to go swimming with Hassan way out in the country on his farm. With his friends, some of our team we enjoyed a short swim in the icy water pumped from deep in the ground.
“Is there a latrine anywhere?” I enquired. “Choose any field, but the plants are a little thicker on that side!” shouts Hassan gleefully! We all laugh and it reminded me how much the Lord has healed me. In the past I would have found such a situation highly painful and embarrassing.
As we were returning from our swim the wind started blowing and whipped up a fierce dust storm that reminded me of the movie ‘Twister’. Trees were bending and the sky turned dark brown. As we reached the city the wind was a brown river of dust teaming with shoals of plastic litter. Dark clouds were building and I expected to see a flying cow at any moment. The organisers were fighting a losing battle to secure the meeting area. My stomach cramps were increasing – character training again.
The character training has been particularly intense over the past 2 days. In Gojra we spent two nights in an abandoned home. The previous owner was a doctor who emigrated to the USA in the aftermath of the sectarian violence where Muslims set fire to over 100 Christian homes. He did his best to serve in that wounded community for a couple of years but finally took the opportunity to escape. The house was now empty except for a few beds and chairs with a thick layer of dust covering everything. Sometimes there was power for long enough to recharge a phone or laptop.
Acoustic and other terrorists
We slept on the roof, which would have been an idyllic experience with a diamond studded sky and a light breeze. But only three hours after I nodded off, the Muftis started singing the Koran. The torture continued for over an hour – amplified and distorted, from eight different minarets. Each minaret broadcast its own prayers and the expression of religious confusion could not be clearer.
At that moment, while praying for the breakdown of all microphones, I felt very proud to be Swiss – of course I am ashamed of our churches that terrorize the local population with their bells because they have nothing more to offer than medieval alarm clocks. But our nation voted against allowing new minarets to be built in our country. What better way to express solidarity with the victims of this terrible acoustic terrorism and brainwashing! How can a nation develop when no one ever wakes truly refreshed?
Talking of terrorism, in Gojra we had to shift our crusade location just three hours before the meeting. A threat came in to the local police chief from the mosques: “Stop those meetings or you will be responsible for dire consequences!” This put the local police in a very difficult position. The organiser had the permission from higher police authorities but local Islamic groups were threatening to take the law into their hands if we proceeded.
A compromise was reached and the meetings were moved to a different location in a catholic area. The last minute changes posed a huge logistical challenge for our local organiser and the crowd ended up being much smaller than expected. But we still had a powerful meeting and many were healed and received the message of the good news of the love of God. The threat tactics were reported in the newspaper the two days later.
Relying on God – flowing together
Back in Jaranwala, we returned to our host’s home around 19:00 and after frequent trips to the bathroom I began to get a little concerned about the evening meeting. Having spent the morning in team building and reconciliation work with the local church and the afternoon in networking with influential people in the city, I had once again had no time to prepare.
“Ghaffar I have absolutely no idea what to preach tonight. Why don’t you preach?” I pleaded.
“Don’t worry Brother! That happened to me many times. I sometimes don’t even know what I will preach until I take the microphone and open the Bible. The Lord will give you the message,” he said confidently.
I knew he was right and I began to sense that I would be talking about deliverance. With the severe weather and thunderstorms over many villages, the organisers wanted to cancel the meeting. But Ghaffar told them to proceed with the worship and see what happens. The previous night we had stood before over 1’200 people and seen the Lord touch many people as I preached a challenging message about maturity. “Seek the Kingdom of God as opposed to seeking miracles.” After leading the whole crowd into the presence of God and activating their spiritual senses we challenged them to start offering their lives to the Lord daily. Then we had prayed for hundreds personally.
Now on the second night it looked like we would be left with only a fervent few. I made a couple of notes on my laptop, visited the bathroom a few more times and then got dressed. When we arrived at the meeting grounds, the wind had whipped away our banners and several side screens that are used to control the access of people to the meeting area. A small crowd of fewer than 500 was gathered and the security team was nervous due to their lack of control.
The worship team were in full swing and after a Sunday school group did a song and dance, Ghaffar took the microphone. Not knowing my intentions he introduced me and proclaimed in Urdu that many people would receive deliverance tonight. I took the mic and began with a call for testimonies from the previous night.
A man came forward and testified that he had been healed of a severe headache when I prayed for him. I sensed the Lord wanted to do more so laid hands on him and asked the Holy Spirit to help him some more. He was immediately knocked unconscious by the power of God. Charismatics call it being ‘slain in the spirit’. Sceptics call it fainting – but that never explain all aspects of the phenomena including the visions, emotions or healing that people experience when they are touched by God in this way: mostly people talk about deep peace and joy that floods them.
As this man lay there on the stage with God doing some kind of deep internal healing, I asked his friends if they thought I had paid him to act for me. “No way they! That is not possible,” they shouted emphatically.
A powerful deliverance anointing
At this point, there were two ladies heading towards the stage supposedly to give their testimony. Suddenly one of them began to scream violently fell writhing to the ground. The fifty children seated at the front scattered like frigthened monkeys and the second lady flipped into an obsessive-compulsive religious routine. She was making the sign of the cross and praying so frantically that it looks like she would faint at any moment. We tried to calm her down but the manifestations only increased and she soon fell to the ground. We rebuke the demons and finally got them seated safely on chairs.
Then I addressed the crowd and began to explain everything was just witnessed. I talked about the power of the Holy Spirit and taught about demons and deliverance. I shared my personal deliverance testimony and challenged the men about purity and anger. I addressed the women and explained that manipulation and fear can often keep them from freedom in Christ.
Then we called people forward for deliverance. Many came and we prayed for them one by one for about one hour. Our local team were getting the hang of the process of controlling the flow of people for prayer and we had a fairly ordered line for most of the time. Our catchers were kept busy as many people fell into a ‘trance’ as we laid hands on them. An elderly lady with one protruding front tooth made a very ghoulish impression as I prayed for her and a spirit of fear manifested with a loud lament.
I prayed for quite some time for a crippled man. He could only walk with support but after about 15 mins of prayer he was able to stand upright and balance himself for about 30 seconds without any help. A huge grin spread over his face and I left him with the team to keep ministering to him.
One by one we worked down the prayer line, until there was no one left. The security team had wanted to stop me much sooner, but I had promised the crowd, that if they were patient we would pray for everyone who waited. As we finally finished I heard firm instructions to leave immediately. I was a little irritated wanting to hang around and say some good-byes and chat, but I was told that a group of four Muslims had been asking to personally give me a copy of the Koran. “We never know their intentions,” explained Ghaffar with a tired note in his voice as we walked in darkness back to the house.
Suddenly the supernatural strength that had been carrying me for the last three hours began to subside and a wave of sheer exhaustion flooded through my body. My back began to ache and I staggered to my bed. I felt totally weak, drained and weepy. This is the familiar moment of transition, when the job is done and the Lord reminds me that I am nothing but an empty vessel. I can do nothing on my own. In such moments I desperately want to be home again with my wife, I am close to tears and can hardly carry my laptop.
I flung myself on the bed and my body was wracked with pain as I humbled myself before the Lord and thanked him for all he had done during the trip. Someone from the team rolled me over and gave me a fierce back massage. Then the evening meal arrived and was laid out on the bed. We all tucked into the roti and chicken and after that I enjoyed a phone call with Isabelle. At 1.00 I went to sleep on the roof and slept right through acoustic terrorist’s prayers. Around 6:30 am the sun started to become aggressively hot and it was time to go inside or get burned.
A supernatural love
Back to the roadside where I am writing: Our exhaust pipe has now been welded back on for about 20 Swiss Francs. Having drunk half a litre of Pepsi I am feeling much better and we are back on the road towards Lahore. On my left children are jumping into a dirty brown canal. We are on a dual carriageway with a concrete central barrier, but a donkey cart or any other vehicle driving against the flow of the traffic surprises no one. My laptop is coated in dust and a child’s elbow is sticking in my back. We overtake a herd of water buffalos and the old lady in the back seems to shout whenever she talks – like most people here. I am grateful for my noise-cancelling headphones and Israel Houghton’s album “Love God, Love People” which allows me to recharge for a while. The earphone cups are falling apart as I must have left the headphones in the car at some point – the vicious heat quickly melts glue and plastic and I am reminded of the many challenges people face here.
“Do you like Pakistan?” many asked me.
“No I love it” I reply with a burden on my heart. Only the Love of God would ever make me want to come here. And these people are like children without a father. Every detail of social life expresses the lack of parental love and training: the craving for attention of some and the sheer rudeness of others, the endless filth and the infantile tendency to blame the government and the CIA for all their problems.
“These people are animals,” said the veteran PML politician bitterly.
But I am thinking about all the open hearts I have met and about all the outpouring of God’s love that we experienced together. We have seen a miracle almost every day. And I know that while God loves this orphan nation, so few know him. The energy of God’s love is like the renewable energy resources that Pakistan possesses – abundant and endless. If only they could learn how to use it.
A miracle for a pregnant mother
Well I am certainly learning to tap into the power of God’s love and sometimes it happens in very unusual ways and I found myself doing very unusual things. Ghaffar comes off the phone. He has just spoken with a pregnant woman in Lahore that we prayed for the previous Sunday. Sonia’s ultrasound had indicated a severe case of Hydrocephalus – water on the brain. An abortion would almost cetainly be recommended.
Two weeks before this trip Bob Hazlett had prophesied that my wife Isa would start to have an anointing for healing of brains. Now alone in Lahore, I imagined myself holding Isabelle’s hand in my left hand as I held the Sonia’s hand in my right hand. “Lord let that word become true now. Let the healing anointing for brains flow through me to this baby” I prayed. As I pictured the connection being made I felt nothing but Sonia’s hand began to vibrate powerfully. She said she felt the power of God flowing into her body.
Now as we are travelling we remembered to call her to ask what happened at the hospital. “Good news” smiles Ghaffar “They did another scan and the baby is perfect”. Thank you Jesus! Thank you Father for confirming you love and honoring our faith like this. At moments like this I am overwhelmed by the fear of the Lord. It is a weighty feeling of awe and reverence, mixed with an awareness of the sheer privilege to be part of such happenings.
The enemies within and without
I think about all the false accusations and defamation that Ghaffar faces. I have communicated on Facebook with other ‘Christians’ whose obvious intention was to sow discord and suspicion. With financial motives, these people position themselves as the only ones doing an effective job for God and try to recruit me to work with them.
I reflect on the incident the previous night with the Muslims and the reaction of our security. I see the sadness in the eyes of our gunmen and I can’t say for sure how much the atmosphere is poisoned by fear and how real the danger is in many specific situations. There seems to be a big discrepancy between the number of guns on display during the meetings and the fact that we then drive home unaccompanied and unarmed.
“That is because these things usually happen at the crusades,” explains Ghaffar who still varies his driving routes in Lahore and sleeps in different houses on a regular basis.
“Do you think there is a real danger or is it just empty threats?” I enquire.
“Every Muslim can be a terrorist.” he says. “These things have happened, not just here”. He lists about ten cities where Muslims burnt many Christian homes during his lifetime. A week after my return a crowd of one thousand burnt a man alive in Bahawalpur. He was apparently a mad man who tore up the Koran. The police arrested him but were powerless to protect him from an enraged mob.
But here I am preaching that perfect love casts out all fear. And we are seeing progress in the towns where GKCM is working. With every new meeting, the news of miracles spreads and less and less security is necessary. More and more people show up to hear the message of a Heavenly Father who wants to heal and restore them and lead them into a life of peace, joy and reconciliation.
“After your last visit revival broke out among us” testifies one of the Jaranwala team. “But then it all fell apart and I even stopped praying and meeting the other Christians” confessed a young lady. There were accusations and divisions concerning a romantic relationship between two unmarried young people. This is a very delicate matter in this culture where marriages are usually arranged. The team split and the power of the Holy Spirit was quenched. So now we had the challenge and joy of leading them into complete reconciliation. But I wonder what we could have done better.
Our plan was to spend a day with the team but an accumulation of factors limited the time available. Before one complains about punctuality one has to remember that something as simple as making a cup of tea can take 20 minutes. Everything takes much longer and life is so much less predictable than in the West.
Some people have accused Ghaffar of operating a one-man show. But the truth is quite different. In the church in St Mary’s Colony, Lahore, he has two other pastors, many elders and deacons, Sunday school teachers and worship leaders: in total there about 20 people in leadership positions of one kind or another. The finances are carefully handled by Yusuf, whose integrity and spirit is evident. During the ministry times in the camp Ghaffar deliberately held back to let others grow in the gifts and anointing and we saw that many of his team can minister effectively. Beyond this he is working regionally in an apostolic role, training other pastors, leading new initiatives and crusades.
Pointers for future developments and strategy
Most of all I would like to see a more intense interaction and training of the local teams on the crusade days. Some mission analysts have criticised mass meetings saying the fruit does not last. But the experience in Jaranwala shows that the problem is not the mass meeting itself but the problem of staying connected and involved in the lives of the team. I also believe that in the context of mass meetings, we can improve the communication of kingdom values and impartation of kingdom culture to the teams we work with. On the local team side, more people and better delegation would be needed so that the spiritual leaders are not totally absorbed with practical arrangements throughout the time of our visit.
If we want to scale up our involvement and travel in with a team, we do face is the difficulty of finding educated people (English speakers) who are willing to pour out their lives. All that remains is to keep on working with those who make themselves available. It demands a greater reliance on the power of the spirit and less on wisdom and understanding.
Generally when it comes to teamwork and church life, I believe in evolution and not revolution, formation (as in the French meaning education) as opposed to reformation. My experience shows that this seems to be closer to the Father’s heart. He prefers the gentle guidance that comes out of love expressed and trust earned. The very essence of the Good News is that it is irresistable when proclaimed and demonstrated with Christ-like humility and true anointing. It is all too easy to blame the hearer when we have not communicated the heart of God to the people. Because his love never fails, the most important thing is for us to be filled with his love.
Then he will continue to draw people to himself and he will build his church as the wonderful mosaic and beautiful body that it already is and is becoming more and more.
p.s. Fine and fit again.
In the picture left above you see a family from the church in Lahore who made a special meal for me on my last Friday there. Goat’s testicles with kidney and heart.Deaconess Mama Shameen, (green dress – white shawl) prayed for my stomach after that meal! Within 12 hrs I was fine and have been ever since.