I am primarily an evangelist and teacher who travels around the world in apostolic ministry as God leads and enables me. In addition to preaching and teaching the Bible, I mentor our key partners to be more strategic and impactful for the Gospel in their countries and cultures, just as they continue to mentor me. I am relationally focused rather than program or project focused in ministry relationships and partnerships.
"...they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts..."
Dear Friends & Partners,
Patt and I bid you warm Christmas Greetings in the love of the Lord Jesus. When you open and read this latest email report, you will be involved in the last days leading up to Christmas. And like most of us, you will be doing some last minute shopping. As we all know, giving is what Christmas is all about. But first and foremost, it is about God's gift of love to us through Jesus Christ. And on the basis of His gift to us, we are motivated to give back to Him – just like the Magi did. Jesus made it clear that when we give to others in need, we really give to Him (Matt. 25:30).
Giving to those in need is exactly what Murli Menon and his team have been doing ever since the devastating cyclone hit Orissa, India, on October 12th. They have continued to be our faithful "boots on the ground" from then until now. Recently Murli visited his team there and helped in the latest relief efforts for over 1,000 people. And since the vast majority of these people are either animists or Hindus, this relief effort is a great opportunity for the Gospel. It is a wonderful opportunity to practically share the love and compassion of Christ to the poor – most of whom are Dalits, or "Untouchables."
Murli helping prepare the Relief Bags for some of the more than 1,000 people who recently came for help.
The line was almost endless, but everyone was given a bag of relief items. Murli's hands are an extension of YOUR hands to these needy Dalits.
Each person went home with a bag of fresh food and clean water. Thank you for partnering with us through Murli to minister to these people in the Name of Christ!
Through a timely and generous gift of $5,000 from one of our ministry partners, Murli has been able to rebuild a church that was badly damaged by Cyclone Phailin. They have already torn down the old damaged walls, laid a new strong foundation, and the new walls are going up! They hope to have the church ready for the local Christians to use by Christmas. What a timely Christmas present this is to these dear humble saints – our brothers and sisters in Christ!
Murli in the old door frame from the damaged church. The church's original door was saved and salvaged.
Murli in front of the old church being torn down. Murli meets with a few of the church members to offer encouragement.
The new church foundation is laid. Cement blocks are bought and brought on location.
The workers begin to put up the walls. The project provides much needed work for some of the local people.
The walls go up quickly, and are soon up to window level.
The walls at their current level.
Soon the roof will go on. The door that will be open to all in the area to hear the Gospel.
The growing congregation worshipping outside until the new church building is completed.
Sitting on the floor in the style that is traditional in India as the Pastor leads in prayer and worship.
Singing and praising the Lord even after the Cyclone. A weekly Bible Study in the Pastor's Home next to the church.
Once the new building is complete, services will be moved there. A Dalit sister prays to the Lord with tears and passion.
The Pastor and some members outside of their new church building praising God for the partnership that has made this possible.
God bless those of you who have already given for this project. We hope you will continue to "give like the Magi" over Christmas and through New Years. And if God has blessed you with some additional resources that you need to give before the end of 2013 for tax purposes, please consider a gift to Murli and Usha for their on-going ministry to the more than 400 children they have adopted and care for in Children's Homes.
Finally, by God's grace, I hope to personally visit Orissa in March on my next trip to Asia. It will be a joy to meet and worship with these dear brothers and sisters in Christ in their new "Christmas Church!"
In His Christmas Love for them,
JL & Patt
CHAMPA CHOELING…”PLACE OF LOVE”
Dear Friends & Partners,
As you know from earlier emails, the Tibetan people are some of the most unreached people on earth. To date there are less than 200 known Tibetan Christians in the entire world! By God's grace, we have had a vital partnership with Pala "Father" Nima Tshering for nearly 3 decades. Their ministry is Champa Choeling, or "Place of Love."
Pala is the spiritual patriarch of Tibetan Christianity. And at the age of 97, he is still strong in the Lord and in his work among the Tibetans in Nepal, India and the Diaspora. As far as we know, this is the only and oldest indigenous Tibetan ministry in the world.
Because of its uniqueness, this indigenous Tibetan ministry should be the easiest for us to raise monthly support for. Sadly, it is the hardest! Every month we have to scrape up undesignated funds to send them the monthly support of $2,000 to run their ministry. This is a "bargain" when you realize that it takes from $3,000 - $6,000 to support a foreign missionary a month. Sometimes more. And this monthly support takes care of 15 Tibetan orphans or semi-orphans who have lived at Champa Choeling since they were little children.
Pala & Amala Tshering (middle) with the 15 young people of Champa Choeling that we have supported since they were small children. Here they are seen wearing some of the new school clothes that we recently bought for them. We hope you will help sponsor them this Christmas!
I am sending this pre-Christmas appeal to you so that you can help Patt and me with the final $2,000 we need for December. We also hope you will prayerfully consider some level of support for this historic and unique ministry for 2014. You will be a partner in one of the most unique ministries in the world!
In partnership with you to reach Tibetans,
JL & Patt
PS: As you know, Patt wrote a book on Pala's life and the ministry of Champa Choeling. If you have not received one already, we would love to send you one FREE to help inform and edify you on Pala's story, and to help you to understand the historic and contemporary challenges of reaching Tibetans for Christ.
Dear Ministry Friends & Partners,
When you receive this email this Wednesday, Dec. 3rd, Patt and I will be landing in Nairobi, Kenya for 10 days of ministry – primarily among the Samburu Tribe. This will be our last major mission trip of the year. Patt returns on Dec. 15th and I return on Dec. 19th after a quick tag-on-trip to Zimbabwe. Please be praying for this trip since we have hardly caught our breath from our recent trip to Zimbabwe! Now, about Santa...
All of my adult life I have had an on-going battle with Santa Claus! And because he continues to grow in popularity and influence, I have obviously lost the fight! When it comes to Christmas, Santa Claus is gaining in influence and I am waning!
I have just finished writing a rather long book on Christmas entitled: When God Became Man. It is my latest salvo in my ongoing battle with the secularization of Christmas and the replacement of Jesus Christ with Santa Claus. This chapter on The Santa Claus Myth is the last chapter of that book – which is over 300 pages! Patt and I are sending this eBook to you in the hopes that it will help you re-center your Christmas on the Lord Jesus. Because of the size of the book, we will be offering it to you in chapter form. Click here to read chapter one of When God Became Man, and be watching in the coming weeks for the next segment.
If you find this book helpful, I hope you will pass it along to other family members and friends who might also benefit from the spiritual, Biblical and historic truths upon which these studies are based. So, buckle your seat belts and let’s begin with the last chapter first!
But, let me make it clear at the beginning, that I have not engaged in this on-going battle with Santa Claus and Christmas because I am a Scrooge. Anyone who knows me will testify to the fact that I do not go around with a scowl on my face saying “Bah! Humbug!” By nature and temperament I am a very positive, optimistic, up-beat, enthusiastic person who loves life! Every day is an adventure for me – and has been ever since I was a little boy. And, even though I am in my seventh decade, I am still living the adventure of my life – hopefully to God’s glory and the good of others.
I love Christmas because I love Christ! How can you love one without loving the other? However, I love the Biblical Christmas – not the secular Christmas that is such a commercial counterfeit. I believe that Santa is the primary con-man for the counterfeit Christmas! He is the front-man for the promotion of a Christ-less Christmas. Every year in America, the commercial insanity begins on “Black Friday” and intensifies through the “After Christmas Sales” from December 26th till the end of the year. During that time there is a growing crescendo of commercialism – all in the name of Christmas!
But that was not always the case. “Once upon a time,” there was a really good Santa Claus whose name was Saint Nicholas. Let’s hit the pause button for a few moments for a historic refresher on this very real and Godly man.
Nicholas was a Greek who lived in the fourth century in Asia Minor, in what we know today as southern Turkey. He was born into a very wealthy family with privilege and status. From a very young age, he was a serious and dedicated Christian. Sadly, his parents died in an epidemic that swept the region when he was a young boy. By God’s providence, he was raised by a very dedicated Christian uncle, also named Nicholas, who further mentored and tutored the young Nicholas in the faith.
As a result of his serious commitment to Christ, young Nicholas dedicated all of his inherited wealth to helping the poor. He was motivated by the words of Jesus to another rich young man several hundred years earlier: “Sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven” (Lk. 18:22).
Because of Nicholas’ radical obedience to those words of Jesus, he used his wealth to help the poor, needy, sick and suffering people around him – especially children. Tradition tells us that Nicholas saved the young daughter of a poor family who was about to be sold into slavery. At night after the family was asleep, Nicholas secretly tossed into the window of their house enough gold coins to free her from this debt unto slavery. Tradition further says that the coins either landed in a shoe – which resulted in the tradition in some countries of putting out shoes for St. Nicholas to put coins into. Another version said that the coins landed in some socks that were hung up to dry – thus the tradition of hanging up stockings for St. Nicholas to fill on Christmas Eve.
Whether the coins landed in a child’s shoe or stockings, we may never know for sure. The important point was Nicholas’ generous giving to the poor. And as a result of his giving, that poor young girl was saved from indentured slavery.
So Nicholas had a great heart for needy children. However, his generosity did not stop there. Because his town was on the Mediterranean Sea, he also had a great concern and compassion for the many poor sailors who hung around the ports, as depicted in the painting below. He reached out to them in the love and compassion of Christ to bring them into the “Ship of Zion.”
Understandably then, Nicholas soon gained a wide reputation for his piety and generosity. As a result of his prayers and devoted lifestyle, miracles also reputedly took place to the degree that he gained the reputation of “Nicholas the Wonderworker.” Apparently God expressed His gifts of healing and miracles through Nicholas because of his dedication and humility. Eventually Nicholas was appointed as the "Bishop of Myra" while still a relatively young man.
But, under the vicious persecution by the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, Nicholas suffered greatly for his faith – like many of his contemporaries. This savage attempt to stamp out Christianity was known as the “Diocletian Persecution” (AD 303 - 311). It was the last and bloodiest persecution of Christianity by the Roman Empire. During this reign of terror by Diocletian, Nicholas was both exiled and imprisoned – along with thousands of other Christians, pastors, bishops and church leaders.
After the fall of Diocletian, Constantine became the Roman Emperor. History reports that Constantine was “converted” to Christianity. But regardless of the authenticity of his conversion, Constantine did radically reverse the politics of hostility carried out by Diocletian. As a result, in AD 324 Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Historians and theologians still debate whether this was a blessing or a curse for Christianity. A strong case can be made for both perspectives. No doubt this political recognition of Christianity by Rome was a “two-edged sword” that brought into the church some of both.
After his release from prison, Nicholas was one of the bishops who attended the first ecumenical council of the Christian Church known as the Council of Nicea. It was held in AD 325 and was convened by Constantine. It is very important to note that the primary focus of that first church council was Christology, or the nature of Jesus Christ as the “Son of God.”
A heresy had crept into the church led by a man known as Arius of Alexandria, Egypt. While most of the Alexandrian tradition was staunchly orthodox, Arius thought and taught differently. He ultimately denied the deity of Jesus. Arius came to believe that Jesus did not eternally preexist but came into being by the act of God the Father at the conception of Jesus in the Virgin Mary. So Arianism was one of the earliest Christological heresies to infiltrate the church. Sadly, it is still very much alive today through the “liberal Jesuses” who have been stripped of His full deity by groups like the “Jesus Forum.”
As we know from the New Testament, Jesus’ claims of deity were questioned from the very beginning of His public ministry in Nazareth. And He was ultimately condemned and crucified for blasphemy – or claiming to be God. Even though His deity was confirmed through His signs, miracles, healing, resurrection and ascension – skeptics continued to doubt and disbelieve. Many false interpretations came forth that were antichrist – just as Jesus had warned (Matt. 24:5). Some of the New Testament Epistles were written to face and correct those wrong interpretations of the Person and Work of Christ (John, Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, I John, etc).
As I pointed out in an earlier study in this series, Arianism was one of the first heresies that emphasized the humanity of Jesus to the neglect of the deity of Jesus. Therefore, the Arians were also “anti-Trinitarians.”
Constantine convened this first church council to resolve this issue about the nature of Christ. Regardless of the validity of his conversion or depth of his theological understanding, Constantine clearly perceived that this controversy struck at the heart of the Christian faith. It must be resolved once and for all. So he used his political power to convene this first ecumenical church counsel since the one recorded in Acts 15.
At this point you may be asking yourself: “What in the world does all this have to do with Christmas and Santa Claus?” Good question. My answer: “Everything!” You see Bishop Nicholas was one of the delegates and participants in this historic Council of Nicea. He was one of those early champions of Christology who signed this theological document resoundingly condemning Arianism and affirming both the full humanity and full deity of Jesus Christ. The document that came out of this first church council is known as the Nicene Creed, which affirms that Jesus was both “fully God” and “fully man.” Many churches in the Eastern Orthodox tradition still read or recite this creed in their weekly services to this day.
History also tells us that during these debates over the person of Jesus Christ at Nicea, Bishop Nicholas became so upset with Arius that he got up and slapped him in the face! Imagine that! “Santa Claus” becoming so angry over someone demeaning Jesus Christ that he would slap them! While Nicholas was strongly reprimanded for this zealous outburst of anger, it shows that the true Santa Claus was a champion of Biblical orthodoxy! He was passionate about his love for Jesus Christ!
Eventually, Bishop Nicholas was canonized in Greek Orthodoxy as a saint – which he would never have agreed to in life. But it is clear from church history that Nicholas played a strategic role in the life of the early church. He was not only a generous giver to people in need; he was also a staunch defender of orthodoxy – especially Christology. He stood up for the historic Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures. He did not compromise his belief in the deity of Christ even though it was not “politically correct” – which led to his persecution and imprisonment under Diocletian. And under Constantine, he continued his bold stance as a lover of Jesus, believer in the Bible and defender of orthodoxy. (Please see The Carolina Study Center for additional resources on The Story of Santa Claus by New Directions alumni Rev. Stephen Crotts).
So whether it was politically correct or not, Nicholas would not compromise on the Person and Work of Christ as revealed in the Bible. He did not let anything or anyone distort or detract from Jesus Christ. He refused to let Christ be taken out of Christmas!
That’s why all of the early depictions of St. Nicholas show his Christian commitment. His miter, robes and vestments all have crosses on them and in his hand he holds the shepherd’s staff of the church. So the real Santa Claus was a lover of Jesus…a lover of the church…a lover of the Bible…a lover of children…a lover of the poor and needy. That’s a Santa Claus we can believe in and be excited about at Christmas!
Any wonder then that Satan wanted to replace St. Nicholas with a colorful counterfeit! Someone who would have some of the same spirit of generosity and good will – but without the emphasis on Jesus and the Church. Someone with many of the attributes of Christ but was really at heart antichrist. In other words, someone who would shift the emphasis from Jesus to self and from giving to receiving.
By calculated satanic deception, the modern Santa Claus has totally eclipsed the historic St. Nicholas. As a result, Nicholas has largely been relegated to the dustbin of history. And, in the evolution of Christmas, Santa Claus has been completely secularized, sanitized and commercialized. He has become the best friend that merchants ever had! Where would they be without his salesmanship to hawk their merchandize?!
As the historic St. Nicholas was totally separated from the mythological Santa Claus, the church increasingly lost its control over Christmas. As Christmas has been almost totally secularized, Jesus has become politically incorrect. The manger has been marginalized. The crèche has been banned from public places. Christ has been increasingly excised from Christmas. It is no longer all about Him. It is now all about us!
The true Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, died on December 6, AD 343. And the true spirit of Christmas has been slowly dying ever since. Only the people in the Greek Orthodox Church continue to commemorate the anniversary of his death, called “St. Nicholas Day.” Isn’t it sad that only Christians in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition remember the life and death of St. Nicholas? Yet, even to the majority of them, St. Nicholas has become little more than a venerated gilded icon. In reality, he too has lost much of his connection with the historic Christ of Christmas.
Across the centuries, Nicholas has evolved into a venerated saint that is prayed to and worshipped. He has become very much like the Virgin Mary in Catholicism. Just like Mary is prayed to and through in Catholicism through unending “Hail, Marys,” Nicholas has become another intercessors between believers and Jesus. Therefore, he has also become an antichrist that has eclipsed Christ.
So Christian history shows that Satan is just as deceptive within the church as he is in the world when it comes to perpetrating the “spirit of antichrist.”
But regardless of the spiritual corruption that has taken place across the decades, I have no criticism or conflict with the real historic Santa Claus – St. Nicholas. He is one of the exemplary patriarchs of the early church who deserves our attention, respect and emulation. Nicholas left us many great examples to follow in our Christian lives – especially at Christmas time. He was a very generous person who selflessly practiced the words of Christ: “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). And he was a staunch defender of “…the faith once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3) – especially in the area of Christology. To Nicholas, nothing or no one was more important than the Lord Jesus! He clearly understood that Christmas was about one Person and one Person alone – Jesus Christ!
Any wonder, then, that the evil one has virtually eclipsed the historic St. Nicholas with the mythological Santa Claus? He has been so successful in passing off this jovial commercial counterfeit that few people – even Christians – know much about St. Nicholas today. Other than a vague familiarity with his name, they know little of his selfless life as a champion of Christology.
Today, the usurper, Santa Claus, has become the reality in the minds of most people. As long as he grows in influence to the demise of St. Nicholas and Jesus Christ, I will continue my annual combat with him! I will do all I can to expose him as a cheap economic counterfeit of the historic St. Nicholas – a defender of the faith…a provider for the poor…a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
But, once again, I don’t expect to win this battle with the majority of people – even Christians. Santa Claus has become too entrenched in our Christmas traditions. He is the primary source of our “buying and giving” during the Christmas Season. Without Santa, Christmas would be an economic bust! Since the bottom line of Christmas is the bottom line – economics can never again be divorced from Christmas. We all know that it is between Thanksgiving and Christmas that most merchants make their biggest profits of the year. Christmas tips their scales toward profit or loss for the year. Santa is their primary salesman – along with Mrs. Claus and their elves that are busy all year preparing the “stuff” that we think will make us happy! To question Santa’s role is to attack the economics of Christmas – which is what Christmas is all about in today’s consumer-driven society.
Across the years I have learned that my fight with Santa Claus is not a popular battle. To question the validity of Santa Claus is about as popular as flag burning! It is like insulting your mother or father! After all, Santa Claus has become as acceptable as motherhood, hot dogs, apple pie, ice cream and the American Flag! It is considered a desecration to question any of them! Regardless, I will continue to “…fight the good fight of the faith” (I Tim. 1:18; 6:12) – win or lose! So far…I’m losing.
Like most American children, I grew up believing in the mythological Santa Claus. Not the one from Asia Minor – but the one who lives at the North Pole! He was annually celebrated and welcomed in our home every December 25th. Like other children, I left cookies and milk for him by the chimney so he could have a quick snack as he unloaded the gifts he had brought for my siblings and me. We were always delighted on Christmas morning to see that he had eaten his snack – with only a few crumbs left behind as certain evidence of Santa’s presence!
But through the intrigue of my older brother, Eddy, a plot was set up to see Santa personally. We wanted to see him as he squeezed down the chimney in our front room with his bulging bag of toys. Being the shorter and smaller of the two, I was put inside a small octagonal table my parents had brought from Asia on a missionary trip before we were born. It had a removable top that allowed me to get inside. It also had a series of small horizontal openings that were just big enough for me to spy on Santa. It was the perfect hiding place to await his secretive entrance – hopefully announced in advance by the sound of his reindeer and sleigh on the roof of our house. Scrunched inside the table, I would be able to see Santa – but he would not be able to see me. Or at least that’s what I hoped. At that young age, I was not sure if Santa had x-ray vision or not! Still, it was worth the risk.
I think you can surmise the rest of the story. After what seemed like hours of being squashed inside the small table, no Santa! Finally near midnight, I saw two people enter the room in their bathrobes – which weren’t red! Nor did the man have long white hair and a beard like Santa. Neither did either one come down the chimney. These two Christmas intruders came from the direction of my parents’ bedroom! Even though the room was very dark, their forms looked very familiar as they put wrapped presents under the Christmas tree. As I listened to them whisper to each other, their voices sounded just like my parents!
I was both relieved and grieved. My pounding heart was relieved that the two people were not thieves! But my heart was disappointed that they were not Santa and Mrs. Claus!
I waited until they had finished “playing Santa Claus” and returned to their bedroom for a “long winter’s nap.” After everything was quiet and the “coast was clear,” I climbed out of the table – both enlightened and bewildered! What was I now to do with this disturbing news? How was I to break it to my older brother and younger sisters that there was really no Santa Claus?! How was I to tell them that Santa and Mrs. Claus were none other than Daddy and Mother?!
While I knew I had to tell my brother who had conceived this “Christmas plot,” I knew I dared not tell my little sisters, Hannah and Judy. I feared they would be crushed beyond consolation! So, I let them sleep on in their naïveté with Christmas fantasies filling their dreams.
Stealthily, I lifted the top of the table and crawled out – careful not to awaken Santa and Mrs. Claus, sleeping in their bedroom close-by, as I put the top back on. I quietly tiptoed back to the bedroom Eddy and I shared – careful not to step on the squeaky boards in the hallway. Though half asleep, he was awaiting me for my report. When I told him what I had seen, he replied with older brother confidence: “That’s what I thought! I knew there was NO such person as Santa Claus! It’s all make-believe!”
After discussing our findings a bit more, we soon fell asleep. We were still excited about the coming Christmas morning and unwrapping the presents that were under the Christmas tree. At that point, it mattered little whether they from Santa Claus or Mom and Dad! After all, the presents were the real issue – regardless of where they came from and by that early age, we had already imbibed the popular mentality that “getting gifts” was really what Christmas was all about.
My parents did instill the tradition of reading the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke before we opened the presents. Then we would have prayer – and every one had to pray. How much attention do you think we paid to Doctor Luke when we could see those presents under the tree?! And how sincere do you think our prayers were on Christmas morning? Do you think we were really thinking about the baby Jesus? Hardly.
But like many other well-intentioned Christian parents, my parents still took us through the motions of trying to “keep Christ in Christmas.” And I am glad they did. At least in our young hearts and minds, we knew that Jesus had something important to do with Christmas. But we would rather leave that to Sunday School – and get on with opening presents from Santa Claus!
On that special “…night before Christmas”, when I was about 5 years old, I moved from the world of fantasy to reality. Santa Claus fell from the world of reality and moved into Fantasy Land. With his fall, I too fell from childish innocence and naïveté. The world would never be quite the same for me again. I would never be able to see Santa Claus the same way. My faith in him was lost – forever.
I’m not sure my brother and I were damaged emotionally by this annual Christmas charade that my parents played – along with the rest of society around us. But it was a little tricky that first Christmas morning not to “let the cat out of the bag” and tell Mom and Dad what we had found out! So we played along and “acted surprised” – like at earlier Christmases, when they gave us the gifts that “Santa brought.” For now, we would not divulge our “Christmas secret” to our little sisters. We would let them find out in their own time and way what we had discovered on that “…night before Christmas.”
As I said, I am not sure I was damaged emotionally by the discovery that there was no Santa Claus. In the months and years ahead, as I pondered my “Christmas revelation,” it did not harm my relationship with my parents. Even in my simple childlike mind, I knew that they intended no harmful deceit. I loved and trusted them too much to ever believe that. I knew that it had been just a game…a charade…a masquerade…a time of make-believe that almost all parents played at Christmas time with their children.
Over the next year, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer joined Santa Claus and his elves in the land of make-believe. So did Superman, by the way! I think all these disappointments contributed to some of my early spiritual struggles as a young Christian boy. As these characters fell from reality, I began to “connect the dots” with the Bible and its main characters.
You see, my father was a preacher and my mother was a Sunday school teacher. Both had been missionaries before any of us children were born. Our home was a very warm Christian place where Jesus and the Bible were the focal point of life. Like orthodox Jewish homes, ours was “God-saturated.” Jesus was the center and circumference of our family life. Daily devotions were a regular part of our lives – as much as our schedules permitted.
We often had visiting missionaries in our home – whose stories intrigued us. Revivals were annual events in all of my father’s churches. We attended Camp Meetings for two weeks each summer. Our home was thoroughly evangelical Christian.
But, thankfully, our home was not legalistic. Christianity was very real and practical. We saw it lived out 24/7 by our parents. Involvement in all church activities was the norm. And being musical, I sang in all the choirs my mother directed – from the children’s choir on up.
But, the thought would not go away: “If Santa Claus was not real, how do I know Jesus was real?” If people were just dressed up like Santa playing his role, how do I know that Jesus was not also pretending to be the Son of God? If Santa was a myth, maybe Jesus was a myth also.
After all, I had never seen Jesus physically – while I had seen a lot of Santa Clauses every Christmas! And if the books about Santa were make-believe, maybe the Bible was the same. If I couldn’t believe in one, how could I believe in the other? Could I believe in the characters of the Bible any more than I could believe in the reality of the many people from Fantasy Land! After all, as a child I had wholeheartedly believed and put my full trust in these now fake “people”?
So for me, the reality of Santa produced something of a crisis of faith. While I never seriously doubted the reality of Jesus, I did often struggle in my mind and heart to separate Him from them. After all, there were so many similarities, which we will look at later.
But as I grew older, I left Santa Clause in Fantasy Land where he belonged. I paid little attention to him Christmas after Christmas. But over the years, I saw him grow to almost Christ-like statue in the world around me. He was taking center stage from the Christ of Christmas more and more. At the same time, the Christmas tree was overshadowing the crèche. The gifts of the magi to the Christ Child were not nearly as important as the presents we were buying and exchanging. The materialism of Christmas grew exponentially – and it is still growing annually. Because of its economic success, all the commercialism of Christmas is being exported to other countries – even to the ones who have no Judeo-Christian history or heritage. Santa Claus leads the way! You can now find him in virtually every country and culture in the world.
But when Patt and I became parents, we were freshly confronted with the Santa Claus dilemma. What were we going to teach our four children about Santa Claus? Were we going to continue to “play the Christmas charade” and perpetuate the Santa Claus myth? Or would we break tradition?
While we did not want our children to become little Scrooges to their friends, we did want to always raise them in the full light of truth in every area of life – including the truth about Santa Claus. As they grew in their understanding, we shared that Santa was a fairy tale game that many adults played at Christmas. But we tried to keep the emphasis of Christmas on the fact that it was Jesus’ birthday. There were no gifts under the tree from Santa because we didn’t want to mislead them or (do I even dare say it?) lie to them? But, let me assure you, there were plenty of gifts!
I will be the first to say that Patt and I did not always agree on where the “happy medium” was about Christmas and gift giving. I tended to be on one extreme and she on the other. She loves to completely decorate the house for Christmas – which I also enjoy. And we both love to have all of the children – and now, grandchildren – around the table for a special Christmas feast! But, through it all, we have sought to separate the “Christmas Story” from the “Christmas Tree.” While we want our gift giving to be an expression of our Christian love, we do not necessarily want it connected to Christmas – and certainly not to Santa Claus. We want all of our giving – whether at Christmas or throughout the year – to be centered on Christ.
Patt and I realized early in our marriage and family life that this is an area that every couple and parent must work through according to their own conscience and convictions. To paraphrase Paul, it is another area where you have to “…work out your own ‘Christmas salvation’ with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).
Having said that let me share some other thoughts that I hope will be helpful. A lot of my perspective comes out of years of Bible study and teaching – especially in the area of spiritual warfare. In the past, I wrote books on counterfeit Christian cults. Through those studies and books, I tried to alert people to the fact that Satan is the “Master Counterfeiter.” As Paul reminds us: “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14). That being the case, we should not be surprised that he has a counterfeit for everything in life – especially the Christian life.
For the wheat there are tares. For the gifts of the Spirit, there are false signs and wonders. For Christ there is antichrist. For Jesus, the Light of the world, there is Lucifer who masquerades as an angel of light.
Also, while not pressing the illustration too far, it is intriguing to me that the word “Santa” and “Satan” are so similar. They have the exact same letters. And all you have to do is a slight rearrangement of the letters and you turn “Santa” into “Satan.” While I am not saying that Satan is Santa Claus, I am saying that this is another example of how similar antichrist is to Christ – which is exactly the point and purpose of spiritual counterfeiting!
In a similar way, look at how Satan has also eclipsed Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection with Easter baskets, Easter eggs, Easter bunnies and new Easter clothes. In the very same way, Jesus the Christ has been substituted and counterfeited by our modern day Santa Claus.
So whether at Christmas or Easter, each counterfeit is so innocent…so cute…so huggable…so lovable – and oh, so profitable! But again, that’s exactly what a counterfeit is designed to do. It is designed to deceive you into believing that it is the “real thing!”
But it’s not the “real thing.” It’s a counterfeit…a copy…a look-alike…a decoy…a knock-off – a cheap imitation! And it never brings the lasting happiness it promises.
Say what you will, Satan has successfully co-opted Christmas for himself. Over the decades, he has increasingly secularized Christmas with enticing counterfeits – just as he has with Easter. Any wonder, then, that the two highest “Holy Days” of Christendom – Christmas and Easter – have been almost totally hijacked by Satan!
The moment you use the word antichrist, alarms go off in people’s minds! Red flags go up. Emotions are kindled. Fears are ignited. Minds are turned off. Confusion and division take place. To utter the word is to be deemed a fundamental fanatic!
So we need to begin by calmly defining the term. Antichrist is simply anything or anyone that detracts from Christ. The prefix: anti simply means “before.” An antichrist is simply anyone who claims to rank “before” Christ in importance, or who is overtly “against” Christ. Therefore, an antichrist is simply a “Christ substitute” – someone who takes Christ’s place of preeminence in your life.
Concerning Christ’s preeminence, Paul wrote that, “…in everything He might have supremacy” (Col. 1:18). And supremacy is the one thing Satan does not want Jesus to have! He wants that place of preeminence for himself – which is why he tried to seduce Jesus to worship him (Lk. 4:5-8). Every expression of antichrist is diabolically designed to detract from Jesus and deflect the glory to Satan – who is the “prince of this world” and “god of this age” (Jn. 14:30; II Cor. 4:4). And to anyone with spiritual discernment, it is easy to see that our world today is filled with antichrists. But that has always been the case. Once the true Christ came into the world – which is what Christmas is all about – the antichrists showed up too.
As we saw above, Jesus clearly warned about the proliferation of antichrists as one of the “signs of the times” between His First Advent and Second Advent: “Watch out that no one deceives you,” Jesus warned His disciple, “for many will come in My name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ’ and deceive many” (Matt. 24:4-5).
Likewise, John sounded the same warning in his epistles: “Who is a liar?” asked John: “It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist” (I Jn. 2:22). He amplified this alarm when he went on to write: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…This is how we can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (I Jn. 4:1-3; II Jn. 7).
So again, the “spirit of antichrist”, that is “…now already in the world,” is anything or anyone that detracts from or distorts the person and work of Jesus Christ. And the Bible teaches that this “spirit of antichrist” will one day be incarnate in a person who will be “The Antichrist” who will virtually deceive the whole world. Note these words by John:
“Dear Children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (I Jn. 2:18).
Paul called this person the “lawless one” who would do the “…work of Satan, displaying all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing” (II Thess. 2:9). So this person will be the “front-man” for Satan and the very personification of Antichrist. Just like Jesus was the incarnation of God, the antichrist will be the incarnation of Satan.
It is important then, to distinguish between the “spirit of antichrist” that is all over the world and the person of “the AntiChrist” who is yet to come.
In my mind, Santa Claus falls into the category of the “spirit of antichrist” because he detracts people’s attention from Christ at Christmas. And he does so in such an affable way with a twinkle in his eye and a “Ho, ho, ho” on his lips! Satan’s best antichrist counterfeits are almost always wrapped in what seems to be such good-natured humor and “innocent fun.” But as both Paul and John pointed out, deception is his purpose. It is the spiritual shell game Satan plays with people – young and old – to deceive them. It matters not whether the deception is a “bold face lie” or a “little white lie,” deceit and deception still take place.
When it comes to spiritual warfare, the Bible teaches that the devil has 3 primary weapons he uses against us: doubt, temptation and deception. The last one is the most subtle and deadly! That’s because when you are doubting, you know it. When you are being tempted, you know it. But when you are being deceived, you don’t know it. If you were aware of the deception, you would not be deceived! That’s what makes deception so subtle and deadly.
Keep in mind that it is through the “spirit of antichrist” that the evil one so subtly deceives people. And most of the time he does it as he “…masquerades as an angel of light.” Remember that Satan is seeking to counterfeit Jesus, the “…light of the world” (Jn. 8:12). So he will not generally come as the “prince of darkness.” Nor does he come in a red jump suit with horns, a forked tail and pitchfork in hand! No. That is Dante’s false depiction. The real Satan will come “…masquerading as an angel of light.” Remember that his original name was Lucifer, or “light bearer…bright and shinning one.” That’s why his best deceptions are always cloaked in enlightenment…half-truths…pseudo-science… popular opinion…political correctness…humor…pleasure! Through the deception, Satan blurs the distinction between reality and fantasy.
While there is a good Fantasy Land, there is also a bad Fantasy Land. Good fantasies, or “Godly myths,” give us hints that lead us to God through Jesus Christ. Writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis were master writers of these kinds of good spiritual mythologies. These are the “good fantasies” that plant hints of true spirituality in the heart and mind of the reader – especially children. They are the universal embers or sparks in every human heart put there by God through conscience and natural revelation. These primitive mythological sparks “…give light to every man” (Jn. 1:9). They are the scents and hints of heaven. When these smoldering embers are fanned into flame through “good myths” and “good fairy tells,” they can ultimately bring people to faith in Jesus Christ.
But there are other very popular fantasies and mythology that open up the “dark side” and the demonic – like the Harry Potter series. They entice the heart and mind to “dabble in darkness.” Over time, its readers are deceived and sucked more and more into the vortex of the kingdom of darkness. They become slaves to the trinity of evil – the “world, the flesh and the devil.” These kinds of “distorted fantasies” and “dark myths” do not turn children’s fantasies to Christ but to antichrist.
While the authentic Christ points us to the true and living God, every form of antichrist leads us deeper and deeper into the “kingdom of darkness” where the “god of this age” rules and reigns. But the journey always starts so innocently! So intriguingly. So enticingly. So fun. It is an imperceptible journey downward into darkness.
Remember, then, spiritual, mental and emotional deception is always the end game of antichrist in whatever form.
Here then are a few of the problems I have with the Santa Claus Myth. I hope you will prayerfully consider them as you celebrate Christmas this year and in the years ahead. If you are a parent or grandparent, I hope you will seek the Lord’s wisdom about how He wants you to celebrate Christ’s birthday – rather than the Santa Claus counterfeit.
With that thought in mind, here are a few of the obvious deceptions perpetrated by Santa Clause Myth…
1. Santa is based on deceit. As all adults know, Santa is not really real. But we tell our children “little white lies” that he really does exists. Further, we tell them that he lives at the North Pole. But we never tell them that he is just a fairy tale and comes from the land of make-believe. We justify our deceit as a “little white lie.” But there is not such thing as a “white lie.” All lying comes from darkness and is based on deceit. And Jesus clearly exposed Satan as the “Father of lies” (Jn. 8:44).
2. Santa is God-like. We perpetrate the idea that Santa is eternal. He never ages from generation to generation. Unlike their parents and grandparents, Santa is ageless. He never gets sick. He never dies. He has existed in the North Pole (a heaven substitute) forever and ever, and “he will be around for your children’s children”.
But most importantly, Santa is omniscient and omnipresent. He is all-knowing and all-present throughout the year. This idea is reflected in the song: Santa Claus is Coming to Town. One verse warns the children that Santa is all-seeing and all-knowing:
“He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”
Of course, these are attributes that only God possesses. So, Santa becomes antichrist in his God-like nature.
3. Santa is based on the merit system. The Santa Claus myth is based on “good works” or on “works righteousness.” This is also reflected in the popular Christmas song that reminds children that when Santa comes to town on Christmas Eve, he will come with a list of all of their good and bad behavior over the past year:
“He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice
He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice."
And when children sit on Santa’s knee in a local store or mall, the first question he asks is: ”Have you been a good little boy or girl this past year?” And the answer better be “Yes” or every child knows he will not come visit you. So, each child lies and says he or she has been good all year long! While God relates to us on the basis of grace, Santa related to our children on the basis of merit. If their “good works” out-weigh their “bad behavior,” he will give them presents. If they have been more naughty than nice, he will pass by their house.
4. Santa Claus is a Universalist. While Santa threatens to withhold his love and favor, in the end he always comes through and equally blesses every one – regardless of their behavior. By Christmas Eve, Santa has forgotten or overlooked all wrongdoing. He erases or forgets the list of bad behavior he has been recording through the year. Like a doting and indulging grandfather, Santa freely forgives and forgets everything and universally lavishes his gifts on everyone alike. God, on the other hand, erases sin with the blood of Christ when we confess our sins and trust in Him. But with Santa, even if there is no repentance, Satan still gives the “good stuff” to everyone.
5. Santa is based on selfishness. The Santa Claus Myth fosters narcissism. It shifts the focus of Christmas from Christ to self. It makes receiving gifts the very essence of Christmas – rather than giving. Say what you will, on Christmas morning, children are only interested in one thing – the presents under the tree with their name on them! They do not rush to the tree with the selfless motivation to give to their parents and siblings. They rush to open their gifts to see if Santa gave them what they really wanted and had asked for. If they don’t get what they wanted, they are disappointed and sometimes sullen. Watch out if a brother or sister got more gifts than they did! Talk about anger and resentment!
6. Santa is based on short-term gratification. The toys that we give our children through the Santa Claus Myth do not give any lasting satisfaction. Almost as soon as the pretty wrapping paper and ribbon are ripped open, the gift loses its glamour and appeal. Before Christmas Day is over, our children desire something else. Some even spend the rest of Christmas Day making plans to get to the stores on the 26th so they can exchange their gifts for better ones. With each Christmas, the insatiable appetite of instant gratification grows stronger and stronger. Few children can remember from one year to the next what gifts they received. This year’s Christmas treasures become next summer’s yard sale junk!
7. Santa is based upon inequality. Unlike God, Santa Claus is guilty of partiality. He does not give equally to everyone. All children do not receive the same amount. In the end, it is only the privileged children of America and the West who receive “lots of toys.” The majority of the children of the world receive nothing.
Is all of this Santa Claus emphasis at Christmas blatantly sinister and evil? Are the parents who play the Santa Claus charade with their children consciously trying to deceive them? I don’t think so. It’s just an example of how myths over time become larger than life. But anyone with an ounce of Biblical discernment can see the “spirit of antichrist” at work behind the scenes in many of our Christian traditions. The antichrist spirit has become so pervasive in our society that Jesus Christ has less and less to do with Christmas. The Christ of Christmas has largely been eclipsed by Santa Claus as the person of greatest notoriety and popularity to children and adults alike. Jesus is no longer the “Reason for the Season.” And that my friends, is exactly what the “spirit of antichrist” is all about!
Let me close this latest round in my annual Christmas fight with Santa Claus with a few practical suggestions. I don’t want to end this study negatively. After all, Christmas is the most positive event in human history! It is all about God’s love, mercy and grace for a fallen world. Christmas is about God’s fulfillment of a wonderful prophecy:“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isa. 9:2).
That’s Good News! Incredible news! And it is all centered in Christ. That’s why Satan has never stopped trying to hide it…distort it…detract from it. That’s why he continues to use every deceitful trick in his diabolical game book to “take Christ out of Christmas!” And it’s why we as parents and grandparents must do everything in our power to keep Christ at the center of Christmas – regardless of how politically incorrect it happens to be.
So, here are some thoughts for you to prayerfully ponder. They are not profound or complicated. But they will take some conscious and creative effort on your part to incorporate them into your Christmas celebration.
1. Teach about St. Nicholas. Teach your children about the real Christ-centered Santa Claus – St. Nicholas. This will anchor them in history rather than in mythology. It can help them see the real Santa Claus through his counterfeit.
2. Separate giving from Santa Claus. Don’t associate gift giving with some mythological character from fantasyland that neither knows nor loves your children. Let them know that the gifts come from you as an expression of your unconditional love for them.
3. Teach your children about God’s Christmas Tree. If you have a Christmas tree tradition in your home, relate it to God’s Christmas Tree – the cross. After all, the New Testament constantly refers to the cross as a “tree” (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13; I Pet. 2:24, etc). For a fuller understanding of this, restudy the chapter in this series entitled “God’s Christmas Tree.”
4. Relate giving to God, not to Santa. Teach your children that God is the greatest Giver of all – starting with John 3:16. That’s where God gave us the free gift of salvation wrapped in the person of Jesus Christ. Teach them that every “…good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (Ja. 1:17). So their Heavenly Father is the one who loves to give “…good gifts to His children” – especially the Holy Spirit (Lk. 11:13). On the other hand, it is Satan who entices them with his perverted gifts designed to appeal to the flesh. For further understanding about this, read again the chapter in this study on “God’s Gift Giving Catalogue.”
5. Make Christmas giving based on need instead of want. Far too much of our Christmas giving is based on our “greeds” rather than on our needs. God always gives His gifts to meet out needs – not our “greeds”. As parents, we should seek to imitate Him in the nature of His giving. Until our children learn the difference between “need” and “greed,” they will always be driven by covetousness rather than by contentment. And the Bible teaches, “…godliness is a means to great gain when accompanied by contentment” (I Tim. 6:6).
6. Give gifts that are an expression and extension of you. Don’t just buy some gift off the shelf that has little or nothing of you in it. Don’t give gifts on Christmas that are expressions of the latest fad or fashion. Save that for their birthday if you feel it is important for your children to “keep up with the Joneses” – or the Joneses kids!
Instead, make something…build something…write something…paint something – that has you and your love wrapped up in it. In the long run, it will be treasured far more than some “cheap ticky-tacky” you bought off the shelf at the eleventh hour on Christmas Eve – which they will soon forget!
I would also suggest that you help your children give gifts like the following…
7. Focus on Christmas as Christ’s Birthday. This is the most important principle of all. Try to do Christ-centered, Christ-exalting, Christ-glorifying giving. After all, it is His birthday – not ours. As you give Christmas gifts, ask if this gift helps mature the person in Christ? Will it help them grow in their relationship with the Lord? Can I see Christ giving this gift, knowing His heart and mind as revealed in the Bible?
You can and should center the attention on your children at their birthdays. That day is about them. And Patt is such a gifted birthday celebrator! She really goes “all out” for our children and grandchildren’s birthdays. So on their birthday, you do not only give gifts that meet needs, you can give gifts that fulfill some of their wants.
But Christmas is not their birthday – it is Christ’s Birthday. As one Christmas song said: “It’s the Birthday of the King!” Make the Magi your children’s example. When they found Joseph, Mary and Jesus, they “…worshiped Him.” For the Magi, Jesus was the focus of attention. He was what their journey was all about. So upon finding Him, they “…opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts…” (Matt. 2:11). Unlike us, the Magi did not open their gifts and exchange them with each other! No! They knew that Christmas was about Jesus – not about them. So they “…presented Him with gifts.” We need to teach our children to do the same – especially at Christmas!
This list is certainly not exhaustive. It is just a starting point to help get your creative Christmas ideas flowing. I am sure that you can add some other creative ideas to this list, ideas that will help build lasting Christ-centered traditions with your children and grandchildren. In the process, you will celebrate a Christ Mass – rather than a Christ-less Christmas. You will enjoy a time of worship focused on Jesus Christ. Christmas will become an annual mass celebrated in His honor.
Merry CHRIST MASS to you all, with love,
"Through us your generosity will result in THANKSGIVING to God.
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of
God's people, but is also overflowing in many expressions of
THANKSGIVING to God."
(II Cor. 9: 11-12)
Dear Ministry Partners,
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Patt and I hope that you have a wonderful time with family and friends – in spite of the bad weather that is hovering over much of the nation. We will not have our special dinner until this Sunday evening when everyone returns from time spent with their in-laws over Thanksgiving. Two days later, on Dec. 3rd, Patt and I leave for Kenya for our last mission trip of 2013 – for which we covet your prayers. We also ask for your financial support through this Thanksgiving season as God enables you to give.
Below is my annual "Thanksgiving Letter" that I hope you will take a few moments to read. Many of you have already received it by mail. But, just in case you missed it earlier, I hope you will find it a timely Thanksgiving blessing now as you see what your prayers and partnership have made possible this past year!
Thanksgiving results when needs are met. When God's blessings come down, thanksgiving goes up. God's provision provokes praise.
That's what happened on the very first American Thanksgiving in the autumn of 1621. History records that our Pilgrim forefathers endured a killer winter of hunger, disease, disappointment and death. Nearly half of those who had arrived on the Mayflower died during that first harsh winter. Through the help of some local Native Americans, they were instructed on how to grow corn in the New World. After their first successful harvest, they celebrated with 3 days of "...thanksgiving to God."
That celebration was both the "power of partnership" and the "praise of partnership!" Without the help of the friendly Native Americans, the first Pilgrims would not have survived another year. In a similar way, your partnership with us has resulted in "thanksgiving to God" by our beloved national partners in other countries. In the verses above, Paul summarizes the principle of "Thanksgiving Through Partnership" this way…
Because of your partnership since the beginning of this year, we have been able to "...supply the needs of God's people" in many strategic countries and cultures. Here are some of the ways "...your generosity…has supplied the needs of God's people":
In addition to the above partnership initiatives, we have been able to send funds for widows...medical resources for sick partners...relief funds after natural disasters...the gift of goats to needy women...food and clothing to needy saints. And all of this has resulted in the "Thanksgiving of Partnership."
As we approach our American Thanksgiving on Nov. 28th, I hope you will give a special gift to our ministry, a "Thanksgiving Offering" of whatever amount the Lord will enable you to give. We still have many needs and opportunities we want to meet between now and the end of the year. And I remind you that we honor 100% designation, taking nothing out for our own administration expenses. We are able to do that because some of you give specifically to our General Fund for such needs – which is a huge blessing!
God bless you for your special "Thanksgiving Offering" that will result in more "...thanksgiving to God" through those who are helped in the Name of Christ!
In the "Thanksgiving of Partnership,"
J. L. & Patt
A new believer is baptized. Prayers for healing.
Bibles for new believers. Cyclone Compassion.
New Motorcycles. Tibetan Ministry.
Sewing machines for refugee women that produce clothes, school supplies and jobs.
Goats for widows and needy women.
Bible College Graduates. An historic Christian Guest House.
New AOG Conference Tabernacle
New Out-Patient Clinic and New Metal Roofs.
A Pastor's Conference, and JL and Stakwell preaching together.
A new chicken house to generate eggs, and more chickens to generate jobs.
A soap making machine for refugee women. Hydraform Brick Making.
A pickup truck for farm work and New Farm Equipment.
A new well for drinking and irrigation. A new solar hot water heater for the African bush. A refurbished Bible College.
A greenhouse for a Bible College. God's Word on Solar Players. New Chairs for a new church for Arab Christians.
A new partnership.
"If a man abides in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit...to My Father's glory."
Danny Humphreys African Tabernacle Conference Center
April 7, 1958 - July 13, 2012
"By faith, he still speaks, even though he is dead" (Heb. 11:4)
Dear Ministry Friends & Partners,
Whether in marriage or in ministry, long-term relationships and partnerships result in fruitfulness. The older a grape vine is, the more fruitful it becomes if it is properly attended. The key word in the verse above is abiding. That means commitment to relationships. Sadly, we often replace abiding with abandon and end up abandoning relationships and partnerships. As a result, we do not enjoy the fruitfulness, maturity and richness of relationships that God intends us to have for our good and for His glory.
As a ministry, Patt and I have sought to build life-long covenant relationships with key partners with whom God has sovereignly connected us. He has knit our hearts together in love with them and their ministries. Our lives are eternally richer as a result of these precious partnerships God has graced us with across the years! We echo what Paul said about some of his partnerships: "You are my joy and crown" (Phil. 4:1).
One such relationship is with Pastor Simon Mkolo. He was one of my earliest partners in Zimbabwe, East Africa. Pastor Jim Seymour had invited me to Zimbabwe in 1983 shortly after Zimbabwe gained her independence. Jim had come to faith in Christ years earlier when we were doing the music for Dr. Leighton Ford, of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. In the following years, God called him to Zimbabwe as a missionary. In those early days of independence, racial tensions were very high – in both America and Zimbabwe! Remembering the impact our interracial ministry had on his life as a college student, Jim invited me to come to Zimbabwe with one of our Black musicians. It was my very first mission trip to the continent of Africa. I did not go alone – but was accompanied by Paul Smith, one of our powerful Black soloists. For a month we traveled across Zimbabwe ministering as a "salt & pepper" team! God abundantly blessed beyond our prayers and expectations.
I returned to Zimbabwe the following year with two more of our Black musicians, Joel & Sonia Leath. More Kingdom relationships and partnerships were sovereignly established that continue to this day. One of the earliest people God networked me with in Zimbabwe was Pastor Simon Mkolo. He had been somewhat of a political radical during the days of apartheid and segregation in Zimbabwe. He was arrested and put in jail – where he met the Lord through a humble Zimbabwean Christian who gave him a tract based upon the words of Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Believing that message, Simon was totally transformed! He changed from being a "political radical" to being a "spiritual radical!" (You can read his testimony, The Calling of An Evangelist, by clicking here).
After his release from prison, he began to walk from one rural and remote village to another sharing about the Christ who had transformed his life. Scores of people were saved. Miracles were performed. People were healed. Demons were cast out. Witch doctors were converted. Churches were planted. In the decades that followed, Pastor Simon planted over 500 churches and preaching points – mostly in the rural "African Bush" where the spiritual and physical poverty were the greatest.
Annually Pastor Simon would bring hundreds of his people together in the coal town of Hwange for a conference and time of spiritual fellowship and refreshing. Without a large building to meet in, they made a large tent out of sacks. I dubbed it the "Burlap Cathedral!" While it was dry, hot and dusty, we enjoyed some of the greatest spiritual experiences imaginable under that ragged canopy! Below are a few pictures from those early meetings.
Preaching with Pastor Simon Mkolo in the mid 1980's in Hwange, Zimbabwe under The Burlap Cathedral.
It was always Simon's dream and vision to have a large piece of land where he could build his own Conference Center. God provided the land. For several years we worked with them to build the Ebenezer Bible College to train evangelists, church planters and pastors for their work. We had also helped build a picturesque chapel on a hilltop overlooking the land in honor of Pastor Simon's wife, Miana, who had been killed in an automobile accident.
But there was still need for a large Conference Center so the people could be protected from the summer sun, rain and dry winds. The people laid the foundation by faith. The women pledged $1.00 per month to help buy the bricks. But because of the general poverty of the people and the economic meltdown that Zimbabwe had been going through, they could go no further. When I visited there last year and saw the incomplete foundation, God moved my heart to take another BIG STEP OF FAITH and trust Him for the resources to complete the building. As always, God was faithful through His people. Earlier this month, Pastor Simon's vision became a reality! On November 10th, the Conference Center was dedicated to the glory of God! And what a joy and privilege it was for Patt and me to be there to celebrate with Pastor Simon and his people! It was the culmination of several decades of partnership.
As always, I did not have a clue as to how God was going to provide the funding for such a large project. All I knew was that I was to trust Him to meet the need in His time and way. As I returned from Zimbabwe and continued to pray about that need, God brought to my mind a businessman friend whose family had been very successful in the coal mining business in Virginia. It seemed like a naturally supernatural match! After all, Hwange, Zimbabwe, was a coal town! Hundreds of the people Pastor Simon ministered to worked in the coalmines around Hwange. How appropriate if God would bring these two coal towns together to build His Kingdom!
I called my coal miner friend in Virginia for an appointment to share this strategic need and opportunity. He was also a good friend of my brother, Ed Williams. His name was Danny Humphreys. So, we set up an appointment to meet in Boone to discuss the project. Unfortunately, Danny had to cancel on the day we were set to meet due to sickness. Not long after, Danny went home to be with the Lord on July 13, 2012. I was out of country and could not attend his funeral. Patt, however, attended with my brother and sister-in-law, Becky.
For a time, my vision of matching people in the coal industry together to build this Conference Center seemed over. But God kept the vision alive in my heart. So, I approached Danny's brother, Doug Humphreys, with the idea of building the Center in memory of his brother. He and his family were excited about the opportunity! They graciously gave the funds to build the Conference Center in their brother's memory and honor. I am also happy to say that Doug and his wife, Bitsy, went over to Zimbabwe with Patt and me earlier this month for the dedication. It was their first time to visit the African continent – but not their last. As others have said, they left part of their hearts in Africa after meeting the people and experiencing the joy and celebration of the African church! What a joy it was to bring a relatively new American partner, Doug Humphreys, together with one of our oldest African partners, Pastor Simon Mkolo. I hope you will rejoice with them, Pastor Simon, and us as you look at these following pictures from the dedication of the "African Tabernacle Conference Center."
The foundation and tent used for meetings prior to completing the Tabernacle. The walls go up.
Many windows were put in for ventilation.
The steel trusses are fabricated on location. The trusses go into place.
An outside view of the trusses.
The metal roofing arrives. The rust-proof roofing sheets go on.
The roofing nearly completed. The 4 gables with crosses.
Doors are installed and shellaced. The pulpit is built.
The glass window panes are installed. The gables are completed.
A view of the Tabernacle from the Prayer Chapel. The large African Tabernacle which will seat over 1,000 people.
The dedication service begins with singing and dancing. Principal Francis leads in worship and praise. Herbert Makwala (right) introduces Pastor Simon Mkolo and his wife, Otillia.
Doug & Bitsy Humphreys are introduced as guests of honor. Doug and Pastor Simon cut the ribbon.
The Tabernacle overflowing with worshippers. Doug & Bitsy present the picture and plaque in honor of their brother, Danny.
The people outside the church for a group picture. Doug & Bitsy with Patriarch and Pastor Simon Mkolo.
It was also a joy to dedicate a Solar Well for the Center. Doug & Bitsy with the plaque honoring Danny at the Solar Well.
Patt and I are thankful to Alyssa Humphreys and Danny's sons, Stuart and Spencer, for providing the funds to drill this well and install the solar panels and pump.
We had the privilege of meeting some of the pressing needs of the widows and orphans, left destitute because their husbands or fathers had died of HIV-AIDS. Pastor Mkolo's churches have seen the urgency of helping these people and take up two offerings each Sunday, one for tithes and offerings and one for those in desperate need. Mrs. E. Moyo is in charge of overseeing this project, called Hands of Hope, and was with us as we distributed clothing to the orphans and gave goats and sewing machines to some of the widows. The Tonga people believe that orphans are best helped by remaining in their culture and not put in orphanages. Because of this belief, each of the children lives with extended family members or with one of the widows. Mrs. Moyo has set up 9 feeding points where these two groups are fed lunch Monday through Saturday, with a special devotional time on Saturday. We personally met 15 of the widows and over 40 of the 450 orphans. It made us realize blessed we are in the States and how much we take for granted!
Widows at one of the rural churches we built a number of years ago singing and dancing as we arrived for the goat distribution. Pastor Simon's son, Godfrey Mkolo, shares about the goat distribution program.
Doug brings greetings to the people. Patt shares with the women a word of encouragement. Patt and Bitsy give clothes to some of the orphan children.
Patt with one of the widows before the goat distribution. The widows who received the goats to help support themselves. Patt and Godfrey with two kid goats - wonderful Christmas presents for $35 each!
Widows and orphans at the Lupote Church greeting us.
Patt and Bitsy prepare to give clothes to the HIV orphan children. Bitsy shares love and clothing.
These orphans are supported by the church as much as possible. The children wearing or showing their new clothes.
The widows from this church before they received their goats. Pastor June with the goats to be distributed.
Each widow received 2 goats each. The widows rejoice over their gift of goats.
One of the bicycles we gave to a pastor - another wonderful Christmas gift for $100!
We were also able to take over 100 of the "Solar Digital Bibles" in the Tonga language. Since that is one of the primary tribal groups that Pastor Simon and the Bible College students minister to, this was another blessing of our time in Zimbabwe. We are especially thankful to those of you who give gifts of $20 or more so we can purchase these Solar Digital Players to distribute. We hope some of you will put that need in your Christmas giving this year since our supply is now totally depleted.
Thanks again for your prayers and partnership that make projects like this one in Zimbabwe a "dream come true." It is a part of the on-going fruitfulness of partnership. Patt and I hope it will add fresh thanks to your Thanksgiving Season!
In His Faithfulness & Fruitfulness,
JL & Patt