In some ways it’s hard to believe we head back to the UK in just 3 days. The time has gone quickly but looking back so much has been accomplished.
The view from our bedroom window in Missoula has been very different for the last few weeks. Usually it is a vista of a big blue sky and huge mountains but forest fires, mainly some 100s of miles away in Washington State, have filled the air with fine particles and a smell of burning wood. Locals say this has been the worst for many years but it is always a possibility here with forest covered mountains particularly in the summer months when the weather is very hot and the land very dry. Virtually the whole of the south west is fire fighting at this time. It is hard for us to imagine the devastation and many people are being evacuated from their homes. 1000s of fire fighters are being employed and it is not an unusual sight to see scores of fire engines on the highways as well as helicopters being employed in areas impossible to reach by motor vehicles. For those taking late summer holidays here, it has been disappointing but we certainly haven’t been disappointed! Despite the fact that Missoula has been shrouded in smoke, there has been no gloominess from our point of view and neither is it in the churches.
At the end of July, Steve & Heather Oliver and Trevor & Rachel Payne joined Sue and I in Missoula for the Regions Beyond first northwest USA Summit conference, 3 days gathering as many from the 5 churches that are joining with us. We were somewhat concerned as to numbers because this area has a short summer holiday and the locals make the most of it, getting away canoeing, hiking and enjoying the rivers and lakes. But they turned out and despite many having to travel up to 200 miles, booking hotels here or camping nearby, our meetings were well attended. The run up prayer meetings not only gave an opportunity to bring the conference before God but new friendships were made and old friendships renewed; these are ongoing especially as leaders from the 5 churches have been connecting since the Summit finished. Steve took the opening night building into his message the story of how he and Heather were called to the “daisies of Africa” and how that led them to forge “Regions Beyond”. Although I have heard the story numerous times it never ceases to inspire me so you can imagine the effect upon those hearing it for the first time. During the afternoon session we took an offering to cover conference costs but in the meantime Steve was informed that an old building in Ladybrand township not far from Clarens South Africa had become available for purchase. Formerly called the TNT Tavern and functioning as a bar, it went on the market for around $7000 and would provide a wonderful home for the new church which had begun in that area and had outgrown the home they were meeting in. Steve finished his story in the evening and shared this need. We took up another offering which well exceeded the amount needed. What a great start! 5 Regions Beyond churches in northwest USA partnering in this venture. Late November a team of construction volunteers from these churches will visit Ladybrand to renovate the building and in January 2016 another team will visit to serve in the township from this new centre. You can imagine how thrilled we all were. All the ministry we brought was well received with much rejoicing as many were prayed for at the end of the meetings. The final meeting, Sunday morning, was downtown in the open air in the park that hosts many events. Yours truly had the joy to preach to 100s, many of whom were just out for a walk in the park. A number enquired and quite a few were prayed with for salvation and healing. Personally I loved it, I could do more of that!
The week following the conference was a busy one as Sue & I and Steve & Heather drove 100s of miles endeavouring to visit the 3 churches outside of Missoula based in Spokane, Washington State, Helena, the beautiful capital of Montana and Bozeman, also Montana. We drove up and down the Interstate 90 and felt fairly exhausted by the end of the week but it was well worth it. Those who hadn’t been able to get to the Summit Conference to meet Steve & Heather were able to hear their story.
Trevor & Rachel had interrupted their USA holiday to join us in Missoula so after the conference they continued their holiday visiting the beautiful Yellowstone National Park. On the way they stopped off at Bozeman and stayed with our good friends Brian and Margaret Asay and had the opportunity to share with the new exciting Bozeman Church. Brian and Margaret ministered alongside Keith Hazel, well known to us for many years. Brian previously led the Helena Church and has now moved to Bozeman. We are thrilled that they are partnering with us and look forward to receiving more from Brian’s apostolic gift in the days ahead.
As Steve & Heather returned to Dubai taking the long route over several days travelling through Idaho and Washington State before flying home via Seattle, Sue and I took off first to Phoenix, Arizona and then on to El Paso, Texas where we enjoyed visiting old friends we had made over 30 years ago. At Phoenix we stayed 3 days with Jane Rushing (known to some of you) and then on to El Paso visiting Cross of Grace Church there. Some 30 years ago this was a regular stop off for me on my way home from Mexico where I enjoyed a mixture of ministry in the church, helping with their church plant some 50 miles away in Las Cruces, New Mexico plus some golf. Both churches were at that time linked with Larry Tomzak and CJ Mahaney, names from the past. It’s over 20 years since last visiting and Sue and I were more than happy to take up their invite. We stayed with our dear friends Joe and Kim Alcantar and it is their son Ricky who now leads the church. A busy weekend of meeting leaders, a Saturday morning with about 60 keen students of church history and the usual Sunday am preach. Enjoyed so much catching up with old friends and spending hours with Ricky. Taking up the leadership some 5 years ago at the tender age of 25, he has done so well and with the young team he leads the church has prospered and grown under his leadership. Like so many churches that were birthed out of the charismatic explosion of the 1970s and further fuelled by the Toronto blessing of the mid 90s, they are looking to discover where they fit in view of more recent teaching which seems to have relegated again the baptism in the Spirit to a historical experience for some but nothing more. The current phrase I picked up was “we are continuists”, meaning we believe in the continuation of spiritual gifts but not the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a subsequent experience to salvation. I asked a number of church leaders who had been influenced by this line the question “so when was the last time you had tongues and interpretation in your meeting?. The answer was always the same “I can’t recall”. I know this is not the place for theological discussion but church without spiritual gifts is like a double barrelled shot gun with only one chamber full. The great thing was those I spoke to were not dogmatic and were pleased to receive my own experiences and reflections. Let’s make sure we don’t adopt a theology that limits the power of God so clearly revealed in the New Testament.
Back to Missoula for 10 days before returning home. We took in a rodeo, the first ever for us and something not to miss if you visit USA cowboy country. The horseman/woman skills are something to behold but bull riding has no appeal for me, neither does roping a steer and then jumping on it from your horse to tie it up ready for branding! My friend and evangelist Mike Hagen heads up a bunch of Christian muscle men who tear up telephone directories, knock nails in planks of wood with their bare hands and other ridiculous feats, finished the evening with a “power” demonstration and very sensitively shared the grace of Jesus for about 15 mins. The next day (Sunday) again at the rodeo Mike and his team took an hour to do more of the same and we heard later that quite a few responded to the gospel message. Sadly outside the arena a very legalistic, sad looking preacher was having a real go at the rodeo visitors preaching a very graceless gospel. I pointed out to him that it was not good news! It made me very angry so I was glad to hear that other Christians also spoke strongly to him.
So during our last week, some tying up of loose ends, quite a few meals with friends and a lovely last Sunday with Clark Fork where I preached on the way ahead. Much rejoicing when we told the church we had tied up the purchase of the TNT Tavern and were planning for 2 teams from the 5 northwest USA churches to go out to South Africa in November and January. The other piece of hot news is that Trevor and Rachel Payne from Hope Bromley will be spending from October this year until March next year (with a break home at Christmas) with Clark Fork City Church. During that time, they will serve the church helping them to press on to the next stage for them, as well as build together the 5 churches that are now serving together as part of the Regions Beyond family.
Back home now, slept for over 12 hours the first night (Wednesday) just before flying to Dubai on Sunday morning.
Lots to thank God for and thanks for your interest and prayers.
Loads of love to you all,
Ray & Sue