Day 8: Two-Tenths of 1 Percent

Bosnia-Herzegovina is a beautiful country where the hilly landscape is dotted with picturesque mountain villages. Ten years ago, in one of those villages, three Muslim women began to meet together in secret. They would log on to the internet and read the Bible together.

Over time, they became attracted to the person of Jesus Christ. Desperate to know more about him, they mustered the courage to drive from their mountain village, where there was no church, to the town of Mostar, 45 minutes away.

They searched for a pastor there, one who was rumored to know Jesus. Finding him, they asked questions and listened as he told them about Jesus. They responded enthusiastically, “He’s the one we want to meet!”

Today they belong to Christ. In a land where less than two-tenths of 1 percent know the Lord, God is at work. Right now, The Gospel Coalition is drawing together pastors throughout the country in a united effort to bring the gospel to Bosnians and others throughout the Balkans.

Ways to pray:

  1. Praise God for the miraculous salvation of men and women all over the world, particularly in countries with little access to the gospel
  2. For the growth of the church in Bosnia and the Balkans, so that many others might know and preach Christ in the region
  3. For the faithful pastors in small communities, that they might know their work is not in vain

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. . . . So there was much joy in that city. Acts 8:4, 8

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How to Love Your Deaf Neighbor

Paula: I noticed Michelle for several reasons. In addition to her beauty and penchant for bright colors, I’d never seen her at church before, and she sat alone in the front row. 

When I introduced myself, I learned why Michelle sat up front: She was Deaf. She also read lips. A few weeks later, I invited Michelle to pick blueberries with me. Would we be able to communicate? I wondered with trepidation as I picked her up. 

Michelle: I thought, Here we go again, when Paula approached me after a sermon. 

Most people have one of two reactions when they realize I’m Deaf: they either want to quickly leave the conversation as they seem intimidated, or they’re so fascinated by my deafness that they only seem interested in that part of me.   

When people realize I’m Deaf, they either quickly leave the conversation or they’re so fascinated by my deafness they only seem interested in that part of me.

Although Paula did ask about my deafness, she genuinely showed interest in knowing who I am. I remember thinking, This woman isn’t intimidated by my being Deaf (or at least she doesn’t show it). She was one of the few who kept making a genuine effort each week.  

After our initial conversations at church, a blueberry-picking trip—which was much less difficult than we both expected—marked the beginning of a close friendship. 

Together, we hope these ideas will better equip you to love your Deaf neighbors as yourself.

Ways to Love Your Deaf Neighbor

You might feel largely ignorant of, and even scared to interact with, Deaf people. Should I invite them over for dinner? How would that even work? For starters: 

  1. Bring your new Deaf neighbor food or a simple note. Those who are completely Deaf often have a lower reading and writing ability because English isn’t their first language.
  2. Write messages back and forth, if your Deaf neighbor can’t read lips. Try downloading the Ava app; it transcribes your conversation on your phone. 
  3. Begin to acquaint yourself with sign language. Many Deaf people are willing to teach you basic sign language and appreciate your willingness to learn. (Note: ASL is used in America, although there are different dialects. For example, an African American person will sign some words differently than an Asian American person.)
  4. Don’t walk up behind them and touch them. They can’t see or hear you coming, and you’ll give them quite a scare.
  5. Ask your Deaf friend how to handle introductions. This will keep others from falling into a fast conversation your Deaf friend can’t follow. I have told people, “This is Michelle; she can lip-read.” (For many people, “deaf” and “hard of hearing” are acceptable, but “hearing impaired” can seem belittling.) 
  6. If you have the opportunity, introduce your deaf neighbor to the new American Sign Language Bible. Deaf people won’t necessarily know it’s available, as it was completed in 2020.

Ways to Love Your Deaf Neighbor at Church

Here are a few ways to help your deaf neighbor in a Sunday worship service: 

  1. Offer to email the sermon manuscript a day beforehand. If you’re not in leadership, ask your pastor if he would be willing to do this.
  2. Point the Deaf visitor to the sound technician to see if an assisted listening device is available. 
  3. Learn which churches in your area have a Deaf ministry, and point your friend to those. (Be careful how you say it so they know you’re not trying to get rid of them; you just want them to know their options and thrive wherever they worship.)
  4. Don’t assume that just because you know sign language it’s a good idea for you to interpret for your friend. A Deaf person might feel bad turning down your offer, but you will not help if you’ve not been trained as a professional interpreter. 
  5. Offer to sit together on a Sunday. If they read lips, they’ll sit up front to grasp as much as possible. How many people do you know who love to sit up front alone?

Ways to Love Your Deaf Neighbor Who Can Read Lips

Few deaf people can read lips like Michelle, but if they can, here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure your room is well-lit. If you’re in a car together, turn on the interior light when driving at night so they can see your lips if you say something.
  2. Talk slower and enunciate more.
  3. In a group setting, ask people to raise their hands before they speak so the Deaf person knows where to look and read their lips. Then, remind other group members when they forget. 
  4. Fill your friend in on what others say. Repeat things and bring them into the conversation as much as possible. (You would want the same if you were trying to fit in with a group of people who spoke a different language.)

We never would’ve known at that first blueberry-picking adventure just how much life we would experience together. Today we share kid duty, the kitchen table, and the highs and lows of daily life together. We are grateful.

4 Principles for Raising Up Elders

Biblically qualified elders are crucial for the health of the church, which is “a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). Faithful elders lead to stronger churches and the preservation and advancement of the gospel. But what should a pastor do when he finds a church without elders, or without the right ones?

When I became the senior pastor of the United Christian Church of Dubai (UCCD) in 2005, I was excited about the possibility of ministry there, but the leadership challenges were daunting. The elders were good men who loved the Lord, but they were guided by varying theology and different ministry philosophies. They spent much of their meetings focused on programs and parking problems—important issues, but not the main matters of elder ministry. How could that culture change?

Here are four principles for raising up elders in a church-revitalization environment, all of which helped me in this task.

1. Teach

Before you call a members’ meeting, before you announce a new leadership structure, before you do anything—simply teach the Bible. If you’re seeking to lead, first show yourself to be a man under authority. Commit to regular, consecutive expositional preaching that dispels any notion you have an agenda or axe to grind. And when you encounter passages that touch on biblical leadership, pause to explain and apply—whether you’re seeing how Moses benefited from a plurality of leadership (Ex. 18), or how David extolled the virtues of leadership (2 Sam. 22:3), or that Paul and Barnabas specifically appointed elders in every town (Acts 14:23).

Before you call a members’ meeting, before you announce a new leadership structure, before you do anything—simply teach the Bible.

Hand out good literature on biblical leadership. Talk with people one on one. Take them to Acts, 1 Timothy, Titus, James, and 1 Peter, and show them the plurality of spiritual leaders called “elders” or “overseers” in the early church. Trust that God’s people are indwelt by his Spirit and will find Scripture persuasive and compelling.

Many churches are confused about leadership because they have not been taught. They drift toward corporate models, or fashionable trends, or whatever works best, and the spiritual life of the church slowly dies. Elders are not a board of directors. They’re pastors—whether paid or not—who love the church and lead by counseling, teaching, one-on-one discipling, preaching, and praying. This isn’t always intuitive, and your congregation needs you to teach.

2. Pray

Pastors don’t make other elders; the Holy Spirit does (Acts 20:28). That’s why, in addition to teaching and training, church leaders must be dedicated to prayer. God is the one who will raise up faithful shepherds through the ministry of his Word.

Pastors don’t make other elders. God is the one who will raise up faithful shepherds through the ministry of his Word.

In the beginning at UCCD, some suspected I was trying to get “my guys” in leadership. Others were fearful of losing power. There was nothing I could do about it. I became painfully aware of my inability to reform the church on my own. So I began praying that the Lord would transform the elder board—and slowly but surely he did.

One of the answers to my prayer was Richard. He joined our church shortly after arriving from Zambia. He was there whenever the church gathered, he engaged people intentionally in spiritual conversation, he served others regardless of whether he received credit. Thanks to his previous church, we’d received a ready-made elder. Soon the congregation recognized him as such. One by one the composition of our elder board began to change.

3. Love

Love is expressed by pastors in many ways, but a crucial one is meeting individually with potential elders for intentional discipleship. Jesus invested deeply in the Twelve, and even more so in the three (Peter, James, John). We must train elders in the same way. Select a few promising men and disciple them.

This stewardship involves teaching, but more. Making disciples and raising up elders is less like a classroom and more like parenting. As Colin Marshall and Tony Payne observe, “It’s deeply and inescapably relational. When we look at the relationship between Paul and Timothy, it becomes immediately apparent that much more than a transfer of information was involved in Timothy’s training.”

Making disciples and raising up elders is less like a classroom and more like parenting.

Mark Dever endured many Subway sandwiches during the early years when he was discipling me. I remember as a brand-new Christian wondering: Why do we always go to the same place for lunch? How about some variety? Only later did I realize Mark chose to eat there because he was systematically building a relationship with the family behind the counter—and in that, he was modeling for me the intentionality and evangelistic faithfulness I needed as an elder.

The apostle Paul said, “The aim of our charge is love” (1 Tim. 1:5). This kind of love multiplies itself in the life of a church. Model it to the potential leaders you disciple.

4. Stay

Training elders is more like farming than a factory assembly. As Thabiti Anyabwile wisely counsels, “Be patient and note those men who evidence the desire over time. Watch a man. Encourage him. Observe the desire in fruitful seasons, in dry times, when he is full of joy, and when he is sorrowful.” It helps to take the long view. Think in terms of years, not months.

Nader, from Egypt, was a young man when he arrived at UCCD. He was affable, encouraging, and naturally connected with our Arabic-speaking members. As Nader got married and started raising a family, he also developed a growing interest in missions and was elected as our deacon of missions. Then people began to notice his shepherding gifts. He cared for our supported workers pastorally and checked in on them regularly. He began teaching more and our congregation eventually recognized an elder who’d grown up among us.

Take the long view in training elders. “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Tim. 5:22). Training elders takes time. With a long-term perspective, we can cultivate the next crop.

Day 7: True Gospel in the Middle East

Over the last 10 years, Christian minorities in Egypt and the Middle East have endured the social and political uncertainty that followed the so-called Arab Spring. From one perspective, there isn’t a more relevant time than this for the gospel to flourish, particularly when besieged Christians and non-Christians seek God’s mercy and forgiveness offered in the crucified Savior.

In reality, however, the response of many hasn’t been repentance. Deceived by prosperity preachers, many have lost their confidence in God’s Word and have fallen prey to other gospels.

God is always sovereign, and he is at work among the growing minority who are still faithful to his Word and who live their life in a manner worthy of the good news of Jesus Christ. As surprising as it’s been to see a therapeutic and prosperity gospel in the Middle East, every week we hear testimonies of people engaging the truths of the biblical gospel and believing the Jesus of the Holy Scriptures.

Ways to Pray:

  1. Thank God for faithful evangelical leaders who proclaim the true gospel and confront false teachers
  2. For unity in truth and love among evangelicals from different denominations as they face different challenges, since tribalism is a problem in the church in the Middle East
  3. For the planting of healthy local churches in which the gospel is made visible to the wider community

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:11–12

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Your gift to TGC’s Global Resourcing initiative will go directly toward the development and distribution of gospel-centered resources throughout the world. Thank you!