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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Charisma House (July 5, 2011)
Steve Murrell is the founding pastor of Victory in Manila, Philippines; a director of the Real Life Foundation; and the cofounder and president of Every Nation. He and his wife, Deborah, first went to the Philippines in 1984 for a one-month summer mission trip that never ended. They split their time between Nashville, Tennessee, and Manila, and have three sons.
Visit the author's blog.
…and Go Viral!
Jesus told His followers that He would build His church, and then He told them to go and make disciples. It’s that simple. We make disciples, and He builds the church.
But today we often get this exactly backward. We work hard to build our churches with programs and promotions while continuing to neglect the essential practice of discipleship. And we wonder why we struggle. In WikiChurch, Steve Murrell shows you how anyone can make disciples through the simple process of…
· Engaging culture and community
· Establishing spiritual foundations
· Equipping believers to minister
· Empowering disciples to make disciples
Imagine if every believer, not just leaders, was actively engaged in your ministry. That’s the Book of Acts. That’s a WikiChurch.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Charisma House (July 5, 2011)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
It was one of the loneliest moments of my life. My wife, Deborah, and I watched the huge Philippine Airlines 747taxi down the runway and head to Seoul, South Korea, with our entire team, leaving the two of us behind in a foreign city.
Loneliness when mixed with fear and insecurity can create a strange and powerfully destructive state of mind. It can bring all kinds of irrational thoughts, fears, and doubts. Inour brief month in Manila we had already experienced some scary stuff, including gale-force typhoons, flash floods, student riots, tear gas, and strange food. We had also seen hundreds of Filipinos respond to the gospel. And now our team was leaving, and the two of us were staying in Manila, along with four other American volunteers.
I had a lot of questions and few answers. Why didn’t we get on that plane with the rest of the Americans? Can we really do this by ourselves? How will we pay the bills?
This was supposed to be a two-month summer mission trip—one month in Manila, Philippines, followed by one month in Seoul, South Korea. But it looked like that one month in Manila was turning into our own personal Groundhog Day. Like in the 1993 film, it seemed that month would repeat itself indefinitely.
We would have to find a way to deal with our fears, feelings of inadequacy, and lack of funds. However, the bigger, more pressing issue was who would lead the young church now that the Americans were gone. There had been a leadership plan, but it was becoming more and more evident that the plan was not working. Someone had to stay behind to work on developing a permanent leadership team for the new church. Since no one else stepped up to the plate, Debora hand I said good-bye to the American team and stayed behind. That’s why I call myself an accidental missionary.
I’m a reluctant leader, a natural-born follower. Every leadership position in which I have found myself seems to have come upon me by default. Whenever the need arose for someone to take charge, everyone else seemed to be headed out of town. My life has been like a familiar old comedy routine. Troops are lined up, and volunteers are asked to step forward. Invariably, everyone steps backward while one person stands still.
On several occasions I have been the guy with no particular ambition for a new assignment who naïvely stood his ground while everyone else slowly stepped backward.
It was never my intention to become a missionary or a leader. A summer in the Philippines had never occurred to my wife and me until I got a call from my friend Rice Broocks. Deborah and I were newlyweds focused on our little campus ministry at Mississippi State University (MSU), and Rice was recruiting a team of college students for summer outreaches inSouth Korea and the Philippines.
I had never met a Filipino and didn’t know anything aboutthe Philippines except that it is an island nation on the other side of the world. Rice was pretty excited about taking a team there. He is an extraordinarily persuasive person, especially when it comes to evangelism, campus ministry, and church planting. It was May 1984, and the departure date was only six weeks away. We would need five thousand dollars for the two-month trip—a fortune to us at the time. I told Rice, “Sounds good, but we don’t have any money. I guess if God provides, then we’ll go with you.” God provided, and we went.
Thinking back on our decision, the reason Deborah and I made that two-month commitment was primarily to help an old friend. I can vaguely remember Rice’s passionate appeal: “Steve, you’ve got to go. We need you and Deborah. I have this huge team, and I need someone to organize and train them.” Anyway, there was not much going on during the summer in the sleepy little college town of Starkville, Mississippi.
Rice had graduated from MSU and was traveling to campuses all over the United States preaching to students. We were still in Starkville because when the leader of our struggling campus fellowship moved to another college, we inherited the position.
In retrospect, our decision to go to Manila for the summer was more than someone else’s need to recruit a team or the fact that we had nothing better to do. I had been recruited for good ideas before and have been hundreds of times since. Even without a good excuse, I typically have no hesitation to decline. Through the years I have become very good at saying no. Sometimes I even do it emphatically: “No!”
The decision to go was not based on any great revelation from God. I do not even recall praying about the request with Deborah. I suppose that somewhere deep inside there was some sense of being led by the Spirit, even if it was simply a divinely inspired perspective that made it seem like the right decision. I am all for being led by the Holy Spirit, but my clearest sense of calling is more like an ancient letter from God framed on the wall rather than the morning Twitter message about what is on His mind at the moment. The last command Jesus gave to His disciples was:
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Since we have not yet reached the end of the age, I have always assumed that He still wants us to go to the nations and make disciples, and that He is still with us.
The point is that there was no booming voice or even a still, small voice saying, “My son, I have called you to the mission field.” Even though I did not really grow up in church, I have heard people talk about “receiving the call.” It didn’t happen that way for me, at least not at the beginning. I did not goto the Philippines because I received a specific calling from God. I just got a phone call from Rice. There was no divine mandate except Jesus’s Great Commission to go and make disciples.
I guess I’ve always believed that God’s calling is a “standing order” to go and make disciples. That mandate for every believer has been impressed on me since the day I surrendered my life to Christ. It was drilled into me first by RonMusselman, the youth pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi, then by Walter Walker, the campus missionary at Mississippi State University. So it was with that same sense of perpetual calling and commission to go and make disciples that I agreed to participate in the two-month summer mission trip to Manila and Seoul.
I’ve always believed that God’s calling is a “standing order” to go and make disciples.
When the team of sixty-five eager American summer missionaries landed in Manila in June 1984, the Philippines was in the middle of a national crisis, ablaze with student protests and riots that were quickly growing into a popular revolt. Manila in 1984 was much like the 2011 Egyptian revolt that ousted Hosni Mubarak. The event that ignited the wildfire was the August 1983 assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. on the Manila International Airport tarmac as here turned from a three-year, self-imposed exile. Aquino was the iconic leader of the democratic struggle against President Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos had held onto dictatorial power with the help of martial law since 1972. (The Marcos regime was eventually overthrown without bloodshed during the1986 People Power Revolution.)
Anti-government outrage sparked by Aquino’s assassination was sweeping over the general populace. The economy was in a state of collapse as investors pulled money out of the Philippines to invest it in more stable countries. The erosion of capital even had begun to elicit protest from the usually passive business community. But nowhere was the revolt more intense than among students attending universities along
C. M. Recto Avenue, known as Manila’s University Belt, or simply U-Belt.
After meeting for two weeks at the Girl Scouts Auditorium near U-Belt, we leased the basement of the Tandem Cinema, a run-down movie theater located in the middle of the largest concentration of colleges and universities in the Philippines. That basement could easily seat about two hundred fifty people, but if we packed everyone in sardine-style, we could squeeze in four hundred.
There was no air conditioning, no windows, and no fresh air to breathe. The smell was horrible. Sewer pipes from the cinema ran across the low ceiling. Some of them had been leaking for years. Tear gas occasionally drifted in from the Recto Avenue riots, adding to the unforgettable mix of aromas. It was like being on the bad end of the Deuteronomy28 promise of blessings and curses. A massive cleanup effort made the room minimally bearable, but after starting off in a place like that, we had nowhere to go but up.
The U-Belt campuses that surrounded our facility were the places where leftist, communist, and anti-Marcos movements had gained footholds. Almost every day thousands of activist students with clenched fists and the standard red banners would march down Recto Avenue past the Tandem Cinemaon their way to the presidential palace. At the barricades along the foot of Mendiola Bridge, the students confronted the army and the riot police. The tension in the confrontations increased each day.
We had been conducting evangelistic meetings daily, sometimes several times a day. Our drama team was out on the streets with their mime productions. (Before you laugh, remember we’re talking about 1984.) Others would gather crowds on the campuses for preaching rallies. There were hundreds of one-to-one gospel presentations and invitations to our meetings. That summer we saw a lot of angry students shouting, chanting, and running from water cannons, riot police, and tear gas. But we were finding that behind that anger were open hearts hungry for God and ready for a change.
Culturally, Deborah and I were a long, long way from Starkville, Mississippi. If we had known the chaos we were getting into, we might have chosen a different summer mission
trip—maybe to Jamaica, Europe, or Australia. But what looked like the worst of times turned out to be God’s perfect timing. The Holy Spirit began to work in that situation, and by the time the outreach team left, we had the beginnings of a church with about 165 new Filipino believers. Most were poor students from the provinces; many were political protesters; some were radical leftist student leaders.
For the first two weeks nightly meetings were held at the Girl Scouts Auditorium, but because the auditorium was not available on weekends, we held our Sunday morning worship services at the Admiral Hotel on Roxas Boulevard. It was in the Admiral Hotel function room on our third Sunday that we held our first Communion service in the Philippines. It was by far the most significant Communion service of my life. It would be hard to describe how tangibly we sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit in that meeting. We were all on our knees praying when something extraordinary happened.
Though I am a rather stoic individual who was raised to think that real men do not cry, I have to admit that my eyes were sweating—well, gushing like broken water faucets might be a better description.
Nothing has more potential to complicate your life than a clear calling from God.
I have been a believer since I was sixteen years old and a pastor/preacher for thirty years. In all those years I can count only three times when God has spoken to me with undeniable clarity. The first time was a sense that Deborah was to be my wife. Fortunately, she agreed. The third time I “know that I know” God spoke to me was several years later. It had to do with the first church property we bought in Manila.
I had no idea what was about to happen to the Philippine economy, but I just knew God said we were to avoid debt and pay cash. Soon afterward the Philippine peso crashed, and interest rates soared to 30 percent. Had we used debt to purchase that property, we would have been in big trouble.
That morning in Manila’s Admiral Hotel was the second time I know I heard God’s voice. Kneeling by my chair, the Holy Spirit was putting a supernatural compassion inmy heart for the Filipino people that was greater than any vision or dream I could have conjured up on my own. It was as if God switched something on inside of me. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). My involvement in the church that would become Victory–Manila was birthed in that moment, not out of a great vision or some sense of destiny. From the beginning
we were motivated or “compelled” by compassion for lost people. Vision gradually grew out of that.
You might think that such a certain sense of God’s calling would answer many questions and clarify lots of details. That was not the case with us. Nothing has more potential to complicate your life than a clear calling from God. Before that Sunday morning, the plan was one month in Manila, one month in South Korea, and back to normal life in Mississippi. Now I knew that God wanted me to stay in the Philippines,
but what did that mean—another month, a year, or the rest of my life?
I thought long and hard about how to present this to my wife. To the extent that my missionary career was accidental and my leadership reluctant, Deborah’s was far more. She grew up in an Assemblies of God church and had prayed to marry a pastor, but now it looked as if that pastor was about to become a cross-cultural missionary. Living in Asia was not part of her plan. In time, as she gave her life to serve and disciple
Filipino students, she became as convinced as I was that we were supposed to be in the Philippines.
As the day of the American team’s departure drew near, there was a growing concern about what to do with our fledgling student church. Rice and I had challenged the sixty-five American summer missionaries to reproduce themselves by discipling a Filipino new believer to fill their places. Unfortunately, there was no time for a lengthy training school. Because we saw ourselves as temporary missionaries, we had to quickly train Filipinos in basic ministry skills. In just a matter of weeks the Filipino converts would be the ones to pray with others to receive Christ, explain water baptism, pray for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and take them through basic spiritual foundations. We all felt the urgency to equip, empower, and get out of the way. This forced the team and the new Filipino believers to look to and trust in the Holy Spirit.
Because I scored close to zero for spiritual gifts related to evangelism, we began working as hard as we could to do what we could. For me, that meant discipling and teaching foundations to young Filipinos who had so decisively accepted Christas Savior and Lord. Everything we did in that extra month in Manila was motivated by the concept I had heard over and over at the Mississippi State University campus ministry: work yourself out of a job. Years later someone commented on the scores of young leaders who continually emerge from Victory–Manila. They were wondering aloud why American churches by comparison produce so few. Deborah’s responses truck right at the heart of the matter. “From the very beginning,” she said, “it was never about creating a position or a ministry for ourselves. We were always leading with the idea of leaving.”
The second four weeks went by quickly. Then we flew to Seoul, South Korea, to meet up with the American team for the long flight home. Within two weeks of our return we were in Dallas, Texas, at a staff meeting with the leaders of the ministry with which we were associated. The question of leadership for the new church in the Philippines was on the agenda for discussion. Deborah and I stood in front of about one hundred twenty leaders to give a report about the young church, and we were subsequently grilled about what we felt the Lord had spoken to us. It was one of our first such staff meetings, and we did not give the answers that some wanted to hear. I learned later that the closed-door discussions went something like this: “Who is Steve Murrell, what has he done, and what makes us think he can be trusted to build a significant church in Manila?”
Apparently those concerns were too great for the senior ministry leaders to overlook. I couldn’t help but wonder what was the meaning of that Admiral Hotel moment, that overwhelming
sense of God’s love for the Filipino people, and the undeniable calling to stay in Manila if we were not to be allowed to return to the Philippines. As I said earlier, a clear sense of God’s calling does not necessarily make things simple. Through the years I’ve learned that God rarely speaks so loudly that everyone around you hears it too. We definitely felt God wanted us to return to help establish the church in Manila. However, because the leaders of our ministry did not approve of our plan, there was nothing for Deborah and me to do but to trust our future to the Lord.
We headed back to Starkville thinking the decision was made and the conversation was over. Not that the leadership issue in the Philippines was settled; in the brief time since our departure, the leadership need had become even more obvious.
The discussion about our involvement was indeed over as far as we were concerned. Apparently I was not old enough, experienced enough, or anointed enough to be trusted with such an important assignment. The X factor, however, was my friend Rice Broocks. He was a part of that ongoing conversation among the senior leaders, and he believed I was the man for the job. Over and against the collective wisdom of that meeting, Rice had great faith in Deborah and me. Better said, he trusted in the power and grace of God to enable us. There is nothing like having someone in your corner with that kind of confidence. But that is quintessential Rice Broocks. He usually believes in people much more than they believe in themselves.
A couple of weeks after the Dallas staff meeting, I got another call from Rice. Apparently his faith in us had overcome everyone else’s doubts. As soon as we hung up the phone, we were again packing our bags, this time for a six-month stint in Manila to help develop the leadership team, a team made up of new believers.
I have never forgotten what it was like to have someone believe in me, especially when others did not. You might say that I have never gotten over it. Back in Manila, we began training young Filipino leaders who had surrendered their lives to Jesus just a few months before. I was never quite sure about the extent of our calling to serve the Filipino people. That one-month mission trip turned into two because no one else volunteered to stay. Then, despite senior leadership concerns, it turned into six months. At the two-year mark, Deborah and I knew that we were to dig in for the long haul and commit ourselves to equipping and empowering a new generation of Filipino leaders. We have been in the Philippines now for twenty-seven years. A lot has happened since that first out reach in 1984. We’ve lived through seven coup attempts, a couple of People Power revolutions, a volcano, a few earthquakes, countless brownouts, floods, and annual typhoons. We’ve made lots of friends and recorded countless memories.
I have never forgotten what it was like to have someone believe in me, especially when others did not.
Quite honestly, the first few coups were a bit unnerving, but after a while we got used to them. The same with the typhoons. Deborah and I eventually learned to sleep though the hurricane-force winds, but I still remember nights with no power and three scared little boys crawling into our bed as our house shook and the winds howled.
I also vividly remember sitting in my “office” at a Dunkin’ Donuts on Recto Avenue one hot July afternoon in 1984 trying to write a vision/mission/purpose statement for our new church. The first thing I scribbled on that DD napkin was: “We exist to honor God.” The honor and glory of God would be our starting point and our finish line. Whether or not we grew to be a large church was never the point. It is still not about becoming big, and it is still not about me. It is about honoring God and making disciples.
Many people search for, pray for, and spend their lives preparing
for a clear and definitive sense of God’s calling and purpose for their lives. How they hunger for something so much bigger than themselves—that one thing for which they were created! Some want it so badly and seek it so hard that they are tempted to interpret the slightest inclination or circumstance as the call of God. Others go to such great ends in order to find it that they are tempted to manufacture it in their own minds. My experience tells me that if we are ever to find that special grace and calling, we will most likely find it while in pursuit of doing what God has already called us to do. For me, that meant embracing the Great Commission as my own. Following the Lord’s command generally led me to a more specific understanding of what God wanted from my life. It is much like the rudder on a ship. If the ship is not moving at a minimum speed, the rudder is useless. You cannot be guided unless you are moving.
We exist to honor God.
The decision to stay in the Philippines did not mean that I considered myself prepared for it. I had no financial support,
no time to properly raise a partnership team, and no training in cross-cultural missions. I was not a great evangelist (and still am not). I was not a dynamic speaker or an inspirational leader. My paltry leadership experience consisted of two years leading a campus group of thirty people at MSU. I was relatively young, unproven, and untrained. What I did not understand was the relative part. In other words, I was young, unproven, and untrained relative to or compared to normal church standards of leadership in America. Those things were not as important in the Philippines. In Manila, all I needed was to get busy doing what I knew how to do—making disciples and teaching the foundations of the Christian faith.
I am an accidental missionary and a reluctant leader. I never set out or intended to be either one. I never intended to pastor a big church, never intended to be the leader of an international mission and church-planting organization. All I ever wanted to do was honor God and make disciples. That simple approach does not always make things easy; in fact, it can make things quite difficult at times. But it has simplified our lives. Honor God, make disciples—everything else has followed from that.
I was a clueless kid with virtually no missionary training and very little financial support. Yet I went from a struggling campus minister in Mississippi to serving as a cross-cultural church planter in Manila. God often chooses the unlikely candidates to carry out His plan, and He gave me the tools I needed. He even taught me some “spiritual judo.” In fact,
looking back it’s clear that Victory’s success is the result of our mastering just one unstoppable move.