Sunday, May 22, 2011

Newton News, 22 May, 2011

Please be in prayer for our dear sister in Christ, Cristina. Many of you have prayed for her cancer and she has been in remission for a while now. All of her exams have been clean lately, but she called me tonight asking for prayer. She is in a lot of pain and unable to sleep.

Helena and her son Alexandre continue to come faithfully to the services. I had a really good opportunity to witness to her husband, André not long ago. He seemed to listen well. He says he doesn't want to be a hypocrite, so he doesn't want to make some profession that he doesn't really mean in his heart. He said he prayed the "sinner's prayer" several times in his mother's Pentecostal church back in the Ukraine, but he only did it to get the pastor and his mother off his back. I was encouraged by his honesty, and by the way he seemed to want to understand. Please pray that he will truly be born again!

I joined a local community choir. They sing in mass sometimes, so we had to establish the ground rules. I guess they were pretty desperate for a tenor, 'cause they took me anyway (they have been very respectful to me). I have made good contacts there and have already had some chances to witness for Christ.

The director of the radio station where our program is aired wrote me last week saying that they (at the station) are avid fans of the program and that they would like to put us in another time slot along with the one we already have. He wanted to increase our listening audience by putting the program on at 6:30 PM (we are on during the lunch hour right now) to catch folks going home from work. He made me an offer I couldn't refuse; the second spot half price, and free for the rest of May. I took it!

I have the privilege of going to Lithuania a week from Friday to teach a week-long seminar in their Bible institute. We met Pastor Audrius when we were there a couple of years ago looking at cabins. We were impressed with him and his work and invited him to Portugal to present that work in several churches here. Our church and two others here have taken him on for financial support. He has been running an institute there with almost 30 students and another in neighboring Latvia with about the same number, all this on a very modest pastor's salary. His 22-year-old son, Paulus, is also developing a great ministry with a government orphanage. This work has been at great personal sacrifice as well. He even delayed getting married for a year in order to fulfill all the demands the orphanage put on him. The results are already being seen as he is able to witness to those kids and has even been able to start bringing them to church. Our church felt led to support these servants of God.

Summer is almost here and we are preparing for camps. We have had some wonderful help over the years to get this ministry going and just in the past year we have been able to make some important advancements. Please pray as we prepare that God will receive all the glory.

Monday, March 28, 2011

March 28, 2011 Update

We had a first-time visitor on Sunday. Her name is Elena (Really good name. In case you don't know, our granddaughter is also Elena). This Elena is Ukrainian. Her testimony was very interesting. She had been to some sort of evangelical church a few times in Ukraine, but was not a believer. Someone gave her a Bible there, but she said she was having a hard time being motivated to read it. 10 years ago she and her husband, André, moved to Portugal in search of a better life. She brought her Bible with her. About a year after arriving in Portugal she said she started wanting to know about God in a way she never had before. The Holy Spirit guided her to the source of all truth and she began reading the Bible, this time with a purpose. She accepted Jesus Christ as Savior through the message she read. She then started searching the internet to find out more about this new life she had. She researched different denominations, and came, eventually, to the conclusion that baptist churches were the closest to the Bible. Last week, she found our web site, and here she was on Sunday. She lives in a town just a few kilometers away from Castelo Branco. She had a wonderful spirit and said she will be back and will bring her 6-year-old son, Alexandre. She asked prayer for her husband's salvation.

I have had several opportunities to share the Gospel lately with new people. Most of the time it has been just in a small way, but I am having repeat conversations with some. Please pray especially for Fernando, Celeste and Mateus for salvation.

Barb is gearing up for her second sign language course. It was scheduled to start last week but got postponed until next week. At this very moment she is having a practice session with one of the ladies from the last and future classes, Marta. Please pray for this contact as well.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Newton News January 2011

Our first (Castelo Branco) missions conference was a great success. Even with all the complications. First, our son-in-law Mike Pereira was supposed to preach on missions giving. As you have already heard his father passed away the Thursday before the conference, so he was gone dealing with that. I want to thank everyone who gave financially to help him through this trial. It was an expensive ordeal as he had to travel out to the islands, rent a car to get around and who knows what other expenses in that situation. I know that many of you prayed for him as well during this time, and we are grateful. Some other people we had hoped would attend didn't come; it was just our faithful few. We were grateful for them as always and we do not take them for granted. In one way it was good that it was that way because we were able to go deeper with the idea of giving than we might have been able to if there were visitors present. Pastor Audrius and his wife, Diana, were a tremendous blessing. He preached a couple of wonderful, touching messages. They communicated very effectively the ministries God had given them in Lithuania and Latvia. I believe our church and some others they were in will be able to support them. What a wonderful opportunity! They have about 30 in their Bible institute in Lithuania and 25 in Latvia studying to serve God. Our small help can spread very far by the grace of God.

Someone gave the funds we needed to buy roofing for the bath houses and other places where we need it. I am in the process of putting together the materials and in a couple of weeks we have a friend from the states coming to help. I am sending a request out today to everyone else here in Portugal for help during that time. Our next event at the Mount of Olives is snow camp. It comes later this year than usual since it is based on the Fat Tuesday, Carnaval, Mardi Gras (pick the name you know best) date and so will be the 6th through 9th of March. Hope there is still snow on the mountain, but we will have a good camp regardless.

We got our well dug, and there is plenty of water. Unfortunately, the pump we have won't work with the depth of the water in the well, so we will need to get a submersible pump system. That will cost about 1000 euros. We can still pump from the pond for now, it just has to be heavily bleached (frogs and snakes and stuff doing what they do in the pond) and we have to haul drinking water from town. When we get the new pump we will be doing great. We still need more bunk beds and (eventually) to move forward with some more electricity. We have a small generator, and we would like to get a bigger one. Ideally we would like to put in solar but it is pricey. I think the best thing to do is get a bigger generator for now and as we can start buying solar a panel at a time. Even a small amount can be useful, but it will take quite a bit to power everything.

Barb is taking sign language classes twice a week. Apparently the Portuguese version is a LOT different from the American, but her background in it still helps a lot. There are 12 of them in the class and the teacher seems intrigued by Barb's reason for learning the sign language. Her next assignment is to explain about our "house". In other words the camp. She will have a great opportunity to explain who we are and what we are doing. At the mall the other day she felt a tap on her shoulder. It was one of the other students, a young lady who works in the mall. Barb has had a couple of opportunities to talk to her. We already knew of a deaf man that worked in the food court at that mall busing tables. We went there one afternoon this week to see if he was there. Barb took her sign language book and we sat in the food court and did some studying, Barb practicing her signs. The man was there, and he was not able to resist. They had a long conversation, and he wants to help her more with her signing. His name is Abel and the young lady is Marta.

A week from Monday we will be in Albufeira to help with a week-long evangelism campaign. I am excited to see how the Lord uses it. I have been put in charge of the music program, so I get to play Ira Sankey. We are scheduled to do the same thing here in Castelo Branco and in at least two other places this year. We believe God has directed us into this effort so we are expecting great things from it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Newton News January 2011

I was in the Post Office yesterday picking up a package. The conversation went something like this:

"This is heavy! I should have had you come back here to get it." (lady clerk)
"Its Bibles," said I.
"Oh, are you one of those "elders"? (what they call Mormons)
I always react strongly to comments like that. Even today someone asked if we were JW's. I figure a strong reaction will ease the minds of those who don't like the particular cult, and if they themselves are members I don't want any confusion about what I think of their beliefs.
"NO. I am a Baptist! In fact I am a baptist pastor."
There were very few customers in the place at that moment, and two other clerks came closer to hear this conversation. The comment was made that religious leaders like to tell people what to do. I let them know that we don't operate like that and they seemed genuinely interested to hear what the Biblical function of a pastor really is. I had the opportunity to emphasize the importance and exclusivity of the Bible message, and left them with literature and an invitation to our missions conference next week.

I mentioned the query today as to whether we were JW's. This happened while we were distributing John and Romans in the old section of town, at the base of the castle. We are including an invitation to our missions conference. We have also convinced the owner of our favorite pizzeria to make a discounted student menu and we put a flier about it in our packet of literature. I tell young people that I give the packet to, "Two important things: The Word of God and pizza. It doesn't get much better than that!" We have started targeting areas that have a lot of college students with it.

Please pray for our missions conference next Thursday and Friday nights. We have a Lithuanian pastor and his wife coming and I was able to get him meetings in 4 other churches while he is here in Portugal. He is doing a great work in Lithuania, pastoring a church and directing a Bible Institute to train pastors both in Lithuania and Latvia. We want to help by supporting the Bible Institute. He has been bearing the expenses almost alone, and he is not a rich man. Our son-in-law will be preaching the conference. A couple in our church were in Angola in the 60's and helped start churches there. They will speak about those days during the conference as well.

We still have a number of projects that need to be done at the Mount of Olives. Top on the list right now are roof panels to finish covering the bath houses and the eating area and two cabins (will cost about $3000 total) and more bunk-beds. The price of those keeps fluctuating, but they cost about $260 right now. We need a total of 25 more of them to get to full capacity.

God bless!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thoughts From The Harvest

I want to spend a few minutes writing about meditations that I have had during our recent olive harvest.

I suppose I should start with a short explanation of why we have an olive harvest in case someone doesn't already know. Several years back, we felt like the Lord was leading us to begin a camp ministry here in Portugal. It took several years of praying, planning and waiting, but 4 years ago we bought a piece of property about 22 kilometers outside of our city of Castelo Branco. We didn't buy it because it had olive trees, but it did have them (about 500 of them!) and, along with all the other things we had to do to get the camp up and running, we had to learn what to do with them.

It turns out that we bought into one of the best olive producing areas in the whole world as far as quality of olives and oil are concerned. Back when olive oil was still really important in Europe and the Middle East, this area actually one prizes Europe-wide for the quality of their oil. These days olive oil is quite inexpensive here, and labor prices have increased so that you would have to have a really large farm and mechanize the care and harvesting a lot in order to make money at it. We are just pleased to have our own super delicious oil to use for ourselves and family and friends.

Throughout the year we have to do some pruning, and sometimes we fertilize some of the trees. That is basically all there is to do until the first of November. Then we have some real work to do.

This year we gathered in over 700 kilos of olives. We worked at it for three weeks, obviously not every day, but we still put in quite a few hours. We had help from one missionary for a couple of days and 6 people from a sister church came and worked one Saturday with us.

It really is not all about the oil or the olives. They are wonderful, but the fellowship we have when people come to help (some have even come from the States) is something special. There is just something about a real harvest that reminds us of so many things. We we sing, and eat, and have a devotion time, and we even take some time to pick olives.

The time when it is just Barb and I is pretty special too. Some times we work together and some times apart. Either way, there is a lot of time for reflection, seeing as the actual olive removal isn't exactly rocket science.

One day during this years harvest I was about 2 meters up on my ladder. All of a sudden a strong breeze came up and the ladder started shaking around. Those of you who know me understand that if my weight had been on the ladder it would have taken a seriously strong wind to get it to move. After my initial moment of panic, i too realized that something didn't make sense. I wasn't falling or even moving though the ladder looked like something from a 60's dance floor. I looked down at my feet and discovered that the toes of my size 48's (13 in America) had allowed me to actually be standing on a strong limb instead of having my weight on the ladder. It seemed to me to be allegorical of life somehow. After I pondered the event a while I thought about the fact that many tomes God is sustaining us without our even knowing it. We think we have everything covered, and it takes a stiff wind to show us the truth - God is holding us up, not our own "ladder".

There were some old branches still on the ground from last year. We try to keep them cleaned up, but with 13 acres... I did notice that there were no olives on those branches. No surprise? Of course not. They were no longer connected to the source. They will be burned sometime soon along with the other branches that we have pruned lately.

I had my chainsaw with me for a lot of the harvest. Pruning at harvest time has the advantage that you can see which branches aren't producing. Once in a while you come across a tree that has almost (or even completely) no fruit. I learned from our neighbor just how tough olive trees are. When they stop producing, you simply cut them as low to the ground as you can. In two years it is amazing how many olives the new growth gives. I hope I never need "extreme pruning". Even the odd branch that gets cut off hurts plenty.

The best branches are supple. You can reach out and pull them to you, which is very helpful at times. The best bunches of olives are often at the top of the tree where there is new growth. It really is a beautiful things to see those branches reaching for the light of the sun. They get the light, too, and transform it, along with the nutrients in the sap, into fruit. Much fruit. Sometimes those branches get beyond what we can reach, either from the ladder or from standing on the larger branches. These healthy branches can be pulled down to you so you can get to those big, juicy olives. If you are careful, the branch won't break. It will go on sucking up that wonderful, powerful sap. It will keep on reaching for the sun. If you get a dry one, it may still have a few olives on it, but you know it won't produce again. If it breaks easily, it has already ceased being fed. It needs to be broken off. It may even be shading another branch that could be producing well if it only could get some sun. It is also really prickly. Those kind scratch you up badly. Even if it doesn't break it will not give you that satisfaction of that "snap back" of the supple branch. It just kind of sits there. Which branch is your life more like? When someone jerks on you, how do you react?

We learned early on that the better we clean our olives, the better the oil will taste. When I take our oil to the press the owner just lights up. He actually brought people over to look at our olives this year. "These are good olive", he told them. When we go back to pick up our oil he likes to show me other people's oil. Without them around, thankfully. He even has me taste it sometimes. Then, with his big, silly grin in place, he say, "now taste yours!" While it is true that we start with a superior olive (a lesson in itself, I think), the care we take with our cleaning clearly makes a difference as well. Last year I asked him (Senhor António, the owner of the press) to test the acidity of our oil. He turned back from his test tube and said, "Ó, Senhor Allen, isto é medicamento!" (this is medicine!) Clean, high quality olives: the best oil in the World.