The Ends of the Earth



The Ends of the Earth



Published by Partners International Canada at Shakespir

Copyright 2016

Philip J. Dempster



Prayer (1577)

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to the shore.


Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst for the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth,

We have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.


Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wilder seas where storms will show Your mastery;

Where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

Sir Francis Drake (British Vice-Admiral, Explorer and Pirate)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Greatest People You Have Never Heard Of

2. Donation at 35,000 feet

3. Mali, Milton and Timbuktu

4. Pakistan

Dreams and Visions – A.J.P.

Kashmir Earthquake Zone

Pakistan and Kashmir Earthquake

Returning from Kashmir

The Itchy in Karachi Show

6. Dr G. In Lebanon

7. Life and Death in Liberia

Colonel Don Oates

Liberia 2009

8. Missions (and History) Full Circle

9. David Soo in Northern Thailand

10. Dr. Paul Chang – Northern Thailand

11. Fat Lady from Rio

12. Bolivia

A Visit to Mars

Loving Quechua

13. Indonesoia

A Modern Revival

Beautiful Bali

Dr. Phil #2

Lombok: Island Paradise

Septer: A Martyr for Christ

Real Head-Hunters

Behind the Plank

14. Brazil – Colombia – Peru

Tarma, Peru

Heart-Felt Welcome


Ticuna Medicine

Brazil – Colombia – Peru

Have a Yavari Nice Trip

Three Countries in 30 Minutes

Daughter in the Amazon

15. Bhutan

The Peaceful Kingdom

16. Six Dollars to $16 Million – Dr. John Kao

17. China


Shangri-la at Last

18. Fire Drill in Makassar

19. Haiti

or Hades

A Trip to the Caribbean in January

20. India

Camping in the Mountains of Andra Pradesh

Miracle of the MacBook Air

The Weak Things of This World

21. India and Pakistan

22. Southeast Asia

Singapore, Manado and Ambon Indonesia

Breaking Up in Indonesia

Angkor Wat?

23. South Sudan

The Youngest Country

O Yei

Juba, South Sudan and Eastward

Somewhere in South Sudan

23. The Middle East

Life and Death in Northern Iraq

Lebanon: Making Travel a Habit

Looking for a Amman in Jordan

Basking in Beirut

24. Nepal

Beauty from Ashes

Hungry in Kathmandu

25.. Nigeria

The Children Shall Lead Them

Snakes in Nigeria

26. Bhutan: Flying Beneath a Mountain

27. India

Slummin’ It in Calcutta

City on Top of the Mountain

Train-ing in the Foothills

Rosie the Bible Lady

City of Joy

No Longer Head-Hunters

Tea and More Tea

Pick Out the Canadians

28. Cuba

Where Am I?

29. Author’s Journey

30. Partners International Canada



Introduction The Greatest People You’ve Never Heard Of…

8Speakup for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

9Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9

A recent missions conference required travelling to a church located near one of Canada’s Special Forces training centres in Ontario. Several incredibly fit young men attended. They had just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan and other undisclosed locations. My recounting of travels to encourage church planting movements in frontier areas seemed quite tame in comparison to their life-or-death experiences. One of them asked me, “Have you ever been shot at or threatened in all your trips to these very unstable areas?” He was rather incredulous that I could not recall any incident of the sort.

That question began a period of introspection on four decades of travel for Kingdom business and I too shared his incredulity as I recalled the Lord’s guidance and protection during my travels. These travels have taken me to some of the remotest places on the planet, but this book is not primarily about me or my travels. The intent of this book is to highlight God’s acts in every corner of the globe and to tell of some of the choicest people in His Kingdom.

I call them ‘Royalty’ in the Kingdom of God. You won’t see their names in the headlines, but their work is among the most important done on the globe. Individuals, villages and regions are impacted. Transformed lives are their legacy and the transformed lives transform communities and entire ethnic groups.

The People of Mizoram in Northeast India responded to the Gospel of Jesus Christ almost 100 years ago through the ministry of Presbyterian missionaries from Wales. They were transformed from headhunters to evangelists. Places like Mizoram have churches on virtually every street corner. The poverty and begging that are endemic in most parts of India are nonexistent in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram. Thousands of Mizo missionaries penetrate every corner of India and also are sent out internationally.

Once destitute street children in Calcutta, India, now graduate from University and minister to children in similar situations through Jatiyo Kristyo Prochar Samity in Calcutta. Children who were sponsored as refugees in Hong Kong in the 1950’s and 60’s, and are now living in Hong Kong, Canada, Australia and many other countries where Chinese have settled, giving back millions of dollars annually to mission endeavours in countries such as Nepal, Indonesia and Laos. Partners International Canada works with people who are the fruit of missions in many areas. We see the ongoing, multiplying results of the light of Jesus Christ in countries around the world.

God continues to raise up leaders from every tribe and nation to lead His people. It is a revolutionary, country-changing Gospel that multiplies daily. I often hear the question, “Why does God not do the things He did in the first century church?” There were ‘signs and wonders’; thousands became Jesus followers when Peter spoke at Pentecost. The short answer is, He does! In absolute numbers, some four or five times the numbers at Pentecost are entering the Kingdom EVERY DAY in 2016. We rarely hear this good news.

The pages following attempt to describe these people, including travelogues of my visits to the areas in which they live. They are reflections from my journals and journeys with Partners International.

Come with me and I will introduce you to these amazing people in the Kingdom, who are seeing God at work in spectacular ways.

Donation at 35,000 feet

In 2006, I was flying back from India completing an assignment for the Canadian office of Partners International. I had sold my business and was enjoying retirement. Brent Mitchell, the President of Partners International Canada at the time, needed some assistance to monitor some of the many and diverse ministries managed by Partners International Canada. Since I knew the regions from prior experience and was long associated with the leaders, I agreed to go and visit. It was a pleasure, other than the flying part, to visit old friends in Calcutta, Delhi and Sitali.

The trip back home is long. Ten hours from Calcutta to London; a layover and another seven to Toronto. Standing at the back of the plane stretching and trying to get some circulation back into my lower extremities, I was joined by a fit-looking Canadian military type and we struck up a conversation. He asked me why I was in Calcutta and I told him the nature of the ministry. He and his wife were returning from Saudi Arabia where he trained Saudi F16 pilots. What he said next surprised me. “I became a Christian in Saudi Arabia.”

The statement was jaw-dropping. If you are a Saudi, stating that you are a Jesus follower, your life-expectancy may be shortened considerably. It is a capital offence to convert from Islam. Where in Saudi Arabia is there opportunity to be able to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ? He told me how his wife began attending an Alpha course in Riyadh and became a Jesus follower. He followed her lead in short order and they were now part of a mostly-expatriate fellowship of believers in the country.

At that moment, his wife joined us. She was a happy, outgoing French-Canadian. She began to ask the same questions and then, “What is the name of your organization?” When I told her Partners International Canada she replied, “Oh, I know that organization. My sister in Winnipeg had a gift magazine (Hope in Action) and we were wondering how we can give to workers in the Arab world!” We spent time discussing the various ministries of Partners International in the Arab countries and I sent them additional information when I returned to Canada. Their fellowship in Saudi Arabia then sent a large gift to mobilize workers in Iraq.

Reflecting on the encounter it became clear that this was a good business. God sets up the encounter at 35,000 feet over the Atlantic and people give you money to pass on to your friends! What better way to invest your retirement.

This incident was instrumental in my decision to again work full time in the Canadian office these past years. There is nothing like the Lord’s business, in whatever form, to move your life to a different level.




Mali, Milton and Timbuktu

The photograph on the cover of this book was taken by David Hunt, Director of International Operations at Partners International Canada. The Taureg man standing in the sand dunes of Mali graphically depicts one of the ends-of-the-earth-places that Timbuktu, Mali symbolizes. More than that, it represents the amazing tapestry that God weaves as He builds His Kingdom worldwide. ‘Chance’ encounters and relationships that years later result in changed lives and transformation beyond our wildest imaginings.


Shortly after joining Partners International USA, I was deputized to move the mission to an accounting system compliant with industry best practices. The mission’s growth had outpaced the existing systems, and we needed to move ahead-of-the-curve in our compliance with the highest standards of accounting for nonprofits.


One of the ‘Big Five’ accounting firms was contracted to move us forward. A team of great, personable folk led by Carl Lee (one does not usually hear ‘personable’ and ‘accountants’ in the same sentence) came to our office and began the conversion to new systems. The accountants completed the transition and continued to audit the mission each year. I lost contact in the ensuing years after our family moved from California back to Ontario, Canada.


How could such a seemingly mundane event result in hundreds of children receiving an education in a Christian context and thousands hearing the good news of Jesus Christ in the closed Muslim country of Mali decades later?


Mali is a country not visited by many Westerners. Desert sand and Timbuktu. Yes, Matilda, there really is a Timbuktu, which is often a synonym for ‘ends-of-the-earth.’ There are few Christ-followers in Mali and the few there are threatened and harassed regularly. A young man named Nouhoum Coulibaly and some of his family members were among those few Christians in Mali. In due course Nouhoum travelled to nearby Senegal to work with Campus Crusade for Christ.


At the same time, a team from Partners International USA arrived in Senegal to visit several of their partner ministries in the country. This team consisted of Partners International USA board members and some staff. They were in need of a translator and someone recommended the young student, Nouhoum, due to his excellent command of English and French.


One of the tour group members began to ask Nouhoum about his own plans. Nouhoum responded by saying he desired to go to a seminary in Canada to complete his studies. When pressed, Nouhoum told the member of the tour group that it was a dream that would never be realized as the Seminary (now University) Tyndale College required $36,000 for foreign students to enroll. That amount of money was inconceivably out of reach for a pastor’s son in Mali.


The traveller then informed Nouhoum to start making plans to go, that he would cover the cost. The Heavenly Father laid it on his heart to help. (You can read his story in his book “Reaching New Heights” on Amazon Books Thus began a relationship where Nouhoum not only had his tuition covered but had a mentor who flew from Colorado Springs to Toronto each year to encourage him.

Nouhoum flew to Toronto, arriving late one night with few funds and fewer friends in cold Canada. Carl Lee flew from Fort Collins, Colorado and met him in Toronto to help him orientate far away from family and friends. He stayed with Nouhoum three days to see him settle in residence at Tyndale.


How are these two events connected? A new accounting system and a young man from Mali? Well…


Several years ago Aaron Lalvani, a good friend, scheduled Nouhoum to speak at his church in the small town of Milton, in Ontario, Canada. Just prior to his speaking engagement, Nouhoum spoke to his benefactor, Carl Lee. Carl Lee remembered that we (Phil) had met while he was auditing the Partners International accounts in California and told Nouhoum he should give me a call while in Canada. Keep in mind that Canada stretches some 6000 kilometres coast-to-coast, and Carl did not know where in this vast country I lived.


Nouhoum mentioned this to Aaron as they drove to Milton for the speaking engagement at Southside Community Church, the very church my family has attended for many years! Aaron immediately called me from his mobile phone while traveling on the freeway, dumbfounded that he asked to speak with his friend, Phil, while they were on the way to the very church we both attended.


Aaron, a relatively new Christian, was energetically becoming involved in world missions. His introduction to world missions became a passion and the story of Nouhoum and how the Sovereign God brought him to Canada thrilling. Aaron and I jointly led many men’s Bible studies. He was understandably astonished that this Malian knew his friend Phil. Confused, I wondered if this person Nouhoum had mistaken me for someone else, as I had never travelled to Mali nor could I recall knowing anyone in the area.


As I have previously mentioned. the senior account representative sent to renew our accounting system in San Jose was the young Carl Lee. Carl left the accounting firm and was the Chief Financial Officer of a computer company that through God’s blessings provided resources that enabled him to help many ministries over time. He joined the board of Partners International USA and eventually found himself in Senegal travelling as a Partners International board member with other interested participants.


Carl was impressed with the work and potential of the young translator, and the Lord directed him to help Nouhoum in the ensuing years to reach his dream.


Nouhoum completed two Masters of Divinity in Missions and in Pastoral studies and my Master of Theology. He is now a professor at Tyndale University and Seminary, and is married to a Canadian medical doctor. He is in great demand as a speaker across Canada. He personally travels to Mali each year to manage a team running Christian schools that help hundreds of children in very unstable areas and that also help in a wide variety of holistic ministries.



Dreams and Visions – A. J. P.


Saudi Arabia 2012


I met A.J.P. recently in a very dangerous city of South Asia. He represents dozens of men and women in the Middle East and South Asia. These brothers and sisters recount incredible stories of conversion that, while unique, detail similar experiences. It seems God is ‘going direct’ in many of these instances. They reflect the stories of ten of thousands of others whom I have not met, in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan who experienced the touch of a living Messiah.


I met A. J P. in Pakistan. He was part of a brave group starting a ‘mission’ to the Pashtoon people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is a dignified, handsome man. He leads an Anglican congregation in one of the most dangerous cities in the world if you are a Christian. Conversion is a capital offence in these countries. The reality of their experiences is immediately tested with no plausible reason to fake such experiences.


A.J.P. comes from a very well-known Muslim family and was born in Saudi Arabia where his father was teaching Islamic History in Madinah University. His father was a Mufti-E-Azam recipient (a title given for great Sunni scholarship and activism) and Orator in Masjid-e-Nabvi in Saudi Arabia. Both are very prestigious positions in the Muslim world. A.J.P.’s relatives are well-known political personages and two of his sisters are daughters-in-law of the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. His elder sister is married to Prince Saud-Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia and a younger sister is married to Prince Tarke-Al-Faisal.


Following in his father’s footsteps, A.J.P. obtained a Masters Degree in Islamic Studies and gained admission to Jamia-al-Azhar University in Cairo to complete his PhD in Islamic Theology. He wrote his thesis on ‘The Philosophy of Punishment in Islam’. Along with his classmate Dr. Zakir Naik, they were beloved students of Ahmed Deedat, who prepared them personally in his Anti-Christ Apologetic and Polemical Approach with which he became the world’s most renowned debater of Christianity. A.J.P. was appointed as Namib Imam (Assistant Imam) in Kaba for two years after graduation. He was then appointed as an Orator of the Jamia Mosque of Ittefaq, Lahore, which the former Prime Minister attended.


In his own words: “At the Jamia Mosque of Ittefaq on the 26th of December, 1998, while I was sitting in a room, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to me and said, “Follow me because I am the Saviour of the World’. But I considered it to be a false thought. After one month the Lord appeared to me again from an ocean of crystal-clear dazzling light and touched me. I felt as if my body was burned to ashes. I had a vision in which the father of the righteous Abraham showed me the Book of Life and I bowed at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ and I worshipped Him. I went into a coma-like state for 48 hours and when I revived I was unable to speak for two months.


“The first sentence I uttered was in Arabic; “This Jesus is my life”. I shared my vision with my spiritual leader who declared me to be a false Christ. I resigned from the Mosque and went back to my home where I fasted for forty days. Then I went to the nearest church and met with the Bishop and asked him to baptize me. He was very perplexed. He told me that this is a very tough decision both for myself and for him. In the end he advised me to stay in the church for the whole week and then he would baptize me. By the grace of God I was baptized on the 18th of June, 1999.


“Once news of my baptism began to spread, fatwas (religious decisions) were issued against me, calling for my death as an apostate. I was rejected by all, including my family. All of my belongings and property were taken from me. This was natural since I had been a reputed Islamic scholar. By January, 2001 I was homeless, destitute and sleeping on the grass in the Iqbal Park in Lahore. For three months I survived on one rupee a day for food and on free water from the park tap. The worst violence I faced was at my mother’s funeral in February, 2004. When I went to the funeral my relatives lost their temper and they persecuted me violently, causing me to be admitted to hospital with severe head injuries. My former classmate under Ahmed Deedat, Dr. Zakir Naik, ordered Al-Qaida to assassinate me because I was a threat to Islam. Even today, religious organizations like Markazi Sipah-e-Muhammad (banned as a terrorist organization) and Al-Qaida are striving to kill me. They have written threatening letters to the church. However, I began to serve Christ as a deacon and evangelist in Faisalabad and later as chaplain of the church in Peshawar. I also had the privilege to study Christian Theology for one year. Because of the threat of death I was directed by the Bishop not to perform my duties openly. In spite of all these things I have affirmed my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that He shall keep me alive to fulfill the work for which He has called me.”

Kashmir Earthquake Zone

Pakistan January, 2006

35°43’38.79” N 74°35’02.00” E

40 years of travelling and I have finally reached one of the ends-of-the-earth. There are certainly several ends-of-the-earth, but I cannot imagine a place more remote than those visited in the last few days.


The planning for this leg to Pakistan began rather late. There was a need to spend time with staff and board members of our various ministries in West Bengal, India. It is always better to combine visits to several ministries when travelling this far from home.


Many amazing, compassionate people responded to the news reports of the horrendous earthquake in Pakistan that killed thousands. Partners International is not primarily a relief agency but these people know that we have a network of gifted people on the ground, people who are able to respond immediately without the need for parachuting supplies and foreign help into the country.


The leadership in Pakistan selected a few stricken communities that would benefit. In a disaster, most of the immediate help goes to the people near the main roads. Those in the more remote areas to which there is little access must fend for themselves. Our partners found several such communities in remote areas. The communities worst hit are of course, Muslim and amongst an ethnic group called the Pashtoons. I cannot express what an amazing experience it was for me, a jaded traveller, to visit and meet these people.


As a kid, I remember reading about and admiring the Pathan warriors who fought with the British. These are scary-looking guys who wear turbans, have ammunition belts strapped across their chests and walk through high mountains for weeks at a time. They wear skirts but hey! who would call guys with ammo strapped on their chests girlie men? If you visit our home, you will see we have some porcelain likenesses of these Pathans on our wall in 3D.


A few quickly-exchanged emails with our partners in Lahore did not a detailed plan make. I arrived without much idea where we would go and how we would get there. Twelve hours later, having entered the Silk Road used by Marco Polo and Alexander the Great, driving folded up in a Japanese mini van, we arrived high in the foothills of the Himalayas at a small inn, which I shall charitably describe as ‘rustic.’ One room, 8’ by 10’, was reserved for the five of us.


The details of eating and sleeping are things for a longer, more boring dissertation, but breakfast eaten standing up, outdoors in the street of some podunk town in northern Pakistan mountains at minus five degrees Celsius, now that is a memory that will stick with me. We were back in the van at 5:00 a.m. with a four-and-a-half hour drive further up the mountains. This road had potholes that would make a Geo disappear, and no such thing as wimpy guard rails. The last 45 minutes of the van portion of the ride saw the road dwindle to the status of a cow path.


Our guides informed us we needed to hike from where we parked the van to reach these remote villages. They estimated 45 minutes to an hour to hike but forgot to mention that was for a Pashtoon or Iron Man participant, not aging desk-jockeys. We hiked for 30 minutes and then removed shoes and rolled up pants to ford a large, rather cold river flowing from the snow-covered peaks about 1500 metres above us. Once across, I asked the inevitable, “Are we there yet?” and the Pathan guides pointed up the ‘hill’. That hill was another 2000 metres, virtually straight up. In total, five solid hours of hiking to over 3500 metres (12,000 feet or so) where the air gets thin and old guys die of heart attacks.


My advanced mountain gear included a preppy blue blazer and Florsheim leathers, fortunately equipped with rubber soles. This brilliant sartorial decision resulted when some wonderful people in Milton, Bob and Mary Lou Hawley (BOMAR) donated bags of clothing for these earthquake victims. Because of this, my bags were rather over-filled and I had to drop a few items like… proper shoes and coat.


(Months later, the Americans flew a covert mission to this very area (Zero Dark Thirty) and killed Osama Bin Laden at night. My Pakistani companions called me on Skype and said, “Uncle… we stayed only 800 metres from the home of Osama Bin Laden!”)

Pakistan/Kashmir Earthquake 2006

The earthquake in northern Pakistan, Kashmir, sometimes called ‘Occupied Kashmir’ by my Indian friends, was incredibly devastating. I have been close to several earthquakes, including arriving 36 hours after the 7.9 one in Mexico City in 1985. Damage and loss of life are unimaginably huge.

This quake was unusual in its violence. The villagers told me it felt like every home, every mountain, if you can imagine, was lifted up, shaken and then smashed down. In some areas that we hiked through EVERY home was destroyed. The homes are built on almost vertical slopes and made of mud brick, heavy stones and large wooden beams. These were flattened. People inside died, but thankfully, many were out in the terraced rice fields and on the trails when the quake struck at 8:00 a.m.

The danger did not stop there. The mountains are covered with huge boulders, some weighing in the hundreds of tons. I took photos of huge granite rocks moved several feet and now just teetering 1000 feet over homes below. A portion of the trail on which we hiked to the peak was destroyed by a landslide before we returned the same day.

The people are of course, traumatized. Their world is dangerous at the best of times but now all their foundations are literally torn away. They have real winters here. Icy rain followed the earthquakes. It had snowed and these people live in makeshift shelters and rocks stacked up to provide some protection. Many relief agencies and governments have helped with tents and steel roofs, but these people in the remote areas have to fend for themselves. It was tough to see kids with runny noses, bare feet and few places to go to get warm.

On a personal note, I really did not think I could make it to the top. There was not enough oxygen for me above 10,000 feet. The ‘You have exceeded manufacturer’s operating limits’ light kept flashing on the dashboard in my head. I could not get my breath and my heart rate would not come down. I told the Pathans to take the food and clothes and my camera and take some shots of the distribution. I simply could not go on. Four of the seven Pakistan ministry team had already dropped out, so I did not feel too badly. I did not want them to have to carry 230 pounds of dead meat down the mountain.

The old man, the leader, looked at me like some feeble alien carbon-based life form and kept encouraging me through a translator, “It’s just a little farther.. a little farther” every 45 minutes or so. They slowed their pace and insisted I be there personally. I sat down to catch my breath again and something startling happened. Two of the younger men came over and motioned me to stay seated. The two of them began to massage my legs from the ankles upward and within a few seconds I could feel the oxygen returning to my head and heart. In just a few moments I was 100% and on my way again. I would like to patent that massage. What a touching act of partnership from these Muslim mountain men!

We distributed brand-new clothing and food while we were there and the gratitude was palpable. In one of the most touching moments, the same strong old man who had carried my equipment up the mountain came and hugged me. These are warm, hospitable people and that extra squeeze communicated a deep appreciation that words could not.

It was absolutely clear to me that what these Pakistani Christians initiated, and that I participated in, had a powerful impact on these people. It was not with words or preaching. They knew we were Christians and were puzzled why we would make such effort to help. “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” Francis of Assisi

As we hiked many hours down the valley, people from villages two mountains away shouted to us and asked if we were the people who had helped and given gifts up the mountain?

Imagine! The news of giving these little gifts travelled over the mountains in just a few hours. The hope is that the Good News of a Gift worth infinitely more will travel just as fast!

Returning from Pakistan October, 2006

I remember, as a child, coming home from summer camp and telling my parents that I had won the ‘best-packed suitcase’ award at the end of the week. They were so proud of me until they realized that I never unpacked the bag my mother assembled for me seven days earlier! I had the same déjà vu all over again arriving back in Canada and finding my lost suitcase delivered to my home. British Airways found it and shipped it back to Canada after I had spent ten days roaming in Pakistan and Malta with a small backpack.

Picture a typical Pakistani mountain town nestled in a deep valley with a fast-flowing river through the centre. The mountains rise severely from the valley. Houses are generally made of stone and plaster, with wooden beams in the ceiling. Two-, three- and four-storey buildings are made of concrete and rebar. The town is rather homely even though the setting is picturesque.

The Town of Balakot is on the last few miles of road before you reach China. It is a road heavily travelled for commercial reasons, mainly with trucks bringing goods in and out of China to Pakistan. It is reported that this road is also heavily travelled by terrorists of various ilk. Terror sponsors from China, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet regularly in the city to plot the destruction of the West, of India’s control on Kashmir, of the church in Pakistan.

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On October 3rd, 2005, over a thousand leaders of these groups met to discuss how to eliminate Christians from Pakistan. On October 8th, 2005, Balakot ceased to exist. The epicentre of the earthquake that killed more than 70,000 people was directly under the town. There are few buildings remaining. And as for the hotel that housed the conferences noted above? It no longer exists. You cannot even locate the foundation of that particular hotel! Mountains have sheared away for 12 kilometres around and slid into the valley. It took four days just to clear the landslides from the main road leading to the area. The large hospital built by Christian missionaries for the benefit of the people was the only significant building that remained standing.

It was astonishing to visit this town one year later, a place where thousands died. Virtually nothing has been rebuilt. A few make-shift shops assembled on the main street take advantage of the commerce that remains. The trip was very successful. I had the opportunity to meet many of the families we have helped this past year. We made many new contacts. These relationships remain and Light is shining in closed places. On the way back to the West, I met my long-suffering wife, Nancy and we spent five The Town of Balakot is on the last few miles of road before you reach China. It is a road heavily travelled for commercial reasons, mainly with trucks bringing goods in and out of China to Pakistan. It is reported that this road is also heavily travelled by terrorists of various ilk. Terror sponsors from China, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet regularly in the city to plot the destruction of the West, of India’s control on Kashmir, of the church in Pakistan.

On October 3rd, 2005, over a thousand leaders of these groups met to discuss how to eliminate Christians from Pakistan. On October 8th, 2005, Balakot ceased to exist. The epicentre of the earthquake that killed more than 70,000 people was directly under the town. There are few buildings remaining. And as for the hotel that housed the conferences noted above? It no longer exists. You cannot even locate the foundation of that particular hotel! Mountains have sheared away for 12 kilometres around and slid into the valley. It took four days just to clear the landslides from the main road leading to the area. The large hospital built by Christian missionaries for the benefit of the people was the only significant building that remained standing.

It was astonishing to visit this town one year later, a place where thousands died. Virtually nothing has been rebuilt. A few make-shift shops assembled on the main street take advantage of the commerce that remains. The trip was very successful. I had the opportunity to meet many of the families we have helped this past year. We made many new contacts. These relationships remain and Light is shining in closed places. On the way back to the West, I met my long-suffering wife, Nancy and we spent five days in Malta. For days we met with the International Alliance of Partners International (development offices from Singapore, Australia, UK and USA). It was great to recuperate, report and enjoy these good people from around the The Town of Balakot is on the last few miles of road before you reach China. It is a road heavily travelled for commercial reasons, mainly with trucks bringing goods in and out of China to Pakistan. It is reported that this road is also heavily travelled by terrorists of various ilk. Terror sponsors from China, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet regularly in the city to plot the destruction of the West, of India’s control on Kashmir, of the church in Pakistan.

On October 3rd, 2005, over a thousand leaders of these groups met to discuss how to eliminate Christians from Pakistan. On October 8th, 2005, Balakot ceased to exist. The epicentre of the earthquake that killed more than 70,000 people was directly under the town. There are few buildings remaining. And as for the hotel that housed the conferences noted above? It no longer exists. You cannot even locate the foundation of that particular hotel! Mountains have sheared away for 12 kilometres around and slid into the valley. It took four days just to clear the landslides from the main road leading to the area. The large hospital built by Christian missionaries for the benefit of the people was the only significant building that remained standing.

It was astonishing to visit this town one year later, a place where thousands died. Virtually nothing has been rebuilt. A few make-shift shops assembled on the main street take advantage of the commerce that remains. The trip was very successful. I had the opportunity to meet many of the families we have helped this past year. We made many new contacts. These relationships remain and Light is shining in closed places. On the way back to the West, I met my long-suffering wife, Nancy and we spent five days in Malta. For days we met with the International Alliance of Partners International (development offices from Singapore, Australia, UK and USA). It was great to recuperate, report and enjoy these good people from around the

days in Malta. For days we met with the International Alliance of Partners International (development offices from Singapore, Australia, UK and USA). It was great to recuperate, report and enjoy these good people from around the globe.


Itchy in Karachi Show – Pakistan October, 2006

It is Canadian Thanksgiving and I am in Northern Pakistan. It sure makes one thankful for what we have in good old Halton, Ontario. I am back again on behalf of Partners International Canada. Partners has been on the front lines helping the earthquake victims in this area. Normally, it would not be necessary to visit again so soon, but because of the amount donated and the sensitivities of this area of the world, we have to make sure that we can report credibly to the government and donors.

This trip brought a little more anxiety than usual. The National Post had been doing reports on terrorist camps in these regions. Scheduled three weeks earlier, my trip was postponed when I became ill the day of my departure. The day I cancelled, the Pope got the folks in this region really upset with some of his comments. The same day, one of our drivers in the mountains had the brakes fail on a rented jeep and drove it off a 200-foot cliff! It is wonderful having Someone else in charge of my itinerary.

The trip took me from Toronto to London and from there on to Islamabad. There was an exotic flavour to it as cities like Bukhara, Tashkent and Kabul flashed up on the screen as we flew over Russia and Central Asia. After a hard left over Kabul, we landed at the foot of the Himalayas in Islamabad/Rawalpindi, Pakistan. There was an efficient trek through Customs and the usual expectant wait at Baggage Claim. I waited and waited until I was one of just a handful of people remaining. No bag! Apparently Air Canada was not talking to British Airways in London. (May the fleas of a thousand camels infest their headrests.) The reality of five days in the mountains without a change of clothes began to set in. My shampoo, toothpaste and other gels not allowed in carry-on luggage sat in Heathrow. My brand-new hiking shoes that I had carefully broken in before leaving? They also sat in Heathrow airport. The funny part is I had my Florsheims and they were going to have to take me up the mountain again, this time with Pakistani robes and baggy ‘jammie’ pants.

We drove all day to get to a tiny, grubby town, aptly named Buttgram (see Google Earth) and arrived late at night in the roughest accommodation in which I have ever stayed in my thirty years of travel. It made the Kalimantan wooden floors, my previous worst, look like a Holiday Inn Express. The back half of the building was simply… gone, from the earthquake that collapsed this area last year. You certainly did not want to be sleepwalking, as the room we stayed in at this Muslim school guest house dropped two floors to the jagged concrete below. The students, whom we were kicking out of their room, did everything to make us comfortable… on a concrete floor with no mattress.

The following is a direct quote from our Partner; “On 8 October 2005 an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale struck South Asia, affecting 3.5 million people: 73,000 people were killed, 79,000 were injured and disabled and 2.8 million were left without shelter, assets and livelihoods. In North-West Frontier Province, the earthquake damaged or destroyed 84 percent of homes, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure; in Pakistan Administered Kashmir the figure was 36 percent. More than 2,700 villages were affected in an area of 30,000 kilometres2 . Livestock and significant food and seed supplies were lost; loss of farm labour, trauma and migration resulted in crop losses of between 30 percent and 75 percent. Aftershocks and landslides severed rural roads, forcing 250,000 people into tented camps and stranding 745,000 people in mountainous terrain where they remained dependent on air drops for food, shelter and medicine. The impact on health and education was devastating: 18,000 schoolchildren and 853 teachers lost their lives; 574 health facilities and 4,844 schools were destroyed. Over 955,000 school-age children had their education disrupted; 450,000 children aged 5 to 9 required immediate access to primary education. There was significant destabilization of land and environmental damage. Landslides reduced tree cover. Between 50% and 100% of irrigation structures and community water systems were damaged or buried; natural springs dried up as a result of seismic shifts. Terraces and retaining walls required significant rehabilitation.”

Even though, as I write this, I’m missing Thanksgiving Day in Canada, I cannot feel sorry for myself after reading the above. These people have not even begun to get ready for the winter that is about to close in. Mercifully, the winter last year was one of the mildest on record. But there is no guarantee that will happen again. Only 17% of the destroyed homes have been rebuilt. Check out these folks living under a 200 ton rock propped up by a 4x4!

The Partners International Canada office has helped in some of the remote mountain villages that may be missed by larger NGO’s and UN agencies helping in the region. We hope to build deep relationships and help with the long-term needs. This area was absolutely closed to outsiders of any flavour before the earthquake. The Partners International USA office has been deeply involved in areas in other mountainous regions close by. Temporary schools (tents) have been put up, housing assistance, personal property replacement, clothing distributions and the simple act of showing that people on the other side of the world care all have made a real impact and difference in many people’s lives.

Yousef and Zareena lead our team in the northern areas of Pakistan. These wonderful folk have been beaten, threatened with death and hospitalized for the work of the Gospel. They have not let it slow them down in any way. Even six of our Muslim friends were beaten and spent more than a week in prison after our last distribution. Amazing that they would take those risks to help ‘Christians’ do this transformational work in the mountains. Pray that they would not receive only the beatings but also the rewards!

Dr. G.




You will never read John 5: 24 the same way!


Verse 24 says,Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”


Dr. G., a passionate Christian leader in one of the most repressive countries in the Middle East, just returned to Beirut. He was leading a Bible study which ran late.Close to midnight, he waited for a taxi after the meeting.Areas in Beirut are dangerous at the best of times.Night is not the best time to be travelling.


As he waited, a man approached, asking for directions.Dr. G. immediately recognized him as a Syrian.There is no love lost between the Lebanese and Syrians. He immediately thought of the verse they had just studied “If a man asks you to walk with him a mile…” and began to direct him to the location he knew well, but the instructions were complicated. Dr. G. said, “I have time.I will walk you there.”


Within a few steps, conversation turned to spiritual things. It was clear that the enquirer, a Muslim, had no assurance of his eternal destiny and began asking questions of Dr. G.


Dr. G. quoted John 5:24 which provides the amazing assurance of a future in God’s presence, an assurance that this man lacked, as do most of his faith.


As they came close to the address the man was seeking, he said to Dr. G., “You must come in and share these things with my co-workers.”Dr. G. looked and realized that he was standing in front of the Syrian army barracks in the city. It was a place many people enter and are never seen again.


Dr. G. protested, “It is after midnight, we cannot disturb your friends.”The Syrian answered, “Just five minutes. I will wake them.They will want to hear what you have shared.”


With great fear and trepidation, he entered the compound, noticing that the men at the gate saluted him and treated his new friend with deference.


Good to his word, he woke his ‘friends’, more than 300 military men! Dr. G. again shared the good news of John 5:24. Fearfully and asking for the Spirit’s help, he shared how you can have full assurance of your salvation in Jesus. The men eagerly listened and responded to the message.


The following day, Dr. G. travelled back to the barracks with boxes of Bibles to give to the men to whom he had spoken. As he entered the base, men in the Syrian security forces intercepted him and asked him to come to the security headquarters. He was seated in a room before 11 security officers, including the Major General. They told him, “We heard that you visited our men in the barracks last night and we need to know what you told them.”


They questioned him intensely for a long time, asking many questions, giving him an opportunity to share what he shared with the enlisted men. Finally the Major General asked them all to leave. Dr. G. stood up to leave but the Major General said, “No, not you.You will stay.”


The other men left and Dr. G. was alone with the Major General.Once the other men had left the office, Dr. G. began to experience real fear. He knew that this man had the power of life and death over him. The officer began to weep.It was very unseemly for a man to weep at any time in the Middle East, but especially an army officer.Dr. G. was very uncomfortable and fearful.


The Major General reached into his pocket and pulled out a small book.It was a Bible. He handed it to Dr. G. In it, Dr. G. read a note from the Major General’s brother which said, “Mohammed, my brother.It is my prayer that you come to know the truth of this book.” He opened the Bible to John 5:24, highlighted and annotated.


The Major General said, “This is my brother’s Bible. I had to kill him because of this verse that caused him to become a follower of Isa (Jesus). Tell me how I can become a follower of Isa.”


Dr. G. began to lead Bible studies with hundreds of Syrian soldiers that continued for nine months. Dr. G. discipled 11 Syrian officers for several years after this encounter.They are all followers of Isa, including Mohammed, the Major General.


The same Holy Spirit who overcame all the resistance of a man named Saul, a man actively persecuting Jesus-followers two thousand years ago,is still at work today.




Life and Death in Liberia–Or The Daughter I Almost Never Met. 1982


Three months into Nancy’s third pregnancy, she left to go shopping in our ‘beater’, a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle. Our two boys, Matt and Jon, were in bed. The time flew by as I worked in my garage, building toys for the boys. I glanced at the clock and realized that it was almost 10:00 PM, long after Nancy was due to return.

Shortly thereafter the phone rang. The call originated from the emergency room in a hospital in Mountain View, California. A serious car wreck on the freeway destroyed Nancy’s car and an ambulance transported her to the nearest hospital. A few quick calls and gracious neighbours took charge of the boys and I rushed to the hospital.


The pile-up, caused by road construction, sandwiched Nancy between several cars. She had badly injured her face on the steering wheel. Volkswagen Beetles at that time offered little protection in the front. The accident had crushed bones around her eye and broken her nose, almost tearing it from her face.


The doctor explained the situation and informed me they would have to operate quickly. The danger was that damage in the sensitive area behind the nose could cause leakage into the brain. He placed a waiver in front of me to sign, authorizing them to abort the baby. They could not administer anesthetic with Nancy three months pregnant. The risk to the developing fetus was too great.


That innocuous paper meant the termination of a life that Nancy and I considered precious. Nancy’s own survival was in the balance and a decision necessary. The doctor gave few alternatives. He explained we could take a chance with a local anesthetic, which would become Nancy’s first and last experience with cocaine. They would be able to go in and examine the damage and repair anything superficially amiss. It would mean the need for more extensive plastic surgery after the baby was born, six months down the road.


We chose this option. Nancy carried our beautiful daughter Sharalee to full term along with a bent face, from February through August. In September that year, she underwent very uncomfortable surgery to repair some of the damage. The past 30+ years with our wonderful daughter Sharalee reinforced the wisdom of that decision with the amazing gift of her life. But that certainly was not the end of the trials through which we travelled during Sharalee’s nine-month journey into the world…


In late June, while Nancy was recovering and Sharalee was not yet born, I was scheduled to take a team to West Africa. Reluctantly, I left Nancy in California to travel through Europe to Nigeria and then on to Liberia.


Liberiais unique among African nations.It has an American-style republican government, founded by American slaves in the nineteenth century.In 2006, Liberia finally emerged from 15 years of self-destruction and civil war.Tens of thousands have been needlessly slaughtered.Hundreds of villages have returned to jungle.The population of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, has swelled from 425,000 to well over 1 million.Refugees from the bush fled to the city and most have not returned to their homes in the jungle.


Arrival in Liberia often means a trip back to the nineteenth century.Just getting there is a challenge with only one European airline flying to Liberia regularly.Everything mechanical stops working when the plane door opens. Ballpoint pens blot your shirt because of the heat; high humidity destroys electronic equipment; salt spray carried from the ocean by the prevailing winds rusts any exposed metal, and the atmospheric grit from the Sahara causes machinery to grind to a halt.


As an example, LeTourneau, the American builder of giant earth-conquering machines, sent huge jungle-clearing equipment to eastern Liberia in the 1970’s. These machines now lie rusting uselessly and areas cleared have been totally reclaimed by the jungle.


Thick jungles stifle transportation.Incessant rain destroys roads.Infrastructure is something that other countries talk about. Wars and regional conflicts have impoverished the people in recent years.“Abandon hope all ye who enter here” should be written on the wall in the airport. Death has run rampant in the country with corrupt, despotic leadership. The recent Ebola epidemic reinforces that view.


Yet, despite insurmountable problems, the human spirit triumphs. The people of Liberia are among the warmest, and most optimistic people you will meet anywhere in the world. Hospitality and patience are ubiquitous.


Many years passed since I visited the country in 2009, a regular stop for me in the 1980’s. Few people have visited in recent years because of the civil wars and instability.Yet the churches are well established and Christian witness remains. Many Christians who were dispersed to neighbouring countries maintained their faith, started new fellowships and continue to minister compassion in extremely difficult circumstances.


5° 1’5.44“N 9° 1’58.69“W


As I started to say above, it was 1982, just a few weeks before the expected birth of our daughter Sharalee, when I was travelling to Liberia with a group of men, including a pastor from a large Presbyterian church in California.We were scheduled to fly to the Northeastern corner of Liberia to conduct Bible conferences. This remote bush area has few amenities. The primary plane owned by Liberian Airways at the time, a rickety DC6 from the 50’s, was broken down. The 30-40 passengers were relegated to a smaller 10-seater, greatly disappointing those who did not fit into the smaller plane.


We were given priority as early arrivals.The plane took off over the swamps surrounding Monrovia, the capital. The tiny British-made plane, no doubt from the same engineers who designed the Austin Mini, circled the runway with ten people crushed in behind the pilot and copilot.


Clearly something was wrong.The pilot made a garbled public address announcement which was incomprehensible to all onboard. I reached forward and tapped the pilot on the shoulder to ask him what he had said (I said it was a small plane) and he turned and told us that the elevators were not working.


Now, I am not a pilot or a mechanic, but I quickly deduced that elevators are rather essential for keeping planes in the air. And getting them back down again. We circled the runway a couple of times, gazing down at excited – and hungry – crocodiles in the swamps below awaiting our demise. Thankfully the plane landed safely and we were allocated to an even smaller Piper aircraft leaving the next day.All these years later, and I still do not know what happened to the other passengers, bumped from the original flight(s).

The trip did not end when we finally landed at the Greenville airport 36 hours later. We squeezed into a pickup truck bound for a small town in the interior. Eight hours into the drive along a rutted, dusty road walled by the most impenetrable green vegetation imaginable, we stopped to pick up a man sitting on the side of the road.When I enquired as to his identity, I was told that he was one of the pastors who would attend our conference!The question arose: if we are 44 hours late, how is he still there and able to meet us?


This is life in the bush of Liberia.If your ride did not show up, you wait until it does. Delays are expected and patience is a virtue.


I was born and bred in urban North America. It is difficult to comprehend how much the Liberians appreciate the little things you are able to do. We felt greatly appreciated for making the effort to visit these people who rarely have visitors. It takes so little to encourage them and assure them that there are people outside of Liberia who think of them, help them financially and pray for their well being.


We were walking back through the jungle very late one evening after a day of teaching and sharing with these wonderful people.It was dark, there is no electricity in the bush, but the moon was bright.I switched off my flashlight and continued walking back to the mission home with Bishop Gus Marwieh. He suddenly grabbed my arm. Africans seem to have an ability to see in the dark, unlike North Americans used to streetlights and eternal daylight. I switched on the flashlight and he pointed to a black line across the path, one step in front of me. The black line was an eight-foot-long mamba, a snake reputed to be among the most deadly in the world.Life expectancy is about 20 minutes after being bitten.I started to do the math; eight hours by truck to Greenville airport, 24 hours before we can arrange a flight; three hours to Monrovia…At least the corpse would not be decomposing by then.


Our daughter Sharalee was due within a matter of days of this trip. As a result, I was scheduled to leave my travelling companions a few days early.We hoped that the old DC6 had been repaired and I would be able to fly out to Monrovia without delay. The contingency plan was that I would charter The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada small plane, should the DC6 not arrive. We waited many hours in the executive lounge at the Greenville international airport, a wooden bench, outdoors, a few feet from the runway. Finally the twin-engine, lumbering DC6 landed, the first time it had flown in many weeks.I boarded and flew uneventfully to Monrovia and onward to New York and home.


Only later did I discover that the Assemblies plane took off several hours afterward and crashed into the jungle. The pilot, a 20-year veteran and a young short-term missionary from Burlington, Ontario, were instantly killed.

Colonel Don Oates

Don and Kathie Oates are wonderful servants of our Heavenly Father. They are the founders and president of Global Fellowship, headquartered in the beautiful town of Meadow Vista in the foothills of California. Don and Kathie are members of Foothill Christian Fellowship, also in Meadow Vista. I was introduced to this warm, dynamic fellowship in 1982. I was asked to speak to the congregation on a Sunday morning and shared an opportunity to travel to Asia to visit ministries in several countries.

The pastor and his daughter and Don Oates were among those who accompanied my wife Nancy and me on a Discovery trip to the Philippines, Hong Kong and China. The 14 people travelling together got along well and we had a great time in the Philippines observing ministries of the Philippine Missionary Fellowship and Philippine Missionary Institute among others.

People who do not travel extensively are generally a little on edge in a new environment. In Hong Kong, Don Oates, the life of the party, made a critical error. He inadvertently left his luggage in the lobby of the hotel. Fortunately for some, I retrieved it, took it to my room and pondered when I would tell Don. In the meantime, several members of our entourage, with my coaxing, pulled out their sewing kits and began to sew the clothing in his bag. Pockets were sewn together; openings in undergarments and hearts of red thread festooned his briefs.

The bag was returned to the lobby with the altered clothing and staff of the hotel instructed to deliver it to Don, who was becoming frantic by this time. A relieved Don received his bag back and not a word was said. A day later and several aborted attempts by Don to have unwanted items delivered to our room, the matter was brought up and we had a good laugh.

Several weeks later, the Dempster family visited Meadow Vista to reconnect with our new friends at the church. Cal and Marlis Edlund, a wonderful, warm couple offered us their home in California. They were traveling in Southern California. We had a great time as a family with our three young children, enjoying their home and the foothills.

One evening after a good time with the Oates, we put the kids to bed and decided not to sleep in the master bedroom that the Edlunds had so generously offered us. It was dark in the woods surrounding the house and we decided to sleep closer to the kids so that they would not be upset. The next day we packed our things and drove blissfully relaxed back to our home in Campbell, California. Cal and Marlis were due home that evening after a long drive from Southern California.

A phone call the next day highlighted the horror we had avoided in the home. Don and Kathy had invaded the master bedroom and spread popcorn kernels the length and breadth of the bed, under the sheets! Through dumb luck, we had avoided a night of very uncomfortable ‘rest’ and hours of cleanup.

Cal and Marlis, however, were not so lucky. Arriving home after an exhausting drive from the South and slipping between the sheets they found themselves in a painfully uncomfortable bed. Their immediate conclusion was, “It could have been Phil, but I think it was Don.”

This began years of Pink Panther/Kato episodes of retribution from Don. Travel to any locale near or far with Don meant living on full alert. In 1987 I travelled to Sao Paulo, Brazil to the Partners International-sponsored missions conference called COMIBAM. My good friend David Annett, an executive with Apple Computer in Canada, accompanied me. We shared a room in the hotel in Sao Paulo.

Upon returning to my room one evening, we found that my bed was missing. David noticed that his socks had been removed from his drawer and returned tied in knots. A thorough search found my bed moved into the shower stall standing upright. Like Cal and Marlis, I immediately concluded, “It could have been the cleaning staff, but I bet it was Don Oates!”

After several attempts to avenge the Hong Kong humiliation, I updated the Partners International mailing list from ‘Mr. Don Oates’ to ‘Colonel Don Oates’, to honour his trademark attack of popcorn kernels. Little could I have known the delightful ramifications.

If it is not already clear, the Oates and Dempsters are good friends. Don and Kathie came to be part of the staff of Partners International and were scheduled to go to Liberia to work with our partner ministry for a year. They took their whole family to work in the bush in West Africa and did a tremendous job of helping the ministry grow. Several months passed and the memories of our ongoing feud faded. One hot, humid day in Monrovia, Liberia, Don Oates received a knock on the door. Two policemen asked him to accompany them to the station. For several hours they questioned him about his activities with the mission in Liberia. Several times they intimated that he may be an agent of a foreign government. Of course Don was shocked and vehemently denied their accusations.

Finally after several hours of questioning, they said, “We think you are a CIA agent,” and presented him with several letters posted from California from Partners International addressed to Colonel Don Oates. Don has never told me whether or not he laughed at that point, but he was no doubt relieved. We have been able to laugh at this since, although I suspect Don is still looking for his opportunity. On a recent trip to California, I stayed at the Oates residence and upon retiring, found bagged popcorn kernels under my pillow. I took this as a peace offering.

As mentioned earlier, Don and Kathie now lead a ministry called Global Fellowship which assists ministries in more than ten countries and assists more than 1000 national workers. http://www.globalfellowship.org


God’s Appointments (even in Liberia)

Liberia 2009

6°17’47.88“N 10°47’29.48“W

Wednesday found us on the road at 5:00 a.m. My revised flight itinerary took me to four countries before lunch. We left Lagos, Nigeria, landed in Accra, Ghana, then Abidjan, Ivory Coast and finally Monrovia, Liberia.

The plane stopped in Abidjan and as I looked up to see the passengers boarding I saw Rene Mbongo, Partners International’s USA Area Director for West Africa, stationed in Senegal. I had asked him to join me to visit the Canadian West African partnerships. Our cancellations and change of plans put us on the same flight to Monrovia, the capital city, even though we travelled from opposite ends of the globe!

Liberia is a country founded by returned slaves from the Southern United States. Their return in the early 1800’s saw an Americo-Liberian dynasty that finally ended in the late 1980’s. It ended bloodily and initiated 15 years of civil war. Coup after coup ensued with hundreds of thousands slaughtered needlessly. Four or five years ago, a new president was elected and the country entered a period of stability.

The damage has been horrendous, with families, villages and entire cultures disrupted. The rebuilding has begun rapidly and there are distant signs of the possibility of a very dynamic economy. The existing economy is miniscule at best. The roughly $200 Million GDP is smaller than the New York Yankees’ annual payroll!

One of the great tragedies of the war is the orphans left by the incredible brutality. Our partners led us to an area deep in the bush of Liberia where hundreds of children were left to forage for themselves. They had seen unspeakable horrors including their own parents slaughtered in front of them.

We rented a 16-passenger ‘worm-picker’ van to travel back into the dense jungle of Liberia to visit the orphanage at Zuo. The brakes failed; the steering felt like rubber-bands and the fuel pump died just as we were arriving at the mission compound deep in the bush. We need to give General Motors more money so they can get these problems corrected!☺ Thanks to the miracle of cell phones, we were able to stand on a hill in the jungle and call for a backup four-wheel drive vehicle to come and get the team.

The orphan kids had been collected by the director, Bernard. They were living in absolute destitution in the remote forest. The broken-down mission station was uninhabitable. The buildings had been almost destroyed by the fighting and weather had done the rest. Kids were sleeping on broken concrete floors. They had no food whatsoever and simply scrounged in the forest for nuts and berries.

Jerome Klibo, the Bishop of our partner churches, visited Canada two years ago and shared this story with my 87-year-old mother-in-law, Lena Wideman. God touched her heart to supply all the rice for a year for the 80-90 kids. Jerome relates that he drove the shipment of rice personally to the orphanage. The kids were so excited to receive the rice that they were trying to unload the truck themselves, even though the bags weighed more than they did. They had never before seen food come off a truck.

David Miclash of our team from Alongside International went to help reconstruct one of the buildings and help them with agriculture, wooden beds, water supply and other material needs. The team had a tremendous impact on the orphanage.

A visit to the orphanage is a life-changing experience. I am haunted by the memories of these kids and will not be able to adequately tell the story. They are incredibly bright, warm. We were swarmed when we finally arrived deep in the jungle, several hours off the main road. You have to remind yourself that these children had seen things no one should ever have to witness.

We stayed overnight in the jungle. I decided to spend time with the young ones under the trees in the evening. It was cold overnight! The January temperature gets cool for equatorial Africa. The nice part is that there were no mosquitoes. I checked the kids’ rooms and they sleep with just a dirty sheet. Their clothes are rags.

A little guy, about nine years old, snuggled up to me late in the evening. He put his head on my chest. It suddenly struck me that this little guy had not had a mother or father to cuddle with for most of his life. He stayed there for about 20 minutes, just enjoying having a ‘grandpa’ to cuddle with.

Orphans are not something we deal with regularly in Canada. The theology of God’s preoccupation with widows and orphans became something very tangible at that moment. There is no question that God expresses a bias and promises to judge us on how we treat them. It was never more apparent to me how vulnerable and exposed these orphaned children are to forces that would take advantage of them.

Liberia 2009

English is a confusing language. Some things are lost in translation from speaker to hearer.

“Con-mee we nee shamu.” What I thought I heard: “That guy was calling me Shamu”. What he was really saying, “The economy went into shambles.”

“Geda dryer aw de row!” What he said: “Get that driver off the road”. I am using this one!

English is the primary language in Liberia. However, most of the time, I had no idea what the Liberians were saying. It is the only place where I have heard English spoken without using consonants, or at least, used only at the beginning of a word.

We have eaten ‘Palaver’, a mixture of cassava, greens and hot pepper sauce. We ate Fufu, which reminded me a great deal of the gag-reflex sound… for good reason.

This trip has been unusual in many ways. First of all, I connected in Lagos with a returning missionary from Zambia, David Hunt. We spent the entire time together in Nigeria with our partners. It was nice to have his company and expertise as we worked with the organization in Eastern Nigeria and met with their board. He has great experience in constructing schools and providing curriculum. David Umune, from Nigeria, accompanied me to Liberia and he benefitted greatly from sharing ideas and having his vision recharged.

I had also arranged for Rene Mbongo from Senegal and the US office West African Director, to meet us in Liberia. He is obviously African and has a great deal to contribute to these ministries. His position as Area Director relieves me of a heavy load. His role reduces the need for me to travel as often to Africa. He has a much deeper cross-cultural understanding of the ministry needs and strategies. As mentioned earlier, my missed flight from Lagos put me on the same plane as Rene out of Abidjan. What a coincidence. It was great for preparing for the visit to Liberia.

I say all that because some of you have asked, “What do you really do on these trips?” I first thought my boss put you up to it, but I now realize that you are actually interested. Our focus at Partners International is to enable church-planting movements in frontier areas or areas that are under-resourced. We do this through partnerships with indigenous ministries that have great potential to grow rapidly. We provide financial resources but also develop deep relationships that encourage and motivate. We help them with organizational development issues, capacity building, boards, administrative tools and all that boring stuff. There is also a whole area of responsible reporting to the Canadian government and Partners International donors. The results have been extraordinary and it is an amazing privilege for an old guy to be able to do this. I had considered being a Walmart greeter when I retired. As much as I appreciate their smarmy congeniality, this is much more fun.

In true West African fashion, my flight was delayed three hours in Accra on the way to Lagos. A plane had damaged its undercarriage on the runway resulting in a shutdown of the airport in Lagos. I was detained by Customs and Immigration in Nigeria because I did not have a multiple-entry visa. My flight home through Amsterdam was also delayed because of the airport closure. I was told repeatedly that the gate was closed and there was no way to get on the KLM flight. But there is always a way in Africa. And here I am in Amsterdam writing this note.


Missions in the 21^st^ Century or History – Full Circle

The Middle East 1995

A friend of mine, Carlos Calderon, serves as Vice-President in the Partners International office in Spokane, Washington. His personal history is that of a Latin American born in El Salvador, now living in the United States.

Many Latin Christians in the 1980’s began to sense an affinity to the Arab and Muslim communities because of a shared history. You will recall that Muslims from North Africa, the Moors, ruled Spain for hundreds of years until 1492. (You may recall something about a guy called Columbus that year too…) Thousands of words in the Spanish and Arabic dictionaries overlap. Common architectural features and many other cultural similarities are shared between Spanish and North African Moorish kingdoms. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain fought the last battle at Granada, thereby ejecting the Muslims from the country. They used the spoils of that conquest to fund Christopher Columbus’ expeditions to the New World.

It is interesting in itself that a Latin American is spearheading ministries to the Arab and Muslim world, but a letter he shared with us is even more interesting, especially for some of the Dempster family.

Carlos received a request from a ministry in Southern Iraq, from a church planter in a city called Basra. For you history enthusiasts, Basra is built on the site of the ancient city of Ur, which is the Biblical home of Abraham, father of the Hebrew and Arab nations. It was in Ur that God called Abraham to leave his home and travel to the land of Israel, called Canaan.

The Iraqi pastor (this is a Christian leader in a fanatically Muslim country) from Basra was writing to the future pastor, Haitham, who is leading the church in Northern Iraq in the Kurdish area. His request for support to grow the work came in the form of a letter. The Kurds are the Medes of the Old Testament who defeated the Kingdom of Babylon in an alliance with the Persians, who are present-day Iranians.

You could not mail a letter from Iraq to Northern Iraq because of the political situation at the time, where the USA had imposed a ‘no fly’ zone in the North. Mail had to be sent through Jordan and back into Northern Iraq to the city of Mosul, formerly known as Nineveh. Nineveh, as you will recall, was the city Jonah went to, after a little special persuasion in the form of One Big Fish, in order to preach the Good News of repenting from sin and turning to the One True God.

The person who took this letter from Basra (Ur) to northern Iraq (Nineveh), was an Assyrian Iraqi. His name is Younan, which is Jonah in English! In Amman, Jordan (land of the Ammonites), JETS, the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, was recently established there. This school began through the work of a Palestinian refugee from Gaza, or Philistia as it was once known.

Jonah and others at JETS received help from a trust fund established from Ernest and Barbara Dempster’s estate, the author’s parents. Other funds for this Seminary and the ministry in Northern Iraq come from many places in North America but a significant amount comes from the believers in Korea.

So, to recap, a Salvadoran responds to a letter delivered from Ur to Nineveh by a Philistine named Jonah using an Ammonite postal service and reports to supporting families in Canada and Korea!


David Soo, Northern Thailand

20° 9’2.15“N 99°51’11.96“E

In my early years with Partners International I frequently travelled to Southeast Asia. I would visit Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia extensively. There were also many opportunities to travel to Northern Thailand where work was growing rapidly. Dr. Paul Chang led the outreach there for years and we travelled together into ‘no-man’s land’, an area controlled by drug lords in the 1970’s and 80’s.

David Soo was a loyal Nationalist soldier in the army of Chiang Kai-Shek. In 1949 the forces of the Nationalist army were pursued by Mao Tse Tung’s Communist army farther and farther South. Skirmishes raged but the outcome was inevitable. David was wounded in one of the battles as they fled South towards Thailand. The need to flee outweighed any compassion his fellow soldiers could spare. David was left in a small bamboo hut to die or be captured. As he drifted in and out of consciousness, David had a vision. He was told he would not die and a man with a book would visit him. Sympathetic villagers tended to him and helped him to the next village in the mountainous area bordering Laos and Thailand.

He was slowly recovering but still could not travel on his own. A man visited him just as his vision had indicated. He brought with him a Bible. He shared the Good News of Jesus and as a thirsty man receiving water, David readily accepted the truth presented.

As the days passed, he was able to make his way to Northern Thailand, a neutral country, and find refuge from the Communist Chinese armies. At that time the Northern area of Thailand had its own dangers. Drug lords ruled the area, known as the Golden Triangle, where much of the world’s opium was produced. They provided sanctuary to many Chinese fleeing South as well as reinforcements to their own militias.

David was able to find land and begin farming in a remote village. He eventually married a tribal woman from the area. She was from one of dozens of unique tribes which dotted this mountainous area stretching through Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.

His passion as a follower of Jesus increased and he shared the Good News wherever he went. Communities of believers sprang up and grew. Eventually, leaders from CNEC Singapore, a partner and Alliance member of Partners International, began to assist David so that he had more time to devote to the work of spreading the Gospel.

Poverty was pervasive and drug addictions destroyed families and lives in the region. There was little education for the children. The government of Thailand avoided the area, as they could not counter the rule of the drug lords. CNEC Singapore and North American friends increased their assistance to David’s ministry and schools grew, along with care centres for children and drug rehabilitation centres for addicts.

As congregations grew and pastors became available, David would move his growing family deeper and deeper into the hills to start new communities of believers, new schools, seminaries and new children’s care centres. Dozens were started over his many years of faithful service.

I had the privilege of visiting with David one last time in 1989 shortly before he passed away.

Here is an excerpt from the biography of David Soo from Dr. Paul Chang:

“We landed in the heart of the Golden Triangle in Northern Thailand. He guided me through the rough mountain roads and opened my eyes to see the people he loved and to whom he desperately wanted to bring the gospel of salvation. These people lived in an area where the opium lord ruled. In my role as coordinator of the CNEC ministries in South East Asia, I worked with David Soo for more than fifteen years. I saw him as a man who was determined at all costs to bring the Gospel to the people who were poor, desolate and without hope. He was indeed the pioneer who brought the Gospel seeds to this area up North. As a man of God, he was courageous and bold. He planted the first church in the opium lord Khun Sa’s stronghold at the heart of the Golden Triangle. As a soldier, he was also an educator. He established primary schools for the children in villages where there was no education available to them because of their status as refugees from neighboring countries, mainly China. He showed compassion for all ethnic groups besides the Chinese – the Ahka, the Thai, the Lisu and others. As a pioneer, he tirelessly walked through the mountains on foot with a small sack on his back. Truly his ‘beautiful feet’ left the prints of the Good News wherever he went. As a mentor, he nurtured many young Christians who followed in his footsteps and later followed him to serve the Lord full time. Even some Singapore Bible College students who sat with him learned about his devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ and were challenged.”

Paul Chang in Northern Thailand

19°54’24.54“N 99°49’51.56“E

The wild area of Northern Thailand known as the ‘Golden Triangle’ of the seventies was a major area of ministries for Partners International. Dozens of tribal groups inhabit the mountainous areas that border China, Laos and Myanmar. The Thai government had ceded control of these areas to the drug lords who produced much of the world’s opium. Each drug lord fought for his territory with armed militias. Fearless workers, like David Soo, took their families to the most remote tribes and ministered to their needs. Schools were started and communities of believers sprang up all through the mountains.

It was amazing to see the transformation of communities that became Christian. Drug-addicted fathers were cleaned up. Children who were addicted as young as 12 or 13 were saved from wretched lifestyles and early death. Sponsorship programs helped thousands to get a Christ-based education. A large portion of the pastors now serving in Myanmar came through the Sponsor-a-Child program in the Partners International schools of Northern Thailand.

I had the privilege of visiting these new believers on several occasions. It was never a comfortable trip and was made even less so when Thai army officials took our passport information and warned us that,“The government of Thailand takes no responsibility for your safety past this point.”

Ray Wiseman documented one trip to the area in his book, ‘A Bridge to the Mountain’.

‘With agonizing creaks and groans, the battered white Isuzu pickup worked its way through the ruts and washouts of a dirt road in northwestern Thailand. The tiny truck may not have felt pain from each bump and lurch, but Phil Dempster did. Unable to fold his 1.9 metre frame onto one of the bench seats inside the cage covering the back of the tiny vehicle, he opted to stand on the rear bumper and cling to the top of the cage. Three other visitors from North America and Australia shared the seats with an assortment of suitcases. Paul Chang had chosen to ride the bumper with Phil.

‘From his precarious perch, Phil had a glorious view of the mountainous countryside. It almost made up for the pounding handed out by vehicle and road. When he crouched down to ease his straining muscles, he could look through the rear window of the cab and see Allen Finley beside the diminutive Thai driver named Sompong.

‘With bursts of nervous energy, Sompong battled steering wheel and gear shift, guiding the truck through washouts that threatened to swallow both vehicle and passengers. Contrasting with the driver, Phil could glance sideways to see Paul, calm, even stoic, swaying in time with the truck’s gyrations. He knew Paul felt safe for he had insisted David Soo hire the driver who had chauffeured him on previous visits to the remote village.

‘Early that morning, they had passed through a checkpoint, marking the beginning of the tribal area and signalling their exit from territory under government control. A pole lowered across the road stopped traffic. A sign inscribed in several languages said: ‘Warning! Register here. Beyond this point it is unsafe to travel. Proceed at your own risk.’

‘Grim-faced soldiers armed with automatic rifles had examined passports and waved them on. At that point, they had entered Southeast Asia’s infamous Golden Triangle. Now they travelled through territory dominated by the local opium warlord. Others, both neighbouring war barons and roving bandits, challenged for control of the trade using the road, and for dominion of the opium fields hidden high in the mountains of this no-man’s land that encroached on the territory of Thailand, Laos, Burma and China.

‘Phil paid little attention to the area’s political problems, focusing instead on the pastoral scenery. As the road swung past a green rice paddy tucked against a mountainside, the tall grass between paddy and road parted. A young man carrying an automatic rifle emerged and waved down the vehicle. Phil felt his hands tighten on the cage and his heart rate increase, as sweat formed on his brow.

‘While the gunman exchanged the briefest of words with the driver, Phil noticed a shadow of distress come across Paul’s face. In a moment, the gunman waved them on, but leaped onto the rear bumper with Phil and Paul. The gunman spoke briefly to Paul in Mandarin and Phil’s tension slowly drained away, although he wondered what the new passenger wanted.’

Years later (we) remembered that event in September of 1979 with mixed feelings. “Many thoughts ran through my mind, as the man with the gun stepped into the road. I had concern for myself and the others, since Paul Chang and I were the reason they came on this trek! The man’s expression did not betray either friendliness or hostility as he approached and boarded the truck. His clothes did not identify him. No one explained who he was or why he boarded our vehicle. After the initial moments of concern, I recall feeling a sense of well-being, that somehow this seemed a good thing.”

Phil (I) recalled the incident this way. “Happily for me, Paul did not reveal that the local opium warlord had sent his agent to ‘protect’ us from the local bandits as we travelled through the area. We rode on in blissful ignorance. The man stayed with us for about 40 minutes, but as we approached the village, he signalled the truck to slow, jumped off, and ran into the woods.”

Another happening etched the incident firmly into Paul’s mind. The following year he retraced his steps to visit David Soo. Before he boarded a different truck than the one he usually hired, he tensed. “Where is Sompong?? He always drives me. I trust him.”

The new driver shrugged. “Not available,” he said, volunteering nothing further, neither smile nor frown.

Beyond the government checkpoint, deep into the mountains, past the rice paddy where the mysterious protector had appeared, Paul found the answer. The burned, rusting body of the white Isuzu lay at the roadside. When the driver noted Paul’s anxiety, he said, “All dead.”

Inexplicably, the words of a hymn echoed through Paul’s mind: He could have called ten thousand angels . . . Last year, had the opium warlord sent them a flesh-and-blood protector? Or had the Lord of Lords dispatched just one angel from his legions to escort them safely through this valley of the shadow of death?





The Fat Lady from Rio

Frequent travellers know that the joy of travelling is grossly over-rated.


I had been on the road for over three weeks travelling to Asia then immediately down to Brazil to spend time with our partner ministry to the fishermen in the Southern part of that country. I was tired.


The day finally came to head home, which meant a ten-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro to Miami then connecting for home in California. The plane was packed and I was seated next to the window, one row from the front of the plane.Mercifully, the centre seat next to me was empty, which meant I could unfurl my long legs during the interminable ten hours.


I closed my eyes and thanked heaven for this small mercy to an exhausted traveller on his way home in a packed plane.As my eyes were closed, the lights suddenly went out, unusual before take-off.I opened my eyes and saw why.The lights were on but I was in the penumbra of a large body orbiting the cabin. A woman standing in the doorway, apologizing over and over.I estimated she weighed over 300 ‘fluffy’ pounds and was unable to sit next to her husband because of the over-booked flight.


Still apologizing, she squeezed into the centre seat of the row and eased her ample self into a seat clearly designed for someone smaller. Her ampleness flowed under and over the armrest on both sides. I found myself pressed against the outer wall of the plane by a very heavy, warm comforter.


At first,it was very soothing and warm but as the sensation in my legs disappeared and I contemplated ten hours in the air over the Amazon without being able to move a muscle, I decided I had better schedule some aisle time to renew circulation. If you can picture a person that size in a centre seat, you will soon realize that standing up to let the window guy out is no mean feat.


The older couple sitting in front had blissfully fallen asleep and tilted their chairs back as they dreamt of home and the warm beaches of Ipanema. My seatmate began the process of rising by pulling on the seat in front of her. Not designed to take the weight of the seat occupants and the large person in the rear, the seat bent farther and farther back making her exit even more difficult.


She was finally able to rise where she could let go of the seat, and in doing so, demonstrated certain complicated laws of inertia and physics that state that objects tend to return to their original state. The seat holding the old couple shot forward catapulting them upright and changing their Rio reveries to nightmares of crashing into the Amazon rain forest. The next several hours were spent doing laps on the aisles of the 747,not daring to begin the process of sitting down again.


A Visit to Mars

Bolivia Altiplano

17°57’53.11“S 67° 6’21.73“W

September 2007

We arrived in Bolivia at 1:00 am, after a full 18-hour day of driving the mountains. Note to self: ‘Do not look for a hotel in La Paz at 2:00 a.m.’ However, we were blessed to find a very nice place in the city centre, the good news. The bad news? We had five hours to sleep before hitting the road again.

We equip a ministry in Oruro, about a three-hour drive uphill from La Paz. ‘Uphill’ is normally not significant, but La Paz, Bolivia sits at 12,000 feet. It is beyond comprehension how people survive in the Altiplano. I have often thought it would be a good set for a Mars landing test; red earth, rocks and zero vegetation for as far as you can see.

The Altiplano stretches flat for hundreds of kilometres with mountains poking up in the distance. It looks a little like parts of Alberta but without the oxygen and oil. You see many anxious dogs as trees are dozens of miles apart. It is beyond dry with steady winds 24/7. I have confirmed that there is a nose bleed section on Planet Earth. It is cold here. Most mornings are close to zero Celcius (32 F) even though summer starts this week.

The people give new meaning to ‘dirt poor’; they live in dirt, adobe houses, and scratch in dirt all day to produce small black potatoes that only a scatologist could differentiate from alternative objects on the ground. Taste and smell are inconclusive when making this determination.

We ate in several small village homes and experienced extreme generosity in their poverty. We were somehow special so they prepared feasts of greens, onions, three or four types of potatoes with chicken (I hope). They dug holes lined with stones in the property and started a fire, dumped in the potatoes, covered them with greens, then buried everything in dirt. Back to this dirt thing… The yards were generally widely used by every creature that walks or crawls. Finding good dirt requires moving a serious amount of goat pills and meadow muffins. My years of travelling have helped me suppress my yak response.

Surface water is nasty and scarce. Naturally-occurring minerals pollute the water. Uncontrolled mining operations have totally poisoned the water in vast areas. World Vision works widely here, developing safe water sources in many villages around Oruro.

The Quechua people who inhabit this moonscape are generally uneducated, disenfranchised and discriminated against. Women are little more than beasts of burden and widely abused. The literacy workers we support are men and women who travel to these villages and teach literacy from Biblically-based material. Their teaching is transforming lives. They have a team of doctors and dentists providing services where they are non-existent. We have many stories on file of battered women who were helpless because they could not even recognize road signs in order to escape. Women and men standing up in meetings to demonstrate their newfound command of reading and arithmetic was powerful. This is something we take so for granted in Canada.

Loving Quechua? – Bolivia September 2007

How do you love these rural Quechua? They live in dirt and rarely bathe or shower because of their limited access to water. Their hands are filthy and they insist on shaking yours and giving you an Andean hug. They smell bad. The women carry their children in a shawl on their back. The kids do not wear Pampers. The smell of urine is pervasive. They never wash their hands before eating. Their food preparation is literally in the dirt.

Because of their poverty, their diet is mainly starch. They begin to look like the potatoes they eat, short and round. They have no health care or dentistry. Most are missing some teeth. They wear layer upon layer of clothing to keep warm. The clothes are rarely washed because they have to travel long distances to find a filthy pool to do laundry. It is always cold.

It is difficult to find creature comforts when you visit them. Beds are often on the dirt floors. Dishes are rarely washed; sanitation non-existent. I saw a young child defecating five feet from the church entrance.

I kept telling myself, “I‘m leaving in two days.” I can survive anything for a few days even though these people have a life sentence.

And yet… strangely, I found myself enjoying their company. They were so accepting and fun-loving. They loved giving me odd Quechua clothing and laughing at me when I wore it. The kids were non-stop in wanting their picture taken and hands held. Adults wanted their picture taken beside me, the giant from Canada.

At least three things happened to show me how to love the rural Quechua:

1) I observed these literacy workers

Some of these men and women have been working in the villages for 25 years. They leave home for three weeks each month to live and sleep in the dirt with these people. They exude love and concern. Hundreds of lives have been transformed because of their efforts. Churches have been planted in the desolate mountains. They do not do it for the money. The pay is paltry, perhaps $100 per month. They cry when they talk about the needs of their people. It’s easy to love a Quechua.


2) A little child


I see thousands of kids on my visits. They all love it when you show them some attention. They are shy and scared of this tall white guy at first. After the initial encounter, they warm up and respond like kids do universally.

Quechua children are the same. Quechua are suppressed, discriminated against and despised by many Bolivians. Bolivian ‘mestizos’ do not want to be around them for reasons noted above. Adult Quechua rarely look at themselves as equal, children doubly so. Self-esteem is a bizarre foreign concept.

A little child, five or six years old, entered the crowded little church and looked with big eyes at this strange, tall white guy sitting at the front with a goofy Quechua hat on his head. I smiled at her and she instantly ran towards me! The usual child’s response is to hide behind their mother’s skirt. She jumped in my lap and gave me a big hug, even though her arms only went halfway around. (She was small…) I hugged her and she went slowly back to her mom, still smiling at me. I began filling out adoption papers immediately. I have no idea what gave her the confidence to run to me, but I know that little girl was an instrument to grab my heart. It’s easy to love a Quechua.

3) Our Journey, September 13^th^

The following morning, I was reading a devotional from ‘Our Journey’. I am running a little behind in September! It is really talking about spiritual deadness and religious ritual. We do all the right stuff and God is not impressed. We see no fruit.

Isaiah 58 says about true religion, “…is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, cover him?” (vs 6-7) “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness…” (vs 10-11). God makes it easy to love a Quechua.

I have long passed the point of finding travel pleasurable. I have little desire to see another mountain, river or vista. My time with people is always the highlight. It is like God has His hand on my shoulder saying, “See, these people are just like you but without hope and opportunity.” He wants me to practice true religion, from the heart that responds to injustice and poverty.

It is an amazing privilege to have the resources we do in Canada and the opportunity to share them with the poorest-of-the-poor. I do not judge people who do not. They have not had the privilege of seeing these things firsthand. The truly poor and destitute have a special place in God’s heart.

Thirty years ago I put a poster on my office wall, the verse, “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord and He will pay back what he has given.” (Proverbs 19:17). It is great to have the God of the Universe as guarantor for these ‘loans’.

Indonesia – Evangelical Theological Seminary of Indonesia – (ETSI)

7°46’31.87“S 110°26’59.22“E

Revival in the largest Muslim Country

Dr. Chris Marantika studied at Dallas Theological Seminary in the late 1970’s. Dr. George Peters, the renowned author and Dean of Missions at Dallas contacted Dr. Allen Finley, President of Partners International from 1960 to 1987. Dr. Peters was impressed with this Indonesian student, who showed tremendous potential as a leader of a Christian movement in that Muslim country. At the invitation of Dr. Peters, Allen Finley and I flew to Dallas to meet him in 1977. It was clear that he was a charismatic, focused leader who was able to clearly articulate his vision of 1:1:1. One church; in one village; in one generation.

Contrary to the principles and policies of Partners International, which dictated we should not fund a vision, we decided to back Dr. Chris to return to Indonesia to establish a seminary. His experience with the Southern Baptists and various forms of theological education; his clear plan and the backing of all those with whom he came into contact; these observations convinced us that the vision was viable.

Dr. Greg Gripentrog, the now-retired president of One Challenge Ministries, also urged us to back Dr Chris. Along with several other mission groups, One Challenge provided personnel to teach at the seminary and guide the ministry in its formative stages. It was refreshing to deal with a Western organization that was totally committed to serving, with no concern for either control or glory.

The rest, as they say, is history. Despite flaws, mis-steps and problems, the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Indonesia (STII in Indonesia) has been an extraordinary force in the expansion of the church in Indonesia. The 1:1:1 vision directly or indirectly affects many other ministries in the country. An exponential increase in evangelism and church planting across Indonesia since 1978 has been well documented.

The direct outcomes of the ministry are staggering enough. More than 4000 church plants; 31 seminaries (mini-seminaries) established in the major ethnic groups of Indonesia; a large and influential Christian university (UKRIM); Christian public schools and many related ministries.

An investigation of most major denominational and parachurch ministries will uncover graduates from ETSI across the country. The current Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs for Protestants is an ETSI graduate. The impact on the nation has been enormous and it has the potential to continue to multiply. The concepts of church planting and evangelism among Muslims, introduced at ETSI, have been shared and incorporated in ministries in Asia and around the world.

The vision continues to grow and spread. The following is a quote from Dr. Chris Marantika in 2008; “Now 34 years have passed since Vision Indonesia 1:1:1 was born. It was like a seed that was planted 33 years ago and is now growing and scattering all over the nation. The prayers of God’s people for 33 years have resulted in a tremendous outpouring of God’s Spirit. In 1978, there were 20,000 churches in Indonesia. Today, 30 years later, there are more than 50,000.”

In a previous chapter, I related the story of Colonel Don Oates. The story began with a small tour group visiting Asia in 1981, just a few years after Dr. Chris Marantika founded his vision in Jogjakarta, Indonesia. The tour left San Francisco Airport at close to midnight. The itinerary took us through Honolulu, Hawaii for a three-hour layover on our way to Manila, the Philippines.

It is not possible to understand the concept of eternity until one has flown nonstop for 13-15 hours across the Pacific. A movie, sleep, another movie, dinner, more sleep and another meal. You check your watch and you still have five hours to your destination!

The flight was not full. Several rows of seats were vacant and many from the tour group laid across the empty rows of seats in the centre of our large Boeing 747. Don, being the kind of guy he is, took the more humble approach and laid across the floor in front of the centre row of seats. Most slept soundly until awakened by a screaming baby in the centre section. Dutifully its mother awoke and changed its diaper, rolled the used diaper into a ball and, without looking pitched it on the floor of the plane. It came to rest tucked neatly between Don’s chin and shoulder… an auspicious start to a fun trip!

Hawaii sounds like an exciting place to visit, but at 3:00 a.m. for three hours when you are very tired and already becoming jet-lagged? Perhaps not so much. The plane landed and we disembarked into a totally deserted airport in Honolulu. The airport complex is huge and bustling during the day but very empty at night. The 14 members of the team staggered around the empty corridors looking in vain for any store open to provide a diversion during the stopover.

We located one small gift shop in the darkened corridors and a few of us browsed aimlessly, looking for nothing in particular. As I approached the card display, I noticed a short figure on the other side of the display facing me. My eyes widened and I exclaimed, “Dr. Chris! What are you doing here?”

Dr. Chris Marantika was scheduled to be travelling across Canada to represent the amazing work of ETSI in churches. He was only a few days into his itinerary and supposed to be in Toronto.

“Phil,” he said, “I am so glad to see you. Saria gave me this gift for you and Nancy and I did not know how I was going to get it to you in California. The government of Indonesia called an emergency meeting in the Religious Affairs department and I have to fly immediately back to Jakarta to take part.” He casually handed the package for me to transport back to California as if it was totally pre-ordained and planned this way.

My travelling companions and I spent the rest of the flight trying to calculate the odds of meeting like that in one of the most remote islands of the world in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, in a completely unscheduled encounter and handing over a package to the intended recipient. For frequent travellers, the thought of carrying a bulky, fragile package through thick and thin for two weeks and four countries crossed your mind, as it did mine.

To a man like Dr. Chris who practises walking in the Spirit and being led by God, this was nothing out of the ordinary.


- -Sunrise in Bali June 18

Beautiful Bali

8°48’8.77“S 115°14’9.34“E

35 hours of planes, trains and automobiles and Nancy and I are here in Nusa Dua, Indonesia. That 12-hour leg from Sweden to Kuala Lumpur is a big one. We flew south of Moscow; over Kandahar; across the Swat valley in Pakistan; then flew over India to Malaysia, fortunately without stopping. Lest you feel sorry for us, Bali ranks among the most beautiful places on earth. It is one of the 1000’s of Indonesian Islands and an island of a different nature too, because the Hindu culture and religion there are the last vestige of that culture in the largest Muslim country in the world.

Nancy was able to accompany me on this trip. That in itself is an amazing blessing. I travelled dozens of times to Asia in the 1980’s while Nancy was left at home in California to look after our children. Southeast Asia was a regular ‘run’ for me. I lost count of my visits to Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, etc. somewhere after 40 visits. My long-suffering wife blessed me by allowing me to be a part of the ministry here. Despite being left behind, she always said, “It’s nice to see your back”, although perhaps it would have been more appropriate to say it when I was coming home.

One of the purposes of this trip was to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Indonesia (ETSI). I met Dr. Chris Marantika more than 30 years ago at Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas. Partners International supported his vision of 1:1:1 (one church in one village in one generation) from the beginning. Partners International saw God provide scholarships for students, financial backing for the professors and funding for the many capital projects to grow the various schools.

It is has been my privilege to witness an amazing movement of God in this nation the last 30 years. There are now more than 3,500 students attending some 33 ETSI institutions scattered over the Indonesian archipelago. Close to 4000 churches attribute their existence to the direct witness of these students. The movement is just beginning.

We attended the 30th anniversary celebrations and we met leaders of new organizations in start-up mode. These seminaries are located in two or three of the least-reached areas of Indonesia. We flew to Jogjakarta, Java and to Lombok, the latter being a strongly Muslim area that does not really welcome Christian witness. These new organizations have some terrific leaders who want to enter into partnership with Partners International Canada.

Java has 130 million people stuffed into an area that would fit between Windsor and Montreal for you Canadian readers. We flew over a string of active volcanoes that form the spine of the island from West to East. Bali is, unfortunately, a too-brief stopover to catch our breath and acclimatize to a 12-hour time zone change. We are on the other side of the globe from Canada. The next day we flew to Jogjakarta and then in a few days were on our way to Lombok. Our schedule had us in Hong Kong and China starting in nine days. I had a cold at the time and China was quarantining anyone with flu-like symptoms. A week in a hotel in Kunming would not only have been expensive, but very boring.

Indonesia 2009

Dr. Phil #2

Dr. Chris Marantika and his wife Saria met Nancy and I at the airport today in Jogjakarta, East Java. We felt pretty special as Dr. Chris is a busy man with a huge organization to run and a conference starting today with some 1500 people attending. It is a privilege and an honour to know men and women like this.

He was born on a tiny island in the southern seas, (6°44’26.72“S 129°31’26.79“E) in a Muslim nation among one of the smaller ethnic groups, the Ambonese or Moluccans of Indonesia. The family was relocated from their island paradise because it was so tectonically unstable. If you look at his island on Google Earth, you will see about one third of it is missing since the time Chris harvested bananas and oranges and went fishing with his father. Tectonically unstable indeed!

The following excerpt is left in the present tense, as I wrote it, so that you can perhaps get some sense of the excitement at the time.

Dr. Chris has told me that he will be conveying an honour on me tomorrow, to be specific, an honorary Doctorate degree from the Seminary. (It used to be that I could not even spell doctorate, now I are one!) My Junior-High teachers, may they rest in peace, are smacking their foreheads wondering how the world has become such a perverse place! My accomplishment for such a great honour..? Sending O.P.M. (Other People’s Money) from the beginning of his vision for Indonesia in 1978. The organization started with just Dr. Chris and his wife and son. We supported them at $250 per month with his earned doctorate degree from Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas 30 years ago. ETSI now has almost 4000 students enrolled with 31 campuses across Indonesia and an accredited university of 2000 students.

Today is June 22nd. The graduation ceremony is over and I am now known officially as Dr. Phil #2.

The people here at the seminary are a great team. Many of these men and women whom I have known for more than 30 years are now leaders of incredible competence. The time of needing assistance from the West is coming to an end. There are no spiritual gifts lacking here. Leaders still value partnership and friendship in the ministry. They certainly know how to make people feel appreciated and honoured.

Nancy was able to see how events unfold in these contexts. We spent many hours sitting today, not easy with a badly-congested head. The meetings started at 10:00 a.m. and continued until 9:00 p.m. in the evening. We left about two hours early. The music was amazing. Indonesian worship music is beautiful and unique. Twice during the day someone came and whispered in my ear, “They would like you to share as soon as the current speaker finishes.” No time suggested and no prior warning. I had to stand up and speak to over 1000 highly-educated people.

Indonesians are incredibly warm and hospitable people. We were cared for moment by moment. It will be difficult to say goodbye.

Indonesia June 2009

LOMBOK – Island Paradise

8°36’29.79“S 116° 8’40.64“E

Off to Lombok in a few hours. We enjoyed a wonderful few days with terrific people in Jogjakarta.

I revisited the story I shared of Septer, a leader of one of the schools in Ambon. He was tortured and slaughtered for his faith a few years ago. I had asked the question to the students and graduates, “What does the Indonesian church have to offer the Church worldwide? For many years you have received help in many forms from the West and other places. What can Indonesians give back?” There was complete silence for a few seconds and I thought I had made another of many cultural faux pas by asking polite Indonesians to stand up in public to tell what they were good for!

After what seemed like a long time a quiet young man stood up in the back and said, “We Indonesians are ready to give our lives for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not afraid to die and will keep on doing it.” Suddenly several other men, whom I knew worked in dangerous areas, stood up and said, “We will give our lives for Christ.” Less than six months later Septer, the quiet young man who spoke first, was tortured and hacked to death then beheaded, leaving a young pregnant widow and their son. Their passion and commitment to the Lord is amazing and humbling.

The secretary of the board of Faith Foundation is a sharp, wealthy lady, Dr. Erika. When she heard from Nancy that we were going to Lombok, she said, “The leaders there do not speak English well. Do you mind if I join you?” Dr. Erika is a lawyer, notary, business woman and has two earned doctorate degrees, one in Theology.She immediately picked up her cell phone and made flight arrangements to be with us for two days.

We arrived in Mataram, Lombok in the evening and Dr. Erika tracked us down. She was able to get the next flight to Lombok and arrived around 8pm. Nancy and I were eating a late dinner in the restaurant of the resort when in she walked. She insisted on paying for our meal, even though she did not eat. She spoke on her cell phone finalizing arrangements for the following days we are on the island. She would not let Nancy purchase anything. She took her shopping and Nancy was afraid to show interest in anything, as she would immediately buy it for her. What a wonderful character!

Dr. Erika had to leave a day before us. She was very apologetic and left us in the care of Matthew, the chairman of the board of the school in Lombok. I call Matthew ‘the Birdman of Lombok’. He owns several businesses, amongst them a car care company on Java and even a small bank. His main business is managing birds that create the bird’s nests used in that Asian delicacy, bird’s nest soup. These bird’s nests sell for $500 per kilo and have been very good to Matthew.

We travelled to the North of the island of Lombok, up into the mountains. There were spectacular views the whole way, looking out at the massive volcano on the island of Bali. The coastline reminded me a great deal of Carmel, Monterey, California, but without the people. We hiked a jungle trail to a waterfall that seemed to pop out of the middle of a cliff in the forest.

The island is made up primarily of Sasak people. They are still living at a subsistence level with lots of fishing and agriculture. It seems everything grows here.

We visited the seminary on the island. The students, as always, are terrific, bright, motivated young adults who operate in great danger. If a Sasak decides to become a Christian, they really have to be sent away as there is a high probability they will be killed by their families. Most of the students at this seminary come from other islands. Several came from Nias! Some of you may recall Nias was the island on the Northern tip of Sumatra that was hit by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake that initiated the Boxing Day tsunami.

It is extremely difficult to start anything that smacks of Christianity, especially a seminary. You have to find neighbours who will not complain. You have to get government approval on all levels and it is rarely forthcoming. The building they are using needs some serious help and we will be looking to get that corrected immediately as well as providing scholarships for the students. That will free them to work in neighbourhoods on the weekends.

Nancy and I are both doing well and appreciate your prayers and interest.

Septer – A Martyr for Christ

3°35’46.88“S 128°16’53.01“E

On assignment in Ambon and Samarinda, Indonesia

I wrote last year about a young man named Septer, who was martyred for his faith here in Ambon. Just a few years ago, Ambon was a dangerous and bloody place for Christians. Hundreds of Christians were slaughtered in the city. Heads were placed on poles by the side of the road. People believed killing Christians pleased God and guaranteed them a place in heaven. Fleeing Christians were machine-gunned on the ferry boats as they tried to get away.

Septer was a gentle, competent young man who was president of the Bible College in Ambon. One Friday he rode his motorcycle to the airport with a student on the back. They were stopped by a mob coming out of the mosque. They tore them from the bike and tortured them for many hours in ways I cannot describe in this letter. Finally, when they would not deny Christ and quote the Muslim creed, they beheaded them. They dragged their bodies to the nearby river and dumped them. Septer left behind a pregnant wife. The Muslims would not allow them to bury the body in the city so Septer’s body was interred on campus in a grave dug by the students.

No one was ever prosecuted for the murders and it was reported that the army was complicit in standing by while these things happened. We stopped by the side of the road where these events took place and I had to ask forgiveness for the anger I felt towards these people. The Bible School has moved on with even more students registered to study and minister in this place. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…” (Eph 6:12)

We flew from Ambon with two stops, Makassar and Surabaya, on the way to Balikpapan. From Balikpapan we drove more than three hours to Samarinda. A full, 18-hour day! We arrived in Samarinda at 2:00 am in the midst of a major flood. The old SUV had water over the floorboards as we inched along in the dark.

We met Rev. Lieow from Malaysia. Rev. Lieow works with our Partners International Singapore office. He speaks many languages, including several of the Dayak dialects in Kalimantan. He is an unusual man in that he deals with possessions, dreams and many ‘spiritual’ issues that the tribal people encounter daily. It is very foreign to a Western mind, but very real to the people living in Borneo.

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Tomorrow we speak at the graduation of Dayak students who work far up the rivers (Dayak means ‘from up the river’.) These people have a history of their grandfathers eating their enemies. It keeps you on your toes when you are speaking to this crowd! In the back of your mind, you are wondering whether they are thinking, “If we smoke this big guy, we’ll have food for 18 months.”

Borneo Malaysia 2010

Real Head Hunters

0°29’32.24“S 117° 8’58.07“E

June is too nice a month in Ontario to want to travel to Borneo. However, June is also the month of graduations at Yayasan Pintu, a Bible School for Dayaks, the beautiful people from the interior of Borneo, now called Kalimantan, Indonesia. They are the grandchildren of men who liked to kill and eat their enemies. It will be an amazing thing to see them in cap and gown.

As I am writing this, we are ‘decompressing’ in Kuala Lumpur after flying the last 1 ½ days from Toronto through Dubai. It is a balmy 29C here compared to 45C in Dubai. It is always an amazing thing to walk out of the Dubai airport after midnight and feel like you are stepping into a pizza oven. John Brans, an old friend and co-worker from the Ontario Government, is my travelling companion on this trip. John volunteers in many capacities with Partners International.

Our flight schedule in Southeast Asia contains more than a few starts and stops as we cover lots of territory in Indonesia. The next flight (cost: $10 before taxes!) is a short hop, a one-hour flight to Singapore. After that, we jump from island to island, over a territory about the size of the United States, with water added.

We will be visiting several completely unique ethnic areas of Indonesia. The people of Indonesia vary all the way from the sophisticated, Western-influenced businessmen of Jakarta to the bones-in-noses tribesmen of Papua.

We will stop in Manado on the island of Celebes (Sulawesi) and Ambon, the home of the Ambonese, sometimes called Moluccan people. We will visit Balinese Hindus and, as mentioned, the Dayak people of Borneo (Kalimantan).

Today (Sunday) we met with Christians in our Partner churches in Singapore and visited the headquarters of Partners International (CNEC-Singapore) in this amazing city. Millions of dollars now come from the Singapore churches, started among refugees a very few decades ago. The churches are working in developing areas among tribal people in China and throughout Southeast Asia, in the same way they themselves were helped in the 1950’s.

Much of the rest of this trip will be focused on daughter and granddaughter ministries that have sprung up in Indonesia. Each ministry is developing its own vision and methodology to reach places we can rarely go. The next ten days will be a blur of meeting these key leaders between flights to the spice islands of Indonesia.

Behind the Plank: Borneo – Singapore – Malaysia – Calcutta

Singapore 1°21’7.48“N 103°49’11.53“E

This trip included Calcutta with stops in Singapore, Malaysia and Balikpapan. Few cities of the world offer such contrasts as ultra-modern clean Singapore and filthy Calcutta.

Balikpapan means `behind the plank` according to my friend and president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Indonesia, Dr. Samuel Handali.

The Hindustan International hotel in the ‘City of Joy’ is a marble oasis in a desert of filth, human misery and traffic. We are staying in Calcutta for a day-and-a-half until we fly to Northern India and Sikkim. This part of the trip falls in the category of ‘it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time’. After seven meetings in one day, several in 35-plus-degree heat, even the interminably long plane ride back to Canada looks inviting.

Peter left us in Singapore yesterday to fly home to Milton. Rick is beginning to look like I feel. We are off to Northeastern India, to a city with the inviting name of Bagdogra. From there the trip continues into Gangtok, Sikkim. If you go on Google Earth, you may be able to locate these places.

The last few days have seen some R&R in Singapore. We visited the Orang Laut (meaning Sea Dayaks) in Malaysia, just across the border from Singapore. These people are destitute refugees who literally live over the sea. They are close cousins of the Dayak people of Borneo. We walked through swamps and across rickety wooden bridges to visit these very, very poor people. Fortunately, the large Canadians did not fall through the wooden walkways into the sewage, as happened to our more compact Singaporean companion.

Calcutta has been a whirlwind of meetings and visits to ministries. We entertained more than 200 kids on a rooftop in the city. These are children of the poorest of the poor in Calcutta: rickshaw drivers, street sweepers and orphans. It is amazing to see the compassion of these believers working itself out in action. These children respond to the smallest acts of kindness and attention.

We sense many people are praying for us because the meetings, contacts and itineraries are working out exceptionally well. It is time to come home. We are beginning to look like our passport pictures!


Heart-Felt Welcome

4°11’17.25“S 69°56’22.15“W

Brazil and Colombia 2012

Partners International Canada arranged to have several businessmen travel to the Amazon to meet some of the key tribal leaders in the Upper Amazon area. There are some amazing stories of men and women of the tribal groups, working in these upper regions that are not only difficult and dangerous but normally inaccessible to outsiders. We have felt strongly that we needed to back this work on the Yavari River, which borders Peru, Brazil and Colombia.

Very little went smoothly in preparing for this trip. Several people indicated they wanted to come but backed out; one could not get the Brazilian visa in time; the flight schedules to this remote area are variable and thus unsuitable to fixed commitments back home; and often expensive.

My doctor told me he detected some ‘abnormalities’ in my stress test and scheduled me for an angiogram the day before we were to leave. I rescheduled the appointment to after the trip, much to the concern of my wife.

The time is crucial for reaching this area with the Gospel. It is an Eco-Tourism haven and the governments of Brazil and Peru are increasingly restricting any access to the indigenous areas. As populations increase, young people from the tribes are coming out of the bush looking for opportunities. When they arrive in the nearest towns on the river, they are exploited in every way imaginable. Our leader Eli has set up a youth hostel and centre where young men and women can stay and go to school and be protected from the negative and nasty influences of ‘civilization’. There is no fixed place yet for the young women. Brazilian churches are taking a big role in helping this outreach. Tragically, young people commit suicide at a high rate as they do not possess the tools to cope in the new environment. Partners International is seeking to raise money within Brazil and Canada to see that the centre is built.

The itinerary takes us through Bogota and down to Leticia, Colombia. We repack our belongings, leave our suitcases in Leticia, and take a backpack only into the bush. For those of you who know me, camping is not one of my greatest strengths. Fortunately Mike Caskanette, my travelling partner, a businessman and missions person from London, handles this part easily.

The plan was clear; drive by jeep to boat; take boat to village; stay in village overnight; return to civilization with as few bug bites as possible. The four-wheel ‘taxi’ arrived to take us to the first stop. It was an ancient flatbed truck that hardly functioned. The 30-minute trip out of Leticia,through Tabatinga, Brazil, took 90 minutes standing in incredible heat and sun on the back of the flatbed. Did I mention I left my sunscreen in my suitcase at the hotel? We drove through bush along a tiny dirt road that diminished to a cow path. Then, even the cows gave up, as did the ancient truck.It couldn’t negotiate a couple of hills, so ankle-express became the mode of transport.

The sun was unbearable and we took turns carrying the three 50-lb tanks of gasoline.I felt surprisingly good for an old guy and the two or three kilometres left to the river were traversed quickly. We arrived at a tiny river called Ticana and loaded up a couple of those little wooden canoes with a one-cylinder engine and spent about 90 minutes travelling down this little river dodging hundreds of trees that had fallen in.We arrived at a little Ticuna village called Nova Jerusalem and were met by the new Christian community that Partners International helped initiate.

Our arrival required a two-hour tour around the whole village, 40 families,entering each wooden home with shoes off, meeting each member of each family. The heat and humidity caused us to soak our shirts through two or three times. They were caked with salt from our sweat. We could not get enough liquid back into our systems.

Of course we had to sleep on a wooden floor with the mosquito net set up. We did not expect to be comfortable and our expectations were fully met. My net was proudly hung from the rafters to keep the voracious bugs at bay when I noticed a black spider about 2.5 inches across crawling up the inside of the net through a crack in the floor. Any fleeting sense of security disappeared entirely. Before we found our place on the wooden floor to sleep,there was a church service and of course, as the special visiting ‘pastor’,I was asked to preach.

During the service, some native young girls were singing and dancing, nicely dressed for being so isolated out in the bush. Two of the young girls really got into singing and praising.The music kept on and on. I was a little concerned, as I have seen this type of thing before in cultures recently removed from a different type of spirit worship. It seemed a little over the top for us Presbyterian / Baptist types. I was trying to discern what was being said as they sang and danced. The translator told us they wereencouraging the congregation one by one as they came up in the name of Jesus. They called us up to the front while the last young woman was dancing away, the Bible in one hand, singing in Ticuna, arms waving over her head and giving a word from the Spirit to each. She arrived in front of me and clipped my nose with her waving hand, annoying me, and then just missed my nose again with her Bible (our noses do stick out farther than theirs).

She then put her hand on me, of all places, right over my heart while jabbering away in Ticuna.I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie and she was going to rip out my heart and laugh hysterically holding the bloody mass as I died in front of her. But thankfully,she moved on to the next person. I asked Eli what she was saying. He said she was praying for my health and that I would keep on working to help the spread of the good news in many countries!

The trip back up the river was amazing in the morning with more birds than I have ever seen in one place in my life. Iridescent blue butterflies were everywhere.

The next morning we set off to another remote village for the day continuing up the Yavari River.


Brazil 2012


Transformation is a big word, but it is the bottom line for our partnerships around the world.

When I began travelling for Partners International Canada 36 years ago, Northern Thailand featured in my early itineraries. We bumped through dirt roads in the Golden Triangle of drug production. Each mountain introduced us to a new tribe, such as the Mieows and the Akhas. Akhas were famous for never bathing, and chewing betel nut, turning their teeth and mouths dark red.

When the Good News arrived, you would visit the same towns a year or two later and immediately notice a radical difference. Instead of random, filthy homes with men sitting and smoking who-knows-what and pigs running under the raised houses, you would see neat streets and gardens; power lines running through the village; a church on the high point of the village, and active people.

The same things are evident in the villages in the Amazon. Drunkenness and ruined families were the norm. Families were decimated and high mortality rates were standard from accidents and drowning due to alcohol consumption. The outcome was disordered, dirty villages. The Good News arrives through the native evangelists and in a very short time, these villages stand out from the rest. The fathers are present and working; homes have water systems capturing the frequent rainfall so the women do not spend a third of their day collecting water from a filthy river or stagnant pond.

In unreached villages you are always looking down to avoid sanitary landmines. Villages are not clean. The villages we visited installed latrines and the people keep themselves very clean. The latrine adventure turned out to be a surprise. Neat, clean and orderly… As with Asian washrooms, there is no sit-down facility. Toning of the quadriceps is mandatory before the visit. A pole mounted on a flat board uncovers the pit. A small container of torn up cardboard boxes, carefully screened for staples, serves as tp.

Our second day in the Amazon required another long boat ride out of the bush. Our truck driver had come and gone before we reached the end of the river at 8:00 a.m. He left a message saying that we should begin walking and he would meet us on the (only) road, somewhere en route. Seven kilometres later, under the intense sun, we stopped to rest in the shade. A motorcyclist, whom we had helped restart a flooded engine during the walk, motored by. We flagged him down and I was nominated to ride on the back while the rest continued out on foot, hoping for the truck to come along. So with backpack and other kit, I bounced and slid through the bush on the back of a motorcycle for an hour back to Tabatinga.

We have experienced everything in these few days. A torrential Amazonian downpour hit just as we arrived back in the city of Leticia by boat. A foot of water roared down the streets as we made our way from the river four or five blocks up the hill to the hotel. The hotel looked really, really good after three days of jungle rivers and sleeping on boards.

The trip took us back to Bogota overnight, and then three time zones to Sao Paulo and Salvador in the beautiful state of Bahia, Brazil.

There are a number of business opportunities in this rapidly growing state. As an example, the Evangelical Mission to Fishermen (MEAP) initiated almost 2000 preaching points on the intra-coastal waterways. They have researched the 34,000 kilometres of the Amazon and its tributaries. Cooperative strategies with other missions are forming. MEAP continues to move towards full self-sustainability.

It was incredible to visit some of the small villages built right in the mangrove swamps. Houses are no more than a foot above high tide and you walk house to house in knee-deep water. There are no roads, no infrastructure, no electricity. These people live in this paradise far away from the towns, harvesting crabs and travelling by dugout canoes.

The island of Boipeba houses a large children’s centre funded by Partners International Canada. It provides a refuge for hundreds of kids from poor and abusive homes. They receive a Christian education, food and care from an amazing staff of Brazilians. We participated in the dedication of a huge new gymnasium donated by Canadian friends. The impact on this fishing town is immense.

The trip home begins tomorrow at 3:00 am by boat, car, plane and 32 hours later, we should be back in Toronto.

Phil Dempster


Ticuna Medicine

January 2013

This report is a little different from most of my ‘travelogues’ from the past few years. I am working from home in Milton, Ontario.

If you read my report from Brazil in November, you may recall the story of a young, native Brazilian praying for my health in a church service, in a Ticuna village in the upper Amazon. She put her hand on my heart and began praying. I asked my interpreter what she prayed and it was something like, “We ask for health and that You would give him many more years of working for Your Kingdom around the world.” A precocious request from someone who did not know me nor could she have known that there was something wrong with my heart.

The first day after the prayer meeting, we had to travel out by dugout canoe and hike for over seven kilometres in very high heat and humidity. It was a strenuous hike under any circumstance in the jungle, but little did I know I had a 99% blockage on my ‘widow-maker’ artery and four other blockages around my heart. I could have died brushing my teeth. It dawned on me later, that postponing my angiogram until after the Brazil trip was possibly not my best-ever idea.

That was confirmed on my return to Canada and I was immediately scheduled for heart surgery, five bypasses on December 3rd . God is good and the surgery was done before any damage from a heart attack could occur. Over the past few years I have had several friends and family members who did not get that second chance. Their first and last symptom was death!

After the operation, the technician was performing an echocardiogram to see how the heart was performing. She moved her wand from place to place and then paused on the exact spot the young Brazilian had placed her hand when she prayed for me. For fun I asked her, “What do you see from that spot on my chest?” She said, “You see the whole heart from here, all four chambers.” The Ticuna from the deep jungle could not have known that. To me, it was a wonderful confirmation of God’s sovereign care. He knew exactly what the problem was and protected me these past months.

I am recovering well and actually back in the office at Partners International Canada for a few hours a week now but it will still be a few months before I travel again. We have enjoyed family and friends over the Christmas season during my recovery time.

October 2011

Brazil Colombia

Today, I travel to Bogota, Colombia to meet our Latin America Coordinator, Dr. Carlos Pinto. We will fly to Leticia, Colombia and cross the river into Brazil. Once we arrive at the vast metropolis of Tabatinga, Brazil and meet our tribal partners, we climb into a motorized canoe and go 8-10 hours upriver into the Mayoruna or Matses tribal areas. I pulled a couple of pictures from the Internet (see below). My doctor says there are no anti-piranha pills, so I am hoping these are not tippy canoes.

You have not received many ‘Trip Reports’ from me this past year. The year has mercifully been a stay-at-home-and-send-others time. My two visits to Haiti do not seem that international, since they are in the same time zone and only four hours away.

The visits to the tribal areas in the Amazon require a great deal of red tape as you have to fight not only government bureaucrats but the anthropologists as well. Christians are viewed as culture destroyers, when, in fact, the exact opposite is true (see Wikipedia article . There is strong evidence that the entrance of the Christian faith preserves cultures that are rapidly disappearing due to encroaching populations, mining and oil companies and deforestation.

Eli Catachunga is the vice-president of an organization called CONPLEI. This movement of evangelical indigenous leaders began in 1990, on the initiative of four young evangelical tribesmen who decided to leave their isolated communities and go to the city of Brasilia in order to study high school and university. This man, Eli, from the tribal regions, has a Masters degree in Anthropology. He is actively involved in championing tribal rights of indigenous people and he will be my guide and leader as we go up the Amazon on the Brazil/Peru border.

Along with our indigenous partner, CONPLEI, Partners International Canada is going to focus on reaching the Mayoruna people and seeing lives in communities transformed over time, by the power of the Gospel and the love of His people. The Mayoruna live in fear and without hope from the day they are born throughout their short, misery-filled lives, to the day they die, without hope. Life expectancy is around 35 years. They live in fear of neighbours, governments, outsiders, spirits and disease.

Your prayers for us as we travel in this unstable area are greatly appreciated. We will be staying in local villages for three or four nights and I have it on good authority that there are no towels and tiny bottles of shampoo in the rooms. I am not designed to sleep in hammocks. Bugs and anacondas are not my favourite things either. I try to remember that these things are the daily reality of the people for their entire lives, and therefore, not to whine. Too much.


October 2011

Brazil Colombia

Have a Yavary Nice Trip

4°11’17.25“S 69°56’22.15“W

The kitchens in the wooden huts of the villagers are something to behold. We were squatting around the fire on the thin, raised wooden floors of the homes on stilts, the fire burning in a wooden fire pit. I had to be very careful where I stepped so as not to drop through and join the animals below the house. How the whole house did not go up in flames was a mystery.

I asked the chief if he was OK with me taking a few pictures. He said, “No problema” in his Matses dialect, but he should have asked his sister. She was cooking some disgusting-looking drink, which I politely avoided. When she saw the flash of my camera, she went totally ‘postal’ and began yelling at me. They feel very exploited when their photos are taken. Thankfully the machete was not close by. I asked my translator if I should give her some money and with his affirmation, I handed her 2000 pesos, about $1. She was delighted and I immediately became her favourite white guy.

The area around Tabatinga, Brazil is very central to many tribes and cultures. It is also a hub of sorts, with four or five rivers converging there and flowing into the main Amazon River. The rivers are the highways for commerce and communication.

The leaders of the indigenous ministry CONPLEI are passionate about preserving Indian cultures, all unique and quite different from tribe to tribe. They are setting up orphanages to meet the needs of clans decimated by disease or warfare; they are providing hostels and shelters for young people coming from the bush so that they are not exploited in the larger towns. They provide training, literacy, medical and dental services to help with impossible needs. They do all this in Brazil, tribal to tribal.

I am safely home after a short but productive trip to the Amazon. We were able to accomplish all that we set out to do. There is a list of needs and joint projects that are critical to move the ministry forward. We took some great photos and now have a much clearer understanding of the strategy and focus of our partners. As always seems to happen, we have a new appreciation for their sacrifice and commitment to their people.

Some of these men travel 15 days up the river to minister and then 15 days back. They are away from their families for extended periods. Uniquely, they support themselves by fishing on the long trips and selling the fish to villagers en route.

Phil Dempster

Three Countries in 30 Minutes

Peru – Columbia – Brazil

4°11’17.25“S 69°56’22.15“W

I am sure 30 minutes is a record for me. The trip began in Leticia, Colombia on Wednesday. We took the boat across the river to Peru to obtain travel permits. We then headed out to the Brazilian portion of the river to begin the trip by picking up Eli Catachunga in his home town of Philadelphia (Santa Rosa).

We had checked out several sources for the boat and guide and went with Amazon Xpedition. YWAM and others had booked their boats days before. Ours was a ´fast´ boat. It had a 150 hp Yamaha outboard motor and cruised nicely at 50 kph. Don’t ask me what that is in knots, but it sure left the little ´pecky-pecky´ boats in the spray. Most people in the Amazon travel on these pecky-peckies at about eight or ten kph. They are small, one cylinder very loud engines that move the heavy dugout canoes slowly. It would have taken us more than two days to traverse the 300 kilometres we needed to go to the tribal village.

It felt like we were in the Apocalypse Now movie blasting up the river right into the darkness which descended at 5:00 pm. After two hours of speeding in the dark we entered what looked like a ditch to me, in the pitch black. It was a narrow entrance to an oxbow lake, formed when the river takes a shortcut across where it used to flow. I still do not know how the driver found it in the pitch blackness. I then discovered the ´horror´ was sleeping on wooden boards and being awakened by roosters underneath us at 3:00 am.

These areas are extremely restricted to any outsiders, even Brazilians or Peruvians. There is a strong movement to keep these tribal people in areas like animals in a zoo. The government’s reasoning is that they want to protect their cultures. The good news is that the emerging tribal missions movements that we support are able to move more freely.

The river is full of sticks, branches and larger logs floating downstream very quickly. How the driver avoided them is a mystery. I took my cues from Dr. Carlos Pinto and Eli and sat back and enjoyed the ride. Eight hours of high speed boating up the river certainly had the feel of travelling to another one of those ends-of-the-earth in which Partners International specializes. In Isaiah 52:10 God says, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God”. This was an opportunity to check out another of those “ends-of-the-earths”.

My GPS tells me we are about 70 metres above sea level. This is about the same as Lake Ontario, near my home. I am amazed to think that the vast amounts of water flowing in these monstrous rivers have more than 5000 kilometres to go before they flow into the Atlantic.

We finally arrive in a village called Tres Jose. The ethnic group is the Matses tribe. There are several more peoples close by, with completely different languages and histories. The first thing that happens, proper protocol when you arrive in these places, is that we are asked to visit the chief’s house. He was a young, muscular guy who barely came up to my waist. All houses are built on stilts even though they are presently at least 30 feet above the river. The water rises and falls here in huge volumes. We were fed fried plantain and fried eggs, which we ate with our fingers. The chief had welcomed the tribal missionaries about 24 months before and six families were now worshipping together. They receive visitors only on rare occasions and were very encouraged that we had come to see them.

The tribal missionary who looks after this village was born a twin. One of the ‘wonderful’ cultural customs that is practiced here, and that certain government agencies are so anxious to protect(?), is that twins are killed, usually by burying them alive, shortly after birth. Marcos´ father hid them and when the villagers found out, they killed his twin brother. His father was able to flee with Marcos and found a family, many days downstream in a large community, who raised him. He now travels back to bless this community on many different levels.

We survived our days in the jungle with only a few bug bites. I am sending this letter from Leticia, where we are decompressing after four days of travel and meetings. The juncture of major rivers and many cultures, countries and languages makes this area very compelling. The human needs are enormous. It is exciting to see the indigenous tribal leaders catching the vision and working to meet the needs of their own people.

We sensed the Lord preparing everything ahead of us as the trip not only went smoothly, but we were able to meet many people who will be able to accelerate the work.

Thanks for your partnership in all of this.

Peru June 2006

Daughter in the Amazon

9°46’19.87“S 70°42’28.53“W

The Peruvian Amazon has called us again. This trip is special as I was able to bring our 23-year-old daughter with me. I promised each of our kids an opportunity to visit a developing country. She has proven to be a great traveller and a big help to her aging parent.

My laptop packed it in the first day here in Peru. I needed a screwdriver to remove a faulty memory chip. Does anyone know how to say screwdriver in Spanish? I gesticulated to the hotel support staff and ten minutes later had a refreshing-looking drink delivered to the room. The ‘Screwdriver’ I received wasn’t much help in fixing the computer and the staff was upset that I sent it back.

We flew several hours from Pucallpa in the jungle to an even more remote area in order to see some of the Nativo (Spanish) evangelists in action. There are still tribes in the Amazon who have never had contact with outsiders. It is estimated that there are about 15 untouched tribes left in Peru alone.

It was unbelievably hot for our few days in the bush. It is impressive what these people endure that would kill the average North American. Dengue fever, malaria, hepatitis A-Z, lots of bugs, alligators, piranha, anacondas and many smaller snakes. Our boat trip lasted several hours. The villagers brought food to share with us. (maggots not shown) On the other hand, North American germs like measles, chickenpox and polio can slay them quickly.

Often workers travel several weeks by boat to cover tribal territories. Some teams stay three-to-six months to allow them to make ‘first contact.’

I met some of these committed people last July during a visit to this new ministry. They have charged ahead and added more than ten couples to the original dozen workers, with many more ready to go with some financial backing. I received good news while here that a foundation in Canada was interested in partnering to build a headquarters for them in Pucallpa. We want to get these guys boats, motors and radios. They are literally weeks from anything resembling a town and medical help. Here radio is an essential tool for both security and health.

These workers are helped by some great folk at Amazon Focus and Pioneers. They all share a concern and love for the neglected tribes in these remote areas. Steve and Stacie Brooks looked after our needs while in Pucallpa.

This is an exciting area of the world with change happening quickly. There is talk of roads being pushed through to link Brazil with the Pacific. Change like that will affect these areas dramatically, often negatively. We have a short window of opportunity to help these remote people prepare for a fast-changing world that is charging down on them.

Tarma, Peru 2009

I set a new personal best today driving through the Andes to a city called Tarma. I passed the 16,000 foot altitude mark for the first time. We spent 12 hours driving to various remote Quechua villages, all above the 14,000 foot mark.

Our driver seemed somewhat ambitious at times. The road was good but travel to Lima was literally downhill for more than three hours. 16,000 feet to sea level in five hours! He tried to pass three large transports at once as we approached a switchback curve. A car was approaching from the other direction. Both cars locked their brakes but not before skidding and colliding head-on. The damage was significant but we were able to pay the other driver cash ($60) for his damages and after 30 minutes of trying, got our car rolling again. Damage in Ontario terms would have exceeded $3,000.

My host threatened to make me eat Cuy while I was here. In English, Cuy means “You just ate your kid’s pet.” (Cuy in Spanish is actually Guinea Pig) Partners International supplies a micro-enterprise project here that trains Quechua villagers how to raise and market guinea pigs. These critters are a good source of income and protein. He made good on the threat in a small village sitting in front of the hosts. It was impossible to turn down the offer without offending them.

Top Ten reasons I like travelling to Peru:

1) Macchu Picchu

2) You fly for nine hours and are still in the same time zone, even though you are on the Pacific Ocean

3) If you don’t like the weather, you can drive an hour and get something different

4) If you don’t like the people, you can drive an hour and find a totally different ethnic group

5) You wake up in the Andes thinking you are having a heart attack because you cannot breathe. You are relieved to find out it is just that there is no oxygen, with the potential that the result will be the same

6) If you live in Lima, you can suffer from the lack of sunshine for months, even though you are close to the equator

7) You can live your entire life in clouds but never see rain

8) “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in Lima”

9) You can meet snakes big enough to swallow you whole, without chewing

10) There is only one language on your cereal box, Spanish


Bhutan The Peaceful Kingdom

27°28’31.72“N 89°38’40.67“E

October 2007

We are now in beautiful downtown Thimphu, Bhutan, the Switzerland of Asia. You Google Earth users can use the attached link to determine where on earth Thimphu is found. It is about four days of travel from Canada, provided you have done all the homework required to get a visa.

I am travelling with Wolfgang Weber, a young, retired businessman with a heart for the world. His daughter Stephanie works in the Partners International office in Brampton. Wolf is a great traveller, although Calcutta was a little overwhelming for him as it is for most on the first time through. The mass of humanity and utter destitution is difficult to absorb. Photographs are hard to take, with ‘take’ being the operative word. So many in Calcutta have nothing but the amazing human dignity that every human being seems to possess. An unwanted photo seems to remove that last vestige.

We stopped for one day in Calcutta to catch our breath on the way to Bhutan. We flew North to Bagdogra and Siliguri and then drove East. The normal drive is two hours but we were privileged to take seven! This area has been devastated both by floods from the Himalayas and by unusually strong monsoons. The damage is extensive to all the roads in the area. Only the railway, after the tracks were repaired, is running normally.

We visited the North Bengal Ministries led by my old friend, Nicholas Narjinary. Nicholas was trained by Operation Mobilization some 40 years ago, and began the ministry to reach his own tribal people, the Bodo. Dozens of tribal groups inhabit the strip of India sandwiched between Bhutan and Bangladesh. What seems like an area of no importance to us as Westerners is home to Bengalis, Assamese, Bodos, Ghurkas, Nepalese and dozens of other indigenous peoples.

With wonderful compassion, Nicholas ‘adopted’ more than 100 children into his own home. His wife Pushpa cares for these orphans, some of them known as ‘economic orphans’ because their parents cannot afford to feed and keep them, and they would literally starve if not given help. Nicholas has seen more than 250 groups of believers’ churches formed and schools started to educate hundreds of the world’s poorest people.

Bhutan is a Buddhist Kingdom, an Indian protectorate, on the Northeastern border with India, sandwiched against Tibet and China. It has been difficult to gain entry but the country is opening up to ‘high end’ tourism. No backpackers please! We are here to investigate a dynamic new ministry that is reaching Buddhists through a careful strategy of evangelism and specific training. Partners International is looking to provide financial backing in an area where Christians are scarce.

The Far Side:“Little did he know that by wearing long black socks with brown Florsheims, Phil had committed the ultimate Bhutanese fashion faux pas.”

The capital city is surprisingly clean and relatively prosperous. It is absolutely gorgeous in a high mountain valley, totally isolated from the surrounding countries. Only one road allows access from North India and I use the term ‘road’ loosely. Wolf has had experience travelling many Alpine roads in Europe, but this one was different. Throw in fog year-round, no pavement, one lane and the most extreme verticals imaginable, then you have a glimpse of the indescribable seven-to-eight hours of driving into this place. We arrived late in the evening for a surreal border crossing from India to Bhutan. First the Indian border guards summon us with automatic weapons to get our passports stamped. The Bhutanese, much gentler and accommodating, check all our papers at the next stop. Moving from India to Bhutan is like crossing a line between chaos and the serene.

We stayed at a passable $20 per night hotel in Phuentsholing before driving up the mountains. We thought we had arrived in Scotland as most of the males wear something akin to a bathrobe with knee-high socks. It looks pretty simple until you try it on. It took two people to dress Wolf and me (picture above).

October 2007

The Peaceful Kingdom #2


27°25’55.66“N 89°39’18.08“E

Bhutan is certainly that. The country has only about 650,000 citizens. Thimphu, the capital city, has only 60,000 people. And 80,000 dogs. One dog starts barking at 3:00 a.m. and every other dog in the city joins in. Earplugs are a blessed relief. 73% of the country is forest. Many of the younger Bhutanese speak English, which makes life easier for us. It is a Buddhist monarchy with rigid control over the country. There has been no religious freedom and many have been jailed for trying to exercise the same. It is such an unusual country in Asia with all its natural beauty, relative prosperity and peace.

In 2008 they will be celebrating the 100th year of the monarchy; the inauguration of the new, young king; and the introduction of a parliamentary form of government. The new king, ‘The Dragon’s Gift’, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, a god incarnate, is a graduate of Wheaton College and Oxford University. There is great hope for change with this 28-year-old king. We met with the leader of one of the political parties yesterday whose goal is to see freedom of religion introduced. It is a tremendously crucial time in the history of this area. “The heart of the King is in the hand of the Lord”. (Prov 21:1)

We travelled to the town of Paro wherein exists the only airport in the country. Although new, it is an airport that makes the seven-hour drive back through the mountains to India look safe. The runway is very short and in a tight valley at 2300 metres. The mountains surround the valley 360 degrees to heights of over 3000 metres. We watched a 737 plane dive down, perform several ‘S’ maneuvers around the mountains and swoop onto the tarmac. It would not be possible in fog or wind. There is absolutely no margin of error.

Bhutan is the country to visit if you are into white water rafting or kayaking. There are hundreds of kilometres of Class 4 and 5 rapids with not a single rafter in sight. Tourism is just beginning in the country. Hotels are springing up all around the centre of the city. You are only allowed to visit if you spend at least $200 US per day and pay in advance.

We had to be quite careful in where we travelled as tourists. We registered at checkpoints throughout the country. We could not speak in public gatherings, although our partners arranged for us to encourage believers at various points. There is a high risk in contacting anyone. I waited until we returned to India to write this letter.

We had our seven-hour trip back to India by road. You can only understand how isolated this country is when you travel this road through astonishing heights of the surrounding mountains and realize that it is the only road to the outside world. The day with the 100 orphans in Sitali, India was a highlight. We wanted to stuff a few of them into our suitcases and bring them back to Canada.

Wolf and I had a couple of days in rural Assam, North Bengal, then two more in Calcutta before we started heading West to Canada.

Phil Dempster

Flying Beneath a Mountain

27°25’22.24“N 89°24’44.35“E

Trip Report Bhutan

October 2009

The flight from Bagdogra, India to Paro, Bhutan is like no other in the world. Disney World or Canada’s Wonderland has little better to offer. The plane flies along the string of tallest places on the planet including Mount Everest. It is an amazing view, the brilliant snow in brilliant sunlight. You are actually flying lower than the mountain peaks!

The Airbus A319 suddenly banks, turns left and flies down a narrow valley, weaving back and forth to miss the irregular mountains on either side of the valley. The plane skims over a mountain ridge, so close that you think the laundry hanging beside the houses could hook onto the wheels. The final approach is a sudden bank, before dropping quickly onto a very short runway. I keep thinking to myself, this is not a Cessna 172! Check out the YouTube link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXWTqufiu50

We are now in Paro, Bhutan. It is about an hour’s drive from the capital, Thimphu. Paro has the only flat spot in Bhutan large enough to accommodate an airport. This is a country of great history and culture. It is a Buddhist Kingdom, clean and very proud of its ‘Gross National Happiness’ quota. You do not see beggars although many live at subsistence level in rural areas. Bhutan really is an amazing place; peaceful, with little traffic and a small population.

Christian gatherings are still illegal here, but it is clear that the Christian presence is growing rapidly. The day is filled with meeting Bible students, board members and leaders. Canadians are welcome. Father William MacKay, from Canada, helped Bhutan establish a high-end education system two generations ago. He was given the highest honour in the country for his work. Bhutanese think Canada is a wonderful place.

I ate dried yak tonight. When you are travelling, it is a good thing when yak is a noun and not a verb. Yak does not taste like chicken. More like beef with lots of salt.

Our ministry leader took me to a leper colony. The Christians there were thrilled to have a foreigner visit them and I had a chance to pray with a family. There are not many opportunities to live a normal life in Bhutan when you cannot use your hands (because of the ravages of leprosy) and the people in this colony are being helped accordingly by our local partners.

Off to Pakistan tomorrow. The beard is filling in nicely.

$6 to $16 Million – The Association of Chinese Evangelical Churches – Toronto

Hong Kong to Toronto

Dr. John and Esther Kao

Dr. John Kao made a momentous visit to the Partners International office of Allen Finley in San Jose in 1978. Dr. Kao was the leader of the Hong Kong and China ministries in the early years of the mission. He and his wife Esther, a refugee child helped by child sponsorship in Hong Kong, were sensing God’s call to establish churches among the thousands of Chinese preparing to leave Hong Kong for destinations around the world.

Rev. John Kao developed and led the Partners International Ministries in Hong Kong for many years. He was a gifted preacher and motivator, building leaders in the great city of Hong Kong. Many thousands of refugees poured in from Communist China at this time.

Toronto, as a city located in part of the British Commonwealth of nations, was a prime destination. Visits to Canada to report on what God was doing in China had shown him the need for church planting among the Chinese diaspora as well.

Allen Finley made a decision to move outside the ’Policies and Procedures’ of CNEC/Partners International and assist John to move his family to Toronto. CNEC/Partners International supported Dr. John for years as he began the Toronto Chinese Community Church on Birchmount Avenue in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The church grew and flourished, transforming the lives of thousands of Chinese immigrants. Services were started in Cantonese, English and Mandarin. Twelve new congregations were planted over the years among an increasingly prosperous population. The ninth church completed a $16 million addition to their facility in 2007.

This group of 12 churches maintains a tight bond of fellowship and cooperation. They have generously supported Partners International ministries around the world with a specific focus on East Asia. Together they raise almost $3 million a year for the cause of Christ worldwide, thus placing them among the largest faith-missions-giving entites in Canada.

The six-dollars-per-month child sponsorship invested in Esther Kao’s education in the 1950’s has resulted in an amazing return for the Kingdom.

You know you have been travelling too long when……

- You think putting your hands together and bowing is a normal way to say hello

- Nasi Goreng sounds like something good to eat

- You actually sit down to write something like this

- You can calculate the time back home without your world clock

- You are able to clasp and unclasp your seat belt without the flight attendant showing you how

- You can recite the airline safety procedure better than the flight attendant

- You purposely leave change in your pocket going through security so they will frisk you

- And of course, when you begin to look like your passport photo


- These signs make sense:

- “Please leave your values at the front desk”

(In a Paris Hotel)


“The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid”

(In a Yugoslavian Hotel)


“Stop: Drive Sideways.”

(Detour sign in Kyushu, Japan)

“When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.”

(From the brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo)

glad to see this sign

Kunming, China and West

June 2009

24°53’1.84“N 102°49’37.35“E

We said goodbye to Indonesia and flew via Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is one of the most incredible cities in the world. It has more billionaires, more Rolls Royces than any other city. It is amazing to think that it was a refugee colony barely 50 years ago. The airport is worth visiting just to see one of the engineering marvels of the world. Departure lounges and baggage claim areas are so large I am sure you can see the curvature of the earth gazing across the carousels. High-speed electric trains and subway systems were built along with the airport to facilitate millions of people travelling through the complex. Hong Kong spent $35 billion for this gem. Asia is now far, far ahead of North America in transportation systems.

Kunming in Yunnan Province, China, is another story. This is considered a ‘backward’ province and Kunming a small city.

Five million people, a small city! It would be the largest city in Canada. We were met by Ruth (Chang) Lam, Dr. Paul Chang’s daughter. Paul was one of Partners International’s first leaders in Hong Kong and Singapore. Ruth and her husband minister in several of the thousands of small groups meeting across the city. There are only three ‘official’ churches but others are growing exponentially.

On Sunday afternoon, it took us one-hour-plus to reach the hotel from the airport. This city is total gridlock. Travel by bicycle is literally faster than travel by car. Apparently everyone uses their wheels on the weekend. Pedestrians beware. The province of Yunnan has some 25 officially recognized ethnic groups. There are dozens more than that in reality. They all speak completely different dialects and have different customs. Yunnan is also earthquake country. It is right next door to the province devastated last year by a massive quake that wiped a few towns off the globe.

Sunday afternoon was our walk-in-the-park in Kunming. A bunch of little Hannahs (my niece who came from Yunnan) are running around here. Dozens of musicians from many different ethnic groups filled every corner of the park. It was perfect timing to see so much in one place at one time. Kunming is not a cosmopolitan city. Strolling through the park was like being in a freak show, and we were the stars! The tall white-skinned foreigners.

Shangri-la at Last

China June 2009

27°49’8.49“N 99°40’58.67“E

Shangri-la (Shan–GREE-la). There is such a place! Nancy and I flew by Dragon Air to Dali. Today found us on a bus for eight hours up the mountain to over 3000 metres. We followed the Upper Yangtze Gorge. The last couple of hours were in ‘greater’ Tibet. Many Tibetans live in this area and are transforming the high plateau mountainous area through rapid economic development and increasing links to the large cities of Eastern China. Your trip to the capital, Lhasa, could now be a ride on the highest (3500 metres) high-speed railway in the world. The area is spectacularly beautiful, as you would suspect from the name. We are feeling a little dizzy at this altitude and moving even slower than usual.

‘Improvise’ is the theme these past few days. Several ministry leaders have been harassed and visited by the authorities. We have to be careful in a larger group and especially as obvious foreigners.

We seem to be two of few Westerners travelling in this area. The people with whom we are travelling are all Chinese from Hong Kong, Singapore and, believe it or not, a Chinese church in Rome, Italy. These Chinese spoke loudly and when you combine that with the Italian thing of speaking with your hands, it is like being in a small room with several wheat threshers.

Partners International supports several training institutions in the area. We have the opportunity of meeting students and teachers during our short visit. We fund holistic (small enterprise and development) projects, but the primary focus is to see communities of believers established in these remote areas.

Rural Chinese are very different from those in the cities. Although economic development is proceeding at an astonishing pace in China, it is a very uneven pace. Many areas, especially in Yunnan Province, are being left behind with their many tribal/ethnic groups. Traditions and belief systems have kept many of these groups out of the mainstream. The main people group in this area is Bai (white) and they have a long heritage of ancestor worship and Buddhism.

Hi! Nancy here! It has been my privilege to travel with Phil on this most interesting trip. I was really looking forward to this China leg of the trip and it is all that I envisioned and more. The drive today was actually surprisingly smooth because of fairly decent roads but the driver did have to dodge some fallen rocks along the way. James Lai (from Singapore) and Jo (from Hong Kong) are the only two members of the group who speak any English. Jo volunteers doing Partners International work and travels to mainland China frequently. Tomorrow we will be going to the Bible School led by our Chinese brother. He picked us up from the airport and took us to the hotel last night at midnight and is now accompanying us on the trip today. I really noticed today that Christians here speak in hushed voices. We were privileged tonight to listen to a Tibetan woman sing. She has been working in this area, considered Tibet, but controlled by China. What beautiful people who have dedicated their lives to serving Christ in this Lisu area! Thanks for your prayers. We shall be home in less than a week.

Phil & Nancy

Fire Drill in Makassar (Sulawesi, Indonesia) 2009

5° 7’43.10“S 119°24’57.27“E

The fire drill in Ujung Pandang, Sulawesi, Indonesia more often referred to as Makassar, was a classic example of travel in the developing world.Knowing we had to make a quick transfer there, my travel companion and I grabbed some business class seats (at no extra cost) to be at the front of the plane. The flight number changed in Makassar and we assumed we had to get to the next plane quickly.It was a very tight connection to the next stop, Surabaya. We needed all the time we could get because our first flight of the day was behind schedule.We ran out of the plane and had to board a bus to the terminal, 100 feet! We could have walked to the terminal three times before the bus filled up.

Pushing our way off the bus, we ran through the terminal’s first floor, second floor, Departures, grabbed a boarding card for the next plane at the Transfer Desk then quickly sent our backpacks through the x-ray at Security. The backpacks, of course, set off the alarm because we didn’t empty the pockets. We were ‘wanded’ and literally ran 50 yards to the gate down the twisting aisles and ramps.We were the last to go through Security and immediately headed for the bus to take us to the plane.Again, about 100 feet by bus, and up the stairs and plunked down in Business section again.

As we caught our breath and congratulated ourselves for doing such a good job, my partner says to me, “This is the same plane!” Sure enough, there was a unique tear in the privacy curtain and there were our papers we had left in the seat back pouch. The same flight attendants looked at us strangely as we laughed uncontrollably for about 20 minutes.



March 2010


18°47’54.98“N 72°53’15.44“W

It has been a few days since I returned from Haiti but this is the first I have been able to use my laptop. I brought back the Haitian Hack, otherwise known as Delhi Belly or Calcutta Cough. It was a great ‘abs’ workout, but not one that I would recommend! I lost everything but my MacGregor hosiery.


The only way Haiti will change is when all the people are killed.” This was a cynical statement from a wealthy young Haitian hotel owner. Shocking as this sentiment seems, the thought crossed my mind over the past few days as I travelled across Haiti and stayed in the capital, Port au Prince. Haiti is often referred to as a ‘black hole’ of mission investment. Huge investments resulted in very little change. However, meeting the people across Haiti as we travelled around was a different experience altogether.


I visited on behalf of the Partners International organization to recommend how we best invest for the long term. These past few days have been overwhelming as I viewed the scope and sheer destruction of the earthquake, seldom observed outside of war. We were witness to one of the greatest natural disasters in our lifetime. Perhaps 300,000 people were wiped off the earth in a tiny island nation. It even dwarfs the tsunami catastrophe centred in Indonesia a few years ago. Not to minimize that tragedy, but the death and destruction in Asia was spread across four or five nations. Indonesia has a population of over 200 million. Haiti has slightly less than 10 million, of whom 1.8 million people are estimated to be living outdoors in makeshift camps and tent cities.


Port au Prince is destroyed. The bodies have still not been removed from their flattened tombs. Thousands remain buried. Markets are operating on top of rubble covering innumerable corpses. We drove one hundred kilometres outside Port au Prince and smaller towns and villages are also flattened. Leogane hardly exists as a city. Tent cities exist in every open space. People, even children, will not go back inside concrete homes.

Over the last 33 years, the Lord has put me in places like Haiti, shortly after these natural disasters occurred. Guatemala, Mexico City, Kashmir… I have witnessed the ruin and seen the effect it has had on the people. I have also witnessed how these times of incredible death and horror finally turn the hearts of people to their Creator. It is my hope that is what will finally happen in Haiti. There are signs that may be true here and now.

A large percentage of Haitians call themselves Christian, but just below the surface Jesus is just another one of the gods they need to appease. Every bus has ‘Merci Jesus’ painted on the front, hoping this good-luck charm will protect them. If not, maybe one of the many other charms hanging from the windscreen will do the job. Few understand the concept of a true relationship with a living, all-powerful God.

The country has little hope. It was already a desperate, hopeless place before the earthquake struck. So much of the country has been ruined that there is even less to hope for today. Only meeting Haitian people personally changes that conclusion.


Clearly, there is something seriously wrong with this country. Something has been holding back progress. Partners International Canada is not primarily a relief nor development agency. Yet our partners and associated churches are in Haiti for the long term. Our goal is to further church-planting ministries, as churches will be there for the long term providing help and life-changing assistance long after the relief tents are folded and the foreign nationals have disappeared.


Children are part of the hope for this country. We will be investing heavily to see Christian schools established and orphans cared for. The photos here show some of their beautiful faces.



A trip to the Caribbean in January. What could be nicer?

18°47’54.98“N 72°53’15.44“W

Well just about anything if the destination is Haiti!

I had arranged to meet my US counterpart and old friend, Bob Savage, in Haiti this month. It was only upon our arrival that I realized it was the one-year anniversary of the horrible earthquake that annihilated a quarter million Haitians on January 12, 2010. Simon Stenekes from Burlington, Ontario joined us too.

Canadians (and Americans) had responded generously to the disaster and we needed to report on how the money was spent and what progress was being made. Partners International is not primarily a relief agency but we have hundreds of growing partner organizations ‘on the ground’ in different countries, who respond in emergency situations through local churches. Our focus has been on projects that will make a difference in the long term. So we focused on the children. Most of our churches have schools attached. Thousands of kids were orphaned. The economy was decimated and the government shows little sign of functioning normally. The small towns have no infrastructure. Children have little opportunity for schooling and will be fortunate just to survive. Caring for these kids is top priority and providing a high-quality education with medical care and housing is absolutely essential.

The ‘big boys’, the UN, foreign governments, NGOs, have perhaps made a difference but it is difficult to discern with 800,000 still living in tents a year later. The recent elections have generated extensive violence. I spoke with a doctor ‘scrubbing up’ in the airport washroom. He had spent the night sewing up gunshot victims in Port au Prince resulting from the contested elections.

The good news is that there are thousands of small organizations, churches from across the USA and Canada deeply involved in helping. It is unbelievable to see how many are there, sending resources, thereby enabling Haitians and caring for the destitute. We spoke to dozens of these men and women to find out what was being done so that we could learn from past mistakes, cooperate and enhance the overall thrust of development.

We spent many hours bouncing in the back of pickup trucks over non-existent roads on the large island of La Gonave, where we have focused our work. Thousands fled to the island after the earthquake to escape the squalor and crime on the main island and near Port au Prince. Fortunately, the spread of cholera has been minimal. It is difficult to understand how these people survive. There is little agriculture possible and it takes forever to travel very short distances. You could readily see the signs of malnutrition in the kids.

It was encouraging to visit the orphanage that Partners International funded and see how the little ones have developed. They are beautiful kids, polite and disciplined. They are clothed and have school uniforms and are fed (although not yet well enough). Their needs are great but many are helping. These are the kids who give me hope for Haiti. Many of them will be leaders and changers in the future as they are grounded in a healthy environment.


Camping on the Mountains of Andhra Pradesh

18°12’22.49“N 82°38’58.50“E

We fly out of Toronto on the huge Emirates Airbus 380 at 10 o’clock on Monday night. First stop, Dubai International, 14 hours later.

I am travelling with my pastor and friend, Rev. Ian Campbell. Ian has been asked to speak to a small group of Sora tribal people in Eastern India, say 15,000 or so. They have gathered annually for a Bible conference in the mountains 120 kilometres from Srikakulum. These people come with food only. Our partner provides the firewood and the training leaders. Each family builds their own shelter from branches of trees found locally.

Phil Dempster and camping are not two concepts that go together easily. My tents generally act as storm magnets, rainy season or not. Three nights in the hills of Andhra Pradesh is something I have been dreading for some time.

Monday was scheduled for prayer and preparation for the trip. A bite into a delicious BLT sandwich Nancy prepared for me resulted in my front tooth snapping in two. An old cap, originally caused by a basketball elbow years ago, broke in half. My relaxing afternoon turned into an emergency trip to the dentist for some crazy glue and duct tape.

The incident, actually a blessing for happening prior to my trip rather than while camping in the mountains of Andra Pradesh, India, also reminded me of our scheduled seminar in Pakistan. Two members of the Pakistani national basketball team will be joining us. Christian Sportsmanship is the title of the seminar. My broken tooth reminded me of how it was initially damaged. As mentioned above, it was a stray elbow while playing basketball at York University. A good place to start with not-so-Christian memories…

One leg of this trip on Emirates is in Business class, an amazing gift from one of my amazing kids. I was feeling badly that I would be in Business class upstairs in the Airbus when Pastor Ian has to ride cattle class below. I expect that feeling to dissipate once I stretch out and sleep for 14 hours on the way to Dubai.☺

We waited in the Chennai (Madras) airport for many hours before flying to Visakhapatnam and a seven-hour drive through the mountains to Srikakulam. Don’t those names just roll off the tongue..?

Two full days of trains, planes and automobiles brought us to Srikakulam and a night of rest in a minus-2-star hotel. In a few hours we would be off to a delightful three nights of camping in the mountains. The Sora and Kodhu people are amazing. We have already experienced their hospitality. As an example, upon first meeting them, they wash your feet as a symbol of their appreciation for your visit. It gave us an opportunity to bless them with hands on their heads as they knelt before us washing our feet.

We spent our first full morning in a community of lepers. They are amazing and inspiring people. They are reaching out through their church to the greater community around them, providing children’s programs, feeding, and vocational training for hundreds. I saw more joy in this group than I have seen in dozens of others who have far more of the material world.


Miracle of MacBook Air

13° 7’36.95“N 80°16’54.62“E

One often forgets the miracle and wonder of travel to the far side of the world. As one comedian said, “There you are, sitting in a chair seven miles in the sky!” There are many ‘small’ miracles as well. One that I do not want to forget nor be ungrateful for occurred in our Chennai stopover.

Rev. Ian Campbell and I arrived in Chennai, formerly known as Madras, after many hours flying from Toronto and Dubai. We caught a few hours of sleep at a local hotel and were back at the airport early the next day. The Chennai airport requires you to pass through Security before entering the departure hall and once you are in, you are in. It takes an Act of Congress to allow you to leave and come back again, for reasons unclear.

We checked our bags and proceeded through the secondary security screening inside the airport. While waiting in line, Pastor Ian suddenly exclaimed, “I left my MacBook Air in the taxicab!” This was not good news. An expensive system like this is equal to the annual wage in India for the majority of the people. The odds of ever seeing it again were minimal. I told Ian to wait in line (praying) and I would try to exit the terminal and find the cab driver. It was an impossible dream. I may have been able to talk my way out of the terminal, but who remembers what their cab driver looks like? Only the back of their head is visible. All the hundreds of cabs look similar.

The security staff refused to let me leave. I cajoled, explained and begged, to no avail. An Indian ‘redcap’ was entering at that moment. I accosted him and asked for his help. He looked incredulous as I explained I could neither point out the cab or driver, but sensing a potential tip, he persevered. After ten minutes of fruitless searching, he came back in and began to ask me questions. “Do you have the phone number of the cab driver?” “No,” was the obvious reply. “What was the name of the cab company?” “I don’t know,” was the equally helpful reply. “Did the hotel book the cab for you?” Finally I could answer, “Yes!”

He immediately pulled out the cell phone that almost every Indian owns and I gave him the name and number of the hotel. He called the concierge who recalled the taxi driver and knew his number. A call was placed and within another ten minutes, the smiling taxi driver appeared at the front of the terminal. One very generous tip later, I proceeded to carry the MacBook Air to an astonished and very grateful Rev. Ian Campbell waiting in the lounge.

There is wonder not only in international air travel but also in the ways God enters/invades time and space to care for His own in the details of life

Srikakulum, India – UPHOLD 2010

The weak things of this world…

18°16’55.85“N 83°53’39.55“E

A visit to an orphanage or a leper colony normally means preparing to look at the needs, encourage, and pray for some better future for those in need. Our partner is UPHOLD. They have a home for children at risk, and a leper colony in Srikakulam which operate differently from most. Both are ministry bases with a totally outward focus.

The beautifully clean community of lepers stands in contrast to the poverty and dirt around it. In a place of destitution, lepers can only beg. There are obvious needs in both of these ministries mentioned above, but that is not their focus. JOY is the operative word here. The church building in the centre of the leper colony is a place of singing and praise. The lepers initiated support for more than 160 kids in the wider community. They are the channel for feeding and training the kids. A new school is under construction.

The leperous pastors fund and lead a city-wide event that attracts more than 6000 people each year. Dozens of women from the so-called healthy neighbourhoods are brought to the colony and trained in vocational skills. We dedicated the dozen sewing machines provided to the graduates of this program by Partners International. The women pay back the cost of the machines monthly so that dozens more can benefit.

The children at risk and the orphans may be the most confident and well-adjusted kids I have met. They care for each other. They minister in the community and I watched the kids lead hundreds of other children at the Bible conference in songs and teaching. There is no sitting around feeling sorry for themselves. The girls sang several times to the conference of 15,000 in native tribal music adapted for worship.

The experience of living with these people for three days is unforgettable. We did not get much sleep as meetings went quite late. They watched the Jesus film (and the Ten Commandments) until 4:00 am, unfortunately with the screen and sound right outside our grass house.

One afternoon I sat outside our living quarters under a tree. All afternoon, groups of 10 or 20 Sora people, men and women, would stop and stare at me while I sat reading. Some would come up and ask to be prayed for; some would ask if they could take a picture. It was interesting being the star of my own freak show.

As I’ve said, close to 15,000 attended the four-day Bible conference. Every one of them wanted to shake our hands. A young Bible student from the Sora people said, “Shaking hands is a way of showing love!” We were certainly feeling the love.

The Festival of the Tabernacle setting; the countless women carrying water on their heads; the dry dusty landscape; the hunger for the Word of God and to top it off, more than 300 baptisms on Sunday morning. It felt clearly like being transported back 2000 years to the first century church.

Pakistan 2010

22°36’25.87“N 88°23’45.94“E

Rev. Ian Campbell and I arrived in Calcutta on schedule. Dean and Josh Martin from Milton arrived the same day from Dubai and we met with Brian Koldyk and Tim Arkell from Winnipeg and Brooklin, Ontario respectively.

Rev. Ashok Andrews greeted us at the airport and he and the efficient crew from our partner ministries in Calcutta brought us all to a guest house in the heart of this city. Few cities like Calcutta exist… fortunately. It is always a surprise to see that it is functioning at all. The millions who live here seem constantly to be in a moment-by-moment struggle to survive.

I first visited Calcutta 34 years ago. Changes since then are incredible. I visit periodically and witness the evolution of the city. The economy seems to be booming although still far behind everywhere else in India. There is now a five-floor ultra-modern mall in the centre of the city. It looks like an alien space craft landed amidst the squalor of its surroundings.

Much more importantly, the development of ministries captures my interest. Our partner, JKPS, began with three keen evangelists in the early years. JKPS has exploded to more than 270 churches; two rescue centres and after-care homes for sex-trafficked girls; a Bible-training centre; and more than 7000 kids fed, trained and assisted weekly.

We visited some of the actual shanties in which these kids live. I have to duck to the waist and cannot stand up inside the home. The floors are dirt. The space is inconceivably cramped but the faces glow in the dark. The astonishing thing is the pride they demonstrate in showing you their houses and their absolute delight that we would take the time to visit them.

Even more exciting are the young ladies who lead us to the homes in the slums. They are ‘graduates’ of the sponsorship programs. They are beautiful, poised 18- or 19-year-old college students. Many volunteer with the children’s ministries and are leaders in the community.

Our group spent the morning with girls in the after-care home. These girls, some as young as 11 years old, experienced the deepest horrors and degradation imaginable as they were abandoned by their own families and trafficked for the sex trade in Calcutta into indescribable situations.

Those girls who have experienced the love, medical treatment and counselling for several months reflect the joy of Christ in contrast to the shame, hurt and pain in the eyes of the newer arrivals. They ministered to us in dance. The girls themselves described the treatment programs of the centre. They are nurtured until they are 18 years old and then placed in a Partners International transition home to slowly re-integrate into society. They are taught trades to support themselves in a new and hopeful life.

We are off to Pakistan in a few hours.

Phil Dempster

Singapore – Manado and Ambon, Indonesia


3°39’8.07“S 128°11’26.45“E

Our itinerary has taken us to three cities in two countries over the last 72 hours. We have one short hour in the Ambon airport to write this report.

We survived an earthquake last night in the restaurant. A series of quakes hit the area of Northern Indonesia. There was a sharp jolt, and the building was moving. I was up and heading for the door with a few other Indonesians scattering. (I was not sure if they were running to get out of my way or because of the quake.) There was no damage done but just a few miles down the road several were killed in a rock slide.

In Singapore, virtually everyone speaks a form of English. The desk clerk informed me there was a charge on the room for a ‘plane ride’. I was a little perplexed as how a plane ride would be charged to my hotel room, but in asking for clarification, I discovered he said “plain rice”.

Similarly, on the flight to Singapore, the Chinese flight attendants, who likely spoke four or five languages, spoke with a distinctly Asian accent. The young Parisian man sitting next to me had difficulty understanding what the attendant was saying as his English was limited and his ears were plugged by a cold.

Breakfast was served and I decided to be the translator since I AM Canadian; I read cereal boxes and I watched the Pink Panther movies. The attendant asked whether he wanted a cheese omelette. I translated “omelette”. He replied “Oui”. The attendant asked “croissant?” I translated “croissant.” I was hoping “champagne” was a drink option but he was able to understand “orange juice” and breakfast was served.

This visit has taken us to some exotic areas. We are currently visiting areas where ministry is a little ‘weaker’, struggling or needs a boost to get it to the next level. We try to find out what is holding them back, whether it is leadership structure, communication tools, finances or other issues. We need to see the potential for the work to be moving into frontiers where few can go and become a multiplying and transforming force. Partners International will then do whatever is humanly necessary to see goals reached.

Manado is a beautiful, clean city by many standards. It is famous for some of the best scuba diving in the world. Unfortunately, we will not have time to sample that. The city has a majority Christian population and churches are evident everywhere. The transforming impact of the Christian gospel is also evident and yet, with that comes a deadness in some of the churches. The Bible College we helped initiate through the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Indonesia (ETSI) is focused on keeping the evangelical fires alive.

Manado is also the place where they eat dog. (Plug your ears, Buster!)

It was many years ago that I was first coerced into trying dog meat in Manado, Indonesia. Travelling with John Brans, I thought it would be a good experience for him. He was a good sport and ate what was offered. We have been monitoring him to see if there have been any behavioural changes. He is still greeting people normally but he does tend to run ahead when I yell, “Squirrel!”

There are few direct flights from island to island. Our flights took us through Ujang Padang, Makassar before arriving in Ambon. John is learning some new perspectives in queuing. Boarding a plane more closely resembles ‘Red Rover Red Rover’ than anything we experience in North America. Passengers board from the front and rear of the plane and of course the airline ensures that the front passengers climb the rear stairs and vice versa.

We plan to be in Samarinda, Kalimantan (Borneo) tonight.

Breaking Up in Indonesia

Indonesia – Samarinda and Balikpapan

1°14’7.37“S 116°51’17.08“E

I am not made for Asia. After speaking at a church meeting in a hotel on Sunday morning, we were taken to lunch by the leadership team. The tables were made of glass, and despite what Emily Post taught me, I put my elbows on the table. The table snapped in two with large shards of glass in my lap. The hotel manager paid me a visit and was very solicitous. I think they were afraid I would sue.

An aluminum chair at my host’s home fared no better. When it exploded and collapsed after I sat down, he said, “Made in China” and smiled.

I was asked to speak at a large Presbyterian church in Balikpapan. Most of the attendees were Chinese. The church was pastored by a graduate of the the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Indonesia (ETSI). It was started by Dr. Chris Marantika. It was good to share with these wonderful folk and see the changes that are happening daily in the Indonesian churches. Often you do not see these changes when living closely in the same context. I shared and showed pictures of the courage of the Pakistan believers who have been shot at, bombed and endlessly persecuted for their faith. The Indonesians took courage and recognized their situation is not so dire, even though it is dangerous.

Eating fresh fish is amazing in Kalimantan. We were taken to a high-end seafood restaurant where we could pick our fish ‘live’ and have it brought to our table within minutes. We were not allowed to pay for anything.

One of the church members invited us to stay at their home. I much prefer staying in homes than the usual hotel fare. It allows you to get to know people and make great friends. This couple dedicated 10% of their home to accommodate ministry visitors. Little did I know that 10% of their home was larger than my entire house in Canada! It was an incredible place, all glass and stainless steel right on the ocean. We estimated the area of the home at more than 20,000 square feet. The flooring for the entire three storeys of the house was inlaid marble. The bedroom was close to 1000 square feet.

I must apologize to Peter MacMillan and Rick McElroy at this point. We literally slept on boards on the trip to Kalimantan with you three years ago! The place has developed quite a bit since then. ☺

The graduation was inspiring at the Dayak college. Korean churches have helped to rebuild some classrooms. The classrooms were all aging wooden buildings, part of the original, generous land donation from a local Chinese woman in Samarinda, Kalimantan, Indonesia. Termites had done their work in the tropical climate and many of the buildings were in very poor repair. A German evangelical group has built a well-constructed men’s dormitory. There are projects all over the campus that are making the ministry self-sustaining, with livestock and farming feeding the student body.

Graduates are making a big difference in the primitive, up-river areas, and they are seeing churches established, ongoing literacy teaching, and villages transformed. It is happening quickly and just in time as the area is opening up daily for oil and mineral exploration.

These are wonderful people with whom to spend time. We continued to travel with Rev. Lieow. He is known as the ‘Ghost Buster’ even in Cambodia. He certainly knew how to communicate with the animistic Dayak people.

John Brans and I spent one day in Bali and we were then recharged and ready for Cambodia.

Indonesia – Cambodia

Angkor Wat?

13°24’49.18“N 103°52’1.29“E

June 2010

Cambodia is the last stop on one of the longer trips I have taken over the years. We flew to Phnom Penh from Singapore and stayed in a great, $20 per night hotel in the centre of the city! It was great because it was clean, had hot water, and breakfast was included. It is right in the middle of dozens of sidewalk cafés in the tourist section of town, yet it is owned and run by Cambodians.

The most surprising aspect of a drive in central Cambodia is that three out of ten cars are the Lexus brand! These are high-end models, LX470 SUV’s. They are everywhere. Toyota has scored big here, with their brands probably accounting for at least 50% of all the vehicles. The Lexus automobiles, although cheaper in this country than others, indicate a high level of corruption. They are handed out to government officials and army “honchos” as perks for contracts. Regrettably, Cambodia consistently makes the Top Ten list of corrupt countries.

The primary mode of transport for most Cambodians is a Tuk-Tuk, a 125cc motorcycle tricked-out with a carriage on the back that holds three North Americans or six Cambodians. Two dollars gets you anywhere in town. US dollars are universally used. The Cambodian ‘Riel’ is used only for small change. This is an inexpensive place to live. Food is good and costs little.

We visited a number of ministry leaders around the capital. Cambodia is still recovering from 30 years of war; a war that petered out in 2000 with no conclusive armistice. People seemed to get tired of the fighting and went back to their farms. It is a country that saw nearly one-quarter of its seven million population exterminated while the world did nothing from 1975 to 1979. The late Pol Pot, the infamous murderer, killed almost 1.7 million of his own people to implement his bizarre version of communist ideology. The events were well documented in the ‘Killing Fields’ book and movie.

Most traces of Christianity were eliminated, as the Khmer Rouge murdered hundreds of thousands of people who were trying to flee the country. Since then, the church has rebounded a hundred fold with encouraging signs everywhere. Christians number about 3% of the 14 million populace now.

No visit to Cambodia is complete without seeing the Angkor Wat (its name means ‘temple city’) complex near Siem Reap. Hundreds of acres of Hindu-Buddhist temples have been uncovered in the jungles of North Cambodia. It is estimated that more than 1 million people occupied this city one millennium ago. It is certainly an amazing place. The architecture, engineering and beauty rival any heritage site in the world. I found it interesting that the most popularly photographed parts of the complex are the gigantic fig trees that have been slowly deconstructing the buildings for centuries!

Six hours of temple touring in 37C heat in the blazing sun depleted my appetite and energy. John decided to climb to the top of the main temple complex while I sat it out in the shade. It was a good decision on my part.

We begin the long trek home today. Interestingly, with all the flights, connections and schedules, we were able to meet up with an old friend and his family from the Spokane, Washington area. Carlos Calderon was traveling with his wife Lorena and daughter, Carla (1 of 9!). We met in the Kuala Lumpur airport. We will also meet up with my son Jon tonight in Dubai! Jon is returning from a six-week assignment in Australia with his software company and we just ‘happen’ to be able to meet in Dubai and fly home on the same plane. I love God’s ‘coincidences’ especially since he was in Business class and his peasant father in Coach. As a good son, he let me enjoy the luxury and pampering of Emirates Air Business Class.

Southern Sudan – One of the Youngest Countries on Earth

June 2009

It has been more than twenty years since I travelled regularly to East Africa. Nairobi, Kenya was a place of peace and beauty on a continent with little peace and stability. Now, the ugly tribalism that plagues most of Africa has generated uncertainty, fear and death in Kenya.

It is difficult for a Canadian to understand. We have modest issues with the two founding nations and the First Nations in Canada. Multiply those complexities times one hundred. For instance, in Nigeria alone, there are more than 400 tribes/people groups/nations. Add to that the artificial borders drawn on a map by Europeans and the problems are intractable.

I began planning this trip several months ago before the current troubles began. My flight from Amsterdam yesterday brought me to Nairobi, Kenya in a half-empty plane. The good news is that there were so many empty seats I could stretch out and sleep. The bad news? Sleeping eight hours on seat belts and armrests is like falling from the balcony and waking up in the orchestra section. Your body feels the same when you come to.

It is with some trepidation that I am here. The plan is to stay in Nairobi for only a day or two to visit our partners. The main goal of the trip is to visit Khartoum and Southern Sudan. The next stop is Juba, in Sudan. From there Mark Bardwell and I will travel by small plane to eight villages around the South.

Southern Sudan alone is huge, three times the size of Germany! Southern Sudan is functioning as a virtual separate nation. For 30 years the area has endured what Darfur is now going through. Hundreds of thousands have died fighting the heavily-funded Muslim government forces trying to eliminate the black South. They have defended their people at great cost in lives, refugees, forced slavery and displacement. Many of the refugees are now returning to the South from Khartoum.

Partners International has been assisting the refugees, building schools and orphanages for 30 years and today, through an incredibly generous gift from friends in Western Canada, we are building three large, first-class Christian schools in the South through the Africa Inland Church (AIC) church denomination in Sudan.

The Christian church is growing at an incomprehensible rate in the South of Sudan. Persecution does seem to galvanize the true church of Jesus Christ. Since 2002 more than 1.5 million decisions to follow Christ have been registered through the teams of a denomination we partner with through the Partners International UK office (WorldShare). These numbers have been documented independently by a team from an American church. It is an area that has constantly come to mind and heart since I first met these people one-to-one many years ago. On some level, I am looking forward to visiting these people.

It is a place in which I will feel strangely at home! One of the ethnic groups, the Dinka, is very tall. I have met dozens of men over 6’5”. You may remember Manute Bol, a 7’ 7” centre in the NBA? This is his home.

O Yei O Yei

Yei, South Sudan 2008

4°51’57.14“N 31°34’54.96“E

I may not be able to find any Internet connection for the next week as we are flying around Southern Sudan visiting small towns, most lacking any electrical grid. We are staying at the Evangelical Presbyterian compound in Yei, Sudan and they have miraculously produced Internet access.

It took a few extra days in Nairobi to obtain a visa for Sudan, but it was a good time to plan and prepare. We also made many contacts in Kenya and watched the election crisis unfold in that country. Several Southern Sudan leaders also operate out of Nairobi and we were able to meet with them.

Southern Sudan is one of the most compelling areas you can imagine. It does not seem possible that people could live and exist like this in 2008. Prayer was needed for an ability to communicate what I was seeing. We need to have many in Canada involved in prayer and financing. The need is great.

It is exciting to visit here as I have watched the events unfold in the South for many years. People with absolutely nothing defended themselves and held off the Muslim Arabs of the North for most of the 50+ years that Sudan has been a nation. I have been told that up to two-and-a-half million have died. A truce was signed in 2005 with the possibility of a new nation being formed in 2012. However, the North has instituted new tactics to make sure that does not happen (see below). It is called war by proxy. I do not know if the media in Canada picked up on the attacks in Chad. These are reportedly sponsored by Khartoum, Sudan. Similar tactics are being used in Darfur by heavily-armed groups called ‘Arab Militias’ and around the Southern flank of Sudan and Uganda.

We arrived in Yei, Southern Sudan on Wednesday morning. Even Google Earth cannot prepare you for this. There are several hundred thousand people living in the town. It is the dry season. There is no pavement. The dust is horrendous. There is no infrastructure whatsoever. Only cell phones work but, alas, not mine. The best house in town is a mud hut with a grass roof.

Unbelievably, we are hosted by one of the most dynamic men I have met in Africa, Bishop Elias Taban. He has been helped extensively through our UK Affiliate, WorldShare. All 6’6” of him stayed in my house in Milton last week, just by ‘chance’. He flew back to Yei on Thursday and here we are in his guest home in Yei on Wednesday of the following week.

(She looks dangerous with that knife)

In a town of dirt, he has begun churches, lumber mills, agricultural projects, and Bible schools on a huge scale. He took us into his home and toured us around the area. A new Christian hospital has just opened a few miles and few hours of hard driving down the road from Yei. He carried cement on his motorcycle himself to begin this very large facility.

We were scheduled to drive to Juba on Thursday morning when a report came through that 500 well-armed mercenaries were spotted near the road to Juba. I have a new appreciation for cell phones and the communication they provide for developing countries. This army is reported to have brand-new uniforms, RPG’s and are heavily armed with all new equipment. The group is well known in this area near the Uganda border as LRA, Lord’s Revolutionary Army. They have been trying to overthrow the Ugandan government for years. Now, the government in Khartoum is using them to destabilize the South of Sudan, because the world is distracted in Darfur (Eastern Sudan).

We made a quick call to AIM AIR, to see if they had a plane in the area on Thursday and made arrangements to fly to Juba rather than drive.

I have included a few facts on Sudan that were picked up locally. They are listed below:

● 540 tribal groups

● Borders on nine other countries

● It is the dividing point of the Arab/Muslim North and black African South

● 40,000,000 people; in the North, 70% Muslim; in the South 70% animist, 20% Christian, 10% Muslim

● 75% of women and children are illiterate

● Tremendous natural resources; gold, oil, timber, wildlife, and mineral deposits


Juba and Eastward

4°51’57.14“N 31°34’54.96“E South Sudan 2008

Preaching about Hell would have little effect on the people of Juba. They live it every day. It would be highly doubtful to them that it could be any hotter than their own city. Combine the heat with several million people living in a city with zero infrastructure and you get some idea of how miserable life can be.

We landed in the large MAF passenger plane in Juba at 2:00 pm in the afternoon. We were left to walk across the tarmac from the plane, about 500 metres to the terminal building. That sounds easy except the temperature was off the charts and we were lugging our carry-ons, cameras and a backpack, along with a heavy suitcase. Let’s not leave out the weaving in and out of various-sized taxiing aircraft.

You cannot find a foot of paved road in Juba. It is now the dry season and the dust is incredible. The UN has a large presence here and more vehicles than the Toronto Transit Commission, few of which are being used. The UN creates a real problem, driving up prices for the locals as money is spent like water. The churches have seen the price of cement and building materials double. This makes it very difficult to complete the schools under construction on budget.

We are staying in a unique ‘hotel’ on the edge of the White Nile river. The Blue Nile is just as large and some distance away. It is an area that will be the cause of bloodshed again as there are known oil reserves throughout the area. The river is surprisingly large and fast-flowing even so far from its mouth.

Most of the ‘rooms’ at the hotel are army surplus tents. We are staying in a two-storey prefab building. The walls and floors are relatively thin steel, but it is very nicely finished. You can hear every sound from the neighbours. $120 per night but we had A/C for three hours!

We have chartered a small plane for the next few days. Mark and I will be covering the main centres all across the South to the Ethiopian border. We will be trying to match the number of safe landings to the number of takeoffs. (The numbers always match; it’s the ’safe’ part we’re wondering about.)

The landing strips in these towns are a story in themselves. Most are no more than a dirt strip covered in weeds. In some of the towns we landed, we were met by a crowd of the locals. Arrivals are so rare it is a big deal. The plane was swarmed in a few places.

I grabbed my camera and took a walk through one of the communities in the area. The kids come running out yelling Ca-wa-ja! Ca-wa-ja! (white man! white man!). In Lohutok, we landed and were greeted by a group of young boys with bows and arrows. It was a great source of entertainment for them to point the bows (with arrows cocked) at you and watch you blink.

We landed at dusk and the boys were our only welcoming committee, so we packed up and began walking towards the village, some five kilometres away! It was something to be in the African bush, with none of us (the pilot, Mark, nor me) knowing where we are going, with the sun going down quickly. Thirty minutes into our walk, we heard the welcome sound of a Massey Ferguson 135 tractor approaching with a trailer attached. Airport limousine, Lohutok style.

The night was hot. The whole town and surrounding area was covered in a carpet of animal droppings. Until the sun went down, the flies would not leave us alone. This was our first night in the Holiday Mud Hut. They had done their best with the bed and clean sheets, but A/C was lacking and there is just something about sleeping in a place with no door, especially with critters all around.

I was about to send this trip report by email when we received word from the village Lohutok we left less than 18 hours ago. Cattle raiders came and tried to steal the herd, guarded by the boy at left. (I took his photo just moments before we flew out.) The young man was shot in the leg and the cattle stolen. Our partners, the church leaders, were trying to find some way to get him medical care but it is very difficult and remote. There is no vehicle in the entire area. We are still not sure if this boy will get the care he needs. We prayed for him.

The next report, coming soon, describes one of the most incredible and moving places I have ever visited. It is near the town of Kuron close to the mountains bordering Ethiopia. We arrived at the landing strip which was also very remote from the town. Normally you would be swarmed by the local people once they heard the plane circling to land. There was not a single person within sight of the landing strip. We waited in unbelievable heat for 15 or 20 minutes until we spotted the dust from a small SUV racing toward us on the dirt road. We had booked a driver many days previously as there are few vehicles in the area. He arrived and took us to town. He said he was delayed because there was fighting around the landing strip between two groups, the Toposa and Jie tribes, warring over the area the day before we arrived. Many were killed. Nothing is certain in this area. One does not know what is going to happen at any moment. For all who live there, Life is extremely hard and an hourly struggle to survive.

Somewhere in Southern Sudan 2008

5°32’9.05“N 5°32’9.05“N

Namurpus, a town 30 kilometres south of Kuron

Imagine the least livable places on earth. You think of the Arctic with 24-hour nights and incredible cold; the Altiplano in the Andes without oxygen and water; or the Mongols on the high steppes of Central Asia. Add to that list Namurpus near Kuron, Eastern Sudan.

It is a place where daytime temperatures rarely drop below 35 Celsius and often hit 50 degrees during the dry season. (95 and 122 if you still think Fahrenheit!) Roads do not exist. Volcanic detritus, sharp rocks and terrain make it impossible to ride or walk. It is located in the Western arm of the Rift Valley, under the mountains bordering Ethiopia.

The two main people groups are Toposa and Jie. They do not really get along well. They have been competing in this area for grazing land for centuries. They graze some cattle and goats on land that barely supports grasshoppers. They are nomadic and follow the rains, which come to this area around April.

A handsome young Kenyan family, Bible-school trained, were sent by the Kenya churches to minister in this area and help these people in their miserable condition. This family has two of the brightest young sons imaginable. The third is buried just outside their mud and grass hut under a pile of random looking stones. He became ill and in one day, died. There was no way to get him medical help as it can take days, even weeks in the rainy season, to find anything resembling a town. Ezekiel apologized that they have no cement and he has not been able to build a small crypt for his dead son.

Mark Bardwell w/Ezekiel (blue)

They have persevered here for six years despite unbelievable hardship. Ezekiel Aygeo and his wife and two sons are heroes to me. Proverbs 31:8 says ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.’ I want to speak up for this family. Their heart and love for the Toposa people is supernatural.

Ezekiel told how once a month he takes a small motorcycle to travel to the nearest town days away. He picks up supplies for the school and family. On one of his trips, the motorcycle broke down. He was stranded for four days without water. A passing vehicle found him unconscious but they were able to revive him and he continues to minister.

He showed me the ‘school’ they are using to educate the children. His enthusiasm was contagious, but I had a hard time distinguishing the various classrooms he was pointing out. One was several rows of sharp rocks in a semicircle in the middle of a field, no shelter from the red hot sun that was melting me. The ‘Form 5’ upscale class was a rudimentary grass hut that at least provided shade. The other classes were under two trees on the compound. Only the small, ratty green boards gave the slightest indication it was a school.

As mentioned in an earlier letter, a young Canadian couple has funded the building of three quality schools in Southern Sudan. We have chosen this town as the first to have a school constructed. There are 100’s of children in the area but many of them are nomadic as mentioned. When a Toposa boy leaves to go to school, he is considered to have abandoned his family and his tribe. They will not accept him back. It is a permanent decision. They consider him ‘soft’ and he cannot adjust back to the overwhelming harshness of the Toposa lifestyle… and they are right.

Very few girls can attend school. First of all they are needed for labour and looking after the goats. Secondly, the family would lose any potential dowry, the payment of cows and goats for marriage. It is a really difficult economic decision for the family.

Ezekiel and his wife now care for 100 boys. All have left their families to go to school. They must provide for all their needs while they attend school. There are no buildings to rent to board them, no town, just a grass hut where they all sleep and a second hut to feed them. I would love to get little sponsorship cards and pictures for each of these kids, but it is not going to happen. It takes days of travel or a very expensive plane trip to get to this area. Partners International will be helping in other ways.

Construction is a challenge. All materials have to be transported in from Kenya to the South, a distance of approximately 350 kilometres. I will not even describe the road as such but just add a picture. The cost of transport often exceeds the cost of the materials. We have a man, Molongola (I call him Holy Moli), who supervises the purchasing and construction for the schools. He is a trained minister but with a great heart and attention to detail.

The two other towns that will have schools provided have been selected. Approximately 150,000 souls populate this desolate region. Christian education will give the next generation better odds of surviving as the 21st century closes in on them.

For the Toposa people and Ezekiel in Namurpus

Lebanon Report #2 – Oct 15, 2005

I discovered something new in Lebanon today… white paint on some of the roads. It serves no useful purpose. No vehicle I have seen here pays any attention to the few white lines on the highways. There are no traffic lights in a city of several million. Travel through the city is a constant game of ‘chicken’. Two or three millimetres separate cars as they jockey to see who is the Alpha male. I confess I would like to drive that way back in Canada. I am restrained only by the screams of my wife and kids, and the traffic tickets I would surely accumulate.

The sleepless nights of jetlag have given me the opportunity to read up on the history of Lebanon. I walked across Beirut’s infamous ‘Green Line’ (a division between Christian and Muslim communities) and spent several hours in the Beirut museum. Many of the antiquities are literally encased in concrete to avoid damage from the constant bombardment and anarchy of the civil war. The history here is astonishing. I was looking at buildings today that dated back five thousand years. Ancient history in Canada consists of a few sticks from longhouses built a few hundred years ago.

I tried my first Arab coffee this morning, which is served in thimble-like cups and has the consistency and taste of crankcase oil, and well past the 8000 kilometres change date at that. Olive oil, which is used in abundance, was designed to keep that stuff from staying in your system for too long. No wonder these people are irritable and always fighting each other!

We visited the city Byblos (Book) today. It is reputed to be one of the oldest settlements ever found, close in age to Jericho. Seventeen civilizations have parked themselves in this area over the last half-dozen millennia. The Greek and Canaanite names seem to have stuck, despite the more recent efforts of the Crusaders, Ottoman Turks, French and Syrians to take over the place. When Alexander the Great came through, he found that most of the people were literate, hence the name.

The whole afternoon was spent eating and talking with the Lebanese board that manages the diverse ministries here. They are a great bunch of men (sorry ladies, this is the Middle East), the majority professionals with a real heart to positively impact lives here. The church had flown in three families from Southern Sudan to attend a week of seminars they had sponsored. I took part in those and learned how Nubians have coped with the civil war in Sudan these past many years.

It was interesting to look out of the apartment today and discover an orphanage next door. For those of us old enough in our family (Dianne, Paul, Sherri, Lynette), you will remember the Topazians who frequently visited our home as kids. This is the same Home of Onesiphorus that they administered 40 years ago.

Middle East Report 2005

Amazing Ibrahim in Lebanon

33°50’31.31“N 35°33’39.06“E

Lebanon is not a huge place. You can drive from Beirut, through Damascus, Syria to Amman, Jordan in about five hours. When I suggested I might do that, the locals laughed at me. Syria is not the place you want to tour through. It is much better to spend a few dollars and fly 45 minutes to Amman. I had difficulty getting a visa in time to go to Sudan, so I changed my itinerary to go to Jordan. There is a seminary there that my parents sponsored, through the initiative of my older brother, Paul Dempster.

Seminaries do not normally inspire chills up and down one’s spine, but I am taking it upon myself to try to document the impact of this investment, firsthand. My trip to Amman is to meet the Leader, Dr. Imad, a Christian Palestinian. There is a whole story of the very unusual way this institute came into being.

The day before I left for the Middle East I found out that some of the key Iraqi leaders we assisted will be staying in the same hotel as I would be in Jordan. What an amazing opportunity to get firsthand information from Iraq. These are things you will not hear on the CBC or CNN.

We spent some time last night at a Canadian coffee shop, Second Cup. It’s not Tim Hortons, but I’ll take it. I heard one of the most amazing stories from a gentleman I met from Southern Sudan, here by chance, or actually divine appointment. I didn’t need a Sudanese visa or ticket after all!

Ibrahim comes from the Nubian mountains. You have probably heard of the Nubians if you ever watched the movie Ben Hur. This is a Muslim area. He was one of seven children. The oldest brother converted to Christianity and was sent back to their home town to let the other people in the village know the Good News. As expected, they did not consider it good news at all and told him to be silent. The village elders threatened him several times. Finally they bound him with an iron bar behind his back, took him to his parents’ house and told them that he had brought shame to the family and to the village.

He was threatened with a knife in front of his parents and told to recant his faith. He would not and they began to stab him. Seven times they stabbed him and told him to recant each time. The seventh time the knife wound killed him.

Today his whole family, six children, mother and father follow Jesus. As noted above, his mother was standing in front of him when they murdered him. She testified later that she could not see her son. She was a Muslim, but all she could see was an image of Jesus overlaying her son, taking the wounds for him. She immediately became a follower of Isa (Jesus) and today the whole family including the father and six remaining children follow Jesus the Messiah. She is a ‘dynamo’, Ibrahim says, and cannot keep quiet about her changed life.

After he became a Christian, Ibrahim was trained in a Bible school in Beirut and is leading a church planting movement among the Nubians. His brother did not die in vain.

Baalbek, the ancient city in central Lebanon, is an archaeologist’s dream. The ruins are among the most amazing, and best preserved in the world. Massive quarried stones, some 165 feet long, are used in the temple to Jupiter. It took 250 years to build it. If you are into Old Testament studies, it highlights the ancient worship of Baal (Baalbek is the town of Baal), a nasty religion the Canaanites practiced, and shows how it morphed through the Greek god Zeus to the Roman Jupiter.

My last stop was the girls’ orphanage in the mountains adjacent to the Bekaa valley. This mountain retreat is 5000 feet high in a strategic spot. The Israeli Army used the site as a base when they invaded in 1982. They kindly built some great bunkers for the tanks. Subsequently, these have been converted to dorms and put to good use. Many of these little girls are from Druze Muslim homes. They have been abandoned or their parents are incarcerated. You do not want to spend too much time here or they will steal your heart for sure, as you see from the picture.

November 2014

Life and Death in Northern Iraq

36°20’0.73“N 43° 8’54.25“E

A news report quoted the Israeli Defense minister on the last day of our stay in Beirut saying, “We will bomb Lebanon back to the Stone Age if Hezbollah sends missiles into Israel.” A comforting thought given that Beirut has been rebuilt and is a beautiful and seemingly peaceful city on the Mediterranean. Hundreds of buildings under construction; downtown towers, modern attractive buildings and a wonderful, vibrant waterfront brought back memories of Beirut as the ‘Paris of the Mediterranean’. One of our young leaders from Damascus, Syria said that he was having trouble sleeping because it was so quiet in Beirut! The constant shelling in Damascus apparently lulled him to sleep.

The history here is astonishing: Byblos, reputed to be one of the oldest settlements ever found, is close in age to Jericho, and the best-preserved Roman temple in the world is in Baalbek. Lebanon is so strategic for the Kingdom work; short flights to all the major capitals in the Middle East and one of the last bastions of Christianity in the region.

The horrors in Syria of sectarian fighting among Muslims, and the extremism of ISIS in Syria and Iraq are driving many to the Prince of Peace. Many areas were formerly inaccessible to westerners. Now the people are fleeing to the believers in Latakia, Syria; Mosul,Iraq; and Lebanon for help. They hear the Good News for the first time. ISIS may turn out to be very effective agents of evangelism!

We heard incredible stories of conversions, visions, and interventions by God in the lives of believers and non-believers alike. I will share one with you as I sign off on this trip to the Middle East:

Kojan is a Kurd from Northern Iraq. The Kurds are the ‘Medes’ of the Old Testament. He was the first believer in his city, with few reported conversions in 1400 years. He lives with his beautiful family of one wife, two boys and two girls. This shy man delighted in showing us pictures of his kids, who seemed amazing and wise beyond their years. Kojan carried scriptures into Iran on horseback, well over 250,000 at last count. The Sovereign God is doing unusual things in Iran… but that is another story for another time.

Kojan grew up as a Muslim. His older sister, promised to an uncle in marriage, refused his approach. The local Imam ordered her killed to protect the honour of the family and religion. Kojan watched as the men came with guns to kill his sister. Paid by her relatives to shoot her, they came to the house. His mother ran and threw herself in front of her daughter and they shot and killed his mother. They then shot and killed his sister in front of the family.

Consumed with hate, he could not forgive these men nor the god that caused them to do this. As time passed, a local library employed him. He found a copy of the Bible in the library. He began to read it and through a long process found amazing joy and life in the Scripture, not the hate, jihad and killing to which he was accustomed.

There are many groups of believers now gathering in his city and Kojan shepherds them. You would not believe that this gentle, joyful man was ever consumed by hate. This is just one of dozens of testimonies we received and will communicate carefully to those praying and helping with this strategic and fruitful work.

Making Travel a Habit

Lebanon 2014

33°50’31.31“N 35°33’39.06“E

Two years have passed since you received my last travelogue. For some of you it has been a blessed relief. Delegating travel to the younger generation while adapting to new cardiac plumbing is my excuse.

This letter comes to you after a stop in Istanbul, Turkey. I am en route with Rev. Ian Campbell and Rev. Bud Penner, long-time pastors and teachers. We are on our way to beautiful downtown Beirut to meet with Partners International workers from around the region. Our co-workers will be travelling from most of the countries surrounding, from Sudan to Northern Iraq.

We will be staying in a nunnery in Beirut, hence the sad attempt at humour in the title. Do not feel sorry for us; the view of the city and the Mediterranean from 1000 metres is spectacular.

This region is a rather unsettled place with continual craziness in every corner. Lebanon is of course ruled by Hezbollah (Shiite) and who are actively involved in Syria; proxies of Iran, etc., if you read the press. There are more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon and they comprise 30% of Lebanon’s population. It is difficult to imagine the strains on the country. I doubt there is much even these skilled 'teachers' with me can teach the believers, but we hope to encourage each other, especially in the incredibly difficult circumstances under which they work. Their lives are on the line every day. They are my heroes. I am looking forward to hearing the Acts of the Holy Spirit 2014. The time we spend together is greatly valued by them and so we try to relay the prayer and concern of all the many Canadians who back them in the work.

Ibrahim’s experiences are very much like those we read of in the early church. He has to avoid certain places because the authorities are actively trying to silence him.

We toured the beautiful rebuilt centre of Beirut last night and the sparsely-used outdoor cafés. Only afterward did we read the US State Department’s October 15th warning for travellers to Lebanon: ‘Avoid public spaces and malls when visiting Beirut.’ Apparently their intelligence sources have picked up warnings of threats to Westerners, especially North Americans.

The experiences of these amazing men and women are inspiring. A young Armenian pastor from Damascus told me of a visit to the historical wall in Damascus where Paul was allegedly let down in a basket to escape those trying to kill him. He heard a voice saying, “Move away”. He immediately moved about 15 metres away as a bomb fell on the very spot he had been standing moments before. As we ate dinner together, he received a phone call from his family saying some 30 artillery shells had fallen near their home in Damascus within the hour. ‘Anti-regime’ groups regularly bomb the Christian areas of the city. His concern was evident. Events like this are daily experiences for these people even though it was clearly disturbing to him.

These men are brave but they are still human. Terror is real and effective. We need to back these courageous workers in prayer and support. They do not plan to leave their neighbours and friends despite the constant harassment.

Phil Dempster for

Rev. Ian Campbell and Rev. Bud Penner

Middle East Report

Looking for Amman in Jordan 2007

31°57’7.27“N 35°56’35.90“E

‘The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’ stamped in your passport. Royal Jordanian Airlines. It sounds so exotic to a Canadian boy flying from Milton in the non-Kingdom of Ontario.

What a relief to drive in a country where people actually obey the rules of the road! I will never complain about speed limits and stop signs again. Amman is a beautiful city with all the Western amenities. Amman is also an orderly city with lots of good roads that actually have signs that people actually obey.

Tuesday was a day of meetings with the leadership of JETS (Jordan Evangelical Seminary). A very impressive (and intimidating) group of people. Every one of them with doctorate degrees and heavy questions and $5 million dollar plans to present.

The seminary was started some 14 years ago. It has about 100 students now, one-third Jordanians, the rest from the Arab world. Many Egyptians, Sudanese, Syrians, Iraqis, Armenians, and these are certainly not the kind you see on CNN or the BBC. These are wonderful, warm, hospitable, loving people.

I felt quite at home with all the Sudanese from the ‘Christian’ South of the country. Most of these guys were 6’2” and over. They come out from a background of 20 to 30 years of war, which really was more of a campaign of genocide, the Arab/Muslim North brutally trying to subdue the black African South. The same thing is now happening in the West of the country in Darfur. The Lord has used this horror to open people’s eyes to the beauty and love of Christ. Muslims come into Darfur in Western Sudan to kill Muslims. Christians from all over Sudan and countries around the world come in to give and to heal. People who have never responded to The Message before are doing so now.

I found it quite surprising how these people have no bitterness or anger. They talk very little about politics in the Sudan or Iraq. They are fearless in their determination to see God’s Kingdom come.

Yousif Matti of Iraq laughed when I asked him about his security and whether he was concerned because of his profile in radio, schools, publishing, media, etc. They also need teachers in great numbers to teach in English in Iraq. I asked how the security situation would be for Canadians and Americans. There are American women who have come and have served for years in Baghdad.

Joseph pointed out that people from the West worry about birds (bird flu), guns, bombs, hurricanes and just about everything else. The Iraqis have lunch in cafés while missiles fly overhead. Joseph said that if God has called you, He is able to keep you safe. There is no safer place to be than in the middle of God’s will.

They make no concessions to fear in these areas. He said, “Take a look at the hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, plane crashes, that have been in the news in America. Do you really think you can be ‘guaranteed’ security anywhere in the world?”

I was asked to speak to the leaders and professors at JETS over lunch. Again, very intimidating with these highly-educated men and women. JETS is a very ‘leveraged’ organization. They train mature people in the skills they need to go back home and transform communities. These leaders have the ability to plant forests, not just trees, to use an agricultural analogy. The transformations do not occur in a week, but in a generation.

One of the tall men from southern Sudan, Toot or Tut is planning to go to Darfur. Several of these men and women are heading to this war-torn area in Western Sudan. Darfur has been in the news a great deal. I asked Toot why he would go to such a dangerous place with his family. He looked somewhat bemused. It was clear he had a higher calling. I asked if he would drive from Khartoum to Darfur. The answer was No, he would be killed. You cannot drive with all the bandits, rebels, Arab Militia and other groups that contest this area. He would fly but minister to the refugees as long as he was needed.

Thanks for reading these reports. These are the ‘travel-lite’ reports to give you some flavour of what these areas and people are like. I always come back impressed and motivated because of the incredible depth and commitment of God’s people I meet.

Beauty From Ashes I

Kathmandu, Nepal October 2009

27°41’56.53“N 85°19’57.12“E

The report that follows is not one of my usual travelogues. I often try to inject a little humour into these, describing the travails of an old man bouncing around the globe visiting Partner ministries. It is ironic, that while describing one of the most delightful, joyful, light-filled places I have ever visited and populated mostly by beautiful young women, I could not come up with anything funny. The backdrop is in one of the poorest, darkest countries on earth. My so-called sense of humour deserted me.

If you read the report, you will see why. It describes the most sordid, depraved and outright evil side of mankind we can imagine. Yet from that context we see the incredible power of God, who is able to bring deep joy, healing and transformation from the most hopeless squalor.

Human Trafficking – Beauty from Ashes

Look closely at the beautiful young woman to the right. She is a competent, driven young Nepalese lady in her early 20’s. Her name is Promila. She is recently married to a fine young Christian Nepali. Promila travels internationally, speaks to groups in Brazil and the USA. She leads a group home in Kathmandu that rescues children. She manages a beautiful estate home that houses more than 30 young women. She negotiates with Nepalese government officials. She is a Woman of Importance. Less than eight years ago, Promila was enslaved in the sex trade in India.

More than 10,000 children are taken from Nepal each year in what is referred to as human trafficking. Visit certain villages in the Western hills and you will find no female children above the age of eight years old.

These children are taken to the great cities of India and employed as sex trade workers. They travel with either forged passports or passports that are immediately confiscated. They are truly slaves and have no way of escape. The depravity of their lives is beyond description. Forced to service 10-20 ‘clients’ per day, their lives descend into indescribable horror. Most die before they are 20 years old. AIDS and STD’s are rampant.

A Brazilian pastor named Dr. Jose Rodrigues was visiting Mumbai, India and saw a young girl lying dead on the sidewalk. This is not unusual in the large Indian cities. I have seen trucks filled with corpses. Trucks and carts come around daily and take bodies to the crematoriums. But they did not take the body of this young girl. A child, made in the image of God, was left to be disposed of in the trash. The rationale is that someone so degraded by taking part in this ‘profession’ was not worthy of cremation.

Dr. Rodrigues, deeply moved, determined to do something about it. He shared the need with his congregation back in Brazil. Christians responded and Brazilians were sent, fully funded, from Brazil. Several homes were set up to provide shelter for these young women as they were rescued and brought back to Nepal.

It sounds like an easy process, but when evil is this deeply ingrained, huge obstacles must be overcome. The girls have no papers and cannot be taken across borders without government approvals. Corruption and bribes are rampant and the human traffickers often have the most money. Permits to repatriate these kids must be obtained from the Nepalese government. The traffickers use all their resources, including violence, to stop the repatriation of the children who bring them great economic profit.

There is a wonderful organization called International Justice Mission, comprised of many lawyers from the West dedicated to doing the legal work of rescuing rescuing some of these children and continuing on to prosecute the traffickers and those who break laws by using these children.

They need local organizations to care for the children once they are rescued. If they are not counselled, trained and cared for, they inevitably fall back into the same patterns in order to survive. They are outcasts to their own families, who counted on the regular support from their work, and they are societal pariahs.

It was our last day in Nepal and we made contact with the group in the city that works with children at risk. The director’s name was Silvio Silva, a Brasiliero (Brazilian) from Bela Horizonte, Brazil.

Partners International is developing a similar home in Calcutta. I wanted to meet these people and see how they operated in Nepal.

I confess I was nervous in anticipation of meeting these girls who had been so terribly abused. I wondered how they could ever recover and trust anyone. How could someone from the West who could not even imagine what they had been through possibly relate?

Imagine visiting the most beautiful homes in Kathmandu, decorated and painted in bright wonderful colours and filled with laughing, happily confident young women and children! It was astonishing to see the depth of joy, purpose and healing. Young girls rescued from their nightmare just a few years ago are leading the ministry. They are in charge of the homes and dealing with the government officials as leaders, while only in their early 20’s. The Brazilians told me that they are far more competent and passionate than they are. Silvio told us that they could not stop the girls from talking about Jesus, even to Hindu government officials. The government is not happy that they are becoming Christians and does not help financially, but provides permits to enable them to return to Nepal. The Brazilians were worried about offending Hindu officials who, until a few years ago, would not even legalize a Christian gathering.

More than 110 young women are housed and cared for until they are able to enter society fully capable of functioning as productive community members. They can stay as long as they need to and are taught trades and crafts such as how to hand-weave carpets.

110 plus girls is a drop-in-the-bucket in relation to the problem, so the team also visits the rural villages and exposes the intent and danger of these traffickers to illiterate rural people. Partners International’s Nepali leader, Bhim Lal, comes from the very Tamang tribal area where the problem is most severe. It was exciting to see this relationship develop and plans made to cooperate with Bhim’s wide network of churches to introduce the Rescue & Preventive Ministry to the church leaders in the hills.

So great was our reluctance to leave such a vibrant place, we came close to missing our flight out of Nepal. The Loving Father has given these girls a special anointing and relationship to Himself. They have experienced the deepest darkness the world has to offer and yet it is clear their relationship with the Living God is real and contagious beyond our experience.

We are looking forward to seeing the same ministry established in Calcutta. It has been amazing to see the resources provided even before we knew how we were to be involved in the ministry. It convinces me that this type of ministry is very close to the heart of God.

Funds were given to Partners International and a facility purchased in Calcutta before we even asked. A church in Orlando, Florida visited the site and heard of the ministry and committed to raise enough to cover the staffing cost for one year. Upon returning to Orlando, the congregation responded during very bad economic times, and the result was not one, but three years’ support for the staff! Partners International has to raise the amount to cover the facilities operation and management. International Justice Ministry and Partners International have entered into an agreement to provide continual care at the highest level.

October 2009

Hungry in Kathmandu

27°42’23.26“N 85°19’16.16“E


Greetings from Kathmandu, Nepal. This comes to you a little prematurely as we arrived just 24 hours ago. We really have not done much or seen too many people. The next two weeks will take me into some hazardous areas and I covet your prayers for not only safety, but effectiveness in developing partnerships that will have a major impact in years to come.

This trip seemed to come about rather quickly. I am travelling for part of the journey with a former board member of Partners International Canada, Paul Uptigrove. Paul is a skilled business consultant and will be working with one of our ministry partners in Northeast India. The ministry has grown so quickly that they are straining the organization and need help as they develop the capacity for even more growth.

This trip will take me along the ‘Himalayan run’; Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan as well as Northeast India near Assam. I have let my beard grow these past weeks to allow me to fit in when I visit the villages in the mountains in Pakistan. You can call me Phil Bin Dempster.

We flew to Dubai on the huge new Airbus A380. It is all somewhat anti-climatic in that once you are inside the thing they still have the same claustrophobic Coach Class seats for my Business Class gluteus maximus. Even after 12 ½ hours, only one part of me was impressed, so to speak.

After all these years, it is still disorienting to stop in four countries in 24 hours. The first stop is via Dubai, UAE then Delhi, India and Kathmandu, Nepal.

Partners International’s ministry in Nepal involves an ambitious training of leaders and establishing groups of believers all across the country, in 75 districts. Sounds like an easy job, but there have been over 250 years of missionary activity with few results in this Hindu kingdom.

Infrastructure does not translate easily into Nepalese. There are few roads. Real mountains up to 29,000 feet high, of course! One of the preaching points has 175 river crossings in a three-day hike to a town 52 kilometres as the crow flies from Kathamandu.

In the last few years, something unusual has been happening. The small organization we assist, Good Friends of Nepal, has seen a terrific response to the Good News of Jesus Christ. ‘Signs and wonders’ either precede or accompany these movements. My personal theology, weak as it is, has had to undergo some adjustments over the years as I visit these places.

Most people have limited or no access to medical care. Many subsistence farmers raise barely enough food to cover six-to-eight months, living in a 12-month year! The standard of living in Nepal would equate to about $2.00 per day cash income in Canada. When people become ill they have no alternative but to call on higher powers to help them. Nepali Christians come and pray with the sick and they have seen the Lord heal in unusual ways. People recognize the love and power of God through Jesus and respond. Church communities grow and entire communities are transformed. There are more than 100 of these Good Friends of Nepal centres after just a few years. They are multiplying rapidly.

I read the book ‘Three Cups of Tea’ by Greg Mortenson recently. It is a great read but the results and transformation were disappointing to me. Groups of transformed Christian believers provide the greatest long-

term way of seeing change move onto a permanent and beneficial trajectory. Believers initiate schooling; kids are given hope; micro enterprises spring from leaders’ concern for kids and their future; agricultural projects

are begun to help the village meet the needs of its people. All these things become long-lasting when people are changed on a personal level by the Gospel.

We are staying in The Himalaya Hotel in Kathmandu. A large group of Christian leaders from around Asia has a conference underway. The organization sponsoring this is Transform World, founded by Dr. Luis Bush, a friend and former co-worker at Partners International in the USA. We enjoyed talking with these choice men and women. This type of networking is the lifeblood of Partners International and it is energizing to meet so many people so passionate in their work.

Today we visit the orphanage, my favourite part of the trip. It’s always great to hug and be hugged by kids who have been through so much!

The Children Shall Lead Them


Nigeria 2009

5° 2’18.82“N 7°53’19.60“E

Today? Well… my reading glasses were smashed; David Umune left his passport in Owerri; the cell phone company had the wrong time on their network giving us the incorrect time on our phones and we missed our flight to Liberia. The power has gone off at least a dozen times before breakfast and three times during the Inauguration! No matter how much time goes by and how things improve in West Africa, life is still a challenge.

Nigeria is seeing real progress. Improvements are pleasantly surprising. Bags arrive on time. Lining up still means using your elbows and yelling at times, but hey, I’ve had to do that in Canada!

The kids in the rural Ibo-Edda areas are amazing. They are beautiful. Some of the most photogenic youngsters I have seen in my travels. More than that, they have a strength about them that you rarely see in such young kids.

The reason may be in how the children are raised in the traditional spirit-worship culture-initiated rituals that shock us Westerners. Children as young as four years old are required to go through a type of spiritual initiation. They are left for weeks, sometimes as long as two-to-three months, in a small shelter built by their parents. They have no clothes, food or water and have to forage for themselves during this time. Many die from exposure, insects, or animal attacks. Parents are not allowed to mourn. The kids are just buried and forgotten.

The children who are taught in the new churches and schools resist these practices and refuse to take part once they have been introduced to the gospel. It takes incredible strength to stand up against your parents and the tribal pressures. These kids radiate strength and an insatiable desire to learn.

The Christians schools of the Evangelizers’ Team Ministries International (TETMI) are packed. Kids ride dozens of miles by bicycle to be part of the new TETMI high school. Each year we build bigger facilities and we are always one step behind. Children stuff themselves into benches made for three, but sitting five for the entire school day. All classes have 40 – 50 students in rooms that could not accommodate 20 in Canada. The discipline is amazing and they are all dressed in crisp, school uniforms.

These kids get very little male parental care at home. Fathers are generally working the fields seven days a week. The slightest attention; a smile, a high five and they radiate and respond. Progress is exceptional in a very short time. Crazy ‘Uncle Phil’ gets mobbed, and loves it. The children are transforming these communities, radically impacting their parents, and changing the whole society.

TETMI has targeted about 75 villages, ‘villages’ defined here as sometimes having more than 5000 people! The changes are so radical that leaders from many of these villages have come repeatedly to beg TETMI to come and start churches in their areas.

We were able to book another flight for 5:00 a.m. the next morning on Bellevue Airlines. It sounds like an institution of some type… hopefully not another duct tape and baling-wire airline.

Nigeria Trip Report 2009

Snakes in Nigeria

5° 3’0.73“N 7°19’52.42“E

*For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms._ [[ Ephesians 6:12*]_]

On my personal ‘bucket list’ of things to do before I kick-the-bucket, travelling to West Africa falls somewhere below a root canal and above poking myself in the eye with a sharp stick. That is, until I remember that I am only visiting… These people live their lives here.

I am flying over the Sahara, North to South for the second time in the last 12 months. This trip is taking me to West Africa. Last year I was in South Sudan.

The first stop is Nigeria, specifically to the Southeast, where there has been a great deal of instability over the past decades. For you old-timers, this was once known as Biafra, the home of the Ibo people. They unsuccessfully tried to form a new nation in the late 1960’s. Much of Nigeria’s oil lies in this region and the people living in the Southeast do not feel they are getting their share of the revenues.

Nigeria is a huge, unruly place. There are some 47 countries in Africa but one out of every six Africans lives in Nigeria.

Your first impression of Nigeria is that everyone is aggressive, pushy, dangerous and even violent. The words ‘queuing’ and ‘Nigerian’ are not used in the same sentence. I have memories of walking the gauntlet on my last visit here with airport security beating cab drivers with rubber truncheons, to keep them from grabbing my suitcase. I have been held by policemen and cab drivers for hours on city streets extorting me for bribes, none of which I ever paid. There has been a definite improvement over the years. I did not have to fight through the horde of taxi drivers in Lagos. Nonetheless, Lagos has once again achieved the distinction of being the most un-liveable city in the world!

Yet it is an amazingly vibrant place with some of the largest churches in the world. They also have churches with the largest names. One we passed today used lots of paint on the sign: ‘The Charismatic Apostolic Church of the Seraphim and Cherubim’. More paint than parishioners methinks. Although one could say it does have more cachet than ‘Southside Community’.☺

There is some good history for me coming to this area. We began helping outreach to the Ibo people back in 1979, with Reverend Sunday Umune leading the program. Most of the work was done in the cities. Eventually Sunday left the Evangelical Church of West Africa, which had been established by SIM International mission. Partners International began helping him in 1999 when he formed a ministry called TETMI. Sunday was killed shortly after this and his son David took over the work.

Many of you who read will know Bev Clark, a missionary who worked many years in West Africa. Mrs. Sunday Umune was one of her disciples.

Reverend Sunday Umune had a God-given vision to reach rural, tribal areas among the Ibo (specifically the Edda sub-group, approximately two million people) that received little government assistance and less attention from the church of Christ.These were areas of intense spiritual darkness and controlling powers of evil.Some of the first missionaries to these areas were buried alive. Reverend Umune worked for three years, assisted by Partners International and saw little fruit.

In 1999 he was traveling in his car from his village to Owerri. A bus hit his vehicle, which is not all that uncommon in Nigeria. It was a very serious accident. His injuries were so severe that he was still recovering two years later. On the very anniversary of the day he had the accident, the doctor removed the brace from his leg at an Orthopedic Hospital at Port Harcourt. On his way back home, the bus in which he was riding struck another bus and Reverend Umune was killed, leaving his wife, Jemima and children.

His son, David Umune was already ministering in an ECWA (Evangelical Church of West Africa – fruit of SIM missions) church at this time. He sensed the Lord leading him to carry on the vision of his father to these very difficult areas which were under the power of the enemy. Ministry was a hard struggle with few resources and less time because of his responsibilities as pastor.

In 2003 he and the Board of TETMI met to discuss the dissolution of the organization.They were making no headway. Workers were difficult to find, funds were not available for growth and there was little fruit apart from the work among the children. The very week that the work was to be closed, Brent Mitchell, President of Partners International Canada arrived in Owerri unexpectedly. The ensuing discussion was to revolve around whether the partnership should continue.

Yet despite the evident struggles, during the visit Brent saw the huge need in these villages and the desperate condition of the people, and the quality and commitment of the TETMI Board and leadership. He was convinced that God wanted the ministry to move ahead. His visit and encouragement empowered David and the leadership team and they resolved to persevere.

There was also something happening in the unseen world during this time. Stories that emerged later highlighted intense battles happening among ‘principalities, powers, and unseen forces’. Evidence of these battles could be deduced from the intense struggles of David and the Team;the unusual death of his father and the knowledge of the occult history and powerful manifestations among these tribal groups. Some of the very overt manifestations of local spirits which confronted Jemima, the widow of Sunday Umune, and David himself showed the warfare underway in the spiritual realm.

One day when David was praying during one of his visits to the village, two large men, wreathed in smoke came to his door. They were so tall that they had to duck through the doorway of his room.They said, “This is our territory.” David replied “Well, that may have been, but we’re here now”.He never saw them again.

Early one day, Jemima was in her room struggling in prayer for the work and the opposition they were facing. At about 2:30 in the morning she felt that she should go outside. She did and immediately heard a voice that said, “Look to your right,” and saw a huge snake coming straight at her. She spoke, “In the name of Jesus, I command you to leave”.

She heard an inner voice saying, “Look to your left,” and as she did another large snake approached from the left. She repeated her order in prayer. Then finally the same voice said, “Look straight ahead”.The third snake approached with the same result. She did the same thing to over 15 large snakes until none came again. Later that same morning, the village witch doctor confronted her in the compound and accused her of sending their gods away from their community.

From the moment of this spiritual breakthrough in the ministry, things changed. Doors opened for evangelists to go to village after village. Children began responding and schools were started,managed by Jemima and the TETMI organization which began to see children coming to faith and standing against their parents when they were expected to be involved in animistic rites and rituals.

Canadians joined in and began supporting the work. People prayed and God responded. Funds came for a school building and worker support. In a few short years and after the prior decades of struggle with little fruit, churches were planted and a ministry began to expand rapidly.

In 2008 more than a dozen churches have been established with many more preaching points; two primary schools housing some 740 kids were erected and children are now taught daily from the Scriptures. A High School is under construction for140 students with lots of room for future expansion and growth.

Suffice it to say that the rural areas are still relatively untouched and controlled by forces of which we know very little in North America.


Calcutta India 2006

Slummin’ It

22°34’21.53“N 88°21’50.02“E

Periodic visits to any city, separated by a few years, give you the perspective that few locals have. You are able to benchmark changes and observe evolution in a way the frog-in-the-kettle syndrome does not allow you to do when you live in a place 24/7.

The changes in Calcutta are everywhere. When I first visited here more than 25 years ago, it was the most oppressive place on earth to me. It was easy to understand why William Carey’s wife, one of the pioneers of modern missions, suffered a mental breakdown after being here for a period of time. The needs of the poor defy the imagination.

It is hard to tell whether one is becoming jaded at the sights you see in Calcutta or whether there is actually real improvement in the city. My subjective evaluation is that there are continual and rapid improvements in the environment of the city. This is of course, relative. 17 million people, the population of Australia, are stuffed into a chaotic, crowded dirty mess, and this hardly makes for a pristine environment. However, there are signs of new building, business growth and markets everywhere, signs that were hard to find in years past.

Eden it isn’t. I am told that there are 3000 slums. Inconceivable. You think of Toronto and can name four or five communities that would not be your first choice to raise a family… but 3000 slum areas in one city! Calcutta has always set the standard for slums. Alas, these are not your high-class North American government-assisted ghettos. These are areas of total destitution; people with no possessions; people raising children; eating and drinking from Ganges spigots; living, birthing and dying on the sidewalk. Some crowd the railway tracks with trains passing within inches of their heads and feet as they squeeze in cordwood rows to sleep at night. Most have only filthy black rags strung across bits of wood or metal to call home.

The people who eke out a living here generally pull rickshaws or sweep the streets. These are not the healthy strong-legged young people you get in downtown Toronto. They are always men with legs that are the diameter of three of my fingers. They take in less calories every day than they need to live. Average life expectancy is less than 40 years.

Vivekananda Mukapayadyay, a name that rolls off the tongue. We call him Vivek to avoid embarrassment. Vivek comes from a high-caste family in Bengal, the Brahmins. The Brahmins are the priestly class; those who did not associate or even let the shadow of a Dalit or Untouchable person cross their path.

Vivek’s mother became a Christian through the ministry of Billy Graham, Vivek soon after. He and his wife Soma led large ministries across West Bengal and served God faithfully for many years. He is much in demand as a writer and speaker.

The direction of his ministry changed dramatically the day these two beautiful but undernourished street children (see photo above) knocked on the door of his home in central Calcutta. He invited them in and fed them.

His heart touched, he began opening his door to more and more of these children from destitute families, most from the streets of Calcutta. Touch the Lives ministry now helps upwards of 4,000 children regularly through feeding, arts programs and Bible teaching. Some of the children now minister with him to reach others.

(The one in the middle is not a waif. It is Don Grimwood, my friend and co-editor, who visited these kids years ago)

The workers (pictured) we assist in Calcutta have spontaneously invited children of these workers into their homes on a weekly basis. This is not a slick Western-initiated feeding program. These Christian workers do it at their own expense, teaching them and feeding them when they can. These frail, Dickensian waifs come from cardboard homes gladly. No dragging kids to Sunday School here! They are beautiful, but tiny little kids, half the size of their Canadian counterparts. They come by the hundreds in beautifully-washed ragged clothes to the homes and rooftops. They are taught (and respond) to the love of Jesus that is demonstrated through these Christians.

City on Top of the Mountain

June 2006

27°20’20.17“N 88°36’23.35“E

North Bengal, India

North Bengal. Much less crowded and far more green than the Southern parts of Bengal. It is close to Darjeeling where most of India’s tea is grown. Many who read this met Nicholas Narjinary when he was in Canada last month. He leads an expansive ministry in this area.

It is a rural ‘Eden’ amid the bustle of India. He has produced a beautiful refuge for 72 kids. It was only 66 when he left for Canada in April, but his wife Pushpa keeps adopting them. Three large, efficient buildings house the kids, provide schooling and they grow much of their own food. We hear the laughter and singing of these kids as we sit on the balcony enjoying a Canadianized lunch prepared by the ladies of the house.

Hundreds of kids are waiting to be accepted, limited by the capacity of staff and facilities. Most of the kids were abandoned, orphaned or given to Nicholas by desperate parents who could not feed them.

Today we experienced one of those amazing journeys you only read about, driving more than five hours up a river valley to a place called Gangtok. It is the capital of Sikkim, a tiny Buddhist kingdom sandwiched between Tibet and Nepal.

The scenery was spectacular on the drive even though there were only a few times I could take my eyes off the hairpin, free-fall, no-guardrail, 3000-foot drops on the road to China/Tibet. My fingernails had to be pried from the plastic dashboard of the minivan after the five hours of suicidal driving.

The name Gangtok means city on top of the mountain. It perches 6000 feet up on a sharp ridge of the Himalayas. Had it been clear, the view from our hotel room would include the snow-capped peak of the third-highest mountain in the world, at 8600 metres. If you are so jaded by travel that you do not like the view out one side of the hotel, you can look the opposite way for equally spectacular vistas. Himalayan trekkers, whitewater rafters and kayakers use this as a starting point. Even so, we saw no other North Americans in our stay here.

We met some amazing locals in Sikkim. Young people ministering to women and children; trekking to remote villages; and schools started to help Sikkim, Tibetan, and tribal people of every variety. They have been doing good work with little or no help. They need just a bare minimum of support to do great things. Without outside help, they are spending too much time just trying to survive with their young families. $4 per day allows them to go full-out with their vision.

David and Suhbra of Gangtok

N.E. India and Assam March 2007

Train-ing in the Foothills

25°16’24.71“N 88° 0’14.43“E

It has been hard to find either the time or Internet connections to write on this trip. I must apologize for my last letter which had a number of typos and errors. My editor-in-chief, Eddie Chu kindly caught them for me but not before I had pressed ENTER, and sent the letter on its way.

Jack and I took the train from Calcutta, north towards Darjeeling, like the British Raj of old. What a great idea, this traveling horizontally. The sleeper cars were great, although I did ‘bean’ a few people with my feet sticking through the curtains. The amazing part is my Rogers cell phone works just fine over here. I did not have a dead spot anywhere in West Bengal. Can you hear me now?

The trip lasted the whole night and we disembarked at a town called Samsi. Partners International leader, P. J. Thomas started us running the moment we arrived at 6:00 a.m. Jack Ninaber has left his mark in Bengal. The churches will never be the same again. He had kids diving off the railings in the churches and throwing them in the air. They loved it and will remember his stories for a long time to come.

P. J. has developed a massive, first-rate campus with 900 children. His ministry helps hundreds of underprivileged families and their kids as well. These villages are among the most basic you can imagine. Mud huts, straw roofs and subsistence living. It was amazing to meet some widows who experienced their lives transformed by the simple gift of a pair of goats. We spoke to the workers and to the Bible college students and met many pastors in just one day. We were mercifully put back on the train at 10:00 pm for another night of travelling North to Alipudwar.

We met a young man, the village barber. He became a Christian and persecution began. His little children experience this same harassment. He became ill with a kidney disease and the villagers were waiting for him to die. Quite simply, there is no medical care in many of these areas. He stood firm and the church helped him get medical care. His health has improved. The villagers are now more accepting of this family, and these simple folk are now having a beautiful influence on their neighbours.

Nicholas Narjinary and his 86 kids welcomed us in Satali, North Bengal. His amazing wife Pushpa looks after these kids from early morning to late at night. They are some of the sweetest kids I have ever known and I love visiting them. Jack was tremendous, teaching them Ultimate Frisbee. I am not a big hockey fan but hearing Jack teach Boro tribal children to chant ‘Go Leafs Go’ on video inspired me. These kids just have to be some of the happiest, most contented little ones you will ever meet. It is very unusual to see happy kids anywhere in India as so many have to grow up so fast.

The adoption of the kids is not the primary work of Nicholas. His focus is to see 500 churches established among the tribal people of North Bengal. The compassion for these orphans and abandoned kids simply flows from lives transformed by the Good News of Jesus. Later on, I will share a story of how his example multiplies.

We are off to Kalimpong shortly, a beautiful city built on top of a mountain. You can see Tibet, Assam, Sikkim, the Indo-China border and Bhutan from the place we will stay. The three tallest mountain peaks in the world are also visible on a clear day.

Thanks for sharing in our visit.

Phil Dempster and Jack Ninaber

Rosie the Bible Lady

West Bengal, India 2010

27° 3’39.53“N 88°28’9.40“E

The Bible Women in North Bengal are real heroes. Many years I have watched these young women travel in pairs to villages in order to minister to families. It is extremely dangerous work. We are right in fanatical male-dominated religious areas where law and order are fragile at best. Women have very little protection, even from their own husbands. Most women have no opportunity for an education. Married off by twelve-to-sixteen years of age, their life becomes one of hard work 24/7. Rarely do they live long lives.

These young ladies come and teach literacy and stay in villages, not in secure hotels, but in mud and bamboo homes with no doors. They often sleep outdoors. Their courage amazes me. Often beaten and persecuted for their faith, they press on.

Rosie is one young lady who Partners International has supported for many years doing this type of work. Her face has always reflected an amazing joy and she is always ready to assist all visitors to this area in North Bengal. Rosie married several years ago but continues to minister with the North Bengal Mission. She and her husband are not able to have children. It was a surprise to find out that she had an 11-year-old girl, an orphan whom she had adopted six years ago. She also has a son about five years of age. Jack Ninaber and I were playing with the kids in the playground. Most of the boys play with other boys and the girls with other girls. Yet I noticed this 11-year-old girl and the little boy had an unusual bond. They played together continually.

We soon learned that they were Rosie’s children, but their story was even more unusual. After Rosie adopted her daughter, Anjalie (her name means loved one), she was playing with friends in a nearby town. A mother in that town had died, leaving an infant to be raised by her father. Incredibly, the father died a few months later, leaving the boy with nobody to care for him.

Little Anjalie ran and told her mother about the boy. She had obviously learned her mother’s compassion and care for others. Rosie immediately came to find the baby near death, not even able to hold up his head. She nursed him back to life and as the picture shows, he is a vital, fun little guy who loved to be tickled when pushed on the swing.

This one little family powerfully illustrates to me the transforming power of Truth of the Gospel through His people. Children die daily here and no-one cares, except the Christians who value life as sacred. With God’s grace, these children will grow up to be influential multipliers in the Kingdom.

We moved continually these past days and have just flown from Northeast India. We flew from Bagdogra to Calcutta where we spent another evening with kids from the slums who are ministered to by Vivekananda Mukhopadhyay. Say that tongue-twister of a name ten times fast! Later on we had breakfast with Ashok Andrews, a wonderful Bible teacher and leader of ministry in North India.

We are now in Kathmandu, trying to avoid traffic jams caused by Maoist demonstrators. They are marching, filling the city in support of a constitutional change which includes them in government. We have seen some beautiful sights. The ‘white’ in the picture below is not clouds as you might expect. It is the 9000-metre-high peaks on display for us this morning!

We will be travelling many miles on dangerous roads over the next few days. Thanks for remembering us.

Phil Dempster and Jack Ninaber

Calcutta, India March 2007

The City of Joy

22°31’27.31“N 88°18’48.54“E

Biswanath Mondal and Pratul Das. Not exactly household names in Canada. Yet these men are among the Kingdom elite! Biswanath is a young man who has one withered leg from polio in his childhood. Pratul is middle-aged, and has been a minister for most of his life. He was a passenger in a bus in Northeast India and fell asleep with his arm out the window. The bus sideswiped a truck, tearing off his arm.

Both of these men have ample reason to be bitter. They have physical limitations and live in an area of the world where even the healthy have difficulty surviving. Yet the amazing grace of God was evident in their faces. They spend their lives helping others in the remote islands of the Ganges Delta in the Bay of Bengal, an area called the Sunderbans. They are two men who are part of the team of Partners International in West Bengal.

Jack Ninaber, Pastor of the Southside Community Church in Milton, is my travelling companion through West Bengal, India for 12 days. The first few days are in the City of Joy, Calcutta, now known as Kolkata in India. We spent the day yesterday with these two men, visiting their work among the destitute in the Southern islands.

Calcutta was a balmy 38 C and we had four hours of ‘driving’ along in the filth of diesel fumes and unending humanity that is the City of Joy. (A popular book and movie christened Calcutta with this moniker.) The end of the road travelling South brought us to a ferry terminal where we had to walk the plank to avoid falling into the holy Ganges river, onto an ancient wooden boat powered by an equally ancient one-cylinder diesel engine.

The island we arrived at was no resort island and there are no motorized vehicles. We had to sit on wooden planks affixed to the back of a bicycle while a 50 kg Bengali hauled about 250 kg of Canadian bacon (there were two of us I hasten to add!) to a village 45 minutes distant. Jack, training for a triathalon, decided to show what Canadians can do on the pedals. It worked well for a few moments on the cobblestone path until he decided to take an unexpected detour down an eight-foot embankment into a rice paddy. No injuries, but it provided the best entertainment in weeks for the local kids.

In the village, we experienced something common in many countries of the world: the unusual sense of kinship with people who are economically, culturally and experientially as far apart as could be imagined. We had great fun with the kids; ate and sang with believers in a mud hut and were royally fed by people who have nothing by the world’s standards but were happy to share anyway.

In these islands, there are some areas where there are more women than men. This is because the area is also the home of the Royal Bengal tiger. These tigers frequently dine on men working in the fields. In addition, kids have to be aware of crocodiles in the many waterways.

Christianity is not an easy sell in this part of the world. They have thousands of years of cultural and religious history and there are many institutional and cultural impediments. They experience spiritual realities in their lives which are very real to them. When the Good News comes to them, it often has to be with a power of its own from the Holy Spirit.

One lady in the village told how the two ministers mentioned above, with physical disabilities of their own, came and prayed for her when she had cancer. Doctors in Calcutta informed her that she had only weeks to live. She was subsequently healed of her cancer. Of course we could not verify many details of her experience with the doctors. But her family recognized it for the divine intervention that it was, and her six brothers and sisters and their families acknowledged God’s healing hand on her life and joined the church.

We are on our way now to meet many thousands of kids in the slums of Calcutta through the ministry of our partner ‘Touch the Lives’. Later on this evening we will be taking the overnight train to Assam. Our first stop will be Malda for you Google Earth aficionados.

Phil Dempster and Jack Ninaber


Aizawl, Mizoram, India August 2008

23°43’37.60“N 92°43’3.48“E

We have been out of Internet contact for quite a few days. Our ministry directors kept us busy travelling around Calcutta and out to villages hours from the city. ‘Travelling around Calcutta’ easily rolls off the tongue, but what an ordeal it is! Five kilometres means 45 minutes of bumper-brushing, start-and-stop, soul-destroying driving. Your nose and no doubt lungs as well are black with the soot of traffic and dung fires everywhere in the city. The city honouring Kali, the goddess of Destruction, continues to destroy human life. Everyone is protesting something. One such protest caught us in a ‘Wheel Stop’. A group of political protestors meet in the centre of the main highway for one hour to make a statement.

Today (Saturday) is different. Imagine a clean city without beggars; no visible homeless and with churches the most dominant buildings in and out of the city. Are we mistaken? Did we land in New England? No. The churches are full! We have flown to Aizawl, Mizoram (N 023 45.238 E 09243.467) in Northeast India. The soot and endless humanity of Calcutta transform into lush mountains and incredible green forests. There are NO flat areas in this state of India sandwiched tightly between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The Mizos have an unusual history, to say the least. Many of you have heard the Mizo choir Partners International regularly brought to Canada. They are three generations removed from a head-hunting society. Not cannibals - head-hunters. The distinction is similar to that of ‘collectors’ versus ‘gourmets’. The society is essentially 100% Christian and in fact, sends out thousands of missionaries out all over India.

The flight itself was a thrill. To start with, we flew through thick clouds, always a great conversation starter! If not directly with God, at least with the person sitting next to you, an opportunity to openly discuss the Eternity that seems to be rushing up on you. Most flights here had been cancelled over the past couple of days. I was aware of the topography; Andrew was blissfully unaware. (Our youngest son Andrew, 21, is accompanying me on this trip. He will see things that will change him forever on our journey.) When we finally broke through the cloud cover, the plane was flying up a narrow valley with mountains on both sides. We were just a few hundred feet above unique bamboo farm houses perched on steep-sided hills in the forest. Our host was surprised we were able to land, a concept not at all comforting.

We are visiting a ministry Partners International has assisted for almost three decades. Unlike many trips I make, this visit was to plan a ‘graduation’ of a ministry to independence from outside support. This happens regularly, but is never easy. I expect some hard meetings but this is a positive development.

Aizawl, the capital city of Mizoram is an amazing place on Sunday. The city is built on the top edges of a mountain range. No buses run on Sunday; no businesses are open; the streets are quiet except for the thousands upon thousands making their way to local churches by foot and by taxi, kids with Bibles and study books in hand. Christian music is heard from every direction, choirs singing from the churches which seem to sit on every street corner. In fact, churches occupy every prominent spot in the city. Some have thousands attending. It is almost surreal to see such a vast majority participating in worship in every corner of the city.

Lest you get the impression Mizoram is heaven on earth, we were taken to the City Jail today, Sunday afternoon. It may surprise some that it was not for anything we had done, but to preach to the inmates. Inside the jail is… another church, The City Jail Evangelical Church! Even the jail was unique. It was an experience to communicate through a translator to these 440 guys, incarcerated for everything from thievery to murder. They asked us why we would come all the way from Canada and spend an afternoon with them. It was an amazing time together. We felt that the meeting went very well, the more so because they let Andrew and I leave!

There is much more we could report but we can share with you when we return this week, perhaps over a Tim Hortons. (It’s a chain of coffee shops, for you non-Canadians.)

Phil & Andrew

Tea and More Tea

West Bengal, India August 2008

27° 3’11.28“N 88°16’0.11“E

“The English are not a very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity.” Thus spake George Bernard Shaw. Obviously he had never flown 15 hours non-stop from Newark, NJ to Dehli, India. Or perhaps he had! Andrew and I will journey through Calcutta; Northeast through tea country and the Himalayan foothills and two days in Mizoram State, on the extreme Northeast border of India and Myanmar.

It has become apparent, on the second day of travel from Toronto, that I may have pushed the young lad too hard. His head is bouncing off the steel lattice covering the windows on the train from Bagdogra to Sitali. He cannot hold his head up with ten hours of time zone changes and 48 hours of moving around the world. Our six-hour stay in the Mildew Motel 8 in Delhi served only to stuff up the sinuses before we flew on to the Northeast. I am hoping Legionnaires’ Disease will heal before we have to fly back to Canada.

The area to which we are headed is at the foothills of the Himalayas, sandwiched between Bhutan and Bangladesh. Huge rivers run out of the mountains and regularly wipe out the train tracks and roads going East-West. The road trip once took three hours but now takes more than seven each way. We chose to go by train for the princely sum of $1.00 US each for the three-hour ride. Indian Railways actually rolls in cash at these rates! Wooden slat benches with the accompanying paint job from the days of the British Raj give a clue as to where they are saving money. But it is still a good way to see the countryside.

We will be spending a few days with my old friend Nicholas Narjinary and the growing North Bengal Ministries. He has adopted some 110 children. Most are either orphaned or their parents give them up as they are unable to care for them. (The tea garden workers in this area really live as indentured slaves earning $1-2 per day for back-breaking work.) Amazingly, Nicholas manages their care while working to see 500 Christian Fellowships established in the area, and building and operating five or six Christian schools, including a high school.

We are in the process of constructing the first of these schools on campus, through the generosity of Canadian donors. There is little available for these tribal people. Education frees them from the cycle of poverty and the high-end Christian education these schools offer trains hundreds of disciples each year for the future. It is amazing to see their discipline. The kids are happy and contented, with all their needs met.

These kids, as you can tell by the pictures, make the trip very worthwhile. I enjoy days of “Uncle! Uncle!” whenever they see us. They run up and fasten on to a finger as you go walking. It is rather funny to have eight or ten of them hanging on and still try to get anything done. Andrew is picking up where Pastor Jack left off in teaching them Ultimate Frisbee. He had a good game of soccer on Sunday afternoon. Soccer, played in a cow pasture, is much more challenging. 80% of Indians play soccer in this milieu.

We visited a little church out in the village areas on Sunday morning. The temperature is just over 30 here, not much different than Ontario on certain days. The humidity! I spoke on John 7, ‘Springs of Living Water’ and we demonstrated that. Water was running from my eyebrows, forehead and down my back. It took three clean shirts to get through the day.

It began to rain on Sunday. 2008 has been a great year for ducks in Ontario but that does not compare remotely to the deluges of Biblical proportions they enjoy here. Warm air from the Bay of Bengal blows up and hits the foothills of the Himalayas and all moisture gets dumped. Incredible rains go on for days, the rivers rise all around this area, and then they reroute themselves, taking out villages, roads and railways.

I was introduced to a tea plantation manager, S.N.Hussain. He asked me to stay at his home and talk about the possibility of schools for his ‘children’. Hussain looks after five large plantations in the area. We visited his beautiful estate, complete with manicured lawns and immaculate servants. It is a huge old home built by the British in the early 1900’s. He has his own golf course and airstrip. It is a lifestyle to which one could become accustomed. I had a button by my bed to summon Kumar to bring tea 24 hours a day. The tea they serve is like nothing you find back home. It is often less than 48 hours from tree to cup.

These men hold life and death power over the workers. Hussain has a real compassion for his ‘children’, more than 1000 children of his workers on the one plantation alone. He wants to allocate a large segment of the plantation for a Christian school and accompanying church. The plan could be replicated for each of the many individual tea plantations in the Duars area. Each plantation has many so-called workers and their families. As I mentioned above, in reality they are indentured servants.

Hussain wanted to meet and get to know the type of people from Canada who will back the local ministries before he goes to the large amount of work to legalize the change in land usage. This is astonishing in and of itself but even more so in that Hussain is a Muslim! We had hours to discuss his Shiite faith. It was better than a university course. His wife, as with most Indians, speaks many languages, including Bengali, Hindi, Urdu and English. She mentioned that she reads Urdu. Urdu is mainly spoken in Western India and Pakistan, 1000’s of kilometres away. My wife, Nancy, had purchased an Urdu Bible in Ontario, which I brought in my luggage. We had no idea where the Bible would end up. I asked Mrs. Hussain if she would like it. Her response was enthusiastic so we left it prayerfully as a gift for her hospitality.

Pray with us for this unprecedented opportunity to help the kids of tea plantations. The hundreds of plantations offer an opportunity to help great numbers of families currently living in poverty.

Pick out the Canadians!

North East India August 2008

26°41’3.08“N 89°23’34.91“E

Andrew is getting the full treatment on this trip. He has seen elephants wandering down the road; more rain than Noah; potholes that would swallow a minivan; probably more tea than there is in China; and of course, the inevitable Delhi Belly. Andrew missed my excursion to the tea plantation and all its luxuries, while he lay around all day in the rain waiting for the next and frequent, call of nature. He did say he wanted the full missionary experience…

We were up early yesterday to catch the train back West to Darjeeling. There are few transportation options this far out in the boonies. It is still raining. The wonderful ladies here did our laundry several days ago and have not been able to dry it, despite the use of fans and keeping it indoors. There are no electric clothes dryers but not to worry; the power works only periodically anyway.

The 100+ children/orphans lined up for us at 6:00 a.m. to give us the royal sendoff. It is a fun moment of ‘high fives’ and hugs. The vehicle used by the orphanage was on its last legs years ago and it is always a challenge to start. Like most machines of my experience, it can sense when you are stressed or in a hurry and of course, would not start. At this point the kids jump into action and the boys get behind the vehicle to push-start it.

They were all eager to help, sometimes too eager. They were all milling around the vehicle and the kids started to push when one of the 10- or 11-year-old boys rushed toward the front of the car to help and tripped, diving headlong under the front of the rolling vehicle. The driver hit the brakes a little late and it was clear the boy went right under the wheel. The children screamed in horror and the small SUV was pushed off his body. I was expecting to see a dead child when I jumped out, terrified to even look. His angel was working overtime and the front wheel only brushed his head and landed on his upper arm. He was clearly hurt but it could have been so much worse. A happy moment was turned quickly into a moment of potential tragedy. Reports later that day by cell phone to the train confirmed that the arm was not broken and he was stitched up and sent back to the school.

This incident was not the first time I have seen a child hit by a car on these trips. It is always horrific but tragically not surprising with so many kids on the street. I have a new resolve to seek funds for a new vehicle for the ministry.

We arrived at the train station to find it deserted. The rains had indeed taken out part of the track again. The search began for taxis, with none to be found. The driver decided to try the next town 15 minutes away. We discovered the break in the track was between the two towns and the train was sitting ready to reverse direction. Andrew and I jumped on the train with our luggage while others lined up to get our 41 Rupee ticket ($1). The train started to roll. It was unnerving in that 1. we had no ticket; 2. we did not know whether we were rolling East or West; and 3. our travelling companion, Sajal, was nowhere to be seen!

The train picked up speed so we sat down to enjoy the ride. We may have been on our way to the Myanmar border for all we knew. Suddenly we spotted Sajal coming down the aisle. He had run out of the ticket line and jumped on the moving train. We would jump off and buy a ticket at a future stop.

Finally we could relax for the three-hour trip across the top of Northeast India. Sajal’s cell phone rings. He relays the message, “We found Andrew’s passport and money belt in his room”. This is what we fathers call a ‘teachable moment’. I explained to Andrew how important it was to keep his passport stapled to his butt; that it was likely he would have to stay in India for six months while I went home; that there is no way to get off this train and go back; and that FEDEX does not (yet) service the back end of nowhere. Since he is a sensitive fellow he took the advice to heart and beat himself up even more than his Dad could.

There is always a way to get things done in India. Everything here is outside-the-box. Then again,come to think of it, there are no ‘boxes’ we would recognize in the first place. That is probably why they do so well running software help lines. There is a solution for everything. It is possible to make someone very happy by paying them $2 per day, buying them a 50-cent bus ticket and sending them five hours by bus with a passport. That of course, is what they did and Andrew’s passport arrived at our motel in Bagdogra late that night.

Darjeeling is a wonderful place to visit. Exotic cities in this area, sandwiched amongst Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, China and Tibet, have a very similar feel. If you like amazing views of the Himalayas, trekking and whitewater rafting, this is heaven. Gangtok, Darjeeling and Kalimpong are built on the top of mountainous ridges running higher and higher towards Tibet and China. It is amazing to see the buildings that are hung off the cliffs. The drive up is equally amazing and we climb over 7000 feet from the Indian plains to reach the city.

We are off to Calcutta and may not have much opportunity to communicate in the coming days.

Phil & Andrew

January 2007

Where am I?


23° 8’6.26“N 82°22’56.61“W

Desolate, abandoned and ramshackle buildings stand in every part of the city. Some buildings collapse spontaneously. People live in apartments with walls crumbling and sometimes missing altogether. Public transportation is spotty at best. Hours of the day spent queuing for rides, food and other necessities. Food shortages, no Internet!!?? Beirut, Lebanon again? Another war zone?

Welcome to Havana, Cuba… socialist paradise of the Caribbean.

It is January in Toronto and minus 17 degrees Celsius and no, I am not complaining. My wife Nancy is travelling with me on this trip. How great is that! Convincing your friends you are working, now that is the hard part.

It has been more than a dozen years since I visited Havana regularly on business. I was not given the opportunity to see the real Cuba on those trips. I was picked up by government officials, taken to good hotels and escorted back to the airport.

Nancy and I were driven almost the entire length of the island, from Havana to Guantanamo, in two days. We stayed in private homes called Cuban Casas on most nights. We visited churches and training centres along the way. We met many wonderful, warm and friendly people. People who are completely sold out to Christ assisting their fellow Cubans.

Churches in Cuba? Amazing the number and quality! Ten plus percent of the population in some areas are called Evangelicos and they are multiplying fast. The Eastern part of the island is especially open.

I am becoming a fan of communism. Strange words from someone who leans a little to the right. Each time I look at those places in the world that have been under strict communist dictatorships, I see that something unusual happens to the people. In an atheistic state, they turn to spiritual things for life’s answers. I am not sure I fully understand why but perhaps they understand that the concept of paradise on earth is somewhat elusive. In Canada, we still live under the illusion that we can find heaven on earth, even in January! (We can’t.)

Partners International has been working with local churches, possibly the most Biblical and efficient vehicle of delivering assistance on the planet. Help is transferred through passionate volunteers scattered throughout the neediest of communities.

We focus on the multipliers. Those who take the Good News to other communities to initiate transformation. And multiply they do! There are 600 of them currently under various levels of training. Goals of 300,000 to be reached by 2010. A vision to have Cubans crisscross the globe as cross-cultural missionaries, without guns!

We arrived in Havana last night after flying from Santiago at the Eastern end of the island. More than 100 passengers disembarked, with three taxicabs waiting to take them 45 minutes into Havana. Nancy stepped off an irregular curb and badly sprained her ankle.

Our one day of touring in Havana was limited. Fortunately, a horse-drawn carriage took us to places rarely visited in the city. The wind was warm and whipping huge waves onto the breakwall that protects the city on the Malecon. Nancy shot this photo a fraction of a second before the wave in the background baptized me on the wall.

It was 48 years ago my father stopped in Havana on the way home from South America. He never left the airport that November day. He and his companions were held in the airport then allowed to continue immediately to Miami as the Revolution was announced in Havana.

One generation later, another revolution is occurring; a revolution of hearts and lives. The current spiritual revolution in Cuba may not have occurred in the predominately Catholic country of the fifties. This revolution will transform the island in ways socialism never could.

The Author’s Journey

In the course of 40 years of travel, mainly on behalf of an organization called Partners International (www.partnersinternational.ca), my visits have taken me to dozens of so-called developing countries and often to areas not regularly visited by Westerners. I have counted more than 250 cities that I have walked, driven, bounced or ridden through. I have had the opportunity to swim in many of the major seas of the world and hiked countless mountain ranges, now at considerably less distance and altitude than I once did. According to my Pakistani friends, when we stayed one night in Abbottabad, we were unwittingly only 800 metres from the lair of the late and not-lamented, Osama Bin Laden.

Rarely did the visits take me to tourist sites; cathedrals, buildings or beaches. However, because Partners International works with national leaders, I saw countries from the unique perspective of ‘insiders’, people who know the culture and context intimately since they were born, bred and educated as Thais in Thailand or Nepalese in Nepal.

In all those travels, at least two things stand out. Firstly, there was no place I visited that I did not have the sense that the Lord had been there ahead of me and secondly, the overwhelming amazement I had at what He was accomplishing through the organic fellowship often referred to as the Church.

My travels have introduced me to some of the least-known yet most incredible humans on the planet, people with unusual intellect, talent and potential for significance, who have chosen lives of self-denial and service.

This book is a compilation of stories that highlight, hopefully not my life, but the incredible faithfulness of God and the unbelievable growth of the Kingdom in every part of the world, regardless of how remote. You will find stories of amazing people and accomplishments that rarely grace the front pages of newspapers.

It is dedicated to my long suffering wife of 43 years, Nancy, and my four wonderful children, Jonathan, Matthew, Sharalee and Andrew, who have paid a price for their father’s absences.

The title of this book ‘The Ends of the Earth’ highlights the remoteness of the ministry of Partners International, in the least-reached and least-resourced places on earth. Travel is not without its humorous moments, despite the stress, customs, security and crowds. Many situations arose over the years and in response you can either laugh, which I prefer, or descend into a rage, adding to the stereotype of the ugly Western traveller.

Other than the odd flight to Florida or circling Niagara Falls, my travelling career began after graduating from York University in Toronto, Canada… immediately after. The day I wrote my last exam, I was at the airport to fly to Miami and then on to Panama and Quito, Ecuador in an old turboprop Electra.

The purpose was to visit my sister and her family, serving as missionaries with HCJB, in Quito, Ecuador. The itinerary could have only been prepared divinely as I met the founders of several great missionary movements, including the founders of World Missionary Radio Fellowship – HCJB, Reuben Larson and Dr. Clarence Jones; lunched with Cameron Townsend and George Cowan, founder and presidents of Wycliffe Bible translators in Mexico City; flew to Shell Mera in Ecuador where the martyred missionaries of the Ecuadorian Amazon had their base; met Nate Saint’s widow, Marg and travelled with Rachel Saint to Mexico. It was in the living room of Abe and Marj Van der Puy, the president of HCJB World Radio and his wife who was the widow of Nate Saint, that it became clear our direction was to Partners International.

Nancy and I spent a long time thinking and praying over our decision to join Partners International. We were both working, with no children. I had a well-paying job in the government of Ontario. Nancy was a full-time nurse. Life was pretty comfortable in our home in Scarborough after five years of marriage.

The week we decided to leave all of that and move to California to work with Partners International was the very week Nancy was scheduled to enter the hospital for a minor operation to determine why she was not becoming pregnant. I dropped her at the Centenary Hospital in Scarborough, Ontario and went to the home of friends, Don and Ollie Grimwood, who knew me well and were afraid I would starve to death without Nancy there to cook for me. They had invited me over for supper. Their phone rang and my brother Steve called to say that our Dad had just experienced a major heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. I quickly left the Grimwood home and went to the Scarborough General Hospital to find my father in Intensive Care, fully connected to all the tubes and machines they had available at the time. While at the hospital, another call came in telling me I should come quickly to Centenary Hospital, about 20 minutes away, that Nancy was having difficulty.

After arriving at Centenary, I went immediately to the recovery room to find my wife completely paralyzed, on a respirator and unable to respond with even a flicker of her eyelid. The anesthesiologist sheepishly tried to explain there was a problem with my wife’s body chemistry. She was lacking a certain enzyme that should have rid her system of the anesthesia. All muscle systems in her body, including her diaphragm, shut down one by one. The heart was going to be next to shut down, but they were able to reverse the process once they figured out what had happened.

In the ensuing days and hours of reflection, it was clear that one cannot enter into decisions to be on the ‘front line’ of Kingdom building unless you are absolutely covered in prayer and certain of your ‘calling.’

In a matter of hours, we moved from two secure jobs and good incomes to both being unemployed; from a circle of supportive family and friends with encouraging parents, to a father disabled by heart problems; and from hope in our children coming, to wondering whether I would have a wife with whom to share the road ahead.

My father survived and lived another full 20 years. Sixty days later, we received the exciting news Nancy was expecting; and a few months after that, we were on our way to the ‘needy’ mission field of California, to serve with Partners International in San Jose with our new son, Jonathan, ‘God’s gracious gift’.

Nancy and I both come from large families. I am the fifth of nine. We had more than seventy ‘immediate’ family members. Even though we were going to ‘suffer’ in sunny California, with its beaches, mountains, no winter and redwood trees, it was still difficult to go so far from our friends and family. (Excerpt from an interview by the pastor of our Toronto church: “Why California, Phil?” “There were no openings in Hawaii.”)

The laugh-out-loud verse we read was Matthew 19:29:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. New International Version (NIV)

It was difficult to fathom how God would make good on this promise with our large family. One hundred times seventy is a big number, 7000. We figured this was one that would have to wait until Heaven.

Upon reflecting on these promises as I write, the number of workers in the ‘family’ of Partners International now exceeds 7000! We have had the joy of meeting most of them and many have stayed in our homes in California and Ontario. God has been very faithful to His promises.

Like Magellan, let us find our islands

To die in, far from home, from anywhere

Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places,

Lest we go down in comfort, and despair.

For years we have labored over common roads,

Dreaming of ships that sail into the night.

Let us be heroes, or, if that’s not in us,

Let us find men to follow, honor-bright.

For what is life but reaching for an answer?

And what is death but a refusal to grow?

Magellan had a dream he had to follow.

The sea was big, his ships were awkward, slow.

And when the fever would not set him free,

To his thin crew, “Sail on, sail on!” he cried.

And so they did, carried the frail dream homeward.

And thus Magellan lives, although he died.


Mary Oliver

Partners International Canada

Mission: Partners International is a mission mobilizing Canadians into partnership with indigenous Christian ministries to advance the Kingdom of God.


Organizational Purpose and Impact

Partners International Canada exists to provide resources to locally-led Christian agencies in order to grow their impact in the least-Christian and least-resourced sectors of the world.


The partnership advantage is that all projects and programs emerge contextually. Local partners know the hurdles, structures and challenges often missed by outsiders. Their grassroots plans overcome pitfalls that have stymied other well-intentioned efforts by development or mission agencies.


Partners International Canada is part of a global alliance with offices in the UK, Japan, Australia, Singapore and the USA. Together we work in 56 nations in partnership with 122 indigenous Christian agencies.


Our long experience in cross-cultural, cross-border partnerships has provided Partners International Canada with the expertise to provide the right resources at the right time to ensure Christian ministry growth while maintaining and ensuring our partners’ organizational health and long-term viability.


Partners International Canada empowers local organizations that have a vision for holistic Christian ministry that impacts all dimensions of life.


Development Focus: Children at Risk, Education, Christian Witness, Entrepreneurship, Health & Wellness, Justice Issues, and Women’s Issues.


Celebrating our 50^th^ year of Canadian operations, Partners International Canada is poised for exponential growth as the operational processes and infrastructure we have in place are capable of sustaining significant revenue intake without much need for additional organizational resources to support this growth.







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The Ends of the Earth

The book highlights my journeys of the last 40 years to some of the remotest places on the planet. The purpose is of the book is not a travelogue but to introduce people to some of the least known but most effective change agents. These are people whose names are rarely heard in the west ye are transforming communities by helping the neediest, least resourced people on earth. The help is holistic, meaning it impacts the whole person; the spiritual, physical health and economic needs of individuals and villages. It is unapologetically Christian in its motivation, implementation and raison d`ètre.

  • ISBN: 9781311965196
  • Author: Phil Dempster
  • Published: 2016-03-24 21:35:50
  • Words: 52490
The Ends of the Earth The Ends of the Earth