Here’s an article in which we were interviewed about celebrating the holidays as an American family on the mission field. Have a great Thanksgiving!
Have you heard the story behind the popular song ‘Same Power’ by Jeremy Camp? I had heard bits and pieces, but it was interesting to come across this interview where Jeremy gives the story behind the song.
With this in mind, I am posting an article that I wrote in the summer of 2013 about this event in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Thinking back, it is amazing to see how God orchestrated everything–from the biggest of decisions to the smallest of details.
This article was originally written on July 4th, 2013.
Perfect Love Casts Out Fear
It was ironic. The very day of the arrival of Jeremy Camp and his team with Speaking Louder Ministries into Bishkek for a major public Christian event, an article was published by the Christian Broadcasting Network about “secret believers” meeting in Kyrgyzstan.
As stated in the article, “It’s practically impossible to openly share about Jesus Christ. Doing so will get you beaten, arrested, or killed.”
That is the opinion of most missionaries and, unfortunately, of a majority of believers in Kyrgyzstan. For this reason, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ has become a fearful burden rather than a powerful blessing. Many believers are timidly lurking in the shadows of supposed torture and death rather than boldly walking in the light, proclaiming Jesus.
Preparations, plans and prayer for this outreach had been taking place for months, even years. What began as a mutual desire by old friends turned into an unprecedented blessing for a part of the world mostly known for its corruption, bride-stealing, and revolutions. In truth, we did not know what to expect. The fact is that missionaries are being deported from Kyrgyzstan, believers here do suffer persecution, and the laws concerning religion are more restrictive than in most parts of the world.
So, what was going to happen during a week of publicly advertised events culminating in the planned gathering of thousands of Christian believers and non-believers into the largest stadium of the capital city of Bishkek? Would it be resisted by the government? Would there be violent attacks by the Muslim majority? Would anyone come to the meetings at all?
Not by might, nor by power, but my my Spirit says the Lord
For seven years now the Lord has given us the privilege of living in Kyrgyzstan, a small country of five million, mostly Muslim people tucked into the mountains near the north-western border of China. However, with each approaching year we wondered if it would be our last and we would be forced to leave the country. [Update: Having turned over the work in Kyrgyzstan to national leaders, our family is currently serving in the country of Georgia which is located in the Caucasus mountains.]
When the decision was finally made that this summer Jeremy Camp with Speaking Louder Ministries would travel Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the timing seemed to be perfect. Under the corrupt rule of the previous president, such an event would have been much more difficult. Following the bloody revolution to oust him, which took place in Bishkek three years ago, it also could have been problematic to gather a large group of people together in the center of the city. Furthermore, as Islamization is rapidly spreading throughout Central Asia, no one knows what the future holds. Now was the time.
Yet, as plans were being made problems arose, and at one point the trip to Bishkek was called off. There just seemed to be too many unanswered questions. Finally, the Lord broke through and confirmed in the hearts of Jeremy and his team that now was the time for something special to happen in them and in Kyrgyzstan.
Nothing Like This Has Ever Happened Before
Time and again we were told that nothing like this had ever happened before. “Yes, we had a famous Christian musician here about ten years ago, but not for the purpose of sharing the Gospel.” To have dozens of churches working together in matters of prayer, planning, and participation, with the end result being a large evangelistic event in the center of the city… it had never been done before. At one point Pastor Yakov even suggested that all of the local churches make a financial donation to help cover the rent of the stadium. “It would be shameful for us to have Jeremy and his team come over here and for us not to participate in the financial costs associated with this event.”
Believers from many churches came together to translate Jeremy’s songs, for special times of prayer and corporate worship, and to get the word out throughout Kyrgyzstan and the surrounding nations. Yet, all of this was done with a large question mark looming in the hearts and minds of the people – what is actually going to happen?
After a week of concerts and events in Kiev, Ukraine, Jeremy and his team finally arrived into Bishkek. Jeremy had lost his voice after doing two concerts in a row in Kiev. Furthermore, I had smashed up my van only hours before I was scheduled to pick up Jeremy. On top of all that, my brother-in-law, Paul Billings, called me late that night informing me that his car was not working and he would not be able to help transport the team from the airport. As I towed Paul’s car home in my beat up van, I so wanted the Lord to give me the ability to see what was taking place in the heavenlies. The battle was real.
The next morning the team of twelve people arrived at the airport. Not a single bag was lost. All of their expensive gear was present and accounted for. We drove into the city, the sun just peeking over the mountains surrounding Bishkek. Everyone was tired, but excited for what the Lord had in store.
Tom Camp, Jeremy’s father, was a part of the arriving team. With a deep-seated respect for parents and elders permeating the Kyrgyz culture, Tom’s participation in this outreach proved to be a key in opening the hearts of many. The first evening, Tom shared a powerful study from the book of Philippians. Weaving in stories from his own life, Tom encouraged those who were gathered together from different churches that “our suffering magnifies the beauty and glory of God.” Pam Markey, Renee’s mother, had earlier shared a verse that she felt described what God was going to do through this trip – Philippians 1:12-14 – “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the Gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” As Tom read the same verse I knew that the Lord had something special planned.
Throughout the week, over and over, verses and visions were given to people, shared over the internet, spoken during prayer meetings. At one point, Adie Camp, Jeremy’s wife, sent a verse by email – Jeremiah 20:9b-11, 13 – “But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not. For I heard many mocking: ‘Fear on every side!’ ‘Report,’ they say… But the Lord is with me as a mighty, awesome One. Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail. They will be greatly ashamed, for they will not prosper. Their everlasting confusion will never be forgotten…. Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.” The same portion of Scripture, unknowingly, would be quoted in a message by Pasha Bolshakov, one of the leaders of our church, the Sunday following the team’s departure.
Wednesday evening had been set aside as a special evening for worship leaders and their teams from various churches. Initially, I had been concerned about how well we had informed people about this gathering, but as I walked into our church overflowing with people it was awesome to see representatives from so many different churches. The worship was powerful and the message with which the Lord burdened Jeremy was “God wants to give you, the people of Kyrgyzstan, new songs to sing. Not just translated songs, but songs birthed from your own experiences, sufferings, and personal walks with Jesus.” At the end of the evening, Vera, an elderly lady from our church, stood up and honored Jeremy by dressing him in traditional Kyrgyz garb – a kalpak (hat) and chapan (coat) made of wool.
The following day we went to a special luncheon with some government officials. In what could only be described as a friendly meeting, jokes were told and information about our families was shared. These men went on to share of their frustration with the seemingly unstoppable Islamization of Kyrgyzstan. They spoke of how they felt powerless as they observed their people being coerced by a form of Islam that veils more than just bodies, but hearts and minds as well.
Battling the Grip of Fear
The youth–that is where the battle now lies. The forces of secular philosophy, materialism, religious extremism, violence, and drugs and alcohol are a constant pull upon the hearts and futures of these young people. So, an evening of worship and the Word with youth from various churches was organized for that evening. Another church in Bishkek offered the use of their hall, and as youth poured into this church there was an atmosphere of great expectation.
After Jeremy and the band played, Lika Roman, Miss Ukraine 2007, stood up and gave a short testimony about her own walk with the Lord and the need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Completely unplanned, an invitation was given for young people to come forward for prayer if they sensed a need for a work of God in their lives. Dozens of young people streamed forward, praying with pastors and members of the visiting team. The second girl with whom I prayed shared about how she was overwhelmed with fear. She was the only believer in her family and felt that she could not even read her Bible or pray in her home, let alone share with anyone about her faith. With tears streaming down her face she said that she wanted to be changed and to be filled with boldness. In the same moment that I was praying about what the Lord would have me to share with her, Jeremy began saying from the stage “perfect love casts out all fear.” I immediately translated his words and told this girl that this was God’s Word for her. After we prayed, excitement radiated from her eyes.
At least 80% of those with whom I prayed wanted to be released from fear and to be filled with greater faith and emboldened by the Holy Spirit. Some recommitted their lives to Jesus, others received Him for the very first time. If that had been the last event of the week, the team’s trip to Kyrgyzstan would have been more than worth it. It seemed that there was a breakthrough among the believers. Fear was being stripped away and people were being awakened to live brightly for Jesus.
However, later that evening we learned of slanderous TV and news reports that were coming out warning people about attending this concert. False information and blatant lies rolled off the lips and poured out of the pens of these reporters. The father of lies was lashing back. Pasha Bolshakov, the official representative of our church, was called into the Ministry of Religion many times to give account as to what was happening. Warnings were given that if something went awry that the church doors would be shuttered and he would be held accountable. Would we believe the words that we had just spoken earlier that evening?
The night before the concert was a powerful time of prayer with Jeremy and his team and the leadership of our church. More Scriptures were shared and wave upon wave of prayer washed out of the mouths of God’s saints cascading before the throne of God. What had been birthed in prayer was now being completed in prayer. The concert itself would just be the culmination of what God had already been preparing and doing in the hearts of the people of Kyrgyzstan.
To the Stadium
The day of the concert had arrived. There was no rushing, no major problems that diverted our attention from the privilege set before us. The Lord had answered prayer. Peace ruled in our hearts as we looked forward to what God was going to accomplish that day.
If God had done all of this, then we knew we could trust Him for the weather. But the meteorologists had promised rain for that day–basically all day. However, other than a slight refreshing sprinkle right before the concert began, there was not a drop of rain throughout the entire day. For a period of about 45 minutes one could look up and see menacing clouds encircling the stadium, but in the midst of it was an open, blue brightness directly above us.
Most people with whom I have spoken have estimated the crowd that came that day to be at about 10,000 people. As with any large scale event, we had our share of drunks, but overall it was a peaceful gathering. Believers from various churches, Muslims in full dress, and others who just came to hear good music filled up row after row.2007, sharing her story.
Four opening local groups, of Russian, Dungan, and Kyrgyz ethnicity performed well and generated an excitement as national melodies rang throughout the stadium. Officials from the national security service who came to monitor this concert were smiling in hearing songs in their own language.
Following these opening groups, Lika Roman walked onto the stage and shared of her own story about being a person of light and a catalyst of change in a world that is attempting to squeeze one into its own mold.
Finally, Jeremy and the group took center stage. Their talent and boldness mixed with humility and respect soon won over the crowd, and the people in the stands took to their feet, yelling, clapping, and dancing to the music. From the very beginning our desire was not just for people to hear good music, but for it to be understandable to them. Members from our team and others from different churches had spent countless hours translating the songs that Jeremy would sing. The text of these songs was shown in Russian and Kyrgyz on large screens beside the stage.
In one of his opening songs, Jeremy invited his father up on stage to play the harmonica to a special blues tune. People were thrilled to hear this new style of music played by father and son. Later, after the concert, many people who were looking for the band were actually wanting to get Tom’s autograph and were expressing their appreciation for that one song which he played with Jeremy.
After a few introductory songs Jeremy began to open up and share his heart with the people. He shared of the suffering that his first wife had gone through and her death, the change that took place in his own heart, and the answers to life that can be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. The colorful sun was setting and dissipating its gentle hues upon the nearby mountains. As Jeremy continued to speak a stillness swept the stadium as the bold proclamation of the Gospel went forth. Perhaps 10-15% of the crowd began to leave after Jeremy shared about his life being transformed by Jesus. I actually expected more people to leave. But so many stayed and later shared with counselors that, although they were not believers, they had been tremendously affected by Jeremy’s music and story. One woman whom I know shared that her daughter could not stop crying during or after the concert, and could not explain what was happening to her. In her own words she said, “This was a breakthrough for Kyrgyzstan.”
The concert was closed by a word from Pasha Bolshakov. Before getting up to share, thoughts ran through his mind, “If Jeremy, a foreigner, can be so bold in sharing the Gospel openly here, then I can as well.” The challenge went out to the people. “We are believers in Jesus. He has changed our lives. If you want to know more about Him, please come and let us share with you how you can know His love.”
Perfect love casts out fear. The answer to fear welling up in our hearts is always the same–to know God more. Please pray that the people of Kyrgyzstan and surrounding nations would come to understand, appreciate, and savor the love of the awesome God that we know and serve. Thank you for your prayers and partnership with us in the work here, and with Jeremy Camp and Speaking Louder Ministries.
By His Grace,
Jed & Renee Gourley
Here is link to an article that I saw about the story behind this song in CCM Magazine.
“Pam Markey, continues her story, talking with Bryan about the joys and pain of serving on the field, especially after her husband died. The story clearly covers the amazing grace and comfort of the Lord and how the story continues today..”
Click HERE for the link to part two of the interview.
Click HERE for the link to part one of the interview.
“Bryan Thompson from Story4All interviews Pam Markey, who, in this first show of a two-part series, tells how she and her husband and their family moved to the former Soviet Union to begin a new life, leaving behind the farmlands of the American Mid-West.” Click HERE for the link to part one of the interview.
One Year in Georgia
The end of this month will mark one year of our family living in Georgia (the country not the state). It has been quite a year–full of change, excitement, frustration, new experiences, and your basic cases of the ups-and-downs. Although we have labored in learning the language, we never seem to be able to learn it fast enough–that’s a down. But as we meet people, begin to have conversations, and share about the Word of God, our hearts rejoice that perhaps there is actually hope of us getting acclimated enough to be useable for the Lord–that’s an up. I know these things are not necessarily true, but feelings don’t always coincide with what I know to be true. That is why we pray, trust in the Lord, pray, wait on the Lord, and so earnestly covet the prayers of the saints around the world.
Since last fall we had been praying about a way to meet people. So, this spring we began a conversational English club for people over the age of 13. We weren’t really sure how it would turn out, but we have been blessed to have had the chance to form friendships with the 15-20 people who are consistently coming (and the bulk of those who are coming are classmates of our two elder daughters). How good it has been to play games together, watch movies and discuss them, and basically have fun times together. However, it has been even more rewarding to teach English using the Bible, and see many of them hear the Word of God for the first time.
Although times in class with these students have been encouraging, I longed for the day when we would have even more time to share more of our hearts. And so about a week ago we took some of the students camping. What was doubly exciting was that some of their parents went along as well. Spending hours together walking, wading in the river, getting stuck in the mud, making camp, fishing, cooking over an open fire, were all moments that deepened our relationships. What was even more special was that I was able to share quite a bit about the Lord and with some of the parents.
With more times of camping planned for this summer, we are eager to get to know these wonderful new friends even more, and have opportunities to share the Great News of Jesus with them. As the Lord brings it to your mind, please pray for the Distant Field of Georgia.
- for hearts to be open to the Gospel
- for the beginning of a Bible study
- for us as we continue to study the Georgian language
- for an even greater vision of what the Lord wants to do
On a side note, I heard a rumor that one of the more Western stores in Tbilisi has received a shipment of marshmallows. I know where I am going tomorrow. Got to get all them s’more fixin’s ready for our next adventure, for a camping we will go!
As a missionary, I always like free stuff. When we moved from Kyrgyzstan to the country of Georgia I had to get rid of most of my library. What difficult days. So now I am on the prowl for free resources. Whenever good, free books pop up in my email or Facebook, I try to take advantage of them and build up my digital library. I must admit that it is still hard for me to go completely digital, but I take comfort in the fact the my kids are asking for real books too, as opposed to just more digital downloads. Maybe the love of the printed book isn’t just a generational thing?
Anyway, here’s a resource that is free right now. Although I have not read this study Bible yet, I am looking forward to checking it out. The ESV Global Study Bible is free right now for Kindle. (Make sure you click the Kindle version and check to see that it is still free.) I have been reading the ESV version along with my regular version for the past several years. I think it is a good translation, and I like the commentaries of the ESV study Bible that I already own.
As we are beginning a new church here in Tbilisi, we have started an English Club where we offer free lessons for students, and soon for adults. It has been a very fruitful way to meet people and share the Word of God. For part a part of each class we use stories from the Bible. I have been using the ESV version in my classes, even though it is not as easy of a read as the NIV.
I just wanted to pass along this free resource to world-minded people. Have you read this study Bible? Any thoughts?
Distant Fields is on sale from now through Valentine’s Day!
The following is an excerpt from the book describing the arrival of George and Pam and their eight children to Ukraine:
Flying into Kiev on July 4, 1992, was an unforgettable experience. As the wheels of the plane touched down, dilapidated shacks, old planes, and trees and overgrown bushes surrounding the airport seemed to race by. Thuds were felt every second as the plane rode over the concrete slabs that had been laid down for a runway. The tall grass growing up in between these concrete slabs left one wondering how many flights actually arrived into this airport. Eventually the plane came to a stop at the Borispol International Terminal.
Upon exiting the plane, the family discovered that looking for a baggage carousel was an effort in futility. While pondering the status of their belongings, the Markeys and everyone else from the plane were herded into an empty room and left standing and wondering. Soon the sound of a tractor jolted everyone into alertness. Gazing around the room, local people soon began to congregate around an open area in the middle of the room. The sound of the tractor grew louder and then finally emerged from new beginnings the back of the room. Behind the tractor was hitched a trailer, and on the trailer was a huge mound of luggage. Before the tractor even came to a halt, people from the plane were climbing up onto the trailer and hunting for their luggage.
As the engine of the tractor finally shut down, George climbed onto the trailer and began searching for their belongings, passing them to his children. All of the bags were gathered and the family was once again left standing and wondering. A line was forming, meandering into a dark corridor over to their left. The all-important matter of lines would be something that the Markeys would learn over time. For now, the 10 family members got into line, amazed at the pushing, shoving, and trampling as people rushed to cut in front of them. To their right stood a small glass-encased display cabinet offering “duty free” items, and to which no one seemed to be paying attention. A solitary light bulb dangling over their heads was the only source of a dim and insufficient illumination to the path before them.
After passing through customs, the family followed the other passengers to a set of doors. As the doors opened, all that could be seen was a wall of humanity. The passengers ahead of them walked directly into this mass of people, and as they did, a small crevice emerged through which they then inched forward. Not wanting to miss out on their chance, George led the charge, the people in the crowd seemingly not phased by the commotion, elbows, and other body parts clashing into each other. Any apologies offered for bags rolling over shoes went unanswered by people who were returning only empty stares and confused expressions…
Get your copy of Distant Fields today for $1.99!
Reblogged from Barren to Beautiful:
Tomorrow, my brother-in-law and his family will get on a plane, and fly to Africa. I won’t see them again for three years, except by some emailed photos, or maybe a choppy Skype connection.
I joke that I am going to sabotage their trip to the airport. And part of me really wants to. Because deep down, I really don’t want them to go. I have enjoyed having them and their three sweet girls around the last six months. They were the first to teach her how to have a proper tea party, and make elephant noises, and sing “Let it Go” at the top of their lungs. As they ran barefoot through the grass in the summer, she chased them. As they danced wildly in the living room in the winter, she imitated them. She adores them, as if they were her own big sisters. They take her by the hand, they whisper in her ears, they burst into laughter at her expressions, and pull her in for a second hug. And now, they are going away.
Does missions separate families?
I think the impulse answer is: yes.
They left for Africa three and a half years ago. And in that time, they missed births of new nieces and a nephew. The death of a grandparent. They missed all the Thanksgivings and Christmases and game nights. They missed heartaches and victories. They missed life here, for three years.
And not for an easy life. But for oven-like heat, and dirt, and difficulty. And constant sweating. And risk. Risks of violence and persecution. Risks of disease, and illness. Risks of terrorist groups, and wild animals. Risks of kidnappers, and poor health care when it really matters.
I see these three fearless little girls, whose mom is pregnant with their first little brother, and tremble that he will be born there.
The question inevitably crops up: Why are they doing this?
One night after dinner at our house, as we pulled apart the last remains of the garlic bread, I asked my brother-in-law, “So, how did you…get over all of the fear?” I think he made a few cracks about my fear of Ebola. And then he just looked at me, and said with such simplicity, “I am afraid of some of those of things. I’m actually really afraid of flying. But I’m more afraid of not obeying God.”
And that’s the difference. I see the risk, the danger, the loss. He sees the reward. The gain. The joy.
He and his wife see hell as a reality. And love as a command. And the gospel as real. And they are doing it. They are living it. They really love Jesus. They really believe He’s coming back. And they really love bringing others into His family.
While we feel like we are losing a brother and a sister, they are actually rescuing lost brothers and sisters and bringing them into the Kingdom of God.
While we will miss their daughters and son, they will be rescuing daughters and sons and bringing them into the family of God.
They leave us in order to rescue others, to bring more into the family, the family of God. The family that will live on forever. And the gates of hell will not prevail against this mission. Because it’s the one Jesus called us to.
Does missions separate families?
Yes. For a time.
But it also expands them. By inviting the lost into a family. Those who had no family, no hope, who were on the outside and separated from God. (Ephesians 2)
There may be a few empty seats at our next Thanksgiving dinner. But by those seats being empty, it will mean that other place settings are being made ready for the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. Because lost brothers and sisters who live across the ocean, whose skin is darker than ours, whose language is different than ours, will be invited into God’s family, and will be called for the first time sons and daughters, and will be given a place at His table forever.
One day we will come together, all of us, those who were far off, and those who were brought near, as one family, with exploding joy. And there in the presence of Christ, we will see that missions never separated our family at all.
It only ever made it grow.
Tomorrow, my brother-in-law and his family will get on a plane, and fly to Africa. I won’t see them again for three years, except by some emailed photos, or maybe a choppy Skype connection.
I joke that I am going to sabotage their trip to the airport. And part of me really wants to. Because deep down, I really don’t want them to go. I have enjoyed having them and their three sweet girls around the last six months. They were the first to teach her how to have a proper tea party, and make elephant noises, and sing “Let it Go” at the top of their lungs. As they ran barefoot through the grass in the summer, she chased them. As they danced wildly in the living room in the winter, she imitated them. She adores them, as if they were her own…
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I faltered this year. I suggested to my wife and kids that we celebrate Thanksgiving by eating out at a restaurant. Can you believe it? I actually had Renee talked into it, but those children…
Thanksgiving has always been a big holiday for our family. Wherever in the world we have found ourselves over the past 20+ years, we have had friends and family with whom to celebrate this special Day of Thanks. With lots of planning for the occasion, the locating of just the right ingredients in foreign countries, and the grand times of feasts and fellowship with friends and family, each Thanksgiving holiday was highly anticipated, a labor of love, and left us with lasting memories.
However, this year we find ourselves in a new country and missing our friends and family. I mean, we are still trying to figure out where to buy life’s essentials, let alone the necessities for a festive celebration. So the Grinch (me) entered into our family and woefully suggested an alternative menu and a different locale.
Unacceptable! There were no mean words, but looks of wonder and astonishment. My children were aghast. “Father, how could we?” Although they are missing loved ones this year as well, they were ready to celebrate this special day with just our family. And so I find myself doing what I don’t want to do–shopping for a ham (which should be a bit easier since we are not in a Muslim country this year, but I am still having difficulty). I do have a secret though–since the kids haven’t mentioned sweet potatoes, I think I am off the hook on that one.
The main purpose of Thanksgiving does not change. In fact, perhaps the adjustment for us this year gets us even closer to the heart of the holiday. Yes, Thanksgiving is a time of gratefulness for family, friends, and loved ones. But when those things are stripped away from us, we see the need to continue to give thanks to a God who created us, saved us, and wants to be glorified in and through us. “Oh give thanks to the Lord…and make knows His deeds among the peoples!” Psalm 105:1. If you find yourself a little short on family or friends this Thanksgiving, join with us in reading though Ephesian chapter one–a list of all of the spiritual blessings that are available to us in Christ. And then, find ways to get involved in sharing those blessings with the nations.
- We are thankful for the priceless gift of salvation, and the many spiritual blessings in Christ.
- We are thankful for the privilege of serving the Lord overseas.
- We are thankful for the many who partner with us in making His deeds known among the nations.
- We are thankful for the legacy of those who have gone on before us.
By His Grace,
P.S. If you would like to read our latest newsletter, please click here to download it.
The work in the Distant Fields continues. Take a look at the updated “Partner in the Distant Fields page.” Read brief updates from war-torn Ukraine, northern Russia, the Middle East, and the Republic of Georgia. Through your partnership in the Gospel, lives are being transformed and churches are being planted.