Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Testing the Times in Turkey

As has been the case for a decade, we have gladly been utilized as "guinea pigs" with TACO, as they sent out the UniShow to new areas, testing the response to outreaches.  This year, our scheduled tour in Turkey occurred just one month after the July 15 coup attempt and during the 3 month state of emergency in the country.  Permission had been received for shows in many cities and venues around Turkey but under the circumstances, all but 2 cancelled.  Since things seemed to have calmed down enough, and we still had these opportunities, our team of 9 decided to proceed, hoping to present 5 shows in 2 cities, Çanakkale and Istanbul, in 4 days.  These were the first public outreaches TACO had done in Turkey since the coup so we didn't know what to expect.

We had permission for 2 nights of shows in Çanakkale on August 19-20.  We presented in a great location along the seaside in a basketball court with surround seating next to the big wooden horse from the movie Troy.

Our 2 shows the first night in Çanakkale drew over 1,200 people total who were attentive and engaged.  With boats and sea as our backdrop, a team member shared how Jesus is her lighthouse in troubling times, before performing her song on harp "Ready for the Storm".  A lady later said she brought a friend to the show who was facing some difficulties and 'storms' in her walk as a new believer.  Her friend said our team member's music was "so encouraging" and she felt the song was sung "just for her".

Another team member won the crowd over and some were even moved to tears as she shared how her great, great grandfather was an ANZAC who fought and lost against the Turks in this area and died as a result, but because of the grace and forgiveness of Ataturk in victory, she and other Aussies have been welcomed with open arms back into Turkey.  She connected this forgiveness to how God wants to forgive each of us and show us His grace.  Dustin wrapped things up with a clear Gospel presentation while the audience listened to every word.

While most people were very positive about our presentations, there was one very verbally aggressive man who caused a scene after our second show the first night and tried to get others upset with what we were sharing.  Our translator called the police who came and eventually took the man away because the law is actually in our favor to share our beliefs freely.

Our plan the second night in Çanakkale was to do two shows again.  The first show went great with an enthusiastic and responsive crowd of 550.  However, afterward, a few angry and threatening people stirred things up so much that our leaders had to spend several hours in the police station correcting false statements that were made about what our group was doing.  Though several hundred people were awaiting our second show that night, it had to be canceled.

Once again, the uproar provided opportunities for us to share more with people.  As people approached one team member asking what the problem was, she told them some were upset that ironically, we had been sharing a message of peace and what God has done in our lives.  Those she was talking with thought it was terrible others would react that way.

A man, offended by the irate reaction of a loud minority, asked Katie what was going on.  Though he claimed to be an atheist, after she explained the Gospel which was causing the division, he said, "Don't give up; keep sharing this important message!"  He thanked her for their conversation, saying several times that it made him feel new.  He then connected with a local pastor and said he would join the fellowship meeting on Sunday.

Two other team members individually connected with students after shows and met up later with them to continue discussions about faith.  They plan to stay in contact with their new friends to keep building these relationships and speaking into their lives.

In total, after the 3 Çanakkale shows, 81 people filled out surveys and received packets with a DVD and other literature; 31 of these people said they were interested in talking with someone more about what we had shared!  These open shows in Çanakkale were a test of sorts since they were the first we've done in Turkey since the coup.  Çanakkale is one of the most open and liberal cities in Turkey so the negative reactions were unusual.  It's a shame that hundreds of people were happy with our presentations and 5 were not yet it prevented us from proceeding.

For our 4th and final show of this mini tour, we presented in a new neighborhood in Maltepe high on a hill in a plaza between shops and restaurants with the most amazing view of Istanbul any of us have seen.  A suicide bomber had killed 51 at a wedding in Gaziantep, Turkey the night before and often 3 days of countrywide mourning follow such a tragedy.  The venue organizer didn't mind us proceeding so the show went on.

Because this was a new contact, we kept this a closed event, as far as sharing.  One team member connected with the audience in a beautiful way, dedicating her "Ready for the Storm" solo to them in light of the recent difficulties, sharing how God is her strength in scary times.  Dustin shared how God will always be with us in trials to give us strength to go on. 

Afterward, many had great conversations with those in the audience.  Then our hosts provided a delicious meal for us at a nearby restaurant, apologizing that they couldn't give us more. They were very impressed and were not expecting such a quality presentation.  They definitely want us to return to put the great, underutilized venue to repeated good use.

Though we didn't have many shows on this tour, we are thankful for the opportunities we did have to share God's love during this tough time in Turkey.  We know God was at work through us and touched people with his love.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hushed but not Silenced in Central Asia

From 2-14 August, 2016 our team of 11 from Korea, Canada, Australia, USA and England joined a team of 4 Kyrgyz nationals as we presented 12 events for over 3,300 people. 

Music, dance and unicycling were the creative elements of this UniShow tour. We unexpectedly lost Chris, one of the main vocalists of the band, 4 days into the tour as he was diagnosed with hepatitis and had to fly back to Istanbul for weeks of bed rest. Thankfully, JuYoung, Arielle, Erin, Hannah, Misun, Rose and Andy were still able produce quality music together. Dances were done by David and Katie while Dustin cleaned up on unicycles and JaeHyeok put his expertise to work running sound. 

Because of new laws in the country, we had to be very closed during our show.  Local organizers tried a new method of having us present our public show, including sharing only a positive, neutral message while inviting the audience to a follow-up event later that day hosted by a local church, where we could be totally open. In theory this was a great idea and was not in vain, although most follow-up events were sparsely attended by those already connected to the church. There seems to be a stigma attached to Christians and churches, especially in small villages, where people won't risk the gossip that would inevitably come from being seen attending a church event.

After flying into Bishkek then orientation and rehearsal in Tokmok, we had our first show in Balykchy on Lake Issyk Kul. During the follow-up meeting that night, a guy asked David to pray for strength because he wanted to give his life to Christ!

Though we could not be open at the show in Cholpon-Ata, a girl told Dustin afterward through tears, that she had been crying as she listened to him share about how his heart used to feel empty, and she felt like he was describing her life. When she asked him what he found that did fill his emptiness, he was able to tell her that it was Jesus alone! Also, a lady told Arielle she felt kindness and truth from her while she was singing. Arielle told her Jesus is the Way, Truth and Life so it was Him she was experiencing. These conversations were so encouraging and show us how God can work through these events even when we can't be open from the stage.

After the show in Karakol, David was able to connect a guy who wanted a Bible but had never read it before, to the local pastor where he will be able to receive his first one in Russian. This man came to the follow-up event as well, where Andy shared his testimony, as did Rose before she played her harp and sang. David and Katie did a dance and the band played Turkish and worship songs. Dustin presented a cross Gospel illustration and gave an invitation, leading people in a prayer to surrender to Jesus. At least 4 people indicated they had just prayed the prayer for the first time!

One of the pastors in Kyzyl Suu told us that our concert helped improve the believer’s image in the community. He said that as people saw our talent and enjoyed the show, they were impressed and intrigued that the church had brought us. He expressed gratitude that God has not forgotten their small village and sent us to encourage them and hopefully inspire Kyrgyz youth to go out and reach the world for Christ.  

Next in Tokmok we presented in the city center then in a church for the follow-up meeting. Both were lightly attended but seeds were planted. In Kara-Balta the church had rented a stage for our performance. We were able to share more openly about what God has done in our lives and though the police came, they had positive memories of Dustin's unicycle performance there last year so all was well. The youth pastor said he's been trying to get a neighbor lady with a Turkish husband to come to events at the church for a long time. He thought it was a miracle she came to the follow-up meeting. Also, some of the kids who came said they will be returning for Sunday school for the first time.

Because our show at a children's rehab center in Bishkek was canceled, we seized a last minute opportunity to present our final show at Bishkek Park, the largest, fanciest mall in Kyrgyzstan.  It was a beautiful venue with around 2,000 people watching throughout the program from 4 floors.  The mall organizer interviewed our team afterward and was very positive about the show and seemed excited to host us again for bigger events in the future.

It was a privilege to scatter seeds in Kyrgyzstan as we partnered with local believers. We pray God will multiply our efforts and continue to draw those impacted through our events closer to Him.

Friday, July 29, 2016

First Time in the Philippines!

From Switzerland we continued heading east to the Philippines on July 17. We flew from Geneva to Amsterdam to Taipei, where we were supposed to have a 30 minute layover then board the same plane and head to Manila. However, just before we reboarded, they announced that the Manila airport was closed because loose pavement from the runway had gone through a plane's wing. So, KLM cancelled our flight and put us all in a hotel overnight. We'd never been to Taiwan before and were in need of rest so this delay was actually a blessing to us. The hotel was very nice, as was the plentiful buffet with octopus, shark and a huge assortment of other delicacies.

By the next morning the Manila runway had been fixed and we were rebooked on China airlines with a first class upgrade, allowing us to continue resting between busy weeks. After a 4 hour delay in Manila, we finally flew to the Island of Negros Occidental to meet students and leaders totaling nearly 100 from McLean Bible Church in Virginia.
A rare way for us to fly!
For the next week we did outreaches in Bacolod City and Sipalay City, partnering with International Care Ministries who's slogan is "Reaching the Poor".

Homes we visited made mostly out of bamboo on stilts over water near the ocean.

In Bacolod we went into different neighborhoods with students who did health and wellness crafts, teachings and gardening in kindergartens, building projects for churches, and house visits. We presented the UniShow in outdoor basketball courts for the communities they were serving in.

The 4 hour drive from Bacolod to Sipalay was a great cultural experience viewing kilometers of lush palm trees, rice and sugar cane fields with resident water buffalo, multitudes of public tricycle transportation and the beautiful ocean along the way. Our competent driver also happened to be an avid cyclist so he and Dustin "talked shop". He was a God send and used his local family connections to help us in multiple ways, including asking police to provide security for our evening event.

In Sipalay we presented the UniShow at an all day sports camp for students. Mid-show however the rains came and put a quick stop to the unicycling. Though the Filipinos quickly took cover and looked on, the McLean students turned the event into a puddle splashing dance party and we cranked the tunes while they went crazy in the rain. It was a memorable time for all and thankfully, Dustin and another leader had shared the Gospel before it rained.

We visited the local Sipalay high school to invite students to an evening outreach.
The promo worked and around 700 people showed up for our spontaneous event in Sipalay.
Just before the rain came!

Final outreach in Bacolod.
In all, we had 7 UniShow presentations for 2,800 people. Dustin shared the Gospel in each event and we saw many responded to the invitation to surrender to Jesus!

We were so impressed with the friendliness, kindness, humility and helpfulness of the Filipino people. We pray those impacted through our events will continue to grow in their understanding of God's love for them.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Let's Festival!

2016 was the 50th annual Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux Switzerland. For the 6th time, we joined YWAM Lausanne for their Regeneration outreach 6-16 July 2016. For 10 evenings in a row, we presented the UniShow along side various other creative means, sharing the Hope and Love of God with the world who came to the Festival. The setting was along beautiful Lake Geneva. This year we had 2 performance areas and thankfully one was a stage under a huge roof so the 4 days it rained and stormed, the show could go on!

We shared the stage with a number of bands, Korean fan dancers and drummers, a stomp/dance team, dramas, and a fellow unicyclist who was developing her act for the first time. It was fun to see our new unicycling friend launch her performance ministry dream on her birthday during this outreach and even greatly improve over just a few days. She was inspired by how Dustin integrates his skills and sharing his faith.

Beautiful Korean Fan Dance.
trEd Dance team.
Our new unicycling friend.
Not only did our group perform, but some from our team handed out refreshments and offered prayer. Since there is very little geared for children at the festival, another group had kid's activities and were able to share God's love with them and their parents.

We were able to connect personally with a few people after shows. One guy from Vietnam who lived in Denmark talked to us for a long time sharing his different beliefs and listening to ours. We were able to give him his first Bible.  He said receiving it was the highlight of his vacation. A lady came up to us with tears in her eyes, amazed that we had come from all over the world to perform for free and share the hope, love and freedom God offers. We were told that 2 girls prayed along with Dustin during one outreach as he led a commitment prayer to surrender their lives to Jesus!

Throughout these 10 days, thousands heard the Good News that Jesus saves and we know many people were impacted.

Dustin tried to blend in with a group of 50 Alphorn players who walked through our performance area.