Finding Co-Laborers

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Sarah and I still are trying to make order in our new home. One box at a time! However, as we begin to see a home emerge from the chaos of cardboard boxes, wrapping paper, and more clothes than I ever imagined having, we never once take our mind off our passion to reach internationals and church-planting.

We continue to make every effort to connect with internationals and invite them into our lives, ultimately, to bear witness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As we do, we also are actively seeking partners and co-laborers in Christ, who wish to impact the nations for Jesus, right in their backyard.

This has been a very encouraging week, as we met with a few who have been looking for more opportunities to fulfill the Great Commission in Oklahoma. Additionally, we will prayerfully begin discipleship and training with a prospective house church leader. This is all very exciting, as we see it as vital to connect to others who share in a passion for living on missions.

Please pray that we may start and grow new relationships with ministry partners. Pray for opportunities share Christ boldly among those who’ve never heard the Gospel.

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Update: June 23rd

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What a busy but tremendous time for the Draper clan! It feels like an eternity since we last wrote. However, its all been for good reasons! We moved into our first home!

As we celebrated our oldest’s 3rd birthday in it this week, we are hastily unpacking and making it “home”. This urgency is more than just about feng shui and decor but to create a space for ministry. Just like the early Church, we pray to plant the seeds for new churches right in our home. We commit our house to God’s Kingdom work and recognize His sovereignty in everything.

Beyond the blessing of our home, we’d like to update about our own efforts among international ministry. Currently, we have been developing an international tea in Edmond, twice a month, that we invite internationals to meet and fellowship with others. While we haven’t had a many beyond our own circles, the connections that have been fostered and opportunities planned has been highly encouraging. One of the best highlights has been a Southeast Asian Christ-follower prayerfully seeking whether God might lead his family to plant a Hindi-speaking house church plant. This is exactly where we’ve been hoping to start, a platform to reach the Southeast Asians of Edmond and OKC.

As we continue to prepare our home and lay foundation for international outreach in Edmond and OKC, please lift up the following prayer requests:

-For God to continue to grow the mission-mindedness for our SE Asian friend and how the Lord may use him to start a house church.

-That we may have increased opportunities to meet internationals and to share the saving truth of Jesus as Savior and Lord.

-For us to remain patient and rely on God’s providence in all we do.

Co-vocational: Life on Missions

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The Apostle Paul, former persecutor of the Church to one of its greatest missionaries, author of several books of the New Testament, and faithful follower of Christ, had prestige. He also made tents.

Paul never hid his work ethic but had it on full display. He worked and worked hard. Not just in the ministry but literally strained, sweat, and bled for wages. In Acts 18, Luke writes how Paul was a tent-maker and worked to provide for himself and the ministry. He did this, all while passionately teaching of Jesus Christ.

This wasn’t an isolated incident but a major point Paul emphasized in many of his letter. He chose to work so he could provide for himself and not burden the church resources. His life was committed to missions but he knew that the Great Commission wasn’t a job but simply part of the Christian walk. He summarizes his own approach in 2 Thessalonians 3, working to not only support himself but also encourage others to do similarly.

This approach is often referred to as being “bi-vocational”, working for finance and working for ministry. The etymology of the prefix “bi” comes from the Old Latin for “two-fold”. There is the challenge in this thinking as it can lead to seeing work and ministry as two separate vocations. This is where many ministries and organizations have adooted the language of “co-vocational”. More than just a a new term, it follows models set by the early Church where ministry is just part of our natural walk of faith, not something scheduled or switched on. Thus, our work and other “vocations” are not separate but more opportunities to bear witness and disciple.

For Sarah and I, this is what led us towards our life now of being missionaries in our own city among internationals. I work a full time job and part time job that provides for our needs but also facilitates conversations, builds relationships, and gives me insights into communities. Sarah stays at home with our children but also uses this as an opportunity to invite women over and build relationships. In doing this we both live out the Great Commission while also, as Paul, don’t be a burden to anyone. This is also exactly the same DNA we want to pass on to all those we disciple. Living life, all of it, following Jesus faithfully in the Great Commission.

For further insights, read Brad Brisco’s article, Rethinking Vocation.

Sea of Voices: Evangelism in a Post-Modern Cyberscape

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As I’ve been clearing out my computer, I discovered a paper I wrote on emerging communication technologies and evangelism. Part to find a home for it and part to share it publicly, I’m posting it here.

Direct and Indirect Communication: The Growth of Immersive Media

            Fred Craddock in “Overhearing the Gospel,” speaks on the two types of communication; direct and indirect. In direct communication, the sender is addressing the message specifically to the audience. The audience is meant to realize they are the object spoken to and the message is for them to apply. This approach, however, not only lacks subtlety but can incite a defensive response from the listener as he or she might feel under assault. Indirect communication offers something different. It allows for the audience to overhear the message. Overhearing is when the sender gives a relevant but indirect message that the audience will internalize. Craddock writes, “The two factors in the listener’s experience- distance (history) and participation (contemporaneity- are the two basic ingredients in the experience of overhearing (Overhearing the Gospel pg. 101).”

            How audiences can participate with messages has changed with the advent of interactive media. Online multimedia and virtual reality have become platforms for audiences to overhear the message through an immersive experience. In the essay, “Immersive Media Experiences,” the authors discuss the importance of immersive media, “New paradigms for media production, distribution and consumption have been emerging, introducing different sensory modalities and audio-visual surround effects, for an increased sense of presence, and also enabling participation and social interaction in the media chain, thus increasing the sense of belonging and contributing to the success of the services being provided (Immersive).”

            One application that immersive media is being used for is in therapy. OCD, autism, and PTSD are just some of the disorders virtual reality therapy is helping treat. In “Computer-Assisted and Web-based Innovation in Psychology, Special Education, and Health,” written by James Luiselli and Aaron Fischer, discusses the use of virtual reality therapy, “VRT exposes patients to virtual situations of increasing intensity and duration, seeking to provoke anxiety and then tear away that anxiety through repetition, as in a typical exposure therapy (Computer-Assisted).”

            The use of indirect immersive media is being found to be an effective tool in marketing, journalism, and advocacy, as well. The ability to transport audiences to virtual representation or share in a virtual experience is a valuable communication resource. When the deadly Nepal earthquakes occurred in the Spring of 2015, there was great urgent need to respond to the damage. Traditional direct media showed the weeping masses and the fallen buildings. The images were tragic, certainly, but perhaps not powerful enough for some. RYOT, a pioneering virtual reality group of advocacy journalists, went to the devastation with 360 cameras. Coupled with narration by actress Susan Sarandon, RYOT made “The Nepal Earthquake Project.” The video gives the viewer control of where to look as they are bombarded with the sights and sounds of the disaster’s aftermath (RYOT). This kind of media gives a stronger narrative and appeal as audiences discover the scope of the story and internalize the message. The experience crafts a deeper participation.

            Where direct and indirect communication will retain their uses, indirect messages overheard through immersive media is giving the informers, the persuaders, and the entertainers new platforms. While still in its infancy, virtual reality and other immersive media are becoming more accessible and adopted at exponential rates. It is foreseeable, in the near future, that this will become the norm for media consumption as communicators embrace the media.   

Evangelizing Post-Moderns

For all outcries of technology’s pervasiveness being unnatural, there is nothing quite so human and natural as man’s creations. Where Scripture says mankind is made in the image of the Creator God, humanity reflects this in its prowess with innovation. However, this becomes a flaw where technology is used not to enhance but replace the natural.

As the world has advanced technologically, culture has also shifted from pre-modern faith to modern idolatry of man’s knowledge to post-modern skepticism towards truth. Post-modernism would reject an idea of absolute truth. While everyone is bound by the same facts, “truth” is an interpretation. This also becomes a flaw when everyone’s truth becomes acceptable and correct.

A world of technology surrogating fulfillment and skepticism of messages called truth can seemingly be a challenge to the evangelist. It creates a culture where revelation is diminished or non-existent. Even for the Christian, post-modern technology allows us to experience a cherry picked Bible with a tailor made concept of God and His Church. This grand struggle is not new, though. God’s call to return from sin and accept Him as Savior and Lord has persisted through time, regardless of the zeitgeist. Similarly, Christians have had the same model of communication throughout history. Evangelism must be rooted in relationships.

The Great Commission commands Christ followers to go and make disciples. It is not a passive suggestion but a clear call to the front-lines. While the Gospel is potent on its own, Christians are described in organic terms of bearing fruit and being a body. Called to Christ-likeness, the message pierces through the self-absorption of technology and skepticism of subjectivity by coming alive through the obedient Christian. In “Communicating for Life” by Quentin Schultze, he writes of the authority of the message when genuine, “Person and message should be united so that what we say is a product of who we are and what we believe, not just a reflection of our eloquence (Communicating).”

Relationships are the basis of all the evangelism in the Gospel. While technology did not allow for broad seed sowing at the time of Christ, mass media has never been as effective in persuasion as the tangible. Frederick Buechner writes in “Telling the Truth,” how empathy is necessary in evangelism, “But to preach the Gospel is not just to tell the truth but to tell the truth in love, and to tell the truth in love means to tell it with concern not only for the truth being told but with concern also for the people it is being told to (Telling).” Love from sender to receiver must be understood for a message to take root. This is not to reject technology or different-minded individuals as conditional to Gospel-sharing but to state the essential need for love. Is this not the reason technology fills personal voids and post-modernism used as a crutch, to deny man’s tragic status as fallen short of God’s glory?

As the world rejects the need of a Savior and Lord, Christians must not only communicate but display the message of a life lived victoriously in Jesus. James Smith addresses a post-modern Church in his book, “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism.” Smith relates to the command for followers of Christ to be like a city on a hill, “Nothing is more countercultural than a community serving the Suffering Servant in a world devoted to consumption and violence (Who’s Afraid).” Whatever platform the message is delivered from and whichever ideology it is delivered to, the Gospel must be shared in Christ-like selflessness and unconditional love. 

Middle East Profile

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Some of the best food in Edmond and OKC are some of the Arabic and Persian restaurants, which reveal the growing population of Arabs and Persians of the Middle East calling Edmond home. While more Middle Easterners become our neighbors, there is likely no greater ostracized groups than the various Arab and Persian peoples. This hypocrisy against the Great Commission and Christ’s mission is one of the largest obstacles to reaching them with the saving truth of the Gospel.

Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Syria, Egypt, Iraq. Just some of the many Arabic countries with strong representation in Edmond. Persians of Iran are also an increasing population in the city, as well. While nationally, culturally, and religious diverse, they all hail from the Greater Middle East. While hard to estimate, various statistics would support, that together, they represent close to 1-2% of Edmond’s population. As students of the University of Central Oklahoma, they make up over 10% of the school’s international body (most coming from Saudi Arabia). Edmond holds one of only a few mosques in the state.

Predominately Muslim, Arabs tend to follow a branch known as Sunni Islam with Persians usually following Shia Islam. In almost all Middle Eastern countries, Christianity is a minority with little Gospel presence due to restrictive laws against evangelism. While persecution and religious extremism do exist, the vast majority of Middle Eastern culture is marked by hospitality and honor. Those living here in the US will express their pursuit of a better and peaceful life.

The great struggle to impacting the Arab and Persian peoples of Edmond with the Gospel is the unchristlike fear and rejection from Christians and churches. To this, I have much to say but fear it would begin to be a rant. I will summarize only with this. You will find no such fear, rejection, or hostility in the Word of God. If you bring it, your bring it from your own sinful heart and mind and I ask you to repent. However, it is because of this spirit that almost no Gospel work is present in Edmond (or throughout Oklahoma, for that matter). I know of only one church planter working among the Persian people. I don’t know of any among the far larger Arab people groups.

FORMER MUSLIM BECOMES CHURCH PLANTER

The real need for salvation to come to the Arab and Persian peoples is for obedient Christ-followers to be willing to pray for, befriend, and share the story of Jesus Christ. This is an act not of fear but hope, not of rejection but love, not of hostility but of obedience.

3 KEYS FOR REACHING MUSLIMS

For the Arabs and Persians:

-Pray for genuine Christ-followers to build kingdom-worthy relationships among Arabs and Persians.

-Pray for the Muslims of Edmond to recognize Jesus as more than a prophet but as their divine Savior and Lord.

-Pray for an Arabic church to be planted in Edmond and OKC, growing and multiplying.

-Pray for the Persian church and that others will join it in reaching Persians with the Gospels here and abroad.

God is Faithful!

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Its been a long 30 days since the last time I posted. It has been a month of fervent prayer and preparing for whatever outcome. One full of ministry but also of waiting. For while Sarah and I have been praying and seeking to pursue ministry in Edmond among internationals, I have for almost a year and a half been seeking employment. With less than 30 days before we would pack everything and leave Oklahoma to move in with family, all our prayers were answered.

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2010, Oman

10 years ago, to date, I began as a missionary with the International Mission Board. After 2.5 years in the Middle East, working among Afghans and Pakistanis, I returned home (engaged to my beautiful bride, I might add) with an awakened heart towards international ministry. As Sarah and I got married and moved to Oklahoma, we recognized the immense need for outreach right here in OKC and Edmond. While we frequently pursued ministry opportunities, it was days before the birth of our firstborn in 2016 that I truly felt a tug on my heart. I had let the urgency of the Gospel grow quiet in my my life and felt a growing spiritual discontent with where I was leading my family and myself. For the past couple years, we prayed and discerned God’s will, eventually recognizing that I needed a different career and a job that put me closer to home.

Giving up the comforts and securities of a job I’d known for 5 years, I have been job-hunting for a position that would allow us to live co-vocationally, supporting ourselves in ministry. Yet, over a year passed since I started searching. While we were certain of our calling, we began to wonder if perhaps we were to serve elsewhere. The past month has been filled with prayer on getting a position or forced to move in back with family across country. No interview had turned into an offer and I had packed half our belongings, preparing to leave Oklahoma.

Draper Clan packed and ready to move!

29 days till I was unemployed and then the phone rang. An offer. A generous offer at a career that will not only be a joy to work at but also give the opportunities to minister. And just like that, 2 years of prayer about how we might support ourselves is answered. Now, we may even greater focus on the task of sharing the Gospel and disciple-making.

God is faithful. He never promises the road to be easy but He does promise to be by our side. He never says we won’t “fail” but He does promise that He is victorious. His work will be accomplished and He will receive the glory.

As we begin this next chapter of our lives, please pray the following:

-For the Sarah and I to find opportunities and communities to evangelize and disciple.

-For us to remain teachable and humble, learning from those who have gone before and, ultimately, from our Heavenly Father.

-For us to find partners and co-laborers in Christ, so we may sharpen one another and expand outreach.

-For the unreached peoples of Edmond and OKC to meet their eternal savior, Jesus Christ, and that church-planting movements may begin in their cultures and languages.

Just Start A Conversation

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This past Sunday, I (Stephen) went to the house church we attend. This was a special time as it concluded an outreach ministry. The leaders of the church had recruited local Christian college students to help survey, prayer walk, and evangelize throughout OKC, with a special focus on internationals. Concluding several days of work, the students had several great stories to share.

The students had gone out in small groups, praying and talking to people, prayerfully sharing the Gospel with whoever would chat. Several of the students expressed initial awkwardness when approaching strangers but overtime saw how these conversations would lead to Gospel opportunities. This “ah-ha” moment was further cemented by the testimony of a special guest. He had been a refugee from a war-torn region. He came to know Christ when a pastor approached him and poured into him. He has since grown to be a minister, himself. The theme throughout all of this was that evangelism isn’t to be feared, isn’t complicated, but is urgently needed.

While it may seem scary to go up to a stranger, especially a foreigner, and share Jesus, its important to remember we are not alone. Jesus promises to be with us in the Great Commission. We’ve been sent out with the promise that God is already by our side. With that comfort, how do we actually share?

One of the most effective approaches to evangelism is simply to follow Acts 1:8 and be God’s witnesses. Tell your story! Bear witness to what God has done through you.

*How was your life before Christ?

*How did you come to Christ?

*How has your life changed since?

This simple method is personal, relatable, and easy to remember. Its your life, after all!

To give the Gospel a bit more structure, there are many ways to present it. 3 Circles is a simple approach with a strong visual element that can easily be drawn on a napkin. To ground it in Scripture, I am partial to the simple explanation using the Romans Road. The important point is to both find a way that works well for you and still be open to how the Spirit might have you share.

Please lift Sarah and I up as we seek to tell the story of hope in Jesus to those who have never heard before.