Excellence is a choice
Excellence is an attitude, a cultivated habit, a developed trait. All followers of Jesus are called to excellence—driven to expend all we have to be and do our best—to reflect God and to serve His will. Our role or gifting might seem insignificant and therefore exempt from a standard of excellence; that’s why Paul declared, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil. 4: 13, NKJV). We pursue excellence not to boost our ego, but as an offering to God. Otherwise, excellence can become an idol! God is looking for us to be all we can be (Ps. 24: 3–5) and will provide what we need to be so (2 Pet. 1).
We are all gifted with talents to honour God and we should not try to be someone else. I may aim for excellence in organisation, but not likely ever in singing! There will always be others with more talent, so forego comparisons. Comparing my efforts with myself motivates me to raise my own bar.
It has been researched that masters in a given field must first invest 10,000 hours of study and practice. The take-away for us is that those 10,000 hours will elapse whether we use them to improve ourselves or live life ‘as usual’. Instructively, masters are never satisfied but continue to acquire knowledge and hone skills through a lifestyle of discipline. We can ‘start the clock’ here, today, as we are. In pursuing excellence, let us distinguish between character and accomplishments. Our character is who we are; our accomplishments flow from that. I encourage every OMer and every believer to place character development at the core of our spiritual formation. Nothing gives God more pleasure that seeing His children wanting to become more like His Son.
In our desire to honour Christ and build up others, we will consistently put our best foot forward, as Paul did: “To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:29, NIV). It honours God to excel in society as His ambassadors, provided we have the humility to credit Him.
Let’s get radical again
Perhaps the gravest distraction for inner excellence is the media, including social media. Today you will rarely find a person who isn’t glued to their phone. Even as Christians, we devote a chunk of our day to social media but I doubt that we allot a fraction of that time for our own character growth.
Since we reap what we sow (Gal. 6: 7–8), the time needed to develop spiritually must come from somewhere. Wouldn’t it be good to monthly call all of OM to a 24-hour fast, including from all media and digital devices? Let that be our offering to God, our focused time spent recovering our passion for Him. Is our relationship with God important enough to make this sacrifice? Is our first reaction to rationalise why that would be impossible?
Every follower of Jesus should see every day and every situation as an opportunity to develop excellence in character—realising that it comes often through trial and adversity. The journey could begin by watching our words, written or spoken, because they have the power to create or destroy. We can exercise affirmation of one another despite our circumstances. We can ensure that we are quick to listen and sincerely apologize. God will show us what is necessary
Every day we are presented with situations that can inspire us to excellence or to compromise. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17, NIV). Remember: Our God is for us.
NEAR EAST: BOOK OF LIFE
A young Saudi entered a Christian bookshop in a densely populated city. From Mecca, he was curious about the sign at the bookshop’s entry: ‘I am the door’. “People [inside] were talking about Jesus,” OMer Ingrid* said. “After reading more scripture verses, the man dramatically fell on his knees and proclaimed: ‘Yes, really He is the Lord!’ He was already reading the gospel online over the past half-year and was prepared for this special moment,” she said. “My husband studied Scripture with him the next day. Later, we gathered with other believers from a Muslim background and shared a deeper time of study and fellowship in Christ.”
“The days that this man visited the bookshop were very days allotted by Operation World to urge people to intercede for Saudi Arabia and its people!” she shared. “Wow, on these two days people are praying for my country,” the young Saudi marvelled. He was greatly touched by this news.
TURKEY: A SPECIAL FARE
In a western city, OMer Marcella* and her roommate took a taxi. The driver was an older man and very conversational, wanting to know more about them. He said he was a Muslim and asked what she believed. He was excited at her response, telling them that he believed in the same Allah and that he used to drive near a church that ‘Saint Paul’ started.
Marcella and her roommate talked about who Paul was and how Paul met God on a journey. Marcella asked him, “Bir soru soruyabilir miyim, Abi?” (“Can I ask you a question, big brother?”) She asked him how Allah loves people. Marcella told him that God loves people like a father—so much that He has a close relationship with each person who knows Him. The taxi driver told them he also believed that Allah cared about people. There was no immediate spiritual breakthrough, but it was the first time that Marcella was able to talk extensively about the good news in Turkish, and she was encouraged! Pray for ‘everyday life’ opportunities to share the gospel.
RELIEF & DEVELOPMENT
CAMBODIA: SIMPLE SOLUTIONS
Countless issues plague the poor: Lack of good jobs leads to poor nutrition. Domestic violence destroys families. Adults and children alike turn to alcohol and drugs. The risk of human trafficking is high, caused not only by pimps who stalk the communities but also by overwhelmed single mothers selling their kids for cash. Those seeking medical help go to hospital; without money to pay upfront, they are left waiting on the floor. The list could go on, said Tanja, social worker supervisor for the OM Mercy Teams International (MTI) office. OM works in four slums, providing counselling, parenting classes and, on a case-by-case basis, money for medical treatment or housing.
Tanja said that the most basic medical knowledge can have dramatic effects. People in slums do not drink a lot of water and constantly have kidney problems. “I asked parents if they often had pain in their back, and advised to drink more water,” she recalled. “Two or three women followed the advice and their pains were gone.”
The sole caretaker for her two children and a niece, Srey Sina talked about what happened after her husband passed away. “My children were very small. We worked to collect the rubbish. After that, I got sick.” At her lowest point, she encountered OM MTI. “MTI was very kind; they visited me, gave counselling and supported my children [to go] to school,” she said.
OM MTI invited Srey to join a parenting skills class. “Before, I didn’t know how to talk with my children,” she shared. “Now, the situation has changed. My children listen to me. We talk and understand each other,” she noted. OM MTI also reaches out spiritually. Through its ministry, Srey started a relationship with Jesus. “I believe in God, so I pray for MTI to stay for a long time.”
ZIMBABWE: WE WERE WAITING
A brief glance of the open landscape reveals long-bearded men with clean-shaven heads sitting opposite to head-scarfed women wearing long white garments. Known as Vapostori (Apostles), these gatherings of pseudo-Christian groups mix traditional African beliefs with select Bible teachings.
When Pastor Tafara* attended an OM outreach to a vapostori stronghold, little did he know he would be reaching out to more of the groups. On a visit to another area, Tafara took an opportunity to preach at a gospel rally where forty-two people wanted to follow Christ. “I expected resistance, but people came to Christ in numbers,” said Pastor Tafara jovially.
Those who came to Christ showed deep hunger and an eagerness for more. “Suddenly I had a big crowd of people looking up to me,” he explained. Probing deeper, he discovered that most of them were former members of vapostori sects that were prevented from reading the Bible for themselves by their former leaders who claimed direct communion with God. “(The people) did everything their former leaders asked them to do, because they believed it was God who had spoken!” narrated Pastor Tafara.
So he started a church with the group and resolved to help them grow in their walk with Christ. With no Bibles to give each believer to study for themselves, the pastor approached OM to assist. He also asked OM missionaries to teach Bible sharing skills for the new believers to reach out to their friends who remained with the sect. OM has also supplied audio Bibles for those who cannot read and other materials to help Pastor Tafara continue helping the new believers.
AUSTRIA: LIVE IN PEACE AND HOPE
Since 2016, OM, through its Building Bridges Team, has worked among refugees in partnership with local churches and organisations. A house called ‘Peace and Hope’ has been provided for Christian asylum seekers who, because of their faith, have problems in other refugee homes. The OM team supports these and other refugees through several programmes and projects.
Since the end of 2016, Javid* and Maryam* have lived in the Peace and Hope housing with their two small children. The Afghan family’s story of encountering Jesus, their changed lives and how they’ve suffered for their new faith touched the OM team. Sadly, like other former Muslims, they have faced discrimination in Austria and were treated as second-class citizens by other Muslims. In their first refugee housing, Javid recalled, “We were not allowed to use the dishes everybody else used because the Muslims said to us ‘You make them dirty.’ We were not allowed to enter the kitchen whenever Muslims were there because they said that we were unbelieving and impure.”
The young family was thus thankful to move into the Peace and Hope home. “We are very grateful to God that we can live here,” Javid said. “Finally we have found a place where we can live our faith in Jesus in peace. We can go to our church every Sunday as a family and get support with integration. My wife attends a German class, as well as a meeting for women and their children and a sewing class. If it is possible, we both attend the weekly Bible study and visit the International Café as a family. We are happy to live here and to be in so much contact with other Christians.”
Javid and his family are growing in their faith and have an increasing desire to share the good news with other people. Javid once shared his testimony in front of 130 people. Many of the crowd were Muslim and appeared sincerely touched. As Javid speaks Turkish well, he has a growing desire to reach out to the many Turkish people in Graz with the gospel.
Pray for more Christians to share the good news in Graz so that more people can be won for Christ. Pray for those who have heard the gospel to believe.
MENTORING & DISCIPLESHIP
MEXICO: BREAKING RECORDS
Logos Hope’s visitor count in Veracruz broke the Ship Ministry’s record for a single port, with 226,554 people climbing the gangway to browse the bookfair, sample the atmosphere in the International Café or attend an onboard event during its six-week visit. The previous record was set in 1988 when 201,710 people visited Doulos in Taichung, Taiwan, during a 19-day port call.
Seelan Govender (South Africa), Chief Executive Officer of OM Ships International, welcomed the exciting news. “We are constantly asking, ‘Is the Ship Ministry still relevant? Are we still accomplishing what we believe God has called us to do?’ These numbers reinforce the sense that there is a strong appeal for the ministry. More than that, this gives us a reach far beyond what we could do without a ship: in challenging people, in motivating people, in moving them one step further in their understanding of the kingdom of God, who God is and what God has done for them.”
Veracruz has traditionally given OM’s ships a warm welcome. All four OM vessels have visited the city in a total of six port calls since 1979. Each time, large numbers of people have been drawn to the floating bookstore and to connect with the international community of Christian volunteers. In almost 50 years of the Ship Ministry, total visitor numbers for a single port have exceeded 150,000 on only eight occasions, two of which were in Veracruz. This call marked another milestone as the current vessel’s seven millionth guest was celebrated.
Whilst such figures are encouraging, Seelan’s drive is that each visitor leaves the ship having been impacted personally. “Through a book they may have purchased; through a conversation they may have had with a crewmember from a different part of the world; through asking questions like, ‘Why do they give their life to something like this?’ it’s our desire that each visitor experiences something that causes them to evaluate who they are and where they’re going, or to reinforce the values system within their own lives. My hope is that we will see lasting impact that goes on to bear much good fruit in people’s lives not only in Mexico, but to the ends of the earth.”
Thank you for your prayers and support of all OM ministries worldwide.
* name changed