Sunday, January 6, 2013

Shining a Light on Slavery

For more than 15 years, Atlanta-based Passion conferences has been ministering to college-age students to build what it calls the “268 Generation.” The name is based on Isaiah 26:8, where the prophet says, “For Your name and renown are the desire of our souls.” The heart of Passion, say the organizers, is God’s glory, and God is most glorified in us when we live lives that are fully satisfied in Him.

As Passion has grown, so has its reach and impact. In recent years the ministry has led students not only to gather for large-scale worship and discipleship sessions, but also to put their faith into action by giving and participating in a number of social-justice causes.

The Passion 2012 gathering in Atlanta launched an initiative to address the problem of human trafficking. Some 40,000 students gathered at the Georgia Dome and the Georgia World Congress Center, and donated more than $3 million in just four days. This year, Passion 2013 at the same location continued that effort, with 60,000 in attendance and another $3 million-plus raised to “shine a light on slavery” and “End It,” as the movement has officially become known.

I spent last week as a “Door Holder,” as Passion volunteers are called, working at one of 350 giving stations to process all this flow of cash and credit card transactions. These students heard some powerful stories throughout the week, and they came with broken hearts and open wallets. Some gave meager amounts, but clearly with the heart of the poor widow who Jesus said, “out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:4). Others had spent months preparing, like the sweet young lady who came to my station with an envelope filled with $400 she had made in tips at a waitressing job. “My parents think I’m crazy,” she said, “but I know this is the right thing.”

As I thought about our consumer-driven culture and the way we Americans put so much effort into getting, it was incredibly refreshing to see so many committed to giving. And if we really think about the injustice and suffering that goes on around the world, how can we not give and get involved? As the new End It Movement website states:

You know it. We know it. As a country, we've officially known it since 1863. But here's something you might not know: Slavery still exists. We want every man, woman and child to know that there are 27 million men, women and children, just like them, living in the shadows. In brothels. In factories. In quarries. Working as slaves. In 161 countries. Including our own. We are here to shine a light on slavery. No more bondage. No more sex trafficking. No more child laborers. No more, starting now.

The thing about slavery is this: We’re all slaves of something. Even if you’re not a victim of human trafficking, if you’re not a follower of Jesus, you are a slave.  A slave to sin. That’s because every one of us is born into this world with a sinful nature, which we have no ability to overcome without Christ.

The apostle Paul said, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16) Those who believe in and live for Christ, he said, “have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

So if you don’t know Jesus, you face worse circumstances than the earthly suffering of those 27 million, because you face an eternity separated from God. But He stands ready to forgive you and set you free. Want to know how? Please, click here.

If you do know Christ, will you get involved with God’s work “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6)? Will you help END IT?


Saturday, May 5, 2012

If We Are The Body

Over the past three years, Living Hope has seen a significant reduction in funding from the U.S. government. Rather than lament this turn of events, Pastor John Thomas, chairman of Living Hope, has chosen to see it as an opportunity. After all, the Bible calls on the Church – not the government – to care for the poor and needy.

With health care funding from the U.S. scheduled to be cut this fall, the opportunity for the Church to step up is even greater. With that in mind, Living Hope held a fundraising concert at Nashville’s Brentwood Baptist Church on April 26, headlined by Michael W. Smith (pictured with yours truly). It was a fantastic night that netted more than $100,000 in donations.

But more is needed to ensure continuation of Living Hope’s work with people living with HIV. One way you can help support this work is by shopping the newly opened Living Hope Online Store.

The new Masi Choir CD features stunning a capella vocal performances by Xhosa-speaking South Africans, as well as appearances by Smith, who wrote a song especially for Masiphumelele Township; Jars of Clay’s Dan Haseltine, who sings the South African National Anthem; and Casting Crowns’ Mark Hall, who re-recorded his group’s hit “If We Are the Body” with backing vocals by the Choir.

There’s also Faces of Hope, the book about Living Hope’s work that began more than two years ago. To see this project progress from a mere idea to a finished product has been an absolute thrill – and a powerful reminder of God’s faithfulness and provision.

All proceeds from the sale of these products benefit Living Hope. You can also support Living Hope by making a contribution, either one-time or on an ongoing basis. I hope you’ll consider giving – it’s certainly for a worthwhile cause.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Living Hope Happenings

Things are finally hopping with regard to the Faces of Hope release, as well as several other Living Hope initiatives. Click here to view a trailer for a new documentary on Living Hope, and read on below for excerpts from a letter that Chairman John Thomas sent to supporters this week. At some point I expect the book will be available to order online, but if you would like me to bring you one from the event detailed below, email me at for details. Now here’s John’s letter:

We have some great news! We finally have scheduled the next Living Hope Partners Conference: Wednesday, April 25 and Thursday, April 26 at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. In addition to the conference, Michael W. Smith and Tommy Walker, two of the USA’s great worship leaders, will lead an evening of worship on April 26. Michael will speak about Living Hope and encourage attendees to get involved. There also will be special video messages from Casting Crowns and Jars of Clay, and will release our first-ever Living Hope/Masiphumelele Choir CD, which has been wonderfully produced for us by Brentwood Baptist Church. It includes never-before heard tracks by Michael W Smith, Jars of Clay and Casting Crowns. The latter’s well-known "If We Are The Body" has been remixed with backing vocals by the Masi Choir. And a wonderful coffee table book called Faces of Hope will be released. It has been authored by Al Allnoch, a former Living Hope volunteer who is a writer by profession. The book is filled with stories of people whose lives have been touched by Living Hope.

The Partners Conference will feature updates on what the Lord is doing in Cape Town and further afield through Living Hope Ministries. It is planning together with you as to how best reach the areas in which God has placed us. For those leading teams to Living Hope in the coming year, this is a valuable time of understanding the role your team can play. If you have never been to Living Hope, then this is a great opportunity for you to learn more about the ministry.

We also want to update you in detail on our DAD program and the position of our Life Skills workers. We will also be sharing with you about another massive funding cut we are going to be experiencing  at the end of September. The U.S. Administration in Washington has decided to cut the budget to South Africa and this is going to hurt our Health Care Center (Living Care) very badly. We are going to need about $32,000 per month to replace this in order to keep the Health Care Center open.
Here are the details of the Partners Conference:

Wednesday, April 25
5 pm-9 pm: Dinner and Ministry Update

Thursday, April 26
8.30 am-5 pm: Partners Conference (Ministry updates, discussion, breakout sessions; lunch, teas and snacks included, followed by dinner)
7 pm-9 pm: Living Hope Worship Evening/Benefit with Michael W. Smith and Tommy Walker

I am going to do everything possible to try and make it possible for you to personally greet Michael W Smith as one of our valued partners.

Cost:  $100 per person. Includes all meals, Faces of Hope book and Living Hope/ Masi Choir CD (book and CD cost = $35)

To register, please contact Dora Pop at
May the Lord richly bless you.  I trust you will do all you can to plan to be with us.  It will be a phenomenal time.

John V. Thomas
Chairperson: Living Hope Trust  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bringing Hope, Breaking Despair

Cape Town, South Africa is one of the most beautiful cities in the world – especially in a panoramic image such as this one. Up close, however, the picture isn’t always so pretty. Poverty, crime, disease and a general sense of hopelessness permeate certain segments of this windswept peninsula at the southwestern tip of Africa. It’s in this environment that Living Hope pursues its mission of “bringing hope, breaking despair.”

After many months and numerous delays, Faces of Hope, a book about the work and people of Living Hope, is now in production. Here’s what Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., and author of The Hole in Our Gospel, has to say about it:

In Faces of Hope we meet just a few of the thousands of people whose lives have been touched and changed by one pastor and his congregation on who chose not to walk by “the beggar laid at their gate” but stopped, instead, to minister Christ’s love to him. Living Hope is showing people the love of Christ and bringing the Good News to the poor. But this is not a story about just one church – it’s a story about any local church that earnestly desires to be God’s agent of change. This could be the story of your church.
Stay tuned – I’ll share more details soon on the official release, along with how you can order copies.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Eternal Investments

I wrote last month about Gary Levi, who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. A few weeks ago, a group of Harris County High School students honored Gary. For years this humble man has invested in the lives of these young people by praying for them and befriending them. On many mornings, Gary and his brother Allen wait at the high school doors and personally greet the students. No one has asked them to do this. They are simply responding to God’s call to love people. This is what Jesus is all about: Love in action.  

Monday, September 5, 2011

His Name Is Earl

And he’s my new housemate. He reminds me a lot of Marley, the yellow lab immortalized in John Grogan's 2005 bestseller, Marley and Me.

“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things - a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Longing for Home

Since moving to west-central Georgia four months ago, I've had the privilege of attending a men's fellowship group known as the Front Porch Gang. Every Thursday morning, anywhere from 15 to 30 guys gather at the home of a lawyer-turned-musician named Allen Levi. Allen's house sits on a hill, with the view from said front porch sweeping across a pretty little valley. That view alone is worth the effort to get up early and make the 20-minute drive to Allen's house.
In addition to prayer and Bible study, these gatherings typically include a lot of joking around and light-hearted conversation. Lately, however, the mood has been more somber. That's because Allen's brother, Gary, recently was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. But as Gary himself has reminded us, both in writing and in person, his illness is really a gift and a blessing, rather than a time for lamenting what soon could be a life cut short. If our earthly lives are all have hope for, then the latter view certainly would make sense. But as a follower of Jesus Christ, Gary has a hope built on the living God, the one who overcame death and promises to give eternal life to all who put their faith in Him.
The following is excerpted from an email Gary sent the Front Porch Gang. If you know Jesus as your Savior, be encouraged. If you don't, then give some thought to what he has to say about life and death. Gary has received the eternal life that Jesus offers, hence the assurance that shines through his words. Jesus' offer is there for you too: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). What you do with that offer is literally a life-and-death matter.
Many of you are praying for my healing. Thank you. I am praying for His will, that He will use this for His glory and honor, and that He will draw us all closer to Himself. Selfishly, a part of me is praying to go home. Like yourself, perhaps, I am tired of the struggles in this life, the fight with self and the flesh. Everyday it seems that I am more and more aware of my need and my weakness. I long to see Him face to face, with a glorified mind, soul and body and to be as He is. I'm not sure what will happen but I know the One Who does and I rejoice in the fact that He rejoices in doing me good.
It may seem strange, but I am excited about the possibility of going home soon. My brother wrote a song with the title, "the first of us to go." We both long to go to our eternal home. I have often felt as Paul did when he wrote that he longed to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. While I struggle with the thought of leaving loved ones that are dear to my heart, I hope that, in each one of us, there is a longing to be with Christ, a longing for home, a longing to be with the One Who loves us more than we can imagine and a desire to be in that place where we will be able to love Him back perfectly. 

Life has been good to me in this fallen world, largely because of ones like you, but I know that there is something better and I want to fall asleep and wake up there. What a task and blessing I have now of thanking all of you who have enriched my life by allowing me to see Christ more clearly through your walk. 

Let's continue to press on and obey Him until He returns. Your life enriches mine and I am blessed by our paths having crossed. My life and times, like yours, are in His hands. If He chooses to keep me here, I pray that I will love Him more and more, fight for His honor, glory and Kingdom. And if He chooses to take me home, I will praise Him until you arrive.