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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Brighter Than Gleaming Gold

By Kristel Ortiz
Sept. 1, 2013

Across PenAsia, the sun glitters blindingly off the golden roofs of seemingly countless opulent Buddhist temples. Droves of tourists gawk as devout worshippers kneel plaintively before massive golden idols, praying and presenting offerings of food and goods that they often can barely afford.

Scattered around Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos are other places of worship. They are not encrusted with gold and jewels; in fact, many of them have dirt floors that faithful worshippers dampen with water to keep the dust from rising. Golden statues covered with exotic flowers do not greet those who enter. Instead, animals wander about the vicinity, scavenging for food. Outside one small church, a piglet is tied to a tree, sleeping. Occasionally his hooves flail in midair as music from a practicing children’s choir inside interrupts his slumber.

These tiny, nondescript churches are AG church plants, the fruit of decades of prayer and patient sowing. They represent the heartbeat of AG missionaries Mark and Janie Durene.

Mark and Janie know that in order to grow and stay strong, these churches must prepare trained, equipped and empowered believers. For 20 years the Durenes have stood in the gap for PenAsia, helping these churches bring the freedom of Christ to nations that have been held in the golden fist of Buddhism for centuries.

Stepping Into the Role

Since their arrival in Thailand in 1994, Mark and Janie have been involved in university campus ministry, leadership development, church planting, and the Thai language program of Global University. On July 1, 2012, Mark was named area director for PenAsia.

“Mark and Janie’s past experience and leadership skills have long benefited missions in Thailand and are now strengthening the entire PenAsia area,” says Asia Pacific Regional Director Russ Turney.

PenAsia’s tropical beauty and rich culture mask its deep spiritual need. Home to about 227 million people, it represents the most concentrated Buddhist population in the world.

“Only 1.6 percent of the area’s total population is Christian, and the majority of believers are from minority people groups. The major ethnic groups are considered unreached,” shares Mark. “Our passion is to touch every unreached and forgotten corner of all five countries with the love of Jesus Christ.”

The Durenes were mentored in ministry by James Bradford, general secretary of the U.S. AG, and succeeded him as pastors of Christians in Action University Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bradford had a significant role in the Durenes’ lives, including a prophetic conversation that was a significant factor in their consideration of missions ministry in Thailand.

“Jim knew that I had been preparing to join Missionary Aviation Fellowship as a missionary pilot for many years,” Mark recalls. “I had a bachelor’s degree in missions from North Central University, several pilot ratings, and an airframe and power plant rating with the Federal Aviation Administration. I loved flying and was excited about going with MAF.”

But an early morning breakfast meeting with Bradford set a different course of events in motion. As the two men ate together, Bradford suddenly said, “Mark, I don’t think you’re supposed to be a missionary pilot.” He went on to say that God had gifted Mark in preaching and teaching — gifts that would not be fully used as a missionary pilot.

“Jim’s words were like a knife piercing my spirit,” Mark says. “I hated like crazy to hear them, but I knew immediately that was God speaking to me. In a moment, my plans for the future changed.”

That evening as Mark shared with Janie that he believed God was leading them to be “regular missionaries” rather than missionary pilots, her response was confirmation.

“God told me the same thing a long time ago,” she replied matter-of-factly. “I’ve been waiting for Him to tell you too!” 


Strategic Outreach

Mark and Janie are now enacting strategies that will bring spiritual breakthrough to PenAsia. Among them is the development of teams, made up of appointed missionaries, missionary associates, short-term participants, and partner missions groups, to be involved in a variety of outreaches in several strategic locations throughout the area. By working together, these teams can accomplish more than missionaries could do while working independently in scattered locations.

“AGWM has about 160 people serving in PenAsia. Wherever possible, we work directly with national churches to break new ground and reach people with the good news of Jesus,” Mark explains. “Because three of the five nations of this area are closed to traditional missionary activity, our involvement in those countries takes place through nongovernmental organizations, compassion ministries, and businesses.”

Another strategy under development involves equipping national believers to take the gospel to unreached people groups within their own countries.

 “In a demonstration of the biblical principle from 1 Corinthians 1:27 of the weak confounding the strong, God is raising up tribal peoples from the five nations of PenAsia to impact their area for Jesus Christ,” shares Mark. “We want to equip the ‘weak’ to make an impact on the ‘strong’ by helping believers from smaller tribal groups as they share the gospel with the majority groups. Many of these tribal groups have been marginalized and despised for centuries, and we are challenging them to overcome their resentment and bitterness, love their oppressors, and lead them to Christ. It is understandable that bitterness exists. But as the minority groups intercede for their nations and reach out to their oppressors, the Holy Spirit has been replacing their resentment with compassion.”

Recently, believers from the Karen people of northern Thailand have reported seeing visions and receiving prophetic calls concerning evangelizing the majority Thai people group. All five nations of PenAsia have minority people groups with large Christian populations. These groups, the Durenes believe, have the potential to make a major impact throughout the entire region.

Prayers Answered and Prophecies Fulfilled

“More than 20 years ago, when we started itinerating to go to Thailand for the first time, we began hearing a prophetic word that has continued to come with increasing regularity,” says Mark. “Repeatedly we heard that a fire will break out in northern Thailand and sweep southward through the nation. Today the map of Christian presence in Thailand shows that prophetic word becoming a reality. Nearly 60 percent of Christians in Thailand are located in the northernmost three provinces.”

Slowly, steadily, the move of God taking place in northern Thailand is beginning to impact the rest of the nation. The Durenes are witnessing the answer to years of prayer as the light of the gospel dawns, eclipsing the gleam of all the golden temples in the most Buddhist area on earth.


Kristel Ortiz is a staff writer for AGWM.

 

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