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Missions 101

Posts By: Michael Littell

A Christmas Meditation

Dec. 24, 2012By: Michael Littell

Christmas confronts us with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s burning question as we reflect upon the birth of Christ: “Who is Christ for us today?” In the second chapter of Luke, an angel appears to three shepherds and heralds the arrival of the Messiah. In verse 12 the angel announces to the shepherds, “This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

I think the most surprising part about the story is not that an angel visited men, but the force of the angel’s statement. How will the shepherds know that they have found the place where God has arrived on earth? They will know it when they see a poor baby lying in the midst of animals in a small barn. God’s triumphal salvation is confirmed not by purple robes and flashes of fire, but by the sign of poverty, homelessness, and oppression. Even today, this sign is still an offense to us Christians.

The reason I love the ministry of TLI is because we work with those who dwell in the shadows of poverty, homelessness, and oppression. For many of the pastors we train, it is too dangerous even to put photographs up on our website, and even among those that do have photographs, most of them must be given pseudonyms for their protection. In this way, the men we train are very unlike us. They cannot be known lest they risk torture, imprisonment, and disaster for themselves and their families. They can only be known as Christ himself was known to us: as impoverished preachers in the perilous business of announcing the love of Christ and the kingdom of God on earth.

I think of my friend Amsula (pseudonym), a Sudanese refugee in Athens. This man has not had a place to lay his head for over two years. He carves out a meager living by translating and odd jobs, and all that he has goes to his wife and children whom he is still trying to bring out of Egypt. Yet he has seen miracles from God, preached the gospel countless times to thirsty souls, and drunk deeply from the unfathomable love of Chirst.

When I reflect on this question, “Who is Christ for us today?” it occurs to me that Amsula is acting as Christ for many: he bears the shame of the crucified God, shines the light of Jesus Christ into the shadows of the world, and lives on the manna of his heavenly Father at each step of his life. This is why I love TLI. Because our pastors are the least known, and are making Christ the most known. But most of all, I love TLI because these men help me love and see Christ in ways that I have not before.

You can take the opportunity this season to become engaged in the life of a pastor like Amsula by sponsoring one of the pastors at our website.  

Just go to to meet hundreds of pastors serving the Kingdom in bond of Christ.


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Crossing the Sea in the Footsteps of Paul

Nov. 16, 2012By: Michael Littell

The Story of Amsula*, the Man of God from Sudan (Part 5)

*Pseudonym due to the sensivity of his situation.

“I come to Athens in 2009 with a miracle,” says Amsula. “When I cross the sea I come with people from different nationalities—the sea from Turkey to Greece.” I do not know how he came to Turkey, but I was not willing to interrupt.

“When we crossed the sea,” he said, “I lead the boat, I drive it. Why did I drive it? When I come to want to drive it, many people they say, ‘No,’ because I say I am a Christian, and because they have different religion, Muslim. They don’t agree to let me drive, but Jesus leads me to drive.

“I don’t know before how to drive. I never do it,” he says, and I chuckle. “So this guy teaches me in five minutes. And the group I bring over, many times they have been caught when they cross this sea, many times, two times, four times. Every time, they bring them back to Turkey. I tell them, ‘You guys, we cross this water in the name of Jesus. Everyone who agree with this you can cross with me, if you not agree and you want to live here, I can let you stay.’ So I pray with them, so I pray with them and I drive the boat.

“When I was in the middle of the sea I was praying with God, and I saw a ship—a border patrol ship—cross before me. I have with me twenty-five people and that ship, if they catch you, they give everyone else back and they put you in prison.

“So I prayed very hard. I stand up, and I pray for help. And the people became very afraid and said, ‘Go to it and give us up. Go quickly to this ship before it comes to us!’ But I said no. I stayed, and I stood, and I pray, and the ship passed us. And no one see us—no one come out to see us. And the people become very happy.” Amsula smiled wide. “They become very happy when they cross the sea, and they are safe.”

The refugee boat landed on one of the two thousand islands owned by Greece. The next step was to find the mainland, arrive in Athens, and begin the long process of applying for refugee status. The journey was nowhere near over.

The squabbles started as soon as they landed on the island, “Everyone have many problems,” he said. “They fight with each other, and everyone who fight with another one come to me with their problems.”

“When I tell them we still had to come from the island into Greece, the people say we should stay one month, two months, or three months and then go on.” As the arguments erupted, so Amsula made a decision. “I tell them that we take three days only. I don’t want to stay. Three days only we take here on the island, no more than this.”

“Some people they say, ‘This guy is crazy. Most people they take at least one month, not three days.’”

Then Amsula made an prediction: “I said, ‘Anyone who does not believe we can make it, they will stay here. Anyone who say, “Yes,” will get out with me’— I prophesied that.”

Three days later, “the guys that don’t have faith, they were left there. They become sick, so they stay there. But everyone who can say ‘Amen’ with me, they get out after three days. So these people become very happy.” 

Later that night, after class, I asked Amsula if he was still in contact with the people who came over with him. He was, he said, and now they all believe in Jesus, “Every one of them in the end.”

We hope you have enjoyed this series about one of the pastors we work with in Athens. We will feature more stories about our pastors in the future. If you would like to help train Amsula and others like him in theological education, click here to sponsor a pastor.


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Living History

Nov. 15, 2012By: Michael Littell

The Story of Amsula*, the Man of God from Sudan (Part 4)

*Pseudonym due to the sensivity of his situation.

Amsula’s tribal roots stretch back to the Cushite kings who became the “black pharaohs” of Egypt’s 25th dynasty.[1] Their armies attempted to rescue King Hezekiah of Judah from the jaws of Assyria. Even farther back, Cush, the patriarch and namesake of the tribe, is noted in Genesis for fathering Nimrod who is described as “a mighty hunter before the Lord.” So great was he that “therefore,” we are told, “it is said, ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord’” (10:9).

The prophets make mention of Cush, though not often in positive ways. Several utterances stand out, though, in light of Amsula and Jesus Christ.

Zechariah’s first word to Cush is, “You Cushites, too, will be slain by my sword” (2:12). But his next and final word is decidedly different. In the aftermath of world judgment, the Lord says,

“I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder. From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings” (3:9–10).

Moreover, in Psalm 68 David ends by meditating on the coming salvation of the world and the praise of God. He says,

“Envoys will come from Egypt; Cush will submit herself to God. Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, sing praise to the Lord, to him who rides across the highest heavens, the ancient heavens, who thunders with mighty voice.” (vv. 31–33)

Amsula stands in the line of “the mighty hunter,” the nation which has been “slain by the sword,” and whose people are now submitting themselves to God. He is the fulfillment of prophecy, and a man whose prayers are daily fulfilled. It is an odd thing to look at a man and realize that he is a living piece of the history you have only read about in books.

I am the middle-class American who came to teach; he is the refugee whose outstretched hand is filled by Yhwh of hosts. I get the seat of honor; he gets the brunt of ancient feuds. I burn with lack, and find comfort in hearty food and drink; he burns with wounds, and finds comfort in the loving arms of Jesus Christ. No doubt we will find ourselves in different roles someday.

As the sky faded gently over Athens that evening, the flickering office lights in the room hardly seemed like they could properly illuminate the face of Amsula.

[1] Draper, Robert. “The Black Pharaohs.” National Geographic, February 2008.

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Flight and Prayer in Egypt

Nov. 14, 2012By: Michael Littell

The Story of Amsula*, the Man of God from Sudan (Part 3)

*Pseudonym due to the sensivity of his situation.

Amsula fled to Egypt with many others. Later he would have to leave there, too, and move north again. “When I was in Egypt,” he said, “I pray with many people and everything is happen for them. Miracles. So I want this something to happen in my family, in my father. For all of us were now Christians, even my mother was Christian, but not my father. When I left Sudan in 2000 he is still Muslim.”

“A very long time, seven years I pray for him in Egypt,” said Amsula. “And when my father come to die in 2007, he said, ‘I want to be baptized.’ And then he give advice for my other brothers: ‘You are in the way of the truth, do not leave it. Now I want to get baptized because I’m going to leave.’ So he get baptized, and he give this advice for everyone, and after that he go.” Amsula paused.

“So he become Christian lastly, and all of us we are saved in Christ, and it make me very happy. I stay in Egypt eight years and I left there from Egypt to here.”

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The Scriptures and the Power of God

Nov. 13, 2012By: Michael Littell

The Story of Amsula*, the Man of God from Sudan (Part 2)

*Pseudonym due to the sensivity of his situation.

“From the time when I accept Jesus,” Amsula continued, “I was in the church all the time and I listen to people. One morning the people say, ‘if you can’t see anything in your life, that mean that you have not accept Jesus in your life.’”

My ears perked up. Americans do not usually talk like that.

“And so I say to myself, ‘how can I know this, and how can I get this and believe in Jesus and God and everything?’ But people they say that there is something else here, and you want to get this something. But how can I change inside? Then I become very jealous, I lie down, and I left everything else and I say, ‘I believe in Jesus,’ and I make him my life. I left everything.”

Later some people from church came to Amsula speaking and singing songs in tongues and different languages. “I become surprised,” he said. “Because I want to know, what is this new thing?”

One of them opened up the Scriptures to him and he saw that “these things are in the Bible.”

Now curious and hopeful, Amsula said to himself, “I want these things and I want to pray and I want to know from Jesus Christ if this is true, and I want to accept it. So they said ‘Everyone who want this can come before us and we can pray for him.’ And then I humble myself and I go. Then they pray for me, and I feel there is something has changed.”

He smiled, “I feel it, I pick up my wife and I go out, and I become very happy.”

“Then I want to speak in the Bible all the time. I want to sing and I want to go out and speak the Bible. From that time I have not changed. From that time to right now I continue with Jesus.”


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