God’s Work in Uzbekistan

joelThanks, Jeff Tunnell, for covering my blog for me while in Uzbekistan.

While there, I spoke at an “underground conference” to cell church/house church leaders. JOELrobeNinety percent of those present were leading unregistered churches. Only the churches started before 1999, in fact, are considered “legal.” All churches after 1999 are “illegal.” The current government is trying to quell religion in the country and wants believers to only meet in officially sponsored churches (sounds a lot like China).

Of course, God’s Spirit can’t be contained in “government sponsored” churches. He works in His own way and those leaders present at the conference were obeying His guidance.

The Uzbek leader of the event said afterwards, “You don’t know how fortunate we were that the police didn’t break up our meeting, and that we weren’t thrown in prison.” Even though about 100 believers were present, I learned that many others stayed away because of the threat of persecution.

I focused my teaching on the cell group during my four day conference. I also talked about how to plant simple cell churches. All Uzbek churches must be very simple. Most of the pastors at the conference told me that they bring their cells together only once per month or just on the holidays. A few pastors present met in weekly celebrations.

I’m sure you’ve spoken at churches or events where it was “easy to speak.” This was one of those events. These perscuted believers radiated God’s love and grace. I felt picked up just looking into their eyes. Their love and genuine humililty helped me to stop “peforming as a seminar speaker” and simply relate to them as a fellow brother and teacher. I wish I could show you the photo of the nineteen leaders who committed themselves at the end of the conference to plant a new church in Uzbekistan (each one planting a new church).

The highlight was the last night’s foot washing. The Uzbek believers washed our feet, prayed over us, and then clothed us with an Uzbek robe.

I went away encouraged by God’s work in Uzbekistan.


Two Stadiums

Untitled Document marioIn November 1998, the church launched itself to use two stadiums simultaneously. The combined capacity of the two stadiums reached over 90,000 multitudespeople.

The program at both stadiums started at the same time. But in one of them, the program had been designed to extend long enough to give me time to finish the preaching in the first stadium, and to allow me to move right after to the second one just in time for the sermon.

Since the press stated that it was not possible that the church could fill the stadium twice, we took a bold decision: to use a helicopter that could take me from one stadium to the other. There isn’t really much of a distance between the two stadiums. But the idea was to make a continuous video shooting taken from the first completely full stadium to the second one equally full.

Once I had finished the first preaching the helicopter descended to the ground. A camera was following me. We got on the helicopter. Once in the air the pilot over flew the stadium to make it clear that it was full. The camera kept on recording without stopping when departing to the second stadium. In the helicopter I was interviewed, it lasted three minutes. Time enough by air to arrive to the second stadium.

The pilot over flew the second stadium, I felt deeply impressed to see this other stadium completely full. Then we descended and I stepped onto the platform for the second preaching.
After that Sunday the press never again doubted that Elim was a large church, indeed.

Mario Vega

Translation in Spanish

Dos estadios.
En noviembre de 1998 la iglesia se lanzó a usar dos estadios de manera simultánea. La capacidad sumada de los dos estadios llegaba a las 90,000 personas.
El programa en ambos estadios comenzó a la misma hora. Pero, en uno de ellos, el programa se haba diseñado de manera que fuera prolongándose lo suficiente como para que me diera tiempo de terminar la predicación en el primer estadio para luego trasladarme al segundo justo a tiempo para el sermón.
Dado que la prensa expresaba que no era posible que la iglesia pudiese llenar dos veces un mismo estadio tomamos una decisión audaz: utilizar un helicóptero que me pudiera trasladar de un estadio al otro. En realidad no hay mucha distancia entre los dos estadios. Pero, la idea era poder hacer una toma continua de video partiendo del primer estadio totalmente lleno hasta llegar al segundo igualmente lleno.
Al terminar la primera predicación el helicóptero descendió. Una cámara me segua. Subimos al helicóptero. Ya en el aire el piloto sobrevoló el estadio de manera que quedara claro lo lleno que estaba. Al momento de partir hacia el segundo estadio la cámara siguió grabando sin detenerse. Dentro del helicóptero me hicieron una entrevista que duró tres minutos. Justo el tiempo para llegar por aire al segundo estadio.
El piloto sobrevoló el segundo estadio y me sent hondamente impresionado al ver este otro estadio completamente lleno. Luego descendimos y pasé a la plataforma para la segunda predicación.
Después de ese domingo nunca más la prensa dudó que Elim era una iglesia, en verdad, numerosa.


by Steve Cordle

“How are your church’s groups going?”

When you respond to a question like that you used some measurement benchmarks which indicated to you whether the groups were doing well, fair, or not so well.

When it comes to your groups, what do you measure? Attendance? Most of us do. It tells us something about what is going on in the group, but the attendance number alone is not a reliable indicator of group health.

Generally we measure what is important to us. However, sometimes what is important to us is hard or impossible to measure. For example, how do we measure and track the sense of Christ’s presence in a group?

I have been a part of countless groups in my 30+ years as a Christ-follower. The ones I wanted most to attend were the ones in which I sensed Jesus’ presence in a unique way.  Of course, we really can’t measure and record that, but we all respond to it when we sense it. And that is the most fundamental metric of all, to me. If the group is gathered around the presence of Jesus, then I believe it is a healthy group.

Do you record and measure aspects of your cell ministry? If so, we would love to hear what and how you do this.

And how do you assess the degree to which people experience the presence of Christ in your groups?


Hurricane Ike and My Evacuee

coaches-rob1.jpgby Rob Campbell


I have had the privilege of serving the people who suffered catostrophic losses in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  As a matter of fact, helping a few families through the devastation of Katrina was one of the most rewarding experiences of my time in ministry.

Today, I picked up a Hurricane Ike evacuee.  She happens to be my 19 year old daughter who is a student athlete at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.  Her university has no electricity and there’s no telling when “school as normal” will return.

All this to say– I have nothing to offer you concerning cell church/group this posting.  My apologies!

However, might I offer you a ministry principle that was taught to me years ago?  Here it is.  There is no church/ministry in the universe worth losing your family over.

Ladies and Gents– take care of your family– first!

I wouldn’t trade the five hour “catch up time” (our drive time home) with my 19 year old for anything…including a “wow” or “insightful” blog post concerning cell church!

Please understand.  I don’t have the “father” and “family” thing figured out.  I have many flaws as a father and husband.  Yet, my mentors are relentless in my life.  “It’s your relationship with God– first.  Next, it’s your family.  A distance third is your church/ministry.”

Today’s journey to pick up my precious evacuee was a vivid reminder of what’s important.


Iron Sharpens Iron

jeffJeff Tunnell here, filling in for Joel Comiskey, who is ministering in Uzbekistan.

Proverbs 27:17 states “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. (NRSV)

Coaching another cell pastor for the last couple of years has produced a growing relationship of great value. Dan and I live in different states, so we irontalk each week on the telephone. We set it up for 30-minute coaching, but I find myself taking advantage of my friend by keeping him on the call a little longer because he is ‘sharpening me’ as the proverb states.

Dan has sharpened my wits and become a friend. Our journey in transitioning an existing church to cell-based has given us a lasting bond and camaraderie that is healthy and refreshing. Pastors could use more encouragement because of their constant hard work to advance the Kingdom of God. Cell church pastors often travel a lonely road filled with potholes of misunderstanding that come from the very people they are leading.

Here’s a recommendation for you: find another pastor to keep an appointment with, commit to a once-per-week call and pray for one another as you lead your cell church. Enjoy the synergy that comes from the Holy Spirit in your midst. Bear one another’s burdens and celebrate the victories too. If you are an international reader of this blog, consider a program like Skype to connect with someone you’ve come to know from a conference or even here on the blog. Even MSN Messenger type programs could provide a “real-time” connection for dialogue and encouragement.

Another way of saying “iron sharpens iron” is this: “Conversation promotes intelligence, which the face exhibits.”

How have you found this to be beneficial? How long have you had someone to talk with concerning your cell church journey? Are you searching for this type of connection?


Jeff Tunnell