Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Is this really me?

God continues to do amazing things.  Today it was total freedom to address Mormon issues of deception, what happens in an LDS temple and why the LDS doctrine of God is neither biblical nor Christian - three different times on three different radio stations. The last interview wasn't even on the schedule. Luis got a call a couple of hours before the program from the host asking if I was available to be on.  It was an hour-long live radio shown on the family so we talked about the impact of "sectas" on family relationships.  This particular FM station goes back and forth between being the number 1 and number 2 most listened to station in the country. By the end of the program there were already positive comments posted on the station's Facebook page and people thanking the host for the program and the information.

What did I just hear this past Sunday?  Oh yeah - "Don't seek opportunities. Seek God and the opportunities will come."  That is definitely playing out here in Honduras this time.  So today was 3 radio interviews and one evening teaching conference on Mormonism at a church in the shadow of the Mormon temple.  We left them around 1500 tracts that they will be distributing throughout their neighborhood.

Tomorrow will be another busy day.  I'm being interviewed on a live TV talk show from 7:30 - 8 am. The program is "Cafe Caliente" (Hot Coffee) and is a popular variety show that deals with family and relationship issues. We're going to discuss "Sects and Families."

Following that I have a meeting at 9:30am at the French Embassy with an attaché to discuss the growth an impact of Protestant churches on the country of Honduras. Seriously, is this me, Joel B Groat, son of dairy farmer, turned missionary, Larry B Groat, doing live TV and being invited to consult the French Embassy in Honduras?  Well, it's been in God's book all along, and it is just one more thing that makes me grateful I heeded the call to do God's will for my life - whatever, wherever - when I was 17 years old sitting on the steps of a boarding school dorm in Rubio, Venezuela.

There is also a chance tomorrow I'll be asked to join one of the most-listened-to TV/radio talk show hosts on his program tomorrow afternoon.  He's known for tackling controversial issues and taking on anyone and everyone. His assistant called us back to today to say they would probably confirm a time sometime tomorrow morning.

Then tomorrow evening I'll do another conference on Mormonism at a church in Valle de los Angeles - a picturesque town in the mountains.  The building right next to the Christian church I'm speaking at is the local Mormon chapel. Here's hoping a bunch of LDS people join us tomorrow night at the Christian church.

You've been praying - I can tell - please don't stop now. Prayer is what has opened doors to opportunities I could have never even imagined or dreamed up.  This is not me, this is God, so pray I continue to be a humble servant who trusts my Abba so He can continue to show His power, light and love to people who desperately need Him more than they could ever imagine or dream.

An amazed and humbled Apolojedi.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Expresso Americano + French Embassy personnel = Divine Appointment

"Joel, wake up, we've got a radio interview, buddy."  Wait, last night the schedule said I had nothing till my evening conference.  Oh, that was the old version of the schedule.  "If I'm ready in 10 minutes can we still make it?"
"Probably - and I'll call the radio station to see if I can buy us more time."
Twelve minutes later we were on the road and the station said jump into the program whenever you arrive - 'no es problema.'  Gotta love Latinoamerica. My kind of countries.

But doesn't it figure, the Expresso Americano coffee shop with some of the best 'granitos' (iced coffee) in the city is busy - three cars in the drive through when we pull in - the only time this has happened in the several times we've stopped here. But Luis, my friend, trip coordinator and driver, is undaunted. He swings into a space and says, "We've got time, we'll just go to the window." As we are waiting to order, two foreign looking women walk up to the line and Luis asks them, "What language do you speak?" in English - to which they reply "French." They had walked over from the French embassy, so as we chatted is a mix of Spanish, English and bits of French and Portuguese thrown in for fun, I got asked the inevitable question - "What are you doing here?" My short answer on training pastors and investigating religions - including the Mormon religion with their temple opening got a raised eyebrow and a "So what is it with you Americans and your interest in religions?"  I explained that it was an important part of life and my job was to help evangelical pastors in the country discern the differences and recognize and respond appropriately to religious challenges from groups that use similar terminology but have different beliefs. Suddenly, one of the ladies says, "I have someone in my office who would probably love to talk to you."  I'm thinking, "Great, she works with a Mormon."  But instead, it turns out one of her staff has been assigned to research the Protestant Church movement and the growth of Christian denominations in Honduras and she thinks I will be a good resource.  So I gave her my card and said I'd be happy to help in anyway possible - thinking I may or may not hear anything back.

Less than an hour later I have an email in Spanish from an attaché of the French embassy with a whole list of questions related to a report she has been assigned to do for the embassy, including questions regarding what distinguishes the different Protestant groups like evangelicals and Mormons, and what is it that attracts people to the protestant churches, and how do they promote their faith within their group. And, would I be willing to meet personally if I have time while I'm in the country? Seriously. I think I can help with this one.

So, I wrote back that I'd be delighted to help and suggested several days this week when I had open time blocks.  How exciting to be able to be a key resource for this kind of report! And it would never have happened if the morning had gone at all like I planned. That one 10 minute window of time when our paths converged at a small coffee shop on the outskirts of the city should have never happened. But God used my sleeping in, the clogged drive through line and Luis' outgoing, make-a-connection-with-anyone-who -crosses-his-path personality to open a door of influence that will lead who knows where in the lives of some embassy personnel.  Pray God continues to orchestrate my circumstances to accomplish His will and I will rest and trust His amazing, exiting and good sovereign control.

By the way the radio interview (on a secular station) was an amazing time to talk very openly about the differences between the Mormon religion and other Christian denominations, and the masonic background of the Mormon temple ceremonies. They've also shown interest in having me back next week.

In other news, the last two church conferences on Mormonism have gone very well.  Tonight's service was standing room only (about 160 people), and the Sunday morning service was a very enthusiastic group of over 600.  People are resonating with the theme of "My Neighbor's Faith" and a call to a compassionate, respectful response that shows love for LDS people but recognizes they are in an unbiblical religion, started by a false prophet who produced a false scripture and promoted a false teaching on God, the Bible and Salvation.

One final prayer request. The TV station that I hope will record and edit the day-long conference next week came in with an estimate almost double what they charged me last time.  I've emailed them back expressing my disappointment and asking for the rationale on the significant increase.  Pray that I will have wisdom as I navigate this financial challenge to this trip and respond redemptively to the situation. Another radio interview in the morning - so its off to bed - with the alarm set this time!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Fire on the mountain: A day in the life of an Apolojedi

This morning I woke up to the sound of fire crackling outside my bedroom window. As my wife noted, "That's a little disconcerting." A brush fire that had been burning up the mountain all night had reached the block walls of the World Gospel Outreach training center where I was staying. The gorgeous view I posted yesterday now looked like this:

Gone was the amazing view of the city and in its place was dense, billowing smoke. Well the wall is high and solid, so I went down to have breakfast on the terrace. No one was around and no one seemed concerned so with a perfect cup of mocha coffee in hand I walked out to louder crackling and snapping and flames that were now blazing several meters above the ten foot wall.  So, out came the iPhone and I shot this:

It was a bit unsettling to have flames now inside the compound and no one else around, so I stopped filming and went to find someone - totally unsuccessfully. So after several minutes of looking around and calling out, I went back to the terrance and was relieved to find a WGO staff member with a hose putting out the fire. It was obvious the holes to let water drain out were just as good at letting fire in, so Arturo had me bring him another length of hose, which he connected and asked me to find a ladder.  I scouted around the compound and in a few minutes found an 8' step ladder and brought it to where he was now standing on the wall.  However, the fire was still moving up the hill so Arturo had me climb the ladder so I could help him hang drop the 15' down so he could start fighting the fire further down the hill. By this time other people had joined the fray and the wind was picking up and shifting toward the training center again when I shot this.

The rest of the morning consisted of more and more staff members and neighbors joining in to fight an ever-growing brush fire, with many of us moving outside the walls of the compound to rake, spray, shovel and untangle a long rope and attach it to a tree so people could more easily get up and down the steep hill.  Like I said in the video clip, it figures the morning I wear my dress pants and flip flops to breakfast instead of my traditional jeans and tennis shoes is the morning we have a brush fire.

For a while it looked like the men were going to contain the fire at the bottom of the hill, but the wind picked up and shifted back toward the compound requiring everyone to make a hasty retreat up the hill (and being very grateful for the rope we took 20 minutes to untangle and run down the side of the mountain).

The good news is that even thought the fire burned right up to the wall again, it did not come through and then the wind again shifted away from us.

Periodically the wind would pick back up and fan the smoldering piles of brush into flames so I took a turn on the ladder spraying the small spurts of flame that would suddenly appear by the wall.

By lunch time it was pretty well contained and I was getting picked up to go take the tour of the LDS temple in less than 30 minutes. One of the staff members said I had my Ash Wednesday cross on my forehead, so I decided I'd better go clean the soot of my face and head before changing into a clean pair of pants - the ones I'd been wearing all morning were pretty trashed.

Somehow it seemed fitting I'd spent my morning helping contain and defend against a physical fire and that afternoon I was going to the LDS temple open house to see how God could use me to contain and defend against a spiritual fire that was no less of a threat to the people of Honduras.

But more about that tomorrow...

I know I won't be waking up to the sound of crackling flames tomorrow morning - God has blessed us with a steady rain through most of the evening and night so far.  A most welcome sound indeed.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mormon encounters of the heartbreaking kind

I arrived safely in Honduras on Thurs (Feb 14) and went straight to a planning meeting with representatives from ENLACE, a Christian TV station that will be recording a day-long pastor's conference I'm teaching at on Feb 26th.  They are still waiting for approval on the estimates for doing the recording for us, but in the meantime they provided a number of additional contacts with key media people in the city.  Roger Hansen, our board President and founder of IRR was so wise when he made the decision to send me to Honduras to do the first conference last May and recommended we use that opportunity to professionally film several teaching segments with a live audience of pastors.  Because of that trip last year, many of the people I met and worked with are not only having me back, but are connecting me with even more people this time.

Luis Carrion (on staff with World Gospel Outreach) is coordinating most of my visit and providing my transportation.  WGO is also letting me stay at their guest facility up in the mountains.  This is the view from the balcony where I eat breakfast most mornings.
From our meeting at ENLACE we drove over to the Mormon Temple which seemed to have very few people there.  Rather than take a tour we drove to the parking area that is higher up the mountain above the Temple complex to take pictures and assess how the LDS Church was handling the transportation of visitors to the open house.  This is the view of the whole temple complex.

We noticed two young couples who were also just hanging out in the open area also looking at the temple and started talking to them.  It turned out they were Mormons from a different city and were going to tour the temple the next day.  We had a very amiable conversation with them that lasted about 40 minutes but it was also very sad. I asked if they were familiar with the Mormon Church teaching about the nature of God - that God was once a man like us, and had progressed, working his way up to godhood, so that he was now an exalted man with an exalted goddess wife.  They affirmed that yes, that is what they believed about God.  I then asked them if they were aware how different that was from the Bible's teaching that there was only one God who had always been God, and so he had never been a man like us, nor had he needed to progress or change from being a man into being a God.  So my concern was that Joseph Smith had rejected that teaching of the Christian Churches and the Bible, and had instead said he would refute that idea that God had always been God and take away the veil so that people could see. (The link goes to an LDS Church published sermon which contains Joseph's teaching on this - scroll down to the subhead that reads God an Exalted Man). Their response to this was to say that it was Jesus who had become a man on this earth not God the Father. I clarified my statement to say that LDS teaching was that God had been on his own planet, not this one, but that it was God the Father who had to progress to become God. The LDS man's response to this was to say that Joseph was referring to when God the Father and Jesus Christ came down and appeared to him during the First Vision.  This must have been what Joseph was referring to.  The woman jumped in to  add that she thought Joseph Smith may have said this but in talking about God, he was really talking about Jesus coming down because the Father and Jesus are one God in purpose and it was Jesus who came to this earth and was tested like all of us.  I responded that that was not in the teaching manuals of the church, and that I had those manuals which were also online, in fact the manual they were studying right now on Lorenzo Snow in chapter 5 had the Lorenzo Snow couplet "As man is now, God once was; as God is now, man may be."  This couplet is affirmed as doctrine.

Interestingly, once I quoted that, the man affirmed that was exactly right, that God has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as mans.  His wife however asked me if I thought it was referring to the Father because it said "God." I said I knew it was referring to the Father because this is how both Lorenzo Snow and Joseph Smith explained it.  And that Joseph Smith taught that just as Jesus had a God the Father, so God the Father also had a father, and a grandfather, etc.   At that point the wife affirmed that yes, we do have the belief that the Father also had a father, so I pointed out that meant that at one time God was not God, he was merely a man like us.  I also said it was fine if they had that concept of God, but that was not a concept of God shared by any other Christian church, it was a belief unique to Mormonism because it was introduced by Joseph Smith.  I mentioned that I knew LDS people, however, who were not aware of that LDS teaching, so my concern was they were being deceived by not being taught what Joseph Smith and almost every other LDS leader had taught about God being a man like us, who lived on an earth and had to progress, had to work hard and had to obey commandments,  to eventually become God. At that point she tried to explain that God the Father's progression took place in a spirit world, not on an earth.  That some members don't read the manuals and really might not learn this till they did. I wasn't sure where she was going with this, and after a few sentences she just kind of trailed off after saying that God did not come down to an earth.

So I said, the critical point was the nature of God.  Had God evolved from man to God, or had God always been God? Since they had already affirmed the Lorenzo Snow couplet, I expected them to say yes to God having evolved from a man to God.  But instead they both immediately replied, "God has always been God." So I simply said, "If God has always been God, then what Joseph Smith said was an error" to which she said "No" so I explained that Joseph Smith said that there was a time when God was once a man.  He said 'we have supposed and imagined that God was always God.  I will refute that idea and take away the veil so you can see. God, at one time, was a man like us." The man replied, "And he always has been."

Wow, it was heartbreaking to watch this young, very sincere couple struggle to both affirm what they knew had to be true about God always being God and at the same time affirm the truth of Joseph Smith as a prophet, including saying that Joseph had not taught that God had been a man, but rather God had somehow progressed in the spirit world and had gotten married so he could have celestial children, and that they were here to do the same thing, to get married for eternity and progress and also become gods. And when I prompted if that meant having and making their own worlds, she said they weren't sure, but when I asked if that wouldn't be necessary so they could repeat the progression process she said "yes."

Now if it seems like they were simultaneously affirming mutually contradictory beliefs about God, well, that is because they were.  It is one of the sadder and more frustrating aspects of trying to talk to LDS people about key teachings.

I asked as well about how we know truth and how we can guard against being deceived by the false prophets Jesus warned about, and she replied with the standard LDS answer of "prayer" - asking God and he lets you know what is true.  From there we worked through prophets and apostles as the foundation of the church, the Book of Mormon and the fact that it contradicts the Bible and then I asked if they knew how we got the Book of Mormon. When I mentioned Joseph dictating with the stone in the hat, they both affirmed they'd already heard about that.  I must admit I was a little surprised, so I asked who they heard it from, and they said "people like you."  But, as we talked what became clear was even though they had heard that, they did not believe it was true.  They said the same thing about Joseph and Brigham Young's polygamy - they had heard about Joseph Smith having many wives but did not believe that was true, and they knew about Young's many wives, but he never had physical relations with any of them.  They were all widows and he only took them in as wives to take care of them.  When I mentioned that all those things were well known in the States and that even LDS historians affirmed they were true they simply would not believe it. They knew the Church was true, they had a strong testimony of it and that Joseph was a prophet, so none of those things could be true; that there could not possibly be a historian who was a member of the church who would believe those things and remain a member.  When I assured them that some were LDS historians still in good standing with the church, their reply was, "That cannot be."

At that point I knew I was not going to convince them of anything so I asked them to please investigate and research these things for themselves, because my concern was their own leaders were deceiving them and taking advantage of the fact that they were sincere, dedicated believers who cared about God and doing the right thing, but they were being kept from knowing many historical facts that LDS members in the States already knew about.  Their repeated reply was, "we've heard all those things, and we know they are not true. We know they are just rumors that are made up."

It makes me wonder who is telling them that?  What LDS leader or leaders are assuring them that these disturbing pieces of information are false? One of the last things I said to them was it was for people like them that I had come to Honduras. Because here they were, sincere, dedicated people who loved God, and the leaders of the Mormon Church was taking advantage of them and willing to deceive them to the point that they would deny or not tell them about objective, documented facts from their own history that in the United States are not even disputed. I also said that with God there were no coincidences, so the fact that I was there to talk to them, to bring them truth that they did not know, based on facts, was evidence of how much God loved them and cared about them because He wanted to rescue them from all this.  I shared briefly about the Mormon Temple endowment ceremony and how at one point Lucifer appears to Adam and Eve as part of the ceremony and is wearing an apron that represents his (Lucifer's) power and priesthood. Shortly after that, Lucifer tells Adam and Eve to make their own aprons, and at that point the ceremony pauses and every Mormon going through the ceremony is told to now put on their aprons - which they then wear throughout the rest of the ceremony.

About the only response they had was to say, "oh please don't say that, you will regret it some day" and after I finished explaining it, they said, "that can't possibly be." At that point we'd been talking for about 40 minutes and we needed to be heading back for supper, so I thanked them for the time and conversation and said that God always had a purpose and loved them so much, at which point, she asked me, do you think God could have a purpose for us helping you?  And I said definitely, that in talking to them they had helped me, because God had given me even more compassion for people like them who are so sincere and dedicated - at which point they laughed - but it was good laughter, because we had remained friendly and respectful of each other through the whole thing. So we exchanged names and I gave them my card and they invited us to come tour the temple and I assured them we would visit it and take the tour. She asked if she could say one last thing and I said sure, so she  told me I needed to talk to the church's general authorities, because there was a lot she didn't know, but they did know it,  and they could answer any and all questions I could possibly have.  I simply replied that I had talked to some general authorities and that she would probably be surprised to know how much they knew and acknowledged about these things.

We parted amiably and after Luis and I got in the truck, he just shook his head and commented on how sad it was that they were willing to discount the evidence in order to maintain faith in their church and their leaders. My hope and prayer is that the seeds of truth planted in love will bear fruit, and that God will continue to grant us opportunities to lovingly and respectfully interact with so many who need the truth to set them free.

Later that night I got to share with Luis and Cathy's home group (like a church fellowship group) about the core differences of Mormon teaching and the importance of understanding LDS culture and seeing LDS people and anyone from a different religion as our neighbor and not our enemy. It was a great informal time of sharing and Q&A and I got to do it in English while drinking coffee. When we finished up a little before 10 pm, and Luis drove me back to the mission house, I realized why I felt so tired.  Except for some napping on the plane, I'd been up for about 42 hours straight.  It was a great first day but my bed was a welcome sight.

To be continued ... 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

No more cold feet

So, I am at 32,000 feet on my way to Tegucigalpa where my feet will not be cold again for the next three weeks - unlike the last several weeks in very frozen West Michigan. I'll be met at the airport after pulling an all nighter to do final prep and packing, (I'd never have made it without my wife's patient and efficient guidance) and immediately whisked away to a meeting with the director of Enlace, a Christian TV station that I hope will agree to film a day-long teaching conference on the 26th.  Then, this evening I'll be speaking to a home group Bible study about Mormonism and what they can expect here in the country over the next several weeks.

Tomorrow I have an interview with a secular TV station at 12:30 during their news segment. Please pray this opens the door for even more media exposure so that the differences between the Mormon religion and biblical Christianity can be truly seen and understood.  Friday I also hope to visit the Mormon temple during its open house to assess what they are saying and how they are handling traffic of visitors.  Friends here told me during the first weekend LDS security tried to restrict access to public streets in order to keep them from giving literature to people who were visiting. I have the local police chief's number and hope to speak to him about this so the parameters are clear and the Mormon leadership does not get away with using intimidation to restrict the public's access to information.

Thanks for praying - will keep you updated on all that God does.

Joel - from somewhere over the Caribbean  

Monday, February 04, 2013

Honduras Adventure starts in 10 days

I leave for Tegucigalpa, Honduras on Feb 14th. Yeah, nothing like leaving your wife on Valentines Day - we are going to celebrate early.  And then we'll celebrate again when I get back.  Thanne is a great wife that way.  Facebook is just too volatile and PC for me to talk about what I really do when I make these trips.  I make one mention of  the word "Mormon" or "cult" and the next thing I know I'm banned because a Mormon or 2 or 3 have reported me for hate speech.  So I'm trying something different this trip - using my blog.

Here are my top 3.5 prayer requests for this trip.

1) That God will help me explain and expose the LDS culture of deception to those in the media and Christian leadership.
2) That I will be gracious and discerning in my interaction with this brother, and others in the Christian community.
3) That God will use this temple opening to expose the true unbiblical and unChristian nature of LDS teaching and temples.
3.5) That I will be kept safe from attacks of the evil one and free to engage in life-changing ministry to others. 
God has provided key individuals that are already scheduling conferences and media interviews - one of my main men is Luis Carrion of World Gospel Outreach there in Teguc. He's become a great friend, brother and in a lot of ways a kindred spirit in ministry.  When you pray for him, please pray for me as well.

Tomorrow I attempt to call the chief of police for the area to make sure we will have clearance for handing out literature.  That contact is thanks to another individual - Bob Funk - who cares deeply about truth and exposing the deceptive practices and false teaching of the LDS Church.  He has worked tirelessly to find contacts in country for me.  Since everything we will do is on public property it should not be a problem - but pray that God will grant me favor in this police official's eyes.

In other countries representatives of the Mormon Church have used threats and intimidation in the past, even inventing "laws" to keep information from getting into the hands of the public. Our response has always been polite, respectful but firm in not backing down from our rights.  Last year in El Salvador after the police witnessed LDS security officials use threats and intimidation against us, they made a point of stopping by to check in with us in their police trucks and cars to make sure we were safe and being left alone.  As a result the Mormons pretty much gave up on harrassing us, and I got to share the gospel with one young police officer who was assigned to hang out with us.  God can use any and all circumstances to get the gospel to those who need to hear it.

One final prayer request - that my heart will remain simple, childlike and guileless and that I will trust the Holy Spirit to open doors for the proclamation of the truth.

Stay tuned - the adventure is just beginning!