For the past year or so, every Thursday night we had a group of boys invade our Ulaanbaatar apartment. They eat. They talk. They laugh. They sing. They study. They pray. That's just what Thursday night had become for us. Some nights Renee' was teaching English, so it meant I had to make the food and host them. But on most nights she was there and the boys were always excited to eat what she had prepared. Some nights there were just three or four. Other nights we had up to ten. It was a small and diverse group on many levels.

This group of boys were at varying stages in their spiritual journeys. Some of the leaders of the group had been involved with Christian discipleship for several years. Others were not believers at all, yet and were still asking a lot of questions. And yet others were somewhere in the middle. This was the iron-sharpens-iron kind of discipleship that I think is best for young men. They don't need a lot of books and notebooks and study sessions. They need a Bible and one another and people who are willing to help speak God's word into their lives with firmness and without judgement.

I will miss Thursday nights, because I will miss these boys.

On the last night we met, one of the newest ... and one of the youngest ... showed up a little late for the fellowship. Actually the fellowship was over and everyone had left when I heard the knock at the door at near 10:00 PM. I thought maybe one of the others had forgotten something, and was surprised to find the small bespectacled kid standing at the door. I invited him in and he gave me a hug as he proceeded to hang up his coat and take off his shoes. I told him that everyone had left, and he said, that's okay, he wanted to come by and meet us anyway.

Renee', being much more attuned to these things, immediately saw a reason he came. As he turned the corner and saw that our table was empty and the food had been finished off, she watched his eyes fall. It doesn't matter how many boys are there, whether it's three or ten ... they eat all the food. This young man was too late. Now, I didn't see his downcast expression, but offered him an orange and something to drink, which is just good manners in Mongolia. We talked for a little while. Small talk really. School. Girls. Music (this kid loves music). Finally he stopped, near mid sentence and said, "Bernie ah, do you have anything to eat. I'm really hungry." Renee' jumped into action, grabbing the few random ingredients we had left in our near empty fridge, and made a pepperoni breakfast burrito (hey, it was what we had) that was an instant hit, and filled this kid's stomach.

While he ate we talked some more.

This is what he told me: Bernie ahaa (That's the Mongolian word for "Older Brother" or, literally, "My Brother, Bernie"... it's an endearing piece of Mongolian culture, and I will deeply miss being called "Bernie Ahaa"), you know that I am not a Christian. But some of these other guys have explained a lot to me about what it means to be a believer. I want you to know that I am about 80% sure this is true, and am thinking about being a Christian soon.

I smiled and told him that's great and that, in the end, he has to be the one to make the decision to follow Jesus - 100%. Talk to the other guys some more. Ask them why they believe. Read the Bible, and you make the call for yourself.

He attended a Mongolian Church for the first time the previous Sunday.

I thought this was a good story to use to end our story on this website. Mainly because this young man's story is not finished. He's only 17 years old. He has a life ahead of him. And he will need to decide how he will live it.

I don't know how his story will end. And right now, I am deeply aware that our story is not finished, either.

Renee' and I have officially left Mongolia with our current organization (In fact I am writing this in an airplane flying 36,000 feet over Russia). We have no idea what's next. But I do know the story doesn't end here. In fact, we are all just so many unfinished stories.

My hope is that whatever happens, there will be someone who will remember Mongolia. Remember these boys. Remember the fatherless. Remember the young ladies who may never find a husband for making the choice to follow Jesus. Remember homeless children and alcoholics. Remember a church that needs encouragement and strengthening and equipping. Remember young people who need Jesus.

Remember Mongolia. Please.

If you are interested in continuing to follow our personal journey, we have created a new little spot on the Internet. Like our lives, it's currently a work in progress, but I hope to have things tidied up there soon.

I may add some things here from time to time. Maybe. I don't know what will happen next, but I cannot imagine Mongolia not being a part of our life. I just left at least half of my heart at the Chingess Khan International Airport.

I will never be able to forget.


Feeling the Sorrow and Living Past Regrets

William Borden died of what was apparently meningitis while doing his missionary training in Egypt. He was preparing to serve Muslim peoples in China, but never made it there. A short time prior to his death, perhaps even while he was ill and on his way to eternity, he had penned the words "no regrets".

I think that would be a good condition in which to leave this earth, no matter how old or young; to be able to say, "I have no regrets" is a very good thing. I respect that. In fact, I would say that I even strive for that. We all want to live a "no regrets" kind of life.

The problem with this is that I think we sometimes think about these kinds of things at a macro-level and fail to see the how it works out in ordinary life. I don't regret the big decisions I've made in life. I have no regrets that I've chosen to be a Jesus-Follower. I don't regret marrying my wife of nearly 25 years. I don't regret the vocational choices I've made. I am glad that I went into ministry. I still deeply love the church we pastored in Tennessee, and I don't regret dragging my wife and children across the globe to Mongolia. Not for a minute. I am fairly certain I will not regret the decision we made to leave Mongolia when we did, even though right now as I write this there is a lot of pain involved with that decision. A lot of pain. But no regret.

But the fact is, when you want to get right down to it, I do things I regret ever day and if you're reading this, you do too. In fact, for any of us to honestly say "I have no regrets" would be a confession of perfection that could borderline on downright devilish arrogance. We all have regrets. We have to.

I regret every time I was angry with my wife - and maybe even regret more the times I was angry with my children. Especially while they were still children.

I regret every covetous and lustful thought I've ever had.

I regret every time I've told a lie, or at best colored the truth so that I could play a situation to my advantage.

I regret wasted time. And I've wasted a lot of time.

I regret not accomplishing more with my life; mainly because of the wasted time and the failure to take advantage of God-afforded opportunities.

I regret the times that I talked and didn't act.

More specifically, I really regret that I've tended to only talk about writing more, rather than actually writing more. I wish I'd have written more at this point in my life.

I regret every morning that I don't take advantage of.

I regret so many things I've said to people that caused them woundedness from my tongue.

I regret every time I've blamed others, and failed to take responsibility for my own actions.

I regret the times I've over-eaten and showed a lack of self-control. A bowl of ice cream and a bag of extra-buttered microwave popcorn every night before bed is not good or necessary (yes, I did that at one point).

I regret the times I've allowed my moods and emotions dictate how I treat people, and have thus caused individuals to feel unworthy, unloved and uncared for.

I regret every time I've made someone feel unloved and uncared for, for any reason.

I regret pressing send on at least a couple of dozen or so emails that caused pain and chaos in the lives the people I care about. Could even be more than that, but I will say that I'm a lot more careful with email these days, so thankfully it doesn't happen quite as much as it used to.

I regret not praying more and waiting more on issues where I reacted at an emotional level and caused undue stress levels on my family, my loved ones and myself.

I regret making choices the moved me away from a relationship with Jesus rather than simply choosing to move into a closer relationship with Jesus.

Need I go on? I have lots of regrets. I'm guessing that if you're honest, you do to.

I was recently sent an article that I can commend to you on how to live life with less regret by not putting ourselves into positions where regret is almost guaranteed. I think it's a good thing to avoid having regrets whenever possible. But what about the things we already regret? The things we've already done. I've been thinking about this a lot lately.

Paul talks about a "sorrow" ... or a regret ... that leads to repentance. He says it's a Godly sorrow.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. II Corinthians 7:10

Regret that leads to repentance, that leads to salvation, that leads to change, that leads to no regrets, in the end. I think that's good. In fact, I think it's essential. Repentance, real repentance, is not just a heady theological understanding of wrong doing. There ought to be a little bit of wincing, a little bit of pain, associated with where we've gone wrong. Sin and repentance can't simply be cerebral. There ought to be a spiritual and emotional element that grieves over wrongdoing, and the experience of real sorrow and regret. That's what will lead to change. Change in me. Change for others.

Don't hear me wrong. I am not saying we should live for regret. I'm not saying that we should continue in sin so that grace may abound or any other such heresy. I am saying that when we do the thing that brings on regret (and we will do it) , embrace it. Feel the sorrow. Repent. Repentance brings life. And there are no regrets in that.



Lost on the Road Less Traveled

I was given a long-sleeved t-shirt from Greenville, South Carolina's Mast General Store last Christmas. It's sort of a smart-aleck take a favorite poem, by a favorite American poet.

I took the road less traveled, now I have no idea where I am.

This is mostly a jab at my terrible sense of direction. However, I also know that it kind of describes my life at the moment. Sometimes life has these defining moments when you know that a decision must be made, and once that decision is made, there is no turning back. No place to go but forward. Those defining moments can be looked back on as turning points. Serendipitous. The proverbial fork in the road.

When William Borden wrote the words "No Retreat" in his Bible, he was facing this kind of flashpoint in his own life. He had made the decision to leave his fortune and move to China. His Father was not at all happy about this decision, and informed him that he would no longer be allowed to work at the company business. No turning back, no turning back. All that.

There are occasions when the "no retreat" rallying cry is appropriate. Inspiring even.

However, "no retreat" can also stem out another source, that runs deeper than our own commitment, and suprisingly evil. When "no retreat" is rooted in pride, this can result in some of the most foolish decisions ever made by an individual or, since the word does have military etymology, it's ruined many an army. John Bell Hood at the Battle of Franklin), during the American Civil War, being a notorious example.

Retreat can be good. It can even be life-saving.

I am discovering this as we close out our time in Mongolia. Just to be clear, yes, we are leaving Mongolia with our current organization. It is unclear at this point if we will be back. It's actually unclear at this point what even the next step will be. However, I have come to view this as something of a strategic retreat. There is a part of me that would like to push on here in Mongolia. Move ahead in spite of the difficulties. I can even come up with some pretty good reasons to stay. Mainly the Mongolian youth and Mongolian friends that we've come to love and cherish so dearly. Every day, as we march closer to our departure date, I am becoming more painfully aware of the impending separation, and I dread it.

But taking on a "no retreat" stance here, would be both arrogant and foolish. It's time to take a step back. It's time to take some coordinates, hear from the Commander, get some fresh supplies and maybe even find a little healing in the process. Pushing on with a "no retreat" mentality would prove dangerous and deadly for those I love, and for myself.

Jesus took retreats. Mark says that he went to a "desolate place" (Mark 1:35) to be alone and to pray. Sometimes our evangelical tendency to commitment theology likes to highlight how Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). What we fail to take note of is how many times Jesus avoided Jerusalem, and crowds and stoning, because his time had not yet come.

In the end, I think that's just it. It's not just about using our hours, days and years well. Time must also be used appropriately. There's a right time for everything. That's the whole point of Ecclesiastes 3. A time for "every purpose under heaven".

And sometimes, its best to simply withdraw and face the battle front later with refreshment and strength. Or maybe face a different battle alltogether.

Maybe a bit of a retreat will even help me to figure out where in the world I am, as I do very much enjoy untraveled roads and will more than likely end up on one again, whatever the future may hold.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost






Why Running on Fumes is a Bad Idea (or "Things I Learned From My Grandmother-in-law")

Shortly after Renee' and I were married we went on a road trip with her Grandparents. We drove from Tennessee to Texas - somewhere south of Amarillo. I can't remember the name of the town. It was a great memory for us. Her grandparents (now passed away) were some of the kindest, hardest working, generous-hearted people I've ever known. One of the things I learned about Renee's grandfather on that trip is he didn't want anyone else to pay for anything. He literally slapped my wallet out of my hand when I started pulling out my credit card to pay for a hotel room once. Violently generous, I guess. I learned something about her grandmother on that trip, as well. She really didn't want to run out of gas. When there's a half tank of gas, I've always tended to take the optimistic "half-full" view of things. Not Grandmom. With hawkish attentiveness, she would begin suggesting we stop for gas as that gauge dropped below half a tank. If it was at quarter of a tank, we might as well have been on empty in her mind. We had stopped to spend the night with the gauge on a quarter tank, and I dutifully got up early the next day and filled up without her knowing - and without telling her. I can still remember gaining speed on the entrance ramp to the Interstate and seeing her in the back seat, frantically craning her neck to see the gas gauge, as she was quite sure I had lost my mind taking off down the road while running on a quarter tank of fumes.

As I grow older, I find more and more that the older people I know in my life have usually been right all along. Wisdom and age and all that, I guess.

It is wise to have reserve.

When we were at the completion of our first term in Mongolia in 2010, my personal "gas tank" was pretty much depleted and I was running on spiritual, emotional and physical fumes. I can remember arriving in the US and for a month I would do crazy things like sleep until Noon. In fact, I remember sleeping a lot. I had no reserve, and the weariness that comes as a result of that was evident. It had been evident in relationships and interactions with people, work and more. It wasn't pretty.

I do resonate with the idea of coming to the end of this life, and having spent it all for the glory and Kingdom of God because I do believe it's what ultimately matters. I am fairly certain that's what William Borden was thinking about when he said "No Reserve." After all, you can't take it with you. It's true.

The problem is ... we don't really know when the end will come. Could be today. But it also could be sometime after we hit the century mark, what with modern medicine and Obamacare and all. Who knows?

Running our emotional and spiritual lives without reserve is a bad idea, for both the short and long term. I found that out at the end of 2010 and I've been careful since then to try and make sure that there's something in the metaphorical "tank". Travelers in the Mongolian countryside will often take multiple gas containers with them, just to have a reserve should they have to be outside the possibility of refill. Emotional and spiritual reserve can be stored in the containers of time, solitude and space.


Every waking hour of every day does not, and in fact should not, be filled with constant activity. Many recent studies show this. Sometimes it's good to just take a nap. Take a walk. Watch a movie. Not everything has to be so intense. Time to just sit and be, rather than do will do wonders to the empty soul.


I tend to ride the bus and walk a lot here. One reason for this is because I dislike sitting in traffic. But another reason (and a big reason) is because I need the alone time. I like to grab a coffee. Take a few minutes to sit on a bench in the plaza between the National circus and the State Department Store. People watch on the bus. It gives space for emotional reserve, without which I'm not sure I would have made it through the roller coaster ride that this past term has been. I intend to continue incorporating walking and solitude where I am after I leave here. I need it.


I'm trying to start every day with analog time. This means no computer. Just a bible, a pen, a notebook and/or other kinds of non-electronic material items that I can either read or write with. I am finding that this analog space is extremely helpful. I love working with a computer. In fact, I've become a bit of geek over the years. I love the productivity that is possibly with electronics, and think of it as a God-send, actually. My Mac and my iPhone are great tools. I love them. However, I also need daily space that is tactile. Analog. Old school. I find that this helps me to focus and to think. It fills my tanks. I need that space in my life. And I am finding I need it more all the time.

So, while I have great respect for the spirit of Mr. Borden, I also believe that the 21st century believer needs to be careful of running on empty for extended periods of time. Our culture is one which pushes us to live without reserves. It's why so many people are in debt, working 80 hours per week and getting through the days on depression and anxiety medication with a sleeping pill chaser.

I believe there is a counter-cultural spirituality which would allow for time, solitude and space that will make us more productive for the Kingdom in the long term. Productivity for the Kingdom and busyness for the Kingdom are not the same thing. Not the same thing at all.

What do you do to avoid running on empty? 

"Busyness is an illness of spirit…"

Eugene Peterson 


The Beginning of the End

Mongolia has been an intimate part of our lives for over ten years now. Renee' and I visited at the end of 2003 and moved here in the middle of 2006. Our children spent formative years here, and they both still think of Mongolia as something of home. We have Mongolian friends who have become a beautiful part of our lives.

But as with all things, an end must come.

Our time for living in Mongolia is coming to an end. Renee' and I both feel that God is leading us to something new. We actually don't know what that new thing is yet. However, we do know it is not in Ulaanbaatar in our current capacity. There are many reasons for this; indicators, if you will. I won't get into them all here, but it mostly has to do with trajectory. In any case, we are leaving Mongolia under our current organization.

Currently I'm feeling this enigmatic forward looking sadness. Every week when I meet with the boys for discipleship, or time like the other night when Renee' had a group of girls over to make spaghetti, every "Open Mic" night, I experience waves of grief, thinking about how much I will miss these people who have become so very much a part of our lives. We love them deeply and will be so sad not to have them as a daily part of our lives. On the other hand, Renee' and I will be doing an early celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary in Prague and Wroclaw, Poland, followed by reuniting with our children and family, as well as some dear Mongolian friends who are currently studying in the US. We look forward to that with eagerness.

It's a mixed bag right now.

We will always "remember Mongolia". We have to. Again, it's such an intimate part of our lives. I will be back for sure at some point, as I am planning to do my PhD field work here. Who knows? We might come back for short or long term in some other capacity. It's not like the ability to speak Mongolian is all that useful in most other parts of the world. However, this season is coming to a close. And something new and, at this juncture, unknown is about to begin.

I have been thinking a lot recently; reflecting on our time here. Pondering what the future may hold. In that process, a lot of other thoughts swirl through like the sand in a whirlwind.

For whatever reason, I've been thinking about a somewhat well-known quote by William Borden.

Borden and I share the same birthday, the difference being he was born eighty years before I came around. He (like me) grew up in Chicago and (unlike me) grew up in an affluent family. Perhaps some of you are familiar with "Borden Milk)"? Yeah, it's the same, although the company went under in the 1990s. But it wasn't just dairy products. Borden's father had also amassed a significant amount of wealth with a Colorado silver mine. All that to say, in the early twentieth century, William Borden was heir to a lot of money, and would have been a significntly wealthy and influential member of society.

But he followed Jesus, and left it all to serve muslims in northern China with the China Inland Mission. While he was doing his training in Egypt, he contracted cerebral meningitis and died at the age of 25, never making it to China. His epitaph is moving, and something we could aspire to have said of us:

A man in Christ

He arose and forsook all and followed Him,

Kindly affectioned with brotherly love,

Fervent in spirit serving the Lord,

Rejoicing in hope,

Patient in tribulation,

Instant in prayer,

Communicating to the necessity of saints,

In honour preferring others,

Apart from faith in Christ,

There is no explanation for such a life.

After his death, Borden's Bible was found to contain these words scrawled in pen: "no reserve, no retreat, no regrets"

I've always been kind of moved by this sentiment. In many ways I still very much am.

However, unlike Borden, God has graced me to live longer than 25 years. In fact, I'm not too far from doubling that. While I would never in any way wish to dampen zeal like Borden, I am learning perspective on things like reserve, retreat ... and even regret.

I'm going to write more about this over the next few weeks, as we close our time in Mongolia.

I am also going to be taking the time over the next few weeks to close out this web site. I believe it has run its course and will have served its purpose well. I am not going to take it down. At least not for now. I'll let "Remember Mongolia" keep it's little spot on the Internet. I will always remember Mongolia, and I really want any of you who have followed us to do so, as well. However, after this month there will be no new additions. I am working on a new project (in terms of a personal website), that I will officially "open" at the end of the month. Here's a sneak preview, but bear in mind it's not finished, yet.

I guess "unfinished" is the nature of a lot of things in our life right now.

Stay tuned. More to come.

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

Frank Herbert