Phil Tuttle: Welcome to my blog! For those of you new to the site, I am the President of Walk Thru the Bible, an organization based in Atlanta, GA, dedicated to igniting a passion for God's Word—here in the U.S. and throughout the world. In this blog you'll find a crazy blend of random thoughts, bizarre humor, and even an occasional deep insight.
Please jump into the discussion because, as we all know, a conversation is way more fun than a monologue.
India Update #4
Thank you, friends—I truly appreciate your partnership through prayer this week. It's been a joy to share some of what God has been doing at our South Asia regional conference in Hyderabad, India. Today I'm going to yield the floor so you can see what things look like through two sets of younger eyes. Enjoy!
Hello, we are Josh and Abbey Griffin from Detroit, Michigan. We had the privilege of attending Walk Thru the Bible’s South Asia Conference! Both of our families have supported Walk Thru for our entire lives, and we recently became financial donors and prayer partners with the ministry after we got married three years ago.
This year, we are traveling throughout Europe and Asia and realized we would be in Hyderabad, India the same time as this conference. Phil, Ellen, Sathyabal and Anitha graciously welcomed us to attend the marriage conference.
As soon as we walked in, we were greeted with many smiles and handshakes! We met the pastors and their wives and children from India, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. We heard Phil and Ellen teach godly marital practices and encourage the people in their faith walks. We listened to worship songs led by the different families from each country—praising our one, global God in many languages.
We felt the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of all of the people there. We saw husbands and wives nudging each other as Phil and Ellen taught this new material. The Tuttles clearly shared the needed Biblical insight for these couples. They called for action to be taken and the couples responded with enthusiasm! The wives shared their true feelings with their husbands (which is very unique in this culture) and learned how to be effective supporters for the ministry. The husbands learned how to listen and care for their wives and prayed over their families for strength and wisdom in how to love them like Christ loves the church. There is no doubt that the ministries represented in that room will be stronger and more effective for Christ because the marriages of the people were challenged and grew deeper!
During the breakout sessions, Ellen encouraged the ladies in their roles as pastors’ wives. One day, she taught the ladies the importance of being mentored by a Christian and mentoring others. Many of the women do not have Christian friends on the field. At the end of her session, Ellen opened the floor for questions and concerns. Several women shared intense burdens with the group. The other women offered advice and prayer for each situation. It was beautiful to see her teaching immediately applied and to witness the women cultivating a network of trust and friendship.
Meanwhile, the men shared their statistical results from 2016. They displayed their numerical goals and actual results for the pastors trained and seminars held over the past year. In 2016, Sathyabal and his team of equippers taught 1.25 million people across South Asia! What’s more, they all set goals of the same numbers or higher for 2017! God is clearly using these families for His Kingdom work!
We heard testimonies of God’s mercy and grace as the people shared about their ministries and about how this marriage conference forever impacted their lives! One man shared:
“I met with a pastor a few months ago and begged him for a marriage conference/class because I needed it badly. I also met with another pastor and told him that I really needed to attend a marriage conference. But the pastors don't think that marriage is an important topic in Hyderabad. When pastor Phil began speaking on Monday, it was like he knew our hearts. He spoke about everything that we needed to hear. These lessons have completely changed our lives and marriage. This is the first time I am with my wife during a lesson. From this course from Pastor Phil and Ellen, we now know how to raise our children and how to be godly spouses. I have not received this kind of teaching from our parents. I am now about to teach other pastors how to live godly marriages and how to raise their children.”
After hearing the stories from these pastors, the joy that they feel, the persecution that they face, and the passion for evangelism that they share, we are proud to be connected to Walk Thru the Bible. Meeting these families has helped us to understand more clearly the vision of Walk Thru and how they are equipping pastors to ignite a passion for God’s Word across the globe!
~Josh and Abbey Griffin
India Update #3
Something happened on day two of our conference. I've seen it before. But never quite this profoundly.
Our ministry couples all chose to engage with the material on a much more personal level than on day one. It's not that they were unresponsive the day before; they just weren't all in.
"The Most" is subtitled "The Five Conversations Most Couples Most Need to Have." It's definitely tilted much more toward process than content, though each session includes plenty of Scripture. The teaching time is designed to set each couple up for an honest discussion as they answer a specific question about their marriage.
I knew there would be some resistance to this level of openness in South Asia. A few comments and a lot of nonverbal cues said, "This is not our way, Pastor Phil. You Americans speak freely about your marriages, but we do not." They weren't rebellious about it—more just politely going through the motions because I'm in a position of authority, and they respect and trust me.
During couple time, few husbands and wives touched each other. And some of the guys actually started talking to each other rather than their wives! Sathyabal firmly teased them about this and they awkwardly laughed like school kids whose teacher had caught them passing notes.
But all that changed on day two. Couples chose to honor each other by giving each other their full focus. The women especially seemed to blossom as their husbands opened up on a whole new level and created a safe environment for their wives to do the same.
There's not much emphasis on family-work balance in this part of the world. And even in ministry, many wives end up getting their husband's emotional leftovers.
So what caused this breakthrough?
- A good night's sleep after several days of grueling travel?
- Well designed material that started with a couple easy topics on day one to break down walls?
- High transparency from Ellen and me as we openly shared positive and negative experiences from our 36 years of marriage?
Maybe a little of all three. But the dramatic change we witnessed can't be explained even by the combined impact of all those factors.
What we witnessed was supernatural. God opened their hearts...to His Word and to each other.
And that kind of change only happens as the result of prayer. Lots of prayer. Your prayers for us from wherever you are in the world. Before our 25 South Asian leadership couples responded, God responded. And I saw the unmistakeable transformation with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears.
So thank you. Ellen and I are enjoying the holy privilege of helping couples give birth to fresh commitments, rekindled passion, and clearer priorities. We may be the ones here to witness the delivery, but it is your prayers that set the labor in motion.
So rest well tonight, and whatever you do, don't stop praying now because the best is yet to come!
India Update #2
Day one of our South Asia conference is in the books and it was wonderful. It was also intense.
I suppose that shouldn't surprise me since everything in India is intense. The traffic patterns are intense. The colors in the beautiful, flowing saris are intense. The cacophony of honking horns, Muslim calls to prayer, and one billion people doing life in a space one third the size of the U.S. is definitely intense. And maybe most of all, the delicious spicy food is intense -- even when they look Ellen in the eye and promise her it's mild!
So even though today was our first day together, it was intense. The hunger to learn what we came to share about marriage was palpable and so motivating. This group loves stories, and they crave transparency.
Remember, the talks we are sharing are not primarily to communicate new content, but to motivate and facilitate vulnerable conversations between each husband and wife. That's pretty counter-cultural but so very needed in this part of the world. Usually it would take a couple days to break through such cultural resistance, but they made huge progress on day one.
Ellen's time with the women in the afternoon also went very well. She and her translator had excellent chemistry, which is always a big answer to prayer. People bond so quickly with Ellen wherever we go and I love to watch it happen. When she gave each woman a picture of our family you would have thought she was passing out 1,000 rupee bills. It's so humbling to hear people on the other side of the world say they pray for our ministry every day. Now they are also promising to pray for our family. What a precious gift to us!
While Ellen was with the women, Sathyabal and I listened as each national and zonal Equipper shared their numerical and spiritual results of the past year. God gave me a major insight as I listened to their reports that I'll share with you tomorrow.
It's late here and we have a similar schedule tomorrow so I better get to sleep. Please continue to pray with intensity. No other kind of prayer seems appropriate in a land where everything is intense.
India Update #1
Ellen and I are cruising along on Jet Airways #348, our third of three flights. Atlanta to Paris. Paris to Mumbai. And now Mumbai to Hyderabad. Thankfully this flight is only about an hour long.
We've already been traveling 23 hours, and since we left in the evening we've been up almost 36 hours straight. Unfortunately, sleeping on airplanes is one of those useful life skills I never developed.
Even though I am bone tired, I'm energized and filled with anticipation because of what we get to do this week in India.
We'll be helping lead our annual South Asia regional conference. This group of about 25 trainers comes together once a year to learn a new Walk Thru the Bible course. They travel from throughout India as well as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. Within a couple months that course is available in the top 10-12 languages of the region. Then they spend the year training pastors and other leaders to share that course with others. In 2016, more than 1.2 million people in South Asia attended a live Walk Thru course. Talk about the miracle of multiplication!
I think this is about my eighth time here, and it's Ellen's third. That means this coming week will be as much a family reunion as a training conference. That's especially true because this year our trainers are bringing their spouses and children to the conference. We did that back in 2012 and it was epic!
I can't wait to see Sathyabal, Palaskar, Solomon, Samuel, Thomas, Baiju, Lincoln, Lawrence, Prem John, Athanasius, and all the rest of my old friends and their families. Plus I'm sure we've added some new trainers since I was here two years ago.
This year Ellen and I will be sharing a new marriage series we developed for the WinShape marriage cruise we led for Chick-fil-A last summer. (Yes, that was a grueling assignment but somebody had to do it!) The five-part series is called "The Most" and focuses on five conversations most couples most need to have. Our primary goal is to help strengthen the marriages of our leaders here, rather than giving them an additional course to teach others.
Ellen will also be sharing a couple of talks with the women on "The Relationships that Carry You Through the Storms." She'll focus on building stronger relationships with husbands, female friends, and God. She'll be fully adorned in a sari they gifted her with last time we were here.
I'll send some more updates and pictures as the week unfolds. My main goal right now is to beg you to pray for us this week. There is a lot of spiritual oppression in this part of the world. It's a tough place to live and a very tough place to serve as a Christian leader. These couples need to be loved and encouraged. They need to hear God's ideas about their relationships, not Ellen's or mine.
We often tell you that our ministry would be impossible without your partnership. That's always true, but this week we feel much more desperate than usual. So if you're up for it, please respond with a quick email and let us know that you're coming with us to India through the miracle of prayer. Your partnership will be a huge encouragement to Sathyabal and his team too.
Update #5 from West Africa
Philip Tutu and I made it safely to Lomé Togo for the final stop of my West African training tour. Samuel Eklou and his team graciously received us and tonight I was blessed to preach at the church Samuel pastors. But before we focus on Togo, I need to tell you one more story from Ghana.
One of my favorite points from our Detour course comes in session one about Joseph and His Family. The point says "By trusting God, Joseph refused to be defined by the dysfunction of his family."
After all the mistreatment at the hands of his brothers, we might have expected Joseph to pursue payback when he finally had all the power. But Joseph chose forgiveness rather than revenge, integrity rather than deception, loyalty rather than betrayal.
When Philip Tutu presented this part of the course, he opened his heart and shared the story of his own childhood. Then God showed up and the rest of us acknowledged our own personal pain and begged God to set us free.
Philip described his parents' divorce when he was four. Then he shared how his alcoholic father went on to "marry" four other women. Each time, he would wake Philip up in the morning and introduce him to his new step-mother with a stern warning that he better obey her every word.
Even though Philip was very compliant, each of his mothers told his father lies about his terrible behavior. Then Philip's dad would take him into his bedroom. On the bed was a belt, a long narrow cane, and a shorter thicker stick. Philip was ordered to choose the tool for his severe beating.
This physical abuse continued day after day for years, but it was the psychological abuse that left the deepest scars. He was constantly told how wicked and worthless he was.
After Philip's father lost his job, Philip supported the family by gathering firewood and carrying into the village to sell it.
One of his mother's sisters recognized his work ethic and strong character. She took him to her home in the city and brought him into her business.
She was right about Philip. Like Joseph, God gave him success in all he did. It was in the safety of his aunt's home that Philip was introduced to the unconditional love of his Heavenly Father.
Philip worked his way through business school and later Bible college. Despite being far behind because of his early years, Philip not only kept up, but finished at the top of his class.
He eventually surrendered to God's call to ministry. After pastoring for a number of years, Philip found his long term home with Walk Thru the Bible and International Christian Ministries about ten years ago.
After decades of estrangement from his father, God brought them back together. But what would Philip do?
Like Joseph, Philip chose forgiveness rather than revenge, integrity rather than deception, loyalty rather than betrayal.
He lovingly supported his father in his final years. He also reconnected with his mother. At her funeral earlier this year, God used Philip to bring his eight siblings from four different fathers together as one family.
Yesterday Philip didn't just share the material. He stepped into the story. We were all overwhelmed by the power and grace of our Lord. It was one of the most inspiring messages I've ever heard. And like most of the pastors who were there, I will never be the same.
Update #4 from West Africa
Whoever said "getting there is half the fun" wasn't traveling from Lagos, Nigeria to Accra, Ghana with me yesterday.
After preaching at one of our most influential partner churches, Francis dropped me off at the airport for my 4:15 pm flight. When we arrived at the airport we learned that my flight time had been changed to 6:30 pm.
After a chaotic check-in process that included long lines, thorough inspections of every bag, and multiple opportunities to pay a bribe to expedite the process, I eventually found gate D-33.
To call the concourse "hot" would be an insulting understatement. No problem, 6:30 will be here soon and the flight to Accra is only 50 minutes.
Not so fast. 6:30 came and went with no plane at the gate. There were no updates over the speaker system. No sign of our flight on the departure boards. When we would occasionally corner an airline employee to request an update, the response was always, "Later. Your plane will come later."
"Later" turned out to be about 11:00 pm.
Thanks to the one hour time change, our old-fashioned prop plane landed in Accra about the same time we took off. Our national director, Philip Tutu, had been waiting for me for seven hours.
After settling in to yet another hotel, I got a solid six hours sleep and woke up eager to teach but drained from a day spent in the heat and humidity.
My pity party took a serious hit on the way to our conference when Philip Tutu casually mentioned that he had only slept three hours. Because of the traffic, he had to leave his home at 5:00 am to pick me up at 8:30 am.
When we arrived at the conference location, the first three groups of people I met described their travel adventures. Most had preached at their own churches and then driven all night so they could be equipped to teach a course on the life of Joseph, ironically named Detour!
And so I need to come clean and confess that I am officially a wimp. Like most Americans, I am spoiled and soft. My travel struggles were nothing compared to so many of our delegates.
The good news is that their hunger and gratitude, along with fresh filling by the Holy Spirit, pulled the very best out of Philip Tutu and me. We both taught with great freedom and energy. The connection was immediate, and nobody even came close to dozing off.
We taught the first three sessions today and will teach the final three tomorrow.
Once again we have a room full of influencers. The training director from Ghana's largest denomination is loving it and plans to take 500 teachers through Detour at their denominational conference later this year. Also with us is the pastor of the church where Ghana's President and Chief Justice attend. He believes this course can have a huge impact in Ghana's fight against corruption.
Philip Tutu is an amazing communicator and it was thrilling to realize how much closer African culture is to Bible times than ours is. Such powerful illustrations and applications! But more about that tomorrow after I guzzle some more water and get some sleep. Please keep praying. This trip is a marathon not a sprint.
Update #3 from West Africa
I've always loved the quote, "Your perspective makes all the difference. To a worm, digging in the hard ground all day is way more fun than going fishing."
Pretty hard to argue with that logic. The angle from which we look at an issue, or the color of the lenses through which we view life can make all the difference.
I've been reminded of that reality over the past few days in Nigeria.
Francis and his team were upset because their attendance goal was 200 and the first day they only had 130. The second day the crowd grew to 150 but they still missed their target by 25%. Francis explained that the current scarcity of fuel had made it impossible for some of their most loyal leaders to make it.
I kept telling him that this event wasn't about attendance but how many of the "right" people were there to take the Crucible training home and actually teach it. God affirmed that with style because by the end of the conference, the 150 participants had ordered 15,000 workbooks. Our Nigerian team had only printed 2,000, so demand significantly exceeded supply.
Can you imagine? 150 leaders from 50 churches representing 10 denominations ordered 15,000 workbooks? Apparently we did indeed have the "right" people in the room! And God recalibrated our perspective as he reminded all of us that movements are built by multiplication rather than addition.
Update #2 from West Africa
Meet Francis Olubambi, our national director for Nigeria. We're team-teaching and training about 130 pastors and leaders in Crucible, our course on the life of David, here in Lagos.
I've known Francis for a long time. Probably nearly 15 years. But he's not the same man I used to know. Being with him on his own turf this week has highlighted his transformation.
When I first met Francis, he was brand new to our Walk Thru the Bible global network. He was introduced to our ministry by Phil Walker, who leads our best organizational partner, International Christian Ministries. Under Phil's leadership, ICM has built a network of Bible schools and seminaries across sub-Saharan Africa, and made the best of western resources accessible to African churches. Phil understood the wisdom of empowering national church leaders about a generation before the rest of the Church caught on.
My first impression of Francis years ago was as an overwhelmingly dominant presence. Even though he was attending his first Walk Thru the Bible global leaders conference, Francis had a strong tendency to speak first, loudest, and longest.
Through the years that first impression was confirmed as I watched Francis try to dominate every relationship he had. That included his team members in Nigeria, his fellow African leaders, and Walk Thru's regional directors from all over the world. His interactions with his wife Elizabeth and their three sons followed a similar pattern.
Fast forward a decade or so and the transformation is unmistakable. He's still a very strong leader. But now he leads by serving. The Spirit of God has remade my friend Francis from the inside out.
Humanly speaking, a lot of the credit belongs to Phil Walker. Phil has the same bull-in-a-china-closet natural wiring as Francis, but he learned long ago that his strengths pushed to an extreme become weaknesses.
It is Phil's mentoring that has shown Francis a better way. In Francis' office there's an old picture of Phil hanging on the wall. On my last visit Francis pointed to it and said, "Papa Walker taught me how to lead with love."
Today during Francis' session of Crucible I heard him exhort a roomful of Nigerian pastors to allow their children to make choices and to make sure their kids know that they are loved unconditionally. He spoke those words firmly, but with a gentleness that can only be developed in the crucible of real-life experience.
I smiled as I realized the Francis I used to know would never have uttered those words for fear of appearing weak. But now his authenticity motivated all of us to be more like Christ as leaders, spouses, and parents.
Make no mistake, Francis is still a strong leader. Otherwise there's no way our Nigerian team would have already launched God's Grand Story campaigns in more than 700 churches!
But now Francis is a gentle giant that others want to follow and work alongside. His natural strengths have been recast as spiritual gifts wrapped in the humility of the Savior he loves so much and serves so well.
Update From West Africa
Hello friends, and greetings from west Africa where we'll be launching Crucible (life of David) and Detour (life of Joseph) over the next 9 days. I really need your prayers as every day is either a teaching/training day or a travel day.
Fri 4/8. Teach/train first half of Crucible in Lagos, Nigeria with Francis Olubambi.
Sat 4/9. Teach/train second half of Crucible in Lagos, Nigeria with Francis Olubambi.
Sun 4/10. Preach here in Lagos and then fly to Accra, Ghana.
Mon 4/11. Teach/train first half of Detour in Accra, Ghana with Philip Tutu.
Tue 4/12. Teach/train second half of Detour in Accra, Ghana with Philip Tutu.
Wed 4/13. Drive to Lomé, Togo.
Thu 4/14. Teach/train first half of Crucible in Lomé, Togo with Samuel Eklou.
Fri 4/15. Teach/train second half of Crucible in Lomé, Togo with Samuel Eklou.
Sat 4/16. Drive back to Accra, Ghana.
Sun 4/17. Spend time with Philip & Janet Tutu.
Mon 4/18. Fly home to Atlanta through Amsterdam.
Tue 4/19. Arrive home in Atlanta.
As you can see, the schedule is pretty intense so pray for endurance especially in the 90° heat and 90% humidity.
Even more than the big events, this trip is all about multiplying our ministry through the pastors and other leaders we will train.
And most of all, it's about the encouragement and mentoring of our three wonderful leaders here in west Africa.
In the next few updates I'll introduce you to Francis, Philip, and Samuel -- three of the godliest leaders and best friends I could ever hope to have.
In the meantime, please start praying earnestly. There have already been several serious complications that indicate Satan is agitated about what God is planning to accomplish here in the next week and a half. Thank you for the assurance that you're here with me through the miracle of prayer.
Nicaragua Pastors Conference Final Update
Take a good look at this picture from Nicaragua. I had planned for my previous update to be my last. But then this picture happened, and I just have to share it with you.
On the left is Brenda Rose, the missionary from Harborside Christian in Clearwater, Florida. She's the one who has built this amazing network of pastors.
In the middle is a pastoral couple who have been to several of the conferences here in Managua.
On the right is Ramon, a first-timer who was invited by the couple in the middle.
And I'm the one sneaking the picture with my iPhone in real time as God brought the five of us together for a very unexpected conversation.
Ramon pastors a church in Nueva Guinea, a city six or so hours from Managua in the southeastern part of the country on the other side of Lake Nicaragua. He enthusiastically approached Brenda with a bold request. He was blown away by the conference in Managua, and now he wants to host a similar training event for pastors in his area.
Our conversation went something like this:
Brenda: How many pastors could you gather?
Ramon: 400 for sure. More if you need me to.
Brenda: No, 400 would be the most we would want. What denominations?
Ramon: All denominations.
Brenda: Is there a church that could host it?
Ramon: Yes, there is a large Assembly of God Church in our city.
Brenda: Will the Baptists come if it's at the Assembly of God?
Ramon: Yes. All denominations will come because all the pastors in our area are desperate for training like this.
Brenda: Have most of the pastors been to high school?
Ramon: Oh no. Most have only been to primary school. But they can all read and they are all working hard to learn their Bibles well.
Brenda: Phil, I'm not even going to consider this unless Walk Thru the Bible is willing to go with us.
Me: Ramon, I'm not sure my teaching style will be effective with your pastors. Don't you think it would be better to . . .
Ramon: With respect, you are wrong Phil. Communication in our culture is largely by stories, and you are a wonderful story teller. Even with your translator, the way you teach God's Word doesn't make our ears hurt.
Brenda: Ramon, I don't think we have the time or the money to do this. Why don't you begin praying that God will change my mind if He wants us to go there?
Ramon: (with a big smile) I will, and God will.
Ramon and the couple who had invited him hurried off to catch their bus while Brenda and I stared at each other and then burst out laughing. We've been in conversations like this before, and we know at some point we'll almost certainly end up in Nueva Guinea!
The total cost for three days of training for 400 pastors will likely be around $10,000 if local churches pitch in to provide the meals and lodging. It's not in either of our budgets, but it seems to be on God's heart.
Right before I started to write this update, I put Managua and Nueva Guinea into Google Maps. The software quickly marked both cities but then this message appeared:
"Directions Not Available: A route could not be determined between these locations."
"Perfect" I said out loud in a room all by myself. Now I know God's fingerprints are all over this plan. He loves it when Google Maps or anyone else tells Him what He can't do. Is there any doubt that He is already hearing and responding to the bold request of Pastor Ramon?
Brenda says there's no way she'll go without Walk Thru the Bible. And I say, there's no way Walk Thru the Bible will go without you. So how about it, are you all in?