Vanguard University lecturer, leading expert on Pentecostalism and founder of ChildHope, an organisation that builds schools for the poor in Latin America, Professor Doug Petersen delivered two powerful sermons last weekend that encouraged City Harvest Church.
On the weekend of 13 and 14 August, City Harvest Church welcomed its first guest speaker since 2019 and the Covid years.
Professor Doug Petersen is the co-director of graduate studies at Vanguard University. Together with his wife, Myrna, he founded Latin America ChildCare (now ChildHope) to help educate the poor. In four decades, they built 300 schools in 20 countries across Central America and the Caribbean, providing education to more than 2 million poor children.
Prof Petersen, who became friends with CHC’s senior pastor Kong Hee when they were introduced by a mutual friend and lecturer from Vanguard University, brought the church two messages filled with real-life experiences and testimonies that revealed the nature and working of God.
ENCOUNTERING THE DIVINE IN EVERYDAY LIFE
“Pentecostals believe that God’s miraculous acts that we read in the Bible are continuous and normal,” he began on Saturday. They also believe that they have been empowered by the Spirit to do everything Jesus said they will do.
Salvation and spirit baptism are the two experiences that are foundational for the Pentecostals. “We organise our lives around spiritual experiences,” he shared. “But what I want to focus on are the things that sometimes we miss, that are equally powerful.”
The professor highlighted that God often intervenes in an ordinary person’s life. He listed three examples.
1. Divine guidance
“That is when something comes into your mind, and you can’t get it out,” Prof Petersen elaborated. When that happens, he advised the people to “trust the Lord and do it.”
He shared the testimony of how his parents received Christ in their 40s. The Petersens were poor migrants to America from a small town in Canada. One day, a new pastor knocked on his father’s car window and invited him to the new church he was starting.
The professor explained that his parents were quiet and reserved people who had never stepped into a church before. Nevertheless, they went for the service, and within the week, received Christ. That seemingly insignificant act the pastor did of knocking on the car window changed the course of Prof Petersen’s life forever.
2. Divine coincidence
“The Scripture is filled with these moments where God takes something absolutely ordinary and turns it into something that’s life-changing,” the professor pointed out.
In the Old Testament, Jacob sent out his teenage son Joseph to find his brothers in the field (Gen 37:15-17). The chances of him finding his brothers in such a big field was near impossible, but he met an unknown man who pointed him to them. A series of bad things happened after Joseph found his brothers.
“You realise that if the man wasn’t there, Joseph would have gone home and nothing would have happened,” the professor noted. Yet one coincidence set a series of things in motion and 13 years later, Joseph was able to minister to his family and brought them through a severe famine.
Prof Petersen himself experienced a divine coincidence when he happened to watch a 60-second commercial by World Vision, while babysitting his three young children one evening. At that moment, he felt the Spirit telling him this is what He wanted him to do with his life. Latin America ChildCare was born out of that single encounter.
3. Divine silence
“Sometimes we find ourselves overcome with things that get us down and we have no idea how to deal with it, but God is silent,” the professor said.
He related an incident where his wife, Myrna met a stranger at the airport in Southern California. He was sitting across from her at the lounge and started to ask about her work. She told him about Latin America ChildCare to which he said that he was Catholic and had had a vision about little Latin American children during mass. He then asked if he could visit the school.
The man flew to Central America were the Petersens were, and Prof Petersen gave him a tour of the school. Just before he left, the man told the professor that he had seen Myrna in his vision. He said, “Here’s why I’ve come, to bring you a message: His grace is sufficient for you.”
On the day of the tour, Myrna was not feeling well. Her sickness got worse as time passed. For the next two years, Myrna did not get better and even though the Petersens prayed, they had no answers. All they could hold on to was that word the stranger gave them, “His grace is sufficient”.
Eventually, they found the cause of the illness—a cattle illness called Brucellosis that attacks the nerves—and Myrna recovered. Yet until today, the Petersens cannot understand why they had to go through that episode. The professor told the church that there will be times when they face situations they cannot understand, but the only thing to do is to run into the arms of the Saviour and say, “Your grace is sufficient”.
“Our circumstances, whether we understand or not, have nothing to do with the unchangeable God and His grace,” he taught. “Our response can only be, ‘How can we not praise the One who bought us with His blood?’”
He reminded the church members that God has always been there with them, and encouraged them to put Him first no matter what they are going through.
DAVID AND GOLIATH
On Sunday, Prof Petersen taught out of the story of David and Goliath. Referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David And Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits And The Art Of Battling Giants, Professor Petersen noted that in the Bible, the story in 1 Sam 17 is over 1000 words. It starts with the conflict between the army of Israel and the Philistines. To avoid much bloodshed in full out battle, both armies decided to send out one warrior each to fight.
The Philistines’ warrior was Goliath, a massive giant who stood at six feet, nine inches. More importantly, the Bible described his armour in great detail. The professor noted, “the Scripture writers don’t just write to fill space so when you see something long and in detail, pay attention.”
Goliath’s armour was made of bronze and weighed 125 pounds. However, the scariest part was his weapons: a sword, a javelin and a lance that could pierce through any armour. For 40 days and night, he challenged the army of Israel but none of the Israelite soldiers dared take up his challenge.
However, when David looked at Goliath, all he saw was a pagan challenging the army of God. He told the king that he would fight Goliath the same way he fought the bears and lions while protecting his flocks.
The professor explained the three types of soldiers in the army: the calvary, the infantry and the artillery. Among the artillery are the archers and slingers. While archers are able to shoot a target at long range, it is the slingers that are more fearsome. Like the modern-day snipers, slingers are hard to spot and always attack unexpectedly.
David was a slinger. “History tells us that to be a top slinger, you had to learn it as a child—it’s way too hard to learn as an adult. That’s what David did all day—throw rocks,” Prof Petersen taught. Goliath, however, did not recognise David as a slinger. All he saw was a child coming at him with a stick.
David spoke up to Goliath and announced that he had come to him in the name of the God of the army of Israel, and that He would deliver Goliath into David’s hands that day. As soon as he stopped speaking, he ran towards the giant, loaded up his sling and swung it at Goliath. With the force of a .44 Magnum revolver, the stone drove through Goliath’s helmet and knocked him down. Without hesitation, David took the giant’s sword and cut off his head.
When the Philistines saw their giant dead, they fled.
At this point, the preacher noted that while David knew he needed God to help him, he also knew that he was a terrific shot and had the upper hand. “Giants are not what they seem. Just because they are big and strong and well-armed does not mean they have the advantage,” he pointed out.
THE BATTLE BELONGS TO THE LORD
Prof Petersen went on to share some giant-slaying testimonies that came out of Latin American ChildCare. In 1982, he had built their first school at the top of a hill surrounded by a slum community. Right from the first day, 500 children showed up for school.
Things went well for a few months, until the local ministry for education called the team and told them they were operating without a licence and that they had to close down the school in three months. Prof Petersen and his team tried to seek help from people they knew, but to no avail. “Sometimes, you’ve got nothing left to do but pray,” he shared. “We should probably have started there but now we’re praying.”
Two days before their deadline, they received a phone call. The caller said that a young maid, about 14, who worked in his household had told his wife about the school and the church she attended, and he asked to visit. Upon his visit, he fell in love with all that Prof Petersen and his team were doing. It turned out that the caller was the son of the president. All he had to do was give his father a call, and the school remained open. Shortly after, the team was asked to set up more schools and churches to meet the needs of more slum communities, and that was how Latin America ChildCare, now known as ChildHope, started in Central America.
The organisation grew more established and was invited to a summit in Costa Rica one year. “It was one of the greatest moments of life when you think about Goliath and David. We were given an award for being among the poor 365 days a year,” said Prof Petersen.
He shared another testimony, where there was a gala held by the president, and the school was asked to send a child to represent the children of Costa Rica. An 8-year-old boy was chosen to walk out holding the hands of the president and the first lady, and he was given the opportunity to speak. The little boy told the nation how he grew up in an abusive family but when he went to school, he found out for the first time that God loves him. He learned to pray and asked God to change his suffering and the suffering of my family. God came through for him and his parents found the Lord. They now live together as a happy family.
The boy then turned to the President who was sitting beside him and told him, “Mr President, if you follow God’s commandments and do what he says, you have nothing to fear.”
David versus Goliath is a portrait of God’s miraculous victories in the face of overwhelming opposition. “Giants aren’t what they seem,” the preacher reiterated at the end of his sermon. Many people, including believers, think that strength is what one needs to win a battle. “But strength can be a weakness because that’s what people depend on. And that’s not how the Lord battles—the battle belongs to the Lord. And He takes what everyone considers to be weakness, and out of that, He turns it into strength.”