Sunday, December 31, 2006

Refreshing The Soul

From my second floor balcony I watch the sun rising from the horizon of the Indian Ocean. The tide is going out and soon the boats tied in the deep I will be able to walk to on dry white sand. A few joggers are out, Columbus monkeys bouncing from tree to the ground looking for food. As I look out at the beauty of the coast, I try to think of something inspiring to write to match the experience that I feel, but realize that whatever I put down in type will never do the moment justice. All I can do is record what I see and feel, knowing that anyone who reads this will only relate if they’ve had a similar experience at another time, another place.

Vacations are good for the soul because it allows me to get away from the mundane and see the world from a different perspective. As I look out at the sea my eye cannot see the beyond the horizon. Far different from my flat in Delhi, where as far as the eye can see is the building across the street. The waves breaking on the beach is such a sweeter, soother sound than the noise of auto rickshaws and vegetable hawkers that grate my ears in the city. My morning walks in a polluted city with garbage piled high and open sewers is replaced by fresh air and darting crabs scurrying to their holes in the sand. My life and my work is not here, I will be ready to leave when my time is up, but it’s all good for the moment.

Part of the coastal experience is people watching. When one steps down from the hotel compound and begin their walk by the water any number of guys come up with greetings of “Jambo. Habari yako?” They are either wanting you to book a ride on their glass bottom boat, take skin diving lessons or wanting to sell you a bracelet. They are never sure what to say when I reply in Swahili, taken back that I’m not just another Italian or German tourist. When I speak to them in their language they quickly retreat, as they know badgering does not work with people who have lived in the country.

Was it Pascal, or Voltaire, who, after seeing a naked woman was so repulsed that he never had sex again? Though I am not that repulsed, seeing the fat women wearing unflattering beach attire of the white tourist, one can understand Pascal’s horror. The men, with their pot beer bellies and Speedos, are even more embarrassing. Bay Watch is a television show shot somewhere far away from where I vacation.

Of course the greatest experience of the week is my morning talk with the Creator as I dip my toes in warm water each morning. Looking at such beauty it's impossible not to think of the magnificence and power of God who designed such a place as this. Alone with Him, telling Him my troubles, my praise to Him for allowing me and my wife to experience this semi-paradise for a season, is worth the time and money invested in this get-away. Having no TV, radio or Internet connection for a week, I am forced not to be distracted with a world that is out there with its war, poverty and godlessness. For one brief moment I am captivated by His handiwork and reminded again that He delights in me being still and know that He exists. Will heaven have a beach? I hope so.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mugged On The Way To Mombassa

On the way to Mombassa my wife and I were mugged. Not by some thugs hiding in a dark corner, but by men dressed in blue uniforms in broad daylight.

We were about twenty minutes from Keynote International Airport for our flight from Nairobi to the coast when we came upon a police check. Not too concerned, the taxi driver rolled down his window and yielded the appropriate papers to the attending officer. Another policemen on the passenger side of the car knocked on the window for my wife to roll down her window. The mugger then said, “You are not wearing your seat belts. We are taking you to the police station where you will pay a fine.”

I was so taken back I just started blabbering, “We don’t have time to go the police station, we have a plane to catch.”

The mugger in blue said the fine would be Ks 3000 ($46). I said that was unreasonable and offered a third of that, which he quickly agreed. Pulling out the money he told me to put in the drivers license card, as he did not want others to see the stolen cash.

As we drove away I was outraged…furious at myself for not having the presence of mind to handle this mugging differently. It’s been awhile since I’ve had to deal with official extortion and there are better ways I could have handled the situation. Tips for those who face the same situation:

One, tell the officer, “Okay, take me to the police station.” It’s a hardcore bluff, which they may call you on, so be ready to play it out. Usually they will back down if you show resolve that you are willing to comply with threats of detainment.

Two, ask them their name, with pen and paper in hand, telling them you will be reporting their action before the authorities.

Three, plead ignorance. Kenyan police don’t know what to do with someone who says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

Four, tell them you want a receipt for the money they are charging for on the spot. They won’t do it of course, so prepared to follow through with suggestion number one.

My greatest outrage was with the corruption perpetrated by the man with the badge. I am a visitor to the country and they were not enforcing law but out on the street looking for opportunities to prey on the innocent. In a recent local newspaper article it noted that corruption is most prevalent among policeman, followed by politicians. Since I don’t know the law of passengers in a taxi I have no idea if we violated the law or not. If it was a violation was it my responsibility to pay the fine or the responsibility of the taxi driver to make sure his passengers were buckled up?

Willing to abide by the law, if the officer had written me a ticket I would have complied with the rules of the country, but it was obvious to me the law was secondary to their agenda. I regret the mugging, but more than being violated in the name of the law, I am disappointed with my feeble response. Maybe I should have handed the money and with a smile and a “God bless you.” Naw, what I really wanted to say was “God will curse you for this,” and “You will receive a plague of boils for this unjust act.” Boy, I can’t wait until the next time I get stopped. I’m prepared.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Different Yet The Same

For the past two weeks my wife and I have been in Kenya where we lived from 1976 to 1989. Our children grew up here; it was here I began my studies of social organization working with a semi-nomadic tribe called the Pokot. Thirty years ago I was considered a pioneer church planter, meaning, I established churches in areas where there were no churches. Kenya has had western missionaries for over one hundred years so to say we were the first to take the Gospel to Pokot or Turkana wouldn’t be accurate. However, many of the places where we did establish churches there were few and even in some areas, no churches at all.

Much has changed since we first came to this beautiful East African country. Gone are the shortages of basic items such as flour, cooking oil, sugar and building materials like cement and nails. In the old days the merchants from India determined the price of things as well as their availability, but in today’s Kenya the supermarkets, well stocked with variety, makes shopping a pleasure rather than an exercise in frustration.

When we first moved to the town of Kitale it was considered an outpost as the last town with electricity and water before going north into the bush of Pokot and Turkana. Operator assisted calls, even local dialing, has been replaced with mobiles and we can communicate with Nairobi or Lodwar from our front yard. The post office, once so revered we considered it “sacred space,” is hardly noticed today as overseas communication is now through Internet rather than aerogram.

But in some ways Kenya, especially upcountry, things have not changed. Time is still not kept and an appointment scheduled for 9 a.m. is easily delayed until 10:30 or 11. The roads, once promising with fresh tarmac, are now potholes or gone completely. Fashion has changed for some, but for most, the dress of shamba (farm) people are much the same. Even in Pokot, though cotton dress has replaced the goatskin, the beads an ornaments remain. The Kenyans still dry their maize on the ground, still barter vigorously at the market, still as friendly and jovial as they were when we arrived so many years ago.

Like the precarious existence of the Pokot, whose life is between starvation or plenty depending on the amount of rainfall they receive on any given year, Kenya continues to teeter on the brink from being a great country to one of complete ruin. With its natural resources and beauty Kenya could truly be the pearl of Africa. Surrounded by the conflict of neighboring countries, Sudan, Uganda, Ethoipa and Somalia; infested with corruption from the parliament to the police, one wonders if which way this magnificent country will fall? Time will tell, and since time is a slow process in this part of the world, we may not know the answer for at least another thirty years.

Monday, December 11, 2006

On The Road

One of the challenges of travel is finding internet access. While in the northwest of Kenya for the next couple of weeks my twice weekly posts will probably not happen. The things I'm learning, however, in this journey will be reflected in future posts.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Process of Discovery

I believe one of the most common comments I receive from those who attend my lectures, and certainly the most gratifying, is that I challenged their thinking. Whether I speak at a school or church invariably someone makes a comment such as those below from a recent class of MA students:

“Thank you, sir, for your valuable contributions through this module. You opened my eyes to come out from my shell and see others with a different perspective.” Jomon

“I am so happy to have met you and learn from you. You have cleared many of my own doubts. Thank you very much for coming here to teach us." Milton

“Thank you so much for enabling me to think afresh about my life and ministry. Indeed you are one of those who disturb our thinking so that we will think in a new way.” Justin

There are several reasons people respond to my class as they do. First, the subject is different. Every discipline focuses on certain areas of study and therefore not exposed to other subjects. If you study medicine, engineering or theology, you are not likely to study topics outside your field of specialty. Sadly, there are few seminaries that have a strong department of anthropology. You will never hear a message on contextualization or the dynamics of world religion in church. What I teach does have enormous relevance within the religious context, but because it is new for many my lectures are eye-openers.

Second, people appreciate the subject because it helps them fill in the blanks in their own lives. Theology is the study of God; anthropology is the study of us as human beings. In my lecture on the worldview animists, Hindu’s, fatalists, Muslims, secularists, the audience is drawn into comparisons of how they see the world. Are we more alike the tribal nomadic sitting under a tree in Africa than we are different? Humanity shares many things in common and my lectures reveal our similarities and in doing so help us understand what are the fundamental differences.

Third, because I use the Socratic method of teaching, my classes raises as many questions as it does answers. Rather than force-feeding people with the answers, which is common in most settings of learning, my class is guide for discovery. As the old adage states, things are best learned when caught, not just taught. Since I have disdain for lazy intellectualism and simplistic Christian platitudes I require my students to give a reason for their belief and will play the devils advocate no matter what their conclusions. I never give an “F” for disagreeing wit my assumptions, but will certainly fail someone if they can’t give a well thought out reason for why they believe what they believe.

Fourth, and most crucial, is that I discuss issues that are relevant and practical. Studying genealogies are boring, unless you can help students connect the dots on why it is pertinent in presenting the Gospel. Each topic we cover is coupled with application borne out of thirty years of experience linking theory to real life. Over fifty percent of my lectures are real-life stories of how and why the topic matters. Some of my stories reveal success, sometimes my illustrations highlight failures. My students may not remember the proper definition of structuralism, but they always remember my story of “ice cubes in the Pokot desert,” and how language relates to the structural ordering of the mind.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Seeing Through A Dark Glass

There once was man named Job. It's possible he was the precursor to

Modernism and its cousin, fundamentalism, hold to objective absolutes.
They came in the form of three theolog's named Eliphaz, Bildad and
Zophar. Their theory (theology) on the acts of the Almighty was based
on history and tradition, which stated: If you live right, do right,
fear God, you'll be blessed. If you do wrong and do not fear God you
will face the wrath of God. Having heard the report that Job had lost
family, herds and health, they concluded that Job was guilty. Even
though they knew, or thought they knew, Job as a moral man, their
theology could not be changed...IT was supreme.

Job, who at one time ascribed to the accepted historical/traditional
theory, was in a quandary. Would he let his theory of God dictate his
life, or would he, dare he, question his theology? Would Job, "Lie
for the glory of God," and confess that, perhaps unknowingly, that he
was guilty of a transgress? ("I don't think I did it, but I must
have done it because my circumstance reveals it. I will seek God's
forgiveness for the secret sin of which I am unaware.")

Job was not only a man of integrity but also a person of indescribable
courage. In the face of criticism by his denomination/fellowship, he
remained (though perhaps arrogantly), unmoved. Absolutes? Yes, he had
at least one...He believed that there was a God. Beyond that,
everything was up for grabs for that One in whom he believed had blown
his theology all to hell. (Actually hell was the instigator of the
circumstance and therefore it was good and right that Job return it
back to that direction rather than maintain a heavenly theology, which
had no validity.)

This ancient postmodernist (surely a contradiction of terms) turned his
back on theory that could not be sustained, while his friends held to
their absolute theory rather than question God. Job was the first to
have the courage to say, "I don't know. What I do know is limited.
I will not waver on my absolutes, though I realize even this is
subjective faith." In the end, God honored Job, for maintaining his
absolutes, for he did not curse God as Lucifer determined he would, and
rebuked those who defended His honor through misguided and false

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Witchdoctors and Preachers

In my lecture on the Anthropology of Religion, I make the case that, functionally, a witchdoctor and pastor are the same. Using the same formula I made a similar point on how witchdoctors and business consultants are functionally the same on my other blog site, The arguments are alike with one exception…pastors don’t make nearly as much money as witchdoctors and business consultants.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Groups and Symbols

Mankind is a symbol-displaying creature. Symbols are all around us. By symbols we communicate to others who we are, or maybe, who we would like to be. Jeans are jeans, but how one wears their jeans is a signal to others who we are or perhaps who we would like to identify with. If you’re young and slim you might get away with low-rise jeans. It’s a symbol that you’re young (or would like to be young) and that you are probably single. If you wear the elastic jeans, what my daughter’s call “mom jeans,” you’re symbol is much different from the low-rise (spoof on mom jeans can be found at ). If you’re from the inner city you might wear baggy jeans that look like they could fall down at any given moment. My class laughed at me one time when I showed up wearing pressed jeans. I couldn’t understand what the big deal was, in Texas well starched jeans is stylish (George Strait wouldn’t be caught dead without his pressed jeans). I think you get my point. Whether one is talking about clothes, hairstyles, colors, tattoos, cars we drive or religious symbols, people are walking signboards communicating something to the world.

Symbols also reveal how much we value group. If you have followed my blog for any length of time you are aware that I see the world in typographies classifying people and cultures in grid and group arrangement (individualistic, bureaucratic, hierarchal and egalitarian). Individualistic and bureaucratic environments are low group. Highly group oriented cultures are hierarchal or egalitarian. It is the latter two categories that are prone to wear symbols as an identification of what group they belong to. I used the Amish, Sikh, and Muslims as an example in my last post of groups that demonstrate their community and faith through the symbols they wear. These symbols do not just reveal their faith but who they are as a people. So strong are these symbols of group that it can be, and almost always is, an obstacle for people to make individual decisions. A Sikh man cutting his hair, beard and removing his turban is tantamount to denying his family and culture. (The great debate among missiologists is whether it’s even necessary for a person to put away his cultural symbols to be a follower of Christ?)

For Western Christians, who are for the most part individualistic and not group oriented, we have few symbols or our faith. True, as one reader responded, wearing a crucifix does not mean you are a follower of Christ, though under Soviet Russia it was a powerful symbol that that person was a believer. Having a symbol of a fish on the back of your car doesn’t make you a better Christian, or even a courteous driver. Wearing symbols does not make one holy or righteous. Jesus made reference to the hypocrisy of religious leaders of his day who loved to wear symbols and perform rituals but spiritually was as dead men’s bones. However, in some social context’s, symbols can make a statement to the society at large.

Whatever you wear today, it is communicating something. For individualistic societies symbols are neutral which reveals nothing much more than style and one’s socio-economic position. I agree, it’s not what we wear but how we behave that’s most important. Our verbal presentation becomes even more important because we certainly will not reveal much of our faith to others by our symbols.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Symbols of Meaning

A couple of weeks ago the pastor of a church we attended was speaking from 1 Corinthians 11 and the issue of proper male/female dress. I usually turn off on those messages because men spend way too much time talking about appropriate attire for females and say virtually nothing about proper apparel for males. As a teenager/young adult in the ‘60’s, I grew weary of all the messages on how men should look like men (not have long hair) and women looking like women (having a butch haircut). Then as a cross-cultural trainer in different countries it was tiresome to go to Russia and hear the Baptist and Pentecostals make women’s head-covering almost a salvation issue and in India the sign of a devotion to Christ was not wearing bangles, rings or makeup. The church spends so much time on non-salvation issues that it becomes a barrier in presenting the Gospel. I just react strongly to legalism.

But then the pastor made an interesting comment that peaked my thinking. He told the story about how that growing up his mother would never think about coming to church without a head covering and would never pray without pulling the long dupatta over her head. Though the congregation we were in that morning is urban and more Western in style, this young pastor seemed to lament that this symbol of humility, respect, has been lost. His final comment is what really grabbed my attention when he said, in effect, that the church lives in a cultural context where symbols of religion are common, and that only the Christian community live without symbols.

On the drive back to our home we passed the Sikh gurdwa and I observed women in their punjabi sawar dress, the men with their turbans; passing the Muslim mosque men wearing the kufi; the Hindu temple, women dressed in sarees and I thought how void the Christian community is of symbols.

I remember attending a Bakht Singh church many years ago and the feeling I had of worshipping Christ contextually. We removed our shoes at the door, sat on mats on the floor, women on one side, men on the other, the music sung in Hindi and English. With no overheads, no keyboards we clapped as we sang to the beat of a traditional drum.

The issue of contextualization is unpredictable. To the Western style church the symbols are indeed urbane with stylish cut hair, blue jeans and young men wearing chokers. But in the larger context of a country which share similar symbols, is it no wonder that our faith is seen a religion of foreigners? A follower of Jesus in this framework is not known by its symbols of community, but rather by its adoption of symbols of another kind. Perhaps we need to pay more attention to the outward signs -- icons which, like the Amish, make a statement of identification and maybe, in a positive way, if not separation perhaps community.

Friday, November 17, 2006


My brother, a business consultant, doesn’t like the word “trainer,” as he believes one can train dogs and horses but not people. He believes "educate" is a better term. Okay, I get his point, but don't totally agree. Training is behavior modification. Tiger Woods has a trainer who analyzes his swing and helps him modify his approach. We potty trained two little girls using all types of techniques for behavior modification (rewards, praise, yelling, etc.). My role of a trainer with cross-cultural workers is to get people to modify bad habits in ministry and steer them toward efficient and productive behavior.

Coaching is similar to training, but not synonymous. Tiger Woods’ trainer also coaches. Coaching is explaining what is wrong, how it needs to be changed and why. Coaching is philosophy -- training is physics. Woods has the natural ability to swing the clubs. If he didn’t have a trainer or coach, he could still play the game, but maybe not at his best.

Most people I work with already have some ability. They certainly have a zeal and love for the One they serve. If no one trained or coached them they would still do a work for the Lord, though maybe not be at their best. Not everyone on the field is Tiger Woods caliber. Some I meet are not even semi-pro’s but are more like weekend duffers. (And of course short-termer’s are mere weekend wannabe’s -- but don’t get me started.) That’s why I believe in focused pre-field education, post-field training and coaching.

I have consistently stated that I believe those in our profession, or if you prefer, calling, should be as serious about it as any profession in the world. Sadly we don’t’ spend nearly as much training, upgrading our skills, as does a doctor, software engineer or golfer. Having a love for the game doesn’t mean we can all play the game properly. Perhaps we need more trainers, more coaches to help us get to the top of our game.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Missions Coach

On my other blog I wrote about the new profession in business today, that of a personal or life coach. No need to repeat myself here as to the reason for such a coach, but I began thinking about coaching in the world of missions.

For about ten years I held a position in a sending organization as vice president of international training. Part of my responsibility was to travel and visit field personnel. My role was very much like a coach. In traveling overseas I would visit the projects people were involved in and would ask critical questions and give my evaluation. The two objectives I had in every setting was (1) Why are you doing work this way and, (2) Is there a better way of doing it? Much of the time the projects were going well, so my recommendations were a matter of tweaking the process and to get people to think of how to make a good program better. Sometimes the projects were not effective and I was able to help them move away from those projects and rework their strategy. Most of the time the people on the field received and appreciated my advice, a few did not.


First, the coach is an outsider. He/she has lens that is not tainted by organizational bias. Example: I know a couple whose work is focused only on evangelism using a specific evangelism method. Because it is a strong North American model and used widely by many evangelicals, the organization expects their people to produce the same results on the field. This particular couple is busy and conducts many seminars. However, in many ways they are culturally insensitive. They don’t have a strong team of nationals and, in my opinion, the method is a horrible evangelism tool for their context. As a coach from the outside I could recommend some modifications that the organization would never do.

Second, accountability is sometimes better achieved through outside influence. Most teams I have worked with have meetings, purpose statements, goals, etc. However, many of those good things are not realized because everyone lives on the same field, they are peers. The team leader has a nearly impossible job in holding others to the purpose because he is working with his friends. If he comes down too hard, they won’t be friends long.

Which leads to the third reason for a coach and that is he doesn’t have line authority. Even working with my former organization, I did not have line authority and, I didn’t want it. Why? When people perceive they are being told what to do from the top, they may acquiesce, but it doesn’t mean they value the change suggestions and they lose ownership in their work. If the recommendations work everyone is happy, but if it doesn’t then the finger pointing begins as either “the field people didn’t do what we told them to do,” or “those idiots in the home office have no idea what they are talking about.” As a coach with no line authority it is up to the team if they heed my advice. If they did and it succeeded, it was their success. If they tried and it failed it was merely something they tried which didn’t work out. Either way people on the field must have ownership in their work. A coach allows autonomy in the process.

Much more to talk about as it relates to mission time.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Odometer Rollover

Sometime on Saturday there will be a rollover. The rollover will represent the completion of 1,892,160,000 seconds. The rollover is a milestone which one can be proud of; a mile-marker in social time. What is the significance of this rollover?

1. It represents that there are more miles behind than there are ahead.

2. It is social time whereas others will see you differently, even though you may still be in good running condition.

3. Younger models will be preferred as the older model moves closer to the social junkyard.

4. Accomplishments of the past (dependability, success, innovation) are honored, though perhaps not seen as relevant.

5. You understand even more, what you've always known, that on the racetrack of life, people view speed as the measure of performance, rather than finishing the race.

But no one cannot deny, it'’s been a great ride.

1. The roads traveled over these many miles, few others were willing to go. From Africa to India and forty-two other racetracks, this old jalopy seen a lot.

2. People you have carried, loved and supported are a legacy that will endure long after the rust sets in.

3. After all those miles, though the paint has faded, the ragtop has thinned and the tires are worn, you're still on the road.

4. Though the engine has had some overhauls, it still starts every morning.

5. Even with the all the nicks and abuse you've received, some from people you helped carry at one time, you can still deliver the goods.

Regrets, sure, like Frank Sinatra said, there are a few. The times when you could have been a bit more courteous on the road, yielding more than blasting your horn. The miles have taught you that taking shortcuts end up costing time and money. I think all those on the road, when they get a few miles on them, would say they wished they learned earlier that the trip is about the journey instead of rushing to the elusive winners circle. All in all, however, looking through the rearview mirror, it’s been an amazing ride.

If God gives you the promised three-score and ten, you have 315,360,000 ticks to go. Whether it is more or less, make the most of those miles. Cherish those who are still under your care; help those who still value your unique model. Sometimes an antique is worth more than those who are today'’s modern brand. Rejoice in your Maker. He'’s blessed you; He's never cast you aside. He loved you that first mile you came out of the factory, and He will continue to love you until He makes the final recall. Be grateful for the rollover. Celebrate the journey.

(P.S. Happy birthday to you as well, Bill)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Transforming Theology?

This week I am grading papers. The assignment I gave to the MA students was to do a cultural analysis of a people group or company they are familiar with. The problem I have with reading research papers is that they challenge my thinking so much I get sidetracked in trying to solve problems. Case in point:

Senti presented a paper on a tribe who live in the northeast called the Khasi. For centuries these people were animistic, introduced to Christianity two hundred years ago by the Welch Baptists. What is unique about their social structure is that they are matrilineal. Like many matrilineal societies, the Khasi trace their lineage through the woman, not the man. Property is handed down to the daughters, names are through the woman’s lineage, the female makes decisions, and after marriage residence is matrilocal. In this social environment the uncle or brother has more influence than the father/husband.

Matrilineal societies have always been an interest to me and are prevalent in many Latin American countries as well as within African-American community. How do a people who have a strong female identity relate to a dominant male theology? In Senti’s paper he discusses the challenges in reaching the Khasi with the Gospel, one being that the church demands patriarchal authority. My question to Senti, and to those who wade through my blogs is, Can traditional Christianity be challenged in face of cultural practices that are the norm? How can Christian patrilineal values serve matrilineal societies?

My hypothesis has been that one of the reasons Catholics do well in Latin America is partly due to their emphasis on Mary rather than Jesus. It is Mary, the mother who makes decisions, who has access to power and who works on behalf of those who pray. Is there a natural affinity to a female head rather than to an absent or marginalized male?

I am not suggesting that we rewrite biblical principles, but what is the best way to communicate the Gospel when it runs headlong into traditional non-salvation issues? All societies are to be transformed, but in the process, does our theologies also become transformed? Should they? What suggestions would you give Senti in working with the Khasi?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Theology as Theory

Recently Chris, a friend and frequent reader of this blog, asked this question.

“I would be interested in reading your explanation of the following:

‘Theology, as I have argued before, is theory based on history and cultural context.’

To define theology without any reference whatsoever to the Scriptures strikes me as unusual. The definition above seems to leave out any opportunity for theology to be timeless or universal. Interested in reading more of your thinking on this.”

Great question, which does require further explanation. My “defense” would be that Scripture is implicit in all theology. My assumption, though perhaps not clear, is that of course theology is a combination of text, context and history. Sorry for the confusion.

Is theology timeless and universal? The answer is yes and no and this is where postmodernist get into trouble. There are truths in Scripture that are consistent and therefore enduring. What they are is a matter of one’s theological persuasion. For some the list is very long, for others foundational truth may not be as extensive but sacred nevertheless. What is “essential” or “negotiable” does depend on theological theory.

I am assuming there is no confusion to my argument that theology is theory based on history and context. Where one is born, his/her denominational leanings shape much of our understanding of Scripture. The marvelous thing about Scripture is that for most Christians, fundamentalist, evangelicals, progressives, the core of the Gospel is consistent. Theory plays havoc with truth as it tries to determine the nuances of certainty. One can speak of the salvific work of Christ, theology then attempts to define that work as liberation, atonement, inclusive or exclusive. The interpretation of Scripture is as varied as denominations gracing the face of the earth. Of course theology is theory, or we would all agree on one standard of interpretation.

Timeless? Certainly God is changeless, but trying to figure out the ageless Creator has eluded man for thousands (maybe 6,000 or 4,000 depending on your theology) of years. Luther and Calvin gave definition to Protestant theology, but of course there was theology before them and certainly theologians have been tinkering with their theories since. No one has a solved the mystery of prayer, but you can be certain there will be further books written about it until prayer is no longer a human issue.

Theology is important as we are admonished to study the Scripture in the process of working out our salvation. Some of it I will die for, some of it is trivial pursuit.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Just Because

In the 1980’s I was working in the Turkana district in the northwest of Kenya. Turkana is always on the fridge of catastrophe as the nomadic herdsmen roam the desert looking for pasture for their cattle, goats and camels. What little rain they receive in a year is barely enough to keep life and limb together -- two years of drought and they face severe famine.

It was just such a desperate time that I was working as a church planter alongside Turkana Christians. Along with giving the Bread of Life, we attempted to alleviate some of the physical hardships by taking a ton of corn meal down into the district twice a month as well as powdered milk provided by a NGO group from the U.S. Our efforts were a mere drop in the bucket to the ravages of famine and disease.

I still remember a crusty old guy from the U.K. working in Turkana who was very critical of churches. He worked for with a UN irrigation scheme in the area and made no bones about how that the church should be more concerned with the saving of lives rather than souls. “All of these churches, which stand empty throughout the week, should be turned into storage bins for the crops that are rotting in the fields,” he said with disdain. “What good are these churches when the people are suffering?”

Convicted by the Englishmen’s comments I asked a friend of mine, who was primarily involved in social action, if perhaps he wasn’t right? Maybe we should turn our attention the man’s physical needs rather than their spiritual needs. He advised against it saying, “There will always be more people wanting to feed the hungry than telling people about Christ,” he said. “Keep doing what you’re doing and let others take on the task of feeding the hungry.”

The tension on the churches role in meeting man’s physical needs is ever present and, as I said in my last post, the church doesn’t seem to know exactly how to meet both the physical as well as the spiritual needs of man. Part of the reason is our confusion of what is Kingdom work. Because the West sees the world in dichotomy, the spiritual and the physical are not related. Jesus saw his social work as a part of Kingdom work, the holistic approach. If evangelicals are involved in social work it is often tied to conversion, so a cup of cold water or a feeding center, must be tied to establishing a church. Why can’t Christians provide for the needs of others just because it’s the right thing to do?

As I mentioned in my last post, forty percent of the population in this country live in one room. Inadequate housing, water, sanitation should be enough motivation for the church to meet the needs of the oppressed, but often it is not. One could easily raise money for a church building, but how many people would give to a housing project just because?

As stated earlier, there needs to be balance, and one can get so involved in meeting physical needs that they ignore the spiritual. We need to pray for the wisdom of Solomon, better yet, the wisdom of Christ, to see best the fusion between the physical and the spiritual needs of mankind.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

What Is Kingdom Work?

This week I have been attending a conference on transformation. It wasn’t your typical evangelical meeting where the emphasis was on transformation of the heart, but the transformation of community and nations through social action. Though I was uncomfortable with, what I perceived to be some radical rhetoric, I can’t ignore the reality of the social ills of this country. Forty percent of the population live in one room; female infanticide, though outlawed, is still a common practice; most Dalit children have no educational opportunities; most of the poor are in perpetual slavery as bonded laborers. The heart of the message of Jesus was to those who are poor and marginalized. The one common theme throughout Scripture is God’s judgment on people and nations who oppress the poor. For a gathering of Christian leaders discussing transforming communities it was both good and right to discuss political and social injustice.

But, as with all things, it’s important to maintain balance in discussing sensitive issues. Transformation of community will never happen by having cleaner water, better housing or legislation for equal rights. Helpful, certainly, but good deeds is only part of the equation. For true transformation to take place there must be a transformation of the heart. For followers of Jesus, we believe that only Christ can truly bring about heart transformation. I am not Pollyannaish; bigotry, racism, tribalism and casteism will never be completely eradicated, even among those who claim to be Christians. And, I concede that compassion for the poor can and does reside in the heart of some Hindu’s, Muslims and people of other faiths. The point is, deeds without faith is mere social ritual whereas faith with deed is a demonstration of what we believe God would have us to do in loving others as we love ourselves.

Most evangelicals do not know how to do social work well. We either do it as a part of our agenda (feed the poor as a means to bring people to conversion), or, more likely, don’t do anything, as we don’t see social work as a part of Christ’s command to take the Good News to the nations. In spite our Lord’s work in healing the sick and His teaching on social action (giving a cup of water, the example of the Good Samaritan, the crime of unfair loans, the corrupt judge, etc.) we still have and aversion to be socially active in our communities. The great challenge for evangelicals is finding ways to bridge the gap between “felt” and “real” needs.

The question, to be explored next time, is where and in what way should we be involved? Perhaps the short answer is, “just because,” and that should be enough.

Monday, October 23, 2006

It Takes More Than Zeal and Money

I realize that the Apostle Paul did not take a class in cultural anthropology. I am also aware that understanding culture, studying the religion of others and looking for ways of contextualizing our message is not the only way to do work overseas. However, I do not ascribe to the theory that just being faithful is, in any stretch of the imagination, a sufficient substitute for strategic thinking.

Case in point. This past week a man and wife come over to visit where I was teaching. Lovely couple. They have lived in the country for about four years; have been teaching in a college and they both seem to be happy to be here. They, like so many people I have met down through the years, have a love for Christ, a love for people and have absolutely no idea what they should be doing. This is not just my assessment, it was theirs as well, and that’s why they came to see me.

These fine folks are not young and had been in ministry for several years in the states. Age doesn’t seem to be a factor when it comes to developing a strategy. If you’ve only been schooled in the theory of “ready, fire, aim,” it doesn’t make any difference if are 25 or 55. Zeal without knowledge only assures you that you will get into a mess faster but not smarter and certainly not more effective.

My new friends left me with a horror story. They have linked up with some people who have less knowledge than they do but have a ton of money in which to do ministry. Well-meaning people with money are even more dangerous than the poor and ignorant. Strategy is even less thought of when big donors want to move things down the road, get results and contribute to the spiritual bottom line (planting churches, seeing souls “saved”).

My great hope for this couple, along with the hundreds I teach each year, is that they will back up a bit, take the time needed to develop a well thought out plan and learn about those they have come to serve. Good strategy is no substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit, but I dare say His work is made easier when his vessels have a general idea of how and what they’re doing.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dynamic Equivalence

Today is Diwali (many Indians have difficulty with the letter “w” so it is often pronounced Divali). It’s one of the most important celebration for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. Perhaps in your community, anywhere in the world, there are Diwali celebrations going on. What is Diwali?

Hindus have different reasons for celebrating Diwali, but perhaps the most popular historic reasoning behind it comes from the popular Hindu epic, "Ramayana." In the epic, Lord Rama returns to his kingdom in Ayodhya with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana after a 14 year exile; during his exile, Rama killed the 10-headed demon king Ravana, who among other things, had terrorized citizens in his country and had even kidnapped Sita. It is believed that people lit oil lamps along Rama's path back home in the darkness as a sign of solidarity and adulation.

Diwali is known as the “festival of lights,” as people decorate their houses like Christmas ornaments and strings of colored lights. In every window is a candle to guide Rama back from exile. Symbolically it is good’s victory over evil. Many believe that the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi, visit the faithful on this day.

It’s also a festival of noise as throughout the night firecrackers and other fireworks continue through the night.

This Diwali I am in the south teaching cross-cultural classes. Diwali does not have as strong a tradition in the south as it does in the north, but still I hear “cracker’s” going on throughout the night. In our neighborhood in Delhi my wife tells me that night sky is lit, smoke hovers over the city of 12 million.

Missiologists and cross-cultural communications specialist look for the “dynamic equivalent” of such cultural events. As a Christian it’s easy to make the application of victory over darkness through the Gospel message. Followers of Christ do not have to show Him the way; He is the Light that helps us find our way to the God of all people, and cultures.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Survey Results

Here are the results of the survey of I posted earlier this week, with my brief comments:

Inerrancy of the Bible – Essential 71.4% - Preference 28.6%

Salvation in Christ Alone – Essential 100%

Polygamy is immoral – same as adultery – Essential 14.3% - Preference 42.9% - Negotiable 42.9% - (Polygamy is not the same as adultery, though it is not God’s ideal for marriage. However, God did allow it in the Old Testament)

Muslim believers should not remain in the mosque – E- 14.3% -P 28.6% - N 57.1% - (Great debate in missiological circles)

Baptism by immersion only – E 14.3% - P 28.6% - N 57.1%

Women cannot teach or lead a congregation – E 14.3% - P 28.6% - N 57.1% - (Women, even teen-age girls, lead many congregations in restricted access countries.)

Truth is only found in God’s Word – E 14.3% - P 57.1% - N 28.6% - (Is all truth is God truth?)

Do not eat food used in Hindu ceremonies – E 0% - P 28.6% - N 71.4%

Forbid teaching from the Koran or other holy books – E 14.3% - P 28.6% - N 57.1% - (If all truth is God’s truth, even if it is found in other writings, can God not use it for His purpose?)

(For Christians) Allah is not an acceptable name used for God – E 14.3% - P 28.6% - N 57.1% - (Another debatable issue…is Allah merely a noun or is the connotation of the name the greater issue?)

The response to this survey revealed a couple of things. First, those who live outside the US usually score higher in the N category. Cross-cultural workers who live with the issues tend to make more allowances for culture than those who reside in the U.S. Second, many of the respondents who read this blog understand the cross-cultural issues more than the average North American pastors who took this survey.

The challenge, for all of us, is this…what is really important as we communicate the Gospel to people of other cultures and religion? Thanks to those who took the survey. Keep working through the issues as you develop your thoughts as how best to a be a “bridge” for those who don't yet understand the message of Christ.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What Would You Die For?

I recently sent out a survey to a list of pastors. This survey is to test or challenge theological consistencies. Example: Truth is only found in God's Word, the Bible. The categories for answers are (a) ESSENTIAL, one so strongly believe it is important for a Christian to embrace this theology they would DIE for it; (b) PREFERENCE, meaning that, though it is important or true, one would not die for that belief but would vigorously argue that it is something all Christians should adhere to; (c) NEGOTIABLE, something one is not sure is true or important for someone to believe. It may be personally what a person believes, but would not impose it on another culture nor is it a salvation issue.

Theology, as I have argued before, is theory based on history and cultural context. Some issues of theology are important enough to die for as it reflects the core of who we are as followers of Christ. These are the essentials. On the other hand, some doctrines are based more on preference, something we believe the Bible clearly teaches that are universal, such as modesty. But the question then becomes, how is modesty defined?

There are many customs and habits that Scripture is silent about or seemingly acceptable for that period in history that we would not ascribe to today, therefore negotiable. An example would be Paul'’s admonishment to greet others with a holy kiss - certainly a New Testament practice, but not necessarily a universal practice for all ages. That is a relatively easy example, but what about the issue of drinking blood or polygamy, which is not practiced in western cultures but is in other cultures? When it comes to the issues obliging people of other faiths, the challenges become even more intense. Is using the Arabic word for God, Allah, acceptable for a Christian believer?

If you would like to test your own theological consistencies, click on the subject line that is a link to ten questions. No one is able to track who takes the survey so all answers are anonymous. So, is it wrong for a Christian to drink beer? From your point of view, is it essential they don't, a preference or negotiable?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dark Side of Ego

My brother Bill ( works with CEO'’s and other leaders. He sent this to me the other day and I thought it was pretty good.

After leaders climb the ladder of success, some have forgotten how they made that climb. They no longer listen to subordinates, stakeholders, family members, coaches or anyone else with opposing views. They suffer a terminal professional disease... i.e. Egotism -

Ego-tism -- An exaggerated sense of self-importance ..

Steps to the Fall

1. Self Confidence .. normally a positive thing
2. Self Promotion .. look/listen to me
3. Self Admiration .. believing their own press release
4. Self Worship .. becoming their own god
5. Self Exclusion .. the rules don't apply to someone like me
6. Self Indulgence .. "I've" paid my dues.. "I" deserve it
7. Self Destruction.. the loss of family, reputation, creditability and more.

Most Leaders who fall into the dark side of ego seldom recognize it. They remind me of the pastor who was having trouble with the deacons in the church. He created a whole sermon targeting those with whom he had an axe to grind. He blasted away, starring down his adversaries. Standing at the back of the church shaking hands with the parishioners as they left, the head deacon grabbed the pastor'’s hand and said, "Reverend, great sermon. If they had been here this morning you would have nailed them."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Monk Becomes A Pastor

As I was walking back from the village to the campus a guy came up behind me and says, “Hello doctor, out for a walk?”

Pretty obvious, I thought to myself, but knowing he was just being pleasant I replied, “Yeah, getting a little exercise.” Since his pace was faster than mine I expected him to go on by, but he slowed and spoke again.

“I wanted to take your class, doctor” (I don’t have a name, just a title), “but I am getting your notes from the other students. Maybe I can write you and you can help me in my research?”

I didn’t know this guy and wondered how he knew me or was even interested in cultural anthropology. Since my mornings are filled with teaching and I visit with students in the afternoons, I wasn’t anxious to counsel during my exercise time, but he kept talking and I kept listening. Half interested in his story he blurted out, “I was once a Buddhist monk.”

“You were a what,” I asked? Intrigued I asked him how he came to be a Christian. Here’s his story.

Peter (a Christian name he took after conversion) grew up in a Buddhist home. After high school he joined a monastery, which made his parents very proud. The monastery was on an island in Burma where he was isolated from the world for six years. Leaving the monastery he lived as a monk in a village for a year. He said he didn’t like other religions, especially Muslims. Peter said there were two churches in the village where he lived, a Baptist church and an Assemblies of God.

“The AG church always has loud singing,” he said, “which we Buddhist find offensive. That kind of music is like a sin to our spirit”

Peter decided to go to go to the pastor of the church and confront him about this music. He expected the pastor to be rude and ready to debate him on religion. But the pastor was not rude at all, was kind to Peter and they began to talk. Peter was so impressed with the kind spirit of the pastor that he started attending the church services. Six months later, after hearing the message about Jesus Christ he became a believer. As he grew in his faith he began telling his family and friends about Christ.

“What did your parents think of you becoming a Christian,” I asked?

“They were against it,” he said. “My sister told me that I had become a disgrace to the family, my parents told me that it was my decision but they were not interested in hearing the Gospel. I even received a letter from a group of people in my village saying they would kill me. But, others have said they I was welcome and wanted to hear more.”
Peter is now working on his PhD and preparing to return to Burma as a pastor.

When we arrived back at the campus we said goodbye and I told him if I could help him in his dissertation I would be happy to do. As he walked away I thought of God’s amazing grace, how a monk was now preparing to be a Christian pastor. My walk had revealed another narrative of Grace. God even uses loud praise and worship to bring people unto Himself.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Values and Culture

One of the stickiest issues when dealing with culture is that of values. As with all things, values are culturally driven. What seems to be a lie to one person may be a face saving maneuver to another. What is clearly stealing in one culture is considered borrowing in a different context. Those who see things in black and white criticize this form of discussion as compromise and promoting relativism. “It’s either a sin or it’s not,” one student barked at me many years ago. “Tell me then,” I replied, “when your wife asks if she looks fat in her new dress, do you tell her the truth or do you tell her she looks lovely and not fat at all?”

All cultures are bound by their prison of disobedience, in personal sin and to institutional law. What I find interesting in the study below is that, at least as it relates to national corruption, that the countries with the least percentage of corruption are nations with a Christian foundation. The top four countries are hardly considered evangelical nations (Switzerland is predominately Catholic, 16% of population attend church). Why is the U.S., considered by some to be the most Christian of all nations, number 10? Why are Russia, China and India at the bottom of this list? Is it because they are emerging nations using any means, by hook or crook to get ahead, or is there a fundamental moral wolrd view that does perceive bribery as being corrupt but merely being shrewd (as in nation 19) in business? What does this study say to you?

A score of 10 indicates a perception of no corruption

1. Switzerland (7.81)
2. Sweden (7.62)
3. Australia (7.59)
4. Austria (7.50)
5. Canada (7.46)
6. UK (7.39)
7. Germany (7.34)
8. Netherlands (7.28)
9. Belgium (7.22)
10. U.S. (7.22)
11. Japan (7.10)
12. Singapore (6.78)
13. Spain (6.63)
14. United Arab Emirates (6.62)
15. France (6.50)
16. Portugal (6.47)
17. Mexico (6.45)
18. Hong Kong (6.01)
19. Israel (6.01)
20. Italy (5.94)
21. South Korea (5.83)
22. Saudi Arabia (5.75)
23. Brazil (5.65)
24. South Africa (5.61)
25. Malaysia (5.59)
26. Taiwan (5.41)
27. Turkey (5.23)
28. Russia (5.16)
29. China (4.94)
30. India (4.62)
Source: Transparency International 2006 survey

Monday, October 02, 2006

Horizontal Leadership

In my last post I discussed the difference between those who are visionaries, teachers and practioners. In the Body of Christ they are all important. Some people have more vision than others; some can teach the vision better than the visionary, and the practioner sometimes doesn’t have the vision or experience to teach. The role of the visionary and teacher are vital. Unfortunately, like all things with a body, the high profile gifts of a visionary or teacher oftentimes dwarf those who in fact do the work, the practioner.

Like most corporations, the mission industry structure is usually top down. The western church functions so much like a business firm that we have adopted its language, thus we have CEO’s, vice presidents, department heads all the way down to the people who actually churn out a product – in our case, a church plant.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this structure; doesn’t make any difference whether it’s right or wrong, it’s a system that we are stuck with. We pray our CEO’s will learn “servant leadership,” and we tell our teachers that they are now “facilitators.” In many organizations, certainly not all, neither the visionary or the teacher has planted a church, wrestled with the pain of growing a church and haven’t spent twenty-four hours in a village among the unreached people they proclaim to have heart for. I know of one CEO who failed on the field, didn’t even plant a cell group, didn’t get along with the nationals or colleagues on the field but is now head of his sending agency! Go figure. But I digress.

In a perfect world, with a perfect church the perfect structure is not vertical but horizontal. What shall we call it? How about the Jesus model? Jesus knew how to cast the vision; He did ministry (not in a five star but something between a foxes hole and a birds nest), and he taught/coached in the process. His followers wanted Him to be the CEO of the Kingdom, but He turned it down. He could have been the great rabbi/guru, but He wasn’t content just to tell others how to do it, He actually did Kingdom work, He taught by example.

There are very few people that possess all the abilities that characterize a discipler, even though that is what Jesus called us to be. The best we can hope for is a visionary who can see what needs to be done based on having touched and smelled the battle that he is asking the practioner to commit their lives to; for teachers who instruct out of experience, not mere academic theory; through their failures as well as successes in the trenches of real life. A true servant leader is one, like our Lord, who walked the talk, who led through doing, whose chief aim was to do the will of the Father. He did it all by serving alongside, no, in the midst, of those He came to serve.

Friday, September 29, 2006

No Easy Way

I was already in bed when the phone rang. The guy on the other end was a prior student and friend working in one of the former Soviet Union countries. He was calling to get some advice. The work is slow, the language is difficult and after 11 years in the country he said he “felt trapped.” His sending agency won’t give him permission to move to another field where he feels he would be more effective.

“I remember you saying in class,” he recounted, “that there are no more easy places left in the world to serve, only the hard fields.”

Of course there are no easy fields; everything is relative. However, there are countries that are seemingly easier. Countries where the language is manageable, receptive is high, good schools for kids, easy transportation, temperate weather, all make life easier. This guy lives in a place that has none of the above. I doubt that my advice was helpful and as I hung up the phone I was reminded once again the importance of finding one’s niche in ministry.

Evaluating ministry is tough. I recently posted a question to some pastors in the US on what type of missionaries their congregations are drawn to. Their answers were revealing. People who get support are those who have a good media presentation, are articulate, going to fields that are appealing, where there are results. Not one said their mission programs focused on a people group or unreached areas of the world. The heck with strategy …if they have cute kids they will get the support (obviously I’m being facetious, but I’m not too far off from reality).

Another relative ministry is vision casting. True, without vision the people perish, but it’s relative easier to talk about what needs to be done versus those who are doing it. My friend is just a meat and potatoes guy, daily struggling to help the national church, teaching theology and working with pastors. Last week I taught a group of twelve men who are preparing to go to the villages of their country, the backwaters where there are few, if any, believers; places where persecution is often coupled with resistance. The vision casters talk about reaching the nations for Christ, these guys are doing it.

In God’s grand design, we need the visionaries, they motivate others to be involved (primarily financially), and that’s a good thing. But, while the vision casters are staying in nice hotels, wine and dined by the American church, the guys that are really doing the work are marginalized. The vision casters will show the faces of the practioners in their media presentations but the national worker often lives a life of poverty and discouragement (sometimes the "trickle down theory in supporting nationals is just that, a trickle, at best). In spite of the hardships they rejoice in their privilege to serve their Savior.

This post isn’t about dishing anyone; it’s a reminder that we all need to keep missions in balance. Visionaries, practitioners, facilitators, coaches, evangelists, teachers are all important work. However, an attractive young couple does not a mission strategy make. Relatively speaking, getting up front of people showing a presentation, casting a vision what needs to be done, is a lot harder than actually doing it. There are no easy fields, but there are some fields that are definitely more difficult.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Narrative of Grace

What is it about Christ Jesus that draws people? Skeptics say that only the poor and uneducated people become followers of Christ. It can’t be they intellectually believe in His message, marginalized people are drawn to Christianity so they will have place in society. Marx believed religion was “an opium” for the masses, a mind altering activity so that people could cope their miserable conditions. For some, perhaps this argument is valid, but certainly not accurate for many true followers of Christ.

As I sat and listened to Nakul’s story it was truly a remarkable narrative of God’s grace on one man’s life. He told me that at birth he was so tiny (I am guessing born premature), his father, believed he would not live so he tossed him into a pit. A cousin rescued Nakul from the trenched and nursed him. When he was nearly two years old his father came to take him back to their home. Nakul’s mother died before he was three and he has no memory of her. Nakul’s father did not remarry and with five children he could not manage his household so placed Nakul into a Catholic school where he remained until he was eighteen. I asked him if he learned about Jesus while in school and he said no. He learned songs, even prayers, but they did not read the Bible or have classes on the Christian faith.

From high school he worked menial jobs -- breaking rocks, farm labor, manning a PCO station (Public Call Outlets, private run business where anyone with a telephone line can set up a booth from their house and charge people to use their phone). His existence was the typical life that millions of Indian young men live every day.

There was a pastor of a small Mennonite Church in the area who would often use Nakul’s PCO. Each time the pastor came he talked to Nakul about Christ and invited him to church. At first Nakul just argued with the pastor, not interested in the Christian religion. Out of persistence from the pastor and curiosity by Nakul, he eventually went to the church and heard how God loved him and that He gave His only Son Jesus Christ that he might have salvation.

“The one thing in my life I never had,” said Nakul, “was to know that someone loved me. I never knew my mother, cast aside by my father. My brothers and sisters tried to help me in life, but it wasn’t until I heard the Gospel that I understood what it meant to be loved by someone.”

Though Nakul grew up in difficult circumstances you can tell he has keen intellect and a ferocious reader. He eventually received a scholarship at a seminary where he earned an MTh. Nakul is still very much, what many would consider, a common man. Married at the age of thirty-five, he now has one daughter and talks often of his family, people in his life he loves.

Mother Tersa use to say that the greatest poverty in the world was not the lack of money, but the poverty of love and compassion. Whether one is born rich or poor, high caste or low caste, the one common denominator is that people long to loved, that they matter to someone. Nakul was blessed to hear the message, “While we were still in our sins, Christ loved us and gave Himself for us.” It is the love of Christ that draws people to Himself. It is the love of Christ that motivates us to love others and tell the story how God loves them.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

#5 Why I Love My Job

The fifth reason why I love my job has not always been so. In the early years of my ministry telling the story about our work was rewarding. To tell churches in the U.S. about the Pokot and Turkana people I worked with in the bush was something I felt was educational, therefore beneficial. The transformation of an animist to a believer in the One true living God was a testimony of His power and goodness. People were fascinated with my stories as well as with pictures of people right of National Geographic.

When I became a trainer, coach and consultant to missionaries the story did not seem to be as interesting, it didn’t have that ZING factor. Mission’s is an emotional enterprise. One can become emotional about a half-naked bushman becoming a follower of Christ, but it’s hard to work up much of a heart wrenching illustration about helping others create an effective strategy for cross-cultural ministry. Of course I see the exciting transformation in the lives of my students each time I teach. People, of all ages, educational background, as well as ethnic/linguistic background come into my class with ho-hum expectations and leave with a renewed vision of how they can actually become agents of transformation!

Though it is difficult to capture the passion or emotion of my work, it is a story that I still believe is worth telling people about. The transformation of a soul, from dark to light, from ignorance to understanding, is a work of God. However, it it is the presentation of His followers that is the catalyst, the bridge, from Word to faith. Unless the missionary from Korea, Ukraine, India, America, Nicaragua grasp the dynamics of cross-cultural communication the message of hope and life will lie dormant as ungerminated seed on the side of the road.

The message of Christ is more often ignored than it is rejected. Pastors and missionaries drone through their message and irrelevant theology, undergirded by stale orthodoxy. Our speech is largely Bible babble rather than compelling reasons for people to turn from their indifference to God, their consuming lusts, their superstitions, to a message of hope and meaning. The message of the Cross will always be an offense to the majority, but I see nothing in Scripture that commands His messengers be so. If they hate us, let it be for the truth that we deliver in a culturally relevant way, not because we are careless in how we present the message in their context.

For me, the zing factor happens when I receive a note, in broken English, from a former student in Nepal who is working with a tribal group in the forest,

“Until I took your class I did not truly understand how to talk to the Raute people. Now I know better how to talk to them.”

Though I will never see this man's work or be able to take pictures of the half-naked forest dwellers, his story is partly my story. It's a story, not just of people coming to know the God of heaven, but how God uses all of us -- me, people who support missions and the Nepalese missionary who serves a people that God is drawing to Himself. I've got a great job and I love it!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Kingdom Lessons Learned On The Train

Not sure why but the day after 26 hours on a train is a lot like jetlag. No time change, obviously, but the constant motion on the tracks drains me. Eating rice with your fingers is an acquired skill, compounded with the swaying of the back and forth coach, it’s a wonder I get any thing in my mouth. It will take a couple of days to get my equilibrium. Eating supper last night at the house was odd as my plate didn’t move and I had the luxury of a fork.

The train home was empty, which is rare. 11 million people travel by train each day so riding in a coach that had just ten people was a blessing. When boarding I shared a compartment with a businessman. He was a nice guy but I jumped at the chance to switch to a side lower berth where I could be alone. He invited me to have a shot of whiskey with him, but I declined. It’s illegal to drink on the train, but many do.

Indians are very nosy people or, perhaps, just curious. The business guy asked me the standard questions, “Where are you from? What do you do? Why are you in India? What companies do you work with?” I answer most of the questions, “I live in Delhi, am a consultant, different companies, teach anthropology.” When it gets too personal or I just get tired of answering questions I smile and say, “That’s classified information, sorry.” I don’t feel obligated to satisfy all their curiosities.

Some other guys down the aisle must have been drinking as well as they were loud, laughed and played Punjabi music most of the way. I wished I had remembered my headphones to drown out the chatter.

I have been reading McLaren’s latest book, The Secret Message Of Jesus: Uncovering The Truth That Could Change Everything, which is about the real meaning of the Kingdom. His contention is that we, the church, have missed the point of our Lord’s teaching, that the Kingdom is not the future, but now. While our focus seems to be conversion, programs and building local mini-kingdom’s, he asserts that our attention should be in solving present problems such as disease, poverty and injustice. Nothing particularly new in his argument, but as my train passed through the villages I was struck again by the dismal way so many people have to live. Is my role, the role of all of us in evangelical circles, so out of whack with what the Kingdom is really all about?

As I ponder these thoughts, I get off the train and a woman, old, in rags, half-blind, stands before me with her hand out. I reach into my pocket for some money, knowing that no matter how many people I give to I haven’t solved anything. Are we missing the point? Perhaps it’s time of for a paradigm shift in how we live our lives. Status quo doesn’t quite satisfy.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Day Two on the Rajhdani Express

One really doesn’t sleep on a train; it’s more like dozing on and off the length of the journey. When the train stops at a station I am aware we’re not moving. I get up to use the toilet at 3 a.m. and it doesn’t make any difference if it’s the Indian or Western style, it all is a direct shot to the tracks below. It’s just matter if you want to squat or sit to make a deposit. Back on my bunk my head is cramped, my back is sore, but at least I don’t have to climb to the upper birth to resettle.

At 6 a.m. a guy pokes his head into my berth and ask if I want coffee or chai. “Nay,” I tell him plainly as I role over to get another twenty winks. At 7:30 breakfast is served. I ordered the night before a non-veg. breakfast meaning an omelet. As I unfurled the foil from the tiny container, along with my egg are English peas and four French fries; the allies are with me, neither of which are much help. Scraping off the peas, I place my omelet between the two dry pieces of bread that is a part of my dining pleasure. Not bad. The tea was good.

I decided to travel by train on this trip because I wanted to see the Indian countryside. I could have flown and the trip would have only been two hours instead of the nearly twenty-four by Rahjdani Express. Living in the capital city is wonderful as it is progressive and, in some places, modern. In the bubble of the city, however, I forget that most of the population still lives in the villages or smaller cities. As I look out the dirty window from my coach I am reminded of the India I met fourteen years ago.

Because it is the monsoon season the landscape is lush green with fields of rice, sugarcane, wheat and assortment of vegetables. The goat’s meander in the fields looking for grass, boys sit on top of their water buffalo’s all day long as they guide them to pasture. Women carry water in round pots on their heads or hips, but these days the vessels are more likely to be plastic than copper. Their sari’s and head coverings have the flavor of village life in the time of Jesus in Palestine rather than modern India.

Of course it’s not paradise. Trash litters the tracks. As the train passes through villages the houses by the tracks are the slum dwellers, landless people who erect any covering of stick and plastic just to have a place to sleep. Kids play near stagnate water, where the pigs and garbage are mixed. The sunrise squatters, as I call them, bear their back end, oblivious to the passengers on the train. Without latrines the best they can hope for would be a bush to conceal their morning ritual, but privacy is not a part of their worldview so an open field seems to be work just fine.

How different these villagers are to those who share my coach. Most of the men have a brief case and cell phones. I notice a lady two sectors down wearing blue jeans with a stylish top. Young people wear shorts, T-shirts that read, “Trouble Is On It’s Way,” and little kids play with their electronic games with their continuous and irritating beeps. The language around me is mostly Hindi, but there is a good mixture of English and local languages as well. I am not looked upon as odd or out of place, just another traveler from a different part of the world.

At 6:45 p.m. we slowly pull into the Secunderabad station. I gather my things and head for the door. This train will continue on another twelve hours to Bangalore so the young girl may have claimed my berth as I stepped from the coach. On the platform a man with a sign of the school I will be teaching is waiting for me. Just one more hour of traveling and I will lie down on a bed that doesn’t move.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Long Train To Hyderabad

I gazed into the night sky, watching the rain hitting the awning at H. Nizamuddin railway station while waiting for the Rajdhani Express to arrive. I was glad my train departed from this station rather than the main station in New Delhi as HN was forty-five minutes closer to our house. When it rains in this city the streets are easily flooded and traffic, always congested, becomes a snarl as auto rickshaws, buses, cars, motorbikes all try to navigate through pools of water.

I have been riding trains in this country for fifteen years and it is always an adventure. Huddled with other passengers under the canopy I watched as porters pulled hand carts loaded with freight, coolies carrying luggage on their heads for travelers, beggars pulling on my shirt asking for a handout, hawkers selling everything from chains and locks for personal luggage to fruit and bottled water. At other times I’ve watched rats darting in-between posts to find food or playing on the tracks below. No rats tonight, too much rain.

As my train arrives I look for coach A3. I get on and find that my seat is in the middle of a three-tier sleeper and I’m disappointed. My ticket reads a lower side berth so I wonder if I boarded the on the wrong coach? I have plenty of time, so I quickly lock my bags under the lower berth seat and walk down the train platform. Sure enough, I got on AS3; A3 was the second-to-last car at the end of the train.

When I finally find my proper place a young lady had parked herself on seat number five.

“Would you prefer the lower berth?” she asked, hoping it didn’t matter to me.

“Yes,” I said kindly but with firmness, “I’m getting too old to climb up and down to the upper berth.”

You could tell she wasn’t pleased and I suspected I would have to negotiate more to get my assigned seat. I have learned in this country that people are willing to inconvenience others for their convenience. As a student of culture, I’ve learned the rules of how they play the game. If it were an older woman or elderly man I would have gladly made the adjustment, but if status means anything in this society, and it surely does, my grey hair trumped her youthful aggressive gender.

She did not budge, but I was willing to wait. It would not be until the train manager came and inspected our tickets or after supper that I would need my bed, so I sat next to another man, took out a book and began to read. The train pulled out of the station on time, 8:50 p.m.

I refused supper, as I was still full from the lunch earlier in the day. Sandy and I went with some friends to Kareem’s, a Muslim restaurant in the heart of a Muslim colony not far from where we lived. The mutton gravy, dal (bean gravy), chicken and roti (bread), was still heavy on my stomach.

After everyone had finished their supper the porter came by and distributed our bedding. Two clean white sheets, a pillow, washcloth and a blanket. They all looked like army issue bedding, especially the brown coarse blanket. The young girl slipped out of the compartment to wash her hands and I took charge of my space. When she returned I was making my bed. Knowing that I had the advantage she climbed to the berth above me without a word of protest.

For the next two hours I read, a novel I picked up for the journey. I seldom read fiction, but when you know you are going to sitting in one place for twenty hours you look for anything that will engage your mind, even if it has no eternal value. I only read Indian novels and search for those that can tell a good story and that which will also give me insights into the culture.

This particular book is about a young north Indian writer with two great struggles -- writers block and, more significantly, his loss of desire for his lover of fifteen years. To read the story you’d think he’d hardly have time to think about a narrative as he is consumed with reliving, in graphic detail, the passion he once had for the slender, dark haired and fair woman. I wade through the frequent salacious scenes, but more intrigued with the settings of his apartment in Vasant Kunj, Chandi Chowk, Lajpat Nagar and the social interaction of the players in his life. To read from the mind’s eye of another with the benefit of living in this same context, having touched, smelled and seen with my physical eye the word pictures he is painting, makes for engaging distraction.

As my fellow passengers settle in for the night, I turn off my reading light and try to get comfortable on the one inch shorter than needed slab that is my bed. The rhythm of the swaying train and the tempo of metal wheels on steel tracks lull me to sleep. Just nineteen more hours and I will arrive in Hyderabad.

(to be continued)

Friday, September 01, 2006

#4 Why I Love My Job

I contend, as well as teach, that the key to success in working overseas is job satisfaction. People say they leave the field because of illness, conflict with associates, finances, persecution, culture stress and a host of other things, but almost any of those obstacles can be overcome if a person really feels they have, as is the title of my book, found their niche in their work.

My niche is teaching cross-cultural studies. Going cross-culturally has different levels. C1 is "like-culture" (mono), which is 90% of ministry activity. C2 is a different culture (better described as social environment) but similar, e.g. middle class Caucasians working with poor illiterate or Americans working in London. C3 is crossing a significant cultural boundary (middle class white American learning enough Arabic to work with Egyptians in Detroit). C4 (not plastic explosives) is anyone who moves from their country into another country, learns the host culture language, customs and social organization. This is the emic principle, becoming an insider. Having been blessed, not only having lived as a C4 worker but being educated in the discipline of how to study and different culture environments, I have a unique and fulfilling career niche.

Globalization means that our world is smaller and culture’s are merging into a collective lingua franca. Those who do not understand the dynamics of culture make the false assumption that similar equal same, believing that just a tweaking of presentation is all that is needed to effectively communicate across cultural barriers. It’s a fatal flaw. Look at any company, church, social or even government policy that is successful and you will find that someone in that organization knows how to read the culture of their market.

I recently taught a class where some MK’s from Australia was going back to the country they were raised. The director of the class warned me, that some of them didn’t feel they needed my class. They grew up in the culture; they didn’t need a cross-cultural course. I suppose it would be true, if they were going to serve exactly in the same place of their parents, among the same people they grew up with. IF, however, they dared to serve among a different geographical, ethnic, socio-economic or age group, they would need to learn the importance of cross-cultural studies. As I gave my presentation a few actually caught on and the lights of cultural understanding started to flicker.

Tomorrow I get on a train, travel 24 hours to a remote part of the country to teach nationals on how to communicate the Gospel in a culturally relevant way. My job is unique; few can do it. I truly have job satisfaction. I love my job.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Power of the Physical

For as long as I knew my mother-in-law she observed one solemn ritual, Decoration Day. In the south, each spring local cemeteries would set aside a day for this special occasion where relatives would go and put flowers on the headstone of their departed loved ones. It’s also a time to remove unsightly weeds and other debris, a type of spring-cleaning for the graveyard. Memorial Day, which initially established to remember fallen soldiers, has taken over Decoration Day, but has the same function.

Of course my mother-in-law understood the remains under the sod had no spiritual significance, at least I don’t think she did, but rather the gravesite was a touchstone, a physical connection to the one who was no more. Catholics in South America has a similar practice called All Saints Day. Some of them have a superstitious notion that by praying to their kin the dead relatives will grant their requests, or perhaps take the request to the Virgin Mary, Saint Peter or maybe even to Jesus Himself. Buddhist pray to their ancestors. Even my aged and sickly Hindu neighbor told me the other day he prays to his mother that she will grant his wish to let him die. Idols, temples, churches, saints even cemeteries are “sacred space,” for us mortals. Why do people do revere these things? It’s the power of the physical. What we see, touch, posses we can conceptualize as real. What we cannot see is perhaps just myth.

Capitalism and the free market economy is the driving force behind the power of the physical. My sister-in-law sells cars, but not just any car, she sells BMW’s. Ah, but she sells more than automobiles, she sells image. If you drive a BMW you are making a statement that you are successful. Certainly a BMW is a nice car, but it has the basics you will find on a Ford or Honda, or even a horse cart for that matter. Four round wheels, a place to sit, a steering system and a power source. Depending on image preference, capitalism will steer (no pun intended) a demographic buyer toward the $40K silver roadster or $40K double cab pickup. Both conjure a powerful physical symbol in the automotive market.

Because we are physical people, living in a physical world, our value system is influenced by our material world. A person's weight, color of hair, whiteness of teeth, skin tone, dress, social associations, house, the comforts one strives for, all point to the physical. Fat means lazy, dark skin means lower class (or caste...or terroist), plastic means poor, country club means status. We kill, cheat, horde for the our cherished physical symbols.

The church is not immune to the power of the physical. The buildings they erect, the music they perform, the programs they create for the special focus groups in their congregation, are all a part of the emphasis on the physical. As I listen to pastors the topic generally is about the three “P’s,” programs, presentation and property. In missions, the focus is on churches planted, fostering a people movement, reproducing the western physical in a foreign context.

What’s the harm? Nothing, except that there are two dimensions of man, one physical the other is the metaphysical (see 8/22 post). So dominant is the physical that it not just overwhelms, it often annihilates the spiritual. The more one buys into the physical the less we are even aware of our “real” needs, which is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When was the last time you heard, in a church business meeting, a serious discussion in the budget to help the homeless, the drug addicts, elderly or handicapped in the community? How ironic that helping others with their physical may be the instrument God will use to lead us to the metaphysical.

As I write this I am aware of the tree trunk in my own eye. I am not only consumed with the physical, I fret and worry about it. Am I doing enough to satisfy my donors who want a report on those ‘saved’ or churches planted under my ministry? How can I make my presentation, my newsletters more attractive so that people will see that I’m a good investment for their support? How do I look before my peers? Do they see me as intellectually capable, or merely an intellectual-wannabe dufus? Do I really care as much about the rag pickers I see on my morning walks as I do about my retirement portfolio? Am I like the young ruler who turned away from Jesus, so close to the kingdom, but walked away sad because he had much wealth he was unable to part with?

Of course Jesus was the antithesis of those dominated by the physical. He didn’t dress for success, he ate with the wrong crowd, blessed and cared for the wrong people. The only image he was concerned about was reflecting the image of His Father. “If you’ve seen me work,” he told Philip, “you have seen the Father.” If I am to ever break this bondage of the physical I must fully embrace His words, “Seek first the kingdom [metaphysical] of God and these other things [physical] will be provided for you.”

Friday, August 25, 2006

#3 Why I Love My Job

There is a difference between working with, working for, working alongside national church leaders. There is a lot of talk about “facilitating” the national church, but, like the details, somewhere the devil is in the definition.

When a North American organization states they are working with the national church, many times they mean they have a program or agenda and they have found nationals who provide local bodies to be a part of the program. Many of the facilitating projects in the world are American led and financed, working with nationals. In the grand scheme of things, this is not always bad, but it is not exactly what I do.

A few years back I heard a pastor of a national church say, “Foreign missionaries coming to this country should submit themselves to the national church. If they want to help our country they should serve under the direction of the national leadership.” What he was saying was the role of expat’s should be to work for them. If I was under thirty years old, had no experience overseas, I could see where that might be a rational suggestion. Provided the national leader knew what he was doing, wouldn’t try to exploit free labor and was willing to mentor me in the process of learning culture and ministry. The leader who made this comment is a wonderful person, but he’s not even a good pastor (working with people), so I would hate to think what type of a mentor he would be. Being over forty, ah, over fifty, with thirty years of service and being an independent type, the “S” word is not something I am comfortable with. At this point in my life I don’t want to work for even my most respected national leaders. Like borrowing money, that would be a recipe to end a wonderful friendship.

The reason I love my job at this stage of life is that I truly do work alongside the national church. Because my training is unique (a future post), I do not have to build anything, fund anything (except my training expenses) and, I am not lording over others nor being lorded over. Working alongside national pastors I do not get involved in their finances, politics or internal conflicts. Being a true facilitator is probably the most effective way a North American can serve the national church today.

And, what wonderful national leaders I have worked alongside! In the second term of our work in Kenya I released all responsibilities and decision making to the national pastors. It took awhile, not always a smooth transition, but today they are some great leaders I now visit and facilitate. In India, those I work alongside, are people with vision and unusually high ethical standards. Many of these leaders have their PhD’s, have a passion for Christ and know the difference between with and for. When I go to other countries, like Serbia recently, Moldova in November, I do so knowing that what I provide in training is for their benefit, not my own.

Admittedly, my job is unique. A combination of having the right educational credentials, practical and real life cross-cultural experience, and nearly two million road miles, I am, not one of a kind, but one of the few, who can truly serve in a facilitative role to the church. At this stage in life is it any wonder…I love my job.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

38 Years of Travel

We met in February, walked down the aisle six months later. We really didn’t know much about each other when we started our journey together, and after thirty-eight years, today, we still don’t always get it exactly right. But, we’re doing better. I can’t imagine what the trek would have been without you. Happy anniversary Sandy.