Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year's Reflection and a One Day Reminder

The dawn of a New Year makes me realize how quickly the old ones have gone by.

I grew up with the great tradition of New Year’s Day living in California (this was in the '50's, not during the Great Depression as some of my students think). We got up early to watch the Rose Bowl Parade on our black and white television (hard to see the beautiful flowers when everything is gray), and of course college football all day long. Those were the days when there was only the Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl. In-between games my brother and I and the neighborhood kids would go on the front lawn and have our own make-believe bowl game.

My first preaching gig was on New Year’s Eve, 1967, I think. Our church always had a “Watch-Night Service” (the churches lame attempt to have an alternative program to counter the decadent parties of the world). Church members would meet about 7 p.m. and it would go on until the final prayer soon after mid-night. It was 5 hours of pure boredom as we sang, listened to sermons, from just about anyone who wanted to speak, eat finger food and pray. I think I preached the entire book of Revelation that night, in 30 minutes! (You never know when you will get another chance, so unload all you’ve got when you can).

New Year’s use to be a time when I would sit down and make goals for the year ahead, dream about where I want to be five years from now. I don’t do that anymore, but probably should. Part of the reason is because I am planning ahead all the time. I pretty much know where I will be and what I will be doing in 2009, that is, as far as I have anything to do with it.

My wife calculated that her dad, who passed away a week and half ago and one day after his 84th birthday, lived 30,661 days -- that’s the exact days God allotted to my father-in-law. As 2008 ticks away and gives way to 2009 I’m mindful that it’s not the year or the decade that defines who we are, but the days we are given. The accumulation of days and the decisions we made in those days are what’s important. I can make plans for tomorrow, but since this might be my last post, it’s more important that I make this day count. God help me to live it for Him and not myself.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

LEADING Cross-Culturally

This past week I finished reading Sherwood Lingenfelter’s new book, LEADING Cross-Culturally. In all of Shewood’s works there are two common threads, which are (1) anthropological, and what he defines as (2) kingdom principles. I have known Sherwood for 20 years and he was the chair for my doctoral studies at Biola, so I’m familiar with his style and intent.

In this book the two major concepts I gleaned was the discussion of default culture and his definition of the differences between managing and leading. In the mission world, one of the weaknesses in ministry is that, using power and authority, missionaries tend to manage rather than lead. Sherwood ‘s concept of responsible-for versus responsible-to is an important distinction that every missionary would do well to learn.

The book is primarily for those of us who work with multicultural teams; how people from culture A interacts with people from culture B, C and D. Most leadership books are slanted to principles and practices from the West, essentially ignoring leadership styles of non-Western cultures. Missionaries are dismayed when their foreign colleagues fall back to their default cultural way of doing things. Sherwood is more generous with case studies in this book and through illustrations helps solve the problem, not just stating the obvious. Ironically, my article "How Cultures Work: A Roadmap for Intercultural Understanding in the Workplace" was published in the latest issue of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly this week. Sherwood’s book confirmed some of my own understanding on how to solve problems working with multicultural teams. Get a copy of Lingelter’s book as I think it has some keen insights for those who serve cross-culturally.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Annual Scrooge Blog

It’s time for my annual Scrooge Letter. I hate Christmas…bah humbug. I hate the commercialism, the hypocrisy of gift giving and the expectations from people I care little about (I have an irritating nephew who I see maybe twice a year, who acts offended when we don’t buy him something). Okay, that’s a bit harsh, but needless to say (I know if it’s needless, why say it), December 25th is not my favorite day of the year.

The only redeeming part of Christmas is being with family (but not all of our family will be together and if you've been reading previous posts you know it will not be a festive time for the extended family). Of course the food is a definite Yule Tide plus and we’re talking quantity as well as quality. This year it will be chicken, ham and brisket…a meat-lovers version of heaven along with the side order of sweet potatoes, broccoli salad, green salad, my mom’s homemade hot rolls, walnut and chocolate pie. I’m sure Mary and Joseph had a similar spread in the cow stalls of Bethlehem.

I use to be fascinated with the Christmas story, but as I get older I see it from such a different perspective. You really do have to be a believer in Christ to believe the Christmas narrative, because on face value, it’s just a very weird story (only post moderns will confess this openly). The virgin conceiving, angels appearing to shepherds in the fields to announce His birth, wise men traveling with gifts for a king, all sound pretty far-fetched. The only thing in the story I get is taxation by Governor Herod (representing all politicians) as death and taxes are historical/universal constants; Mary and Joseph having to sleep in a barn, which may have been just as comfortable as a first century inn. The Son of God as a baby, the one who created all things being fed and changed? Sorry, my mind doesn’t even want to go there.

If you are a believer you accept anything that is far-fetched. Ganesh riding on a rat; Mohammed, the illiterate writing the Koran or the angel Moroni appearing to another illiterate by the name of Joseph Smith who founded the Mormon church. And how about the secularist who place their far-fetched beliefs in the scientist who do their best to manipulate data to convince the unenlightened that the whole universe is the result of a cosmic accident and who now tell us that only the insane would not believe in man-made global warming.

Here’s the deal, we choose to believe what we want to believe. The Christmas story is not logical, but unless you have no use for the metaphysical, it is supernaturally plausible. Theologically I can’t accept a divine birth that was the product of human union. I’m not going to pick the story apart just to make it more acceptable to my finite understanding. God isn’t interested in my theological engineering to make all the pieces fit. Faith is that thing we don’t understand but we accept it anyway. The Master of the universe doesn’t read the polls, and is not concerned whether man comprehends everything about Himself. With finiteness comes mystery. The Christmas story is one of those great mysteries of God. So, as a follower of the Christ I accept that He was born that He might die for my salvation. I acknowledge it on the basis of total blind faith. It may not make sense to me and perhaps that fact alone may be the best argument for why the Bethlehem scene is true. While I may hate the season for what modern man has made of it, now a global holiday for even the infidels, I still like the fact that God loved me so much that He would send Immanuel (God with us) to this earth to live and die for my salvation. So, in spite of distaste for the day, MERRY CHRISTMAS…but I’m still not buying my nephew a present.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Great Transition

As I drove home last night I thought about knowing and being known in heaven. The scripture seems to suggest that the saints of God, those who die in Christ, while absent from the body are present with the Lord. So when a person who is a follower of Christ dies, as my father-in-law did yesterday, they slip from consciousness of the physical to a different realm of awareness in the metaphysical. My father-in-law fell asleep in his chair and his heart just stopped. I wonder in the transition between time (which ceased for him when the heart quit and eternity began), and space (when he no longer was in his recliner in Bethel Heights, Arkansas, into the presence of God), when did Fred realize he was no longer dreaming?

When it comes to talking about the state of the soul of man after death most of it is conjecture. I’m sure that St. Peter didn’t meet Fred at the proverbial pearly gates, but I do wonder how the changeover took place. As he was trying to figure out this weird dream in a different environment, was there a band of relatives around him welcoming him to this strange place in his dream? Perhaps. But if we know and are known, then anyone would be recognizable to him.

“Well, hello, Elijah,” Fred might have said as he saw the Old Testament legend walk by, “I was reading about you just last night.”

“Hi Fred,” Moses might have called out.” Glad to see you here. We’ve been expecting you.”

In Fred’s initial state of eternity he might have thought to himself, “Wow, this dream feels so real!”

Perhaps (pure conjecture you understand), everyone knew Fred when he arrived as they recognized him in his overalls. My father-in-law seldom wore anything but overalls and I only saw him wear a suit one time, at Sandy’s and my wedding. I can’t imagine Fred in a white robe so I am assuming, if we know and are known, there are overalls in heaven. (For those not from the rural south, there is a difference between overalls and coveralls).

As I continued to drive home last night I imagined Christ was the first one to appear in Fred’s dream. I know that’s the first person I want to see as I transfer from mortality to immortality. Perhaps (merely conjecture you understand), the Lord might be dressed in the common attire of a first century Mediterranean carpenter and, as Jesus embraced my father-in-law he said something like, “I’ve been preparing a place for you Fred, let me show you around.”

Conjecture indeed. But I do wonder how long it took for Fred to realize he wasn’t dreaming?

As the family left behind, still trapped in time, grieves and prepares to place his human shell in the grave, Fred is coming to grips in knowing. And, as he is getting use to his new surroundings, he is known as the redeemed recognize him. For those in Christ death is not something to fear, it’s merely a passage between that which we have known to a place where we will know, where time is no more.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Killing Lizards

One of the truly great things about the U.S. is their public library system. Last week I traveled to North Carolina, a journey of 32 hours driving up and back. Before leaving my home I visited my local library and checked out some books on CD. Listening to books is a heck of a lot more entertaining than listening to talk radio or music – and they keep me awake as I look down the long corridor of Interstate 40.

One of the books I listened to was The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis. The plot is that of ghosts who have taken a bus from purgatory to heaven (or at least it will be heaven if they choose to stay). They are there to see if they really want to enter into heaven, or catch the bus back to purgatory. If they choose to stay, there are conditions. The people in this drama range from a woman who insists she see her son who she loved on earth (though her love was more for self and her needs than for her son), a theologian who didn’t appreciate the entrance requirements for heaven (in his case humility) because he was not recognized for his scholarship, a wife who didn’t want to meet her dead husband unless she could tell him how to live his life (as she did on earth).

In one scene there is a man walking about with a ugly little creature on his shoulder, a red lizard. He kept talking to the creature, “Get away from me. Shut up!” A fiery angel approaches the man and asks in a stern voice, “Do you want me to kill it?” The man is stunned and argues for sometime with the angel, insisting he doesn’t really want the creature killed, he merely wants it silenced. With each argument the angel repeats the question, “Do you want me to kill it?” The ghost is afraid; if the angel kills the creature he, too, will be hurt, even die.

I take it the creature represents those “besetting sins” (Hebrews 12:1), that all men and women must deal with in life, those habits that keep us from running the good race toward the reward of our salvation. Our creature may be pride, selfishness, lust, insecurities, doubt, an addiction, laziness or perhaps misplaced affection. Our little creature, though annoying, has become a fixture in our lives and, though we loathe the little reptile, we can’t seem to muster the courage to just kill the damn thing.

In Lewis’ story, the ghost FINALLY consents to the elimination of the little read creature and the lizard writhes in ghastly pain in its demise. Remarkably the creature becomes transformed into a magnificent stallion.

As I continued my journey down the highway, I thought of all the little red lizards in my life and prayed that God will give me courage to kill that which keeps me from being transformed into the image of the One who loves me and wants the best for me. “Do you want me to kill it?” He says to me. “Yes, Lord. Even though I am afraid, kill the little beast.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Indian 12 Days of Christmas

Sent to me by one of my Indian friends in Delhi.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Consultants and the Non-Resident Missionary

Talking with my brother the other day he was telling me about the world of business consultants. He said that people often are shocked by consulting fees, as some consultants make between $500 to $20,00 a day. He then told me about a survey that revealed that only about 20% of the employees in any one company are truly engaged in the business. The other 80% are employed, get a weekly paycheck but a lot of their days are having coffee with other employees, reading email, surfing the net and only spend a few hours a day actually doing work. “When a consultant comes into work he is 100% there and often putting in 12 hour days. While a consultant fee may seem pricy, you can be sure that what they do will be full-on and focused.”

As a non-resident missionary, who now travels four or five times a year to the field and is away from home 3 to 8 weeks at a time, I see a parallel between people living on the field 24/7 and my role as one who works under contract. Since I’ve been in the mission business for 30 years, both field as well as non-resident, I have observed that 80% of the career missionaries who live in a foreign land, many do less work than I do with my frequent visits. There are indeed some truly committed field missionaries who serve with a sense of responsibility. There are others who spend most of their time just living and with occasional focus on the task. When I pack my bags and head overseas it’s not a part-time activity. On my most recent trip I taught for six weeks straight, at least 4 hours a day. If you know anything about teaching you know the out of class activity is visiting with students and preparing for the next days. As one who has visited over 40 countries and lived in two countries, unlike short-term visitors who spend less than two weeks, I am not a tourist fascinated by the culture or trying to adjust to the food. When I am not on the field, like most consultants, my “off time” is spent in reading, doing research and preparing for the next assignment.

When it comes to my consulting fees, well, that’s when this analogy with business consultants breaks down. Most of the places I serve I pay my own way. In partnership with donors, this ministry is a service. My clients are really those who invest in what I do for the church worldwide. They expect, and rightly so, that I serve, not part-time, but full-on and focused.

Friday, November 28, 2008

We All Teach Heresy, But Be Intellectually Honest About It

In one of my classes I teach epistemology, the science of knowledge. My challenge is “how to do you know what you know and how do you know what you know is right?” I then give the students an epistemological quiz (20 questions) to test their theological consistencies. A sampling of the quiz, adapted from Paul Hiebert, true or false:

1. Muslim believers in Jesus cannot continue to pray at the mosque.
2. Slavery is permissible if slaves are treated well.
3. Polygamy is adultery, therefore a sin.
4. Forbid teaching from the Koran or other holy books.
5. A Christian should not engage in any Hindu or Muslim festivals.

At some point I recount the story of my old hermeneutics professor who said at the end of the term, “Gentlemen, recognize that in your ministry all of you will teach some heresy.”

“Great.” I thought, “I’ve spent a semester learning how to properly interpret the text, and he concludes telling us we are going to teach heresy!”

Nearly 40 years since those college days and nearly the same period of time in ministry, I have come to the conclusion that the old professor was right. We all gain our knowledge through a prism defined by culture, our time and what information we will allow into our minds. Do we read secular philosophy or the writings of other religious scholars? For the first twenty-five years of my ministry I never read anything but evangelical material. Up to that time I had never visited a Catholic Church, read anything by Marx or had any idea what a Hindu believed. Why? FEAR.

The greatest threat to intellectual or spiritual growth is the fear that somehow, if we expose ourselves to anything that is not within the framework of what we believe is truth, we will become an apostate, end up a drunken atheist. While I understand the dangers of false teaching, error is often the result of limited or filtered knowledge. Paul stated that we see (understand) through a glass darkly, i.e. have an obscure or imperfect vision of reality. Heresy is indeed a result of faulty hermeneutics and part of our flawed interpretation is due to self-induced bias.

But of course, heresy is not just an evangelical Christian problem. Every religious zealot in the world holds to a belief system born more out of cultural conditioning than in an honest pursuit of truth. Even science, which for some is the final answer to everything, is bound by parallaxes of vision. In the movie, EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed, it is interesting that Darwinism, which itself is always evolving, is bigoted in their opinion and have no tolerance for intellectual debate.

As a postmodernist follower of Christ, who holds to his absolutes absolutely, I realize that the search for truth is part of my working out my own salvation. In the process, I hope I am and not teaching heresy, but know that I probably am (and so are you).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Day of Grace to Say Thanks

I have no statistics on this, but I’m guessing that Thanksgiving Day is the second most popular American holiday, Christmas being number one. Personally, I have always favored this holiday as it is the one day where we, as a nation, collectively and individually, pause long enough to give thanks to our Creator for His goodness. In some ways it should be called Grace Day, as it is only through God’s grace that we have anything to be thankful for.

91% of Americans will eat Turkey this year, the official bird of Thanksgiving and the fowl Benjamin Franklin wanted as our national symbol. Interesting, Columbus thought the turkey was like a peacock and therefore called the bird “tuka,” which is Tamil, the language in one of the southern sates of India. The average household food bill for this one meal will be $44.61, as our well-fed nation will consume 46 million birds, dressing and pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving Day is family time, and in a country where increasingly our individualistic society is ever more disconnected, there is that pull to bring families together, if not to give thanks, at least to watch football.

As my nation leads up to this grandest of all holidays the emphasis, as seems to be case with everything in the U.S., will be on the economy. The focus for Wall Street is not on Thursday but the day after, known as Black Friday. Consumerism is the god of goodness, the deity of prosperity. More attention will be given this year to Black Friday, which is the unofficial beginning of Christmas shopping, than on the God who allows us the freedom, health and wealth to buy the junk we import from China and other developing countries. We’ve come a long way since that first Thanksgiving where our Pilgrim father’s shared a meal with the Wampanoag Indians at Plymouth Rock.

The forecast for Thanksgiving in my part of the world is partly cloudy and that pretty much sums up my feelings. The tension will always be to look at the dark side of things, but the setting aside a day to say thanks allows us to see the world is only partly cloudy and we have a lot to be thankful for. Thursday I probably will be asked to say grace over the meal, as I am the official prayer giver at my in-laws house. I can perform this ritual, which is meaningless to some in the family, not through rote liturgy, but because I know it’s God’s grace that allows me the privilege to say thanks.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shame and Social Control

The class lecture was on social control. In this class I present the different mechanisms of control and how those mechanisms make us conform into the image of our cultural environment. Formal controls are rules and laws passed by society on what is proper/improper behavior (e.g. speed limits, paying taxes, age limit for consensual sex). Informal mechanisms of control are set by family, interest groups and religion (endogamy for marriage within defined ethnicity; Weight Watchers using shame techniques for dieters and fear of the supernatural to control devotees of faith). The media is big on shame manipulation and social control. In every election people are called “idiots” if they vote for one candidate, while others are sophisticated if they vote for the other person the media has anointed worthy of office. Social control can be subtle or overt, but it’s a phenomenon that takes place constantly.

While the class discussion continued, a young lady from northeast India told her story. She recounted that the reason she was in seminary was because of the expectations of her family. At a young age she was “consecrated” by her parents for God’s service. Though she insisted that she indeed wanted to serve Christ and enrolling in this school was her choice, she said she never thought much about doing anything else because of the expectations of her family. She then went on to say, choking back emotion that would lead to tears, that her pastor told her that if she did not fulfill the consecration of her family that she would be cursed and perhaps that curse would even fall on her parents.

As I listened to her story I was both incensed and saddened. Saddened because this truly sincere but confused young woman was serving Christ, partly because of personal choice, but strongly influenced by social control. Incensed because a pastor dared to use the fear of the supernatural to shame this person to conform to the wishes of her parents and even the church. For too many religious leaders, be they Christian, Muslim or Hindu, theology is a form of quality control and they set themselves up as one who speaks for God to pass judgment. Not only is that theological heresy, when it comes to manipulating the emotions of others it borders on the criminal of physiological abuse.

All of humanity is pushed, pulled and jerked around by the opinions of family, peers, religion and the constant barrage of influence that comes our way through music and the film industry. Paul admonished the followers of Jesus not be conformed to the things of this world but be transformed into the image of Christ. While the battle for control continues, our Creator is trying to break through to show us His love, mercy and patience. And He does that without heaping on us guilt and shame…that’s the work of the enemy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Is There A Doctor In The House?

In Thailand the Mission Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance celebrated its 11th Global Consultation with the attendance of 250 mission and church leaders from over 50 nations.

The MC convenes a global consultation every two or three years for mutual encouragement, fellowship and building of relationships, growth in the understanding of the missional enterprise around the globe, dealing with global issues and challenges, and planning the joint work and strategies, in order to become better equipped for the work.

This time the MC consultation focused primarily the missiological issues of Contextualization, Mission and Spirituality, and Mission in the Context of Suffering, Violence, Persecution and Martyrdom. The general reflection of all participants and the specific missiological teams generated the core content for a new series of three missiological books based on the work done by the Global Missiology Task Force. These books will be published during the next three years.

In a hall knee-deep in PhD’s and scholars, I didn’t see one nametag that reflected their educational accomplishments. Mission practioners are more focused on the task and solving crucial problems rather than impressing others with their credentials. The consultation provided intellectual and spiritual thought without the need to ask if there was a doctor in the house.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Wal-Mart and Zolfresh

The journey isn’t complete until your body and mind merge into the same time zone. After 30 hours of travel, 18 of them in an airplane and the balance in airports, my journey to Asia and back is nearly complete. Eight weeks and 40,000 miles of travel are over, but one cannot quite say they are home until they can sleep right through the night and can stay awake throughout the day.

For me, jetlag is a part of the job, so I am forever trying to learn new ways to make the transition less painful. Staying awake all day without so much as a power nap is nearly impossible. When the body tells you it’s 3 a.m. in Bangalore yet you jut finished lunch in Arkansas, there is no way to convince the sleep sensors of the brain differently. I fight to stay awake until 9 p.m., but succumb to the lure of the mattress and pillow before 8, convinced that I will not wake again for at least three days. Four hours later my eyes pop open, I feel refreshed, but why is it still dark outside? And, by the way, where am I? Stumbling for the light in a room that I vaguely remember, I discover that it’s 1 a.m. Now what do I do until the light of day?

Two options at the beginning of closing the journey is Wal-Mart or zolfresh.

For my non-Western friends, Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the U.S., with annual revenue of over $300 billion. Most of their stores are open 24/7, selling everything from eggs to tractor parts -- if Wal-Mart doesn’t have it you probably don’t need it. The superstores are nearly 10 acres of clothes, house wares, electronics, food and even a full service pharmacy where you take your own blood pressure. When your body doesn’t know you should be prone rather than upright, nothing is more interesting than walking the aisles of Wal-Mart and observing who else can’t sleep.

The other option is chemically telling your body that you’ve had it and YOU WILL GO TO SLEEP! Taking 10 mg of this little pill is forcing the body into submission, but it still doesn’t help the drowsies in the afternoon, so you end up at Wal-Mart anyway.

When I asked a flight attendant what she did to beat international jetlag she shrugged and said matter-of-factly, “Not much. I just brace myself to feel like crap for three days.” Not exactly the answer I was looking for, but reality is a harsh teacher.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Faces Of Culture

This clip was shown at a recent conference. Great reminder of God's many faces of culture.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Gods We Worship

There is an anthropological axiom that states, “People become like the gods they worship.” I’ve been thinking about that a great deal since coming to Pattya last week for a WEA Missions Commission Consultation.

Seven out of ten men who come to Thailand as tourist do so for sex. While walking the beach last night I saw several men in their ‘60’s walking with prostitutes not too many years older than my granddaughter. As I observed another European staggering to his hotel and another old guy with a male prostitute, I wondered what it says about the gods they serve.

I am no expert in Buddhism, which the primary religion of Thailand. I understand that one of the roles of girls is to provide for their parents economically. Many of the girls, who are dedicated to the spirits and gods when they were babies, are apart of the billion-dollar sex industry. From the northeast, they come with as little as sixth grade education. The boys are expected to enter a Buddhist monastary for at least a few months to prepare their parents for their next life. Fatalistic, with no sense of a personal God, the Thai people, especially, though not exclusively, the poor and uneducated, are left with a faith that is reflected through myth and tradition.

The gods of the clients are equally fatalistic. Hedonistic, the rule is life is for the moment so eat, drink and be merry, for in the end we all die and if there is a God, He will sort it out later. Since all humanity is flawed, actions that are non-violent are merely a natural state not to be judged.

If people become like the gods they worship, what does this mean to the Christian? We obviously have a different set of rules based on a different concept of the One who created us. But if we are not careful, we can be transformed into the image of the world around us, instead of being transformed into the image of Christ.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

In Room 666

I am in Thailand for the next few days attending the WEA Missions Commission Consultation. I have been assigned to the International Training Network and look forward to learning more about how I can contribute in this most important aspect of missions.

But my thoughts this morning are on another unusual assignment here in Pattaya, my room number -- 666.

To my Christian readers, 666 is known as the number of the Mark of the Beast, the anti-Christ. Theologians have suggested that is the number he will place on everyone under his reign. I am not superstitious at all. I think there would be some people who might actually ask to have another room. I remember years ago at the training center I established, we had a guest room that had African carvings. A woman who stayed there felt such Satanic oppression that she prayed for protection all night and asked we remove the artifacts the next day. People can be so neurotic about the spirit world sometimes and have irrational fears about Satan’s power and see his activity in everything.

For me, staying in room 666 is ironic, even a bit humorous. I don’t feel any oppression having this room at all and in fact, in the short time I have been here I have had some meaningful prayer time. Maybe it’s a blessing that I am in room number 666.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Is Scholarship Missions?

The question came to mind while reading of the death of Kwame Bediako, a theologian/scholar from Ghana. In this tribute of Kwame’s life, Andrew Walls recounts,
“During his time in France he underwent a radical Christian conversion – so radical that at one state he thought of abandoning his studies in favor of active evangelism. Happily, he was persuaded otherwise; the time was coming when he would recognize scholarship as itself as a missionary vocation.”

I grew up in a home that did not value scholarship, indeed, didn’t even understand what that means. I came out of a denomination that believes the only true missionaries are those involved in church planting. I’m presently teaching students who are in pursuit of their Masters of Arts or Masters of Theology degrees. It is an environment of scholars and potential scholars, but the question is, is scholarship missions?

The short answer is, of course, yes. There is no argument of this in the academic world, but certainly they are biased. Those who are not scholarly and more inclined to practical ministry see little value in advanced study, especially in comparison of the real world of life, death, heaven and hell. It’s true; many students would rather remain in the ivory towers of intellectual theory and debate other intellectuals than wrestle with tough issues, which comes with trying to communicate the gospel to a Hindu or Muslim. It’s also true that the vast majority of pastors and missionaries do not need a graduate degree and, in fact, probably most of God’s faithful servants working in the most remote and unreached areas of the world today don’t even have a high school education. But the question remains, is scholarship missions?

Paul Hiebert, anthropologist, professor and scholar, as far as I know, never planted a church. I have no idea how many people or if he personally led a person to Christ or baptized anyone. However you would be hard pressed to find a Western missionary who is on the field today who has not read some of Hiebert’s work, unless they ascribe to the ignorance is bliss theory. I suspect Bediako, had the same impact on African missions. C.S. Lewis wasn’t even in the ministry, but his insights and scholarship continues to influence the church a quarter of a century after his death.

My next assignment will be in the bush of Kenya. No libraries, no PowerPoint presentations, no degrees offered. Just me and a people who don’t even know how to hold a book, much less read one. For some people that’s real missions, but in the grand scheme of things so is scholarship.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Doktors Club

Some weeks back I was asked to present a paper on any topic of my choosing for the South Asian Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) Doktors Club. The paper was presented to the faculty as well as DMin. and MA students who wished to attend. Of course I chose the topic that is dear to my heart, which is anthropology as it relates to communicating the Gospel. The title of my paper was:
Which is Greater, The Content or Context? Making the Case for Teaching Cultural Anthropology in Theological Education.
Yesterday I stood before the assembled of about 40 people for an hour and half fielding questions and responding to their comments, critique and concern.

It’s not often that I have an opportunity to engage in such a forum, but I enjoyed it immensely. Writing well takes work. I spent every afternoon for two weeks on the draft, rewriting, doing research and building an academic argument for my subject. The joy is in the process and rereading my thesis and analyzing so that my rationale of the paper could withstand the challenges I knew would come my way. In the end it was well received and I benefited from the criticism and suggestions that forces me to think about ways I could make my case stronger and more convincible.

Not all people are cut out for the academic life. I certainly am not. I enjoy teaching, but my satisfaction in the classroom can easily be under a tree in Kenya, a non-formal training session with no handout lecture notes in a rented hall or, among formal setting where grades matter. I actually need all of these teaching environments to keep my subject relevant. What this past weeks activity has done for me is driven me back into my library, dust off the old books, read more current material and become an earnest student again about my subject. There is nothing sadder than an old professor who has no new stories to tell or no new experience in which to make his subject more relevant. What the Dokotrs Club did was force me to review my classroom content to make sure it fits in today’s learning context. The world is not static. Cultures change and yesterday’s challenges are, in many ways the same, but packaged with a different set of symbols, values and worldview. We all need, from-time-to-time, a situation that will force us to go back to square one and evaluate our own beliefs and progress. The Doktors Club was not so much a place for me to teach, as it was a place for me to learn.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Luo, Odinga and Obama

Let me start off by saying THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL POST. I have my views, but not for this website. My comments are purely cultural as I lived in Kenya for 14 years and still involved in the work among the Pokot and Turkana people. Perhaps some readers, who are not familiar with Kenya and Obama's roots will find it interesting.

The second largest tribe in Kenya, behind the Kikuyu, are the Luo. Most Luo names begin with the letter “O.” One of our workers was a very fine Luo by the name of Ocheing. Whenever he would write me a letter the envelope was always addressed to Mr. Oluis.

In 1976, when we arrived in the country, Kenya had only had independence for 13 years. One of the main rivals to Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was a Luo by the name of Oginga Odinga. Whereas Kenyatta strived to maintain good relationships with the U.K. and market economy, Odinga sought to turn the country to African socialism and model it after the Tanzania government's concept of Ujamaa (family/village). In the last presidential elections, which was a nightmare, the same old adversaries were engaged. The Kikuyu, Mwai Kibaki, against Raila Odinga, the son of Oginga (seen in photo with Obama). Though Kibaki was declared president, many believed the election was rigged. Riots ensued and tribal clashes resulted in many deaths. The government is now operating under shared power between Kibaki and Odinga.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Hindu Christian

Shubhi, a M.A. student, came into my office with excitement and said, “I really like your class, and wish I had known some of the things you are teaching when I first became a Christian.” This is her story, as story of God’s grace.

“My husband and I got married when I was 18. It was a love marriage” (not arranged which is the custom in India), “and my parents were opposed to our marriage. My husband is of a different caste and a rowdy (apparently he was some kind of a hit man, though he didn’t kill anyone, he was contracted to rough people up if they didn’t pay their debts). My parents were so opposed to our marriage they wouldn’t have anything to do with me. I was a practicing Hindu and went to the temple often to pray, especially the first year of our marriage as I became pregnant and our marriage was not going well. My husband drank a lot and the people he hung around were not good people. My family encouraged me to leave my husband, but some Christians I met said I should not leave him and that they would pray for me.”

“Our son was born with an enlarged heart and some other problems. He was in intensive care for 26 days. The sisters (nuns) who worked at the hospital would often pray for my child and me. It was in the hospital that I read the Bible for the first time. One day the doctor called and said that they could do no more for the child and would take him out of the incubator. My husband and I rushed to the hospital and our son was purple. As they were taking our son out of the incubator we left the room, both of us crying and I said to my husband, ‘We must pray to Jesus, for I believe in Him.’ My husband agreed to pray, though he was not a believer. After our prayer we got a call to come back into our son’s room and everyone was excited, for our baby’s color came back and he was fully recovered. We both believed that God heard our prayer and my husband said they will follow no other God but Jesus.”

“My husband is not a highly educated man, but he decided he would leave working as a rowdy and got a job in a textile factory. He did such a good job that he continued to get promotions until one day the owner of the company, who lives in Montreal, flew to India and made my husband one of the main men over all the plants in India. We flew to Canada about five times a year.’

“We joined a church and eventually we started our own business in textiles with plants of our own. As well as working with my husband in the business, I started selling real estate. We made so much money we often told God we didn’t need anymore. My husband told me he wanted me to go to school and so I decided I would join this seminary to learn more about God and how I might serve Him. Since that day in the hospital, 11 years ago, I have been able to witness to my family and my parents, sister and brother are all now believers.”

“I wish I had known some of the things you are now teaching us when I first became a Christian, for now I realize I do not have to disown my culture to be a follower of Christ. I am not sure everything God has for our family, or me, but I want to use my education and the blessings He has given us to help other pastors and churches. I have a love for the lower class people because at one time I was in their place. I can also now talk to the wealthiest people in the community because of God’s blessings on our lives. Like you said in class, the church of India is not poor. We can and should help in telling others that Jesus is the only real God.”

Monday, October 06, 2008

Formal, Non-Formal, Informal: Equipping Others for Ministry

There are three venues for training (education, equipping, whatever term you like) – Formal, Non-Formal and Informal.

Over the past two weeks I have been working in non-formal learning environment. The students are mostly seasoned and mature men and women who are preparing themselves for cross-cultural ministry work as bi-vocational missionaries. Most of them have their basic degrees, none higher than a B.A. The classes are structured to give practical information that will help them enter into new areas of the country, establish relationships and begin working to help the community in various ways. In this class structure there are no hand-out notes, no lengthy reading assignments, no degrees granted at the end of the semester, just practical information with a couple of quizzes to make sure they are grasping the material. Most of my training over the past 30 years has been in the non-formal arena, first in Kenya and then later establishing a training school in the U.S.

For the next three weeks I will be teaching in a formal learning environment. All of these students are doing their M.A. studies. Their English is better, there will be research requirements, outside reading of at least 750 pages, an exam and of course a final paper. Though it is more lecture in style than in non-formal settings, I basically give the same material, though expanded and more exhaustive, and I approach the formal setting with the same practical applications as non-formal teaching.

Informal teaching is that which happens outside the classroom. Talking with students about everything from family issues to matters of ministry over lunch or when they come to my office. These days I am unable to do this type of training as much as in the past. In Kenya I was able to walk the path with pastors, visiting their homes, villages and in the evenings over a meal continue to informally disciple. This certainly was the model that Jesus used, and probably the best model for equipping others. But, even in the limited time I have with modular classes, I am able to do some important informal training.

There is a place for all types of training, education, equipping. I believe informal gives the best hands-on experience, but you must be with people a long period of time to equip them properly; after all, Jesus was with His disciples everyday for three years. Formal education is not for all, maybe not even for many. But, as they say, if a river is only going to rise as high as its source, then the church needs to prepare well informed and educated men and women for its future leadership. Non-formal training has an important role to play in equipping the saints, for most of these people are out in the field doing the hard work. Discipling, equipping, training, education, whatever tag you want to call it, there needs to be more of it and, it needs to be specific and it needs to be done well.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Attractional Model for Missions: Help or Hindrance?

(Response from comment of last blog)

The question of uni-cultural (new word for me) activities for missions and how effective they are is an on-going discussion with no end in sight. Hand-bell presentations, puppet shows, street theater mime acts, and even prayer walks are all benign ministry, which means it probably doesn’t hurt anyone but also may not be of any effect. I’d guess that nearly 90% of short-term missions fall into the category of benign uni-cultural activity though presented through a mono-cultural western form. The primary justification for uni-cultural ministry is that it draws a crowd for people to hear the gospel.

When I was working in Kenya, a university choral team wanted to visit our work and put on a performance as part of their mission trip. The theory was if they put on a concert many locals would come and hear the message of Christ. I still smile when I think of a bunch of white college students in matching outfits singing in front of half-naked Africans. I politely declined their offer and they were offended that I had denied them the opportunity to serve Christ (and take pictures) in the bush of Kenya.

In northwest Arkansas, where my family lives, it is said, factitiously, there are more Christians living in the area than there are people. Literally millions of dollars is spent every year by churches in the area, through building projects, church programs (children, youth outreach), concerts, etc., to attract people to their brand of Christianity. The competition for souls (not lost, just unaffiliated) is fierce. The congregation that has the better show wins and bragging rights on how God is blessing their ministry. The attractional model is costly, but is it effective?

Did Jesus use the attractional model? He certainly did draw attention as His fame of healing spread throughout Judea. The blind man who received his sight, the lame who threw away his crutches and walked, were all drawn by the attraction of the man from Nazareth and healing power. Though He drew crowds of thousands, Jesus did not use attraction as a method for ministry. In fact, He often told those He healed to tell no one. In the end, Jesus died alone at Calvary. When the curtain came down, the lights dimmed and the benefit of His presence turned to a detriment of being identified with Him, the crowds scattered.

After the hand-bells are put back in the box, the makeup is wiped off the face of the mime the only one left on the scene is the national pastor or cross-cultural missionary to either follow-up or clean up the short-term act. Benign uni-cultural missions are like rice cakes; it won’t hurt you, but it does little to build up the body.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Life Of A Non-Resident Missionary

And so another journey begins for Blue Passport. Seven weeks, thirty thousand miles, twelve time zones and three countries. Along with the travel I will teach at least 120 hours before nearly 100 people including cross-cultural church planters assembling in Hyderabad, MA students in Bangalore and one student from Denver, Colorado. I will enjoy, briefly, New Delhi where we lived for four years, Indian village life, the halls of academia and a conference with world Christian leaders in Thailand. I will miss my wife’s milestone birthday October 5th (I won’t tell you her age, but you can write her by sending a message to, and, thankfully, the presidential campaign and election (though I’ve already cast my absentee ballot). I will also miss, regretfully, moving my aged parents off their farm of 33 years into assisted living.

And why do I go through all of this? So that I can communicate the importance of taking the message of Christ cross-culturally to those who have never heard. My appreciation to all those who support us financially and through prayer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Respect For The Book

The other day in an American church the worship leader paused between songs to read a passage of Scripture. What I noticed was that he had laid his Bible on the floor behind him and picked it up to read. A guy across the aisle had placed his Bible on the floor, under his chair. I was reminded how offensive it is in another culture to disrespect the Book.

I first became aware of the “sacredness” of Scripture in the early ‘90’s while working in Russia. Books, all books, were considered a prized possession and therefore handled with esteem. To write in, make notes, underline in a book is highly offensive, and of course, one NEVER places a book, certainly not the Bible, on the floor. The ground is “profane” space, where one puts their shoes, certainly not a Bible.

What is it about our culture that we have become so careless with little regard for fashion, music or literature? I am aware the Book is just a book and does not hold particular spiritual powers. Nevertheless, it seems to me that perhaps we would have more respect for God’s Word if they weren’t thrown in the trunk of our cars or tossed in the corner of our homes. A word to short-term teams going overseas -- hold your Bibles in your hands, place them on your laps, don’t throw them on the floor.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Culture As Commodity and Short-Term Missions

In the August edition of American Ethnologist is an article entitled, Sharing Culture or Selling Out? The author looks at the tourist industry in general and Alaskan tourism among the Native-American Tlingit people in particular.

Tourism is big business for many countries, especially for developing countries and indigenous people. For the Tlingit, the summer Alaskan cruises provide tourist dollars and cash income that fishing cannot compete with, and a whole lot less work. But with every boon there is a bane. “Tourism is commercialized hospitality” (p 384) and while the tour guide provides the visitor with a look into the past, in the process he chips away at culture present and the demise of culture future. Of course culture change is inevitable, and perhaps one function of sharing culture is preserving its memory as well.

For a tour to be successful it must follow a certain script, a “tourist formula.” The tourist formula includes: “the greeting, the guide, demonstrated use of the heritage language, traditional architecture, a performance, a gift shop or souvenirs or sale, and often, demonstrations of traditional Native crafts” (p 385). The better one can master the formula the more successful the selling of culture as a commodity.

As I read the article on the selling of culture and the “tourist formula,” it reminded me of some short-term mission projects I know. The idea that, “Culture itself must be simplified for tourist consumption,” and “For [culture] to be marketed and sold, culture must be packaged according to consumers desires” (p 387) is true for many Christian/mission tour ventures. While the goal of short-term missions is certainly more commendable than secular tourism, if not careful, the promotion of missions can be commercial selling of culture and faith as well.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Forced Reconversion

I continue to receive news from my friends and former students about the troubles in the state of Orissa. One of my students wrote that his brother was killed and their house was destroyed. Another church planter wrote to tell me his house was burned and that his family is now hiding in the forest. This morning I received this news:

Forceful Reconversion Carries on ; 
Supreme Court Raps State, Asks to Submit Report 

Hindu mobs led by fundamentalists are roaming in the whole of Kandhamal district & threatening the Christians to reconvert or else face death. Yesterday 5 families were forcefully reconverted, against their will, to Hinduism in Adaskupa in Kandhamal.

The Court further directed the Orissa Government to place a report of steps taken to protect lives of people in riot-hit Kandhamal district. "The court wanted to know what the state government was doing to protect the lives of people belonging to the Christian community," the court official said.

The religious fanaticism, which started on the night of August 23, has drawn strong condemnation from the international community. 

In a letter sent to the Bishop Joel Mal, Moderator of North India, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, called for an end to the violence and urged Christians elsewhere to show their support for the Christian community in Orissa. 

"I hope that Christians and people of faith around the world will make known their horror at this violence, their support for the rebuilding of lives and the churches, orphanages and schools destroyed, and for work towards future reconciliation," he said.

EFI has compiled a comprehensive list of database with assistance from Archbishop's House Bhubaneswar, John Dayal, Christian Legal Association, Light Foundation and EFI News reporters and other sources, which can be found at Orissa Christian Persecution Fact Finding Report.

The next potential problem is the proposed yatra that is scheduled for tomorrow, September 6, in Bhubneshwar, carrying the ashes of slain leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Communicating The Gospel: Retelling The Story

As many of you know who read my blog, my passion is cross-cultural communication. To those who do not live in the world of missions it’s hard to grasp the importance of studying culture as it relates to communicating the Gospel. A focused study of culture should not only be a pre-field endeavor but an on-going pursuit as well.

Terry Muck, in a 2004 article entitled, “What Does It Mean to Do Theology Missiologically?” (Missiology: An International Review, Vol. XXII, No.1 January: 3-4), quotes Curtis Chang who gives a simple, yet profound, three-fold step in presenting the Gospel cross-culturally.

"First, ….that people must enter into the STORY OF THE CULTURE in which they are communicating the gospel. This means understanding its thought forms and then using those thought forms and especially the language of that culture to understand their paradigmatic stories."

Too often cross-cultural workers seek ways to invite people of other beliefs into their own stories of creation, forgiveness, eternity, without yet understanding the host cultures story. When we understand their concepts and, more importantly, the way they express those concepts, we will be better equipped to enter into meaningful dialogue.

"Second, the missiological theologian 'retells' the story. 'Retelling' does not mean 'stealing' the story for one's own. It means to emphatically understanding it to the extent that identification occurs with the people indigenous to that culture. It means that one can use the language and thought forms of that culture to communicate one's own ideas."

For example, Muslims believe that Jesus was a great prophet of God (Allah). Is it not reasonable that a cross-cultural communicator can retell the story of this great prophet as a prelude to discussing His uniqueness to that One true living God? This concept of retelling the story then leads to Chang’s concluding argument.

"The third stage, capturing the story, means that we ADD GOSPEL VALUE to the story so that the story is not countered but enhanced--or even transformed. INSTEAD OF SAYING, ‘NO,’ TO THEIR STORY, THE MISSIONARY THEOLOGIAN SAYS, ‘YES, BUT...YES, BUT HAVE YOU THOUGHT OF THIS?’" [emphasis mine]

Too often we bring a halt to the discussion before we begin. By understanding their story, retelling the story using their language and thoughts, we can own their story, without compromising ours. This approach is a natural bridge in retelling the story that may be similar, yet critically different.

I find that many of my students, and even many readers, are so terrified of compromising the truth of the Gospel that they fail to see they importance of first learning their story. We can only truly contend for the faith when we understand the argument.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Persecuted Church

People often ask me about the religious tolerance in India. My answer is always that India is a secular state and, though it is predominately Hindu and therefore a bias against minority religions, for the most part Christians are able to freely worship without persecution. However, India is a big country and there are pocket areas where there is antagonism against Christians by Hindu fundamentalists.

Last week one of the outspoken leaders against Christians, Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, was murdered. Though the government has concluded that Maoist separatists committed the crime, the locals have turned against the Christians as being behind the killing. This morning I was sent this report on the persecuted church in Orissa.


1) NUN BURNT ALIVE: A nun was burnt to death on 25th, Monday, after an orphanage was torched in at Phutpali in Bargarh district in Orissa during a bandh called by Hindu nationalist parties.Twenty children, who were at the orphanage, managed to escape but a priest suffered serious burn injuries in the attack. 

2) RASANANDA PRADHAN TORCHED ALIVE: Another person, Rasananda Pradhan, was burnt to death when his house was set ablaze at Rupa village in Kandhamal district. 

3) INFLAMMATORY SPEECHES TARGET CHRISTIANS: During the bandh inflammatory speeches spreading hatred against the Christian workers and the community were given by the VHP leaders. To gain the mass support,the activists have also carried the body of Swamiji throughout the town. 

4) CHURCHES BURNT ALL ACROSS ORISSA STATE: Churches were attacked in Khurda, Bargarh, Sundergarh, Sambalpur, Koraput, Boudh, Mayurbhanj, Jagatsinghpur and Kandhamal districts as also in the state capital, police sources said, adding 40 houses were set ablaze in Phulbani town. 

5) BUSES AND VEHICLES TORCHED: Mr. Mishra Digal was beaten up, while the motorcycles of Mr. R. K. Digal and Jitendra were burnt. Several buses at Gee Udaigiri in Baliguda were burnt. 

6) PULBANI CHURCH RANSACKED: The Church at Phulbani,and several other churches at Phiringia were attacked and ransacked. Pastor D. Tatson's house was vandalized and his property burnt. 

7) KAKRIGUMA CHURCHES VANDALISED: Churches in Kakriguma have been targeted by the mob that reportedly damaged the Assembly Of God Church and the Philadelphia Church. 

8) WORLD VISION STAFF FLED FOR SAFETY: World Vision India office ransacked and the Staff has also fled to jungle for protection. 

9) CHRISTIANS TAKE SHELTER IN FOREST FOR PROTECTION: A police camp at Barakhama was also attacked by the Hindu fundamentalists. With several houses being burnt down and people being made homeless, many Christians,particularly from Nua Sahi, Munda Sahi and Suna Tonga have fled into forests for their lives. 

10) NUN RAPED: A young Catholic Nun of the Cuttack Bhubaneswar diocese working Jan Vikas Kendra, the Social Service Centre at Nuagaon in Kandhamal was reportedly gang raped on 24th August 2008 by groups of Hindutva extremists before the building itself was destroyed. 

11) SENIOR PRIEST AND NUN INJURED: Fr Thomas, director of the Diocesan Pastoral Centre in Kanjimendi, less than a kilometer away from the Social Service Centre, and another Nun were injured when the centre was attacked. They were taken to the police station in a disheveled state as the armed mob bayed for their blood. The Pastoral centre was then set afire. 

12) BALLIGUDA CHURCH BUILDINGS DESTROYED AGAIN: On 24th August 2008 evening lynch mobs at the block headquarters of Balliguda, in the very heart of Kandhamal district, which had seen much violence between 24th and 26th December 2007, attacked and destroyed a Presbytery, convent and hostel damaging the properties. 

13) CHRISTIAN BOYS HEADS TONSURED: The mobs in Balliguda caught hold of two boys of the Catholic hostel and tonsured their heads. 

14) PHULBANI CHURCH DAMAGED: On 25th august 2008 morning followers of the late Lakshmanananda Saraswati damaged the Catholic Church in Phulbani, the district headquarter town. 

15) MOTHER TERESA BROTHERS ASHRAM ATTACKED: Mobs attacked the Mother Teresa Brothers' residence and hospital in Srasanada, destroyed once before and rebuilt two months ago, and beat up the patients. 

16) BHUBANESWAR BISHOP'S HOUSE ATTACKED: On the morning of 25th August 2008, violent mobs made several attempts to enter the compounds of Catholic Church and Archbishop's house in the heart of the Capital of the State of Orissa. They could not enter because of the police presence. They threw stones at the guesthouse of Archbishop's House, damaging windows. 

17) DUBURI PARISH: Another group of fundamentalists entered presbytery in Duburi parish, managed by the SVDs and destroyed and damaged property. Two priests of the parish are missing. 

18) Mr. Jamaj Pariccha, Director of Gramya Pragati, is attacked and his property damaged, vehicle looted and burnt. 

19) A Baptist Church in Akamra Jila in Bhubaneswar is also damaged. 

20) Christian institutions like St. Arnold's School (Kalinga Bihar) and NISWASS report some damage. 

21) BOUDH DISTRICT [Adjoining Kandhamal]: Fundamentalists enter the Catholic parish church and destroy property. People are fleeing to safer places. But nothing seems safe. 

22) MUNIGUDA: Muniguda Catholic Fathers and Nuns' residence have been damaged. 

23) SAMBALPUR: HM Sister's residence (Ainthapalli) has suffered damage. 

24) PADANPUR: One priest is attacked and admitted to a hospital. Hostel boys and the in charge have moved away from the place. 

25) MADHUPUR: Madhupur Catholic Church currently under attack. 

26) SMALL CHURCHES: Attempted violence on small churches in various districts, including Padampur, Sambalpur near GM College, Talsera, Dangsoroda, Narayanipatara, Muniguda, Tummiibandh, Tangrapada, Phulbani, Balliguda, Kalingia, Chakapad, Srasanranda. 

27) VILLAGE CHRISTIAN HOUSES ATTACKED: Houses attacked on forest hamlets of Balliguda, Kanjamandi Nuaguam (K.Nuaguam), Tiangia (G.Udayagiri), Padangiri, Tikabali. 

28) KALAHANDI DISTRICT: Houses burnt even though the district is more than 300 kilometers from the place where Swami Lakshmanananda was killed. 

29) PASTORS' HOUSE BURNT: Pastor Sikandar Singh of the Pentecostal Mission beaten up and his house burnt in Bhawanipatna. 

30) KHARIHAR: 3 Christian shops were looted and burnt. Pastor Alok Das and Pastor I M Senapati beaten up. 

31) AAMPANI: Pastor David Diamond Pahar, Pastor Pravin Ship, Pastor Pradhan and Pastor Barik beaten up and chased away with their families. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

Celebrating 40 Years

August 23, 1968 Sandy and I became husband and wife. I was a second year Bible College student, Sandy was working for Baldwin piano in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We had no clue, like most newly weds, how the Lord would lead in our lives.

In the eyes of some, our marriage is an unconventional union as I have been on the road a lot working in different parts of the world. Our kids grew up in boarding school (Rift Valley Academy), which most parents of today’s generation find abhorrent. But, along the way the Lord has given us two wonderful daughters, two great son-in-laws, four beautiful grandkids and a rich and rewarding ministry. Together, the journey continues.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Report? Inform? Inspire?

This past week I have been in California, speaking in churches and meeting with mission committees. At the conclusion of one meeting, which was primarily a report of our ministry, a woman came up to me and said she wished I had said more about what it means to work cross-culturally. A few days later at another church, I didn’t say much about anything we were doing but talked about mission trends and how their church could be more effective in their outreach program. In the midst of the meeting one of the members wondered if my ministry was merely short-term mission trips, which is a trend in missions. My message Sunday morning had little to do with either mission strategy or reporting, but a biblical message on faith.

The events of this past week were a reminder how difficult it is for missionaries in their role as communicators of global ministry. There just isn’t enough time to touch all the bases. On the one hand it is important to report on ministry activity. Churches pray and give financially so that the Great Commission might go to the entire world and, as a representative of their investment, it’s important that missionaries make known how their contribution is fulfilling that goal. It’s nearly impossible in a thirty-minute message for a missionary to educate or even to report on ministry activity. I have often felt the message of missions is more inspiration that information and as a result most church members have little understanding of the worldwide need for cross-cultural ministry, unreached people groups or what is or is not effective or strategic ministry. Missions is complex which requires concentrated and constant access to new information in a changing world.

So, what is the answer to this dilemma of reporting, information and inspiration of missions?

1. Churches need mission committees that are informed. Being on a missions committee should not be just for those who are just passionate about worldwide outreach, though that is obviously very important. Committee members should take classes in missions, read books and journals so they might be current on today’s mission issues.

I believe that the primary role of being on a mission committee is to motivate and inform others in the congregation on missions. They can only succeed in that role if they are fully informed themselves.

2. Be intentionally involved with what their missionaries are doing. Most missionaries send out a monthly or bi-monthly report. Many, like myself, have blogs and websites that give regular updates on ministry activity. For a supporting church to not know what I do is disheartening as is to many of my colleagues. I realize that trying to keep up with every missionary is nearly impossible, but the information is out there if people really are interested.

3. When a missionary visits your church, somehow in a limited amount of time, make them available to the broader church population so they can get to know those the church supports. Somehow create a forum that gives people information on what they do as well as the state of missions in the broader context. Hopefully through the process of giving information the inspiration of what God is doing throughout the world will be made known.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cultural Debris

In the most recent issue of in the Journal of the Society of Cultural Anthropology is an article on “Imperial Debris.” The cultural remains left behind by foreign occupying nations on the landscape of countries linger long after the alien people release their occupation and give back to the indigenous people their own land. The residue of the Spanish in Latin America, the French in North and West Africa, the Russian expansion that made up the Soviet Union and the colonialism of the British Empire has left on the landscape of the world remnants of their influence and cultural practices. Present day domination of American capitalism and the market economy has impacted the globe to the point that even Communist China has formed an alliance between collective good and personal economic advancement. Like space junk, nuclear waste and plastic bags, cultural debris never goes away, even though it no longer is needed or wanted.

Of course not all cultural debris is inherently bad. As societies evolve one can appreciate the advances of education, medicine and technology and the positive residue that come with progress and advancement. Critics would argue that that these steps forward is too high a price to pay for the loss of cultural identity, corruption of indigenous values and the invasion of new diseases brought about primarily due to expansion. Try to make that argument to those people who still have no clean water, labor in the fields as subsistence farmers or to millions of kids who cannot read but long to enjoy the good things they see on television. Like a banana peel that one discards, you cannot savor the fruit without also having to contend with the part that’s not edible.

As a cross-cultural worker the tension I must compete with is making sure that whatever I am selling is the fruit and not the rind. The message of Christ is not the problem, but sometimes the trappings of Christianity in the Western (as well as Korean, Brazil or South African) wrapper are the culprits. The ultimate goal is that the only debris that remains when Christianity confronts culture will be that of spiritual transformation brought about by the message, not the cultural residue of the messenger.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

One Piece of a Very Large Puzzle

The hostess of the evening asked if I liked jigsaw puzzles.

“Not really,” I replied. “My son-in-law worked on one a couple of weeks ago while we were in Colorado, but they just don’t fascinate me like they do other people.”

She then told me about a jigsaw puzzle she has been working on since 2005. Someone gave her a Rogier van der Weyden puzzle of Altarpiece of St. Columba. How many pieces? 18,000! She took me to their spare room and there in five or six panels was the masterpiece in process. One-third of a panel done on some, perhaps half of another, yet there was several bags of pieces yet unopened. It will take this woman another three years to get this 126.5 x 61.8 inch puzzle into final form.

This morning as I was listening to my favorite Bible expositor they began by reading letters of supporters of that radio ministry. One wrote to say that reaching the hidden people groups of India was the purpose of her support. Getting the Word to the unreached through radio is ONE piece of the puzzle. I thought of the many people I see each week in India and Africa who do not have a radio and wouldn’t know how to dial into a Christian radio station if they had one. I look at my ministry and, as I told my hosts over supper on the campus of this historical seminary, my contribution is more like one piece in a three trillion-piece puzzle. And I think of those who support our ministry, those who faithfully pray for our piece in the puzzle and I realize they, too, are a small part in God’s great redemptive design.

What will be interesting about eternity will be to learn how the pieces of the puzzle came together; the many who heard, received, and then shared the Gospel with others. How through time and space that message of Good News of Christ’s salvation circled the globe, and penetrated into the interiors of the cities, jungles and deserts of this world. It will be intriguing to learn how the Name of Jesus wove it’s way into countless languages and He became known even to the most isolated people groups of the world. I’m not a big piece, or even a significant piece in God’s redemptive mosaic, but I am one, seeking the other pieces God wants in the picture.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sleeping god

I’ve seen many idols in my 15 years of visiting India, but I did a double take walking on the road last week. The “sleeping god,” that some Indians call it, is the most unique idol I’ve seen thus far.

What’s interesting about this idol is that it’s in an area where the Gospel has had a strong presence for over 70 years. I asked a friend of mine, who graduated from a nearby seminary in 1959, if the “sleeping god” was there when he was a student. He said no, but the tree has some mystical meaning to the locals as they use to sacrifice chickens there back in his time.

How can one reconcile the presence of the Good News of Christ that has been around for so many years with, seemingly, little impact? Even more sobering, how should I or other workers justify the intention of our ministries if in-fact the impact of the Gospel is marginal? If the redemptive message of the cross is the power unto salvation, why after seven decades there is so little change in the hearts and minds of so many? My only conclusion is that the god of this world continues to hold people in spiritual bondness. Superstition and fear of unseen forces still hold a grip on the minds of millions. The Gospel is not just for those who readily receive, but also for those who live in perpetual darkness. While the idol may represent a sleeping god, his eyes, wide open, reminds us that indeed, the god of this world is not asleep at all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Working In The Village

Last weekend the students of the seminary visited a nearby village. Billed as "ministry of social services," the students performed various tasks to serve the people of this village.

First picture, students walking to village. Note the sheep coming our way.

Woman washing clothes on street.

Boys cleaning streets and sewer.

Giving free haircuts (a savings of 25 cents) - Girls in the clean up as well.

The team sang, performed a skit and preached.

In a village of less than 200 people, there were at least 15 shrines to different gods.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tired of the Messenger, Not the Message

A mutual friend told my friend recently that he was “tired of what he was teaching.” The only reason he continues is because the university where he teaches has benefits, which includes a big discount for his college age children. This brother is no slouch, in fact he’s brilliant, but, like many who have been in the work for a while, he no doubt longs for younger days when he challenged status quo and launched out into the deep without regard of the consequences.

As I board another flight to teach in South Asia I must admit at times I struggle with my subject. I’ve been teaching the same thing now for 18 years and the material has lost its edge. Of course I am forever reading and trying to keep up with our constant changing world, but sometimes I get weary of my hearing my own voice telling stories that I have heard myself repeat countless times. So why do I still do it?

First, because what is old to me is new to 90 percent of those who are in my class. Most seminaries major on theology, few, if any, know anything about cultural anthropology, cross-cultural communication or understand how cultures work. The field of study is still interesting to me, even if the material has become familiar.

Second, because the subject is new to most of my students there is always a “ah ha” moment in every training session. When I teach, for example, epistemology, the study of the science of knowing (how to you come to know what you know, and how do you know what you know is right?) there is never a time when those in attendance don’t walk away with insights they have never thought of before. And, even though the study of lineages, worldview and social control seem to be academic (and even tedious), its when I help students “connect the dots” on how these subjects are relevant in church planting and communicating the Good News of Christ, that the students come alive.

The fact of the matter is, even though I weary at the start of another class, I wouldn’t want to teach anything else. I cannot serve where many of my students will minister. I can’t learn all the languages, customs and cultures they will eventually go. It’s after two or three weeks of teaching that I walk away with a feeling that maybe I have contributed to the equipping of others for the ministry.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Effective Communication

Though I teach cross-cultural communication, I am increasingly seeing a need to instruct on how to communicate mono-culturally. Actually, the principles are the same, but the key is context. Theoretically it should be easier to know the mono-cultural context but my experience in listening to a few sermons in the U.S., off-and-on over the past seven months, prompt me to share some thoughts on communication. Here are a few simple suggestions on sermon delivery.

1. Create a Narrative, NOT Repeat History. I heard a pastor speak a few weeks back on Elijah, and basically his sermon was a review of a chapter in 2 Kings. Elijah is one of my favorite Old Testament characters and his story is chock-full of great applications, but the pastor didn’t create a narrative he just methodically read verse-by-verse recounting the story, pausing occasionally to make a point. The message meandered like a lazy stream in the flat lands of Mississippi. No real purpose in the sermon, just a story about one who lived a long time ago.

2. Leave The Lexicon In the Study - I don’t mind digging out the meaning of a verse from the Greek or Hebrew to bring the text into context, but I weary with pastors who feel the urge to make their sermons into a hermeneutics class. (It was the dullest class I had in Bible College and it’s even worse when you have to sit through it but don’t get credit).

3. Dress Appropriately – Can we please get past the Rick Warren Hawaiian shirts? I don’t mind casual, but I do have a problem with sloppy. On the other hand, I know a few brothers who are so full of themselves (they are the ones who are constantly looking at their reflection in the window) who feel as though they have to wear expensive suit while the farmers in their congregation are wearing jeans. If a speakers dress, sloppy or fashionable, is a distraction, you lose the power of communication. One of my professors told us that he only wears a white shirt, black tie and black suit when he preaches. He takes off his ring(s) and watch because, “I want people to hear the message and not be distracted by what I wear.” Perhaps a bit radical, but I never forgot his point. The spotlight is to be on the message of Christ, not the speaker.

4. Have ONE Theme – Can you tell me what last Sunday’s sermon was about? If you can’t it’s because the sermon had so many points and sub-points that the average hearer got lost in the maze of information. One pastor, who I really think is brilliant, is tedious to listen to because HE KNOWS TOO MUCH. Sometimes I believe he gets lost in his own sermon as he goes down one bunny trail to the next. If you can get people to come away with ONE thought, you’ve done your job well.

The list on how to communicate effectively is long, but it can be boiled down to this: Know your audience, have one theme, tell the story in a way that is relevant to their lives. Knowing the message is only half of the job, effectively delivering the message is just as important.