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.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Why I Celebrate The 4th

When I came out of the Wal-Mart store yesterday I found this note on the windshield. Someone had no doubt noticed the POW license plate of my dad’s van, which I am driving as I ferry them on errands and to their doctor’s appointments. Obviously someone, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday, wanted to just say thanks and express their appreciation for those who have served our country in the military.

My dad’s story is an interesting one. He was a waist gunner on a B-17. On one mission they had to ditch their plane in the Adriatic Sea because of engine failure. His last mission his plane was shot down over Austria and my dad was one of four, out of a crew of ten, that survived. He spent the remaining time of the war in a German prison camp. (You can read the pilot’s account of that July day almost 64 years ago by clicking HERE ).

When I got back to my parents house my dad was in a lot of pain so I took him to the VA hospital. Hard to believe the young guy kneeling in the photo is almost unable to walk now; his voice is weak and he can hardly hear.

This 4th of July I will celebrate the day maybe with a little more awareness of its meaning. The only time I ever saw my dad cry was when he talked about the day he was shot down. He asked me a question I couldn’t answer, “Why was I spared and my buddies didn’t make it?” Like the note left on the windshield, I want to say thanks to all who served.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Project Pokot - Part Two

In 1976, when I first began working in the bush of Kenya, there were few Protestant missionaries who had ever worked or even seen the people of Pokot and Turkana. By the mid-80’s there was a flurry of mission activity in Pokot because of better roads, though few missionaries actually lived or worked down in the rugged conditions of the bush. My doctoral research in 1991 revealed that, though there were many churches in Pokot, the percentage of Pokot people who attended those churches was remarkably low as the majority of Christians in the district were actually people from other tribes who lived and worked in Pokot. Even more startling in my findings was how few Pokot men were reached with the Gospel. My thesis was, and is, it’s not how many churches that are planted that’s important, but how effective is outreach to those who have never heard. Planting one church for every one thousand people may mean a saturation of churches, but that doesn’t translate into making the Gospel relevant to those who do not accept that message.

In my dissertation I concluded that missionaries (national as well as foreign) needed to move away from traditional African missions (TAM) and create a strategic African mission (SAM) outreach. SAM can only be accomplished by (1) learning the questions of their culture and (2) develop a contextualized approach in presenting the Gospel.

Next year I will be spending more time in Kenya training Kenyan missionaries how to implement SAM (though I will still be teaching in India as well as other places in the world). The goal of my research is to live in Pokot and to revisit the issues I addressed 18 years ago. Because cultures are not static, what has or has not changed among the Pokot since 1991?

- How has their worldview changed?

- Has their family structure changed?

- Do they still practice polygamy, bride price exchange and still practice rites of passage such as sapana and female circumcision?

- Have the churches in Pokot become more or less indigenous?

Every missionary endeavor, in my opinion, should be asking the similar questions as they create a strategy of mission for their target people group. Methods may be easier to create, but it is only when we do the hard work of asking the questions that a true contextualized message can be presented.