Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Training in Transylvania

The first time I visited Romania was 1993 when some of my former students in the U.S. invited me to teach cross-cultural studies. It’s been 11 years since my last visit to this country and my class is much the same…how to present the Gospel in a contextualized relevant way to people of different cultures.

Though the group was not large, those in attendance were focused. They know God is leading them to serve outside of their own country, though some are still working through that process of where and when. One couple will be going to Namibia in a few months; another couple wants to work among Muslims, perhaps in Somalia. Another student has his sights on India.

What was refreshing for me on this trip was to be around people who take their faith seriously. In the church I spoke to on Sunday the place was packed as we worshipped together for over three hours. My students actually wept when they prayed for the persecuted church throughout the world. It’s been a long time since I have been around such heartfelt devotion to Christ. I understand that devotion for Christ comes in many forms and I am not negating the commitment to Christ by those in America, Kenya or other places. It was just really great to observe the Body of believers in this part of the world.

One idea floating from these past ten days is that next year Romanian’s to join me in India for cross-cultural studies. It’s ironic that in 1992 I trained North Americans in India who then came to Romania to serve; 19 years later it’s possible that Romanian’s will go to India for intercultural studies. Perhaps, we will also have students from Ukraine. Maybe someonereading this blog would also like to join us in 2011.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Tough Oil and Missions

The other day I was listening to some “expert” on U.S. energy policy. He said that the days of “easy oil,” was over and the future of drilling will be only to difficult places. Deep offshore drilling, in the Arctic and other places is what he described as “tough oil,” where it is expensive and high risk for the environment.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “How Missionaries Lost Their Chariots of Fire,” I was reminded again that in today’s world there is no longer any “easy mission” work; only “tough missions” remain. Among 3.6 billion people in this world, 89% of the people have never even met a Christian and the chances of them ever being introduced to Christ are slim to none. Fewer people are signing up for career missions these days; fewer of them are doing tough missions.

“The overwhelming majority of American missionaries today are ‘vacationaries,’" the WSJ article points out. “Joining mission trips of two weeks or less, they serve in locales where Christianity already predominates.

“The purpose, then, of their visit is to battle the ills of poverty and to stretch their own spirituality.” According to studies by Robert J. Priest, a missiologist and director of the doctoral program in intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 82% of short-term missions today go to countries in the most-Christian third of the world. Only 2% land in the Middle East.

“The work these missionaries do reflects a paradigm shift says David A. Livermore, executive director of the Global Learning Center at Cornerstone University. ‘In a postmodern context it goes against the grain to go in and do hard-core proselytizing. To millenials, it really feels like al Qaeda in Christian wineskins.’ And ‘that's a good shift,’ he adds, because ‘it's caused us to see it's not enough to say Jesus loves you and then jump on a plane and go home.’"

So that’s the reason for short-term, social ministry work among the most Christianized countries of the world; post-modern Christians don’t want to be seen as al Qaeda-type proselytizers? Easy missions, the “feel good” work of feeding programs and orphanages is more palatable and requires less commitment required of tough missions of learning language, contextualizing the message and disicpling people in the faith. In attempt not to offend we are light with no salt.

Like tough oil, tough missions require risk. Our pioneer forefathers knew that, and paid the cost. Tough oil today is more expensive and there are no guarantees of results with every well that is dug. Easy missions is the passing out candy to orphans in Chennai or having a youth meeting in Mexico. Tough missions is living with Muslims in Senegal or among the Hindu’s of Nepal. When I meet those people I realize there are some who continue to ride chariots of fire.