Monday, December 26, 2011

Year End Reminder: The Importance of Trifles

Quick, can you name the 19th century author who wrote A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language?  He’s the same person who was a professor of classics at General Theological Seminary in New York.  Give up?  His name is Clement C. Moore. 

Most people can be forgiven for not remembering Professor Moore or his writings.  But finish this sentence:

“Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house…”

I find it interesting that though 99 out of 100 people reading this blog are not familiar with the name Clement Moore, probably 99 out of 100 people could finish the sentence and, perhaps the whole poem, of Twas The Night Before Christmas.

This is the last week of the year and as we reflect on the events of the past 365 days we take stock of accomplishments, victories, failures, happy and sad days.  Yet, in reality, we really don’t know how this year will stack up as it relates to posterity or eternal good. 

By all accounts, Clement Moore was a pretentious man, who was prideful in his profession and accomplishments as a scholar and who had disdain for, what some would consider, silly things of this world.  Though his poem was instantly popular as a children’s nursery rhyme, which he wrote for his own children, he denied being the author for over a decade calling it a “mere trifle,” something that was beneath his dignity.  Nearly two hundred years later, however, few people remember the author’s identity and, I dare say, have no interest in reading his academic writings, but they can finish the sentence, “…not a creature was stirring, not even a…”

Now in my sixth decade on this earth, my prayer is that, though I need to be serious about my vocation and calling, may God deliver me from being a self-absorbed prig.  Life is not about our accomplishments, but our contributions.  Though Clement did indeed contribute much through his accomplishments as an educator in his time, it was the mere trifle that he penned that has remained longer than the remembrance his name. 

Mind the mere trifles in life; it’s the stuff that legends are made of.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Training Non-Western Missionaries

Occasionally I teach cross-cultural mission in the U.S.  I always enjoy it and hopefully I can be a help to the young men and women who have an eye on career missionary work overseas.  My focus, however, has been for over a decade, to teach non-Western missionaries.  The reason is two-fold.

First, each year there are fewer and fewer Western missionaries taking up the challenge of missions as a career.  The American church, especially, is much more focused on short-term mission projects.  There are some short-termers that are truly helpful and contribute to the overall spirit of the Great Commission.  These folks are usually highly specialized and fill a real need for the national church throughout the world.  With skills in building, digging wells or appropriate technology in developing countries, they work alongside the nationals or career people on the field.  These short-termers don’t seek cross-cultural training because they feel that, since they will only serving from 10 days to three weeks, they don’t need it.  In many cases they are right, but in other cases I feel they would be better off in both serving as well as understanding the experience of being in a foreign culture if they had even a one day seminar on the dynamics of culture.  Nevertheless, with the decline of career people serving and the emphasis on short-term missions my role in working with American missionaries is limited.

Second, and primarily, the reason I don’t teach in the U.S. is because what God is doing globally. 

Sam George, whose article, “Diaspora: A Hidden Link to ‘From Everywhere to Everywhere’’ in Missiology, January 2011, states that over the past five centuries there has been paradigm shift in missions.  The first wave of missions was the rise of the West, which he says coincided with the Protestant Reformation.  The second wave in missions was the rise of the United States, propelled by the modern day mission movement and WWII.  The third, and present wave, is the rise of the Rest, which is a globalized movement. 

In 1800, 5% of the Christian population lived outside of the West.  Today, two out of three people Christians in this world are outside of the West .  The Korean church sends out more missionaries each year than the all of the Western countries combined.  Nigeria, India and Argentina have an increasing global presence in missions.  It’s not difficult to see with these statistics that the heart of mission activity resides outside America.

The role of the career North American missionary, like me, is to facilitate this movement of global missions.  As a missiologist, with an emphasis on cultural anthropology, my role is to help the national church learn the dynamics of how to serve cross-culturally.  I believe there are many other Americans like me who can serve in this capacity.   

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Goddess of English

Polytheism is the belief in many gods.   It’s estimated that there are over 330 million Hindu gods and goddesses.  With a population of over 1 billion people in India and 85% of them Hindus, most of their religion revolves around petition to local, village and household gods.

I readily admit, as a monotheist, I don’t understand polytheism.  I understand Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism as well, of course, Judaism and Christianity because each one of these religions has a historical base.  Buddha was a person, as was Confucius and Loa-Tz, Mohammed, Moses and Jesus.   The main characters of Hinduism, Ram, Vishnu, Shiva, are mythological figures as well as their avatars.  Though the function of Hinduism is basically the same as other religions, the one distinguishing factor is that it is not based on any historical record.  And, evidently gods and goddesses are still being created.

This past week I read about a new deity, the Goddess of English, created by a Dalit writer by the name of Chandra Bhan Prasad.  The Dalit are an oppressed people group with a population of 200 million people.  Though discrimination by caste is outlawed in India, the Dalit’s, formerly known as “untouchables,” remain an oppressed class. 

The language of power, since the days of the British Raj, has been English.  Only the privilege upper caste were given access to the English language and, as we all know, over the pat 50 years in this day of globalization, English has become the dominant means of communication in commerce and politics.  Illiteracy is much higher among the Dalit than any other class of people.  Believing that learning English is a path out of poverty and discrimination, Prasad created the Goddess of English, which is modeled after the statue of liberty wearing a floppy hat, holding a pen in one hand and the Indian Constitution in the other, perched on a computer.

The reason there are so many idols in polytheism is because there is a deity created for every need of man.   The gods/goddess of fertility, wealth, rain, social power, marriage, crop harvest, herd health, protection, whatever is the need there is a shrine or temple built for that need.  So, the Goddess of English is just another extension of polytheistic superstition.

Again, most religions have an element of superstition, myth and animism.  Whether it is the Muslims praying to one of their saints, Buddhists praying to their ancestors, Catholics praying to the Virgin of Guadalupe or evangelicals (?) with prayer cloths, all are objects for the adherent to manipulate the gods to grant them blessings. 

What is striking about the superstition of religion is the void of worship, worship that is rooted in love and gratefulness, not fear or mere veneration.  Human devotees may admire prayers to the Goddess of English, the fast of Ramadan, the immolation of Tibetan Buddhist monks, but they are acts driven to appease the Supreme power and to bend that power in their favor.   

The faith of a Christian is, or should be, marked by an uncharacteristic lack of human self-reliance.  Our belief is in the one true God that provided His creation with salvation through Jesus.  The only thing we humans are required to do is to accept that grace He has provided and turn away from the many gods created by man and turn to the living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

Learning English is a great endeavor for social and political power.  However, creating an idol and making it an object of devotion cannot and will not make the Dalit free, either in this life or after death. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday and Worldview: Consumerism

Every year the traditional starting point for the American Christmas shopping season begins the day after Thanksgiving, known as “Black Friday” (a term referring to retailers who, hopefully, will turn a profit and get them out of the negative red).  What's caught my attention this year is the intensity of advertisement to lure people from their homes and be first in line for holiday bargains.  Throughout the nation people have been camping out in front of stores for days so they could be the first to snatch up the super sales when the doors open.  Some stores actually began their Black Friday sales at midnight.

I am in the midst of reading, “Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Studies That Shape Our Lives,” and the second chapter deals with the worldview of consumerism.

Not all aspects of consumerism are negative.  Since the beginning of time people have made or grown goods to sell.  It’s the cycle of consumption that is the part of life.  Even if one grows roses as a hobby, as does my wife, we consume the flowers by cutting and putting them in a vase to beautify and bring color into our surroundings.  Consumption, then, is an inherent part of who we are as human beings (one can argue that the animal world are also consumers, though they are without one distinguishing characteristic, a consciousness of self). 

The consumption ritual of Black Friday, and indeed the shopping season leading up to Christmas and beyond (don’t forget the after-Christmas sales), reveals a materialistic worldview; that we are by what we own.  Self-worth and worth of others is dependent on the philosophy of consumerism.

Materialism is a worldview irrespective of income, held by both the wealthy and the less affluent.  The car we drive, the home we live in, the clothes we wear and even the food we eat are all symbolic indicators of consumer power.  The feeling of being successful or making economic advancement is marketed by brand, price and exclusivity.  The “I’ve got to have it,” regardless of whether one can afford it, is the power of the consumerism worldview.   

Authors Wilkens and Sanford also point out in their book that consumerism buys and discards the ever-elusive definition of “need.”  The commodity that is so desperately needed this year will soon be thrown away or in next year’s garage sale.  The dream home becomes inadequate over a period of time and the ultimate mobile phone becomes obsolete within a matter of months.  So prevalent is the worldview of consumerism need that it even affects marriage.  The ideal husband or wife loses their value and the search for a more meaningful relationship lead some in our society to discard their mates because they no longer meet their needs.  Consumerism is the pursuit of greater fulfillment.   The reality of Black Friday and all consumption activity is that it is a black hole.  What we own materially is never sufficient, echoing the words of J. D. Rockeller when asked how much money is enough replied, “Just a little bit more.”

Guilt is also a marketing technique of consumerism.  Several years ago, in my own home, I was given a catalog of a certain product.  The sales pitch was, “I think your wife really deserves something this nice for Christmas.”  The subtle message was, “If you value her, don’t go cheap, go big.  Show her you REALLLY love her by buying something expensive.”  So moms and dads all over the nation will get up at 3 a.m. on Black Friday and fight traffic and endure shoulder-to-shoulder crowded stores just to show little Ethan they love him by buying the latest XBox game, or little Emma has the coolest IPod. 

Mary Douglas wrote in “The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption,” that materialism is driven by envy and competitive display.   Envy of what other people have influences the market and what the consumer perceives as need. 

Conspicuous consumption is the pitiful cry of the self-absorbed consumer saying to the world, “Look at me.”  Suffering from a severe case of inferiority, the consumer tries to mask their feelings of inadequacy by buying the symbols that will prop up their self –esteem.

The Bible is actually neutral in matters of wealth.  Having material things is never the issue but the attitude behind consumption.  It’s the attitude of greed that makes it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than the rich entering the kingdom; it is the foolishness of pursuing riches that is equated to trying to catch the wind.    A biblical worldview is about contentment, helping those in need (not just the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table) and pursuing God rather than money.  A biblical worldview recognizes that our worth is not in what we own, but rather who we are in Christ.   God, who created our material world, gave charge to His creation to be stewards of the earth and all that is in it, not to consume, gain or hoard.

Black Friday is an attempt to manipulate the retailer’s bottom line and feeds the worldview of consumerism as well as promotes competitive shopping.  However, this holiday ritual of consumption will never contribute to the real bottom line of man’s greatest need.  The water that Best Buy or Khols offers requires that we go back to the well each day.  The maker of the water said that if we ask He will give us living water and we’ll never thirst again. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving and Inequities

For those in the U.S., this Thursday is our national Thanksgiving Day.  This is the one day of the year that, officially, we stop to give thanks to God for the abundance and blessing that He has bestowed on our country.   As we approach this year’s holiday, there’s a lot of talk about inequity. 

The “Occupy Wall Street” protesters claim that 1% of our citizens are taking advantage of the 99% of the rest of the population, holding most of the wealth, not sharing or spreading the prosperity to others.  While it is true that there is a disparity in income, the purpose of Thanksgiving is not to focus on what we do not have but be thankful for what we do have, which should include all Americans.

I read recently that two-thirds of the world’s population has an average wealth per adult of less than $10,000.  About 1.1 billion of these adults hold a net worth of less than $1,000.  Even the poorest of Americans are above this poverty line.  The inequity of the rich and poor is troubling and though many of us are a long way from being a part of the 1% of those who are considered rich, this Thursday 99.9% in this country will be thankful for how good we have it.
A greater inequity of the “have’s” and the “have-not’s” are those who have heard the Good News of Christ and His salvation.  Of the 7 billion people who occupy our planet, less than a half-billion people are followers of Christ (2.1 billion people embrace Christianity as a religion, most are nominal, about 500 million claim to be evangelical).  Ninety-percent of all resources, money and time, are to those who have access to the Gospel, while less than 2% of world Christian outreach is to the 2 billion people who have never heard the name of Christ.  3.6 billion people in this world have never met a Christian.
I do not, nor ever will, understand the inequities in this world.  While Jesus said, “The poor you will have with you always,” He also said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  And, while the gap between those who have and who have not heard His Name grows wider the Great Commission remains mandate for the church to go into all the world and make disciples.
To those who have enough to eat, be thankful.  For those who are blessed to live in a community where you can learn more about Jesus, be grateful.  Hopefully, a grateful heart will prompt those blessed to be a blessing to others.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Status and Role - Non-Verbal Communication: A Case Study

“I think I saw you at the Delhi airport,” I said to the woman sitting next to me on the flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis. After confirming that she, indeed, was making the air-o-than of nine hours from DEL to AMS; nine hours from AMS to MSP, she told me that it was her first trip to the sub-continent. When she learned I taught cultural anthropology and had visited India often, she had a lot of questions.

Working for a large multi-national corporation, this trip took her to Chennai to visit engineers.She was in the country less than a week, though she said she found the India interesting and her experience positive, there were some cultural issues that had her confused.

“There was one engineer in the company in Chennai that was clearly smart and had great potential for advancement. We pressed the manager of the company to allow this junior employee to get additional training to enhance his skills, but the manager never granted permission for such training.


“We were told , by another employee, that it would not look if a junior employee had more advanced training than the manager.”

There is nothing more important in India than status and role. Status is often due to caste ranking. Ascribed status is seldom coupled with achievement, and to have an employee of lower status to rise in the ranks though achievement is a cultural impossibility.

“Another thing we could not figure out,’ she continued was their ‘head wagging.’ My colleague from the U.S. was really upset with this behavior and complained that he thought the Indians were ‘blowing me off,’ with their head wagging.”

I smiled and told her that’s the way south Indians show agreement. They weren’t disagreeing with the American, they were actually showing they were understanding and agreeing with what he had to say.

She laughed when I explained the meaning of the Indian head bobble and said, “I can’t wait to tell my colleague as he was really upset with the whole experience.”

“Doesn’t your company not offer any cross-cultural training for your employee’s?”

“Some,” she answered, “but not much.”Align Center

I did a bit of a head wobble myself as I got off the plane, but not in agreement, with my travel companion, but in dismay. With all the money multi-nationals spend for global business, it looks like they would spend a little time and money teaching their employees how to communicate and understand people of other cultures. Cultural anthropology is not just important for people going to work with tribals in the jungles of Africa but for multi-nationals companies, and missionaries seeking ways to communicate their message. Non-verbal communication is as important what comes out one's mouth. Why say "uh-huh," "yep," when one can just wobble your head.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How Do You See Others?

By far the most popular post on this blog is one written five years ago on "Ethnocentrism and Business." It's natural for all of us to be proud of our nationality and ethnicity. The map below is a light hearted, but interesting, way many Americans see the world. See if you agree.

I shared the map above with my students in India. They didn't get it. Then I flashed the map below on the screen and they howled. We all see the world and the world of other people a bit differently. Sometimes it's ethoncentrism, sometimes it's just funny.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Syncretism of Form: Hindu Mantra’s and Christian Worship

After a fourteen-hour train ride I was tired, sweaty and needed a nap. The compound where I am teaching in Nasik, India, is a retreat center. The buildings are old, some dating back to when the British built them over 100 years ago. The bungalow is rustic, but clean. After my bucket bath I had just one hour to rest before the teaching sessions began. But I couldn’t sleep.

Less than 17 meters (50 yards) from my little room a local church youth group, probably 30 of them, were having a retreat. For the entire hour they chanted, sometimes with fervor, then dying down only to rise again, Halleluiah, HALLELUIAH, HALLELUIAH, HALLELUIAH…you get the picture. I was astounded that was all they did throughout my attempt to sleep. With hands clapping, it seemed there was a competition the girls and boys on who could shout the loudest. For one solid hour it was Halleluiah, HALLELUIAH, HALLELUIAH, HALLELUIAH. Nothing else.

I asked to my host later, “What is it with all the noise going on in that room?”

With a wry smile he said, “Baptist call it noise, others call it worship.” He did admit, however, they were extreme.

Fair enough. I get the point. On further reflection, however, the “noise” that troubled my rest I believe has a deeper missiological meaning, one that I have observed in Africa as well as India.

Form, the way people do things, is often culturally determined. How people assemble themselves around the table for supper, give and receive gifts, conduct business meetings, marriage ceremonies or bury the dead, all have a culturally prescribed form. Like “loan words,” (vocabulary borrowed from another language for communication, e.g. “safari” for travel, “daktari” for doctor or universal technological words used by all languages, i.e., Email or Internet), form of worship is often borrowed. Much of the form of Sunday morning Christian worship around the world is borrowed from the West. I can close my eyes in some churches in Delhi and hear the same praise songs I hear in the U.S. Even if the language is in Swahili, Hindi or Spanish the order of service is usually music, announcements, offering, special song and sermon. Churches that try to contextualize the form often do not move too far away from traditional/historical patterns.

Syncretism, of course, is contextualization that has crossed the line and adopts form from the host. In the Roman Catholic tradition they are often accused of syncretism in places like India who put a statute of Mary, or one of the saints, outside their churches for people to offer prayers. Across the street the Hindu’s offer prayers to statues of Shiva. With the form being same, is there a distinction in praying to idols.

Though unintended, the halleluiah chorus across from my hovel was not that different from the mantra’s of the Hindu’s. The constant repeating of a word or phrase is common to any Buddhist at their temples or the priest reciting prayers to Krishna. Do the mantras have power? Do the worshippers or God move closer to one another by the incessant repeating of words? I contend the separation of mantra of the Hindu and the Christian is so thin one could hardly discern the difference between the two.

Shouting has always been associated with casting out demons and evil spirits. The witchdoctors have been doing it for centuries, as they believe that forceful speech is the only way the spirits will respond. Power is in the chants and the more vigorous the presentation the greater the chances for overcoming evil.

I am well aware that those who hold tightly to these forms of display will disagree with this post, just as those who maintain dead liturgy continue to embrace their form of worship. I am a proponent of contextualization, but I suggest that some of the forms used here in India look and sound too much like those who venerate the gods of stone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Shame Versus No Shame Cultures

Overhearing a conversation between my wife and our friend in India recently, my wife asked about the women she has been meeting with. These women were all Hindu’s that our Christian friend has known since high school and they occasionally met to talk about family, marriage and God.

“One of the ladies has accepted Christ as her Savior and was baptized,” our friend said. “Another one is still interested in Jesus and we meet often. Sadly, another friend has moved away. Her father got wind that she was interested in becoming a follower of Christ and put a stop to her visiting with us.”

In shame cultures the hierarchy of loyalty is family and religion before personal happiness or fulfillment. Arranged marriages in south Asia, even among Christians, shows respect to the group. “Honor killings,” though illegal, is justifiable in the eyes of many as dishonoring or shaming the family is a greater offense.

To most Westerners, shame cultures seem backward and oppressive. Individual freedom, me first, is what’s really important in our culture. Family, company loyalty and even children always takes a back seat to personal happiness.

The by-product of a self-centered society increasingly manifests itself into a no shame culture. There was a time in our country when adultery was a scandal. Today it’s mildly embarrassing, something that happens and eventually will be overlooked, and maybe even justified. Our no shame culture no longer knows how to blush. We live in a Britney Spears environment (“Oops, I did it again,” giggle, giggle) where a girl can have five kids with five different fathers and people are expected to celebrate the event, certainly not condemn (“Judge not lest you be judged,” has become American Christians favorite verse).

The lyrics are only slightly vulgar, so it’s okay and nothing to be ashamed of. The movie or sitcom is only partially suggestive, and though uncomfortable for a moment, it really is, after-all comical, so I will put away the shame so I can finish the show. The joke is crude, but, hey, it’s funny. The mother of all no shame activity (for some, certainly a minority) is Facebook, with posted pictures and discussions that has one objective…look at me, listen to me, sympathize with me. The no shame culture now believes the social network is the place to go to get affirmation for bad behavior. It’s also a place for enablers to show “grace” to those who have no shame.

We all have, and certainly I do, have a thousand things in our lives we are not proud of, even ashamed of. Rather than celebrate our flaws, however, let us be a little less transparent about our failings. As a guilt culture perhaps we need to feel a little bit guiltier. True, Christ has taken away our guilt, but it probably wouldn’t hurt if we blushed more, were more discreet and laughed about it less.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lifelong Learning

A little girl returned from her first day at school. Her mom asked, “Did you learn anything?”

“Apparently not enough” the girl responded, “I have to go back tomorrow and the next day and the next…” (Max Lucado – Life Lessons Study Guide: Philippians).

Life long learning is exactly that, going to class every day. The things we learned today are important, but there is much more to discover. The knowledge we acquired yesterday (even 20 years ago) must be revisited frequently.

Recently I stood before a group of pastors and discussed the difference between being “missional” and being “missiological.” Like all classes, most in attendance were engaged, taking notes, asking questions. There are always a few, however, who act disinterested as though they heard it before or “what am I going to learn from this old man?” When young missionaries dismiss those who have a few miles on them I want to remind that Donald McGavran was still developing new missiological thought when he was in his ‘90’s. Peter Drucker, the guru of all business thinkers, was counseling and speaking until he died after in his ninth decade.

Standing before a group of young college students the old professor was challenged by the insolence of those whose knowledge superseded their intelligence by stating. With a tone of exasperation the old man declared, “I have forgotten more than you have yet learned.” It’s not how much one knows or has forgotten that’s the issue, but process of growing. Like the little school girl, we never learn enough, so we go back to class again tomorrow and the next day and the next…”

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Timing a Decision

About this time last year my 90-year old father was increasingly a physical challenge for my 86-year old mother. They lived in an apartment and with each passing day dad’s ability to walk, feed and bathe himself was declining. Some members of the family wanted to immediately move dad into a nursing home, but since I was given the charge to determine their medical decisions I was reluctant to move him into a full care facility. Why? My mother was not ready to be separated from dad and, being a very proud man, my dad would have resented such a move.

Visibly angry, I was taken to task by one member of the family who told me in no uncertain terms that, “No decision IS a decision.” I’ve thought a lot about the statement over the past year. Is no decision a decision? I have come to the conclusion that the decision was not the issue, but the timing of the decision. The decision was a predetermined conclusion. There indeed would be a time when mom could no longer take care of dad and he would need full time care. But the issue was when, not what and the conflict rose because of timing, not substance. One person wanted immediate action, the other person, me, wanted to wait.

The hallmark of Americans is their quick decisions. I’ve heard most of my life that the characteristic of a leader is one who makes quick and decisive decisions. It is actually a flaw in character, perceived by some, that if someone does not make a decision that somehow they are weak or cowardice. No decision IS a decision, they are told. But is that true?

“If you love me you will marry me now,” a boy says to the girl. She does indeed love him and, yes would like to marry him, but now? If she says let’s wait awhile is she making a decision on marriage or timing?

Cross-cultural Christian workers are anxious for people to “make a decision for Christ.” The potential convert may be thinking about being a follower of Christ, interested in being a Christian, but is no decision a decision? I don’t think so. Process is an important aspect of decision-making.

In many of the countries I have worked decisions are often a slow process for two reasons. One is consensus, the bringing on board as many people as possible before a decision is made. Consensus drives American leaders crazy. “Just do it, for heavens sake,” they scream. “You don’t have to take a poll, just make a decision.” What these “deciders” don’t realize is that making independent decisions in their context is rude, arrogant and self-serving.

The other reason for going slow in making a decision in other cultures is because of family considerations. Whether it is making the decision in marriage, where to go to school or a business deal the family structure is often so tight that individual decision making is unheard of. As one Korean leader stated recently, “Americans focus on projects rather than people.” That’s being generous. In many situations American leaders believe that the project is more important than people, regardless of family concerns.

Though often a laborious process, if one is working in an egalitarian or hierarchal social environment it’s best that the foreign leader learn the rules of decision making before going in and making a demand for a ruling. To be a decider may make you feel efficient, but in the process you may well destroy your legitimacy.

Dad fell ill a few weeks after the family discussion, which required he be hospitalized. It was at that time I made the decision for dad to be transferred into a nursing facility. The timing was perfect as mom was able to recognize her inabilities to take care of dad and, for dad, his transfer from the VA hospital to the Veterans home was almost seamless and he was able to accept the decision. The decision was never the issue and we all knew it would be a tough call. Waiting for the proper time may not have been “efficient” by some, but it was the right decision at the right time.

Thursday, September 01, 2011


G.K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936) was a prolific writer, 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays. His most famous book probably was Orthodoxy, which had such an impact on C.S. Lewis that he called Chesterton his spiritual father, as well as Francis Shaffer and Gandhi. Chesterton was a Christian apologist, but not the type that was dry or without humor. Among his many famous quotes, "If there were no God, there would be no atheists." And, "Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions." On journalism he observed, "Journalism largely consists in saying ‘Lord Jones is dead’ to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive."

Apart from his writings, what strikes me about Chesterton was his style, or perhaps the lack of it in today’s world. A big man, he was 6 foot 4 inches tall and over 300 pounds; usually wearing a cape and a crumpled hat, with a swordstick in hand and a cigar hanging out of his mouth. Notorious forgetful it’s reported that on several occasions he sent a telegram to his wife Frances from some distant (and incorrect) location, writing such things as "Am at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?" to which she would reply, "Home.”

So why include this bit of trivia in a blog? A reminder to me, and perhaps to others, that throughout history men like Chesterton lived, thought and put pen to paper those things that seemed relevant at the time. What’s interesting to me is that the thoughts of one who lived 100 years ago remain relevant today. Much of the minutia of my day, cutting the lawn, teaching a class, will pass away and be lost in the wind. The lawn needs to be cut, the class may indeed help the student to be a better person, professionally or spiritually, but it is to those who think about life and who will take the time to write about the insights that God gives each one of us that may indeed have an impact that will last longer than our existence on earth. G.K. was original, as God made each of us. His life is a reminder of the value of being authentic and not pursuing the fashion of a copy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Benefit of Wasting Time Reading

First off, I am not a good reader. By that I mean I struggle with focus whenever there is a book in my hand. Sometimes I think it’s because of my upbringing as my dad was not educated and didn’t put much stock in academics. He was a very hard worker and he taught me that the most worthless thing a person could be is idle. I will forever be grateful to my dad for the work ethic he instilled in me. In his world, however, which became mine, reading would be considered idleness. Even today, for me to sit in my office and read is a chore, a feeling of worthlessness. I am also a bit dyslectic and forever seeing words differently and not being able to pronounce them. I share this flaw only because some people believe that only scholars need to read and they read because they enjoy it. That is certainly not my case. I do not relish a good book; I’d rather cut wood.

Now that I have the disclaimer out of the way, I have learned down through the years the importance of reading. I force myself to read because I know that without it I will not grow spiritually or intellectually. As the old adage goes, “A river will only rise as high as its source.” If I want to know more I must make myself read.

Reading became a discipline for me while serving as a first term missionary in Kenya. My undergraduate study was in theology, but I knew nothing about anthropology. Struggling to make sense of the semi-nomadic worldview of the Turkana and Pokot, I discovered books and articles written by missionaries, which led me to books and articles in anthropology. On a furlough I enrolled in a post-graduate program and fell in love with missiology and the social organization of cultures. The one thing that formal education did for me was to force me to read, spending countless sleepless nights to finish my assignments.

A strange thing happens to many of us after we receive our degrees - because we aren’t required to read we don’t read. Another reason some of us quit studying is because we think we already know it all. I’ve been in the vocation of missions over 35 years and so I’ve seen it all (or think I have) and there really isn’t much new under the sun, or so I am tempted to think. For these two reasons I have created a mechanism of reading with purpose.

First, I scan every relevant article I read about missions, missionary life, raising support, culture or strategy. In the old days I would copy articles and file them in a metal cabinet. With today’s technology I now scan articles and file them on my website. Articles, chapters in books, are no longer a fleeting read but a treasure trove of insights for those who work overseas.

The second purpose for my reading is to be a resource for my students. Articles ranging from child marriages, missionary depression, contextualization of the Gospel to Muslims, circumcision initiation rites for Pokot girls and caste problems in India are all available for those who are in my classes. As a student I discovered the importance of reading articles that was outside my interest and I was forced to read other literature to broaden my worldview. My students are provided with articles and are required to read many of them for my class. With the ever-expanding articles posted, the students have a wide range of reference material that otherwise would not be available to them. (Because of copyright issues, access to these articles are made available only to those in my class or enrolled in our distance-learning course).

Reading will always be a chore for me. Honestly, how can one truly be excited about reading in the American Ethnologist “Materializing Piety: Gendered anxieties about faithful consumption in contemporary urban Indonesia”? Yet, by me wading through such articles and mining the gems between the dusty and unpronounceable verbiage of anthropologists, I become a bridge of meaning to an otherwise waste of paper (read my past blog on how I made this article a bridge of meaning for missions).

Another word of wisdom from my dad was this: “Sometimes in life you have to do things you don’t want to do, but you do them anyway.” I may not always enjoy it but at the end of the day if I have enriched others and myself through my reading it will not have been a wasted day, I will not have been idle.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

LCCTI Missionary Training

A few weeks back we announced a new training project for missionaries. One question I often get is "How much will it cost." You can view the answer to those questions by going to our webpage:

One of the strengths of our training program is that we bring the classroom to you, the student, rather than ask the missionaries to uproot their family to come to our campus (actually, we don't have a campus, but all schools and other training programs do). When factoring in cost remember that the student does not have to pay for lodging or food. Food and lodging, along with transportation to the training campus, can add up to be hundreds of dollars, sometimes exceeding the cost of tuition.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Discipling Missionaries

Click HERE To Read Our Latest Report.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


Attitude. That’s about 75% of winning or losing.

I recently downloaded Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, to my iPod. As I take my evening walks I can read without reading - a good way to kill an hour while on my trek.

The author, Malcom Gladwell, cited a study by a marriage counselor who stated that most marriages breakup because of one crucial reason – CONTEMPT. The underlying reason for conflict is a husband or wife who has contempt for their partner. Words like “You’re stupid,” “You’re lazy,” “You’re irresponsible,” or “You’re fat,” are all contempt statements. Gladwell says you can see the contempt in marriage counseling as the husband or wife rolls their eyes when the other speaks.

Contempt rears its ugly head in all relationships: children’s contempt for parents, employee/employer contempt in the workplace and even in the church among laymen/clergy. If at any time there is interpersonal conflict, usually there is one person who somehow feels they are superior and they manifest that feeling with contempt on those they perceive as being not quite as equal as they are.

I have often observed this arrogance on the mission field. Call it ethnocentrism bigotry or intolerance; the petulant attitude displayed is always a spirit of contempt. Caste and tribe conflict is due to contempt. Muslims killing other Muslims, Hindu’s killing Christians, are a result of a contemptuous attitude. Missionaries, which have a disdain for nationals, is a by-product of contempt. It’s a universal disease.

I’m not sure the root problem that resides in the heart of the contemptuous. Perhaps it is a feeling of insecurity or the desire to control or to manipulate. It seems that in every conflict unresolved, a wounded soul reverts to contempt. How different from the attitude of Jesus. The Pharisees had contempt for just about everyone who they perceived as not following the Law. Jesus, however, was a friend of sinners. The Apostle Paul has a good remedy for contempt: in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippines 2:3,4). If we do that, surely we will not sit among the scornful (Psalm 1:1).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Missional or Missiological?

A friend of mine sent me a PDF file on a study entitled, Nine Game-Changers for Global Missions: Trends that Shape the Future, by the Leadership Network, and asked for my thoughts. So here it is.

The nine “game changers” revolve around nine themes and trends, at least from the perspective of the 50 leaders who contributed to the article, which focuses on cities, mutuality, partnering, investing in leaders, combining good news and good deeds, greater financial accountability, business as mission, focus, and technology. Much of these trends are not particularly new, but what was unique about this article is that it gave examples of churches that focused on these trends. Each has merit and, for that reason alone, the article is a worthwhile read. However, as a missiologist, there were some issues I feel needs to be addressed.

Large Churches Versus Average Churches - Almost all of the examples of “best practices,” in this article were churches of substantial size. The average congregation in the U.S. is less than 200 in membership. While large churches with substantial mission budgets may be able to focus their resources to their particular interest, churches with modest resources would probably find this article stifling. Most of what is written in this piece would likely be irrelevant to the majority of American churches.

Mutuality and Partnerships – The trend today among larger churches is to by-pass, or at least minimize, North American career missionaries and focus on partnering with nationals. As a non-resident career missionary I understand and appreciate the need to come alongside the majority world church and partner with them in their efforts to reach their own nation with the Gospel. However, the underlining theme of “game changers,” is that partnership from the Western side is overwhelmingly financial, either in giving aid to the developing church or sending teams to assist the foreign church. Though this article is careful to point out that they don’t want to be guilty of paternalism, I question if that is possible.

I contend that good partnership is assisting the national church in what they need (not necessarily what they want) in terms of training. If partnerships is about assisting the church in how to take the message of Christ cross-culturally to Muslims, Hindus and Buddhist, or helping the national church leaders know how to properly disciple their congregation in contextualized outreach, then I am onboard. However, most programs discussed in this article is woefully lacking in missiological understanding, which is my next point.

Missiologically Challenged - Having just returned from teaching in Kenya I was amazed by how many short-term mission groups had invaded the country (by some estimates, over 4 million North Americans take a short-term mission trip throughout the world each year). Many of these groups were there to do evangelism or social work. In a country that claims to be 80% Christian I wonder how many of these groups worked among the most least evangelized people groups in the country, i.e., the Somali refugees in the north, Muslims on the coast or the animists living in the northwest.

Most of what I read in “game changers,” hardly anything to say about reaching the most unreached peoples of the world. 3.6 billion people in this world have never met a Christian. While I applaud the efforts of the North American church to build hospitals for AID patients, schools and orphanages, how do these good works reach the Sufi’s of Bangladesh, the Buddhist of Laos or the Hindu’s in India?

Missions always have been and always will be about building relationships. While “game changers” will make the Western church feel as though they are truly engaged in the Great Commission, the world will not be impacted significantly without a well thought out strategy and a commitment to fundamental principles of evangelism – a dedication to live among those who have never heard about Christ and His salvation.

I realize that I am a throwback of an era of old missions. However, I still believe that missionaries, be they American or non-American, must incorporate the biblical principle of incarnation, which means learn the language of the people, live among them, and learn how to contextualize the message of Christ to those God has called them to serve. Being actively engaged in going overseas, developing partnerships and all of that has merit, but being missional is not the same as being missiological.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Mystery Continues

Dad’s funeral is over. The service was honoring to him, which was a comfort for my mom. Many nice things said about dad, some from people that knew him, many from those who had little more that a superficial acquaintance with him. The overarching theme of the day was that dad was in a better place now; released from the shackles of the physical mortal and robed in the spiritual immortal. It’s a lovely sentiment, but the mystery of death remains, at least for me. C.S. Lewis wonders aloud in A Grief Observed, if at death a person doesn’t also suffer the pain of separation. Who knows? Certainly not me, for I have yet to experience death.

My mom was telling me this week of a friend of hers whose husband has been diagnosed with cancer without hope of a cure. He sits in his chair all day crying, knowing that he is powerless against the inevitable. I have no way of knowing if this man is a follower of Christ, but whether he is or not, there is a certain haunting honesty in his response to his impending demise. Solomon, the guy reported to be the wisest man that ever lived, pondered the futility of life and the reality of death in his ancient book. His conclusion was that a man’s life is not much more than the life of a beast; that the fool and the wise, the rich and poor, the wicked and the righteous ultimately end up the same way. Since we only know life and death with its obvious outward signs of a lifeless corpse, why shouldn’t we be afraid? The valley of the shadow of death, as Lewis puts it, is often more like a circular trench.

All religions, functionally, are the same when it comes to trying to explain the great mystery. Some suggest the soul goes to paradise, others propose that a mans soul goes through a process of rebirth in physical form for cleansing until we reach perfection that leads to nothingness; we become a thought in a cosmic abyss. Christian theologians teach that our souls go to God to await the end time when our spirit will be joined to a new body. All conjuncture of course, based on centuries of interpretation. We rest our hope on these “faiths,” as it is the only thing we can hang our mortal hats on. In the end, we will spend our days crying until there are on more tears to shed or rejoice in the hope we have in Christ until there is no longer breath in our bodies. Meanwhile, the mystery continues.