When I was invited to contribute to the GC blog my mind wandered far and wide. What would be interesting? What would be helpful? What would enable people to engage in the mission of God? What are the ‘buzzwords’ of the day? Partnership, diaspora, discipleship, post-christendom. Or, what are the questions I get asked regularly? Does God really have a plan for my life? How can I be sure what God is calling me to? How does faith work? Why is prayer so important? What does mission mean? Who are the unreached? So my mind wandered.
I had the privilege to be at this gathering in London on Tuesday. It had been arranged by Global Connections to discuss Mike Stroope’s important book, Transcending Mission, which I reviewed last year. In God’s providence the author was already planning to be in the UK so Mike was able to attend. (In what follows I beg forgiveness if I misrepresent any of the contributors and will revise it if an error is pointed out.)
Mike gave an introductory paper, telling us a little of his ministry story as well as informing us of the thesis of the book and of the reactions it has received. I was fascinated to hear that he had had a significant part to play in the SBC International Missions Board’s leadership in the 1990s, a story told by Keith Eitel in Paradigm Wars. I had been in Nepal at that time and had seen some of the fruit of the machinations in the organization that Eitel documents. (I asked Mike about it at the end of the day but didn’t have enough time to really interact. Suffice it to say that those events had a significant impact on the development of my missiology so I do hope I can interact further before long.)
We live in a world which says there is no God, he does not care, he has forgotten, he will never see it. Post-Christian Britain.
In this world without absolute moral standard, those who are born into poverty can be crushed. Selfish desires rule, and the oppressed are stepped on. The poor are drawn into nets of debt, and cannot escape on their own.
Does this sound dystopian? Perhaps a little OTT?
Go and have a quick read of Psalms 9 and 10.
These Psalms recount a single Hebrew acrostic poem of David, and move from a foundational worldview to a highly personal and individual plea.
In turbulent times, God is working out his agenda to add to his church, people from every nation, tribe, ethnicity and language on earth (Rev.7:9). Iranians of a Muslim family background are finding their way to Christ in unprecedented numbers. What’s more, they are also attaching to local churches. It’s vital that existing congregations respond well – here’s why.
One of the best bits of advice that I received in my early days in Africa was that I had to learn to be “blessed by Africans”. At first, that didn’t seem to make sense; I was the person trained to be a Bible translator. It was my job to bless Africans, not the other way round. I soon learned my mistake. I had a huge amount to learn from my African friends, Christian and non-Christian alike.
When we lived in Gouabafla, I’d often spend an hour or so in the late afternoon chatting to people while cleaning up wounds of one sort or another. I treated machete wounds, abscesses, tropical ulcers and all sorts of things. I’m not medically trained, I’m just a bloke who knows a bit about first aid and who (unlike anyone else in the village) had access to basic medical supplies.
More importantly, I couldn’t claim to be in the village to share the love of God through the Bible and yet ignore the suffering that was all around me. I couldn’t do much about the poverty in the village, or the endemic corruption that reinforced that poverty, but I could clean out a dirty wound, treat it with antiseptic and put a clean dressing on while showing people how to treat their own wounds in future.
I have commented before on the challenge of being distinctively Christian in an environment which requires certain legal and administrative practices of us.
Not only do we find ourselves forced to comply with legislative practices (often good) imposed on us by secular authorities, but in order to be seen to be delivering on that we often adopt secular business practices. This is all too easy for those of us who were trained in management in secular employment before we joined the mission field. And those of us who are already equipped with management and administrative skills are the ones most likely to be selected for senior leadership, which then reinforces further the use of secular practices in our organisations.
A Smoldering Wick: Igniting Missions Work with Sustainable Practices* by Gena Thomas is a book that should be read by anyone involved in leading or organising short-term mission teams. Let me be blunt, if you are involved in short-term mission and you don’t read book, then you are not taking your job seriously enough!
The print edition is a medium sized paperback with just over 270 pages and will set you back about £10, though the Kindle version costs just over half that (guess which one I read). There is a liberal sprinkling of footnotes and a good bibliography.
There is an advertising blurb on the front which reads,
… a powerful critique of Western charity and short-term missions interwoven with the framework for a more hopeful way forward.
Much of our world is divided into two. In the majority world, we are told that there are two kinds of NGOs working; faith based, and ‘not-faith-based’. Christians tend to go along with this terminology. ‘We’ are the ones doing faith-based development. Other people are doing the ‘real-thing’, the development that is not just based on faith! Because theirs is the ‘real thing,’ whereas ours is just a faith-based imitation, we look up to ‘them’ as better and setting the pace.