A little transit time in Bangkok - why not post a blog? My son (Martin) and I are returning from 18 days in Africa where I participated in the Pastors Book Project - the brainchild of visionary SIM-er Jim Mason. 24 conferences over 4months in 19 locations distributing a quality library of 65 books (and 2 CDs) to 7000 pastors. I participated in Nigeria in 1997 and the vision has rolled around Africa (and India) and when invited to come back for Zambia, I jumped at it...
Here are some of my emotions from the time in Zambia:
Well - in transit in Nairobi airport to be exact on touch down in Africa. My first impression was the new brand of colonialism. Whitney Houston sang five songs before dawn on the radio being played throughout the airport. The images in the shops were drawn from the catwalks of Europe (what happened to African beauty?) ... and CNN in the cafe seemed so intrusive. Why don't they create a version just for the States and then one for the world? The obsession with 9/11 and the individualised photos of those who had died in Iraq seemed so inappropriate - even insensitive - given Africa's problems. Why doesn't George Bush start asking the right question - "Why do they hate us so much?" ... and stop rabbiting on about "preserving our way of life" as a justification for war? I thought such justification had more to do with preserving justice than preserving a way of life? He might even find that altering 'a way of life' might actually lessen the 'hatred' (not to mention the amount of money spent on arms). The CNN I saw can only be fueling the hatred...
A decisive moment in my call from God was being rivetted to John Stott doing 50+minute biblical expositions when I was 19yrs old. So I have always been partial to such an approach and enjoyed forays into it myself - usually overseas as there ain't much of a market for such ministry in the NZ Baptist scene! So to be faced with the opportunity to 'let my expository hair down' with a few hundred Zambian pastors - hungry, poor, grateful - was such a delight. Then to share the teaching with two Zambian pastors - Albert Mukanga and Gilbert Masonde - and sit 'under' them added to the delight. Such rapport with their people - and what a joy-ful, resilient, and capable bunch. I took a huge map of Zambia with me and had participants sign the map in the place where they were pastoring ... now I must remember to pray for them.
I left my ties at home! I felt under-dressed and it raised that old hoary issue for Kiwi Christians: are we just a bit too careless and sloppy and disrespectful in the way we walk with God and worship him? I have recently heard UK immigrants speak of our lack of reverence in church. It is a blind spot. Where exactly has the 'fear of God' gone? David Wells' decade-old words continue to ring in my ears as the heart of the issue: 'the transcendent God has been lost; the immanent God has been abused'. And, of course 'ties or no-ties' is not the issue at all - but it was the presenting issue for me in Zambia.
It didn't help that the guy picking us up from Lusaka airport told us the story of his car-jacking in the exact place where it had happened. He showed us the bullet hole below his right shoulder blade and then the other adjacent to his left nipple ... and was wearing the shirt/jumper with the bullet holes to match. We struggled to get past the letter box that first night! But we soon relaxed... until a week later in a very gloomy twilight in downtown Lusaka our driver left us in a state of the art Toyota 4WD - unlocked and with keys in the ignition - while he popped out to do some shopping. UGH! I succumbed to locking the doors...
Crossing the Zambezi River at the exact point where four nations meet - unique in the world - was a special thrill for me. For the record: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, and Botswana.
Being able to track down Martin's sponsored child, Nchumunya ... the dear boy was just overwhelmed and in shock much of the time - but not his mum! She rushed into the room, made a beeline for Martin, and drowned him in a hug. That picture will be with me forever. A mother's love and gratitude... At one point I tried to distribute some balloons to the school children. I was mobbed. There was almost a riot. But it was not a riot of greed, but a riot of sheer exuberance. The happiest faces I have seen in life adorn the faces of the 'poorest of the poor' children. While that has a thrill attached to it, it is also very sobering...
What can you say about hearing first-hand stories of the HIV/AIDS pandemic? Many of the pastors at the conferences were having an AIDS-funeral each week. Imagine the pastoral care before and after that event and the enormous load on those pastors! Life expectancy for men in Zambia has dropped from 62 to 47 since AIDS hit the scene. I hardly saw a grey hair! A special session on HIV/AIDS was included in the programme for a pastors' conference!
I committed myself to reading Martin Meredith's The State of Africa (Simon&Schuster, 2006) while I was away. 700pages - just 25 to go! The story of the 50years since independence. What a sad, sad story! It is just so distressing. One quote will do (but I may return later to this book!): "By the end of the 1980s, not a single African head of state in three decades had allowed himself to be voted out of office. Of some 150 heads of state who had trodden the African stage, only six had voluntarily relinquished power." (378-379). And that is only part of a story of greed, fear, corruption, and power. And the former colonial nations (and their 'scramble for africa') together with other contemporary Western countries are hardly squeaky clean in it all.
I am a deep believer in preaching being about a faithfulness to the TEXT as well as to the CONTEXT. Preaching through 1Peter and trying to respect the African context was a challenge I just could not meet adequately. It is too hard - particularly with that letter.
When God makes African children he is at his very best. Every single one of them is exquisitely formed and just so, so beautiful. Without exception! I caught myself staring at times... Then there are those beautiful animals we saw in Chobe Park in Botswana: the giraffe and elephant standout - one with a delicate gracefulness about them, the other with a more lumbering approach ... but it is still gracefulness nonetheless.
I remember the brightness of the flowers in arid and sandy Israel. Here in Africa is another example of how God seems to invest the greatest beauty in the harshest environments.
I was so proud of my boy Martin. Can I add that one too? He has such an ease as he moves across cultures, making friends comes so naturally to him. I learned a lot by watching him in action. He has loved Africa since he was a small boy (and knows heaps about it) - and this trip was a dream come true for him.
Flight TG989 to Auckland beckons - and a return to life and work where God has placed us both.