bluffton

I am enjoying my longest stay in the USA since I was a student here 25+ years ago. I have been speaking at the annual missions' conference of a church set in the cornfields of NW Ohio - where my father-in-law is pastor emeritus. The church has been supporting Barby's family in India for 95 consecutive years. It is an honour for me to be here. A few reflections...

1. You gotta love rural America. On my first day here the weekly Bluffton News was published. The front page was blanketed with all the names of students at the local high school and primary school who finished the semester with straight As (or Bs, from memory). Not too concerned about tall-poppies around these parts - and a long way from Saturday sports in New Zealand where team mates take turns winning the 'player of the day' trophy.

2. Inside the front door of the church is a map of the world and pockets to hold the newsletters of the 44 missionaries being supported (by a church of about 500).

The conference lasted from Sunday to Sunday. About 8-12 of these 44 were here for the week, gathering each morning to share and pray together. Then every night of the week (except one) 150+ people in the church came out to hear the missionaries share their story. Incredible commitment. They still run a Faith Promise scheme and after the second Sunday it became clear that they would exceed their goal - at a time and in a place where the economic downturn is really biting.

3. Person-for-person these are the warmest and kindest people you could ever hope to meet. I have just had 9 consecutive evenings in peoples' homes for dinner. I made the mistake of coveting the following text on the dining room wall and Ruth ended up giving it to me...

Speaking of wobbling I remember that my first impressions of the USA 30 years ago were the big cars and the big people. The cars have down-sized a lot, but not the people - except I don't notice it so much now because we have such an obesity problem in NZ.
Speaking of gobbling, it is Thanksgiving this week. I reckon we Kiwis suffer for not having this tradition. I do enjoy the way the default setting for Americans is to be an affirmative, thankful, and positive people. It brought back to mind my early struggles, fresh home from the USA, as a pastor in Invercargill. In the US, if ya done good, you tend to hear about it. In NZ, if ya done good, you tend not to hear about it. From those early days I determined to be an enourager and a thanker of others, demonstrating that it doesn't give people 'big heads' and that the occasional (humble) tall poppy ain't such a bad idea. But gee, I've ran out of gas on that one a few times and not sure how successful we can be swimming against this strong cultural tide.

4. One of the reasons for #3 for me in Bluffton, is the esteem in which my father-in-law is held. I've lived with him for two weeks. I never knew someone could be so godly - selfless and caring and serving. He takes every opportunity to pray. He rings every single person on their birthday. At 87 he still makes personal contact with more than 25 people each week. He is on the go from morning until night. His example is one of the reasons why I am deeply convinced that the first principle of (pastoral) leadership is to love people. I watch the way his love opens people up to God.

5. Some of the mission work is local - for example, in the prisons. The guy was telling me that not since Stalinist Russia has there been a country with such a high rate of incarceration. He told me that if a guy gets an underage (that age being 18) girl pregnant, it doesn't matter what the circumstances, if either the mother or the father of the girl chooses to press charges then the guy is likely to be put away for 10 years AND carry the stigma of being a 'sex offender' for the rest of his life, with every single computer record carrying the information. In fact this prison-worker receives a postcard every six months notifying him that a sex offender is living in his area with the address of the person being given.

6. With my visit being so soon after the elections I determined that the wise course of action was not to use the O-word while I was here - and it wasn't until well into my second week here that I heard the word on anyone's lips at all. It has been fascinating. When they do speak of Obama in this conservative pocket of rural USA it is with such a dismissive disdain - not that different to the tone with which George W. Bush gets treated in NZ.

7. The stability of the community is remarkable - as witnessed by the same names appearing again and again on the headstones and the inter-marriage being the stuff of legend! And no matter how challenged Americans think they are by their culture it never fails to amaze me just how much Christianity intrudes into public life. Radio. TV. Community events. Church buildings. Christians are everywhere it seems. But I do wonder how much energy is spent conserving something that is as cultural as it is Christian. And I do wonder if the channel tends to be tuned - again and again - to maintenance rather than to mission. There are huge down-sides to having a homefield advantage in the marketplace of religions. Isn't that what Christendom taught us?

now that I have set a record for my longest post ever, I shall quit!

nice chatting

Paul

Comments

"Some of the mission work is local - for example, in the prisons. The guy was telling me that not since Stalinist Russia has there been a country with such a high rate of incarceration. He told me that if a guy gets an underage (that age being 18) girl pregnant, it doesn't matter what the circumstances, if either the mother or the father of the girl chooses to press charges then the guy is likely to be put away for 10years AND carry the stigma of being a 'sex offender' for the rest of his life, with every single computer record carrying the information. In fact this prison-worker receives a postcard every six months notifying him that a sex offender is living in his area with the address of the person being given."
The parents do not have to press charges, the state does, even when the parents do not want to press charges.
Welcome to Ohio.
Thank you for allowing me to comment.
Jacquelyn
"I do enjoy the way the default setting for Americans is to be an affirmative, thankful, and positive people. It brought back to mind my early struggles, fresh home from the USA, as a pastor in Invercargill. In the US, if ya done good, you tend to hear about it. In NZ, if ya done good, you tend not to hear about it. From those early days I determined to be an enourager and a thanker of others, demonstrating that it doesn't give people 'big heads' and that the occasional (humble) tall poppy ain't such a bad idea."

Be encouraged in your encouraging and thanking! -something that is needed a little more often here, sometimes especially in Christian ministry circles. I enjoy Americans' default setting too, and am saddened by the rising 'bagging' of the US we see here in NZ.
Anonymous said…
enjoy Thanksgiving - gobble till u wobble!!! And rtemember to have a holiday!
Anonymous said…
hahaa, look forward to gobbling and wobbling in your dining room as always!!
Christina said…
Hi Paul it sounds like you are having a wonderful time in the US.
Thank you for once more for your astute observations about NZ and the US. You say “And no matter how challenged Americans think they are by their culture it never fails to amaze me just how much Christianity intrudes into public life.” This was something that I too observed and was surprised by on my short trip to the US (Minneapolis and Phoenix) a few years ago. As Kiwis I don’t think we really appreciate the extent of the cultural Christianity in the US. It is really essential for us to understand this as we need to be more discerning in our uptake of what comes out of the US. It annoys me that so many in NZ un-critically apply programmes and read books out of the US without having an appreciation for the very different context in which they are written. In terms of secularization of society we are years ahead of the US, it is NZ that should be leading the way forward for the church. I think I’ve said this before on your blog, but I’m really keen to see the Church in NZ stepping up a bit more in terms of innovation and critical thinking and being cutting edge rather than just blindly following the US and the UK. I think this may be related to your other comment about tall poppies and encouragement – do we celebrate those who are innovative and cutting edge or are we still too focussed on the church growth models that only celebrate numbers? I feel that there are lots of little wonderful things happening but we never hear about them. Is this because we Christian NZers find it hard to get published as the market is so small? I can’t think of many NZ books about the church or even theology that I have read, I’m saddened by our lack of confidence in ourselves as a culture.
Christina
PS: As you celebrate thanksgiving be mindful of Proverbs 25:16
Paul said…
gee whiz, Christina ... you are singing off my song sheet :) (- or, forgive me, maybe it is just me singing off your one!)

As I arrive at what could be a hinge point in my working life (25 years with a NZ focus - and now an extensive new terrain with Langham), I find myself burdened by these very issues as well.
Mark Maffey said…
Hi Paul

Careful you don't gobble too much else you'll turn into the Michelin man and wobble back to NZ.

In reflecting on the lack of NZ Christian content available I believe that is in large part down to two things. First our best minds are often tied to their faculty responsibilites in our seminaries and Bible Colleges. I am one of the fortunate few who have engaged with yourself, and other lecturers. It's a pity that you and others haven't had the space to be like a Don Carson and publish a number of books. I would love to see books published by yourself on Preaching and Christianity in the Post Modern World. The other key issue is that the New Zealand market is so small that the costs associated with Publishing often make it uneconomic to go down this route.

Just wondering aloud I wonder whether having a portal dedicated to New Zealand Christian Blogs which was widely publicised whether Via Rhema, Challenge Weekly, the Baptist, Shine etc might be a way of garnering greater Christian thinking.

Whilst my collection 0f 90 plus poems and growing is unlikely to be of publishable standard I have set up a blog: http://maffster.blogtown.co.nz/

As you prepare for Langham may you sense that God is preparing a way for you - he alone can level mountains, fill valleys, make the rough smooth, They that seek after him with all their hearts will be found by him:

Proverbs 2 vs. 1-10 – Seek The Wisdom Of God

My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands, tune your ears to wisdom,
And concentrate on understanding, cry out for insight, and ask for understanding.
For I understand who you are, what you think, seek first the things of my kingdom
Don’t worry about the temporal, instead look to me, I’ll be of you comprehending
I know, I understand your confusion, your uncertainties, seek my Godly wisdom
Meditate upon my word, it will show you my purposes and messages I am sending
For my promises do not return void, trust in my word the message of the kingdom
As you seek and search for my wisdom and word, I will increase your understanding


Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures
Then you will understand what it means to fear the LORD, and you will gain knowledge of God.
For as you dig and search you will uncover my truth beyond measure
You will comprehend the unsurpassing love I have for you, and know that I am your Lord
I will reveal to you that which is hidden, my words you’ll cherish, and treasure
I desire that you are able to discern, comprehend and gain knowledge of your Loving God


For the LORD grants wisdom! He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.
He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him.
As we are prepared to look to him, he enables us to sense what is for the best
To be aware of the insidious things that can try and drag us into worldly sin
To know and rightly divide his word, to be guided by the Spirit in what is blest
We need to trust in his precepts, for they help those who are faithful to him


Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair and you will find the right way to go.
For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy.
It will clearly show you that the choices you must make, let your yes be yes, your no be no
Beware the Devil who stalks likes a lion, his troops will attack and deploy
You need to resist and stand on Gods word, unless you understand it you are without a show
Seek the Lord your God, his wisdom and knowledge you will then enjoy
For without him there is no going, knowing or living, I am the way he says this you must know
My way is narrow, few find it, seek me in all things, and know then my joy.


Mark Maffey, November 2007
(NLT)

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