Wednesday, October 27, 2010

savitri

This week I received a photo from India of my brother, Mark, with Savitri.

When we were children in India, Savitri used to help my mother around the home. In Hindi we called her our "aiyah". She was part of the family. We loved her and she loved us. Over the intervening forty years we have remained in touch. On any visit any of us make to North India, we make our way to Savitri in her little village. My memories are of my Mum and Dad being terrific with her over all these years - praying and giving and writing and visiting...

She is the mother of a great nation now. 72 years of age. Six children, sixteen grandchildren, four great grandchildren. Mark writes that "Savitri enjoyed sitting there, holding our hands and relating all the family news to me. She was tearful at several times when she was expressing her love for our family. I think she said that every night she goes to bed and prays for each of us, kissing our photos."

How do you like that? The ironing and the cooking have become the praying and the kissing. Hang on a second?! I seem to remember plenty of kisses back when I was a kid :)

nice chatting

Paul

POSTSCRIPT - a few months later I was able to visit Savitri

Saturday, October 23, 2010

message & medium

In my work as a trainer with Langham Preaching I am trying to ensure that the medium is as accessible as the message. We want to teach simple skills that are transferable, leaving participants thinking "I want to pass this onto others" because both the content and the methodology builds their aspiration to have a go themselves.

1. This is why I love whiteboards (or even blackboards) - particularly big ones. During this past week in Cambodia, we had a "truths that hold us" session on the first morning. [I also love small table group discussions!] Each table had a different truth to engage from the perspective of the preacher. "What is one key truth we need to affirm about God? about Jesus? the Spirit? the Bible?..." They bring back their single best insight for the whiteboard (gathered in the left hand column) - I add some of my ideas (in the right hand column). We have some discussion. And in 60mins we are articulating the theological foundations for preaching in a collegial - and comprehensive - manner.
2. This is why I love newsprint - particularly big sheets of the stuff. My favourite part of the training is when the small groups return from an afternoon of wrestling with a fresh passage through to the stage of producing a sermon outline. Not a lot of time - but they do such a good job. They write their outlines on this newsprint and we stick them all around the walls to create a "sermon (art) gallery" ambience. Then we work through these 'works of art' one by one, commentating on the good things ("I would love to preach this sermon myself next Sunday") and the not-so-good things ("If you had a bit more time to work with this outline, here is what I suggest you do"). The progress in their work through the week needs to be seen to be believed.
3. There is another newsprint exercise which I enjoy. Having people see the importance of engaging with their context is critical - but I am no expert on their context. What do you do? Put them to work... In their groups they come up with lists of the biggest issues being faced in (a) personal/family life; (b) local church life; (c) country life. Then we station three people at three newsprint 'stations' around the room. When I say "go", a representative from each group takes their best idea to each station and has it written up. However if it is already on the list by the time they get there, they must return to their group and get another 'issue'. It turns into a madhouse with people running everywhere (unless you are in the laidback Pacific islands!). Great fun ... and in less than an hour you have the most remarkable lists of the contextual issues which must be engaged by the preacher.

But the good people of Cambodia... [and they are so exuberant - like when we reached the end of the session on the single story of the Bible with talk of the Second Coming and the room just broke out into spontaneous applause and raucous cheering. It was incredible. And yes, I was thinking about 'killing fields' at that moment, but I am still not convinced that they were as they seem to have this capacity to move on - maybe they are not afflicted with the same guilty conscience which we have on this matter.]

I digress - sorry! Where was I?! Oh yes...
But the good people of Cambodia taught me a couple of new tricks this week :)

1. What about two translators, instead of just one?! This was so cool! In the photo below I have one translator (Somnang) focused on translating what I am saying, while the other one (Sothea) is focused on translating what I am writing on the board.
2. What about taking photos of the whiteboard?! [I have never seen so many digital cameras in one room before - and don't get me started on all the microphones!] Again and again we'd reach the end of a session and as I head off to get a drink, this group of people would rush forward with all the zeal of 'Just as I Am' at a Billy Graham Crusade - with cameras in hand.
At one point, one man said to me in faltering English, "I have waited a long time for this training". It don't get much better than that...

nice chatting


Paul

Thursday, October 14, 2010

kingdom without borders

While in Vanuatu last week I read Miriam Adeney's, Kingdom Without Borders: the untold story of global Christianity (IVP, 2009).

If you love potted and inspiring stories, then this book is for you. [I can actually lose interest with stories and wander off as they are told - but not these ones!]

If you want to 'click refresh' in your understanding of what God is doing around the world and haven't been invited to Lausanne in Capetown(!), then this book is for you.

If you are a preacher wanting to infuse your sermons with stories from around the world, but the call of God on your life is not to go around the world yourself, then this book is for you. I can hear a lot of preachers using the following line, "In her book, Kingdom without Borders, Miriam Adeney tells the story of..."

If you are a woman (or, a man for that matter!) wanting to read more about how God has used and is using women around the world, then this book is for you.

If you are a skeptic who believes all that stuff at university about how missionaries have destroyed culture blah, blah, blah - then this book is for you (start with pp30-31).

If you share my enthusiasm for the books of Philip Jenkins - particularly The Next Christendom - with all their clarity and sanity, then here is your companion volume, full of pulse and staccato. While I find there to be just a tiny gap between my mind and my heart, many people talk like there is a chasm and for such people I commend Jenkins to your mind, as much as I commend Adeney to your heart.

Let me quit the "ifs" and "thens" and make a few other comments about the book.

1. Take the structure of the book. Story-filled chapters on what is happening in China (41-64), in Latin America (88-114), in the Muslim World - mainly Iran (139-164), in the Hindu world - mainly India (186-207), and in Africa (231-252) alternate with chapters on Word (65-87), Spirit (115-138), Catastrophe (165-185), Song (208-230) and the Way of the Cross (253-268).

2. Take the style of the book. Adeney flits from one dialogue-filled story to the next with virtually no transitions and the reader is drawn along. Country after country is covered. It almost makes you dizzy, needing time to recover from a paginated jetlag at the end. She is such a good writer - and her knowledge of what is happening is broad and deep.

3. Take the purpose of the book: "think of this as a continuation of Hebrews 11" (8), as she tells the stories of mainly "indigenous believers" (34) with very few foreign missionaries making the final cut. "It is a humble celebration of the kingdom that glows from generation to generation and will never be destroyed" (40). One might well add that it is not just 'glowing from generation to generation', it is growing in time zone after time zone.

4. Take the instruction that drifts into the book. Every now and then she stops to linger with a topic or someone's insights. Be it interpreting the Bible contextually (72-76); exploring community, suffering, and power as themes in Africa (76-83); reflecting on the nourishment of the Spirit (135-137); being "called to witness, not to convert" (156-159); helping the poor and oppressed (167-170); noting Ajith Fernando's 8-fold response to the tsunami (180-185), or K. Rajendran's five suggestions for indigenous mission (203-207 - India has 50,000 cross-cultural missionaries serving within India!); depicting the three streams of Indian Christianity as "dharma, dalit, dot.com" (187-201); exploring the function of songs (214-218); training godly leaders (244-248); or, embracing best practises to limit suffering (265-267) ... it is all ever so wise and practical.

One searing weakness of the book is the lack of an Index. Another caution is that every now and then the sources being quoted are quite dated. But this is a book I will treasure and to which I shall return.

nice chatting


Paul

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

four families

During a recent 'tour of service' with Langham Preaching in Vanuatu I was impacted by families - four families, to be precise.

from england and germany to new zealand
The Shudall family. I like to think of them as missionaries to New Zealand where Andy works as Head of Training for TSCF (the IFES-affiliate) - but is also involved as a trainer with Langham Preaching in Vanuatu. Whether it is the warmth and directness in the parents or the intriguing diversity among the children, I enjoy coming back for more with this family. Parenting is tough today. Rarely have I seen the full love combining with the clear boundaries, so integral to good parenting, as I saw demonstrated by Andy and Ines this past week.

from australia and the usa to vanuatu
The Gibb family. Steve, Jane, (Matt? - at uni), Tiffany, Jennifer, Emily, Ethan, Rose. Despite all the flack which missionaries attract in the public world from the media and in university departments, in this job I encounter, again and again, such fine missionary families doing superb work. The Gibbs have only been in Vanuatu less than three years. Steve is already preaching in Bislama, giving himself to pastoring a church as well as strengthening the student work at the local university ... and is pretty much the polar opposite of the stereotype. When he preached from 1 Peter 5 (which I was preparing to do, but I am so glad I passed it on), it brought tears to the eyes. He visited all four corners (for those of you who are former students of mine!), exegeting both text and context so well. The church in Vanuatu is blessed to have such a model in their midst...

from korea and new zealand to vanuatu
The Won family. Chun Hee, Nan Joo, Justin, Christopher. One day during the seminar Chun Hee just walked on into morning tea unannounced. My memory bank went into overdrive. His name was on the tip of the tongue but I didn't have the confidence to speak it out! He and Nan Joo had been students of mine at BCNZ/Laidlaw almost 15 years ago. We ended up spending a whole day together. Chun Hee is dedicated to 'bush mission', spending almost half his time in the dispersed villages of Santo - building water tanks and kindergartens and churches, not to mention baptizing people and training leaders and starting businesses. 80% of Vanuatu's GDP is controlled by 500 Chinese businessmen and the 2000 white people who control the tourist industry. Virtually nothing trickles down to 'ni-vans' (indigenous people). It is shameful. The Won family are determined to break this monopoly and build God's church as they do so. It was inspiring...

from everywhere to everywhere
The family of God. Aussies, Kiwis, Americans, Ni-vans...it goes on and on and on. Experiencing this so regularly is one of the great privileges of my life (this time next week I am in Cambodia!). To hear God's word read and preached in another language ... to sing songs together like "I am your brother; you are my sister" with Ni-vans ... to hear them burst out in song with "never failed me yet, Jesus has never failed me yet" (when the foreigner might conclude that he has failed them. But if anyone has failed them, it is not God, but members of God's global family) ... to have one of those intercession times where everyone prays at the same time in a grand chorus pounding at the gates of heaven ... and to enter it all with my own son from my own family, Joseph (who entered fully into the training), was so special for me.

nice chatting

Paul

PS - Joseph did have time for some fun as well. Check out this photo as he jumps into a pool (I jumped as well, but ended up with a big bruise on my but-bone):

a leadership resolution

[Apologies - I can use this blog as a personal filing system for things I do not want to lose. This is one such time...]

It looks like an ancient manuscript now. For 11+ years it was pinned above my desk as a prayer-full and personal resolution crafted to frame my time as Principal at Carey Baptist College. It has almost faded into invisibility now - but before it does so, I want to capture it ... because it was such a big deal for me at the time.

"As I begin as principal of Carey, I resolve, in dependence upon God, to develop as a servant leader who is committed to a life of integrity and balance and who spreads encouragement and builds trust among those whom I lead - as we patiently move into a future marked by excellence which we envision together."

The italics were italics because they were my focus on a daily basis. Looking back from 'the inside-out' - 18 months later - I do consider that the grace of God helped me stay true to this resolution.

However one of the challenges for me in moving on from this leadership role has been processing the gap between what I may have intended (from the inside-out) and how I may have been perceived (from the outside-in) by those I led and those with whom I worked. For all sorts of reasons this gap can grow wide for those in senior leadership roles. Sometimes I struggled with the way intention could become skewed by perception in a way that felt unfair.

But as the months go by (and consistent with previous chapters of my working life), I am finding a more contented equilibrium in which the inside-out is trumping the outside-in and intention is interpreting that era of leadership, rather than perception ... and this is a work of the grace of God as well.

nice chatting


Paul

Saturday, October 02, 2010

killing fields, living fields

I am a bit slow. The book was published fourteen years ago. I have heard so many people speak so enthusiastically about it. Finally, on a return trip to the UK (and with my first training visit to Cambodia with Langham Preaching later this month), I worked my way through Don Cormack's Killing Fields, Living Fields (Monarch, 1997). I see here that there is a 2009 edition published by Christian Focus. Kinda wish I knew that before I started. Learn from my mistake!


While my first visit to the departure area at Phnom Penh airport in October 2009 alerted me to just how much has been written on recent Cambodian history, I am glad I started my journey with Cormack's book. This is one book that every comfortable Christian should read.

Why?

It is a contemporary example of ancient principles easily forgotten. Persecution is real. Believers who live distinctively with distinction in any society should expect this persecution. And persecution is the means by which God spreads the gospel. It happened in the first century in the Mediterranean. It happened in the twentieth century in the Mekong. As the subtitle expresses it, the Cambodian church is "the church that would not die". Never very numerous under extreme persecution it just would not give up. When a man called Sophiep is locked up, the writer acknowledges "But as many other Christians have discovered in such circumstances, he was profoundly aware of God's presence with him ... He was filled not with fear but courage and joy" (375).

The facts and figures are extreme. While Pol Pot's regime lasted five years (when the entire country became something of a concentration camp), the time of intense suffering for the church numbered at least twenty years. "30% of the people and 90% of the church" (182) perished during the Pol Pot years of 1975-1979. In the five years immediately prior to those years - at the start of the 'twenty' - the "three leading churches in Phnom Penh exploded into thirty major centres of worship (126) ... with people turning to Christ at the rate of almost one hundred per week by the end of 1974" (144) - and this in a country where the total number of believers was always measured in dozens and hundreds, not thousands and millions.

A pair of features in the life of the Cambodian church as it became established caught my eye. While often put in opposition with each other, here they worked in unison. One is the prevalence of the miraculous. God demonstrates a penchant for using the miraculous as a means of helping establish the gospel in a new setting. People can long for more and more of this - to the point where life takes on a 'not by faith, but by sight' quality as demonstrations of God's power need to be seen in order to sustain their faith. It might be more advisable to pour energy into the second feature: the priority given to establishing a Bible School where young leaders could go and be taught in the Word and enabled to live by faith and in obedience to God.

My favourite story is on pp214-216 when, during the Pol Pot years, young Radha is forced to marry someone. As a believer he was alarmed at the possibility of being 'yoked to an unbeliever' - but he had no choice. After the ceremony and on their own, Radha mumbles, by habit, a grace before a meal and his new bride cries out "you are a Christian" - as she was. At a time when believers numbered hundreds (at best) out of millions, God had arranged the marriage and what was intended to harm, God used for good in a Genesis 50.20 kind of way.

There is an agricultural image which pervades the book. Fields. Fallow Ground. Seed. Late Rains. Thinning. Wheat and Tares... Each time the author makes comparisons between what is happening in the earth in Cambodia and what is happening in the church in Cambodia. It is nicely done. [I have a sermon series on Nehemiah using the same metaphor and it made me want to preach a series where there is a sustained and dual opening of the text of Nehemiah and the context of Cambodia...]

While Cormack is a skilled writer ("Knotted veins coursed down his bare sinewy legs to muddied feet from which hung a pair of worn-out rubber thongs" - 401), I did find that the book lacked a little of the page-turner quality associated with compelling story-telling. He jumps a bit out of the single, linear plot-line approach which may have made the story more suspense-full. But that is just a personal opinion. I loved the "we passages" (as found in the Book of Acts!) where he enters the story himself (for example, p267f) to create a sense of immediacy and personal testimony.

He helps us understand the complexities of the political-religious context in Cambodia. Those readers enamoured with Buddhism will come away with a more sane and sober perspective. It was intriguing to discover that Pol Pot and his mates studied together in Paris under French philosophers at a seminal time in their lives - probably the same philosophers so instrumental in shaping this postmodernism which has so gripped people's worldviews in the West. Now there is an observation to ponder further!

The age of reading is not over. I read the final page as my plane touched down in Auckland yesterday and found myself wondering what the impact on the people of God would be if each person read one biography of a person, or a country, of this ilk in each year. I know the answer. It would lift our eyes, break our hearts, deepen our faith, and renew our hope. It would be transformative. So what is stopping us?!

PS: If you are a pray-er, I invite you to pray. As the global church's gaze descends on Cape Town and Lausanne III, spare a prayer for us as we start the Langham Preaching training over the same days with 50 pastors from 8 church groups in Cambodia. I am hopeful that God can be at work in two places at the same time.

nice chatting

Paul