Friday, January 28, 2011

wheaton meanderings

I've been reading it three times a year for more than thirty years.

It is the magazine that goes to alumni of Wheaton College, among whom Barby (to whom I am married) is counted. It is just called Wheaton.

It always sparks a mixture of reactions as I read. One is admiration for the professionalism of the presentation and the sheer quality of the content. It makes me drool. The postage envelope is always ripped open immediately. Another response - borne out of my twenty years in theological education in NZ and now the almost monthly exposure to colleges in Asia - is one of jealousy. They have SO much money! For 150+ years they have stewarded their resources and established their foundations to the point where they talk in terms of millions of dollars as project after project flows. Sometimes I wonder what God thinks as he looks down from his heaven at his total mission in the world with all its need for resources ... is this concentration of resources in a single college the best and fairest way to get the job done? I confess that I remain unconvinced - but that is not why I am writing!

The latest issue of Winter 2011 issue of Wheaton has arrived (pdf available here). In it there is a full manuscript (listen and watch it here) of the Inauguration Address given by their new President (Philip Ryken) - just the eighth person to serve in this position. Do the maths for yourself because it is impressive.

A few comments in response to Ryken's fine address which was entitled "A World Servant in Christian Liberal Arts Education"...

1. The quote he uses right at the end has so impacted me, I have added it to my electronic signature in my email. Another little classic from Frederick Buechner: "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet".

2. We don't have 'Christian Liberal Arts Colleges' in New Zealand. The Wheaton College Foundation would love to receive a dollar from me for every time Barby and I have expressed "I wish NZ had a Christian Liberal Arts College for our kids" over the years!
Never be put off by the word 'liberal' in this context. As Ryken expresses it, "Here I use the word 'liberal' in its oldest and truest sense, as that which brings freedom. The liberal arts are the liberating arts: they give us the freedom to become everything God has gifted us to become".

3. In a bold paragraph, Ryken critiques the Wheaton heritage (well - that is how it reads to me - see for yourself) as he calls for a future marked by global engagement:

"We have not articulated a philosophy of liberal education that incorporates global engagement as an essential part of a Wheaton education, so that our students learn how to live, work, worship, and serve in a globalised society - not just preparing students for global engagement, but preparing them through global engagement. We have not developed long-term strategic alliances with colleges and universities overseas that enable us to learn and to teach collaboratively, strengthening both institutions through mutual influence."

WOW?! Did he really say that?
[Although his very next sentence seems to unpick the laudable idea of this 'mutual' influence by inferring that Wheaton will be giving more than it is receiving in such a venture: "We have not fully learned how to take everything that is exceptional about Wheaton as an institution of higher education and then multiply its global impact"]

I hope Ryken is successful. Having been someone who has immersed himself in the US as a student (and I cherish that heritage in my life), I worry about the US and the church there. While their generosity is unrivalled, so few conservative American Christians seem to have genuinely globalised worldviews. They run the risk of living in an un-globalised bubble. As I have expressed elsewhere this is something that troubles me about FoxTV with its deep support in the conservative Christian community.
[NB - earlier this week I watched 30 min of TV in which the host was a Baptist minister and the guests were Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman, before Casting Crowns - the top Christian band in the USA - sang a song to close the programme. You would have thought it was some paid-for-TV Christian programming from a private church ... but, no, it was FoxTV! One day I am going to watch FoxTV for 24hrs straight and then write a blog about the dimensions of this bubble...].

Anyway I hope Ryken's courageous words will prove to be prophetic because from my limited and tiny vantage point it seems to be exactly what needs to happen.

4. Ryken speaks of the integration of faith and learning as something which characterised the Garden and so what is needed today is more the reintegration of faith and learning: "It was only when Adam and Eve pursued knowledge apart from trust in God that sin came into the world and learning was sundered from faith ... In the best and oldest traditions of American higher education, faith and learning belong together - not merely juxtaposed, but integrated."

nice chatting


Saturday, January 22, 2011

images that stick

Before I move on from my eleven week sojourn in India, here are some of the memories which will linger:

As foreign missionary numbers have declined the growth in the number of Indians moving cross-culturally within India is staggering. We kept bumping into some of the 50,000 Indians who have heard this call of God - nowhere more so than when we, a couple of foreign MKs from a previous generation, visited a school for Indian MKs. At one point we found ourselves walking behind Dad, hand-in-hand with son (Geoffrey) and daughter (Fanny), in the midst of a fleeting visit to see the kids. He handed the mobile phone to little Geoffrey so that he could speak to his mummy. We met Mum as well. Let me assure you - the technology may have changed, but the emotions have not.

Five years ago Barby and I did a Dumb-Dumb thing. We allowed our Lovely Lys, aged 18, to fly into Dum-Dum airport (Kolkata) on her own at midnight to begin a six month season working with women in the slums. She helped them with their sewing. She grew to love them as her friends as they got inside her heart and stayed there. The experience left her 'scarred for life' - just what a short term mission trip should achieve - and the scarring spread to us as a family. Their names and their faces became so real to us. [NB Madhobi, on the left, was still there from Lys' time]. Under God's good hand it turned into a Wise-Wise decision. And so as this family holiday loomed, the beeline to Kolkata took over and to watch Lys reunited was one of the deep joys.

I loved watching Indians love their India. Crowds of people at the tourist sites - and the zoos. I don't remember this from my childhood. But I do remember the boldness of the monkeys and how the ones outside the cages are far more entertaining than the ones inside the cages - particularly their penchant for stealing ice creams from children.

My Dad received an OBE from the Queen "for his services to the people of India" and nowhere is his legacy greater than in the Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA) which he was instrumental in establishing. One year he spent 100 nights on the hard slats of India's trains to make it happen. I wanted to take my kids to an EHA hospital so they could experience this legacy. Dr Raju and his wife Catherine graciously welcomed us to Kachhwa. From a central hospital-base all kinds of things are developing to create a holistic work: schools, businesses, community health projects, skills training, churches etc A very dark part of India is being transformed. In this photo the medics (!) in a mobile health clinic are taking time out to listen to some children sing an indigenous song about Zacchaeus.

I still find great joy in the chaotic messiness and drab dirtiness of India. I do - I just do. I feel comfortable and at home walking (and walking some more!) through it all. And nowhere is this more noticeable than in the local bazaar. And yet in every local bazaar you will also find the polar opposite: that island, that oasis of ordered tidyness and colourful cleanliness discovered in the fruit and vegetable stall.

For newcomers to India the first definitive experience needs to be a ride in a putt-putt (auto-rickshaw) as a means of freeing all the senses to savour India at one time. In our teenage Delhi days new missionaries would get all that boring orientation stuff from the oldies and then my brother and I would give them the fun orientation - by putt-putt. Some of them still testify to its value for them! And its even more fun with multiple putt-putts so that they can race each other. We hired three for the whole day and here the kids line up with the drivers at the end of the day. [NB - these drivers were befriended by Martin a year earlier and so we had quite the community developing].

Visiting Savitri in her village was so cool. She is now so tiny and so old - but her love for Jesus and for our family just shone in her gleaming face and her toothless smile. Savitri was our aiyah (home-helper) when we were kids. Barby's mother used to have bible studies with her and when she needed a job, Barby's mother suggested our family ... and the rest is history. Savitri became a part of our family and her people became our people and our people became her people. Whenever any of us return to India we make the pilgrimage...

And the mountains - the beautiful Himalayas. Not just the snow-capped stuff, but the rolling foothills.

nice chatting


Saturday, January 15, 2011

the path of blessing

Years ago I remember my father-in-law expressing a reluctance to offer seminars on parenting. I think I am beginning to understand his reasons...
There is just something about parenting. You never feel like an expert. There is no clear pattern of 'cause and effect' because nothing seems to guarantee anything. Great parents can have such troubled children. That seems to be the way it is. And the parental emotion associated with watching children grow up always seems so extreme - either very high or very low and not much in between. Success is held lightly (because we all know the story is never over) while failure seems to hold on tightly.

Nothwithstanding the truth of all that I have just written, I've decided to risk a few comments about parenting. Among the many priorities that come with parenting, I find it helpful to place Christian parenting within a disciple-making framework. Our goal is to see our children become disciples of Jesus who take their place within the mission of God in the world. This intention must not be frozen or trumped by what I know you are all thinking - "what if they don't head that way?" I still think we keep praying and planning towards this end, particularly while they are young.
One principle that Barby and I have followed is to look for ways to place our children in the path of blessing. Things can be done, decisions can be made, time can be taken, books can be read, movies can be watched, conferences can be attended, trips can be taken ... and money can be spent to place our children in an environment where they are more likely to hear God and be nudged forward by him.

The money one is a huge one. Just as you check the budget of the church, or the business, to see where the priorities lie, you can do the same with a family. Where we spend our money betrays where our hearts are - as parents. With Christian parents, the question needs to be asked: what percentage of the expenditure/budget goes on enhancing the possibility of our children joining the mission of God in the world?
Another biggie is the local church. Famous for its failures and frustrations, the local church still has a lengthy track-record as a place where people hear God speaking to them. For this reason, apart from the occasional holiday-time, we always go to church on a Sunday. It is a crucial section of the 'path of blessing' onto which we place our children. And when the problems surface we urge them to work away on the solution-side, rather than contributing to the problem-side. It provides a fabulous training ground for life.

Yes, these things are on my mind because today I return home to NZ after 11 weeks in India - half of them on holiday with Barby and the children. As I scan the photos with the memories they contain, it has dawned on me just how much the path of blessing controlled the itinerary.
We took pilgrimages to Amy Carmichael's Dohnavur, to Ida Scudder's Vellore and to Paul Brand's Karagiri. Over time these people have become my childrens' heroes. We went to Kolkata's slums and met women with whom our Alyssa worked five years ago. She came home "scarred for life" and shared the scarring with us all. We lingered at the graveside of Mother Theresa, visited the museum on the site of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination - as well as tidied-up the gravesite of Barby's grandfather who went to India almost 100 years ago. We visited Kachhwa Christian Hospital and savoured the holistic ministry flowing from an EHA (Emmanuel Hospital Association) hospital - an organisation founded by my father forty years ago. We visited our aiyah (a home-helper) from my childhood, Savitiri, in her village. We had meals in the homes of Indian missionaries, living simply and sacrifically as they move cross-culturally within the borders of their own country. And Barby and Joseph were able to join me for their first taste of a full Langham Preaching seminar in Guwahati (Assam), mingling for a week with 60+ leaders in the North-East.

It is not too late.
Under the gracious hand of God what is it that you can do in 2011 to place your children on the path of blessing and enhance the possibility of the living God speaking to them in a transformative way?

nice chatting


Friday, January 07, 2011

indian trains made easy

Indian Railways is one of the wonders of the world.

Not only is it the largest employer in the world, I am now convinced that riding on their trains is the best way to see India. After a few weeks of travelling on trains, here is my advice to others who want to enjoy the fun.

1. Start with absorbing the UK-based website, A Beginner's Guide to Train Travel in India. I see that it was updated again just last week - so it becomes an accurate and helpful starting point.

2. Having done this I found myself with questions in two areas:

(a) One is related to making decisions about the 'class' in which to travel. There are eight different classes and I didn't find the pictures on this website helpful until after I had done some train travel. If you are new-ish to India and you draw a salary in some foreign currency - like dollars or pounds - then my strong recommendation is to select 'AC2' as the 'class' in which to travel. Just that little bit of comfort without being cocooned - and still reasonably priced.

(b) The other is related to the names of train stations. I found two issues confusing. One is that blessed-India keeps changing the names of towns and cities ... and then with some of the major centres, the name of the train station is not the name of the city and there are often multiple train stations in a city. So, for example, there is no Kolkata train station - there is Howrah and there is Sealdah. There is no Cochin/Kochi train station - there is Ernakulam. This becomes very tricky when you are planning an itinerary! To help sort this out I would encourage you to buy Samit Roychoudhury's The Great Indian Railway Atlas - ISBN 81-901457-1-1. A second edition has come out in 2010. Every single train station is mentioned - and don't miss the glossary on all those blessed name changes!The author also has a website here.

3. Then I'd encourage you to explore the Indian Railways website. The crucial thing which you learn quickly is that every train has a unique number which identifies it. It is the key thing to remember. [NB - about three weeks ago all the old four digit numbers have had a '1' added to them!]. The helpful information I needed was contained by clicking 'Train Between Stations' and selecting a train with its unique number - but then I found entering that number into 'Train Schedule' to be useful as it gave me all the details of the train trip. Under 'Train Type Information' always select Shatabdi and Rajdhani trains whenever possible.

4. The difficulty with the Indian Railways site is that you need an Indian credit card to purchase train tickets. I found the service from an Indian-based travel agent to be very poor and quickly learned that I could make bookings and payments for myself. The cleartrip website was superb. So easy to use. Just enter the train stations, select the train you want (with its number) and the class in which you want to travel - and make your payment.

5. Train tickets can be purchased up to three months in advance. Again my strong advice is to get on these websites at that three-month mark and make the decisions and the payments and things should be straightforward. If you leave it until later - as our travel agent did - it becomes complicated and nasty acronyms like RAC, W/L and PNR will become a big part of your life - and a hassle that you don't need.

6. With tickets in hand, the fun begins. Arrive at your train station in good time because not only does the platform for your train need to be identified, the carriage on the train in which your seats/berths can be found (clearly stated on your ticket) also needs to be located. This can take time.

Bring it on! I can't wait for my next train trip in India...

nice chatting