Monday, April 24, 2017

24 & 25

As a New Zealander, I will continue to remember ANZAC Day (25 April, tomorrow) each year - but as a Christian I have decided to remember the Armenian Genocide (24 April, today) as well. The latter started the night before the former in 1915. The former is about a slaughter of thousands of Aussies and Kiwis in fields and cliffs and trenches as they invaded a foreign country, while the latter is about the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Armenian Christians in fields and mountains and deserts as they were deported from their home country.

Adolf Hitler, as he gathered together his own genocidal aspirations, once asked, 'Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?' (see here). The rationale is easy to follow. If they didn't remember the Armenians, they won't remember the Jews. He was wrong about the Jews. They were remembered. He was right about the Armenians. They were forgotten.

Here is a map of the countries (in dark green, with light green signifying some sort of 'regional' recognition, whatever that means) that fully recognise the Armenian Genocide. Not so many of them...


I guess this map bears witness to the influence of Turkey in the world today. There are so many countries wanting to keep in good standing with them. Although I do expect far more from my own country, sitting there as a grey comma on the bottom-right corner of the global page. Shame on us!

Building up to this year's commemoration of the genocide, I read Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul. How good a writer is she? Just exquisite. It is a story with different layers to it.

Foodies will love the way each chapter is given a food title (Cinnamon, Garbanzo Beans, Dried Figs, Golden Raisins etc) - with that specific food mentioned in passing in the chapter, but then with these foods feeding into a recipe later in the book.

Another layer has to do with families, two of them - with the focus on a young woman from each one. The author lingers, again and again, in her descriptions of people: their appearance, their character, their secrets, their hopes etc. I felt myself drawn irresistibly into these two sad and dysfunctional family circles.

Another layer?! Well, you guessed it. One family is Armenian Christian and the other family is Turkish Muslim. The genocide is the backdrop to the way their lives become separated and then intertwined down the generations and across the oceans.
[NB: the plot shares a feature with the recent Broadchurch series - and so not for the faint-hearted].

This morning I woke to a link posted on facebook by a friend, with photos of the genocide (the map above is from this collection of photos). This is what prompted me to drop what I was doing and to write a quick post to highlight this day once again. Grainy. Black-and-white. Authentic. Take time over each photo, with the descriptions and the narrative. Don't rush it.

I know what I hope 2017 will include. This new movie on the Armenian Genocide, The Promise. The early reviews are not that convincing, but amidst my traveling (I don't expect it to be in Indian theatres) I hope I have the opportunity to see it.

nice chatting at the start of such a sad couple of days.

Paul

Sunday, April 23, 2017

a scribbled agenda

It took a little while for me to see it. But one quarter of the way through the 24 hour retreat, it dawned on me. The small gathering included a number of my inspirations down through the years. All in one room. About 15 people in total. A Murray here and a Merrilyn there. Two Ians on a couch. Kim in a chair. A Duncan in the sun. Peter in the corner. Mary in conversation. Sam in absentia (but his voice still heard). You get the idea. It was like a little slice of Hebrews 11 for me.

Much of the discussion focused around the decline of the church in New Zealand. Even though I live overseas (the only one in the group doing so), I find that my default setting is still the NZ context. As I travel, the conversations ignited in my mind and heart tend to be about the way forward back home. As I listened, I scribbled some rushed responses into the front pages of a book I was reading at the time. Here they are, ten of them:

1. Embrace a practical commitment to the authority of the Bible, not just a theoretical one.
How many people in our churches read their Bibles regularly? How many home groups go deep into the Word? How many sermons remain in the Bible for the duration of the sermon? One participant, in a recent calendar year, spent 44 Sundays in different Kiwi churches. Across the denominational spectrum. He needed his Bible on just 3 occasions. Far too often the Bible is being assumed rather than articulated. We become what we soak in. We are what we love. If we spend more time with Reality TV than with the Bible, then guess which one will influence us more?!

Back at Marsden Cross for the sixth time (but the first time in seven years)
- the site of the first preaching of the gospel in Aotearoa - New Zealand
2. Find aspiration in the far northwest, rather than just the far northeast. 
I understand the allure of the USA. They have the marketing power. They have the resource base that keeps their pastors and their publishers, their seminaries and their seminars in the headlines. But why look their way for help with mission when they are faltering so badly in mission themselves? We should be filling our imaginations with stories - and our hands with skills - drawn from places like Asia, rather than America. They know a fair bit about effective evangelism over there.

3. Exchange this tired obsession with relevance for something better: be intriguing
The impulse behind relevance is the desire to be present in the world, fitting in with it, flowing with its trends - and updating our approaches to suit these changes. It is the salt impulse and it is a good one. But it is not good enough. We've been duped for a generation. It is not working. We are also called to be light. Be distinctive with distinction. Be a contrast community. Draw a line in the sand (rather than rub it out). Stand out. Make it more obvious that we belong to Jesus. Risk being abused. Be attractive, not just incarnational. Lift curiosity. Intrigue. The numbers may go down - but the authentic mission will go up, in His way and in His time.

4. Find a wall and break it. See a border and cross it. Enter a conflict and pacify it.
There is nothing much miraculous in like-minded (or like-looking, like-earning, like-educated, like-aged etc etc) people hanging out together. There just isn't. That is a club. One of the ways the gospel makes its power known in a society is through stories of reconciliation and forgiveness. We need to hear God's personal call into unfamiliar settings that are unlike us and quietly be agents of reconciliation. Let's drench Aotearoa-New Zealand with these simple, little stories - and celebrate those committed to living such lives.

5. Rescue holiness from coming a distant third in the imaginary race within God's character.
Being motivated by the love and justice of God is great - but it is not enough. We need to soak in the fullness of who God is. How can we expect Him to be at work through us if we neglect to embrace all of who He is? It doesn't make sense. He is not a buffet from which we pick and choose. The holiness of God - and the holiness of his people - has fallen into a deep recession in our generation. [NB: this is partly why #3 is an issue]. This not as obvious in the majority world! Holiness is not less than ceasing from things like greed and lust and pride - but, oh, it is so much more. It is what enables God to come and live among us and in us, releasing his Holy Spirit to be at work through us as well.

6. Return Jesus to being Master and Lord, not just Friend and Saviour.
I've loved this feature in the vibrant form of Indian Christian spirituality. Hearing people pray, pouring out their longings to Jesus. Again and again it is 'Jesus, oh Master'. The default setting in their lives is that Jesus is someone who controls and directs their lives. They live for him. They are at his disposal. Eavesdrop on Kiwi Christian conversation, as I do when we come home, and what is heard? C'mon - be honest with me. That is not the instinct. We want Jesus to be at our disposal. Jesus is to live for us. It is the wrong way around. We much prefer Jesus to be our friend, rather than our master.

7. Step into the public world - with truth and grace - and feel the heat of suffering for Jesus.
The Christian life and witness needs to be lived publically, not privately. People around us should know we are Christians by the way we live and by what we say. Written into a similar context, 1 Peter makes it clear that suffering for Jesus' sake should not surprise us. It is the expectation for every believer. Plus it is as plain as the nose on our faces that there is some correlation between the presence of such suffering and the effectiveness of mission. Is this not evident in so many places around the majority world? Why the reluctance, if the way forward is so clear?

8. 'Building lifelong followers of Jesus' - yeah, I know this is true - but, wait, there's more, far more.
Yes, yet again, my concern is with something that is true, but not true enough. There is shrinkage here. Jesus is far more than a guru to follow. The 'following Jesus as a disciple' paradigm is big in the Gospels - but what is big in the Epistles? There we find what one scholar calls the most revolutionary truth in the New Testament. We are 'in Christ'. We are united to the founder of our faith. This needs far more reflection - and conviction. Living in India, the land of gurus, shows me how relevant Jesus-as-guru can be - but also how shallow and incomplete and insufficient it is.


9. Be patient
Do the right things in the right way - and then be patient. Wait. Hope. Pray. Persevere. These are the biblical mandates that come to the people of God during exile and during winter. It is tough in New Zealand, very tough. I am full of admiration for pastors and leaders who hang in there. The exile will end, the winter will end - but only under God's sovereign and providential direction and probably related to profound changes within a people of God content with starting small, going deep and persevering patiently.

I am mistaken. I thought there were ten scribbles written on the inside cover of Mark Labberton's Called. But I see it is only nine :).

nice chatting

Paul

Monday, April 17, 2017

all blacks' values: them & us

The other day I did something I don't often do. I purchased a rugby magazine. The cover had themes you might expect for a NZ rugby magazine: 'world domination ... secrets of the All Blacks' success ... why are the All Blacks so good?' But it was an article tucked inside the back cover that caught my eye (and warranted the purchase of the $9.90 magazine - GULP?!): It is titled 'A First XV of All Blacks Values: the qualities and skills that make the All Blacks the team they are'. Here they are:

Sacrifice
Respect
Gratitude
Acceptance
Speed
Trust
Mental Resilience
Awareness
Open-mindedness
Dedication
Accountability
Leadership
Honesty
Core Role
Continual Improvement

It is an impressive list of 'qualities and skills'. Who could possibly quibble with any of them?! But it got me thinking. In the exact way they are described for the All Blacks team, how many of these cross over into Christian teams?

Let's have some fun...

Sacrifice. This is about going without alcohol or friends in order to spend time in the gym getting fitter and faster. It is about sacrificing one part of life in order to make another part (the rugby part) better. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams the sacrifice to make is not some part of me - but all of me - and it is not for the improvement of myself but for the service of others and of Jesus. 

Respect. This is about the legacy in which an All Black participates as they wear the jersey with the object being 'to hand it back with the legacy in better shape'. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams (with an eye on the pastoral epistles) the key legacy that is received is the gospel, with the focus being on stewarding it carefully and passing it on faithfully, in the same shape, rather than in better shape. 

Gratitude. This is about never stopping 'being grateful for the privilege' of spending time in the team - something for which they've worked hard and which they deserve. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams this gratitude is placed within a grace-framework and so to be on the team is 'a grace given' and something we do not deserve. That leads to a far deeper gratitude.

Acceptance. This is about being content with a role on the bench as a reserve and the disappointment that comes with not making the starting 'fifteen'. True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. A willingness to serve in relative obscurity in supportive roles, away from the public performance, is a big part of contributing to effective teamwork.

Speed. This is about having speed across the ground, but also speed in getting off the ground, speed in seizing the gap (offensively), speed in closing the gap (defensively) - as well as speed 'in the mind, referring to attitude'. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams (with an eye on the parable of the soils) there is a recognition of the value of a slow patience and that the best fruit takes time to mature.

Trust. This is about the confidence placed in the game plan and in each other. 'Many times in the last five years it is trust in what they do that has enabled the ABs to win test matches late in the piece'. There is this self-belief. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams the primary trust is neither in one's self or one's teammates - but in God. There is this confidence that He is in control and that He provides.

Mental Resilience. This is about the resolve that is needed to counter adversity when the team comes under pressure and the scrutiny is intense. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams, this is not merely something that is whipped up from within, it is something that grows as we reflect on what is beyond and what is certain and assured in our future.

Awareness. This is about how there is no 'off switch when behavioural expectations are lowered'. It is a 24/7 lifestyle filled with expectations. Failure can be fatal. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams the pressure is there to live a consistent life, in private and in public 24/7, but to do so with the power supplied by the Spirit. Failure to do so has consequences, but it need not be fatal.

Open-mindedness. This is about the willingness to be flexible and to change. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams there is a time to be close-minded as well. There are convictions that hold us, that never let us go - and that we never ever change. As GK Chesterton expressed it, 'The object of opening the mind, like opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.'

Dedication. This is about 'a devotion to the mastery of basic skills'. There is always a need for more practice of the small skills. Success often comes through an attention to detail. True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. The close attention to simple skills - like saying thank-you, or saying sorry, or listening to understand rather than to respond - is at the heart of it all.

Accountability. This is about 'the continual search for improvement' and so 'there is no hiding or glossing over mistakes'. They are corrected. And the leaders and best players feel the pressure - and are corrected - the most. True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. There is a pursuit of excellence and it is the leader who sets the example, humbly acknowledging mistakes quickly when they are made.

Leadership. This is about how everyone in the All Blacks is a leader (as is explained so well in the biography of former All Black coach, Graham Henry). Each person takes responsibility for their own lives, leading it well. True. In Christian teams there is cross over here, as the leadership possibilities of each person in the team, not just some special elite, are drawn out and enhanced.

Honesty. This is about truthfulness in all aspects of training and performance. Things don't get brushed over or swept under the carpet (hmmmm, are these writers struggling to find 15 distinct values because haven't we been here before?!). True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. 'Integrity' might be the word used, with a reminder of the psalmist longing for 'truth in the inward parts'.

Core Role. This is about doing your job (which is kept minimal and simple) and trusting the players around you to do theirs. True. In Christian teams there is a close cross over here. A team that functions like this evokes biblical images of a body, or a building, where everyone is indispensable and there is an interdependence, rather than an independence or dependence, in the way people work together.

Continual Improvement. This is about being better than your last performance and when that hunger is no longer there, it is time to quit. True enough, I guess. But in Christian teams there will be a discomfort in talking like this adrift from the sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives. The hunger never goes away. We never quit. The Spirit keeps identifying things to work on - and keeps giving the power to help us build holy habits in those very areas so that we can become increasingly Christ-like.

While all fifteen 'qualities and skills' sounded so good with that first reading, on reflection there is a need for a nuanced critique. In the exact way they are described for the All Blacks, there are some 'qualities and skills' that are true enough in Christian teams: (acceptance, dedication, accountability, leadership, honesty, and core role) ...

... while there are other 'qualities and skills' that are not true enough for Christian  teams and they need to be refocused, reframed and reoriented (sacrifice, respect, gratitude, speed, trust, mental resilience, awareness, open-mindedness, and continual improvement).

nice chatting

Paul

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

after saturday, comes sunday

"Are you saying that Assad is NOT the biggest problem in Syria?"

"Yes, I am."

"WOW."

So I took up her book and read. I'm still thinking about it! The book almost needs to carry a 'WARNING: READERS' ADVISORY'. It is not for the weak-minded (or the faint-hearted).

I heard Elizabeth Kendal speak at a conference in Melbourne over Christmas. Articulate. Informed. Passionate. Impressive. She is a 'religious liberty analyst and advocate' (www.elizabethkendal.com).

I can be consumed by this desperation to understand what is happening around the world, particularly with regards to my Christian sisters and brothers. When Elizabeth gave me a copy of her book, After Saturday Comes Sunday, with its subtitle, 'Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East', I thought to myself, "I'm in - I am going to make time for this book." Within a few paragraphs her intent is made clear: 'eliminating the ignorance, unraveling the confusion, and dispelling the hopelessness' (xv). I stuck with her the whole way.

The title comes from an old Arabic war cry. 'As sure as Saturday (the day of Jewish worship) is followed by Sunday (the day of Christian worship), first we'll kill the Jews, then we'll kill the Christians' (1). Chapter 1 shows how this is exactly what has happened in the original heartland of Christianity (Iraq & Syria).

What did I find helpful?

1. Kendal gives me a different perspective. I love pushing myself to see things from a different angle. Take the All Blacks. I prefer to read the British and Australian press, rather than the jingoistic, sycophantic NZ press! Take the Arab Spring. The Western narrative is one where the masses rise up in popular revolutions desiring Western-style democracies. 'This narrative is complete and utter rubbish' (108) - and Kendal demonstrates why this is the case. The West is overwhelmed by a naivete and 'what they failed to appreciate was that who falls was far less important than who rises' (117). In reality, the Arab Spring has nothing to do with democracy. Long before 'post-truth' ever emerged, I had become deeply cynical about perspectives streaming from places like the media and the university. Kendal has done nothing to ease my troubled soul.

2. Kendal sides with the church. God knows that nobody else is doing so... Kendal is all about standing in solidarity with Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East. That is what drives this book. This is the priority for me and it should be the priority for the global church. Doing whatever it takes to keep oil pipelines flowing should not be a factor for us. 'The Christians of the Middle East need all the help they can get' (xv). Christians here are 'in an existential struggle for their very survival as a people in their own historic homeland' (124). It is a genocide that is going on. 'Christians are being targeted, and not merely for persecution, subjugation, and exploitation - but for elimination!' (213). As one Patriarch in the church expresses it, 'the Western world is not only indifferent, it is an accomplice' (211). The sense of betrayal felt by Christians in the Middle East as they look towards countries like the USA that they would expect to be supportive of their cause is shamefully sobering.

3. Kendal has done her homework. Not since Philip Jenkins' have I read someone who offers so much in helping me find a pathway through the complexities of this context. Forgive me for an extended quotation, but here is an example of what I mean:
A century of Western hegemony has come to an end, and the West, having overturned the balance-of-power dynamic that existed through much of the twentieth century, is now in the process of departing the arena. It leaves behind a complex and multi-layered struggle through which regional forces are staking their claims, securing their interests and advancing their agendas. 
One layer of this struggle involves the region's three imperialistic powers which are competing for territory and influence: ascendant Iran versus the Arabs (led by Saudi Arabia) versus neo-Ottoman Turkey. 
Another layer involves the seemingly eternal struggle between the region's two Islamic sects: the Sunnis versus the Shi'ites. 
Yet another layer involves the region's two political axes: the east-west, Iran-led, Shi'ite-dominated Shia Axis or Axis of Resistance (comprising Tehran, Baghdad, and Damascus, along with Lebanon's Hezbollah and other "resistance" groups such as Hamas) versus the north-south, Turkey-Arab-Sunni Axis (which itself is split between pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood factions). The fact that Russia backs Damascus while the US backs its Sunni allies merely adds fuel to the fire. 
Rising up like a mushroom cloud in the midst of the chaos - indeed, exploiting and feeding on the chaos to advance its own ends (as is its modus operandi) - is the global movement of transnational jihadism. This movement - which is committed to establishing a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East from where it will wage jihad against the West - has now split into two mutually hostile factions: the pragmatic, pro-resistance al-Qaeda versus the inflexible, anti-Shi'ite IS. While the transnational jihadist element adds another layer to the conflict, it also transcends it while infecting every other layer (19).
There you have it. How helpful are those five paragraphs?! But there is so much more to help me understand. The Sunni:Shia divide makes my head hurt - and Kendal helps me out. Anyone else get annoyed with how Western education thinks that the history of the Middle East started with the Crusades? Quoting historian Thomas Madden (and countering the Robin Hood narrative, while still making Jesus wince, I'm sure):
The Crusades were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense (45).
For me the most riveting part of the book was the story which she places alongside the successful Iranian (Shi'ite) revolution in 1979. The siege of Mecca (68-78), a failed Sunni revolution in Saudi Arabia. It happened at the same time. Where is the movie?! Some Islamic clerics end up snookering the king and the House of Saud and secure from him 'an unlimited flow of Saudi petro-dollars with which to spread intolerant, pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian, Wahhabi Islam right across the globe' (77) ... all the time being protected by 'a US security umbrella' (80). Go figure.

[NB: I'll never forget driving to Phoenix airport with an Arab friend and an Iranian taxi-driver. I didn't understand a word of their extended and animated conversation ... but then, after awhile my friend turns to me with a pithy summary of their chat, "He is saying that Saudi is the mother of all the problems in the Middle East" - to which my friend then adds, "and the father, too"].

Yes, the US (and the EU, the UK, the UN - and U and I, too) don't look so good in this book. How is it that they can be such tight allies with the very country that sponsors jihadism? Duh?! Isn't it obvious? Oil. Economy. The days of seeing any enemy of the Soviet Union as their friend may be over - but what about the lessons learned from the alarming number of those friends who then became enemies?! Hmmm. At one point Kendal compares the speeches at the UN from Obama and Putin in September 2015:
Obama sang the the Turkey-Arab song, insisting that the Syrian government is the problem ... (a song that) is nothing but propaganda designed to hide geopolitical ambitions behind a veneer of humanitarianism ... Obama must be condemned for his selective indignation (220) [ie where is his condemnation of Saudi Arabia?!]. Putin's response was 'a superb and rational rebuttal' (221) - and she quotes a lot of it. 
4. Kendal takes me to Syria. Before you join the chorus of support for bombing in retaliation for use of chemical warfare that kills babies, you really should read 'Myth Busting the Syrian Crisis' (123-142) and weigh her argument carefully. I don't know if she has it exactly right, but she has my attention. She makes sense. She lists some of the 'myths' around which the Western narrative about Syria is built:

(a) Assad has limited support.
(b) Syria is isolated.
(c) The Syrian crisis is driven by an evil murderous regime that is murdering its own people and is guilty of crimes against humanity.
(d) The support given by America, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to those opposing Assad is driven by humanitarianism and a devotion to human rights.

She disagrees with each one of these assertions. That takes some doing! For her the desire for regime change has little to do with human rights or pictures of babies dying from chemical weapons. Rather it is all about the battle for regional power and it is a battle for control over oil/energy supply lines.

In gathering her argument, Kendal introduces the reader to 'asymmetric warfare' (130-136). This is warfare between unequal forces - one weak, one strong - but warfare in which the weak prevails over the strong. This is the war that terrorists wage, for example. They use different strategies to do so. One is the use of psyops, or, 'psychological operations'. Be it the way language is used (for example, whether you use the word 'regime' or 'government' makes a big difference) and propaganda. Another is the use of human shields (for example, jihadists establishing their bases next to hospitals and kindergartens). Then there is the use of 'false flags' (wearing your enemy's uniform, for example).
While powers weak and strong have learned to play this game, it seems the masses are yet to catch on ... Like the public in general, most journalists are appallingly ignorant of history, religion and how asymmetric warfare works. This needs to change. Instead of just parroting and amplifying propaganda - be it acquired from shady 'local sources' or an official press conference, journalists must be independent thinkers, discerning investigators, and truth seekers. They must double and triple check their 'facts', to ensure that they and the public to whom they report are not being duped, manipulated and exploited (136).
5. Kendal offers some practical steps. [Mind you, providing new understanding is immensely practical in and of itself]. A couple of Appendices - on Christian Solidarity and on being God's Human Instruments - are useful. I am going to read her Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin regularly (rlprayerbulletin.blogspot.com).

Even as a timid chap, I am going to keep asking God for the courage to travel to difficult countries and offer the simple solidarity of friendship to those I encounter. This Easter especially I am going to have Kendal's words in my heart - 'Just as the deadly cross of Friday extinguished life, the deathly silence of Saturday devoured hope (228) - and then rejoice in the Resurrection we associate with Sunday and deepen the intensity of my longing for The Day and what it will mean for Christians in the Middle East.

I am going to watch this video a few times and remind myself of true truth (by the way, a great Schaeffer phrase that needs to be resurrected amidst all this post-truth talk):


6. Kendal leaves me with an image. I love images. We should all know by now that the 'blood of martyrs is the seed of the church' is a bit of nonsense because in most situations 'the blood of martyrs simply sank into the sands' (237). Kendal loves her garden and writes of the value of 'blood and bone' (fertilizer). Keep scattering the seed of the gospel and then it is the blood of martyrs, together with 'the sweat of labourers and the tears of intercessors working (together) like irrigation' (237) that helps prepare the soil for that seed.
What we need is more sweat and more tears: more sacrificial giving. more intelligent strategic advocacy, more passionate intercessory prayer, and, of course, more urgent and intentional scattering of the seed (237-238).
I am not enough of an expert to know if everything Elizabeth Kendal writes is accurate. My hunch is that she is mostly right. My conviction is that my engagement with the Middle East will never be the same again. Thank-you.

nice chatting

Paul

PS. Word is that the book can be a bit expensive online ... it is available from MECO in Australia for AUD30 + postage. Write to office@meco.org.au to order a copy...

Sunday, April 02, 2017

remembering okta

With my peripatetic lifestyle, there is a singular joy attached to landing in Auckland. I am home again. Children (and grandchildren) are not far away. Earlier this morning there was the added anticipation that a quick 'de-planing' and passage through immigration created the possibility of seeing my daughter (Lys) and her daughter (Lucia) before they flew south to Palmerston North.

It was not to be. We missed them by a few minutes. But that anticipated joy had already been eclipsed by sadness. As we taxi-ed on the runway I received a message that Okta, my friend and Langham colleague in Indonesia, had died suddenly in Lampung (Sumatra).

Okta at Taman Safari
As soon as I unpacked I was trawling my computer for photos. Two memories of Okta came into focus. One was the trip to the Taman Safari, further up the hill from Bogor in Indonesia. What a fun day it was. A little snake-whispering - and then a photo of the two of us that I will now cherish for forever.


By 2015 Okta had become a key member of our Indonesian team. At our first global forum in Turkey we had a representative from Indonesia on the list, but a special request came to add Okta as well. We agreed - and how good a decision did that prove to be?! Okta lit up the occasion with his warmth, his enthusiasm and his personality - as these photos demonstrate. What memories he created for all of us.

Okta conquers Turkey
Okta conquers us
Okta loved having us all display the 'L for Langham'
Okta's commitment to the Langham Preaching ministry was remarkable. Over the years, he scaled down his work as a veterinarian and began working with Langham full-time as a volunteer. In fact just last week he finished up in the office in order to dedicate his time to training and encouraging 'preaching clubs'. Okta was a single man - but with parents and siblings still alive and so please keep them in your prayers.

I love how Dr Dwi Handayani (another member of the team in Indonesia) expresses it: "The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope that we will meet you again Pak Okta Rumpak."

not-so-nice chatting this time

Paul