scenes along the way

"Well, Well, Well. I thought you had disappeared from the blogosphere." 

"Yes, I know. It's been the longest gap between posts in 15 years. With changes in regulations, my own blog had become inaccessible to me. Rather awkward! But then I've been on the road (almost) since the last post. But now I'm back home - with an accessible blog. Why not get back into the groove with a little chatting around a few scenes along the way, as I've travelled?

"Sure - that sounds like a great way to ease yourself back in again."

At one midnight in March, I left home and headed to Zimbabwe for the annual meeting of our global leadership team. We wanted to go and stand with the team there, hear their stories and pray with them - not knowing that a horrendous cyclone would hit the country a week before we arrived, heaping difficulty upon difficulty. Awful stories. One being of helicopters coming to rescue a group of mothers, with their little children. Taking everyone on board was impossible and so they decided to take the children and come back for the mothers. When they came back, they found that all the mothers had been washed away. I really struggle with holding a lot of this kind of suffering in my heart at one time. Not surprisingly, the shootings in Christchurch, which changed my country forever and with which I was struggling, awakened little empathy as I travelled among my Majority World friends. I get it. My hunch is that they have grown accustomed to the face of such happenings, like breathing in and breathing out. Plus they are frustrated with the global media which, in the stories they choose to cover and linger with, clearly demonstrate that some lives are more valuable than other lives. This should not be so. Each and every life is valuable, equally so.

Looking north (roughly), across Nyanga Town - with Mozambique beyond the hills on the right.

I do not remember another country that evokes such awe (with its beauty) and such sadness (with its difficulties) - at the same time - as Zimbabwe. Our meetings were in Nyanga, four hours east of Harare. The locals were saving diesel since January, just to ensure we could get back from the venue. We brought food with us (my contribution being tea, coffee and muesli). At one point I reckon we drove for 90 minutes through exquisite farmland (Zimbabwe was once the breadbasket for all of Southern Africa) without seeing one single crop being grown, or one single farm animal being fed. All the farms were overgrown. Think what you like, but the policy of kicking people off their farms and then taking ownership of them has not worked well, at any level.

The outlook from the cottage where we had our meetings (Connemara Lakes),
with the natural lighting captured by Mark Meynell.

I am always amazed at the joy and unity which pervades our meetings, especially when we spend 51 weeks of the year on different continents. For the first time, a photo was possible of the directors of the work across the four continents (photo credit goes to Esteban).

Femi (Africa); Mark (Europe & Caribbean); Igor (Latin America); and Dwi (Asia & South Pacific)

We like to invite leaders from our host continent to join with us for the week. And so it came to pass that Bishop Isesomo came from DR Congo. After he shared his compelling testimony one night - in clear, slow, simple English - and with the often-maligned Four Spiritual Laws featuring prominently in it, I asked Dwi to pray for him. Get the picture? A young Indonesian female scholar and a senior Anglican bishop from DRC. They had known each other for barely 48 hours. What happened next? The Bishop got up and knelt beside Dwi with hands outstretched ... while Dwi poured out her heart in Bahasa Indonesia.

Dwi and 'the Bishop' featured in another highlight for me. The evening sharing/praying times were (mostly) in response to the Buechner quotation: "the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." When it came to my turn, on the final evening, I shared about watching people grow and welcoming the peoples of the world into my heart. With the latter point I spoke, in passing, about the influence of Lamin Sanneh on my life and the way he showed me that God can say everything he wants to say to a people in their heart language. God's commitment to the vernacular is spectacular. It is one of the reasons why I am a Christian. When it came time to pray, what unfolded will be with me for the rest of my life. Completely spontaneously, Igor prayed in Spanish; then the Bishop prayed, not in his usual French, but in Swahili, his mother-tongue; then it was Dwi in Bahasa Indonesia; before Frank, so beautifully urbane and articulate in English, poured out his heart in Sesotho, his own heart language.

Enjoying being with little ones again - in Harare.
After spending the two Saturday nights in Harare with Verengerai, Kiyase and their family (including their youngest three girls -  Anesuishe, Anenyasha and Makateneka) and going to two different worship services on the Sundays, I headed for Dubai, to pick up Barby on the way to the US of A.

After the rather random "You have an extraordinary Prime Minister" welcome at Immigration, we arrived at the the Overseas Ministry Study Centre (OMSC), in New Haven, Connecticut. I've heard about this sabbaticalling place for as long as I can remember. We were there to visit our friends from India - Varughese, Mary, Preetha and Seth. Speaking at the chapel the next morning at 8.30am (?!) was followed by a surprise...

It so happened that the global guru in the study of World Christianity, after whom the conference room in which we were sitting was named, 91year old Andrew F. Walls, was to start a weeklong seminar, immediately after chapel, together with his wife, Ingrid.

Andrew F Walls, teaching in the Andrew F. Walls Conference
Center (OMSC), maybe for the last time? What a thrill.
Wow, that is a lot of commas!

OMSC was also a favourite destination of the aforementioned Lamin Sanneh, a professor at Yale Divinity School, just up the road, literally - until his sudden death this past January. Very sad. We wandered down to Yale, walking through the campus, with all its resonances of Oxford and Cambridge. We stumbled across some art being put up outside the library and a man engaged us in conversation. As soon as he opened his mouth, there was something about the combo of the light in his face and the warmth in his eyes that drew me to conclude that he was a Christian. I was right. The Yale Students for Christ were hosting a Pop-Up Expo, Dare to Wonder, on the way to Easter.

Then it was on to Phoenix, Arizona and the annual Vision Weekend in which, amongst other things, each of the three programme directors gives a presentation, followed by a video (a story from somewhere in the Majority World) and a validator (a testimony from someone in the Majority World). The theme was Together and I devised a plan to deliver Eleven Togethers, in 12 minutes (!), by including contributions from each member of our global leadership team, introducing each one of them to those gathered by doing so. Both our video, from a country I cannot name, and our validator - whom I can name: Alex of Peru - were superb. Big thanks to our American colleagues.

Holding the commentaries, from oldest up to the newest:
African, South Asian, Slavic, Arabic and Latin American.
I relish the opportunity that this weekend provides to hear from the other two programmes. After slogging away for 15-20 years, Literature's vision of a series of one volume commentaries, written completely by local scholars, has come to fruition in a rush. How vividly I remember that day, 12 or so years ago, when I rushed out of my office at Carey Baptist College upon hearing the news that my copy of the Africa Bible Commentary had arrived and that it was waiting for me in the dining room. Well, now there are five (and that doesn't include all the local translations that are happening).

[BTW, their latest catalogue appeared here this past week. Scroll through and see all the fascinating titles from Majority World authors - with the commentaries right at the end].

Two final stops before heading home. Indianapolis, Indiana in order to visit with a niece battling with cancer (so brave, with a favourite text of mine - 2 Timothy 4.17 - on the wall, bringing strength to Amy and Geoff) and then on to Bluffton, Ohio to spend time with a supporting church and to visit the graveside of Barby's parents. A deep and lingering sadness for me was not being able to get to the memorial service for Barby's father last year. He'd been such a huge part of my life, as the first pastor-preacher to shape me - and then, later, as a father who loved me as his own and who cheered me on, each step of the way. Usually, we can look back and affirm God's timing on these things to be perfect. I still cannot affirm this to be the case! And so it was good to make a little pilgrimage with Barby, almost exactly one year later.

There are opportunities to pause and reflect on his life, both outside the church ...

... but, especially, inside the church, with this photo and plaque (yes, 72 years!):

Pastor Jim gave me a Palm Sunday passage on which to preach: Luke 19.41-44. When I consulted a friend of mine, a professor in New Testament, for some commentaries/advice he referred to the passage as 'unpreachable'. Yikes. I did my best, preparing in the early mornings, as I travelled. In Jesus' tears I saw, eventually, a reason to call people to respond to him while they still have the opportunity to do so. With time and prayer, it did become preachable...

I always welcome a little 'Americana' as I travel in the USA. This time it was a visit to Ivanhoe's in Upland, Indiana only to be greeted with 100 options for 'shakes' and another 100 options for 'sundaes'. Goodness me. Is that even possible? Yes, it is - but only in America.

For the record, I chose Shake #74, Raspberry Black. Not quite up to the standard of Ollies in Royal Oak (Auckland) - but good enough to draw me back again, if I am ever within a two hour drive...

We arrived back to our home-away-from-home, with timezones confused and calendars scrambled, and oh, so glad, to be reminded by the local newspaper that it was indeed Good Friday morning (or afternoon, by the time I stirred!). It was good to see the story - Jesus as shepherd, Jesus as healer, Jesus as cross-carrier - attached to the headlines, finding its place alongside the stories of politics, economics and sports. It belongs in that public world. I wondered if the newspapers in New Zealand would grant a similar focus? Afterall, genuine pluralist societies make space for, and respect, the various faiths in a way that secular-atheistic-agnostic societies tend to dismiss. But then I wondered again ... does the use of cartoon characters, amidst real people and real events, consign the Easter story to mere fiction in this context?

Along with Barby, my main conversation partner during this trip was the aforementioned Lamin Sanneh. Within hours of his death in January (like many others, I suspect, as bookshops seemed to run out of copies), I ordered his autobiography, exquisitely titled as Summoned From the Margin: Homecoming of an African. I finished it on the final flight - and now look forward to having Sanneh Speak in some upcoming posts taking shape in my mind.

nice chatting



Heather said…
And is that *the* Isesomo? As in
Yep - same man, Heather.

Langham also commissioned a little book on his life:

Onwards and upwards for you, I pray?!


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