Guest blog: Keep on keeping on!

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

Today’s guest blogger is Alex Hawke, a mission worker in Cambodia. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexGTHawke.

At the 1968 Summer Olympics John Stephen Akhwari ran in the marathon representing Tanzania. Part way through the race he fell badly and dislocated his knee. He valiantly kept running as best he could and finished last. He was asked why he had kept going. He replied, “My country did not send me 5000 miles to start the race. They sent me to finish the race.”

As those serving cross-culturally we face a whole variety of things that can distract, frustrate, upset or disappoint us. At times we may feel really discouraged and be tempted to give up. Like you I’ve faced some disheartening circumstances and various challenges to my faith and call, even recently. I often return to Hebrews 12:1-3 where we find both stunning reasons to keep running our race and some ways to do that. Whether we’re doing fine or experiencing deep discouragement or uncertainty I hope this will be fuel for the journey, some help to keep us keeping on.

Jesus is worthy. He sits ‘at the right hand of the throne of God’ v2. We keep going because Jesus is worthy of praise, glory and honour that He’s not receiving from most of the people we see around us. If this doesn’t motivate me to keep going then I am definitely not here for all the right reasons. Ultimately what we experience in the course of our race, the trials, the risk-taking, the frustration is worth it first and foremost because Jesus is worth it. Other people’s lack of response to the gospel message must not take my eyes off Him. I can still worship; He is always worthy, always wonderful and faithful. Also, if we think this is about us then we’ll either be proud or feel defeated, both of which hinder us from running our race.

Jesus understands. v3 exhorts us to ‘Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’ Jesus suffered way more than we ever will. It’s a huge comfort when I’m weary or discouraged to know that Jesus has been here and has ‘shared in our humanity’, Heb 2:14. Have we been lied to? Taken advantage of? Persecuted for doing what’s right? Misunderstood? Had our loving efforts rejected? Jesus knows. We follow the Suffering Servant and He’s promised to be with us. He understands both us and the broken people around us. This has a way of drawing us nearer to Him as we identify even a little with his sufferings and know he has identified with ours.

Throw off hindrances and sins. Athletes run or play with just the essentials so nothing gets in the way. Is grumbling hindering our teams? Is self-pity weighing you down? Are we neglecting private prayer and worship? Are we giving in to sexual temptation? If it’s pride let’s see Jesus as worthy and as the one who endured the cross. There’s no room left for pride when we’ve seen Jesus for who He is.

It’s a classic strategy of Satan to accuse us and make us feel condemned. V2 says Jesus sat down in heaven. His great work of redeeming us from the power and penalty of sin was done and He’s alive to reign, live in us and work through us. So accept God’s forgiveness anew, remembering we’re free from condemnation and don’t have to carry the burden of sin and failure. I laughed out loud when I first read this from Martin Luther, “When Satan tells me I am a sinner he comforts me immensely since Christ died for sinners.” Ha! The simple fact of the gospel disarms one of Satan’s best tactics every time.

Some of our hindrances aren’t sinful but they’re distracting or have become idols, taking the place of Jesus in our priorities. Social media may be doing that for some of us. Or ‘ministry success’. To all these hindrances, temptations and sins I’m learning to say: ‘Jesus is better.’ The temporary reward I feel indulging in these things is like dirt compared to the infinite value of Jesus and the satisfaction he alone can bring.

Let’s regularly ask God what hinders us from running the race, confess and repent. Be ruthless and get help. I’ve seen sin lead to people leaving their field of service causing hurt and lasting damage and leading to less ambassadors for Christ reaching the unreached.

Stick together. The use of athletic imagery here and in Paul’s letters isn’t supposed to imply we run solo. ‘Us’ appears several times in these few verses along with ‘we’, ‘our’ & ‘you’ (plural). Clearly it’s written to a group exhorting them to do these things together. Having the support of other believers is crucial to staying on course. The encouragement Ellie and I get being a part of a small team and a house church here is immense. Praying together, sharing struggles, helping each other move house, worshipping together. Are you connected regularly with some supportive fellow runners? People with whom you don’t feel you have to pretend? Christian community is also where we remind each other of the glorious truths of the gospel and can confess our sins and get help with the things that are entangling us.

Pace yourself. That we are to ‘run with perseverance’ (v1) tells us that it’s going to be hard. And that this is a marathon not a sprint. Knowing this we need to pace ourselves. A number of mission organizations encourage their workers to work only 2/3 of the day. If you’re working in the evening, take either the morning or the afternoon off. Also one person’s rhythm is different from another’s. Things like having young children or living with a medical condition or being older also impact on what’s a sustainable pace for different people. Plan rest days or breaks into the coming months.

Fix your eyes on Jesus (v2). Staying focused on Jesus requires us to be intentional. Regular prayer, worship and reading of scripture are key as is fellowship with others who love Him. Rest, exercise, friendships, a healthy work/life balance will all help us keep going but none are as important as our ongoing, close relationship with Jesus. During the Hebrides revival Duncan Campbell wrote:

These are days of much activity in the field of church and mission work, but no amount of activity in the King’s service will make up for neglect of the King himself. The devil is not greatly concerned about getting between us and work; his great concern is getting between us and God. Many a Christian worker has buried his spirituality in the grave of his activity.

Our attention easily moves to ourselves, our organizations, our methods, our shortcomings. We wonder if our faith is big enough or how we compare to others. Problems can seem overwhelming. Regularly, intentionally gazing at Jesus brings right perspective and we start to see what could be instead of what is right now. And if we lose our focus on Jesus we have nothing of lasting value to give to the broken world around us.

Verse 3 indicates that if we ‘consider him’ we won’t lose heart. The recipients of this letter were facing trouble. We face trouble. It can push us toward Jesus. It must if we’re to keep going. It’s challenging to keep loving & keep serving. We’re not supposed to be able to do this without God. We’re going to need to get on our knees before that difficult meeting, about that awkward relationship, about that broken person who doesn’t seem to be changing.

We need vision to keep going. Ultimately Jesus is our vision, over and above whatever particular vision God may have given us for our various different ministries. He’s our source, our sustainer and the giver of our purpose. We can keep running because of who Jesus is and what He’s done. Our sin forgiven, a message burning in our hearts, carriers of His presence, secure in our identity. I’m sure also many of us would testify that ministry vision, ideas and inspiration have come when we’ve been seeking Jesus.

Finally, keep an eternal perspective. Heaven is real. Knowing where we’re going changes how we live. Future glory outweighs present suffering for the sake of the gospel. We can face trials, hurt, discouragement, even persecution unto death because we know what’s coming. For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, v2. He knew it was worth it: God would be glorified, we would be redeemed and with Him forever and that coming joy spurred Him on to endure the cross. May both the coming joy of being with Him and the desire that those we serve be there with us spur us on too.

The witnesses in verse 1 are the heroes of chapter 11, and maybe 1000s of others since, who have finished their race. It’s like they cheer us on: “Keep going, keep getting up; it’s worth it! Nothing done in Jesus’ name will ever, ever be in vain!” The sacrifices may be great but the reward will be greater.

KEEP ON KEEPING ON!

Alex

Alex Hawke

Urgent!

Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor

150 years ago this week, on 25th June 1865, Hudson Taylor started the China Inland Mission, now OMF International.  It had (and still has, though slightly adapted) the goal of “the urgent evangelisation of China’s millions”.

Taylor was greatly concerned that the Chinese were dying without Jesus.  This prompted the sense of urgency which pervaded not only the CIM but other 19th century missions too.  They were motivated to take the message of Jesus to people who  were being lost, consigned to hell for eternity.

These days, hell is an unpopular and rarely mentioned concept in much of western Christianity.  We feel it is distasteful, incompatible with the idea of a loving God, and disrespectful of those who choose not to follow Jesus.  We certainly don’t use it in our outreach, preferring instead to tell people of God’s love for them rather than focus on divine wrath.

Whether you agree with downgrading hell to a theological optional extra or not, the disappearance of hell from the evangelistic agenda has removed the sense of urgency.  We recognise that telling people they’re going to hell if they don’t repent is not the best way to build a bridge towards them.  And while we may not be sure what happens after death to those who don’t follow Jesus, we trust God to be fair and sort something out.  Rob Bell infamously flirted with universalism in his controversial book Love Wins, which was welcomed by many people who can’t stomach the idea of God condemning millions of his creatures to burn for eternity for the simple crime of not worshipping him even though nobody had told them to.

Today we prefer to take our time to woo people into the kingdom of God because we’re not in a hurry any more.  But that doesn’t mean people have stopped dying without Jesus.  In the time it’s taken you to read this blog, thousands have died before being told the message.  Whatever you believe happens to them after death, it can’t be as good as spending eternity with Jesus.  So go and tell them.  Quickly.

Eagles Rest

Eagles RestFor mission workers living abroad, part of their armoury for combating fatigue and cross-cultural stress is to take regular breaks from their place of ministry and go on retreat.  Getting away from the daily pressures, both spiritual and practical, is often essential.  We have blogged about the importance of getting adequate rest and retreat before.

But what about the local church leaders they work with?  How do the hardworking pastors cope when the stress gets too much for them?  They can’t afford holidays or sabbaticals.  Where do they recharge their batteries?

Eagles Rest in south Thailand is an excellent ministry seeking primarily to meet the needs of east Asian church leaders.  They welcome such people for a rest, and they feed them, comfort and encourage them, provide clothing, take them for days out and generally ensure that this much-overlooked ministry group get the support they need to help them cope with the burden of their ministry.  You can find out more about Eagles Rest on their website.

The work of Eagles Rest is growing and they are now looking to recruit volunteer mission workers to support their ministry.  Click here for more information.

Heroes in mission: Robert Thomas

Robert Jermain Thomas (1839-1866)

Robert Jermain Thomas (1839-1866)

On the face of it, Robert Thomas has to be one of the world’s worst missionaries (sorry Jamie!).  He had hardly set foot in the country he was called to before he was martyred, while according to some accounts, pleading with his murderers to accept Christ.

Christianity had come to Korea, been accepted and then harshly suppressed a couple of times before Thomas, a Welsh Presbyterian serving in China felt the call to Korea, then a closed country, and embarked with a consignment of Bibles on the General Sherman, a heavily-armed US trading ship which was hoping to open up trade (by force, if necessary) with the isolationist Korean kingdom.  As the ship sailed up river towards Pyongyang, Thomas apparently threw Bibles ashore to the Koreans.

Accounts differ of what happened next, and who started shooting, but an incident flared up and the US ship was set on fire.  The fleeing crew were fired upon but Thomas stayed on board till the last minute, still throwing Bibles ashore.  Leaving at the last minute, he was killed as soon as he swam ashore, while offering a Bible to his killer.

The Thomas Memorial Church

The Thomas Memorial Church

A local Korean took the Bibles and used them for wallpaper.  Some years later other mission workers brought Christianity once again to Korea, and local believers discovered the wallpaper and flocked to the house to read it.  The church continued to grow steadily and in 1932 Korean Christians built a memorial church on the riverbank near where Thomas died, but it was later destroyed during the communist revolution and the site is now part of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

Today it is not known how many Christians there are in North Korea, but they are the victims of the most anti-Christian government on the planet.  Most of the believers are in labour camps.  South Korea, on the other hand, has embraced Christianity.  Nearly a third of the population are Christians, the highest proportion in Asia, and they are one of the world’s leading missionary sending nations.

What can we learn from Robert Thomas?

  • He was keen to open new frontiers to the gospel.  Even though there were so many unevangelised Chinese, Thomas was led to go to a closed country where he knew the risk.  Today, when there are so many unevangelised countries in the 10/40 window and 41% of people who have not heard the gospel live in the thousands of neglected people groups, many British mission workers go to safe countries which already have strong indigenous churches. (You can read more about this in our blog Is it time to move on?)
  • He was zealous to propagate the gospel even when his own life was threatened.  In our risk-averse world, how many of us would even have gone to Korea, let alone offered a Bible to the soldier about to kill us?
  • There are dangers of being too closely involved with non-Christians.  If Thomas had not gone with armed traders, his reception may have been different.  We need to be wary of joining forces with those who do not share our aims and values.

Today, many thousands of South Korean pilgrims visit Wales to visit the birthplace of Robert Thomas in Rhayadr and the manse which was his childhood home.  The Christians in North Korea cannot, of course, even leave their prison camps leave alone their country.  Please pray for them.

Cooking with Poo

img-poo_04Most of us are pretty adventurous when it comes to food, and often have stories to tell which shock those who’ve not had the opportunity to have their culinary preferences stretched to the limit on a bush tucker trial.  So Syzygy is proud to be promoting an event which will attract a lot of interest for the exquisite food.

We have talked before on this blog about the remarkable ministry of Urban Neighbours of Hope in Klong Toey, the largest slum in Bangkok.  One of the people whose lives has been affected by their work is Poo, who ran into financial difficulties when the small catering outlet she ran from her home couldn’t make money due to rampant inflation.  The UNOH team helped her start a cooking school which has subsequently become what TripAdvisor has called

One of the best-rated activities in Bangkok

Which is quite an accolade when you think of all the exciting things you can do in Bangkok!

PooNow you have the opportunity to taste this remarkable Thai food for yourself without leaving the UK, to learn how to cook it and to hear more about the amazing work of UNOH at the same time.  We are running two events, both on 4th April at Rowheath Pavilion in Birmingham.

Starting at 10.30 am and running through to 3.00 (ideal for people picking up kids from school) there will be a cookery school taught in person by Poo.  This is an opportunity for up to 50 people to cook genuine Thai food for themselves.  Then at 7.30 in the evening there will be an interactive cookery demonstration by Poo, which will also feature stories from Klong Toey, an opportunity for people from the audience to join Poo in cooking a dish, and an open Q&A time.  The cookery school costs just £30 per person, and the cookery demonstration is £10.

You can find out more about Poo on her own website.  If you can’t make it to Birmingham to meet her, there are events in other parts of the country listed here.

We speak from experience when we recommend Poo’s cooking: the intrepid Syzygy team went all the way to Thailand to sample it, and came away delighted.  We can’t wait to find out how she does it!

Focus on Mongolia

mongoliaMongolia is a country which is not often talked about in the west, and the suffering Christians in the least densely populated country in the world seem largely ignored.  Even the respected website www.persecution.org has no current reports on the situation for believers there, yet anecdotal evidence emerges for the suffering of the church.

Although there are fewer than 50,000 believers in Mongolia (precise numbers are not available), the church has an ambitious goal to have 10% of the population as active church members by the year 2020.  In a country dominated by Buddhist and atheist beliefs, where powerful shamans still wield significant influence at all levels of society, this goal is also significantly dangerous.

The Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity in Ulan Bataar

The Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity in Ulan Bataar

Life in Mongolia is hard for many people.  Unemployment is high, and so are the prices of basic commodities.  According to one source, it is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.  The value of its currency has tumbled almost as fast as Syria’s in recent weeks as falling coal exports deprive the country of foreign earnings.  But life is even harder for Christians, who can lack the family support networks to help them survive, and are vulnerable to significant persecution, bureaucratic disinterest and family opposition.

Yet the country does not feature in the top 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian, largely because Christianity is officially permitted.  But a recent unpublished report told of how the spy holes in the doors of apartments where Christians live had been painted over with red paint, compromising their security, but not those of their non-Christian neighbours.  Death threats spray-painted in red have been left for them.  Some have had to leave home in fear of their lives.  Despite that, the number of churches in the capital has proliferated and over 400 overseas mission workers now serve there.  Truly remarkable growth for a country which had just a small handful of believers in 1989.

Please pray for our suffering brothers and sisters.  The church faces many challenges as it seeks to reach out.  There is hostility from other faiths, lack of resources, poor access to the Bible in their own language and a resurgence of Buddhism.  Pray that God will make them bold in their proclamation of Jesus, strong in their faith, united in their love and comforted in their grief.

Contextualisation

Contextualisation?  A 19th century church building in Malawi  (Source: Wikipedia)

Contextualisation? A 19th century church building in Malawi (Source: Wikipedia)

Most of us have heard stories of how mission workers of the past often took their native culture with them in the well-meant but misguided view that it was ‘Christian’ to wear clothes, worship in a certain style or meet in a building whose architecture reflected the mission workers’ culture more than the local one.  Sadly today we often make similar mistakes, although there is generally a greater awareness of the need to contextualise.

Contextualisation is the word we give to how we adapt our presentation of the gospel so that it is culturally relevant to the people we are talking to.  It involves understanding their location and culture so that we don’t say things they won’t understand or even worse be put off by.  So there’s no point in using the verse “Though your sins are scarlet they will be white as snow” in the tropics, where people haven’t seen snow.  Better to replace snow with cotton.  And don’t tell a Buddhist she must be born again – that’s the very thing she’s fed up with doing!

The early apostles – particularly Paul – used contextualisation in preaching the gospel.  When addressing Jews, Paul quoted extensively from Jewish scripture and tradition (e.g. Acts 13:16-41), yet in his famous address to the ruling council in Athens (Acts 17:22-31) he made no mention of either, but argued with them out of their own culture and tradition.  Yet at the same time he was committed to the unadulterated truth of the gospel – “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Contextualisation or blasphemy?

Contextualisation or blasphemy?

In recent years there has been an ongoing debate over what is optional and what is non-negotiable, as with the recent high-profile controversy about references to Father and Son when talking to people of a Moslem background.  Contextualisation affects our language, as in the case of one English church which has stopped using the word Father to describe God, since that word has such negative connotions in the minds of local non-christians.  It also affects cultural and self-identification issues: should a Moslem who comes to faith be called a Christian?  Or a Moslem-background believer?  A follower of Isa-al-Massi?  Should he be encouraged to leave the mosque and be part of a church?  Or continue being part of his community as a secret believer?

Challenges such as these affect mission to people of other beliefs, particularly in Asia where we come into contact with people of radically different worldviews, and in post-Christian Europe where many are ignorant of even the most basic Christian terminology like ‘sin’ and ‘redemption’.  Which is why many evangelists now use terms like ‘Do you want God to help you?’ in preference to the less accessible ‘You must repent!’

The European Evangelical Mission Association is holding a conference in September (in Majorca!) to discuss these issues.  Representatives of denominations and mission agencies will be there to debate the limits of contextualisation, the future of the insider movement and the relevance of the C1-C6 model.  The speakers will be renowned exponents on these topics: Rose Dowsett, Beat Jost, and John Travis.  To find out more go to http://www.europeanema.org/conference-2013/.  It promises to be a challenging debate!

White as snow

DSC00220Snow is falling in England, at the time of writing (23.1.13).  It usually happens a few times in winter, but it’s unusual for it to be quite so deep or to lie around for more than a few days, particularly in the warmer south.  Our continental neighbours who are more accustomed to snow must marvel at the havoc and delight it causes.  Schools close.  Deliveries cease.  Traffic stops.  Instead, people make snowmen and throw snowballs.  We go sledging.  Facebook is filled with photos of cute children playing in the snow.

At least for a few days, until we get fed up with wet shoes, cold fingers and traffic chaos, we are thrilled.  Children want to go out and play with it.  Even adults become childlike and light-hearted.  We play in it, and marvel at its sparkly beauty and the silence it creates.

Why do we like snow so much?  What is it about it that we find beautiful?  What is its appeal?  Is it merely that it highlights the bare branches of trees and covers unsightly streets and buildings with a silent shroud of serene white?  Or is there something deeper, visceral, instinctive in it?  Something intuitive that we subconsciously connect with?

In the Bible, snow doesn’t feature much.  It is an occasional meteorological phenomenon (2 Samuel 23:20), and sometimes it is used simply to describe something particularly white (Exodus 4:6).  It occasionally snows in Israel, particularly on the higher mountains like Hermon, but for much of the year, it’s just too hot.  In a hot,  dry, dusty climate, things don’t generally stay white for long, so things that are intrinsically white are often  used as metaphors.  Snow, wool and milk are all biblical examples of this.  Where they come into their own is when they acquire a spiritual significance because of their colour.  White is deeply significant.

In cultures all over Europe and Asia white is, understandably, associated with cleanliness, and by extension purity and innocence.  Ancient Egyptian and Roman priests wore white.  Babylonians and Chinese recognised the dualistic tension between white and black, day and night, yin and yang, good and evil.  Brahmins wore it, and Japanese pilgrims do.  Moslems on the hajj wear white.  So it is clearly not merely Judeo-Christian imagery, but something common to humanity.  Where does the link with purity come from?  It may be that it is simply because milk is white, that it became associated with the innocence of a baby, unsullied by the world.  But I think it goes back further than that.

Genesis tells us that on day one, God made light.  The first thing that God created, even before he made heavenDark_Side_of_the_Moon and earth.  Light, in its purest form, when it is not bouncing off objects, is brilliant white.  Light is frequently associated with purity, understanding, and God – ‘who dwells in unapproachable light’ (1 Timothy 6:16).  God’s clothes are described as white as snow (Daniel 7:9) and so were the angel’s (Matthew 28:3).  John says the same of the hair of the risen Jesus (Revelation 1:14).

So, deep in our folk memories, the whiteness of snow reminds us of God’s purity.  It reminds us of our desire to be cleansed and become pure like God.  Two of the most famous verses about snow are about finding forgiveness.  David, repenting of his sin, said to God ‘Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow’(Psalm 51:7).  And God’s great promise of forgiveness and cleansing to humankind in Isaiah 1:18: ‘Though your sins are scarlet, they will be as white as snow.’

Deep snow covers up all manner of ugliness, making even the roughest outlook beautiful.  When I see urban wastelands blanketed in this picture of innocence, I am reminded that God’s love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).  When we look out on a pristine white landscape, let’s take the opportunity to glorify God who is even more pure, and who will one day grant his followers the privilege of dressing, like him, in white (Revelation 19:8).

Creation Care as an Integral Part of Mission

Today’s guest blogger is David Gould, Creation Care Advocate for OMF International, who has a suitably seasonal reflection on good news for a broken world.  

We live in a broken world.  Humanity is now consuming the earth’s resources at a rate that would require 1.6 planet earths to be sustainable (WWF Living Planet Report 2012).  This is expected to increase much further because global population is projected to grow from 7 billion now to between 9 and 10 billion by mid-century, and because of the understandable aspirations of millions in the developing world to share in this unsustainable level of consumption.

This will add significantly to global energy demand.  Our growing use of carbon-based fuels has become a major factor behind climate change.  In September, Arctic ice reached a record low, 18% below the previous record low in 2007; in recent years we have also seen unprecedented weather events across the globe – drought, flooding and storm – that have caused loss of life, of homes, crops and fresh water; acidification of the oceans, disease, no-choice migration and family and community break-up.  But this is just the beginning of what might happen if we don’t change our ways.

The increasing acidification of the oceans is causing severe stress in coral-based eco-systems; this and excessive and destructive fishing practices are threatening the survival of many marine fisheries; and dam building, pollution and soil erosion are having a similar effect on fresh-water fisheries.  Our relentless destruction of tropical forests and other ecosystems is also threatening our sustainable future.

What has all this got to do with mission?  In OMF we have a long tradition of responding whole-heartedly to crisis events such as famines, earthquakes and tsunamis; we have also seen the Lord blessing medical mission in Thailand and elsewhere.  This work continues; should we see creation care in a similar light?   The Lord is calling people into mission with gifts and skills that until recently may not have been recognised as having ‘mission potential’ – water and electrical engineers; specialists in agriculture, animal husbandry, waste management and marine biology; town planners; educators, researchers and missional business people.  How can their work contribute to OMF’s vision of seeing indigenous, biblical church movements in each of the people groups of East Asia?  And how can this vision be realised among ecological migrants and in the megacities of the future?

As we explore integral mission in these challenging contexts we also need to figure out what it means to ‘walk the talk’.  Our methodology of mission is just as important as its outcomes.  Simply as a matter of survival and loving our neighbours as ourselves, the way we live affects everyone else – we live in a single, closed world system.  How can we reduce our own consumption and ecological footprints to sustainable levels?

Then there are the challenges of theological education and disciple-making.  How can we contribute to a biblical understanding of God’s call to all of us to care for creation?

The prophet Joel speaks directly into our situation: ‘listen, all who live in the land:
 has anything like this ever happened in your days, or in the days of your forefathers?’ (Joel 1:2).  Joel was responding to locust invasions of the land; he calls us not to despair or to deny what is happening, but to repentance and trust in the Lord for both the immediate future (2:18-27) and the distant future (2:28-32).

So is creation care just another ‘issue’ – an ‘enthusiasm’ for some of us that the rest can ignore?  Or is it foundational to our life of hopeful worship, service, mission, good enjoyment and Sabbath rest?  A helpful book is ‘Salvation Means Creation Healed’ by Howard Snyder; this explores ‘the divorce between heaven and earth’ in much of our theology; the effects of sin on our relationships with God, with each other, the rest of creation and with ourselves; the healing mission of God; and the church as healing community.

Other helps include:

Lausanne call to action on creation care

A Rocha – Living Lightly

Christian Ecology Link

Climate Prayer’ and ‘environmentguardian’ on Facebook

Dave Bookless, Planetwise: Dare to Care for God’s World

Calvin B. DeWitt, Earthwise: A guide to Hopeful Creation Care

Based in Singapore, David’s responsibilities include reminding OMF fields that creation care is part of Jesus’ commandment to preach good news to ‘all creation’ (Mark 16:15) and helping them develop strategies  for realising this mandate.  Please feel free to contact him with any comments or queries at Int.CreationCare@omfmail.com

Update from Asia, part 2

The Juniper Tree

Although I got back to England two weeks ago, last week I left you in suspense about the second half of my trip to Asia. This was because I felt it important to inform you about the renewed challenges facing the Eurozone so that you can pray into this situation.

Following the conference in Chiang Mai, I spent a very enjoyable evening at The Juniper Tree, a most pleasant guest house in the suburbs of the city, with beautifully maintained gardens and delightful wooden chalets in traditional Thai style. There is a tangible sense of peace about the place, and one of the reasons is that it is cunningly designed to create a rural feel, despite cramming a number of buildings onto a fairly small plot. They are effectively screened from one another with careful planting. There is also a swimming pool, library and tv lounge. It is an ideal place for tired mission workers to get a pleasant break away from work, or to stay while they use the facilities of the city. It’s also a useful place to stay while accessing the member care facilities of Cornerstone Counseling Foundation and The Well, though you need to be aware that children are welcome so at times, particularly near the pool, there is some ambient noise.

Traffic in Phnom Penh

After that I spent several days with friends in Lopburi and it was good to see the excellent work they are doing there, and to visit a Thai church which I last visited 7 years ago, before flying to Phnom Penh for a week.

Cambodia had changed much since I was last there in 2004. There has been a lot of inward investment and there are now many modern facilities which would make life very pleasant for the wealthy, of whom it seems there are an increasing number. There were a lot more SUVs and fewer bikes, though still a lot of seemingly suicidal moped drivers, who manage hardly ever to collide. I met several people serving with different agencies who gave me a warm welcome, and heard about the significant number of independent mission workers, though sadly I did not manage to meet up with any of them. I had a number of very helpful conversations with those working to help them though.

Klong Toey, Bangkok

After that I returned for one day to Bangkok where I met up with Ash Barker of Urban Neighbours of Hope, whose work I have referred to before. He lives with the urban poor in a very deprived area of the city, and his whole family has a very simple lifestyle which reflects that of their neighbours. This gives integrity to his message to the often wealthy Christians of the world about incarnational Christianity. Ash is coming to the UK to talk about his work next month and I strongly recommend that you get along to his keynote meeting to hear about his amazing ministry. Special guest speaker will be Rev Joel Edwards of Micah Challenge.  For more details click here.

Thank you so much for your prayers during this long trip. It was most enjoyable, hard work at times, but also invigorating. These visits generate a lot of publicity for the work of Syzygy, bring opportunities for collaborative relationships, and bring me into contact with people who need our support.

Update from Asia

Inside the bathroom at Frishta Children's Village

When people ask me if I have children, there’s usually a vague impression of sympathy which crosses their face as they hear my answer – I’m not married and I have no children. You can see they want to say something like ‘Never mind, I’m sure God has someone special for you’ but are not sure how appropriate and affirming that really is. Instead they quickly change the subject.  So it was a pleasant relief to meet two Indians whose response was immediately: ‘That’s great! You have more time for your ministry.’

The Indians I met on my brief journey to Punjab seemed very focussed and hard-working. Perhaps their dedication comes from the price they have paid to follow Jesus. I heard several stories about people who had been thrown out of their families when they became Christians. It made me wonder how we in the West would have coped with that. For them, Christ is everything. Literally. They have nothing else.

Frishta Children’s Village in Chandigarh is an ambitious project building brand new homes for orphaned or rejected children to be housed in. I was impressed by the quality of their work, and their commitment to ensuring high quality care and living standards for their children. You can read more about their work at www.frishta.org.uk.  Their strapline Till They All Have Homes… says it all.

After two days in India I moved on to Singapore where I stayed at the International Headquarters of OMF.  It was good catching up with old friends and meeting some OMF workers for the first time and hearing of their work.  The recently refurbished premises are over the road from the Botanical Gardens, a beautifully-maintained large park area.  On Sunday morning, having attended the church service at St John’s & St Margaret’s on Saturday evening, I decided that I would spend time in the park with God.  I was not disappointed.    It was a very refreshing time, apart from the drama of watching a komodo dragon eating a turtle.

In the Botanical Gardens there is a large National Orchid Collection, where they breed, show and maintain a huge variety of these beautiful flowers.  In the VIP collection they show orchids named after celebrities and dignitaries whom they have invited to visit. Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana were honoured, so was Andrea Bocelli.  I thought it was rather insensitive of them to invite him to visit an orchid collection.

Then I moved on to Chiang Mai, where I took part in the first ever Global Member Care Conference (organised by the Global Member Care Network), along with colleagues representing numerous organisations from all over the world. It was particularly encouraging to see so many representatives from newer sending nations, and not just the usual Westerners. The teaching was excellent and there were good opportunities to get to know others working in the same sector. There are some major possibilities in this for Syzygy, which I won’t announce yet in case they don’t come to fruition, but please pray that some significant developments would come about.

Then, having spent a night at the lovely Christian guest home The Juniper Tree, I travelled by bus and car across Thailand to Lopburi where OMF has its Language and Orientation Centre for Thailand, and I caught up with friends and former colleagues, enjoying visiting the projects they are working on.

Tomorrow I’ll be flying to Cambodia to stay with friends there, and hopefully meet up with more people who I can help, and then I have another day in Bangkok visiting Urban Neighbours of Hope before I return home.

Please continue to pray for safe travelling, good meetings with friends, opportunities to consult with other agencies, time to provide healing prayer and discussion with those who need it, and for God to use me for his glory.

Syzygy’s grand tour of Asia

Today sees the start of Syzygy’s first ever multi-national mission support trip, taking in 4 countries in as many weeks.  As this blog is published Tim is already in the air en route to India, where he will visit the Studley family Frishta Children’s Village, which aims to combat homelessness among India’s many millions of orphans.  From there Tim will travel to Singapore, where he will meet up with old friends, including some who work with OMF, and then on to Thailand where he will be part of the Global Member Care Conference (Member Care is what those engaged in pastoral support for mission workers call their role).

While there he will meet with Janene from Eagles Rest, and then visit two projects, The Well and The Juniper Tree, both of which provide pastoral support and counselling for mission workers, before visiting friends in another part of Thailand.  Tim will then continue to Cambodia where he will spend time with mission workers before returning to Bangkok to visit Urban Neighbours of Hope and then fly home – hopefully not too exhausted.

This is not just a good excuse for a Christian holiday, despite the alluring locations.  While providing pastoral support to all the mission workers he will meet, Tim is also seeking out other unsupported mission workers who may need Syzygy’s services.  The Member Care conference will provide unparalleled networking opportunities, and meetings with other agencies may well result in future collaboration.

Please pray daily for Tim while he is travelling.  Obviously there are the usual possibilities of getting ill and missing flights, as well as some minor security risks common to such journeys.  Additionally it will be tiring meeting so many people and possibly becoming involved in some fairly in-depth discussions.

Please pray that:

  • he will be able to help and encourage mission workers
  • he will meet with new mission workers to support
  • the conference in Thailand will yield good results
  • God’s hand will guide Tim in whatever situation he finds himself

We will provide brief updates here as and when time and internet access allow!

Dates:

April
16th – Fly to India
19th – Fly to Singapore
22nd – Fly to Chiang Mai
23rd – Global Member Care Conference
27th – Day of resting at the Juniper Tree
28th – By road to Lopburi, Thailand

May
1st – Fly from Bankok to Phnom Penh
8th – Return to Bangkok
9th – Fly to UK
10th – Get home

FYI – No Bamboo Spring?

Source: www.freeimages.com

In February, we considered the prospects for the Arab Spring, but almost as soon as pro-democracy demonstrations broke out from Morocco to Syria, the Chinese government moved quickly to nip any green bamboo shoots in the bud.

Since the infamous Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the government of China has come to a tacit agreement with its burgeoning middle class: the government will deliver ever-increasing prosperity in exchange for domestic order.  And, by and large, this agreement has lasted.  As bicycles give way to BMWs on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai, demands for change have been few and far between.  The more the average Chinese citizen owns, the more he risks by protesting.  As long as the massive Chinese economy keeps powering ahead, the Communist Party seems secure.  So it has skilfully deprived any potential protest movement of many of the educated middle-class people who might be expected to co-ordinate and propel it.

But are the cracks beginning to appear?  Last month’s National Geographic Magazine reports that there are estimates (accurate figures are not published by the Chinese government!) of at least 100,000 strikes and demonstrations taking place each year.  Most of these are protests against low wages, poor working conditions, or land takeovers, but once people feel free enough to protest over economic issues, they are equally free to protest against a political system that disempowers them and causes their economic condition.  And despite the rising prosperity of China, there are still many millions of poor people who are not enjoying the benefits that the factory owners are experiencing.  That creates a potentially revolutionary situation, which could easily flare up into mass protests, as we have witnessed in Egypt and other countries.

This is a situation which will make the Chinese government very nervous.  Aware of its vulnerability, it has been quick to pre-empt any challenges.  While it is perhaps not surprising that China has cracked down on high-profile protesters like artist Ai Weiwei and Nobel prize-winning writer Liu Xiaobo to prevent them becoming leaders of a protest movement, what does this mean for the church in China?  Although the government has relaxed its opposition to the church in recent years (see our report in July last year) it still recognises that the church owes no specific loyalty to the government, and it has therefore taken steps to demonstrate that it is not going to tolerate the church becoming the nucleus of a protest movement.  In the last few months there has been a significant crackdown on unregistered churches, and church officials across the country have been detained.

One such target church is the high profile Shouwang  ‘house church’ in Beijing, which has about 1,000 members.  In April it was told to leave the premises it met in, and has subsequently been meeting in a park.  Its pastor has been under house arrest for nine weeks and many members have been arrested for praying in public.  Prior to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on 4th June, many church members were threatened by police or put under temporary house arrest to make sure they couldn’t demonstrate.  However there is no evidence that this church was planning demonstrations, although its persistence in meeting together is technically civil disobedience.

Another interesting development is that following a number of extremely positive articles about the church in China in the official state website China Daily in the last couple of years, the last article specifically about the Chinese church was published on 11th April in response to Shouwang church’s open-air meetings, and was a clearly political appeal to Christians to abide by the law and to stay away from open-air meetings.

It is abundantly clear that despite its efforts to show the world that it is positive towards the church, the Chinese government distrusts the revolutionary potential that it believes the church represents.  There could be more difficult times ahead for Chinese believers.

Please pray for the church in China, that it would:

  • continue to meet together without fear
  • have the faith to resist intimidation and not capitulate to threats
  • see God at work powerfully despite the challenges

 

Featured ministry – Urban Neighbours of Hope

Ash Barker seems like a really nice guy.  He looks cuddly, has a bashful smile, and a soft voice.  The sort of person it’s comfortable to be around… till he starts talking about his passion – the urban poor.  Then he starts saying things like If every Christian would take in a homeless person there’d be no homelessness. Awkward sound bites like these fall from his lips with ease, interspersed with equally uncomfortable statistics like 1 in 6 people in this world live in slums.

As if this isn’t bad enough, you know he’s talking from personal experience.  As a young man, he moved into a Melbourne slum in order to spread the love of Jesus to people the rest of the world was rejecting, and founded a missional order called Urban Neighbours of Hope.  UNOH has subsequently extended its work to a number of cities in Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand.  It helps to empower the poor to take ownership of their own problems, it advocates on behalf of the urban poor and provides training in mission to young people.

After ten years in Melbourne, Ash and his wife Anji moved with their two young children to Bangkok, to set up home in the infamous Klong Toey slum, where 80,000 people live packed into just two square kilometres.  Living in the same conditions as their neighbours, they reach out to the community, where drugs, crime and prostitution are endemic.  Through partnering with local people they have empowered them to change their situation.  One lady called Poo, who was a good cook, started a cookery school and has just published a book called Cooking with Poo, which isn’t such a humorous title when you remember that the sewerage in Klong Toey is pretty basic.  Another lady began a handicraft cooperative which now employs sixty people earning twice the minimum wage.  There are a number of other local catering businesses.  These small enterprises help people out of poverty and provide them with an alternative to prostitution and crime.

All this is run out of a local community centre, which is also the base for a school with 60 children, a youth centre with 200 daily users, a medical programme and a prison visiting ministry.  There is also a church, started not by outsiders but by a local man set free from drug addiction and gang membership.

Ash is clearly frustrated that there is so much work to do among the urban poor, and so little support from western Christians.  He points out that if you plot on a map the areas of greatest population density (south and east Asia, urban inner cities), and the areas where the greatest percentage of Christians live (north America, suburbs) there is hardly any overlap. However in recent years more churches and individuals are recognising God’s call to the poor and many are partnering with Urban Neighbours of Hope to bring hope to some of the most downtrodden people in the world.  You can find out more at www.unoh.org.

 

 

 

Japan – how can we help?

When faced with such devastating destruction, what can we do?  On the one hand, it may seem that there is so much to be done, that we cannot possibly know where to start.  One the other hand, Japan is such a strong and capable nation that perhaps they don’t need our help.  We recognise that countries like Pakistan or Haiti cannot possibly rebuild on their own after a major disaster, whereas New Zealand and Japan seem so much more capable to us, and maybe they don’t really need our help.  Should we be giving our support to other, more needy nations instead?

An experienced Japan mission worker remarked recently that in many ways Japan does not need our help.  Technologically, there is no country in the world more capable of dealing with such a disaster; financially, they have a huge capacity for reconstruction even if it will significantly set their economy back; and organisationally they are unparalleled.  However, with donations to established disaster relief agencies significantly lower than those for Haiti at this stage, and the DEC not organising an umbrella appeal, immediate funding for emergency supplies such as blankets, food and water is in short-supply, and reports coming out of north east Japan indicate that there are many cold and hungry people still waiting to be cared for.

One area where they will clearly need help, however, is in dealing with the emotional fallout.  So many families have lost loved ones, and with the scale of the disaster many do not have a body to grieve over and cremate in accordance with their tradition.  The whole nation will have unanswered questions.  There will be nobody who is not personally affected by a disaster of this magnitude.  How do they grieve?  Who will comfort them?

While such disasters are an unmitigated tragedy which we wish had never happened, they do represent an incredible opportunity for us to reach out and support others.  The small number of Japanese believers, supported by the Christian family worldwide, has a chance to express love and compassion, and give an account for the hope that we have even in the midst of such trauma.  Demonstrations of support and sympathy will carry great weight in Japanese society and do much to counter any suspicion that Christians are viewed with.

In terms of providing immediate care there are already many appeals in place to help feed, clothe and house the refugees.  Syzygy recommends OMF’s Sendai Earthquake Relief Fund if you want to give financial support.  You can also find regular updates, including prayer requests on their Japan website.  OMF have a large number of mission workers who speak Japanese well and are able to get into places and communicate effectively where other foreign workers may not be so successful.  They are associated with a number of Japanese churches who provide contacts and networks that are already in place, particularly in Sendai where they have been operating for many decades.  OMF already have in place established procedures for transferring funds to Japan and communicating needs and prayer requests back.

Please pray:

  • for Japanese Christians, who have to deal with the burden of their own grief while consoling those who don’t know Jesus.
  • for the overseas mission workers, already coping with their own disorientation, who have to function in ways they are not accustomed to while ministering hope and comfort to others.
  • for the Japanese people, particularly the military forces and rescue workers, faced with the unpleasant task of clearing up the destruction while still bearing their own unresolved trauma.
  • for Mr Sato, Vice-Minister for Construction and Transportation, who is the only Christian in the government.  He is currently in charge of the response to the nuclear crisis and will have a key role in rebuilding the infrastructure.  Pray for his health, and that he would be an excellent ambassador for Jesus.

Featured Ministry: Chrestos Mission

Karen Bible College students in worship

First of all, it’s not a typo!  The name really is Chrestos.  It’s the Greek word for ‘kind’.  Founders Geoffrey & Pat Atkinson decided that they wanted to be kind to the people they work with.  They certainly need some kindness.  Based in northwest Thailand, not too far from the tourist capital of Chiang Mai, Chrestos Mission works with Karen people, a marginalised minority group who have suffered much, particularly at the hands of the Burmese military.  Many of them have fled from Burma across the Salween River into Thailand, where they are billeted in overcrowded refugee camps while they continue the interminable wait for asylum in western countries.  Without Thai ID cards, they can’t leave the camps for fear of being repatriated.

After a lifetime of work in missions in south east Asia, you would think that Geoffrey & Pat would want to retire.  But in 2002, already well into their 60s, God called them to start this work up from scratch.  It is a testament to their prayerfulness and drive that in such a short time they have managed to achieve so much.

Chrestos works extensively in these camps, supporting churches, orphanages and even bible colleges by providing food, clothing and medicine.  Through this support lives are saved, children are cared for and educated, and people meet Jesus.  Many of them go on to graduate from bible colleges and perpetuate a victorious cycle of taking the gospel to their own people.

Through the work of a number of mission agencies as well as the efforts of the indigenous church, the Karen church is the fastest growing in Thailand.  At its base in Mae Sariang, Chrestos runs its own bible college with some 75 students, training Karen believers to go back to their people with the gospel.  Chrestos also has a high quality recording studio which produces teaching, worship, drama and Sunday School lessons on dvd so that the Karen church is even better equipped to spread the gospel.  In the same town Chrestos also operates and orphanage called the Home of Peace & Joy.

When I visited Chrestos in 2008, one of their Karen leaders walked with me across the ‘Friendship Bridge’ into Burma at Mae Sot.  It was the first time he had been back to the country of his birth since he fled to Thailand as a child.  His father was subsequently killed by the Burmese army.  I find it very hard to forgive them, he told me.

  • Please pray for change in Burma so that the Karen can return to their villages and live in safety.  Praise God that there is ample opportunity for them to hear the gospel in the refugee camps.  Pray that they will respond to it, and take it home with them when they are finally repatriated.
  • Pray for the Atkinsons, that they will continue to have health and energy, and for God to raise up indigenous successors for them to run the Chrestos community.
  • Pray that the Karen will be able to forgive those who have made them suffer, and that this will be a testimony to the grace of God which will lead many to Jesus.

You can read more about Chrestos at http://www.chrestos-mission.org/

Story of the month – Chinese Government warms to Christians?

Chinese believers in an unregistered church (China Daily)

Several recent articles in the authoritative website China Daily have prompted observers to wonder if the Chinese government may be softening its traditionally tough stance against Christians.  The official government daily has published a number of positive articles about Christianity during the last six months and while it must be remembered that they may merely be part of a ‘charm offensive’ (particularly since none of the articles were published in the Chinese language version of the paper), they are published in an official government organ and will have been scrutinised by censors.

The most significant of these articles (25th December) concerned an official report for the government in which the Chinese Academy of Social Scientists (CASS) estimated that there are now over 70 million Chinese who are members of unregistered churches.  Add these numbers to the Catholic Church and the official Three Self Patriotic Movement church and this is the first time that there has been an official estimate that there are now over 100 million Christians in China.  In 1979, when the TSPM church was relaunched after the Cultural Revolution, there were only about one million.   One western commentator remarked that it is unthinkable that an article like this has slipped past the censors unnoticed, and therefore this must be an indication of a change of government policy.

Miao Christian choir (China Daily)

Another article (17th March) talks about how house churches are thriving in Beijing.  It states that there are now over 50,000 Christians in Beijing, and as the registered churches are often overcrowded, many people are joining smaller unregistered churches where they can connect more effectively.  The article even quotes Cao Zhongjian, an expert on religion in China at CASS, as saying “The authorities have a much more open attitude toward discussion and debate on house churches.”  This has led to freedom for the churches to acquire premises or rent permanent locations.  This is all a far cry from even a few years ago when reports of serious oppression of Chinese Christians were commonplace.

Other publications include a positive article about influential Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, reference to a thriving church in Shanghai, a report about a village in Yunnan province where 80% of the villagers are Christians, and (amazingly) the testimony of how a young Beijing believer found Jesus after being given a Bible by a colleague.

Chinese choir (China Daily)

Featured ministry: Bethany

Many tired missionaries working in East Asia are delighted to have discovered Bethany.  This is a rest and retreat complex on Cheung Chau Island off Hong Kong. It is specifically funded and staffed to offer member care to those working cross-culturally in Asia and beyond offering good quality, inexpensive accommodation. Bethany is set in gardens of trees and flowers on the quiet, traffic free island of Cheung Chau with good beaches and scenic walks, so is an ideal place to relax and recuperate from a demanding ministry.

Despite feeling remote, it is conveniently accessible from Hong Kong, so it’s not hard to get to despite feeling away from it all.  Set on a hill in attractive grounds overlooking the South China Sea, Bethany’s location is idyllic – five minutes to sandy beaches, peaceful walks around rocky coves and yet the town with its restaurants and shops is just nearby. The Bethany team includes those who have understanding and long experience of the demands on people, for example adjusting to new cultures, difficulties with co-workers, frustrations with sponsors, parenting and educational decision-making, family and marriage needs cross-culturally.

The Bethany mission is to keep people resilient, working in their God-given field for longer. At a basic level, they provide a home from home with familiar food, language and culture allowing people to recover in holiday mode from tiredness and stress. In association with this they have experienced pastoral couples available for prayer and with a listening and sympathetic ear.

More information is available on the Bethany website: www.bethanyministries.com

Story of the Month: Thousands of new Thai believers

This story was published in “CrossTies Asia” January 2010 newsletter) so it’s not new, but it’s too good not to recirculate.  My Hope for Thailand was an outreach event which took place in December 2009.  Here’s what the organisers reported:

“On this day about 50% of Thai churches participated and more than 41,000 of their members were involved in reaching out to over 200,000 of their friends and neighbours to tell them about Jesus. We now have the responsibility of calling the church leaders to find out what God did during this time.  The news is exciting!  We have recorded over 6,580 decisions of people who have decided to become Christ followers, from all corners of the country.  We anticipate by the time we finish calling all the leaders we will have recorded more than 12,000 new Thai Christians. This is an amazing work of God in a land where only half a percent of Thailand’s 65 million people are Christians. This is the first time there has been a national harvest of this size in this country. As we are calling, our staff also has the privilege of documenting miraculous works of God that happened during these meetings.  Each of our staff members has recorded dozens of reports of healings, people freed from demon possession, people being freed from addictions and families being reconciled.”

Please pray for these new Thai believers as they face the challenge of walking with Jesus in a Buddhist-animist culture.

Baptism of Thai believers (photos courtesy of Julia Birkett)