Earthquake in Nepal

62 - Anna with PalomaHearing about the terrible disaster in Nepal last weekend reminded me of a time a few years ago when I led a short-term trip to Peru.  We landed just one hour after a major earthquake and after some discussion changed our programme to travel to the disaster area and help feed people, and start clearing up.

Shortly after we arrived, a young Peruvian girl carrying a crying toddler came up to one of our team members and, saying nothing, handed the toddler over to her.  Somewhat surprised, our team member set about comforting the toddler, and while the rest of us went about our work, she spent the rest of the day playing with the toddler and encouraging her to eat.  By the end of the day she had one happy child with her.

Later on, when we had all returned to our base, she said to me “I don’t know what that accomplished”.  What she didn’t know until I told her, was that the toddler had lost both parents in the earthquake, and hadn’t stopped crying for seven days.

It underlines one of Syzygy’s mantras for world mission: it doesn’t take much to make a difference – you just have to be there.

Many Christians, both Nepalese nationals and foreign mission workers, will be making a difference in the aftermath of the earthquake as they help to clear up and comfort the afflicted, even while suffering with their own fear, uncertainty and grief.  Please pray for them to be effective and for the Nepalese people to see the love of Jesus at work in their communities through them.

If you want to donate money to help, why not avoid the uncertainty of the international bureaucracy and mass appeals, and give directly to a Christian charity which has been working in Nepal for over 60 years – INF.  You can give through their website at www.inf.org/earthquake-appeal-europe.

The Parable of the Oppressors?

1354359_fifty_pounds_2The western church has traditionally interpreted the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27) as an encouragement to use wisely the gifts that God has given us, though we usually play down the bit about the wrath of God poured out on the servant who doesn’t.  As we observed two weeks ago, this fits in neatly with our protestant work ethic – our performance demonstrates our salvation, and God is looking for a return on his investment in us.  But are there other ways of interpreting this parable when seen through the eyes of other cultures?

When workers’ groups in Latin America looked at this parable they came up with a very different interpretation, because their perspective is different.  In Europe, theology has traditionally been done by wealthy, white, educated men.  But the worker’s groups were the opposite: poor, uneducated, marginalised people who recognised in this story a situation only too relevant to their own situation.  They pointed out that in an agrarian economy anybody who was returning 1000% profit (Luke 19:16) was clearly exploiting someone, and was therefore a bad guy.  Only an evil and corrupt king would commend him.  By their reckoning, the only person who comes out of this story with any credit is the one who buried his talents – because he didn’t oppress anybody.

No pressure then...

No pressure then…

Most Europeans find this interpretation hard to accept, but possibly this is only because we are so accustomed to our traditional interpretation – that God has given us certain talents and expects us to make the most of them… or else.  Which, when you think about it, doesn’t really square with our idea of the totally unmerited grace of God.

The marginalised South Americans who developed their own understanding of this parable would be far closer to the culture of Jesus’ audience than we are.  And while there may be flaws in their interpretation (is Jesus really telling us it’s good just to bury our treasure and do nothing with it?) there are also flaws in ours – is God really an exacting man, reaping where he did not sow, and punishing those who don’t perform well enough?

We also face the challenge that the word ‘talent’ has a double meaning in English.  We understand it to mean a gift or ability, which is stretching the original text too far, as a talent was in Bible times an enormous sum of money.  Luke uses the equivalent word ‘mina’ (an ancient middle-eastern currency unit), which emphasises that there is a financial context to this parable.  A mina was worth about 9 months wages for an agricultural worker – a phenomenal amount of spending money for the sort of people Jesus was talking to.  A talent was the Greco-Roman equivalent.

Jesus is in fact basing this parable on a real life incident involving the king of Galilee, Herod Antipas.  When his father Herod the Great died shortly after Jesus was born, his will had to be confirmed by the Emperor, so all his sons scurried off to Rome to persuade Augustus to grant their claims.  The Jewish people also sent a delegation asking the Emperor to get rid of Herod’s dynasty altogether!

Which raises a relevant question:

Would Jesus really use Herod as a metaphor for God?

We naturally assume that the authority figure in any given parable – a king, a judge, a landowner – stands for God.  But that’s not necessarily so.  There can be the very odd occasion when the authority figure is an anti-type of God – see for example Luke 18:2-8 where the judge is clearly contrasted with God.  This parable is designed to contrast the oppressive behaviour of the king with that of God.  The king commends his stewards who exploited the poor by saying “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

SheepIt is interesting to note that immediately after this parable Matthew places the judgement of the sheep and the goats, which also features a reward for performance.  But in that story, the slaves are not expected to make a huge profit out of the people, but to be generous to them.  They were expected to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned.  Is it possible that Matthew has set up a deliberate contrast between two ways of behaving – a worldly way embodied by an evil human king, and the heavenly way following the righteous God-King?

This understanding frees us from the pernicious pressure to perform in order to earn our salvation (or at least our reward) and allows us to love generously and freely, in a way that brings hope to the marginalised.  Over history, faced with the choice of being the oppressor or siding with the oppressed, the church has at different times done both.  Institutional church has often been the oppressor, while many courageous, counter-cultural individuals like Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa have met Christ in the poor and downtrodden as they served them.

Which course will you take?

TCKS coming ‘home’

Depressed, misunderstood, lonely?

Depressed, misunderstood, lonely?

It’s a while since we discussed TCKs, and since we reviewed reverse culture shock a few months ago, this might be a good opportunity to focus specifically on how this affects TCKs.  TCKS are Third Culture Kids – people who spent a significant part of their formative years growing up in a culture which was not that of their parents.  They don’t fully fit in either in their parents’ home country, or the country (or countries) in which they grew up, so they form their own third culture which features aspects of both.  Where the parents are mission workers, they are also known as Mission Kids (MKs).

Among the many huge challenges facing TCKs is the question of where home is.  They can often experience significant confusion over the issue, particularly when they’ve lived as mission kids in more than two countries.  But they seldom agree with their parents that the original sending country is home.  This complicates returning to the sending country, whether temporarily for home assignment or permanently, as in relocating for educational reasons.

Home... or away?

Home… or away?

Parents can easily talk about this as ‘going home’, which it may well be for them, but for the children, it is more like going to a foreign country.  They may be familiar with aspects of it but it is probably not home.  They are leaving home!  Their wider family in the sending country, and also in their ‘home’ church may reinforce this view, asking children who are already feeling lonely, bewildered and homesick how it feels to be ‘home’.  It’s not surprising if they occasionally get a hostile response.

Recognising that any such transition is a huge challenge for young people is the first step in dealing with it.  Some of our top tips for helping TCKs cope with this transition are:

  • ensure that the parents can spend more time than usual with their children, since they are a key point of stability in a different world;
  • connect with old friends back home through social media to maintain meaningful relationships;
  • bring with you favourite toys, furniture and food supplies so that you can continue to celebrate where you’ve come from;
  • meet with people from their host culture in the new country, and connect with other TCKs who have already made the transition;
  • continue to speak in the language of your host country to reinforce your connection with it;
  • take children and teens to Rekonnect – a summer camp specially designed for TCKs;
  • ensure that key features of life and culture in the new country are explained.  Don’t take it for granted that TCKs know how to tie shoelaces or button a dufflecoat if they didn’t have shoes and coats as they grew up!
TCKs in Brazil - Pam and her four sisters

TCKs in Brazil – Pam and her four sisters

One of Syzygy’s trustees, Pam Serpell, herself a TCK who grew up in Brazil, wrote a dissertation on this subject for her degree, and has given us permission to publish it here.   In her research she discovered that TCKs who reflected back on their experience of relocating to the UK used words like depressed, misunderstood, belittled, lonely, excluded, trapped and even suicidal.  This will not come as a surprise to those who have already been through this transition, but indicates how seriously the challenges for TCKs need to be taken.

Pam also looked at what helped prepare the TCKs for the transition, supported them through it, and what else they thought might have helped.  She clearly felt there is a need for sending agencies to do more to help prepare TCKs, perhaps through a formal orientation programme, and to support them through it.  Fortunately, in the 10 years that have elapsed since she did her research, many agencies have made great progress in this area.

Yet despite the evident challenges involved in being a TCK, Pam concludes:

All the people who took part in my research expressed being grateful for their upbringing and the experiences they had in ‘growing up between worlds’ and I would encourage any TCK to concentrate on the benefits of their experience and look for the positives.

You can read a pdf of Pam’s dissertation here.  As with all material on the Syzygy website, it is available for reuse where appropriate as long as the author receives due credit.

Sowing what you did not reap

206

Planting out rice seedlings in Cambodia

I am sending you to harvest in fields where others have done all the hard work for you. (John 4:38)

Sometimes we hear stories of miraculous revivals which seem to have no preparatory work involved.  They just seem to spring out of nowhere.  Historically we might think of the Welsh revival, or the Karen turning to Christ in response to Adoniram Judson’s preaching, or the arrival of Christianity in Korea following the death of Robert Thomas.  They’re not just historical though, and such revivals continue to happen today, for example in parts of Latin America, India and Africa.  Even south Wales.  People who reap such harvests are often praised, as if somehow they’ve done something innovative or creative to make revival happen.  These blessed few get to speak at conferences, publish books, and tell their story over and over again to admiring churches.  They attract followers, their organisation grows, and they’re able to achieve more and more.  They become CEOs.

At the same time, there are probably many thousands of mission workers globally who are struggling hard yet reaping very little.  Their churches may not be growing, their projects not entirely effective.  They are plagued with self-doubt, yet continually strive harder in order to achieve more.  Or they may be under pressure from sending churches or support partners.  ‘What are you doing out there?’  ‘Is it really effective?’  ‘Are you sure you’re not wasting your time (translation: our money)?’  You’re probably one of them.   Working hard, sowing seed from which there is no obvious harvest.  Such mission workers are often at risk of burnout, leaving their ministry early, and possibly even beginning to have doubts in their faith.  Yet their hard work may be planting the seed which others will harvest a generation later.

Image source: www.sxc.hu

Image source: www.sxc.hu

This apparent injustice will be familiar to many of us.  It’s also Biblical.  Jonah, despite his initial reluctance, was the Bible’s most successful mission worker.  In just one day of ministry an entire megacity repented (Jonah 3:4-5).  By the grace of God (Jonah complained), and not because of Jonah’s oratory.  Philip saw revival in Samaria (Acts 8:4-13), and Peter saw a small revival break out spontaneously in Caesarea when he went to visit a centurion (Acts 10:44-48).  Yet Paul, at one stage of his ministry, wandered around for weeks looking for the right place (Acts 16:6-8).  He was ineffective in Athens (Acts 17:32-34).  And most of the Old Testament prophets had nothing but jeering and opposition to their ministries.

If we could bottle ministry success it would be a best seller.  But we can’t.  Most of us have absolutely no idea why our ministry thrives, or doesn’t.  But what is probably true is that it has less to do with our strategy, or effort and our resourcing than it does on the grace of God.  When God chooses to move sovereignly to bring revival, it will not be because one pastor has a good idea.  It will be because God chooses to bless a particular church, town or people group.  At the moment we are seeing incredible revival among Iranians.  It has little to do with the church’s outreach.  It’s just because that suits God’s purpose.

It can be easy for us to let success go to our heads, or to allow failure to discourage us.  But recognition that it is God’s decision where revival breaks out relieves the pressure on us and allows us to do two things.  The first is to pray.  If God is on the move, the best strategy is to find out what’s on God’s heart and ask if we can join in.  Sometimes God will say yes, in which there’s no credit to us when it goes well.  If God wants us to work somewhere else, that is God’s decision and the result does not reflect badly on us either.

The second is to embrace humility, whether we have the outward trappings of ‘success’ or ‘failure’.  If it’s in God’s hands, it’s not in ours, so we can deserve neither blame nor credit.  And we should remember that the Bible does not call us to be successful – it calls us to be faithful and fruitful.  Faithful in serving God wherever we are called, and fruitful in the process of doing that.  The fruit we bear may be numerical, or in the maturity of our church, but it may also be in the personal character growth that comes with perseverance when we appear to be unsuccessful.  To serve where God wants, and to serve how God wants, is the ultimate in faithfulness and fruitfulness.  We can only be responsible for ourselves.  And leave the results in God’s hands.

Where’s the guide?

A Huarani guide

A Huarani guide

I recently heard this story told by Elizabeth Elliot, the mission worker and author:

Two young Americans with high adventure in their hearts arrived in the city of Quito, Ecuador on their way to the “Great Amazon Rain Forest” east of the Andes.  They were going on a six weeks trek and planned to write a book about their experiences.  They had every imaginable supply that they thought they might need for this adventure.  They had been to an army surplus store before they left home and bought everything the salesman told them they would need.

They described their equipment to me with great pride and I could see that it was not going to be of much use.  I wanted to tell them that what they ought to have was a guide, but they had asked only for help on the language and not for advice.  So off they went, full of confidence.  Perhaps they found their way all right, survived, and even wrote the book.  I never heard from them again.

Elizabeth Elliot

Elizabeth Elliot

What we really ought to have is the Guide himself.  Maps, road signs, equipment is useful, but infinitely better is someone who has been there before and knows the way…

Many of us spend a lot of our time  sitting in meetings planning and strategising,   While those activities are necessary, they are no substitute for following the Guide, listening to His advice, and going where He leads even when we can’t see why he’s going there.

Can we change the way we do our meetings?  Instead of opening with a brief prayer for guidance and closing by asking God to bless our decisions, can we spend more time listening to God than we do to each other?  You will recall that last week I reminded us that the famous missionary call of Barnabas and Saul came not when the church leaders were strategising but when they were worshipping.  If we engage in God-focussed activities in our meetings, it will not be surprising if God participates in them.

The Lord is my Guide… He leads me in the right paths.  Even when the going is tough, I am not afraid because He is with me.

Elizabeth Elliot is one of the foremost mission workers of her time.  After spending many years working among the indigenous people of Ecuador, she became a renowned author and teacher.  You can read more about her at www.elisabethelliot.org.

Featured Ministry: Passion for Mission

Many churches are passionately committed to sending, supporting, financing, praying and caring for the mission workers they send abroad.  But sadly there are other churches which do not have a tradition of sending people into mission, and although they may want to, they do not really know where to start.  Too many mission workers, when asked if their church is supporting them, purse their lips and say ‘Kinda’.  These are the sort of people Syzygy spends a lot of time with, helping them deal with the stress of trying to do too much on their own, coping with being inadequately resourced, and feeling isolated.

The ever-expanding list of Syzygy Guides to Doing Mission Well has just acquired a page dedicated to helping churches excel at supporting their mission partners.  Through this page we hope to equip churches with new ideas and resources.  It’s still in its early stages and will grow over the coming months, but it does already feature a link to this month’s featured ministry – Passion for Mission.

Our friends at Global Connections have put this site together with a view to placing a lot of resources under the same roof.  The site as a whole sets out to equip churches to do mission effectively, locally as well as overseas.  Presented in a variety of formats – article, blog, videostream, pdf – the site is easy to navigate and contains a lot of useful and relevant information.  It features interviews with key experts, and perhaps even more relevant, church leaders who’ve already led their churches into being passionate about mission.  The site also incorporates GC’s website and resources available through Christian Vocations.

We particularly like:

Go surf!

School for TCKs

This month our resident adult TCK Gill Gouthwaite reflects on her experience of being educated abroad.

So how did I become so fabulously educated, growing up in the wilderness of a third world country?  All of us went to Brazilian primary school, and for secondary transferred to an International British School.  That meant going where the British school was, in second-biggest metropolis in the world.

Going to a British school overseas was glorious.  It was the poshest school in town, and we studied in company with the state President’s grandchildren.  I remember one boy announcing to me that his grandmother had funded one of the largest bridges in town (I’m still not entirely sure what he wanted me to do with that information. Ask her for money?).  Another had received kidnapping threats, so he had two bodyguards whenever we went on field trips.  Of course it did mean we got dead good birthday presents from our school friends, but then we had to wear a bizarre uniform: pinafores and blazers are weird in a country where jeans and a t-shirt are the standard school uniform.

It also meant we lived away from home in a special house, called the hostel (nicknamed the mental hospital).  We were looked after by the lucky missionary couple who pulled the short straw to look after that madhouse.  It was unique.  Having people who aren’t your parents making decisions about your life is surprisingly stressful on a kid.  I dreaded spending time with them so much that I would rather go to school if I had the flu (through no fault of that unfortunate longsuffering couple’s, may I add).

In Brazil there were always bars on the windows, which to me meant we were trying to keep someone out.  Whoever that someone was, they presumably wanted to attack me (hence the bars); it happened on the news all the time.  So I kept the door to my room open so I could run out into the (in my head) safer communal areas of the house in case that happened.  The only problem with my cunning plan was that Auntie Betty* (our housemother) used to vacuum every morning, including on Saturdays.  Today I can applaud her cleanliness, but at the time I cursed it (not with actual curse words, I was a missionary kid after all; but I think she got the gist…).

The day that I asked (I say I asked, but it might possibly have come across as a criticism) why she was ironing my nightgown, we finally had our bust-up.  I got told off for being rude to her, and from then on I decided to keep my opinions and my feelings to myself.  For years after that crying was hard for me – it was just a sign of weakness.

So the salient feature for school for me wasn’t actually school, which was excellent by any standards, but the separation it entailed, and the differentness that it gave us.  Like so much in life, it wasn’t the experience itself that mattered so much as the people I met, and their reactions to me.

*name changed

……………………………..

Editorial comment

Education for their children is one of the biggest concerns of most mission workers who have young children.  The trauma of long-term separation, the risk of compromising a child’s future by not giving them the best educational opportunities, and the sheer cost of some of the alternatives weigh heavily on many people’s hearts.  However many TCKs grow up to be well-rounded, sociable people who look back on their school experience as a time of building lasting relationships with people from all around the world.

Options for educating TCKs include homeschooling, using the local education system (and quite frankly many people’s concerns that the schools in the countries they’re serving in don’t reach the standards of their sending country are frequently unfounded), leaving children ‘at home’ with friends or relatives, sending children to international schools in a major city or sending them away to boarding schools (Christian or otherwise).

There are no easy answers as the ideal situation will depend on each family, and the options available to them.  However we recommend that you read the excellent articles published on the website of our good friends at Oscar.

Mission report: Brazil

The entertainment at a children’s party

In July we asked you to pray for the Soapbox short-term trip to Brazil which was being led by Tim.  Five very full but successful weeks later we’re happy to thank you for your prayers which made a huge contribution to this trip.

Two separate groups totalling 16 people, most of them teenagers, had an excellent mission experience, most of them for the first time, which will have a significant impact on their lives.  Discovering genuine poverty for the first time, taking responsibility for activities, and relating responsibly to underprivileged children were some of the positive outcomes.

Building under way

The teams were working in a home for children who have been removed from their families for their own safety or protection, which is run entirely by local Christians with very little outside support.  Although the children are housed, fed, clothed and educated, they do not have much else, so were really appreciative of the interest shown in them by others from overseas, who played with them, taught them some English, and took them out on trips.  Some of us also formed lasting supportive relationships with the children which will continue now we are back in England.

Also, the teams accomplished an immense amount of practical work:

  • Built, plastered (with professional help) and painted a wall to prevent children falling off the patio
  • Paid for a builder to complete the final section of the perimeter wall and concrete an area of waste ground so that the children can play on it safely
  • Painted the main hall of the building
  • Built a set of sturdy steps to give children safe access to the upper play area
  • Repaired damaged perimeter walls and cracks in the patio paving
  • Replaced the lock on the main door which wouldn’t easily open when shut, or vice versa
  • Replaced broken glass in windows
  • Fitted locks and handles to many doors and cupboards
  • Made numerous repairs to plumbing, furniture and lighting
  • Provided new furniture for the bedrooms
  • Provided new cups, plates and cutlery for the children
  • Bought a new DVD player and some dvds
  • Took out an amazing quantity of sports equipment, games, craft materials and clothes

Painters at work

Happily there were no cases of accident, tummy upsets, serious injuries, culture shock or homesickness, so praise God for watching over us!

This was in many respects the highlight of the year for these children who, while being well-cared for, lack people to take an ongoing interest in them, play with them, and help them develop.  The shelter at which they stay runs a ‘godparent’ scheme whereby local people are partnered with a child and take them out, give them presents, and potentially work towards adopting them.  However many children don’t have godparents to help them, and some are too old (12 or over) to be attractive to potential godparents, who generally seek younger ones.  Please pray that more godparents will be found.

We cannot publish any photos of the children, for their own protection.

Please continue to pray for the children, who will miss us as their lives go back to normal  routine until next summer when another team will visit, and for us too as we settle back into our UK lifestyles (or not!).

Short-term mission trip: Brazil

Brazil is a massive country which takes up half of South America and crosses three time zones.  Bustling cities give way to vast expanses of jungle, beautiful beaches, rugged mountains and endless plains.

Brazil is also home to some of the biggest cities in the world – and some of the largest slums.  It has a population of nearly 200 million and is one of the worlds biggest economies but it is estimated that there are also 8 million street children in Brazil.

This summer Tim is leading TWO short-term teams organised by SoapBox to Belo Horizonte, the country’s third largest city, to support a local Christian ministry which works with children with a variety of needs who can no longer live with their families.

The teams will be building walls, repairing a leaky ceiling and painting the living areas.  They will be staying at the same home as the children so there will be plenty of time to play with, teach, and encourage the children.  Please pray for them all as they undertake this expedition to communicate the love of Jesus to some of the world’s poorest  and neediest people.

 

KEY DATES

20th July        Team 1 leaves England

7th August      Team 1 leaves Brazil

12th August    Team 2 arrives in Brazil

25th August    Team 2 arrives in UK

 

TEAMS

Team 1 (A youth group from Ashwell, Baldock and Royston in Hertfordshire): Jen (co-leader), Amy, Callum. Kia, Millie, Rosie, Rufus, Tom

Team 2: Helen (co-leader), Jennie, Jono, Marie, Sam, Val

KEY PRAYER POINTS

Pray for:

  • the team to know Jesus working in them and through them
  • God to work in the lives of the many hurt children they’ll be helping
  • health and safety as they do manual work they’re not used to
  • protection and safety as they travel
  • leaders to be able to do an excellent job and work well together
  • team members who are under 18 to be able to cope well away from home
  • them all to be able to cope with the culture shock of experiencing a different world

 

This expedition is organised by SoapBox, a charity which provides opportunities for short-term mission projects throughout the world.  It has a childcare programme that operates in the countries where they have practical aid projects. They also work in UK prisons and schools.

 

Short term mission: preaching the good news

Source: www.freeimages.com

As I write this blog, I’m thinking a lot about short-term mission.  I’m writing new material about short-term mission for our series of online-guides to doing mission well.  I’m preparing to brief one of my trustees who is coming with me on a visit to Zambia later this year, and I’m preparing to train a youth group I’m leading on a short-term expedition to Brazil in the summer.

A lot of effort goes into short-term mission, and one of the questions that is repeatedly asked is ‘Why not just send the money?’  It’s a question that people like me are used to hearing, and we justify the time, effort and funding involved in doing short-term mission by talking about partnering with an overseas church, encouraging believers in other countries, gaining a bigger picture of life in different parts of the world, and seeing people growing in faith and character as they serve others.  But the question itself reveals a pragmatic and materialistic mindset.

Yes, if we wanted to get the job done, we would send the money.  I’m going to Brazil in July with the primary goal of building a wall.  I’m sure there are people in Brazil who can do that.  But there’s so much more to it than that.  It’s about relationships.  My relationships with the people who will fund, support and pray for me.  My relationship with the team going with me.  Our relationship with our sending churches and agency.  Our relationship with the Brazilians we will serve.  Our churches’ relationship with them.  And above all, our relationship with our God who sends us.

God is a sending God.  He sent Joseph into Egypt to save lives (Gen 45:5) and sent Moses to the Israelites to deliver them from Egypt (Ex 3:14).  These images speak of God sending a rescuer, and his ultimate response to humanity’s dire need was to send Jesus (Luke 4:43, John 8:42, 1 John 4:10) to rescue us.  Jesus called some of his disciples apostles (Luke 6:13) – the word means in Greek someone who is sent out – whom he then sent out to make more disciples (Matthew 28:19).  God sent Ananias to minister to Paul (Acts 9:11), who in turn was sent to preach the gospel (Galatians 1:1).  He wrote in Romans 10 about people who haven’t heard about God:

How can they call on the One they have not believed in?

And how can they believe in Him who they have not heard of?

And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

And how can those preach unless they are sent?

We go because we are sent, not merely to build a wall but to preach the gospel.  We may not be able to communicate effectively in Portuguese but we hope by our actions and attitudes to demonstrate the love of Jesus and the truth of the gospel.  Our relationship with God will hopefully be reflected in our relationship with the people we serve, and lead them into relationship with God too.

Money talks, but it can’t preach the gospel.

Anyone considering doing some short-term mission might like to read the Syzygy Guide to Doing Short-Term Missions Well, one of a series of guides designed to help people prepare for missions, whatever stage of their journey they’re at.

Featured Ministry – Tunari Treasures

In the poorest country in South America, young people have little hope for the future.  Over 80% of Bolivian children live in extreme poverty, and 80,000 of them are addicted to drugs.  Many children are abused, trafficked or simply abandoned by parents unable to care for them.  Tunari Treasures is a small not-for-profit Foundation   making a difference for the lucky few in the heart of the country, Cochabamba.  They are training up a group of disadvantaged young men, some of whom come to them through Compassion and others from an orphanage. Teaching them metalwork helps them stand a better chance of earning a living in the future.  As well as being taught practical skills, the students are also taught administration and life skills, so that they are more rounded and capable individuals when they graduate.

When the students finish the course, they will have the skill set to design, produce, work out the cost of products and sell them.  They’ll also know how to do some basic administration.  This will help them set up their own small business, so they’re not dependent on finding an (often abusive) employer. In addition, because they are mentored as well as trained, they will have personal integrity, respect for others and for themselves and, most importantly, a deeper understanding and knowledge of God.

Gray and Andrea Parker, who set up Tunari Treasures in 2004 after moving with their family to Bolivia to work with Latin Link, now employ a team of Bolivians to share the responsibility. Their aim is that one day Bolivians will take the project on.  Gray commented after six students recently graduated:

During the graduation ceremony I realised that this was the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. I thought to myself “if I never do anything else in mission again, I feel I’ve made an important impact in the lives of these 6 lads”. It was brilliant. One of the lads, Wilson, gave an impromptu speech, saying to the other lads (who’ve only just completed half the course) that the certificate he had just received wasn’t just to be thrown away, but really meant something. Wilson was the one who 8 months ago nearly got chucked out of the course for breaking some ground rules. The leader of the Compassion project where he goes says Wilson is a different person!

Graduation isn’t the end of the relationship between the staff of Tunari Treasures and their students.  Even after the lads go on to get jobs, or start their own businesses, staff will continue to monitor and mentor them, to help them navigate the difficult path into self-sufficiency.  There are also plans to make private business loans to graduates of up to £600 in order to help them set up their own small enterprises.

The biggest problem facing Tunari Treasures is, unsurprisingly, financial.  The students are charged a nominal 20 Bolivianos per month (about £2).  The real cost of their training is twenty five times that.  Moreover, the programme has attracted such positive attention that Tunari Treasures has been asked to look at the possibility of opening more training centres in other cities.  This of course requires a lot more logistical support, premises costs and the training of new staff.

  • Please pray for the staff of Tunari Treasures to be able to effectively train and mentor young men, and help release them from the bondage of poverty and low self-esteem.
  • Thank God for the young men who have graduated and pray that they will find employment and take ownership of their lives
  • Ask God to provide more funding so that this valuable work can be expanded to help more people. They would really like to have their own premises so that they can be truly independent.

If you would like to donate to Tunari Treasures, go to http://www.latinlink.org/Donate.aspx and where it says “support a person or associated project” choose “project” and then scroll to “Gray and Andrea Parker: Tunari Treasures”.

Travelling mercies – a new definition?

Missionary Paul Bennison reports on God’s incredible provision during his recent trip to Colombia….

If I’d been on my own, I’d have been loath to report this, but there were 4 of us from the UK, and two very dear friend Colombian pastors.  We’d been ministering in Buenaventura, on the coast.  On a good day, in daylight, it’s a 3 hour journey across an ‘interesting’ Andes mountain pass (!): two lanes, incredible bends and steep drops, many trucks and buses… not a road you want to drive at night!  Which is exactly what we found ourselves doing on the return to Cali!

Not only that, as we were about to leave at 10.30pm, an Andean thunder storm, with typical tropical rains, began.  We were already looking at a 4 hour journey,  now more likely to be 5+ hours.  You could hardly see out of the windscreen, even with the lights on high beam and the wipers flat out.  The roads become like rivers in an instant in such rain.

After one hour of this I was sitting in the back, beating myself up over why I have no problem in saying to sickness ‘Get out!’ or ‘Be healed in the Name of Jesus!’, but had a problem with saying ‘Peace be still!’…. so I decided to try and beat my mental battle by saying just that.  Within moments the storm seemed to move away from the car – we could still see it, hear it, and see the rain, but it had moved away from us!

At 12.20am, we were getting out of the car at our apartment block in Cali…. it took just 50 minutes to drive what should have taken over 4 hours!  It took some time to sink in: not only did God quieten the storm around us, but we know we missed large chunks of the journey home, or reaching landmarks much, much quicker than we should have done.  Maybe this is nothing unusual for you: perhaps being transported is more common than I know, but I have to confess it is the first time I recall it ever happening to me.

Moreover, the rain began again with its relentless hostility within 10 minutes of our getting back into Cali.  I’m now looking forward to missing out on some long haul airline flights, and just arriving in different countries!  It does happen – I just would like the air miles, too!!!

Paul Bennison is an itinerant missionary who regularly sees God’s miraculous provision in his ministry, particularly in healing.  You can read more about his exciting adventures in many countries at www.paulbennison.com

A celebration of life as a Mission Kid

This week Gill Gouthwaite reflects on her multi-cultural childhood in Brazil…

Growing up an MK is marvellous.  It’s a gift of many facets.  Some of the facets are bright and clear; others are, well, a bit hazier…

I was born into three countries, to parents of different nationalities.  We lived in Brazil. Where we lived it got so hot that if we parked the car in the sun we couldn’t touch the seatbelt handles without burning ourselves.  When it rained I’d be soaked to the skin in 20 seconds if I couldn’t find shelter.

It was great being an MK though, because it helped me appreciate my life in ways that would have been very difficult if I’d been brought up monocultural, or indeed if I’d had less awareness of my own fortunate position in the world.

There are five of us children – all girls, all blonde.  When we met anyone new they always loved us.  ‘Five?’ they’d say, ‘All girls? They’re so cute/sweet/adorable/such darlings/like dolls!’  They’d gently stroke our heads.  Then, as they caught a glimpse of my father, they’d remember that none of us would grow up to carry on the family name.  The astonishment they expressed reflected both the improbability of having five fair-haired children of the same gender, and a touch of horrified compassion for my heir-less parents.  The reaction was simultaneously flattering and insulting.

Now that self-effacing Britishness has entered my bones, it’s embarrassing to admit how great it was to grow up being automatically popular, even though I knew it was because of where I came from.  Of course, returning to Britain, where I had to explain that missionary parents did not go from house to house with tracts (very often), was a bit of a culture shock.  The difference in the way people treat you without reference to anything you’ve actually done does make clearer the passing quality of human praise.  Humbling.

The most beautiful aspect of my childhood, if I had to choose, would have to be insight.  As an MK I got entry into very different worlds, from the very poorest people and churches to the wide diversity of (always richer and better-educated, though not always particularly more content) churches in the UK where our mission was based, to the world of expatriates abroad, which I’m afraid I was always a little disparaging of… so how much real insight I got from that I can’t say!

I think that being exposed from early childhood to very different cultural expectations has given me a greater generosity towards those who see things differently from the way I do, and when someone does something to upset me it makes me look first for a source of miscommunication rather than assuming that they see things the same way I do.  Looking for common ground with people from all sorts of different backgrounds blossoms into a richness of life, relationship and experience which is what I value most about my upbringing.

Gill and her four sisters all have different perspectives on their childhood as MKs.  Gill is going to be a regular contributor to this website, reflecting on the blessings and challenges of such an upbringing, celebrating life and commiserating with those who are still struggling to adapt, often many years later.  We hope this will form the focus of an MK discussion, so if you’d like to join in the chat, please use the comments box. If you’d like to talk confidentially about your experiences, email mk@syzygy.org.uk

PERU (Tim with Oak Hall/Scripture Union)

LIMA
In Lima we met with former street kids now living in Scripture Union‘s refuge (supported by Oak Hall).  They put on a play for us showing how Jesus had rescued them from a life of bondage.  Many of them had been glue sniffers.  At first they don’t believe that people want to help them, and will only come to be fed, but as trust builds up they become willing to stay in the accommodation provided.  Kids who have been rescued go out to find more kids to bring in.  After one night in Lima we went to a conference centre in Chosica run by Scripture Union, where we rested from our journey, but couldn’t resist doing some painting!
KIMO
Kimo is a retreat centre in a lush river valley where the kids go for summer camps.  Many of them meet Jesus for the first time there.  To get there we had to cross over a mountain pass 16,000 feet up in the Andes.  The narrow, winding road had been partially blocked by a landslide, so there was a tailback lasting several hours while it was cleared.  When we got off the bus we then had to cross a river on a hand-pulled cable car.At Kimo we cleared land for building new accommodation for kids who will live there permanently and helped with restoring existing buildings.  On the way back we drank coca tea to help us cope with the altitude, and ate guinea pig and bull’s testicles!
CHINCHA
Chincha is a town on the edge of the earthquake zone.  Many of the concrete buildings in the centre were still intact, but in the suburbs poor people who can only afford mud bricks found their houses in ruins.  We helped with a feeding programme for the children, and cleared rubble so that people can rebuild their homes.Sadly some of the buildings were so shabby it wasn’t always clear which ones had been damaged by the earthquake.  Many people were just sitting around in a daze, desperate for water and blankets.  Bamboo mats, which were being used for makeshift walls, had gone up in price from US$2 the previous week, to $5 so many people couldn’t afford them.One little girl called Paloma had not stopped crying since her parents were killed in the earthquake 8 days earlier.  Her four-year old sister took her and put her hand in Anna’s and she soon cheered up.
KAWAI
At Kawai, which is on the beach south of Lima, there is another retreat centre and also a home where thirty former street kids are cared for. They had all come from Lima and had been moved to Kawai to get them away from the bad influences they once had.  None of them could go to school while we were there as the earthquake had caused structural damage to the building.   We played with them and took some strain off the harrassed house parents!  We also helped redecorate some chalets which are rented out to paying holidaymakers to make money to fund the ongoing children’s work there.