Lost

IMG_20160805_091801Over the summer, I had a curious and (for me) unusual experience: I got lost.  No, it wasn’t the occasion when I was on a mountain in low cloud, when I had compass, map and GPS and was able to navigate the terrain easily despite not being able to see the landmarks.  It was on a lowish moor, under clear skies, when I could see the nearby lake and the town beside it.  But the path had disappeared.

Soon I found myself wading through bog, scrambling up rocks, pushing through heather, and fording streams to try to get to my destination.  Yet the whole time I knew where I was, but couldn’t find the way to where I wanted to be.

I felt on later reflection that the entire situation was symbolic of what we have been discussing in the last two blogs: it is possible to know exactly where you are, while being equally unsure whether you ought to be there.  Lost and not lost.  Which raises an interesting question: is it possible to be lost with God?

If we are walking with God, doing our best daily to put our hand in his hand, our feet where his feet have trod, to listen to his voice and follow the sound, can we ever really be lost?  Even in the midst of transition, when all we know is that we’re leaving one place and moving to another, possibly completely unknown, we cannot be truly lost.  God knows where we are, which direction we are facing and where we are going.

Which are all things we may be uncertain of.  Yet in our confusion and doubt we must trust the shepherd, whose gentle voice we have come to know, and even if we have no idea where we are, trust that he knows.  He is quite capable of turning us around, moving us in a different direction, or rescuing us should we really need it.  Just as Thomas Merton wrote:

Therefore I will trust in you always, though I may seem to be lost.

 

Preparing for retirement

passing the batonWhile retiring may be a fairly flexible concept when one is fulfilling a God-given calling, there comes a point in the life of most ageing mission workers when they consider whether they continue in their work or return to their sending country.  Some may be involuntarily retired, as a result of the policy of their sending agency or church, financial pressure or failing health.  Others may take the opportunity of reaching a significant birthday to review their future.

Whatever stimulates it, retirement is a major transition and Syzygy has taken the ground-breaking step of publishing a guide to retiring.  We don’t think there’s anything else quite like it on the internet.  There are many links to our own and other websites and resources, so just click on the orange hyperlinks  to follow them.

While the decision to retire will rest with the mission worker(s) seeking prayerfully to determine God’s will for their lives in old age, we encourage them to make this decision in the context of a supportive discussion involving a community of their agency, sending church, receiving church, family, friends, colleagues and member care professionals (where appropriate).

In our guide to you can find our thoughts on questions like:

  • Why retire at all?
  • Why not stay on?
  • Why is it hard?
  • How do I plan for retirement?
  • How do I leave well?
  • What will I do with my time?

You’ll also find another document in our occasional series 101 things to do…, and obviously this one’s called 101 things to do on retiring.  It’s a helpful tickbox list of all the things you need to think about before and after retiring.

Retiring can be a stressful transition for anybody, even those keen to give up working.  It can involve a loss of identity and purpose, a diminishing of profile in society and a lack of self-respect.  Yet we continue to be beloved children of God, with a calling on our lives and a way to use our time serving our Saviour, even if it’s in a different way.  Good preparation can help smooth the transition and lead to a fruitful and productive retirement.  So, if you’re planning to retire in the next few years, please take a look at our guide.  And if you’re not planning on retiring, please forward this blog to anybody who is, so that they can benefit from it.

 Even to your old age and grey hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

(Isaiah 46:4)

Avatar: a metaphor for Generation Y?

avatarThe movie Avatar which came out a few years ago was a milestone in cinema history, not merely for the technology developed specially to produce the effects, but because it was one of the first blockbusters to reflect a postmodern view of the world.  We’ve blogged before about Generation Y, the first postmodern generation, but following a recent conference at which I addressed these issues I thought it would be good to revisit how Generation Y is entering the mission field and impacting their agencies, and to do it using a suitably postmodern metaphor.  To refresh your memories, Baby Boomer represents people born from about 1945-64, Generation X: 1965-1979, and Generation Y those born from 1980-2000.  Obviously, these are extreme generalisations and individuals each have their own personality and giftings which may not collate precisely with these generalisations.

Avatar, if you haven’t seen James Cameron’s epic film, is based around two groups of people, one a tribe – the Na’vi – living on their traditional lands, and group of human invaders who prize the mineral wealth beneath the land.  Its central characters have the vision to reach out to each other across the divide.  While this story has been filleted already for its postcolonial, anti-racist, pantheistic and environmentalist metaphors, it can also be seen as a representation of the potential conflict between Baby Boomer leaders and Gen Y recruits as Gen Y start to enter the mission field in significant numbers.

Gen Y, is this your leader?

Gen Y, is this your leader?

Who do the characters represent?  The humans, particularly their leader Colonel Quaritch, represent Baby Boomer senior management, supported by their Gen X workers.  Their lack of compromise in their pursuit of results and their willingness to ignore the needs both of their own people and particularly of others in order to achieve results can represent the uncompromising approach of certain types of mission leaders, fixated on an end goal.  The Na’vi, on the other hand, represent Gen Y, and have many typical Gen Y traits: they value community, are connected not only with each other but with other lifeforms and the planet they live in a harmonious relationship with.  They are clearly spiritual and have a desire to work things through rather than fight things out.  The hero of the movie, Jake Sully, represents an old-style leader who has the courage to change and learn new things, and his love-match Neytiri represents Gen Y who don’t simply give up on old ways but collaborate with Baby Boomers to create a better future.

Gen Y: feeling a bit out of place in their agencies?

Gen Y: feeling a bit out of place in their agencies?

What is the outcome?  The humans are defeated and driven from the planet, not merely because the Na’vi unite and fight back, but because the planet itself turns against them.  This is a metaphor for the unsustainability of the old way of life, but we know the humans will be back.  Whether they will come with more troops or a trade agreement is not made clear – the future is left deliberately uncertain so that we can decide it for ourselves.

What does this mean for us?  In the mission world the situation is reversed – Gen Y is invading (peaceably) the world of the Baby Boomers.  They may well receive an uncompromising welcome, and be told “Things have always been done this way.  Deal with it.”  Their likely response will be not to deal with it but to move on to a more adaptable agency.  This is bad news for the first agency:

any agency unable to welcome significant quantities of Gen Y is ultimately doomed to being unable to recruit new workers.

Jake Sully represents the Baby Boomer/Gen X leader who has the courage to realise that the organisation’s values and processes need to be adapted if they are going to welcome Gen Y.  This means recognising that values different to their own are valid, and that Gen Y can quickly make a significant contribution to the agency’s mission if they are welcomed, listened to, mentored, and allowed to learn and grown through their experiences.

Generation Y are by nature collaborative.  But they too are uncompromising.  They will not wait around to earn the right to participate in the decision-making process.  If the prevailing culture excludes them, they’re not going to wait 20 years till they’re senior enough to change it.  They’re going to start something new.  Some of the newer mission agencies will be inherently more adaptable, while older ones may have more resistance to change.  We have already seens some exciting mergers between old and new (e.g. AWM and Pioneers), and this may be the way forward for other agencies too.  Some form of change is inevitable.

The mission leaders who want to lead their agency into a fruitful future will be bold enough to make room for Generation Y now, before somebody else does.

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

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

In the early 6th century BC, the small, independent kingdom of Judah was crushed by the power of Babylon, a huge global superpower.  The king was executed, the nobles abducted, the temple burned to the ground, and many of the population were forcibly relocated to a new home deep into enemy territory, where they were surrounded by people with different customs, religions and languages.

Psalm 137 (which made a brief but infamous appearance in the British charts in 1978 at the hands of Boney M) is a lamentation about this experience of going into exile.  It refers to pain, a desire to go back, and a lust for revenge.  Their mocking captors had asked them to sing one of their folk songs to entertain them, but this just reminded them of the home that they couldn’t return to.  ‘How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’ becomes a shorthand reference to the challenge of living as an insignificant minority in a hostile culture, where there are multiple religious beliefs, a variety of practices which the faithful may be forced to participate in, and a complete lack of tolerance for their previous national customs.

This is a situation not unlike western Europe today, as Christians struggle to come to terms with the fact that Christendom is no more.  Christianity no longer provides a moral compass even if David Cameron himself claims that Britain is a Christian country.  There are too many competing voices now for that to be completely true.  There are Christian elements to our world, and a huge Christian heritage shaping much of our public practice and principle, but effectively now we are a post-Christian country.  Like the exiled Jews, we need to come to terms with it.

In fact, throughout most of history God’s faithful have been in the minority.  In Genesis, just eight people made it onto the ark, and the Abrahamic covenant was made with just one family among many tribes.  Throughout the rest of the Pentateuch they were just twelve tribes among the Egyptian oppressors, or wandering through the wilderness among hostile neighbours.  Under the judges they were just one nation amongst many.  Under the kings, they were battling with external threats and against internal apostasy.  Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel had to deal with the challenge of being subjects of a huge multinational empire and the whole of the New Testament takes place against the backdrop of the oppressive might of Rome.  Subsequently Christianity spread around the world but often had to deal with suffering and persecution at the hands of others – particularly in communist or modern Islamic countries.

For only one significant period of history has there been an exception to this rule: the bizarre 15 or so centuries when Christendom thrived in Europe in an alliance between church and state that ‘christianised’ nations and ‘authorised’ church.  But today Christendom is crumbling.  People of other faiths (and no faith) have a voice.  Christians are losing ours.  We are going into exile and we don’t like it.  Old familiarities are changing, old paradigms are failing.  People stronger than us have taken us into exile.  Now our challenge is to work out how to live alongside others on their terms, not on ours.

Some of the issues that face us include: keeping Sunday special, ethical issues surrounding the beginning and end of life, accommodating other faiths, the possibilities of witness in the workplace, and the church’s attitude to those who sexual and gender preferences are different to those traditionally sanctioned by the church.  When we are not Biblically literate, we struggle to determine our response to these issues.  But we can rely on different precedents to indicate how we might approach these situations, which range from opposition to compliance.

Daniel (Chapter 6) chose to react with open defiance when ordered to pray only to the king.  When Jesus (Mt 22:15-22) was given the opportunity to encourage people to revolt against paying taxes to an illegal occupying force, he chose to focus on our devotion to God.  Paul (1C10:31) would have felt it was ok for Christians to eat halal or kosher meat as long as they felt they could do it with a clean conscience.  Nehemiah (Neh 13:23) clearly thought it was wrong to marry an unbeliever while Paul said that if you’ve already done it, you should not divorce them (1C7:12).

What each of them is doing (in their own context) is determining which issues are worth fighting over, and which we can safely going along with.  Each of us, together in our church contexts, and not in isolation, needs to work this through too.  Sometimes the church fights on the wrong ground, making a stand on things that could comfortably compromised over, or giving way easily over massively significant issues.  Some guidelines to help us extrapolate biblical teaching into contemporary contexts may include asking ourselves the following questions:

Would our compliance contravene the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), or any other clear scriptural injunction?

Does resistance prevent us keeping the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:32-40)?

Does compromise help us to fulfil the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)?

Often, Christians who make a stand on an issue can easily alienate and offend the very people we hope to reach out to with the love of God.  So we need to be careful in how we express ourselves.  We need to remember that in a post-Christian, multi-cultural world it can be evangelistically counter-productive and morally dubious to force non-believers to comply with our views, even if we believe we are right.

Jeremiah wrote a letter to the Jewish exiles .  He wasn’t popular for it, but it was good advice from God.  He said:

‘Build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat their produce… Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare your will have welfare’.  (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

In other words, get used to it.  Don’t live in a dream world; don’t carry on complaining that this is wrong.  Get over it.  Adapt and thrive.

Can you tell what it is yet?

When I was a child, one of the regular programmes on the BBC at Saturday tea-time, along with The Generation Game and Basil Brush, was The Rolf Harris Show.  The Australian performer, who at the time was better known as a comedian and singer (anyone remember Two Little Boys?), told jokes, sang songs, and did sketches on his show.  But the bit I always looked forward to was the finale.

Rolf’s tour de force was to close the show with an apparently extemporised painting on a massive scale.  Using a decorator’s paintbrush and a giant board, he would make huge, apparently random strokes using just a few colours.  Pausing regularly to turn to the audience and say with a grin, ‘Can you tell what it is yet?, in as little as five minutes he would produce a painting which only in the final seconds resolved itself into a recognisable picture.  The audience would gasp, clap and cheer on realising that all along he’d been working to a plan which resulted in a masterpiece, but which none of us had been able to identify in advance, despite the fact that we all knew exactly what he was up to.

I wonder if you sometimes feel that what God is doing in your life looks more like a few random brush strokes than an unfinished masterpiece.  It is so easy to fail to discern God’s plan, and to wonder why we’re in this ministry, if what we’re giving our lives for isn’t some cataclysmic mistake.  Particularly in the hard times, when something has gone monumentally, tragically wrong, and our belief systems are shaken to their very foundations.  Our faith in God’s benevolence can be sorely tested.  That’s the time when we need to trust that God, like Rolf, is working to a plan which will amaze us once we finally see the beauty that he’s created in us.

For there is ample evidence that God does work to a plan, despite our own periodic uncertainties about this.  The lives of many Old Testament saints – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Job – show that they go through trials and tribulation as well as blessing, but somehow it works out alright in the end.  God tells Jeremiah he has a plan (29:11), and Paul reminds the
Philipians (1:6) that God is still working on it but won’t leave it unfinished.  For some, that plan didn’t appear to work out that well (Acts 7:57-60, 12:2, Hebrews 11:35-38, but we do have the comfort that after our death God can still put the finishing touches to it (Revelation 21:3-4).

In the years since I was watching The Rolf Harris Show, Rolf has been forgiven for his didgeridoo, the Stylophone and Two Little Boys – cultural faux pas which helped make the 1970s The Decade That Style Forgot – and has been accepted as a serious artist, who has even portraited the Queen.  While he hasn’t done so well that anyone seriously thinks Rolf Harris is God, he may have something to teach us about the master plan of the Creator.

Moving Staircases?

Recent years have seen much change in the world of missions, and for nearly all of us it feels like the change is relentless.  Factors affecting this include the current financial situation, the changing relationship between agencies and churches, new paradigms of mission, technological innovation, the rise of Generation X and now Y, the decline of the West and the change of the centre of the global church’s gravity towards the south/east, and indeed many more.  It feels stressful just to list these things!

Many of us don’t feel at home in this fast-paced and rapidly developing world.  It shakes our security in the way we’ve got used to doing things, and it can be disturbing when the mission field becomes flooded with people who do things very differently.  Some of the changes afoot at the moment threaten our own long-term futures in mission unless we are able to adapt, and even the survival of some well-established mission agencies may be in doubt if they cannot embrace the necessary change.  This is, quite frankly, alarming.

It reminds me of the scene in the first Harry Potter movie (is it ok to reference Harry Potter in a Christian blog?) where the children discover the staircases can move by themselves.  All of a sudden, they can’t get back to their rooms, and have to find a different way.  They have to duck quickly as several tons of hardwood comes flying over their heads to a new destination.  They have the challenge of working out how to get to their lessons by a new route.

‘Keep an eye on the staircases – they like to change!’

For some of them it is a, well, magical experience, full of awe and wonder at this marvellous spectacle, but for others  it must be bewildering and frightening, as they find their security challenged and their assumptions about life questioned.  I wonder if you can sympathise with them as you see the change going on around you in the mission field.

Yet, when the staircases have settled down, it’s still possible to find your way to your destination.  It may take a bit of time to explore, experiment, and come back from dead ends, but in fact many of us will already be experienced at doing that.  For most of us, that’s part of life, and part of our calling.

The church, despite often being conservative, and preserving many practices and traditions handed down from its earliest days and even before the time of Christ, is no stranger to change, and the first generation of believers must have had the hardest time of all, adapting their worldview to believe first that Jesus was the Messiah they were waiting for even though he wasn’t what they were expecting, then having to cope with his suffering and death, followed by his resurrection and ascension.  Then they had to face ejection from the synagogues and hostility from Rome.  Just when they thought they had it figured out, and that he’d return within their lifetimes, he didn’t come to rescue them when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans.

A picture of the church – migrants not settlers?

So what might they have to say to us about change?  Peter tells us that we are aliens and sojourners (1 Peter 2:11), not citizens or residents, but migrants who won’t be staying around.  John warns us not to get attached to anything in this world (1 John 2:15) because it’s only temporary – and so are we.  They were very much aware of the transient nature of our existence, and chose to focus instead on our eternal heritage.  Peter reminds us that we are looking for a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13).  Paul tells us that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and the Hebrew writer challenges us to emulate the saints of old who lived by faith, and walked away from all this world has, seeking a better country (Hebrews 11:16).

In the midst of their changeable, temporary, transient world, they looked to the One who is the sole source of stability, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), who will one day take us to a home of unchangeable glory.  We cannot do better than to follow their example.

Change – an MK reflects on the only constant

Source: www.freeimages.com

Language is what we use to describe the world.  The philosopher Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language define the limits of my world,” and speaking two languages, as MKs often do, expands those limits.

In Portuguese the word that means you miss someone or something is saudades.  Saudades is such an expressive word that the Wikipedia article for it is over 3,000 words long.  It expresses a longing that gnaws; it is the sense that a part of you is gone and has left a gaping chasm where your breastbone should be.  I’m glad to know the word; without it I would still have the feeling, but not be able to express it.

Being an MK isn’t all mangos and cream.  Difficulty and loss are frequent companions on what can be a lonely road.  By the time I was 13 my home had moved 13 times.  Twice I moved back to a place I had already lived in, but the problem is that those who say ‘you can never go home’ are right.  Once you’ve left, even if you do go back it won’t be the same.  The people have changed, you have changed, the place has changed.  You can rebuild, but not from where you left off.  Weeds will have grown in between the cracks, rain will have swept the earth from beneath your feet.

And things are different in every new place.  Always different.  Rules are different everywhere.  Should I call my teacher by her first name (and title), or her surname?  Why does that lady from church call me ‘filha!’ (daughter) when she tells me off?  I’m NOT her daughter!

New school, new church, new ‘home’.  God and family were the only constants.  So my identity was change; I was the exotic one who was new, the one who always knew she would soon be leaving.

Gill Gouthwaite grew up as an MK in Brazil with her four sisters and English-speaking parents from different countries.