Posted by Tim on 22nd April 2013
In his book Being Single (2005, Darton, Longman & Todd), Philip B Wilson makes the following statement based on his research:
For many Christians who are single, church is not a welcoming or a comforting place to be.
The same could be said of many sending agencies as well. Failure to nurture single mission workers can result in a cohort of lonely, unfulfilled and spiritually stagnating people who feel marginalised and who often believe the only answer to their unhappiness is to find the right life partner.
Given that many single people are destined to remain single for the rest of their lives (particularly women, who in most agencies and churches significantly outnumber the single men), any community which fails to affirm and accept singles risks hurting, stressing, alienating and possibly even rejecting a substantial part of its membership.
On behalf of single people everywhere, Syzygy has come up with a few suggestions to help both church and agency consider how they can promote wholeness for singles and avoid inadvertently creating a culture which assumes marriage is good and anything else is therefore bad. Here is our list of the top five dos and don’ts.
- Use the word ‘family’ indiscriminately, as in “We are a family church” or “We want to attract more families”. While church should be family in the widest possible sense (Luke 8:21), using the word too loosely can repel those who are not a happy part of a nuclear family. It is good to affirm families, but in doing take care so not to denigrate the rest of the church.
- Expect marriage to be the answer to every problem that single people have. It isn’t the answer to the problems of married people!
- Marginalise single people so that they are kept on the fringes of the community. They have as much right to belong as everyone else. Affirming them creates an environment in which all people can be valued.
- Assume that single people are lonely and unfulfilled until they ‘settle down’. Many of them have a vibrant relationship with God, a fulfilling career and ministry, a good social life and they are very happy in their singleness (Matthew 19:12).
- Matchmake without permission. Single people can be offended by the assumption that they must be in want of a partner, even if they’re not in possession of a good fortune. While matchmaking can be done out of care and compassion, it can communicate that you assume there is a deficiency in the life of a single person.
- Promote discipleship. The closer we all grow to God, the more we realise that our real fulfilment is found in loving and serving God, and not in finding the right partner.
- Pray that single people might be fulfilled in their singleness. We frequently pray for God’s blessing on couples and families, so why leave out the singles?
- Foster a caring, sharing community in which all people can develop meaningful relationships with others and nobody feels left out or uninvolved. Encourage people to look out for one another’s needs (Philippians 2:4).
- At significant seasonal events (e.g. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving) and on Sunday lunchtimes, encourage the community to open its doors to others rather than exclude them. Single people often find it really hard to go home after the joy of church fellowship to eat a ham sandwich by themselves.
- Welcome single people into leadership. Because singles are often thoughtlessly lumped in together with young people due to their assumed ‘interim’ state , their giftings and abilities can be overlooked and they are often used simply as drones who are there to provide a labour force.
Syzygy continues to blog about the needs of single people, not because their needs are greater than those of people in relationships, but because their needs are more likely to be overlooked and unmet. Syzygy is in the process of writing a book together with Dr Debbie Hawker which hopes to address these needs, and Tim is leading a retreat for single mission workers at Penhurst Retreat Centre in September. Click here for more details.
Tags: Church, Debbie Hawker, prayer, stress
Posted in For Your Information, Member care, Singles, stress and burnout | 1 Comment »
Posted by Tim on 8th April 2013
During the week following Easter, Syzygy was represented at Spring Harvest by Tim, who was helping out in the Vocation Zone. This is a project run by Christian Vocations in partnership with Spring Harvest, which aims to help people recognise their God-given abilities and understand where they can exercise them appropriately, whether in the workplace, church or overseas mission.
A steady flow of visitors to Spring Harvest came through the Vocation Zone, many of them looking at vacancies in Christian organisations which were displayed on the jobs wall, taking home resources such as the Short Term Service Directory, or using the computers to do some of the reflective exercises. All these activities can lead to a discussion with an advisor (Paul, Tim and Rachel) who were available to help people think through issues and gain some focus for finding a way forward.
Many of the visitors to the Vocation Zone came because they were aware of dissatisfaction with their current role. A lot of them were teachers, frustrated with bureaucracy; others were people in dead-end jobs looking for more fulfilment, and many were facing redundancy.
One such visitor was a man who had been in the same job for 20 years and he didn’t like it. He wanted a change but didn’t know where to start. We started him off with some of our diagnostic tools. Having done a ‘career check up’ he had realised that his job wasn’t as bad as he had thought it was, and following a long conversation he discovered that he actually quite liked his job, but felt unsupported in it. Added to that, the general level of change and uncertainty in his life had left him emotionally unable to deal with the challenges he faced. Empowered by this understanding, he was able to develop a plan to engage better with his employers and develop his workplace skills.
Some of the visitors were people approaching retirement who were looking for ways to use their availability to serve God abroad, and a large number of the visitors were young people looking to do mission during their gap year. Using the Christian Vocations resources such as the magazine Mission Matters and the mission vacancies listings we were able to point many of them to the mission field, including several who’d never considered going abroad or had thought their circumstances made it impossible.
Vocation Zone is an important part of events like Spring Harvest as it gives a mission-focussed edge in the context of many thousands of Christians coming together. It is also at New Word Alive and Keswick, so make sure you drop by if you are ever at any of these events. Our friends at Oscar run a similar Missions Advice Area at New Wine. If you can’t get to any of these events, most of the resources are available online at www.christianvocations.org, and so are all the job vacancies, both in the UK and overseas. Please pray for the hundreds of people impacted by Vocation Zone each year.
Tags: Christian Vocations, Church, long-term, outreach, Short Term Mission, Spring Harvest, UK
Posted in Europe, Featured ministry, Missions Report | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 4th March 2013
After three years of doing regular blogs about missions, often with a particular emphasis on stress, I am amazed to realise that I have not yet specifically blogged about that most vital of tools – debriefing. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times in passing but that is in no way sufficient considering the significance of this powerful resource to help combat stress and culture shock in the life of the overseas mission worker.
Debriefing is the act of sitting down with a facilitator to reflect on past experiences and how we feel about them. During the course of a mission trip, whether short or long-term, each mission worker undergoes new experiences (many of which are challenging or even dangerous) and comes into contact with new sensations, many of which may not be at all pleasant. These challenges may well be repeated differently at the various stages of our experience: leaving home, arriving in a foreign country, changing assignment, moving to another part of the country and returning ‘home’ all require repeated adjustments to change. While we stoically cope with all these challenges, each one contributes to the general level of stress we feel, and can create an inability to cope with more change and deal with relationship challenges responsibly.
To have the opportunity to reflect on what we found different, how we felt about it, and how that continues to impact our ideas and feelings helps us process our thoughts and emotions so that we are more aware of what’s going on inside us. It helps us to recognise that the occasional tearful or angry outburst, or an inner deadness can be perfectly normal in some circumstances. In the process of doing a debrief, which can take a few hours or several days depending on the complexity of the issues involved, we have the opportunity to restore a sense of balance and inner peace.
Debriefing is rather like dealing with a drawer which is so full of stuffed-in jumpers that it won’t close neatly any more. Often we just shove our emotional responses down inside us, but there comes a time when we can’t deal with any more, and that can lead to emotional breakdown. To tidy out the drawer, we take out every jumper, decide whether we want to keep it or not, and if we do, we fold it up neatly and put it back. Then the drawer will shut properly. The debriefer asks questions of the mission worker, which helps him or her identify and evaluate their feelings and decide what to do with them.
Proper debriefing can be vital to the long-term inner health of the mission worker. Debriefing has been linked to improved resilience and decreased mission attrition (Kelly O’Donnell, Global Member Care). Regular and appropriate debriefing can keep mission workers in peak condition, but it is also possible that failure to provide proper debriefing, particularly after a traumatic incident like a serious car accident or a hostage situation, can lead to long-term emotional damage and even loss of faith.
Syzygy recommends that all overseas mission workers make sure they have debriefs on every home assignment. Ideally, it should be about 6-8 weeks after getting back. This is the time when the initial joy of being reunited with friends and family is beginning to wear off and the challenge of reverse culture shock is beginning to bite. It should take place in familiar surroundings if possible, and involve everyone who has been part of the mission experience – including the children, who sadly often get overlooked.
If your sending agency or church does not provide this for you, we are very happy to provide you with a debrief, with their agreement. We specialise in providing this service for independent mission workers who do not have an agency and perhaps have not yet realised how much they need debriefing. We conduct our debriefings at a time and place that is convenient to you in order to minimise the impact or travel and strange surroundings on your experience. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Tags: attrition, Church, Kelly O'Donnell, long-term, Short Term Mission, support
Posted in debriefing, stress and burnout | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 10th December 2012
In a recent exercise with a group of TCKs, we did a Bible study in which I challenged the young people to name as many characters from Bible who didn’t fit into the culture of the people around them.
From the obvious ones like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who left their homeland in search of an inheritance, and the apostles who went out into the Hellenised world and eventually beyond to take the gospel, to Joseph and Daniel, the successful Prime Ministers of foreign powers, we came up with a list that completely filled the flip chart. Rahab, who left her people to throw in her lot with the Israelites, refugees Ruth & Naomi, and David living with his band of outcasts among the Philistines were some of the less likely examples. In the end, most of the major characters in the Bible were up on the list. I left them with the challenge: in the light of that list, how do you feel about finding it hard to fit into British culture?
For mission workers adult and juvenile, the challenge is generally seen as how to fit in, whether it’s coping with culture shock when we go to live in a foreign country, or reverse culture shock when we come back home – and remember that Britain isn’t ‘home’ for TCKs who’ve spent most of their lives in another country. Yet is this really the right approach?
People working with TCKs try to help them fit in and feel at home, to quickly make friends at school and come to grips with the very different culture they’re living in. If they feel they can fit in, they are generally a lot happier and content to be living here. But when you take a long, hard look at our materialistic, sensual, consumerist society, why on earth would we want anyone to fit in? Learn to cope with it, yes, but to feel like you belong? Surely all Christians should be actively taking steps to make sure we don’t feel we belong in this world! Isn’t that what John means by telling us that we are not of this world? (John 17:16, 1 John 2:15)
The New Testament summarises this sense of dwelling in but not belonging as being immigrants and strangers (1 Peter 2:11, CEV). There is a very contemporary ring about these words, yet they were ancient legal categories referring to transient migrant workers and what we now call ‘resident aliens’. People who weren’t from round here. People who were different, who didn’t fit in. Who didn’t have rights. People who formed an economic underclass, who may actually have been desperate to go ‘home’ but couldn’t find jobs or food there. The Roman empire, particularly its major cities like Rome, Corinth, Antioch and Alexandria were heaving with this great unwashed mass of migrant humanity, living a hand-to-mouth existence, moving from tenement to tenement, city to city, in a never ceasing effort to find food, work, money.
This colourful picture shows us how Peter expected Christians to feel about their place in the world around us. Hebrews 11:13-16 picks up on this imagery and suggests that the Old Testament heroes of faith were like foreigners and strangers in the land, looking for a better home, a city given them by God. Paul resolves this paradox in Ephesians chapter 2, where he says you are no longer strangers and foreigners but co-citizens with the saints and the household of God.
This teaching would have been hugely encouraging to the stateless, illiterate, itinerant workers who made up the bulk of the early church. Many of them were slaves, most would have owned no property, and few would have been Roman citizens. To have a sense of community, belonging, enfranchisement and home would have been beyond their wildest dreams, and they found it in the church. This truly is good news for a broken world.
At this time of year we remember the birth of the ultimate cross-cultural mission worker who brought this good news. He wasn’t from round here. He moved into our world and brought a message of hope. Like those he lived alongside, he wasn’t a citizen; he lived under military occupation. For a while he was a political refugee. He had few belongings, and moved from place to place, with nowhere to rest his head. He was executed as a common criminal and buried in a borrowed grave. This was someone with whom the urban underclass could identify, even though in his own world he was a King.
How much effort do his followers make today not only to take his message to immigrants and strangers, but to take it in the same way he did?
Tags: Church, cities, culture, outreach
Posted in cross-cultural, Devotional, Evangelism, re-entry, TCKs | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 3rd December 2012
This question might seem to many of us to have a perfectly clear answer, but it is evident from the number of mission workers who are (or feel) unsupported, particularly by their home church, that there is a significant problem.
Paradoxically, the problem often results from the success of local mission. Many churches are active in their surrounding communities with a whole range of outreach and care programmes about which they are so enthusiastic that they genuinely can’t see why people would want to go off and ‘do their own thing’ while there is so much work to do here.
Add to that situation the success in recent years of getting people to understand that we are all mission workers, that everyone in the church has a part to play in reaching out to their family, friends and workmates, and you create a context in which overseas mission workers are not different or special (which is true), they’re just doing the same work as everyone else, but in a different context. My friend Terry was quite rightly aggrieved when his church got him up the front to pray for him when he went off to do short-term mission in Thailand, but completely ignored him when he got a job at a spare-parts shop which he saw as an opportunity to reach out to non-Christians.
Terry saw no difference between his two missional roles, and if that is true, there is no need for different support levels. But the difference in context is crucial: the overseas workers have deliberately moved away from their normal support mechanisms (church, friends, family and familiar culture) into a role which may be emotionally, spiritually and physically challenging, and which probably does not attract a salary. So they have increased need for support, but less access to it. This is a recipe for disaster.
To understand how need for support increases, let’s look at a scale of cross-cultural mission which clearly demonstrates why certain roles require more support. It recognises that all Christians are called to mission, but shows how the context can vary.
1) Christian has normal job in home town and uses existing family and workplace connections missionally
2) Christian deliberately selects a job in a company with little Christian representation, OR moves into a different part of town with a view to being an active witness
3) Christian moves to a completely different part of their home country, OR deliberately changes career in order to be an active witness
4) Christian moves abroad to be an active witness.
It can be seen that in each progressive stage of mission the Christian is intentionally moving away from his/her natural comfort zone and support network, and therefore requires people to support them in the struggles their new home and/or vocation presents. Becoming an overseas mission worker not only means setting up a new home in an alien culture and often using a foreign language, but doing all that together with learning a new vocation and being far away from the comforts of friends, family and familiar surroundings. They may be experiencing significant stress when they are farthest away from those able to alleviate it. That is why they need more support. Failure to deliver it can lead to stress, burnout and attrition.
Churches, family and friends need to provide this support in the following ways:
Emotional – caring about the loneliness and isolation of living in a foreign country and taking active steps to help mitigate it and provide comfort
Spiritual – supporting mission workers in prayer, and particularly being aware that they may lack access to books, teaching and worship in their own language
Financial – mission workers may not only be forgoing a salary, they may have increased financial needs which they need help with
Practical – leaving elderly parents behind, renting out property and managing their practical affairs are all simple tasks mission workers need help with.
By ensuring good quality support for overseas mission workers, we are investing in the effectiveness and longevity of their mission. With our coordinated and focussed help, they will achieve more and be less liable to burnout, which in the long-term is also making life easier for those church leaders who would otherwise have to pick up the pieces.
Tags: attrition, Church, culture, Finance, outreach, prayer, Short Term Mission, stress
Posted in Member care, missions support, short-term missions, strategy | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 19th November 2012
In 1991 when the USSR collapsed there was barely a hint of Islam in public life in the central Asian republics. That was due, of course, to the seventy years of communist rule in which all religion was unlawful, barring the recognition of the Russian Orthodox Church, which in many cases was led by a KGB agent posing as a priest.
In the first year following the collapse of the USSR, all five republics declared their independence. This fresh independence brought with it a new constitution, which declared the freedom of religion. Churches sprang up, reaching out both locally and to neighbouring countries.
By the mid 90’s there was a definite new presence of Islam. Mosques began to reopen. We began to hear rumours from local people that Iran was funding an underground Islamic movement throughout central Asia. Throughout the later 90’s there was growing evidence of the growth of Islam throughout the region. Islamic universities and seminaries were opened. Calls to prayer were heard over loud speakers five times a day and men clad in long robes bowed in the streets by the hundreds on their prayer mats. Those not participating were ridiculed and threatened. More and more women were veiled and dressed in long robes down to their ankles. Reports of abuse to women by their Islamic husbands became rampant.
Following 9/11 the United States launched an attack on Afghanistan and people from the north of the country began to flee across the borders into the central Asian republics. Most of the people were professing, if not practicing Muslims. Christians seized the opportunity to begin sharing Jesus with the newly arrived refugees. Hundreds of people came to know Jesus as a result.
The report of hundreds coming to know Jesus fuelled the hatred of Christians from the Islamic faction. Throughout the region, as people are known to be Christians, they have difficulty in doing business in their communities, shunned by family and friends, bullied in the work place. They are denied promotion at work or even fired from jobs. Their children are ridiculed by classmates and often beaten themselves en route to and from school
In the late 90’s there began to be reports of beatings and people being stoned for their Christian faith. By 2004 the reports were coming very nearly each month. By 2007 the reports were weekly. Today the reports are a daily occurrence. I still remember vividly the time I met with pastors who had fresh bruises on their faces. They had been beaten for their faith in Jesus. In 2006 a pastor was shot for leading others to convert from Islam to Christianity. In recent years some have been butchered and boiled. The murder of Christians is brutal and horrific and goes unpunished.
When I meet with these, our brothers and sisters in Christ, I often say to them that I’m praying for them and that I will share with the western church as I am able, so they too may pray. They always answer with a request that the prayer be that they ‘stand strong in the face of persecution.’ I am often humbled and daunted that they never ask for prayer for the persecution to stop. They consider it an honour to be identified with Jesus and also take it as an opportunity to share their faith even with their tormentors. Ultimately they yearn with joyful longing to share in the glory of Jesus when they will see His face.
How can the western church pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout central Asia? Their three requests are:
- pray that they stand strong in the face of their persecution and bring honour to the name of Jesus.
- pray for those that persecute them to come to know Jesus
- pray for the western church to know that not only can Jesus meet all their needs – Jesus Himself is all they need and anything else is extra.
This report was prepared by a mission worker with extensive connections in central Asia, who for obvious reasons prefers to stay anonymous.
Tags: Church, extremism, local believers, prayer
Posted in Central Asia, For Your Information, Suffering church | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 22nd October 2012
He Qi: The Burning Bush
One thing that all sending agencies agree on is that before serving God overseas long-term, there must be a sense of calling. We may make exceptions for short-term trips as they are sometimes seen as exploratory, rather like putting a toe in the bathwater to see if it’s too hot, but before making a long term commitment, there has to be some sort of calling.
But what exactly is a calling, and how do we know when we have it?
A sense of calling is the deep-seated conviction that God has a task for you, or a place for you to be. It is essential if you’re going to be effective in your ministry; it motivates and energises you, and sustains you through the difficult times. Yet it’s also something that’s extremely hard to agree on. It varies from person to person, and depends on how they relate to God, and on the type of church they’re part of. Some people feel they have prophetic words spoken to them, others have a vague sense that something is right, or a deep empathy for a place or a people. Who is right?
Well, they all are, because a calling is as unique and personal to you as your relationship with God. But let’s look as some of the Biblical models of calling and see what we can learn from them.
Abraham (Genesis 11:31-12:3) is given a cryptic call in which he is told to go, but is not told where, although it appears that they originally had the intention of going to Canaan when they set out from Ur. Cross-referencing to Acts 7:2-3 it appears that this is the renewal of a call originally given in Ur, and that Abraham had got stuck in Haran – possibly because his father did not want to move any further. Sometimes we need to hear our call again as circumstances can cause us to lose sight of it. Sometimes a call is on our heart for many years before we can fulfil it.
Moses (Exodus 3) of course received a most spectacular call, involving a fireproof shrub and a lengthy conversation with God, of the type for which he would become famous. Yet the key to it all was his own curiosity – on seeing the burning bush, he went to investigate. If we are aware of what is going on around us, and are open to inspiration, God can get our attention.
Isaiah (Is 6:1-8) made a devotional response to God. He did not have any idea what God was planning, but out of his profound awareness of being forgiven, his worship overflowed in a desire to serve.
Elisha (1 Kings 19:15-21) had a call which was adoptive. God sent Elijah to anoint him and Elisha accepted. He started out being a manservant to Elijah (2 Kings 3:11) but due to his zeal took over his mentor’s ministry and became one of Israel’s greatest prophets.
Saul & Barnabas (Acts 13:1-4). Someone in a leaders’ meeting had a prophetic word telling them to consecrate Saul and Barnabas for ‘the work to which I have called them’. There seems to be no further divine direction, so we must conclude that they were already mulling over the idea of a mission to Cyprus and this was confirmation.
Ezra (Ez 7:6, 9-10) went to teach in a Bible college. It seems that he went out of a sense of personal conviction, yet it is clear that ‘the good hand of his God was upon him’.
Nehemiah (Neh1:2-5) received a call which was both locational and vocational – he had a specific task to do. But his call arose from his compassion for a specific locality. We should not underestimate the significance of how concerned we may feel for a particular people, group or place.
Philip (Acts 8:26-40), an accomplished evangelist, is told by an angel to go to somewhere specific. When he gets there, he is prophetically given further instructions.
Paul and his team (Acts 2:6-10). After experiencing some sort of closed doors to widening his team ministry, the nature of which is not exactly clear, Paul has a vision of a Macedonian man asking for help. The whole team responds.
So we can see from the above that a calling comes in many forms. It can be circumstantial, revelatory, prophetic, general, locational, compassionate, vocational, devotional, educational, adoptive. It can be a call to a specific task or place, or something more general. Many times there is some form of direct communication from God, but not always. Of course, the most all-embracing call of all is the one found in Matthew 28 – Go and make disciples of all nations – which was originally given to the eleven but is commonly understood as applying to all believers for all time.
It is certainly one commandment of Jesus that the church has not yet completed.
Other aspects of discerning a calling can be found in our worksheet on this subject, which is part of the Syzygy guide on how to prepare for going.
Tags: calling, Church, compassion, dilemmas, training
Posted in Devotional, Evangelism, strategy | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 8th October 2012
A Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow
I recently had the opportunity to worship in a Russian Orthodox church, which has a very different practice to the informal protestant style to which I am accustomed. The entire service was liturgical, with plenty of chanting, incense, robes and icons. Their tradition is full of majesty, drama, and symbolism, something which many western churches with a ‘low’ tradition have lost. Talking afterwards to the faithful believer who was my companion, she explained that she was unable to take communion on this occasion as she had not had sufficient time to prepare.
Apparently she would have had to spend about 2½ hours in private prayer following a prescribed liturgy reflecting on the gravity of her sin. She would have had to fast for 5 hours beforehand so that she could take communion on an empty stomach, and prior to (or during) the church service she would have needed to make confession to a priest. Only then was she ready to receive communion.
Many protestants will be challenged, or even angered, by this lengthy procedure. They may be muttering about people putting stumbling blocks in the way of the penitent coming to Jesus for forgiveness. They may be thinking that Jesus would have had harsh things to say about such apparently pharisaic behaviour. Surely, they will say, the whole point of Jesus’ complete and perfect sacrifice was so that the sinner can come to him and find forgiveness easily, because there is nothing the sinner can do to earn it?
My Orthodox friend’s response to this suggestion is to point out that our sin is truly awful, and that we should take time to remind ourselves of the terrible price it cost Jesus before taking advantage of his free grace. Only when we contemplate how our thoughts, words and actions have placed an impassable barrier between us and God which only Jesus can remove, are we ready to enjoy the fruit of this lavish forgiveness.
Perhaps she has a point. Whether we are high church or low, sacramental or symbolist, what we all have in common is that we believe that communion is something special. In many traditions it is specifically called Holy Communion. Yet we often fail to treat it with the respect and awe that I saw in that Orthodox church. It seems that the more informal our church meetings are, the less time we give to contemplate our sinfulness. Many churches deliberately avoid reflecting on our human depravity because they prefer to emphasis the fact that we are saints by God’s grace than sinners by nature. So we come to communion with nothing more than a quick ‘Sorry Lord’ to prepare our hearts, which can cultivate the impression that our sin doesn’t really matter.
Our sin matters hugely. It is our sin that led Jesus to the cross on our behalf. It is our sin that hammered huge nails into his innocent flesh. It is our sin which caused him to surrender his life so that we can be reconciled to God and purchase our forgiveness with his blood.
Forgiveness is free, but it is not cheap.
Tags: Church, communion, culture, Russia, Russian Orthodox church
Posted in Devotional, Europe | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 10th September 2012
This consultation was a major blessing and a privilege to be part of. Participants included the host Robert Calvert (long-time minister of the Scots International Church in Rotterdam) and his PLACE colleagues Stephen Thrall (Paris), Dave Clark (Dundee), Axel Nehlsen (Berlin) and Andrej Madly (Cluj). They are all heavily impacted by Ray Bakke who was the special guest. There were about 30 participants who included people working in Dundee, Glasgow, Birmingham, London, Paris, Rotterdam, Groningen, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna and Cluj. Many of the participants were outside their home culture (e.g. Germans working in the Netherlands) and every continent was represented, particularly people from African backgrounds. There were also several participants working in Rotterdam who dropped in for part of the conference. The atmosphere was extremely convivial and relaxed, with people quickly striking up good conversations.
There were five discussion sessions in all:
Cities – led by Rogier Bos we considered some of the essential characteristics of major Europeans cities (e.g. old, and centred on an Christian core such as a cathedral though Christianity is a disappearing influence, multicultural, becoming brands in their own right, built on a premise of self-actualisation and having an increasingly ageing population. We considered the challenges of ministry in these contexts (churches with little sense of mission, stuck in maintenance mode, with much creative innovation on the fringes, and confusion about ecclesiology, missiology, ethics and eschatology).
Change – Robert Calvert talked about the sort of change we need to engage with, change that is radical enough to force us to reconsider our missiology and ecclesiology. He particularly asked us how we evaluate change. Traditionally we look at numbers of conversions, but ‘redeeming a community’ does not necessarily result in an increase in headcount though God can still be at work. He cited as an example a Rotterdam church made up largely of ex-criminals who came to Christ as a result of an urban regeneration project but were unwelcome in traditional churches.
Leadership – Ray Bakke talked about inspiring leaders, people who are prepared to break the mould and engage with homosexual/transgender culture, enter gangland communities, or gain access to muslim schools by completely removing Christian references in their work. He told several dramatic stories of incarnational mission. The story which had the strongest impact on me was one of a pastor who deliberately moved with his family into a deprived area, and sent his children to the local school despite other Christians accusing him of ‘abusing’ his children by doing this. His son became friends with a classmate and regularly invited him back home for meals. When the family discovered that the boy was homeless, they adopted him. Some time later the boy became a Christian, saying to the pastor it was easy to understand. ”You sent your son to my school and we became friends, so you adopted me. God sent his son into the world, and whoever becomes his friend gets to be adopted!” What a simple but effective image of the gospel!
Networks – Harald Sommerfeld and Axel Nehlsen (leaders of Together for Berlin) did a presentation on effective networking, highlighting the difference between strong ties, which are good for bonding and reciprocity while taking up time and not necessarily introducing you to new contacts and ideas, and weak ties which do the latter but not the former. Ideal networkers need a blend of both. Having successfully linked together a number of agencies and churches working in Berlin, their recommendation is not to try to bring everyone into one central network but to ensure that you are connected to at least one key player in each network who can then extend your influence into other circles. I feel that is exactly what we should do with this network!
Prayer – we had a whole session on prayers for our communities, identifying key issues for each city and praying into them.
Additionally there were visits to the Danish Seafarers’ Mission, an Agape project living and working among immigrants, and an outreach and regeneration project in a poor area of the city. These people and several others told their stories of radical incarnational mission which often left them unsupported by local churches unable to make an adequate adaption of their ecclesiology/missiology, which ultimately bore fruit for the Kingdon of God.
Several people told their stories and many of them featured successful work in muslim communities and schools, or fruitful projects which were initially too radical to gain support from local churches. We agreed to keep in contact with each other through social media, and to meet together regularly in future years. This is a network which is worth participating in if you are active in urban church planting in Europe.
The consultation was organised by Partners Learning and Acting in Cities of Europe (PLACE), a forum which grew out of Hope for Europe.
Tags: Church, culture, local believers, Netherlands, network, outreach, Rotterdam
Posted in cross-cultural, Europe, Evangelism, Missions Report | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 23rd July 2012
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:
Tags: Christian Vocations, Church, Global Connections, Short Term Mission, stress
Posted in Featured ministry, Latin America, Member care, missions support, short-term missions, Syzygy | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 16th July 2012
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.
Tags: change, Christendom, Church, culture, dilemmas, prayer, UK
Posted in cross-cultural, Devotional, Europe, postmodern | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 28th June 2012
Sao Paulo – one of the world’s largest cities
I have been to three conferences on urban mission in the last nine months, with one more scheduled for August. Urbanisation is a current theme in missions, as churches and mission agencies slowly wake up to the fact that for the first time in history more people live in cities than in rural areas. This means that the seething masses of unsaved humanity are predominantly to be found in cities, and increasingly in mega-cities, so it is there that we should concentrate our efforts to reach them. Agencies such as Urban Expression, Redeemer City to City, Urban Neighbours of Hope and Eden Network are to be commended for spearheading this drive.
Many Christians avoid cities. Biblically, cities can represent bad news: the first city, Babel, was a monument to human pride and self-sufficiency (Genesis 11:4) that remained a cipher for ungodliness right through to the last book in the Bible. Cities are the opposite of the Garden of Eden to which we strive to return. Even when we do move to cities, many Christians tend to congregate in the leafy suburbs rather than engaging with the inner city sink estates or peri-urban shanties.
The new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven…?
At conferences on urbanisation at least one speaker points out that the Bible starts in a garden and ends in a city, as if this makes urbanisation the will of God. Yet this simplistic reading of Revelation overlooks the fact that the imagery in this book is primarily pictorial or allegorical and is not necessarily to be taken literally. The city in Revelation has nothing to do with urbanisation. In Revelation, Babylon is a trope for a humanistic, materialist, decadent and oppressive world system, and the New Jerusalem represents a restoration of theocratic shalom in which God is immanent.
It should be remembered that historically Revelation was written under the shadow of the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome (= ‘Babylon’) and the martyrdom of many thousands of Christians in the Colosseum, so the document reflects the desire among believers, both Jewish and gentile, for a place in which they could be enfranchised and safe. Revelation does not describe the houses, transport hubs, offices and warehouses of the new city. It simply states that there won’t be a need for a temple, and in a conscious reference back to the Garden of Eden, tells us that there will be life-giving trees and a river, and (most importantly) that God will live there among God’s people (Revelation 22:1-5). Urbanisation is not the important issue; restoration of life and relationship is.
Restoring humanity to urbanity?
At one recent conference, Brazilian theologian Dr Rosalee Velloso Ewell asked participants to write down three words that described a city. I imagine that most of us chose words reflecting a city’s creativity, industry and dynamism, or that described the noise, dirt, pollution and congestion. Later in her presentation, she asked us how many of us wrote the name of a person. Cue stunned silence. One of the huge problems with cities is that they can become impersonal. Cities have turned homes into housing and turned communities into districts, and we should remember that our missional work can become equally objective and systematic when it needs to be subjective and relational.
God does not love cities because God is in favour of urbanisation. God loves people, and since people are congregating in cities, God’s love is concentrated in cities, not on cities. Why should God not have mercy on millions of people who ‘do not know their right hand from their left’ (Jonah 4:11)?
But how many Christians are called like Jonah to the city, yet head for Tarshish instead?
Tags: Church, church planting, cities, culture, Jonah, outreach, Revelation, Urban Neighbours of Hope, urbanisation
Posted in cross-cultural, Evangelism, strategy | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 27th February 2012
We have mentioned a couple of times in the last year the precarious situation of indigenous Christians in North Africa, and the Middle East, and recently the House of Lords debated religious persecution in the region. In a wide ranging debate featuring several high profile speakers including the Archbishop of Canterbury, one notable intervention was from Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi. We thought it worth reproducing an extract from his speech.
It was Martin Luther King who said ‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends’.
That is why I felt I could not be silent today. As a Jew in Christian Britain, I know how much I, my late parents and, indeed, the whole British Jewish community owe to this great Christian nation, which gave us the right and the freedom to live our faith without fear. Shall we not, therefore, as Jews stand up for the right of Christians in other parts of the world to live their faith without fear?
And fear is what many Christians in the Middle East feel today. We have already heard today about the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt, of Maronite Christians in Hezbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon, of the vast exodus of Christians from Iraq and of the concern of Christians in Syria as to what might happen there should there be further destabilisation. In the past year, we have heard of churches set on fire, of a suicide bombing that cost the lives of 21 Christians as they were leaving a church in Cairo, of violence and intimidation and of the mass flight of Christians, especially from Egypt. I believe that we must all protest this series of assaults – some physical, others psychological – on Christian communities in the Middle East, many of which have long, long histories. I, and I hope all other Jews in Britain, stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters, as we do with all those who suffer because of their faith.
I have followed the fate of Christians in the Middle East for years, appalled at what is happening and surprised and distressed by the fact that it is not more widely known. We know how complex are the history and politics of the Middle East and how fraught with conflicting passions, but there are two points that I wish to make that deserve reflection.
Is this the future for Middle Eastern churches?
First, on the Arab Spring, which has heightened the fear of Christians in many of the countries affected, we make a great intellectual mistake in the West when we assume that democracy is, in and of itself, a step towards freedom. Usually, that is the case, but sometimes it is not. As Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill pointed out in the 19th century, it may merely mean the ‘tyranny of the majority’. That is why the most salient words in the current situation are those of Lord Acton, in his great essay on the history of freedom, who said: ‘The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities’.
That is why the fate of Christians in the Middle East today is the litmus test of the Arab Spring. Freedom in indivisible, and those who deny it to others will never gain it for themselves.
Secondly, religions that begin by killing their opponents end by killing their fellow believers. Today, in the Middle East and elsewhere, radical Islamists fight those whom they regard as the greater and lesser Satan, but earlier this week we mourned the death of 55 Shia who were killed in a terror attack in Iraq. Today, the majority of victims of Islamist violence are Muslim, and shall we not shed tears for them, too? The tragedy of religion is that it can lead people to wage war in the name of the God of peace, to hate in the name of the God of love, to practise cruelty in the name of the God of compassion and to kill in the name of the God of life. None of these things brings honour to faith; they are a desecration of the name of God.
May God protect Christians of the Middle East and people of faith who suffer for their faith, whoever and wherever they are.
We are grateful to CFI for bringing this speech to our attention through their magazine ‘In Touch’
Tags: Arab Spring, Chief Rabbi, Church, Egypt, extremism, Iraq, Lebanon, local believers, Syria
Posted in For Your Information, Middle East, Suffering church | 1 Comment »
Posted by Tim on 13th February 2012
Empty church, empty argument?
Last week Britain became a little more secular. Not in a great cataclysmic way as the conservative press is proclaiming, but subtly, and in a way not unforeseen, as two court decisions were made which in themselves may have little impact but which are indicators of a long-term trend and set a precedent.
Last August we considered the case of a couple of Christian bed-and-breakfast owners who refused to make a double room available to a gay couple. On Friday the court of appeal ruled that they had discriminated against the gay couple despite their appeal that they weren’t specifically discriminating against gay people as their policy applied to all unmarried people irrespective of their sexual choices. And the court was right: they did indeed break the law. In the process of coming to this conclusion, ironically, the court is discriminating against the Christians. It’s now official: gay rights trump Christian rights.
In another case heard on the same day, an atheist councillor took his local town council to court over their practice of holding prayers at the start of the meeting. He argued that it infringed his human rights by forcing a religious activity on him. Councils all over the country do this, as does the Westminster parliament, so it is not an uncommon practice. The court ruled, interestingly (though a lot of pundits have missed this point) that his human rights weren’t infringed as he had the opportunity to absent himself during the proceedings, but that councils do not have the authority under the Local Government Act to hold prayers as part of their council meetings. They are able to hold them outside the meeting though.
It certainly feels like these decisions, and several others like them in recent years, are undermining the traditional role of Christianity at the heart of Britain’s values, despite Prime Minister David Cameron recently asserting that Britain is a ‘Christian nation’. Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who has become significantly more vocal in his ‘retirement’ than he was in office, comments: There are deep forces at work in Western society, hollowing out the values of Christianity and driving them to the margins. It does at least seem that an aggressive secularist agenda is making steady progress.
Get out there and tell them!
The knee-jerk reaction is for the church to condemn both these decisions, though why in a democracy we should want the freedom to discriminate against others, or to force our prayers on people of other or no faith, needs to be considered carefully. It would seem that our appropriate response to this situation is not to lament the fact that a small but vocal minority are no longer able to force their views and practices on the millions of British citizens who are now generally atheistic, only nominally Christian or hold to other faiths.
A far more appropriate response would be to set about in earnest increasing the number of Christians so that our views become the dominant perspective in this country once again. We should not be writing letters to The Times in protest. We should be getting out into the communities around us and proclaiming Jesus. Only when we comprise the majority will it be appropriate for us to expect legislation in this country to reflect our views.
Our verdict: Lions 2, Christians 0 (see Persecution on its way)
Tags: Church, culture, dilemmas, outreach, UK
Posted in Europe, Evangelism, For Your Information | 1 Comment »
Posted by Tim on 30th January 2012
Sacred space is something that many western Christians are not particularly aware of, yet it has an important place in our history and culture, and overlooking it can be to ignore a key tool in our missional toolkit.
Sacred space is where the divine intersects with our experience, where the transcendent becomes numinous, typically but not necessarily in a sanctuary or shrine of some sort. It can also be in an unspoilt natural feature, such a hilltop, spring or seashore, but many sacred sites were ‘validated’ centuries ago by the construction of a religious building on them. Our experience of God in such places is the reason why many of them have become a place of pilgrimage, and the value we place on these sites contributes to the ongoing spiritual power they have. So for example, once one person was healed at Lourdes, others went there in the anticipating of meeting with the power of God which was already at work in that place, and this faith fuelled their anticipation even more.
Evangelical Christians have tended to play down the significance of such locations, partly as a reaction to what they have perceived as a superstitious belief in the power of holy sites or relics rather than a living faith in God, and partly because the significance they place on meeting God personally in our day to day lives, which can render a specific location redundant. Yet in a simple way, any location can aid our faith. My mother felt that praying in her local Anglican church was more effective than praying at home, since she felt that the cumulative weight of the prayers that have been said in that building for the last 800 years was added to hers. That’s the significance of a sacred space for her.
A biblical example of a sacred space might be Bethel. We don’t know why Abraham built an altar there (Genesis 12:8), but just a couple of generations later Jacob was sleeping rough there after he had fled from his home, and had a powerful encounter with God in a dream. His verdict was “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it… This is none other than the house of God” (Genesis 28:16-17). The place continued to have spiritual significance throughout the period of the judges and became a centre of idolatry in Israel when Jeroboam placed a golden calf there for cultic reasons (1 Kings 12:28-29).
Another example would be Zion, the place where God said His ‘Name’ would dwell. This builds on the significance of the Tabernacle, which God commanded the Israelites to build so that He could dwell among them (Exodus 25:8). That was God’s initiative, expressing a desire to live not set apart in heaven, but among humanity. This, accompanied by the visual manifestations of God’s presence, led to sense of God literally dwelling in the temple, and subsequently in the church building – the house of God – and which will be eventually fulfilled when there is no temple at all because the Lord and the Lamb dwell among humanity (Revelation 21:3, 22).
So how does this understanding of sacred space help us with our missional endeavours? Firstly, we can learn that we don’t need to be afraid of buildings, but can use them creatively to draw people into an encounter with God. They don’t even need to be ‘religious’ buildings. My own church is responsible for running the community centre in which we meet, and by our constant prayer, worship and incarnational service to the community in every part of the building we have invaded what might otherwise be considered ‘secular’ space to such an extent that people who come into the building remark “There’s a lovely sense of peace here”. They may not recognise it, but it’s a sense of the presence of God. The building has become a sacred space.
The other way in which we can use sacred space is to think about the messages we send with our buildings to those who are not yet Christians. In many cultures, you can see the vestiges of a European definition of spirituality in pictures of a blue-eyed Jesus in India or church buildings with steeples in Indonesia. Do the architecture, décor and furnishings in church premises speak of something that local people do not identify with sacred? What can be imported from their culture which they would find familiar and would speak of sacred to them? Would it be inappropriate, for example, to build a minaret on a church in a muslim country, or to have pictures in which Jesus looks like the people we’re working among? Does the music we use for worship reflect our own cultural tradition when it might be more appropriate to use that of the local people group?
In my own city, one group is grappling with these issues as it seeks to create a culturally appropriate sacred space for a minority people group to engage with Jesus. It uses furnishings, religious symbolism and music that would be found in their home culture. They engage with the religious festivals of that community and embrace their culture. In consequence, these people have found a safe and sensitive place to worship. They do not have to cross a cultural divide in order to cross a religious one.
Tags: Church, culture, local believers, outreach, sacred space
Posted in Devotional, Evangelism, strategy | 1 Comment »
Posted by Tim on 5th December 2011
Pro-democracy demonstrators in Tahrir Square
In recent months there has been much discussion about the form of government that will ultimately evolve in the countries that threw off their despotic leaders during the Arab Spring earlier this year – so far only Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. One term which is frequently mentioned is Islamic Democracy. Some western leaders are keen to point out that Islam is not necessarily incompatible with democracy, and frequently cite Turkey as a good example of a secular state in an Islamic country. In November US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even promised that the US would not oppose Islamic political parties which emerge in the new democracies. But then the Obama administration is keen to demonstrate that it is not inherently anti-Islamic, unlike its predecessor.
But is this Islamic democracy necessarily going to be a good thing? Forgetting its impact on western hegemony for the moment, and just considering what happens in the country concerned, let us examine the paragon, Turkey, and see what lessons it has for us. Turkey is at the moment in the process of drafting a new constitution, and some proposals are causing great concern among minority communities. There is the possibility that clauses guaranteeing citizenship to all Turkish-born people may be changed, allowing only Muslims to be citizens.
Although the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is self-consciously promoting human rights and equality in an attempt to join the EU, it is clear that many of the Muslim population have no sympathy for other religions and do not agree with the government policy of promoting equality. Life is far from easy for Turkey’s various minorities, including Greek, Armenian and Syriac Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians as well as Kurds, Jewish people and Alevis. As well as routine discrimination they suffer legal restrictions on internal governance, education, places of worship and property rights, although recent legislation has begun to affect the latter. And of course, there are periodic persecutions and lynchings which, though not necessarily state-sponsored, seem neither to be prevented or investigated by the police. Proselytising is not illegal, though people who change their religion may be subject to harassment.
So Turkey is not an example that would inspire confidence in our Christian brothers and sisters in North Africa. How might such Islamic democracy develop there? The question of Sharia law is the principal concern for Christians, since it would introduce a legal system which is clearly prejudicial to minorities. For example, in Iran and Pakistan, which both operate Sharia, it is illegal for a Christian to testify in court against a Muslim. So if only Christians are the witnesses of injustices perpetrated against them by Muslims, they cannot legally defend themselves.
The largest opposition group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, is in favour of introducing Sharia law. The Brotherhood, though not a political party, is a significant political force in most near- and middle-eastern countries, and inspires many of the largest Islamic parties. While in Egypt it has public pretensions to non-violence, in Gaza it is the inspiration behind Hamas. Life is, of course, unbearably hard for Christians under Hamas, and completely impossible for Jews.
Protesters outside St Mark's Cathedral in Cairo
Life is already becoming harder for Egypt’s nine million Christians. In October Christians protesting peacefully against laws which restrict the construction of churches were savagely attacked by the army and police, who then tried to blame the unarmed Christians for attacking them. 26 died and over 300 were injured. There are reports of stones being thrown at women in the street who are not wearing burqas. This is a glimpse of the future should the Muslim Brotherhood win an election and introduce Sharia law.
For the sake of our brothers and sisters in Islamic countries, let us pray that Islamic Democracy does not live up to its worst potential. We should remember that other secular democracies with majority Islamic populations include Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Indonesia, Syria and Azerbaijan. All of these countries are high on Open Doors’ persecution index, and are not good places for Christians to live.
Tags: Arab Spring, Church, Egypt, extremism, Islamic democracy, local believers, Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey
Posted in For Your Information, Middle East, Suffering church | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 10th October 2011
Celebrations in Bulgarian churches?
This month’s guest blogger is Valentin Kozhuharov, who lectures in missiology at the University of Plovdiv and is a consultant on missions to the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
Since the changes of 1990 (and before that no religious life was possible in Eastern Europe because of the persecutions the communists systematically carried out against Christians and any other religion), the church in Bulgaria has grown rapidly and fruitfully.
The Orthodox church has mostly been occupied with restoring its internal ecclesiastical life, so mission has not been its main goal of church work, but anyway this church organised a nationwide network of Sunday schools, undertook various charitable activities and started (only in the last 7-8 years) mission in prisons, orphanages, old people’s homes and other social institutions. It even started “external” mission by sending a priest to South Africa in July 2010 to plant an Orthodox church in Pretoria.
The amount of mission work, which has mostly been done in a bit chaotic way, needed systematisation and theoretical-practical foundations, and in the diocese of Veliko Tarnovo a mission department was opened in January 2010 and a missionary document has been developed: “Principles of mission for the Bulgarian Orthodox church”. In June 2011 the Principles were considered by the Holy Synod, and now in several diocesan centres the bishops have appointed mission educators to further develop mission strategy in their dioceses and to practically carry out missionary activities.
Devotional art at Rila Monastery
The evangelical churches in Bulgaria have been more active in the so called “social mission” where they carried out mission work in almost all social institutions in the country dealing with children and the disadvantaged (children’s homes, prisons, orphanages, old people’s homes, hospitals, etc). In many areas the Orthodox church and the evangelical churches have competed with each other in these mission fields, and often they would oppose the mission work of the “other” church; in some instances the Orthodox church used the authority of the state to oust the “sectarian” Christian organisations (as they treated the evangelical churches in the country).
This made Christians of both the Orthodox and the evangelical churches to think, and to come to practical recommendations, about mission of Christian unity where all the churches in the country are able to combine resources and efforts in their God-commanded mission work in society. In the last two to three years, in many social institutions these Christians work together with the same marginalised and needy people and children. Still the day when they all will be working together in one spirit and one heart is far away, but a good start has been made.
Bulgarian missionaries take part (and some of them took the leading role) in the newly-established Orthodox Mission Network which aims to increase mission awareness within the Orthodox churches in Europe and to initiate true missions on their territories. Bulgarian missiologists develop theoretical issues of mission, and for the first time missiology has been taught as a theological discipline since February 2011 in one of the university theological faculties. These missionaries and missiologists cooperate with many other missionaries and missiologists both Orthodox and non-Orthodox and both in Europe and worldwide.
- for Valentin as he lectures on missiology and stimulates a passion for outreach among all Bulgarian denominations
- for the gospel to flourish in Bulgaria
- for more mission workers, both foreign and local, to train and inspire the church
For more information about praying for Bulgaria visit the World Prayer Map
Tags: Bulgaria, Church, church planting, Orthodox Church, outreach
Posted in Europe, Evangelism, Story of the Month | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 8th August 2011
The legal situation of Christianity in the UK is something that has been slowly giving cause for concern over the past few years, and has become more serious in recent months. Although our religious freedom is obvious to the many millions of Christians worldwide who can be oppressed, imprisoned, or even lynched with impunity because they lack any form of legal protection, an aggressive secularist agenda has been building up momentum, prompting well-known Christian apologist Michael Ramsden to observe recently that whenever Christian rights come into conflict with rights based on sexual preferences, they will be trumped.
Much of this situation has resulted from the Equality Act 2006, which (quite rightly) made it illegal to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of their religion or sexuality. However this left an area of uncertainty over what happens when rights collide, resulting in a number of court cases as pressure groups (and their lawyers) endeavour to get more clarity. We report on a number of cases so that you are informed about the issues.
Cross – For many years the wearing of a cross has been a issue which emerges occasionally in the popular press. It is not unusual for employers to ban the wearing of jewellery in the workplace and wearing a cross is not deemed to be essential to Christianity (unlike a Sikh Kara bracelet). A BA employee was banned from wearing a cross and in a high profile case BA was found not to have discriminated against her. A Christian taxi driver was ordered by York City Council to remove a palm cross from his cab in case it caused offence to passengers, though the council subsequently relented.
Public witness – two Christians were warned by police that they were committing hate crime by handing out tracts in a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham. A university CU was reported to police for handing out gospels to students.
Homosexuality – A Christian couple running a B&B in Cornwall refused to let a homosexual couple share a double bed. They argued that they were not picking on homosexuals, but because of their beliefs only supply double rooms to heterosexual married couples. The court found them guilty of breaking the law, but reduced the fine out of respect for their religious beliefs. This couple subsequently admitted that they knew they were breaking the law but felt they had a right to set their own standards for their own business.
Faith in the workplace – A Christian doctor with an unblemished record may be struck off after discussing his faith with an adult patient who agreed to the discussion. A Christian nurse was suspended for offering to pray for a patient. A Christian registrar lost her job for refusing to officiate at same-sex civil partnerships. It is now illegal to advertise for a Christian to fill a job in a Christian organisation if when the job could be done just as well by a non-Christian.
Gay marriage – Earlier this year the Government announced plans to create same-sex marriages on the same basis as heterosexual ones. At the moment homosexual partnerships are recognised on a different basis to a marriage and there is no requirement to carry them out in churches. There are significant concerns that once gay marriages are legalised, it will be a discriminatory offence for a church minister to refuse to perform one.
After centuries of Christendom in Britain, Christianity is now actively being relegated to an obscure private viewpoint which is not allowed to have any impact on how Christians behave or speak in public. Christians are not actively persecuted yet, but it is clear that attempts are being made to disempower Christians so that they have no legal defence for traditional Christian activities and opinions.
While each of the above cases is worrying in itself for Christians, it is clear that the purpose of the law is good: that Christians can no longer discriminate against others because of their beliefs. The result however is bad: that others can discriminate against Christians because of their beliefs. Lions: 1 – Christians: 0
For further information visit The Christian Institute‘s website.
For an update on the current situations see A little more secular? The Lions have scored again.
Tags: Church, culture, dilemmas, UK
Posted in Europe, For Your Information, Suffering church | 1 Comment »
Posted by Tim on 1st August 2011
Is this church?
When you hear the word ‘church’ what image comes to mind? A building? A community? A service? A family? Perhaps all of these do, or perhaps only some of them. What do you think is essential for church? Your answers to these questions may vary significantly from those of people of a different generation to you. They might also acquire additional significance if you’re working in a missions community where the local church may have lengthy services in uncomfortable conditions, with repetitive singing in a language you don’t fully comprehend, and loud sermons that are not aimed at your needs. And that’s just if you’re lucky enough not to be preaching or leading the worship.
For most older mission workers, church may not be an enjoyable experience, or even a relevant one, but it’s part of the job. You go to church, because you should. It’s expected of Christians, particularly of mission workers who should set a good example to the local believers. And what happens there is pretty standard: Acts 2:42 sets out the four pillars of church: teaching, fellowship (whatever that is), communion and prayer. Though we always leave out the embarrassing bit about having all things in common and nobody being poor – that was just culturally appropriate to the Jerusalem church.
Is this church?????
Somebody I spoke to recently was completely unable to understand why young people did not want be part of an experience like that. They’re just not committed, she complained. I was able to explain that young people (postmoderns, Gen X) are able to be highly committed, but only to things they believe in, and not merely to things somebody else thinks they ought to be committed to. So younger mission workers are increasingly spurning traditional ways of doing church, just like young people in Europe. They are finding new ways of doing things, and making them work, but this doesn’t always look like church to an older generation.
Why is it not church when a group of people meet regularly together in someone’s house for prayer, or worship, or Bible study? Because they don’t do them all at the same time? Because it’s not Sunday? Because there’s no leadership? Is that really what defines church?
This conflict has its roots in a transitional phase that the western world is going through at the moment: the much-talked-about but little-understood transition from modern to postmodern. It’s not merely an intergenerational conflict where the old don’t understand the young and vice versa; it’s a change of epoch on a scale of the fall of the Roman Empire or the rise of the Enlightenment out of the middle ages. It involves fundamentally different worldviews and ways of doing things. Including church.
Is this church?
Here in the west there are already many different ways of doing church which do not fit the traditional model. House church led to cell church, and 50 years later there are simple church, messy church, cyber church, deconstructed church, and an awful lot of people who love God together but don’t do church at all. While this development may not have touched the cultures of the two thirds world in the same way yet, it has had an impact on a large number of young people who have grown up among a postmodern generation who are passionate about church in a different way. When these young people enter the mission field, they want to keep doing things in a different way, but often the older generation not only sees this as a threat to the work they’ve spent their lives establishing, but doubts the very genuineness of the young people’s relationship with God.
I write this brief introduction to a highly complex issue in the hope that older mission workers will be able to be tolerant of younger ones who want to do things differently, and that younger ones may understand why the previous generation just can’t see what they see. This of course relates only to the church needs of the mission worker; how it impacts on the church needs of the local believers is an entirely different matter!
Tags: Church, culture, local believers, long-term
Posted in postmodern, strategy | No Comments »
Posted by Tim on 4th July 2011
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
Tags: China, Church, Egpyt, local believers, protest
Posted in East Asia, For Your Information, Suffering church | No Comments »