Eagles Rest

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

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

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

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

Syzygy’s visit to Thailand

12This week sees the start of another Syzygy mission trip, this time to Thailand.  We’re going to four different places in two weeks, where we’ll be catching up with mission workers working with:

In the process we hope to be meeting with mission workers, doing some training and member care.

Having visited Thailand several times we feel very much at home there and are looking forward to being back.  We love the food and the smiling, welcoming people, many of who have little to smile about.  Despite the glitz and opulence of cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai where the tourists go, many people live in abject poverty in huge slums and it is estimated that over a million people work in the sex industry.  Some of the people we are visiting live and work with such people, living alongside them in slums or working with those scraping a living from scavenging on rubbish dumps.   For us, it’s a privilege to get alongside people like this and support them in their amazing ministries.

Please pray for:

  • safe and punctual travel
  • good sleep and recovery from jetlag
  • effective training
  • wisdom and sensitivity in dealing with issues

Our journey starts on 22nd January, and ends with a return to the UK on 5th February, just three days before heading off to Turkey… but that’s another story!

When is a coup a good thing?

ThailandThe world woke up yesterday to the news that the three-day-old martial law in Thailand had suddenly given birth to a coup.  Justifiably fearful that yet another democratically-elected government had been been overthrown by a right-wing oppressive regime, and oblivious to the irony that the west has recently enthusiastically endorsed the overthrow of a democratically-elected government in the Ukraine by a popular coup, the ‘pro-democracy’ west is blind to the implications of what this might mean for Thailand.  Paradoxically, many Thai will be enthusiastic that the patriotic and impartial military will be taking steps to restore stability and governance to a political process which has been paralysed by intransigence and vested interests.

Former PM Thaksin Shinawatra

Former PM Thaksin Shinawatra

Our readers will be aware that the problem began some years ago when the populist leader Thaksin Shinawatra came to power in 2001 supported by rural masses lured by the promise of agrarian reform.  The elections were possibly the most open and corruption-free elections in Thai history.

Yet allegations of corruption and abuse of power dogged his administration, which was overthrown five years later in a coup.  Shortly after that, street violence between ‘red shirts’ (Shinawtra supporters) and ‘yellow shirts’ (an alliance of royalist upper and middle class Thai, and citizens of the southern provinces) erupted.  While the violence has died down in recent years, the underlying tension has continued to simmer, and the adverse publicity has had a massive impact on the lucrative tourist industy.

Thaksin’s younger sister Yingluck became Prime Minister in 2011, though widely seen as a puppet for her brother.  Protests against his influence continued and elections took place earlier this year which were boycotted by the yellow shirts who attempted to disrupt it.  Yingluck won, but of course had no popular mandate, and the constitutional court (under the influence of the yellow shirts) first declared the election invalid and then dismissed the Prime Minister for abuse of her power.

Shinawatra performs traditional public obeisance before a portrait of the King

Meanwhile there is little comment on the influence of the severely ill King Bhumipol, the world’s longest-serving monarch.  Highly revered, the King has such moral influence throughout his country that it is inconceivable the military would make a move without at least his tacit agreement.  There is little doubt that he is considering the best interests not of a class or party, but his whole country.

This has all gone on largely over the heads of the Thai church, a small group numbering less than 0.5% of the population, which consists largely of the poor and marginalised ethnic minorities who often have nothing to lose by becoming Christians.  In contrast, the dominant ethnic Thai people are uniformly buddhist and see that as part of their national identity, so it is hard for them to renounce their religion.  Yet the crackdown could have an impact both on church meetings and the activities of the many mission workers in Thailand.

While the issues involved are incredibly complex and difficult to follow, the essence is that the Thai political system is broken.  Instability, street violence and corruption have hampered Thailand’s economic development for years, and many lives have been adversely impacted in the process.  Fifteen years ago Thailand was an Asian tiger which was an example of good governance to its less effective neighbours, but it has stagnated significantly since then.

Let us all pray that this time an enduring and open political process will emerge from the crisis, which will provide a stable environment for the emergent Thai church to thrive.

Cooking with Poo

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

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

One of the best-rated activities in Bangkok

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

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

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

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

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

Creation Care as an Integral Part of Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other helps include:

Lausanne call to action on creation care

A Rocha – Living Lightly

Christian Ecology Link

Climate Prayer’ and ‘environmentguardian’ on Facebook

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

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

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

Update from Asia, part 2

The Juniper Tree

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

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

Traffic in Phnom Penh

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

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

Klong Toey, Bangkok

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

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

Update from Asia

Inside the bathroom at Frishta Children's Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syzygy’s grand tour of Asia

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

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

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

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

Please pray that:

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

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

Dates:

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

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

Featured ministry – Urban Neighbours of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Featured Ministry: Chrestos Mission

Karen Bible College students in worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story of the Month: Thousands of new Thai believers

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

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

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

Baptism of Thai believers (photos courtesy of Julia Birkett)