Guest blog:- Embracing or opposing Europe?

This month’s guest blogger is Raymond Pfister, Director of Ichthus21, the European Institute for Re/conciliation Studies, a Christian organisation devoted to the development of Europe.

It is in John 3:16, possibly the most known Scripture of all, that we are constantly reminded that “God so loved the world…”.  Except Europe maybe, I have been wondering, when listening to the reasoning and attitude some evangelical Christians have adopted towards the old continent?

There is really no doubt possible, is there?  God actually loves Europe… not because it is such a nice place to visit during our next vacation, but because the people who live in Europe have been created in the image of God and are all in need of redemption.  There can be no doubt either that European (just as much as national) institutions are God’s servants (cf. Romans 13), yet we know that they are far from being immune against failure, corruption and power abuse.  God’s ultimate sovereignty will certainly prevail.

If the life and mission of the Christian Church is about following the example of Jesus, one does not become light of the world (not even in Europe) by way of isolationism or salt of the earth (not even in Europe) by way of avoiding the risk of contamination.  Jesus came to a world of sinners and identified with them.  He knew that this was the only way he could really make a difference.  In order to reach out to people it takes the will to embrace and the resolution not to turn your back.  Jesus never hesitated in the name of love to be part of us, even though he could have been tempted to think that he would be better off without us – is he not so different after all?

On the one hand, the European puzzle is made up of a great variety of people with cultures, languages and traditions of their own.  On the other hand, there has probably never been a greater movement of people within Europe than in our own time.  From the Scandinavian North to the Iberian Peninsula, from the British Isles to the Baltic States, people are coming together and experiencing diversity and difference as never before.

The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about adopting that kingdom mentality which allows us to see the broader (European) picture as opposed to a narrow-minded, monocultural reality.  The Christian faith empowers us to engage the other (European) with compassion instead of fear.  This Gospel of hope is about building bridges, not walls of separation (we have had enough of them in Europe!).  The Kingdom of God cannot be understood without a strong concept of group solidarity replacing the search of our own particular interest.  Kingdom mentality confesses that we are stronger together and that it is possible to live together regardless of gender, ethnicity, economic circumstances or even political preference.

Why are evangelical Christians living in Europe more fascinated by missionary journeys to fields afar, while missing the chance to really change our European societies?  Can we afford not to have our mentalities changed by the power of the Holy Spirit?  Resisting the Spirit leads to despair; walking in the Spirit leads to hope.  I believe that those who follow Jesus are a people of hope.  It is precisely hope Europe needs, as we have been reminded by the recent HOPE FOR EUROPE Congress in Budapest (9-13 May 2011).  Help is however first needed for the helpers themselves – local churches in Europe need to be equipped in order to have a real European agenda, in word and deed, for the 21st century.

Raymond is passionate about Europe.  He is available to talk at churches, conferences and Bible colleges on the subject.  He can be contacted through his website or at contact@ichthus21.eu.

Short term mission: preaching the good news

Source: www.freeimages.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

And how can those preach unless they are sent?

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

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

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

Enculturation or resistance – a dilemma for Nepali believers

Nepal“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” Hebrews 12.14

In a country where 95% of the population is Hindu, we live in an environment where almost all our Nepali neighbours, colleagues and friends are Hindu.  This weekend was Holi, one of the multiple Hindu festivals that punctuate the calendar here on an almost weekly basis.  Like many such festivals, its origins vary greatly, but in Nepal it is associated with the god Krishna who is known for his playfulness and his charm with women.

The festival, appropriately known as the festival of colours, is celebrated by showering friends and family with water and coloured powders.  Excitement builds as brightly coloured water pistols of different sizes appear in the shops.  Many find it hard to wait for the day itself, and for up to 2 weeks beforehand children and teenagers will delight to throw water balloons at unsuspecting passers-by.  Our boys were thrilled when visitors left a gift of two water pistols for them.  We were less thrilled at having to face the issue as to whether or not they should be allowed play Holi, even as several other missionary families from school planned water parties for the day.

These festivals however raise serious questions for many Nepali Christians.  Their frequency and their interwoven-ness with social life here are a significant challenge to separating oneself from Hindu religious practice and ritual, something the church feels is essential to its identity.  Hinduism is a religion that embraces multiple deities, religious teachings and practices, and many Hindus are happy to include Jesus Christ in their pantheon of gurus and leaders.  The church feels it is important to take a stand that clearly reflects their faithfulness to Christ as their one and only Saviour, without the confusion of practices that may have Hindu origins.

Weddings are an example of an occasion that is steeped in Hindu rituals, and thus it is that Christians not only marry in a church ceremony, but that the brides also generally wear a Western style pink or white gown. The fear is that the traditional red and gold wedding sari may carry some significance for Hindu observers and prevent them from clearly distinguishing the Christian faith.  Dashai is the largest Hindu festival in Nepal, lasting several days and involving much animal sacrifice and the exchange of Hindu tikka between family members.  Associated with long holidays and much socializing, non-Christians tend to liken it to our Christmas (we beg to differ!).  But for many Nepali Christians, it is a time of real conflict, feeling isolated from their community and being torn between their family and their faith.  To borrow the allegory, imagine if you as an individual had to choose not to participate in any aspect of the Christmas festivities your friends and family enjoy: the parties, decorations, meals, gifts, let alone the religious ceremonies.  The church is aware of the immense pressure and sense of isolation that many feel at this time, and so usually organises several days of events at churches for Christians to attend and enjoy together, including meals served with meat (butchered, not sacrificed) as a treat.

Some outsiders criticise what they see as the church’s inability to distinguish between cultural and religious practice, and its failure to explore a truly Nepali expression of Christianity.  They fear that this attitude only reinforces the concept that Christianity is a foreign religion and that Nepali Christians are not truly Nepali, an accusation frequently made by Hindu fundamentalists.  But I am not sure that any of us non-Nepalis can fully understand their experience as a minority (at times, persecuted) faith in this country, nor their struggle for recognition in a land where the ‘secular’ government provides massive subsidies for Hindu sites and festivals.  Many Nepali Christians report that even in this day when Nepal is supposed to have freedom of religion, some Christians experience being cut out of their inheritance, denied land that is rightfully theirs, or being thrown out of their families because they have converted.  It is not an easy or light choice that people make, and they usually endure far more than we ever will for their faithfulness to Christ.

So what to do about our boys valid hopes to try out their new water pistols, and join in the water fights and fun outside our apartment for Holi?  At church, we referred the matter to our Nepali pastor, who gently but unwaveringly stated that none of the other children from the church would be playing Holi.  After the service, the church showed a film and provided snacks for the congregation as alternative entertainment for the afternoon.  Our family instead braved the streets again and went home for our ‘traditional’ sabbath nap.  When the boys woke up, the children next door were already out on the empty lot waiting for Mark to start a game of baseball.  Grabbing mitts and bat, the boys headed out, water pistols left lying in our storeroom, waiting for another day.

This blog is an edited version of an article by Deirdre Zimmerman, a long-term development worker in Nepal, where she lives with her husband Mark and two sons.  To read the full version, follow this link.

Change – an MK reflects on the only constant

Source: www.freeimages.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take up your crib and follow me

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

At this time of year, it’s common for many of us to think about a newborn baby lying in a manger.  It’s a sanitised, sentimental scene where we’ve airbrushed out the smell of cattle dung and the sounds of a teenage girl giving birth in squalor.  We think humanitarian thoughts about peace and goodwill to everyone.  It’s a vaguely aspirational time when we try to be kind and be slightly generous to those who have less than us, generous enough at least to salve our consciences about how much high-calorie food we will throw away and how much alcohol we will consume.

What we often overlook is that this little child who is the focus of our nativity scenes is the ultimate cross-cultural mission worker.

He gave up a wealthy, safe and comfortable existence to live a life of poverty, hardship and danger in order to tell people that God loves them.  Many didn’t listen, or were only interested in the food handouts or his medical ministry.  Some of those who followed his teaching clearly misunderstood it, or cracked under pressure of persecution.  One even betrayed him to the authorities.  In the end he paid the ultimate price for his mission.

Today, many millions of people claim to be his followers.  Many of them live their lives like he did, boldly taking his message of good news to those who haven’t heard it, or don’t want to hear it, and they count it a privilege to pay the price for it.  We salute you, and pray that you will be encouraged in your ministries this Christmas.

Sadly, many of his followers are too much like the thousands who liked his catchy stories, and loved being entertained or fed or healed by him, but were all too obviously absent when the time came to stand up and be counted.  We wish these people not peace and joy but challenge and conviction.  We re-tweet his call to costly discipleship – take up your cross and follow me. The path to genuine peace and joy is not a safe and comfortable one.  The road from Bethlehem to Heaven runs through Calvary.