Heroes: Oswald Chambers

Chambers, looking more like a matinee idol than a Bible College principal!

Those who follow Syzygy on social media may have noticed that every Friday for the last few months we have been publishing a quote from Oswald Chambers’ much-loved devotional My Utmost for his Highest.  Chambers is well-known for his inspiring writing but the man himself is not often talked about.  Which is just how he would have liked it!

Born in Scotland in the 19th century, he was an artist, pastor, and principal of a Bible College who had experience of short-term mission in Japan.  Passionate for the lost and oblivious to hierarchy and education, he ploughed his own furrow caring for the poor and ministering to anyone he came across.

While running the YMCA in Cairo during the First World War, he surprised everyone by cancelling entertainments for soldiers from Australia and New Zealand who were billeted there, and replacing them with Bible studies, which proved to be amazingly popular as he encouraged the troops to live lives totally sold out for God.

My Utmost for His Highest, published posthumously by his widow, contains numerous quotes about mission, which you can see if you trawl back through our feed.  Although Chambers was not an overseas mission worker like other heroes we’ve highlighted in the past, we nevertheless remain inspired by not only his passion for God but his absolute dedication to seeing God glorified through his life.

“The great word of Jesus to his disciples is abandon,” he wrote. “When God has brought us into the relationship of disciples, we have to venture on his word; trust entirely to him and watch that when he brings us to the venture, we take it.”

Which is good advice for any mission worker.

Treasure in broken vessels

kintugiMany of us in the West will share an attitude to damaged pottery – it’s ruined.  A chipped plate, a cracked mug – throw it out.  Not only is it now worthless, we wouldn’t want others to see us using it.  They might think a little less of us if they did.

In Japanese art, however, the attitude is completely different.  The broken pieces are carefully gathered and pieced back together with gold seams where there are cracks.  The restored vessel is considered more beautiful, because of the care that has gone into mending it and that fact that its healed body tells its story.  Instead of rejecting the flawed and damaged, the Japanese embrace it.

Most of us in the mission world have been badly damaged.  We try to cover it up, act as if nothing has happened, think that others will think less of us if they find out.  But pots that are in everyday use get damaged – it’s only the ones that are locked away in a cupboard that stay pristine.  Life takes chips out of all of us, some more than others, and none of us is in mint condition.

In rejecting the damage, we deny some of our history.  We overlook the fact that God is gently but intentionally putting back together a valuable and much-loved possession, pouring his attention and effort into making it whole again.  The gold in the cracks is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and it makes us even more beautiful than if we were pristine.  God loves these damaged goods so much that he keeps on using us, keeps on repairing us, until more and more of him shines through our shabby and battered exteriors.

Allowing others to see the cracks also allows them the opportunity to see God at work in healing our lives.

 

Japan – how can we help?

When faced with such devastating destruction, what can we do?  On the one hand, it may seem that there is so much to be done, that we cannot possibly know where to start.  One the other hand, Japan is such a strong and capable nation that perhaps they don’t need our help.  We recognise that countries like Pakistan or Haiti cannot possibly rebuild on their own after a major disaster, whereas New Zealand and Japan seem so much more capable to us, and maybe they don’t really need our help.  Should we be giving our support to other, more needy nations instead?

An experienced Japan mission worker remarked recently that in many ways Japan does not need our help.  Technologically, there is no country in the world more capable of dealing with such a disaster; financially, they have a huge capacity for reconstruction even if it will significantly set their economy back; and organisationally they are unparalleled.  However, with donations to established disaster relief agencies significantly lower than those for Haiti at this stage, and the DEC not organising an umbrella appeal, immediate funding for emergency supplies such as blankets, food and water is in short-supply, and reports coming out of north east Japan indicate that there are many cold and hungry people still waiting to be cared for.

One area where they will clearly need help, however, is in dealing with the emotional fallout.  So many families have lost loved ones, and with the scale of the disaster many do not have a body to grieve over and cremate in accordance with their tradition.  The whole nation will have unanswered questions.  There will be nobody who is not personally affected by a disaster of this magnitude.  How do they grieve?  Who will comfort them?

While such disasters are an unmitigated tragedy which we wish had never happened, they do represent an incredible opportunity for us to reach out and support others.  The small number of Japanese believers, supported by the Christian family worldwide, has a chance to express love and compassion, and give an account for the hope that we have even in the midst of such trauma.  Demonstrations of support and sympathy will carry great weight in Japanese society and do much to counter any suspicion that Christians are viewed with.

In terms of providing immediate care there are already many appeals in place to help feed, clothe and house the refugees.  Syzygy recommends OMF’s Sendai Earthquake Relief Fund if you want to give financial support.  You can also find regular updates, including prayer requests on their Japan website.  OMF have a large number of mission workers who speak Japanese well and are able to get into places and communicate effectively where other foreign workers may not be so successful.  They are associated with a number of Japanese churches who provide contacts and networks that are already in place, particularly in Sendai where they have been operating for many decades.  OMF already have in place established procedures for transferring funds to Japan and communicating needs and prayer requests back.

Please pray:

  • for Japanese Christians, who have to deal with the burden of their own grief while consoling those who don’t know Jesus.
  • for the overseas mission workers, already coping with their own disorientation, who have to function in ways they are not accustomed to while ministering hope and comfort to others.
  • for the Japanese people, particularly the military forces and rescue workers, faced with the unpleasant task of clearing up the destruction while still bearing their own unresolved trauma.
  • for Mr Sato, Vice-Minister for Construction and Transportation, who is the only Christian in the government.  He is currently in charge of the response to the nuclear crisis and will have a key role in rebuilding the infrastructure.  Pray for his health, and that he would be an excellent ambassador for Jesus.

Confess or renounce?

Sixteenth century Japanese fumie, used for treading on as a symbolic renunciation of Christ

Recently, in a troubled central-Asian republic where there has recently been much turmoil, a Christian was kidnapped and tortured by Islamist extremists.  In great pain, and with threats of similar violence to his wife and children, he agreed to their demands to renounce Jesus, and was released.  Subsequently, he suffered huge pangs of guilt and remorse.  Although he had not done this willingly, he had said the words.  He felt he had let down his Saviour.  How could he find forgiveness for that?

This reminds me of a story explored in Shusako Endo’s prize-winning novel Silence.  It concerns a Jesuit priest in mediaeval Japan, who is captured and forced to renounce Jesus by treading on an image of him, as many Japanese believers were forced to do during the seventeenth century.  As he wondered where his God was in the midst of his dilemma, he looked at the image of Jesus and felt it saying to him, “Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here.”  Endo gives us an image not only of a Christ who suffered and was rejected on the cross, but one who continues to be rejected.

What would you say to encourage a man who has denied Christ?  Has he lost his soul (2 Timothy 2:12)?  Will he be restored in grace as Peter was after he denied knowing Jesus?  Is he just a normal flesh-and-blood person, who did the rational thing in a crisis, just like the rest of us would have done?  What would you have done in that situation?

Please pray for the believers in this country.  Life is hard for them, as they are marginalised by their compatriots, and find it hard to get jobs.  They risk being attacked, whether individually or as congregations.  A rising current of extremism threatens the notional freedom of religion in this state.  Pray that the political situation would stabilise, that law and order would be established, and freedom of religion protected.  Pray that the suffering Christians would be encouraged, and comforted in their hardship.