Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Some characteristics of a church focussed on mission

Those who have been following my blog for some time would (hopefully) know by now that I am firmly convinced that a church only has the right to exist in as far as it is focussed on the world, created by God and saved by God through His Son. The question which might arise is how to determine whether and to what extent the church I belong to is focussed on mission. Actually this is also a bit of a personal problem, as I have been asked to attend a meeting next week at a church where I have for some years been requested to sit in on their missions committee in advisory capacity. What frustrates me however is that it seems as if this specific church wants to be able to say that they are involved with missions but at the same time they don’t want to initiate anything. In a previous post I wrote about this frustration.
When writing the post mentioned, the missions committee had decided to disband and I wrote there that I wondered what the church council is going to make of this decision. Well, I later found out that they ignored the decision! So they are going on as if the decision was never taken and they are planning a meeting for next week and yours truly has been asked to attend again! On the one hand I’m really at a loss what I should do. Swaziland is getting a little money (not much) from this congregation and I know that they will be setting the budget at this coming meeting. Of more importance is that they are also giving money to the ministry in Russia I’m involved in and I would not want to jeopardise this by not attending.
Earlier today I happened to come across a website called Friend of Missional and there someone had written some thoughts on how a missional church would look. The word “missional” is not acceptable by all and therefore I prefer to speak of a mission focussed church. But in the end we mean the same thing, more or less. You can read the full report on their website, but following are a number of characteristics which one would find in a mission focussed church. The list is certainly not comprehensive, but by looking at this list and by evaluating your own church, it would be possible to pick up a trend. And if the trend is that the church is more focussed on itself and those who are members, then I would consider this as something needing serious attention.
A mission focussed church would consider:

  • Not simply how many people come to our church services, but how many people our church serves.
  • Not simply how many people attend our ministry, but how many people have we equipped for ministry.
  • Not simply how many people minister inside the church, but how many minister outside the church.
  • Not simply helping people become more whole themselves, but helping people bring more wholeness to their world, (i.e. justice, healing, relief).
  • Not simply how many ministries we start, but how many ministries we help.
  • Not simply how many unbelievers we bring into the community of faith, but how many ‘believers’ we help experience healthy community.
  • Not simply working through our past hurts, but working alongside the Spirit toward wholeness.
  • Not simply counting the resources that God gives us to steward, but counting how many good stewards are we developing for the sake of the world.
  • Not simply how we are connecting with our culture but how we are engaging our culture.
  • Not simply how much peace we bring to individuals, but how much peace we bring to our world.
  • Not simply how effective we are with our mission, but how faithful we are to our God.
  • Not simply how unified our local church is, but how unified is “the church” in our neighborhood, city and world?
  • Not simply how much we immerse ourselves in the text, but how faithfully we live in the story of God.
  • Not simply being concerned about how our country is doing, but being concerned for the welfare of other countries.
  • Not simply how many people we bring into the kingdom, but how much of the kingdom we bring to the earth.

How did you yourself and your church rate?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008 Posted by | Church, Culture, Meetings, Mission, Mission Sites, Russia, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

Too poor to survive and too rich to be supported

In my latest Swaziland newsletter which you can read here, I make mention of the strange contradiction when those in high places consider which countries should receive foreign aid.
Extreme poverty is defined by the World Bank as someone receiving less than $2 (US) per day – that’s $60 per month or around 450 Emalangeni (the Swazi currency). It is said that around 67% of Swaziland’s population not only receive less than $2 per day, but receive less than 45 cents (US) per day – that’s about 100 Emalangeni per month. To give you an idea how much this is worth, we bought all the volunteers in our Home-Based Caring project a food parcel for Christmas, consisting of a small bag of rice, a small bag of sugar, a packet of tea bags, six candles, a bar of soap and a small tin of fish. This worked out at slightly less than 100 Emalangeni as we were able to negotiate a discount due to the number of items we had bought. And did I mention that around 40% of the population are unemployed?
Seemingly this situation isn’t bad enough yet. In spite of the conditions under which the largest part of the population have to live, Swaziland cannot be categorised as a low income country by the World Bank. The reason: The average income of the population is too high. Certainly, Swaziland does have a number of extremely affluent people, such as certain farmers, businessmen and people with profitable enterprises. But their wealth is doing very little to better the life situation of those receiving little or no money. You should read the full report on this situation here.
What annoys me the most about this situation is that people make decisions about others while sitting in air-conditioned boardrooms, relaxing in chauffeur-driven limousines or while flying from one place to another in a luxury jet. It becomes so easy to become totally blind for the real needs of people if you have never been exposed to their actual living conditions.
Bob Roberts wrote something really amazing on his blog today. In this post, which he calls Big Brains of Energy Drains, he invites people to join him in experiencing what is really happening in the lives of other people: Got an idea – what if we had a change the world conference – we go and work for 1 week on a huge garbage dump – miles of it – in Jakarta and we work with the people who live there, serve them, and in the evenings debrief? Oh, oh, oh – there are parts of Sudan we could go to and do the same – what say ye? It won’t be entertaining, you will get sick – but you won’t die though you may feel like it – we will not give in to your whining – It would be an energy drain – but only physically – spiritually and for the people you serve it would be huge blessing – any takers?
What happens in boardrooms around the world happens in conference rooms in churches as well. We lose our focus for the world because we are never exposed to what is really going on in other communities. So perhaps I need to echo what Bob Roberts said: What about spending time in the homes of the sick and the dying in Swaziland instead of going on a luxury holiday? Isn’t that what Jesus may have done if He had been living as a human Person on earth today?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 Posted by | Bob Roberts, Church, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture Shock, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Meetings, Mission, Poverty, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology | 1 Comment

Are we overemphasising life after death?

While at university, one of my Old Testament professors used to refer to our traditional view on eternal life as “a pie in the sky, bye and bye, when you die.” I still find too many people focussing mainly on life after death instead of focussing also on life on earth. Obviously there is tremendous comfort in the knowledge that there is a life after death. This seems to be the focus of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 and especially verse 19 where he says: If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. And what other comfort can we give the family of a Christian who had died than to assure them that the deceased is living with Christ. When my father died in 2000, this was really the only comfort which I myself had.
Towards the end of last year Brian McLaren published a book with the title Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. I haven’t read it yet, but I did read a review in Christianity Today about the book which you can access here. In Ron Martoia’s book, Static, which I have just finished reading he touches on the same topic which Brian McLaren also writes about, and this is (in my own words) that Jesus did not come to save souls, but that He came to save the world.
There is a huge difference between these two viewpoints. How often have you heard people saying that Jesus came to earth in order for our souls to be saved? But according to John 3:16 God sent His Son to earth out of love for the world. And it is clear, when studying the book of Revelations, that God’s interest in us doesn’t stop at the point that our souls are saved, but that He has much more in mind than this – just think of the wonderful description of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelations 21.
From my own background I know that, during the Apartheid years in South Africa, those who were discriminated against were often comforted with the words that they had to accept the hardship which faced them here on earth, knowing that in the next life things will be different! During the times of the Tsars in Russia, the peasants were also told to accept the hardship which befell them because they could look forward to life after death when things would be better.
One of the reasons why I believe the church has lost a lot of its credibility on earth is exactly because of this attitude. God, through Christ, has given us life in abundance here on earth and I believe that we have the calling from God to ensure that other people can also share in this wonderful life on earth. Contrary to many people who feel that we as Christians should not really speak about life after death, I do believe that we could and should speak about it. This theme occurs often in the New Testament. But it should not be done at the cost of keeping quiet about God’s will for people today. In short, our mission task is not solely focussed on the saving of souls but is also focussed on the saving of people and the earth on which we were placed. The church will have to regain credibility but will only be able to do it if we unashamedly stand up for the rights of people, reaching out to help the helpless, bringing health back to the sick, proclaiming peace where there is war, speaking out when the earth is being misused, etc.
I am uncomfortable when people seem to swing the pendulum to the side of only being involved in social and ecological issues, as if we may not speak about life after death. But I also understand this reaction against many Christians and churches which proclaim an unbalanced message of overemphasising life after death.

Monday, January 28, 2008 Posted by | Church, Death, Eschatology, Evangelism, Hope, Mission, Poverty, Racism, Russia, Social issues, Theology | 1 Comment

Ron Martoia: Static

I’ve just finished reading Ron Martoia’s book, Static, which has the sub-title: Tune out the “Christian noise” and experience the real message of Jesus. Frankly, I don’t know how I feel about this book. He writes a lot of stuff that I can totally agree with. I usually refer to Christianese where he speaks of Christian noise. (That’s the special language we Christians use which only we can understand!) The book is written in the first person as an account of his experience with two (as far as I can see, fictional) friends, Jess and Phil who are frustrated because they can make no headway in sharing the gospel with a person called Marty. As I read the book I had the feeling that he was trying to do the same as Brian McLaren had done in A new kind of Christian – writing a type of novel in the first person to illustrate his point.
As I mentioned, there’s a lot that I can support: Listen to other people before you try and share the gospel with them; be careful of using words that have no meaning (or may have a “loaded” meaning) to non-Christians; don’t focus so much on life after death that you forget about life before death and much more.
What surprised me more was his accounts of sharing some of his viewpoints with pastors who reacted with shock and indignation that what he had shared with them had never been told to them by their college professors. Some of the things he mentions we had already done in Biblical Studies 1! He elaborates on the issue of the kingdom of God and claims that almost everybody he has spoken to sees this as “heaven”. William Barclay wrote a lovely little book which we did in my first year at university (1976), The mind of Jesus, in which he, at that time, defined the kingdom of God as the place where God is in control, God’s domain, or in the words of Martoia, God’s empire. I’m struggling to believe that so few pastors know something as basic as this.
My main problem with a book such as this is that the author has a problem with people interpreting the Bible from a “modernist” viewpoint and then they seem to interpret the Bible from a “post-modern” viewpoint. Not that I’m saying that there isn’t a lot to learn from this. I think his emphasis on looking at the entire story, from Genesis to Revelations is really great. What I miss in his book is an interpretation of Paul’s view on salvation. Martoia focusses on the gospels and mainly on the gospel of Luke (my favourite gospel as well) but as far as I could tell there is only one single reference to the letters of Paul. Furthermore, nothing is said about the message of salvation as recorded in the book of Acts nor is there any discussion on the emphasis placed on the resurrection of Jesus, which, in the book of Acts is one of the most central messages proclaimed by the disciples.
I agree with Martoia in that I also have a problem with the typical “turn or burn” preachers. I agree that it doesn’t help to get people into heaven solely because they are afraid to go to hell. I agree that there isn’t a “once size fits all” gospel presentation. There’s so much that I agree with. But there is a lot more that needs to be said than what is written in this book.
I think my frustration to a certain extent lies in the fact that he doesn’t seem to give answers. Probably he would argue that it was not his intention to give answers, merely to question traditional viewpoints. Granted. But I have seen many people in my life come into a new relationship with God (I personally also prefer to speak of a relationship rather than conversion) without needing to start with Genesis and working the way through the story of Egypt, Canaan, the first and second exile and the prophets after the exile before eventually coming to Matthew 1.
Martoia is a good writer. The fact that I was down with flu the past two days probably also helped that I could finish the book in a short time. Jess, the one character in the book, says at one point that “it’s so much more difficult than I first thought.” And I wondered whether we are not making things much more difficult than they should be. No, I’m not saying that we preach fire and brimstone until people feel so guilty that they repent. I’m all for conversations about God. I’m all for taking time, visiting people over and over before speaking about Jesus. But if I had been a Christian without much knowledge in evangelism, this book would probably have convinced me once and for all that evangelism is only to be done by professionals. And that, I’m sure, is NOT Biblical.

Saturday, January 26, 2008 Posted by | Church, Dialogue, Evangelism, Mission, Theology | 2 Comments

Cross-cultural contact (2)

Well ,here’s the second part of my story about taking a group of White, Afrikaans-speaking Christians to Black, Siswati-speaking Christians. If you missed out on the first part, read it here first.
After leaving Manzini with three seriously confused people in a house without a pastor, we drove through to Mbabane. The other single lady was placed with an older married couple and then I drove the older couple who had come with me through to the house where they would be staying. What happened there I only found out months afterwards and it was also told with great embarrassment.
Not knowing what to expect, the lady had packed a clean set of linen in her suitcase so that they could put this on the bed if they suspected that the linen may not be clean. In the meantime, the couple who was housing them had even painted out the bedroom in preparation for their coming! (We tend to think that cross-cultural contact is only difficult for us Westerners, but for the Swazis doing it for the first time, it is equally difficult.)
After a lovely meal they retired to their bedroom, only to find that their hosts had gone out of their way to make everything as comfortable as possible for them. Needless to say, the linen remained in the suitcase.
The next morning when I drove to fetch them for church, I had the same reaction that I later had in Manzini. With tears in their eyes the older couple put their arms around me and thanked me for one of the best experiences they had ever had.
Cross-cultural contact need not be painful. A lot depends on the attitude. Most of us enter into such a relationship with the idea that we are on a slightly higher level than those we have come to meet. It is only when we really allow the Spirit to open our hearts for other people that we really come to appreciate them. And sometimes we have to be “tricked” into a situation that we would normally not have entered into to really learn to appreciate others for what they are.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Culture Shock, Hospitality, Humour, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Cross-cultural contact

After yesterday’s post about my friend who had died, I had a chance to reflect on some of the finer moments in our relationship. He definitely helped me a lot in positive cross-cultural experiences, something for which I am extremely thankful.
On a lighter note today, I want to share something which happened when I wanted to expose a number of “White, Afrikaans-speaking” Christians from South Africa to the Swazi culture. This happened quite a few years ago, but if I remember correctly we were twelve in all who took the road through Swaziland, visiting a number of branches of our church in various regions. This group consisted, amongst others of an elderly couple, two single woman, a younger couple whom I knew had struggled with God about this visit and then a few others.
Before we left I warned the group that I was planning to give them a very positive experience of Swaziland but that I was also going to give them maximum exposure to the local people. I informed the younger couple that I was planning to house them with a wonderful Swazi couple. (Just to give you an idea about the Swazi couple: The man is the personal chauffeur for the British High Commissioner in Swaziland and his wife is the director for SOS Villages in Swaziland – both people with loving, open hearts.) A day or two before we left, this young lady phoned me and told me that she and her husband had thought about staying with the Swazi couple. They felt that it would be more comfortable for the older couple to stay in a house and then they would be willing to sleep on the floor in a church. (How unselfish can one get!) Of course I knew that this was not the true reason for them deciding not to stay with the Swazi people, but I left it at that. Actually, I already had a plan B in mind, knowing that I would do them no favour to “let them off the hook.”
We left on the following Saturday and drove through a large part of the country. At Matsanjeni we were met by the congregation who welcomed them with wonderful singing. Just before dark we reached Manzini and went to the house of one of our pastors. I told the young couple and one of the single ladies to unpack their stuff as they were going to remain behind. The pastor was not even there at that point, although his young children were present. I took them in, introduced them to the children and told them to wait for the pastor to arrive and then we left for Mbabane to the house where my friend who had died yesterday, used to stay.
I’ll fill in the details of our stay in Mbabane tomorrow, but the following morning, Sunday, we returned to Manzini to attend church. As we stopped at the house where I had left the three the previous evening, the woman who had phoned me rushed out of the house. For a moment I thought that she was going to slap me! But instead she came up to me and with tears in her eyes put her arms around me she hugged me and thanked me “for one of the most wonderful experiences ever” in her life. More than a year later she found the courage to share with me what had happened. We were involved in a 24-hour prayer watch and it happened that she and I were both slotted for a prayer session at midnight. We did pray, but that night she filled me in one the detail which I had never known before.
That evening when I left them in Manzini they honestly thought that I was playing some kind of practical joke on them. As they sat in the house she said over and over again to her husband that she knew that I was going to come back and fetch them and then we would all laugh at their expense. But as time went on, they started realising that I was not intending to return. Eventually the pastor returned and prepared food for them (his wife was not present at that time.) Then he took them to their bedrooms and the couple was housed in a large room with a lovely double bed (I know, I’ve often slept in that bed). And then the strangest thing happened. The woman, realising that they had been “tricked” went to have a shower. She told me that night, as we were praying together, that she got into the shower. The shower railing and wall were being used by the pastor’s young daughter (probably about five at that time) to hang her underwear to dry. And this woman said to me, as she stood in that shower, with “panties” all around her head, something broke inside her! She, who had decided that she would not stay in a house with Black people, suddenly discovered a love for them that she had never known before. She came out of that shower, cleansed not only of the dirt of the day, but cleansed also of a lot of prejudice that she had had in her life. It was amazing to see how God changed her life around through that one experience.
Well, we had a good laugh about this. She was so ashamed for what she had done. But what a great testimony she had afterwards.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Church, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Culture Shock, Hospitality, Humour, Mission, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology | 1 Comment

My friend died today

One of my long-time friends in Swaziland passed away today. He had been one of my first Swazi friends I ever made and for many years we were next-door neighbours. We were the same age. He had a lovely wife. He also had four children (like us). His oldest daughter and my oldest son are nearly the same age and were very close friends when they were small. We still laugh at what happened when both these children started speaking. We were very excited about this friendship because we believed that our son would naturally start speaking SiSwati as this girl obviously knew no other language. And then one day we passed by where the two of them were playing and we heard the girl speak Afrikaans! (I maintain that my son’s stubbornness is to be attributed to my in-laws ;-)
Towards the end of November I went to visit him at his home in the northern part of Swaziland. I had heard that he was not well and was shocked to see him that day. He had lost a lot of weight and it was obvious that his body was very weak. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that he had been working hard in his garden. In my heart I knew that this wasn’t the reason for his illness, but I left it at that. I prayed with him and returned home.
Last Saturday I had a meeting in Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland. While there I was informed that he had been admitted to the government hospital a few days before. After the meeting I drove to the hospital to see him. Only his familiar face was visible above the blankets. I’m not sure if he ever recognised me. Most of the time that I was there he seemed to be sleeping. His wife, standing next to his bed, tried to wake him up and after a while he lay, staring somewhere but not aware of what was going on around him. I prayed for him and his family. I was on the point of leaving when I tried again to communicate with him. At that stage it seemed as if he may have recognised me. His wife once again told me that he was very weak because he was stressed and he had been working hard in his garden. But the symptoms of course were clear. His sickness had nothing to do with gardening!
This morning he died. And I thought to myself, after hearing the news, that we know that between 70 and 80 people are dying in Swaziland on a daily base due to AIDS. In South Africa 1000 people are dying daily because of this pandemic and in sub-Saharan Africa around 6000 people are dying daily for the same reason. For most of us this is nothing more than statistics. And then one day you receive the news that your friend has died. And suddenly you are confronted with the reality of this terrible disease and you know that you have to keep on fighting to lessen the effects of this disease. Eighty families are mourning in Swaziland today. Tomorrow another eighty families will join them. On and on, more and more.
When will it ever stop?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Death, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Prayer, Swaziland | 5 Comments

The example of the Korean church

From time to time I’m asked to write a review on a book. My favourite is writing reviews for the Missionalia, the journal for the Southern African Missiological Society. This has a number of advantages for myself: I get to read some of the latest books written about missions, something which is fairly difficult unless one has regular access to a university library. I get exposed to a variety of topics, many of which I would probably not have chosen to read about if I had not been forced to do so. And I get to keep the book after I’ve read it! And with the latest one selling at Amazon at a price of $92, this is quite a nice gift (or payment for services rendered!)
The book I’ve just finished was written by a Spanish priest in the Catholic church, Antton Iraola, who had been a missionary in Korea and Thailand for twenty years. His book, True Confucians, Bold Christians (I also struggled to find out where this title came from before reading it) tells the story of how Christianity (or at least the Catholic part of it) came to Korea in the last part of the eighteenth century. It’s quite an amazing story of Chinese church documents finding their way to Korea, people reading these documents and then expressing the wish that they wanted to accept Jesus as Saviour after reading what Jesus had done while on earth. For more than a century these people had to depend upon the laity to serve the church as there were no trained priests who could lead them.
When looking at their lifestyle, they took their example from Christ Himself, endeavouring to live in the same way as He lived. Their wish was to become empty vessels – empty of themselves – so that Christ could live through them. Part of this process was that they became the servants of the other people.
In a country that was built upon the concept of classes, the message which came from the Christians was totally strange – the message that God had created all human beings as equal and that one person could not consider himself higher than another. Remarkably this message also referred to the equality of men and women. By living out the life of Christ, things began to change in the country. The way in which community leaders were chosen started changing. In a country where women in general had a wretched life, things started changing within marriages.
Antton Iraola wrote this book as a model for other churches to follow in a time when it seems that the church has little integrity in the world. On a small scale this is what we are trying to do in Swaziland in our AIDS projects where we also try and become the hands and feet of Christ. We still have a long way to go, but I do believe – and this book confirmed it – that the only way in which the church will really be able to regain integrity in the world is by becoming a servant to all people.

Monday, January 21, 2008 Posted by | Alternative Society, Church, Culture, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

When culture and morals clash

Those not living in southern Africa may not be aware of all the things happening in South Africa on the political front. President Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa was recently voted out as leader of the ruling political party, the ANC and replaced by Mr Jacob Zuma. Accused of rape, a charge on which he was found not guilty after it could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt that there had not been consent from the girl who laid the charges, indications are that Mr Zuma will soon be standing trial on charges of corruption. Mr Zuma is also a Zulu, one of the largest population groups in South Africa, closely related to the Swazis.
Yesterday I was driving around in Swaziland accompanied by a nurse who is helping us with our home-based caring project. She is also a Zulu and she is also a Christian. Our discussions eventually moved over to politics and she admitted that she was fully in favour of Mr Jacob Zuma becoming the new president of South Africa. I, on the other hand, said that I would find it difficult to respect him as president due to a number of moral issues with which I cannot identify myself. One issue obviously is the fact that he never denied having a sexual relationship with the girl in question but only that he denied raping her. And when he was asked in court whether he was aware that the girl was HIV positive he replied that he did indeed know beforehand. When asked what he did to prevent himself from getting infected, he told the court that he took a shower after having sex with her! Oh boy!
What surprised me was when the nurse in the car with me remarked that my problem was that I didn’t understand the Zulu culture which was the reason why I couldn’t accept Zuma’s morals. I responded by saying that this wasn’t really the truth, as I feel that I do have quite a lot of understanding for the culture but that I, as Christian, could not identify myself with this part of culture. Furthermore, what is considered to be culture is causing the death of millions of people in Southern Africa.
This discussion just made me realise once again how sensitive cultural issues are. I would guess that most committed Christians would claim that there is only one thing important to them and this is to do what God wants them to do. But throw in a few cultural issues and it will soon become clear that nearly all of us have certain issues which we consider to be non-negotiable.
Knowing the integrity of the person who said this to me, I took her words seriously. And I did realise that God truly has to free us all from our cultures, be it African, Western, American, East-European, Asian or whatever else. In some cultures it may be racism that we need to be freed from. In other cases it may be arrogance. In some a culture of alcoholism in others a culture of free sex. Ultimately we all need to be purified by God in an ongoing way so that we can increasingly reflect the Lord’s glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Having said all that, I just realise how difficult it is, when working in another culture, to distinguish between matters that are truly Biblical and those which contradict my own, Afrikaans culture. This is not as easy as it may sound.

Saturday, January 19, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Alternative Society, Culture, Culture Shock, HIV & AIDS, Indigenous church, Mission, Racism, Swaziland, Theology | 1 Comment

What are Christians reading?

While on my trip to the city earlier this week, I popped into one of the larger Christian bookstores in South Africa to find something my wife wanted. I get extremely frustrated when entering a Christian bookstore nowadays. After we got married and especially after our children were born, whenever we had a chance to go to a large city in South Africa, my wife would go to stores to buy clothes for herself and / or our children (mostly our children) while I spent a few hours in a Christian bookstore, looking (and eventually buying) a number of books. We had an agreement that I wouldn’t interfere in the clothes issue and she wouldn’t interfere in my book issue. (I’m a certified bibliophile!) For the past few years I find it much more thrilling to go shopping for clothes with my wife than to look at the available books in Christian bookstores.
If I see which books are packed out onto tables and even onto the floor (indicating that these are the popular books) then I just shake my head in disbelief. It might be unfair to say this, but when I look at the quality of these books then the words in Hebrews 5:12-13 come to mind where the author of this letter tells the readers that they still need to drink milk as they are unable to digest solid food. Most of these books seem to focus on some kind of aspect to help the reader to improve his or her self-image, usually by way of 3, 5, 7 or 9 easy steps! (Odd numbers seem to be more popular than even numbers.) Another hot topic has to do with heaven. Even John, the author of Revelations did not know as much about heaven as today’s popular authors know about it! And then Bibles – I’ve never seen so many different Bibles: Bibles for men, for women, for teens, for boys, for girls (big and small), for business men, for travellers. There’s hardly a category in which a Bible has not yet been written, hardcover, softcover or leather bound. But looking through the books (I had to pass the time as I was waiting for something to be repaired) I failed to find a single book which I would consider to be something which would help me as Christian to change the world, or at least, change the community where God has placed me. There is nothing about mission. Nothing about HIV/AIDS. A friend asked me to look for a book about Muslims. Nothing! Not even after I told the guy behind the counter (much to his surprise) to do a search on Islam as well as Muslims. Still nothing.
Yesterday I mentioned the lack of commitment from individuals as well as churches to get involved with missions. Perhaps my experience in the bookstore is related to this and possibly this is just a symptom of a much greater problem in society as well as in the church, which is that we want everything to be as easy as possible. Why would I want to chew on a piece of meat if I can drink milk or be spoon-fed? Why would I want to read more about getting my hands dirty in an attempt to make this world a better place if I can read dozens of books trying to tell me how wonderful I am?
I’m not sure whether things will ever change. Books are written to generate money. If they cannot generate lots of money, nobody will publish them. Good books are available. But not in popular bookstores. And mostly at a higher cost. However, it will always be worthwhile making an effort to read books that will really influence your life on the long run.

Thursday, January 17, 2008 Posted by | HIV & AIDS, Mission, Social issues, Theology, What I'm reading | 3 Comments

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