I read a lot. I mentioned the other day that most Christian bookstores in South Africa don’t keep many books that I would consider spending my money on. So nowadays I am being led by what people that I consider to be trustworthy, share with me about books they have read and then I try to read them. One of these books is Eric Bryant’s Peppermint-filled piñatas. Now, before reading this, I had no idea whatsoever what a piñatas is. My friend, Tim Deller, from the USA understands it a bit better than myself. Apparently (for those not used to this crazy tradition), the piñata has a Mexican origin and is described in Wikipedia as follows: The piñata is a brightly-colored paper container filled with sweets and/or toys. It is generally suspended on a rope from a tree branch or ceiling and is used during celebrations. A succession of blindfolded, stick-wielding children try to break the piñata in order to collect the sweets (traditionally fruit, such as sugarcane) and/or toys inside of it. It has been used for hundreds of years to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and Easter.
Someone told me about this book and I read it. It’s great. It is something like a blog: a lot of personal journalism where the author tells the story of how God worked in his life to change him to love people different from himself. Having grown up in South Africa where we were surrounded by strong feelings of racism, it was surprising to see that the very things which people were fighting against in South Africa is more or less universal: we don’t like people who are different from us! This has nothing to do with political policies. This is part of our sinful human structure: we just don’t like people who are different from us, whether they are different in skin colour, different in their theological viewpoints, different in their sexual orientation, different in their religion or different in their health situation. They make us feel uncomfortable and to mix with them takes us out of our comfort zone.
Eric Bryant has a remarkable story of how God freed him from prejudice so that he could become a successful youth pastor in a diverse community in the Mosaic church in Los Angeles. One of my Swazi friends used to say, after a good sermon: That was really powerful stuff. Well, this book is really powerful stuff. As I was reading it, I was asking myself how the world would look if Christians could start living in this way? If Christians could really shower unselfish love upon people, regardless of who they are, how would the world be (and, for that matter, how would the church be?)
Two things stand out in this book: The author’s honesty when sharing personal stories, of how he made mistakes (that’s where the title of the book comes from, because he found out that children do not like peppermints bought at a discount store!) This gives him a lot of credibility in my eyes, because it is often through the mistakes that we make that God teaches us the greatest lessons. By the way, he does this with a lot of great humour, (which also raises him a few notches in my estimate!) But the second thing which stands out is that he does not compromise when it comes to God’s will for us. He tells the story of how he started building personal relationships with people from other faith groups. Not once does it seem as if he is forcing Christianity upon them – he demonstrates love unconditionally. But not once does he accept that God had somehow changed his viewpoint about salvation through Christ.
And this is a very difficult route to follow. Our human (sinful) way of doing things would be to either reject someone who consistently differ from us in their religious viewpoints or to come to the point where we say that God has made us all differently and therefore “all roads lead to heaven.” To unconditionally and tolerantly love people who differ from us, while maintaining Godly standards, is NOT easy.
If you are in any way within such a diverse community with the conviction that God wants to use you within that situation, then I highly recommend that you get a copy of this book. It’s really powerful stuff
I was intending to write a short review on an excellent book I’ve just finished reading and which I highly recommend, but it’s just about midnight and tomorrow morning I’ll be on the road again for at least seven hours as I will be training a group of about twenty pastors in South Africa in Evangelism Explosion. So I’ll just use this opportunity to direct you to a new blog which was started today: Tim Deller is the volunteer from the USA helping me in Swaziland and he sends out a newsletter more or less every fortnight. I just thought that the things he’s writing about would really be to the benefit of anyone wanting to do something similar, and so I advised him to post his newsletters on a blog so that more people could read it. The address is http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/
Have a look at the things he writes about. He really has an ability to bring out the humour and the pain of the life in Swaziland.
But the most amazing thing about this blog is that a middle-aged missionary in Swaziland had to help a young engineer from the USA to get this blog up
Which proves my point: Missionaries have to be able to do anything!