This is a topic that I’ve wanted to blog about for some time now and didn’t, mainly because I’ve felt that I had more important things to say, such as the orphan problem in Swaziland.
Last week I was sitting in a Swaziland mission meeting where someone mentioned that Christians seem to be more focused on things which they oppose than things which they support. I wholeheartedly agree. Then, driving back to my home I was listening to a CD on which Bill Hybels and Dave Workman were both engaged in an interview about the “Outward Focused Life.”
The interviewer asked the two gentleman a question: What do the people on the street think of Christians? Dave Workman (if I remember correctly) responded by telling how he had asked a number of people that question, one being a waitress at a restaurant not far from their church. She responded that, in her opinion, Christians are cheap, very demanding and they don’t tip well. Bill Hybels answered the question by saying, amongst others, that Christians are better known for the things which they are against than the things they are for.
Last night my wife and I attended a cell group in which the same topic came under discussion, this time with the theme: What does it mean to be an obedient Christian?
As a young Christian, I was probably also more focused on the things which I opposed than the things which I felt strongly about to support. But as I grew older and hopefully became more mature both as a human being and also as a Christian, I realized that I would not be influencing many people through the things I oppose. But if I am willing to stand up for a certain issue, I might just be able to get a few others to stand up with me and together we can make a difference.
As I read blogs and other Christian material, I think that Bill Hybels is correct in his analysis. Christians are against evolutionism, against creationism, against liberalism, against fundamentalism and a whole bunch of other -isms (including Calvinism!) But what are we for?
If someone should step up to us and ask: “What do you believe?”, would we be able to give a clear answer (not necessarily a final answer), or have we possibly become so focused on the things that we are against that we no longer know what it is that we stand for?
I know a number of people who will be able to tell me in no uncertain terms what things they oppose. When asked what they believe, they will be able to give me a well-formulated textbook answer. But the question should rather be what people feel so strongly about that they will stand up for it and, by doing so, make a difference in the world.
I’ve just returned home after attending a WENSA (World Evangelisation Network of South Africa) mission conference over the last three days. (I’m still hoping that the name of this network will change so that it says Southern Africa instead of only South Africa. Eight people from our church in Swaziland attended the conference.)
On the first day, Pieter Tarantal (and if you’re not from South Africa, don’t try and pronounce that!) kicked off by speaking about The God of New Things. He shared some amazing statistics with the group. I did not try and verify each number, as I believe what he said is fairly close to the reality. According to him:
- 114 people are coming to Christ every second
- 44,000 new churches are established each year
- In India, 15,000 people are baptised daily
- There are 20,000 new converts every day
- In 1900 there were 8 million believers
- In 1990 there were 275 million believers
- 396 million in 2000
- 450 million in 2005
- Today there are close to 500 million believers
The largest church in the West is found in the Ukraine and the leader of this church comes from Nigeria
I can’t remember where I read it, but apparently the nation with the greatest growth in Christianity at the moment is China.
Listening to these statistics and seeing what is happening to the church in the West (where most churches are becoming smaller at an alarming rate), I asked myself the question where missionaries will be coming from in the future?
And the answer, it seems to me, is that a new wave of missionaries are going to be sent into the world, not from Europe and the USA as in the past, but from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
And as I listened to this, I was wondering if we perhaps are seeing something of 1 Corinthians 1:21 coming true: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” Might it be that the West has become so self-sufficient and so sure of themselves, that they have come to the point where many feel that they do not need God anymore? And is this perhaps the reason why the Gospel is spreading at such a rate through those countries that we had traditionally regarded as our missionary objects?
This post was prompted by a few things that happened over the past few days. I’m part of a mens’ prayer group meeting every Wednesday morning at five (and those who know me, will also know that this is a huge sacrifice for me, to be up at five!) This past Wednesday a number of the men who had attended Angus Buchun’s Mighty Men Conference shared their experiences of this meeting. This morning an article was published in one of South Africa’s newspapers which has as its heading: “On the way to become an atheist because of fellow-Christians.” Those understanding Afrikaans, can read it here:
In this article the author blames Christians for having easy answers for every problem. And he blames the church which has allowed people to think about God in this way, creating, as he puts it, a god for every need of mankind, be it a need for rain or a need for sunshine. He also attacks the “Angus-men” for the nonsense they speak.
In my recent post on The Angus Buchun Phenomenon, I asked the question what it is that is causing so many men, the vast majority whom are White, to attend these conferences. I believe that people are looking for solutions: solutions for South Africa’s political, economic and crime problems and many are also looking for solutions in their personal lives: marriages that are failing, men obsessed with having to prove their masculinity in a all spheres of live, families that are falling apart and hundreds of other reasons. With this I can find no fault and I consider anyone blaming people for attending these conferences in search of answers as being unfair.
Furthermore, all followers of Christ have certain emotional experiences which they refer back to from time to time, experiences which may not be explained in a rational way, but which has special meaning for them. I can think of quite a number of such experiences in my own life: church camps while still at school and later as a student, a mission outreach which I led in 1981, a celebration service at Coral Ridge (Fort Lauderdale) in 1996, a very special experience with God on a bus, traveling between Rotterdam and Utrecht in the Netherlands in 2005. However, considering the hundreds of hits I had on the Angus Buchun post, it made me feel just slightly uncomfortable when I blogged the next day about Fighting the demon of Racism and had less than 4% of the number of hits on this post than on the one the previous day. And I maintain that, if we want God to change South Africa, then we will have to fight against racism. But I’m not sure if people want to hear this. I’m not even convinced that people who had attended the Mighty Men Conference, want to hear this!
Listening to the people sharing their stories on Wednesday and reading the article in the newspaper today, made me think of the episode in the Bible which happened on the Mountain of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). Peter, John and James were there when the face of Jesus was changed and His clothes became as white as lightning. Then Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke to Jesus. Now, I can imagine, in spite of what people experienced at the Mighty Men Conference, that this episode was much more spectacular and emotional. No wonder Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters–– one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
And then God spoke audibly to them: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” In other words, God didn’t want them to remain there, but to return to their normal lives and to obey Jesus in their daily lives.
Knowing human beings, I realise that thousands of people who had been to the Mighty Men Conference will, at least emotionally and in their mind, remain on the farm. In two weeks time they will still be speaking about their experience this past weekend. And, unfortunately, next year they will still be speaking about this past weekend. But in their daily lives, very little will have changed. (Now, I do realise that there are thousands whose lives have changed radically after last year’s and this year’s conferences. I’m not speaking about them and I’m truly thankful for the changes in their lives!)
The only answer that we can give to anyone who responds in the way in which the person writing in the newspaper responded, is to tell him: Evaluate the lives of those who had been to the Mighty Men Conference. Are they living differently? Do they radiate more genuine love? Can you sense that issues which they have struggled with before have been overcome? If nothing has changed, then we probably do have the right to ask the question why people attend these conferences.
Yesterday was spent in a meeting with the ten coordinators of the ten different home-based caring projects in the southern region of Swaziland. These meetings can be quite exhausting but at the same time it’s really a joy to be busy with this. When we started with the home-based caring ministry in 2006, the story which you can read in an article I published under the name: “On Becoming the Hands and Feet of Christ in an AIDS-ridden community in Swaziland – A story of hope”, I invested huge amounts of time and energy in the group. I met the entire group at least once a week and during the other days I regularly met the volunteers individually. My aim was to build up this group to become as strong as possible. But the other advantage was that I had my finger on the pulse of the group and I knew fairly well what was going on.
And then, in 2007 we trained five more groups in different areas in the southern region of Swaziland. By the end of that year it felt to me as if things were getting out of control. Eventually, in an attempt to determine where things were and where they were going to, I arranged for the entire group of volunteers to meet at a central place and gave them a chance to tell me what was going on. It was a highly informative meeting and afterwards I felt that I was more or less in control again.
And then we started more groups this year. At present we are standing at ten groups of around 350 volunteers doing home-based caring. And I got that depressing feeling again a few months ago that I’m out of control! And at that point I decided that I will need to implement a reporting system whereby I can at least get an idea whether we are working effectively and where we need to improve. We drew up a reporting form in the simplest way we could think of, translated it into siSwati and then gave the coordinators a brief training session on how the forms should be completed. They then had to train the volunteers for whom they are responsible and once a month the coordinators have to meet at a central place where they bring one consolidated report from their project from which a final report can be made of the previous month’s work. And this is the meeting we had yesterday.
The reports still have many errors, but I prepared myself beforehand that it will take at least three months to get this sorted out. But what amazed me was to see what these people are doing. When I was in the USA recently to receive the Courageous Leadership Award, I told the people there that we are caring for around 1000 sick people. Now that the reports for July have been finalised, I found that the total number of clients is closer to 1500! More than 3800 home visits took place that month, 524 new clients were identified and 80 of our existing clients died. 374 of the clients are terminally ill and 821 are chronically ill.
These figures are mind-boggling. Three more communities in the southern (Shiselweni) region of Swaziland have approached us to train them to start with home-based caring and our first invitation from the northern part of Swaziland (Manzini) have also been received.
And as I keep on thinking about the future, I realise that God may well be preparing us for more work. I’m excited about this. But I also realise that God will have to provide great wisdom if we want to keep on expanding. I have ideas in my mind, some of which I may share in my next post.