Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Connecting to God

On Thursday morning, a few minutes after last posting on my blog, all outside communications in the area where we live went down. A road, not far from our home is being rebuilt due to damage caused by heavy trucks travelling through our town every day and in the process of digging up the old road, the main water line was ripped up together with the main telephone cables. The water pipe was repaired within a few hours but it seems that it will still be a few days before there would be any hope of having communications again. In fact,up to now, nothing has been done yet to start repairing the damage. Fortunately, at the school where my wife is teaching mathematics and computer science, they still have telephone connections and they have graciously given me permission to go to the school to check my e-mail and to do other work on the internet. So here I am, in a school classroom, posting this message!
I’ve just finished reading Bill Hybels’ book, Courageous Leadership. I will definitely be coming back to a number of things he said in this book, but probably of all the things he wrote, the one chapter which touched me the most is his chapter which he calls The Leader’s Pathway. I have dear friends over a fairly wide spectrum of spirituality. On some issues we agree, on some issues we argue and on some we agree to differ. One of the problems with such a diverse group is that all of them believe that they have found the ultimate way of connecting to God. Some of my friends believe that the only way in which one can connect to God is through worship. Others believe that small groups (or cell groups or caring groups or whatever one wishes to call them) is the only true way of connecting to God. For others it is an hour or more of “quiet time” with the Lord everyday. I have a friend who is absolutely diligent in his daily quiet time, just reading through the Bible (and making me feel guilty that I’m not as diligent as he is)!
What Bill Hybels says, and this is exactly how I’ve experienced it in my own life, is that different people connect to God in different ways. I’ve heard it so often that people say that, in order to connect to God you have to be up at (or before) sunrise, giving the best part of the day to God. My problem is, I’m a night-owl. If I have to get up before sunrise I will only be sleeping 3 hours a night! But I’ve had wonderful experiences with the Lord through my study of the Bible at 1 in the morning. And I’m at my happiest learning from the Word of God if I have my Bible open, surrounded with a number of other books which will help me to understand the message in a certain portion even better. Rather than reading 10 chapters a day, I will struggle with a paragraph trying to find the message from God in this paragraph through whatever means I have at my disposal. But some of my friends cannot for the life of them understand how it is possible to hear the Spirit speaking if you’re not in a secluded spot, preferably somewhere in nature: only you, your Bible and God – nothing else!
For many years I’ve had this gut feeling that people are wrong who prescribe how one should connect to God. It was encouraging to read the same in a book of someone with Hybels’ knowledge and experience. He lists a number of possible ways in which people connect to God. Although he admits that the list is not exhaustive, he mentions a number of, what he calls, “pathways to God” such as:

  • The Relational pathway (serving God with others)
  • The Intellectual pathway (studying the Bible with the use of other theological books)
  • The Serving pathway (people who cannot be happy unless they serve others)
  • The Contemplative pathway (being alone with God and contemplating on His Word)
  • The Activist pathway (people who cannot be happy unless they are doing something for the Lord)
  • The Creation pathway (serving God in and through nature)
  • The Worship pathway (using worship as the primary method to connect to God)

In a missionary setup I have often found that missionaries start teaching new Christians about spiritual growth but then using their own preferred method as the ultimate (and only) way to connect to God. And I’m as guilty as anyone else, who have made efforts, especially in my early years in Swaziland, to obtain secondhand commentaries and other theological books to hand out to people to help them in their spiritual growth. But for many this just does not work. Even if their lives depended on it, they still cannot hear the Spirit speaking through a commentary! They need other ways to connect to God.
This gave me much to think about – one question being how much effort I am willing to put in to help people to find their personal way of connecting to God. After reading through this chapter I just felt a wonderful sense of awe in God who created each of us in such an unique way.

Saturday, September 29, 2007 Posted by | Bill Hybels, Building relations, Indigenous church, Mission, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology, Worship | 1 Comment

Helping a church instead of only helping an individual

Two books I recently read and which I discussed shortly some time ago, Glenn Schwarz’s When Charity destroys Dignity and John Rowell’s To Give or not to Give? both refer to the importance of not helping an individual financially but rather helping the church as employer. I share that feeling, (although I think that there may be exceptions to this rule – to which I will come back later).
There are a number of reasons why I think that one should help a church rather than an individual. Helping an individual can so easily lead to jealousy amongst the church workers. If one is singled out (perhaps because of a more charismatic personality) and receives extra money while the others suffer, then the Holy Spirit will have to work overtime to prevent tension from coming between the workers.
A second reason is that the initiative is taken away from the church if a person is singled out to receive extra money. Those on the outside perceive a certain person to be the best worker and on those grounds decide that they are going to help this individual. Those on the inside may have better knowledge or other information about the worker and they may feel that the money should rather have been spent in another way. But because the initiative had been taken away from them, they have no further say in the matter. Even if that worker should come under church discipline, the help will still be continued from outside which makes it very difficult for the church to give advice to this person.
A third reason is that the greatest need may not be there where money is being asked for. Schwarz gives the example of a certain individual in southern Africa who requested help from him after three years of drought and then floods demolished everything within a certain community. Schwarz prayed about the matter and eventually gave money to the community instead of to the individual who had asked the money. In this way the help could be distributed fairly. I think that was a wise decision.
Although I consider this as a good rule-of-thumb, there may be times when exceptions can be made. We as family, together with a number of our friends are involved with a certain individual in Russia who runs the children’s ministry in Samara. Except for praying and showing interest in her ministry, we also pay her salary. How do we do this so that there will no tension between the workers in Samara and that the initiative remains in the hands of her church? First of all we have a personal relationship with this person. Many of us have met her in the past and she was also part of the team who visited us this past weekend. We know her and we know what work she is doing.
Secondly we went to the directors of the Bible school which normally pays her salary and asked them how we could contribute to her salary without running the risks mentioned above. After finding out how much she receives every month, we agreed to pay this exact amount into the account of the Bible school and they would then pay her salary as normal. She is therefore not getting a higher salary than her colleagues. In this way there can be no possibility of any jealousy or a feeling from the directors that something is happening behind their backs. But the advantage is that those who are giving the money have personal contact with the person receiving it, get feedback from her about her work and also have a personal interest in the children’s ministry in Samara.
Obviously, if she should leave the service of the Bible school in the future, then the help would have to be reconsidered (and in fact every year we sit down and discuss whether we should continue this assistance for another year, thus allowing for changes in the system), but for the moment this seems to work for us. But I would only advise giving help to an individual rather than the church or organisation employing that person if the long route of discussing potential problems with the employing body had been followed. Otherwise the best way remains to help the body, rather than just one individual.
I would like to hear how you feel about this.

Thursday, September 27, 2007 Posted by | Building relations, Church, Dependency, Dialogue, Giving, Indigenous church, Mission, Missionary Organisations, Partnership, Poverty, Prayer, Rowell, Schwarz, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

No glamour in missions!

Some years ago I escorted a group of Christians from South Africa for a visit to Swaziland. This was not what would typically be described as a short-term outreach. In fact, because the hometown from which the group came is virtually on the border between South Africa and Swaziland, their intention was only to attend a Sunday morning church service with us in Swaziland. But behind this visit were a number of years of building relations with the South African group and helping them to develop a vision for missions in their own congregation. I knew all the visitors personally and we arranged to meet each other after the church service to discuss their impressions.
The group consisted mostly of older people, all of them White, all of them Afrikaans-speaking, many of them farmers. This was the typical description of the people who, in the pre-1994 period, stood in the centre of racial tension in South Africa. In itself it was a miracle that they wanted to come on a visit to a church in Swaziland, consisting of exclusively Black people (our family is the only “pale-faces” in the church!) But amongst the visitors there was also a young couple, fired up for missions, dreaming dreams of how God would use them within His kingdom.
As we met later that afternoon to reflect on the morning’s experience, an extremely positive feeling was felt by one and all about the visit. After many of the visitors had shared their feelings I responded to what they had said and amongst others I said that they need to remember that there is no glamour in missions. The young couple I mentioned above was quite upset by what I had said. In previous conversations which I had had with them it became clear to me that they really had the idea that people would consider them as heroes if they go into missions full-time. The harsh reality is that, with the exception of a few close friends, missionaries are not modern-day heroes and like the apostle Paul we have to do this work without expecting any honour or glamour from it.
Sometimes, when I receive newsletters from people in missions, I wonder how long it will take them to realise that missionaries are called to a life of service, often doing thankless work where the only people who may (or may not) be thankful for what they are doing, are those who are being served.
But isn’t this what Paul had in mind when he wrote in Philippians 2:5-8: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007 Posted by | Building relations, Comfort Zone, Dialogue, Mission, Partnership, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology | 2 Comments

The value of first-hand experience

This weekend we had a remarkable experience. Since 2001 I’ve had the privilege to go to Russia once a year to teach students at a Bible school in Samara, about 1000 km south-east of Moscow. The Bible school was started by an ex-teacher from South Africa who had the belief that God was calling her to Samara specifically to start a Bible school. In a wonderful way God confirmed this calling on her life and in 2000 she moved to Samara. She will now be returning to South Africa and forthwith the school will be run entirely by Russian people. For the past month the directors as well as the rest of the staff (nine people in total) were in South Africa to do leadership training and this past weekend the team came to visit us at our home. Over the years I’ve built wonderful relations with these people and it was really like family meeting each other again.
When I was in Samara earlier this year, I had the opportunity to share with them what I believe God has called us to do in Swaziland concerning the AIDS problem. Russia is also experiencing a huge problem with AIDS. In their case HIV is mostly spread through the use of drugs, whereas in Swaziland the problem is mostly caused by immorality. But the situation in Russia also differs vastly from Swaziland because of the enormous population of that country. If 400,000 people in Swaziland are infected with HIV, then it represents almost half of the population. If so many are infected in Russia, then the number is almost negligible - not literally, but just as a manner of speaking. So I shared the problem with the people in Samara, showed them photos and they prayed for the country.
Yesterday I took the group with me, divided them into two, with each group having someone who could translate between Russia and English and someone else from our church who could translate between English and SiSwati. (How often have you wanted to curse the guys who started building the tower of Babel? ;-)
We went to two houses. The one group went to a house with a girl of around 40 who is nearing the final stages of AIDS, known as full-blown AIDS. I suspect that she is suffering from TB and I would be surprised if she still survives another two weeks. The other group went to a man who has developed Kaposi’s sarcoma which, in our experience leads to terrible sores on the lower part of the legs for which the only treatment seems to be amputation but which is rarely done as the life-span of a person in that condition is too short to justify the cost of the operation.
The groups spent some time in the homes, listening to what the patients had to say and praying for them before leaving. Last night, as we were all together for supper, they thanked me over and over again for taking them into that situation. I’ve said it many times before that its not nice to be in that situation, but it is necessary if people really want to understand what is going on with the AIDS pandemic. Up to a certain point one can do research on the problem in a purely academic way. But once you are exposed to people with AIDS, once you have touched them with your hands and prayed for those people, you can never really be the same afterwards.
As one of the Russians said to me last night: Now we really know how to pray for this ministry.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007 Posted by | Building relations, Death, HIV & AIDS, Hope, Mission, Prayer, Swaziland | Leave a comment

TV-Evangelists and independence

On two occasions now I’ve written specifically about the influence of TV-Evangelists on the church in Africa. Following a remark made by Cgross on my post about the Three-Selves, I thought that I had to say something more about this, specifically within the context of greater independence and the Three-Selves formula.
Schwarz, in his When Charity destroys Dignity makes a remark about church buildings. His opinion is that church buildings should be built of the same material of which the houses in the surrounding areas are built of. In principle I have to agree with him. In fact, we have applied that principle in a number of places, at one stage even building a church made of stick and mud which lasted us for quite a number of years before, as in the story of the three little pigs, our church was blown over ;-)
With greater exposure to TV and especially Christian channels which broadcast to Africa, the situation is changing rapidly. People see these lavish church buildings on TV and associate it with a successful ministry. Successful ministry (as depicted on TV) = money. And increasingly people tend to feel reluctant to attend church services in church buildings which are not quite up to standard or even attending church in classrooms, because that obviously is NOT a successful ministry. The idea that people will be willing to attend church under a tree is totally outdated. We were forced to do this for a while at one particular place after the floods – which ravaged Swaziland and Mocambique in 2000 – also totally demolished one of our church buildings. But after a few weeks the people said that they would rather attend church with another denomination until a new church building had been built. After a new building was erected, all the members returned. The point I’m trying to make is that it would be a good idea to have much more humble church buildings, but unfortunately the exposure on TV to mega-churches in overseas countries are not making it easy to convince the local people that they should be satisfied with a more cost-effective building.
Three years ago, on my way back from Russia where I had been teaching at a Bible Institute in Samara, I spent a few days in Kiev in the Ukraine with some Christians. This was a remarkable experience. But what I noticed was that money was being pumped into some churches from overseas countries ad nauseum. As I listened to a pastor explaining how they were intending to use literally millions of US dollars on obtaining a new church centre, I just kept asking myself over and over again what I would have been able to do with 10% or even 1% of that money in Swaziland. What if that money could have been spent, not on lavish church buildings and other so-called necessities, but rather on the people and ministries involved with people who need it the most. What if 1% of that money could have been given to a girl I met in Kiev who has one of the most amazing children’s ministries running that I have ever seen but who has to suffer every month just to pay the rent for her humble apartment. But unfortunately, in Kiev, as in Africa, the impression is being created that a successful ministry = money and if you are a Christian leader and you intend to attract members, your church building as well as everything inside had better broadcast the same message.
I’m all for humble church buildings. In fact, I’m all for NO church buildings, rather meeting in school halls or classrooms. But this will only work if churches in the West apply the same principle. While Christian TV programs continue broadcasting the opposite message, our pleas to local believers to be satisfied with smaller or even no church buildings will seem to them as ways in which we want to withhold them from God’s wealth.

Saturday, September 22, 2007 Posted by | Church, Dependency, Giving, Indigenous church, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Schwarz, Swaziland, Theology, Three-Self, Three-Selves | 1 Comment

The Great Commission of Matthew 28 (2)

The biggest problem which I have found with the Great Commission, is that, for many Christians, it becomes the Great Burden! They know that they should be witnessing for the Lord, but it all seems just too much of an effort and far too difficult. And then they start feeling guilty because they have not done enough for the Lord but at the same time they also don’t know how to change their attitude. The secret is to see Matthew 28:19 as an integral part of verses 18 and 20.
Verses 18 and 20b are like two slices of bread, which, together with the filling (verse 19 & 20a) makes a sandwich. Let’s have a look at these two verses: The Great Commission starts with a promise from God: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. When we become a witness, this is a promise we need to cling to. I find it surprising that Christians still feel that they need to go out and “claim” a certain area for God as if that area doesn’t belong to Him until they have gone through that process. In the light of Psalm 24:1 which says: The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it, as well as many other similar parts of Scripture, this does not make sense to me. And in essence this is what Jesus is also saying in Matthew 28:19. All authority already belongs to Him. And because this is true, He can send us out with His authority - Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… God’s authority is the ground on which we are sent out into the world.
But the promise does not end there. The second part of verse 20 says: And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. As we are witnessing in the world, making disciples of all nations, it may sometimes feel as if we are working in vain. Or it may feel as if we are all on our own. On Tuesday I was speaking to someone who had committed herself to work in Swaziland for a year at an orphanage, but I can sense that she is really feeling desperately lonely. I wrote about her some time ago under the topic of culture shock. I couldn’t spend much time with her, but I really feel that she needs to understand that the Great Commission doesn’t stop at the first part of verse 20. There’s also a verse 20b which she really has to experience.
I have seen many people who read Matthew 28, realised that God is commissioning them for service, but then falter when they realise the enormity of the task. And therefore we have to read the words immediately before and immediately after the Great Commission in order to know that the task is manageable, because we’re not going into the world to conquer the heathens. We are going out into a world which already fully belongs to God to tell those living there who the real King is. And if we feel afraid of the task, then we can take comfort in the fact that we’re not on our own. God is going with us.
Then the Great Commission changes into a Great Promise of God!

Friday, September 21, 2007 Posted by | Culture Shock, Evangelism, Hope, Mission, Swaziland, Theology | 4 Comments

The Great Commission of Matthew 28 (1)

Usually when I do evangelism training I have a time when I discuss the Great Commission as we find it in Matthew 28:18-20. After reading the verses, I explain to them that the Greek language in which the New Testament was written has different types of verbs. This helps us to distinguish between the main verb and auxiliary verbs. In Matthew 28:19, which we know as the Great Commission, we find four verbs, namely:

  • Go
  • Make disciples
  • Baptise
  • Teach

Then I ask them to tell me which one of these they consider to be the main verb. (Before you continue reading, what do you think?) In the majority of cases people consider the first verb, Go, as the main verb, but usually there are some who would guess the second or the fourth. (Very seldom do people consider Baptise as the main verb). However, the correct answer is the second verb, Make disciples. The implication of this is that the main task of the church, according to the Great Commission, should be to create disciples (devoted followers) of Jesus Christ. What’s so amazing about this?
Traditionally it was seen that to go was the real issue. Therefore people were really only considered to be missionaries if they went somewhere, preferably as far as possible from home. But we don’t need to go away from our home country before we can be missionaries. Wherever we are, God wants us to be in the process of making disciples. Which is pretty much what Bob Roberts also says. I heard this interpretation of the Great Commission for the first time from David Bosch and after studying the Greek text I realised that he was right and suddenly this part made so much more sense to me. Of course, some people will still be called to leave their home countries on a permanent base in order to become a missionary. Others will leave their home countries for short-term outreaches. All of these are still valid, but being a missionary now becomes a daily commission for each and every Christian.
A better way to translate this verse to illustrate the true meaning, may be something like: Therefore, wherever you are going (or: as you are going along your daily life), make disciples of all nations, baptising and teaching them as well. This means that God calls us to be missionaries wherever we are: at home, at work, at school, at a sports club. Wherever we go, we need to keep our eyes open for opportunities to help others to become devoted followers of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
If we understand this verse correctly, our Christian faith gets a whole new meaning. For sure there are people who are called by God to be full-time missionaries, but if all Christians could start looking for opportunities to share Christ with others (regardless of which method they use do it), what a different place this world could be! The fact is that all Christians are in trusting relationships with people who are not Christians as well as with others who are not disciples of Christ. I believe that God wants us to keep our eyes open for opportunities which may come our way during our daily lives when we can witness to such people about our faith. People may differ about the method used. People may feel that we need to do this differently in the post-modern world which we find mostly in Western countries. All this is beside the point. In whatever way works the best for me and for the people whom I socialise with, I should be busy making disciples. This is the principle given to us as the Great Commission.
Once Christians agree on that, they can look for the best way to do it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007 Posted by | Building relations, Church, David Bosch, Evangelism, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Theology | 5 Comments

Transformation – Bob Roberts Jr

Some time ago my good friend, Brian Mosell, informed me about a book of Bob Roberts that he was busy reading, called Glocalization (Local & Global – Get it?). This is actually the second book that Roberts wrote about the topic, the first one being Transformation: How Glocal Churches Transform Lives and the World. I ordered both books and started with the first one.
I can still remember the tingling feeling of excitement that went through my body when I read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church a number of years ago. As I read it, I said to myself, over and over again: This can work! As our church in Swaziland started the process of moving from merely existing to a church existing for a purpose (we’re not there yet, but we’re moving in the right direction) we also experienced that it works.
As I read Roberts’ Transformation, I had the same feeling: This can work! In a nutshell, what Roberts is saying, is that the first church was not satisfied with people who were believers. They wanted disciples. (When giving training in Evangelism, I always say to the trainees: God doesn’t want decisions. He wants disciples!) These disciples, living under the control of the Holy Spirit, then need to infiltrate the world where they live and work on both a local and global (= glocal) scale in order to bring about transformation within their communities.
The model which Roberts presents in this book and which he calls T-Life, has three core elements:

  1. Interactive relationship with God, which focusses on the relationship between the believer and God
  2. Transparent connections, which focusses on authentic relationships between believers
  3. Glocal impact which is the convergence of life, ministry and vocation of every believer

At one point he refers to Acts 17:6 which reads in the RSV: These men (referring to the disciples – AvW) who have turned the world upside down have come here also. Roberts then asks the question: What if a church turned the world upside down? What he refers to is the possibility of churches truly transforming entire communities. But what the church needs in order to do this, are members who themselves have been transformed and who have a vision of a transformed community.
The one reservation I have with this book is his almost extreme emphasis on church-planting. For example he writes in one place: I have no interest in helping start a church – it’s a waste of time and money. I have much interest in starting church-starting churches. Within the context of the book I fully understand why he says this and in fact I think he has a strong point. However, I’m not quite convinced that this principle is universally true. In Swaziland, for example, we don’t really need more churches. Churches abound! What we need are churches where members are truly transformed and which also transform the community.
But this is a minor point. Not only do I think that what he says can work, but I asked myself the question what would happen if this should work? Will we see something of what happened in the early years of the church? Isn’t this an exciting possibility to dream about?
I’ve decided to put off reading Roberts’ second book for a week or two. I’ve started now on Bill Hybels’ Courageous Leadership and in the meantime I’m looking forward to the December holidays to start on Tolstoy’s second part of War and Peace. So, for those of you who look at what I’m reading and wonder why it’s taking me so long to get through Tolstoy – I just have too many other books I’m reading at the moment. To paraphrase whoever said it: So much to read, so little time to read it in! ;-)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 Posted by | Church, Evangelism, Mission, Prayer, Swaziland | 5 Comments

The Church as Alternative Society

If someone should ask me which theologian had the greatest influence on my personal life, I would answer without hesitation: David Bosch. I had the privilege and honour of knowing him personally. As far as I know I was also the last doctoral student for whom he acted as external examiner before his untimely death in 1992 in a car accident. Among many other things, I learnt from him the concept of the church as alternative community.
Where I grew up in South Africa, there was very little distinction between state and church. In a very real sense the church was used to sanction the decisions made by the government at that time – specifically regarding the country’s racial laws. The opposite was also true: When the church was against something, pressure was put on the government to forbid this through law. I have the feeling that South Africa was not alone in this regard. I have also seen in other countries of the world that the line between the church and the state can sometimes become very thin – perhaps not as thin as described above, but thin enough to be considered as an unhealthy relationship.
In an article Bosch wrote with the title: How my mind has changed: Mission and the alternative community which was published in the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa in 1982, Bosch argued that there could never be a direct connection between the church and the secular society. For many years the West had considered itself as being Christian, for no other reason than simply because it was the West. We had the same situation in South Africa. The Whites were regarded as the Christians who had to convert all the other heathen races. Whites were considered to be Christians not on the grounds of their confession but mainly on the grounds of the colour of their skins!
So what does Bosch mean when he refers to the church as alternative society? For one, in the church there are other rules than would be found in the secular society. In the church the rule of love would stand out first and foremost. In the church the other cheek can be turned. In the church people can be forgiven. In the church people are bound to each other, not because they belong to one nation, but because they belong to one God. In the church the blood of Jesus Christ flows thicker than the blood of one’s ancestors. But at the same time the church will (should) serve as an eschatological sign of what could happen if the world should follow this example. It goes without saying that we need to be very humble in saying this, because the reality is that we are still very far away from God’s goal for the church. Nevertheless, within the church of Christ we should be able to say that we are on our way, trying to reach the goal of a new or alternative community where people are bound to each other with bonds stronger than flesh and blood and where we live under a new commandment.
Which brings me to another term Bosch used in this regard, namely that he considers the church to be an experimental garden which should keep on giving hope to the world that, in spite of how badly things are going, there is a possibility that things could eventually change and become better in the world.
What does this have to do with missions? Everything! A church that truly becomes an alternative society, a beacon of hope, will draw people to them. In many places people don’t want to hear what the church has to say. They want to see what the church can do differently. Should we fail, many people will not only reject the church but also reject Christ. Should we succeed, many people will want to know about the God who enabled us to live in an alternative way!
Somewhere along the line, albeit perhaps unintentionally, this vision of the church as alternative society had played a huge role when I committed myself and our church to bringing hope and change in our community in Swaziland.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 Posted by | Alternative Society, Church, David Bosch, Eschatology, Hope, Mission, Racism, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

One sermon – two reactions

The year was 1988. This year was proclaimed by the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (where I originate from and which also sent me as missionary to Swaziland) as a Year of Missions. As one of the full-time missionaries of that church I was often invited to preach in congregations in South Africa and also invited to attend “mission weeks” in different places. There were sometimes weeks on end that we were away from home, or only returned to do the washing before we took the next trip – this with two boys, one of three and another just over one that had to accompany us. But in all it was a good and necessary year.
One particular Sunday stands out from all the rest. I was invited to preach in Johannesburg one Sunday morning. Johannesburg is like all large cities – if you don’t know where you are going to, you’re in trouble. I received fairly accurate instructions on the roads I had to travel to get to the specific church. Up to this day I don’t know whether the telephonic instructions were wrong or whether I wrote it down incorrectly, but I set out in good time to be there and then got lost. (This was in the time before mobile phones and GPSs). Searching for church steeples in the hope that I would find something familiar, just got me deeper and deeper into trouble. At 9 am, when the service was due to start, I was still totally lost. Eventually, at 9.45 I stopped at the church, totally flustered and out of breath and rushed into the church where I found someone on the pulpit who had decided that he would bring a short message before sending the people home. He vacated the pulpit so that I could take over. I remember that I preached about the Great Commission in Matthew 28. But perhaps it would have been better for the congregation that morning to have listened to an unprepared sermon instead of listening to me! When I left the church afterwards, I just knew that this day had been a disaster. And to crown it all, I had to preach that evening in one of the very large churches in Pretoria and I was intending to use the same sermon as the morning. Oh, how I prayed that day that God would bless that evening’s service.
One thing which I rarely do in my sermons is to refer to the Greek and Hebrew in which the Bible was originally written. But to understand Matthew 28 one also has to understand something about the Greek grammatical construction used by Matthew. (I’ll write something about that at a later stage). This is one of my rare sermons where I started by explaining the Greek before getting into the message. As I got behind the lectern, I looked at the congregation and my heart missed a beat. Right in front of me, in the very first row, sat my Greek professor who had taught me at university and in his hand he had – you guessed it – his Greek New Testament. Fortunately I had some very strong evidence for the point I was going to make, so I jumped in and trusted that I wouldn’t see frowns (or smiles) appearing on this professor’s face ;-)
The amazing thing that happened was that that congregation truly heard the Word of God that evening. Somehow they were touched by God’s commission. They made contact with me afterwards and after nearly twenty years they still have regular contact with us, having special collections for Swaziland and earlier this year I was invited back to them to tell them about the work we are presently involved in around HIV and AIDS.
What was an extremely humiliating experience in the morning changed into a glorious experience that evening. I’ve never heard a word again from the first congregation. Most probably they were very thankful never to hear from me either! But it was amazing that God could use one sermon, in contents more or less the same and bring about two entirely different reactions.

Monday, September 17, 2007 Posted by | Building relations, HIV & AIDS, Humour, Mission, Partnership, Prayer, Swaziland, Theology | 1 Comment

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