From the Society to the Church
This past Friday was such a great day for me. It started off with a trip by car throughout the entire southern region of Swaziland up to the eastern side of the country where South Africa and Swaziland come together with Mocambique a relatively short distance from there – at a small village known as Lavumisa. I had been invited by the Member of Parliament of that area to discuss the possibility of starting a church in that area (not my idea – his request). We have been busy with an HIV/AIDS home-based caring project in that area for about a year and although not intended, the outcome of our involvement with the community is that we are now being invited to start with a church. Some time ago Bob Roberts posted something on his blog with the title: Start with the Society – Not the Church. I responded to this post and then David Watson responded again to my comments. Take some time to read the post as well as the comments if you want to understand the larger picture.
And now we are at the point where we are planning to start with this work. The Member of Parliament is fairly adamant that he wants us to meet at his home and that he wants to be part of the church. Our normal procedure in Swaziland, when starting in a new area, is to pitch a large tent (which can take 500-600 people) and then to have services there for 4 – 6 weeks after which we then go on with those who have shown an interest to be part of the church. I have personally never felt very positive about this method. It is a fairly expensive way to work, as you need to get a team of at least six people who have to leave their families and their own congregations to work in this new area. They have to be transported and fed while they are there. Mostly this work is done in rural areas which means that there is no electricity and we therefore need to take our own generator which is also fairly expensive to run. A second problem is that we constantly find that the people attending the services in the tent are mostly those who have already been reached in some way by the gospel. Although we do have wonderful stories of people coming to a deep repentance during services like this, sometimes even having witch doctors and traditional healers who reach the point where they openly burn items which they had formerly used in their work, the success rate of these services are very small indeed. A third problem is that it is fairly demoralizing to have a few hundred people attending services in a tent every night, only to find, when a more formal church starts, that three or four adults turn up on a Sunday with another handful of children.
How things will work out is obviously impossible to say at this point. But I have always felt that it is better to start small and grow big than to start big and grow small! With the church now being linked to the caring of people in that area, I do believe that there will also be some more credibility on the side of the church. In any case, we plan to start with our first gathering on 24 February.
Well, that was the first highlight of Friday’s trip around Swaziland. I’ll write about the others tomorrow.
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This is a blog where I would like to share some of my ideas about contemporary mission. I have more than 25 years experience as a full-time missionary in Swaziland, have done a PhD on the theology of mission – specifically on the relationship between mission and eschatology – and am presently specialising in the problem of HIV/AIDS and how the church should approach this problem. You are welcome to respond and share your ideas on this blog.
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