Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

The Role of the Church in an Unjust Society

Those who have been reading my blog regularly will know that I grew up in Apartheid South Africa. As was the case with most Afrikaans-speaking people of my parents’ age, they also supported the policy of Apartheid, not because they were intentionally racist, but because they believed, as so many others, that Apartheid was the only workable solution in a multi-racist country like South Africa. Although I never considered myself to be racist, it was only while busy with my PhD that I really looked at the system in a critical way and realised how absolutely bad and sinful this policy was. My PhD promoter and I spent hours in discussing these issues. He was a supporter of the African National Congress (ANC) while the party was still banned and Nelson Mandela was still in prison.
One of the issues we often discussed was the role of the church in an unjust society. Was the church allowed to support an armed struggle? (We differed on that issue.) Was the church supposed to speak prophetically against injustice? (We agreed on this.)
One of the people he often referred to was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was imprisoned during the Second World War and accused of being part of a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. And the question was raised: If a person or system is so corrupt that millions are suffering or dying because of one person or one system, does the church have the right to keep quiet? Many clergy, including such prominent people as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Dr Beyers Naudé put their lives and their occupations on the line because they believed that they could not refrain from doing something to change the situation in South Africa.
Yesterday I received an email from a friend in Florida, FL, in which he asked, on the grounds of the atrocities taking place in Zimbabwe at the moment – of which you can read more on http://www.sokwanele.com“It’s such a shame. Why can’t anyone just take Mugabe out? I guess they said the same about Hitler.” This morning I received a message on my mobile phone from a Christian: “Robert Mugabe has challenged God by saying that only God can take him out of office. Please pray that God will do this.”
There is, of course, another side to the argument. In my research on the book of Revelation, it is accepted by most New Testament scholars that John, the author of the book, wrote the book in the time when Domitianus was the emperor of Rome. He not only challenged God. He openly declared that he is God! Although Revelation is full of promises that the Roman government will eventually come to a fall, the church is nowhere called to bring about this fall.
The specific task of the church within an unjust society is still not quite clear to me. Perhaps someone would like to add to this discussion. What is the task of the church when confronted with injustice, such as that experienced by the people in Zimbabwe? What can we do to bring about change?

Friday, June 27, 2008 Posted by | Church, Eschatology, Hope, Mission, Partnership, Theology | 6 Comments

Is the AIDS threat REALLY over?

Do a Google search on “Threat of world Aids pandemic among heterosexuals is over, report admits”, and you’ll be surprised to see how many articles refer to a report, written by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in which it is said that, apart from Africa, “there will be no generalised epidemic of Aids in the heterosexual population.” More details can be found here.
My son was speaking to some kind of medical professor from the USA some time ago and she told him, after he had told her what we are doing in Swaziland, that, as far as she is concerned, AIDS is under control in the USA. With the progress made in research and the development of ARVs, I can believe that this may be the truth. AIDS, I always say, is treatable but not curable. With the right medicine and more or less ideal circumstances, most HIV+ people would be able to live long and productive lives.
The fact is that Africa does not provide the ideal circumstances within which to fight a disease such as AIDS. ARVs are expensive. The cheapest tablets that I could find in a pharmacy in Swaziland costs around $50 per month. Where 70% of the population receive less than 45 US cents per day, it is clear that for the most people it is not an option to buy ARVs. Government hospitals supply ARVs, but the choice is limited. The privilege of adapting the treatment with different drugs to find the correct combination for a specific person, does not exist for the majority of the population.
Another problem is that ARV treatment is usually started too late. Last week one of our care supporters told me of someone who’s CD4 count had been determined. It was under 20. Treatment with ARVs in Swaziland should be started when the CD4 count falls below 200. But even that is too late. I spoke to a medical doctor some time ago who specialises in treating people with HIV and he told me that tuberculosis (TB) starts when the CD4 count falls below 350. According to him, if ARVs could be administered when the CD4 count is still above 350, the chances that a patient could live a fairly long life could be hugely increased, as many people who are HIV+ actually die because of TB. But where would Swaziland find the money for these drugs?
Furthermore, ARVs without healthy eating habits also does not give the required results. And this is another problem we have to cope with. Fruit and vegetables are expensive. We have seen, time and again, how people start using ARVs, but because they don’t eat balanced meals they seem to become stronger for a while and then their condition suddenly starts deteriorating and they die.
I can understand why the WHO says that the AIDS pandemic is over in many countries outside Africa. Although, I think in countries like India and Russia we are just starting to see the tip of the iceberg. But if the pandemic could be brought under control in the USA and Europe, then it means that we have to do even more to bring it under control in the rest of the world which is still severely affected by this disease.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Death, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Russia, Swaziland | 2 Comments

The Missional Church and the Needs of the Community

As I was thinking about the meaning of the missional church, I did ask myself the question whether the term “missional church” isn’t a tautology. Timothy Cowin correctly indicated that many terms which are (or should be) true for any healthy church is being claimed by so-called “missional” groups as being exclusively true of “missional churches”. As I have so often indicated in the past – the most recent being here – what is often being claimed as a new way of thinking is in actual fact just the old (Biblical) way of thinking. The expectations that Jesus had for the church, 2000 years ago, are still the same. What we need to do today is to find ways to become what Jesus had intended in a new and changed society. If the term “missional” is used to describe a church obedient to what Jesus expected from the church, then I’m happy with this. I maintain, however, that all churches should then be missional, because not being missional would imply that a church is not obedient to what Jesus expects from the church! (Is a non-missional church still church?)
My understanding of “missional” would be a certain mind set within the church (or even a certain part of the ministry of the church) which focuses on those outside the church. Certain aspects of the church are directed primarily or even solely towards the believers within the church. Catechism – the teaching of new believers – has as its focus those who are already inside the church. Spiritual growth courses would be another example. These things are not wrong. On the contrary, they are good and necessary parts of any church’s ministry. The problem is that many churches focus entirely upon those already inside the church. Becoming missional means that we change the focus of the church, from inside to outside. Without neglecting those already inside, we need to understand that God’s heart lies with those who are not yet part of the church. And if that is where God’s heart lies, then our hearts should be there as well. And that, to me, is to be missional.
Being missional would differ from place to place, from time to time and from person to person. Twenty years ago, the people in Swaziland hardly knew about HIV or AIDS. Our focus at that time, for various reasons, was on evangelism campaigns, preaching to unbelievers and helping them become part of the church. With time the situation in Swaziland changed. Most areas have already been saturated with the gospel through evangelism campaigns, visiting groups from churches and universities, all bringing the same message of the gospel over and over again. And the number of people who came to listen dwindled. But now we are faced with one of the biggest pandemics the worlds has ever known. And so our focus changed from merely preaching the gospel to living out the gospel within the community so that people not only hear about the love of God, but that they could experience it firsthand through Christians caring for them. Being missional for us means primarily focusing on those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
But then again, I think of people in Russia, a great number of which are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Being missional for a church in Tagliatti or Kuzneetsk would probably mean that the church would need to start with a rehabilitation program or something else to reach the people in the society within their circumstances of addiction. (Many churches in Russia are already involved in this type of ministry.) In the USA and Europe the needs would be different again. The secret is for the church to determine how God wants to apply the principles of sharing the love of Christ within each community.
Missional churches are set apart from “non-missional” churches by the way in which they become involved with the community. And then I often think of the words of the emperor Julian (the Apostate) who once wrote in anger:

“These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.

“Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.”

This is the type of thing that could happen if a church becomes missional.

As this post is part of a SynchroBlog, you are encouraged to click on the following links to read what others have written today about the “missional” topic.

Other synchrobloggers on the missional topic today:

Alan Hirsch
Alan Knox
Andrew Jones
Arnau van Wyngaard
Barb Peters
Bill Kinnon
Brad Brisco
Brad Grinnen
Brad Sargent
Brother Maynard
Chad Brooks
Chris Wignall
Cobus Van Wyngaard
Dave DeVries
David Best
David Fitch
David Wierzbicki
Doug Jones
Duncan McFadzean
Erika Haub
Jamie Arpin-Ricci
Jeff McQuilkin
John Smulo
Jonathan Brink
JR Rozko
Kathy Escobar
Len Hjalmarson
Makeesha Fisher
Mark Berry
Mark Petersen
Michael Crane
Nick Loyd
Patrick Oden
Peggy Brown
Phil Wyman
Richard Pool
Rick Meigs
Rob Robinson
Ron Cole
Scott Marshall
Sonja Andrews
Steve Hayes
Tim Thompson
Thom Turner

Monday, June 23, 2008 Posted by | Church, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Russia, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology | | 6 Comments

Missional SynchroBlog

On Monday, 23 June, I’m intending to take part in a SynchroBlog (I’m still struggling to find out exactly what this means, but as far as I can tell it means that many people will be blogging about the same theme (in this case the meaning of “Missional”) and will cross-link to each other, so that anyone reading one blog on the topic will also be able to read what others are saying about the same topic.
I will (obviously) be blogging about the meaning of being “missional” in our Swaziland context, but I’m still sorting out my thoughts on the topic.
If you’re interested to read more about this, you can click on this link.

Sunday, June 22, 2008 Posted by | Mission, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

2008 Courageous Leadership Award

A few hours ago I received a phone call from Chicago. Our church had been chosen, together with two others (whose names I do not know) as the finalists for the 2008 Courageous Leadership Award presented by Willow Creek Association together with World Vision. Last year, the first time that this award was presented to churches impacting communities suffering from HIV and AIDS, we received an honorary award for the work the people in Swaziland are doing. You can read more about it here. I was invited to send in a report on our work this year and today received the news that we had been chosen as one of three finalists and that I will have to be in Chicago on 6 August in order to receive the presentation.

This award is important for us for three reasons: 

  1. There is quite a substantial amount linked to the award which will do much to help us in the work we do in Swaziland, mostly in buying food and medicine but also in erecting permanent structures from where we can feed orphans daily
  2. The recognition which comes with a prestigious award like this is important, even more so because we are a fairly small church. This recognition has nothing to do with pride, but rather with the fact that we had proved that money and power is not a prerequisite before something can be done to bring change within a community
  3. The plight of Swaziland needs to be made known all over the world. I know that there are voices going up to tell us that the world should stop spending money in combatting AIDS. I maintain that the church needs to do more – much more – to fight this disease and to help those affected by and infected with the disease.

Friday, June 20, 2008 Posted by | Bill Hybels, Church, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Partnership, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology | , , , | 5 Comments

Why I blog

From time to time it becomes necessary to evaluate the reason behind blogging. This morning it was such a time for myself. I picked up a link that someone had made to my blog. In fact, it was quite humbling to read what he had written. You can have a look at it here.
After reading his post I did have to ask myself why I keep on blogging. I think there’s a number of reasons. Five years ago, after I had turned 45, I was in my car driving somewhere in Swaziland. At that point I had been in the ministry for about 20 years and if my health keeps up, I had another twenty years before me, which means that I was somewhere in the middle of my official ministry. As I was driving along I asked myself what I would do with the rest of my ministry. One of the answers I gave myself was that I would like to give back the knowledge and experience which I have picked up through the years in mission in Swaziland to other Christians. I decided that I would like to write a book which others can read and which would help them in mission. I did start on it, but the problem is that I have little opportunity to sit down and work for days on end. And when I lose my concentration I find it difficult to start working again. When my eldest son, Cobus, started his own blog and he spoke to me about it, I thought that this could be an ideal way for me to discipline myself in regularly writing short pieces which would be available immediately and without the cost and effort involved to try and get a book printed. From the feedback I get I do get the impression that this effort is appreciated. Perhaps one day all (or some) of this could find its way into printed form.
Another answer to the question why I blog, is that the blog itself becomes a kind of diary for myself. I often use the search function built into the blog to find something I had written previously to refresh my mind on things that had happened. When I’m 80 and I want to write my memoirs, that would be a great help 😉
But possibly the greatest meaning for myself is that it forces me to think and re-think mission issues. A few days ago I referred to someone who had written on his blog about Church-Hate. Somehow (I’m not always 100% sure how this works) my own post found its way onto that blog and was posted in full as a comment. Then a number of people responded on that blog to what I had written and this led to a very interesting discussion about the church. And then someone with the name of Justin, responded by asking the question: “What if we are still trying to figure out what it means to be the Church that Christ talked about? The Church that Christ talked about is very different also than the NT church that formed.”That question was actually directed to me and I answered him as follows: “Yes, we are still struggling with the question on what it means. I’m struggling with the question on what it means to be the light of the world in a society (in Swaziland) where at least 40% of the population have HIV or AIDS. I’m struggling to understand how I must communicate love where almost 70% op the population get less than 45 US cents per day! My struggle is not whether I should be a light. My struggle is not whether the church should be a community of love. The struggle is how to do it in our unique circumstances.”
Blogging helps me to think about these issues. How to become practically what Jesus had taught us to be.
Blogging has opened a new world for me. I’d heard about it but never really bothered about it. Thanks Cobus, for introducing me to the world of blogging. I enjoy every minute of it!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 Posted by | Church, Home-based Caring, Mission, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

Starting a new church at Lavumisa

During February I posted two items concerning the possibility of starting a new church in an area known as Lavumisa, on the south-eastern border of Swaziland. In the one post, From the Society to the Church, I also mentioned a post by Bob Roberts, Start with the Society – Not the Church, and said that we had been invited by the local member of parliament, on the grounds of our involvement with the community in caring for the sick and the dying, to start with a church. In a follow-up entitled , I told how we had met with members of the local community one Sunday morning to Planting a new church start with our first church service.
This past Sunday I went to visit the people again. We had about 35 people who attended the service. At times nearly 70 people attend, but because of funerals being held on Saturdays and Sundays, the number of people attending fluctuate constantly.
Instead of having a formal sermon, I attempt to have a more informal discussion with the group on certain topics. This isn’t easy. The Swazis are so used to being preached to, that they find it fairly difficult to respond during a church service. But basically I think it went fairly well. After the service I asked them how they saw their future as church members. At the moment they are still an independent group of people meeting on a Sunday. On their request I am visiting them whenever I am able to (which cannot be more than once every four to six weeks). But I wanted them to start thinking about the future. Would we continue meeting in this way as an independent group of people (I’m willing to help them if so) or did they want to start considering joining up with another church?I wasn’t really surprised, as I had been watching their body language closely, to hear that they wanted to join our church. Frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about this. Obviously, on the one hand I’m excited about it. This is a first for our church. For decades our church had been stigmatised, because of our South African origin, as the Apartheid Church. Although our church is held in high regard throughout Swaziland because of its strong Biblical foundation, many people never wanted to join our church because they did not want to be connected to the legacy of Apartheid. To suddenly find a group of people wishing to join our church en masse is therefore something which is really exciting. We never started our home-based caring work with the intention to grow our church, but I did anticipate that it may happen. But definitely not on this scale.
The reason why I have mixed feelings is because we don’t want people to join the church for the wrong reasons. For too long people have joined the church (and not only in Swaziland) mainly because they believed that they would benefit from this. Now that at least a portion of our church (I’m still striving to make this universal) believe the Biblical principle that we belong to a church not mainly because of what we could get from it but what we can give to others, I want this new group to understand this before they join.
It’s almost like the story in the Bible of the rich young man who came to Jesus to ask what he needed to do to be saved. Most evangelists would think (even if they don’t say it out loud) that Jesus missed the chance of a lifetime with this man. But Jesus knew that this young man had issues which still needed to be dealt with. So I’ll really have to put my thinking cap on about this issue. It’s inevitable that they want to join our church. How to handle this in the right way is the question.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 Posted by | Bob Roberts, Church, Home-based Caring, Mission, Social issues, Stigma, Swaziland, Theology | 1 Comment

The Second Chance

While at a missions meeting last week, a friend of mine told me about a DVD with the name, The Second Chance. I was able to get a copy of the DVD and our family watched it on Saturday. The story is about a pastor, Ethan Jenkins (played by Michael W Smith), the minister of music at a suburban mega-church called The Rock, and Jake Sanders, a pastor of an urban church called Second Chance. He has a nice church and his salary is sponsored by The Rock. Once a year pastor Sanders is invited to The Rock to give a three minute talk on how things are going at Second Chance (and to thank the people of The Rock for their help!) On one such a morning, he tells the people of The Rock that they should keep their money if they were not willing to become personally involved in his ministry amongst drug addicts, prostitutes, juvenile delinquents, dysfunctional families and worse. Obviously the people from The Rock are greatly upset by these words and pastor Jenkins, who had invited him to speak, was blamed because he was not able to restrict pastor Sanders to the prescribed three minutes nor did he coach him properly on what to say. And so pastor Jenkins is seconded to Second Chance to teach him a lesson.

Towards the end of the movie the leadership of The Rock meet with local developers who want to build some stadium in the area, but in order to do that, Second Chance church will have to be demolished and the church will have to be relocated about five miles away. And this was the part of the movie that really touched me personally, as I saw the leadership of The Rock making decisions without consulting the leadership of Second Chance, planning a wonderful new campus for Second Chance and after everything had been finalised, only then calling in the people of Second Chance and informing them of the plans.

What was clearly shown in this part of the movie is how often people in the church (those with the money) can make decisions on behalf of those with less money. Very often the decisions in itself are not bad. Usually the decisions are for the good of others. But because the decisions had been taken without consulting those mostly affected by the decisions, huge mistrust and accusations are bred between the two groups and in the end, instead of working together, they work against each other. And I couldn’t help wondering how often I may have done the same thing – with good intentions – but still, breaking down relationships instead of building them.

Monday, June 16, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Dependency, Giving, Meetings, Mission, Partnership, Racism, Sustainability, Theology, Tithing | 5 Comments

Love / Hate relationship with the church

David Hayward’s blog is on my bloglist as I enjoy his humour and cartoons. From time to time he also writes something. On Friday he posted something with the title: Church-Hate? Using the analogy of a photographer trying to publish his photos, he speaks about the restrictive nature of the church. Quite a number of people commented on this post. I myself asked him only one question: “Do you hate the church or do you hate what people made of it?”
There’s a lot being written about the church and about reasons why people do not like the church. I think this is a necessary discussion. But each time I read books, blogs or articles about the topic (granted that I am more inclined to read stuff written by people who are really serious about their relationship with God rather than people complaining merely because they can – and there’s plenty of them), I come to one conclusion: The complaints are mostly about what the church has become (or how people perceive the church to be) than against the church itself. I’ve read many excellent books about the church. Examples abound. Some of these that I’ve blogged about, include Bob Roberts’ books, Transformation and Glocalisation. All of these books have great ideas on how the church should be in today’s society, but eventually it all boils down to becoming the church as God revealed it to us in the New Testament.
And this is the reason why I feel uncomfortable about Christians saying that they hate the church. I’ve been hurt by the church in my own life. Immensely! I’ve personally seen and experienced how loveless the church can be at times. But is it the church or is it the people in the church who are at fault?
The fact is that, in spite of all the criticism against the church as institution, I have never seen a better alternative to a church that really works and does things in a Godly way.
I love the church. What we need to do is to return to the Biblical principles on how the church should be (such as being a community of love, being a light and salt for the world, being united in Christ, etc, etc.) We don’t need new principles. On the contrary. What we do need is the wisdom to apply the old principles within a new and changed society.

Sunday, June 15, 2008 Posted by | Bob Roberts, Church, Humour, Theology | Leave a comment

Returning home after a mission trip

I’ve been following some of the news of the team members who had recently had their short-term outreach to Swaziland from Florida, USA. Most of them are on Facebook. Personally I’m not very fond of Facebook but I must admit that it does give me the opportunity to have closer contact with this team as a whole. But more than anything else I think, I’m intrigued to see how these students adapt to their “normal” lives after their visit to Swaziland.
On their arrival back in the states, they immediately set up a group on Facebook where they could post their photos and video clips and send messages to each other. The first messages were: “I feel so lost without seeing you guys today!!!!” and “I miss you all & Love you all so much!! Hope your summers are swell! Keep in touch, and POST PICTURES! Love you all!” Then the posts concentrated on asking the team members to post their video clips. But now, two weeks later, there is hardly any mention anymore about their trip to Swaziland.
Looking at the individuals’ profiles, it is clear, after two weeks of leaving Swaziland, that life is “back to normal” for most of them, with only one or two still mentioning constantly that they wish they could be back in Swaziland. Oh, and it was interesting to see, just after their return from Swaziland, that all of them had changed their profile photos to one taken in Swaziland. A few have already changed their photos again showing something which they had done during the past few days.
OK, two questions: If I had told the group, just before they left Swaziland that for most of them Swaziland will be a far-off memory in a few weeks time, would they have believed me? Probably not. Is this abnormal? Probably not. I think different people react differently to short-term outreaches. I myself get much more emotionally attached to people than many of my friends. For the past eight years I’ve been going to Samara in Russia for two weeks. For the first week or two after my return, I really struggle to focus on my normal duties. All I can think of is my visit to Russia. I’m not a great tennis fan, but after returning from Russia my wife (she loves tennis) calls me to come and watch each time that Maria Sharapova plays, not because she’s blonde or beautiful or an excellent tennis player, but because she’s Russian! My wife has been to Russia with me, so she understands my withdrawal symptoms after arriving back at home.
How do I handle my return from a short-term missionary outreach? First of all I believe that God had sent me on that trip for a purpose and the purpose is not primarily so that I could enjoy myself. God wanted to teach me something and He wants me to share what I have learnt with other people. And so I try and arrange a time, usually in church on a Sunday, to give a short presentation on what I had experienced. Then I put up reminders (photos or some other gift I may have received) to help me to remember to pray for these people. You can pray for people you do not know. But it becomes much easier and more enjoyable to pray for people whom you do know and whose circumstances, home, family, etc you are familiar with.
But for myself the greatest help is my commitment to the people in Samara. The first year I prayed whether I should go. The second year I prayed that I would be able to go. From then on I prayed that God should show me if He didn’t want me to go! This keeps me focussed on the country and the people I’ve come to know. They know that I’ve made a long-term investment in them and I believe they do appreciate it.
When you arrive in the foreign country, you go through varying degrees of culture shock. When you return home the same thing happens. We have to learn how to handle these emotions and how to apply it in a positive way so that the people that we had visited will benefit from it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture Shock, Mission, Prayer, Russia, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments