Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit

Probably one of the most difficult things in mission is to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit from all other kinds of voices and sounds trying to influence your life. Yesterday I was preaching from Acts 21 where at two stages people claiming to speak in the Name of the Holy Spirit tell Paul not to go to Jerusalem (verses 4 & 11). Paul, however, disregards their advice and proceeds to Jerusalem where he is indeed captured, first by the Jews and then by the Romans. Granted, Paul did not say that the warning did not come from the Spirit. What he did say was that he was more than willing to suffer and even to die while proclaiming the Name of the Lord Jesus (verse 13).
A few days ago I was reading a post from one of the blogs I regularly follow. Josh and Lindsey Parks had received (what they considered to be) a calling from God to move to Ukraine and to become full-time missionaries there. But then they wrote a post in which they admitted that they had not heard God correctly. After only three months in Ukraine they now plan to return to the USA. And this of course brings up the question: When can we be sure that we have heard God correctly. (I’m not blaming Josh & Lindsay for their decision. It may even be that God wanted them in Ukraine for a shorter period of time for a reason which they still do not understand. But their situation just proves how difficult it is to always be 100% sure that we have heard God correctly.)
My dear friend, Tim Deller – who had spent eight months with us in Swaziland – and I often spoke about this issue, specifically regarding his coming to Swaziland. Although he had prayed about going to some area for a longer period of time, Swaziland wasn’t really on his spiritual map. And then this opportunity came along, he felt it was the Spirit leading him to Swaziland, I heard about him and felt at peace that it would be the right thing to do and shortly afterwards we were working together in Swaziland! I believe that this was truly from the Spirit. But what would have happened if we had both heard incorrectly?
I think when it comes to big issues such as going full-time into mission, it would not be inappropriate to ask God to confirm, even more than once, what you believe you hear He is telling you. And even more so when it is a husband and wife team going off to another country. Both of them need to be sure that they have heard God correctly. Invariably there will be challenges which the wife will have to face which may be much more difficult for her to handle than for the man. When we moved to Swaziland, we were both sure that God wanted us to be there. (Today we are more sure than ever before.) But this decision did not come without problems. To name only one: Our eldest son had tremendous health problems as a baby. Much later we found out that he had an allergy for gluten, but this we found out only after he had almost died and was hospitalised for ten days where we literally prayed him through every day. When he came home, we had to keep him off gluten to prevent him from getting sick again. How my wife coped, I still don’t know. In a modern city it would have been difficult enough. In Swaziland it was almost beyond imagination.
Why didn’t we leave? Probably because we had no other realistic option. But I think, somehow, we never doubted that God had indeed called us to Swaziland. God had convinced us that this is where He wanted us to be and up to today I’m still sure that we are where He wants us to be.
To be led by the Holy Spirit is one of the privileges of being a Christian. But then we need to make sure that we hear His voice correctly.

Monday, July 28, 2008 Posted by | Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Health, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

Dodging the AIDS issue

A number of years ago I published an article with the title: Why are we losing the battle against AIDS? One of things I mentioned in the article was the problem of denial. In a previous post I wrote about a friend of mine who had died of AIDS. When I asked him, shortly before his death, what was wrong with him – hoping that it would create an opportunity for him to speak about his sickness – he answered that the doctor had told him that he had been working too hard in his garden and that he just needed to rest.
This same man had lost many family members: brothers, sisters, in-laws. Every time he lost another family member and we spoke about it, I asked him: “What did they die of?” And then he would answer: “You know. They died of that sickness.” It was always “that sickness” – never AIDS!
Someone published a list of euphemisms by which HIV and AIDS are known in Africa. It’s called: “AFRICA: Mind your language – a short guide to HIV/AIDS slang.” The original article was published in PlusNews but a better formatted article which reads easier was published on CABSA’s website and can be accessed here.
One of our greatest frustrations remain that it may never be said that a person has died of AIDS. I have with me three death certificates of people who had died in Swaziland. Admittedly, not all of them had AIDS, but the reasons for death which were indicated on the death certificates, were as follows:

  • Unknown, suspected swollen feet
  • Unknown, but suspect headache
  • Unknown, but suspect poisoning (this one had committed suicide by eating weevil tablets – an extremely strong poison)

Some people have the worm, others the bug. Some suffer from slim disease and others from “five plus three.” But until we start calling the sickness by its name and until we admit what caused people’s death, we will always be living in denial.
In the article mentioned above, I started by quoting from an article which was once published in a Swaziland newspaper:

Saturday night has become the night of vigils, of traditional Swazi wakes, when friends and relatives gather to feast and to mourn the deaths of young people, the cream of the nation. As the AIDS pandemic gathers pace, Swaziland has entered an endless season of mourning.
The vigils are announced publicly in death notices that fill a page, or often two pages, in the local newspapers every day. Many are accompanied by photographs which show that almost all the victims are in their twenties or early thirties. The language of the announcements is both quaint and evasive: George Shongwe is late; Zodwa Madolo, nee Diamini, died suddenly and is late, Cynthia Zwane is late. Friends and relatives are informed that the vigil will be on Saturday night, the funeral early the next morning.
There is no hint of the cause of these deaths, though everybody knows. The universal human response to AIDS is denial. It is as though nobody can face the awful reality of a calamity that rivals the great plagues of history.

Unfortunately, too many people, both in the affected countries as well as in the West are still in denial – an ideal breeding ground for this virus to grow in.

Friday, July 25, 2008 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, Death, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, HIV/AIDS Documents, Mission, Stigma, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Religion and AIDS Symposium

I’ve just returned from Durban (also known as Durban by the Sea or locally lovingly called Durbs) where I attended a symposium about Religion and AIDS. I grew up in Durban. Up to my tenth year we lived five minutes walk from the main beach. So in that sense it was great to be back in Durban for two days.
This morning the symposium started at the University of KwaZulu Natal. It was hosted by an organisation known as HEARD (Health Economis and HIV/AIDS Research Division) with Prof Alan Whiteside chairing the meeting. There’s a lot of this stuff going on and it is impossible to attend every single conference on AIDS. I received the invitation however and because I have met Alan before and know that he has a great heart for Swaziland, clearly seen through his publication called Reviewing Emergencies For Swaziland, I decided to travel the distance to attend. I was also asked to deliver a short paper on the Swaziland Situation, with special reference to the Home-Based Care program which we are running. If you haven’t read it yet, you can download and read my publication: On becoming the Hands and Feet of Christ in an AIDS-ridden community.
One of the advantages of attending specialised conferences such as these, is that one immediately makes contact with people sharing the same vision and the possibility of networking becomes much greater. Once again, I was not disappointed. I met up with Robin Root, Associate professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the Baruch College in New York and we are now trying to set up a meeting with her in Swaziland on 1 August, at which time I want to introduce her to some of our volunteer caregivers and also give them a chance to tell her first-hand what we are doing in Swaziland.
Some of the other papers were also very interesting to listen to, but the one which touched me the most was presented by Marisa Casale. She is a staff member of HEARD and had been responsible for evaluating a church-based AIDS prevention program run in an area in Durban, known as Cato Manor – an extremely poor suburb with a more than 50% unemployment rate. A local church had started visiting a school in that area where they had built relationships with the children, did AIDS awareness programs with the children and eventually also assisted them in making the right choices in an attempt to prevent them from getting infected with HIV. Their main aim was to promote abstinence among the children.
After the program had been running for a number of years they felt that they would like an objective view on the success of the program and approached HEARD to do this research. Marisa was responsible for this. I didn’t bother to write down everything she said (trusting that I will get a copy of her paper), but it was amazing when they found that, after having run this program for a few years, the sexually active number of children in this school was down to around 40%. In a control school which was also examined, but which had not run the prevention program, more than 60% of the children were sexually active.
For many people this 40% sounds extremely high. It is extremely high, even more so when you realise that the possibility of most of these children becoming infected with HIV is an absolute reality. But I know the influence which poverty has on communities. Often moral behaviour becomes deeply affected when money for food does not even exist.
What encouraged me about this was the fact that the church can indeed play a significant role in the prevention of AIDS. In fact, in my own paper, I said the following:

It is unfortunate that the church does not seem to be having a great influence in preventing the spreading of the HI virus. We are all well aware that the propagation through the church of condom usage is a highly controversial topic. While the Roman Catholic Church has decreed that the use of condoms are not approved, most other churches are equally reluctant to advise their church members to use condoms as they feel that this may sanction extra-marital sex. I am of the opinion that there may also be another reason why churches do not feel comfortable in propagating condoms as a way to prevent HIV transmission. Although condoms undoubtedly decrease the risks of transmitting the virus, even a high profile company such as Durex warns us on their website that “no method of contraception can provide 100% protection against pregnancy, HIV (AIDS) and STDS.” The reluctance of many churches to advise people to use condoms may be compared to advising someone who wants to play Russian roulette with five rounds in the cylinder to remove four of the rounds before firing the revolver. Obviously the risks are much smaller, but most churches I know off would rather prefer people to live in such a way that there is no risk at all of getting AIDS.

I don’t think what I said was incorrect. But there is hope that certain Christian programs are starting to have an effect on the way that people, especially the youth, make moral choices. I believe we still have a long way to go, but after today, the tunnel isn’t quite as dark anymore.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Death, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, HIV/AIDS Documents, Home-based Caring, Hope, Meetings, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Stigma, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | 5 Comments

Evangelicals – Bad or Good?

I’ve been following discussions on Evangelicals for a long time. I am fully aware that this is probably a much greater issue in the United States than where I come from. Our church (Swaziland Reformed Church) belongs to an ecumenical body within Swaziland known as the Swaziland Conference of Churches and this body’s aim is to incorporate all Evangelical churches into one organisation. There are also two other ecumenical bodies in Swaziland, the one consisting of churches of a more Orthodox nature (such as the Roman Catholic Church) and the other of traditional African religion groups, such as the Zion Christian Church. I’m perfectly comfortable to be associated with the Evangelical churches in Swaziland.
I have a feeling, however, that there is much more emotion in the United States about this term. I’ll really appreciate it if people from the USA could respond and share how they understand this term – both negatively and positively. The impression which I get through lots of reading is that “Evangelical” not only refers to one’s viewpoint on salvation through Christ alone (which I totally agree with) but that it immediately also refers to one’s viewpoint on a number of moral issues (many of which I would also agree with) as well as political viewpoints. The impression that I have, however, is that Evangelicals may not be as concerned with certain other issues. Evangelicals have strong debates about homosexuality, abortion, public prayer, home schooling, and many other issues, but do they feel equally strong about ecological issues and about the exploitation of poor people within the labour market? I’m not sure – that’s why I’m asking the question.
In one of the blogs I read regularly, The Blind Beggar, Rick Meigs referred to someone who had said some very harsh things about Evangelicals. You can read his post here. One of the reasons given for this attitude towards Evangelicals is: “The primary reason outsiders feel hostile toward Christians, and especially conservative Christians, is not because of any specific theological perspective. What they react negatively to is our ‘swagger,’ how we go about things and the sense of self-importance we project.”
True or not: this should be a strong warning that many people who are viewing Evangelicals from the outside, do not view them positively. I’m not saying that all people are correct, regardless of what they believe. There’s a number of things I believe in and what I stand for that I consider to be non-negotiable. And if we believe in Jesus Christ, then it would be important that our lives should reflect the image of the One we believe in and Whom we follow. And that image can never be one of ‘swagger’ and self-important.

Sunday, July 20, 2008 Posted by | Ecology, Evangelicals, Mission, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Ephesians 4:3

I’ve been able to finish the article which I had to write about Ephesians 4:3 on the topic of church and unity. My neighbour, who is an English teacher, is busy proofreading it to make sure that I haven’t made too many grammar mistakes, seeing that English is actually my second language (my first language is Afrikaans). But I would assume that the changes necessary would be fairly minor and won’t change the contents of the article. So if you’re interested to read the final product, you can go to: http://www.swazimission.co.za/Documents/The%20Relevance%20of%20Ephesians%204.pdf
Church unity is a touchy issue, mainly because it will inevitably lead to some form of sacrifice which needs to be made. In this article I try to indicate, with the use of Ephesians 4:1-3, how this process could be made easier and how it could indeed become a positive spiritual experience.

Thursday, July 17, 2008 Posted by | Theology | Leave a comment

Teaching children the ways of the Lord

I’ve actually been thinking about this topic for some time and was intending to post something about it today. And then my son touched on this topic on his own blog today in, what I consider to be an excellent post. You can read his post here.
I’m almost through with a book which I started reading some time ago. The title of the book is Escape and is the true story of a woman who was able to escape from a cult known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a group which had been formed from people who had been excommunicated from the Mormon church and which proceeded to propagate polygamy after the Mormon church stopped this. It’s a tough book to read due to the extremely distressing things which is described, where women and children exist merely to obey their husbands and fathers, where children are often allowed to die merely because the father does not consider it necessary for a child to be hospitalised or where sickness or other misfortune is more often than not considered to be punishment from God because the wife or the child had not been obedient to the father.
What I started thinking as I was reading this book, is what sets the normal Christian faith apart from a cult. In this cult, the beliefs of the parents were taught to the children and they taught their children, and so on. And in a certain sense this is what we also try to do as Christian parents and as church. Well, I’ve read articles written by people who blame “normal” Christian parents of indoctrinating their children and who want to get laws in place forbidding parents or the church from teaching even their own children about Christ.
Obviously I don’t agree with this viewpoint, but it did raise certain questions, such as: How far may I go in forcing my children to believe what I believe? What is permissible as parent and as church to teach children about the doctrines we believe in? In my own mind I’m pretty clear about this, although it may not be so easy to define. But the question remains: Why do I consider groups like the FLDS as a cult when they teach their children their beliefs and when I teach my children about my beliefs I believe I’m doing what God wants me to do. Fact is, I believe I’m obedient to God and they believe the same thing.
The answer that I eventually found to be the most satisfactory, is that the main difference lies in the fact that cults keep people in line through their fear of punishment by God should they be disobedient, while we as parents and as church use the message of love to pull our children and others to God. I once heard (I’m not sure if this is scientifically proven) that fear can at most change people’s lifestyles for a period of six weeks. This makes sense, because, while reading this book, it was clear that the preaching in the church and the way in which the husbands reacted to any form of disobedience from their multiple wives or children was aimed at continuously strengthening the fear of eternal punishment by God.
In missions we all know the importance of reaching the children with the gospel of Jesus Christ at a young age, enabling them to grow up with this knowledge of His love (and to be honest, one of the reasons we need to do this, is to reach them before they’ve been indoctrinated with other beliefs, such as ancestral worship.) But this gospel must always have as its central message the love of God, compelling people to follow Him (2 Corinthians 5:14) rather than the fear of eternal punishment.
And I must say that there had been times when I heard people preaching in the mission field almost exclusively about the punishment of God. And on the long run, I don’t think that this is very effective.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 Posted by | Church, Mission, Swaziland, Theology | | 2 Comments

Food crisis in Swaziland

Richard Rooney recently reported on the effects that malnutrition are having on children in Swaziland. According to his information, four children out of ten in Swaziland are so malnourished that their growth has been permanently stunted. It’s not only with children that we see the effects of malnourishment. Many of the people we work with in our home-based caring program have been convinced to go for HIV testing and if found to be positive, they then went for blood tests to determine their CD4 count and if found to be less than 200 cells per cubic millimetre, they then become eligible for anti-retroviral therapy (ARV). The problem is, without healthy food, the ARV therapy may add on a few years to a person’s life (which is certainly better than nothing), but combining healthy eating habits with ARVs could often add on ten years or more to a person’s life.
Richard writes that in the past year about 600,000 out of Swaziland’s total population of less than one million people have received donor food aid. But apparently this assistance is now being reduced. Obviously the food given to these people were really very basic. But even so, at least it was something. But what is going to happen if this food is further reduced?
Although all our care-givers working in the home-based caring project are working voluntarily, since February this year we have been able to give each of these care-givers a food parcel once every two months. We don’t know for how long we will be able to do this, but we undertook to continue doing this until the money runs out – which should have happened in April! But we seem to be experiencing something of the widow’s jug – a miracle for which we are extremely thankful! In any case, the reason for giving them the food is two-fold: On the one hand we feel that this is a small sign of appreciation for what they do. But on the other hand we know that healthy food will increase their capability of caring for others. Keep in mind that many of our care-givers themselves are HIV-positive. Included in the food packet is a bag of rice. But we have been warned that the price of rice will probably double in the near future! We also feed a group of orphans daily at our church. I trust that we will be able to continue with this, regardless of the price of food. But what about the thousands upon thousands of orphans who do not have access to feeding schemes?
What happens in a country where 67% of the population earn less than 45 US cents per day (not even enough to buy half a loaf of bread), if the price of basic foodstuffs start doubling?
I don’t yet know what is going to happen. I do know that we as family complain about the price of groceries, and I really don’t think that we follow a lavish lifestyle. But if you hardly have any money to buy food and the prices increase by 100%? Then you’re in deep trouble. And I can foresee that Swaziland (as many other African countries) is going to be in a real food crisis very soon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Dependency, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Should Bibles be sold or handed out?

This is a question which all missionaries working in poor countries will have to answer. And the answer is not as simple as we sometimes try to make it.
I was recently reminded about this issue while watching a DVD of an international missionary organisation working in Swaziland. We all realise that DVDs or pamphlets or whatever other medium is used, are made in order to convince people to donate money towards the cause. The DVD starts with a shot of a number of school children, singing and dancing with Bibles in their hands. The caption reads: “Swazi kids excited about their new English and SiSwati Bibles.” These Bibles had been handed out to them with the help of donations received from overseas. Who’s heart won’t soften when seeing children in darkest Africa dancing with joy because of receiving a Bible?
Many people however feel that it is wrong to hand out Bibles free of charge. The logic behind this conviction is that something is only appreciated if it is paid for.
And now the question: Who is correct? Should Bibles be sold or handed out? And the answer, as I said earlier, is not as simple as saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. When I arrived in Swaziland in 1985 we used to receive boxes full of tracts, some in English, others in siZulu (closely related to siSwati) and when visiting schools I handed out these tracts by the thousand. But there came a time when I became convinced that I’m not doing the right thing. I did realise that the children were merely grabbing the tracts, not because they were really interested in reading them (although I believe that many did read them), but because it was something given to them free of charge. After making this decision I planned the distribution of literature in a much more disciplined way. The fact is that I became convinced that I could distribute Jehovah’s Witness literature or even Muslim literature free of charge and that the children would still grab as much as possible.
So what is my solution? In the good old days I was able to get 30% discount from the Bible Society if we bought Bible directly from them. Bibles were fairly cheap (around $2) and after the 30% discount they were still affordable for most people. We literally sold thousands of Bibles. But at the same time we were open to hand out Bibles to people who we felt would put the Bible to good use and who could not afford to pay for it. I’ve received many things free of charge which I deeply appreciate and I sincerely believe that many people receiving a Bible free of charge would also appreciate it. Which means that we used both systems of giving and selling Bibles, but always selling it without profit.
Things have changed. The Bible Society refuse to give churches discount. Discount is now only given to stores and prices have gone through the roof. The cheapest siSwati Bible available in stores would probably be around $12 – this in a country where 70% of the population live on less than 45 US cent per day! Money received for Bible distribution is now used to buy Bibles at shelf price, but then we sell them at about a quarter of the price at which we buy them. And then we still have an understanding that Bibles may be handed out free of charge or sold at an even lower price if the recipient can really not afford to buy it.
We don’t have much singing and dancing with Bibles in the hand using this system. But I’ve seen many people sitting with their Bibles, reading it and when I look at the congregation on a Sunday as they follow the Scripture reading in their own Bibles, I see Bibles with pen marks, showing signs that they have been used. For me this means more than the singing and dancing.

Monday, July 14, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Church, Culture, Giving, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland, Theology | 7 Comments

The Medical Situation in Swaziland

Yesterday was pretty hectic. A team from Luke Commission came to visit a school virtually across the road from our church at Dwaleni. We had invited them to come as part of our service to the community, taking care of the sick at their homes.
But I have to be honest that there were times yesterday when I had more questions than answers. After 24 years in Swaziland, I haven’t seen any real improvement in the health system of the country. This was a mobile clinic which we were part of and more than 800 people were attended to. Children were inspected for scabies and other diseases often found in children. Adults’ blood pressure was taken and recorded and those over fifty were also tested for diabetes, a disease which is becoming very common in Africa. All adults were also invited to be tested for HIV. The majority of those who were tested, tested negative. Although this sounds like extremely good news, the reason is most probably that those who are living promiscuously did not consent to be tested. Some of our home-based caregivers then counselled both those who tested negative as well as those who tested positive. Those who tested positive also had blood drawn in order to determine their CD4 count, which will indicate whether they are eligible to receive anti-retroviral medicine from the government. Many of those who had come also had their eyes tested and from tens of thousands pairs of glasses donated, and with the help of a really nifty machine and a huge database, all of those who needed glasses could be helped. On a lighter note, some of those who received glasses looked really strange as many of the frames had been worn in the USA as part of a fashion outfit. But in the end, to be able to see, is what really counts.
Two patients really touched me. One was a young woman with severe chest pains. In fact, she was crying most of the time because of the pain. The doctor told me that she was HIV-positive and they suspected that it might be TB which is causing the pain (one of the main diseases often associated with AIDS.) The sad news was that she had been to the health centre in Nhlangano, one of the main towns in Swaziland and they had given her pain killers and sent her back home. Then she went to Hlatikhulu, where one of Swaziland’s main hospitals are situated and they did the same. And then she came to us, in the hope that we could help her. But the doctor could do nothing for her without first seeing an X-ray. I eventually spoke to the girl’s father and told him to take his daughter to the clinic and insist that they do an X-ray to try and determine what is causing the pain. And then he told me that he could not take her, because he had no bus fare! Eventually I gave them bus fare and hope that they would have gone to the hospital today.
And then a schoolboy turned up. He was probably about thirteen or fourteen. During a football game he had broken his leg above the knee, about four weeks ago. He had gone for surgery and a metal rod was inserted to help with the healing of the bone. He came to us yesterday and his mother told us that almost since the operation he has been suffering from extreme pain. They had gone back to the clinic, but it does not seem as if much was done. The doctor then removed the bandage and we found that the metal rod was sticking at least three inches out of his leg! His body was busy rejecting the rod. His knee was swollen to at least twice its normal size and from the smell it was clear that there was extreme infection in the bone. I cannot even start to imagine the pain the poor boy had to go through.
Fortunately, the doctor could arrange for him to be admitted to a hospital where he is now on intravenous antibiotics. Whether it will be possible to save the leg remains to be seen.
I don’t have an answer to Swaziland (and the same can be said about most African countries’) health situation. I’m just wondering how many lives can be saved if the health system could improve.

Thursday, July 10, 2008 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, Death, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Missionary Organisations, Partnership, Poverty, Swaziland | 3 Comments

Church and Unity (3)

I’ve been extremely busy the last few days and did not have much chance to get behind a computer. But I want to have another look at Ephesians 4:3.
In my previous post I mentioned that Paul was asking the readers to live a life which was totally strange for the people of those times (and possibly equally strange for us today): “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” And this new life-style which Paul is urging the Christians to lead will then create the climate through which there can be a feeling of real unity between the Christians.
The remarkable thing about this unity is that it cannot be created by human beings. This is a unity which comes from the Holy Spirit and our task is to maintain this unity. This, however, can only be done if we have the new life-style of which we read in 4:2.
My impression about the topic of unity is that many people are sceptic that it can work. In the process of preparing for the article I have to write, I came to the conclusion that we are afraid of allowing unity in the church, mainly because we know that most Christians still lack the characteristics described by Paul in 4:2. In South Africa, for the past 34 years, Christians in one of the main churches have been speaking about working towards unity in churches still segregated along racial lines. And the fear that I hear in the voices of those opposing it, is that they will be forced to give up certain things which are important to them – and obviously the fear will be even stronger amongst the minority groups. The same is going to happen when the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) will combine to form one new body, which I wrote about previously. The REC has 39 member churches in 25 countries. The WARC has 200 member churches in about 100 countries. It is clear to me that the members of the REC would be wondering whether they are going to lose out on the deal when the two organisations combine.
And then things started making sense to me. If we have the attitude that Paul writes about (humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with each other in love) then it should not be a problem. Then the stronger group should have enough understanding for the fear of the smaller group and accommodate them to the best of their ability so that their fear could be minimised.
As human beings we tend to show our power if we are stronger than our counterpart. It happens in marriages. It happens in politics. It happens in the church. But because we are Christians and because we are controlled by the Holy Spirit, God expects another attitude from us – the same attitude which was found in Christ (Philippians 2:5-8).

Tuesday, July 8, 2008 Posted by | Mission, Theology, Unity | Leave a comment