Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Enjoying the ride on the way to our destination

One of my favourite authors is Philip Yancey. He recently wrote an article in Christianity Today with the title: On the Grand Canyon Bus. In this article he says that Christians in general “find it difficult to maintain a commitment to both this world and the next, to this life and the next.” He then uses the analogy (which he borrowed from a friend of his) of a bus en route to the Grand Canyon. Although the people on the bus may be travelling through some of the most glorious parts of America, they often keep the shades down, making it impossible for them to see and appreciate the landscape they’re travelling through, being content only to focus on the final destination. And he then makes the remark: “We should remember that the Bible has far more to say about how to live during the journey than about the ultimate destination.”
I like this! Except that I want to go one step further. Keeping to the analogy of the bus trip, you would also find people appreciating the scenery as they drive along, without in the least anticipating the final destination. And ultimately you would find these two groups arguing whether the bus trip or the final destination is the best. In Christian history we have found this in the tension between evangelicals and ecumenicals, between pre-millennialists and post-millennialists, between those who are mission-minded and those who are more focussed on unity and today you would find it between evangelicals and those who oppose the evangelicals.
But the fact is that both are correct. It’s not the one or the other. We are en route to a glorious destination. Just take the time, once again, to read Revelations 21 & 22 and try to picture the beauty of the destination. But Philip Yancey is also correct when he says that the Bible has more to say about the journey than the final destination.
As I read this, I was wondering whether this analogy could not be applied to evangelism in a post-modern world. When I read books by authors such as Brian McLaren (A New Kind of Christian and The Story we find Ourselves in) and many others, they seem to be inviting people along for the ride, without really focussing so much on the destination. And I believe that there is something to say for this. “We’re busy with a trip through some of the most beautiful parts of the country. Care to join us?” And as the trip continues and the scenery is appreciated, the time will come when the traveller will learn more about the destination.
But then, once again, there isn’t a hard and fast rule about this. Because many people (and I’m probably one of them) will want to know what the final destination is before getting on the bus. That’s how people differ and that’s how personalities differ. Those people need to be approached with the invitation: “We’re on our way to the Grand Canyon. Care to join us?” And as the trip continues the new traveller will have to be taught how to appreciate the scenery through which they are travelling.
It’s not one or the other. It’s one and the other.

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Monday, September 29, 2008 Posted by | Church, Eschatology, Evangelism, Millennianism, Mission, Theology | Leave a comment

Gary A Haugen: Just Courage

I recently heard Gary Haugen, President and CEO of International Justice Mission, speak during the Leadership summit at Willow Creek. I stepped out of the auditorium, bought his book, stepped back in and asked him to sign my copy. And now I’ve finished reading his book, Just Courage. I think If I had not already been full-time involved in mission and an AIDS ministry in Swaziland, I would have been inspired to join them. I see people around me – Christians – who will die one day without having made the slightest difference to God’s Kingdom on earth. OK, this is unfair. I shouldn’t think like this, because God may be using people in ways that I cannot see or understand. But I do believe that there are many Christians today (and I say this because some have told me so) who are losing out on the adventure to serve God.
Gary was the director of the United Nations genocide investigation in Rwanda, and being confronted as a young lawyer with the atrocities that had happened in this country, he realised that there were millions of people in the world who were suffering in some way because of gross injustice and he decided to devote his life to become a voice for these people. During the Leadership Summit, video clips were shown of some of the work this group is doing. It was painful to watch but at the same time also gave me hope, knowing that there are people out there making a difference.
There are times when I have to ask myself whether we are doing enough. Obviously the answer is “No.” When will we ever be able to say that we’ve done enough? When all the injustice in the world has been rectified? When AIDS has been stopped? When poverty has been eradicated? Fact is, we’re living in a sinful world and until the Second Coming of Christ, we will be fighting against injustice, sickness, poverty and many other forms of wrong.
My ministry changed – in fact, my life changed – the day when I decided that I want to get directly involved in the AIDS problem of Swaziland. We’re not solving the problem. Neither I nor our church will one day be hailed as the people who had brought the solution to Swaziland. But some people at least have experienced hope through what we have done and I pray that we will be enabled to do much more. And even if this was not true, the least I can say is that my Christian life has truly become an adventure – something which I will not want to exchange for anything else in the world.

Thursday, September 18, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Church, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

Expanding the Ministry

I have always had a policy to “start small and grow big”. Too often I’ve seen people rush into a ministry with great proposals which eventually fail because there was a lack of planning and also possibly because the time was not ripe for such a big ministry. Maybe I’m over-cautious, but I’ve seen better results where the work expands at a slower pace. (I must admit that I was surprised when I recently heard Wendy Kopp speaking at the Leadership Summit at Willow Creek in Chicago who said that she had exactly the opposite viewpoint – to rush in and do what she wanted to do in as big a way possible.)
Starting in 2005 with an AIDS conference in Swaziland, which was followed by the training of our first group of home-based caring volunteers in 2006, this ministry slowly but surely grew until where we are at the moment with ten group scattered around the southern region of Swaziland and 350 volunteers involved in the ministry. We are planning to train three more groups before the end of the year. A great deal of the responsibility for the work lies on my own shoulders (and someone was praying a while back that God would give me broader shoulders!) If we continue with home-based caring only, then we could probably handle ten or even more extra groups without too many problems. Each of these groups work independently to a certain extent and whether we meet once a month with ten coordinators or twenty coordinators, would have little impact on the effort put into the project.
But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we will have to expand our ministry. Home-based caring is a necessary service within the almost hopeless situation which Swaziland is facing. But if the pandemic is not stopped, the population of Swaziland will be wiped out. Already the population is decreasing at an alarming rate, from around 1.3 million a few years ago to 947,000 according to the latest census. Predictions are that the population will be down to 800,000 by 2015 and that the number of orphans will have risen to 200,000! We therefore need to get involved with am affective prevention program. And for one person to effectively manage home-based caring and prevention is almost entirely impossible, taking into account that I am also a full-time pastor of a congregation.
But there is more to be done. Thousands of people in Swaziland are benefiting from the government’s ART (Anti-retroviral therapy) program. But as long as the patients do not have sufficient nutritious food to eat, the therapy will not be effective. We see people going onto ART, only to die within a few years. In Western countries people on ART are living 10, 15, 20 years or more. If we could find ways of obtaining food supplements to give to people on ART, a significant difference could be made in the lives of those people. But someone will have to take the responsibility to manage a program like this – finding funds, getting the supplements and ensuring that the people get it.
Then we still have to work on a more effective feeding program for orphans. We are already involved with this in one area, but this will also have to be expanded if we really want to be effective. And while we have the orphans gathered in one place after school to get food, why not appoint someone who can assist them with their homework to ensure a better education for them? Lack of education is one of the main causes for the rapid spreading of HIV infections.
It is clear why I said yesterday that we need a lot of wisdom to decide about the things we need to do in the future. At the same time, I’m excited if I think of the possibilities to expand our services to the communities and in such a way bring people to the realisation that we really DO care about them, mainly because we know that God cares about us – and about them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Vision | Leave a comment

Reporting about Mission

Yesterday was spent in a meeting with the ten coordinators of the ten different home-based caring projects in the southern region of Swaziland. These meetings can be quite exhausting but at the same time it’s really a joy to be busy with this. When we started with the home-based caring ministry in 2006, the story which you can read in an article I published under the name: “On Becoming the Hands and Feet of Christ in an AIDS-ridden community in Swaziland – A story of hope”, I invested huge amounts of time and energy in the group. I met the entire group at least once a week and during the other days I regularly met the volunteers individually. My aim was to build up this group to become as strong as possible. But the other advantage was that I had my finger on the pulse of the group and I knew fairly well what was going on.
And then, in 2007 we trained five more groups in different areas in the southern region of Swaziland. By the end of that year it felt to me as if things were getting out of control. Eventually, in an attempt to determine where things were and where they were going to, I arranged for the entire group of volunteers to meet at a central place and gave them a chance to tell me what was going on. It was a highly informative meeting and afterwards I felt that I was more or less in control again.
And then we started more groups this year. At present we are standing at ten groups of around 350 volunteers doing home-based caring. And I got that depressing feeling again a few months ago that I’m out of control! And at that point I decided that I will need to implement a reporting system whereby I can at least get an idea whether we are working effectively and where we need to improve. We drew up a reporting form in the simplest way we could think of, translated it into siSwati and then gave the coordinators a brief training session on how the forms should be completed. They then had to train the volunteers for whom they are responsible and once a month the coordinators have to meet at a central place where they bring one consolidated report from their project from which a final report can be made of the previous month’s work. And this is the meeting we had yesterday.
The reports still have many errors, but I prepared myself beforehand that it will take at least three months to get this sorted out. But what amazed me was to see what these people are doing. When I was in the USA recently to receive the Courageous Leadership Award, I told the people there that we are caring for around 1000 sick people. Now that the reports for July have been finalised, I found that the total number of clients is closer to 1500! More than 3800 home visits took place that month, 524 new clients were identified and 80 of our existing clients died. 374 of the clients are terminally ill and 821 are chronically ill.
These figures are mind-boggling. Three more communities in the southern (Shiselweni) region of Swaziland have approached us to train them to start with home-based caring and our first invitation from the northern part of Swaziland (Manzini) have also been received.
And as I keep on thinking about the future, I realise that God may well be preparing us for more work. I’m excited about this. But I also realise that God will have to provide great wisdom if we want to keep on expanding. I have ideas in my mind, some of which I may share in my next post.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Death, HIV, HIV & AIDS, HIV/AIDS Documents, Home-based Caring, Meetings, Mission, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

Capacity Building

I’m recovering again after a hectic week – the reason why my blog-writing has been pushed to the back for a while. On Sunday I flew down to Cape Town where I had been invited to attend a capacity building workshop co-hosted by USAID. Flying back to Pretoria, I stepped into another meeting with representatives of a Christian trust and after driving home I spent a few more hours in another meeting with a NGO which is showing some interest to partner with us in Swaziland.
Up to now I’ve never really been bothered with capacity building. I have more or less a feeling that things are going fairly well with our home-based caring ministry in Swaziland. We have money (not quite enough, but we manage) to do the basic things and I would be satisfied if we can keep this up. So I wasn’t all that eager to attend the conference. But then, before I left for the conference, a friend told me that God might be setting us up for something larger than we have been doing up to now and that we may need more resources to do what He wants us to do. (OK, so that’s not quite what I wanted to hear!) But it changed my attitude to attend the conference with a more open mind.
The overwhelming feeling I had was that most people presenting conferences like these have no idea how rural Africa looks. In most cases the people we work with in Swaziland have no electricity, no water (sometimes a communal tap, but not always), no telephone (although more people are using cell phones), little food (some homes have three meals a week instead of three meals a day!), and a large portion of the people in the rural areas are illiterate.
But then, at the conference, we heard stories of Christians and congregations who are aching to become part of the solution to the world’s problems. People living in affluent communities who feel that they want to start investing their money in ministries deeply involved with the world’s problems – bringing hope and light to those communities. And as I listened to this I realised that there must be a way for those with the resources and those doing the work on grass-roots level to connect with each other. It doesn’t seem right that people are eager to get involved with God’s work on a greater scale and others are looking for ways in which to increase their influence, and these two groups cannot be connected.
But after this conference and the hard work (and we worked really hard in smaller groups), my favourite topic kept coming into my mind: partnerships! In rare cases it may be acceptable for someone with a lot of money to write out a cheque. But that’s not the ideal. We need people to come and look and feel and smell and taste the reality and then sit down with us to think of ways to have an even greater impact on this country – to think of long-term solutions.
So: This is an open invitation to get involved in Swaziland. If you’re part of those people aching to do something outside your own community, send me a note. If you belong to a church longing to do more than merely keeping those inside the church happy, send me a note.

Saturday, September 13, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Building relations, Church, Comfort Zone, Giving, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Working together with Home-Based Caregivers

I’m sitting at our annual synod meeting in Manzini at the moment. I’m the general secretary of the Swaziland Reformed Church and for the past week I’ve been rushing around, getting things ready for this meeting, the reason why I haven’t been able to blog lately. In between I have also been involved with a team from OM (Operation Mobilisation) which had been doing their rural outreach training in Swaziland. Instead of using them for building projects, I use these teams mainly to work with our home-based caregivers. Every morning, after breakfast, they meet the caregivers and start walking with them from homestead to homestead, caring for the patients, often walking down to a stream or river to fetch water and doing whatever is necessary to practically demonstrate the love of Christ to these people.
On Tuesday evening, the day before the group returned to their training base in South Africa, I asked them to come together at our church building at Dwalenito share what they had experienced in the two weeks that they had been in Swaziland. This was a time that I wanted to use to hear from them what had happened, but it was also a time of debriefing for the group, as many of them had really experienced culture shock. One of the young people said: “I had been stretched over my limit while I was there, but it was a good thing. God opened my eyes for the real need of the people in Swaziland.
What really amazed me was to hear how virtually everyone of them said to me that the time had been a challenge to them, having to walk long distances in the day, not having the convenience of a shower, having to fetch their own water, but then hearing every single one thanking us for allowing them to be part of this work. This isn’t what I would consider as a normal reaction. Normally people would be thankful if they had been living in comfortable rooms with comfortable beds and all other things which they would find at home.
But I also realised why they reacted in this way. They had been exposed to some of the worst situations that many of them had seen, things like extreme hunger (at one house they had helped to clean the house and did not find a crumb of food in the house) and also a girl of twelve years who is suffering from a sexually transmitted disease because some family member (probable the father or uncle) had continually raped and abused her. (Through their intervention the matter has now been reported to the police.) But then they also saw how the caregivers gave themselves to help these people. They saw one caregiver who had no food in her own home, going back to her house to fetch a bar of soap, just to be able to share something with someone else. And it was seeing this attitude that made it worthwhile for them to be here. Yes, they were stretched, but they were changed for the good and I believe that not one of them will ever quite be the same again.
Under normal circumstances I have too much other work to be able to visit the clients regularly. But every once in a while I join up with one or two of the caregivers and visit a few homes with them. And every time I do this I am strengthened and enriched merely by observing what these people are doing. But obviously, when I visit a home with them, I cannot leave without praying. These people still believe that there is some special power in a minister’s prayer!
Bill Hybels mentioned that every person should expose him or herself to a place of pain in order to grow spiritually and to have God speak to their hearts. I cannot agree with him more.

Friday, September 5, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Bill Hybels, Building relations, Church, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture Shock, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment