Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Making a stand for righteousness

My son recently started sharing something about his journey as a child who grew up in Swaziland, later attended school in Apartheid South Africa where he became increasingly racist and then later, after school, becoming more convinced about the sin of racism. I want to link onto his second story – about his experience at school: “White kid in a white school.” In this story he refers to me taking a leading role in the fight to get the schools my children were attending opened up for all races.
A few things happened in the late 80s and early 90s (I can’t remember the exact years) that will always remain in my mind. A colored child (meaning a child born of mixed Black / White parents) wanted to attend the Whites only high school (which is the school which my own children attended and where my wife was also teaching on a temporary basis at that time and where she is now a permanent teacher.) A group of parents were up in arms (literally) about this. They confronted the headmaster armed with revolvers and pistols (I saw this with my own eyes) and demanded that the child be taken out of their school. The headmaster refused, but the effect was that this poor boy had to sleep with a bullet-proof jacket (he was living in the dormitory at school) with a policeman on guard outside his door and even during schooltime, a policeman had to be on guard outside the classroom to ensure that nobody attacked him. It was a terrible time.
As all South Africans knew that the first democratic election was inevitable (it was eventually held in 1994), plans were made to lessen the impact of the elections. One was to try and ensure that no “non-White” children would be allowed in the “Whites only” schools. The only way in which this could be done was by combining different Afrikaans schools, from the first grade to the twelfth grade, in one school. The school would then be filled to capacity. Knowing the real reason behind this, I decided to speak up against this decision at a parents’ meeting where the decision had to be approved.
On the evening of the parents’ meeting there was a lot of tension in the air. There were probably around 500 or 600 parents gathered at, what we know as a “primary school (Grades 1 – 7), mostly there to ensure that their school would remain “White”! I had done my homework and had determined that the government had put a moratorium in place which actually prevented schools from combining. And I decided that this would form the main part of my argument. These people would not be convinced on sentimental or ethical grounds. The discussion started and it was clear that the feeling was unanimous that the two schools should combine. When the floor was given the chance to respond, I raised my hand and was eventually given the chance to speak. Although I knew that I was right, my knees were shaking as I faced the hundreds of parents and said that I disagreed with the proposal. I can’t remember all the arguments I used, but the hostility that I encountered as I spoke, I will never forget. I started stating the reasons why I thought such a decision would be wrong, while listening to angry noises being made by the rest of the parents. Halfway through, the principal stood up and ordered me to sit down. I was told that I could put my arguments on paper and hand it to the governing body.
Deeply humiliated I took my seat. And then, in my anger, I decided that I was up to the challenge. A few individual parents met me outside and told me that they supported my viewpoint. That evening I went home and wrote a document stating all the arguments and emphasizing that lies had been told to the parents, as the governing body knew well about the moratorium. (To his credit, I have to mention that the principal called me the following day to apologize for his behavior the previous evening.) What happened after that, I do not know. The possibility of combining the schools was never mentioned again. I received no answer from the governing body. But I knew that I had done the right thing.
Today, almost twenty years later, I can hardly believe that this had taken place. The schools in our town are mixed and the pupils seem to get along quite well with each other. Nobody ever thanked me for saying what I had said and frankly, I don’t think much would have been different if I had not done what I had done. But it is good to know that I had been put into a situation where I had to make a stand against a 99% majority and that I was able to overcome my fear in order to say what I believed God wanted me to say. That I won my case was definitely an added bonus!

Saturday, March 6, 2010 Posted by | Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Mission, Racism, Swaziland, Theology | 4 Comments

How important is unity in the church?

I haven’t had much time for blogging the past week or so. I’ve been conducting a series of church services every evening. I focused on the Gospel of John and learnt some really remarkable stuff as I did thorough exegesis of the parts I wanted to preach about.
Tomorrow morning I will be wrapping up the series by looking at John 17. One of the things that I’ve realized since I started preparing for these sermons, is that John gives the impression that it is fairly easy to understand and then, the deeper you delve, the more difficult it becomes until you eventually discover the actual meaning of what John was trying to say to his readers.
John 17 is no exception. On the surface it is a prayer of Jesus for His disciples. I’ve done a lot of research on John 17 in the past within the context of church unity. With eleven language and almost as many race groups in South Africa, the church in South Africa is seriously suffering from the effects of disunity. Even within language and race groups, there are denominational groups which are very close to each other but which still consider those not part of their church as the opposition.
I once read the following story which illustrates in a humorous way what is happening between Christians:

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. I immediately ran over and said “Stop! Don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he said.
I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“Like what?”
“Well…are you religious or atheist?”
“Religious.”
“Me too! Are you Christian or Jewish?”
“Christian.”
“Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Protestant.”
“Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
“Baptist.”
“Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
“Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!”
To which I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.

In 1981 my wife and I had the chance to visit Zimbabwe. This was just after many years of civil war in the country. As we sat down to speak to church members about their experiences during the years of war, we struggled to understand how it feels to leave your house or farm in the morning, knowing that you are being watched through the scopes of a missile launcher which could be triggered at any moment if the soldier carrying the launcher feels like it. People were killed at random and everybody were living in fear every single day of their lives.
In those days many pastors left Zimbabwe and new pastors were not granted work permits for Zimbabwe. Under those circumstances the “right” church was not the one with which you agreed doctrinally, but the one which had a pastor. And I can still remember that I asked myself where things will need to lead to in South Africa (but not only South Africa) before a desire will grow amongst Christians to really accept one another in love and to demonstrate their unity. If this is what it cost to get the churches in Zimbabwe to work together, what will it cost us?
I am blessed that, in the town where I live, pastors from across virtually the entire spectrum of doctrines, have expressed the desire to come closer to each other. Pastors from different races and language groups and from different denominations (Charismatic, Pentecostal, Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran and a number of others) meet each other for breakfast once a month. During these gatherings, doctrinal issues are put aside in favor of reaching out to each other in love. In fact, over the years (and it literally took years to build this trust between the churches) we have developed the ability to make jokes about our own or even the other churches and to laugh at the way in which we used to protect our domain in the past. We still have a long way to go. But I’m truly thankful that I can experience something of what Jesus prayed for in John 17.
Tomorrow, as part of the Global Day of Prayer, most of these churches will be gathering to unite in prayer. Perhaps we need to pray the words of John 17 more regularly in our churches: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Saturday, May 30, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Building relations, Church, Comfort Zone, Humour, Mission, Racism, Theology, Unity | 1 Comment

Can a non-missional group become missional?

I’ve just finished reading Alan Hirsch’s book: The Forgotten Ways. It’s a great book and highly recommended, but be warned: It’s not easy to read. I do most of my reading when I go to bed and I really struggled to work through this book, But it is worthwhile reading it.
In short, Alan wants the church to rediscover it’s true purpose, what he calls mDNA, or the Missional DNA of the church. At the core of the church of Jesus Christ is the desire to reach out to the world. Churches which are not doing this, are acting contrary to how God has wired the church.
I have obviously done a lot of reading on this topic, therefore I can’t say that I had many “aha!” experiences while reading the book. He does however emphasise many things and says it in a way, which, as I read it, I just wished that I could share this with everybody I know.
On page 235 he says something which I have suspected for some time but which he is convinced is the truth. Gordon Cosby, the leader of Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., noted somewhere that in over sixty years of ministry, he has never seen that groups which are formed around a non-missional purpose (prayer, worship, Bible Study, etc) ever ending up becoming missional. It was only those groups which intended from the start to be missional (and usually embraced things like prayer, worship and Bible Study) that ended up doing it.
This corresponds with my own experience. It is impossible to calculate how many people have contacted me over the years with a request to get involved in our work in Swaziland. Usually the conversation goes something like this: “Hi, we are a cell group / Bible Study group / prayer group from xyz congregation and we have heard about your work in Swaziland. We feel that it is important for us to reach out to others and we would like to visit you to find out how we can assist you.”
Being a fairly positive person, I always invite them to come, but at the back of my mind I know that there is a more than 90% chance that nothing will come from the visit. The reason is simple. To be part of a cell group or Bible Study group asks a small investment of your time: 1 – 2 hours per week. And let’s be honest – these meetings are fun. Coffee and cookies are served. There’s a lot of time for interaction. And after worship and prayer you feel revived and ready to tackle the rest of the week.
Involvement in mission asks much more than that. On most Sundays I leave home at 8 in the morning and return home somewhere between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. And that’s just for a church service. Anything happening during the week involves a lot of driving – two hours at the very least – entering places which may make you feel uncomfortable, seeing things that are not nice to see, walking in the scorching sun. After their visit these groups have a lot to say about their experience and always promise to come back again, but more often than not we never hear from them again. They will return to their cell group / Bible Study group / prayer group and will probably never return to Swaziland.
If I have to say why this happens, then it boils down to a lack of vision. A group that is formed without a missional vision, will never be able to become missional. They will merely follow their vision and if it is not a missional vision, they will not become missional.
Is there a solution for the hundreds of thousands of cell and other groups meeting all over the world with the main intention to feed themselves (pun intended)? The only solution I can imagine is that the leader of the group make the decision to change the vision. That should not be to difficult as most of these groups do not have an official “vision”. They just follow the leader. But if the leader could convince them to determine their vision (which can be as simple as to answer the question: Why are we meeting every week?) and then convince them that the true purpose of the church lies in its calling to become a light for the world (or whatever other missional metaphor he or she wishes to use), it is possible that, over time, a group like this could really become missional, using their normal weekly meetings to build themselves up so that they could do more outside the church.
But that’s my optimistic side speaking. If I have to be realistic, I doubt whether any significant number of church groups will ever become missional.

Monday, February 2, 2009 Posted by | Church, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture Shock, Indigenous church, Mission, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | 3 Comments

Leading, Reading or Feeding

Jason Jaggard wrote a very interesting article which I recommend that you read yourself. It has the title: Stop Learning.
Two weeks ago I was invited to preach in a certain church and I started my sermon on Isaiah 58:1-12 with an illustration which I had heard from Rev John Thomas, a pastor at the Fish Hoek Baptist Church close to Cape Town in South Africa, who is doing absolutely amazing work in his community. The illustration goes that this man was visiting a restaurant, looking at the menu, discussing the ingredients of each dish, calculating the calories of each dish, considering which wine would best complement the dish, but never ordering any food. (In my sermon I elaborated on this illustration, making myself the subject of the story.) John calls this: “Menu Study!”
I then applied this illustration to the way in which many people see the church. The come to church to hear a good sermon. They attend cell groups to be fed spiritually. They attend Bible Studies to learn more about the Word. At home they are constantly reading spiritual books. Some even reach the point where they enroll in a course in Greek in order to understand Greek grammar. But a great number of our regular church goers (could it be the majority?) never step out in faith to do something for God. They are so busy doing Menu Study that they never get to eat the good food.
And this is why Jason’s post was so exciting to read. The theme of his post fits in nicely with the theme of my sermon. Church members, in general, do not need to be fed. They need to be led! They don’t need to read more spiritual books. They need to find a place where they can make a difference within the Kingdom of God. The sad thing is that more and more church members who are realising this, either leave the church and live out their Christianity outside the church (in my mind a bad thing to do) or they move over to another church where they can be challenged to make a difference. And the churches where the leaders have been satisfied to feed the flock and to give them more books to read, are left with those people who find the meaning in their spiritual life in just being fed.
Earlier this morning I had a long telephone conversation with a friend of mine who is busy organising an AIDS conference where he wants me to speak about possible ways in which the church can get involved in this pandemic. As we discussed the nitty-gritty of the conference, I asked him about the potential audience and what their attitude is towards AIDS. Although the audience comes from a very large community in South Africa which is especially hard-hit by the effects of AIDS, I was told that many of their pastors still want nothing to do with AIDS, believing that it is caused by immoral women. (Apparently the men have no blame in the spreading of this disease.)
Can it be possible for a pastor to find fulfilment in knowing, at the end of his or her career, that they had spent thirty or forty years merely feeding the flock? And will that pastor’s successor continue for another thirty or forty years, doing the same? I absolutely agree with Jason that church members need to be challenged to move out of the church building to do something for God.
John Thomas, at a recent conference, told the story of a certain man who arrived at the church just a few minutes before the end. As he went inside, he whispered to someone: “Is the service over?” To which the other person replied: “The sermon has been preached, but the service has yet to start!”

Saturday, January 24, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Church, Comfort Zone, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Social issues, Stigma, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | Leave a comment

The Church and Communitas

I’m wondering what it is that makes some books “readable” while you struggle through others. I’ve been busy with Alan Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways, for ages. It’s good. He really challenges many popular beliefs in church. But I just can’t sit down and finish the book.
I’ve been reading his chapter on Communitas yesterday and today. I’m not sure whether he has a specific definition for the term (he describes ot more than defining it), but it boils down to the fact that the early church was forever stretching itself through it’s involvement in the community. Communitas happens when a group of people are united around a vision or a mission where they want to make a difference. It happens during short-term mission outreaches, where a group of people leave their comfort zone and spend time in situations which they are not used to. It also happens in times of tragedy (he uses the examples of 9/11 and the tsunami) where people are united in a common cause to help others.
This is all a bit philosophical, but what he says is that this attitude is (and has always been) normative for the church of Christ. But somewhere along the line we lost it. I was in a meeting some time ago where a pastor of a church tried to make me understand that not all people are gifted towards caring for others and reaching out in love towards those in need. Obviously I don’t agree. Some people are especially gifted towards serving others. I know people like this, who are forever looking for ways in which they can help others. (I don’t like them – they make me feel guilty!) But the church cannot shrug its shoulders when confronted by the tragedies surrounding us.
If we want to make Hirsch’s term practical and relevant, then it means that the church has to have a vision for the world’s needs, whatever it may be. In the majority of churches I know, the church exists for its members and pastors are there to entertain the church members on a Sunday morning. Someone used the argument some time ago: I work long hours everyday and I don’t need to be reminded on a Sunday that I need to do even more. On a Sunday I want to relax in church!
Hirsch was in trouble for saying that the church needs to exist for the world. But he believes, and I believe, that the church only finds it’s true meaning once we move outside the walls of the church into the community, bringing the love of Christ, in whatever way is necessary, into that community.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 Posted by | Church, Comfort Zone, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Unity, Vision | 2 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

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

Becoming the church as Christ intended

I’m busy reading Scot McKnight’s book, Embracing Grace. I’m still busy with chapter 1, but I think it’s going to be a great book. Actually, he set me thinking after reading a remark that he made about the church of today. On the one hand he says that people who are sick, cold, dying, etc are looking for something more in the church than they found in the past. He writes on page 7: “… this generation doesn’t want something that tells them that everything is good. It wants something more and won’t settle for anything less…. This generation doesn’t want to attend church in nice clothes, drop some small-numbered bills into the collection plate, sing ‘When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there,’ and go home… this generation is challenging the Church to perform what it proclaims.”
While reading this I wanted to confirm everything that he says. Except for one thing. It’s not the way this generation feels. This is the way that some of the people within this generation feel. I still see, in my visits to other churches and congregations, that probably the majority of most churches are more than satisfied to do exactly what Scot says they do not want to do: Attend church in nice clothes, drop something in the collection plate and go home. This is wrong. Of course it’s wrong! Church is so much more than this! But most church-going people still seem to be satisfied to continue in this way.
I do agree that we are getting a generation that is not satisfied with the old way of worship. But I’m not convinced that they are really willing to change. My feeling is that many of the people complaining about the outdated church will be equally unwilling to become the church that God wants them to be. Most probably they will just stay away.
About a year ago a group of young people from South Africa, fresh out of university, contacted me to arrange for a visit to Swaziland. They had the typical attitude that Scot McKnight refers to: They felt that their church was making things too comfortable for them. They wanted to be there where the action was taking place and they wanted to make a difference in the world. And so we arranged for a visit to two of our churches in Swaziland and we also arranged for a visit to two homesteads where we are taking care of a number of sick people.
The group came. We drove out to the different places we wanted to visit. They were very quiet, shocked by what they saw in these homesteads. And they returned home, after promising that they would come again. However, up to now I never heard from them again. I still see them individually from time to time. But they seem to have lost all their eagerness to change things in the world.
And this is where I think that Scot McKnight may be wrong (although I still have a long way to go with his book): Through the ages people have not changed much – we are still selfish, more focussed on what we can get than what we can give, extremely materialistic (probably more so today than in the past), more concerned about the type of vehicle we are driving than about the millions of people starving of starvation, malaria, AIDS and other diseases.
What Scot McKnight is saying is what we need in the church. We need people who are so frustrated with just sitting in the pew every Sunday, that they want to change things to become what God intended the church to be. But to say that this is happening in general, is far from the truth. Most people I know will gladly sacrifice an hour on a Sunday sitting in church, rather than going out and being Christ for people.
Or am I missing something?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008 Posted by | Alternative Society, Church, Comfort Zone, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology | 2 Comments

Washing each other’s feet

The past two days I had been plucked entirely out of my comfort zone. I have so often spoken about the importance of leaving your comfort zone in order to become more useful to God and certainly I have been in situations which other people would just turn around and walk away from. But I still have a lot to learn.
In 2006 I attended the graduation of some students at the Africa School of Missions in South Africa. Among the students was a Russian girl, Svetlana Kutusheva, whom I had met in Samara in Russia on previous visits to this country and who had also been in my class while I was teaching there on the topic of eschatology. She then decided to go to South Africa for two years to further her studies in theology, obtain a degree and then to become a missionary in Cambodia. During this graduation function I witnessed a remarkable ceremony. After their degrees had been handed out, each of the potential missionaries lined up before the audience and each then received a towel, symbolic of the fact that they had been called to wash other people’s feet. Seldom in my life had I seen anything which spoke so strongly to me and I made the decision that I was going to duplicate this ceremony in Swaziland with the one home-based caring group which we had at that time at Dwaleni. It was close to Christmas and we were already planning something for around 250 orphans living around our church in the area. I decided to combine the two functions and when we handed the orphans a small gift I called all the care-givers forward and presented each one with a towel, explaining to them the symbolic meaning of the towel.
As we trained five extra groups of care-givers during 2007 this became part of the final day of training where I stressed the fact that the greatest leaders in God’s eyes are not those who can manage millions or who make decisions about a country’s future, but that Jesus considered those who serve the most to be the greatest leaders. This has always been a very special occasion for me. But during the last week or two I felt that God was trying to convince me of something more. I became increasingly convinced that God was expecting me to set an example. Now, I fully realise that the washing of other people’s feet had become something of a custom amongst certain Christians. But as I thought about this issue (not without some fear) I also realised that, in our case, this would be much more than a mere symbol. This would mean that I, as a white man, the pastor of the church (held in high esteem in Swaziland), the project manager of the Shiselweni Reformed Home-Based Care Project, would have to go on my knees before a Swazi woman to wash her feet. I was not comfortable with this idea. Not at all! I’m not a very “touching” person. A bear-hug is fine (male or female – as long as it’s not too long or too close) and a hand on the shoulder or the upper arm is also acceptable. But washing another person’s feet was just way out of my comfort zone. That’s not me! And yet, I felt convinced that I had to do it.
Then on Wednesday I received a phone call from a recently married woman living in our town. She had been praying to God about greater unity amongst Christians and churches in the town where we live and she felt that God was telling her to visit each of the pastors in the town and to wash their and their wives’ feet. So she called on Wednesday, told me what she believed God wanted her to do and made an appointment to visit us in Thursday evening. And I didn’t look forward to this. (Refer to my previous paragraph!) The only reason why I consented was because I felt that it would be wrong of me to discourage this woman from doing what she felt God was telling her to do. But I wouldn’t even be comfortable if my wife was bowing down before me to wash my feet – let alone another woman!
Well, she came. She went down on her knees before me, washed my feet and prayed for me, then washed my wife’s feet and prayed for her and then I also prayed for her. After this she left. This was a first for me. I survived! But the big test would be the next day when I had to wash other people’s feet. So yesterday I drove through to Nsalitje, encouraged the people, handed out the customary towels and explained to them the symbolic meaning of the towels. And then I called the newly chosen chairperson and coordinator to come forward, asked them to sit on a bench and, after explaining to them what I had in mind, I started washing their feet with soap and water, afterwards drying their feet with a towel.
As I was doing this, the craziest thought came into my mind. In Biblical times people were mostly expected to wash their own feet. In extreme circumstances a slave could be used for this purpose but there was an explicit law that prevented Jewish slaves from doing this. Slaves could be asked to do anything, but washing another’s feet was considered to be so degrading, that there was a specific law against Jewish slaves doing this. (Only heathen slaves could be forced to do this.) And this was the thought that came into my mind while washing their feet – that I had probably never been in such a degrading position in my life.
I survived! I’m glad I did it. I think that I will do something similar in the future when we train new groups, as the symbolic meaning of the washing of feet was emphasised in a way that the mere handing out of a towel could never accomplish.
Never again will I speak lightly of people having to leave their comfort zones. But then again, if I could survive this uncomfortable situation then others can also survive getting out of their own comfort zones.

Saturday, February 23, 2008 Posted by | Celebration, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Eschatology, Home-based Caring, Mission, Prayer, Swaziland, Theology, Women | 3 Comments