We live in a very small town, but today it is almost impossible to move around in the business area. Everybody seems to be doing their last-minute Christmas shopping. Those planning to spend Christmas with their relatives, are stocking up on food to ensure that there will be enough to eat. People are coming out of liquor stores after they’ve ensured that there will be enough to drink over the weekend. Those with money have bought the latest gadgets to be handed out as Christmas gifts. The main road leading from Johannesburg to the North Coast (with some of the best fishing areas in South Africa) passes straight through our town and huge 4 x 4 vehicles towing even larger fishing boats or trailers are moving non-stop through the town. Many of the trailers have an off-road quad-bike latched onto it – quite often two or even three so that there will be no need for people to take turns in riding the quad-bikes over the sand dunes.
How did we move from the story in the Bible of a mother and father who had to stay over in a stable, from a mother who gave birth to a Son who later declared that He did not even have a pillow to sleep on, to where we are today? I’m certain that we’re missing the real message of Christmas.
And I can’t help wondering what the millions of people living in extreme poverty will be doing on Christmas this year. In Swaziland I know that the majority of the people have nothing extra to give to their children for Christmas. No presents. Nothing special to prepare for dinner. Those relatives coming home, although welcome, will more often than not stretch the budget even further. Tomorrow, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, at least 6500 families will be gathered around the deathbed of a relative who had died of AIDS of which at least 4500 will be found in sub-Sahara Africa.
The purpose of this post is not to attack those with money. But I do have a feeling, as I observe what is going on around me, that Christ will not be found in the stores and in the exotic vacation venues on this Christmas day. If I had to search for Him tomorrow, I would rather start my search in a humble hut or in a mud house, where there are no flickering lights or a special Christmas dinner, but where He is being honored as the King of kings and the Prince of peace – the way in which He was honored just after He was born.
This post, once again, started as a comment on another post and became so long that it would have been bad manners to post it there.
My son, as well as a number of his friends, recently attended the Amahoro conference and it is clear that this experience made a very deep impression on these young people. Several of them blogged about the conference, amongst others on My Contemplations (my son’s blog), FutureChurch (Roger Saner’s blog) and Nextchurch (Andries Louw’s blog). There will be many more, but these are the three which I follow regularly.
Roger and I recently had a long discussion on his blog about Apartheid and racism. Me feeling is that our enemy is not so much Apartheid, which is actually an ideology, but rather racism which gave birth to this ideology (and which will give birth to similar ideologies in the future.) Today my son shared a few very interesting thoughts on keeping the memories of Apartheid alive in order to prevent us from doing the same in the future. Having grown up in a house where we as parents were strongly opposed against Apartheid and where we tried, as far as it is humanly possible, to oppose all forms of racism, I am happy to see how strongly he feels that Apartheid should be remembered so that it may never be repeated. This, of course, is something different from fighting Apartheid today and is something which I do agree with. But how effective this is, I don’t know.
In 2005 I had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust museum in Amsterdam. I can’t remember all the details, but it boiled down to something like this: In Amsterdam Jewish people were prevented from entering certain premises, such as theaters. Theaters for Jewish people were built in other areas. Then the Jews were forced to move out of restricted areas and were forced to live in areas specifically reserved for them. Then job reservations were applied, reserving certain occupations for non-Jews only. Later on the entrance to the Jewish areas were controlled through gates. And the rest is history.
What upset me the most on that day, was the realisation that events in South Africa followed exactly the same route during the years of Apartheid: Restricted areas, separate places of entertainment, job reservation, entrance control to Black townships. The similarity was almost uncanny. Dr Verwoerd, who is considered to be the creator of the Apartheid ideology, was born in Amsterdam, although he moved to South Africa at the age of two. But, standing that day in the museum in Amsterdam, I asked myself whether it had really been impossible for him, who was a highly intelligent man, to foresee what would be the outcome in South Africa if he followed the same method as had been used before the Holocaust?
We do need to remember the past to prevent us from making the same mistakes in the future.
But then I’m wondering: Will it really make a difference? What about Uganda? What about Croatia? What about Rwanda? What about Zimbabwe? Hopefully Germany will never be guilty again of the things that had happened under Hitler. Hopefully South Africa will never again be guilty of the things that had happened under Apartheid. But will our remembered mistakes prevent other countries from doing the same and will the world be faster to respond in order to prevent the tragedies that had been part of the South African history? Sometimes I wonder.
Once again! And while this blog is up and running, this topic will appear again and again. If you care to see my previous posts about the same topic, click on this link: https://missionissues.wordpress.com/?s=short-term
I’ve just said goodbye to a great team of students from the Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, USA. As I’m writing this, they’re on their way to Miami to be reunited with their families. When I work with a team like this, I always have to ask myself the question whether it is worthwhile. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into an outreach like this. The people making the trip are investing huge amounts of money and when they leave, they want to know that they have made a difference.
Two things sparked this topic today. In July I’m expecting another team from the USA and we are working hard (meaning myself and those who will be coming) on making this a meaningful visit to Swaziland. Wendi Hammond, the one with whom I’m communicating about this trip posted something about her view on short-term outreaches which you can read here. But then I also read an article in Christianity Today about the same topic, which is really worth reading. The title is Global is the New Local.
There’s a number of arguments against short-term outreaches. Wendi touched on one of them in her blog, which is: Why go to a far-off country if there is so much need right where you are? And this is indeed a very valid argument. A few things can be said about this. It’s never one or the other. Michelle Guzman wrote in a comment on Wendi’s post why she feels that she is called to come to Swaziland. Absolutely worth reading! Do what God wants you to do, whether it’s close or far. The downside of this argument (and the most people using this argument, in my experience, fall into this category) is that people are actually saying: If you get involved in another place, you make me feel guilty. Somebody has to take care of the local needs and if you’re not here to do it, then who will? So rather remain behind, take care of the local needs and I can go on with my life. Or something to that effect. If someone goes on a mission trip to avoid getting involved locally, then that is wrong. But the reality is that many people return from a mission trip abroad and get more involved in the local community, because often people undergo a heart change while on a mission trip.
The other argument is that the money could rather have been sent to the country where the outreach would have taken place. This sounds logical. Unfortunately it won’t happen. We need to see and feel and smell and taste the needs of people, before we will really get involved with this. And, in any case, for too long have we seen people writing out cheques while relaxing in front of their TVs, believing that they have then fulfilled their mission obligation. Obviously not everybody can go on a short-term outreach. But those who do, need to go back to their own communities and become advocates for the cause to which they were exposed, wherever that may be.
I have seen the positive effects of short-term outreaches. To be honest, I’ve also seen the negative effects (fortunately, not recently). When done in the right way, with the right attitude, with a teachable spirit, focused on building relationships rather than just solving problems, short-term outreaches can possibly become the greatest learning school that any Christian can be exposed to.
This post started off as a comment on another blog, but became so long that I decided to post it on my own blog instead.
Scot McKnight is in South Africa at the moment and my son had been attending some of his sessions. You can read more about this on his blog at McKnight on conversion theory and deconversion as well as Acts 15-20 for South Africa today. Tom Smith has also been blogging about these sessions and wrote two excellent summaries of what had been said at Scot McKnight – part 1 and Scot McKnight – part 2. I want to urge you to read these posts.
I absolutely agree with what many of the modern church leaders such as Scot McKnight, Brian McLaren, Ron Martoia and David Watson, to name just a few, are saying. What I hear is that they are telling Christians to treat much more seriously the whole story of the Bible. The story of salvation encompasses much more than only the story of the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. And I also hear them telling Christians to stop treating the gospel as a quick-fix for all problems. “Listen to me, pray with me and be blessed!”
What they do miss, in my humble opinion, is that each one we meet up with, is at a different place in their spiritual lives. (Actually, I think they are saying this, but I don’t think they take enough into consideration that a great number of people have been church attenders all their lives but have just not yet come into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.) If I go on a mission trip somewhere in the Amazon where people have never heard of the Bible or anything related to it, then my approach would be vastly different than when speaking with someone who had been a member of a Christian church from birth but who has never acknowledged Jesus as Messiah and Lord of all. In the latter case (although there would be exceptions) I would see no need to start with the story of Adam, Abraham, David, the exile, etc, as they would probably know it already. On the other hand, should I want to speak to someone from the Jewish religion (as we find in the first part of Acts) then this would obviously be a good place to start. And should I speak to a Muslim, starting with the story of the Old Testament also makes good sense. The same applies to someone who has no knowledge of what Christianity is all about.
My concern is that people are merely rejecting one method (and I am not a Four Spiritual Laws devotee) for another method – a much more elaborate method – which becomes so complicated, that the “normal Christian” (i.e. the non-theologian) will feel totally inadequate to master or share this story. I said the same thing in my review on Ron Martoia’s book, Static, which you can read here. I fear that our modern evangelism methods will eventually lead to people believing that evangelism is best left to the professionals, lest they make a mistake.
I think that it is extremely important that we re-think our evangelism methods, mainly to do away with the quick methods of rushing in and out of people’s lives. But if I look at the rate at which Christianity is expanding in countries like India and China, where Christians stand a good chance of paying with their lives because of this faith, then I’m not convinced that we need to reject everything that was done in the past as wrong.
Although I’m not a devotee of the Four Spiritual Laws, I think it also needs to be said that this booklet was intended to be used in conjunction with the Jesus Film (the word-by-word dramatization of the Gospel according to Luke). Where a group of people had been exposed to this movie, usually over a period of four days over which time certain parts of the movie are repeated, I can well think that sitting down with these people after the last session and explaining the essence of the gospel once again, with the use of something like the Four Spiritual Laws, may be extremely effective. In fact, there are thousands, if not millions of Christians who have indeed accepted Jesus as Messiah and Lord of their lives through this method.
We need to keep on thinking critically about evangelism. In certain countries we will need more professional evangelists. But if my next-door neighbour and his wife come to me (as has happened to me) and with tears in their eyes tell me that their lives are a mess and that they know that they need Jesus right now, then I don’t think that I need to start telling them the entire story of the Old Testament. Then I tell them “that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20), or something to that effect.
I’ve just returned home after attending a WENSA (World Evangelisation Network of South Africa) mission conference over the last three days. (I’m still hoping that the name of this network will change so that it says Southern Africa instead of only South Africa. Eight people from our church in Swaziland attended the conference.)
On the first day, Pieter Tarantal (and if you’re not from South Africa, don’t try and pronounce that!) kicked off by speaking about The God of New Things. He shared some amazing statistics with the group. I did not try and verify each number, as I believe what he said is fairly close to the reality. According to him:
- 114 people are coming to Christ every second
- 44,000 new churches are established each year
- In India, 15,000 people are baptised daily
- There are 20,000 new converts every day
- In 1900 there were 8 million believers
- In 1990 there were 275 million believers
- 396 million in 2000
- 450 million in 2005
- Today there are close to 500 million believers
The largest church in the West is found in the Ukraine and the leader of this church comes from Nigeria
I can’t remember where I read it, but apparently the nation with the greatest growth in Christianity at the moment is China.
Listening to these statistics and seeing what is happening to the church in the West (where most churches are becoming smaller at an alarming rate), I asked myself the question where missionaries will be coming from in the future?
And the answer, it seems to me, is that a new wave of missionaries are going to be sent into the world, not from Europe and the USA as in the past, but from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
And as I listened to this, I was wondering if we perhaps are seeing something of 1 Corinthians 1:21 coming true: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” Might it be that the West has become so self-sufficient and so sure of themselves, that they have come to the point where many feel that they do not need God anymore? And is this perhaps the reason why the Gospel is spreading at such a rate through those countries that we had traditionally regarded as our missionary objects?