It seems you either love Angus Buchan, from Mighty Men Conference-fame, or you hate him. For those who don’t know whom I’m speaking about: Angus Buchan is a farmer living in the Kwazulu-Natal midlands in South Africa who started an evangelism ministry some years ago. About six or seven years ago I attended one of his services in the town where I live. I went absolutely open-minded, but left, deeply anguished by some things I saw that evening. (If you are interested in what happened, you can drop me a comment with your email address. I don’t think I should discuss it on this open forum.)
Nevertheless, I think it was in 2007 that he organised the first South African Mighty Men Conference, attended by several thousand men. Last year he pitched, what is supposed to be the largest tent in the world, on his farm and accommodated 60,000 men. As from today thousands of cars are driving to his farm again for the 2009 conference where Angus Buchan hopes to have 200,000 men attend! By the way, the book and the movie, Faith Like Potatoes, is a biography about his life.
In spite of my negative experience at his service a few years ago, I had the feeling last year that he might just be God’s man for South Africa at this time. I don’t necessarily have to agree with everything he does to believe that God can use him effectively. After the conference, which a number of people I know attended, I noticed distinct changes in the lives of many of them – changes for the better. One person, who was an absolute racist and did his utmost to break down the work we’re doing in Swaziland, came to repentance and has since contributed substantial amounts towards our work amongst people with HIV and AIDS in Swaziland. Others, who had been Christians, but living more like non-Christians, came back and a year later their lives are still fully devoted to God. Obviously, a large number also came back and returned to their old lives. I’m grateful, however, for the change in many people’s lives.
But I do have a few concerns. One of the things I suspected, is the restricted audience he has. This was confirmed yesterday when I watched a home-made DVD made by someone who had attended last year. I don’t have percentages to prove my point, but the majority by far of the people who attended, were White males. In follow-up conferences held during the rest of the year at sport stadiums, attracting tens of thousands of people, the majority of people attending were also White. I suspect (and I would like to hear the opinion of others on this point) that many White people see in Angus something comparable to an Old Testament prophet, called by God to give hope to the people of South Africa in times where many are uneasy about the future. What worries me – and I know, once again, that I have no proof to substantiate what I’m saying, merely a “gut feeling” – is that White people may have the hope that God is going to put South Africa back into the hands of the White people, or at least, in the hands of Christians, and I fear that this may be false hope.
The other concern I have is the reverence that people have for him. It is almost as if some people take his words to have even greater authority than the Bible. Or at least, his interpretation of the Bible is believed rather than the interpretation of people who are also serious about finding the true meaning of the Bible but who differ from him. For many people, the words of Angus Buchan has the highest authority. I’m sure that this isn’t what he wants, but I would be afraid if I myself ended up in such a position. I’m not sure whether I would really be able to handle this new-found glory in the right way. After last year’s conference I told many of my friends that we need to pray, if this man is really someone sent by God for these times in South Africa, that God would grant him the ability to remain humble.
As for myself: I have respect for Angus Buchan. I’m not a disciple of him, nor do I hate him. At this stage I prefer to follow the instruction in Acts 5:39 : “…if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
I’m surrounded by political issues at the moment. In Swaziland we’ve just gone through a time of elections (although most people feel that Swaziland is still ruled in a very undemocratic way), our neighbours to the north (Zimbabwe) are trying to come to some form of political agreement to stop the country from collapsing entirely, South Africa is getting ready for elections next year and the ruling ANC (African National Congress) has to cope with a breakaway group which is planning to form a new party in time for the elections. And having many dear friends in the USA, I also keep an eye on what is happening over there as their presidential election is coming closer. George Barna just published the results on a poll which his organisation did to try and determine where the votes of Christians will fall in the presidential election. If you’re interested in the outcome of the poll, you can access it here.
Over the past few weeks Christianity Today (and I’m sure many other Christian organisations) also did its fair share to try and determine how Christians will vote in the coming presidential election. One of the articles about this topic has the title: “What We Really Want.” Although I have a lot of understanding for the sentiments of Christians when they vote, I believe that South Africa is fortunate in a certain sense that we have been able to grow out of the mode of thinking that, voting for a certain person or voting for a certain party will benefit Christianity significantly.
I can still remember, when I was much younger, how thrilled we as young Christian students were to listen to speeches made by political leaders in which they unashamedly spoke about their faith in and dependence upon Jesus Christ. The then ruling National Party was known for its policy on Christian ethics (although I could never quite understand, even as a teenager, how they could condemn casinos and dog races – because of the sin of gambling – while allowing gambling at horse races!) I also belonged to (and was sent to Swaziland as missionary from) the Dutch Reformed Church which was often known as “The National Party in prayer,” because of the great number of politicians who belonged to this church.
This morning I was invited to a breakfast and shared the table with a politician from one of the opposition parties who will be taking part in the 2009 elections in South Africa. He made the remark that South Africa, before 1994, was more Christian than it is today.
I beg to differ. It may be true that politicians spoke more openly about their personal relationship with Christ, but when one realises that they kept a – what I consider as a demonic – racist policy (Apartheid) in place and when one reads the stories of how people were often senselessly imprisoned and killed, then one can hardly say that the government of those days were more Christian than the present government.
As I grew older, I realised that I will never be able to give my full support to any political party or to any political candidate. I believe that Christians should vote. I believe that Christians need to discern who they are voting for and why they are voting for a certain individual. But my experience as a South African taught me not to depend too much upon people. Most people, no matter who they are, will disappoint you at some stage. No wonder the wise author of Psalm 146 warned us in verse 3: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.”
Ultimately, politicians are there to govern a country. They are not appointed in the first place to promote Christianity. Christians are there to proclaim Christ. It’s not a matter of “… and ne’er the twain shall meet,” but I do think that the role description needs to be made clearer. I don’t want Christian politicians to keep quiet about their faith. But if they dare to speak out about their faith, then they need to make sure that their lives reflect this faith to the people whom they have been called to serve.
I have a friend who says that he has “tickability”. I’m not sure whether non-Africans have experience with ticks. (Perhaps someone can tell me whether ticks are known in the northern hemisphere with its extremely cold winters.) In any case, a tick is a small insect which bites onto an animal (or a human) and sucks out blood and it really takes some effort to get them off the animals, at the risk of breaking of the ticks head and it causing further infections. My friend claims that he has “tickability”. Once he’s committed himself to something, he won’t let go – no matter what!
I’ve just returned from Dwaleni where a group of people from a congregation in South Africa will be busy with a short-term outreach until 3 April. I know the youth pastor of this congregation very well and she has been looking forward to this outreach for many months. What was extremely disappointing to her was, once everything had been finalised and quite a number of school kids had committed themselves to come for the outreach, to find that one by one the children cancelled their plans. Eventually the team turned up today with four young people (three more will be joining them on Friday.)
I won’t say that this lack of commitment does not disappointment me anymore. In fact, it does. I’m probably just getting a bit immune against it, because it happens so often. The problem does not lie with the children. One could probably say that the problem lies with the parents who should tell their children that you should not make a commitment unless if you intend to follow through with it. But the problem lies even deeper than this. Very few churches seem to have the ability to make a commitment towards mission. This is one of the most-heard arguments used when discussing involvement in mission: “We don’t want to commit ourselves towards supporting this project!” Why not? Why can’t we commit ourselves for a mission project? What are we afraid of? Are we afraid that people will become dependent upon us? Or are we afraid that we will become tired of doing good?
I was thinking today that I have had pastors arranging with me to bring a group from their congregation to Swaziland for a short-term outreach and then, as the days come closer and I don’t hear anything from them, I eventually have to call to confirm whether they are still coming, only to find out that the outreach had been cancelled and the pastor did not even take the trouble to pick up a phone to let me know. This, I would describe as a lack of “tickability”.
I’m busy working through the book of Acts together with a group of people and Paul’s commitment, his “tickability”, is probably one of the greatest characteristics in the life of this missionary. I’ve just read today that the number of missionaries in the world has increased significantly over the past few years. This is good news. From my side I hope that these missionaries possess a good douse of “tickability” and that those congregations who have sent them and who have committed to support them, pray for them, visit them also have enough “tickability” to continue with this. Mission and commitment go hand-in-hand. This is true for the missionary as well as those who support and encourage him/her.
I was confronted today with a situation which I have learnt to hate. About six months ago a man knocked at our door. He knew from somewhere that I was a pastor, although he lives more than 200 miles from where we live. He must have picked up the news somewhere in town. He told me that he was called as a witness in a court case after his daughter had been raped. Because he was a witness, he was liable to receive a travelling allowance from the court, but he did not have enough money to travel to the town where the court case was to take place and now he wanted to borrow money from me so that he could travel to this town, appear on behalf of his daughter and then, on his way back, he would repay me.
Now, I cannot remember that I had ever “borrowed” money to anyone who knocked at my door and then had them bring back the money. In fact, I have more or less decided in principle that I never give money to an individual. Too often I have found people asking for money after their money had been stolen or lost, only to find out afterwards that the money which I had given them was spent at the local bottle store.
But on that particular day I listened to his story and asked myself how I would feel as a father if I was in that situation. I obviously took into consideration that there was probably more than a 80% chance that he was telling a lie, but still, if the story was true, how would I feel? Eventually I gave him the money, deciding that I would not get it back but at the same time making a mental note of his features, so that I would recognise him if he should ever come back to my home.
And today he did come back. I’m not sure if he thought that I would not recognise him, but after I greeted him in a friendly manner, I told him that I assumed that he was there to repay my money which he had borrowed. But of course I was wrong – he was there to borrow some more money. His story now was that his wife had died (of AIDS) as well as his son (also of AIDS) and that his three daugters, the oldest who is 11, were at home and he had already left them for two nights on their own and he wanted to return to his home today to ensure that they were still fine. Furthermore, he was on ARV (anti-retroviral) treatment for AIDS and he had to return home to continue with the treatment. And then I stood before the choice, whether I was going to give him money again or whether I was going to tell him to leave.
He kept on asking over and over again for money while I told him that I was not going to give him more money. Once again I asked myself what I would have done if I had really been in his position. Eventually I said to myself that he had clearly been telling me a lie on the previous occasion or he was telling me a lie now, because a few months ago he had a grown daughter while now his first-born was only 11 years old. This sounded a bit strange. Furthermore, if he had really left his children with an eleven year old to take care of them, then he himself should be punished for being so careless. And if he had really stopped his ARV treatment for two days, then one extra day wouldn’t cause extra harm.
Eventually I sent him away after giving him a glass of water which he had asked for. I’m sure that I’m correct in my analysis of the situation.
The only thing I’m not sure of is whether Jesus would have done the same thing that I did today.
If you’ve never read a Swazi newspaper before, then you should do yourself a favour and read it on the internet! You can link to it here.
One of the blogs I read regularly comes from Richard Rooney. He is Associate Professor, Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Swaziland and every weekday he comments on the articles written in the country’s newspapers. Sometimes I feel that he is to critical and even cynical, but I still read his posts as it does give a lot of insight in what is going on in the country. Today’s post touched on a topic which he had commented on before. It can be read here.
A female security guard was apparently raped and after reporting on this the newspaper wrote an article in which women are given advice on how to avoid being raped. Apparently the best advice given in the article (which unfortunately I did not read myself) was for women to clothe themselves decently in order to avoid being raped. You can read Rooney’s article yourself to see what he thinks about this advice.
While I personally think that we need to remember that we are living in a sinful world where all possible precautions should be taken to prevent crime against your own body and your possessions, Rooney touches on a very serious matter in his article. Obviously I would advise any female to stay away from dark alleys or from other secluded spots, but then again, why should a woman not be safe in such places? In an ideal situation, a woman should be able to move around anywhere and at any time without having to fear being raped.
And this is where I agree with Rooney: The blame in the article he refers to is placed totally on the shoulders of the rape victims. Men, according to this article, cannot control themselves and therefore women have to take full responsibility to prevent themselves from being raped. And should they fail in doing this, then the men cannot be blamed for what had happened!
In a country which is slowly but surely being devastated through the effects of HIV/AIDS, one of the ways which would have the greatest effect on the outcome of the war against this pandemic, would probably be to show greater respect towards all females. While it is being said in the newspapers that men do not have to take responsibility for their own lives and that women who are raped are themselves to blame, I cannot see how things will ever be able to change in the country.
Of course, it is not only in Swaziland where this is the case. In most parts of the world, including Europe and the USA, one would find a great number of men who have no respect for women. What is perhaps different in Swaziland is that this is being written in the national newspaper.
Rooney ends his article with the following words: The Times is wrong on rape. It has been told time and again that it is wrong, so why does it insist on continuing to give men permission to rape?
It was disappointing for me to read this article and I can only pray that someday a man with stature will stand up to call the men of this country to taking responsibility for their own lives. Before this happens, I cannot see how the AIDS pandemic will be reversed.
In our church in Swaziland October and November are the months for reports. Next weekend we have our annual synod meeting in Swaziland which gives the different congregations a chance to report on the work that had been done during the past year and then in November we meet with the missions committee which coordinates the subsidies given towards missions in Swaziland and then basically the same reports which were discussed during the synod meeting will also be presented to these people so that they can be updated on what is going on in Swaziland.
The problem which I have (and have had for many years) with these reports, is that everybody tries to draw a very positive picture of how the work is progressing. Nobody wants to be too honest about any negative things happening, because that may have a bad reflection on leadership and worse, someone may decide that the subsidies should be reduced! So now the reports become very technical where the truth needs to be told but also where certain crucial things are left out of the reports which may reflect negatively on the work being done. I’m convinced that it’s not only in Swaziland where this situation is found. I think all over, where church work is done, the same type of thing will be found.
I wonder how Paul would have handled situations like this. If I look at 1 Corinthians 12-14 then I can imagine him sitting at a meeting and saying to those present: We see in this report that brother Timothy has a problem down at Macedonia. We can see that he is really suffering because of this and it is wrong that he suffers on his own. Therefore, let us discuss ways in which we can give him greater support so that the kingdom of God will not be compromised and brother Timothy can also be encouraged to go on with the work.
But unfortunately this is not always how things are done in the church. A former colleague of mine once decided to write a newsletter to his prayer supporters in which he tried to inform them of the difficult situations which he had to face and for which he needed prayer support. He received so much criticism, that in the next newsletter he decided to focus solely on the positive things happening and asked them to thank the Lord for these wonderful things.
So today I’m busy writing reports. And I was wondering whether we should report that in one area our church died. How will they react if they hear that, for a whole year, in spite of continued efforts to make a difference, we have had only one person who regularly attend church? Actually, we knew about this problem a year ago, mainly caused by family strife within the area and accusations from one of our members that her mother had bewitched her baby and caused the baby’s death. We followed the Biblical principle to wait another year. But now I’ve decided that we can put our energy and time into much better projects than trying to revive a dead church. I suggested that we admit that the horse is dead, and if a horse is dead, then you need to dismount. I think it was Bill Hybels who wrote in his Courageous Leadership that true leaders know when to stop. It is not a sign of strong leadership to continue with something which is dead (unless of course if God convinces you to persevere to demonstrate His power). It is also not a sign of bad leadership to admit that something is not working as was hoped. But how will the others react if we write this in a report?
Personally I prefer an honest report – giving both the positive and the negative aspects of the work. And I trust that our fellow-Christians will realise that the negative aspects of the work is not due to lack of trying, but perhaps because God has something else in mind that we could do with our energy and time. But I must say that I’ve lost a lot of my enthusiasm for writing official mission reports.
Just on a personal (and VERY positive) note and for those whose interest may not be where all South Africans’ interests are at the moment: Last night South Africa won their match in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals in France and next Saturday South Africa will be up against England to determine who will be the champions for the next four years. I’m pretty sure that not all the members of the South African team are Christians, but it was really moving to see the team gathering in a circle after the match and praying together to thank God for their victory. So, if you are reading this and you are from England: I still love you as a fellow-believer, but I honestly and sincerely hope that South Africa will win this match ;-)