Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Is there a life after Angus Buchun and the MMC?

This post was prompted by a few things that happened over the past few days. I’m part of a mens’ prayer group meeting every Wednesday morning at five (and those who know me, will also know that this is a huge sacrifice for me, to be up at five!) This past Wednesday a number of the men who had attended Angus Buchun’s Mighty Men Conference shared their experiences of this meeting. This morning an article was published in one of South Africa’s newspapers which has as its heading: “On the way to become an atheist because of fellow-Christians.” Those understanding Afrikaans, can read it here: http://jv.news24.com/Beeld/Opinie/Briewe/0,,3-2085-73_2508841,00.html
In this article the author blames Christians for having easy answers for every problem. And he blames the church which has allowed people to think about God in this way, creating, as he puts it, a god for every need of mankind, be it a need for rain or a need for sunshine. He also attacks the “Angus-men” for the nonsense they speak.
In my recent post on The Angus Buchun Phenomenon, I asked the question what it is that is causing so many men, the vast majority whom are White, to attend these conferences. I believe that people are looking for solutions: solutions for South Africa’s political, economic and crime problems and many are also looking for solutions in their personal lives: marriages that are failing, men obsessed with having to prove their masculinity in a all spheres of live, families that are falling apart and hundreds of other reasons. With this I can find no fault and I consider anyone blaming people for attending these conferences in search of answers as being unfair.
Furthermore, all followers of Christ have certain emotional experiences which they refer back to from time to time, experiences which may not be explained in a rational way, but which has special meaning for them. I can think of quite a number of such experiences in my own life: church camps while still at school and later as a student, a mission outreach which I led in 1981, a celebration service at Coral Ridge (Fort Lauderdale) in 1996, a very special experience with God on a bus, traveling between Rotterdam and Utrecht in the Netherlands in 2005. However, considering the hundreds of hits I had on the Angus Buchun post, it made me feel just slightly uncomfortable when I blogged the next day about Fighting the demon of Racism and had less than 4% of the number of hits on this post than on the one the previous day. And I maintain that, if we want God to change South Africa, then we will have to fight against racism. But I’m not sure if people want to hear this. I’m not even convinced that people who had attended the Mighty Men Conference, want to hear this!
Listening to the people sharing their stories on Wednesday and reading the article in the newspaper today, made me think of the episode in the Bible which happened on the Mountain of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). Peter, John and James were there when the face of Jesus was changed and His clothes became as white as lightning. Then Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke to Jesus. Now, I can imagine, in spite of what people experienced at the Mighty Men Conference, that this episode was much more spectacular and emotional. No wonder Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters–– one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
And then God spoke audibly to them: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” In other words, God didn’t want them to remain there, but to return to their normal lives and to obey Jesus in their daily lives.
Knowing human beings, I realise that thousands of people who had been to the Mighty Men Conference will, at least emotionally and in their mind, remain on the farm. In two weeks time they will still be speaking about their experience this past weekend. And, unfortunately, next year they will still be speaking about this past weekend. But in their daily lives, very little will have changed. (Now, I do realise that there are thousands whose lives have changed radically after last year’s and this year’s conferences. I’m not speaking about them and I’m truly thankful for the changes in their lives!)
The only answer that we can give to anyone who responds in the way in which the person writing in the newspaper responded, is to tell him: Evaluate the lives of those who had been to the Mighty Men Conference. Are they living differently? Do they radiate more genuine love? Can you sense that issues which they have struggled with before have been overcome? If nothing has changed, then we probably do have the right to ask the question why people attend these conferences.

Thursday, April 30, 2009 Posted by | Alternative Society, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Evangelicals, Meetings, Mission, Sustainability, Theology | 2 Comments

The Angus Buchan Phenomenon

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.

Thursday, April 23, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, Disappointments, Evangelicals, Evangelism, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Prayer, Racism, Swaziland, Theology | 118 Comments

Should we still speak about hell?

About twenty years ago I was involved in some correspondence with one of South Africa’s foremost theologians (who has since been appointed as professor at a university in the Netherlands). He was my professor in Hebrew and was absolutely outstanding as lecturer. At that time he started writing articles on the devil and hell and was widely criticised for his viewpoints. In an attempt to try and get an understanding of his way of thinking, I wrote him a letter (that was long before email!) and asked him to explain what he meant. He was quite thankful that I was willing to enquire about his meaning before criticising him (which was an important lesson to learn).
Being mainly an Old Testament scholar, he maintained that the Old Testament does not really know of anything about hell and knows very little about the devil and he felt that these were concepts which were developed much later under influence of certain philosophical thoughts at the time when the New Testament was written.
In short, I disagree with him on this point. I do, however, believe that there had been a huge development in the way in which Satan is regarded in the Old Testament to the way in which he is described in the New Testament. In the Old Testament he is described, almost as a mischievous being, making trouble here and there (as in the story of Job), but not really causing much harm.
In the New Testament, on the other hand, Jesus considers Satan as His great adversary which has to be driven out of people. Paul sees Satan and the evil spirits as something we have to withstand and, of course, when you read the book of Revelation, it becomes clear, especially when reading the second part of the book (chapter 12 onwards) that, behind the scenes, there is a mighty war going on between Christ and Satan which ends when Satan is thrown into the lake of burning sulphur (20:10).
Having said all that, one of the lessons I did learn from my esteemed professor, was that one cannot get someone into heaven primarily because they don’t want to go to hell. For too long the church has made people afraid of hell and then, based on that fear, given them the alternative, which is to accept Christ and go to heaven.
And then Matt Stone recently asked the question on his blog: Why don’t we talk about hell anymore? And he included a video clip of N T Wright in which he says that this repulsion to speak about hell started after the First World War, when people had almost experienced hell on earth and then came to the conclusion that God would never allow anything like that to exist in the future. You can see the clip here:

As with so many other topics in theology and in missiology, we have made mistakes in the past: Focussing on evangelism at the cost of social involvement. Focussing on hell at the cost of God’s love. And then the pendulum swung to the other side. Then we spoke about social involvement and disregarded evangelism. And we spoke about God’s love and remained mute about hell.
And I can’t help wondering why we always have to go to extremes to make our point. Can’t we preach about God’s love while also mentioning the result of rejecting God (as Jesus, Paul and John did?) Can’t we preach about evangelism while also preaching about the consequences of following Christ for our social lives, ecology, etc? Do we always need to choose either the one or the other, or can we preach the one “without neglecting the other”, if I may misuse Luke 11:42 in this context?

Friday, April 17, 2009 Posted by | Church, Death, Demons, Dialogue, Ecology, Eschatology, Evangelicals, Evangelism, Hope, Mission, Social issues, Theology | Leave a comment

Religulous – Why do you believe?

I recently read a short review on the controversial movie, Religulous. While knowing what the intention of Bill Maher was in making the movie, I nevertheless decided, on a friend’s recommendation, to have a look at it. In my opinion the movie failed both as a comedy and as a documentary critique of religion in general and specifically Christianity. Perhaps it is just that I believe that my interpretation of humour is more sophisticated, but I cannot find anything humourous in humiliating people, be they fundamentalist Christian, Creationist, Jews, Mormons or Muslims. And from the onset it was Bill’s intention to humiliate people. One of the ways he does this is by mainly choosing people with radical viewpoints to interview and shooting holes in their argumens. Not only that: He chooses people who believe something but who are incapable of defending their beliefs with rational arguments. Obviously the movie was edited so we will never know how many people were able to answer Bill with logical arguments on why they believe. Something else he does, which I found extremely irritating, is to interrupt the people he interviews. He asks them a question which they start to answer and before they have finished their sentences, he interrupts by making some kind of humiliating remark about what they had just said and thereby causing them, either to become angry (through which they lose the argument) or to become so flustered that, for the viewer, it seems that they have no argument at all. The only person shown in the movie that is able to withstand this onslaught is a Rabbi who keeps on telling Bill that he must keep quiet while he finishes what he started saying, up to the point when Bill stands up and says: “I’m outta here!”
As a documentary it also fails, merely because Bill is totally biassed. Furthermore, he uses arguments trying to prove how ridiculous the Christians are but which is based on myth. One exmple is that he says that the story of Jesus is based on the Horus myth. In all honesty, this is the first time that I have every heard of this claim and had I been a new believer and someone said to me that a book had been written in 1280 BC, called the Egyptian Book of the Dead in which a god with the name of Horus is described who is the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother, baptised in a river by Anup the baptiser (who was later beheaded), that Horus was later tempted while alone in the desert, that he healed the sick and the blind, cast out demons, walked on water, raises Asar from the dead (which supposedly translates to Lazarus), had twelve disciples, was crucified, and after three days two women announced that Horus, the saviour of mankind, had been resurrected from the dead, then I would probably also have wondered whether my pastor had been telling me the truth about Jesus.
The point is that, not only is the story of Horus an Egyptian myth, but the way in which Bill Maher tells the story of Horus is also a myth. It’s easy enough to find the text of this myth on the internet. In the real Horus myth, he is not born of a virgin. Horus was never baptised. Horus had four followers. Although he did perform miracles in the myth, he never cast out demons nor raised El-Azarus (which refers to his father, Osiris) from the dead. There is no account that he walked on water. He was not crucified. Why, I asked myself, would Bill Maher make up these stories if he felt so strongly that the story of Jesus was false?
The movie, however, had one positive effect on me: If an open-minded unbeliever should ask me today why I believe, what would I answer that person? And I realised that the answer is not so simple. Perhaps I should refer back to an analogy that I used in a previous post: Why do I love my wife and why did I marry her? Not because I had sat down one day and analysed all my needs until I eventually decided that this woman would make the perfect wife! We decided to get married because a loving relationship had started between us and developed to such a point that we decided that we want to spend the rest of our lives together. How do you explain that to someone who has never been in love?
I can testify today about what my relationship with Jesus had done in my life. I can tell numerous stories of miracles that had happened that I can ascribe to the fact that we had prayed (or sometimes not even prayed) about matters and that we know for a fact that God had intervened in some miraculous way. But can I prove this? Probably not. Coming to faith is exactly what it says. To entrust your life to God through Jesus Christ is a step of faith. But as the relationship develops one realises increasingly what one had missed out on before.
What would I have done if Bill Maher had approached me for an interview about why I believe? Probably I would have started by asking him why he would like to know (to better understand his intentions and to force him to be honest about his intentions). Then I would have attempted to explain to him what it is that I as Christian believe (which he, of course, has the right to reject if he pleases but which makes no difference to the fact that I believe this). And I would have kindly asked him not to interrupt me while I’m speaking. Lastly I would have tried to give some indication of what difference my faith makes in my daily life.
But by that time, I think, he would have said: “I’m outta here!

Thursday, April 9, 2009 Posted by | Building relations, Church, Evangelicals, Evangelism, Humour, Mission, Movie Review, Theology | 9 Comments

Reaching the unreached: Mission vs Evangelism

Wendi dropped a comment on a recent post of mine, saying: “I’m taking a missions class called Perspectives. There was much discussion about how many (few) missionary efforts go toward clearly unreached people, and how much of our mission efforts and resources go to actually “reached” people, like the Swazi people.”
If our mission efforts should be primarily directed toward unreached people, why should any of us come to a country like Swaziland, 80% Christian already?”
You can read my reply to her here, but I thought the topic was important enough to open it up for more discussion.
I was listening to an international leader in mission, a former director of Operations Mobilisation in South Africa, last night. He mentioned that about 27% of the world still need to be reached and I can fully understand why people would say that our efforts should be directed to these countries rather than to those where Christianity is already strongly established, as is the case with Swaziland. The issue at stake here, as far as I can see, is what we define as “mission”. If mission only refers to “soul-saving”, then the statement would obviously be correct. But when one sees mission as something more than mere soul-saving, then it would be irresponsible to say that our efforts should be directed solely towards the unreached peoples of the world.
I’m unashamedly Evangelical. By that I mean that I believe that all people need to come into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. How it happens is of lesser importance to me. That the relationship exists, is of much greater importance. But this isn’t the Alpha and Omega of mission. David Bosch in his book, Transforming Mission, says on page 10-11: “Mission includes evangelism as one of its essential dimensions, Evangelism is the proclamation of salvation in Christ to those who do not believe in him, calling them to repentance and conversion, announcing forgiveness of sins and inviting them to become living members of Christ’s earthly community and to begin a life of service to others in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
When defining “mission”, Bosch quotes P Schütz who described mission as “participation in God’s existence in the world.” He then continues to formulate the implication of this by saying: “In our time, God’s yes to the world reveals itself, to a large extent, in the church’s missionary engagement in respect of the realities of injustice, oppression, poverty, discrimination, and violence. We increasingly find ourselves in a truly apocalyptic situation where the rich get richer and the poor poorer, and where violence and oppression from both the right and the left are escalating. The church-in-mission cannot possibly close its eyes to these realities, since “the pattern of the church in the chaos of our time is political through and through”
When one is confronted by the extreme poverty, the injustice, oppression, the problems of HIV and AIDS, to name but a few, which occurs in countries all over the world, then one realises that those who propagate that the church should focus only, or at least primarily, on the unreached people (implicating that the missionaries should withdraw from the “reached” countries) still do not understand what mission really is.
Shortly after I had finished my theological studies, I was called as chaplain to the South African Defence Force for a compulsory two years of military service. The soldiers, fighting against terrorists entering – what is today known as Namibia – from Angola, used to count the bodies after every battle. (This, by the way, was absolutely gruesome and perhaps one of the reasons why I feel so strongly against war today.) I sometimes feel that many Christians also go into the spiritual battle with the aim of merely counting the souls after every campaign. But this is not what mission is all about. Mission is about proclaiming the kingdom of God (the “reign” of God) all over the world in every place. And wherever God’s kingdom is not being acknowledged, the church has the task to continue with its proclamation, be it in “reached” or “unreached” countries.
Does that make sense?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Church, David Bosch, Evangelicals, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | 17 Comments

Becoming a church for and in your community

This past Sunday I was invited to speak at a church on the outskirts of Johannesburg. A few years ago this was an exclusively White community and church membership and attendance clearly indicated the demographic pattern of the community. This was the situation all over South Africa before 1994. But with the new democratically-elected government which came into power in 1994, things started changing. Exclusive White communities in certain areas, especially within the centres of the larger cities like Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban, started being replaced by other ethnic groups. This had a great effect upon churches, as churches which catered exclusively for the needs of White, Afrikaans-speaking people, experienced a sudden and tremendous decrease in church membership and attendance. Churches which had thousands of members and packed buildings during their regular worship services on a Sunday, suddenly struggled to survive. After a time the inevitable happened when the church buildings were sold, sometimes to shop owners needing storage place and even to people of other faiths which then changed the buildings to make it a place of worship for people of their religion.
One particular church in Pretoria has always been a sad example for me of how a church failed to use the new opportunities that had come their way. This particular church followed the route described above. Fortunately, when they decided to close doors, they sold the church building to a another evangelical church group which then opened the doors again and started to cater for the needs of the people who were then occupying the apartments in that area. And as far as I know, the church is doing well. It’s not a White, Afrikaans-speaking church anymore, but then, the community does not exist out of White, Afrikaans-speaking people anymore!
On this past Sunday I spoke at a church which, if the leader had not persevered, would probably also have had to shut doors a number of years ago. Except for the fact that he saw the change in demographics, not as a threat but rather as an opportunity. When I entered the church, I was immediately struck by the multi-cultural atmosphere within the church. People from different ethnic groups mixed in a friendly and comfortable manner. The church leadership also reflects the diverse cultures of the area. They have two worship services – one in Afrikaans and one in English. The second service was, in a sense, even more diverse than the Afrikaans service. Those attending were mostly non-South Africans. They included people from countries such as Zimbabwe, Nigeria and other African countries. But they also come from a diverse religious background, including Roman Catholic and even traditional African religions. Some came in the traditional clothing of their own country. The only common denominators are that they are all interested in the Christian faith and that they all understand English.
When I left the church after speaking at both these worship services, I thought about Eric Bryant’s excellent book, Peppermint-filled piñatas, which I had reviewed here. And I thought about lost opportunities, where churches had been sold to shop owners or to people from other, non-Christian religions, while many people who are still interested in Christianity have nowhere to worship on a Sunday. Which further led me to the topic of this blog: Becoming a church for and in your community!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Alternative Society, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Evangelicals, Hope, Indigenous church, Mission, Racism, Theology, Unity, Vision, Worship | 1 Comment

Church and Politics

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.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 Posted by | Church, Disappointments, Evangelicals, Mission, Swaziland | 4 Comments

Evangelicals – Bad or Good?

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

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

Health care in Africa

An article was recently published in Christianity Today which lamented the poor health coverage which a great many people in the USA are getting. In one case mentioned someone had spent five months in intensive care after which he had to pay $1.2 million. When he referred this to his health insurer, he was told that they had already paid $1.5 million and that he had reached his lifetime cap. This is terrible! The article calls on changes which need to be made to rectify the situation where many people are not getting any health insurance whatsoever and sees this specifically as a challenge for evangelicals.
When I first read the article I did not really know what to think about it. We have a saying in our country that one shouldn’t complain with a white bread under the arm (traditionally white bread was more expensive than brown bread and it was considered that only the privileged could eat white bread.) I re-read the article and then realised that there is no difference between myself and those people about whom the article is written. I have excellent health insurance. If I should need to go to hospital, I only have to make a single (toll-free!) phone call and I can enter the hospital of my choice. Obviously health insurance costs money, but I can afford it (or rather, I cannot afford to be without it.)
But what is the situation in Swaziland? Hospitals are run by the government with an extremely restricted budget. A person who is sick has to go to the nearest clinic (run by a couple of nurses and possibly one midwife) or travel to a hospital which may (or may not) have a few doctors. There the person has to fall in line and await his turn to be seen by the doctor – anything up to four or five hours of waiting. In most cases the patient will leave with a few paracetamol tablets and the instruction to return in a few days time if, whatever had caused the illness, had not cleared up. On his return, the process starts afresh, falling in line, waiting for four or five hours….
On some occasions people will be hospitalised. The smell in the hospital wards are sometimes absolutely appalling. I have been in hospital rooms made for two where four patients share the room: two on beds and two on the floor. If you want to see the inside of one of the (more decent) hospital wards in Swaziland, click here (and yes, that’s me visiting a patient in Hlatikhulu hospital in Swaziland). If a person is too sick to feed himself and he has no family to care for him while in hospital, he will probably eventually die. All the hospitals are totally short-staffed which means that no nurses can be spared to feed someone. People entering hospitals due to having full-blown AIDS may be cared for for a few days, but after having been on an IV drip for a few days, will probably be sent home (to die) in order for a new patient to be able to occupy the bed.
We (including myself) complain about high medical costs and health insurance which doesn’t cover all expenses. But at least we still have a choice. To have no choice is to be stripped off all dignity.

Thursday, February 14, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture Shock, Death, Evangelicals, Health, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

Evangelism training

I’ve just returned from a small town in South Africa with the name of Hennenman, aout 400 miles from my home, where I have been helping a group of 24 people at a church with training in Evangelism Explosion. I am fully aware of a lot of controversy around Evangelism Explosion, not the least of which is a feeling of discomfort amongst many with the “two questions” which in a certain sense forms the basis of Evangelism Explosion. Ron Martoia, of whom I wrote a short while ago, is in South Africa at present and I read in a newspaper article today that he said that he never reads in the Bible that Jesus ever asked anyone whether they are sure that they would go to heaven if they should die one day (the first of the two questions.) Obviously this is the truth, but I fail to follow the argument as there are many other things which Jesus also never spoke about, such as the Trinity and which we still believe in. (Personally, I just don’t like this way of arguing a point.)
The point which Martoia is making and which I also feel may be a danger in Evangelism Explosion (as in any program initiated by evangelicals) is that one could become so focussed on life after death than one forgets to live fully in life before death. Or as someone else put it: some people are so heavenly focussed that they are of no earthly use! Having read quite a number of books about the topic over the past year or so I forced myself, as I was presenting the course on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, to evaluate the material critically and to answer the question for myself whether the criticism is justified. To be totally honest, if I had to rewrite the course today there are certainly a few sentences or paragraphs which I would change. But seen as a whole, I was once again amazed at the theological depth of the material. Obviously a lot of changes had been made in the material since Dr James Kennedy developed the course in the sixties, but the essence of the course has remained unchanged over the years.
This is definitely also one of the reasons why Evangelism Explosion is being criticised by many – what worked for many in the sixties does not work as well today. There is some truth in this. Evangelism Explosion, as I understand it, was developed within a context of people who had grown up in a more or less Christian milieu where they knew something about God and about salvation, but where many people believed that ultimately they themselves were responsible for their own salvation and that their “good works” is the key to eternal life. Evangelism Explosion focusses on the principle which was also emphasised by Martin Luther that we are saved through grace alone. However, the sweeping statement that Evangelism Explosion is not relevant for today is definitely not the truth – something which I realised this past weekend once again. There are literally millions of people who can still be reached by listening to an explanation of the gospel in an understandable way.
However, without a trusting relationship it becomes increasingly difficult for people to accept the gospel and this is one thing which Evangelism Explosion is REALLY emphasising at the moment (in my opinion probably one of the greatest improvements done in the course over the past few years.) I’m realising more and more that people don’t want to base their faith solely upon theological knowledge. People want to experience God in their lives and want to know that, believing in God, will make a difference not only in their own lives but also in the world. The importance of Evangelism Explosion was once again confirmed to me when I realised how important it is that people do have a proper understanding of the theological base of salvation as well as the importance to be able to put this into words in such a way that others can also understand it. I still have to find material that can fulfill this role better than the Evangelism Explosion course. But in the end the success will be measured not by the contents of the material but rather whether those presenting the gospel to others do so within a loving and understanding personal relationship.

Monday, February 11, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Evangelicals, Evangelism, Evangelism Explosion, Mission, Theology | 5 Comments