Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

A new family for new believers

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with someone. The background is that I knew this person when she was still at school (just shortly after I arrived in Swaziland in 1985.) She grew up, got married, moved away from Swaziland for a number of years, led a hectic social life and eventually ended being an alcoholic. Through her mother’s intervention she and her husband returned to Swaziland about two years ago and after some time she came to her senses and came to the Lord, committed her life to Him, eventually got totally released from her alcohol addiction and is really a lovely person today.
What she shared with me however, made me feel really sad. In their “old” life she and her husband had had many friends – obviously people with whom they partied but many of these were also people who really cared for them. On their coming to Swaziland they made some new friends – mostly also people with whom they could party. All this changed when they decided to commit their lives to the Lord. Suddenly they were no longer invited to parties. They were considered to be slightly weird (although they are by no means “Bible-punchers”.) Their circle of friends gradually became smaller and for the most part they spend their time at home (perhaps not such a bad thing as she and her husband have some catching up to do in their personal relationship.)
What saddened me was to realise that the church (I’m speaking of the church in general and not just a specific congregation) was never there to nurture these people. When they were rejected by their previous community, the church should have been there to step in and to welcome them into their new family. But unfortunately it never happened. I don’t necessarily advise people to break with their old friends once they decide to follow Christ. In fact, it would be great if people could still continue relationships with their old friends (obviously within certain boundaries) because this is the place where they may be called to be a light. But in reality it often happens, as in this case, that their previous community do not feel comfortable with them anymore. And instead of becoming part of a new (alternative) community, they suddenly find themselves without real friends.
If we want to be responsible evangelists, we need to ensure that our Christian community will be willing to welcome new believers in their midst. Otherwise it is as good as leaving a new-born baby out in the cold, having to fend for himself.

Friday, April 4, 2008 Posted by | Alternative Society, Building relations, Church, Evangelism, Hospitality, Mission, Swaziland | 6 Comments

Planting a new church

In a previous post I wrote about the possibility to start with a new church in the area known as Lavumisa in Swaziland. This was due to an invitation by the local member of parliament (MP) in that area from whom we have had tremendous support for our work amongst those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Yesterday Tim Deller (my friend from the USA) and I travelled to Lavumisa for our first meeting. In a recent post David Watson shared his view on finding the person of peace. He bases his convictions on various parts of Scripture (Matthew 10 & Luke 10) where Jesus tells His disciples to enter a city and to find a person of peace. Obviously, this person would not necessarily be a Christian, but it would probably be someone with authority and integrity within the community, who would be able to make it possible for the early disciples to share the gospel in that area. I have found a number of people who believe that this method of evangelisation has a longer-lasting effect than older methods where the gospel was shared at random, hoping that it would fall on fertile ground.
Well, Tim and I discussed this issue at length and decided that we are going to give this a try. Finding the person of peace was not really an issue, because the MP was adamant that we would be gathering at his homestead. To decline his kind offer would have been very insensitive and would have closed doors for us. When we arrived at the homestead (about 100 miles from my home) we found a number of people already waiting for the church to start. Amazingly, at least ten men were present. I immediately realised that they were there, most probably because the MP had invited them to come. Chances are that if I myself had invited them, that they would not have come. Now, Swazis have their own time. Most don’t have wristwatches and I think they work more or less according to the sun! Although Tim and I were there at 11, we stood around, chatting to people and waiting for some people who had promised to come but had not yet turned up. It was closer to 12 when we actually started, and even then quite a number of people joined us later during our gathering. Close to 45 people turned up – about 30 more than I had anticipated.
Instead of starting with the gospel (which most have probably heard at some time or another), I started by telling them about two ideas which people have of God and which are both wrong. One is the concept of God as a grandfather, lovingly smiling at us and patting us on the head, regardless of what we had done (in other words ignoring the wrong as if it never happened.) The other concept is God as a policeman, always on the lookout for anything which we do wrong so that we can be punished. In the Swazi context where people are often filled with fear that the ancestors might punish them in some way and that they therefore need to be appeased on a regular base to avert their anger, this second concept is quite relevant. I then went on to explain, according to Genesis 1 & 2 how great God really is – Who can, with a single word create heavens and earth, Who can, with a single word create light (even though the sun was only created later), Who can, with a single word create animals, fish and birds and Who can, by using some dust, create a human being, with a heart, lungs, a brain, eyes, ears and everything else necessary to survive. This same God can, by using a rib, create a woman to live beside this man. And this God, Who is so huge that He can fit the world in the palm of His hand, knows me by name and He loves me. This God, Who knows everything about me, the good and the bad, Who even knows things that I think and do that nobody else knows about, loves me! He loves me in spite of the things that I do and think and say and don’t do, that nobody else knows about! (Isn’t this incredible?)
Well, I ended off by reminding the older people (the younger ones don’t have to be reminded) how they felt when they first fell in love. With a smile, even the older people acknowledged this. I then told them that the God to Whom I want to introduce them, can have the same effect on us, that our hearts start beating a bit faster and we get a feeling of joy coming all over us when we realise how much He loves us.
For the next few Sundays I won’t be able to attend church at Lavumisa. This coming Sunday Tim will be there to tell them some more about God. Where this is going to lead to, I have no idea, but I’m willing to go with the flow to see what will happen.

Monday, February 25, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hospitality, Indigenous church, Mission, Swaziland, Theology, Worship | 3 Comments

When should you give money?

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.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 Posted by | Cross-cultural experiences, Dependency, Disappointments, Giving, HIV & AIDS, Hospitality, Mission, Poverty | Leave a comment

Cross-cultural contact (2)

Well ,here’s the second part of my story about taking a group of White, Afrikaans-speaking Christians to Black, Siswati-speaking Christians. If you missed out on the first part, read it here first.
After leaving Manzini with three seriously confused people in a house without a pastor, we drove through to Mbabane. The other single lady was placed with an older married couple and then I drove the older couple who had come with me through to the house where they would be staying. What happened there I only found out months afterwards and it was also told with great embarrassment.
Not knowing what to expect, the lady had packed a clean set of linen in her suitcase so that they could put this on the bed if they suspected that the linen may not be clean. In the meantime, the couple who was housing them had even painted out the bedroom in preparation for their coming! (We tend to think that cross-cultural contact is only difficult for us Westerners, but for the Swazis doing it for the first time, it is equally difficult.)
After a lovely meal they retired to their bedroom, only to find that their hosts had gone out of their way to make everything as comfortable as possible for them. Needless to say, the linen remained in the suitcase.
The next morning when I drove to fetch them for church, I had the same reaction that I later had in Manzini. With tears in their eyes the older couple put their arms around me and thanked me for one of the best experiences they had ever had.
Cross-cultural contact need not be painful. A lot depends on the attitude. Most of us enter into such a relationship with the idea that we are on a slightly higher level than those we have come to meet. It is only when we really allow the Spirit to open our hearts for other people that we really come to appreciate them. And sometimes we have to be “tricked” into a situation that we would normally not have entered into to really learn to appreciate others for what they are.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Culture Shock, Hospitality, Humour, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Cross-cultural contact

After yesterday’s post about my friend who had died, I had a chance to reflect on some of the finer moments in our relationship. He definitely helped me a lot in positive cross-cultural experiences, something for which I am extremely thankful.
On a lighter note today, I want to share something which happened when I wanted to expose a number of “White, Afrikaans-speaking” Christians from South Africa to the Swazi culture. This happened quite a few years ago, but if I remember correctly we were twelve in all who took the road through Swaziland, visiting a number of branches of our church in various regions. This group consisted, amongst others of an elderly couple, two single woman, a younger couple whom I knew had struggled with God about this visit and then a few others.
Before we left I warned the group that I was planning to give them a very positive experience of Swaziland but that I was also going to give them maximum exposure to the local people. I informed the younger couple that I was planning to house them with a wonderful Swazi couple. (Just to give you an idea about the Swazi couple: The man is the personal chauffeur for the British High Commissioner in Swaziland and his wife is the director for SOS Villages in Swaziland – both people with loving, open hearts.) A day or two before we left, this young lady phoned me and told me that she and her husband had thought about staying with the Swazi couple. They felt that it would be more comfortable for the older couple to stay in a house and then they would be willing to sleep on the floor in a church. (How unselfish can one get!) Of course I knew that this was not the true reason for them deciding not to stay with the Swazi people, but I left it at that. Actually, I already had a plan B in mind, knowing that I would do them no favour to “let them off the hook.”
We left on the following Saturday and drove through a large part of the country. At Matsanjeni we were met by the congregation who welcomed them with wonderful singing. Just before dark we reached Manzini and went to the house of one of our pastors. I told the young couple and one of the single ladies to unpack their stuff as they were going to remain behind. The pastor was not even there at that point, although his young children were present. I took them in, introduced them to the children and told them to wait for the pastor to arrive and then we left for Mbabane to the house where my friend who had died yesterday, used to stay.
I’ll fill in the details of our stay in Mbabane tomorrow, but the following morning, Sunday, we returned to Manzini to attend church. As we stopped at the house where I had left the three the previous evening, the woman who had phoned me rushed out of the house. For a moment I thought that she was going to slap me! But instead she came up to me and with tears in her eyes put her arms around me she hugged me and thanked me “for one of the most wonderful experiences ever” in her life. More than a year later she found the courage to share with me what had happened. We were involved in a 24-hour prayer watch and it happened that she and I were both slotted for a prayer session at midnight. We did pray, but that night she filled me in one the detail which I had never known before.
That evening when I left them in Manzini they honestly thought that I was playing some kind of practical joke on them. As they sat in the house she said over and over again to her husband that she knew that I was going to come back and fetch them and then we would all laugh at their expense. But as time went on, they started realising that I was not intending to return. Eventually the pastor returned and prepared food for them (his wife was not present at that time.) Then he took them to their bedrooms and the couple was housed in a large room with a lovely double bed (I know, I’ve often slept in that bed). And then the strangest thing happened. The woman, realising that they had been “tricked” went to have a shower. She told me that night, as we were praying together, that she got into the shower. The shower railing and wall were being used by the pastor’s young daughter (probably about five at that time) to hang her underwear to dry. And this woman said to me, as she stood in that shower, with “panties” all around her head, something broke inside her! She, who had decided that she would not stay in a house with Black people, suddenly discovered a love for them that she had never known before. She came out of that shower, cleansed not only of the dirt of the day, but cleansed also of a lot of prejudice that she had had in her life. It was amazing to see how God changed her life around through that one experience.
Well, we had a good laugh about this. She was so ashamed for what she had done. But what a great testimony she had afterwards.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Church, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Culture Shock, Hospitality, Humour, Mission, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology | 1 Comment

The bigger the church the greater the responsibility

Last week I had a great experience. Through some circumstances it happened that I got connected with the Global Director HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Church and Purpose Driven Life – does that ring a bell?) What a great privilege it was to have him and his wife, together with their son and mother at our house for dinner on Wednesday and then to spend the greater part of Thursday with them in Swaziland, showing them what we were doing in our Home-base caring program and in what way we were putting our vision of becoming the hands and feet of Christ into practice. We spent many hours in discussions on how we were going about doing this work and then also hearing from them how they saw their task in this regard in their home church in California.
I must be honest that I’m not always very positive about mega-churches, the main reason for this being that some of these churches seem to exist merely for the sake of being able to claim that it is a mega-church with seating for so many thousand people. It’s not that I think that a small church is necessarily better than a larger church. I recall that Rick Warren writes somewhere that any church larger than 300 people becomes impersonal, which is the main objection which I have heard against mega-churches (that there is a lack of true fellowship and warmth within such churches.) But this objection would then be equally true for medium-sized churches.
However, as I listened to what these people had to share with us, I realised one important thing: God grants some church leaders the privilege of leading huge churches, but then God also expects so much more from them! In terms of resources, people and expertise, they have so much to offer in order to assist others to fulfill their calling. I have had contact with some of the world’s largest churches (on two occasions I’ve had the privilege to visit Coral Ridge in Fort Lauderdale where Evangelism Explosion originally started) and I’ve also had close contact with people from Willow Creek and now also with Saddleback. From my experience with these specific churches, they are all greatly focussed on God’s mission in the world. This is great! I sincerely believe that the main reason why God grants some churches to become mega-churches is in order for them to do even more in the world than would have been possible if all of those people had been divided into a number of smaller churches.
However, what was however perhaps the most remarkable of this visit, was when we were told: We did not come here to teach you. We have come to you in order to learn from you and to understand what you are doing. Being a small church ourselves, we tend to become used to the fact that people come to us with a lot of knowledge which they want to share with us. Finding that representatives from a church as large as Saddleback tell us that they can learn something from us was really very special (and very humbling) and also a great encouragement. There is a good possibility that we may be able to take hands as partners to increase our own influence in Swaziland. However, as I’ve learnt in the past, this is something which the Lord will have to guide us through in order for such a partnership to work to the advantage of both parties, which, if you had been reading this blog for some time, you will know I feel very strongly about. But we are full of hope that some great things may follow.
And then, to top an already wonderful visit, we determined that this man and my wife are related! About six or seven generations ago they shared the same great-great-great…. grandmother and -father! So, not only were we linked through the blood of Christ, but we were also linked through family blood. I thought that was pretty neat!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Evangelism Explosion, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hospitality, Mission, Partnership, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland | 2 Comments

Should a state of emergency be declared in Swaziland?

I’m just home after a hectic day – nine hours on the road and three hours in a meeting somewhere in the middle – and every minute of this worthwhile! Last week I received an invitation to attend a meeting today, hosted by the Dutch Embassy in Pretoria, focussing on AIDS and Swaziland. The main speaker was Professor Alan Whiteside of the University of Kwazulu-Natal but also Director of HEARD. I accepted the invitation to attend, thinking that it would probably be a discussion of the problem of AIDS and perhaps referring to Swaziland in passing. Was I ever wrong!
What I found out was that Alan Whiteside had spent many years in Swaziland, even schooling there at one the most prestigious schools in the northern part of the country. He has a passion for this country. But what he wanted to share about the country was not good news. Most of the things he said today was not new to me. It was about the effects of AIDS on this country. I’ve done enough research about AIDS in Swaziland to know that what he was saying is the truth. He had developed a number of graphs which was shown on the wall and which illustrated vividly the situation in which we find ourselves at present in Swaziland.
However, he came to a point where he asked the question how an emergency should be defined in a country. One definition says that an emergency is the result of “a bolt out of the blue” such as a tsunami. Furthermore, a country which is recovering from the effects of war could also be considered to be in a state of emergency.
Alan then continued by asking whether an emergency should not be redefined. If an emergency situation is imminent, should people ignore the situation until it explodes or should help be rendered in an attempt to prevent the emergency from occurring? The point he was making – or perhaps closer to the truth – the plea which he directed towards the Dutch ambassador in South Africa and to all the others present, was that they should do something significant to try and stop the growth in the rate of HIV infections in Swaziland before it is too late (the question being whether it is not too late already).
It was a strange feeling to attend a meeting like this entirely as spectator and then to find out that you are held in high regard merely because I told them that I come from Swaziland and that I am project manager of Shiselweni Home-Based Care. It was as if people were thinking: Wow, if the situation in your country is as bad as it seems, you must be a hero to keep on working there! The fact is that, on the outside, little have changed for the worse in Swaziland. In fact, many things are so much better than when I originally arrived in Swaziland in 1985. The infrastructure has improved by 10,000%. Shops, factories and other businesses have improved. But it is only when you leave the highways and move into the homes of the poor and the destitute, that you realise the impact that this disease is having on the population. And the question arises how long it will take before the effects are going to be seen, even in the places which seem to be unaffected for the untrained eye. Five years? Ten years? It is inevitable that things are going to become worse, much worse, before it will become better. But how many people will still be alive at that stage?
Has the time come to announce a state of emergency so that people and organisations all over the world can assist to bring a halt to the spreading of this virus? The answer is not clear. But I have had that uncomfortable feeling that we may be playing violin while Rome is burning…

Wednesday, October 24, 2007 Posted by | Africa, Church, Culture, Death, Giving, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hospitality, Indigenous church, Mission | 2 Comments

Giving without any strings attached

I’ve often thought about the issue of giving for missions without any strings attached. On the one hand I feel that this is definitely the way in which we should give but on the other hand I would also want to know how my money is used that I give for missions.
Let’s just first look at the issue of giving without any strings attached. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to compare my early years in Swaziland with the situation as we have it now. As regular readers may have noticed by this time, we have a body which channels certain funds from the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa through to us in Swaziland. In my early years in Swaziland everything which was given to Swaziland was calculated to the second decimal and prescribed how it should be used. At the end of the financial year audited reports had to be given to prove that the money had been used in accordance with the way in which it was given.
Some years later we were at a meeting where I suggested that a certain amount of money (mostly used to subsidise full-time workers in the church in Swaziland) should be given to the local church without any strings attached. What I had in mind was that certain responsibilities be given to the local church together with an amount of money and that the church be trusted to use this money wisely. I was very surprised at that time that this suggestion was readily accepted and up to now a certain amount (albeit not a very large amount at this stage) is given to the local church every year to use as they please. This taught the indigenous church to plan, to budget and to use money with much greater responsibility than in the past.
But there is also another side to this. The greater part of our family’s tithe is given to our own church. But we have a few other ministries outside Swaziland that we also support every month. Our policy is that we give without any strings attached. But we do have a certain expectation from those whom we support. The one is that we appreciate some feedback from them to know how things are going – not how the money had been spent, but what God is doing in their ministry. I think this is fair. In fact, I think any missionary has a moral responsibility towards those who support them to keep them posted on their ministry.
But in my experience there is also another sensitive issue. When I support a ministry, then I want to know that I am really making a difference in the kingdom of God. About twenty years ago a man and his wife came to Swaziland as missionaries. We got to knew them well. They were mostly being supported by their own church in South Africa who had sent them to Swaziland. But after some time we realised that they were more often outside Swaziland, visiting their family and friends than inside Swaziland, doing the work which they were supposed to do. Their fuel account must have been enormous, and this mostly for travelling for their own pleasure. When their car’s engine broke, they asked the congregation that had sent them to fit a much more powerful and sporty V6 engine into the car, which was totally unnecessary. Not long afterwards that engine also seized, not far from our home, and at that point they stayed over at our house for about a week. During that time we found out that the man refused to eat anything but the best and most expensive meat! There was no way in which we could afford to buy steaks for every meal (which is what he wanted) and we just decided that he would have to fall in with our way of eating (mostly chicken) which didn’t really satisfy him. When they left, there was a lot of tension in the air. (And he got his home congregation to give him another V6 engine for his car.)
I learnt a valuable lesson at that point. I’m not convinced that God expects missionaries to live on $2 a day (the point which the World Bank describes as extreme poverty.) But I do think missionaries have to be careful that they do not create the impression that they are better off than those who support them. Because if that is the case, why do I need to support them?
But to return to the main topic: When giving for missions, we need to give without any strings attached. Someone once said to me: When you give away something as a gift, then it is no longer yours to control. Then the person to whom you had given it, has the freedom to decide what to do with it.
But obviously, if my gift is not used wisely, then I also have the freedom to decide NOT to give again.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007 Posted by | Dependency, Giving, Hospitality, Indigenous church, Meetings, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland, Tithing | 3 Comments

Open heart – Open Home

On more than one occasion I have mentioned the wonderful colleagues that God had given us when we moved to Swaziland. One couple especially had a permanent influence on our lives by demonstrating to us what it means to open your home to someone. People in need would knock at their door and would receive a meal and a place to sleep if it was needed – sometimes even for weeks on end. When we arrived in Swaziland we met someone from their congregation who had “trouble” written all over his face. He was a church member but I’m sure he was not a Christian. He seemed to have one mission in life, which was to make life difficult for the pastor. He was quite an old man at that time and was put under church discipline when he made a young girl pregnant. We all gave a sigh of relief on behalf of our colleague who had now been released of this man.
A few years later my colleague received news that the man was dying (AIDS? We didn’t really know much about AIDS at that time, but it is highly possible). They went to his home and found that the young girl who had been living with him had left him and he was living in terrible conditions with nobody to take care of him. They took him from his home and brought him to their house where they looked after him until he died a few months later.
We have never been able to do things quite like they did, but we did make a decision to open our home as much as possible. And what a blessing this has been for us! One thing which we learnt from our colleagues was that it is not necessary to supply five-star accommodation and food when you make this decision. We did the best we could, giving a bed if it was available. Often our children had to sleep on a mattress on the floor when people stayed over. My wife became well-known amongst our friends because of the lovely chicken dish that she so often prepared (very good to eat but affordable to prepare). Missionaries from all over the world stayed over with us. People on short-term outreaches stayed over. Church leaders from other countries stayed over. Friends in need of accommodation for a week or two stayed over. OK, I’ll be honest – it wasn’t always good. There were times when we wished people would leave, but this happened so seldom that we prefer to forget about those times. For us it had mostly been a blessing. Hopefully some people had been blessed to stay with us.
In 1994 one of my wife’s close friends gave her a book: Open heart – Open Home: How to find joy through sharing your home with others. On the first page she wrote: To my dear friend, Wilma, who opened her heart and her home to us.
I don’t think we will ever be as open as my colleague (now retired) and his wife, but we learnt a valuable (and Biblical) lesson from them without which we would have missed out on a lot of joy.

Thursday, September 6, 2007 Posted by | Building relations, Comfort Zone, Hospitality, Mission, Swaziland | Leave a comment