Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

So what are Christians for?

This is a topic that I’ve wanted to blog about for some time now and didn’t, mainly because I’ve felt that I had more important things to say, such as the orphan problem in Swaziland.
Last week I was sitting in a Swaziland mission meeting where someone mentioned that Christians seem to be more focused on things which they oppose than things which they support. I wholeheartedly agree. Then, driving back to my home I was listening to a CD on which Bill Hybels and Dave Workman were both engaged in an interview about the “Outward Focused Life.”
The interviewer asked the two gentleman a question: What do the people on the street think of Christians? Dave Workman (if I remember correctly) responded by telling how he had asked a number of people that question, one being a waitress at a restaurant not far from their church. She responded that, in her opinion, Christians are cheap, very demanding and they don’t tip well. Bill Hybels answered the question by saying, amongst others, that Christians are better known for the things which they are against than the things they are for.
Last night my wife and I attended a cell group in which the same topic came under discussion, this time with the theme: What does it mean to be an obedient Christian?
As a young Christian, I was probably also more focused on the things which I opposed than the things which I felt strongly about to support. But as I grew older and hopefully became more mature both as a human being and also as a Christian, I realized that I would not be influencing many people through the things I oppose. But if I am willing to stand up for a certain issue, I might just be able to get a few others to stand up with me and together we can make a difference.
As I read blogs and other Christian material, I think that Bill Hybels is correct in his analysis. Christians are against evolutionism, against creationism, against liberalism, against fundamentalism and a whole bunch of other -isms (including Calvinism!) But what are we for?
If someone should step up to us and ask: “What do you believe?”, would we be able to give a clear answer (not necessarily a final answer), or have we possibly become so focused on the things that we are against that we no longer know what it is that we stand for?
I know a number of people who will be able to tell me in no uncertain terms what things they oppose. When asked what they believe, they will be able to give me a well-formulated textbook answer. But the question should rather be what people feel so strongly about that they will stand up for it and, by doing so, make a difference in the world.

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Monday, June 15, 2009 Posted by | Alternative Society, Bill Hybels, Church, Meetings, Mission, Swaziland, Theology | 12 Comments

And what if revival comes?

A number of years ago, one of our dear friends, living in the same town where we stay, made a remark which more or less said the following: “I’m praying that God will bring revival to this town and that at least 2000 people will come to repentance.” To which I replied (to her shock): “I’m going to start praying that it will not happen.” After she recovered from the shock of hearing blasphemy from the mouth of a pastor, I explained to her why I said this. At that time we were just not ready to receive 2000 new believers into any (or all) of the churches in the town. The new believers would be neglected. They would probably starve (spiritually) and eventually many of them will leave the church and return to their old lives.

Even now, when I do evangelism training in churches, I tell the people that they must not even start with an evangelism program, unless if they have everything in place to receive and support the new believers. This is almost like preparing the unborn baby’s room in anticipation for the birth that will take place.

During this past week I realised once again how unprepared most churches are for new believers. And this time it was my own congregation in Swaziland that I had to admit is still not ready for any form of revival. Since we started with our AIDS Home-Based Caring ministry, I believed that people will be affected by the caring attitude coming from the church. Our aim was not to attract new members for our own church, but we did hope that people in the communities where we work will start realising that God actually loves them. From time to time individuals did decide to join our church.

And then, in 2007, I received an invitation from one of Swaziland’s Members of Parliament in an area known as Lavumisa, to start conducting church services in his area. He opened his home to us, invited people to come and things started happening. I myself went there on various Sundays and when Tim Deller was still in Swaziland, he also went there regularly. He mentioned this a few times in his own blog, and I also blogged about it, amongst others in Starting a new church at Lavumisa.

There is, however, one big problem about conducting services at this place, and this is the distance which I have to travel to get there. It is almost 160 km (100 miles) from my home, meaning that, to go there, implies a round trip of more than 300 km. But then I also have other places which I need to visit on Sundays and furthermore I’m also invited at times to preach in other churches. From the start I realised that it would not be possible for me personally to take responsibility for this area. After the people indicated that they wanted our church to continue working in the area, I took the matter to the church council and asked them to discuss ways of helping these people. I sensed a reluctance amongst some of the church council members, but they eventually agreed that they would arrange that people in the vicinity of Lavumisa would help with church services. Unfortunately, it seems as if they did send people there a few times and then stopped going.

Last month we trained a group of caregivers in an area known as Qomintaba, which is about 20 km (12 miles) from one of our existing churches at Matsanjeni. I was totally unprepared for what happened next. On Wednesday I heard that the headman of the area had come to repentance. We didn’t speak to him about Christ. But he was so touched by what he saw the church doing, that he decided that he wanted to accept this Christ we are preaching and now he, and a large number of the caregivers, want to join our church. I know that most people will say “Halleluiah” when they hear this, but this is becoming a logistical nightmare. Once again, we don’t have people in that area that can take responsibility to do the work. But then the church members at Matsanjeni made their own plan. They would drive down to Qomintaba on a Sunday morning, help them with a church service at 9, then drive back to Matsanjeni to have another service at 11.

And then, on Wednesday, I had a long discussion with one of our church elders, and found that he was actually irritated by this. His first remark was that I’m putting him under stress because he feels that it is his responsibility to care for these people. In fact, he told me that we should just forget about them. (Wow! I can now understand how Peter felt when he returned to Jerusalem after Cornelius had accepted Christ in Acts 10.) I could understand his point of view. But I also realised that he was still not ready for God to do big things in the church. He was still feeling that everything is his responsibility. Eventually I (hopefully) convinced him that not I nor anyone else was expecting him to conduct services at Qomintaba on a regular basis. I would love to visit them in the near future. I would love him to visit them as well. But we need to respect the church at Matsanjeni who have taken this responsibility upon their own shoulders, encourage them, supply them with the basic needs and then allow them to do this work. This, I think, is probably fairly close to the New Testament model of the church.

But I couldn’t help wondering what would happen in most churches, my own included, if a real revival starts taking place.

Friday, June 12, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Church, Disappointments, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Leadership, Meetings, Mission, Social issues, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology, Worship | 1 Comment

Are church leaders leading their members towards mission involvement?

Rick Meigs posted a blog almost three months ago, titled: Are We Delusional? I pinned the post, meaning to respond to it at some stage. The point he’s trying to make in the post is that many church leaders will theorize about mission and about the importance of mission, but will never set the example to their church members on what it means to get involved in mission. No wonder that church members do not get involved in mission: they’re only following the example set for them by their leaders.
Something which I’ve heard quite a lot over the past few weeks and also during the past WENSA mission conference I attended, is the words: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” When it comes to mission, I’ve seen too many church leaders not willing to lead in this regard, nor are they willing to follow, nor are they willing to get out of the way that others can do what they believe God wants them to do.
Last year, when we were awarded the runner-up position for the Courageous Leadership Award for our involvement in HIV and AIDS in Swaziland, one of the other finalists stood up at the awards ceremony at Willow Creek and told how his own congregation had been waiting for him, either to take leadership or to get out of the way so that they could do something. Fortunately, he made the choice to lead, not only his own congregation, but eventually a large part of his city, to get involved in a town in Lesotho. You can read a summary of their amazing story here.
Everybody in church seem to want to be leaders. I saw it once again during this past conference when the large group had to break up into four smaller discussion groups, speaking about youth, women, community involvement and leadership. I would guess that at least two thirds of the attendees went to the discussion on leadership. Obviously we need better leaders in the church. But true leadership (in the church at least) is not something that is taught from the pulpit. It is something which is demonstrated in such a way that church members will want to follow. And where this happens with passion and with honesty, nothing can stop the army of church members signing up to follow their leader in making God’s Kingdom become visible on earth.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Bill Hybels, Church, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Leadership, Meetings, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Who will be the new Missionaries?

I’ve just returned home after attending a WENSA (World Evangelisation Network of South Africa) mission conference over the last three days. (I’m still hoping that the name of this network will change so that it says Southern Africa instead of only South Africa. Eight people from our church in Swaziland attended the conference.)
On the first day, Pieter Tarantal (and if you’re not from South Africa, don’t try and pronounce that!) kicked off by speaking about The God of New Things. He shared some amazing statistics with the group. I did not try and verify each number, as I believe what he said is fairly close to the reality. According to him:

  • 114 people are coming to Christ every second
  • 44,000 new churches are established each year
  • In India, 15,000 people are baptised daily

In Africa:

  • There are 20,000 new converts every day
  • In 1900 there were 8 million believers
  • In 1990 there were 275 million believers
  • 396 million in 2000
  • 450 million in 2005
  • Today there are close to 500 million believers

The largest church in the West is found in the Ukraine and the leader of this church comes from Nigeria

I can’t remember where I read it, but apparently the nation with the greatest growth in Christianity at the moment is China.
Listening to these statistics and seeing what is happening to the church in the West (where most churches are becoming smaller at an alarming rate), I asked myself the question where missionaries will be coming from in the future?
And the answer, it seems to me, is that a new wave of missionaries are going to be sent into the world, not from Europe and the USA as in the past, but from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
And as I listened to this, I was wondering if we perhaps are seeing something of 1 Corinthians 1:21 coming true: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” Might it be that the West has become so self-sufficient and so sure of themselves, that they have come to the point where many feel that they do not need God anymore? And is this perhaps the reason why the Gospel is spreading at such a rate through those countries that we had traditionally regarded as our missionary objects?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Evangelism, Indigenous church, Meetings, Mission, Missionary Organisations, Swaziland, Theology | 5 Comments

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 voice of a prophet

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Durban, where I’m attending the 4th South African AIDS Conference. Today has been the opening day and we’ve been promised 95 sessions over the next few days that we will be able to choose from to attend.
Today we had the chance to listen to Dr John Hargrove who made a case for much greater availability of ARVs and sooner than at present, where ARVs are only prescribed when a person’s CD4 count is below 200. He also argued that HIV testing should be compulsory.
The next speaker was Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This is the first time that I had had the privilege to hear him speak in person, but it is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. (I was able to get his signature, through a contact, in a book about the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of which he was the chairperson and which was established after Apartheid came to a fall in South Africa.)
I remember that, somewhere in the eighties, I had a conversation with a professor in missiology who was a member of the, then forbidden, African National Congress (ANC). This professor was obviously extremely critical of the National Party which was still ruling South Africa at that time. At one point I asked him whether he would be equally critical of the ANC when they get to take over the government in South Africa. He didn’t really answer me and sadly, I’ve never heard him speak out against the wrongs which the ANC is doing in South Africa.
During the Apartheid years Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke out strongly against the National Party, against Apartheid and against all the unrighteousness of the government. What made many people respect him, was that he, with the same voice with which he had criticised the National Party, continued to criticise the ANC government if he felt that they were wrong. And in my understanding, this makes him a true modern day prophet.
I experienced the same feeling today. A week or so ago the South African government refused to issue the Dalai Lama with a visa to visit South Africa with a visa to attend a peace conference. Their excuse is that it would take the focus away from the 2010 world football series which will be hosted in South Africa. (OK, it doesn’t make sense to me either, but that’s what they say!) And today I heard Archbishop Tutu speak to South Africa’s vice-president, who was also present, in which he told her that the government was wrong. Many people will be willing to criticise their country’s leaders. But how many people have the integrity that they can stand up, in front of an audience and reprimand the leaders in their faces? I was deeply touched by this.
Professor David Bosch had been a true modern day prophet. I consider Desmond Tutu to be one as well. But, as with all prophets, the people who need to listen may very well close their ears until it’s too late.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, David Bosch, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Meetings, Mission, Social issues | 1 Comment

Transforming Mission – Chapter 1

My oldest son, Cobus, together with some friends, have started a discussion group on David Bosch’s magnum opus, Transforming Mission. To top it, they are extremely privileged to have David’s wife, Annemie, as part of this discussion group. They are meeting from time to time to discuss a specific chapter from the book and then they blog about their findings. You can read more about this exciting venture here. I’ve asked Cobus to allow me (and I assume others would also be welcome) who do not have the privilege to meet with this group but who want to read the book on their own, to take part in this discussion by way of our blogs. So here goes:
Perhaps some personal background may be of interest. The first time I read Transforming Mission was before it was published. I was busy with my doctorate in Missiology and although Prof Bosch was not my promoter, I regularly visited him, sometimes at his office and sometimes at his home, to discuss certain issues with him. He had also done research on the topic of Mission and Eschatology (the theme of my thesis) and often told me about his own findings about this topic as he was busy writing his book. And each time I was there he would print out a few chapters of the manuscript so that I could use it for my own research. (I just find it incredible that he was so unselfish with his academic knowledge!)
Chapter 1 has as its title: Reflections on the New Testament and in this chapter Bosch touches on a number of issues, each of which one can blog about. I’ve decided to concentrate on two paragraphs, from page 28-31, where he writes about the all-inclusiveness of Jesus’ mission as well as His attitude towards the gentiles. I consider this important, mostly because a topic like this can lead to great misunderstanding. In 1988 I was part of a synod where the Bible Study was led by David Bosch and where I, for the first time, heard him speak about this topic. I actually urge you to read more about this remarkable time here.
When speaking about the all-inclusiveness of Jesus’ mission, it may be easy to think that this would mean that anyone, regardless of their faith or relationship with God, is automatically “saved”. This, however, is not what I heard him saying nor how he writes about the topic. Although, what Bosch is saying when he discusses the topic, could be considered as a universal truth, I think it is also important to understand the time-frame within which it was written (although, I am convinced that, had he been alive today, he would still have maintained virtually the same viewpoint.) In 1988, when he discussed the topic in the Bible Study mentioned above, and in the years leading up to the publishing of the book in 1991, South Africa was virtually caught up in a civil war. A state of emergency had been announced in 1985. The effects of the political turmoil was felt even in the church. In the same year the Kairos Document was published, which challenged the church in one paragraph to “demand that the oppressed stand up for their rights and wage a struggle against their oppressors.” In 1986 the Belhar Confession was accepted by a church consisting predominantly of coloured members in which it was stated, amongst other, “that God is on the side of those who suffer physically, those who are poor and those who have had injustice done to them.”
The situation in 1988 was thus one of great tension between the different race groups in South Africa. The Whites had previously considered themselves almost to be “God’s chosen people” (I know I’m generalizing when I say this) and the Blacks and coloured people who had been the victims of great oppression in the past, now started seeing themselves as being on the side of God (while God had obviously chosen against the White people who were seen as the oppressors.)
It was within this situation that David Bosch stood up and announced that God’s love is all-inclusive. Jesus did not only love one group of people, but specifically chose disciples from a variety of groups. And this is how I understand it when Bosch says that Jesus’ mission is all-inclusive. Jesus came for the rich and the poor, for Black and White (and whatever other race group there may be), for tax-collectors and other sinners. No group has the right to claim that Jesus only loves them. Because His love is all-inclusive, anybody who accepts the sacrificial death of Jesus unto salvation, will be saved – even the gentiles, as Bosch explains in the paragraph on pages 29-31.

Saturday, March 14, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Book Review, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, David Bosch, Eschatology, Grace, Meetings, Mission, Social issues, Theology | 1 Comment

Compassion needs no money

I think I’ve been spoiled. Other people would say that I’ve been blessed. Whatever the case may be, I realised this again on Saturday. On Friday and Saturday I was invited to an AIDS conference held in Mamelodi, a very big township to the east of Pretoria. The aim was to get pastors of the Uniting Reformed Church motivated to do something about HIV and AIDS in their own communities. I was asked to speak on Saturday morning and I asked Mrs Thembi Shongwe, in charge of training our caregivers, to accompany me. We agreed that I would start by sharing the story of our home-based caring project and that she would then give more detail on how we train the volunteers and what we expect them to do.
I started by showing a short video clip about our work (available on Youtube at http://tinyurl.com/bom9hy ) and then continued by telling them how God had brought us to the point where we were convinced that we could no longer turn our backs on those living with HIV and AIDS. If you haven’t read this story yet, do yourself a favour and read it at http://tinyurl.com/bjpvbb.
After we had finished our session, the meeting broke up into smaller groups to discuss various topics and I joined those who showed an interest in starting with home-based caring in their communities. And it was at this point that I realised the miracle that had happened in Swaziland.
I’ve been in Swaziland now for more than 24 years. One of the biggest frustrations that I’ve had to cope with is that everything that was planned was linked to money. It’s not as if it was the first time that I tried to motivate people to do something voluntarily when we started with our AIDS project. But in the past, regardless of what I wanted to do, the first question that was always asked was: Where will we get money to do this? And if I couldn’t answer this question, then nobody was interested to get involved. Things changed when the AIDS project started. I’m not sure what it is that changed them (apart from the Holy Spirit!) But somehow something happened to motivate them to do something for others without expecting anything in return.
Coming back to Saturday’s workshops: As we sat in a group, the first question that was asked (wait for it!) was: “What can we do to collect money to start with home-based caring?” And this was the main topic for at least fifteen minutes; trying to make plans to collect money so that they could also start taking care of others. This went on for some time, until I asked the question what it would cost someone to visit the home of a neighbour and show compassionate love to that person. The whole group agreed that this would not cost anything. Then I asked the second question: What would it cost to motivate fifty church members to show compassionate love to two neighbours each. And again they agreed that it would not cost anything.
At this point I challenged them to forget about starting big projects and collecting money. Start by preaching about God’s compassionate love and giving examples of how church members can follow Jesus’ example. And then motivate them to start doing this in practice. Of course, with the church leader setting the example.
Whether this will happen, remains to be seen. But I am convinced that money (or rather, the lack of it) cannot become the stumbling block which prevents us from showing love towards our neighbours. Money makes many things easier. Money enables ministries such as ours to work more effectively and on a larger scale. But I sincerely believe that, if all sources of finances should stop, that we will still be able to continue with the work we are doing.

Monday, February 16, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Dependency, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Meetings, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

Reporting about Mission

Yesterday was spent in a meeting with the ten coordinators of the ten different home-based caring projects in the southern region of Swaziland. These meetings can be quite exhausting but at the same time it’s really a joy to be busy with this. When we started with the home-based caring ministry in 2006, the story which you can read in an article I published under the name: “On Becoming the Hands and Feet of Christ in an AIDS-ridden community in Swaziland – A story of hope”, I invested huge amounts of time and energy in the group. I met the entire group at least once a week and during the other days I regularly met the volunteers individually. My aim was to build up this group to become as strong as possible. But the other advantage was that I had my finger on the pulse of the group and I knew fairly well what was going on.
And then, in 2007 we trained five more groups in different areas in the southern region of Swaziland. By the end of that year it felt to me as if things were getting out of control. Eventually, in an attempt to determine where things were and where they were going to, I arranged for the entire group of volunteers to meet at a central place and gave them a chance to tell me what was going on. It was a highly informative meeting and afterwards I felt that I was more or less in control again.
And then we started more groups this year. At present we are standing at ten groups of around 350 volunteers doing home-based caring. And I got that depressing feeling again a few months ago that I’m out of control! And at that point I decided that I will need to implement a reporting system whereby I can at least get an idea whether we are working effectively and where we need to improve. We drew up a reporting form in the simplest way we could think of, translated it into siSwati and then gave the coordinators a brief training session on how the forms should be completed. They then had to train the volunteers for whom they are responsible and once a month the coordinators have to meet at a central place where they bring one consolidated report from their project from which a final report can be made of the previous month’s work. And this is the meeting we had yesterday.
The reports still have many errors, but I prepared myself beforehand that it will take at least three months to get this sorted out. But what amazed me was to see what these people are doing. When I was in the USA recently to receive the Courageous Leadership Award, I told the people there that we are caring for around 1000 sick people. Now that the reports for July have been finalised, I found that the total number of clients is closer to 1500! More than 3800 home visits took place that month, 524 new clients were identified and 80 of our existing clients died. 374 of the clients are terminally ill and 821 are chronically ill.
These figures are mind-boggling. Three more communities in the southern (Shiselweni) region of Swaziland have approached us to train them to start with home-based caring and our first invitation from the northern part of Swaziland (Manzini) have also been received.
And as I keep on thinking about the future, I realise that God may well be preparing us for more work. I’m excited about this. But I also realise that God will have to provide great wisdom if we want to keep on expanding. I have ideas in my mind, some of which I may share in my next post.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Death, HIV, HIV & AIDS, HIV/AIDS Documents, Home-based Caring, Meetings, Mission, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

Religion and AIDS Symposium

I’ve just returned from Durban (also known as Durban by the Sea or locally lovingly called Durbs) where I attended a symposium about Religion and AIDS. I grew up in Durban. Up to my tenth year we lived five minutes walk from the main beach. So in that sense it was great to be back in Durban for two days.
This morning the symposium started at the University of KwaZulu Natal. It was hosted by an organisation known as HEARD (Health Economis and HIV/AIDS Research Division) with Prof Alan Whiteside chairing the meeting. There’s a lot of this stuff going on and it is impossible to attend every single conference on AIDS. I received the invitation however and because I have met Alan before and know that he has a great heart for Swaziland, clearly seen through his publication called Reviewing Emergencies For Swaziland, I decided to travel the distance to attend. I was also asked to deliver a short paper on the Swaziland Situation, with special reference to the Home-Based Care program which we are running. If you haven’t read it yet, you can download and read my publication: On becoming the Hands and Feet of Christ in an AIDS-ridden community.
One of the advantages of attending specialised conferences such as these, is that one immediately makes contact with people sharing the same vision and the possibility of networking becomes much greater. Once again, I was not disappointed. I met up with Robin Root, Associate professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the Baruch College in New York and we are now trying to set up a meeting with her in Swaziland on 1 August, at which time I want to introduce her to some of our volunteer caregivers and also give them a chance to tell her first-hand what we are doing in Swaziland.
Some of the other papers were also very interesting to listen to, but the one which touched me the most was presented by Marisa Casale. She is a staff member of HEARD and had been responsible for evaluating a church-based AIDS prevention program run in an area in Durban, known as Cato Manor – an extremely poor suburb with a more than 50% unemployment rate. A local church had started visiting a school in that area where they had built relationships with the children, did AIDS awareness programs with the children and eventually also assisted them in making the right choices in an attempt to prevent them from getting infected with HIV. Their main aim was to promote abstinence among the children.
After the program had been running for a number of years they felt that they would like an objective view on the success of the program and approached HEARD to do this research. Marisa was responsible for this. I didn’t bother to write down everything she said (trusting that I will get a copy of her paper), but it was amazing when they found that, after having run this program for a few years, the sexually active number of children in this school was down to around 40%. In a control school which was also examined, but which had not run the prevention program, more than 60% of the children were sexually active.
For many people this 40% sounds extremely high. It is extremely high, even more so when you realise that the possibility of most of these children becoming infected with HIV is an absolute reality. But I know the influence which poverty has on communities. Often moral behaviour becomes deeply affected when money for food does not even exist.
What encouraged me about this was the fact that the church can indeed play a significant role in the prevention of AIDS. In fact, in my own paper, I said the following:

It is unfortunate that the church does not seem to be having a great influence in preventing the spreading of the HI virus. We are all well aware that the propagation through the church of condom usage is a highly controversial topic. While the Roman Catholic Church has decreed that the use of condoms are not approved, most other churches are equally reluctant to advise their church members to use condoms as they feel that this may sanction extra-marital sex. I am of the opinion that there may also be another reason why churches do not feel comfortable in propagating condoms as a way to prevent HIV transmission. Although condoms undoubtedly decrease the risks of transmitting the virus, even a high profile company such as Durex warns us on their website that “no method of contraception can provide 100% protection against pregnancy, HIV (AIDS) and STDS.” The reluctance of many churches to advise people to use condoms may be compared to advising someone who wants to play Russian roulette with five rounds in the cylinder to remove four of the rounds before firing the revolver. Obviously the risks are much smaller, but most churches I know off would rather prefer people to live in such a way that there is no risk at all of getting AIDS.

I don’t think what I said was incorrect. But there is hope that certain Christian programs are starting to have an effect on the way that people, especially the youth, make moral choices. I believe we still have a long way to go, but after today, the tunnel isn’t quite as dark anymore.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Death, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, HIV/AIDS Documents, Home-based Caring, Hope, Meetings, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Stigma, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | 5 Comments