Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Could the local church be the hope of the world?

Bill Hybels, pastor at Willowcreek, has a saying: The local church is the hope of the world. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Worldwide it seems as if the local church is becoming smaller and playing a less prominent role. Many people – committed Christians – have left the church, either for nothing or for a small group. These are people who have given up hope for the local church (although many still haven’t given up hope for God.)
Frankly, we (that is, our family) are hyper-critical about the local church. We experience extreme arrogance, a lack of leadership, a total lack of commitment towards those outside the church, an unwillingness to change effectively and a whole range of other issues. I’m not referring to a particular church, but rather to a whole range of churches which I see around us. I have a dear friend who is pastor in a very small local church in the town where we live. This man has vision and dreams which you rarely observe in any pastor. But his congregation doesn’t support him. He’s on his way out – going to retire and live somewhere where he won’t need to worry about things like this anymore. And the church he is leaving behind is going to become even smaller than it already is!
Most local churches are fast declining in numbers. This is often blamed on the changing environment in which we live, the post-modern outlook on life, the old-fashioned way of worship which exist in many churches, the judgmental attitude of many Christians, and the list could go on. But I’m still not convinced that these are the real reasons why people leave the church. I’ve seen a number of people in our town who left very modern-style churches to join the Anglicans (old-fashioned with a strict liturgy). I’ve been in a Presbyterian church in Rotterdam which seem to have nothing flashy in terms of worship teams, sound systems and lights, but this church is growing, in spite of most churches in Europe declining in numbers. I believe a lot has to do with people finding that they are making a difference by being part of the church.
When people step into a relationship with Christ for the first time, they need the church to bring change into their own lives, but in my opinion, as they grow in their relationship with God, their needs (should) change, so that they can become a blessing for others. I don’t often have the chance to attend church as spectator. On most Sundays I have two and sometimes three services where I have to preach. But a few weeks ago I attended church with my family and when I left the church I was overwhelmed with the feeling of: If I have to do this every Sunday and this is all that church is about, I’ll die! And this, I believe, is the reason why churches are dying: because people cannot get the impression that it makes any difference whatsoever whether they are part of the local church or not.
Coming back to what bill Hybels said: The local church can only become the hope of the world if it gets involved in the community and the people where it is situated. People need to experience that the church is offering something that they cannot find elsewhere. Probably the church will not be able to compete in terms of financial resources when real disasters strike, such as 9/11, Katrina or with a pandemic such as AIDS. But I am sure that there are hundreds of survivors of 9/11 or families who had survived Katrina who would be able to tell stories, not of what the government had done for them, but of what churches had done for them. When I was in Chicago last year, I stayed over with a family that had just returned from New Orleans where they had helped people to rebuild their houses. I cannot for one moment think that those people, whether they are Christians or not, will see the church as being irrelevant. In Southern Africa, where the AIDS pandemic is at its worst, governments of all countries are giving out billions of dollars to help control the spreading of the disease and to ensure that people are tested and will receive medication. But the real stories of hope come when people tell how the church has reached out to them. There are wonderful stories of how the church brought hope into people’s lives. And it is when I see this happening, that I know that the time of the church is not over yet. The time for ineffective churches may be over, but the world will always need hope. And nobody can bring more hope than the local church which has, itself, experienced hope through God’s love.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Alternative Society, Bill Hybels, Church, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Hope, Indigenous church, Leadership, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Theology, Vision | 7 Comments

Mission outreaches, again!

I’m not dead and I haven’t been seriously ill. I just did not have the time to blog the past few weeks. Since the beginning of July I’ve first had a single girl who came to join us for a week in Swaziland, to experience what our caregivers are doing in an AIDS-infected community. While she was here, three medical students also arrived for five days, wanting to combine compulsory practical work with a medical outreach to the community. While they were around, my friend Tim Deller (http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/) and his dad arrived back in Swaziland, to visit many of his old friends. While they were still around, the two leaders from a team from Fresno, CA, arrived and then a few days later the rest of the team arrived and we spent a great time together in Swaziland. You can read about their experiences on their blog: Summer in Swaziland
Yesterday, as the team was preparing to return to the USA, we had a long time of debriefing, rethinking and evaluating the previous two weeks. Someone asked me a question: “This trip had cost us around $36000 (traveling, food and on the ground expenses). Do you feel that you received $36000 worth of help? Shouldn’t we rather have sent you the money and remained at home?” I had to think a few seconds before I answered: “First of all, twelve people would probably not have been able to raise $36000. Secondly, how do you determine the value of deep relationships – the type of relationships that were formed while they were in Swaziland the past two weeks? How do you determine the value of encouragement given to caregivers, working in fairly hopeless conditions, when someone from affluent USA says that she is willing to get into a taxi with a caregiver (twenty one people in a twelve-seater mini-van), walk along sandy footpaths to reach a homestead in order to apply the most basic care?”
And then the person who had asked the question, added that the spiritual growth that had taken place in the team also had to be taken into account. Probably the greatest moment, as far as I’m concerned, happened yesterday morning when one of the team members, who had never prayed in public before, voluntarily prayed while the whole group was listening. I wonder if I’ve ever been more touched by a prayer. It was an amazing experience for all of us!
I met early this morning with a group of men, some of whom are presently attending group sessions every evening focused on their own spiritual growth. Without wanting to discredit what they are doing at their church, I am absolute convinced that the spiritual growth that had taken place in the lives of most of the members of this outreach team, surpasses what will be obtained by attending lessons about the topic.
Short-term outreaches can lead to serious problems, one of the greatest probably being that the people being visited become dependent upon the outreach teams. There are many horror stories of outreach teams eventually realizing that they had been pumping money into a community, only to find that they had not been assisting the community, but had rather led them on the road of greater dependency. I still find it very difficult to know where one should help and where one should deny help. Or to rephrase: Where one should assist directly (giving something which is needed) and where one should find other means to give assistance such as helping certain forms of development to take place. I’ve made enough mistakes in my own life where I gave help in the wrong way. However, I’ve also seen the results when two groups of people from different cultures come alongside each other, the one rich (according to African standards), the other extremely poor (according to Western standards) and where they work together to address the real needs and not only the perceived needs.
I asked the group a question: “Is it necessarily wrong for people to live in a house built of mud, where they sleep on a thin grass mat on the floor and where they have to go down to a river to fetch water?” Obviously, if you had never had to stay in such circumstances (except possibly when going on some kind of exotic vacation), you would feel that it is wrong. But for those growing up in such conditions, it is fairly acceptable. To move into a community such as this, building a new home for one person (usually someone that the group had become attached to) is probably not going to be a good idea, as the neighbors are bound to wonder what that person did to deserve a new home.
Ten days ago we were part of a community project to help a certain community to get clean water. I have three basic requirements when starting any such project: It should be affordable, sustainable and duplicatable. (These are a sort of rule-of-thumb for myself and there are times when I would ignore one or more of these requirements, but then I need to make a deliberate decision that, within the circumstances, it is acceptable to do so.) The community has a real need for more clean water. The Swaziland government had installed a communal tap, but the water flow is so slow, that it takes ages to fill a container with water. After discussing a plan with the community, they came together to dig a hole in the ground. We supplied a plastic barrel (costing R300 or $40) and the community helped us to bury the barrel in river sand which acts as filter, so that eventually clear water will accumulate in the barrel through fine holes we had drilled into the bottom of the barrel. This is affordable, sustainable and duplicatable. In fact, this is the second similar project we have done.
Did I need a team from the USA to do this work? Of course not. But I’m sure that for some time to come, every team member will think of that community whenever they open a tap and see clear water running into a glass. And the community will remember that the group of people came from the USA, not to give out huge sums of money, but to address a real need that they had been struggling with for some years.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Dependency, Giving, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

The Innocent Victims of AIDS

A very sad thing happened today. On Thursday evening I called our coordinator for our AIDS ministry to discuss a few issues with her before meeting one of our Home-Based Care groups on Friday. She told me that a family had been identified, a mother and father (both HIV-positive) who have recently had triplets. The children are one month old. The children could not be nursed as it is absolutely essential, when a mother is HIV-positive and nurses a baby, that the baby may not take any other food or liquid for the first six months, not even water, after which the child is put onto solids and then the baby may not be nursed at all anymore. With three children this is impossible.

However, when the family was found, the caregiver found out that the mother is feeding the children with thin maize porridge as she does not have money to buy milk formula. I was shocked when I heard this. On Friday morning I had a quick discussion with our coordinator about the situation and we decided that we would take responsibility for the children until they are at least six months old. We would buy the formula and bottles and everything else which is needed and will make sure that the children are fed properly. I went to a local pharmacy and arranged to have the correct formula ordered so that we could start caring for these children as from Monday.

At this point I need to share a remarkable incident, something which have happened to us a number of times in the past. Our budget does not really allow us to do things like this. Our income is too small and our expenses just too big. But we have learned to be open to the nudging of God when we need to do something like this and normally don’t spend much (and normally almost no) time on discussing where the money will come from. It’s not that my faith is so big. But God has taught us a few lessons over the past few years. In any case, when I arrived home on Friday and opened my email, I received a message that a group of students that had been with us in Swaziland had arranged to have money deposited into our account. At least now we know that we will be able to take care of the children.

And then, this morning, I got the news that one of the babies had died! Not because of HIV. Because of malnutrition. I was angry. I’d had a tough day, struggling to work through some bureaucratic red tape, both in South Africa and in Swaziland. But suddenly all my impatience seemed to vanish as I realized that these parents had lost a child, probably not because they did not care, but more probably because they lacked some basic knowledge and lacked the funds to be able to give their three children what they needed. I was angry at the injustice that seem to force certain people to do things that we would consider to be absolutely irresponsible. I was angry that we were not able to pick up this problem earlier.

The other two children are also suffering form malnutrition and have now been hospitalized. As soon as they leave the hospital, we will make sure that they are properly fed.

Last year I preached in a church (on World AIDS day). Afterwards I heard that a certain man who had been in the church was absolutely disgusted with the service, saying, amongst others, that AIDS was not his problem. The people who had it had made a choice and are suffering the consequences.

I wish I could take him to these children and ask him what they had done to deserve this.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Death, Disparity, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Swaziland | 6 Comments

Once again: Short-term mission outreaches!

Once again! And while this blog is up and running, this topic will appear again and again. If you care to see my previous posts about the same topic, click on this link: https://missionissues.wordpress.com/?s=short-term
I’ve just said goodbye to a great team of students from the Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, USA. As I’m writing this, they’re on their way to Miami to be reunited with their families. When I work with a team like this, I always have to ask myself the question whether it is worthwhile. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into an outreach like this. The people making the trip are investing huge amounts of money and when they leave, they want to know that they have made a difference.
Two things sparked this topic today. In July I’m expecting another team from the USA and we are working hard (meaning myself and those who will be coming) on making this a meaningful visit to Swaziland. Wendi Hammond, the one with whom I’m communicating about this trip posted something about her view on short-term outreaches which you can read here. But then I also read an article in Christianity Today about the same topic, which is really worth reading. The title is Global is the New Local.
There’s a number of arguments against short-term outreaches. Wendi touched on one of them in her blog, which is: Why go to a far-off country if there is so much need right where you are? And this is indeed a very valid argument. A few things can be said about this. It’s never one or the other. Michelle Guzman wrote in a comment on Wendi’s post why she feels that she is called to come to Swaziland. Absolutely worth reading! Do what God wants you to do, whether it’s close or far. The downside of this argument (and the most people using this argument, in my experience, fall into this category) is that people are actually saying: If you get involved in another place, you make me feel guilty. Somebody has to take care of the local needs and if you’re not here to do it, then who will? So rather remain behind, take care of the local needs and I can go on with my life. Or something to that effect. If someone goes on a mission trip to avoid getting involved locally, then that is wrong. But the reality is that many people return from a mission trip abroad and get more involved in the local community, because often people undergo a heart change while on a mission trip.
The other argument is that the money could rather have been sent to the country where the outreach would have taken place. This sounds logical. Unfortunately it won’t happen. We need to see and feel and smell and taste the needs of people, before we will really get involved with this. And, in any case, for too long have we seen people writing out cheques while relaxing in front of their TVs, believing that they have then fulfilled their mission obligation. Obviously not everybody can go on a short-term outreach. But those who do, need to go back to their own communities and become advocates for the cause to which they were exposed, wherever that may be.
I have seen the positive effects of short-term outreaches. To be honest, I’ve also seen the negative effects (fortunately, not recently). When done in the right way, with the right attitude, with a teachable spirit, focused on building relationships rather than just solving problems, short-term outreaches can possibly become the greatest learning school that any Christian can be exposed to.

Thursday, June 4, 2009 Posted by | Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Indigenous church, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

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

Can a non-missional group become missional?

I’ve just finished reading Alan Hirsch’s book: The Forgotten Ways. It’s a great book and highly recommended, but be warned: It’s not easy to read. I do most of my reading when I go to bed and I really struggled to work through this book, But it is worthwhile reading it.
In short, Alan wants the church to rediscover it’s true purpose, what he calls mDNA, or the Missional DNA of the church. At the core of the church of Jesus Christ is the desire to reach out to the world. Churches which are not doing this, are acting contrary to how God has wired the church.
I have obviously done a lot of reading on this topic, therefore I can’t say that I had many “aha!” experiences while reading the book. He does however emphasise many things and says it in a way, which, as I read it, I just wished that I could share this with everybody I know.
On page 235 he says something which I have suspected for some time but which he is convinced is the truth. Gordon Cosby, the leader of Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., noted somewhere that in over sixty years of ministry, he has never seen that groups which are formed around a non-missional purpose (prayer, worship, Bible Study, etc) ever ending up becoming missional. It was only those groups which intended from the start to be missional (and usually embraced things like prayer, worship and Bible Study) that ended up doing it.
This corresponds with my own experience. It is impossible to calculate how many people have contacted me over the years with a request to get involved in our work in Swaziland. Usually the conversation goes something like this: “Hi, we are a cell group / Bible Study group / prayer group from xyz congregation and we have heard about your work in Swaziland. We feel that it is important for us to reach out to others and we would like to visit you to find out how we can assist you.”
Being a fairly positive person, I always invite them to come, but at the back of my mind I know that there is a more than 90% chance that nothing will come from the visit. The reason is simple. To be part of a cell group or Bible Study group asks a small investment of your time: 1 – 2 hours per week. And let’s be honest – these meetings are fun. Coffee and cookies are served. There’s a lot of time for interaction. And after worship and prayer you feel revived and ready to tackle the rest of the week.
Involvement in mission asks much more than that. On most Sundays I leave home at 8 in the morning and return home somewhere between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. And that’s just for a church service. Anything happening during the week involves a lot of driving – two hours at the very least – entering places which may make you feel uncomfortable, seeing things that are not nice to see, walking in the scorching sun. After their visit these groups have a lot to say about their experience and always promise to come back again, but more often than not we never hear from them again. They will return to their cell group / Bible Study group / prayer group and will probably never return to Swaziland.
If I have to say why this happens, then it boils down to a lack of vision. A group that is formed without a missional vision, will never be able to become missional. They will merely follow their vision and if it is not a missional vision, they will not become missional.
Is there a solution for the hundreds of thousands of cell and other groups meeting all over the world with the main intention to feed themselves (pun intended)? The only solution I can imagine is that the leader of the group make the decision to change the vision. That should not be to difficult as most of these groups do not have an official “vision”. They just follow the leader. But if the leader could convince them to determine their vision (which can be as simple as to answer the question: Why are we meeting every week?) and then convince them that the true purpose of the church lies in its calling to become a light for the world (or whatever other missional metaphor he or she wishes to use), it is possible that, over time, a group like this could really become missional, using their normal weekly meetings to build themselves up so that they could do more outside the church.
But that’s my optimistic side speaking. If I have to be realistic, I doubt whether any significant number of church groups will ever become missional.

Monday, February 2, 2009 Posted by | Church, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture Shock, Indigenous church, Mission, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | 3 Comments

The Church and Communitas

I’m wondering what it is that makes some books “readable” while you struggle through others. I’ve been busy with Alan Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways, for ages. It’s good. He really challenges many popular beliefs in church. But I just can’t sit down and finish the book.
I’ve been reading his chapter on Communitas yesterday and today. I’m not sure whether he has a specific definition for the term (he describes ot more than defining it), but it boils down to the fact that the early church was forever stretching itself through it’s involvement in the community. Communitas happens when a group of people are united around a vision or a mission where they want to make a difference. It happens during short-term mission outreaches, where a group of people leave their comfort zone and spend time in situations which they are not used to. It also happens in times of tragedy (he uses the examples of 9/11 and the tsunami) where people are united in a common cause to help others.
This is all a bit philosophical, but what he says is that this attitude is (and has always been) normative for the church of Christ. But somewhere along the line we lost it. I was in a meeting some time ago where a pastor of a church tried to make me understand that not all people are gifted towards caring for others and reaching out in love towards those in need. Obviously I don’t agree. Some people are especially gifted towards serving others. I know people like this, who are forever looking for ways in which they can help others. (I don’t like them – they make me feel guilty!) But the church cannot shrug its shoulders when confronted by the tragedies surrounding us.
If we want to make Hirsch’s term practical and relevant, then it means that the church has to have a vision for the world’s needs, whatever it may be. In the majority of churches I know, the church exists for its members and pastors are there to entertain the church members on a Sunday morning. Someone used the argument some time ago: I work long hours everyday and I don’t need to be reminded on a Sunday that I need to do even more. On a Sunday I want to relax in church!
Hirsch was in trouble for saying that the church needs to exist for the world. But he believes, and I believe, that the church only finds it’s true meaning once we move outside the walls of the church into the community, bringing the love of Christ, in whatever way is necessary, into that community.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 Posted by | Church, Comfort Zone, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Unity, Vision | 2 Comments

Capacity Building

I’m recovering again after a hectic week – the reason why my blog-writing has been pushed to the back for a while. On Sunday I flew down to Cape Town where I had been invited to attend a capacity building workshop co-hosted by USAID. Flying back to Pretoria, I stepped into another meeting with representatives of a Christian trust and after driving home I spent a few more hours in another meeting with a NGO which is showing some interest to partner with us in Swaziland.
Up to now I’ve never really been bothered with capacity building. I have more or less a feeling that things are going fairly well with our home-based caring ministry in Swaziland. We have money (not quite enough, but we manage) to do the basic things and I would be satisfied if we can keep this up. So I wasn’t all that eager to attend the conference. But then, before I left for the conference, a friend told me that God might be setting us up for something larger than we have been doing up to now and that we may need more resources to do what He wants us to do. (OK, so that’s not quite what I wanted to hear!) But it changed my attitude to attend the conference with a more open mind.
The overwhelming feeling I had was that most people presenting conferences like these have no idea how rural Africa looks. In most cases the people we work with in Swaziland have no electricity, no water (sometimes a communal tap, but not always), no telephone (although more people are using cell phones), little food (some homes have three meals a week instead of three meals a day!), and a large portion of the people in the rural areas are illiterate.
But then, at the conference, we heard stories of Christians and congregations who are aching to become part of the solution to the world’s problems. People living in affluent communities who feel that they want to start investing their money in ministries deeply involved with the world’s problems – bringing hope and light to those communities. And as I listened to this I realised that there must be a way for those with the resources and those doing the work on grass-roots level to connect with each other. It doesn’t seem right that people are eager to get involved with God’s work on a greater scale and others are looking for ways in which to increase their influence, and these two groups cannot be connected.
But after this conference and the hard work (and we worked really hard in smaller groups), my favourite topic kept coming into my mind: partnerships! In rare cases it may be acceptable for someone with a lot of money to write out a cheque. But that’s not the ideal. We need people to come and look and feel and smell and taste the reality and then sit down with us to think of ways to have an even greater impact on this country – to think of long-term solutions.
So: This is an open invitation to get involved in Swaziland. If you’re part of those people aching to do something outside your own community, send me a note. If you belong to a church longing to do more than merely keeping those inside the church happy, send me a note.

Saturday, September 13, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Building relations, Church, Comfort Zone, Giving, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Working together with Home-Based Caregivers

I’m sitting at our annual synod meeting in Manzini at the moment. I’m the general secretary of the Swaziland Reformed Church and for the past week I’ve been rushing around, getting things ready for this meeting, the reason why I haven’t been able to blog lately. In between I have also been involved with a team from OM (Operation Mobilisation) which had been doing their rural outreach training in Swaziland. Instead of using them for building projects, I use these teams mainly to work with our home-based caregivers. Every morning, after breakfast, they meet the caregivers and start walking with them from homestead to homestead, caring for the patients, often walking down to a stream or river to fetch water and doing whatever is necessary to practically demonstrate the love of Christ to these people.
On Tuesday evening, the day before the group returned to their training base in South Africa, I asked them to come together at our church building at Dwalenito share what they had experienced in the two weeks that they had been in Swaziland. This was a time that I wanted to use to hear from them what had happened, but it was also a time of debriefing for the group, as many of them had really experienced culture shock. One of the young people said: “I had been stretched over my limit while I was there, but it was a good thing. God opened my eyes for the real need of the people in Swaziland.
What really amazed me was to hear how virtually everyone of them said to me that the time had been a challenge to them, having to walk long distances in the day, not having the convenience of a shower, having to fetch their own water, but then hearing every single one thanking us for allowing them to be part of this work. This isn’t what I would consider as a normal reaction. Normally people would be thankful if they had been living in comfortable rooms with comfortable beds and all other things which they would find at home.
But I also realised why they reacted in this way. They had been exposed to some of the worst situations that many of them had seen, things like extreme hunger (at one house they had helped to clean the house and did not find a crumb of food in the house) and also a girl of twelve years who is suffering from a sexually transmitted disease because some family member (probable the father or uncle) had continually raped and abused her. (Through their intervention the matter has now been reported to the police.) But then they also saw how the caregivers gave themselves to help these people. They saw one caregiver who had no food in her own home, going back to her house to fetch a bar of soap, just to be able to share something with someone else. And it was seeing this attitude that made it worthwhile for them to be here. Yes, they were stretched, but they were changed for the good and I believe that not one of them will ever quite be the same again.
Under normal circumstances I have too much other work to be able to visit the clients regularly. But every once in a while I join up with one or two of the caregivers and visit a few homes with them. And every time I do this I am strengthened and enriched merely by observing what these people are doing. But obviously, when I visit a home with them, I cannot leave without praying. These people still believe that there is some special power in a minister’s prayer!
Bill Hybels mentioned that every person should expose him or herself to a place of pain in order to grow spiritually and to have God speak to their hearts. I cannot agree with him more.

Friday, September 5, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Bill Hybels, Building relations, Church, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture Shock, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit

Probably one of the most difficult things in mission is to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit from all other kinds of voices and sounds trying to influence your life. Yesterday I was preaching from Acts 21 where at two stages people claiming to speak in the Name of the Holy Spirit tell Paul not to go to Jerusalem (verses 4 & 11). Paul, however, disregards their advice and proceeds to Jerusalem where he is indeed captured, first by the Jews and then by the Romans. Granted, Paul did not say that the warning did not come from the Spirit. What he did say was that he was more than willing to suffer and even to die while proclaiming the Name of the Lord Jesus (verse 13).
A few days ago I was reading a post from one of the blogs I regularly follow. Josh and Lindsey Parks had received (what they considered to be) a calling from God to move to Ukraine and to become full-time missionaries there. But then they wrote a post in which they admitted that they had not heard God correctly. After only three months in Ukraine they now plan to return to the USA. And this of course brings up the question: When can we be sure that we have heard God correctly. (I’m not blaming Josh & Lindsay for their decision. It may even be that God wanted them in Ukraine for a shorter period of time for a reason which they still do not understand. But their situation just proves how difficult it is to always be 100% sure that we have heard God correctly.)
My dear friend, Tim Deller – who had spent eight months with us in Swaziland – and I often spoke about this issue, specifically regarding his coming to Swaziland. Although he had prayed about going to some area for a longer period of time, Swaziland wasn’t really on his spiritual map. And then this opportunity came along, he felt it was the Spirit leading him to Swaziland, I heard about him and felt at peace that it would be the right thing to do and shortly afterwards we were working together in Swaziland! I believe that this was truly from the Spirit. But what would have happened if we had both heard incorrectly?
I think when it comes to big issues such as going full-time into mission, it would not be inappropriate to ask God to confirm, even more than once, what you believe you hear He is telling you. And even more so when it is a husband and wife team going off to another country. Both of them need to be sure that they have heard God correctly. Invariably there will be challenges which the wife will have to face which may be much more difficult for her to handle than for the man. When we moved to Swaziland, we were both sure that God wanted us to be there. (Today we are more sure than ever before.) But this decision did not come without problems. To name only one: Our eldest son had tremendous health problems as a baby. Much later we found out that he had an allergy for gluten, but this we found out only after he had almost died and was hospitalised for ten days where we literally prayed him through every day. When he came home, we had to keep him off gluten to prevent him from getting sick again. How my wife coped, I still don’t know. In a modern city it would have been difficult enough. In Swaziland it was almost beyond imagination.
Why didn’t we leave? Probably because we had no other realistic option. But I think, somehow, we never doubted that God had indeed called us to Swaziland. God had convinced us that this is where He wanted us to be and up to today I’m still sure that we are where He wants us to be.
To be led by the Holy Spirit is one of the privileges of being a Christian. But then we need to make sure that we hear His voice correctly.

Monday, July 28, 2008 Posted by | Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Health, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments