Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

A Christian viewpoint on poverty

One of my dear cyber-friends yesterday wrote on Facebook: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:10 (NIV) Isn’t the last phrase interesting? “Pierced THEMSELVES.” This initiated a lively debate on the issue of money and poverty and the love of money and materialism and many other issues. After commenting back and forth (eventually the discussion took place between three people) I felt that the topic is important enough to blog about and perhaps get some more response.
One of the important remarks made was that it is not money as such that is a root of all evil, but rather the love of money. Which of course is true. And an equally important comment stated that the love of money is not restricted only to rich people, but that poor people often, in spite of their lack of money, also have an unhealthy love for money.
I myself have used these arguments often. But I cannot help wondering if I’m not using these arguments mainly to justify my relative wealth (and even using the term “relative wealth” is a way of justifying what I have while all around me people are literally dying of hunger.) And if you think you’re not rich, have a quick look at the Global Rich List and determine your position when your income is compared with the rest of the world’s population. You’re in for a shock.
The simple fact is that millions of people are living in extreme poverty through no choice of their own. Some were unfortunate enough to be born to parents who cannot care for them. Some were born in a country in war. Some were born in a country which has not had sufficient rain for many years. Obviously there are people who are extremely poor because they chose to squander their money on gambling or drugs or alcohol. But most of the people whom I know in Swaziland who live in extreme poverty (and approximately 60% of the population live on 45 US cents per day or less), had no choice in the matter. And the question which I have to answer, if I am seriously seeking the will of God, is what my responsibility is towards those who are less fortunate than I am. Is it all right with God if I continue with my life, making more money, collecting more material possessions, going on more expensive vacations, while all around me people are dying.
I was having a chat with a Black nurse yesterday about this very topic, and she made the remark that it sometimes seems that the poorer the people are, the more willing they are to share with others. Of course, this is not universally true, but I do have the same impression. I am busy collecting personal data of the 663 caregivers who are part of Shiselweni Home-Based Care, a ministry of our church consisting solely of volunteers, who are giving their time and energy to help people with HIV and AIDS. One of the questions I ask them, is how many orphans they are taking care of. With almost 15% of Swaziland’s population made up of orphans with very few official orphanages, it is usually the extended family that needs to take care of the orphans. However, if there is no extended family, then other community members will take over that task. One of our caregivers has four children of her own, ranging from 8 – 16, and then she is also taking care of 16 other children! Another one has five of her own children, ranging in age from 15 – 23. She is also caring for 15 other children. Sometimes it’s one or two, sometimes four or five orphans, but these people who are living in extreme poverty, without running water and usually without electricity, are doing things that the rich will most probably not even consider doing.
(We have now started with a project to assist these caregivers in Swaziland with food and medicine to enable them to do their work more efficiently. We call it: “Adopt-a-Caregiver”. If you are interested in helping these selfless people to have an even larger impact on Swaziland, you are welcome to contact me on wyngaard@lando.co.za )
We will have to start rethinking our attitude towards money and material possessions. I am convinced that God is not happy with the way in which the majority of rich Christians think about money.


Thursday, October 8, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Death, Disparity, Giving, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Tithing | 5 Comments

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.

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

How my eschatology influences my life

I am in White River at the moment, (or just outside, actually, not far from the Kruger National Park) at the Africa School of Mission (ASM). They are training mostly young people eager to get involved in mission in some part of the world and the present batch of students come from countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, England and Croatia. I’ve been asked to take the week’s lectures, speaking on eschatology and the book of Revelation.

I can still remember distinctly where and when I had one of the most mind-shattering moments in my life. I was in Ovamboland, in the desert of then South-West-Africa (now Namibia) in a tent, trying to survive the hottest days and the coldest nights I’ve ever experienced, doing compulsory army service in the South African war against Angola. I took some books with me for the four months that I was there that I hoped to read. I was busy with the thesis of one of my favourite South African theologians, Adrio König and was absolutely intrigued by the way in which he discussed eschatology. And then one sentence caught my imagination, something (and I have to quote from my memory) like: “The end times only have meaning as long as we are involved with mission.” That was the moment that I decided to start working on a PhD with the theme of mission and eschatology. (If you’re interested in the topic, you can try and get a copy of the book: The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology: Toward a Christ-Centered Approach )

Later, as I started working on my PhD, David Bosch (I had the privilege to work closely with him, although not under him) referred me to an article he had written in which he said the following: “I wonder whether the real difference between “ecumenicals” and “evangelicals” (and, may I add, between different brands of “evangelicals”), does not lie in the area of eschatology… Until we clarify our convictions on eschatology, we will continue to talk at cross purposes.” Once again I had one of those “a-ha” moments, knowing that my thoughts on this topic was changed forever. (If you have access to an academic library, you can search for this article: Bosch, D J. 1982. How my mind has changed: Mission and the alternative community. Journal of Theology for Southern Africa. 41 (December) pp 6–10)

As I’m getting older (and hopefully more mature in my theological thinking), I still realise the truth of these words. As we are busy with the discussions in the lecture hall at ASM, I can absolutely see how these two topics are linked to each other. I started my lectures by making the remark that many people refuse to read the book of Revelation, because it makes them afraid. Immediately a number of students in the classroom confirmed this. What I’m hoping for is to give them a more balanced viewpoint on eschatology so that, by the end of the week, they will be able to read Revelation, not with fear, but with excitement, in the same way as the first Christians to whom this book was addressed, probably read it.

Yesterday I did a short introduction on eschatology in general and then started with Revelation 1 this morning. When we read Rev 1:7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen”, I said that, for the early church, the return of Jesus was the ultimate hope they had. They were living in wicked times. Their friends and church leaders were being persecuted and often fed to the lions. They had little hope that a change in government would make things better. And therefore they kept their eyes focussed on the return of Jesus. Yet, these early Christians simultaneously kept their eyes focussed on the world in which they lived, becoming involved in social issues, feeding the poor and caring for the sick, better than the government could do.

And this, it seems to me, is the key of a Biblical eschatology – keeping the balance between a real expectation of the second coming of Christ and being involved in the world in which God has placed us to live. As I spend a week in the lives of these young wannabe-missionaries, I hope that they will be able to keep this balance, wherever they may end up in the years to come.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009 Posted by | Africa, David Bosch, Eschatology, Hope, Mission, Social issues, Theology | Leave a comment

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

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

Speaking out against injustice

Our second son is a student in computer engineering. He came to visit during the past weekend. He also serves on the church council (and a few other committees) at the church where he worships. He shared something with me which made me angry and at the same time immensely proud of him.
The congregation where he worships has a great number of students attending and is considered to be something of a model church. A short while ago an orphanage, consisting of a number of smaller buildings, had a fire and one of the buildings which houses about twelve children was destroyed, fortunately without loss of life, as it seems that the house was not being used at the time. However, all the mattresses were lost.
The orphanage then approached the church and asked if they could assist them in getting new mattresses (or sponges, as we know them.) Now, we’re speaking probably of around R2000 ($250) for new sponges – not even an issue for a church of their size. Yet, as my son told me, the discussion went on for a long time and eventually it was approved that the church would donate their old sponges to the orphanage. At this point my son stood up and asked them if they could really do this with a clear conscience. The fact is, the church’s sponges were not being used, not because it wasn’t needed, but because they were so old and totally ruined, that nobody WANTS to use them anymore. And this scrap was going to be donated to an orphanage while they have more than enough money to give them twelve new mattresses.
I still don’t think that the church will buy new sponges. But I was so proud of my son standing up and speaking out against a decision that is totally wrong and unchristian (this before people twice his age or even older.)
To speak out against any form of injustice is not easy. Most of us (and I myself have done it more often than I want to admit) prefer to keep quiet when we have the choice to stand up against a group of people choosing for injustice. And then sometimes someone will stand up and become the conscience of the group to indicate to them that their decision cannot be justified in the eyes of God. These people will seldom be popular amongst humans. But then, God never called us to be popular. He called us to be witnesses of His love and his care and to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak.


Monday, June 8, 2009 Posted by | Church, Leadership, Social issues, Theology | 6 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

Should we still speak about hell?

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

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


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

Does the church need mission and evangelism committees?

I’ve never read any books written by Bill Easum, but I recently read a review written by someone on Bill Easum’s way of thinking about the church. There’s about four pages of books written by him on Amazon.com so I wouldn’t know which one to start with. If someone has a clue, drop me a comment.
I’m pretty sure that Easum will have many people who won’t agree with him and I don’t think I will agree with him in everything he says. But as I read the review I felt some excitement. One of the questions he asks is why we attach so many labels to the church, such as “Missional” and “Emerging”, to name just two. He believes that these labels are unnecessary. We need to ask only one question: “What does it mean to be church in a Biblical sense?” It’s not about labels and styles. It’s all about what the church is doing in the world.
The church exists for those who have not yet heard the good news of God in Jesus Christ. The church is the visible sign of the invisible reign of God in this world. He then concludes that mission and evangelism is the identity of the church. Churches don’t need commissions for mission and evangelism, because this is what church is all about.
A friend and his wife came to visit us last night and we had a long discussion about the purpose of the church. And we all agreed that there is only one purpose for the church, regardless of how we formulate it. Ultimately we have to proclaim the kingdom of God in the world in whatever way is appropriate for the circumstances within which we find ourselves. In a book I read many years ago, the author made the remark that the church’s Finance Committee should also be the Mission Committee. His argument was that the Finance Committee is appointed to decide how to spend money and the most important place they can spend it, is on mission.
I realise that all of these remarks may be stretching things a bit. But what it does for me is to readjust my focus. Why do we exist as church? Do I actually believe the well-known words of archbishop William Temple: “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members“? If this becomes the focus of the church, then it may well be true that we need to get rid of all the labels. I’m open to be corrected, but I’m convinced that these labels mean little or nothing for the countries and continents where Christianity is growing the fastest today, such as in Africa, Korea and in China. If I start telling churches in Swaziland that they need to become missional, they will think I’m crazy, because for most church leaders this is exactly why the church exists.
What I do appreciate about the modern movements within the church is that they help us to focus on a broader audience than the traditional group of people which was reached in the past. They’re helping the church to understand that God’s kingdom encompasses His entire creation. Pollution, slavery, justice, etc all become part of the church’s agenda.
But possibly Bill Easum is correct. Perhaps the church does have only one question to answer: “What does it mean to be church in a Biblical sense?” And then I would like to add three more words: “…here and now?


Monday, April 6, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Ecology, Evangelism, Indigenous church, Mission, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | 8 Comments

Beating MCPs to beat HIV

I’m a computer fanatic, but there is no way that I can remember all the acronyms used in the computer world. The same applies for AIDS. It’s HIV, AIDS, VCT, PMTCT and MCP, to name just a few. This morning’s plenary session of the 4th South African AIDS Conference focussed, amongst others, on the problem of MCP. This is an acronym for Multiple Concurrent Partners. The debate in HIV and AIDS still revolves around methods to bring the number of infected people down. By the way, one of the top professors in micro-biology stated it clearly today that, in the fifteen years that he has been involved in research in finding a cure for AIDS, they haven’t really made much progress and he doesn’t think that any real progress will be made in the near future..
Coming back to MCP: The rationale behind this paper was that people in countries with a high prevalence rate of HIV infections, which include all the sub-Saharan countries, are not necessarily having more sex, but are having more sex with more than one sexual partner in the same time period, hence the term Multiple Concurrent Partners. (I don’t fully agree that this is the only important reason for the high HIV prevalence rate in Africa, because I’m not convinced that people in the USA, Europe and Australia, where the prevalence rate is low, are really living much differently). But the point is, and with this I do agree, if the number of sexual partners could be tuned down, the statistical possibility of someone who is HIV-negative to get the virus, is also lower. How much lower, is anybody’s guess.
One of the key note speakers at the discussion, Ms Lebogang Ramafoko, is a Black South African woman who also spoke about the role of culture. I myself have found that many people in Swaziland have an almost fatalistic attitude towards AIDS, saying that it is part of their culture to have a high number of sexual partners. Even many women seem to accept the fact that their husbands are unfaithful to them and shrug their shoulders when one tries to discuss the issue. “This is our culture,” they say. However, this viewpoint was challenged today by the speaker. She challenged a culture which fails to adapt to circumstances which causes the death of thousands of people every day. In South Africa, about 1000 people are dying daily directly as a result of HIV infection. She was loudly applauded when she demanded that we re-think our attitude towards culture, as if this was some kind of unchangeable monster.
A few other things which came out in some of the other papers today and which I found interesting: When speaking about AIDS in Africa, one of the topics which regularly come up is the problem of child-headed households. I wrote about this, about eighteen months ago, when I reviewed the documentary, Dear Francis. If you are interested in my viewpoint on child-headed households, I suggest that you read this. The point is that I have become convinced that people, working for NGOs, are often using the argument of child-headed households in an attempt to get money. Obviously, one’s heart has to be very hard if you don’t give money to assist children, especially if they are living on their own. But amongst the almost 1600 clients that we are serving in one of the poorest regions in Swaziland through our home-based caring project, we still have not found a child-headed household. Obviously the orphans are facing tough times, but all of them that we know of, are living with other people, mostly family members. Therefore, I’ve been questioning the truth of the alleged large number of child-headed households for a long time and definitely the claim that one out of ten households in the Mbabane area of Swaziland are run by a child is not the truth, as claimed in the documentary.
This was confirmed today when it was said that research has shown that, of the 4.1 million orphans in South Africa (out of a total population of around 44 million!), only approximately 60,000 are living in child-headed households. In no way do I want to suggest that this is acceptable. On the contrary, one child-headed household is one too many. But the point is that we need to be careful not to exaggerate statistics to draw an even bleaker picture, in order to obtain the sympathy (or funds) from others. The picture is dark enough. By being honest we will hopefully still get enough sympathy and assistance to be able to do something to help those in need and people will also accept our integrity.


Thursday, April 2, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Death, Giving, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Movie Review, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland | 1 Comment