Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

The Freedom Writers Diary

Some time ago I attended a church service which was led by my oldest son, presently in his final year of theological studies. During the service he showed a clip from the movie, The Freedom Writers, which he used as illustration to speak about God’s righteousness. Some time later I saw the whole movie and then decided to buy the book on which the movie was based. The entire book consists of diary entries written by the teacher, Erin Gruwell or by the children in her class, all of whom remain anonymous.
Starting as a young teacher in a class of “unteachable, at-risk” students, she intercepted a strong racist note passed around the class one day. This infuriated her and she told the learners that it was this attitude which had eventually led to the holocaust. Most of the children in the class also belonged to various gangs and there were frequent fighting amongst the gang members. Eventually it also came out that virtually not one of the learners had not lost at least one friend due to gang-related violence.
Through the reading of books such as Anne Frank’s and Zlata Filipovic’s diaries, she was able to make them understand that they had to learn to tolerate each other. But she also helped them to believe in themselves and this seemingly useless learners eventually became star children of whom many went on to college and later had a successful career. You can read more about them here.
While at Willow Creek on 7 & 8 September, Bill Hybels had an interview with Wendy Kopp, CEO of Teach for America. I first read about her in Jim Collins’ book: Good to Great and the Social Sectors and her story not only inspired me but also became a model for me when we train new volunteer caregivers for our Home-Based Caring program when I warn them that we are expecting a great input from them but that they will not be rewarded for their work through a salary. (Amazingly, we have found that instead of chasing people away, more and more people want to be part of this project through which they can serve their neighbours.)
Through excellent teaching methods, children who may never have been able to break out of their cycle of poverty and lack of education, are now getting a first-class education and are being enabled to make a success of their lives.
The Freedom Writers Diary is an extremely inspiring book to read. Perhaps, one day, the day will come when we will be rid of all prejudice and where every child will be able to get first-class schooling and where children growing up in bad circumstances will be able to start a new life.
I salute people like Erin Gruwell, Wendy Kopp and the thousands of teachers willing to walk the extra mile in order to enable students who would most probably have ended up in prison or rehabilitation centres to start a new life. In fact, this morning I started wondering if God would not want our church to do something about education in Swaziland as well. But I still need to pray and think about this.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008 Posted by | Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Home-based Caring, Hope, Jim Collins, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Stigma, Swaziland, Vision, What I'm reading | 3 Comments

Prayer and Mission

I’m almost through with Philip Yancey’s book: Prayer: Does it make any difference? As I read the stories of great missionaries, the one thing which stands out is, first of all, their personal dedication to prayer and secondly the prayer support given to them by other people. I have learnt to be very humble when it comes to prayer, mainly because I have found no foolproof recipe that works every time. In fact, I maintain that, if I should find such a foolproof recipe, I would probably be able to convert virtually the whole world, because which person would reject a foolproof offer to change whatever they want to change, merely by praying about it? Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately), prayer doesn’t work in this way. Yet I have often found that in strange ways, things that we pray about, often seem to work out in ways unforseen.
Through the years I have found that I cannot cope with the work in Swaziland without proper prayer support. As I go around, telling people about our work, mainly at present concentrated on those living with HIV and AIDS, the one thing I ask for, time and again, is prayer supporters. And as more people get involved in this task, so we find that the work becomes manageable and we also experience positive things happening.
Prayer support can be given in many ways. On the negative side, many missionaries experience people saying very easily: “You’re doing great work. I’ll pray for you,” without really realising what the work entails. My feeling at these times are that the people are actually saying: “I don’t want to get too deeply involved with your work and the quickest way to get rid of you is to tell you that I’ll pray for you.” The message I want to get across is that we have to be sincere when we say to someone that we will pray for them. Missionaries rely on people praying for them and their ministry. I’m trying to get myself in the habit, when someone asks for my prayers, to immediately pray for whatever they asked for, merely because I tend to forget afterwards. When a friend sends me an email asking for prayer support, I often write my prayer on a return email.
I have about 300 people receiving monthly updates from me via email in which I also highlight two or three matters for which there can be prayed. Many of those receiving the newsletter immediately pray for these matters. Many of them will only pray once, but in some way which I still cannot understand, they have contributed to the work being done in Swaziland.
And then I have a number of people who have made it their task to pray for our work on a daily base. These are the people that I contact whenever a crisis occurs. These are the people who start the day, praying for the various aspects of our work (and usually for other missionaries as well), the people contacting me on a regular base to find out whether there are any special prayer requests.
But then, obviously, our own church members are also motivated to pray for the work on a regular base, bringing special needs to God, bringing people with specific needs to God, praying for special projects.
How it works I cannot explain. But I know, without prayer support we would not have been where we are today. And although it is impossible to prove, I think that, with more prayer support, we may have been further than we are today.
By the way, should you want to receive our monthly newsletters via email, you can subscribe to the newsletter by clicking on the link at the end of this sentence and then choosing whether you want to receive it in Afrikaans or in English: SUBSCRIBE TO SWAZILAND NEWSLETTER

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 Posted by | Church, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Prayer, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Swaziland Newsletters, What I'm reading | 2 Comments

Vince Antonucci: I became a Christian and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

After reading many favourable reviews of this book, I bought a copy and I really enjoyed reading it. Actually, with a title such as this, I was afraid that this would be another book written by someone who had been hurt by the church (there are many of those) and who then write a book in which they reflect their hurt and scepticism about the church (while we know that it was never God’s intention that the church should exist to cause hurt and pain.) But this book is something else. Antonucci’s love for the church is strong and what he is trying to say is that the church can and should be so much than what many are experiencing. We’ve all seen it: People who stumble through life, trying to exist in some way during the week, arriving at church on a Sunday morning, thankful that they can “recharge their batteries” only to fall back into a life of merely existing during the week. These are the people who made a commitment to the Lord at some stage in their lives but because their belief in Christ had not been properly internalised and become part of every aspect of their lives, they feel cheated – hence the title of the book.
Vince has a great sense of humour which I enjoyed, although there were times that it felt a bit forced. But he shares a lot of anecdotes from his personal life and his journey with God which really illustrates in a practical (and funny) way what it means to live as a Christian day by day. He also refers to a number of his friends who had discovered what it means to live in close harmony with God on a daily basis.
Obviously, with a book like this, there are many things which I do not quite agree with. The one thing which did bother me was one chapter in which he tries to define the “connection” between God and His children. For myself, I’m personally not really that interested to hear whether a person came to repentance and accepted Jesus Christ. That, in a certain sense, is the Christians’s birth story. I’m more interested to hear whether that person is living in a relationship with Christ at the moment. Antonucci says he’s not really interested in speaking about a relationship. He wants to know whether the person “abides” in Jesus. This is fair enough (although I think that these are two sides of the same coin), but for the rest of the book he still very often uses the word relationship as describing the “connection” which should exist between God and His children. So I just thought that the argument was really unnecessary.
Most of the reviews appearing on Amazon are very positive. A few are critical. As for myself, I really enjoyed the book and would really recommend it for people who may feel cheated that the church did not deliver as they expected or pastors who want their church members to experience more than merely to exist with the title: “Christian”.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 Posted by | Church, What I'm reading | Leave a comment

What are Christians reading?

While on my trip to the city earlier this week, I popped into one of the larger Christian bookstores in South Africa to find something my wife wanted. I get extremely frustrated when entering a Christian bookstore nowadays. After we got married and especially after our children were born, whenever we had a chance to go to a large city in South Africa, my wife would go to stores to buy clothes for herself and / or our children (mostly our children) while I spent a few hours in a Christian bookstore, looking (and eventually buying) a number of books. We had an agreement that I wouldn’t interfere in the clothes issue and she wouldn’t interfere in my book issue. (I’m a certified bibliophile!) For the past few years I find it much more thrilling to go shopping for clothes with my wife than to look at the available books in Christian bookstores.
If I see which books are packed out onto tables and even onto the floor (indicating that these are the popular books) then I just shake my head in disbelief. It might be unfair to say this, but when I look at the quality of these books then the words in Hebrews 5:12-13 come to mind where the author of this letter tells the readers that they still need to drink milk as they are unable to digest solid food. Most of these books seem to focus on some kind of aspect to help the reader to improve his or her self-image, usually by way of 3, 5, 7 or 9 easy steps! (Odd numbers seem to be more popular than even numbers.) Another hot topic has to do with heaven. Even John, the author of Revelations did not know as much about heaven as today’s popular authors know about it! And then Bibles – I’ve never seen so many different Bibles: Bibles for men, for women, for teens, for boys, for girls (big and small), for business men, for travellers. There’s hardly a category in which a Bible has not yet been written, hardcover, softcover or leather bound. But looking through the books (I had to pass the time as I was waiting for something to be repaired) I failed to find a single book which I would consider to be something which would help me as Christian to change the world, or at least, change the community where God has placed me. There is nothing about mission. Nothing about HIV/AIDS. A friend asked me to look for a book about Muslims. Nothing! Not even after I told the guy behind the counter (much to his surprise) to do a search on Islam as well as Muslims. Still nothing.
Yesterday I mentioned the lack of commitment from individuals as well as churches to get involved with missions. Perhaps my experience in the bookstore is related to this and possibly this is just a symptom of a much greater problem in society as well as in the church, which is that we want everything to be as easy as possible. Why would I want to chew on a piece of meat if I can drink milk or be spoon-fed? Why would I want to read more about getting my hands dirty in an attempt to make this world a better place if I can read dozens of books trying to tell me how wonderful I am?
I’m not sure whether things will ever change. Books are written to generate money. If they cannot generate lots of money, nobody will publish them. Good books are available. But not in popular bookstores. And mostly at a higher cost. However, it will always be worthwhile making an effort to read books that will really influence your life on the long run.

Thursday, January 17, 2008 Posted by | HIV & AIDS, Mission, Social issues, Theology, What I'm reading | 3 Comments