X-C Missions

The World Has Changed

©kentoh | 123rf stock photos Saying the world has changed may seem an understatement, an obvious one. But Paul Borthwick is a world-renown teacher and consultant on world missions, and this statement is the recurring theme of his book. He isn't referring to technology, nor culture per se. It's a declaration about global missions. And he ought to know, he has much experience to back it up .

While reading through his most recent book, Western Christians in Global Mission, I was both challenged and refreshed by his writing, research, and dialogue to western Christians involved in global mission, such as myself. As a cross-cultural missionary, I had a vested interest in reading this book and I was not disappointed.

I've already recommended it to others, and wrote a review on Amazon. But I wanted to make a recommendation here on my blog. The subtitle alone challenges the reader with a question too often unconsidered— What's the Role of the North American Church (in Global Mission)?Western_Mission_cover

Having been a church planter in the US and trainer of church planters and leaders in SE Asia, this is a vital question to be answered. Mr Borthwick does this well in several ways.

He begins with broad views of the church in North America and the Majority World, and how they fit into the state of the world. He sees Nine Great changes in the world that are Great Challenges for the church worldwide (pages 33-60).

  • The Great Transition— the worldwide church is primarily non-white, non-Western, and non-wealthy
  • The Great Migration— there are vast movements of people from nation to nation
  • 2 Great Divides— an Economic Divide and a Theological Divide
  • 2 Great Walls— the first being a wall between the gospel "haves" and the gospel "have-nots," the second is the effect of environmental impacts on the poor.
  • The Great Commission— the church has not done a good job making disciples, either in North America or the Majority World (making converts is not the same as making disciples).
  • The Great Compassion— seeing beyond the need of salvation to see people in their need of many things for daily life (yet without causing a dependency).
  • The Great Salvation— a personal worldview that serves as a reminder and motivation for going out into the world with the gospel.
  • The Great Celebration— having vision for the celebration in heaven of every tribe, tongue, and nation worshipping Jesus.

The author goes on to give "An Appraisal of the North American Church." It is one I found to be both confirming and challenging. Then "An Appraisal of the Majority World Church." This was both refreshing and disconcerting, and it confirmed my thoughts that the great need in the Majority World (I call it MOTROW) is the need for sound equipping of leaders.

A good portion of the book is dedicated to seeing how to move forward to meet these changes and challenges. There are plenty of open-ended questions and penetrating insights given by Majority World leaders to foster discussion and consideration. The author adds stories of his own that give vivid insight into the learning curve presented in this book.

His extensive experience in many countries and continents with various leaders and people groups qualifies him to not only make statements, but pose important questions. He gets into specifics and provides practical queries and guidance.

I found myself agreeing over and over again with the points made and the challenges posed. Not only does Paul Borthwick make his case well and graciously, it lines up with my own observations from experience on the mission field for the past 20+ years, including 15 years as a resident in the Philippines.

I don't just recommend this book, I believe it is a must read for anyone in North America who wants to keep in step with God's plan for His Great Commission, especially western-culture missionaries.

A continuing theme throughout the book is, "The world has changed." So has the church worldwide, and the world mission movement.

America has a role, but it's not out in front taking charge, directing, and funding everything. It's in a partnership alongside Majority World missionary leaders.

I hope you'll take time to read and thoughtfully consider all that's presented in this book. The world has changed and it's waiting for us to catch up with it.

Fruit

The value of long-term missions, especially cross-cultural missions, is the fruit it can produce. Time and investment are key. Not just marking time, nor the investment of money. These things produce their own fruit, but they are not spiritual, nor do they always further God's kingdom. I'm talking about the time it takes to invest in people and God's mission, which will always extend God's kingdom. It's not rocket-science, as they say, it's obvious. It's what Jesus did when establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. He invested His time in people—twelve men in particular, three men more deeply (Mark 1:14-20; 3:13-19). This same model works today, but is not always followed. Why? Because it requires commitment, faithfulness, persistence, and other such qualities and disciplines not so popular in our current age.

It is the cure, if you will, for discipling the present distracted generation. It is time-tested on the world's mission field. So, it is just as relevant now as it was in the time of Jesus. Relevant for local (home) missions and world (international) missions.

The past few weeks have reminded me of this. I had the privilege of preaching in a local church of a couple I've mentored for many years. Pastor Randy was one of my students and then one of my teaching staff at the Bible school. By his own admission, he was not an easy student. Manju, his wife, was the classmate of my oldest daughter, Becky, and on my administrative staff for several years. She calls herself a Filipina trapped in an Indian body.

They are one of several couples who are the continuing fruit (John 15:5, 8, 16) of the Bible college, or as some called it, the Bridal College. So be it. I see no shame in finding your life partner in a school of ministry of any level, especilly when the couple continues on in ministry.

I see no problem encouraging couples in marriage who have a commitment to God and His kingdom. Often, their families don't see it that way, nor their friends, nor the prevailing culture. Randy and Manju are a good example. They are from two very different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. They are two very different personalities. And they fit together as true disciples of Jesus, bearing fruit that lasts.

This past year they resigned from their stable positions on the Training Center staff to pastor a small church full-time. The church is in a residential area adjacent to the (at times very noisy) airport. They have stepped out in faith and God has honored their faith. In that alone, they have been an example of faith for their church that encourages the people to follow the same Jesus they follow.

Time investment is not for those who look to whatever is expedient for the moment, or whatever is popular and trending. It requires vision from God and the grace of God to persevere in His calling. It is an investment in people and their lives. A building of relationships that requires commitment, faithfulness and lots of acceptance and mercy. The things we see in Jesus.

When others see this in us, whether as recognized leaders or simple followers of Jesus, they are more able to see Jesus in us. This is how God intends for His kingdom to be built, in any geographic location and within any culture.

Are you a follower of Jesus? How do people see your life as an example of His? How do they see you at work, at play, at home, or wherever you may be? Another way of saying it is, what is your influence on people?

We will produce some kind of fruit in our lives and in the lives we connect with, but what kind of fruit is it? Is it fruit that encourages others to walk in faith? Is it fruit that produces others who follow Jesus as we follow Him?

Extended Family

Extended family living under the same roof is common in many cultures. It hasn't been so common in America the past few decades, but that's changing because of present economic realities. At Rainbow  we have an extended family on one compound under a few roofs. On special occasions (Christmas, weddings, despididas [farewell parties], we see other members of Rainbow's extended family join us.

Susan and I feel at home when we travel to the Philippines to rejoin our extended Rainbow family. It's a community of young and old (we're the old ones now). Each person has a place within this community, this family. This is what God intends for His family, the church, the Body of Christ [1 Cor 12:12, 14, 18, 25-26]. Seeing God's extended family, the church worldwide, is a great blessing for cross-cultural missionaries. When we are here in Dumaguete City, we rejoin our church family at CCD. It's been our home church for two decades. This past Sunday I had the privilege of sharing a message at another local church, pastored by my good friend, Oscar, who's also a good artist, and a skilled teacher and trainer of leaders.

I've enjoyed the privilege of worshiping with many church families over the years, in many different geographic locations and cultures. Several times I've been the only white face present, yet I felt connected with God's extended family.

I appreciate my experiences in these church families. Not because I get to travel or serve cross-culturally, which I love to do, but it gives me a better perspective of God's church. It is a worldwide community, one large extended family.

Living in America, in our very fragmented and isolated culture, we're myopic. We have a very narrow, near-sighted view of life and the world. Our news media is so controlled by popular interest, it's hard to find out what's going on in the rest of the world. It doesn't matter what network. It's frustrating when you know there's much more going on in the world, but it seems closed off.

This is how church can be anywhere. In America, we've refined this myopic focus of attention on ourselves, and it's sad. It's also very selfish and self-centered, and something we need to guard our hearts against.

When we're in the Philippines we get a much wider view of world news, and a better sense of the church international. At a small missions conference this past week, I heard my pastor friend John share about the underground church and Bible school where he visited and taught. This stirs my heart, it always does.

A great need exists throughout much of the world for training and equipping leaders within the church. This need has burdened my heart for many years. It's not that they need me, if anything I need them. But they do need what I and many other western leaders have to offer— experience and expertise.

In America, we (the church) have been blessed, and abundantly so. A lot of talk has gone on about redistributing wealth. The church worldwide doesn't need the material wealth of American churches, that would ruin them. What they need is our wealth of spiritual resources— training, expertise, mentoring, and the like.

We need to see the church as an extended family that shares what God has blessed us with, not keeping it for ourselves. There are millions, no billions, of souls who are waiting for us to do so. The idea of sharing and being a community, an extended family, is what we see with the first church [Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37].

This was the Lord's design and direction for His church. Why has it changed? Was it God who changed it or us? If you're not sure, just ask Him.

2 Homes


This week I'm traveling with my wife to the Philippines, so my regular weekly post will be a little late. But a quick thought.

It's been said that missionaries are only at home while traveling between their home culture and their home on the field (where they are involved in ministry). This expresses the dilemma most missionaries go through after assimilating into another culture and developing a home abroad. When returning to their home culture, it often seems foreign.

Not only does life continue on without us when we go from one place to another, but the missionary changes as well. Their worldview changes. Their perspective on their home culture changes. And like it or not, the passing of time changes each person, that is, we get older. 

People often make a big deal about climate and food and customs. All of those require a certain adjustment to cope and function within a new environment. But the one thing that a missionary misses most are the relationships made in both homes. It's hard to say goodbye and leave behind family and friends. But you have to get used to it, because that's a pretty constant reality!

I'm writing this late before we head out early in the morning, so hopefully it's coherent. I'll be checking back in when I'm on the other side of the world from my home in the US. What are you up to?

Home?

It's always with a bit of sadness that I go from one home back to the other, especially when traveling solo. After 3 weeks in the Philippines, it's time to return to my family in Florda. I miss my wife, children and grandkids, but I will be leaving our extended family at Rainbow.


I return to my family but I also return to my job at a small manufacturing company. I'm thankful for my job. In the current economic climate everyone who has a job should be thankful. But it isn't the quite work I've done for most of my life, not what I'm known for within the Philippines.

Walking the path of faith requires trust—implicit trust in God—a confidence that the current circumstances of life are preparation for whatever is next in life.

It has been said that a cross-cultural missionary only feels "at home" while traveling in-between their home on the field and their home of origin. I'm not so sure that's true. Perhaps it's just a reminder that those of us who are believers, citizens of God's Kingdom, don't have a permanent home in this world—Hebrews 11:13-16.


Where's your permanent home? What anchors your heart? What is the strongest pull on your heart? If home is where the heart is—what fills your heart?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

These photo collages contain some of the treasure of my heart that I leave behind in our home on the field.


Challenge and Opportunity

This week I was blessed with the opportunity to teach in a cross cultural setting while here in the Philippines. Although most of the students were Filipino, I also had a few So Korean students. The Koreans want to learn English as a Second Language (ESL), as well as the Bible. A couple of my Filipino students are from the province (more rural areas), so their English skills are not as well developed as other students.

Once again I was reminded how communicating and teaching in a foreign (cross-cultural) setting is both a challenge and an opportunity. It's a challenge because words carry meanings and ideas, but these meanings and ideas don't travel well across different languages within their own cultures. This is the reality all cross-cultural missionaries face day in and day out. But it's also an opportunity to grow and develop, and hopefully be fruitful.

The question is, how well do we (missionaries) handle this challenge and opportunity? Those who learn the language of those they serve among are better equipped to meet this challenge—always. But what about those of us who travel to many different nations and aren't immersed in language learning and cultural adaptation before we do ministry? What about those who are on short-term mission teams?

I began writing this post while sitting on the porch of our home in Dumaguete City, in the Visayan region of the Philippines. My wife and I lived here with our family for 15 years while establishing two different ongoing ministries. Now we continue overseeing one of those ministries from the States and during extended visits [http://www.rainbowvm.org/]. We've enjoyed the partnership of many missionaries over the course of 22 years. Those who learned the local dialect, at least at some level, seemed to adapt best to the challenges and opportunities of cross-cultural ministry.

What about those who haven't learned the local language or have a limited grasp of it? Here are some guidelines that can help, which were developed over several years of experience on the field and working with short-term teams and my staff.

  • Speak slowly in simple and plain words
  • Explain common Christian words and terms
  • Explain words that are more conceptual, abstract, and theoretical
  • Use wording from more readable, easier to understand Bible translations
  • When working with an interpreter be gracious and considerate, following all the guidelines above.

These guidelines will help whether you're travelling to another country or just across town. Nowadays, in many urban areas great opportunities exist for cross-cultural interaction and ministry. These are perfect places to try out these guidelines, whether it's an ongoing ministry outreach or as preparation for a short-term mission.

Cross-cultural missions is most fruitful when good relationships are built and nurtured. Good communication along with clear and useful teaching are also essential for fruitful ministry within cross-cultural settings.

The guidelines above are a summary of a more complete version that is available in a PDF document. If you'd like a copy, send me a request at LivingWordStudy@gmail.com — allow me a few days to respond since my internet connection is a bit limited for now. 

A Startling Event

On my first solo journey to Thailand I experienced a genuine sense of isolation. I traveled to other countries before and lived in the Philippines for many years, so being in a new environment didn’t bring this isolation. My family and I resided in the Philippines where English is spoken often, but I didn’t understand the Thai language. I moved through the Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports smoothly because many signs were in English and most of the staff spoke broken English. But the airport was an international island within Thailand.

Arriving in the city where I resided for the week, I stayed in a local hotel and ate my meals at the restaurant downstairs. Virtually no one spoke English in this hotel. The desk clerks spoke some broken English, but it was hard to understand. I survived the week and carried on with the teaching ministry I came to do. But the isolation brought a strange depression and disorientation. Impromptu sign language doesn’t convey conceptual truth, and a simple gesture is easily misunderstood.

The Thai language has five distinct tones and each one varies the meaning of words. So, one word has a certain meaning with one tone, but the same word may convey a different meaning with another tone. I watched an American missionary friend, fluent in Thai, struggle while he interpreted for a visiting American pastor. I asked him why it was so hard and he told me, “he’s using theological words we don’t have in the Thai language!” Many words in English have no Thai equivalent, as is true in most languages.

When I traveled to Ethiopia and moved about the capital city of Addis Ababa, I felt little isolation as I had in my Thailand experience. But then we traveled a day and a half to a remote village in southern Ethiopia—once again I felt isolated. I was the only white face in the entire village, probably the region since it was so remote. The food was very different, but good. We stayed in fairly primitive rooms with no private toilet, air-conditioning, English television, Internet connection, or telephone available. We were hundreds of miles across desert lands from the airport I had flown into and from where I would depart. But I had Ayele who proved to be a great help. He was far more than my interpreter and guide—he became a good friend.

My friend Ayele is well educated and articulate in English. He is a bright and capable young man, and was a great partner in the ministry there. Ayele had grown up in the village where we traveled to, but they spoke a completely different dialect than the national language, Amharic. The teaching materials I sent over were translated into Amharic for Ayele, while I spoke in English. In the first teaching session it became apparent Ayele needed to translate things into the local dialect. It was difficult for him at first, since he had not spoken in it for many years.

Since the materials were not in the local dialect, I also needed to adjust. How could I have them refer to the workbook more suited to a western mindset, if I didn’t adjust? It would be a waste of time—theirs, Ayele’s, and mine. I used stories from the Bible to explain certain truths, and interpreted the workbook’s lessons into simple wording. Ayele interpreted my English into Amharic in his mind, then into the local dialect. God helped us through the process and the people were blessed. It was one of the most memorable and favorite teaching experiences I’ve had.

The book of Acts opens where the Gospel of Luke leaves off—Jesus gives His apostles important instructions and exhortations before He is taken up into Heaven. His final command is to wait in Jerusalem for “the Promise of the Father.” This Promise was the indwelling presence and power of God’s Spirit—the Holy Spirit. He would enable and empower the disciples as the Lord’s personal representatives on earth—His emissaries, if you will, of the Kingdom of God.[i]

Growing up in a traditional church with centuries old traditions and liturgies (forms of service), the church seemed like a great institution. A person could become part of this impressive organization, but there were certain guidelines for behaving within it. When I became of age (twelve years old), I endured many Saturday mornings of formal training to be confirmed as a member of the church. After the training, a formal church service publicly confirmed those who completed the training. The Vicar laid his hands upon each of us to receive the Holy Spirit.[ii]

Unfortunately, I went through the training and laying on of hands without understanding what took place. I was immature and ignorant of the meaning and value of the training. What takes place in Acts 2—the outpouring of the Holy Spirit—the giving of “the Promise of the Father,” was what I was to experience through the Vicar’s prayer. Years later, when I experienced this outpouring in a genuine way, I understood the value of that public ceremony. I finally realized the great privilege and blessing of God’s presence and power living inside me.

The birth of the church happens in Acts 2:1–4. The 120 believers, who experienced this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, began to function as the Lord’s living witnesses on earth from this day forward.[iii] This supernatural event takes place during one of Israel’s great feasts, the Feast of Pentecost. It was a celebration of the nation’s harvest time in early autumn, seven weeks after the Feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits—when the Lord Jesus was crucified and resurrected.[iv]

The event in this upper room with one hundred twenty believers caused quite a stir. Many visitors crowded into Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Pentecost, men from many nations who spoke various languages. The rushing sound of the mighty wind and the believers speaking in various “tongues” or languages caught their attention. But they didn’t understand what went on, as verses 11–12 tell us, “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

What took place had never occurred before. Picture the simultaneous confusion and amazement these “men from every nation under heaven” experienced. It startled and unsettled them. Many people have this same unsettling experience when they first encounter Christian believers or attend a church. The Christianese (Bible phrases and cliches Christians use) can baffle nonbelievers or the uninitiated new believer, sounding like a foreign dialect of English.

Spiritual truth must be understood in a spiritual frame of reference. This won't come from intellectual reasoning and analysis, it must be the work of God's Spirit, the Holy Spirit. As the story of Acts 2:1-40 unfolds, Peter addresses the men gathered from many nations and explains what took place (in Acts 2:1-4). Because Peter was filled with the presence and power of God's Spirit he could explain things in a simple clear way.

This is the responsibility every Christian believer has whether professionally trained or not. How is this possible? Knowing God personally and having His Spirit dwell in you. Knowing God's story and being familiar with the truth in His written word (the Bible). It doesn't need to be complicated, it just needs to be real. People long for what is genuine.

Is your faith genuine? Is your relationship with God visible to others? When you relate to others unfamiliar with God's kingdom do you relate spiritual truth to them in words they can understand and that don't sound foreign? These are honest questions all true believers need to ask and answer for themselves—if we are going to be a genuine reflection of God's love and kindness.

[Here's another excerpt of my book, "The Mystery of the Gospel"]


[i]Reference– Acts 1:4, 8– This Promise (the Holy Spirit) was spoken of in John and Luke’s gospels. The promise speaks of an abiding or continuing presence of God’s Spirit within a believer.
[ii]Initially I was raised in the Episcopal Church (of America) with a similar catechism as its sister denomination, the Anglican Church of England.
[iii]In Acts 1:15, it speaks of 120 believers gathered for regular prayer from the time of Jesus’ ascension (going up into heaven) until ten days later at the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). This is seen as the “birth of the church” because the Holy Spirit stayed in the believers, and 3,000 believers were added after Peter’s message and exhortation (Ac 2: 41).
[iv]In that specific year, those three feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits) fell together on consecutive days corresponding to the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection (see Leviticus 23 for a list of feasts).

The Core of the Gospel

MJ_sharing
MJ_sharing

Culture has an amazing impact upon people. It subtly shapes their worldview of everything in life, from birth through adulthood.

This impact is strong and resistant to change, but it will change given sufficient cause. The change can be either good or bad depending on one’s worldview, values, or beliefs.

For example, the enslavement of Africans, abducted and traded as if they were cattle, was culturally acceptable in European countries and America. Now, it is illegal and immoral. But that change did not come easily.

A major culture change

A British Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce challenged his prevailing culture in the late eighteenth century. He proposed legislative measures at great cost to his reputation, wealth, and health for more than forty years.

But change came in 1833 when slavery was made illegal in England. It had a ripple effect felt across the oceans of the world, which included the newly established United States of America, the former colonial territory of Great Britain. [1]

Religion and culture

In many countries around the world, religious conviction is tied to the intrinsic culture.

The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, with a strong contingent of Evangelical (Protestant) Christianity, a significant Muslim minority, and ancient folk traditions. Many Filipinos struggle with becoming born again, [2] because of the strong influence of Roman Catholicism—it’s rituals, traditions, and longevity.

Thailand is primarily Buddhist. Many Thais find it difficult to distinguish their national identity from their religion. Likewise in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the world’s largest population of Muslims reside. In many countries, it is illegal to proselytize someone of Islamic faith towards another faith.

The impact of culture

In the early 2000's, our Bible school in the Philippines sent out two young Filipinas as missionaries to Thailand.

MJ and Ruchell learned the Thai language quickly, and made friendships with ease. They lived out their Christianity with genuineness and simplicity, and were well received by their neighbors, including the landlord of the simple apartment they rented in Chiang Mai.

As they built relationships, they offered prayer for their new friends. Prayer was accepted with gratefulness. But when it came to accepting the Gospel and Jesus, who was unknown to them, there was resistance.

They were Thai. They were Buddhists. They were afraid of changing their religion and no longer being true Thais.

American culture and Christianity

America’s culture  is known for its respect for individual rights. As a result, Christianity in America is often self-focused and personalized.

Based on versions of the gospel, as given by popular preachers, many people regard Jesus as their best friend, someone personally interested in them, but not as their sovereign Lord. It is such a prevalent view it’s been categorized as a religious belief of its own—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. [3]

A popular worship song about the Lord’s death on the cross goes,

“You took the fall and thought of me, above all....” [4]

The Father’s purpose for Jesus going to the Cross was, indeed, to bring redemption for all people. But a self-focused bias is not reflected in the biblical version of the gospel, but is in a plethora of popular songs, teachings, and various Christian self-help books.

Culture bias

This cultural bias is exported around the world, reflecting an American, self-absorbed view of Jesus and the Gospel, which adulterates the gospel message. This has a crippling, often tragic effect.

The Gospel can be minimized and reduced into brief terms. When this happens, its importance and significance is overlooked. Biblical truth may be talked about and discussed without being passed on to those who need to hear it.

Ministries in America can focus more on getting people into the church than caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the people. Worship services can be more focused on presentation and performance than the Lord Himself, whom it is all intended to exalt.

A distorted focus

Are believers in churches being discipled unto the Lord Himself, or trained for doing certain tasks? The need to accomplish a list of spiritual activities can take the place of spending personal and intimate time with the Lord.

Things like spending time in prayer, devotions, reading the Scripture, serving in various ministries, and so on, are good things, but not an end in themselves.

The Lord desires His people to give themselves to Him.

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 NKJV)

I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

It's all about Him, not us

Christian activity can look past what is most important—the personal element. The Christian life is far more than the sum of all Christian activities to be done.

What the Lord considers most important is revealed in the story of Matthew 16:13–28. It’s not complicated or theoretical, but simple and essential.

It is the core of the Essential Gospel and the Christian life. It runs counter to the culture of the day—the culture then and now.

Whether the culture is primitive or sophisticated, the Gospel and the call to follow Jesus is not “...all about me,” nor any individual. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you see your own culture's influence in how you view Christianity?

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling the Mystery

Footnotes for this excerpt are below

[1] Reference for William Wilberforce— http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce

[2] Born again is a term Jesus used in John 3:3-8 when talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee. It has become synonymous with a personal faith conversion to orthodox Christianity, especially within evangelical circles.

[3] Here are a couple links to articles about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)—

http://goo.gl/RvllH | https://goo.gl/fxIwRm

[4] The lyrics are from the song, “Above All,” by Lenny LeBlanc

Altar or Throne?


Recently I was in So Thailand for some teaching ministry for a couple weeks. If you didn't know already, Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist nation, and Buddhism breeds and thrives on animistic belief. One look around at all the "spirit houses" and altars (shrines) erected throughout the nation makes this clear. It is difficult to preach the Gospel in Thailand and see genuine conversion.


Being in another culture different than your own helps you see things from a different perspective—one of the values of cross-cultural missions among other things. In a sense, I have two home cultures—American and Filipino. Although they are quite different from each other—one is western and the other eastern philosophically—there is a vast difference between both of them and Thai culture, which is Buddhist. Or is there?

Buddhism, which has thousands of gods, is intertwined in its history with Hinduism, an ancient religion with millions of gods (deities). How can there be so many gods? As with most ancient religions, there has been a proclivity for associating deity or god-likeness with creation, which is noted in the first chapter of Romans (Rom 1:25). It's termed animism—the worship of non-human things, as if they had souls or spirits. This is easy to see, as said already, with small altars of fruit, toys, incense and other things being offered in many places, to the many gods. Ancestor worship is also mixed into many ancient religions and animistic belief systems, especially in eastern Asia and in native-American cultures.

In the Philippines, it is common to see both Roman Catholic statues or images along with Chinese religious symbols, where ancestor worship is common. Riding in a cab my last Sunday in the Philippines, I noticed the driver (who is Roman Catholic) had a Chinese religious symbol hanging from his mirror, and a "Christian image" or two on his dashboard. As he drove me across town where I would be preaching at a church, we talked about Jesus. "He's my protector, I trust in Him," said my taxi driver. It made me realize how similar many Christians in America are with this approach of "covering all the bases." Of course, as Christians, we don't quite see it that way.

What got me thinking about all this was an article sent to me by my missionary friend in Thailand—"The Gospel in an Animistic Culture (3)," which is well worth the read. [http://goo.gl/2Cxtl] Using the typical western approach of sharing the Gospel in bits and pieces—"Jesus died for your sins" and "God so loved the world"—animistic cultures have a difficult time disassociating these bits and pieces from what they already believe in. People in such cultures can both accept and reject the Gospel readily. They pick and choose between what appeals to them and what doesn't seem to fit their belief system and worldview of life. Are American Christians much different?

It seems to be that American Christians pick and choose what does and does not appeal to them when it comes to the Gospel, in doctrine and practice. Perhaps it doesn't seem this way, but consider how many different Christian churches exist. Often times, the only distinction is the presentation or methodology of the church service. There's too much to get sidetracked on with this issue, but consider what draws you to a certain church or type of worship service. Over the past forty years, I've heard a lot of "what do you have to offer us" questions from prospective church attenders. Questions that are asking, "What do you have to offer that's better than the church down the street?"

Why is this? Is it because we as humans are so self-focused? Well, yes. But has the western church helped promote this with how we present the Gospel, Jesus, and whatever concept of church community is put forward? Before answering that last question, give the above article (link) a read. Then consider, what appeals to you about church, the Gospel (God's Story), and Jesus? What is it you like or dislike? What makes you comfortable or uneasy?

Oh yeah, the title—Altar or Throne—what's that all about? I guess you'll have to tune in next week since there was more to say about all this than I realized when starting to write this post.

Things I'll Miss...


Having lived and worked (ministry service) in the Philippines for fifteen years, it will always be home to Susan and I. We have a nice home in our home country (culture) and all of our children and grandchildren live nearby. We enjoy our church body and the area we live in. But there are many memories and relationships that are still an important part of our life here (Dumaguete City, Philippines).



Having been gone for a couple weeks and somewhere that is not home (Thailand), it felt good to return to Manila, then our home at Rainbow Village. I've traveled and ministered in Thailand several times over the past fifteen years or so, but it's not home. As the old expression goes, "home is where your heart is." The problem for long-term missionaries is having your heart feel at home in two places—your home culture, where you grow up and have family, and your adopted culture and home.


As you read this I may be flying between my two homes—the Philippines and the USA. I head out very early Monday morning from Manila, heading back through Japan, Detroit, Atlanta, and finally Jacksonville—it's a long flight! On the one hand, I'm looking forward to seeing my wife, children and grandchildren again (it's been 3 months since I've seen my grandkids!), but I found sadness creeping in as I said my goodbye's to the children, our girls and staff. But I wouldn't trade it for a normal (typical) life, not for a minute.

The following photos, and the ones above, are some of the things I'll miss while away from Rainbow and the Philippines.





Lots Going On...But Loving It


Last week's post was titled, "I 'heart' this." This is more or less an extension of last week's post. I just returned from So Thailand via Manila, where our little team taught through four IBS workshops, and I had the blessing of preaching in three church services last Sunday (15th). Yesterday (22nd) I spent flying from Thailand to Manila, including some time in the Kuala Lumpur Intl. Airport. Another flight today back home to Rainbow in Dumaguete where I'll be teaching a Bible College class this week. It's been a busy time, but good.

The workshops were an interesting mix of cultures. Our first one was primarily Thai, although our host and interpreter is Singaporean (see last week's post). Then we did two workshops in two different places, one in the early morning, and the other in the evening, which were for Burmese believers (and a few Nepalese who spoke Burmese). Our last one finished up on Saturday. It was held south of where we had been for over a week (Ban Nam Khem and Khao Lak). It was a mix of Thai, Burmese, and three Americans visiting the pastor of the church hosting the workshop. The Americans are teaching English in China and sat in for a couple days before heading back to their work.

It was a lot of fun work, and brought its own set of challenges and discoveries. I ended up writing a few pages of notes, in my ever-present notebook, on changes needed to be made, and ones made on the fly (in the process of teaching). I've learned far more about teaching when facing the challenges of teaching in a cross-cultural setting, than teaching in my own home culture. Working through an interpreter requires some serious thought processing, when the words or terms used don't translate well from one language and another (or two or three).



I was blessed to see the Americans getting into the workshop, even though it wasn't "new" for them—one of them is a seminary grad. All three work with university students and are involved in small groups studies. They echoed what I knew and have said before, there's a great need for such training among believers there (as elsewhere).

This week I get to teach the first-year students up at the college. I look forward to it! I've got lots to do going over last minute things with Rainbow Village, including our annual board meeting. Upon my return to the US, I'll be making needed changes to the international LWS/IBS workbook, and there's a few changes for the English one too. I'm also looking forward to getting my book published soon. How and in what form I'm not sure, but it's a primary goal heading into February.

What do you have planned for 2012? Anything special? I once heard we need a big enough vision that it will outlast our own life. I like that. Each year I like encouraging people, anyone who wants to grow spiritually, to read through the entire Bible through the year. There's plenty of reading plans (just "Google it"), so if you need some spiritual direction, that's a great place to start!

Cross-Cultural Encounter Across Town

I had an interesting and truly cross-cultural experience in NE Florida this week. In the morning, I began with preparation of some materials translated for teaching used in No Thailand and Myanmar. Some of the materials are in the Sgaw Karen dialect, while others are in Burmese.
Later, I had a lunch meeting at a popular seafood restaurant on the intracoastal waterway running near Ponte Vedra Beach, a well known (to golfers) and wealthy community near Jacksonville. Our server was a young Thai woman from Bangkok. On my way back from lunch, I stopped to copy the Burmese materials from a workbook on IBS (Inductive Bible Study). This was a bit of a challenge
since I neither read, nor write Burmese. Eventually I was able to sort out the right sequence of pages (characters and numbers are all in Burmese) before I stapled them together.
I had a meeting that afternoon across town from where I live. I live in a pleasant beach area of Jacksonville, FL, which is the destination for many visitors during the summer. I was traveling across town to an older part of the city. Once I got on the street where my meeting was, the house was easy to spot. It's painted in lavender and purple, with one wall in a checkerboard pattern. This is where the family lives who have migrated to NE Florida from Myanmar (Burma) via Thailand.
The father is Karen (a Burmese-Thai tribal people), but reads and speaks Burmese, so he needs materials in Burmese. The mother is also Karen-Burmese, but she can read and speak Burmese and Karen, plus some Thai. She is also fairly proficient in English, although still learning. Their teenaged daughter and son, who also joined in the Bible study, speak and read Thai because they were raised in Thailand. They are also fairly proficient in English, so they are a great help to me.
I'm still learning their story. I know it has some heartbreaks, as there are for all refugees. But there are also hopes. They were able to immigrate from Thailand as refugees because their oldest son, whom I've not met because he lives in another state, was able to work, save money, and sponsor their immigration. Their family is representative of many families in the US from all over the world. The world has come to America (including Canada) with many nations represented within urban centers across the country.
My experience this week illustrates the great opportunity there is right in our own nation for cross-cultural ministry! Cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York are probably better known for being melting pots for many different ethnic groups and nationalities, but there are literally millions of people from all over the world transplanted throughout America and Canada (also Europe and other western nations). Not all migrate into large urban areas, but many do as an entry point, especially those who come in as refugees.
There's a lot to say about all of this, but my point is simply this– God has been bringing the world to our own neighborhoods. The Lord's mandate, called the Great Commission, declares that Christian believers are called to Go! into all the world– preaching, teaching, making disciples, and extending the Lord's forgiveness. If you're not familiar with this, just go to the end of all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and the beginning of the book of Acts (1:8). The Lord Jesus makes it very clear that this is His mandate for us, His church.
Unfortunately, there has been a great decline in the sending out of long-term missionaries into the world by the church in America. There's a lot of reasons why, and a lot of debate about those reasons. Yet, here's the great thing about God–He finds a way to help us do what He calls us to do. In Christian circles we call this His grace, His loving kindness towards us. So, there's opportunity, most likely much closer to you than you imagine, to participate in the Great Commission and cross-cultural missions.
There are a lot churches and para-church ministries already doing this, perhaps your church if you go to one. It's not a complicated process, because it's about building genuine relationships with people, becoming part of their lives, and watching God build bridges and open up opportunities for extending God's forgiveness and acceptance to them (see Luke 24 and John 20). Many refugees simply need help with processing papers and learning English, or learning how to get around in the town or city where they live. Simple stuff anyone can help with if they're willing to do so.
Gettng involved with cross-cultural missions doesn't require getting on a plane, eating strange food, and trying to connect with people of another language and culture. Well, it doesn't require getting on a plane, but the other two things may still be issues, but these can be a great learning experience. If you're unsure about how to get started, there's a wonderful ministry in Phoenix called the Phoenix 10/40 Interface. It's founded and directed by a good friend of mine, Ptr Jeff Jackson whose vision is helping others reach out in this way. Here's the website to find out more about it– http://phx1040interface.org/
So, observe people around you wherever you go, and wherever you live. God may just open up your eyes to see some cross-cultural missions opportunities right near your own home! Then you also might be heading across town to do some cross-cultural missions in your own area.