September 2016

Preschool Teacher needed in Cambodia

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The Hope International School in Cambodia is looking for a suitably qualified, passionate and creative Preschool teacher to come and join the team. The role would be working with the 3 and 4 year old programme as part of the elementary/primary team.

Hope International School is a vibrant, nurturing school community with a vision to see students impact the world for Christ. Hope School exists to support missionary and Christian expatriate families from over 20 countries, working with the people of Cambodia and surrounding regions.

You have the opportunity to come and serve these amazing families by using your skills and experience as an Preschool teacher. All of our teachers are provided with a living allowance to cover the costs of housing, utilities and day to day expenses.

Contact them now to find out more about this exciting opportunity!

 

The Zoo Visit

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An update from a partner in Asia written earlier in the year.

About the same time we moved back to the slum, ‘Doug’ and his daughter moved to a room behind our house. His wife had died of breast cancer a few days prior. We knew the family as they used to live near our team-mate and we had helped them access treatment for his leprosy. We squatted with him outside his new house, and he told us about the harrowing past few weeks.

“We have public health insurance,” he said. That’s an achievement in itself, given the bureaucracy involved. “But the hospital had run out of blood. They told me to go and buy eight bags from the blood shop.” A bus ride later, he found blood, but baulked at the price: $50 per half-litre bag! Where was he going to find that sort of money? He normally makes a living by peddling small toys for children, going for perhaps 10c-a-piece. Somehow he scraped together enough to buy two bags, and he hoped they wouldn’t spoil on the hot bus-ride back to the hospital. “But the blood just poured straight through her. It was no use.”

Two days later his eleven-year-old daughter said she had seen her mother outside, beckoning to come to her. “I told her it’s not possible. Mamma is no longer here”. At this point he wiped his eyes, a rare sign of emotion in our neighbours here, who see more than their fair share of death. Left with nothing, the two of them moved to this bare one-room unit to save money.

Not too long after this we organised a zoo trip, taking advantage of the unusually empty roads caused by an annual national celebration. We invited Doug and his daughter along. “I haven’t been to the zoo in twenty-four years” he said. As it happened, 170 000 others had the same idea, making it the zoo’s busiest day of the holiday period. It was even forced to close its doors temporarily in the middle of the day as the park was full. Apparently a good number of children were separated from their parents during the day. Needless to say, it was an exhausting trip!

One of the challenges of being out in public like this is managing the attention our girls get. Most people here have only ever seen blonde hair on their imitation Barbie toys or in advertisements as a symbol of health and prosperity. In one encounter near the end of the day, a balloon seller elbowed her way to us, keen to practice her English. We didn’t want to buy a balloon, but she insisted on giving one to our daughters anyway, “because I like!” she said in English. Of course the younger of the two then kicked up a fuss because her balloon wasn’t pink. Meanwhile Doug’s young daughter, who didn’t get anything, stormed off in tears. Who can blame her? So much in her life seems unfair right now.

We persuaded our oldest to share her balloon, to everyone’s relief. Later that night we explained that our young friend’s mother had died last week, and that it was important that she was kind to her and do things like share the balloon.

“But the lady gave the balloon to me!” our daughter said. “And why did she give it to you and not the other child?” we asked. “Because we have white skin and they have black,” our daughter replied. “Is that okay? What does Jesus think about that?”

Her young mind began to connect the dots. Conversations like this makes raising kids in a slum almost seem worthwhile. We don’t need to use abstract words like “human rights”, “racism”, “global injustice” – such concepts are played out in simple everyday life.

“Maybe we can give her money,” suggested one of our girls. After more processing about how that might not always be helpful, they decided they would be friends with the young girl, “because Jesus loves her too, especially because she is sad and lonely.” There is more we can do to help her and her father during this time – teaching her to cook, for example, since without the mother in the home they only eat what junk food they can afford.

Since When is a Flower a Whole Garden? (Issue 28)

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Let’s imagine I rang up my local builder, telling him about a team of youth coming to NZ from Asia to build houses. He’d have a few questions: Why are they coming? They’re moved by the Auckland housing crisis. Are they qualified tradespeople? Nope. Do they have any building skills? Not that I know of. How long are they coming for? Just two weeks to knock up a few houses and then leave… Oh, and they’ve asked if we can provide a 12-seater van, accommodation and food. Plus a trip up the Sky Tower.

Why’s that sound bizarre? Because there’s no such thing as a ‘short-term builder,’ or a ‘short-term dentist,’ or a ‘short-term counsellor.’ We know those are skills that take years to develop, skills you don’t magically acquire by jumping on a plane for a 2 week trip. Yet, we often act as if the only requirement for someone on a short-term team is that they like the idea of going on a trip! And what’s worse: these trips seem to be shaping the way many of us understand this thing we call mission.

‘Short-term mission trips’ have become more and more centre stage of churches’ involvement in ‘mission.’ That’s not bad in and of itself, but what if these short-term trips are forming our understanding of what mission is? If mission can be ‘short’ and a ‘trip,’ and these words are how we often talk about mission, it shouldn’t surprise us when it becomes the way we start thinking about the totality of mission.

In fact, experts in a variety of areas show how the language we use shapes our culture – it shapes how we understand the world and how we live. That means common phrases like ‘short-term mission trip’ – rather than God’s word – end up shaping our understanding of anything to do with mission! Mission becomes something with a start date… and an end date. It’s something you can finish. It’s something you do for a while during a special season of your life, and then set aside when you return to ‘normal life.’

I’m not saying short-term trips are invalid. It’s just they need to be understood as a very small part of a MUCH bigger picture. It’s like showing a microscopic image of a flower and saying it’s a garden. Not untrue, but not the whole story. It’s not that mission-trips aren’t mission, but what’s the big picture? What’s the ‘garden of mission’ of which these trips are a part?

THE BIGGER QUESTIONS

Perhaps we need to ask other hard questions about the ways we use the word ‘mission.’ How often do our sermons or Bible studies focus on the theme of mission? Should mission be an ‘optional track’ at most Bible colleges? Why are churches needing to have ‘mission-Sundays’? And dare I ask: why do we have to commit to a ‘Decade of Mission’? Does the need for such things show us something about how we view mission: that it’s an optional extra, not something central for the life of each and every follower of Jesus?

Alan Hirsch comments that to say ‘missional church’ is like saying ‘female woman.’ The phrase ‘missional church’ shouldn’t exist, because we should all know that central to following Jesus is following him in his mission! But here we are, needing to awkwardly remind ourselves that to be Christian – to be the church – is to be missional. This all means that ‘short-term mission’ has to happen within a much larger conversation about mission.

SHORT-TERM MISSION TRIPS: A PATHWAY?

Alongside this question of the ‘big-picture,’ we need to consider the pathways we’re creating. If short-term trips are a key pathway to get people engaged in God’s overarching mission, we need to ask: a pathway to what? One of the ongoing struggles for ‘short-termers’ is knowing what engagement in NZ looks like for them post-trip. Can we be bold enough to dream of it being more than a 5-minute power-point slideshow on a Sunday morning? What about a local mission project? What about a longer discipleship programme that includes (but doesn’t only consist of!) an overseas Encounter?

Let’s be a people committed to the Bigness of God’s mission and pursue all things mission with equal passion: short and long term, global and local, ministry and workplace, discipleship and evangelism and social action. Let’s make sure the way we talk about short-term mission is communicating a holistic understanding and practice of mission.

 

For discussion Take time to carefully consider the question: what is God’s big-picture mission revealed throughout the Bible?

Have we been distracted by our ‘flowers’ and forgotten the ‘garden’?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Returning to Tanzania

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By David Close.

In June this year a celebration was held in Tanzania to commemorate the inauguration of the Diocese of Western Tanganyika 50 years ago. David Close taught at a school in the region from 1965 – 1971 and had the privilege of attending this Jubilee celebration. Below is his account of this recent visit to Tanzania.

Saturday, 9 July 2016. I was the only former CMS person attending the Jubilee, but I was not the only New Zealander. Robert Kereopa (Exec Officer, Anglican Board of Missions) and his wife Rachel were here too, and the trio of us were always introduced together.  Robert and Rachel have been here before and fit into the culture very well. I gave official greetings from Bishop Victoria, explaining that she had a prior commitment in England.

My colleague in the teaching of English is a man called Lamech Bandiye, whom I taught in 1967-70.  He is now retired, but taught English for many years, mainly in secondary schools.  He has been teaching at the Bible College since February, but was unaware of the course that I had produced during my time here in 2012.   Enlightening him about the course was not difficult as I had brought it on a memory stick.  Printing copies was no problem because a helpful young man programmed my laptop to use the photocopier, which still works perfectly.  I am really pleased that I put the work into producing the course because the preparation does not have to be repeated and the materials are far more suited to our task – teaching an intensive course to men – than any of the primary or secondary school textbooks I have seen.  And the course is quite fun to teach, because I find I wrote a lot of humour, and a lot of relevant local content, into the grammatical exercises.  More important, the students are enjoying it.  Thursday was a public holiday.  When I asked on Wednesday if they were willing to come to class on Saba Saba (seventh day of the seventh month), they chorused, “We are willing.”

Lamech has been with me most of the week.  I have to use Swahili a lot for explanations and instructions, and it is very helpful to have him at hand when, literally, words fail me.  He is becoming familiar with the teaching style of the course, and I hope that he will be comfortable using it.  The real plus is that he sees the reading of lots of simple English books as essential to developing fluency.

Momentous changes are taking place in this country.  The economy has been growing at about 7% a year, the most obvious evidence being the huge increase in trucks and other vehicles on the road, the building boom, and the proliferation of small motorbikes.    However, the improvements in roads, schools and health services have been very slow coming.   People suspected that one of the reasons was extensive corruption among government officials and in the business community, but despite much anti-corruption talk, there was little effective action.

That has now changed.  A new president, elected last October, is cracking down on tax evasion. Two weeks ago four companies were charged with evading 29 billion shillings (2 million NZD) in VAT (GST); last week two small businessmen were fined 1.5m shillings (about $1000 NZD) for failing to issue VAT receipts.  A Cabinet Minister was dismissed for not declaring a conflict of interest, and, when the performance of 140 government officers in the regions was carried out, only 39 were reappointed.  The tough action is having an effect on behaviour; revenue from taxation has consistently run behind target but yesterday it was announced that tax revenue was running 7% ahead of budget. The president is very popular because of the tough measures he is taking against tax evasion and corruption.  However, he is also taking a tough line against political parties, including his own, criticising their negativity and restricting their activities.  For this he, in turn, is attracting criticism in the newspapers, especially the Swahili newspapers, which are very forthright.  He has shown no sign of restricting the press, which is remarkably free.

July 19.  A lot has happened since I wrote the above. Last Friday I went to Matiazo, high in the hills close to the Burundi border, and the site of a small local hospital, and an ‘orphanage.’  ‘Orphanage’ gives a wrong impression because it is more like a neo-natal unit.  It takes babies whose mothers have died in childbirth and who would be unlikely to survive without special care. Often the babies are premature, or severely ill from whatever has caused the mother’s death, or malnourished because of inadequate care between the time of birth and their arrival at Matiazo.  Effective treatments have been developed that are not dependent on expensive equipment such as incubators.  At the time of my visit there were 64 babies being cared for – and an abundance of baby washing drying in the sun.  Most of the babies stay for 18 months, at which time their fathers or other relatives are expected to resume care of them.  A few (some who were found abandoned at birth or were born to mothers with severe mental illness) stay on while adoptive parents are sought.

The amazing thing about Matiazo is the staffing.  A German woman is the only fully qualified doctor on site and an African woman is matron of the orphanage. There are trained nurses, of course, but most of the care of the babies is carried out by girls from local villages, each of whom has special oversight of about four babies.  The girls have only primary school education, but are trained on the job, spending part of the day in the classroom and the rest of the time caring for the children – and doing the washing!  They pay a nominal sum for board and have only one day a week free; their reward is that after two years they gain a certificate, which, while not a nursing qualification, is often sufficient for them to secure work at a local dispensary or health clinic, or to gain admission to a nursing course.

These cost-effective measures notwithstanding, Matiazo struggles financially, most of the support coming from the Neukirchen Mission in Germany. Matiazo is part of the Anglican Diocese of Western Tanganyika.  The church is not in a position to provide a lot of financial support but each of the 130 parishes is being asked to organise a special collection on a coming Sunday.  On my visit I was able to hand over $1.8m Tanzanian shillings (about $1200 NZD).  It will probably be used to pay for infant formula, which is a major expense.  It was very gratefully received.  Many thanks to those who contributed (church friends, LP friends, family).

Immediately after going to Matiazo, I went to Nguruka.  The place was well known to me because the train always stopped there in the middle of the night, but I had never seen it till last weekend.  In appearance it is not different from many similar African towns or villages. What makes it special is its history.  The visit was special too, because Bishop Sadock had decided to ordain three priests, not in the cathedral at Kasulu but at little, remote, out-of-the-way Nguruka.  We were welcomed in the open air in a very public space outside the church and the pastor’s house.  People, especially children, swarmed around us as we arrived, after which we sat under a large mango tree while three choirs sang specially composed songs of welcome, followed by more general Christian songs. (I should explain that, here, choirs always dance as they sing, sometimes gently, but on this occasion with great exuberance.)  There were perhaps 300-400 church people sitting or standing, and on the fringes a lot of townspeople, including Muslims, attracted by the music.  I found the occasion incredibly moving, because I knew that, on the very spot, only a few years ago, on a Sunday morning, a group of Muslims had attacked the church, pelting the building with rocks.  The Christians did not retaliate, showed no ill will to their Muslim neighbours and made a conscious effort to reach out in friendship.  Love worked.  Harmony was restored.  A good many Muslims have come to faith. The church is far stronger than it was.

On Sunday morning the ordination service was held in the ‘new church’.  It had no roof and a dirt floor, but, as I said to people in Kasulu the next day, the atmosphere made the venue more beautiful than the temple of Solomon.  I gave greetings from you people in New Zealand, and promised to tell you about ‘their way of sharing love all round’, an inspiration to us all.

On our way back, a petrol tanker which broke down in a steep, narrow part of the road held us up for three hours. It was a small price to pay for a memorable weekend.

May God bless you all.

David.

An Island Ordination

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Jonathan will be ordained to the priesthood on October 16 at Bio Village, Malaita. This is a very special ordination because Jon’s father, Douglas, designed and built the church and will be coming from the US to celebrate with us.

This is the first ordination for the village and they have used this opportunity for community development. They are completing a beautiful rest house for incoming guests, making permanent lavatories and planting trees and flowers. For the past five months, the villagers have been planting root crops and raising pigs and chickens for the feast that will follow the ordination. Different groups of men, women, and children are rehearsing dances and songs to entertain the guests.  We pray that this day will be a joyous celebration of God’s faithfulness in the past and his continuing work into the future.

Tess has begun a Tuesday night Women’s Bible Study with women in the village. They gather in the dining room around the table and on the floor. Tess is leading them through the Gospel of Matthew, reading from the Pidgin Bible. Many of the women are illiterate, and those who can read don’t always have access to a Bible.  They sing together in English, Pidgin, and Kwara’ae, the local language. After the study, they break up into small groups to pray for various needs in the village.

Many women are too shy to pray aloud. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will enable them to have boldness to come before the Lord with their burdens and praises.

Fire, Forgiveness and Family 

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Then Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me. Seven?”Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.”

We sat around a beautiful pile of pikelets, sliced mango and bananas with our friends and their two wee kids. A relaxing Sunday afternoon after a stressful week. Our neighbour Lucy was in hospital, very ill, and needed a lot of practical support. Finally, she was recovering. I took another pikelet, glanced out the window, then did a double take. Smoke. Billowing out of Lucy’s door. We sprinted over and found her bed ablaze with thick choking black fumes from the mattress filling the room. With the help our friends, a neighbour, our small fire extinguisher and many jerrycans of water we managed to put it out. Lucy’s return from hospital was not as joyful as we hoped.

The fire did not remain a mystery for long. The culprit was a small boy called Aken, only 11 years old. He’d managed to steal Lucy’s key. His mother had a long-standing family feud with Lucy, now apparently fuelled by jealousy at Lucy’s fortune in finding a new home moving in with us. With Lucy still in hospital, we were the ones to take our wee arsonist into the police. The police shrugged it off saying he was young, and sent him home with zero follow up. His mother sent him to stay with relatives in the village, but he was chased away after stealing and selling their chickens.

Two weeks later we woke to find our hut roof on fire. I will never forget the fierce red glow and crackle of the grass thatch as I rushed outside. Neighbours came sprinting to our rescue from all directions with jerry-cans and basins, throwing water on the fire and dragging our furniture and things outside. Unbelievably, Lacor hospital fire truck showed up and doused our hut in water inside and out, extinguishing every last ember. It was over. But my mind was ticking over. Physically we’d escaped extraordinarily well: no-one harmed, property soggy but not burnt, roof damaged, but still liveable. But I knew we weren’t going to get much sleep that night. Or the next night. Aken, of course, had fled and was no where to be found.

The next month gave us the tiniest taste of the worried nights everyone here in Northern Uganda suffered for two decades of civil war. Except we feared a poor, downtrodden child with a box of matches, not grenade wielding rebels and government soldiers with AK47s. The emotional aftermath wasn’t all negative. I had a heightened awareness that community was our security, and a grateful warmth to our immediate neighbours who came running. I felt pleasantly detached from material ‘stuff’, and tried to pass on anything useful we weren’t utilising to local friends. But the question of what to do about Aken still loomed.

After several weeks, Aken was finally found, charged with arson and taken to the children’s remand home till the court hearing. I visited Aken again before we headed off to collect family at the airport. The remand home is depressing, but not horrible. There’s no razor wire or harsh discipline, just kids sitting around looking bored and dejected. Determined to understand him a bit better, I’d brought some string for him to make a timeline of his life, pebbles to represent the bad things that had happened, and flowers to represent good times he remembered. The guard squinted and said it looked like witchcraft. “Just talking, no flowers” he warned me. I handed Aken a bag of snacks and wondered nervously where to begin. So far I know that his dad died when he was small. He likes school, but has only finished 2 years of primary. His older brothers steal things. His mum had a mental break down two years ago and attempted suicide. He is convinced she doesn’t want him. We decided to drop the charges and find a way to get him to school.

While I’ve yet to get a smile out of Aken on my visits to the remand home, he certainly associates me with food. He is coming home in a week. He can join our after-school reading classes for neighbourhood kids. Then, he will go to boarding school, his first year paid for by our own family back home. If you are the praying type, our big request is that you pray with us that his life is turned around, and that the brokenness can be healed.

So, all in all it hasn’t been an easy return to Uganda. We’ve also had a bad run of illness: between us 8 skin infections, 3 bouts of malaria (all Nick) and numerous tummy bugs. And yet when I look back on the last 5 months there is so much to be thankful to God for. We have some great new relationships with young neighbours. Lucy recovered when we thought she might not make it. We’ve grown enough basil to make a jar of peanut-pesto every week. My community organising group has launched 3 new water-access campaigns and strong leaders are emerging. Next week we are running a preaching-training at our church. Nick’s health centres are flourishing better than he ever could have imagined last year. And right now, we’re sleeping well at night again.

All this might seem extreme, but is part of the deal here; stuff happens. We’re not singled out, or different from other people. This chain of events is perhaps an induction to the everyday struggles of many of our friends. Pray for complete forgiveness from all ends, pray for Aken and his future, pray for redemption.

From the Editor (Issue 28)

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Short-term mission. Though less than 60 years old, it’s become incredibly popular… and notoriously controversial. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on these trips each year, but is that justified? Do they produce any fruit? Do they cause more problems than they solve? Are they actually just a Christianised form of ‘voluntourism,’ a way to have a feel-good experience (often at someone else’s expense)?

In this issue of Intermission we’ll look at some of the inherent problems with the way short-term trips are often done. We’ll then offer some ideas about how you can avoid the pitfalls, creating short-term experiences that have lasting value and which are mutually beneficial for those going and those receiving. It’s essentially a reflective commentary on two biblical themes – our call to go (e.g. Matthew 28:19) and our call to embody the ‘for-others attitude’ of Jesus (e.g. Philippians 2:1-11).

We’ve framed this edition to not only be useful for general discussion groups, but also as a resource for NZCMS ‘Encounter Teams.’ Even so, the principles also apply for mission in our own backyards. So, regardless of whether you’re ‘going’ or ‘staying,’ we hope this will spark good conversation and inspire you to action.

Issue 28 of Intermission looks at the ‘Paradox of Short-Term Missions.’ Occasionally we’ll highlight an article by including it in our weekly Interchange newsletter.

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

A year in Pittsburgh

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Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. …You have turned my mourning into dancing. You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, So that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord God my God, I will give you thanks forever (Psalm 30)

The beautiful words above, written by King David hundreds of years ago, describe well my past year. I didn’t know at the time but when I arrived here I was carrying a lot of “stuff.“ Over the last year, I have been confronted with a lot of my own brokenness but I know that God is healing me, and changing me in this process. An image I’ve frequently thought of is Aslan the Lion in ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ clawing into Eustace’s flesh, removing layers of skin, but in that painful process creating a new person. I am thankful for this time away, for a counsellor, a slower pace of life, which has enabled healing and I know is preparing me for future ministry.

Trinity School for Ministry I’ve finished my first year at Trinity seminary, located in a small town near Pittsburgh, western Pennsylvania. I’m studying towards a Masters in Theology and Church History. I have one more year of classes to finish and then I plan to write a thesis.

Some glimpses of life here:

Ambridge is a former steel town devastated by the decline of the steel industry. Trinity was planted by an Australian missionary in the 1970s and it was placed in this town intentionally so as to be involved in a hurt-ing community. I joined a “cleaning and beautifying” community group and it’s been a joy to bring more beauty to this town. There’s a Coptic Orthodox Church one block from Trinity and I’ve enjoyed making friends there, and buying Egyptian food supplies. I’ve loved group study sessions with a diverse group of friends. My friend recently bought a kettle just so she could make me cups of tea! I attempted enculturation by joining the seminary flag football team. We won the “Lutherbowl” against other seminaries. I helped organize “Missions Day” where Archbishop Mouneer was speaking. As he spoke about ministry in Egypt, I was reminded what a privilege it was to serve in this Diocese. Learning the difference in pronunciation between “beer” and “bear,” and realising that the kiwi phrase “sweet as” can be easily misunderstood… Finding life-giving community at Southside Anglican Church, whose focus is “messengers of God’s radical grace to the wounded and sceptic.”

The Summer Break Over the summer I lived at a retreat and prayer centre on the Southside slopes of Pittsburgh. I spent a lot of time praying and reading, which has been a welcome break after the intensity of the year.

It was also a great joy to work part-time for the Anglican Relief and Development Fund (ARDF). ARDF’s mission is to partner with local Anglican churches to transform lives and communities in some of the world’s most challenging areas through sustainable, high-impact development projects. I really like their partnership model, as the Archbishops of the Global South make the funding decisions for projects in their areas of the Anglican Communion. Previously I had worked with them in implementing pro-jects in Egypt, Ethiopia, Tunisia and Iraq and before I arrived, ARDF had been praying for someone to work in fundraising. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve written a funding proposal for education projects including a school for pygmies in DRC, vocational training in Myanmar, and a hostel for female students in Tan-zania. See more here: www.ardf.org

I was recently put in touch with two families recently arrived in Pittsburgh from Syria. They are from a Muslim background. During their time in another Middle Eastern country they have been doing “Discovery Bible Studies” and the patriarch of the family had a miraculous vision of Jesus. The first time I visited, I didn’t go with an agenda but just to meet them and be friends. However, immediately the kids asked if I was Christian, the 9 year old girl told me stories about Jesus in Arabic, and asked if they could come to church with me. They have lived through very difficult times that I can’t imagine, but I do know when they talk about Jesus they do so with joy and their faces light up.

Thank you for your love and prayers. I’m excited to continue walking in this adventure that God is taking me on.

How are we doing (from Missions Interlink NZ)

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The following has been shared from the most recent Missions Interlink Bulletin

Is recent emphasis on “missional thinking” making a Kingdom difference? Alan Vink, National Director at Willow Creek Association NZ, recently shared some sobering statistics concerning Christian realities in Aotearoa NZ. He was the opening speaker at the ENGAGE Evangelism Conference in Tauranga, September 2 – 3 2016. By sharing the raw data with the church and parachurch ministers present, Alan wanted to encourage us to reassess how we are doing and therefore what we are doing to extend God’s kingdom in Aotearoa (and, by association, beyond).

Having “done the numbers”, Alan placed the number of churches in NZ at around 3,000. According the data he had access to (presumably the last NZ census), 10 to 12% of our 4.7 million NZers “regularly” attend a church, of any type. “Regular”, Alan clarified,”is about once every three weeks”. More number-gymnastics followed to expose how infrequently “regular” church goers are exposed to communal Christian life, potentially missing out on transformative disciple-forming teaching, worship and fellowship.

The point Alan rammed home was that the percentage had not changed in decades. His research showed a very short lived rise during the charismatic renewal of the 70’s/80’s but attendance soon returned to around the 10% mark. For all the resources poured into outreach efforts and community ministries, all the new churches planted and mega churches grown, and all the immigrant believers bolstering city church numbers, the percentages remain consistently low.

Furthermore, Alan noted that conversion rates (as determined by recorded baptisms) are even more lamentable. Selecting a reasonably representative denomination, he reported that in 2015 225 ‘average’ sized churches in this denomination baptised 500 people—that’s just over 2 per church per year. He claimed that 70-80% of the NZ population is now beyond the reach of a gospel witness. Drawing on research by Nick Thompson of Auckland University, Alan identified the most gospel-resistant sector as “middle-class NZ” declaring, “affluence is a clear barrier to the gospel.”

How are we doing? For all our community outreach initiatives and so called “missional” thinking, apparently we have a long way to go and much prayerful rethinking to do. Future mission from Aotearoa NZ is contingent on this situation changing.

Inviting People to Cross the Line

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In our Evangelism edition of Intermission last year, Sam Harvey talked about the importance of offering people an invitation to ‘cross the line’ and come to faith. We may not be aware of how many people in our churches and in our communities are actually ready to make a commitment to follow Jesus; they may just be waiting to be invited over the line.

We found the following article from Sermon Central provocative so thought we’d offer an excerpt. Read the full article by clicking here and if you’re a church leader, why not consider taking up the ‘Weekly Gospel Challenge’?.

By Hal Seed.

For a long time I’ve wondered if there is a relationship between the number of salvations a church experiences, and the number of times it offers salvation invitations. We’ll never know for sure, but I’m conducting an experiment this year.

My friend Ron Forseth (long-time overseer of SermonCentral.com) recently challenged me to offer an invitation every Sunday for an entire year. For the past 25 years, my habit has been to present a salvation invitation about once a month in our church services, but I’ve often wondered, “If we offered salvation more often, would more people come to Jesus?” So I’m taking The Weekly Gospel Challenge.

Results So Far

I started my experiment on the July 3 weekend. One lady raised her hand in the Saturday night service. So cool! The next we hosted a high-profile guest for what we call a Wow Weekend. Lots of visitors were present. 32 raised their hands for salvation. The next weekend (July 17), 12 hands went up. Last weekend (July 24), 5 more indicated they had prayed to receive Christ with me. There’s no way to know for sure how many of these decisions will bear out as “seed that fell on good soil” (Matthew 13:8). But some God-honoring intention motivated each one of those people to raise their hands.

Without Ron’s challenge, I probably would have given invitations 2 out of those 4 weekends. God is sovereign, so He certainly could have saved all those people without my invitation. Yet I believe that my faithfulness to proclaim the gospel made a difference, so I’m going to continue this every-Sunday habit for the next 52 weeks and see what happens. Would you like to take the challenge with me?

 

The article then unpacks five arguments against offering an invitation every week. Here’s number 4.

Why present an invitation if there are no lost people in the room?

This is a good point. But what if there are no lost people in the room because your members think they have no reason to invite their lost friends? What if presenting the gospel 4 or 5 weeks in a row causes a mind shift in your members, so they begin thinking, “If I invite my friend to come this weekend, he will hear the gospel, and his eternity might be changed?” It’s possible that sharing the gospel will breed more lost people being invited to church.

 

Read the full article by clicking here. If you’re a church leader, why not consider taking up the ‘Weekly Gospel Challenge’?.