June 2017

100s and 1000s in mission mobilisation (Issue 31)

Posted on

By Mike Robb (NZCMS Personnel Team) 

Hanging on the wall of my house is a small framed picture of those little ‘100s and 1000s’ sprinkles you put on ice-cream. At the top we’ve written “Train 100s to win 1000s.” This was a word God gave Ruth and I about 25 years through a preacher and it’s become the measure we’ve used to evaluate all major decisions since then. Regardless if its involvement in overseas missions, in the local church or in ‘secular’ work places, we ask ourselves whether it’s an opportunity to influence and equip and mobilise others for the furthering of God’s Kingdom. In other words, does it take us closer or further from training 100s to win 1000s? 

‘Mobilisation’ is a word that’s being thrown about in many mission and church circles. All of a sudden it seems we’ve all woken up to the fact that if we don’t mobilise for mission – if we’re not recruiting and equipping and training people – then there won’t be anyone engaging in mission at all! Future generations’ participation in mission depends on us taking mobilisation seriously today.

When the default setting is broke

The main places where the vast majority of Christians live, work and serve are outside the walls of the local church, not within them. Sadly, when we think about serving God, we often have a ’default setting’ that limits ministry to what happens within the church. If you want to serve God, your church offers plenty of options: become a children’s church teacher, a door greeter, a musician, a youth leader, even a preacher. These are all great and necessary, but it’s a very narrow view of what serving God looks like. When someone says they’re “called into ministry” they’re almost certainly talking about either pastoral ministry or overseas missions – it’s just our default way of seeing ministry and calling! But why couldn’t we have people say “God’s called me to medicine” or “God’s called me to be the world’s best postie.”  

I don’t think this ‘narrow view’ is represented by Scripture. As a simple example, look at John the Baptist. “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. … ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord…”’” (Luke 3:3-4). 

“Into all the country… One calling in the wilderness.” That doesn’t sound like preaching in the temple or synagogues. Jesus too spent the vast majority of his time among the people: in houses, on the streets, at weddings and banquets, fishing at the lake. And we’re to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, taking the Gospel into the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-49, Acts 1:8). “Into all the world” doesn’t sound like going just to the temple, synagogue or church does it?

Your local church is supposed to be the place where all believers are developed and equipped for ministry outside of the church. That’s because most Christians’ primary spheres of influence are in their schools, work places, clubs, communities and neighbourhoods. In fact, in order to reach the lost and build up the church, the ministry of most Christians must be performed outside the local church. Otherwise the local church becomes more like a residential care facility, where the staff look after the members and simply keep them happy. That’s not the vision of Church presented by the New Testament! 

More than seat warmers

Turning back to mobilisation, what if the primary role of the leaders of a local church was to care for and train, prepare and release Christians to be serving in whatever context God has them in? What might happen? What if attending the local church was more a means to a greater end, rather than just being the goal of our Christian faith? 

I’m convinced there’s more in God’s Kingdom for each of us than to just keep a seat warm once a week! What if the nurturing and equipping we received from our local church on a Sunday was to resource and encourage us for the week ahead, where we’ll spend much of our time with others who don’t know Christ? It was these environments that Jesus expected these following words to be applied, not in the local church: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14). 

So how do we move from seeing ministry as what happens in church to it being all about what happens beyond the stained glass windows? People’s giftings and desires need to be explored, evaluated, and possibly most importantly, given opportunities for expression. (From everything we can take away from 1 Corinthians 12-14, one main lesson is that Church and ministry are supposed to be something we all get to participate in.) Leadership of our churches may need to release people, provide training opportunities and nurture a culture of permission giving. Where else will the saints learn how to minister if not within the church?!

Could this get messy, and could some mistakes or disasters happen? Almost certainly! But are we willing to pursue mobilisation anyway? Do we really want to “Go into all the world”? 

NZCMS is all about ‘Making Mission the Centre’ for EVERY follower of Jesus. We want to see all of God’s people mobilised for local and global mission – which includes sending people overseas but involves so much more than that! Talk to us about how we can support you in your mobilisation efforts by emailing office@nzcms.org.nz 

For discussion

What’s the difference between seeing yourself as a seat-warmer and seeing yourself as a minister wherever God has placed you?

What can you, your group and your church be doing to equip people for ministry outside of the church? Are their opportunities for you to be equipped as well?

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.

Reverse Mission Update

Posted on

I thought it’s about time I gave you an update on our efforts to support what we’ve been calling ‘reverse mission’ here in New Zealand. New Zealand has become a largely secular nation despite its deep Christian roots. At the latest census in 2013, no fewer than 1.8 million people declared themselves as having no religious affiliation or objected to answering the question. That made up 43% of the population and could soon surpass the number of New Zealanders (44%) who identify themselves as ‘Christian.’ If we look at the Christian scene, most traditional denominations are in decline and Roman Catholics now outnumber Anglicans.

A second trend is also evident: the rapid growth of non-Christian religions in New Zealand. Almost 300 000 residents belong to others faiths, the largest group being Hindus which has grown 126% in number since 2001. Overall, affiliation to non-Christian faiths has grown by 67% in the past 15 years.

All that makes it clear: New Zealand is no longer just a ‘sending country,’ but also one in need of focused mission engagement! Kiwis need to hear the Good News in fresh and relevant ways, and sometimes ‘outsiders’ can do this more effectively than those immersed in their own culture. Missional Christians from other cultures can also play an important role in encouraging Kiwi churches to get involved in mission, both locally and beyond our borders, and can help them become better skilled and more effective in cross-cultural ministry.

Like Paul, many Christians from places like Africa and Asia have heard a ‘Macedonian call’, “Please come to help us” (Acts 16:9). These are people who follow Jesus as a result of the hard work of missionaries from places like New Zealand over the past two centuries, but now the Gospel need in our own land is driving them to come as missionaries to our shores: the tables have turned, mission has been reversed and now we’re in need at least as much as their countries. But is the Kiwi Church ready to recognise our own struggles, faults and failures, and are we open to being challenged and changed by new ideas, outside voices and fresh approaches? 

The NZCMS Board has recently endorsed ‘Reverse Mission’ as part of our broader mission strategy. Essentially, what’s envisaged is a greater emphasis on facilitating the placement of these ‘reverse missionaries’ in ministry in New Zealand churches.

I see one of NZCMS’s main contributions as facilitating contact between ‘reverse missionaries’ and host churches – a bit like a dating agency really. We’ll receive requests from New Zealand churches and use our global networks to connect these churches with overseas people who have the skills, abilities and experience needed. We’ll also provide cross-cultural orientation for ‘reverse missionaries,’ pastoral care back-up, advice in crisis situations and prayer support, as well as help host churches prepare to receive their ‘reverse missionaries.’ Please pray that God raises workers from other parts of the world to come to NZ to support the Kiwi Church in her mission, and that we’ll have open hearts to respond to what God is doing.  

Operations and Finance Manager

Posted on

Are you a strong financial administrator who is looking for an opportunity to put your skills to work in a much coveted role within a mission organisation? This is a unique opening that allows you to combine your keen eye for details with your passion for the big-picture of what God is doing around the globe! We are looking for someone who is competent in administration, office management and finances and who has the ability to oversee and manage various projects.

The New Zealand Church Missionary Society (NZCMS) is a mission community seeking to mobilise the Church of New Zealand for God’s mission. We are a team that has big vision and big ideas, seeking someone to help move us from ideation to implementation. We are looking for someone who is able to ask the right questions, identify pitfalls and challenges, help us move from idealism to optimistic yet pragmatic realism, and help oversee strategic activation. To this end, the Operations & Finance Manager will also assist the National Director as his Executive Assistant.

 

This role is well suited for someone who

Has the ability to self-manage Is a good administrator and can multi-task Is organised and has an eye for detail Is proficient with managing office finances and is familiar with financial systems Relates well to people from a wide range of backgrounds Is passionate about what God is doing around the world Has great communication skills Can problem solve and project manage

 

This is a full time position based in Christchurch. For more details download the job description by clicking here.

Please send your applications to steve@nzcms.org.nz. Applications close 20 July 2017

 

Released: 23 June 2017

Joining God’s missional breed (Issue 31)

Posted on

I’ve just come back from the Philippines. No, I wasn’t there to have a holiday or to work on my tan. I was part of a team of Samoan women who all desired an experience of cross-cultural mission. We had the privilege of visiting NZCMS Mission Partner Dianne Bayley and the Children’s Bible Ministries team in the Philippines. 

Some reflections

As I reflect on my experience before, during and after this trip, I have been impacted by a number of things.

People. I’ve come across some phenomenal people who breathe and dream ‘living missional.’ They’re a special breed. Location is not a barrier, their veins are pulsing by how they might join God on his mission and at the same time mobilise others. They are today’s heroes of the faith. While I’m in awe of their faithfulness, passion and boldness, I must admit my surprise with how little interest there is in such global concerns amongst Kiwis (including my own Pacific community).

Excuses. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard phrases like “I can’t be involved in mission.” Some of the excuses have left me picking up my jaw from the ground: it’s only for those who go to Bible College, I don’t know my Bible enough, I don’t have the time. Sometimes I’m struck by disbelief. You’d think that if we’ve accepted the Good News and received forgiveness we’d be eager to share the hope we’ve found. Unfortunately, it’s not often the case. But God calls us all to participate in his mission!

Talk. We like talking about being missional but few people actually want to live it out. Why? Because living missionally will cost you, as an individual, a family, a community, a church. It could be your time, commitment or resources. But just maybe, what keeps an individual – or even a church – from being missional is that we don’t understand the benefits of it.

All this leads me to ask some important questions. Why can we so easily turn a blind eye to the world around us? Why are so many churches not actively participating with God to live missionally both locally & globally? And how did five Samoan women from Christchurch end up joining the crazy ‘missional breed’?  

We must recognise that it’s God’s mission. Not ours, not your pastor’s, not your church leadership’s, but God’s. His is far better, bigger and our task is to submit to his mission. Serving God is an honour, something that made a profound impact on me during my time with CBM. Everyone there, from youngest to oldest, knew the mission. They owned it, believed it and lived it out. They were committed to it, even if it cost them something. They have limited resources but dream big and aren’t afraid. They think, breathe, sleep and dream missional. 

Since coming back I’ve wrestled with what it’ll cost five Samoan women to continue living missional. And as crazy as it sounds, it will cost us everything. When Jesus laid out what it really meant to follow him many of his followers withdrew (John 6:66). So am I willing to pay the price? Most definitely, because I understand the benefits of participating alongside God in his redemptive plan to restore all things. Living missional simply isn’t an event on the calendar or an item on the to-do list. It isn’t just doing some stuff – it’s joining God in his work.  

So what changed for me to start thinking and actually living missionally? It was an encounter with God. It was being deeply transformed by his word and submitting to his will. And it’s ongoing, it’s rewarding and at times it’s very challenging.  

We’re on a journey and we’ve joined the ‘missional breed’ where we embrace and learn to pay attention to what God is doing in our families, neighbourhoods, work places, relationships, communities and in the church. Discovering our part has meant that we can be confident in what God is asking us to do. 

Rediscovering, reconnecting and being refocused on God’s mission has been a life changing process and it’s still on going. We’re not doing it on our own; we’re part of a wider family contributing and participating in God’s mission. We’re doing our part to serve, to love, to celebrate as part of God’s family. Every part of our life is being caught up in God’s mission here and now, just like our brother and sisters in the Philippines.

For discussion

What are some of the ‘benefits’ of participating in God’s mission?

What encounter or experience might help you and your group to grow in your understanding and living of mission?

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.

Lausanne’s first ever open-concept gathering

Posted on

On the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, the Lausanne Movement invited 90 global mission leaders to Wittenberg, Germany, to participate in a gathering entirely dependent on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. New partnerships, collaborative ideas, and exciting initiatives have been formed as a result of the gathering, all of which have the potential to significantly impact global mission over the next 3-5 years.

The room was buzzing with excitement as Lausanne’s first-of-its-kind gathering came to an end on Wednesday in Wittenberg, Germany. During the three days of the gathering, 90 of the most influential men and women in global mission, representing all regions of the world and different age groups, sought to hear from God regarding the first two parts of the four-fold Lausanne vision: to see the gospel for every person and an evangelical church for every people.

’These past three days, we wanted to seek new and innovative ways to work together, in order to see a significant acceleration in the spread of the gospel,’ says Dr David Bennett, Lausanne’s Global Associate Director for Collaboration and Content. ’Because of the high birth rate among Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists, the rate of population growth is overtaking the growth of the church in many parts of world, despite the hard work of church planting, evangelism, discipleship, and other areas of mission.’

In preparation for the gathering, Lausanne had asked the participating leaders to identify what they saw as the most critical factors for seeing breakthroughs in global mission, especially from their own perspectives as leaders of various ministries. Through three rounds of research surveys, we arrived at the 12 clusterings of topics that would be discussed and prayed about at the gathering. The participants themselves were then subdivided into 12 corresponding table working groups, based on their individual passions and interests identified in the survey process. These working group topics included clusters of priority areas for mission such as evangelism, church planting, and intentional discipleship.

The gathering’s schedule was unique in that it was designed to depend entirely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. There were no plenary speakers other than morning Bible expositions, and participants spent most of their time in table working groups, listening to each other as they spent time praying, dialoguing, and brainstorming about the topic of their working groups.

’Coming into the gathering, we didn’t exactly know what to expect, but we were hoping that it would result in action plans that can start to be implemented in the next months and bear fruit in three to five years,’ says Dr Bennett, in summarizing the Wittenberg 2017 gathering. ’As an incredible answer to prayer, all of the 12 table working groups came up with significant initiatives, ideas, and commitments. These plans are more realistic than we first imagined, not pie-in-the-sky dreams, but big enough steps to significantly accelerate the spread of the gospel in five years.’

One table working group, for example, decided to research ways to provide need-based training tailored specifically for different kinds of evangelists. Another group centered on partnership and collaboration sought to catalyze more partnership for global mission by launching an annual partnership award to highlight the remarkable examples of missional collaboration as a way of inspiring further partnerships, and initial funding for the award has already been committed. Detailed plans and next steps are now being worked out by the 12 table working groups, and Lausanne looks forward to sharing stories of what takes place in the days ahead. Other strategic directions from these initiatives include: making prayer a practical priority in missions; repositioning disciple-making as the church’s primary call; facilitating the continued formation of a local church culture with a kingdom mindset; and encouraging the 2% who are in professional ministry to prepare the 98% (laity) for ministry.

Besides the initiatives and research projects from specific groups, there were overall trends that emerged throughout the conversations among many groups, with the urgency of prayer and partnership topping the list. ’A prophetic call is going out from this place to the global church, reminding us that our first action point is prayer, and the second is to partner more closely together,’ says Dr Michael Oh, Global Executive Director and CEO of the Lausanne Movement, reflecting on the early outcomes of the gathering.

He continues, ’There isn’t a bigger barrier to global mission than the attitude of “I don’t need you.” We know of over half a thousand networks formed to advance global mission. What could happen if these networks partnered deliberately, with a laser-sharp focus for global mission?’

The deliberate partnership and collaboration of diverse peoples across many nations is exactly what happened at this Wittenberg gathering—and it is our prayer that its outcomes will ripple across the world.

’Lausanne’s role was to convene the influencers, set the table, and make space through this unique agenda for God to speak,’ concludes Dr Bennett. ’The participants are now responsible for moving these plans ahead as they made their commitments to each other and to the Lord. We will follow-up with the table working groups to support and encourage progress on the plans launched here in Wittenberg. Mission is ultimately about God, and he’s the one we’re trusting to complete his work on earth.’

Executive Director for AsiaCMS

Posted on

AsiaCMS is seeking to appoint an Executive Director who will take on the leadership role of an expanding missions agency.

AsiaCMS is part of a global network of organisations who obey the call of God to proclaim the Gospel in all places and to draw all peoples into fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. They equip, train and send mission leaders to various people groups, cultures and countries in the Asian region.

They currently have a vacancy for an individual who can demonstrate the appropriate skill, experience and passion to lead AsiaCMS into its next phase of operations. In particular, they are looking for applicants with the following qualities:

Strategically lead and implement the mission and vision of AsiaCMS Build and lead a team of office-based and regional staff with individual specialisations; this includes direct oversight and annual performance reviews Build relations with wider CMS network, church partners and other stakeholders Identify, develop and implement a fundraising strategy for AsiaCMS

Please pass on the information to any relevant individuals or parties who you feel would be a good fit and benefit from this opportunity. If you would like more information please contact office@nzcms.org.nz. And please pray that God will bring the right person along for this very significant and strategic role.

Death by a comma (Issue 31)

Posted on

Let’s eat Grandma. 

Let’s eat, Grandma.

One comma can be the difference between a polite invitation and a threat of cannibalism. Punctuation saves lives. 

The comma that almost killed the church

In ancient Greek, punctuation basically didn’t exist. In fact, it typically consisted of a non-stop series OFCAPITALLETTERS. For the most part we’ve had no trouble working out what punctuation should be there, but sometimes we got it wrong.

Here’s the old King James version of Ephesians 4:11-12. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” 

Notice all the commas! Let’s pause to remember: there are none in the Greek! 

New translations have rejected one comma, and as a result we get this: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (NIV).

In the first version, you have three clauses side by side – the professionals are to 1) perfect the saints, 2) do the ministry, and 3) edify the body of Christ. The second version is remarkably different just because of one comma. Verse 12 is no longer about what the professionals do, but the goal of their efforts:  to equip God’s people for works of service, and in that way the body of Christ is built up.

I’m not being pedantic here! This one comma took ministry away from the ordinary people like you and me and put it in the hands of professional Christians – ‘ministers’ were to do the work of the church while the rest of us were pretty much just spectators. That’s very different to seeing the minister’s role as equipping others to minister. It’s a huge paradigm shift, and one that I’m afraid we’ve still not fully shifted into!

Here’s my definition of ministry: it’s about equipping others to minister! If as a church leader you’re spending all you time ministering to people rather than empowering them to minister, then something’s off. And if you’re not a professional Christian, then you’re God’s primary work force! Our Christian gatherings aren’t supposed to be the focus of our faith – they’re meant to prepare and equip us for living for God in all of life. The real work of ministry is what happens Monday to Sunday through the whole people of God. Our homes are to be ministry centres. Our families are our ministry teams. Our workplaces and neighbourhoods are where God provides ministry opportunities. In a very real sense, the whole world is our parish! 

What about the ‘professionals’ anyway?

Let’s now read the passage again in the NCV (not correct version): “Christ gave the paid church leaders to equip God’s people…” That’s precisely not what the passage states, yet it seems to be how we live it out. Our churches almost always operate under a model where one (or a few) top leaders are paid to do pastoral and teaching work. But let’s actually read the passage: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people…”

Apostles. Prophets. Evangelists. Pastors. Teachers. That’s five functions, not one (and nowhere does it hint that we’re talking about paid senior leaders). It seems my two year old can count better than the average church! For the people of God to mature in Christ (v13) we need all five working together to equip the church.

I don’t actually think the passage is saying that everyone is one of these gifts – the point’s that all are needed for the sake of all God’s people. But let’s pretend for a moment that each of us is gifted to offer one of these functions within the church. And let’s suppose that the functions are divided evenly – so that 20% of us are apostolically gifted, 20% are prophetic and so on. I think this gets to the heart of a problem I see in the church: even when we accept that we’re all called to participate in mission, we think it has to look a particular way. We see the whole of mission through the lens of particular giftings and callings and feel like that’s how it should be for us all. 

Are we all self-starters?

Let’s consider two examples. The reality is, we’re not all self-starters. That’s a special gifting that some of us have, which means it’s something many of us don’t have. Some people call this ‘apostolic’ – like the first apostles, these are people gifted by God to start new projects and ministries and movements. But at most, one out of five are apostolically gifted! That leaves at least four fifths of us who are likely not natural self-starters. Yet when we hear we’re all called to participate in God’s mission, we can feel like we’re supposed to get something started – whether something big or small. 

If you’re not apostolic, then maybe God’s not calling you to start something from scratch. Instead maybe you can partner with someone who is apostolic, using your gifts to overcome some of their shortcomings. Or maybe there’s a group or club or organisation in your neighbourhood that already exists which you could join to be salt and light – a school board, tennis club, advocacy group. Many of us struggle to be missionally engaged if we have to initiate it, but if we plug into what others are doing, there’s plenty opportunities to seize.

The same can be said about evangelism. Sermons on evangelism often claim we’re all evangelists, but I don’t think the New Testament shares the sentiment. Ephesians 4 suggests those who actually are evangelists are to partner with the rest of us so that together a clear proclamation of faith is heard. We’re all to have an evangelistic perspective, looking for natural opportunities to share, but only some of us are gifted to constantly create opportunities to proclaim the faith (look at the distinction between Paul and the church in Colossians 4:2-6).

Called as a community

A key take-away from Ephesians 4 is that God has called us as a community. Mission doesn’t really work when we go at it alone – and it’s not supposed to! When churches do take local mission seriously, we can be given the impression that we’re at it alone: “Be a missionary wherever God has you, whether in your neighbourhood, your workplace, your friendships.” We’re sent out as individuals, not a community, and as a result these sermons can actually become disempowering – they put on us a pressure to perform despite feeling unable and unequipped to do it.

Contrast that to the vision of the church in Ephesians 4, where a variety of leaders gifted in various ways are investing their energy to equip all of us to participate in God’s diverse mission: the apostolically gifted getting things started that we can join, prophetic people teaching us to hear and respond to God’s voice, evangelists teaching us to see the opportunities for sharing the Gospel and how to go about it, pastoral folk who nurture and care and encourage us to never give up, teachers grounding us in a solid understanding of the faith. It’s as a community, where all God’s gifts are flourishing, that we’re all called to participate.

For discussion

Have you felt equipped and empowered for everyday mission and ministry? Why or why not? What would a step towards equipping look like for you?

If you’re in any position of leadership, how can you better invest in equipping others for the work of ministry?

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

Little House in the Big Flood

Posted on

I never thought our house would be flooded. Sure, every time the rain is heavy, water gets into a friend’s house across from us and soaks their mattress (and we wonder how they sleep in the damp). And yes, often enough the row of rental units behind us get up to ankle deep in flood water. But our floor level has always remained high and dry (apart from the weeping walls, but that’s a separate issue).

So when we were woken at 4am one Tuesday by a violent thunderstorm we weren’t too worried. Though as we lay in bed we wondered how we’d get the girls to school. Only the day before had the normally 10 minute commute taken 1.5 hours as flooding had choked the roads and we were forced to skirt dodgily along the edge of a full-flowing muddy canal. Our kids turned up to school an hour late, mud all over their legs and even their faces! Listening again to the pounding rain, we decided this would be an off-day.

Then at six I poked my head outside. “Oops, it’s on our porch!” In fact it was pouring in under the door. We tried using rags to stop it, but it was rising too fast. Then we made frantic efforts to move toys, fabric, and other valuables upstairs, and lifted the fridge onto the seat. Another family next door didn’t have an upstairs, so damp books and clothes covered every raised surface: chairs, bench seats, beds.

We were waterlogged for the next nine hours, muddy water levels stubbornly remaining at 150mm above our floor. School was called off. Our team was doing literacy education training – that was cancelled too. The field near us became a lake, at least 500mm deep. Some neighbours who were accustomed to flooding in their homes had water up to their heads!

We kept the kids occupied for some hours upstairs, but then we gave in and let them go swimming outside with their friends. Neighbours even took the opportunity to go fishing in the streets! Fish were escaping from nearby recreational fish farms.

Finally the water receded and our power came back on at 5pm so we could pump up clean water for the cleanup. At dinner we asked the girls to name the “most fun” and the “most horriblest” thing about the day. They couldn’t name anything horrible, but had lots to say about the fun time they’d had!

 

Photocredit: Johnny Silvercloud on flickr.

Let me tell you a story

Posted on

Last time Mama Miriam, 40, was pregnant, her baby died at birth. “A” was determined this time would be different.

Every week, a dozen pregnant women gather with A and her team-mate. They talk about nutrition, foetal growth, breast feeding and other revolutionary ideas. They even practised putting condoms on cucumbers. (The bananas were too ripe). They usually finish with some stretches and A checks their blood pressures.

She noticed Mama’s blood pressure was high. “It’s happening again” said A, remembering last year’s tragedy. “You must go to the clinic as soon as possible”.

A local midwife did a quick ultra sound and estimated her pregnancy at six or seven months, and the baby only 1kg. The government clinic agreed that keeping her blood pressure down for the next two months was going to be important. “But your case is too complex for us here” they said. “You need a letter from Social Services to get free treatment at the public hospital.”

Thankfully Mama has been diligent with her documentation, and is one of the few people in our neighbourhood with an official identity card, somehow obtained for her unofficial address. She even managed to get a letter out of the local government representative to show she was ‘poor’. She remembered smugly: “He was asking me for money, because I’m not in his official area, but I just kept silent, and he gave it to me anyway.” Her own husband was ill, so she had waddled her own pregnant self to about four different public agencies on public transport getting the right signatures.

Knowing time was precious, Mama and A gathered all her documents and set out early the next morning for the Social Services office. It turned out that Social Services wasn’t at the location the clinic said it would be. So where is it? “It’s close” a bystander said. “That way I think”. If you’ve ever experienced an Asian megacity then you know how unhelpful such vague directions can be, with roads rarely signposted, buildings unnumbered, and houses and offices mashed together in an impossible pile of human enterprise.

The goose-chase that followed took them (via other loosely associated government offices) to a home for street kids and the homeless. The place was oddly empty except for a group of uniformed men hanging about smoking. A well-meaning social worker visiting from out of town took pity on this odd pair: a blustering foreigner and a heavily-pregnant, one-eyed woman from the dump. He personally escorted them in his car to the correct location, some 6km from the original destination. The office was entirely un-signposted and set back from the main road behind other buildings.

It was right on the start of lunch break. Several staff were sitting at desks staring determinedly into space. Not leaving. Not even eating. Just “on break”. Incredibly frustrating to watch! The walls were covered with notifications of missing children. Who would ever see these posters? They recognised the faces of two kids from our own neighbourhood (who, we found out later, were actually being held in a police cell for begging in front of a fancy supermarket).

Then the break was finally over, and getting the letter was surprisingly fast. They wrote the date wrong, so twinked it out and typed over it, wondering among themselves how many other letters that day they had dated incorrectly. “Just take this straight to the hospital, and they’ll take care of the rest”. Good news, finally! They returned home, exhausted but satisfied, A ignoring the neighbours tut-tutting for leaving her own baby for so long.

Mama and A made time to tackle the hospital two days later, A worried about the possibility of preeclampsia. Upon registering, they produced their precious letter. “The date’s been tampered with!” the staff informed them. “We can’t accept this!” In despair, A tried to explain that it came like that. Another staff member rescued them: “Actually you don’t need this letter at all. Your supporting documentation is sufficient.” So their well-earned letter was discarded. Good to know!

The biggest surprise was still to come, however. After a 3hr wait, Mama finally received her free consultation. “You’re dry,” the doctor declared after the ultrasound. “The water’s gone. You’re lucky you came today, because the baby needs to come out, now!” It didn’t help that A’s phone battery died, but she was able to borrow a charger from another patient and call me. The father, still unwell, visibly deflated when I informed him. He carries the burden of providing for four other children, and no doubt the grief of last year’s stillbirth. And now the prospect of a tiny prem baby added to the mix. Another of our team-mates was able to give him a lift to hospital, and his wife made sure the kids were properly fed for the next few days.

The baby was born that night by c-section at no cost to the family.* To everybody’s amazement, she was 3.2kg! A healthy weight, and breastfeeding fine. “What miracle is this?!” we all asked ourselves. And then… “how incompetent is that local midwife at reading ultrasounds?!!” (We’ve had a lot of bad experiences with her, but our neighbours keep using her).

In hindsight, Mama remembers some fluid discharge the night before, but as it didn’t come with pains, she thought nothing of it. By the time we were at hospital the baby was already in distress and would not have lived much longer, though her mother didn’t realise. Maybe the same thing happened last time. But this time, our intervention saved a life, and for that we are all so grateful to God.

The news spread in our neighbourhood. A few days later, a man stopped me on my way home from teaching English. “It’s so great what you guys did. Usually nobody offers more than a bar of soap from the nearest shop. But taking someone to hospital is no small thing.” (From our experience I have to agree). “And you care, even if they are a different religion.” he said. I tried to explain that Isa teaches us to love our neighbours as ourselves. In the current climate of fear and intolerance, it seems that more of this is what’s needed.

 

*PS In another baffling twist of bureaucracy, at the moment of birth, the baby was classed as a new patient and therefore not eligible for funding (and the mother prohibited to leave) until the correct documentation was produced. Thankfully our team-mates and the father did this part of the leg-work, visiting all the same government officials again, only this time for the baby.

Who’s telling the story anyway? (Issue 31)

Posted on

By Kate Dugdale (Bishopdale Theological College).

My sisters and I are fairly rambunctious, and talk over each other a lot (to my parents’ frustration!). We also do it to our parents, and I can recall a number of times when Dad would turn to the person who had interrupted and ask, “Who’s telling this story!?”

When we think about the mission of God, this is an excellent question to ask. Every culture – and in the age of globalism, every sub-culture or social tribe – tells a different story which shapes the way we look at the world. For example, Western society tells a story where success is measured in money or fame, and yet, Jesus teaches us not to seek after these things (Matthew 6:33). Sometimes the same event can be interpreted in radically different ways – is it terrorism or holy jihad? For Christians, it’s vital to reflect upon which voices we listen to, and therefore, which story we participate in. We can’t live out of two different realities without risking our own wholeness as individuals.

Your story or God’s?

This question of story becomes even more pressing when we begin to think about the mission of God, because the Gospel, by its very nature, is an invitation to individuals to step out of their own story and into God’s. 

There are two key points that need to be made here. The first is the importance of familiarity with the metanarrative of Scripture (that’s a fancy word that makes you sound smart – it just means ‘the big story’), because it’s an unfinished story which find ourselves in the midst of. Jesus is the centre of Scripture. The Old Testament anticipates Jesus, by telling the story of creation, the consequences of human disobedience, and the history of the people of Israel who God set apart as his witnesses. Israel turns their back on God time and time again, and yet no matter how many times they flip the proverbial bird at God, God continues to remind them of their calling to be a witness to the nations. Even when there are consequences for their sin, God reassures Israel that they belong to him.

At the end of the Old Testament we find Israel waiting for God to send them a leader who would free them from being subject to foreign rule. However, when their Messiah comes, he doesn’t meet their expectations. Instead of coming as a strong man of war, a military conqueror and astute political ruler, Jesus becomes a carpenter in a backwater town, before beginning his public ministry at the age of 30. At the moment when his popularity is exploding and he could ride the wave, he talks about the cost of following him in a way that makes the crowds leave. Instead of destroying the Romans, he’s crucified by them. Nevertheless, Jesus’ resurrection changes everything, and we see Jesus’ disciples preach about who Jesus is, the way that he has reconciled humans to God and about his promise to return again.

The difference this makes

This biblical story is probably familiar, but it’s worth revisiting in order to reorient ourselves in the midst of God’s story. This is the second point that needs to be made: as believers in the twenty first century, we should pay close attention to the example of the apostles, for just as they were called to proclaim the Gospel, so are we. The apostles didn’t attempt to build their own international ministry, or develop a website, or release a line of books… Instead they shared the story of God, both by simply teaching about Jesus and through demonstrating it in signs and wonders.

Living from God’s story frees me from the pressure of achievement. I no longer need to be the hero of my own story, because as the one who sets me free, Jesus is the hero of my story. Even more astounding is that God invites me into his story, to participate in what he is already doing and has been doing throughout history. The biblical story reminds us time and time again that it’s God who’s at work – creating, redeeming, and bringing us to the day when the Kingdom will be fully revealed. Even though in the here-and-now, the world is marred by sin, God is in the process of restoring all things. And so, whatever we do – whether we teach theology, or work in retail, or raise our children fulltime, or build houses – knowing the story of God allows us to understand how what we do can fit into that story. We may not be famous or rich, but we can actively point to God through our whole lives and can seek to bring his loving rule to everything we touch.

Understanding the story of God gives us a much richer understanding of what Scripture means when it talks about all the cool stuff God is doing – recreating, reconciling, redeeming, saving, healing. If the Gospel is simply about my salvation, then the story we’re part of is that Jesus died for my sins so I get to spend eternity in heaven in a mansion (or so some of us seem to think.) But when we get this sense that Jesus is the central axis of a much larger story that God is writing, and which we are invited to be part of, it’s like we’re invited to leave a 2D cinema to move into a 3D one instead. The story is the same, but it is a much deeper experience – one which is big enough to encompass the whole of creation. And it’s a story I get to participate in.

Recommended resources

The Bible Project captures the story of Scripture through brilliant videos, graphics and an integrated Bible reading plan. Learn more at thebibleproject.com 

Regent College’s ReFrame Series is a video course for home groups which explores how the story of God impacts all of life. Find out more at reframecourse.com 

Two of the best books that explore the story of God and its implications are The Drama of Scripture and Living at the Crossroads by Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew.

For discussion

What are some of the ‘stories’ our culture pressures us to live out of? 

If you’re honest, to what extent have you been shaped by the stories of your culture instead of the story of God?

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.