Mystery Author

Dreams of darkness

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Here’s a second update from a partner working in Asia. Out of respect for them and the people they work with, we have not included their name.

One night, God showed Aaiza in a dream the darkness that is all around her in her neighbourhood. “You will be a light in this place,” a voice says out of the blackness.

Aaiza, who I wrote about last week, continues to grow in faith and share with others. “You have seen the way Jesus has begun to heal your husband, so why do you not believe in him?” demands Aaiza to another lady. But many here are afraid to believe because of the potential repercussions within the community, even those who have seen healings or had dreams from God. Please pray for breakthrough in this area.

God also gave Hanna a dream. She walked into a room full of Muslim women from the neighbourhood, all sitting crossed legged on the floor, praying. One lady stood up and came over to Hanna. “Pray for us in the name of Jesus,” she requested.

“I don’t know how,” said Hanna.

“Please pray for us,” the lady begged again.

Hanna opened her mouth and suddenly the words came out. When she woke up, the pain in her leg was gone. Her husband noticed she was better, and when Hanna told him about her dream, he was amazed and intrigued. He hasn’t been supportive of Hanna’s faith so far. He still limits how much she’s able to participate, but thankfully he is happy for us to visit her, and for her to lead a group of women. We have been asking if he would like our male team mate to meet him, but he wasn’t interested. Then he met the teammate on the street and liked him, so now they are spending time together.

 

Shouting for joy

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Here’s a short update from a partner working in Asia. Out of respect for them and the people they work with, we have not included their name.

Aaiza’s husband was in a rage. He held her up against the wall and pressed a knife into her throat. Afterwards she realised she couldn’t speak – he had damaged her vocal cords. Four months later she was still mute. Then she had a dream, about one of our team mates who she had met once in church when she was registering for aid. She felt God was telling her to go see her. So she knocked on the door of the church and using her cellphone she wrote that she wanted to see the team mate. A group of women gathered to pray for Aaiza, and after about 20 minutes she was speaking and shouting!

Since then Aaiza has been following Jesus, making some serious commitments and has forgiven her husband. “My husband has been different since the war,” she says. Sadly this is true of many men.

Aaiza has been using her new voice to tell many people about Jesus and what he has done for her. “I was at the hospital yesterday and this lady was sitting next to me and told me how she was mute and then people prayed for her in Jesus’ name and she was healed,” another lady we know told us. “She told me some stories about him, and I told her that I already knew them,” she said.

Word is spreading! Please pray that many more will come to know the healing, love and forgiveness that can only be found in Jesus!

Transformational Community (Issue 30)

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Ruby’s dad finally succumbed to cancer a few Saturdays ago. Her visa for our country was due for renewal just a few days later. So first thing Monday morning, fellow students took her to the visa office, explained the situation about her having to get back to her home country, and encouraged them to quickly renew the visa. In the meantime we also took her to the travel agent who, by 2pm, had booked her on a midnight flight. By 3pm the visa office had come through with an updated visa in record time. By 4pm other students were packing her bags. By 5pm she was on the bus with a fellow student for the 3 hour trip to the airport. On top of all this, they had also raised a serious amount of money to pay for her ticket home and to help with funeral expenses. That’s my definition of a loving, caring community.

My turn came a few days later when I pulled a tendon in my foot. For two weeks now students have been giving me daily massages to speed up the healing. They’ve been washing dishes, going to the market, buying meds, doing household chores, cooking food, doing regular visits. They even helped me get to an important meeting.

Two days before Christmas last year we received a photo from a graduate. He was dressed in a Santa suit (minus the beard), a half decorated Christmas tree standing beside him. He’d started a fellowship like the one he experienced with us, simply because he missed the community here. He told us he was planning to have the fellowship and related friends to his home for Christmas dinner – we were more than a little surprised to hear he was welcoming about 100 people from his newly formed community to the feast! Transformational community is something that grows and spreads.

A worthwhile cost?

Community costs, especially when it comes to time. It’s a cost everyone interested in community needs to take seriously – you simply can’t have transformational community without taking time to invest in that community! And it takes place in the ordinary ‘stuff of life.’ Community gets messy and we need to be ready to help with the seemingly less important things. One example would be teaching some guys simple hygiene – what do you do when you get a number people complaining of itching in various parts of their body and find out their bed sheets haven’t been washed for six months?! Many students also tell us about their ailments first and we have to direct them to the right medical attention. In two cases recently this meant being with the students in the operating theatre while they underwent minor surgery and also taking care of them afterwards.

When people ask us what our model for community is, we simply say the love of God. (What’s the formal model of community demonstrated in Acts 2: 40-47 or John 17:20-23?) When students graduate even the excess clothing they can’t take with them is left for the incoming students. Nothing is hidden; indeed all things are shared in common, especially the Father’s love. The end result is that many lives are transformed for eternity because they have not only discovered the healing power of God but the healing power of godly family. My prayer is that the wave of transformational community that has begun here will ultimately go out and transform the whole world.

For discussion

Have you ever been part of a deep community like this? If so, what was it like and what do you most remember? If not, what would such a community mean to you?

What would a step toward deeper community look like for you?

 

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.

We’re All Called to Participate (Issue 29)

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Only about 10% of Kiwis go to church, and that number hasn’t changed in decades! The average church sees only about two (or less) people come to faith each year, and that’s while many others walk away from the faith. And importantly, up to 80% of Kiwis are beyond the reach of a Gospel witness – either they don’t know a committed Jesus-follower or their Christian friends haven’t shared the Gospel with them.

Why’s it like this? God doesn’t want anyone to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) – so it’s not because God doesn’t want people to know him. Perhaps the problem is closer to home – people can’t believe if they haven’t been told (Romans 10:14), and sharing isn’t just the role of ‘professional Christians.’ We’re all called to be ambassadors for God, yet maybe many of us think we’re the exception. But we’re all called to participate – God wants an army of ambassadors, not just a few Generals.

EVERYONE GETS TO PLAY It’s easy to see things as ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The professional preacher and us normals. The gifted leader and those who are led. The ‘missionary’ and the ‘supporters’ back home. ‘They’ are the ones with the calling; we’re here to watch or help out. But we all have a role to play, each and everyone one of us. Some roles may seem dramatic and exciting, others may seem small and insignificant, but every follower of Jesus has a place – think of 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. And importantly, from God’s perspective, no role is more important.

Think about that. The missionary in China or Abu Dhabi is just as important in God’s mission as the little-ol’-lady who enables community by serving tea after church. If they’re both doing what God’s called them to, if they’re contributing what they’re capable, then God values it equally! So let’s not act as if some of us are ‘more important’ than others.

“All God’s kids get to play.” John Wimber built a movement on this principle: ministry and mission is something for us all, not just the ‘professionals.’ And it’s important to stress that we get to, not have to. Too often appeals to get involved are all about turning up the pressure. We’re made to feel guilty that we don’t preach to our neighbours, that we don’t volunteer at a soup kitchen, that we don’t feel called to travel overseas.

But God isn’t so much pressuring us to do more, but is inviting us to be involved in something life-transforming. It’ll take us closer to God, unite us in our communities, give us meaning and purpose, not to mention the eternal rewards we’ll reap (Matthew 25:20-23, 31-40). No one is excluded from the fun and joy of mission, even if it may be challenging.

God is welcoming us all to participate, not with a stern look of frustration at how little we’ve done, but with the hopeful excitement of a loving Father who’s delighted to share his greatest joy and passion with his kids!

AN ILLUSTRATION What’s it look like when everyone’s following their call to participate? Perhaps each person simply feels equipped and ready to live missionally in their local contexts: their workplace, school, family, neighbourhood. But sometimes it means finding ways to participate together. After all, mission happens best in community.

Our church has been putting this into action with a ‘church open day.’ One Sunday a year, the seats are cleared out and replaced with bouncy castles, candyfloss machines, a sausage sizzle, face-painting stations, manicure tables, ministry promo stalls. People from the community venture in – it’s less threatening and more inviting than a typical church service. Maybe they’ll stop and listen to someone sharing a testimony from the front. Maybe they’ll get into a deep conversation with a church member. Maybe they’ll join a programme our church offers. Maybe they’ll just grab a coffee and then disappear – but even so, our prayer is their view of ‘church’ and ‘Christians’ is softening.

Why are these powerful events? Community creates synergy. You didn’t have to be the gifted Gospel preacher or the one sharing a testimony. Regardless of your gifting and strengths, you have a role. Everyone is essential, the preacher as much as the one keeping the toilets clean! It’s the combined effort, not the work of any key player, that created a platform for us to engage our neighbourhood.

Sometimes we get to all participate together like this, the synergy of our efforts accomplishing more than we could alone. And sometimes being called to participate is about remembering that God’s invitation to engage in mission is always open to us whenever and wherever we are. Missional engagement is possible for each and every one of us.

We’re all invited to participate with God in what he’s doing, wherever we are!

 

For discussion Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 together. How does this passage speak to our equal invitation to participate in God’s mission?

As someone called to belong to God’s community of mission service, what’s his challenge to you and your group when it comes to participating?

The Practice of Loving Strangers (Issue 23)

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Scripture doesn’t seem to have a problem with self-love. In fact, it seems to be a given. Jesus told us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. But what about those who are not our ‘neighbour’? Scripture tells us that our love for the ‘stranger’ is to be as strong as our love for ourselves: “Treat the stranger among you as if they were one of you, and you shall love them as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:34). My dear friend, if you’re to look deep within yourself, can you honestly say that you’ve learned to love ‘the stranger’ as yourself? If not, are you willing to do it?

Our story of loving ‘strangers’

The Lord has sent us in New Zealand sojourners who are different to us in race, language, colour and beliefs. He has sent them to us as a Church. In 2001 a vision was given to start a ministry in Christchurch among migrants and refugees from the Middle East. Soon after the ministry was established, it started to serve a large sector of migrants in many areas, helping them settle. Over time we’ve learned much about what it means to love ‘strangers among us.’ We’ve learned that helping and loving others is more valuable than time and that migrants are not ‘clients’ or ‘cases’ but friends and brothers and sisters. We’ve learned that immigration is like an organ transplant. It’s removing a living organ from one body and transplanting it into another. It comes with pain, suffering and sometimes rejection. It is a long process for the new organ to fit into the new body successfully. And above all, practical love is the key to people’s hearts. We’ve learned that others are more willing to hear the Good News if they see God’s love through us as we share with them in their suffering.

I can tell you many stories of individuals I’ve met on this journey who are suffering and in need, people who are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, spouses and children. Like the father who had to leave behind his children, wife and his business to flee for his faith. Or the medical doctor in his mid- 20’s who came to live as Christian leaving behind wealth, a little daughter and his wife – his family gave his wife to another man while he has been in NZ. Or the two girls who were abused by their own family members – when they received Christ they had to leave their country to escape the death penalty.

What does loving a stranger look like? We’ve helped many brothers and sisters who’ve come to Aotearoa for safety. We also have the opportunity to help international students who are coming from Islamic countries for education. After asking the Lord to open a door, a friend who is a taxi driver met one of these students who needed help. He connected that student to us and the next week another 40 students were meeting in our office for cultural activities. Many of them accepted Christ as a Lord and Saviour.

We’ve been able to provide emergency accommodation, financial support, legal aid, friendship, pastoral care. We’ve offered ourselves as a family for them and connected them to godly people who helped them in different areas. We see Christians using their God-given gifts and placement within New Zealand society to help us to love these ‘strangers’ among us.

Many more stories could be told – we have a new one every day. The Lord is doing his work, and we are the tools in his hand. The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. There is much that we can do to love the stranger among us.

Practical suggestions

Speak to your pastor or mission team about putting you in contact with someone who is serving in this area or ask them if they know of a ‘stranger’ who needs help. Introduce yourself to a migrant or visitor to your church and consider inviting them for a meal at your home where you can come to know them closer. Perhaps that will open further opportunities to help: assisting them with finding a job, with cultural adjustment, with basic living needs. If you know about a new neighbour, go knock on their door. Introduce yourself, welcome them and invite them over if they want. Call a mission organisation or group that is works with migrants or refugees. Offer yourself to share in welcoming and helping ‘strangers.’ Commit as a church or small group to regularly pray for the ‘strangers’ in your community. Perhaps this could even become part of your regular church services or small group gatherings? Take time to identify the needs in your local community. What is it that ‘strangers’ are in need of? Is it guidance, cultural-interpretation, friendship, counselling, work skills, housing and furniture? Are there ways your church or small group could start meeting some of these needs? Perhaps most importantly, lift up your heart to God and ask him to open your eyes to see and find those who are in need.

If anyone is interested to learn more about this ministry in Christchurch, please contact office@nzcms.org.nz

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.

Being Human. Being Present.

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A priest in a pub discussing work conditions with steel workers. A monk who pitched his tent in the Sahara. A bohemian who started a  community where Christians could be honest with each other.

Real stories.

Maybe I am getting older (please disagree) but I find myself increasingly fascinated by history and chasing down the stories behind the stories, the entrepreneurs who inspired the reports, the missionaries who dared to do church different whether they were noticed or not.

Real stories. Stories that made a difference.

I’ve noticed that behind the commitment to new mission strategies (and catchy terms) lie numerous examples of creative risk-takers and innovators who tried something different to reach people untouched by existing mission efforts. These creative ventures were usually launched by pioneers, discovered by scouts, analysed by geeks, and articulated by church leaders who affirmed both the validity of the experiments and a daring ‘unorthodox’ way forward for all.

At the Nicholas Sessions last month in Prague, a gathering for mission innovators at which I had the honour of participating, Bob and Mary Hopkins shared about the beginnings of what would later be named Fresh Expressions.

In their retelling of the story, I recognised the same players – the pioneers who created the stories, the number-crunchers who analysed the data (Lings, Wasdell, etc), and the permission-givers (Archbishops Carey and Williams) who put new phrases into currency and pointed ahead to a preferable future.

Another equally influential individual, in my experience, was a missionary statesmen who foresaw and recommended the shifts we now see on the ecclesiastic landscape. Canon Max Warren, General Secretary of CMS (then based in London), gave a deeply prophetic speech in Washington DC at the invitation of Overseas Mission Society of the Episcopal Church. The series of lectures was delivered in 1958 and appear in his book called Challenge and Response.

“The crucial question for the church is whether it is willing to take the risks of life on the frontier. If it does not do so, the time may come when it has nowhere else to live. For the fountains of the great deep are being broken up. We live in a world which is changing so rapidly that the demands on our adaptability, on our capacity for adjustment, are threatening not only to the ecclesiastical structures but also to the very stability of faith itself.” (Max Warren, Lecture 4, “Re-minting of the world ‘Missionary’”, Challenge and Response, 1960.)

 

Warren argued that the “home base is now one of the neediest fields calling for missionary work” and insisted that the inherited church structures were inadequate for ministry in a complex, modern, industrial world. We needed to allow new expressions of church to arise, new models that rise above territorial and diocesan limitations.

“The church anywhere and at every time is a mixed multitude. … The church cannot be the organ of its own Mission. It must have organs of Mission. I would be ready to argue that a variety of organs are in fact indispensable, and under whatever different names they bear, do in fact exist wherever the Church is taking Mission seriously.”

 

Canon Warren didn’t live to see the current movement of ‘fresh expressions’ or ‘mixed economy’ that’s now taken for granted in the Anglican world, but his words form a deep well of thought and permission-giving that has allowed his ‘mixed multitude’ of church to become a reality, even in this age of post-modern, post-industrial challenges.

But even Warren needed concrete examples of church done differently. And here I want to point out three creative individuals who inspired Max Warren’s amazing challenge.

 

The Blue-Collar Priest who took church to the people.

“It is precisely this [pre-industrial church] structure that has come down to us almost without change, that has been left so woefully inadequate by industrialisation … Here, wholly new structures of engagement must be devised if there is to be dialog, influence and impact.” (E.R. Wickham, Church and People in an Industrial City, 1957.)

He dressed shabbily and hung out with factory workers at the pubs – which was unusual for a priest back in the 1940’s. He might have been ignored if he didn’t later become Bishop. But he did. And the book that Bishop E.R.Wickham wrote, Church and People in an Industrial City, was probably the most influential source for Warren’s Lecture Number 4, not to mention its impact on Lambeth 1958. In his book, Wickham outlines the devastating chasm between the worker-class and those who dress up for Sunday worship and the resulting founding of the Industrial Mission in Sheffield in 1942 as an effort to break that barrier.

Wickham’s concrete examples of “supplementary non-pariochial structures” and social group thinking found a well-respected echo in Max Warren.

 

The Creative who started a community.

“Religion to me really is a song” (Florence Allshorn).

Also in 1942, an artist named Florence Allshorn launched a revolutionary community in Sussex called St Julian’s. St Julian’s was a place for all God’s children: a multi-national, ecumenical space for honest dialogue and integral living.

She had already served a difficult term of mission service in Uganda with CMS in which she saw the danger of unaddressed, dysfunctional relationships among leadership on the field. She returned home bruised and, according to Eleanor Brown, “after a year in a curious little colony of ‘dropouts’ in the Sussex countryside” Florence was ready to work again under CMS in England. She directed a small missionary training centre for women where she effected a “quiet revolution in the whole concept of missionary training,” focusing on in-depth honest relationships, love, and spiritual growth.

“She saw further than most into the meaning of missionary task” noted missionary statesman J.H. Oldham who wrote a book on Florence and the community at St Julian’s. Canon Max Warren saw in this community the potential for a new way of doing church that went beyond idealism and conformity to the inherited models.

 

The Monk who pitched a tent in the Sahara.

“Father de Foucault became a Touareg, to the depths of his soul. I mean that he completely gave himself to these people, not only spiritually but humanly; for he well knew how intimately the Christian life is bound up with the whole context of human life.” (Voillaume, Seeds of the Desert.)

The desert monk named Charles de Foucauld who went to the Sahara to found a monastic order died alone in 1916 – his desert home is pictured above. No one joined him. But the spiritual journals he wrote had a profound effect on people as diverse as Dorothy Day (Catholic Workers), Thomas Merton (new monasticism), and even James Baxter (Jerusalem) in New Zealand. Some time after his death, The Little Brothers of Jesus came into being. Even today there are a dozen monastic orders named after him. At the time of Warren’s lecture, a book called Seeds of the Desert: the Legacy of Charles de Foucauld by R. Voillaume had been recently published and brought to the attention of clergy everywhere. Warren describes The Little Brothers of Jesus as a “daring new pattern of missionary service,” a way of interacting that was thoughtful, respectful (we might say post-colonial), open to dialogue, a strategy, according to Voillaume, of “being present amongst people, with a presence willed and intended as a witness of the love of Christ.”

Warren sums up, “What was so refreshing about [de Foucauld’s] plans, and what was so refreshing about Florence Allshorn, was that in their preoccupation with being present with God they were always so human. There was nothing stereotyped in the lives of either of these missionaries. Because they knew how to live ‘being present’ with God, they were able to live ‘being present’ quite spontaneously with people of every kind and in every circumstance.”

Here we see the heart of Max Warren’s lecture that takes the challenge beyond the start-up of new church forms and beyond mere strategies into where it all starts: the challenge to live differently. To live more dangerously. To truly live among people, unprivileged people. To be open to openness. To allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the full human experience and to participate fully in it.

This is incarnational missions the way Jesus showed us. “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

Being human. Being present.

 

THE MUSE

Which of these three stories stands out the most? Why? How can we learn to be ‘more present’?

 

THE MOVE

What initiatives have you felt God leading you into that you’ve not yet started? Why not take the first small step this week?

 

Join the discussion at the #NZCMS Facebook Group.

VJ’s Daughters

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Here’s a short story from a partner in Asia that captures the simple truth: mission is all about building real relationships with real people. 

 

I’ve recently moved into a new place… and it needed a little sprucing up. The paint was peeling and a counter top was rotting. I employed a man named VJ to do the painting and to oversee the small amount plumbing and electrical work. Like many people, VJ finds it difficult to get regular work, so two weeks of pay was a windfall for him.

A friend of VJs later told me about a time she visited his daughters at their boarding school. She bought with her some cloth for clothes. When they saw this simple gift, the girls broke into tears. It had been a couple of years since they had new clothes. How many teenagers would be that grateful for new clothes? I tried putting myself in their shoes – most likely I would have resented not being able to choose the fabric, but here they were, overjoyed by a simple gift. That’s one of the great things about mission. Not only do we help people change, but they challenge us and change us, showing us more of what it means to be human.

Developments in South Asia

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A short update from a partner in South Asia.

A question for you: How do you know you’ve survived another summer?

Answer: You start getting out your winter clothes, and read in the paper that the day time maximum temperature is now under 40 degrees!

As I started writing this I was just back from meetings in the big city, including two day training on the unlikely topic of governance. The full board of a Bible College attended, so hopefully this will help the board develop their methodologies and thinking together – there is lots of policy writing ahead. I hope and plan that we might find ways of replicating this for other organisations also.

A bonus of the meetings was extra time in the city due to Eid holidays. Eid-al-Azha is the Muslim remembrance of the sacrifice of Abraham’s son. Here various animals are sacrificed, first being decorated with henna, garlands and bangles. The landlord of where I was staying sacrificed a goat in their back yard, and next door we saw a cow being slaughtered. Along the road were some very fine and well decorated camels being led on their last walk.

Over my long weekend I was able to visit another hostel to share experiences and ideas, as well as visits with special friends. I enjoyed big city life: getting my hair cut, celebrating a friend’s birthday, going out for breakfast and other treats. As the dates of Muslim holidays are dependent on the sighting of the moon, exact dates are announced close to the time. I had booked my train tickets in advance knowing there would be a rush, and had to guess which date to return on. It worked very well. I travelled on the 2nd night of Eid, and people were not yet returning, so I had a whole compartment to myself – luxury! I was able to lay down, read and sleep the whole 16 hour journey.

As I have been reflecting on this year I realise one big encouragement is in seeing the changes that have taken place in one of the schools I have been involved with. Through the team training approach of the organisation I work alongside, along with the regular mentoring of the headteacher and support and monitoring visits there has been a turn-around in this school. The headteacher has developed increased confidence, is taking initiatives and has developed a team culture among the staff. The staff have developed an increased ownership of the school and the students’ behaviour and confidence have also seen big changes.

Staff have commented that less bad language is being used, and students have been observed stopping one another from fighting and not allowing others to deface furniture. The head teacher observed that students would observe a behaviour which they recognized as wrong and then turn that into an assembly topic which they were leading for the following day. Students have taken pride in their environment, growing vegetables. Staff each donated money for the purchase of saplings which are now established and will provide good shade in the future.

Dreams in the Middle East

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Here’s a story from a partner in the M.E.

Last week we were visiting Aisha when her 8 year old son started to tell us about the dreams he had been having. The first was a dark dream of a man telling him to do something wrong. The second was a “good man dressed in white” telling him not to do it, and the third was another dark dream where the man said not to believe the man in the good dream. But he said he didn’t believe the man in the dark dream and wanted to follow what the “good man” said.

“You know God loves you very much,” we said.

“No, God doesn’t love me,” he answered.

We told him the story of the prodigal son, and shared how God is like the father in the story who runs to us when we go to him, no matter what we have done in our lives. We prayed with him – that he wouldn’t get any more dark dreams or dreams of  war, and he hasn’t since then.