Publications

Diaspora mission (Intermission – Issue 35)

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“Dad, can I show you a simpler way of doing that?” my teenage daughter remarked. I like to problem solve issues with my electronic gadgets but as I get older, I’m realising that I’m not as tech savvy as I was when I was younger. My digitally native teenage daughters have become my tech consultants. The roles have reversed.

When I (and my family) first arrived in Christchurch nine years ago, I had an interesting conversation with my neighbour when he asked what I did. I said I was a missionary from Kenya. After the initial shock, our discussion centred on what a contemporary missionary looks like. It was all new to him.

My friend, Mark Oxbrow, tells the story of African missionaries who are using the JESUS film and Arabic New Testaments to take the Gospel into hundreds of Arab homes in the Middle East. There they are able to share the film with children and read the Bible with their mothers. Sadly, these maids will never appear in any statistics of foreign missionaries. They will probably attract little prayer or financial support from Western churches so concerned about reaching the unreached. Mark calls this “mission from below” or “Majority world mission”. Those who were traditionally recipients of missionary work are now carriers of the Gospel.

Missionary migration  

The twenty-first century is shaping up as a century of immigration. Globally, the number of international migrants worldwide has continued to grow rapidly in recent years, reaching 258 million in 2017. Some of these migrants are missionaries.

The idea of God using migration to reach the nations with the Gospel is not new. God called Abraham to leave his homeland and go to a foreign land. God promised not only to bless Abraham but to bless the nations through him. In Acts we see the believers scattering due to persecution which led to the Gospel arriving in Africa! God has used “people on the move” as carriers of His Gospel to the corners of the earth and that includes Aotearoa. I personally have been recently meeting a number of people who told me God called them to come to New Zealand to share the gospel.

At NZCMS we’ve noticed what God is doing and have become more intentional in equipping churches in New Zealand to receive a diaspora missionary from the Majority World.

This idea of missionaries coming from places that previously were considered mission fields is what we are calling “diaspora mission”. I know the term is not necessarily the best one, but we use it because we want to help change the current narrative or paradigm that a missionary is one who comes from the ‘West to the Rest’, ‘The Powerful to the Less powerful’, ‘Wealthy to the Poor’ or any other sayings that are around!

You see, we need to radically revise our paradigm of who a missionary is in the contemporary, globalised world. A careful reading of mission history shows that the midwives of the Gospel over the decades have often been people in the margins rather than those at the centre of ecclesiastical power.

So why diaspora mission?

It’s about reciprocity and mutuality. As a product of the Western missionary movement, I am so grateful for those Kiwis who have served overseas, including in my country Kenya. But I think for far too long, mission has been a one-way street. It’s time to complete the circle. A reading of I Cor 12:21-22 from a global perspective affirms this idea and challenges us to consider how we can receive the gifts of the global Church.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”  

If the Lord is sending these “diaspora missionaries” here, are we willing to welcome them?

It could be like Joseph and Daniel of old where our ongoing prosperity as a nation spiritually, depends on how we welcome the strangers among us. As Jesus says, ‘And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward Matt 10:42

We need their help

New Zealand has become a largely secular nation despite its deep Christian roots. 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. Diaspora missionaries who come from multi-ethnic contexts can also help us develop strategies towards becoming an intercultural church.

Like Paul, many Christians from places like Africa and Asia have heard a ‘Macedonian call from the West’ (Acts 16:9), “Please come to help us.” The Gospel need in our own land is driving them to come as missionaries to our shores. 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?

A strategy towards embracing intercultural missions 

So if your Church would like to call a diaspora missionary, where do you start?

I see one of NZCMS’s main contributions as facilitating contact between diaspora 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 diaspora missionaries, pastoral care back-up, advice in crisis situations and prayer support, as well as help host churches with cultural issues to help them receive their diaspora missionaries. 

I’ll close with a quote from Kenneth Bailey. “The gospel is not safe in any culture without a witness within that culture from beyond itself ”.

Diaspora missionaries are not only workers who provide capacity for the Church to reach more people, but they also help identify some of the cultural and spiritual blind spots we may have.

Questions to consider

What do you notice about the faith of those from other cultures around you?

What do you notice about the blind spots in your culture that ‘strangers’ might be able to point out?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles and contexts, the Intermission publication will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. 

Each Intermission article will be uploaded periodically and can be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission. Alternatively, to receive the physical copy, feel free to email us at office@nzcms.org.nz or call us on 03 377 2222. 

Manaaki Mission Motivations: The Power of Hospitality (Intermission – Issue 35)

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What Aotearoa New Zealand’s bi-cultural journey can teach us about our mission among the nations.

Māori culture is a hospitality culture. We have a whakataukī (proverb), He tangata takahi manuhiri, he marae puehu — If people abuse or disregard their guests, their marae will be dusty. There is a play on words here with reference to the marae. It could refer to the marae ātea, the public forum or open area in front of the wharenui (meeting house) where visitors are met in a pōwhiri (welcoming protocol), but it is more properly understood as a verb to mean being generous or hospitable. Their hospitality will be dusty. In other words, shameful.

Integrated Foundations

In order to understand something of the Māori perspective of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the intercultural responsibilities of each party to that covenant, we need to appreciate some of the kaupapa (foundational values) of te ao Māori (the way Māori view the world) and its resulting priorities.

Culture is a complex concept. For Māori, cultural values are deeply integrated with each other and inseparable, making it impossible to discuss one aspect without inferring its relationship with our entire way of understanding the world. A life essence permeates it all, connecting all things to each other. Christians must not dismiss this view as pagan, animist or pantheist. Those terms are just modern Western constructs. No, Christians should readily attest to the life essence of all things, rooted in the very story of creation itself, a result of the utterance of the Word (John 1:4) and reverberating with Christ, in whom all things hold together (Col 1:17).

To develop healthy intercultural relationships from and within Aotearoa New Zealand it is helpful to understand the genesis of our bicultural foundation. To understand our bicultural foundation we need to comprehend our covenantal obligations under the Tiriti o Waitangi. To comprehend the intention of Te Tiriti we need to appreciate how Māori view hospitality (marae). To appreciate the values of hospitality for Māori we need to grasp the underlying concept of manaaki. Grasping manaaki will also help us better work out our participation in God’s mission in this world since Christ is the ultimate manifestation of manaaki.

Reinforcing Mana 

Māori concepts have many shades of meaning depending on the context in which they are used. Manaaki is one such concept-word. The Māori Bible translates as manaaki Hebrew words like berakah and the Greek eulogia (both translated as “blessing” in English). In my doctoral research, manaaki was explained to me by Māori Christian research participants as, “to āki (encourage or lift up) the mana (esteem, respect, honour, life essence) of another”.

Mana is core to understanding mana|āki and it is grossly underappreciated in our common usage. We could argue that mana is one of a handful of reinforcing rods that run through the foundations of a Māori view of the world. To see mana as merely honour or respect is to treat it very superficially. We do not have sufficient space here to do justice to the complex spiritual roots beneath the surface that emerge as mana. Suffice it to say, it is deeply compatible with a Biblical view of reality being created by God’s Word and breath.

Mana is the evidence in a person of their life essence and spiritual virtues. Pākehā would call it a person’s psycho-emotional make-up, preferences, strengths, and talents. Mana is a person’s charisma in the spiritual sense—our divine grace. Mana is the manifest evidence of all these things at work through all that a person is and does in relationship with others. For Māori, and no doubt many other tribe-oriented societies, a person’s mana is recognised by their community and ascribed to the person by the community—you cannot claim it for yourself. You can do things that affect the community and lose mana and you can do things for the community and gain mana. The more mana you are recognised for, the higher standing you have in the community. Mana is therefore relational currency, and a highly prized and defended treasure it is at that.

A Platform For Many

And so we come to Te Tiriti. There is no doubt in my mind that our Māori forebears understood and signed Te Tiriti as an act of manaaki. As a relationship-forming protocol. They extended hospitality to the British Crown on a national level, viewing the signing of Te Tiriti in a similar way that a hongi (nose press) seals the relationship at a pōwhiri on a marae. Māori leaders elevated the mana of the British visitors by extending them hospitality, allowing all those represented by the authority of the Crown to come in and treat the land as their home (but without ownership, for that was largely a foreign concept to Māori at the time). The offer of co-residence came with full expectation that the new settlers would do so guided by the ethics of the tangatawhenua (people of the land), just as you would expect to do on a marae. The British clearly did not see things the same way and used their mana against the people of the land, thereby losing mana in the eyes of Māori.

Most of us are well aware of how the relationship went bad. My aim is to emphasize why the relationship was formed in the first place. It was an act of generosity and hospitality, NOT an act of surrender in the face of a greater power. In the creation of the (enduring) covenant we know as Te Tiriti o Waitangi we have an agreement between two peoples: the tangatawhenua and the British Crown. That is why we call the relationship a bi-cultural one, but this is actually inappropriate terminology because the British Crown represents many cultures. Even in 1840, when Te Tiriti was covenanted, the British Empire ‘represented’ the Australian, Canadian, Indian, East and Southern African, and some Middle Eastern, Asian and Pacific Island indigenous peoples. How much our Māori Chiefs understood about the reach of the British Empire we cannot know, but they knew Queen Victoria was the head of a very large, multi-cultural domain. Te Tiriti therefore included all who would come under the auspices and rule of that empire, as permitted by the Queen’s delegated authority here—the Government.

The Government of Aotearoa New Zealand now represents the Crown in extending permission for migrants to come and settle in our land. To an extent, this is the Government’s right under Te Tiriti. Te Tiriti allowed them to govern and hold rule of law over those entering the land on the basis of the hospitality of the Crown. Māori were to retain their own sovereignty and co-reside in the land with a rule of law compatible with the Crown’s. But we all know how that has worked out in reality to date.

A Foundation To Build On

Māori may have had our hospitality abused by the Government and its settlers but that does not dismiss the power of hospitality as a deeply spiritual discipline. Christ had His hospitality abused by Jewish powers and Roman law as He held out an invitation to enter His Kingdom. As the Father sent the Son, so we are sent into the world (John 18:18) to extend Kingdom hospitality to those willing to come in. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to provide the very best manaaki you can to those seeking a place of peace where they can fully be who God has made them to be. This is our intercultural responsibility under Christ’s New Covenant. We must not let Jesus find our marae dusty. (Philippians 2:1-11)

Questions To Consider

How willing are you to extend hospitality to a stranger and open your home to them? What motivates you most when facing a stranger: fear of being abused, or the desire to esteem others in love, regardless of the potential cost? In what ways would mission ventures as we know them need to change for us to shift from condescension (imposing ourselves to give something we feel they lack) to mutuality (interdependent development)?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles and contexts, the Intermission publication will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. 

Each Intermission article will be uploaded periodically and can be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission. Alternatively, to receive the physical copy, feel free to email us at office@nzcms.org.nz or call us on 03 377 2222. 

The stories of those who come to us (Intermission – Issue 35)

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There is a need literally three metres outside the doors of our church. Every day hundreds of students walk past. So many have come so far to be here but they don’t seem to have anyone who cares about them. They fall into a world where there is only a lecture theatre, a shoebox apartment and the internet.

I’ve always admired how international students can take the risk (and expense) of leaving their home, family, friends and everything they know. They are young and come to better themselves in a place where everything is new and different – people, culture, food and even simply trying to communicate are all things they need to get used to and learn.

Sometimes the pressure can be intense. Tim, a successful Chinese honours student we know, was the only one from his village who had ever gone to university. Tim’s study cost so much and was so important that his father back home decided not to tell him he was dying of cancer. By the end of the year, it was too late and Tim’s father was gone.  The same thing happened for a dying brother of a young Iranian postgraduate student. I know an Indian student whose parents sold their house to get him here.

You get the idea of the sacrifices many make to be here in New Zealand. And you can begin to understand that there are cultures that think and do things differently to the way Kiwis do. In that difference, we can find the joy of intercultural engagement in Christ. I don’t believe Jesus is interested in us either conforming others to our image or living in our own separate worlds like marbles in a bag – in the same place but completely disconnected. I believe scripture affirms that while we are made distinctively within our own cultures, those worlds are made to overlap to the glory of God and the benefit of all.

The results of engagement

St Paul’s is a central city Auckland church, situated between two universities on one side and student accommodation blocks on the other. We tried not to overthink what we saw. We prayed and decided to find a day to open the doors of the church, invite people in and do a simple meal of soup and cheese toasties.

Our small volunteer leader’s group talked to others and the team grew. Six years after opening the doors, we have a leadership team of around 25 people from at least 8 different Auckland churches. On a normal Wednesday lunch, around 120 people come through the doors. People from China, Iran, India, Japan, Colombia, Chile, Indonesia, Nigeria, Rwanda and Russia gather to eat and meet informally. 

We always pray that we can make known the love of Jesus, whether it’s by making a sandwich, sharing a smile or letting someone know the good news. Over time, many have come into contact with a group who think Jesus is real and can be trusted in real life. Intercultural connection in Christ is not rarefied air for specialists. It is basic human kindness for those who are guests in our country. We help with CV’s, give people lifts, teach English and piano, go tramping and skiing. We make good friends. Sometimes it’s hard on the heart as most eventually return home. But some take a new faith in Jesus back with them!

Needless to say, we’ve had some pretty significant disappointments and failures along the way. But we kept going. Now, in addition to the meals we provide, around 25 people regularly come to a weekly pizza and Bible study night we run. We let people look at the Bible for themselves and ask them open questions to enable them to engage. We pray. A core group of people have put their faith in Jesus and want to grow. We are currently planning our first discipleship weekend. They will be the leaders in future.

Here are some comments I’d like to finish with. As well as love for Jesus and neighbour, I think there are some key ideas underlying what we do.

Key ideas to consider

Dignity:

The person God puts in front of me is a human being with his or her own story, loves, dreams, fears and challenges. Faltering English doesn’t change that. Let’s not treat people like children and pat them on the head simply because New Zealand is new to them.

Understanding:

I need to be patient and listen and learn to see the world through other eyes. Interaction with different cultures brings strange worlds of ideas, behaviours and foods that may initially make no sense or even repel me. It might make me impatient. But without that understanding of the other world, I will introduce someone to the saviour of only my world and culture. The real world of the one I am sharing with will remain largely untouched. If I persevere in listening to the person God has put in front of me I might be able to see past the strange symbols and concepts and come to appreciate what they understand a person to be, and how they are related to both their family and the unseen world. Finally, they may begin to let me into the dark places of their world – things that make them ashamed, anxious or despairing.

Enriching:

When I am patient and listening and understanding, I will begin to see the Lord and Saviour of the other person’s world. I will see Jesus in a new way I’d never seen before as He meets the needs and aspirations of that person. I will begin to worship and proclaim Jesus in a new and fuller way in terms I’m only just beginning to understand. The Lord will have led me into a fuller and deeper worship of Him through an intercultural engagement with someone who has become my brother or sister. That is why we need intercultural engagement. 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles and contexts, the Intermission publication will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. 

Each Intermission article will be uploaded periodically and can be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission. Alternatively, to receive the physical copy, feel free to email us at office@nzcms.org.nz or call us on 03 377 2222. 

What is Intercultural Engagement? (Intermission – Issue 35)

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I am partial to a good Sri Lankan curry – and I’m slowly learning how to make them. I line my curry leaves, cumin, cardamom, chilli, cinnamon and mustard seeds up on the bench. I grind and mix them with the other ingredients and then simmer them all together. Finally – and often salivating from inhaling the aroma – it’s time to eat. Delicious!

 What is Intercultural engagement?

Intercultural engagement is a bit like the spices in a good curry. It’s incredible how a small amount of any spice can add flavour to an entire dish. But a concoction of spices simmered together can produce an incredible flavour; one with a richness and depth that no single spice can produce. It’s still possible to pick out the distinct notes of each spice. If anything, the contrast with the other spices complements and enhances their flavour. Together, they have been transformed into something else.

All analogies have limitations – and this one is no different – but, I think it does help to explain what we mean by intercultural engagement. Culture is something to be celebrated. Intercultural engagement recognises and honours the differences and commonalities between cultures, and values the contribution of each culture. Intercultural engagement takes place through respectful, authentic interactions that allow each person to be shaped by the others and in the process each is transformed to produce a depth and richness that wouldn’t be possible without the “other.’’ It isn’t a dilution of culture. In the same way that “iron sharpens iron”, intercultural engagement helps to draw out the best of every culture while making us more aware of our own cultural blind spots so that everyone benefits from the gifts that each has to contribute.

What about multicultural or cross-cultural?

We often find ourselves in multicultural or cross-cultural situations. Multicultural situations are an important first step that can provide the basis for intercultural engagement to flourish. Multiculturalism itself doesn’t require any interaction between different cultures. It simply means that there are multiple cultures present and acknowledges the diversity between them. In other words, all the spices are lined up on the bench but they haven’t actually been combined together…yet.

Likewise, done well, cross-cultural engagement becomes intercultural engagement. The term cross-cultural can sometimes reinforce an ‘us’ as the ‘givers’ and ‘them’ as the ‘receivers’ attitude. It can be hard where we are in the majority, or in positions of privilege or power to receive the gifts that others have to offer and for us to allow our own way of being and doing to be indelibly changed in the process. Cross-cultural engagement doesn’t have to be that way! Interculturality recognises reciprocity. No single culture is the ‘norm’; every culture is both giver and recipient.

A biblical analogy

Perhaps the best and most well-known biblical analogy for intercultural engagement is the image of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians. The church itself is meant to be the ultimate expression of intercultural engagement! The church is the united body of Christ where the difference inherent to each part of the body is essential to the functioning of the whole body. Each part must share a life-in-mutuality and solidarity with others, ensuring care, honour and protection of the most marginalised. It is this body that is the lived expression of unity in Christ.

When our own identity is founded in Christ, we aren’t defensive about our own inadequacies. Nor are we threatened by difference. Instead, we embrace ‘others’ as fearfully and wonderfully made. It’s only once we acknowledge the essential part of each member of the Body that we can flourish, growing into the fullness of Christ. God’s mission is to reconcile all things to one another and himself and the church, as Christ’s body, is meant to be a witness to all of humanity of the reconciling love and grace of God. An intercultural church is good news to a world fractured along cultural divides!

Using our imagination

What might an intercultural church look like? Intercultural engagement is dependent on relationship. Like the spices mixing together, or the parts of the body working together, it is the interdependent relationship that forms an intercultural community. Relationship is one of the best places to discover others’ strengths and gifts (and our own inadequacies and blind spots). We cannot be satisfied with being multicultural or cross-cultural in our church contexts or in the way we do mission. We have to get close enough to those who are different from us for authentic, reciprocal relationships to form.

Imagine a church where everyone’s gifts were known and utilised and where those with power and privilege empowered those from minority groups. Maybe there would be a roster of preachers from diverse cultural contexts. Maybe different languages would regularly be used for scripture readings and prayers. Maybe worship would be led by a variety of people using the style and music from their own cultural background. Maybe leadership would increasingly reflect the diversity within the church. Imagine this church engaging ‘interculturally’ in its local context. People from different cultural backgrounds would know that they are welcome and that this church, Christ’s body, is a place where they have value, can belong and can contribute because of, rather than in spite of, their differences.

Final thoughts

As the Body of Christ, we must learn how to engage interculturally within the church and in our communities. Like a good curry, it will require some simmering for the flavours to develop – we will need love, grace, patience and perseverance. But as we allow ourselves to be transformed into the fullness of Christ, the end result promises to be the best that God has for us. 

Questions to consider:

What might be some steps that can help a church community move towards becoming intercultural? How do you personally identify yourself culturally? Where are you from? What are the cultural influences that have shaped you? How can you learn from those who are culturally different from you in your context? How can you encourage them to use their gifts?

Recommended resources for further reading 

Dan Sheffield, The Multicultural Leader: Developing a Catholic Personality, Clements Publishing, 2005

Jay Ruka, Huia Come Home, 2007

Mark Lau and Juan F. Martinez, Churches, Cultures and Leadership, IVP: Illinois, 2011

Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, Abingdon Press, 1996

Rosemary Dewerse, Breaking Calabashes, MediaCom Education Inc., 2013

Sandra Maria Van Opstal, The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World, IVP, 2016

Soon-Chan Rah, Many Colours: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, Moody Publishers, 2010

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles and contexts, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. 

Each Intermission article will be uploaded periodically and can be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission. Alternatively, to receive the physical copy, feel free to email us at office@nzcms.org.nz or call us on 03 377 2222. 

A nation of many colours (Intermission – Issue 35)

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I’ve always loved to draw. Even when I was a kid I would write up little comics for hours (And force my parents to read them no doubt!). For whatever reason though, I always stuck with drawing. I never picked up a paintbrush. I think it was because, at the time, painting a picture with different colours just seemed too overwhelming. And messy! Also, I never found someone to teach me how.

Most of us know that a vibrant cultural diversity has filled New Zealand. But we all seem a bit separate and ‘uninvolved’ somehow don’t we? Sure we may interact with others somewhat. Say hello. Perhaps a couple of us have a friend from a different ethnicity than our own. But what have you learned from another that has challenged the way you view the world? Has your life been forever altered through an intercultural engagement? What memories come to your mind when you try to recall working with a group of diverse nationalities engaged together in God’s work? Have you heard sermons or Bible Studies in your church from an Asian perspective? A Middle Eastern? A Western? A Pacific Islander?

If you’re like me, and if you’re honest, you will struggle to answer any of these questions with a resounding “Yes!”. And if I’m honest, sometimes I don’t even want to think of an answer. Otherwise, it means taking responsibility and possibly changing something in my life. It’s simpler just not to think about it. Easier to understand. Uncomplicated. Not as messy. A little like drawing with a pencil.

But my friends, we’re a nation of many colours. The question is what are we going to do with them? Will we continue to think and dream and create with the only colour we’ve used in the past? Or is it time to begin choosing some different shades? 

I want to learn how to pick up a brush and start painting, and I’d love for you to join me. It will be messy. And yes, it may be quite complicated. But I believe the New Zealand Church is in a unique position to create something beautiful. And I think the Holy Spirit will be more than capable of teaching us how.

NZCMS’ quarterly magazine Intermission will arrive in your mailbox in the first week of June. We’ll also upload the PDF that week to this website. Within it are some incredibly valuable articles and resources all aimed at helping us becoming an interculturally engaged church. Feel free to contact us at office@nzcms.org.nz to subscribe to our mailing list or call us on +64 03 377 2222. Also keep an eye on our “Resources Tab” for an Intercultural Engagement page. Let’s start painting!

 

A story, a culture and a call (Intermission – Issue 34)

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I wonder sometimes if focusing on missionaries and pastors makes us as Christians feel better about ourselves. We go to church, we hear an incredible sermon and we say “Wow, that Pastor is really gifted. It’s so great to have him at our church”. Or we pick up a Christian article (much like this one) and are amazed at the missionaries overseas, working themselves to the bone for the sake of the Gospel. We say “God, it’s so good you’ve given these people such an amazing call from you”. It makes us feel good, doesn’t it? But what if something like that were a bit ‘closer to home’ for you? Let me create a hypothetical situation.

A story

Imagine walking into the smoko room at work and making yourself a coffee. A couple of your workmates are there as well, laughing and talking about the sport over the weekend and moaning about the boss. You join in happily and begin to make your lunch. When you turn from the kitchen bench to comment on the rugby game you suddenly see him through the door window. Jerry. The new guy. The Christian. Well, of course, you’re a Christian too but there’s a difference between you and him. He keeps on talking about it!

“Good afternoon everyone!” he roars as he enters the room with a grin the size of Cheshire the cat. Everyone else greets him but you quickly zero in on your sandwich and don’t reply.

“Please don’t do anything weird”, you think to yourself. But you hope in vain.

“I had a great yesterday,” Jerry says as he puts last night’s leftover tea into the microwave to heat up. “Amazing sermon and incredible prayer time with God. It was powerful stuff. How was everyone else’s weekend?”

You shrivel within yourself, wishing you were anywhere but here, dreading the response from your colleagues and feeling completely uncomfortable for them. You quickly finish your meal, drain your coffee and leave the room. “Why does he always have to make it so awkward?” you think to yourself grumpily.

This type of situation may or may not have happened to you before. But it illustrates my point. Perhaps the reason why we’re so comfortable talking about the talents and exploits of pastors and missionaries is because we think they have a calling that we don’t have. Or, more specifically, we think their passion or gift to proclaim the Gospel is something we don’t have any access to. And it makes us feel better about our lack of ‘Gospel sharing’ to rave about them. It’s a subtle way of saying “See, that’s not my calling so it’s fine that I’m not speaking about the Gospel.”. 

But when someone begins spouting on about God right in front of you who has no such title, he or she suddenly destroys that convenient little reason you’d given yourself for staying quiet. Because then the next question you have to ask is this: “If they’re talking about God, why aren’t I?” And that brings up a whole lot of uncomfortable questions.

A culture and a call

I’m still very young in the grand scheme of things, but I’m old enough to know that an attitude or response to something is often the fruit of a long-held belief or assumption. Another word for this can be the more ambiguous word ‘culture’. And I believe that it’s time for us New Zealanders to realise that there is something not quite right with a certain aspect of our culture, especially in how that translates into an authentic, Kiwi way of spreading the Gospel. Underneath our talk that we’re just trying to be humble and inoffensive, there seems to be another voice deeply embedded in our minds and emotions that whispers, “Don’t be too loud. Humility equals quiet. Passion can be low-key. Beliefs are private. Be a Christian through your actions.”

Now, are there truths to these statements? Yes! But they’re not the full story! And our enemy is a master at using half-truths to create the entirety of how we think we should act. When I read the Bible it tells me that the Holy Spirit comes with noise (Acts 2). It says we’ll be empowered to preach, heal and disciple (Acts 2, Acts 3). It says we’ll be filled with boldness and courage (Acts 4, Acts 5). And it declares that the call for all of us is to be witnesses to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all nations in the name of Jesus (Luke 24, Acts 1). I think it’s time we stop treating these examples in scripture as simply ‘suggestions’ and actually start following their example. Perhaps it’s time to allow Scripture, the full truth, to shape our culture and not the other way around. 

I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to challenge facets of our culture in light of Scripture, not the other way around. In a country that is experiencing so much tangible pain, both physically and mentally, perhaps moving in the tangible power of the Holy Spirit might not be such a bad thing. Don’t let your personality, culture or feelings shut you up from expressing your faith. You never know what might happen if you just open your mouth and speak.

Personal reflections

Now, it’s all well and good me writing this, isn’t it? But the truth is I find responding these challenges just as hard as you do. I actually find speaking about Jesus to friends, co-workers and -God forbid- strangers, incredibly hard. But, if I believe that Scripture is divinely inspired-which I do-then that’s not a good enough reason for me not to obey is it? Perhaps the biggest facet of myself that actually needs to grow is my faith that the Holy Spirit will “give me the words to say at the moment I need them.” (Luke 12:12). Let’s continue to learn, with his help, how we can be an answer to his call. 

 Questions for discussion

Do you find it easy to talk about Godly things with non-Christians? Why or why not?

What spiritual gifts do you see in others that you wish you had? What could you do to learn more about how these gifts can be activated in your life?

Where gladness and hunger meet (Intermission – Issue 34)

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“The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)

My deep gladness and the world’s hunger

Several years ago a group of my friends chose to relocate our lives to a neighbourhood where the social fabric was wearing thin, with holes and tears in some places. After a year spent praying for the neighbourhood we discerned that the best way to ‘help’ was to move in and become part of the neighbourhood. Early on, one of our team shared this quote from Buechner at our team night. Over the years, a passion for sport led him to start a Sunday afternoon football club for neighbourhood kids and he began to coach local sports teams so that young people who wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity could not only play sports but also receive mentoring and discipleship. A passion for education and the different people and cultures in our world led him to become a teacher aide and eventually a secondary school teacher specialising in geography. With others, he opened his home to students from refugee backgrounds who had nowhere else to go. None of it was easy for him. But he could have joy amongst the day-to-day struggles because he’d found the sweet spot where his own deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger met.

When I first heard Buechner’s quote and tried to figure out what my deep gladness was, the first thing that came to mind was good food. I felt very unspiritual! Yet, when I think about my ministry in that neighbourhood, it was my love of food (making, eating and sharing it) that was foundational to meeting a deep hunger. No pun intended. God is in the business of satisfying the hungry with good things (Luke 1:53), and in opening our meal table we were able to join him in this task. Bellies were filled. But equally, loneliness and isolation were eased? and desire for connectedness and belonging satisfied.

In the early days, our family celebrations became opportunities to bring people from every part of our community together. Over food, friendships were formed between people who might never have otherwise met or only met in adversarial settings: migrants and former refugees, self-identified gangsters and ‘streeties’, religious leaders and social service providers, Christians, Muslims, agnostics, law-makers and activists. For that season our call to ‘go’ was actually to stay home and reclaim the kind of hospitality (literally “love of strangers”) described in the gospels (Mark 2:13-16; Luke 14:12-14, 19:1-10; Matt 25:35-36). In doing so we were privileged to experience the richness of God’s banquet table and to invite others to experience the goodness of God’s Kingdom.

When the going gets tough

Following God’s call is not always easy. It does not always include happiness, security or comfort (Matt 16:24-26). However, there are many things that help to sustain us in our call when life gets difficult. One aspect that offers sustenance is the joy to be found at the intersection of our passion and God’s mission. Straight out of university, I volunteered as a lawyer in South Asia to help rescue people from modern-day slavery. It was hard, gruelling work. The pursuit of truth and justice is part of my hardwiring so when freedom and justice for victims seemed elusive, living in the intersection of my passion and God’s mission helped sustain me as we waited for God’s kingdom to break through.

A few years later some of us started a social enterprise cafe that helped equip young people who weren’t in education, employment or training. I did the baking and helped mentor the young women. It was a different type of hospitality than that practised in the gospels, but one that had potential to provide economic and social justice for those who might otherwise get left behind. All twelve young people who completed their work experience with us successfully transitioned to paid employment and a few years later we can see the fruitfulness of the investment in many of their lives. It was physically exhausting and financially draining (we were only open a year and had some debt to pay back), but in the midst of a painful and challenging season, we knew that we were at the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger met.

How to find your call 

So how do we discern where God is calling us to? Buechner helpfully writes: “There are all different kinds of voices calling to you, all different kinds of work and the problem is finding out which is the voice of God, rather than that of society, say, or the super-ego or self-interest. By and large, a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to, is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do, and (b) that the world most needs to be done…

If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you have missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leprosy colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are bored and depressed by it, the chances are you’ve not only bypassed (a) but you probably aren’t helping your patients much either…”

How kind it is of God to call us to serve His Kingdom in ways that are life-giving for us too. If you find yourself pouring out for the sake of God’s Kingdom but you feel heaviness, bitterness and the weight of your sacrifice and service overwhelming you, then perhaps you need to consider whether you’re serving where God has called you. Conversely, if you already love what you do but struggle to answer how it is advancing God’s mission, perhaps you need to re-think how you can meet the world’s deep hunger. God’s call always sends us to serve His Kingdom in the world (Matthew 28:18-20; John 17:18, 20:21). What we must learn to do well is to discern the intersection of our passion and God’s mission in every season of our life.

Questions to consider:

What do you think Buechner means by “deep gladness”? How is this different from happiness? What are the things that could be your deep gladness? Where could these meet the world’s deep hunger?

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.

Shadow and mission (Intermission – Issue 34)

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Guilt. That silent foe that can yell louder than any outside distraction. That internal voice screaming from within that diminishes any joy or life meant to be lived. I’m very conversant with this inner voice. Not so much in words, but in feelings. Not visible to others but always felt. Like a CD stuck on a scratch, jumping, repeating, and skipping over and over. Always heard, it becomes a familiar part of life. In the business, it may fade into the background but it’s always there, following me like a shadow. A guilt shadow.

I grew up as the child of both missionaries and ministers. Most of my childhood was exceptional. I have many wonderful memories and experiences that I find myself drawing from more and more as I grow older. However, like any child, my parents could not control everything in my life, and certainly not how I would interpret different events. Somewhere along the way, guilt crept into my soul. Like a subtle, dark shadow that followed my every move. Guilt for what I did and said. Guilt for what I didn’t do or say. Guilt for how I looked and what I wanted. As a primary aged child, guilt was my constant shadow, blocking the light.

On one level it could simply be due to my personality type and a deep conscience. However, in recent reflections, I have come to recognise it as a tool used so well by the “enemy of our soul”, paralysing me from hearing and following the call of God.

What does this have to do with mission?

For many years as a young adult, I wrestled with this shadow for not being a missionary or in Christian ministry. Instead, my husband and I lived in an idyllic, picturesque country town in South Canterbury. Sure, we were involved in our local church, but I felt guilty that it wasn’t ‘real ministry’. Every time I listened to a visiting missionary or watched something on TV about aid work overseas, the guilt shadow would cloud my vision, hindering me from seeing anything else. In hindsight, I realise I allowed it to be my reason for avoiding God. After all, how could God call me when I was so full of guilt?

Sometime in the midst of this, I read the following passage:

“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us (1 John 3.19-22).”

The context of this passage is the assurance of salvation as evidenced by our actions of love for each other. This was truly living water for my parched soul. Although my own heart condemned me, I realised that God was greater than any guilt, or false conscience. God alone knew the depths of my heart and my desire to live in love for Him and for others. God also knew that for so long, this desire had been overshadowed by the guilt shadow. 

What you see when the shadow fades

I began to see that the guilt for not doing things in a certain way was actually hindering me from following God’s call to believe in Jesus and to love others. Guilt for not doing was preventing me from doing!

In the light of this truth, the guilt shadow gradually began to fade and my eyes began to see. Loving my husband and teaching my children was ministry. Taking soup and flowers to the new Mum who moved into town was mission. My heart sang when I saw light in my friend’s eyes as we talked about the grace and love of God she had found. I began to sense the smile of God as I helped to clean when a family was moving house or agreed to look after a child while their Mother went to an appointment. The more I spent time with God, and read the Word, the more confidence I felt in the Spirit’s call on me to actively look for ways to show love to those around me.

How often do we sit in guilt for what we are not doing in Africa or Bosnia, when we do not even know the name of our next door neighbour? How often do we forget to see the love and care for the elderly and the sick in our communities as mission and ministry just as equal to working in the slums of Kolkata if God has called us to it? The Spirit whom Christ gave us is the One who calls us to where God’s love can shine the brightest through us! For some, that will be with war victims in Syria. For others, it is with the lonely widow next door or the special needs child at your son’s school. Perhaps the lowest caste of Bangladesh is where the Spirit calls you. Or maybe it is to the professional woman at work who looks immaculate but is eaten alive by regret. The road worker on your street whose son committed suicide last year. The 90-year-old, loyal church attendee who is afraid of death. The enemy revels in believers who stay trapped by the guilt shadow to live a pale, dim version of who they are created to be. But no matter who or where we are, living out the love of Christ is what we’re all called to do.

So I invite you: acknowledge and repent of living under the guilt shadow and remaining paralysed. Ask the Spirit to open your eyes to live in love, whether that’s in your street or on the other side of the world. Wherever you are, if you are living in the love of the Spirit, you can be confident you are living in God’s Mission.  

Questions to consider 

In what area of your life do you feel paralysed by guilt? Ask God to reveal any lies you’ve believed and replace them with the light of his truth.

What opportunities are available for you to reveal the love of God? Ask God to highlight a person or situation to 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 called across the street (Intermission – Issue 34)

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Acts 3 is proof that something had changed in the Apostle Peter. I know in Acts 2 he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then he preached and saw thousands of people come to Christ. And that’s awesome. But it’s pretty easy to be bold and courageous in certain environments isn’t it? Peter, on the day of Pentecost, was no doubt feeling pretty good. The adrenaline was probably pumping. His friends would have all been cheering him on. But what about later when the moment had passed and when the feelings had faded? What did Peter do when things all went back to ‘normal’ again? Well, Acts 3 tells us.

The story and what we learn from it

Peter walks with a friend down the road. It would have been busy, dusty and hot. Stinking donkeys are led past them by grumbling young men, woman work busily in the hot, morning’s sun. It’s just a regular day. Then, all of a sudden, the Apostle and his friend see a crippled man being carried to the temple gates. Nothing unusual about that. He’d seen that same man numerous times before, begging for money. But what does Peter do? He walks across the street and he speaks to the man. He speaks the name of Jesus. He speaks with boldness. And he declares healing. And the man is suddenly able to walk.

The question has to be asked-Why, when Peter had probably seen this man countless times in the past, did he go over to speak to him then? I think it’s because Peter finally realized what God’s mission was. I think he knew he was called to join Him in it. And I believe, perhaps most importantly, he knew he could. Finally, after all those years of Jesus training and teaching him, Peter believed in God’s mission enough that, even on a regular day, he walked across the street and declared the love and power of Jesus into a hopeless situation.

The questions we ask about missions

Though many churches and organisations speak on how important missions work is, it often remains undefined doesn’t it? When the topic of missions is bought up we ask ourselves “What does a missionary do? Am I qualified? What does a life of mission look like?” And sadly these questions are not often answered. Or sometimes we’re not even brave enough to ask the questions.

Next week, NZCMS is mailing out 2018’s first issue of our bi-monthly publication, Intermission. It’s titled “We’re all called to go” not because we want to beat you over the head and say “Do more!” but because we want to encourage you that the mission of God is very, very possible for you to be part of. And we want to show you how. Perhaps, just like Peter, your mission is right across the street.

If you are not on our mailing list and would like a copy of next week’s Intermission, please contact us at office@nzcms.org.nz or call us on +64 3 377 2222

A giving heart (Issue 33)

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“Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness” Bill Hybels, Willow Creek Community Church

A great capacity for giving comes from a generous heart, and a generous heart always finds the motivation and the outlets to love all people (including difficult people). The Bible challenges believers to recognise each person’s value and seek ways to validate each person we interact with.

Not that we need reminding, but throughout Scripture it’s clear: each and every one of us has profound value as creatures made in the image of a God who loves us deeply. Here’s just a few examples that speak clearly of the value given to each and every person.

Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32)

I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139)

Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us (Genesis 1:26)

If we as Christians, as God’s people on this earth, fail to adopt a giving attitude of valuing and validating people, we will be a second-rate church.

You see, it’s not just what we believe or what we think that will count in eternity, it’s what we do with what we think and what we believe that’s really crucial. If we’ve heard the Lord and are obedient to him and claim to have become people who have giving hearts, then it must be showing in our lives. Let’s see it in action. Don’t just think it’s a nice idea. Don’t just talk about it – do it!

Learning to Value, Learning to Validate.

The challenge God is putting to us is that we must stretch our capacity to love others by valuing and validating them. It’s not enough to just believe that we should have giving hearts, and it’s not enough just to accept that it’s a good thing for other people either.

A Pastor of a large North Island church whom I’ve known personally for over 20 years recently shared with a group of leaders some of the lessons he’s learned through the years. He told us about when he was transferred from a moderately small church to take over the Senior Pastor’s role in a large, ‘successful’ church. He was quite intimidated by the prospect and was very aware that he had ‘some big shoes to fill’ as he was still quite young and inexperienced. So, he asked God to speak to him about a strategy or leadership style that he should apply.

All that God told him (very clearly) was “Value and Validate.”

These two words were to be his strategy. And this was to apply to every person he met, irrespective of their office, or standing, or position, or ability.

He was concerned about having such a limited statement to work with, so asked God for a broader strategy, or at least a clearer word of explanation. But all he received from God was “value and validate.”

For the last 20 something years, that’s been his primary call. So in everything he’s done, he’s sought to be a source of encouragement, to build people up, to never let a goal or outcome become more important than the people involved. He’s sought to highlight people’s achievements and listen to their hearts. To value and validate a person means listening carefully to them. And it’s more than simply listening, but recognising and acknowledging that everybody has a story and needs a voice to tell it. It’s finding ways to help people recognise that everyone has a gift, and helping each person find ways to express and practice it.

Of course there are strategies, plans, budgets, trust boards, management, vision casting and everything else involved in a large church’s ministries. But he said it all must be deliberately approached, articulated and out-worked from the call to “value and validate” every individual person that may be involved at any level.

This church has gone from strength to strength. They’ve developed the larger church while also building up a number of satellite congregations, a number of local and international missional enterprises, a large private tertiary training institution, and have recently even purchased a fully functioning medical and counselling centre. And all of that has flown out of the simple challenge to “value and validate.”

For discussion

How are you & your group doing when it comes to valuing and validating people?

What opportunities is God giving you & your group to grow in this area?

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.