A theology of travel: summary so far

So far in our theology of travel:

  • We’ve experienced the thrills and joys of travel being declared “good” by God
  • We’ve felt the fallen-ness of travel in the loneliness and fragility of it all
  • And we’ve now countered the claim that travel should help us restore our faith in the goodness of humanity
  • We’ve painted a picture that we’re made for more than just travel in this world and seen that the New Heavens and New earth that we’re made for is an even sweeter song to our ears than the current one
  • And we’ve just gone out and got some top practical tips for travel, as the Bible is not a travel handbook!  Photos can be found largely under the “Cork” category on the sidebar or by searching for “Ireland”.

But in every theology of travel, it should not only be guided by God’s revelation of Himself (primarily in the Scriptures), but it should be cross-shaped and cross-centred, for that is exactly what the Christian message revolves around.

I was sent Francis and Lisa Chan’s book on marriage by a friend recently (recommended for people even like me, who don’t have marriage on the horizon any time soon).  I came across this:

“’Christians’ have come up with clever ways to explain why the followers of a suffering servant should live like Kings.”

What does a travelling suffering servant look like?

Well, as we attempt to submit not only our answers/experiences to the scriptures, but also to let the scriptures shape our questions, over the coming months we may take a look at some of this:

All a grand auld plan, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m back on the road for most of my working term.  In the meantime, if you know of anything good to read on the topic, do get in touch.  And if you really don’t think it matters, check out this!

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Lichfield, England 04/01/17

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Augustine on travel…

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

– (supposedly) Saint Augustine

There’s rarely a more quoted saying online about travel than the one above.  But something about it made me question its authorial integrity.  I’ve read Augustine (albeit not all of him) and it just didn’t sit right with me.  Pleasure travel is a fairly modern thing, and so I’d be surprised if we got such sayings from early centuries, asides from lofty aristocrats perhaps, who could afford to spend their lives on the move.  And so I started googling and have got as far as learning that the quotation is more likely to stem from this:

“The universe is a sort of book, whose first page one has read when one has seen only one’s own country.”

Louis-Charles Fougeret de Monbron, Le Cosmopolite

And now, having not read this either, I’m no more enlightened, but am heading off to find out whether it could be true, or if it’s from elsewhere.  [EDIT: I’ve now read suitable chunks of “Le Cosmopolite…” to know it is a fair representation, though he does follow it by cynically saying the other pages he read were just as bad!] But regardless of it’s source, is it true?

Well, I’m not sure.  Can one know the world and stay in your own little corner of it?

I think of one of our “international cafe” volunteers each week in Cork.  He comes from a rural Irish setting, lives at home with his parents and has never been outside of the country.  Yet his knowledge of world history, his outward lookingness and ability to engage with international students from round the world each week, is admirable.

I know other students who have been off travelling relentlessly and yet have not grown or learnt anything much consciously.  They’ve had amazing experiences, of course, but are left still none the wiser about the cultures they’ve visited.

But I could imagine that if one had a learning posture, one would not necessarily grow any more on the road, but just grow in different ways.  There’s something about full immersion in another culture that will surely always teach you more (or just faster?) in some areas than you could ever learn by reading about someone else’s experiences in a book or by living in one’s own culture surrounded by international people.  But that is not to say that travelling will teach you more in general.

Doubtless there’s so much to learn in life that one never needs to travel to keep learning.  And in the Christian life, one need not think that one is any more spiritual necessarily by having travelled.  In fact, it is some of the Godly old men and ladies in my life who have taught me soo much spiritually, who sit in their homes, bed-bound and pray, and pray and pray.  Their contentedness abounds.  Their pleasure lies in world to come.  Their joy has already started and reflects in their eyes.  Their questions about the Church in other lands shows great delight in those who can go and bring back tales.

And that’s good news for us all.  Good news for broken people who can’t physically travel.  Good news for poor people who can’t travel.  And good news for privileged ones who can, to keep them humble.  Regardless which of those you are, my question more is:

Are you willing to learn and to be content?

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Bangor Worldwide Conference.  A chance to be outward looking from our own doorstep.  Talks from a Ugandan Archbishop and an Eritrean believer on one night.

Facing a task unfinished: the road ahead

[We come to the final summary post in our series on travelling to Unreached/Unengaged peoples.  We’ve already looked at 5 practical reasons why I think many unengaged peoples remain unengaged.  Number one was largely informative.  Numbers two, three and four were all problems that I haven’t found discussed in many missiological circles.  And number five was a reflection on my own heart and the equal dangers of that.  Finally today we come to the underlying cause of all of them.]


What is it that makes the traveller, travel?

What is it that captures our hearts and makes us lust after more, even though we know we’ll never have our fill?

Something selective in our memory that has us day-dreaming about the ecstasy that has gone before, and forgetting all the dull moments that came with it along the way?

Something able to put aside all the problems of the world, and any connection to any other part of reality, and lose ourselves in the freedom of jumping from the mundane and messy realities, through the picture-perfect travel brochure scene that was lying on our kitchen table, into a Narnia-like fantasy, without loss to anything upon our return.

Desire!

But how then does this ever end?  Surely, with so much to explore, and so little at stake, we’d be forever adventurers together?

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At what moment does the thirty-something-year-old wake up and think “I don’t want to explore those far flung paradise shores” or “A day at the office seems like a wonderful idea” or even more incredibly “oh, how I would love to have some screaming, pooping little creatures running round my legs, creating havoc, while I try to make breakfast for them, wash their messy clothes, change their nappies and get ready for work all at once“!

But for most, it seems to happen.  Our desire to feel at home and connected somewhere eventually wins over.

Perhaps those moments where the loneliness of travel finally gives us its final blow.  The moment we really need someone by our side, and we turn round in one of the world’s most stunning places, to find no-one there to share it with.

Maybe those times when family or friends are suffering or growing old back home and we’ve missed special moments with them.

Or just the lack of connectedness.  You have friends and people you’ve met travelling in every corner of the globe, can speak into soo many cultures and languages to a small degree.  And yet ultimately, those friends who are there for you every day to laugh until you cry and enjoy wine into the small hours of the morning?

Even moreso when you suffer.  The real test of friendship.  The places where older, wiser heads who have suffered before us, can be phoned at 3am and just sit with us in silence.

They’re back in places where the WiFi automatically connects when you walk into their home.  It needn’t be “home” in one geographical place like in the old days, but still somewhere where your shoulders fall an inch as you relax with the familiar sights, sounds and smells of it, and where google maps can be firmly kept in your pocket.

Home.

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But the trouble is that neither travel or feeling at home will ultimately leave you happy.  They will both eat you, if ordered alone as your main course.

And the fires of desire in your heart won’t be put out by preaching a guilty message at yourself either. “I ought to really grow up and take some responsibility in life”.  Somehow your heart doesn’t quite buy it.  It sounds, well, unappetising and ugly.  Like pouring cold water on the embering beach fire when the warmth of the sun has already set.  It leaves you shivering, and exposed.

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Combined with the mundane, messy realities of home life, you come in a full circle, and wonder why you stopped travelling at all?  Was I insane?

And it’s why the opposite of desire isn’t responsibility.  And the answer to unreached peoples isn’t “to care more” or tell me over and over again to “stop making it your idol”.  Desire isn’t crushed primarily by cold commands, regardless of whether I agree with them or not.  We found that out with Odysseus not so long ago.

Surely what I need is contentment, regardless of whether I travel or not.  Contentment, whether I am going to unreached people groups personally or not.  Somehow feed me contentment from when I wake up, til when I go to sleep, and desire will not consume me.

But what then of ambition – crushed by this new joy of being content?  Won’t that give us tame lives that care nothing for travel?  If I was content to start with, I wouldn’t have left my front door!  It seems just as bad as responsibility, if not worse, as it seeks to trample on my desire, not just to take my energy away to other things!

Well, yes.  So let me clarify.  There is a contentment that will work, but it’s quite unique and fanciful.  If it were true, it would be quite the fairytale.

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A contentment because one realises that this world is an undeserved gift to us.  The fact you were born (most likely) in the first world.  The fact you were born into an area or class which gave you a chance to travel.  The fact that health and life gave you freedom to roam this planet.  The fact that none of this was your right.

A contentment also because you realise you have everything life has to offer.  The Maker of the universe calls you to come and live with Him, united with Him forever.  Free!  And you’ve said yes.  And you’ve realised that no matter what happens on this earth, no matter what He calls you to do, or where He calls you to go, you’re content.  Because ultimately you’ve got Him.  What good is having the gift, if you don’t know the giver?  How much better must the giver be to give such good gifts?  If the infinitely chaotic oceans rhythmically pounding on the golden beach shores satisfy us for weeks on end – how much more their maker?  If the diversity of such a funny species as humans are, baffles you and causes you to wonder – how much more our diverse yet united God?

A contentment ultimately because, although truly satisfied in Him, He gives us gifts connected to His very fabric.  A perfect New Heavens and a New Earth to enjoy one day, should we trust His (reliable) words and history’s patterns which have been building towards it.  A beautiful earthiness to explore, not just some harps on clouds in the sky.  A place where we’ll be forever content, yet always growing in perfection.

Content.

How does this not remove my desire?  Well it gives me perspective.  It gives me reason to enjoy His creation, yet reminds me there’s better to come.  It gives me desire to travel to unreached people groups but contentedness that it’s not the be all and end all of life.

It gives context to desire without stamping it out.

It allows the embers of the fire to be fanned into flame more on the beach, but not to ravage as a bushfire, harming all around.

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It lets us enjoy travel, and weep at Unreached People Groups for what they are: gifts that our Good Father allows us to partake of, with Him.  It fans into flame our love for both and increases our right desires about them.

It’s a fairytale that if true, speaks both to our minds and our hearts.  It warms them from our very core.  And it’s beautiful!  The fairytale with a very real “happily ever after” ending.  The reason why all other fairytales dreamed and echoed it.  Like shadows of the flame, flickering on the beach.  They’re there to show us that a real flame exists.

“because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.’”

(Luke eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, chapter one)

Warmth!  Contentment at last!  Christ!

Abandoning my first love…

[This is part 5 of a 5 part series on seeing God’s glory across the nations.]

“I’m ready to go to Somalia, whether that means death or anything that God has for me”

They were bold words from a young person, in their late twenties, sold on following Jesus.  Here was a person we’d dreamed of finding.  Someone who valued everything else as rubbish, for the sake of knowing Him and making Him known.  Someone who would care nothing for finding their ideal spouse, living in comfort, or travelling the world compared with the joys of being united to Jesus, sharing in His glory, and following Him.  Someone who’d been shaping their life around heading to unreached peoples, for years.

Not many young people reach such convictions at such an age.  And so here we were.

A tear welled up in my eye, as I turned to chat to their church leader.  They, as a church, had affirmed her calling and were willing to send her.  But first they suggested with all that she was to face in future, that she would need to be equipped theologically, or else she would struggle to survive long term out there.

“We recommend 2 years in Bible college before you go.”

The words hit like lead balloons.

Tears formed in her eyes.  She couldn’t do that, could she?  2 more years of cold ivory tower learning, while passing thousands in Somalia died every day and headed to a lost eternity.  Did these church leaders not care?  Do they not understand her heart for these people now?  I won’t be ruined by not having yet more theological study, she thought.  And so she refused, thinking that they’d see her logic with a bit more explanation.  But they didn’t budge:

“I’m afraid if you’re not willing to go with us on this one, we’d struggle to send you to Somalia.  Perhaps it’s best if we wait a few more years”

And so she stormed out, in a rage.

 

And so often my heart has done the same.  Weeping uncontrollably at passers by in the University of Nottingham, as they went to lectures.  Struggling to do what God had set in front of me first, and to honour Him in that.  Wanting to be the quick fix solution to a problem that I couldn’t ever solve by myself.  To some extents, a Messiah Complex.

It’s the trouble when Unengaged People Groups become our first love.  It’s a minor problem of great sites like Called Together which match people by calling.  What happens when God says dying to self looks different?  What happens when your church leaders and all those wiser than us think differently?  What happens when circumstance ruins the dream?

I’ve been in sad situations in Morocco where God has allowed a death of a husband (and father of four) to ruin someone’s Unengaged People dream.  I’ve been in others where longterm, life-debilitating illness has taken the dream from others.  And I’ve been in places where people’s church leaders have simply said “no, we don’t feel you are right to be sent.  Please stay at home and serve God here”.

It’s a common problem with us evangelists – we can slip into thinking it’s godly to sacrifice [insert thing] on the altar of mission.  Family.  Friends.  Church.  But disaster after disaster has unfolded.  Broken marriages, hurt families, kids rejecting all faith, individualism.  I’ve been in the sad place where even once, my non-Christian friends have noticed what I was doing and warned me.  “Peter, you’re obsessed.  If you want us to consider all this stuff, stop running around trying to know hundreds of people”.

You see, despite the fact that the people who go to the unengaged world are few and far between, God’s glory will not be shared with another.  His plans are bigger than ever needing any individual, much as he dearly loves every one of us.

And so my prayer for my own life, and for yours, is that we love Jesus, and let everything else click into place.  Simple I know.  But so very difficult.  May we never glory in Jesus’ words about unreached peoples, more than we glory in Him.

Otherwise you may as well be travelling the world for your own pleasures.

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“Some want to live within sound of church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell”

[This is part 4 of a 5 part series on seeing God’s glory across the nations.]

“Some want to live within sound of church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell”

These are the famous words of CT Studd, England cricketer, and missionary from Cambridge University off to China and then to Africa, pioneering mission in unreached and unengaged places.

These words have inspired thousands to live recklessly for Jesus’ sake, refusing the comfort of where there are many Christians, for the wilds of pioneering life, going where Christ is not know.

But sadly in the individualistic world we live in, quotations and mistakenly applying thinking like this, have also inspired one of the main reasons why unengaged peoples remain unengaged.

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Mulling over the nations from the hill by Loch Hyne (July ’17)

Because people love to distinguish between church (the building or the people) and us as those who go to unreached peoples.  In this quotation, many will be fed up with church (the people) and use it to justify lone-wolf evangelism, with an organisation that knows more about their mission or understands better their heart.  Instead, rightly reading Studd, would give us a heart to go (as the church) beyond our walls (of a building) to those who don’t have the gospel.

And so the world of mission can quite often be divided:

CHURCH (local) vs: MISSION ORGANISATION

The advantages of church based sending:

  • This is God’s means of working in the world (His wise means Eph. 3)
  • They should know us best (if not, why not?)
  • Churches plant churches (who else has Jesus given authority to?)
  • Others, who maybe don’t have your heart for mission, are brought with you in your journey, the more you keep them on board
  • They are better equipped to partner in encouraging and disciplining us
  • They would send unified teams theologically

The advantages of mission organisations:

  • They have vastly more experience and expertise in particular cultures/settings
  • They have a wider connection base to many round the world, that enables teams to form quickly, without waiting for small church groupings to send people
  • They are often there on the ground, far closer to the action that sending churches
  • They form teams which allow for great diversity and learning, yet keep the main thing, the main thing

And so often the local church will adopt an agency to partner with, to get the best of both worlds as churches are planted.  So far, so good.  What’s the problem?

Well the problem comes on the field.

If you’ve gone solely with a denominational church mission (eg. Mission to the World, a reformed and confessional organisation, I believe):

  • how that “unity” in theology works out in practice is rarely easy!  In fact, sometimes it’s harder to work out, because you come in with expectations that you all are on the same page!
  • it is hard enough getting anyone for the unengaged world, never mind those who are theologically on the same page as you and willing/able to go to the same setting.
  • there are so few Christians around that what will be your response be to other ex-pat Christians in that area?  Often such teams turn inward-looking and are a bizarre witness to new believers, who don’t see why you don’t live out a practical unity beyond reformed and confessional walls
  • How quickly do you really expect your new believers (from no background or prior knowledge of the scriptures at all) to be signing the confession, believing what you do about baptism, or seeing why such things are any way important at all?  I suggest you’ll be three generations before that is likely.  Do you have succession plans on church leadership, so you can pass on to like-minded people after you have to leave?  If not, why are you bothering to take a stand on it primarily?
  • Similar to the above point, how can you ensure that, in many settings where to see anyone professing faith is incredible, that you don’t prioritise secondary issues?
  • it takes great patience to keep your home denomination on board and decisions take far longer

If you’ve gone largely with a mission organisation team having authority on the field (eg: Pioneers):

  • who are your Biblical “elders” who you’re submitting to?  The mission team?  Your sending church?  Your international (overground) church elders locally?
  • If local people, how are you connecting and submitting to your sending church and seeing them grow in this partnership?  If sending church, how are you making decisions locally for things that can’t wait til the sending church understands the situation?
  • what are you going to do about secondary issues within your team?  Much as folk like to say they’re not important, you have to practice something!  Holding unresolved tensions can so often kill a team dynamic and make like hard.
  • what are you going to do about secondary issues among those who come to faith in the culture around you?  Leaving it to new local believers to decide for the future of that church, will always be a disaster, much as it’s a nice ideal!  You’ll need to lead by exampling something to them before they come to decisions themselves.
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Many will think that sitting on our own shores to answer such deep questions will never suffice.  The answers must come from an experience of the pressures of the cross-cultural settings.

And added problems have arisen in virtually every mission organisation recently, as they dictate theologically the direction of missions:

  • if your seminary and church denomination aren’t shaping the theologically mission direction of your team, then who is and who are they accountable to?
  • what are the procedures for not being led astray by pragmatism on the field, which so often result in experimental mission that teaches falsehood (by example) to thousands?
  • how can you close the gap between the “ivory towers” of seminaries and the evangelists on the field?
  • how can you hold such a high view of ecclesiology that you avoid breeding lone-wolf evangelist pr theologians who care little for the church at large and bringing the church with them (or being corrected by the church)?

I’ve already written of one such major problem on the field, that has supposedly led to thousands of “churches” being planted in rapid multiplication.  Yet, few of these “churches” have anything but a group of people who are starting to respond to Jesus’ words, like any evangelistic setting has.  To call them “churches” and essentially say there’s revival happening, is a big call to make.

And I could describe far more practices in other settings too.  Several missionaries in another major mission organisation have recently decided to leave the field because their organisation had asked them to speak to [x] number of people a day about Jesus or be fired.  Such pragmatism and unbiblical requirements end up making a mockery out of sound Biblical teaching, even when the motive is good.  And they in turn will teach the next generation of believer in that place, the same thing.

Down the line, you’ll not only have a warped church scene in many places, but you’ll have a bunch of disillusioned missionaries, feeling they need to work miracle-numbers in order to meet modern trends.  You’ll also have a bunch of disillusioned supporters of world mission, who were being enthralled by these latest methodologies until the lid was lifted and they see the reality beneath it.

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It’s easy to present a picture of dramatic things that says all is well.  (Picture: Inchydoney Beach, West Cork, July ’17)

Don’t get me wrong, new ways to contextualise are needed, and great things have been happening, including in some communities that have been pioneering some of these more controversial “techniques”.  But let us think longterm of the Church, before we usher in the next pragmatic program for church growth, at home or abroad.

May the gap between our sending churches and seminaries, and the mission field be an increasingly small one.  For the sake of unengaged peoples.

 

Good, better, best.

[This is part 3 of a 5 part series on seeing God’s glory across the nations.  Please bear with me on this one, as it’s thoughts in process – feedback welcome!]

Choice is paralysis.

They told me we were a fortunate generation to have the world as our oyster.  They told me we should be grateful for being able to re-train and learn any occupation in a few years and do what we love.  They told me that we’d be able to travel the world and find others with similar interests and passions.  They told me we’d be able to spend our lifetime exploring the rich diversity of personalities, cultures, countries and languages on this earth.  But they didn’t tell me this.

Choice is paralysis.

And I find myself part of a generation who have so much at their fingertips, we have nothing.  Because we can’t decide what we want.

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The green fields and castles of Munster, on a summer day in Ireland (copyright me)

We come back from our travels, and we’re so taken by dreaming of the next one, that we struggle to fit in.  And the freedom and exhilaration of new things, new cultures and new people, gnaw away at us when we’re back to brass tacks, sitting at the office desk, wondering when we can next escape.  Perhaps we’re in the wrong job?  Should we change again?  But the last one felt like chains too…and I thought this one was more “me”.  And so I’m left wondering whether the next pay cheque really needs to go on car insurance, or whether we can abandon the car in a bid to travel the road even further.

So many places.  So many experiences.  So much on the bucket list.  So little time.

Choice can be paralysing!

And for the Christian it often is no different.  Just because we have the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean that life becomes easy or that the golden path is suddenly there.  The Bible doesn’t promise a soul-mate.  The Bible doesn’t promise to outline what country you should live in.  The Bible doesn’t even give a ranking list of professions either.  In fact, the Bible doesn’t even promise you an easy ride this side of eternity – far from it!

But what Jesus does do, is to let us know that He is Lord over everything, and that we can serve Him in the vast array of different giftings, cultures and personalities that we all have.  How freeing!

So no need to try and endlessly interpret whether one door is closing or opening.  No need to wait on someone to come along and confirm your life calling.  No need to wait til all the circumstances perfectly line up in your life for something.  No need to mysteriously open your Bible at a verse that matches the numbers on the car number plate that you’re following at the time.  That’s often more superstition than Jesus.

BUT…

There are certain things Jesus would say we should bear in mind: 

 

  1. Things the Church should do/be (eg. The bride of Christ…individuals cannot fulfil this role)
  2. Things individuals should do/be (eg. a part of the body)
  3. Things Christians with certain gifts can do/be (eg. Evangelists or speakers of tongues – neither are for everyone)
  4. Things mostly all Christians can do/be (eg. “be my witnesses” – we’re all called to this)
Infographic blog Mission

My work in progress – sorry to those who don’t think like this!

1+2+3+4: Many things, like putting our hope in God’s Word.

1+2: Sins of omission: Many things where the Church and individuals ought to do something or be something but don’t/aren’t

3 alone (eg: using tongues in private or chatting to lots of lonely people) or

4 alone (eg: wearing a cross at work or being kind to everyone) or

(3+4) : (eg: telling someone they ought to be kinder)

Some gifted people use their gifts outside of formal church context and outside of where they’re called specifically to use their gifts.  Consciously this happens for example, in the business world or anywhere we work.  Unconsciously, this happens ALOT, when people think they’re using gospel gifts, and are actually just acting culturally rather than Biblically.

1+3: eg. Go to unengaged peoples (this is a unique subset of certain gifts which individuals within the Church need to act on)

2+4: eg. Partner to help reach some of the unengaged peoples (this is what everyone else is required to do as individuals, to have God’s heart for unengaged peoples)

Why go to this length with an infographic (that is far from perfect)?

Well, what I think this shows us, is that everyone can sit back as individuals, in a highly individualised church scene, and confidently say that they don’t feel called to unengaged peoples.  And to some extents they may all be able to justify their decision making in highly logical, Biblically good and God glorifying ways.  And no-one would go.  Ever.  And this is what I would argue has happened for centuries of church history (with notable exceptions).

Who would be to blame?

Well, it’s hard to say, isn’t it?

No single individual could be held responsible.

No single church could be expected to guarantee folk to go to the unengaged world.

Even no single denomination necessarily should be held responsible Biblically speaking.

But the Church at large is not doing what it ought to do: making disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded us.

We’ll look at a collective response to this in due course, and what this means for churches.  But for now let me suggest one thing for us as individual Christians: that we cannot afford to give ourselves the luxury of thinking that others will go and that we are not the ones to go.

When I speak to most people with obvious gifts of evangelism in the church, they don’t think they have such a gift!  Because to acknowledge it would be daunting, and to them, it’s just God’s gracious provision in giving them opportunities to speak a word in season (in their weakness).  It doesn’t seem like it’s for them.

And similarly with going to the unengaged.  Please, please do not wait for an angel from Heaven to tell you to pursue opportunities to see whether you could go.  Jesus has already told the Church to pursue those opportunities.

Perhaps rather, I’d ask you to pray over, and be asking yourself this question:

Why should I not go to the unengaged world?

You’d be surprised like Moses in Exodus chapter 3, with how many reasons God can answer!

  • Feel too weak? Good, God is with you.
  • Feel too sinful? Good, God has a history of using such folk who realise their sin.
  • Feel you need to get married to someone who isn’t willing to ask the same questions? You could marry someone who would keep the possibility real, instead of closing doors unduly.
  • Feel you don’t have the right gifts? I’ve seen virtually every type of person on the field!
  • Feel you’re indispensable to the church at home? Perhaps God can show you, you’re not.
  • Feel like you’ve a great career ahead of you and don’t want to throw it away? Do something career related in your unengaged people, but primarily, weigh up in your heart what Christ is worth.
  • Don’t think you’re an evangelist? Good – teams need all sorts.
  • Don’t want the responsibility of intentionally giving years of your life to working towards the unengaged world? Christ is worth it!

And so I’ll pray this evening that you join me in praying that question, regardless of your age.  There are enough really genuine reasons that will stop you going without adding. any of the above to them!

The women changing the world

It must be one of the most ironic reasons out of our 5 for why the unengaged and unreached people groups in the world are still unengaged and unreached.  We’ve already seen that the evangelical church scene is plenty large enough to reach the world with the good news of Jesus.  But then yesterday we saw that a fair percentage of us have little awareness that there might be different needs or priorities other than the immediate on our own doorstep.  So little priority or energy gets put into reaching the unengaged world (that has no church, few [if any] Christians and sometimes even no Bible in their language).

And so today we tackle reason 2:

2.  The Church in many areas of the world is greedy to keep its “best”

As you look round the mission field of unengaged and unreached peoples in the world, you will find many incredible individuals.  Many of them are women who have responded to Jesus’ words to go to all nations/peoples, and have given up much at home to do so.  They’ve moved far from their loved family and friends, given up jobs, wealth, status, comforts and far more, and have landed in what so often is the back of beyond, in harsh environments, where women are often treated as second class citizens.

Many of them as the years have gone on have realised as they’ve looked around even at the largest of their mission conferences that their organisations run, that for those that desire it, the chance of marrying anyone with the same heart as they do, is negligible.  Why?  Because there are no single males there.

Nada.  Zero.  Zilch.  None.

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My sister, a missionary in an unreached people group, who always wondered whether she would be able to get married.

Mission team, after mission team, are so often comprised of a few missionary families, and a bunch of single females, some of whom are happily living the single life and many others who would rather have married or are still looking, particularly for those reaching out in cultures where being single is (sadly) the most abnormal, socially bizarre thing possible.  Shame and rejection by their communities would be felt every day for such single women in some parts of the world.

So where are the men?

Well a small bit could be down to the statistics of gender ratio in the church in general (supposedly there are far more females than males in the western evangelical scene).  To consider that, there are plenty of other places we might turn to see what could be done (restoring a right view of preaching in the church, and fighting a dualistic understanding of the world that tells us that the physical is bad, might be two brief ways I’d start).

But the more directly connected thing taking males away from unengaged peoples and the mission field, is complementarian, conservative evangelicals.

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Another town which is technically “unreached” in Ireland, where I’ve been reaching out this summer.

Yes, you heard me right.  One of the top 5 hindrances to world mission is complementarian theology.

But before you start to complain, let me first confess that I label myself a complementarian (someone who considers male and female to, although equal, have different roles and giftings in life and particularly in the church).  And secondly let me say that much as this is a consequence of such a theological view, it need not be.  Now let me explain…

  • Church attendance in Europe and (north) America is in decline (regardless of whether you think true Christianity is in decline in these areas)
  • There are many denominations with many buildings that house now dwindling congregations
  • The denomination is left with several choices that I could perceive:
    1. Keep the church going and trust God will turn things round and see genuine conversions (the ideal world?!  But few match that reality.)
    2. Re-plant the church, to get rid of old attitudes and make it more likely to engage a modern-day audience (high intensity, needing more man-power)
    3. Keep the church going until it fades out (uses one minister for a small flock)
    4. Join the church with another in the denomination, miles away (one minister is stretched to the maximum capacity, trying to cover double the work, and what was meant to help the church, often hinders it in the long-run)
    5. Bi-vocational ministry (where the minister is asked to take on another job to supplement a part-time role with the church).  Often resisted by those with a particular view of “calling” to the ministry, but often successful at re-engaging with the local community, as the minister does a “normal” job.
    6. Join the church with another from another denomination (rarely is such humility seen to allow this to happen)
    7. Shut the church (rarely is such realism seen to allow this as a progressive option)
  • Most denominations for various reasons, despite many of them having other evangelical churches nearby, opt for 1-4, which are the labour intensive options.  They need a full-time workforce and that in conservative evangelical circles is a man or men.
  • Where should they get these men from?  Well, we’ll start to emphasize it early on, and make sure we get them young before they can do anything else.  And so, as many of the smaller congregations aren’t sustainable, all the young men from the bigger churches become the workers in the smaller churches.

And there we have it.  Regardless of how your church denomination works (or whether you’re independent), I could guess you’ll fall into similar issues, often unconsciously.  It can be from the best of motives, and from the greatest statements of faith (we want to believe God can still grow the church in the west), but ultimately all the male workers are being used for our small patches in areas which have had gospel witness over centuries or at least decades.

At the same time as many parts of the evangelical church scene look to train up men for ministry, often the development of female gifts and roles within church life are not being given as much of an emphasis (sadly).  Females within a congregation can, regardless of theology, be left feeling like second class citizens.

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United Beach Missions in one of Ireland’s oldest Christian heritage sites, but one that would fall into Europe’s “unreached” category.  Here, female giftings are grown and developed in public proclamation of the gospel in a setting to kids.

But on the positive, many of them take this freedom from responsibility to end up going overseas, pioneering evangelism, and shaping the Christian scene overseas, some in ways that their churches probably wouldn’t even allow them do back home (rightly or wrongly)!

They are the heroines of our Christian scene today.  The drivers in world mission.  By conviction, and also just through pragmatically being part-ignored by a western church obsessed with keeping churches going and training every possible gifted male to fill those pre-existing gaps.

It was United Beach Missions that drilled into me the great blessing of sacrificially giving of the best that I had, so that I would receive the blessing of living in light of the God who gave the best that He had (Himself) to rescue a dying world.  It was my church families and actual family who bathed me in such a good news of a generous Father, that I revelled in knowing Him, in growing in the knowledge of His will, in the likeness of His Son.

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Our good God, relentlessly revealing to us greater depths which we can dive into of His goodness, deeper than the deepest sea. Photo taken 30/07/17, Aberdeen

And it was people like Lindsay Brown in IFES World and Kinsale Baptist Church plant who practically gave me the example of Christian mission, that cared not about keeping their young people for their “own cause” (small and struggling as some of the teams/churches were) but freely giving them to the needs of the world Church.

And the small, struggling, local churches that have sent their “best” have often been blessed out of proportion because of it.  They get to participate outside their context to what God is doing worldwide.  They get to understand contextualisation better for their own setting.  And they often get wiser, more experienced workers coming back to them in a few years, buoyed on by what they’ve learnt, and ready to serve back home.

What a joy!

This joy and blessing of looking outwards is why when some friend approached Lindsay Brown recently and proudly declared that his life calling was “to reform the Church of England”, Lindsay said to him:

“Only that?!  That’s not much.  Your God has a worldwide Church that He is building.”

As we revel in His goodness, may we pour ourselves out as drink offerings, and praise our God for His army of women across the nations, who are sharing glimpses of what they have received from Him!

Titus: 3: 3-7

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

And then there were…

Recently, we found most of our travelling friends had deserted us.  But still a good few hundred million remain on God’s mission in this world, sharing His heartbeat for the nations and ultimately for His glory.  We’re on our travels to share the good news of Jesus with unreached and unengaged people groups.  Easy with all of us hundreds of million, right?

Well, no, as we’ll soon find out.  Why?  I’m going to suggest five main practical reasons, one main underlying one.

  1. We don’t understand what Unreached and Unengaged People Groups are
  2. The Church in many areas of the world is greedy to keep its best
  3. Christians across the world are quick to replace the “best” with the “good”
  4. Denominational boundaries hamper witness, but lack of ecclesiology kills teams 
  5. We forget our first love

And the underlying story in all of these:

The devil will try anything to prevent God receiving the glory he deserves.  Sin will creep in at any and every level where Christ is not seen as more beautiful and true.  But in the end, His name will be lifted up and those from all peoples will one day praise Him.  And so here, I try to paint Christ as exactly that via thoughts on travel.

So firstly, surely all people who aren’t Christians are unreached?  What is this about an unreached people group (UPG) or unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPG)?

Photos and definitions all taken directly and copyright to www.peoplegroups.org

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WHAT IS A PEOPLE GROUP?

An ethno-linguistic group with a common self-identity that is shared by the various members. For strategic purposes it is the largest group within which the Gospel can spread without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.  There are 11,741 people groups in the world, with 7.2 billion people in them.

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WHY ARE THEY UNREACHED?

A people group is considered unreached (UPG) when there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to engage this people group with church planting. Technically speaking, the percentage of evangelical Christians in this people group is less than 2 percent.  There are 7,024 unreached people groups which have approximately with 4.3 billion people in them.

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WHO ARE THE UNENGAGED?

Unreached people groups are unengaged (UUPG) when there is no church planting strategy, consistent with evangelical faith and practice, under way. Gathering believers and planting churches are the keys to establishing an effective and multiplying presence among these people groups.  3,178 of these people groups are in this condition, consisting of 220 million people.

You see, regardless of whether you see the definitions as technically 100% helpful/accurate (is 2% a realistic figure for “unreached” peoples?), it at least gives us a reference point, and a helpful one at that.  Because it answers many common objections to prioritising unengaged (and unreached) mission fields:

  • most people could hear of the good news if they wanted to. (No, no they couldn’t)
  • we have great unreached needs on our own doorstep. (Great needs, but not many of them “unreached” officially, nevermind unengaged)
  • everyone can go online to find out about Jesus in English [/insert colonial language here]. (Internet in some places doesn’t exist, many cultures can’t understand colonising languages, and I would argue it’s not a Biblical model of evangelism to leave people to such means)
  • we must build our own church before reaching others. (I’ll respond more extensively to this in the days ahead, but sadly where this attitude prevails, very little outreach ever happens in future, if patterns in history are observed)
  • Europe is largely under 2% reached.  (In many places, no, but even if where you are is under 2%, then at least look to the unengaged world!)

I would assume this would mean that Unengaged (Unreached) People Groups will get more of our attention as a worldwide church for future work.  Instead sadly, few churches have even heard the term “Unengaged” and even fewer prioritise supporting mission to the unengaged.

I would assume this would mean that many of us would be praying for workers to go to potential unengaged people groups and training up people in light of that.  In reality, the pressing needs of our local church and local area often crowd this important need out.

I would assume that mission organisations would gradually be shaping sustainable future options to withdraw from places with huge Christian resources, and move towards less engaged shores.  Instead, for comfort, many mission organisations go wherever they can get funding in Christian hubs and see big results, quickly.

Millions are perishing into everlasting death without Christ, and we’re sending at least 95% of our money, resources and missionaries to reached places.  It’s a tragedy that must stop.

We’ve whittled down our Gideon band of people concerned and informed for the unreached world to a small posse that is INCREDIBLY small.  Sadly we’re about to go smaller.  But throughout history, it’s been what has showed that God is on the throne, that it is Him who is acting in this world, and that it is for His glory alone.

For more, see:

The Joshua Project: https://joshuaproject.net/resources

Southern Baptist Mission Board: https://www.imb.org/research-reports/

People Groups website: www.peoplegroups.org

 

When assuming…

My old maths teacher used to repeat the mantra to us in our A-level (Leaving Cert.) classes

“what does assuming do, boy?  It makes an ASS of yoU and ME.”

ASSUME

And so we were taught to never assume something and always to prove it from first principles.  But years go on, and in Christian circles, people often wonder why we preach the same message (with variations) to each other so often.  But when one of my good friends in Cork, who has recently found faith, is getting highly disillusioned with the church and indeed with the human species at large, I’m reminded that we need to remind each other that humans are fallen creatures.  No-one, even your greatest hero of faith, is worth ultimate trust.

And then another of my friends in Cork said this to me the other month:

“Sure, Peter, I read somewhere recently that there aren’t really any unreached peoples anymore, because of the internet and all that.”

I was shocked.

Here was a mission-minded young person who’d been on mission trips abroad lots, saying that there weren’t “unreached” peoples.

And then two lasses who’d done our graduate intern and discipleship program in the UK, were sitting next to me over dinner last week as we met up again, and they said:

“It was only recently that we heard of unreached peoples and their need.  It’s very fresh to us and what you’re saying is very different to the way most people talk.”

Clearly in writing a blog about a theology of travel, I’d assumed something fairly major.  That people would come here with a great knowledge of missional needs, and a passion to act.  But it appears I’m back assuming things, and that even my heart must be reminded of this great world need:

to participate in God’s great mission in this world, through the means He chooses, in the way He wants, is one of the greatest joys known to mankind (and to Him!).  As we share in his out-ward-looking heart for all nations or more specifically peoples (“ethne”), we’ll be enthralled by glimpsing a small part of His hand at work in this world, largely through His children (the bride, the Church) sharing of their groom (His Son).

But first let me ask some of you to part company with me on this road I’m about to travel on, to unreached shores, if you think Christianity is not good news worth sharing.  For example:

  • if you assume that getting people to think for themselves about what they believe is not worth it (“Come let us reason together, says the Lord”)
  • if you assume truth can’t be known exhaustively before it is shared (can I ask you how you came to this conclusion about even this statement you shared with me?!)
  • if you assume that giving society a framework for pluralism is not helpful (the Triune God: completely united, yet utterly different within His being – find me a worldview that has that at it’s heartbeat and you should find a very real tolerance)
  • if you assume that the Christian core teachings are something not to be emulated (yes, plenty of worldviews teach the golden rule to love each other as we love ourself, but few ground it in the central reality of a God who lays down His life for His people, and a people who morally ought to do the same)
  • If you assume that the way the Bible gives all humans equal status in this world is not a worthy bedrock to teach people
  • if you assume and feel that the Christian sexual ethic isn’t a life-enhancing one for everyone, and so you daren’t explore with those who’ve found the opposite
  • if you assume that the repulsive way some professing Christians (including some major churches) have lived out what a faith should look like, is what faith is like (because don’t worry, a forgery banknote means there are no real banknotes out there)
  • if you assume that we’ll all, despite His warning otherwise, be able to impress God on the day of judgement by our amazingness, and so we’ll all be alright in the end
  • if you assume that thankfulness is not a good motivator in life, and you don’t want a forgiven people, overflowing with thankfulness and gratitude, trying to live that our in life.
  • and if you assume that there’s no conclusive evidence for Jesus, and conclude that despite the evidence for His existence, His resurrection and the changed lives He gave, is all nonsense and this type of god doesn’t exist anyway

Given we’ll probably have a very few readers left reading, perhaps we may proceed tomorrow.  Don’t worry, you’ll find our numbers will drop sharply again.  Enjoy a night sleeping with a fairly large group in the world’s population called the evangelical Church.  Hundreds of million of us.  Together.  Nice and snug and growing in number.

Comforting, eh?  Sleep tight!  See you in the morning!

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(Taken 31/07/17, Belfast Lough) The storm is brewing…

Travelling across time-zones

So my sister married someone from Vanuatu at the weekend.  And in case you don’t automatically know where that is (don’t worry, not many of us did), here’s a map!

Vanuatu

But how do you get to Aberdeen, Scotland from Vanuatu?

  1. A boat to the main island
  2. A plane to Fiji
  3. Another plane to Sydney
  4. A third plane that stops over in Hong Kong
  5. A fourth plane to London
  6. A few hours being interrogated by British Police
  7. A fifth plane to Aberdeen

Total travel time: 58 hours (over 2 days)

And so when I was asked whether I would come back for the “return leg” of the wedding in Vanuatu, I sadly had to decline, much as it was heart-wrenching not to be able to take the trip of a life time to a paradise Pacific island.  Why?  Because with nearly a week travelling and recovering, I’d need to be there for at least 2 weeks to enjoy it.

Or else this will happen:

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The groom’s poor brother, who only came for one week, rather collapsed asleep, half an hour after getting up on the wedding morning.

At what stage should you try and adapt to the local timezone….when you’re here for 1 week, 2 weeks, more?  Well, having watched this poor man try to stay in Vanuatu time-zone and sleeping patterns….probably in my mind, even when you’re here for 1!  But that’s easy for me to say, having never circled the globe entirely!

Any advice from those who have?!

Travelling to find yourself

8am and I’m currently sitting in the Glendalough International Hostel in the Wicklow “Mountains” in Ireland.  Staying here as a cheap night away from travelling round Ireland with work but also because I’ve heard some of the trail runs at the top of the hills round the lakes are stunning.  Little did I know that I’d be out running at 5am, and arrive back in at 7am to find my room-mates still sleeping.  They probably thought such a tranquil hostel didn’t have these late night party-ers and early morning flight-get-ers that so often ruin the hostel night’s sleep.

But getting up for 5am runs doesn’t really feel like who I am.  There are “runners” who do that every day or regularly, like the person I went out running with.  But I’m definitely not one of them.

But equally who am I?  It’s a misty, murky question.

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Walking Glendalough lakes, with a friend wrestling about His identity (C)  03/07/17

I’ve many friends and I meet people all the time on their travels who are trying to find this out.  Generally you can tell either from what they post on facebook, or from where they invest their time, money and life.  Particularly among the travelling community, such questions are huge, because traditional ties to family or nationality/region are so often rejected (though in some cases nationality becomes a big outward identity, even if the person is in crisis and no longer feels like that inwardly when they’re back home).  The traveller, to some extent, will have to journey alone in finding their identity, as so often their experiences will be unique.

And perhaps that has to be key: we are unique.  Perhaps not as unique as we’d like to think in our shared humanity, but unique none-the-less.  We have to be more than the sum of our parts, and we desperately hope that is true.  As humans we are sexual beings, but we’re more than our sexuality, important as it is.  As humans we’re connected beings, but we’re more than our connections and relationships.  And as humans we’re creative beings in our jobs, hobbies and elsewhere, but we’re more than just “a painter” or “a hurling player”.

And the trouble with all of these things, that if we let them define us, we’ll be ruined.  We’ll sell ourselves short of who we really are or even worse, end up mentally unstable.  And yet it’s what we constantly do in a bid to make ourselves seem something.  So what’s the solution?

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Walking Glendalough lakes, with a friend wrestling about His identity (C)  03/07/17

Well, perhaps just to invest our identity in so many things that even if they go wrong, we’ll have a well balanced life still.  Risky, but it normally pays off, unless you get some catastrophe in life.  That’s largely the secular response (with variations on a theme).

Or what if we could have an identity that lay outside of ourselves?  Many would immediately think that it’s demeaning – a denial of our uniqueness and everything that we are.  And what would it even look like?  Most worldviews that promise such, end up being nonsense claims, as that religion or worldview just becomes a part of an inner struggle to achieve in life.  If you do badly at the worldview or religion, you’re back down doubting your identity as that, or struggling mentally.  It’s just one more part of life.  But someone once showed me one identity different to that.

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It was an identity outside of myself that freed me to truly start to get to know myself over time.  An identity that had nothing to do with my performance in life or whether something was removed from me.

And if you’ll hold off your initial scepticism long enough to read on a paragraph or two, I’d claim that identity was Jesus and being found in Him.  Not in my performance following him, or my religiosity.  But in Him, Himself.  And I’ve found that because He claims to have made everything (including me, by whatever long, earthy processes that involved), and He therefore knows me better than I know myself, that I can find myself more and more, as I delve deeper into knowing and experiencing my identity in Him.

  • I can face serious hockey injuries, without fearing my identity will be taken from me.
  • I can sit beside Republican and Loyalist alike, in my home city, and chat to them both and concede some things to both politically, because my identity is not in my politics (even if I am still passionate about it).
  • I can face being given the diagnosis of a long term medical condition a few years ago, that will shape my life, largely because my identity is not in my health or working capabilities.
  • I can face and even enjoy singleness (without porn, sex or even masturbation), because much as I am a sexual being, I am not defined by it.  I am freed to enjoy sex as my creator intended it.
  • I can face the times that I severely doubt the evidence for Jesus, because ultimately, the truth (or lack of) it doesn’t rely on my reasoning alone but on things outside of myself (which I would say give us good grounds for belief).

Because my identity in Him, is a “loved child of God”; a gift from the Father to the Son; one who is sitting reigning with Christ in the heavenly realms; one who is destined for a better world to come.

And it’s freeing!

I’m free to stop travelling the world (metaphorically and physically) to find myself (and now just to do it to enjoy Him and His world).  I’m free to try to love others better who are radically different to me, because if my identity is secure in Christ, I need not fear anything else and can focus all my time and energy on looking outwards to others, even if they’re hard to love.  And in fact, I’d argue it’s the only legitimate philosophical reason that we “ought” to care about others – because we were made for it – our identity as children of God will lead us to love God, and love others at its heart.

Give me a bunch of people who believe this radical truth deeply from the core of their being, and you’ll have an army of servant-hearted foot-washers, freed to change the world for the better. Sadly, my own heart so quickly forgets it and needs reminded of it again.

So fellow traveller, don’t let “Christian” or “Jesus” just become another word on your list of identities.  Lose yourself in Him!   And truly find yourself again in light of it.

[For more resources on this topic, read John’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, the ancient letter to the Colossian church from the Apostle Paul, or anything on here: www.bethinking.org (search: identity)]

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Easy to lose the woods for the trees in the identity question!  Glendalough, 03/07/17