Confessions of a travel writer…

I guess the book review that I wrote yesterday comes with a bit of a caveat.  As I was sending my final manuscript of my book to the senior editor of the publishing company, a few friends very helpfully sent me a link to this newly published book.  Not knowing the implications of what that meant for the book that I was working on, I gulped, ordered my copy, and prayed that God would help me hold lightly to my aspirations of writing a book.

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Kilcrea Friary, Co Cork, late September.  The beautiful ruins on every street corner in Ireland remind me of the state of my own heart and thinking.  Made beautiful, but badly ruined, even as a regenerate believer. (c) my own

I mean, technically that was always my prayer, ever since the publishing company approached me and asked me whether I would consider such a book.  But I think this is one of the few times I’ve had to really consider whether I meant it.

Am I writing for the glory of Peter, or for the glory of God?

Do I delight that God is raising up others (in this case more qualified than me theologically) to write on this timely topic?

Will I speak positively of this book, and keep the main thing the main thing, or will I knit-pick and point out all the perceived flaws in it?

I technically know what all the answers should be to that.  Just like any moral situation.  But my heart doesn’t always find it easy to persuade my hands of the truth of the matter.

I love disguising the glory of Peter behind glory of God language.

I love praising others, while at the same time making my thoughts known about them.

I find it easy to drop positive reviews while insinuating far more negative to the astute reader.

Life is messy.  The blacks and whites of truth seem to mould and shift into greys as soon as they hit my life.  Anyone else?

Thankfully family and friends who I’ve been able to confess these things to, have helpfully reminded me of truths from the good news that are far better than the good news that I may or may not receive from the publishing house boardroom on Tuesday, when my contract is discussed.

After sitting with me in my worries and tongue-in-cheek suggesting that I negatively review the book in every evangelical magazine and paper in this part of the world, they point me to greater realities of where my identity lies; that there’s nothing in me that “ought” to get a book contract; that we rejoice in worldwide partnership in the gospel, not competition in the gospel; and that actually, this might free me to better get people thinking about the topic, without being seen to be out to sell merchandise.

It’s at moments like these that I am thankful for Church community.  And for all the same questions that I apply to my life about “why write?”, I guess we could apply similar to our hearts about “why travel?”, which is what the concluding chapter of Stephen Liggins’ book does so well.

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My mind sadly works over-time, long after everyone has gone home to relax.  Justifying myself and then reminding myself I’ve been justified already by One who has done a better job at it than I could ever do. (Photo here at Cork Institute of Technology 05/10/17 (c) )

 

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“You can’t do that, you’re a girl!”

“Are you serious? But what if you get robbed?”

“You can’t do that, you’re a girl!”

“Let’s just change the topic. We disagree, and you’re not going to change your mind, so let’s talk about something else.”


These are just a few examples of the kinds of responses I get from well-meaning
friends and family before I embark on any kind of adventure, be it up the country,
or at the other side of the world – especially when I go solo.

Because I am a woman, I cannot be afforded the same luxuries and privileges as a
man can.

Or at least that’s what the world tries to tell me. Society tells us that sure, you can
get a good job, vote, make your own decisions, but please, do not try to travel on
your own for more than a day. You never know, you might sprain your ankle or get
shot or something. The Bible, I have found, says something a little different.

When I was 18, I went on my first 100% solo adventure. No friends or family to
pick me up at the airport, in fact no flights at all this time, and no friends or family
at the destination either (wherever that would be). Fast forward to today, tell me
I’m not [insert adjective here] enough to do something, and you can bet I’ll be
doing just that the next time we meet.

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Where to next?
(Prague metro station deco is often worth a look!)

A 5000(ish) person festival in Germany, followed by an impromptu adventure exploring bits of France, Germany and the Czech Republic. The plan was just that: elusive and undefined. I vaguely planned the towns I more or less wanted to see, but even this “plan” was fluid enough to change about 3 times. Coming from a family where my mother had always seen to every last detail before we ever set foot in the car (and this does have it’s
advantages, as I would soon learn), I wanted to break the mould a little. This kind of improvised travel was very new to me, which explained it’s very appeal in the
first place.

So that’s a little bit about how I got to where I am now, not literally, but you get
the idea. Right now, literally, it’s 21:40, and I’m sitting in what I understand to be
a Spanish equivalent of Starbucks. It’s quite nice, but I just ran out of wifi and the
AC is getting a little chilly for my taste; I actually prefer a thin, permanent layer of
sweat and pollution to cover my skin while in Barcelona (be sure to pronounce
that “c” correctly for full effect).

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Where’s Wally? Some of the people I met at the beginning of that adventure during the summer of 2015; who encouraged me to pursue my travels in light of the theology we had studied together that week:

This time, I’m not travelling solo as I often would (apart from a couple of hours of
airport travels), but have decided to embark upon a shorter, more planned
adventure with my lovely, albeit very orthodox, grandmother. She’s an early riser
and likes to tell me when to go to bed. I like to defy her well-meaning orders just
as much as she likes to give them.

Over the next while, I’d like to explore a little more one side of the theology of travel that Peter cannot: the theology of female, Christian travel, in various contexts:

  • travelling solo
  • travelling with non-Christians (friends, family, strangers…)
  • travelling beyond tourism
  • travelling in light of eternity

Oops, my grandmother is telling me to go to bed; so I guess 4 posts is all you’ll
get!


 

Marie-Louise is a nurse here in Cork, Ireland, and can be found in her free time volunteering at Cork International Student Cafe, crossing cultures, and helping people think through their environmental impact on the world.  She is strangely not visible online (and so I can say what I wish here).

Book Review: Travelling the World as Citizens of Heaven (Liggins, Matthias Media)

Hallelujah!  It’s here.

Finally a Christian who thinks travel is a topic that merits some thought and wants to help us engage in the global phenomenon that has struck our wandering millennials (myself included).

And Stephen Liggins (an Aussie pastor/Sydney Missionary Bible College lecturer) didn’t disappoint.  Although I gulped a little at the “why I wrote this book”, and wondered whether we were going to have a tirade against travel, my early fears were relaxed as soon as I got stuck into to story after story from round the world.  Here was something who agreed with me that the Bible thinks travel is good!

The author takes us on a journey, seeing that travel is always in the presence of God (chapter 1), is good (chapter 2) and then gets very practical about how to connect with Christians (chapter 3), how to connect with those who aren’t Christian (chapter 4).  In chapter 5, he considers travelling in a suffering world, and then finishes off with practical advice in chapter 6 and some questions to our motivations in chapter 7.

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I love Stephen’s travel tales, that were so relatable in nature, that if you swapped stories, they could have been mine or yours too.  Finding himself in awkward group settings doing things he didn’t really want to be doing.  Finding himself chatting alongside a beautiful female late at night and wondering what he will do.  Wondering whether he should go on that holiday for months on end, or save every penny for other things?  These and so many more positive situations and stories.

This book oozes so much practical advice for on the road, that it would be a great read for someone as they travelled.  And yet for me, what it is most helpful for is learning from Stephen’s personal example and lifestyle.  The conversations he has had.  The way he decides to make choices.  The dilemmas of life.

But sadly two things irked me about this book.

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  1. how gospel truth is communicated

Stephen has a beautiful view of God.  I mean the Bible has a beautiful God, so it would be disappointing if we didn’t communicate this.  But it is clear from His writing that Stephen really thinks this is worth living for.  And he conveys it well, particularly in early chapters about the nature of a God who is with us, and about the nature of this world.

But I found he also rather dominated the book with a list of instructions.  I don’t know whether this is a difference in how Aussies communicate authority or commands, or just an older generation attempting to speak to a younger one, but it seemed to me to be like a parent listing of a list a “do” or “don’t do” things before their child headed off to explore the big, bad world.

Refrains that struck a lot were his thoughts on alcohol, sex, drugs, money etc.  And I’m not sure I would have disagreed with much of what he wrote, but I did wonder whether it needed brought up as much as it did.  They are huge issues while travelling, but I’m not sure the solution is to tell us thrice over about his “two drink” policy, wise as it may be (and caveated as his advice was).

Even the chapter on suffering turned into a comment on sex, drugs and racism (amongst other things).

2. cultural suggestions taking precedence

There were a few points in the book where I just thought Stephen was writing to a very conservative, western audience (socially so, not just theologically).  Socially, I wondered whether he needed to make as big a deal over how to chat to people about Jesus or how to apply some things.

For example, as a “Christian worker”, I can choose one of two ways to take a conversation when asked what I do.  I can make it awkward and tell a very forthright description, or I can give some response that will seem relevant to the listener.  Primarily because I want to be known for being human, before people know me as a Christian, I often do the latter.  And opportunities (through questions I ask), often open up windows of opportunity to say more.  There are other ways of doing things that aren’t his.

Equally, on hammering on about the importance of the evangelical “quiet time”, Stephen could well lose a respect from a traveller who has learnt far more flexibly to commune with God.  Obviously it depends a lot on the traveller and their spirituality, but I could easily imagine the type of person who is on the road, won’t appreciate being forced into such narrow definitions of what it might be to have a healthy communing with Him.

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Despite this, I was comforted that Stephen on his travels obviously was someone greatly used by God and a real person with a love for other humans, no matter who they were.  One doesn’t often get a letter back from a woman who said (pg. 122):

“Hi Stephen,

Lovely to hear from you again.  I can clearly remember that boat trip.  It was a time in my life when I had strayed away from Jesus.  I was fascinated to meet these two guys who were full of the joys of life and liked travelling to discover new places as I did.  I remember being somewhat surprised when you said you were training to be ministers.  This blew my perception of what a strong believing Christian was like, completely out of the water.  You seemed so normal and alive [and] seemed to get on with everyone on the boat….I often thought that meeting the two of you was a pivotal point in my coming back to Christ.”

What marvelous warmth of faith and personality that meant that this was just one of many stories in the book!  And things like that made me confident that regardless of what I disagreed with culturally and in emphasis, that this was a book that I would happily give out to my students and my travelling friends to help them and me as we travel this world together.  Much more could have been put in such a volume, but I’m very thankful that this author has opened the door for far more thinking on this topic at an understandable level!  May the conversation continue…

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“Home” – just one of the topics I was surprised he didn’t touch upon much (if at all), despite the title and the nature of travelling for fulfilment. Photo (c) my own

Worshipping with African Christians 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what we can learn from African Christians recently and how we can unite. This is just one of those ways. Christian travellers: take note!  I look forward to studying under this man (whose blog I reblog now) in a couple of years:

These things are written

Andrew Walls describes his experience of participating in Christian worship with African Christians:

It is one of the most extraordinary things–you don’t know the language, and yet you know you are in a Christian congregation, and gradually you find your place in this form of worship. And gradually you learn to pray and sing. You are reading the Scriptures together, as human beings together, looking to one Christ for salvation…. I don’t think anyone brought up in the thin-blooded North can go to Africa and attend African churches without something happening to give them new insights into Christian worship–that expression of joy, that enormous vitality that comes through the African setting, with all the poverty, all the distress that people have…. When people pray with you, you realize why the New Testament talks about praying with the bowels! I would hope other Christians would be similarly enriched. We are one…

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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!