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.

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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

The world is on your doorstep – will you let it in?

You don’t need to travel to be a global minded person.  Here’s a few ways Global Connections suggest we as Christians can be global-minded and share God’s heart for the nations:

  • read things written by Christians in other parts of the world, cultures (not just western ones), classes (not just middle class ones) and backgrounds
  • invite such speakers to speak at our conferences

For the original:

http://www.globalconnections.org.uk/churches/global-mission/learning-from-the-global-church

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The world is on our doorstep…will you let it in?

What you miss out on, Christian traveller: joy!

In a previous post I’d argued that the Christian who spends much time away from their home travelling, is one who doesn’t so much gain, as miss out on all God has for us, and the ways in which God chooses to work in the world.  But as well as this, I think the Christian traveller misses out on something else.

I wonder what you felt when you first came to faith and understood what you had in Jesus?  Oh how sweet moments like that were – when you grasped that you were no longer condemned.  When you grasped that sin had no hold on you.  When you grasped that you had everything in Christ Jesus and needed nothing more.  When you dreamed of what lay ahead in the heavenly realms with His people from all nations.  A joy was yours that would equip you, despite the suffering that lay ahead.

Next to it, I wonder whether you’ve had the joys of leading someone else to a genuine faith and seeing them grow over the years?  You get to re-live the great joys that you experienced all over again, as you see all these things dawn on them.  As you see them drink in the Word and respond to Jesus’ words as if hearing them for the first time.  Beautiful!

And even for those who came to faith like I did, at such a young age that there wasn’t “a moment” like this, I’m sure you can still relate to it, as I can.

The ecstasy of knowing people join the Heavenly family, and the party that follows (Luke 15, on a sidenote, started by God, not just his angels) is one worth going after, not just for God’s glory but at the same time for our enjoyment in that too.

And so if you spend most of your free holiday time travelling, not only do you miss out on Christian family, community and your own transformation through God’s chosen means for that, but you also miss out on those long-term relational links you have to non-Christian communities.

Sure, I’ve seen folk come to faith as I’ve been pleasure travelling. But it’s a rare thing rather than the norm, and it’s always been harder to see them plug into a church, given that the Christianity modelled to them is an itinerant, individualistic one.  More often than not, I’ve seen most students forsake the regular meeting up with people who are different to them at home, and make pleasure travelling the “bushel” that covers their “lamp” (Luke 11:33).

We think we’re getting the best the world has to offer and even put it in religious “seeing more of God’s creation” language.  Instead we’re walking away from Jesus’ purposes for us in the world and from His glory.  Perhaps this hymn might help us reflect if it may be true:

1 O for a closer walk with God,
a calm and heavenly frame,
a light to shine upon the road
that leads me to the Lamb!

2 Where is the blessedness I knew
when first I sought the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
of Jesus and his Word?

3 What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
the world can never fill.

4 The dearest idol I have known,
whate’er that idol be,
help me to tear it from thy throne
and worship only thee.

5 So shall my walk be close with God,
calm and serene my frame;
so purer light shall mark the road
that leads me to the Lamb.

(William Cowper)

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Neither poverty, nor riches…

My last student summer ever before starting work at the end of August and I’d 6 weeks to fill.  A few of them were for volunteer teams, I’d to make a call with my family at some point for a bit, but the rest was free.  What to do?

As usual, browsing facebook would turn out to give the answer (!).  The Warden of Tyndale House (the evangelical theological faculty at Cambridge University) posted up on his status about needing someone to drive a few guests round England for a week.  Knowing the type of people who visit Tyndale, I thought this could well be someone very interesting in the Christian/theological world, so dropped him a line.  And that week was to change my thinking a lot.

It turned out that this was an older couple from the US, who were big names in the evangelical Christian scene, but who also lived next to an ex-president of America, and were used to living with such people in their every day lives.  They were old enough that they didn’t fancy driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and so had asked me to drive them round, join them on their holiday and look after a disabled relative that they’d with them.  Having not driven in 2 years since I passed my test (apart from a big white van that I managed to scrape the side of, and also nearly topple on the motorway), I probably should have informed them that driving the poshest car that I’d ever been in, was not the most sensible on this occasion.

But not only was it the poshest car I had ever driven, we stayed in the classiest 5* hotels that I’d ever been to.  Michelin star restaurants where meals were crafted to order, based on the customers desires.  Rooms with gardens and pools that you’d happily stay in all day.  Bathrooms with heated floors, LED twinkling lights in the ceiling, jacuzzi tubs and a drinks bar.  And concierges employed as much to just keep guests happy and chatting away.  One click of the finger, and anything was mine, at no cost to me.

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I’m quite glad that I actually have little desire for 5* hotels…the real things I chase after are scenes like this one in North Africa, where I was visiting friends the other week!

But I had a dilemma.

I’d just come off a year of volunteering with the Christian Union (university) movement in the UK, which was self-supported.  Frugality was a way of life, and I’d got into the mindset that it was Godliness.  This holiday however for me, was the most spiritually sapping thing I’d ever had.  Everything at my finger tips, and no need of anything or anyone else.  To me, this was anti-gospel (the gospel being the thing declaring we are very needy people, in need of God, and of others).  Yet here were some of the richest people in the world, claiming to be mature Christians and heralded by many, throwing cash at anything that moved.  I was baffled and struggled all week, while trying to enjoy this.

But the more I reflected on my trip, back on a summer volunteer team (sharing a shower between seven, basic meals and a budget of around 70 euros a week to cover accommodation, food, resources and freetime), the more I saw that yes, perhaps you could live a Godly life whilst being rich.  And maybe even further than that, we need Christians who are living out this existence, mingling with US Presidents and influential circles of every type.  Now don’t get me wrong, you could be doing all of these things from bad, ungodly motive, but I don’t think these folk were.

Their generosity to me and to Tyndale House was huge.  They’d shaped their holiday round visiting something that they’d support financially that would massively shape British Christianity.  They’d had me there to help their disabled relative, which was also a large part of why they’d had to travel 5*.  Apart from the misunderstood clash between American consumer culture and reserved British five star culture, their behaviour and lives were incredible examples of dependence on God and Godly character.  And just because I’d found it hard spiritually, didn’t mean they weren’t vibrantly living out a sacrificial life.

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Sunset over Paris, the other week (see pic below for explanation)

Here’s just a few reflections that travelling with them helped me to see:

  • Godliness need not have any correlation to wealth (Proverbs 4:23 – it’s what comes from the heart that matters, not necessarily the outward appearance).  I can rejoice in my Father’s goodness to other believers in giving them wealth, and weep with my fellow believer who is struggling to make ends meet.
  • That in Christ, is all richness found.  He is better than gold (Proverbs 8:18-19).
  • That in all God gives me, I should honour him with it (Proverbs 3:9).  Given I (and probably you reading this too) are in the top few percent of richest people in the world, given our ability to travel (even on a budget), we must not think ourselves as the poor.
  • It is very hard not to forsake being needy when you have everything, and very easy to get bitter when you have nothing.  Therefore, I will make Proverbs 30:8 my prayer: “give me neither poverty nor riches, but only give me my daily bread”

Before I book any travel, my prayer is that I stop for one evening to sleep on it, pray for guidance, and remember these things, amongst others.

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Paris, the next destination for my US friends, who offered me the trip free of charge again – so tempting!  But I felt not appropriate this time.  Thankful to another friend who gave me a free hotel this year in Paris, with him.

10 top tips for souk bartering in North Africa

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So many people get exasperated by a day in the souks, haggling in a different culture, and trying to negotiate a shame/honour culture, whilst having no experience in it.  Here’s a few top tips I’ve gleaned from locals over the years:

  1. Relax.  You’re there for the cultural experience and the fun of a holiday in another culture.  Only take what money with you that you’d be happy spending, and then you’ll not be too disappointed at over-spending!
  2. It’s not a competition (well, for most of us).  I’m super-competitive about everything in life.  I like to think I never settle for second-best.  But if you do that here, you’ll always live in the past with regrets and mentally will never be free to enjoy the day.  Let go of the thought of trying to get the world’s best ever deal.  If you’ve got a price that you think is worth it, accept it and enjoy it.
  3. The more you look like a tourist, the more you’ll be charged tourist prices.  The more you sound like a tourist, the same.
  4. Try to avoid the main branches of the souk off the main square/walkway.  They see hundreds of tourists a day, know every trick in the book and often charge more than those who see fewer tourists on the back streets and winding alleyways.
  5. If you see something you like, try bartering for it at a few stalls (not within eyesight of each other) to see what the best price is you can get, and then start with that price to drive a hard bargain at a final stall.IMG_0171
  6. A shame/honour culture dictates how things play out in the souks.  If the seller can tell you a long sob story and persuade you of its reality, he maintains honour and gets a good price (even if the story is not true).  If he tells you that you can look and not buy, he will maintain his honour but of course will draw you in for the sale with treating you admirably while you are in the stall (honouring you).
  7. You most likely are from a guilt culture and are thinking whether the things the seller says are true or not.   His sob stories convict you of guilt (it would be cruel not to buy).  His chat, winsomeness and maybe even offer of mint tea mean that your heart is feeling guilty by walking out on him without a purchase.  You take every word at face value.
  8. Depending on how much you believe you can or should play along with the shame honour culture, have some of your own stories up your sleeve for why you aren’t able to pay such high prices!  If you want to stick to a stricter guilt model of ethics, think of ones that are entirely truthful and feel guilt-free!  (see example below)  If you haven’t got a good price to start with, you’re unlikely to be able to wrestle it back mid-interchange, but it can be fun to try!
  9. If you’re outside of a tourist area, you’re more likely to be offered very reasonable prices, and driving them as low as you can may even not be the most friendly thing to do – remember you’re the rich western person (probably in the world’s top 1% richest) on holiday in a place where many aren’t so fortunate.
  10. If you really get infuriated by not knowing prices, most tourist markets have many stalls with fixed prices – just look out for things with price labels…you normally can’t barter in these.

And here’s one example for you!

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Seller (S): “Hello my friend!”

(I ignore English in the souks to get better prices and more real exchanges)

(S) “Bonjour Monsieur!”

(I respond by looking uninterested but willing to browse.  All interactions are then in French or Arabic, but here written in English)

(S):  “Look, no buy for you today.  Just come here”

Me: “Oh but your things are so beautiful.  I must of course look.”

“Yes, they are very authentic products made here in [insert place] by my family for decades.  If you tell me what you want, I will get one’s which are better than the tourist ones I have for sale here”

“Ah wow, your family must feel honoured that you continue to sell these things.  They are beautiful.”

(I browse for a few minutes, finally spotting what I fancy)

“I love the pattern of this.  So intricate and it blends so well!”

“Yes, that is one of our best things.  If you would like it, I can offer you a special Ramadan price”

“You are very kind.  The last time I bought one of these I got it for a very good price too, so that would be wonderful.” (getting the upperhand by making him nervous I know the pricing structure, which, so often is true, because I’ve been round all the stalls)

“Well for a great American friend like you, I will only charge 300 Dirhams”

“Oh, I’m not a rich American.  In my country, we do not have as much money and it is not as important to us.”

“Ah, so you must be English.  I will do a better price for you English because I like that.  People first, money after.  Perhaps 200 Dirhams for you then?”

“Oh 200 Dirhams is a lot for me, because I am not English.  I am a poor Irishman.  The English have oppressed us for 700 years and colonised us.  You must know what that feels like, no?”

(He smiles) “Ah, I see.  Good Irish price then.  What would it be for you?”

“Oh probably 60 Dirhams”

“60 Dirhams?!  I could not even do that for an Irishman, or else my family would not live”

“Well, how about 80 Dirhams then?”

“90 Dirhams and you will have had the best deal in all of [insert place name]”

“Well, I’ll tell you what, if I buy two of these, I’ll pay you 160 Dirhams and we’ll both have a great deal!”

“You barter like a Berber, my friend!  But I cannot take lower than 90 each”

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Such bartering style even must be deployed in the simplest of exchanges on the beach or anywhere!

(I look sad and start to go towards the door and signal my apology)

“Then I must thank you but leave, because I only have 150 Dirhams left to buy anything today, apart from some bread for lunch.  Look, that is all I have”

“My friend, do not tell anyone, but I will take it.”

“Thank you.  You are a generous man, and you should be proud of your family heritage.  These are the best in [insert place name].

*buys product*

Marrakech, souks and disgruntled tourists

“I’m never going back there again”

“I wouldn’t go there for more than 2 days”

“They were so aggressive”

“I felt so overwhelmed all the time and unable to escape”

Comments you wouldn’t expect to find on a holiday brochure for Marrakech, Morocco, but nonetheless ones that were the expressed sentiment as soon as Easyjet had shut the aeroplane door to Manchester and the tourist may as well have been back on his home turf again.

And yet they weren’t angry comments.  More just baffled.  Because the next sentence would always be one that would reaffirm that they did really enjoy their trip.  But did they?  Was this sadistic enjoyment?

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Why don’t I set the scene?  It’s 45 degrees celsius and you’ve headed out for the day in Marrakech.  Dressed in as little as possible for a conservative country like Morocco, you have a phone in one pocket for photos and your wallet in the other.  Apart from a few sights, mostly the main “attraction” for most people is spending the day walking quaint souk (market) stalls in tiny alleyways.

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The maze of tiny stalls, each repeating very similar wares, yet every one unique and with its own quirky personality that probably reflects the owner as he stands there.  A true joy to browse.

 

 

 

 

 

“monsieur, Monsieur!  Vien-ici!”  “Look, no buy.”

At which you are greatly pleased.  Aha!  I can look at all these things and not be forced to buy.  Perfect.  And so you walk in.

A few minutes of polite chit chat with the stallholder later, you start to browse.  Taking interest in a couple of things in particular, you discuss something and take a photo.  And the stall owner moves for the kill, with you their unsuspecting prey.

“You like?”

“erm…yes, it’s beautiful” (not meaning to offend)

“Well, I give you good price”

“How much is it?”

“A good price.  What would be a good price for you?”

“oh well, I don’t know.”

“well, I’ll offer you a special Ramadan price of 120 dirhams.  Normally I would sell it for 340 dirhams, but my brother especially made this one, and so I am able to get it for you far cheaper for you alone today.”

Wow, you think.  Such a good offer just for me.  And his brother made it….so it’s really authentic.  But 11.50 euros…just for that?  Oh but it’s genuine, and when else could you buy something like this?  And so the internal debate ravages on.

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“Oh I think I’ll think about it and come back to you later”

Sensing his prey moving onwards, the stall owner puts himself between you and the door and tries again.

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“Oh my friend, this is a one time offer.  My brother only made one.   Look at how bad the quality of the normal “tourist” ones are!  This is a special one for you.  You are English.  Cheaper prices than Asda for you.”

At which you’d love to still walk out of the shop, but you start to wonder whether he is in fact, very correct.  It does indeed appear better than the others.  And it would be fun to have.

And so as you pull out your wallet, you hesitantly try another ten dirhams off the price.  At which you feel stupid, as this poor man quickly says he couldn’t afford to sell them for that price, and reverts back to the original.  And the deal is done.  The robbery has happened.

And the only consolation….you probably could afford to be robbed for the joy of such an exchange.  A sadistic joy.  Paying perhaps more to experience culture than for the item you now walk out to try and squeeze into your hand luggage, that will soon sit in some cupboard, not in use back home.

And unless you understand the culture, this repetition all day will break you.

Anger.

Frustration.

How could they?!

As you walk into another stall determined for the same thing not to happen again.

“Bonjour monsieur!  Look, no buy!”

“NO!  JUST TELL ME HOW MUCH IT IS!”

“What would be good price for you Monsieur?”

The man looks so honest.  And somehow I spurt out a figure.  And in a split second of madness I wonder whether I’m dealing with a reincarnated man from the last stall.

And my Dirhams which once were a good exchange rate against the Euro, have just somehow vanished in Euro-like quantities.