Opportunity in adversity

The lockdown period has been different for everyone. Even different for the same person on different days. How easy it is to know that the gospel should give us perspective in all of this. Yet how hard to bear that in mind when our world collapses in on itself and we feel stuck in a rut.

Some days I’ve felt capable to try new things, to imaginatively create new patterns of life and to grow in godliness. Other days one is satisfied if a half-day of work has been done and one is able to fall asleep trusting a sovereign God, looking forward to better days!

But there are opportunities to look outwards and upwards, that may help us as well as grieving what we have lost. The road ahead could be hard for churches – social distancing will make things hard, and even when we have social distancing, it still appears we may not be able to have congregational singing for a while, if our recommendations are anything like other nations. The volume of air projected out of us when singing is bound to be different to when we’re sitting quietly apart from each other. For those longing to get back to congregational singing, this will be a painful realisation.

Rarely have I been moved more than being up in the Scottish islands, listening to the songs of the Bible being sung by young and old alike – a truly moving experience.

But its been encouraging to hear of one church in Italy who are seeing opportunity in this adversity. An adversity, I must add, that is not unique to this season for the worldwide Church – many settings will not be able to belt out Christian anthems together, due to fear of being reported by Police (secret or otherwise).

Rather than campaign for us to be allowed our rights far quicker (which may be questionable health-wise), or having people focus on the vacuum that is left by not singing (or for that matter, disobeying potential guidelines and singing anyway), this church have decided to do something positive:

Learn a new language

What?! How is that replacing singing? And why on earth would one expect a whole congregation to learn a new language? Isn’t that a bit unrealistic?

Well, a church near Turin have decided that they can sing congregationally, if they use sign language! Perhaps “learning a new language” is a bit of an over-statement. I’m guessing it’s learning some basic words from a simple song or two, or perhaps a chorus that can be repeated. And before anyone tells us that they could never do that, let me suggest that we learn plenty of similarly big things as whole churches, without batting an eyelid. What a humbling thing that brings parent, child and single person onto an even footing as we learn things together – in fact, I would fancy the chances of the young ones being far better at this than we are! What joy!

Irish Sign Language

Here’s 3 other ways I think they’re on to something!

  1. We can raise awareness of some of the neediest communities in the world for the gospel. You see, although the Church is gradually awakening to the great needs of the gospel amongst Unengaged People Groups and God’s heart for the outsider – the least reached – the population of said groups is growing fast enough that it’s a hard task to ever make a dent into the numbers. And then in most of those people groups, one has subsets like deaf peoples, who sometimes (depending on culture) are dis-connected from the dominating culture of those around them (given they don’t share a common language). It means many like the Joshua Project, count them as separate peoples.

But what are the chances of them being reached? Well even if the main predominant culture within that demographic is eventually reached with the gospel (which we’re still far behind on), the chance of a small sub-section of that community (one that tends to be quite insular, for obvious reasons) being reached, in this different language, is hard to imagine in many places. So many of the deaf communities fall high up on the least reached lists. They may not be the most strategic numerically, but then again, when was Christ’s Kingdom ever primarily shaped by reaching the most people, as quick as possible? King Jesus has a very different outlook on life, which by many of our models, seems weak, ill-advised and utterly frustrating.

  1. What a great way to engage or to make ourselves aware of the deaf communities on our own doorstep too. Who are they? Where do they meet? Do any churches in the local area provide sign language interpretation or assistance? One small church in Carrigaline, County Cork has been giving their devotionals on Facebook with an intrepretation too (they’re uniquely equipped to do so, but have shaped lots of life round being able to serve the deaf community as well).
  1. In learning some basic words about the gospel in another language, you’ll often find yourself thinking afresh about the meaning of it, and how best to communicate such. Could we be brought to marvel at the gospel again, by being children and struggling to learn some basics in another language like this? For those that wouldn’t be keen on this taking place in service, I suggest we teach other new forms of language and communication to people already, in our services, and expect them to pick it up and learn. Taking it slowly shouldn’t disrupt the tone of the service.

But wherever you are, and whatever your congregation may be able to manage or not manage, can I encourage us to look outwards and upwards, and to perhaps in doing so, start to see opportunity, amidst the adversity and loss.

In the meantime, let’s not forget what we lose: it is massive.

May this international collective warm our hearts as we reflect:

PS: Thanks Kim for flying the Irish flag in Sydney!

Sounds from round the world

As my last post generated lots of controversy (not something I try to do on blogs posts, nor was it something that ought to have been controversial) and still has discussions ongoing of various natures, I thought I’d post something that we can all have our hearts warmed by, that unites us all.

I love world music, and from a secular level Nitin Sawhney opened my eyes to the spectacular diversity within even an individual culture, nevermind all cultures! His compositions, curations and investigative journeys into other cultures through the world of music, are something I’ve loved over the years. He gives a taste of incredible musicality mixed with his intellectual intrigue here in his TEDx performance.

But from a Christian perspective, I came across this, thanks to a friend who sings in the Sydney Missionary Bible College band “Badminton Road” who are about to launch an EP later this year. What a beautiful glimpse of Heaven! Would it make you want to travel differently in regards to language and visiting believers where you travel? I hope so!

And if I’m allowed to mention the Irish language twice in a row, it’s fantastic to see a verse as-Gaelige.

Glimpses of local life, from holiday

*All names and places have been changed in this article so as not to incriminate anyone, and stories may be mixed together for security and have happened over many years.  For real accounts, please speak to me in person.

It was 45 degrees Celsius and we were escaping the city for an location unknown to me.  You don’t choose such places for pleasure.  We were wearing trousers so as not to culturally offend, but as the temperatures only got down to 28 degrees at night-time and there was no air conditioning, we remained bathing in our own sweat for most of the trip.  The warm trickle from the shower gave temporary relief each morning, but we were soon back roasting again, a few seconds after stepping out of the shower.

“I want to see churches multiplying across the land”

But it was all worth it to hear words like the above.  These were the bold words of one person, as we sat in an underground gathering of young believers in a secure location as the call to prayer rang out from the minarets across the land, reverberating on every street corner, in a country known to persecute people who were wanting to see growth of the Church.  We’d turned our phones off so we couldn’t be tracked but even that would raise suspicions if someone was keeping an eye on our phone activity.  Sitting in a training session with them all, and hearing them sing in their native tongue, native songs, was a powerful experience, as they shared their heart for their lives, their country and the nations.  The feeling in the room was one of weakness and fragility, but the prayers were bold ones.

In many trips to very different cultures, this was my first experience like this on holiday, and I hadn’t even planned it.  Nor would I know who to contact or where to go should I want it.  It just can’t be arranged.

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A wall magnetic board in a friend’s house.

And that was generally what I thought about authentic experiences in general whilst on holiday.  Meeting local people is one thing, but it is a rarity to be invited into anything meaningful in their lives, even if you’re around for a while.

But this once, it was different.  I went on a one week holiday with a company who arranged a cultural and linguistic package for us, so that we could spend hours a day with local people who loved to share life with us and speak English (and teach us our first baby steps in their language too).  Ranging from a top university professor telling us about the local history, sociology and anthropology, through to a simple teenager who wanted to further his career chances by picking up English, and several local business owners who shared about how they went about their businesses – over half the week was spent with around 40 local people, partaking of all sorts of fun activities.

It’s the type of thing you can’t find in many places for a holiday.  And for many people, it wouldn’t be a holiday they’d want to go on at all.  But as soon as its a regular package offered by a company, the experiences doubtless get less genuine, and the locals grow weary of endless streams of people who aren’t there to invest in the area longterm.  So it felt like a privilege to be there on a taster package and it left me with many more questions that I had before I went, while still teaching me vast amounts, despite having been in the region before, and having read about it.  It was one of the richest experiences I’ve had on holiday.

Just a few of the questions I continued to mull over after these trips:

  • how is business run differently in our culture to another culture?
  • how do you start a business in another culture?
  • what type of business should an immigrant (us) start that would empower locals?
  • should westerners accept random invitations from locals to Christian underground events without endangering them?
  • how can we be sustainable in our tourism?
  • how can English be used as a medium for trips, without colonialism becoming an issue?

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The Tea Garden, Dublin.  One of my favourite spots to get to meet others from various cultures, and to enjoy tea from their culture too!