10 top Christmas gifts for Christian travellers

Coming up to Christmas, here’s 10 top gifts for those with a heart for travel and for Jesus.

  1. A travel experience

Experiential gifts are not everyone’s cup of tea, but travellers will normally respond well to them.  A voucher for a stay at somewhere stunning.  Money off flights.  A particularly unmissable experience in a place they are going to.  Yes, it’s money quickly spent, but we all have things we value, and its so often memories for a lifetime.

2. A holiday for a single missionary

Sound weird?  In my introduction to my book, I mentioned a lass who was in an Islamic setting who couldn’t holiday by herself without cultural shame or danger.  All she needed to get time off was someone to come and say that they were happy to go somewhere with her – easy!  Even male missionaries can be like that (much to my surprise).  I was in a classy holiday resort with a male missionary recently and was solicited by so many local female resort workers, that I was very glad to have someone else to point me to Jesus!

3. Reading vouchers for something they can take with them

Dan’s solo cycle round the world was enhanced greatly by his pastor giving him a reading list of all sorts of incredible things to read.  He grew so much in his faith through reading, particularly in the countries where no-one spoke English and he had hours to spare!  Why not buy some Kindle books for someone?

Books and pictures in one….

4. Money for photos to be printed/framed/put on canvass

Travel memories will be incredible, but having a few photos rarely goes amiss!

5.  Travel resources for those with kids

Travel can be easily perceived to be a thing for single people.  But the percentage of the industry revenue that comes from single parents travelling with kids, or families travelling, is increasing and very significant.  But what about those who do find it hard to travel with kids?  Well, I’ve already mentioned these incredible resources from Immeasurably More Designs, made to increase their knowledge and enjoyment of the world, as well as being mad fun to play with!  Check them out here.

6. Travel experiences for those not able to travel

How about doing something to take a disabled friend out on a trip, or an experience that let’s someone less privileged capture the magic of the world around us?

The local train from Cork to Tralee is disability friendly for most, has some stunning mountain views and is only 13 euro – a great day out.

7.  Shaping your travel plans around visiting mission partners 

It may cost you a little more, but why not visit that mission partner of your church, and find out about their lives and context, so that you can better pray for them in future?  Or how about sending their kids a prezzie or two, so that Christmas day away from home can still be exciting for them?

Visiting CUI mission partners in countries that are allowed to be named.

8. A gift of hospitality

What money do you ever set aside to serve those who visit our lands?  Most people mentioned in the book of Acts came to faith while they were away from home.  If you don’t have time to meet such people yourself, why not donate regularly to the local International Student Cafe outreach near you, or to a River Community that reaches travelling people with the good news of Jesus?  They’d love to even hear of people supporting them!

9. A gift to those we meet

For myself, as a student or young professional, I always cringed when (and if) I made it to a church service of an amazing church where I was visiting as a holidaymaker, and the offering plate was passed around.  I knew that I was spending several hundred on my week away, and would continue to do so that day on things.  But I would never dream of putting money in the collection.  Similarly with those I was visiting – rarely did I think of going out of my way to give them something lavish, instead of treating myself.  Or simply to the needy person I encountered on the street in one place.  Buying them lunch would be no harm to them, to my pocket, or society.  But I hadn’t budgeted for giving money to others.  I touch on ethical situations like this in Appendix 1 of the book.

10. Oh go on then…

Well you’ve probably guessed by now.  Number 10 might be a certain book on Travel that I recently wrote.  Or if you’ve read it already, why not buy a copy for a travelling friend and read it with them?  Oh, so you’ve done that too?  Well, hosting an evangelistic gathering on the theme would be easy to do and not too expensive!

How your Christian Union can make the most of travel

I told one church leader what the seminars were at the Christian Union (student-led, interdenominational mission team on the university campus) Weekend Away:

Travel,
Conversational evangelism,
Community and Hospitality.

“I hope the students choose the one on evangelism – it’s far more relevant to mission on campus than the others” replied the church leader.

But is it?  Should we just cancel the other seminars and have everyone narrow their focus to evangelism?  Asides from the dualism of his assumptions, here’s 5 evangelistic reasons I think he’s missing out:

  1. Most people explicitly mentioned in the book of Acts that come to faith, do so while away from home.  There are thousands of International Students on our campuses from some of the most unreached places in the world.  If we understand travel, we’ll understand them and be able to prioritise getting alongside them with open arms and warm hearts.
  2. God is a God of all peoples.  He desires that an international band of followers congregate round his throne one day.  It’s bizarre if our churches and CUs don’t mirror that by welcoming in, and even prioritising the “outsider”.  How can we do this?  Well, one way is by knowing and experiencing what it is to be an outsider ourselves, in other cultures, in other lands or even where other religions are practised.
  3. The CU who travels together on mission, often not only benefits the culture who has invited them to visit, but learns things they can put back into practice in their home culture far more effectively.  Perspective is an incredible thing that can shape every day – why not get your CU thinking through this travel option?
  4. Everyone has questions on our minds and yearnings on our hearts.  That’s what it is to be made human.  But we don’t always express them with our lips, unless experiences in life force those questions to the forefront of our minds/hearts, and unless we have those we trust beside us who we can share deep things with.  Travel allows us to share hours of the day together, to be vulnerable with each other, in a way that little else does.  Why not travel with our non-Christian mates?
  5. Travel dominates conversations, fills Instagram feeds and echoes longings on many student hearts.  Know how to relate the gospel to travel?  You’ll know how to relate so much of our culture to the gospel too, in ways that students will be able to relate to and understand.

So what does a CU that loves travel look like?  Here’s 5 further top tips of practical things you can do to help that involve travel, or understanding it:

To welcome the traveller:

  • A welcome week!  Whether it’s international students arriving at a far off place, or just Irish students from 20 miles down the road, it’s amazing to be welcomed by a warm community of people.  Speak to your staffworker or Friends International worker about running some basic welcome activities/events or having a welcome pack from the CU/local churches for every overseas student.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if the first person that every first year student met was a Christian, offering a warm smile, help with their luggage and a welcome pack?  Could you even offer the university that there’ll be Christians to pick students up from the airport?  Don’t just duplicate what’s already on offer!
  • A homestay program.  The college holidays hit and all local students go home to be with family.  But what about the international students?  They’re left alone and often with days that they aren’t away travelling.  Could you work with your staffworker to link them to local Christian families who’ll offer a warm home to visit around Christmas and Easter?  Often those friendships go far beyond the day that they visit!  And it’s really easy to organise – all you need to do is get word out there – even a 2 person CU can do that!
  • An International Cafe community space.  Once a week pick a cultural theme or activity, hang a few flags up, play some music and voila, you’ll have an international cafe!  The purpose of it isn’t to entertain people or to get huge numbers, but to build deep relationships with the local helpers, who are all Christians.  Sometimes a Bible study might run concurrently to it, for the many who want to find out more and are naturally curious.
A homestay program just needs a flyer (even a culturally insensitive one like this one worked fine!!) and a staffworker who can liaise with local churches who can host.
A more-fancy-than-usual event when we partnered with the local Chinese Christian Fellowship for Chinese New Year – they did all the hard work!

To travel with the local student:

  • The CUs across Europe that are most effective, are generally those that have community groups with leaders who live in the halls of residence.  Why is this?  Well, because of what we said earlier: people who journey alongside each other are vulnerable with each other too.  And even if that travel is only a twenty minute walk to lectures every day, or a trip to the shop together – the depth of friendship adds up quickly, particularly when people eat together in community too!  So why not start Bible study groups in your halls?  University College Cork CU even had a “3,2,1, GO!” rhythm in place, where they do a Bible study each week for 3 weeks, and then reach out with the good news of Jesus in small ways in their hall of residence on the fourth week (eg: Text-a-toastie and a question about God).
  • Don’t have halls of residence in your college?  Some colleges where most students commute in, have car-sharing arrangements or public transport where many of the people are students.  One student in Carlow offered a lift to a lady every day of term, and she became a Christian before the end of the year!  Another deliberately didn’t put her earphones in immediately every day, leaving chance for conversations with people to develop at the bus stop and as time went on.
Some of my first ever smallgroup/hall group, before a once-a-term formal meal which the whole hall of residence went to.

And so we could go on.  Have you seen good ways that we can all be integrating our faith with our travels as mission teams on Irish universities and campuses?  Let me know!

And in the meantime, please don’t just denigrate travel to the thing you’ll never think about, because it’s not as important.  God can use travel to revolutionise your CU and cause ripples across the nations: will you let Him?

Business as mission

I’ve had the privilege of travelling Ireland recently with someone who is an expert in business as mission.  Working in major corporations for his whole life as he travelled the world, he’s decided to spend the last ten years of his career encouraging Christians to take business seriously, to take mission seriously and to do them both together, whether here or abroad in lesser reached places.  You won’t find any of his friends in business just doing it to get access to places.  No they’re serious and authentic business people.  And I many of us should be too – not having to abandon business to serve Jesus.

What a great way to use travel!

Here’s one website he recommended:

http://www.bamedu.com/

 

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Photo copyright Peter Grier 16/03/18

 

Travelling in light of eternity

Marie-Louise Disant writes her final post in her series on a female perspective of faith and travel.  You can find the rest here.


“But why are you so bothered about it, if you believe in eternity?”, asked my “Workaway mum”.

She was right too. I was sweating the small stuff. In light of all that is yet to come, and who I will be, it was not all that important; and yet, it was taking up more space in my mind than it should have.

Belief dictates action

Knowing that I was created for an eternity with my Creator changes things. It changes what I do, how I do it, where I do it etc.

As a daughter of Christ, I’m sent to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). He sends me in the name of the most powerful ‘trio’ ever to exist (verse 19). Though travel isn’t necessarily a fulfilment of this mission – increasingly, the nations are coming to us – this is a big part of why I travel. But my Jesus doesn’t just give me a mission to fulfil, He walks it out with me, standing right by my side every step of the way (v20).

As I walk out this plan that He has for my life, sent in His name and accompanied by Him, I also need some basic guidance to help me do so. If I decide to accept His good gifts and live my life for Him, instead of just for myself, His Word is the best place to figure out how.

Sometimes, we are the Pharisees.

In the days of Jesus earthly ministry, there was a strict Jewish religious sect called the Pharisees. They were completely obsessed with living ‘perfect’ lives according to the Law of Moses. They became so focused on obeying these laws that their hearts grew cold for God. They longed for public recognition of their piety instead of God’s grace and mercy.

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Fota Botanical Gardens, Ireland 2016 © Marie-Louise Disant

One day, one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus what the greatest commandment of all was. His goal in asking this question was to determine who had ‘right’ interpretation of the Law – the Pharisees, or the Sadducees whom they despised. Jesus told them that first, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and second “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.

Sometimes, in the pursuit of an outwardly-looking ‘perfect’ life, we forget about what really matters. Sometimes, we are Pharisees. We become so focused on living a life that looks organised, beautiful, productive, moral and ‘successful’, that we forget why we live at all.

You may ask, “but Marie-Louise, why bother living a life like that? I have faith in Jesus as my saviour, then that’s enough (Ephesians 2:8), right?” My dear friend, you and I are not saved by some stroke of good fortune, or by our own intelligence, but by God’s gracious gift of his Son (Ephesians 2:9) in order that we would then go on to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). True faith in Jesus results in good fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) out of love for the One who loves us first and best. Why? So that all people will know that we are His disciples, by the love we have for one another (John 13:35).

Even though the expression of my love for Jesus is often quite faulty and marred by sin, I still want those around me to know about him. What’s the best way for those around me to know about him? By loving them. Unfortunately, that’s not what my life proclaims to those who know me best. Those who are closest to me, see my faults, my brokenness, and choose to love me anyway. What a beautiful proclamation, and a wonderful example of Christ’s love for us!

Love is…

“But Marie-Louise! Love is just an emotion, you love pizza, family and life with the same word!” Perhaps! … but only if we believe what our society tells us about love.

The bible, in yet another countercultural plot twist, tells us something a little different:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” – 1Corinthians 13:4-8

Love, in new testament scripture, is usually translated from the Greek word “agapé”. This term refers to benevolent actions toward another person, rather than just to feelings for another person, as is evidenced in the passage above. We can love like this, only because He showed us his love first. Christ’s sacrificial example of servant leadership and love, is the best example of all-encompassing love that I can think of and the only one I would strive to replicate in my own life. Every other example that comes to mind, falls short. Though I will never be perfect in this life, I would much rather follow a perfect role model, than an imperfect one.

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Umbria, Italy 2016 © Marie-Louise Disant

Scandalous grace + unending love

“But Marie-Louise!” (What? More protest? Gosh – you are one hard reader to please!) “That’s a ridiculously tall order! I can’t be perfect, and neither can you, you just said so! I certainly can’t love perfectly either!”

My dear, dear friend: our weakness is the point.

No matter our struggle, whether it is to love or to let go, to work or to relax, to overcome addiction or to find structure; our inability to do so is the point. We are not called to live this life alone, struggling to measure up to some immeasurable self-imposed standard. We are created to glorify our Creator and enjoy a relationship with Him! Like every relationship, it’s not always going to be a perfect, happy one. But unlike every other relationship we have or will ever have, this relationship is with the One who embodies perfection itself.

He embodies Love, and patience, and kindness. His love does not envy, or boast; His love is not arrogant or rude. His love does not insist on its own way; His love is not irritable or resentful; His love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. His love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. His love never ends.

We are offered scandalous amounts of grace, in order to enjoy a relationship with our perfect Creator. Our Jesus doesn’t give us all these commandments to follow and then leave us alone in that struggle. He does it all Himself first, showing us how. Then, hands held out towards us, he offers to walk it out with us, if only we’ll accept His gift.

Our God doesn’t give us all these commandments without a) fulfilling them Himself first and b) walking them out with us, every step of the way.

Travel in light of His calling, His gift, and our acceptance

In travel, just like in life, how I behave reflects what I believe: about myself, about others, and more importantly, about my God.

He has called me to love Him first, and then my neighbour. He has offered relationship and love, and showed me how to do both.

He has shown me that without the hope I have in Him, I am lost.

I no longer need to travel to find out who I am or who He is. Now, I can just travel out of love; love for those I travel with and to and love for the One whose message I carry.

No matter where or when I will chose to travel to next, I know that I am not alone.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

But where there is my God, there is infinite possibility.

“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”

― James Hudson Taylor

Travelling the world to share…

“I shared the gospel with someone tonight as I travelled through China”

Ah, good, I guess.  Well done!

There are a few reasons why I’m never generally jumping up and down at such statements evangelism while travelling.

Why?

Well by “sharing the gospel” people from my circles generally mean this:

“whatever short summary of the good news they have rote-learnt from memory and just divulged over someone in six sentence summary format”

For everyone that will have limitations:

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  1. Cultural

For many westerners, they come from cultures which delight in direct communication.  Does my bum look big in this?  Well, yes, yes it does (ok, that’s an extreme but…).  “Telling it straight” to someone will evoke a sense of truth and in many, pride.

But to those who do not come from a “direct” culture, they are often deeply offended at such directness and pressing them to respond individualistically to a set of western-orientated presuppositions.  Particularly when it is in front of a group – the honour of their intelligence, worldview, friendships and whole way of thinking could be at stake.  It makes them recoil from even considering what the person is talking about, because the means embodying it is so shameful.

2. Theological

Many protestant cultures also are shaped by a guilt/innocence worldview where we describe our short summary in terms of God creating us, us doing wrong, feeling guilty, Jesus being innocent, Him taking our punishment, dying on a cross to make us forgiven and legally right before God, and Him coming back again for those who how have His righteousness.  Other western ways of sharing things might be along the lines of “Two ways to live” or “Four Spiritual Laws” or others such thinking.

But what about someone who has never thought too much about guilt or innocence, but is steeped everyday in the shame of not living up to familial, social, and cultural expectations or is craving the honour of the elder person they really respect?  That guilt/innocence presentation will have completely not connected with them, most likely.  In fact, it might take them one step closer to thinking God has little to do with their life and problems.

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TRAPPED!  In our cultural way of thinking.

Despite both of these, I would want to make two push back points:

Don’t let these negative experiences of short pithy gospel presentations push you into silence.  So often I can be so judgemental of how others do things, that I never speak, or never thank God that He uses (and has used) me even in my frailest of moments and stupid actions, to work for His glory.  Surely that is the Bible’s emphasis and should be our emphasis.

Gospel summaries are fab!  And I encourage all my students to learn one or more, so that they can snappily summarise what they think and believe.  It helped me spiritually, more than I’ve ever been able to share it!  But like anything in life, they’re not the golden bullet.  They all have weaknesses, all fail to convey lots, and depending on who you’re standing before can be (my old supervisor used to say,) like:

Frodo in the Lord of the Rings coming into an Ethiopian café when the football is on TV.  He shouts “Come Celebrate with me!!  The ring that was lost is now found and we are on our way again to Mount Doom where it can be destroyed and we can all be free!  Join us on our journey.”  To the Ethiopians, they have either no concept (or twisted ones) of all of those words/phrases, haven’t a clue what weird creature is excitedly speaking to them about this strange thing, and wouldn’t know what the journey looks like anyway.  And so they go back to watching football on the TV.

You see, Christ’s Lordship cannot be communicated in six sentences!  The everlasting and infinite God has chosen (in His wisdom) to reveal Himself using the frailty of human words, spoken into a particular culture at a particular time.  He has done it at that length and meant to do it so, because He knows best.

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And it’s wonderful.  The fact that He is Lord means that regardless of what I am talking about or doing, that a gospel of His Lordship is hovering over it.  I am as close to His Lordship as I am talking about brushing my teeth, as I am when I share my six sentence gospel summary.  Because ultimately He is Lord over teeth-brushing!  I am either doing it for His glory, or I am doing it from duty (good or bad) or legalistically doing it out of service to another god.  He is returning to bring us to a land where no decay or tooth-brushing will be needed!  Cheesey, but an example of how close things are to everyday situations that people can relate to!

So what does this look like in reality?

Well, let’s get this straight.  I don’t want to say that we must learn every culture and their way of speaking and acting, so that we become experts to all cultures.  Some gifted evangelists may think that’s what being “all things to all men” (2 Cor 9) is about but I think I disagree.  It’s impossible.  You can’t expect everyone to have cultural awareness of every culture.  Perhaps to specialise in knowing one cultural background, maybe.  But not that everyone will master everything.  Why do I say this?

Well, in me moving to Cork, I was moving from a British guilt/innocence culture to an Irish shame/honour culture (not to the same extent as Middle Eastern, but still massively moreso than British).  Now I have one of two choices: stay living in guilt/innocence culture, or try and get used to shame/honour culture.  And whichever I choose, I will alienate others and resonate more deeply with some.  It’s a choice that take a lot of time normally.  But I can’t live out both worldviews, unless I segregate relationships and all of my life.  I can be culturally aware of the clashes, but I cannot live both.

I am naturally inculturated.

I cannot sit above culture.

I am human.

The world is your….battleground!

The world is not a playground, it is a battleground.
A.W. Tozer
+++
“Peter, I’d love to travel the world, but I’ve committed to only going places I have real need to go.  That said, God has been good and we’ve ended up in a few places, but not by our choosing.  I don’t understand those who think they can spend their life pleasure travelling simply for their own enjoyment.”
These were the (paraphrased) words of one friend and his wife who I visited recently who were heading out on the mission field to one unreached people group, for their lives (DV).
They weren’t those who you’d find in a monastic settlement, withdrawing from everything in the world and going around with sullen faces saying we’ve to pray and never enjoy life on the battlefield.  They were treating me to a nice meal in a local pub near where they were studying.  Which spoke even greater volumes, knowing their generosity towards others.
Within the last year they’d had the joys of travelling to southern Africa (on a rare trip to see family) and also to the place where they were thinking of living longer-term elsewhere in the world.
So how can they say to everyone else about not spending their life in a playground of travels, and then travel and live like that themselves (1)?  And why can’t the rest of us who have more salary to spare act like the US couple we met in a previous post (2)?  And who said travel needs to be expensive – what if we can travel for as much as we’d be living at home for (3)?  For three reasons:
  1. These two trips are both something the Bible calls us to do – love family and reach unreached peoples.  And this was a rare trip to see their family before years in which they may not see them again.
  2. For the reasons I discussed in yesterday’s post, that couple were acting sacrificially with their wealth, and without doubt, their lifestory screams that of battlefield, rather than playground.
  3. There are dangers of living on cheap travels.  One being that you increasingly forsake your normal church community and the preaching of the word as God’s means of acting in your life and the world; one being that you forsake the intentionality of living and speaking for Jesus in a community that doesn’t know Him; and one being that you soon find yourself spending more as you travel than you intended.
But I speak to my own heart when I say to myself: let’s not play the “justification game” where we try and look back and justify travels to [insert place here].  Jesus has already justified us and so we don’t need to try and justify our own existence/behaviour as Christians.
Having said that, why would I want to travel, if Jesus’ purposes and words weren’t central to my travels?  I’d be missing out.

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Many try and force applications of spiritual warfare onto people, so that they can’t enjoy cultural activities like this one.  For us in Cork, this pumpkin carving and bonfire session with students was one of the most spiritually profitable evenings of the year.  Soli Deo Gloria!

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!

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…