Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why Paul is not my role model



Growing up, I never, ever imagined becoming a missionary.  I always thought I would be in ministry, but serving somewhere outside the U.S.A. was the farthest thing from my mind.  I specifically remember telling God that I'd go wherever he sent me, but added, "Just please don't make me a missionary."

When it seemed clear, though, that serving in Africa was the path that Rachel and I were to walk, all those great Bible stories I grew up with made it crystal clear who my role model would be - Paul the missionary. 

But lately I've come to realize something...  Paul isn't actually the best role model for cross-cultural mission work.

A few weeks ago, I came across a quote that has been wriggling around in my brain.  I'll paste the full quote below, but the gist of it is this:  The Apostle Paul was not really a cross-cultural missionary and therefore... ahem... he may not be the best role model for those serving as cross-cultural missionaries.

Paul was a Jew, certainly, but his background was much more cosmopolitan. He was intimately familiar with the Greco-Roman culture of the Ancient World. But his travel companion, Barnabas, was someone who seemed more at home in the more Jewish context.  It is likely that their famous missionary journeys were a more cross-cultural experience for him.  Barnabas played a key role in their ministry, but at a certain point he willingly took a backseat to the eventual author of most of the New Testament.  That decision probably had a lot to do with Paul's gifting, but it may also have been because our famous apostle (Paul) was more familiar with the people they were seeking to reach than the guy history considers his sidekick (Barnabas).

So, I sat down separately with Cruz and Armindo, two of the younger Mozambicans I've been discipling.  I talked about the two famous missionaries in the book of Acts.  And I told them that from now on I'm going to think of them as the 'Pauls' and see myself in the 'Barnabas' role. I told them how proud I was of the way they love God.  I told them I was encouraged and impressed by their efforts to plant new churches over the last few months. I reminded them that they understand this culture more deeply than I ever will.  So, they're the 'Pauls' and I'll focus on being a 'Barnabas.'

The beautiful truth is that they and the other men and women we are discipling are much more equipped to take the good news of God's kingdom to their family and friends (the Makua-Metto people) and it is exciting to see them become more passionate and confident as they grow into that role.

May God raise up modern-day "Pauls" from among the Makua-Metto to reach the Makua-Metto.  And may I serve as a "Barnabas" to encourage them along the way.

Grace and Peace,
Alan

P.S. Here's that quote I mentioned earlier - Enjoy!

"Historically, missionary movements have tended to look to Paul as the model missionary.  Paul has been the inspiration for thousands to go boldly where no gospel was preached before.  There is something natural about this. The New Testament is largely a Pauline set of texts.  He is the central figure in the theology and ministry of the early church.  His character is captivating and real.  He is a towering personality, full of courage and yet somehow possessing sensitive emotions.  His adventures spark the wanderlust of many readers.  But is he really a model for missionaries in the sense of cultural outsiders who seek to get the gospel inside a culture to which they themselves are strangers?  Was Paul really a cross-cultural missionary?  We need to recall that he was born a Jew and so could with integrity truly be a Jew to the Jew.  But he was also born into the Greek language and culture and worldview of the god-fearing Greek, the slice of Greek culture which seems to have formed the target for much of his direct ministry.  He could thus with integrity also truly be a Greek to the Greek.  There is another New Testament figure, closely related to Paul's ministry, who would seem to be a model for cross-cultural mission.  This man was in the right place at the right time and recognized in Paul the gifts and calling needed to minister to Greeks.  He served to link Paul with the suspicious leadership of the Jerusalem church and defended Paul to them.  He stood alongside Paul in ministry at Antioch and accompanied Paul on itinerant ministry, though always taking an apparent back seat to Paul's leadership.  And in the end, this man simply fades into oblivion so that the story of the people movement among the Greeks is largely a story of Paul's ministry, not his own (though without him it is doubtful that Paul would ever have been what we know).  This man Barnabas seems to me to be the model, or at least a model, after which we need to pattern our ministries.  If we do, we will find ways to come alongside others.  We will have eyes  to see whom God may be raising up as a new Paul, no matter how difficult the new Paul may be for other Christian leaders to accept.  We will have the humility to stand in the background.  And in the end we will have the grace to face the fact that our role is really to disappear.  If Barnabas is our model, we can trust God to raise up messengers to voice his message in the contexts of the remaining cultures among which we long to see his kingdom come." - p. 115-6 - "Encountering Muslim Resistance" by Kevin Higgins in Reaching the Resistant: Barriers and Bridges for Mission - J. Dudley Woodberry, editor


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why we've started holding hands in public



Holding hands means something different here.

In this part of the world, Men hold hands with men; women hold hands with women.  Personally, I'm still caught by surprise when another man reaches out to hold my hand.  But holding hands in this context is a tender act of friendship - it's a small practice that expresses big sentiments like closeness and unity.

What is much rarer to see, though, is men and women holding hands.  Our older Mozambican friends would be scandalized to see a man and woman holding hands because, according to this traditional culture, only couples having an illicit relationship would do that. 

When our family moved to Mozambique over a decade ago, we began the long (and still ongoing process!) of learning the Makua-Metto culture.  And in order to act appropriately in this context, Rachel and I stopped holding hands in public. 

But over the past few years, we've noticed an increase in the number of young men and women who hold hands as they walk down the street.  It seems that as more and more people have been exposed to Western movies, many of the Makua-Metto, especially those in the more urban areas are overcoming the shock of cross-gender hand holding.

In reflecting on the fact that we're seeing more young people holding hands, it hit us that this practice should not be the "property" of young people in illicit relationships - what if it was "owned" by committed couples instead?

So, Rachel and I have started holding hands in public.  It isn't often that the two of us get to walk anywhere alone, but when we do, we're hoping that maybe this small act can communicate something different about the friendship and unity found in a committed marriage relationship.

So, while there is a time to be culturally relevant/sensitive, there is also a time to be counter-cultural - a time to try to reshape prevailing perceptions of a given practice.  Maybe holding hands can be a missional/counter-cultural/protest-statement-of-love kind of act.  And that's why we're holding hands in public again.... well... and because it's fun.  :)  

Grace and Peace,
Alan

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Newsletter February 2015



Greetings from Montepuez!

We're in the middle of the rainy season here and most days we're enjoying thick cloud cover. It's a nice break from the intense tropical sun, but unfortunately that doesn't mean a break from sunburns for Alan (insert sad face).  We had a VERY needed restful holiday break - we intentionally didn't schedule anything between Christmas Day and New Year's Day, and spent the time resting and playing together as a family, which was very healing at the end of a pretty intense year for us.


I'm writing this to the hum of the generator as severe flooding down in the middle of Mozambique has knocked out major power lines for the northern half of the country.  We've been over three weeks without city electricity and we're so grateful to have a generator to run our fridge and computer and lights - we're also running the teachers' electricity as well as serving as a charging station for many of our friends' phones and a few extra computers, too.  We haven't seen flooding rains in our region yet - the rainfall has been even and steady - but an area south of us received strong winds that blew down a number of houses and church buildings (the village of Milamba and surrounding areas). 

Since our last newsletter we continued with our regular village visits, but every year when the rains begin mid-December, our ministry time shifts a bit.  Our Mozambican friends are busy in their farms planting and hoeing, and sometimes we're limited in where we can go - just a couple weeks ago, thick slippery mud on the road to Khambiri forced Alan and Goncalvez to turn back and miss a meeting with a cluster of churches.  So we schedule fewer village studies and spend time on curriculum development and long-term planning for the year. 

We're happy to report that the bridge construction finished on Christmas day!  Alan and the project leader Will Zweig (a Peace Corps Worker in our area), were amazed to see the work come together and we're so grateful that the actual construction only ended up taking three months of intense building.  It was completed just as the Montepuez River began to rise and the work during that last week or so had to be done while dodging men, women and children who needed to already
start using the bridge to get across. Unfortunately Will's two years of service in Mozambique are over, and we had to say goodbye - it was a pleasure to work together on a project that is already blessing thousands of people. A couple of weeks ago, Alan took the District Director of Public Works out to the site and he was very impressed - he said that there is nothing like it in the whole country! There are a few small finishing touches remaining for the bridge, and we are waiting to hear from the government as to which date they want to schedule the official inauguration - which will be a day of real celebration.  Thanks again to everyone who supported this effort!

In December we finished up the three different women's studies for 2014.  On the last day of our study in the Chipembe cluster, when we finished studying, we all piled together into the truck and drove to Nakuka to join the women in that church cluster for an Ikoma - a girl's initiation ceremony.  The Chipembe women and I enjoyed also having Amber, one of our teachers, and Kara, one of the new Peace Corps Volunteers in Montepuez, join us for the overnight trip.  We stayed up into the night singing, dancing, napping, singing again, and holding an advice-giving session for the young girl whose parents are part of the church in that village.  The next morning she was bathed by the older women, dressed in brand new clothes, presented to the community as an adult, and after everyone gave her gifts, we prayed over her.  When it was all done we began the four hours of driving to drop off all the Chipembe women before driving back into Montepuez.  We were exhausted, but it was so much fun!

Over the last few weeks Alan has been going with several church leaders to the village of Nikokwe.  It is a place that the church has tried to reach out to before, but there had been resistance for religious reasons in the past.  This time, though, has been different.  There is a man of peace there, and he and his family have welcomed all of us with open arms.  They'll be discussing baptism next week and hopefully there will be a new church plant there soon - please pray for this village.

One interesting dynamic of the rainy season this year is that Cruz and Armindo, two young men that Alan has been discipling for the past few years, have been back in Montepuez on break from school, and we've been able to see a lot more of them than usual.  They've used some of their school holiday time to teach and do evangelism on their own in a few different places, and it has been exciting to see them grow in confidence and take more and more initiative. 

When Monte and Beth Cox and Evertt and Ilene Huffard visited our team in May, they counseled us and the Mozambican church leaders that it was time to begin naming deacons to serve and lead the churches, and that one of the biggest needs of these churches is in the area of communication and collaboration between churches.  There are about 50 Churches of Christ in Cabo Delgado and the distances between the members of this young movement continues to be a substantial barrier.  Just as the early church selected deacons to address a specific problem they were facing (Acts 6), we were all encouraged to let that be the way to address our challenge as well.  After presenting this plan to some key church leaders, Jeremy, Chad, Alan, and two Mozambican missionaries (who've been living and working with the Churches of Christ in Cabo Delgado) began the process of teaching about deacons and facilitating the selection process in the 13 church clusters.  While this process hasn't been without its hiccups, it has been a joy to see churches select their own leaders and for us as American and Mozambican missionaries to get to lay hands on and pray for these servants.  Alan said that the selection process in the Chipembe cluster was one of the highlights of his life.  It was a beautiful day, and he was so encouraged to watch the young churches' maturity in choosing leaders while still having such openness and honesty that members felt free to speak directly to them and promise to hold them accountable. 

Unfortunately, a third Mozambican missionary has been hostile to these plans lately.  After initially agreeing to this process and promising to participate he has started putting up roadblocks and has threatened to divide the church.  It has been sad to watch him burn up his influence with many people as lots of church members are saying his actions are driven by greed and a desire to hold onto control and power over the church.  Please pray that God would change his heart and that the church would find a peaceful solution to this.

Also, please pray for us as we renew our residency documents. This year we are eligible (again) for permanent resident status which means we would have to renew the documents every five years instead of annually.  Unfortunately, the process is moving very slowly right now, for several reasons, one of which is that there is no electricity in the whole northern half of the country.  Thanks for joining with us in prayer about this; these government documents are an important part of keeping us here, and permanent approval would make our travel plans this year a lot smoother.

When we looked at the calendar today, we realized it is about a hundred days until we leave for furlough (Yikes!).   We've been talking about it more and more with our Mozambican friends, sharing the vision for teaching at Harding University to encourage/train more missionaries and disciple-makers on that side of the world.  Most of them are excited for us, though we've had to make many reassurances that we'll be coming straight back home to Montepuez as soon as the school year is over.  At one of the deacon selection meetings, someone made reference to our trip to the United States and asked how this would impact that group of churches.  A number of members responded that since their leaders are now officially in place, the work of the church will keep going forward.  May it be so!

Please pray with us for:

  • Peace and unity in the church, especially among leaders
  • Success in receiving permanent residency documents
  • Steady rain and a good harvest in people's farms
  • Continued peace in Mozambique and thanksgiving for peaceful elections last year






Grace and Peace,
Rachel, Alan and the girls

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Greater Glow

There’s a house for sale in a good neighborhood. It sits on a little rise, slightly above its neighbors, enjoying a prominent location. But, although the house gets lots of enquires and plenty of foot traffic, there have been no serious offers. The realty agency is puzzled and since the owner is a friend, one day the head agent decides to accompany a young couple to take a tour of the property. As they round the corner and the house comes in to view, everyone in the car notices the way it seems to shine.

Pulling up to the mailbox, the couple is filled with excitement and anticipation as they imagine what it would be like to make this house their home. But, as they approach the front door, the agent is shocked to notice some serious problems. There’s a visible crack in the foundation. Rotting boards on the porch have been “hidden” by a thick coat of paint. And the story inside is even worse. The husband frowns. His wife politely asks, “Do you have any other houses in this neighborhood?”

It’s a familiar tale. Some person or thing seems to shine brightly from a distance but, as one gets closer, it is evident that their brilliance is mostly a facade. 
 to read more check out The Greater Glow at Story Warren

Grace and Peace,
Alan

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Abandonment and the power of faith



This post is my fourth in a series on dealing with feelings of abandonment along the way in our life and ministry here in Mozambique.  To read the previous posts, check them out herehere and here.

There is a quote attributed to Uncle Screwtape that I find fascinating. C.S. Lewis' book, The Screwtape Letters, is a fictionalized series of correspondence between two demons where the more experienced one attempts to pass on his knowledge of the human condition to his young apprentice.

"You must have often wondered why the enemy [God] does not make use of his power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree he chooses and at any moment.  But you now see that the irresistible and the indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of his scheme forbids him to use.  Merely to over-ride a human will (as his felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for him useless.  He cannot ravish.  He can only woo.  For his ignoble idea  is to eat his cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them will not serve... Sooner or later he withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all supports and incentives.  He leaves the creature to stand on its own legs - to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish... He cannot 'tempt' to virtue as we do to vice.  He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand... Our cause is never in more danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished and  asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

As I have wrestled with feelings of abandonment, this quote has done as much as any other to help weather those emotional storms.  Lewis speaks of abandonment in the way God removes himself and allows us, as his creatures, the freedom to choice.  God risks his hopes and dreams for humanity to allow us to choose to love and trust him.  And from Lewis' perspective abandonment is a key element in spiritual formation.  The end of Uncle Screwtape's description of the state of abandonment, though, has particularly captured my imagination.  It is powerful enough to warrant quoting again:

"Our cause is never in more danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy's will [God's will], looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him [God] seems to have vanished and  asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

Whatever I may think about the origin of my feelings of abandonment, this quote reminds me that the most appropriate and powerful response on my part is endurance and faithfulness. 

Let's not be mistaken, though.  What Lewis is referencing is not a "blind faith."  He is not saying that Christians should be unthinking automatons, robots that run on pre-programmed trust.   No, what Lewis is doing here is painting a picture of real faith.  Real faith means counting the cost, knowing that God's hand has been removed for that moment (or moments) and still choosing to step, eyes wide open, into the dark, trusting that at some point down the pitch-black path that there will be a ray of light.

And the part that gives me strength is remembering this: when we make that choice to remain faithful even when we feel we've been abandoned and left on our own, the powers and structures of this world that are opposed to God's kingdom purposes have absolutely NO defense for that.  If we consistently take Jesus' path in those moments, there is nothing that can defeat us.

May we be a people who even in the midst of abandonment, choose faithfulness and endurance.

Grace and Peace,
Alan