Friday, November 17, 2017

Into All the World

The Harding University Alumni Magazine asked a few missionaries serving in different parts of the globe to write a letter to the people they serve.  It was a difficult prompt for Rachel and I (hard to be concise!), but it was a good exercise. You can check out the piece, "Into all the world," here.

Review of Canoeing the Mountains



Check out my Review of Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory in Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Practice 8, no. 2 (Summer-Fall 2017).

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Team Missions as a Collective Game

Game playing has been a part of our mission team’s culture from the beginning.  While we were still living in the USA in 2000-2003 we would meet regularly to do team formation activities, work out details about where and how we would serve in Africa, meet with missions teachers and mentors… and have fun together, too! 

Even now, after being in Mozambique for almost 14 years, game playing is still part of our team culture.  Every Tuesday night we share a meal, worship together, put the kids to bed, and play games.  Each family has their own collection of games and depending on whose house we are at that week, there’s a bunch of different game options that we can bring to the table.  

There are basically two kinds of games.  There are competitive games, where individual players, or a team of players, is trying to beat the other participants (like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan).  In contrast, collective games, on the other hand, are different in that all the players are working together to win as a group (like Pandemic, Forbidden Island or Flashpoint).

While our team enjoys playing both kinds of games, we function best when we remember that what we are doing here in Mozambique is not a competitive game, it is a collective game.  When we get distracted and start thinking or worrying about which one of us is “winning” (who gets the credit for this or that), then we’ve begun playing the wrong kind of game.  If we forget the truth that we all win or lose this thing together… that’s when things start to fall apart.
Often that means that team members end up “taking one for the team” and do things behind the scenes that could often go unnoticed.  So, one of the keys has been remembering to name and celebrate together our collective wins. 
We win or lose this thing together.

In my mind, Romans 12 may be the most underrated… and yet the most important chapter in Paul’s letters for team missions.  It provides a powerful vision of what it means to serve and minister together.

May God help us see clearly that we win or lose this thing together in Jesus’ name.

Grace and Peace,

Alan  

Monday, October 23, 2017

Story Warren: The Soundtrack of Childhood


Check out a new post I wrote for Story Warren, The Soundtrack of Childhood, for some thoughts on what it means for the Islamic Call to Prayer to be a part of our lives here in Mozambique. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Acts and Allies

Lately, the story of Philip has captured my imagination.  Acts 8 tells the story of his encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch.  It is a powerful story of the first convert to Christianity outside of Abraham’s family.  And it is a fun story to teach here in Mozambique.  The area we live in is predominantly Muslim and a critique often leveled by people here against disciples of Jesus is: “Oh, Christianity, that’s a European religion… the true religion of Africa is Islam.”

So, it is inspiring to walk through this text with our Makua-Metto friends and point out that the first non-Jew or non-Samaritan to become a Christian was not American, Portuguese, Korean or Chinese… he was an African.  AND his baptism and subsequent return to Ethiopia happened roughly 600 years before Muhammad was born and about 700 years before Islam eventually made its way to Africa.  So, Christianity existed on this continent for around seven centuries before Islam did.  That fact may not mean much to you, but it does to them.  It has been fun to see how moving it is, both encouraging and empowering, to tell first generation Christians in this area that Christianity is THEIR religion!  An African paved the way for the rest of us Gentile Christians, myself included, and they should be proud of that!  

Another reason why this story has been appealing to me is that I have found myself identifying more with Philip.  Philip is called outside of his normal realm of experience to play a role that he surely didn’t expect (he’s already moved from Jerusalem to Samaria and now this?).  Philip certainly isn’t the hero of this story and it would be difficult to prove that the Ethiopian Eunuch is the main character either.  Instead the real protagonist is the Holy Spirit.  It is God who is primarily at work to save and to bless.


I’m in Nampula this week helping out with the consultation check of the translation of the book of Acts in Makua-Metto.  Now, I’m not a linguist or a translator so it has been a stretching experience – a challenge to know how to help appropriately.  On my first morning working with the translation team, our friend Domingos Aurelio shared a devotional thought from Mark chapter 2, the story of the four friends who carried the paralytic to Jesus.  He talked about how all of them had to work together to carry the person. They even had to break a hole in the roof to lower this man down to the Lord.  In the same way that they had to be careful to match each other’s speed and follow each other’s lead to effectively work together to meet a common objective, we too needed to pay attention to each other and find a way to collaborate to bring this translation work before the Lord and the people of Mozambique.

I recently read Drick Boyd’s book, White Allies in the Struggle for Racial Justice.  As someone who has struggled to understand my role as an outsider working to be a blessing here to our African friends and neighbors, I have hungered for appropriate models of what it looks like to do that well.  Boyd tells the stories of white Americans who resisted the pull of their own cultures to participate as partners or allies with African-Americans to make a more just system.  It was encouraging and challenging to read about how these men and women allied with neighbors of different backgrounds and skin colors at, sometimes, great personal cost.

This language of “allies” is controversial.  Some find it patronizing while others believe it is appropriate.  I don’t have the answer to that question or know a better label that should be used.  What I do know is that the language of “being allies” has been a helpful way of framing our engagement with the work in Mozambique – both in relation to what God is doing and what Mozambicans are doing themselves.  Philip was an ally to the Ethiopian Eunuch – helping and blessing as he could.  The four friends were allies to the paralytic – doing what it took to bring about his healing through Christ.  

There is a debate in missions about where the vision for ministry or development should come from. Ideally it should come from insiders, correct?  Does it invalidate a vision then if it comes from outsiders?  And what if insiders have yet to recognize the need or don’t have the resources to respond?  And if insiders and outsiders do work together what should partnership look like?  

Those are challenging questions without simple answers.  But, I find it instructive that in the biblical narrative we see the vision for change in a given region coming from both insiders and outsiders.  For example, the prophet Amos was an outsider. He left his home in the southern kingdom of Judah to go to preach a message of repentance to the wealthy in the northern kingdom of Israel.  But, Micah was an insider who preached his message to the people of Judah, his own region.  God can use both insiders and outsiders to cast a vision for what life should look like.

Going through the book of Acts this week, considering Peter and Cornelius, Paul and Tabitha and others, I’m reminded that whether we are insiders or outsiders what matters most is allying ourselves with the mission of God and finding others who are on that path, who are partnering with God as well, listening well and allying ourselves with them, too.  It won’t be easy, like Philip we may end up way outside our comfort zones, but it is there that we will likely see the power of God.

Grace and Peace,

Alan

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Charcoal and Rejection/Redemption



I remember clearly the day that we learned the word for coal in Portuguese - carvão. Our mission team was in Lisbon to learn to speak the national language of Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony.  It was pretty early in our language study and when we saw “carvão” in class we pictured large train cars full of coal that had been mined underground. “Well, this little word certainly won’t be useful,” we thought. “We should be learning more meaningful, practical words.” Our team joked that this was an insignificant word, unimportant, and not worthy of remembering.  Little did we know that charcoal or carvão would be a common things we encountered in northern Mozambique - it is everywhere in Makua-Metto culture. 

Early in the morning, here in Montepuez, you can hear men walking through town yelling out: “Makhala, Makhala.” They are announcing in the Makua-Metto language that they have charcoal for sale as they carry their big sacks on the back of their bicycles.  It plays an important role in the local economy - Mozambican men go out into the woods and spend days making the charcoal to then sell it to others. 

When we go out to villages for visits or teaching, people often ask us to transport sacks of charcoal for them.  When we do, the fine, black powder of charcoal dust covers the back of our truck and gets on my hands and clothes. 
Charcoal, Carvão, Makhala – whatever you want to call it, it is everywhere! 

In John’s Gospel, the word for “charcoal fires” seems insignificant.  But it plays prominently in the story of Peter – at his betrayal or rejection of Jesus at the house of Caiphas as well as his redemption on the beach having breakfast with the risen Christ.  Eugene Peterson summarizes the story well:
“It was a cold night, and Peter and others were warming themselves at a charcoal fire (anthrakian, 18:18).  Peter was questioned by other spectators in the courtyard that night about whether he knew Jesus.  Peter answered three times with a denial… Now on the Galilee beach, Peter has just eaten a breakfast cooked by Jesus over another charcoal fire (the same word, anthrakian). When the Galilee beach conversation started, Peter couldn’t have known where it was going.  But when Jesus put his question to Peter a third time, Peter’s three denials the week before, while warming himself at a similar charcoal fire as Jesus was on trial before Caiaphas, pulled the memory of that awful night of shame into the present.  So that’s why there are three.  The three Jesus questions on the Galilee beach reverse and redeem Peter’s three denials at the trial the week before in Jerusalem.  The three affirmations of love harness Peter into continuing Jesus’s work – ‘Feed my sheep’ – a change of vocation, no longer a fisherman but a shepherd following in the steps of the great Shepherd of the sheep. It is a remarkable story. Peter… is now forgiven, is restored to continue Jesus’s work. Peter, for as long as he lived, never forgot the link between the night of denials and this morning of grace.”  (Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, 355)
The word for charcoal (anthrakian in Greek) could justifiably be perceived as insignificant in the New Testament.  If my counting is correct, it only occurs these two times (Jon 18:18 and 21:9). But my hunch is that this word is anything but insignificant for Peter. His rejection happened in conversation around a charcoal fire at night and his restoration and rehabilitation occurs in conversation around a charcoal fire in the morning.

It makes me wonder if every time Peter smelled a charcoal fire or got charcoal dust on his hands or clothes he remembered those charcoal conversations and how Jesus could even use seemingly insignificant things to help turn rejection into redemption.

Grace and Peace,

Alan

Monday, October 2, 2017

Counting and Makua Culture

We speak the Makua-Metto language, but in the province south of us, Nampula, they speak a different dialect known simply as Macua or Makua.  Most of the villages we work in speak Makua-Metto (in the districts of Montepuez, Balama, Namuno, Ancuabe, Pemba) or Makua-Saka (in the district of Chiure). But in the southern part of the Namuno district in the administrative post of Macoka, near the Lurio River, the people there speak the Makua dialect from Nampula.

This Sunday, I traveled down to worship with churches in that area.  Along the way, a few of us talked about something I’ve been curious about for a while – their counting system.

Here’s a video of our friend Aquimo Saibo counting from #1-30. 




Now you might think it is interesting the way Aquimo starts counting with his pinkie finger and then when he gets to ten, he shows that by putting his fists together.  My Mozambican friends often think it is odd if I start counting with my index finger… (for more on culture and body language differences in Moz see my post from a few years back: "What's in a Shrug?")

Anyways, what I think is really interesting is their counting system as a whole.  We’ve wondered if it is should be categorized as a base-five number system.

Here are pages 225 and 226 from Gino Centis’s book Método Macua (2000), along with a few observations for clarification:

Both Makua-Metto and Makua use a noun class system and numbers must correspond to the noun class of what you are counting.  For example, in Nampula Makua, if you were counting people you would say: mmosa, ànli, araru, axexe, athanu.  But if you were counting goats you would say: emosa, pìli, tthàru, xexe, thanu.  Those are examples of two different noun classes and their impact on the counting system.  The four columns that follow on the page are examples of each of the four noun classes.  (Ah, so fun and complicated…)

As you go down the list you can see that literally the way they count is:
a.      One to Ten: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 5+1; 5+2; 5+3; 5+4; 10
b.      Eleven to Twenty: 10+1; 10+2; 10+3; 10+4; 10+5; 10+5+1; 10+5+2; 10+5+3; 10+5+4; 2 of 10
c.      Twenty-One to Thirty: (2 of 10)+1; (2 of 10)+2; (2 of 10)+3; (2 of 10)+4; (2 of 10)+5; (2 of 10)+5+1; (2 of 10)+5+2; (2 of 10)+5+3; (2 of 10)+5+4; 3 of 10.
d.      Once you get to 100 (on page 226) – it is literally “a group of ten of ten”).





Some more observations:

Interestingly, if you look up the word they use for ten, Muloko, in Dicionario Macua-Português (1990, p. 151), the first meaning that is given is “group, line or list”; then the secondary meaning that is given is “ten or group of ten.”  So, in Nampula Makua, Muloko is “group” or “ten” and Miloko is the plural form which means “groups” or “tens.”  As a side note, that word Muloko is also used among the Lomwe people (a sub-dialect of Makua) as a name for the church.  The churches of Christ among the Lomwe people, for example, often refer to themselves as “Muloko a Kristu,” or “the group of Christ.”

If the Makua Nampula number system seems cumbersome to you, rest assured that Makua people that I’ve talked to also find it difficult.  They say that once you count to 20, 30 or above, Makua people will almost always switch to Portuguese (the national language that is taught in schools).

For the Makua-Metto people in Cabo Delgado, their number system follows a 1-10 system.  Their numbers 1-5 are very similar to Makua from Nampula, but 6-10 are normally borrowed from Swahili (the language spoken in Tanzania just north of us).

I’m not exactly sure, but as far as I understand what the Nampula Makua speakers are using is not truly a base-5 system. Instead it seems like a hybrid system where “two groups of fives” forms a “ten group” that is added to from there.  I would love to hear any thoughts on what this system should be called.

Thanks for indulging my curiosity for a few minutes!  I hope it added up to an interesting blog post on the intersection of counting and culture.

Grace and Peace,

Alan

Friday, September 29, 2017

Ty Cobb, the Wrath of God, and the Power of Fake News

Ty Cobb, as baseball fans are aware, is famous for being an amazing player.  He was the first person voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and still holds the record for having the highest lifetime batting average.  He is also certainly one of baseball’s most infamous players - widely known for being an angry, racist, and wrathful individual.

Charles Leerhsen, author of the award-winning book Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, in a fascinating speech shows that much of what we think we know about Ty Cobb is… wrong.

Leerhsen tells the story of how in doing basic research by using original sources, he quickly discovered that, while Cobb was not perfect, he was certainly not the rage monster popular opinion has made him out to be.  It turns out that a man named Al Stump, a hack writer, wrote a scandalous piece about Mr. Cobb that was shared over and over by people who were trying to correct its errors but instead ended up perpetuating a lie.

Yes, it seems that Ty Cobb’s legacy was a victim of fake news.

And it seems that popular culture wanted to believe in a caricature (“Cobb was a wrathful person and player”) more than they wanted a complete picture.

But, Ty Cobb is not the only “wrathful” victim of fake news – there is another whose reputation has been misshaped and mishandled.   

Many people have misperceived God as a mad, violent deity.  This is an extremely popular view (remember, the most famous and formative sermon in American history is Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”!).   Many of us have heard and incorporated narratives of God as wrathful and those misconceptions have taken on a life of their own.  That “fake news” has become the story we expected, wanted and embraced.
But if we follow Leerhsen’s example and do a little digging, will the research support that perception?

In the New Testament, the Greek words often translated as anger, rage, indignation or wrath are used both in reference to God and in reference to humans.  I’ve categorized the verses below using the NIV:
1.      Texts that caution humans against being wrathful/angry/indignant:
a.      1 Cor. 13:5 – Love, “does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
b.      Eph. 4:26 - “’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,”
c.      Eph. 4:31 – “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger”
d.      Col 3:8 – “rid yourselves of… anger, rage…”
e.      1 Tim 2:8 – “lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.”
f.       James 1:19 – “everyone should be… slow to become angry.”
g.      James 1:20 – “because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
2.      Texts that tell humans to hate evil and wrongdoing
a.      Rom 12:9 – “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good”
3.      Texts that refer to a connection between law and wrath:
a.      Romans 4:15 – “because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.”
4.      Texts that refer to Jesus being angry:
a.      Mark 3:5 – Jesus, “looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
5.      Texts where God is described as having anger/hate/wrath:
a.      John 3:36 – John the Baptist says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
b.      Rom. 1:18 – “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
c.      Rom 2:5 – “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”
d.      Rom 2:7-8 – “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”
e.      Rom 3:5 – “But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.)”
f.       Rom 9:22 – “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction?”
g.      Rom 12:19 – “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
h.      Rom. 13:4 – Christians should respect human government because “He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
i.       Eph. 5:5-7 – “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.”
j.       Col 3:6 – Paul instructs them to leave behind a list of sins… “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.”
k.      1 Thess. 2:16 – The people persecuting the Christians “heap up their sins to the limit.  The wrath of God has come upon them at last.”
l.       Heb. 3:11 & 4:3 (citing Psalm 95:11) – Because of Israel’s disobedience and rebellion… “I declared an oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
6.      Texts that refer to the destruction of Jerusalem or a future punitive judgment
a.      Matt 3:7-8 & Luke 3:7 – John the Baptist says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Repent!”
b.      Luke 21:23 – Jesus in talking about the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem says: “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people.”
c.      Eph. 2:3 – “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.”
7.      Texts that refer to the way Jesus saves us from wrath or future punitive judgment:
a.      Romans 5:9 – “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”
b.      1 Thess. 1:10 – Paul refers to how they’ve stopped worshipping idols and are now following Jesus, “who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
c.      1 Thess. 5:9 – “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
8.      Texts that refer to wrath in the book of Revelation
a.      Rev. 6:16-17 – “They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
b.      Rev. 11:18 – “The nations were angry, and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
c.      Rev. 14:10 - “they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.”
d.      Revelation 14:19 – “The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.”
e.      Revelation 15:1 – “I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed.
f.       Revelation 15:7 – “Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever.”
g.      Revelation 16:1 – “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”
h.      Rev. 16:19 – “The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath.”
i.       Rev. 19:15 – “Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.”

While there certainly are a basketful of references to God’s anger/wrath, it would be interesting to follow that up with a study of how many times God described as loving or holy or good.  My guess is that there would be significantly more than references to his wrath…

But, my objective in this post is not to ask you to ignore references to anger/wrath/indignation on God’s part.  Instead, I think the references to wrath of God have been misread and have distorted our image of God.  There are two examples that I’ve found helpful in trying to understand the relationship between anger and the Almighty. 
  • Memory and Children – Let’s imagine a mother who asked her grown daughter to relate how she remembers her childhood.  The daughter responds by saying that her clearest memory is of her mom grabbing her gruffly by the side of a busy road.  The mother’s mouth hangs open in shock as she considers all the eating and playing and enjoying each other’s company that happened over the years. As they discuss the memory, it turns out that what the daughter is recalling is the one time when the mother had to save the daughter by pulling her out of a busy street to protect her from a passing car.  Could it be that the stories of intense emotion, the ones that may stand out the most, may not be the ones that should define our overall experience of God?   If they seem out of character, could there be a good reason for that?
  • Maps and Globes – Taking a 3D object and turning it into a 2D image inevitably distorts it.  Because of this most of the maps in our classrooms and offices are wildly inaccurate.  Greenland looks to be the same size as Africa in those pictures, but the truth is that is laughably incorrect.  Any time we squash something flat to get it to fit on a page, we will alter what it is in reality.  I think that is similar to how we have misinterpreted the wrath of God – by smashing a view of God flat on a page we have distorted God’s important desire for justice as modeled in Scripture and made it into a dominant feature on the theological landscape when in reality – it is just cold, small, (and relevantly minor) Greenland.

For the rest of this post I would like to examine this topic by asking a few questions and sharing some observations.  So here goes…

1.      Does the phrase “wrath of God” mean what we think it means?

One text from the Old Testament that can help us address this issue of God’s wrath is found in Psalm 7:10-16.  That psalm talks about God as a righteous judge who prepares to go against the ungodly **in wrath** but interestingly the examples given in the following verses show that the damage done to the disobedient people is all self-inflicted.  Could we say that God’s wrath is a dish best served cold, or maybe more simply put, God’s wrath is a dish that is… self-served?  When we live contrary to the essence that God has called us to be, we cause trouble for ourselves and initiate our own destruction (we serve the dishes of wrath to ourselves). 

2.      Is “wrath” even really the best word for what God experiences?  

I’m not convinced that “wrath” is the best translation of what God experiences because in modern English it tends to mean uncontrolled anger or rage.  Would it be more accurate to use different terms like God’s “righteous anger” or God’s “deep commitment to justice”? 
In talking about this topic with our Makua friends, they differentiate between three different words: “Urusiya” means to be upset or angry.  “Uviruwa” is a stronger reaction that could be violent (they brought up the examples of the flood in the time of Noah or of Jesus cleansing the temple).  But the word that sounds the most like wrath is one they borrow from Portuguese, “raiva,” which means rabid anger or rage and is interestingly also the word for rabies!  The Makua Christians I’ve talked to say they certainly see how a “just anger” is a good and important part of God’s character but they don’t believe that God has “raiva.”
If wrath is uncontrolled anger or rage, does that seem to fit with the character of God? I don’t think so, especially if that that is the kind of anger that human beings are specifically instructed in Scripture not to have.

Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Psalm 86:15; Joel 2:13 all say that God is slow to anger and abounding in love.  The Apostle Paul certainly knew those scriptures and that is why I don’t think he would ever see wrath as a definitive quality of God.  A God that doesn’t get angry at injustice wouldn’t be good, but serving and worshipping a rage monster wouldn’t be good either. What we need here is more than a caricature – we need a complete picture. 

In talking this through with Rachel, she has shared the example of how if one of our daughters gives the stink-eye (an expression of contempt) to her sister, something like anger flashes inside of Rachel, an intense reaction that serves as a catalyst for a stern intervention – necessary to deal with the way they are treating each other.  God gets angry at our sin and injustice because of what it does to us, how it divides us, and how we are enslaved and trapped by it more than his own personal offense at it.  God is more angry at sin and the way it holds us captive to sin, death and Satan because what we do shapes who we are as individuals and how it effects the way we treat each other. 

So, re-framing the wrath of God does not mean perceiving God as a “pushover buddy” who enables your bad behavior. Instead, he is more like the true friend who calls you to live at a higher level – he takes away your keys so you won’t drive drunk, but it you are hell bent on doing things your own way and reject being in relationship with him… things will not go well for you.  So, God’s response to injustice is not generally to “nuke the place,” but may be more like a smart bomb to address the heart of the problem.  It seems to me that what God experiences is less like wrath and more like a “judge’s legitimate emotional reaction to injustice.”

3.      Is Jesus saving us from God’s wrath? 

Certainly not.  God is NOT like a wrathful, abusive parent who is interrupted in his plans to inflict harm on us by our benevolent older brother (Jesus) stepping in to take the beating for us.  The Scriptures affirm that God’s character is revealed fully in Christ (John 14:9).  God and Jesus are not doing some kind of divine good cop/bad cop routine. Jesus is not saving you from God.  God loves you immensely.  Nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly says that God poured out his wrath and punishment on Jesus instead of on us.  God doesn’t kill Jesus.  Instead, incredibly, God deals with our sin by submitting to all the brokenness that we throw at him – through his own death on a cross. God didn’t kill Jesus – we did! (that’s what Peter says in Acts 2:36 – human beings did this!)  But that’s not the end of the Story – Christ triumphs!  We don’t have to live under guilt, shame and fear because Christ has defeated Sin, Death and Satan!  That is really good news!  Instead of being stuck in Darkness – God brings us into his kingdom of light and love and life!

Conclusion

On a recent podcast, I heard Leerhsen describe his surprise at the push-back he has gotten from people who are angry at him for questioning the dominant narrative about Ty Cobb as a wrathful player.  It makes me wonder if whether followers of Jesus who try to counteract fake news about God as a wrathful deity should be prepared for push-back as well…

Thanks for reading… this is certainly still a work in progress.  My hope is that we can keep learning and growing and begin to see a more complete picture of the God revealed in Christ and move past the destructive caricatures of a God full of wrath. 

May we grow in our understanding of both the love and justice of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus!

Grace and Peace,

Alan

Friday, September 22, 2017

September 2017 Newsletter

Hello everyone,

We’ve had an intense few months and wanted to share some of what has been happening over here with you.  Back in April, I had surprise hernia surgery – it still amazes me that Rachel and I were able to travel down to South Africa, get a diagnosis, have surgery and return home to Mozambique in less than 2 weeks!  My recovery has definitely been slower than I expected but I’m feeling almost all the way back to normal.  We are so thankful for all the love and support we’ve received from so many of you.  Thank you!

Unfortunately, not long after our return to Montepuez there was a different kind of drama – this time surrounding documentation.  Our team’s status and the process of our personal residency documents became rather complicated.  In July, thankfully, we were allowed to renew our family’s permits, but we still would love your prayers for resolution of this issue for our team as a whole.  We are grateful that the church’s own documentation issues are finally resolved. At a gathering back in May, we witnessed a beautiful ceremony where local church leaders chosen by the people were given the paperwork they needed from the person who fills that role at the national level.  It was a great day and big sigh of relief for everyone involved. 

Besides our regular meetings with church leaders and deacons, two ministry events stand out in our minds.  One was the inauguration of the church building in the village of Siwewe – it was such an encouragement to see many members from other churches in the area gather to celebrate the completion of their place of worship – one man had walked for over three hours to get there!  The teaching and singing that day were lively and it was amazing to think about how far that church community has come.  

Another memorable event was spending a few days with a new church plant in Merenge. At earlier stages in our team’s work here we were much more hands on with helping new churches get off the ground.  But these days, especially in certain regions, new churches are planted and we often do not visit until the community is more-or-less established.  So, back in July, it was fun to spend time worshipping and doing baptisms with the new church plant in Merenge.  Church leaders from nearby villages had done the visits and evangelism and it was a blessing to get to participate in a small way with them in this effort.   

These days, our time is spent more working with the Theology School (“Instituto Teológico de Cabo Delgado” in Portuguese).  I have taught five week-long classes over the past few months on the subjects of: Preaching, New Testament Survey, and a class on the Giants (Defeating Problems Facing the Church in Cabo Delgado).  Next month, Rachel will be teaching on Church History, her first class in the Theology School. Typically, these are intensive, one-week classes and our team usually offers 2-3 of them each month, mostly here at the team property, where we are in the midst of a building program to construct classroom and dormitory space as well as a cafeteria.  For now, the food preparation is based out of our family’s yard, so it will be nice when the Theology School can move into the new buildings :).  Special thanks to Jeremy Smith for leading the construction!  Over 110 students have taken at least one class in the Theology School so far – a pretty amazing number considering that this is only our second year of operation in this format.  We are excited to see how God can use this school to bless the churches in Mozambique.

In June and July, we hosted 10 great interns from Harding University.  They learned to speak some Portuguese and Makua, job-shadowed us as we went about our normal ministry routines, and also spent a weekend by themselves staying with a trusted Mozambican family.  Our kids love having interns and this group was no exception.  They were a blessing to have in our homes and in our lives for the six-week summer internship.  Here is a picture of our early worship together at the beach in Pemba on the Sunday before they returned to the United States.

Near the end of the internship, Abby and Rachel left Mozambique for a three-week trip to the United States.  She’s working on a Master’s Degree in Historical Theology from Harding School of Theology in Memphis and it was a blessing for her to take a class on campus this summer.  While she was in class and researching her paper in the library, Abby traveled around with my parents to see family in Tennessee and Alabama as well as getting to reconnect with friends she made during our year in Searcy, AR.  They also got to see Rachel’s parents and many, many, many other special people (I tried not to be too jealous)!  Their visit to the USA was capped off beautifully by attending the wedding of former interns, Ethan and Morgan McGaughy.  On their way back home, they met up with Ellie, Katie and I in South Africa for doctor and dentist visits as well as some vacation time.  We enjoyed zip lines, game drives, lion petting and elephant rides (of course!) before returning to Montepuez.

At the beginning of this month, Goncalves Inacio, Jessica Markwood and I hosted a Conservation Agriculture Seminar for the farming associations we have been working with over the past few years.  About 50 people attended this refresher course where we reviewed key principles and practices, made compost together and covered some new territory about grain storage and marketing.  It was a good event and we also collected data on the different associations to assess how we are doing at meeting the goals for the program.  



  
Lately, Rachel has been going through the Sermon on the Mount with women from the Menhuene cluster in the Ancuabe district.  This is an area that the Westerholm family has spent a lot of time with and she has enjoyed getting to know these women.  This group has many more literate women than the clusters she has worked with in the Montepuez district but they have not spent much time studying together.  Please pray for the Kingdom of God to take root and produce fruit in their lives!


The team kids’ school just started last week and the girls have really enjoyed it.  Katie is in 2nd, Ellie is in 6th and Abby is in 9th grade… wait, how did that happen?  How can we have a high schooler???  

We are so thankful to have Cindy Mercer with us.  She retired after a career teaching in Ohio and bravely decided to come join us to teach the team’s kids.

We usually have two teachers for the four different grade levels but we still need one more teacher.  So… if you, or someone you know would be interested in teaching at our team school in Montepuez, please let us know and we can send more information.

Also, at a recent meeting of the church leaders in our Province, they decided to set aside the week of October 1-7 for prayer and fasting about true conversion (including repentance and life-change) and true love (and unity) among the believers and churches in Cabo Delgado. You are invited to join us in this time of prayer and fasting for God’s Kingdom in Mozambique!

Please pray with us:
  • For resolution for our team’s document issues
  • For God to use the Theology School to bless the churches
  • For the followers of Jesus to live lives marked by true conversion and true love

Grace and Peace,

Alan and Rachel


Raising Rebellious Teenagers: The Gospel as an Anti-Rebellion Rebellion

School just started for the kids on our mission team last week here in Montepuez and I’ve been thinking about a video that Abby and I did for the Downtown Church of Christ youth group at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.

Abby and I were asked to share about the meaning of the Gospel and we set it in different terms than are usually used to consider it:

The Gospel as an anti-rebellion-rebellion.

We hoped to show how, in significant and real ways, following the Gospel for me (Alan) as a parent means… raising rebellious teenagers.  Here’s a slightly adapted text of what we shared.  Hope you enjoy it!

Alan

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Matthew 9:35 says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” (NIV)

The word “Gospel” literally means good news.  And the good news that Jesus announced over and over again was that the kingdom of God was at hand and everyone was invited to enter it. 

Here in Mozambique, our friends are very familiar with the idea of kingdoms.  I’ve known kings and queens and even a 'king of kings.'  So, when we talk about Jesus’ Gospel or good news with our Mozambican friends it’s natural to talk about contrasting kingdoms: the Kingdom of Light verses the Kingdom of Darkness. 

Our African friends also know what it is like to announce a new, coming kingdom.  Back in 1975, Mozambique won its independence from the Portuguese colonial powers.  People who heard the good news of the victory would go to neighbors and friends and share the good news that the old Empire had fallen – there was a new regime.
One of my favorite verses is Matthew 9:35 because it summarizes Jesus’ ministry so well.

Matthew tells us that Jesus traveled to a bunch of different villages announcing the good news that the Kingdom of God was near. He taught in the synagogues about how to live lives pleasing to God. And it says that he healed people of all sorts of physical and spiritual diseases. When the church is acting like the body of Christ, it follows his mission. By doing those three things it serves as a sign of God's coming kingdom.

In that way, the church functions as 'God's Kingdom Embassy' set up here on earth… An embassy that exists in enemy territory.  So, people who are dissatisfied with life in this world - a kingdom reigned by sin, death and Satan - have been issued a standing invitation to leave that corrupt kingdom of darkness and begin to live under God's good reign.

What that means is that Christians are part of a rebellion – okay technically it is an anti-rebellion-rebellion.  Satan first rebelled against God and set up a competing Evil Empire.  And Christians are those who live in open rebellion to Satan’s Kingdom of darkness.  So, followers of Jesus are those loyal to the true king.  You are part of that rebellion.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “Enemy occupied territory – that’s what this world is.  Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say, landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
“A great campaign of sabotage.”  I know it may not always look like it in Searcy, AR, but to the Powers and Principalities of this world – what you are plotting to do as a youth group is sabotage – it is seditious to the Kingdom of this world.  Now the way we do this, our rules for engagement mean that we don’t have to carry weapons or coerce people by force.  No, we are part of a peaceful insurgency.  And I know it takes a lot of work to remember who we are, because the world pummels us with messages that call us to assimilate to their ways, but the truth is that the Powers are threatened by your presence.   So, as you get ready to go back to school, you don’t have to tell anyone that you are part of this rebellion – just go out and act like Jesus.  Follow the way of the Gospel - the good news.  Announce the Kingdom (invitation).  Teach the way of the Kingdom (initiation).  And display the Kingdom of God by your actions (demonstration).  That’s good news as Jesus told it and lived it.

The gospel is the good news that the kingdom of God has come near and you and I can be a part of what God wants to do in the world.  We don’t have to live in a kingdom of death and darkness and disease…  The good news is that we are invited into a kingdom of light and life and liberty and love.

When Abby was baptized, her Mom and I were so excited, but we also knew that what she had done was really serious.

She’s now a full-follower of the Gospel and is part of the great anti-rebellion-rebellion against the forces of darkness in the world.  And if you are a Christian you also are called to be a rebellious teenager, subverting the Evil Empire and your leader is the true King of Kings.