Saturday, August 22, 2015

Recognizing Poverty Rules

"Absolute Poverty" is one of the giants that oppresses the Makua-Metto people. After a long research process of trying to discern how to encourage a holistic response to poverty that fits well within our context, I developed a series of lessons on poverty that received a lot of positive feedback from our Mozambican friends.  That material has now been published (in English!) in the Missio Dei Journal.  If you are interested, you can check it out here.

Grace and Peace,

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Magic and the Quest for Blessing among the Makua-Metto people

I recently published an article with the International Journal of Frontier Missiology called "Building a Better Bridge: The Quest for Blessing in an African Folk Islamic Context."  In deals with topics including evangelism, magic and even zombie slaves!  If you are interested check it out here.

Grace and Peace,

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Newsletter May 2015

Greetings from Montepuez!

Well… we're about a week away from leaving for furlough and wanted to send out another update to let you know what's been happening in our part of the world.  The rainy season is over, our Mozambican friends have collected this year's harvest, and the last few weeks have been busy as we've tried to finish up different projects and say goodbye well to people here.  Our normal furloughs only last about four months, but with this one, we'll be gone from Mozambique for one year to serve as the visiting missionaries-in-residence at Harding University in Searcy, AR for the 2015-16 school year.  Knowing that we'll be apart for longer this time has made these goodbyes even harder.

In April I invited the women from the three different village groups I studied with last year to a celebration here at our home.  We ate, worshipped, and studied together, and  they all camped out in our guest house, gazebo, and yard.  We worshipped again the next morning, and talked about Jesus washing his disciples feet when he knew he was leaving soon, and how we should be following that example of servant-hearted love.  Then the women took turns washing each others' feet and putting a new pair of flip-flops on them.  The celebration was a good wrap-up to our studies last year, and it also served as a good-bye party since we'll be gone for a year.

Two weeks after that was the Provincial Women's Conference in Pemba, where around 130 women convened in Pemba for a three-day meeting of worship and study together.  We got off to a bumpy start as the big truck carrying 90 women from Montepuez broke down an hour outside of Pemba, followed almost immediately by our truck losing an entire wheel.  It was both scary and very weird - the best guess we have is that at some point someone took off most of the lug nuts while trying to steal our tire but wasn't able to finish the job without getting caught.  We were amazed and very thankful that no one was hurt and that a couple South African mechanics who work for Caterpillar passed by and actually pieced our truck back together so I could drive it slowly to a garage in Pemba (the truck is fixed now =)).

The rest of the conference went well; there were eight teaching sessions, lots of singing and dancing, an out-of-season rain shower that meant that all 130+ of us had to squeeze into the smallish church building and sleep like sardines.  At 5am on the last morning we all walked the 4km down to the beach; a few of the women had never seen the ocean, and it was very funny watching all our friends splash and play in the water.  To me, the chance for these women from all over the province to be in the same place and worship together, also to plan and learn patience with each other, is just as important as the content of the teaching sessions.

Alan has taken about 50 men he's been discipling and studying with to a waterfall about three hours away from Montepuez.  Men from different areas have come in, spent the night at our house, and then taken the day trip together.  Only a handful of them had been there before, and it was fun to see these men acting like boys as they saw a waterfall for the first time.  Alan used the water as a teaching illustration and shared how the power of water they are witnessing is nothing in comparison to river of living water that Jesus has opened up in them.  He has challenged them to keep up the work of disciple-making and sharing living water with those around them.

Over the last few months Jeremy, Chad, Alan and two Mozambican missionaries have taught on deacons and helping the 13 different church clusters choose them.  Following the counsel of our consultants Monte Cox and Evertt Huffard who came last year, we've been using the story in Acts 6 (where the church named servants to address a specific need) to help us address the leadership challenges here.  The main problem the 50+ Churches of Christ in Cabo Delgado are facing is huge distances between each other.  So each cluster has been encouraged to select deacons to serve the church in various capacities as well as choosing a deacon for "coordination and collaboration" to help the churches work together more effectively.  

In the past the American and Mozambican missionaries have often set the agenda, but it is exciting to transition into a different phase of partnership with the Makua-Metto leaders.  All of the clusters have gone through the process of naming deacons and setting aside one for communication and collaboration (over 100 total have been selected, about 30 of them women and the rest men).  Unfortunately, one of the Mozambican missionaries has tried to block this process and it has been sad seeing him burn up his influence as Makua-Metto church leaders are seeing through his protests and perceiving his motivation as coming from a desire to hold onto power and control.  His attempts to undermine the process have added a sad note to what should have been a joyful process.  This week, we'll be having a meeting with those 13 deacons to lay out a collective vision for working together well and putting that challenge behind us. 

At the end of February we were excited to see the baptism of the first believer in the village of Nikokwe.  That village has never had any kind of church (Catholic or Protestant) and has always been closed to any Christian presence.  At the end of last year, though, a man named Fransisco made contact with believers in a nearby village and decided to follow Jesus; his baptism was the first baptism ever in Nikokwe.  Fransisco is well respected by his extended family and village leaders; he used to work as a tailor but has suffered from glaucoma and now cannot see at all.  He covets prayers for healing, and we are also praying that God would multiply his and the church's witness in Nikokwe.

Unfortunately the very next week, Caunia, one of our very close friends and a man who was instrumental in reaching out to Fransisco, passed away.  Caunia loved God deeply and was hungry for God's word in a way that is rarely seen; Alan really misses him a lot.  Please pray for the church in Nkunama, where his family lives, that God would raise up more people and new leaders in that church.

Sunday was our last time to worship with the church in Chipembe before we're gone for the extended furlough - the believers in that cluster are the group we've known the longest, and we really feel at home with them.  So while we love worshipping there on a Sunday, there was a sad feeling all around, knowing we're about to be so far apart for so long.  We rejoice in their faith, their love for God, and the Kingdom connection we all have, including the solid hope of resurrection.  But we also really miss them when we're not together, and given the mortality rate here in Mozambique we always face the knowledge that some will not be here when we come back.

At the same time we're missing our families in the States so much that it hurts!  We are aching to hug our parents and our brothers and our sisters-in-law, and we also have 3 nephews/nieces that we haven't even met yet, and 2 more who will be born while we are there.  We'll be landing in Dallas in May, and then continue on to Tennessee in June.   A good chunk of July will be spent in Nashville with our Donelson church family, and then in August we will head over to Searcy for the school year.  Abby, Ellie, and Katie will have their first taste of school in the States, and we would love your prayers that their experience will be smooth and full of God's obvious care.  Alan will be teaching classes at Harding University, promoting missions and disciple-making, and I will be continuing my classes with Harding School of Theology in Memphis.  At the end of the school year we'll hop back on a plane to head back home to Mozambique.  Please keep this transition in your prayers - we know it will be both fun and challenging to fit back into life in the U.S.

Thanks for keeping up with us.  We look forward to seeing many of you stateside!

Please pray with us for:

  • Peace and unity in the church, especially among leaders
  • Success in receiving permanent residency documents before we leave
  • Safe travel
  • Prayers for girls especially as they transition to life in the USA for a year

Grace and Peace,
Rachel, Alan and the girls

Friday, April 24, 2015

Jesus and social media - an email conversation


I've been looking into your work over the past few years and I wanted to offer my services.  I got your email address from someone in your company - so I hope this message makes it to you.  You may not have heard of me, but I've made a fortune for myself and my clients as a social media consultant.  

Usually I'd charge a lot for this advice, but I'm intrigued by your work and the potential to turn you into a worldwide brand.  To make that happen is going to take a lot of work and focused attention by you and your entourage.  Honestly,  I'm not sure those dozen or so people you're hanging out with have what it takes to take this movement global.  I'm mean a bunch of them are just fishermen, right?  How can you expect them to do it?  Look, I've seen it before, famous people often have to leave people behind to really make a name for themselves.

I've been in contact with Judas.  He said he's serving as your CFO, and he seems to be the only one of your board who has good business sense.  Judas asked me to send a quick proposal about the kind of changes I could help your organization implement.

First of all, your website needs a lot of work, giving your right-hand man, Peter, the 'site keys' to your digital kingdom wasn't such a great idea.

Secondly, your Facebook presence is uneven.  I mean, Jesus, you don't have to 'friend' everyone.  I can understand why lots of people want to take selfie's with you, but you don't have to put all of them on your page.  Especially the ones of you hanging out with people in bars or at house parties.   Those images (especially the stuff on TMZ) send mixed messages and can alienate your base.  Also, I've noticed that you ignore a lot of the twitter replies from religious people but anyone with a sob story gets a word of grace in reply.  Let me remind you to engage your primary audience.  It's those religious people who'll buy and read your book…  there's already a book deal in place, right?

Thirdly, you need to manage your message more.  Streamline it.  I have a lot of thoughts about this, but I have to mention one specific example related to branding.  You keep referring to yourself as the 'Son of Man.'  That title is confusing.  Drop it.  Other people are calling you the 'Son of God' - Why not use that moniker?  We could create a great logo for you in no time.

Fourth, you need to spend more time with wealthy donors.  Judas said you've disturbed a number of them with your political commentary.  All that talk about the poor is great for the crowds, but in private it would be better to focus on affirming the big contributors.  Keep threatening the status quo and they'll be less inclined to donate to your campaign.

Fifth, about the YouTube videos.  I've tried to watch them all - and not just the healing ones that have gone viral.  Look, I like the teaching ones, especially the "Sermon on the Mount" one uploaded by Matt.  It's got practical advice, which is good, but I think what you're asking people to do is unrealistic.  Let's ratchet it down a bit and lower expectations for your followers.  I mean, you don’t actually expect people to live like that, do you?  The healing videos should be the bulk of your digital content.   Oh, also, I like it how you tell stories.  Storytelling is hot these days.  But remember that your ticket to fame and notoriety is through your miracle work.  That's what people are clamoring for.

Finally, I've heard you're planning a trip to Jerusalem.  Honestly, some people in your company have shared with me the cryptic things you've said about what'll happen when you get there.  I've checked with my contacts in Jerusalem and the word on the street is that the establishment isn't ready to receive you.  I think going to there at this stage is a mistake.  It would be better to set up a worldwide tour (I can see the t-shirts now): NY, London, Rome, etc.  Forget Jerusalem for now - trust me, you could have a much bigger impact this way.

Also, as a personal note, I'm intrigued by what you've said about everlasting life.  I'd like to buy some of that :)

Kindest regards,

R.Y. Ruler Marketing Consultants



Thanks for sharing your ideas.  I'm not sure you really get my main objectives, though.  The only way you'll really get a handle on what I have in mind is by going on 'tour' with me.  Why don't you cash in those stock options of yours and come follow me?  Share life and what you have with the poor, hang out with me and my company and then I think you'll get a better understanding of what eternal life is all about.  What do you think?  I'd love for you to join me.




Unfortunately, it's not a good time for me to change jobs at the moment.  I'm sad I can’t take you up on your offer.  Maybe some other time.  I'll keep watching your career from a distance. 


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Easter and Buffalo Wild Wings

There's a story from Jason Micheli's book Preaching a Better Atonement that has been on my mind over the past few days.  Micheli tells of taking his boys to a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant and getting sucked into one of those trivia games.  Near the end, the group of competitors came to this question: 'During what Jewish holy day did Jesus die?Here's how Micheli described what happened.

"The guy next to me, the one on the phone with his ex-wife, asked his friend for the answer: 'Hey, you're Jewish.  What's the answer?'  And his friend looked up from his laptop and said: 'Yeah, I'm Jewish. I don't know anything about Jesus.'  So then they asked me, having been outed by (my son) as a minister.  And only because I was ahead of them on the scoreboard, I said: 'Passover, he's crucified during the Passover.'  The Jewish guy at the table, contestant #4, he squinted at me and said: 'That doesn't make any sense... Why doesn't Jesus die on Yom Kippur?' he asked me. 'If Jesus dies for our sins, like you all say, why does he die on Passover and not Yom Kippur?'  I think I probably blushed because I'd never thought of that before.  'That's a good question,' I said. 'It might be the most important question,' I thought."

Here's what Micheli has to say about Passover and Yom Kippur:

"Jesus casts his death as a Passover.  As an Exodus.  And that can only have one meaning.  For Jesus, his death will mean our liberation from captivity.  That's why, I think a stranger's question at Buffalo Wild Wings is one of the most important questions we can ask as Christians.  Why does Jesus interpret his death - why does Jesus schedule his death - in light of Passover and not Yom Kippur?  After all, Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, the day when the people's sins are covered over by the blood of another.  Yom Kippur is the day when the guilt of your sin is taken off you and put on a scapegoat.  Yom Kippur is the day when your sins are washed white as snow and you're forgiven.  But Passover - Passover's not about forgiveness.  Passover's about freedom."

I've written elsewhere about the atonement and how our friends here in Mozambique best connect with what Jesus did at the cross.  And now beyond those typical metaphors of the atonement, more and more I'm coming to believe that the best lens we can use to view the death and resurrection of the Christ comes by way of exodus.

The exodus was the defining event for Israel and the resurrection of Jesus was the defining event for the early church. As those first Christians recovered from the initial shock that their beloved leader had triumphed over death, I think it began to sink in that this new event, the resurrection, had the power to undo all the destruction humanity had first released in the garden of Eden.  The death and resurrection of Jesus is the new exodus.  At Easter we are delivered from death, Satan and the dastardly effects of sin.  Forgiveness is apparently not enough.  We also need liberation from sin.  Why?

"Because sin - sin isn't just something we commit.  It isn't just something we do.  Just like the Israelites in Egypt.  Just like the Jews under Rome, just like the disciple sin Jerusalem - sin is also sometimes done to us.  By others.  Sin isn't just something we're guilty of; it's also something that binds us.  It isn't just something we need to be forgiven of; just as much as it's something we need to be liberated from."

May we be a people who experience true liberation through the death and resurrection of Jesus!

Happy Easter!!!

Grace and Peace,

Monday, March 30, 2015

Palm Sunday Mash-Up

MASH-UP -  something created by combining elements from two or more sources: as
a :  a piece of music created by digitally overlaying an instrumental track with a vocal track from a different recording
b :  a movie or video having characters or situations from other sources
(from Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

There is something captivating about a good musical mash-up.  While both an "old favorite" and something "new and different" certainly have their appeals, a well done mash-up has the ability to tap into both currents - it makes us appreciate again the familiar songs while incorporating the rush of seeing them expressed in a fresh way.

The thing about a mash-up, though, is that you can't really appreciate it unless you're already familiar with both songs.

At the beginning of our work here in northern Mozambique we spent all our time with very young churches and people relatively new to the walk with Christ.  That fact combined with our limited language abilities, meant that everyone was best served by sticking to simple Bible stories.  Most of my sermons would be based out of only one passage and I couldn't assume that the group knew much (if any) of the background necessary to understand the story.  But in recent years, as the churches have grown in maturity and have had increased exposure to the biblical text, further pedagogical possibilities have opened up to us.   
Now Makua-Metto followers of Jesus are better able to appreciate a good mash-up. 

And mash-ups are fun.  It's been enjoyable to  reach the stage where we don't have to stick to a single, simple text but can help our friends connect scriptures in surprising ways.

Yesterday, in the village of Ncunama, I tried out a Palm Sunday mash-up.
We started in Luke 19 and read about Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (v. 35-40).  I told the story of how Jesus rode on the back of a young donkey and how his followers and many others in the capital gave him a welcome fit for a king.  People placed their cloaks and branches on the road and joyfully praised God for Jesus' miraculous works.  Not everyone, though, was pleased at this scene.  Some religious leaders were concerned that this celebration was getting out of hand and urged Jesus to put a stop to "all this nonsense."  But, Jesus refused, informing them that if the people were kept quiet, the rocks themselves would have to cry out.

After considering how this humble entry speaks volumes about Jesus' true identity as the promised Messiah and King, we turned to the second part of our mash-up.

We jumped to Revelation 19 and encountered a different vision of Jesus (v. 11-16).  In that text, he's the one called "Faithful and True" and rides in on a white horse.  His eyes are aflame and he's got a head full of crowns.  The armies of heaven follow him and he wields a powerful sword.  But, it's not some metal blade.  Instead, his sword is his tongue and with it he commands the nations.  And written on his clothing (and tattooed on his person) he wears this title - "King of Kings and Lord of Lords."

Good mash-ups luxuriate in the consistencies and inconsistencies between their different source materials.  They take common elements, words or themes and connect them together in surprising ways.

In both of these texts we see Jesus making a triumphal entry.  In Luke 19, he trots in on young donkey, whereas in Revelation 19 he thunders in on a mighty steed.  In both texts, Jesus encounters opposition from earthly rulers, and in both of them his words silence those who would oppose him.  We remember how in the beginning God created the universe with words, and in these stories we see how Christ's words display the same power to recreate.   He's able to redirect those who've gone wrong.

We talked about how the church in Ncunama has experienced persecution and pressure from religious leaders and I encouraged them to know that even though Christ body's entrance into that village seemed weak and humble, the reality is that the Rider on the White Horse stands in power with them.

Well, I hope you enjoyed listening in on our Palm Sunday mash-up of Luke 19/Revelation 19.        

It is fun to be in a stage of ministry where the church can appreciate it and make even more connections on their own.

May God's people grow in their ability to experience mash-ups of Scripture and may it serve to encourage them to follow the One who is Faithful and True!

Grace and Peace,