Friday, April 25, 2014

Marketing and Traditional Medicine

I studied marketing in college and am fascinated by the way businesses function here in Mozambique.  A while back, we were in the city of Pemba when I spotted this sign.  I stepped into the yard and introduced myself to the traditional healer who owned the house.  I explained who I was and asked permission to take this picture.  Below I'll paste a loose translation of what it says.

Traditional Doctor Here
Consultations for:
A little bit of everything but not HIV / AIDS.
Try it and confirm its effectiveness for yourself.
This doctor treats: Any pain related to the belly or womb in women, high blood pressure, stroke, gives a bath that will give the person luck, personal defense, for a house, for a car, for a boat, for a fishing net
Treats the following diseases: urine, skin, monthly cycle, impotence in men, hernias in baby, reduces umbilical hernias in babies as well.
Spiritually and morally: Defeat the evil jinn spirit with a good jinn spirit.
Recover your luck in regards to: employment, business, remove the effects of witchcraft on your person.
In addition, the doctor treats problems related to love and passion.
On call 24 hours a day. Contact at
the following numbers: 82...; 84...; 86...

I want to highlight a few things about this advertisement.

First of all, it is fascinating that he says from the start that he doesn't treat HIV/AIDS.  I've heard that the gov't has cracked down on this and told traditional healers to leave treatment of people with AIDS to the hospitals.  That is good - can you imagine what would happen if people stopped taking their drug treatments thinking they had been cured by a traditional healer?

Secondly, this man is selling blessings related to almost every area of life.  He offers "productive magic" through spells to help people find a job (even a fishing net!), get a house, a car or find a mate.  And he also offers "protective magic" to help people not suffer from illnesses and attacks by evil spirits.  Jinn (or jinni, pl) is a word borrowed from Arabic (where we get the term genie) for an unseen spirit that can effect people in the physical realm.  It is sad, though, that his only solution to being possessed by an evil jinn is to accept possession by a 'good' one.  (For more information about how spirit possession functions in our context, click here.)

Thirdly, this traditional healer lists phone numbers with all three of the cell phone carriers in Mozambique.  He wants to make it as easy as possible for people to contact him.

Africa is certainly becoming more urban and modern.  But even in large cities like our provincial capital, the occult is a part of everyday life and has a strong influence.

Please pray for the church in Mozambique to be able to respond effectively to the pressures of folk religion.  God's people have access to power and blessing that is good and lasting.  May we learn how to most effectively make it available to those who are lost and hurting.

Grace and Peace,

Friday, April 18, 2014

Quirky Easter: Growing up Church of Christ and Re-discovering the Resurrection

Let me say first that I am thankful for my heritage in Churches of Christ.  Having gone through a critical stage earlier in life, I aim for holding respectful critique in tension with deep gratitude for the innumerable gifts I've been given by my immediate family of faith.  My personal experience of childhood and adolescence in Churches of Christ was overwhelmingly good, and I stand on the shoulders of so many faithful women and men.

I also acknowledge that my story is not universal; I know that others have their own stories to tell - some beautiful, some not.  My goal here is just to share my own story of coming to discover Jesus' resurrection.

In my experience growing up in (weekly-Eucharist) Churches of Christ in the 80's, it seemed like Easter was mostly about Friday.  The vast majority of my Easter Sunday memories are about baskets of chocolate and new summery Sunday dresses.  Though my home congregation was not ultra-conservative in our family spectrum, I had heard (more than once) “we don’t celebrate Easter Sunday because we celebrate Easter Every Sunday.” But looking back, the focus during the weekly Lord’s Supper was overwhelmingly on Friday’s cross and on our sins – indeed, I was told that during Communion I was supposed to (quietly) “think and pray about how Jesus died for my sins.”  Even the songs in the Easter-themed section in our songbook, if you looked closely, were almost entirely focused on Friday and on Jesus paying for our sins.  It felt like the Resurrection on Sunday was almost an afterthought - we were supposed to be happy about it, but it didn't really affect our theology or our lives because Jesus' death on the cross on Friday was The Whole Point.

So I almost feel like I missed out on the Resurrection for a few decades.  But now I can’t stop talking about it.

Maybe I’m just making up for lost time.  But I’ve also been reading several different authors (Willard, Wright) over the past ten years, and getting glimpses of a slightly different “big picture” than the one I learned growing up.  For me it’s been as if I’ve been gazing at a beautiful painting, and then a few helpful people pointed out that the prescription of my glasses was outdated, and when I try on the new lenses, I'm amazed as more things come into focus, colors are sharper and more brilliant, and I can start to catch glimpses of depth and beauty that I didn’t know was there before. 

I’m still processing and learning, so what follows is unfinished, but I feel a need to share.

Many define the Gospel (Good News) as:  Jesus came and died for your sins so that you can have eternal life (which is defined as going to Heaven when you die.)  There is a familiar image used often to portray this: a gaping chasm with me on one side and God on the other, because my sin has separated me from God, and only Christ on the Cross can span that chasm by making a bridge from me to God by “paying for my sins” (taking my punishment). 

But then one author pointed out that Jesus’ actual definition of Gospel (Good News) was “Turn your heart around – the Kingdom of God is at hand!”  (As in, the Kingdom of God is something available to you starting now, not just when you die).  And then Jesus defined eternal life as Knowing God.  (As in, undying life starts now when we know God.)  And he kept painting picture after picture of what it looks like for someone to pledge allegiance to God’s new Kingdom – Jesus taught so much about the Kingdom of God, as if that was the point of everything.  Jesus  prayed, “Your Kingdom come: may Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”  God’s Kingdom has come where God’s will is already being done on earth, as it is in Heaven.

I’m seeing a different picture of Jesus now.  Before, the big picture had been that Jesus came to die and pay for my sins so I could go to Heaven when I die.  But now, the big picture I see is that Jesus came to show us what our loving Creator God is really like, and to inaugurate God’s Kingdom on earth. 

That big picture somehow seems… bigger. 

Jesus’ invitation into a New Kingdom was an extremely offensive message to the ruling kingdoms of his day, and they killed him for it.  And we see God's unfailing love for us in Jesus' willingness to die.  But on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead, remaking his body, conquering the enemy Death (and sin and Satan) and inaugurated God’s Kingdom on earth.  The Resurrection was the shocking sign that God has won and that death cannot stop Life.

We live “between the times;” God’s Kingdom has already broken in, though it isn’t fully here yet.  Those who have thrown themselves under the reign of a New King are practicing now for the full arrival of God’s Kingdom (loving God and neighbor and working towards the reconciliation of all things) – when he will bring Heaven down to earth and remake them both as one.  Jesus was the first to get a Resurrection body; we fully expect that, after some “sleep,” we also will be raised from the dead and given new bodies that will not decay or die. 

We are wrestling with how we teach our daughters about Jesus' death and Resurrection and enjoying exploring new metaphors and different vocabulary than we grew up with - it's not about chocolate and new dresses.  And so we're trying to learn to live as Resurrection people, working for the New Kingdom now, because the party has already started!

Peace to you,

Sunday, April 13, 2014


This year's harvest has started coming in and our Mozambican friends have been generous again in sharing so much with us. This is only part of what we've received, the rest has either been eaten... or re-gifted.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Problem of Potential

We humans are easily caught up in the promise of possibilities.

We give great respect to Potential.

That's why shows like American Idol spend so little time actually listening to people sing and so much time telling stories of the people who just might be able to fully use their talent and reach their dreams.  That's why sports fans read more articles about prospective college players and which professional team may or may not draft them than pouring over posts about actual games.  And that's why media, on both the left and the right, are so skilled at turning on the propaganda machines and generating interest for future presidential candidates.

Potential is highly revered.

Now certainly, recognizing one's own potential can have the positive power to encourage one make good use of the gifts he or she has been given. 

But there is a dark side of Potential.

Sometimes toxic relationships drag on too long because of a false hope in a boyfriend's or girlfriend's potential - "Sure, he or she treats me bad now, but we could be so great together."  Sometimes people hold onto investments or the dream of starting a new business or ministry too long because they've spent so much time and effort and... who knows, success might be just around the corner.

There is a quote that has been rattling around my brain for the last couple years.  Larry Osborne, in his book "Spirituality for the Rest of Us," says this:

"Potential is not a sacred responsibility. Potential is a harsh mistress - seductive, never satisfied, prone to exaggeration, nearly impossible to figure out.  Those who pursue her inevitably end up in the poisoned land of self-centered priorities and me-first decisions." (p.187)

Wow!  So, there are two main problems with Potential.

The first is that Potential can make us a slave to what would-be or could-be.  The unfortunate truth, though, is that we can never actually 'reach' our potential because being ruled by what seem to be our latent possibilities means we're chasing after a ghost that is always just beyond our grasp.  Having 'unlimited potential' means that we'll never be able to achieve it.  Potential is both unreachable and unmeasurable.

And as Osborne notes, a second problem with Potential is that it is often seen primarily in individual terms.  It can cause us to focus primarily on our own fulfillment and flourishing.

Our team is in the process of trying to figure out just how long to stay in Montepuez.  We've invested over ten years here on the ground (and another few years before that in preparation).  Churches in the United States have given a lot to help us learn language and culture and put us in a position to make a difference for the kingdom of God.  So now we're trying to weigh the different factors involved in staying or leaving at some point in the future.

But, as Rachel and I consider what to do with the next stage of our lives, I would hope that we would listen less to Potential and be more attuned to the biblical value of Stewardship. 

A steward is one who manages a resource for the benefit of another.  I think that looking at this decision through the lens of Stewardship would be a healthier way - one that is more measurable and more Kingdom or community oriented.

Maybe what our culture values as "Potential" is merely the warped, worldly version of the biblical value known as Stewardship...

...Anyways, these are just some initial thoughts - escaping the siren call of that goddess of Potential is surely more easier said than done.  But I think that framing our team's conversation (and other decisions like it) within the concept of Stewardship instead of Potential is a good place to start.

May our lives be informed by potential but guided by a desire to be good stewards for the good of God's Kingdom.

Grace and Peace,