The unreached on the doorstep

Yesterday, the Guardian went in search of ‘the world’s most godless city‘. The opening paragraphs of the article acknowledge that this isn’t an easy task – the socio-political climate in many parts of the world making it either more likely for people to claim belief in God or less likely.

In territories controlled or influenced by Islamic State, for example, the risks to declared non-believers are drastic and obvious. On the other side of the coin, the state atheism promulgated by the leaders of the Soviet Union meant that believers were stigmatised at best, persecuted at worst.

Yet, the link to the 2011 Census of England and Wales, gives an interesting view of the UK and belief in God.

I picked on Southampton because it’s a part of the country I know well. Some poking around at the filters shows that in the heart of the city 40% or more of the population will claim to have no religion, with the exception of the area between Bevois Valley and St Mary’s where nearly 100% of the population claim to follow one religion or another.

Click through the tabs and you find this area is largely split between followers of Islam or Sikhism. Switch again to look at where the majority of Christians are located and you’ll see them throughout the suburbs but largely missing from the city centre [see the census data here].

Knowing these areas the results of the research is not really surprising, but I think it emphasises the point that you no longer need to travel thousands of miles to get involved in cross-cultural mission. The opportunities are here in our towns and cities.

The, not so glamorous, side of world mission

I have a great job working with a wonderful organisation. I get to play a part in enabling Bible translation to happen by raising awareness of what God is doing in communities all around the world.

Though, how I do this isn’t always the most exciting. Today I opened my email and the first ten messages were financial reports that I need to review. Most of the time my work relates to the management of a team and keeping information flowing in the right directions – I don’t spend as much time as I’d like visiting projects or talking to those impacted by Bible translation.

That said, I am involved in making sure we can share the good news about what’s happening. Over the last two weeks I’ve been working at getting translation statistics posted online (OK, I’ve managed the team that’s done most of the work. Getting the statistics together, updating the information, translating documents into four other languages, creating graphics). These are an annual update of figures that show how Bible translation is progressing.

Eddie Arthur wrote a piece in Christian Today, reflecting on why Christians in Britain should see this as significant,

In the English-speaking world, we have more different translations of the Bible than we know what to do with. You don’t have to look very far on the internet to find supporters of the various versions arguing the merits of their particular favourite. Meanwhile, around the world, translators are quietly translating the Scriptures into ever more languages. This is a truly international, cooperative venture that we should be proud of.

Read the whole article here

Working with the Wycliffe Global Alliance

It can be really difficult to explain to other people what my job entails and why it matters. I’m not a Bible translator, but without me and my team, Bible translation probably wouldn’t be taking place on the scale it is today and you probably wouldn’t know very much about it.

The Wycliffe Global Alliance (the Wycliffe organisation I work for) connects organisations, denominations, churches and sometimes individuals, together and enables them to work in partnership.

The following video from Wycliffe South Africa is a good illustration of just one of the areas we are working in.

The ability to fail well

I’m convinced that in any leadership role you have to have the freedom to fail. I don’t mean the cataclysmic errors of misjudgement that bring down organisations and end careers, but the kind of failures that come as a result of striving for continual improvement, pushing the boundaries and seeking to lead into new areas.

Of course, you take precautions to minimise risks and try to ensure that the failures don’t bring too great a risk but it’s almost inevitable that, from time to time, things won’t work out as you would have hoped or planned.

I was talking about this with a colleague last week and she asked me about the scene of my greatest failure. I’ve made a few. I’ve said, written and tweeted things more hastily than I should have and had to spend time clarifying what I meant to say or trying desperately to delete and roll back a message or two.

One thing I look back upon with semi-fondness is a huge mission event I organised in 2007. Plenty of organisations turned out to talk about mission. We had a hall packed with stands, seminars and an evening event. It was just that nobody turned up to talk to them. At least it felt like nobody. Numbers of visitors were nowhere near as many as I would have liked.

Was it a complete failure? For a while it felt like it. So many organisations felt like they’d given time and energy to an event where there weren’t any people to talk to. But, maybe it was a step on the road for some. At least three people who came along as helpers or visitors ended up semi-longterm with different mission organisations – me included.

I don’t think I’d ever do the same thing again. Certainly not in the same way. But I learnt stuff about myself through the process and would certainly organise a better event now thanks to the experience.


My wonderful wife

Today was Tany’s last day as a physiotherapist with the NHS. After a 15-year career working on the wards, then in operating theatres and then retraining to work these last seven years as a physiotherapist, it has all come to an end… of sorts!

We knew that my new role with Wycliffe was going to involve me being away from home more than before, but we hadn’t fully appreciated how this was going to work (or not going to work) with two small children. Pretty quickly we worked out that Tany working full days and having to do everything with the kids was just going to be too much.

So, after failing to negotiate a change to her current working pattern to something we thought would work, she’s taken the plunge, stepped off the diving board and has gone into business for herself.

Liberty Home Physio, we hope, will become enough of a business to fill the gap in our income and give her the flexibility to not have to work full days when I’m out of the country.


Those are the facts, but some things could go unnoticed:

  • Tany’s doing this because we are following what we believe God has lead us into with Wycliffe. I could not fulfil my role without Tany’s full support. In fact, it doesn’t do it justice to call it ‘my’ role, as if I could do it on my own. ‘My’ role involves the whole family (including supporters, prayer partners, church and friends), but especially Tany, without whom I wouldn’t be able to serve the growing worldwide Bible translation community.
  • She’s not starting this new venture this so that we can get rich. Instead, this is about making sure our family can work regardless of where I happen to be working from.
  • She’s not complained, moaned or tried to make me feel guilty about being away – at least, never seriously. I do get grumped at every time I get to go to a place that she’s not been able to visit yet.

So this is me saying thank you to my wonderful, wonderful wife – and publicly acknowledging her servant-heartedness. Especially her commitment to God, our family and the part that we are playing in the Bible translation movement.

And if you know of anyone in South Oxfordshire that could use some physio support, you know where to point them…

Cross-cultural illustrations

I lead a team of six people. I am the only European amongst them. From west to east we cover 15 time zones, five countries, four continents and have at least three different first languages (though we work together in English which helps me a lot). We do not all see the world in the same way.

Graphic artist Yang Liu has a sharp eye for cultural comparison, honed by personal experience. In 1990, at the age of 13, she moved from Beijing, to Berlin. After exactly 13 years there, she started an illustrated project to document her dual experiences in China and Germany.

Originally created as 47 simple blue and red posters, Yang Liu’s nonjudgmental series playfully captures the difference between cultures: from workplace hierarchy to restaurant etiquette. It has since been shown at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Germany, and was published in 2007 by art book authority Taschen with the title East Meets West.
See the full post on Quartz
It’s not just about my team though. More and more aspects of society are made up of people from different nations and while these illustrations could be generalising (not everything applies to everyone regardless of where they are from) it’s always worth remembering that culture impacts the way people see the world. These illustrations are a good reminder of that.

What’s truly important

I was recently involved in a meeting where we had to deal with some difficult concepts. To help our thinking we began with worship and those things that brought us unity.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.


Scripture engagement in the UK

For the meeting that I’m at this week, we have been reading T. Wayne Dye’s article on The Eight Conditions of Scripture Engagement (International Journal of Frontier Missiology 26:2 Summer 2009, 89-98). He gives a list of factors that are needed for people to successfully engage with translations of the Bible.

  1. Appropriate language, dialect and orthography
  2. Appropriate translation
  3. Accessible forms of Scripture
  4. Background knowledge of the hearer
  5. Availability
  6. Spiritual hunger of community members
  7. Freedom to commit to Christian faith
  8. Partnership between translators and other stakeholders

Of course, in a Wycliffe setting, we discuss these things in connection with minority language groups but I think these factors can direct our thinking when it comes to helping western church communities engage with the Bible.

  • Do we encourage people to use good, natural sounding, translations of the Bible or the church’s ‘official’ pew Bible?
  • Do we assume too much prior knowledge? Are we equipping our congregations with the skills and understanding to know that there are different types of literature in the Bible? That there are different audiences in mind for the different books? Can we share more background to make engaging with the Bible easier?
  • Is there spiritual hunger in our church community?
  • Do people feel free to be able to make a commitment to following Jesus or are there outside pressures that constrain them?
  • Are we working well with other churches in the area to reach our local community?

There are probably other questions too but I think this is worth thinking through.

On a slightly different note, I was struck by reading this Eugene Peterson quote today.

Romantic, crusader, and consumer representations of the church get in the way of recognizing the church for what it actually is. If we permit – or worse, promote – dreamy or deceptive distortions of the Holy Spirit creation, we interfere with the participation in the real thing. The church we want becomes the enemy of the church we have. It is significant that there is not a single instance in the biblical revelation of a congregation of God’s people given to us in romantic, crusader, or consumer terms. There are no “successful” congregations in Scripture or in the history of the church.

– Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in the Church

‘There are no “successful” congregations in Scripture’ – that’s worth thinking about.

The death of truth

Now, we are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob.

What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth. This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means, as this year has made very clear, that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.

Read the full article here

This is an important article from the Guardian newspaper. It puts words to the discomfort I feel about the state of journalism today. It’s so important to have good investigative reporting rather than a media driven by what’s popular.

Asking good questions

A colleague of mine has just pointed me to this video on the importance of asking good questions. It only takes 15 minutes to watch and I think it’s worth investing the time.

As part of this talk, James Ryan, Dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, suggests five essential questions to ask:

  • Wait, what?
  • I wonder why, or if?
  • Couldn’t we at least?
  • How can I help?
  • What truly matters?

What do you think? Are there any other questions you would add to this list?