Feeling powerless?

I had two nightmares last night! Or maybe they were bad dreams. I didn’t wake up as a result, though I wished I had, but I didn’t enjoy the subject matter.

It started with me running around in Israel or Palestine with Tany who was there to perform in a drama with some Christian mission or other. Around every corner there was death.

Then I moved. For some reason (it was a dream, why would I expect logic?) I was in Mosul. More death and destruction – then running, lots of running before… scenes that would be best left in my imagination if it weren’t for the fact that the slaughter of people because of their faith is happening every day.

Why, all of a sudden is this on my mind? Maybe something to do with the news, or Cranmer’s blog post from yesterday, mostly written by Cannon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad,

ISIS/ISIL/The Islamic State is marking their homes. And it’s not for a passover.

Nor is it a smiley face. It is the circled Arabic letter ‘n’, signifying ‘Nasarah’ (Christian). Once thedhimmi occupants are so identified and labelled, they can more easily be taxed (jizya), forced to convert to Islam, harassed to leave or be summarily executed by the Islamic State which now owns their property.

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The ‘Nasarah’ is appearing on Facebook as a symbol of support for those being persecuted in Mosul.

Add to that the fact that I now know, have shared a meal with, or even been given a place to rest by people living in countries where officially there’s freedom of religion but the practice in some areas is completely different, and honestly I feel pretty desperate.

I feel desperate because persecuting someone for their faith (whatever faith that may be) is wrong. Attacking (which is a very nice word to use in light of some of the atrocious acts that are being carried out) men, women and children because they claim to follow another God is wrong. And yet there’s nothing I/we can do to ‘fix’ the situation.

I don’t even think politicians can ‘fix’ this. What can they do? Carpet bomb, or precision missile, the aggressors into submission? That only works until they get the bigger weapons and turn them on you. Plus it perpetuates the myth that violence can bring peace.

 All Everything I can do is pray for peace. Just like generations before have done. When it all seems lost, God hears and answers prayer.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.”

- 1 John 5:14-15

I can have a voice into the situation in Iraq, Israel and Palestine, Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan, Korea, Central African Republic… (the list is too long)! But I am not powerless. Instead I fear that I am lazy, self-centered and uncaring. If I wasn’t I’d be praying much more than I am.

More prayer resources and information on many different situations from Open Doors.

The Open Doors website, at www.opendoorsuk.org is a brilliant place for prayer resources.

The Open Doors website, at www.opendoorsuk.org is a brilliant place for prayer resources. 

A link between church growth and overseas mission?

Sorry to disappoint you if you’re reading this thinking that I’ve found a link, the title is a question not a statement.

Research Complete by Crystal Campbell (used under Creative Commons)

Research Complete by Crystal Campbell (used under Creative Commons)

I was discussing this with a colleague recently, the feeling that there is a link between living, thriving churches (which technically may not be the same thing as a growing church, but I suspect there’s some link) and a positive attitude to overseas mission.

You see, I think what has happened in the UK where the church attendance has generally been in decline, is that the focus has shifted from the world to the local area. Where having some world mission links were once a key part of any church ministry (including mission weekends and special services) as congregation numbers declined the focus became evangelism in the local area in an attempt to restore church numbers to a point where it would again be possible to support overseas mission.

The vision of the church that was once global (including the local community) became local only.

My gut feeling is that this actually does more harm than good. As the small local church that once felt it was a global player, that had a message of value to the world and a God that was at work everywhere, narrowed its focus to those in a five-mile radius of the front door.

This attitude means that, involvement in world mission is reduced to whether you can afford it. I personally don’t think that’s right. Prayer and encouragement cost little other than time, but are vitally important to those involved in mission.

The church also misses out on the wonderful stories of what God is doing around the world. When things are tough at home you need good news from other places to get you excited again. But, if you’ve dropped your world missions programme you’re missing out on all the stories from other parts of the world.

I think churches involved in some way with world mission are more exciting places to be. I think this excitement makes them more appealing to those investigating faith. As a result, I reckon these churches are growing compared to those without world mission playing a part in their programme.

But, I have no evidence of this. In fact, I don’t know of anyone that has researched this area. Maybe you do? Maybe you could point me to some research, or to a person that knows or something like that? Don’t tell me that you’ll do the research for £10,000 because I don’t have the money to pay you, but feel free to say that you are doing the research and need help and I’ll do my best to support you in it.

The other side of the story

In case you happen to miss it, an Australian betting site has produced a giant hot air balloon replica of Christ the Redeemer statue. They’ve obviously dressed it in a replica Socceroos shirt to keep in with the football theme and tagged it #KeepTheFaith.

Hot air balloon

Needless to say Twitter has kicked up a storm of praise and derision and it’s been pointed out that they probably wouldn’t dare to do a similar project using Mohammed or Buddha.

Of course, that was always the plan. No publicity is bad publicity and no doubt, in the eyes of their marketing department, they are rubbing their hands with glee at the amount of viral promotion they are getting from those arguing over the campaign. I’m sure the managers of the betting company were fully briefed and I doubt that they are all idiots, they would have weighed this up and decided that the potential benefits far outweighed any negative publicity they will receive.

And the response of Christians?

No doubt some feel that the image of Jesus should be protected in the same way that those of other faiths would choose. I’ll say now, I don’t. Jesus doesn’t need that kind of protection – I want to say that he’s bigger than that but it seems wrong when writing about a 30 metre tall statue and a giant balloon – and he doesn’t call us to step out in violence in his name (that happens too often anyway).

One of his disciples tried it once anyway. The night that Jesus was taken prisoner, Simon Peter took a sword and cut of the ear of one of the soldiers that had come to take him away. On the night that standing and fighting could have been justified, Jesus told his followers to put their swords away.

Instead I reckon this is a good time to talk about Jesus.

I see your statues (and giant inflatables), now let me tell you about Jesus. How he came from God to walk this earth and give us freedom from the things on earth that we choose to serve, like power and money. You don’t have to be a slave to betting because more money will only bring temporary relief (and you probably won’t win anyway).

Instead, you can find peace through Jesus. Freedom from living to please everyone on this earth and the desire to accumulate more wealth, possessions and status now. You can find freedom in knowing that eternity is sorted.

You may even find that you can enjoy football (soccer) for what it is, and not need more to be riding on the result in order to find your passion.

So no more hate. Let’s bring light and love and joy, instead of moaning and complaining – and enjoy the World Cup. For what it’s worth I hope Australia do well, if for no other reason I’ve got Australian friends and I’d like them to experience joy. Reaching the semi’s should be fine for them. I’m obviously planning on a Brazil v England final – not settled on penalties.

Social Media impact

A few week’s ago, my colleagues at Wycliffe Bible Translators in the UK, published a resource to help Sunday School teachers lead a class on mission. It’s called Kids on a Mission, you can find it here.

Of course, once you produce a resource like this you want people to use it, so promotion becomes an important aspect of what we do. The great thing about promoting a resource that’s available online is that it’s possible to see what is directing people towards a resource. Stats 1

The first bit of data shows that the Kids on a Mission page has been visited 126 times in the two weeks since it was first published. 70% of these people arrived and left fairly quickly, but a good proportion stayed (the average time being 3mins 5sec) and just under half of the visitors exited to other parts of our site.

Stats 2

Another bit or research shows that the top source of visits to this page have come from Social Media.

This shouldn’t be a big surprise as we’ve made a special effort to promote this one item.

Facebook post

It has been on Facebook since the first day on our website and others of us have pushed it on Twitter.

The significant spikes in hits all revolve around promotion on Social Media, specifically posts on Facebook. There’s the initial publication on 20th May, followed by a second smaller spike on 2nd June.

The 2nd June spike extends for longer because of ‘shares’ and an encouragement for colleagues to do the same.

On 3rd June I found the most recent Facebook post about the Kids on a Mission resource and I shared it, specifically naming friends that I thought would find the material useful. On 4th June, as part of a staff meeting, I encouraged colleagues to find the post and do the same thing. Some of them did, and the impact carried on. The 4th June, though not shown in the attached images, I’m pleased to say that the trend continued.

For a few days, the Kids on a Mission resource was the second most viewed page on our website, no doubt thanks to the impact of Social Media.


Issues facing missions today

Ever wondered what would have happened if we applied current mission support practices to Christian missionaries from the first century? The Bible and Mission blog does just that by imagining the kind of letters Paul and his companions may have received from their supporting churches, should the practices of today have been applied then.

First…Our policy is to support missionaries who come from Antioch.  Also, our policy is to support our missionaries at 5% of their total support needs, and we expect them to find the rest of their support from other churches.  We, however, will not support missionaries who do not come from our own church.

Think about that for a second. What if that policy was implemented everywhere?

Fifth, we have over the years taken on new projects for support that some of our newer members want to support—members who do not remember you or who never met you.  We now support a pregnancy support ministry here in Antioch, a feeding and clean water programme in the region of Tyre and Sidon, an elementary schools project in rural areas of Syria, and so forth.  We simply cannot support every worthy cause, and these are causes that our church members get enthused about.  Our congregation likes to support projects more than missionaries.  We also, as you will notice from these places of ministry, think that we should focus more on ministry closer to home than to the ends of the earth, as it were.  In addition, and to be perfectly honest, hearing that you are only involved in preaching the Gospel and teaching theology and not in some tangible ministry that makes a difference in people’s lives is a concern for us.  Ever since we combined benevolence funding along with our missionary support, we have been increasingly interested in funding those projects.

Tenth, our short-term mission programme has taken off wonderfully.  We send our youth on two week mission trips to build huts in Cappadocia, and they come back very excited.  Along with the new projects we support, this short-term mission work has eaten into funding for long-term missionaries such as yourselves.

From the Bible and Mission blog

It’s a wry take on mission support I know, but as with all the best comedy, it’s based on reality. I reckon that I could find a colleague or two who have experienced at least one of these reasons for their funding being cut. Unfortunately, I expect that there are a few people who have been on the receiving end of more than one of these.

Mission is not always dangerous, glamorous or exciting yet agencies and individuals can easily fall into the trap of trying to make it seem so just to keep supporters on side. We claim results for ourselves when the glory should really be given to God, and we edit the context to make it appear more than it actually is.

The result may mean a well supported missionary, but it skews the church’s view of the world and puffs individuals up to be greater than they are.

Would it really be so bad if we told the stories of fallen individuals, reshaped by God and sent to take up roles, where ever that may be; using their gifts, no matter how ordinary; to serve and honour him, even if that takes years?

HT to Eddie for finding this.

The Business Pages

Victoria Line Train at Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum

Victoria Line Train at Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum

You can find out some interesting things through the business pages of a daily paper. After working out how much money I would lose if I ever took on share dealing for myself, a quick look at the review of small businesses and start-ups can usually lead somewhere interesting.

Today’s company in the Telegraph is Hire Space. A very simple premise (always the best), providing companies with the ability to rent out unused or left over space.

Hackney Empire theatre

Hackney Empire theatre

They’ve been able to help schools, charities and community centres rent out meeting rooms and facilities that they wouldn’t normally be able to profile if they were promoting it themselves. But, the highlight has to be the Unusual Event Venues pages.

How about meeting in a tube carriage, or maybe the chapel at the asylum in Peckham? With a bit more money there’s always the option of Borough Market, or even space in the iconic gherkin building in London. Or conference space at the Royal College of Surgeons through to the Hackney Empire theatre.

Certainly a website that’s worth a browse if you’re looking for inspiration.


When the change we need isn’t the change we like

A couple of weeks ago Greg Dyke, the Chairman of the Football Association, published the FA Chairman’s England Commission Report. An 82-page document discussion how we need to change our domestic football to ensure the success of the national team.

It made some radical suggestions, including, allowing Premier League teams to have B teams, strategic partnerships between clubs in lower leagues, reducing the number of overseas players a club could have in their squad and tightening up on visa restrictions (also known as applying the law that already exists).

Of course, these recommendations met with a chorus of derision. Who knows what will come next?

Fast forward to last week. The Co-operative Group got its shareholders together to vote on some significant changes to their structure to enable them to survive in the future.

To me this suggests that we can expect very little from our national football team in the future. That’s not to say that we won’t have good years, we may even win something, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be repeated. We may only be set up for one trophy every forty years or so. To do better than that would require significant change to the structure of football in England and it looks as though the people in charge aren’t ready for that kind of change year.

The Co-operative Group, on the other hand, may just turn things around. Sure, there’s still a change that things could go badly wrong, but they’ve also given themselves a better chance of survival. They recognised that old quote attributed to Einstein, ‘The definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results’.

If you want to see different results you have to change something.

Don’t mention the ‘d’ word. ‘Death’ that is.

One of the segments on this morning’s Radio 5 Live’s breakfast show (Listen again online) was about death. Apparently there’s a proposal that ‘death’ should be on the curriculum because kids are ill-equipped to deal with mortality.

When Dr Kairen Cullen, a childhood educational psychologist and guest on the show, mentions that death can be discussed in school through religion, literature, drama and story-telling, Nicky Campbell, one of the show’s presenters, is quick to jump on the mention of religion. Especially the idea of hell.

Why is this so quick to come up in the conversation about religion and death? Is this what people are really afraid of if kids start talking about death in a religious context?

Jesus talked about justice, but only very tangentially about hell. More frequently he talked about life and living it to the full. He spoke about freedom and no longer being bound to the kind of things that deprive us, or others, of life. When he did encounter death he brought people back to life or wept over their passing.

To be fair, heaven also gets a mention in the piece, as do a number of other factors, but it’s the concept of, ‘A nice fluffy heaven’. I thought that theory went down with the ark, or maybe in the 1980s!

I think that religion has to play a part in any kind of discussion about mortality. If for no other reason it seems quite common in popular culture to talk about animals going to, ‘animal heaven’ or some other heavenly reference. Quite simply, someone dies and heaven comes up in conversation. We may as well talk about it.

But, to do the conversation justice, we have to get away from the common myth of a fluffy heaven with us all floating around on clouds, or the fire and brimstone scare tactic that if you don’t get this life right you’re going to burn in hell. That’s not the way Jesus put it and it would be wonderful if those in the media could make proper use of their understanding of Christianity (something I’m sure Campbell has since he does get to comment on faith rather a lot for the BBC), or go and learn about it, rather than just going for the cheap soundbite… which then gets blogged about giving them more publicity and maybe more listeners.

Any thoughts?