Thinking Out Loud

August 12, 2017

For the Forty-Somethings

 and some Thirty-somethings

 plus a few Fifty-somethings

It’s time to step up.

By that I mean, it’s time to get out the checkbook (or chequebook if you prefer) or grab the credit card and go online.

I’m not talking about giving to your local church. I’m sure you already do that. Maybe you tithe. Maybe you’re what Andy Stanley calls a percentage giver.  Things are stable financially and you’ve recognized that responsibility. Your local church thanks you, and wouldn’t exist without you.

No, this is about giving beyond your local church. It’s about the parachurch organizations, the faith missions, the Christian social service agencies. It’s about hospitals in third world nations, adopting orphans, and teaching literacy to jungle people, and preparing translations of the Gospel of Matthew.

Here’s the deal: A generation that founded many organizations — many formed in the post-war years 1945 to 1950 — and then funded those organizations is dying off. These generous patrons need to be replaced.

At the same time, as Christianity loses its ground numerically in Western Europe, Australia/NZ, and North America; awareness of the faith mission organizations is decreasing. Those of us who populate the pews on the weekend do not have opportunities to hear about the vital things different groups are doing, either domestically or in far-flung mission fields.

Some of these organizations are watching their donor base shrink and shrink to the point where everyone from office staff to field workers face cults. It’s now or never…

…Writing an article like this without mentioning names of potential objects for your philanthropy is difficult, but that’s what I pre-determined this piece would be. I do however suggest a few questions:

  1. Am I interested primarily in proclamation of the Christian message, or I am okay with organizations who serve the needy in Christ’s name?
  2. Do I want my money to stay here at home, or do I want to give to overseas projects in the most economically disadvantages parts of the world?
  3. Do I want to give to a major, longtime, well-established Christian charity, or do I want to partner with a newer, upstart group?
  4. What causes tend to resonate with me?
  5. If my gift means I end up on a mailing list, are these organizations I genuinely want to read about and learn how and what they’re doing?
  6. What particular ministry opportunities or places in the world am I personally aware of which may not be as familiar to others?
  7. Do I want to scatter some funds among a handful of Christian organizations, or go long and deep with one particular cause?
  8. Are there ministries where I have personal contact with a particular worker and will thereby know that the job is getting done; the money well-spent?

You might need to do some research. If you’re married, make sure your partner agrees with your choices, especially if you’re writing checks on a joint-account. And decide if you want to be a monthly supporter — which the organizations love because it provides them with a stable financial forecast — or if you’re doing a one-time thing.

People in the middle of a variety of ministry contexts are watching for your contributions.

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March 9, 2015

Megavoice: One of Missions Best Kept Secrets

I really wrestled with what to post today. After becoming violently ill on Saturday night, I had some catching up to do this morning, and kept shelving today’s article later and later into the morning. Often I’ll go through articles in the same month, previous years and look for ideas or items to reprint.

When I found this article on Megavoice in my March, 2011 archives, the thing that amazed me was that I haven’t re-posted it since. Megavoice is one of a number of new Christian organizations that are leveraging technology for the spread of the Gospel. Sadly, much of the philanthropy that takes place among Christians involves what I would call old-order Christian charities. The same is true for the missions budget of most local churches; most Missions Committee members simply renew the budget of the previous year.

I think this is so vital, so exciting. This is an organization you should want to come alongside of and be spreading the word about…

I’m a bit of a Bible bigot.

My prejudices have nothing to do with a particular translation. No, we don’t more of those people running around. My bias has to do with the form the finished Bible takes.

I asked someone recently what they think the Bible translation process involves. They gave me the answer I expected, the answer I would have given until just days ago:

  • Missionary translators learn the local language
  • The language is put it written form
  • The native people are taught how to read their own language
  • The New Testament (usually beginning with John’s gospel) is translated into that written language
  • Printed copies of the completed books are given out

Great concept. Sometimes, that’s how it’s done. But overall this view has one problem: It doesn’t match the experience of many people working to bring the story of Jesus to remote tribes.

The problem is with the words: “Read,” “books,” “printed,” “written.”

Many of the world’s peoples are not readers. It’s not that they are illiterate in the sense that a young man living on the streets of Detroit is not able to read in the middle of a culture full of literates. It’s not that they are illiterate in the sense of a woman in Atlanta whose makeshift home is insulated with newspapers containing words she cannot understand.

Rather, it’s because, half a world away, theirs is a culture of orality. No, I’d never heard the word before, either. Simply put, they are oral learners.

We’re talking about people who would benefit much more from an audio Bible than one bound in bonded leather with gold edged pages. Think about it: Once translators had acquired the language verbally, they could immediately produce a verbal (spoken) translation of the Bible, and then disseminate it using some kind of playback device.

But how to do that in an age where cassettes break and CD players skip or wear out?

Enter mp3 technology. The time is right. The time is now.

And that’s the theory behind MegaVoice. The term describes

For me, learning about MegaVoice has been a paradigm-shattering experience that has changed everything I’ve believed about how the translation process and the evangelization process works. I live in a world of text, a world of print media, and the possibility of such a widespread population of oral communicators simply never occurred to me.

If you’re one of the blessed people who is always looking for a project worthy of financial support, consider directly supporting this ministry. Whether in print copies or audio copies, the Word of God is still powerful, and doesn’t just “bounce off the walls,” but will accomplish great things in peoples’ lives. (Isaiah 55:11)

A small sampling of the many languages on file in the MegaVoice library

January 13, 2015

The Changing Face of World Missions

upside-down world

I grew up in a highly-missions-focused church in Toronto, Canada. At The Peoples Church, the annual World Missions Conference was the highlight of the year. I can’t tell you how many missions stories I’ve heard and the number of languages I’ve heard John 3:16 recited in by people wearing multi-colored tunics.

But modern missions is… well… modern. Here are three ways that come to mind:

PartnershipsThe organization we wrote about yesterday is a good example of this. If each devotes itself to its core competencies and subcontracts the rest, there is much efficiency to be gained. In more traditional missions, I suspect there was less sharing and cooperation, and groups were all busy re-inventing the same wheel.

Paradigm Shifting – Organizations like MegaVoice and Galcom are changing our definition of what it means to “give someone the Word of God.” Far from the printed gospels we envision, their miniature audio devices solve two huge problem of portable devices in rainy climates: rust (no moving parts) and battery life (they use solar power.) I wrote extensively about MegaVoice here.

Pragmatism – Typically, missionaries would embed themselves among the tribesmen (there was never mention of the tribeswomen) and learn the language, codify it in print, and then work on presenting the Jesus story. Computers offer the means to multitask: If indigenous speaker from group A also knows languages B and C, and is friends with a person who speaks B who also knows D and E… well you can see how this could get interesting. Wycliffe Bible Translators call this sort of work Cluster Projects.

Personnel Placement – There’s a sense in which we’re all missionaries. We live busy lives, and in the process develop relationships with extended families, neighbors, fellow students, co-workers, the woman at the library, the stock clerk at the grocery store, the weight trainer at the gym. So it is also that people with specific technical training can enter an otherwise missions-restricted country, but in so doing they take Jesus with them, and the sharing of their faith, while it may be low-key, is often strategic. However, the process carries with it certain risks.

Persecution – Even if the nation is not restricted, people serving vocationally in missions ministry often find themselves somewhat out-of-step with both the nation in which they serve and the people back home. Yes, persecution can even come from within the church family. Even if it isn’t as overt as the systemic persecution in many countries, it impacts the individual who has already given up any hope of an affirming salary or equity in the real estate market. Some days, the smallest thing can break you. For the children and teens who exist as “Third Culture Kids” life is equally bewildering. These people need our friendship and personal support.

…Missions is not a big deal in some churches, with very token, very limited budgets given to ensure that the small handful of people who got a donation last year get one this year. While the capital ‘C’ Church is becoming more aware of the plight of the poor, many times the appeal is for a project in their own city. Few Americans know what the face of world missions looks like. Missions books are among the poorest selling categories in Christian bookstores.

Still, the world of world missions — as opposed to the relief and development ‘industry’ — is an exciting environment. Learning more will stimulate your own faith in your small corner of the world, and will accelerate your prayer life.

 

March 21, 2011

When Bible Translation Has Nothing To Do With Books

I’m a bit of a Bible bigot.

My prejudices have nothing to do with a particular translation.  No, we don’t more of those people running around.  My bias has to do with the form the finished Bible takes.

I asked someone recently what they think the Bible translation process involves.  They gave me the answer I expected, the answer I would have given until just days ago:

  • Missionary translators learn the local language
  • The language is put it written form
  • The native people are taught how to read their own language
  • The New Testament (usually beginning with John’s gospel) is translated into that written language
  • Printed copies of the completed books are given out

Great concept.  Sometimes, that’s how it’s done.  But overall this view has one problem:  It doesn’t match the experience of many people working to bring the story of Jesus to remote tribes.

The problem is with the words: “Read,” “books,” “printed,” “written.”

Many of the world’s peoples are not readers.  It’s not that they are illiterate in the sense that a young man living on the streets of Detroit is not able to read in the middle of a culture full of literates.  It’s not that they are illiterate in the sense of a woman in Atlanta whose makeshift home is insulated with newspapers containing words she cannot understand.

Rather, it’s because, half a world away, theirs is a culture of orality.  No, I’d never heard the word before, either.  Simply put, they are oral learners.

We’re talking about people who would benefit much more from an audio Bible than one bound in bonded leather with gold edged pages.   Think about it: Once translators had acquired the language verbally, they could immediately produce a verbal (spoken) translation of the Bible, and then disseminate it using some kind of playback device.

But how to do that in an age where cassettes break and CD players skip or wear out?

Enter mp3 technology.  The time is right.  The time is now.

And that’s the theory behind MegaVoice.  The term describes

For me, learning about MegaVoice has been a paradigm-shattering experience that has changed everything I’ve believed about how the translation process and the evangelization process works.  I live in a world of text, a world of print media, and the possibility of such a widespread population of oral communicators simply never occurred to me.

So that said, I’m going to come back to MegaVoice again here at some point in the future.  But if you’re one of the needle-in-a-haystack people reading this who is truly challenged by the possibilities this raises, I want to link you a .pdf file of a book, Making Disciples of Oral Learners, originally written as a paper published for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization in Thailand in the fall of 2004, and published in 2005.

When you link to the book, start reading at page 3 and pay particular attention to the part from page 3 to page 30.

And if you’re one of the blessed people who is always looking for a project worthy of financial support, consider directly supporting this ministry.  Whether in print copies or audio copies, the Word of God is still powerful, and doesn’t just “bounce off the walls,” but will accomplish great things in peoples’ lives. (Isaiah 55:11)

A small sampling of the many languages on file in the MegaVoice library

April 17, 2009

Missionfest: A Ministry Trade Show

missionfestAfter 35 years working in and around various types of ministry organizations, today I attended my first ever ministry trade show.    After several years of getting snowed out in the winter months, Missionfest Toronto moved both its date and its location and today’s balmy weather in Canada’s largest city rivaled that of Southern California.

After one aisle, I turned to Mrs. W.  and said, “We’ve only seen a fraction of this  and already it’s overwhelming.”    Basically, I suppose I always knew that a large number of ministry organizations like these existed — probably a fraction of what one might see at a similar event in the U.S. — but there was something else about having them all set up their booths in the same room.

Missionfest exhibitors consisted largely of:

  1. Actual mission organizations doing evangelism and church planting in the third world
  2. Local, urban mission organizations working in Canadian cities
  3. Relief and development agencies
  4. Christian liberal arts colleges and universities, Bible colleges and seminaries
  5. Christian residential summer camps and retreat and conference centres
  6. Christian radio and television stations and ministries
  7. The teaching ministries of various authors or pastors, many of which are also broadcasters included in (6) above
  8. Ministries focused on Bible and Christian literature distribution
  9. Commercial businesses which provide specialized services to churches and non-profits (i.e. insurance, printing, internet, etc.)
  10. Organizations with a specialized focus on ministry to children
  11. Organizations with a specialized focus on ministry to the Jewish community
  12. Umbrella organizations, Christian political organizations, denominational groups.

From my wife’s point of view however, there were only two types of exhibitors:

  1. Those who were giving away wrapped pieces of chocolate at their booth
  2. Those who were not giving away chocolate at their booth

To be fair, my wife and I probably had the longest and most productive conversation with someone she previously only knew through e-mail, concerning the ministry project with which she is engaged.   He and she are probably getting together later in the spring to continue sharing ideas.

From the outset, we wondered what motivates the various organizations to drop their day-to-day ministry agenda to go through all the trouble of displaying their magazines, flyers, literature samples, etc. at an event like this.    Some reasons might include:

  1. There’s no doubt that for missions professionals, trade shows like this provide the benefit of any professional trade show, which is social in nature, or what we Christ-followers call ‘fellowship’
  2. Mission organizations are always looking for donors.   A few times someone came out in the aisle and told us, quite clearly, that they are looking for support.    It also occurred to us that conversely, someone of a philanthropic bent might attend this seeking out a target organization for their giving.   (We were actually keeping an eye out for something that would fit this particular criteria for someone we know who is in this position, but couldn’t attend; but nothing in particular jumped out at us.)
  3. Many organizations are looking for recruits; either as volunteers, missionaries requiring deputation, or perhaps even paid staff.   The colleges and universities are looking for prospective students.
  4. Apart from considerations in (2) and (3) above, everyone is looking to raise the profile of who they are and what they do; to get their name known in the Christian community, or in this case, more accurately, the Evangelical community.
  5. I would like to think that in addition to people giving their time and talents, or their money, that these organizations are also seeking specific prayer support.    I didn’t get that particular message today, though I’ve yet to sort through the large bag of literature we brought home.

The event also features a number of seminars dealing with various aspects of mission and ministry.    Many of these were on Saturday which conflicted with another event my wife is involved in; and some were part of a ‘Master seminar’ track which wasn’t in our budget.   (Some were simply capitalizing on who was available, such as Brian Doerksen’s songwriting workshop, prior to his concert tonight with Shane Claiborne; and no, I don’t think Shane is singing but I’ve actually heard him teach a song to about 2,000 people and he’s not bad.)

For me the “star” highlights were meeting Charles Price, pastor of Toronto’s Peoples Church, and also running into Shane Claiborne in the restroom.   I went back to the Crawford Broadcasting booth hoping that Neil Boron was free.  He hosts a four-hour afternoon talk show on WDCX-FM in Buffalo, which is the closest I get to coveting someone else’s ministry.   What a fabulous opportunity he has each day.    Unfortunately, he had left for lunch when I went back.

But the interactions with everyday people doing everyday mission and ministry were also valuable.

I walked into the exhibit floor someone cynical, reminding myself that missions — especially some of the 12 categories listed above — is very much run like a business, and that many of these people are in a very real sense competitors for items 2 to 5 in the second list.

I also know that some people are equally skeptical of the missions paradigm because — unlike (for example) a Christian bookstore which is theoretically self-supporting, or any model whereby the staff are ‘tentmaking’ at some other remunerative vocation — mission organizations merely have to “ask” to get money.

But my viewpoint was softened very quickly, as I was impressed by the earnest sincerity of the people we met.

If an event like this hits your community, I would encourage you to check it out; especially if you’re at a personal crossroads and wondering if God may have some avenue of service — either short term, long term, or life long — for you to consider.


 

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