Thinking Out Loud

February 26, 2016

Book Makes Praying for the World More Intimate, More Personal

Today I want to recommend a book to you that was not given to me for review nor do I have a copy in front of me as I write this; but it’s one in a book genre that I feel is essential reading for any individual or family who wants to expand their prayer focus farther than their own immediate family and friends; beyond their own city or town.

Brian StillerBrian Stiller is what I would call a Christian statesman, a phrase which I take to mean a person who is both well-versed and widely-traveled and thereby is unusually forthright when it comes to the political,  economic and spiritual conditions and issues in various parts of the world. As Global Ambassador with the World Evangelical Alliance he is also the former President of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (the Canadian equivalent of NAE) and former President of Tyndale College and Seminary in Toronto.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting with Brian at each of these stages and he was gracious enough to allow me to interview him for a magazine when he was at EFC, and there were things he said that day which I can still quote verbatim.

His book, An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Bethany House, 2016, paper) would fall into the same category as the popular Operation World which is an exhaustive index of the countries of the world and the particular challenges each presents in terms of the spread of the gospel.

However, where Operation World is exhaustive, Praying for the World is personal. Brian Stiller shares from his own experiences, having visited the various countries covered in the book. The book is thereby somewhat autobiographical, but I would argue that Stiller’s write-ups for each are both subjective and objective at the same time.

Of the 52 chapters, not every one is about a unique nation:

  • 3 deal with prison ministries
  • 1 is a general perspective
  • 1 is about global prayer initiatives
  • 1 looks at The Pope
  • 1 looks at a religion rather than a nation, in this case Islam
  • 2 repeat a country; Vietnam and Rwanda each have two chapters

By my calculations, that means 43 countries remain; countries that most of us will never visit at all, but in this one book we’re afforded the opportunity to see these nations and their needs through Brian Stiller’s eyes. The 52 chapters may be read in any order, or consulted for reference. 

Each section contains:

  • an overview of that country
  • Brian’s ‘dispatch’ from that nation; the main essay
  • a key Bible verse
  • specific items for prayer
  • a suggested guided prayer

The potential uses for Praying for the World are many, but would include everything from your family prayer time, to giving to your missions committee, to having a copy in your church library.

Brian C Stiller - An Insider's Guide to Praying for the World

 

 

February 15, 2016

The Changing Face of the Global Church

“The Meeting of the Waters” in Manaus, Brazil: Two visually distinct rivers converge to form the Amazon River

I am no doubt a better person for the various books I have reviewed here over the years., but honestly, I’ve probably forgotten some of them. There is however one title that I still find myself quoting in discussions, particularly on the subject of missions, but often about the global church in general. 

Two very different missionaries are presented, one the author calls “Mission Marm,” the other is “Apple Guy.” Two vastly different mindsets having to join together not unlike the branches of the river above referenced in the book’s title. Reading that analogy alone is worth the price of admission.

This was the second half of a two part review I did  — here’s a link to  the original first part — of a 2010 book by Fritz Kling, The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents That Will Propel the Future Church (David C. Cook, still in print). The book is based on what the author calls “The Global Church Listening Tour;” one-hour interviews with 151 church leaders in nineteen countries.



As Canadians, we often find ourselves despairing over the USA-centric approach of many popular Christian books. So one expects a book with a ‘global’ perspective to transcend any particular nation. However, in some chapters more than others, Kling would relate his findings to the church in America. In this case that’s a good thing. If the book were just theoretical it would not accomplish much. Some of the real value here — although it’s never truly spelled out in ‘macro versus micro’ terms — is the application of what’s happening globally to the local church; the church you and I attend on weekends. But then again, this is a very, very ‘macro’ kind of book.

So what are the seven currents? There’s a great economy of language in Fritz Kling’s writing style, so I can’t do this adequately, but here’s a few things that stood out:

  1. Mercy — Kling uses an anecdotal approach in this social justice section: a young woman who gives up a promising law career to work with oppressed people in India; a young man who is a native of India who operates a technology firm guided by Sermon-on-the-Mount principles.
  2. Mutuality — It’s hard to function in the global church if you think you or the country you come from has all the answers; and that bias leads to further believing that you (or we) should be the ones in charge. He also suggests that people in other parts of the world don’t understand our various debates about practices or behaviors or doctrines, since they simply take the Bible at literal face value.
  3. Migration — There are three issues here: Worldwide migration patterns in general; the migration taking place from rural areas to cities at a time when churches are fleeing the urban core for the suburbs; and the ministry opportunities that exist when you have displaced, and therefore lonely people all around.
  4. Monoculture — This chapter looks at the dominance of the English language as a symptom of the much larger, accelerating spread of Western culture, and in particular, Western youth culture.
  5. Machines — Kling begins with a look at technology as a tool in disaster relief. (He mentions a 2008 cyclone that hit Burma. As the book was being published a major earthquake struck Haiti.) He moves on to discuss the role of technology in evangelism, and backtracks to show how that motive led to some other technological applications now enjoyed worldwide.
  6. Mediation — Kling delineates several areas where there is a need for reconciliation and mediation. He notes this will be a challenge for Westerners to function in a world that has become, in particular, very anti-American. He speaks in detail of the conflicts that exist, “not between Muslims and Christians, but between Muslims and other [more militant] Muslims.” Kling believes Christians should be leading the way toward reconciliation on all fronts.
  7. Memory — Knowing the past can be a blessing and a curse, but in many places, Kling sees more downside than upside, with entire cultures having a depreciated view of themselves. Still, Christians need to fully enter into, understand and even embrace the history of the place where they serve, and from there aim to bring hope and wholeness.

As I originally stated, I still hope this book finds the wider audience it is deserving of. This is a book for pastors and missiologists for sure, but I think it’s also a title that business leaders, church board members and people who simply care about the future of the church should want to study.

December 29, 2015

Ministries that Come Alongside

A hidden tier of support organizations are turning world missions upside-down

A hidden tier of support organizations are turning world missions upside-down

There is a second tier of mission organizations that don’t get the visibility of some of the major faith missions or relief and development agencies that I often find myself mentioning to people looking to learn more about the hidden missions stories out there, or even potentially looking for an organization to be an object of their charitable giving.  I love to tell the stories of groups like these; all of which we as a family have had direct contact with. Also, with 3 days left to complete your year-end donations for 2015, these are great prospects.

Engineering Ministries International — For the most part EMI doesn’t build buildings, but they design buildings for other ministry organizations big and small and supply finished plans and architectural drawings to those ministries at a very substantial discount. They work in the background with groups like Food for the Hungry, Mission Aviation Fellowship, and Samaritans Purse. Since 1982, they’ve worked on nearly 1,100 relief and development projects in 90+ countries. I’ve written about them here before (when my son did a 4-month internship with them in Colorado Springs, Calgary and Haiti) and you can learn more about them through the U.S. website or the Canadian website.

Christian Salvage Mission — In a world where words like reuse and recycle are ubiquitous, this mission organization takes used books, devotional aids, Sunday School curriculum, Bibles and hymnbooks, and bundles them up in container loads that arrive in very appreciative hands in various mission stations around the world, at a shipping cost some commercial businesses would find astounding. I’ve written about them before on a trade blog for Christian booksellers. They are based in Canada, and you can learn more at this website, or in the U.S. check out my CRI mission – Christian Resources International.

Megavoice and Galcom — We often have a literacy bias to the subject of Bible translation. We picture the Canadian or American Bible Society or Wycliffe Bible Translators finishing a Gospel of John in some language, and then handing out a printed book. But much of the world is oral cultural (orality) not written culture (literacy). Electronics can make a huge difference but historically problems have occurred with moving parts for tapes or discs rusting in moist climates, or batteries wearing out. Now microchips and solar panels solve those problems. I’ve written about Megavoice here before. Megavoice is U.S.-based, you can learn more about them at Megavoice.com. Galcom International has offices in both countries, you can learn more about their work at Galcom.org.

Partners International — We first heard about this organization when my wife’s uncle was doing a number of missions trips with an adjunct project named, appropriately, Alongside. You know how everybody is always raising money to build wells in the third world? Well (no pun intended) sometimes the pumps break down very quickly, and nobody is actually committed to repairing them. There’s no glamour in that. It’s hard to raise funds for that. But it’s a better use of resources. I made reference to Ruth’s Uncle Ted in this article. That’s just an example. You can’t always partner with every indigenous organization that needs help, so PI is especially focused on seven categories: Children at Risk, Education, Christian Witness, Entrepreneurship, Health & Wellness, Justice Issues, and Women’s Issues. You can learn more at PartnersInternational.ca.

InterVarsity’s Urbana — If you want to see an excellent picture of one organization coming alongside hundreds of mission organizations, check out, as I have, every single page of the Urbana 2015 website while the conference is still running in St. Louis.

Also be sure to read these articles published previously here at Thinking Out Loud:

February 16, 2015

Design Team on the Ground in Haiti

Filed under: education, missions, parenting — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:33 am
Image captured on Flight Aware mid-trip. I don't consider this helicopter parenting, it's more like satellite parenting.

Image captured on Flight Aware mid-trip. I don’t consider this helicopter parenting, it’s more like satellite parenting.

Though he’s been away from home off and on for many years, this is the first time we’ve ever been cut off from our son electronically.  It’s going to be a long week as we wait for the first communication when they return to the US and then Canada, though I recognize that for some of you reading this, Haiti is just a stone’s throw away compared to places in the world where you have close relatives.  If you’re coming in part-way through this story, I wrote about his 4-month internship with the organization at this blog post.

emi logo brickThe more I hear about Engineering Ministries International, the more impressed I am with this organization and the unique role they fill in world missions.  I’m so excited to be able to passionately tell their story.  At 9 minutes, this video is a little long, and requires you to read the captions, but it defines exactly what a design team does in the various countries in which EMI serves. They’re not doing the actual building, which means they’re not taking away work from locals.  They’re also living within the realities of the budgets the host organization is working with, and the construction materials that are available. In Haiti, the latter is a daunting prospect.

The director of the team he’s serving on wrote about all the things they’re taking with them.

We get 1 suitcase each. Between our 4 and the 2 belonging to the interns also leaving from Calgary, we’ve managed to pack:

  • water test kits, a pocket penetrometer, a TDS meter, measuring tapes, a portable printer and all sorts of other engineering-type stuff
  • first aid kits, headlamps, plug adapters
  • craft items, both from our own stash and donated by our church to do a craft day with the kids there
  • several quilts sewn by kids from our church
  • pillow case dresses and shorts sewn by a friend with a heart for orphans
  • hats knitted by [our daughter]
  • t-shirts from a friend of eMi
  • some hand-me-down clothes
  • small toys and school supplies from [our daughter’s] friends
  • some hot chocolate (a special request!) & peanut butter
  • toothbrushes donated by a friend and toothpaste donated by our dentist
  • donated soccer balls and a pump
  • more school supplies [donated]
  • oh – and our own clothes and toiletries and such

There’s a ceremony that engineers go through — family are not allowed to attend — in which they are given a ring. My son wrote about that recently:

As my graduation neared, I was given a steel ring to wear as a tangible reminder to double-check my work because, in engineering, I will often have people depending on it for their safety, but I’m finding that I don’t need the reminder. The spectacle and gravity of the work, and the humbling and uplifting character of the cause, are enough.

Anyway, this has been somewhat random, but I hope you’ll remember the team in prayer this week, and if you have engineers, surveyors, architects or people with similar gifts in your faith community; EMI is always looking for people to go on short-term trips.  If you know a student who is studying any of those fields, there is opportunity to do a internship — the other intern on his team is doing a co-op term — for professional credit. You can link to the various websites at these links:

 

 

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.

 

January 12, 2015

Working On A Building (Or Several)

I’m a working on a building
I’m a working on a building
Hallelujah
I’m a working on a building
For my Lord, for my Lord

~Bill Monroe & The Bluegrass Boys
(click here to listen!)

eMi logo

Starting today my oldest son begins a new chapter of his life. He’s doing a 16-week internship with a Christian organization that nobody we’ve spoken to has ever heard of, but once you get the concept, you would be more concerned if nobody had thought of it.

Here’s their purpose statement from the landing page of their website:

Engineering Ministries International (eMi) is a non-profit Christian development organization made up of architects, engineers and design professionals who donate their skills to help children and families around the world step out of poverty and into a world of hope.

Poverty is a key element of the projects they choose. As much as you’d like to get all your engineering and architectural drawings done cheap for the new gym and fellowship hall at Church of the Affluent Suburbs, I don’t think they’re going to be able to help you. But they do have a host of mission organizations they’ve served since 1982 working on over 1,000 relief and development projects in 90+ countries; with many of the relationships developed alongside ministries such as Food for the Hungry, Mission Aviation Fellowship, and Samaritan’s Purse.

So, in the case of the project my son will be involved in, they’re going to be designing a building for an orphanage in Haiti that currently houses ten kids and will expand to 50, with a goal of future growth to 75 beds, plus a chapel, plus a school that will be profitable. All on land they already own.  eMi works with organizations in partnerships like that.

This isn’t a paid internship for him. He’s actually paying them, about the equivalent of another full year of school, for a time frame involving a single semester. But they’re picking up travel and living expenses for his week in Colorado Springs (where their world headquarters are) the time working in the Calgary office (one of five satellite offices) and a trip to Haiti to see the project site and meet the key players there. Their finished drawings will be given to a local construction company that will build the facility to their specifications.  (Check out the scope of this project they consulted on in 2009.)

How did we hear about all this? We ran into eMi at an annual event in Toronto called MissionFest, which I’ve written about elsewhere, a sort of trade show for mission organizations. Since I know a lot of people, I pitched a number of options to him, but he set the bar really high in terms of the type of Christian organization he wanted to work with, and eMi met his criteria. His degree is in Electrical Engineering, but they’re going to teach him some of the Structural Engineering principles and the whole thing will count toward his professional designation.

I should also add that to the best of my knowledge, eMi is always looking for Structural Engineers and Civil Engineers, especially on the short field trips. If that’s you and your schedule allows you some travel time; or you’ve taken an early retirement, you might want to get to know these people. Same applies to architects and surveyors.

I once heard it said that Youth with a Mission was the Evangelical world’s best kept secret. I’d like to nominate eMi as a runner up. When you think about the concept, this thing gives new definition to meeting a need.

As I get to know this organization better, I expect to be writing about them again. For my Canadian readers there’s eMiCanada based in Alberta, and for my UK readers eMiUK is based in Oxford.

And if you’re the praying type, remember our son Chris.

 

 

December 8, 2014

Mid-East Persecution Continues to Increase

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:25 am

I don’t always share the emails I get from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) but I think it’s important to raise awareness of what’s taking place, especially when bloggers are so focused on the American/Canadian church.

ACLJ Petition Dec 2014

It’s hard for me to even put this into words.

ISIS jihadists are now barbarically beheading Christian children.

The Christian Vicar of Baghdad is reporting that ISIS terrorists demanded that four children recant their faith and “say the words that you will follow Muhammad.”

These brave Christian children – all under 15 years old – refused, saying “No, we love Jesus.”

ISIS cut off their heads.

Evil.

There is no other word to describe the horror.

As people of faith, we must not allow this to continue. We must defend Christians from ISIS genocide.

Christian children are willing to face death for their faith in Christ.

We must defend them.

We demanded the Obama Administration take action, and it is, but not nearly enough.

Be heard for these persecuted Christian children.

Sign Our Petition: Stop the Genocide of Christians in Iraq.

Jay Sekulow
ACLJ Chief Counsel

August 21, 2014

Sidebar to the Kent Brantly Story

Filed under: current events, missions — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:25 am

A part of the story you may not have heard…

Kent Brantley

Breaking Christian News adapted this story from Assist News Service, but made the headline something that Assist had buried in the final two paragraphs:

The website stated that The JPS Foundation is now accepting donations for Brantly and his family, who lost all of their earthly possessions when he contracted the Ebola virus and was returned to the United States for treatment. After his symptoms appeared, Brantly was isolated and was never able to return to their home. According to JPS, everything is considered contaminated by Ebola and will be destroyed.

“No date has been announced for his release from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, but when he is well enough to join his family, they will face the challenge of replacing everything from household items and clothing to computers and children’s toys,” said JPS in a statement Friday. “All funds will be held in a separate account within the JPS Foundation for the financial support of Dr. Brantly and his family during his recovery.

After all they’ve been through, they face the same loss as would a family whose home was destroyed by fire. But better to have Kent alive, right? 


Related:  

“I’m sorry I’ve got to take this call, it’s Kent Brantly.”

This article is a must-read. It puts Kent Brantly in perspective in a way that will challenge you to the core.  Click to read Scot McKnight’s article:
Kent Brantly: Every Now and Then a Disciple Breaks Out

May 29, 2014

Thursday Link List

Species rarely seen: The Thursday List Lynx

Species rarely seen: The Thursday List Lynx

A few things missed out this week by a few hours. We might repeat some of these on the PARSE list anyway, but I wanted to share them while they were still fresh.

  • Did someone in your church write a great modern worship song that’s only being sung by your own congregation? Enter it in the Sing It Sunday song contest, and it could be performed in front of 13,000 people at Catalyst Atlanta. Contest details here.
  • I debated whether or not to make this one the sole subject of today’s blog post… Do you know someone who labors in ministry and gets discouraged by what seems to be so little fruit? A pastor whose small church seems lost in a megachurch world? A youth worker who spends long hours working with kids who seem unresponsive? Send them this story.This is the recently uncovered story of a missionary who died thinking he was a failure. 84 years later a thriving church is found hidden in the Congo jungle.
  • In the wake of the death of Fred Phelps, there was a small mention that in the seemingly quiet months before he passed away he had been excommunicated from his church. I remember reading that, but not really focusing on it. It’s possible the reason is that he mellowed; that he softened his stance on some issues to a degree not acceptable to church hardliners.
  • Relevant Magazine did a list of six well-known church figures who, if judged by the standards of modern Evangelicalism, would simply never make the cut. The provocative headline calls them “6 Heretics Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism.” The last one will surprise you.
  • A piece that was in the link list yesterday sparked some follow up articles that appeared too late to meet the Wednesday list deadline. The topic was racial balance in the author mix at InterVarsity Press. I’ve often commented that the Christian publishing world is dominated by Reformed voices, which by implication means white and male. But we tend to think of IVP as having more of a global focus. At the blog, By Their Strange Fruit, here is part two of that article, as well as a more general piece which is less IVP-specific.
  • UPDATE: The son of the pastor of a snake-handling denomination who died in February was himself bit this week but refused to be hospitalized. Cody Coots replaced his father as pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church in Middlesboro, Kentucky.
  • Finally, many Christian people feel that since ‘God hates divorce,’ they are obligated to stick with a marriage no matter what. As Lee Grady points out, there are at least four instances where it’s right to leave.

 

 

May 21, 2014

Wednesday Link List

John Wesley quotation

Out of several hundred potential links, these were some things that got my attention this week. Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, the list’s owner, a blog of Leadership Journal in the Christianity Today family. From there, click the stories you want to see.

When not hunting down links for you, Paul Wilkinson blogs at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201, and Christian Book Shop Talk.

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