Friday, September 15, 2006

Excerpt from: The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen

"Solitude is the furnace of transformation.
Without solitude we remain victims of our
society and continue to be entangled in
the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself
entered into this furnace.

There he was tempted with the three
compulsions of the world: to be relevant
("turn stones into loaves"), to be spectacular
("throw yourself down"), and to be powerful
("I will give you all these kingdoms"). There he
affirmed God as the only source of his identity.
("You must worship the Lord your God and
serve him alone"). Solitude is the place of the
great struggle and the great encounter - the
struggle against the compulsions of the
false self, and the encounter with the loving
God who offers himself as the substance of
the new self."

How I wish all people would develop these three disciplines: silence, solitude and prayer in our noisy, busy and fast-paced society. Gerald Baraza.

Friday, September 08, 2006

African Churches In Your Back Yard !

Christian Leaders for Africa Update
September, 2006 www.clafrica.com
African Churches In Your Back Yard
You know God is up to something when African churches start showing up in the cities and suburbs of America.

Look around. You may be surprised.

There are over one million Africans who have settled in the United States in the last several decades. Many of them are Christians. Many are missionaries. Many believe the Lord sent them to take the Gospel to every nation, even ours.

There are African denominations that are planting churches across the world. Some of the largest churches in London are African. The largest church in Kiev, Ukraine, was started by an African. The Redeemed Christian Church of God which is based in Nigeria has planted hundreds of churches in the United States and each of them is planting more churches.

The immigration of so many Africans is good news for us but not necessarily good news for the countries they left. Many of these Africans are highly educated professionals who left Africa to get away from civil war and to give their children a better opportunity. We cannot criticize them for this because most of us would probably do the same if we were in their circumstances.

The African churches that have emerged in the United States are often ethnic congregations. Kenyans, Nigerians, Ethiopians, Sudanese, Congolese and Liberians gather in communities and create churches for themselves and their families. The second generation will require services in English and will become more culturally American. Many will reach out to non-Africans and their churches will slowly become integrated.

Your church can be a partner by offering space in your building for an African church to meet. This begins a cross-cultural relationship between two congregations, good for both.

Many Africans who already speak English may choose to enter an American church and become active members. They can help your congregation to develop an African connection and commitments to the church in Africa.

You will discover that you are in touch with a growing missionary movement from around the world coming to the United States and you will realize the Holy Spirit is in it.

NEGST Professors Lead Bible Commentary Project
According to Grant LeMarquand, an Anglican church historian who taught in Africa for many years, “In the West, scholarship has been done primarily within the academy. In the interest of objectivity, critical methods are used to uncover the meaning of the text in its original context. The faith stance of the reader is considered to be irrelevant or problematic in the unbiased search for the truth. In Africa, there is more of an attempt to acknowledge the place of the faith of the biblical scholar. Almost all exegesis in Africa is confessional and written for the edification of the believing community.” (Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of Scripture, eds. Kevin Vanhoozer, N. T. Wright, Craig Bartholomew, and Daniel Treier (Baker Academic, 2005, page 33).

If you want to see for yourself how African biblical scholars interpret the Bible confessionally and for the edification of the believing community, get your hands on the new Africa Bible Commentary just released this summer in a grand ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya (link to attached photo spread). This one-volume collection of articles on every book of the Bible and numerous biblical topics was written by 70 African evangelical scholars representing 15 African countries and 10 different church traditions. The book is 1585 pages in length and took five years to produce. Leading the effort were two NEGST professors, Samuel Ngewa and Tewoldemedhin Habtu, who served as editors and who each wrote many chapters.

The general editor of the book was Tukunboh Adeyemo, the honorary chancellor of NEGST. Also contributing chapters were Douglas Carew, James Nkansah-Obrempong and Victor Cole.

The commentary is available in English but will eventually be published in French, Swahili, Amharic, Yoruba, Zulu, Afrikaans and Portugese. The purpose of this volume is not only to demonstrate that African evangelicals are making their contribution to our understanding of the Bible but to give African pastors a tool to help them preach and teach the Word of God in an African context. A rapidly-growing church on the African continent needs trained leaders and trained leaders need resources that help them know and apply the Scriptures to the challenges they face.

What a milestone this commentary is—produced by Africans for the church in Africa!

You can order your copy of this volume online through almost any service such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or from the American publisher, Zondervan.

Reaching Muslims By Understanding Their Cultures
Dr. Caleb Kim teaches in the Missions department at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya. Caleb and his colleague, Dr. Stephen Sesi, are pioneering an Islamic Studies program at NEGST that will equip missionaries to serve in Muslim communities. Caleb is also an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary where he teaches Korean students in missions. A recent article summarizing his research in African-Muslim contexts was published in the Lausanne World online publication.

Where did your interest in Islam begin?
CK: In 1989 I was sent to a remote region of Kenya by my Presbyterian mission board in South Korea. The tribes to whom I was sent to preach the gospel were mostly Muslim. I soon realized I did not understand these people at all. I knew about Islam as a religion but these people did not act or believe as Islam taught. They used the language of Islam but followed their tribal customs and religious practices. It was actually a shamanistic society where spirit possession was very real. A Muslim cleric condemned these practices but the ordinary people did them anyway. I decided to learn more about Islam in Africa and so began my career as an anthropologist. I eventually did my research in Tanzania which was recently published by a publisher in Nairobi, Acton Publishers.

What did you learn as you studied Muslims in East Africa?
CK: What I have been studying is folk Islam. Most people think of Islam as a world religion and an ideology. They look at it on the universal level. But locally and in settings like Africa, Islam looks very different. It is a culture, not just a religion. Islamic beliefs and values have been blended into African traditions. This happens among Christians as well. We call it syncretism. In Africa, Islam is adapted by the culture and made practical for the benefit of the community. Christians have to approach Muslims in Africa on this cultural level and communicate in culturally understandable ways.

The most striking example of folk Islam in East Africa for me was the ritual of healing conducted by a Muslim healer who made contact with spirits while in a trance. I was able to witness these ceremonies in person. The Muslim healer acknowledged Allah but also used his divination powers to solve a patient’s problems. Jinn are possessive spirits that are believed to cause incurable diseases. The healer, or shaman, negotiates with the spirits to reduce the power of jinn over the patient. Orthodox Muslims denounce such practices but they are very common all over Africa. Christians have to take this type of activity seriously but focus on Jesus who casts out demons and who has power over the spiritual and the physical world.

Why is this research important for Christian missionaries?
CK: The challenge for every missionary is to present the Gospel in a culturally relevant way. This requires the missionary to study cultures and to consider how all the elements of a culture can affect the perception of the Christian message. We can easily confuse or offend someone by the cultural forms we use as we present the Gospel. For example, Muslims consider worship an act of total submission to God often demonstrated by kneeling or lying prostrate on the floor. To stand or to sit in prayer as Christians often do can be considered by some Muslims to be a lack of respect for God.

How do you go about training people to be missionaries in a Muslim culture?
CK: One of the first things I require of students at NEGST is to start a friendship with a Muslim. For many, this is the first time they have spoken with a Muslim. Many are often afraid to contact even their Muslim neighbors. Some assume Muslims are controlled by evil spirits. They fear having a curse put upon them by the Muslim. Though a bit different from these ordinary people, our students at first express their uneasiness about contacting Muslims for the study; however, they soon discover the power of Jesus and the importance of relationships as the way to show the love of Jesus.

They learn that not everything about Islam is bad. They study the Muslim’s culture and learn to appreciate some of its strengths. I often refer to the symbol of Islam, the crescent. This is the light that shines around the moon. It is all the truth a Muslim can see. Jesus is the Son of God and in him we see all of God’s light. When a student reaches out to a Muslim friend, he is starting with the crescent and moving toward the sun.

Why is it important for NEGST to have a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies?
CK: All we have at the moment is an M.A. But the need for trained African missions leaders in Islamic Studies is great. Islam is growing steadily on the African continent. Muslims want to capture the continent as much as Christians do. We want to model a Ph.D. after the one NEGST has already started in Biblical and Translation Studies. It will be rooted in the African context with hands-on field experience. It will bring in other disciplines as well so that a graduate is broadly educated as a missionary.

There is always a high price to be paid by a Muslim converting to Christianity. Does it have to be this way?
CK: Yes, because Islam is a culture and not simply a religion which can be practiced as much or as little as we want. To convert to Christianity from Islam is to betray your own people. It is a rejection of your community. A Muslim family will disown the convert and experience great shame. I know what this is like because I converted from Buddhism and my family rejected me. That is why Christians must provide a strong community for Muslim converts because that will be their new family.

I have a student at NEGST who used to be a Muslim scholar in an African country. He lives every day with the awareness that someone may try to kill him because of his conversion to Christ. He has helped so many students at NEGST see the Muslim world from the inside.

It seems like American Christians are not prepared to reach out to Muslims. What is needed?
The greatest threat to Christianity is not Islam. It is secularism. Secularism is the love of the world and the flesh and the neglect and ignorance of God. Secularism is also the greatest threat to Islam. Muslims associate secularism with the West but it is found in every society and undermines every religion. For Christians in the West, secularism is already deep in their souls. It eats up our passion for God and our compassion for people. Our witness to Muslims lacks credibility when we are indulging ourselves in the pleasures of the world. We should not fear Muslims as much as we should fear the failure of our witness because of the way we live.

What light can you shed on America’s conflicts with radical Islam?
CK: We have to understand something about the history and culture of Islam, especially the difference between the Sunni and Shiite communities. This distinction goes all the way back to Muhammad’s descendents. One family line was oriented to a more spiritual leadership; the others looked to the consensus of elders and community leadership. The two lines have been in violent conflict since the beginning. That is why it will be almost impossible to achieve a peace in Iraq. When Saddam was in power, he kept the tensions in check by brutal force. Freedom will allow the antagonisms to explode again. Only a minority of Muslims have adapted to the Western model of political life.

What should be American Christians’ role in reaching the Muslim world?
I believe God has spared the United States greater judgment because of what the church has done for world missions. In the last century, American churches led the world in sending missionaries. The United States still has an important role to play in missions but it will be different in this century. Instead of sending missionaries, the church in the United States must support the efforts of the church on other continents to train and send missionaries. This is a far more strategic use of their resources. Secondly, the church in America must see itself as the primary mission field, especially since people from all over the world are coming to America. There are 80,000 South Koreans studying in the United States. Over a million Africans have migrated to the U.S. in the last decade or two. And think of all the Muslims who live in America. Where will American Christians do their best evangelism among Muslims? In their own country, in cities like Dearborn, Michigan, where more Iraqis reside than anywhere else outside of Iraq. This will require lay people in the church to see themselves as missionaries for they are the ones who will do the work of missions.

This may be off the topic but tell us about North Korea. How do we understand and relate to this nation?
CK: Actually there is a connection because one has to understand North Korea as a religious society. My father and my wife’s mother were born there and it is always on the minds of all South Koreans. It is much more than a communist society. The father of the current president of North Korea ruled with a charismatic leadership style but he became an idol whom the people worshipped. I compare it to what happened in Waco, Texas, when the followers of David Koresh’s cult believed he spoke the words of God. Or the Jonestown cult in South America. To maintain this control, the leader must pay those around him large amounts of money to remain loyal. This means the leadership of the society will be corrupted. He must also build walls around the society and keep his people from having contact with outsiders. It is very hard for people in such a society to rebel against the leader because that is like apostasy. It’s not unlike Christians forsaking Christ.

NEGST Grads Head Kenyan Mission Agency
By now you know how excited we are about training African missionaries and the Missions department at NEGST.

But it gets even better. There is a Kenyan mission agency called Sheepfold Ministries that works among unreached peoples in East Africa, most of whom are also Muslim. Sheepfold has 50 missionaries on its staff and they are led by recent graduates of NEGST, Harun Kuruku and his wife, Judy, who has another year to go.

Sheepfold sends out its missionaries to live among Muslims, often as teachers or other occupations, living simply and frugally, bearing witness to Christ as they build friendships. They may not know the tribal languages but they speak the common trade language of Swahili.

Harun and Judy both studied at NEGST in order to help their missionaries be more effective. They both benefited greatly from the Islamic Studies program at NEGST. Even though the missionaries are Kenyans reaching Kenyans, there are still huge cultural barriers to overcome. Their passion is to bring the message of the gospel more effectively and relevantly to the Muslim peoples around them.

Harun and Judy are the kind of students NEGST receives and who can be supported with our scholarship gifts so they can study at NEGST. Just think of the investment in the next generation of missionaries who are sacrificing their lives for the Gospel among those most resistant to the Gospel.

We are seeking churches and individuals who want to support the education of missionaries like Harun and Judy. If you want to join this 21st century missions strategy, contact us at this address below or respond to this email newsletter.

Christian Leaders for Africa
P.O. Box 1642
Indianapolis, IN 46206

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons"

Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons
An interview with Eugene Peterson in Christianity Today

What is the most misunderstood aspect of spirituality?
That it's a kind of specialized form of being a Christian, that you have to have some kind of in. It's elitist. Many people are attracted to it for the wrong reasons. Others are put off by it: I'm not spiritual. I like to go to football games or parties or pursue my career. In fact, I try to avoid the word.

Many people assume that spirituality is about becoming emotionally intimate with God.
That's a naïve view of spirituality. What we're talking about is the Christian life. It's following Jesus. Spirituality is no different from what we've been doing for two thousand years just by going to church and receiving the sacraments, being baptized, learning to pray, and reading Scriptures rightly. It's just ordinary stuff.

This promise of intimacy is both right and wrong. There is an intimacy with God, but it's like any other intimacy; it's part of the fabric of your life. In marriage you don't feel intimate most of the time. Nor with a friend. Intimacy isn't primarily a mystical emotion. It's a way of life, a life of openness, honesty, a certain transparency.

Doesn't the mystical tradition suggest otherwise?
One of my favorite stories is of Teresa of Avila. She's sitting in the kitchen with a roasted chicken. And she's got it with both hands, and she's gnawing on it, just devouring this chicken. One of the nuns comes in shocked that she's doing this, behaving this way. She said, "When I eat chicken, I eat chicken; when I pray, I pray."

If you read the saints, they're pretty ordinary people. There are moments of rapture and ecstasy, but once every 10 years. And even then it's a surprise to them. They didn't do anything. We've got to disabuse people of these illusions of what the Christian life is. It's a wonderful life, but it's not wonderful in the way a lot of people want it to be.

Yet evangelicals rightly tell people they can have a "personal relationship with God." That suggests a certain type of spiritual intimacy.
All these words get so screwed up in our society. If intimacy means being open and honest and authentic, so I don't have veils, or I don't have to be defensive or in denial of who I am, that's wonderful. But in our culture, intimacy usually has sexual connotations, with some kind of completion. So I want intimacy because I want more out of life. Very seldom does it have the sense of sacrifice or giving or being vulnerable. Those are two different ways of being intimate. And in our American vocabulary intimacy usually has to do with getting something from the other. That just screws the whole thing up.

It's very dangerous to use the language of the culture to interpret the gospel. Our vocabulary has to be chastened and tested by revelation, by the Scriptures. We've got a pretty good vocabulary and syntax, and we'd better start paying attention to it because the way we grab words here and there to appeal to unbelievers is not very good.

This corruption of the word spirituality even in Christian circles—does it have something to do with the New Age movement?
The New Age stuff is old age. It's been around for a long time. It's a cheap shortcut to—I guess we have to use the word—spirituality. It avoids the ordinary, the everyday, the physical, the material. It's a form of Gnosticism, and it has a terrific appeal because it's a spirituality that doesn't have anything to do with doing the dishes or changing diapers or going to work. There's not much integration with work, people, sin, trouble, inconvenience.

I've been a pastor most of my life, for some 45 years. I love doing this. But to tell you the truth, the people who give me the most distress are those who come asking, "Pastor, how can I be spiritual?" Forget about being spiritual. How about loving your husband? Now that's a good place to start. But that's not what they're interested in. How about learning to love your kids, accept them the way they are?