Monday, November 16, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Take for example the question of qualifications.
When I was teaching a PTC course to people in Sydney, I'd regularly say 'Remember, this course is not about the mark you get in the exam or the piece of paper that you will be awarded. This course is about your godliness and equipping for ministry.' And everyone would nod and get on with it.
When I teach PTC here is Latin America the reaction is very different. Its not that the students are not interested in the subject matter or growing in godliness and being equipped for ministry - far from it. The difference is, for many of them, the piece of paper, the qualification that comes as a result of completing this course is a really big deal.
Why the difference?
From (only) 8 months of observation, here are some preliminary thoughts and reflections.
1. For better or for worse, the system of education here is much more respectful of authority. Teachers are held in the highest regard, their opinion carries great weight and therefore the qualification that they have as teacher is of great importance. Of course this can have all sorts of outcomes - ranging from a less than encouraging pattern of education to an inability to ask questions and process information. But, thats the way it is.
2. Because of this high view of authority, qualifications are an essential component in a resume when you're trying to get a job. And often we're not talking the quality of the qualification, but the quantity. The more certificates, diplomas, short courses and recognitions you have in your folder the better, because it makes you better at your job.
3. Jobs are often hard to get, especially ministry jobs where money is tight, so the more 'qualified' you are the more likely you are to get the job.
These factors, and I'm sure many more, lead to two very common questions being asked here when I talk about PTC.
(a) What degree or qualification will this work towards?
(b) Who will recognize / accredit the coursework I have done?
In my years of teaching in Australia I don't think I have ever been asked this question, and yet everytime I taught in Africa or start talking with people here in Latin America, it is raised almost without fail.
At the moment we have one option for counting PTC subjects towards a bachelor's degree - through FLET, a University based on Miami, USA. However this is an expensive option and not particularly accessible or satisfactory.
And so there is a great challenge ahead, and many questions being raised.
Australia has a great reputation when it comes to education - right up there with England and the USA (in fact often better). Should we be aiming for accreditation from an Australian institution?
The coursework as it stands is pretty much right for a degree level course, but what about the readings and assignments. Many of the required texts are not available in Spanish.
If an institution is going to award degree status, what will be the effect on other degrees offered by the institution?
These are important questions that do need to be thought about. The PTC is a world class 'product', and as more translations are completed, the questions of accreditation and recognition are going to keep coming.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
I've just finished reading CJ Mahaney's book 'The Cross Centred Life' (Lifechange Books : 2002). I read it mainly because its been translated into Spanish and I wanted to know whether its one to recommend to folks here.
Its a good little book - 85 little pages - and on one hand isn't all that profund. The message of the book could probably be summarised by the phrase 'In all the stuff that goes on in your Christian life, don't forget the gospel.' There's some snappy discussions on issues of justification, sanctification, legalism, guilt and a couple of other bits and pieces which are quite helpful.
But on the other hand, its a very profound book - because here in Latin America it brings a message that desperately needs to be heard. Don't forget the gospel.
It's not that people are deliberately forgetting the gospel (sure there are those who deliberately want to change it and water it down to take out all the 'yucky' bits like sin and judgement and salvation and those people need to remember the gospel as well but I don't think who CJ is writing to.) He's writing to the people who are being so weighed down with programs and fads and trying to imitate the latest guy and denominational politics and getting the music and technology just right - that they don't have time for the gospel any more.
Over the Christmas break I'm heading to a big student conference and I'll be interested to see how the gospel fares. The promotional literature is very schmick, very appealing and 'applied' with all the buzz words you need in this day and age of Christian conferences, but in the midst of that, I wonder where the gospel will be. I'll let you know.
But its easy to criticise others, point out their shortcomings and see how it 'should be done'. But aren't we all in danger of falling victim to being weighed down with Christian stuff, that we forget the gospel? It was a good reminder and challenge to me.
This week's photo comes from Cuatro Cienegas - a small desert town about 350km NW of Monterrey where we spent last weekend. One of the highlights was being in the midst of the annual monarch butterfly migration from Canada to central Mexico.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
I guess its a question most missionaries, mission agencies and mission supporters will find themselves asking at some stage. We're very early on in our time here in Mexico, but we're starting to think more about the shape of our ministry here, and of course the question of 'whether it will be successful or not' is coming up.
Fortunately we had a visit last week from a couple of wise and godly friends, and in the context of our meeting we read some of 1 Thessalonians - and as God would have it, there's a lot in there which helps answer this questions.
Here's a few quick thoughts about what Paul thinks (I think) makes a successful mission. (from 1 Thess 2)
Successful mission has happened when:
1. The gospel of God has been boldly declared. (v2)
Throughout Paul's mission trips in Acts and the letters he writes, there is no question that he wants to clearly and boldly declare the gospel of God - that is the reason he is there. Of course this sometimes brings him into conflict with the locals and therefore puts him in danger, but notice here that whether he gets beaten up or not isn't a mark of success or failure (if anything, it seems to be a mark of success!). Success is determined by the bold declaration.
2. The gospel declaration is pleasing to God, not men. (v4-5)
Successful mission happens when the desire to please God in what is said overturns the desire to please the human audience. Sometimes this will mean the suffering mentioned in v2 will happen, but you can hear Paul saying 'so be it.' Hollow promises are not make, untruths are not spoken, shallow and short term fixes are not proposed. The gospel is preached faithfully, fully and truthfully.
3. The missionaries don't look for glory (v6)
Because true ministry is God-glorifying, not self-glorifying, successful mission happens when the hearers give glory to God rather than rave on about how great the missionary is. It doesn't mean the missionary can't be appreciated, but it will change the motive for mission. Am I doing this to boost my own ego, or for the sake of the kingdom?
4. There is gentleness, caring, openness and a sharing of life (v7-8)
Successful mission happens not just in a one hour preaching spot or a week long intensive teaching class, but in the whole life of the missionary. In their home, over meals, in ongoing concern and love. With gentleness and compassion. For us here in Mexico as we struggle to learn Spanish, this is a very good motivation for us to keep going in our language work - it is very difficult to love people as a mother loves her children if you can't talk to them or understand their lives.
5. The conduct of the missionary is blameless (v10)
I have to admit this is a tough one, but it is true. Success is measured by the impact the gospel of God makes on the life of the missionary. If we as missionaries are not prepared to be challenged and transformed by the gospel, why do we think others should be?
6.An exhortation to a godly walk (v12)
Just as the missionary needs to live a godly life, so he or she needs to call on others to do so, afterall, the message of the gospel is a message that needs to be responded to in repentance and obedience. If we are not asking people to change, we're not faithfully preaching the gospel.
7. There is a response, and glory is given to God (v13)
The interesting thing about this survey is that the only 'result' so far is that of the life of the missionary himself. There is no mention of conversion numbers or the legacy that is left or anything like that. Success is much more about the way the missionary conducted himself and what he did.
In verse 13 there is talk of 'results' - but notice that the thanks and glory goes to God - so it is his success, rather than the missionaries.
The bottom line - if we're looking to be successful in mission, we need to look at ourselves, our methods and our motivations, rather than the numbers and spectacular stories (encouraging as sometimes they may be).
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
There's some pretty big building projects going on in Sydney churches at the moment. Even from the other side of the world the constructions seem impressive and I'm sure there are many people who are going to benefit. But as I read about 'state of the art audio systems', 'cutting edge cinema quality video' and 'up to the minute podcast and vodcast facilities' - and how much all this sort of stuff costs - it has got me wondering a bit about the Christian dollar and the worldwide perspective.
For example, I've just spent a week in a county where the most up to date teaching aid was a handheld whiteboard and the climate control was a couple of fans to push the humidity laden hot air around. Pastors have to have a 'day job' because there's hardly enough money in the economy to eat, let alone pay someone to minister in your church. The course I was teaching cost the equivalent of 1 month's average wage - which of course they could not pay. Some donors in England raised the money - at the cost of an average sandwich and coffee in London per student.
Clearly there is a great disparity here. On one hand christians in one part of the world are spending millions on dollars on new buildings and facilities, while in another part they are scraping together a few bucks to buy paper for weekly hymn sheets.
I know I'm not the first person to identify this disparity or to think about it - but here's a few questions its got me pondering about.
- When we spend megabucks on new buildings and the latest equipment that goes inside, are we being good stewards? Should we be going for something a bit more 'plain' and sending the difference overseas?
- Do we sometimes convince ourselves that the latest and greatest is needed because that is what the non-Christian world is used to and therefore won't give us a hearing if we don't have it? Are we putting too much confidence in technology at this point, rather than in the power of God's word?
- Is there a problem with the way the Christian community gives money? Will we readily give to local projects and buildings - but less so to offshore projects and people?
- Should we be asking similar questions about staffing levels in churches? When we want the money for that new assistant minister / youth worker / kid's minister / .... do we look at the money that is going to our missionaries and see a disparity. If so, should we consider that?
- Are we serious about supporting worldwide mission when it comes to $$?
I certainly don't have the answers to all of this - but I think they (and other similar questions) are worth thinking about.
Today's photo comes from Mexican Independence Day celebrations in the town of Allende, about 1hrs drive south of Monterrey.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Last Friday Sarah read Colossians with a friend. It was refreshing for Sarah and the friend described it as "like water in the desert". We read 14 verses in Spanish and then talked about it (in English and Spanish) using the light bulb, question mark and arrow framework.
On Sunday Pete met with a leader from church who is keen to be running something to train the uni age people. After discussion it was decided that Pete will teach the Moore College Introduction to the Bible course regularly on Sunday nights.
Yesterday Pete went to the leaders meeting for the Christianity Explored course which is due to start this week. He discovered that he was leading the meeting as he was introduced. But it was a great time encouraging 20 leaders to be leading groups to help people read Mark and let God's powerful word do it's work.
Pete has also been preparing his teaching notes for a course in another Latin American country next week. He'll be teaching Intro to the Bible to 12 pastors who will then train other teachers. Lillian (Sarah's tutor) checked his translation of some of his notes, and he was pleasantly surprised by how impressed she was with his Spanish. It will still be necessary to use a translator for much of the time.
It's exciting to see the way that God is opening doors for us, and then equipping us to step through them. It's also exciting to see people around us asking for help to understand the Bible and grow as Christians.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
So says John Piper, speaking in his annual 'Missions Week' address at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.
The strange thing was, I was listening to the talk, sitting in a bus driving down the interstate from Idaho Falls to Salt Lake City, where we were catching a plane to come home from holidays.
We'd just spent two weeks with dear friends in comfortable, organised, 'everything works' middle America. We'd enjoyed fantastic national parks in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, eaten great food, enjoyed warm fellowship and appreciated the wealth of our surroundings.
But now it was time to go home. Back to chaotic, grungy Mexico. And here I was listening to these words.
Pastor Piper's point was this. To be Christian in America is difficult because the lure of comfort and materialism and money is very strong. To put all that aside and go to another country for the sake of the gospel is almost impossible.
I'm not commenting on this so you feel sorry for us or put us on a pedestal - neither of those things are appropriate (especially the pedestal one!!) But I do want to say - after seeing what we saw and experienced what we experienced in the US, I think he is absolutely right.
Where we were in Idaho was a great place to live (in Summer at least!!). In some ways, it had a 'shire' feel to it (Sydney-siders will know what I mean). It's beautiful, why would you want to leave? In fact, I can see how all over America, there are great temptations to think that God is truly blessing people because of their comfortable houses and efficient transport and giant shopping malls and all that.
But he calls on us to give all that up for the sake of following Jesus.
We found it difficult coming back to Mexico. Our Spanish brains took a while to reconnect, it was hard to get re-adjusted the pace of life here and we missed being with our close friends. But we're back into it now - and going pretty well.
Thanks again for your interest and support.
Friday, June 26, 2009
This is it... I did it...I performed as a cat in Spanish!
As part of the celebrations of Day of the Child at Miriam's school, a group of mothers (and one father) performed a play about a cat and some mice, and I was the cat. I learnt all my lines in Spanish (and it was not just miow!), but was not looking forward to wearing a huge foam and fur mascot costume (complete with enormous foam head, gloves and foam feet) in 35+ degrees.
And just to make things even more difficult, the head only had a tiny opening for the cats mouth for me to see, hear and speak through. This meant, I couldn't see very much, I could barely hear the other dialogue, and for anyone to hear me, I had to shout. But wait there's more: the mice actors were in the room - their mouse house - with the audience, but the cat stays outside. So the difficulties that I faced were trying to work out where the other actors were up to without being able to see or hear them properly, trying to manouver my enormous cat body in a small space to look into the mouse house, and delivering lines in Spanish, correctly pronounced at shouting volume, all while sweating copiously and smelling everybodies sweat who'd worn the costume before me!
However, moments before the opening curtain, someone had the brilliant idea that I could act, but somebody else could say my lines so that they could be heard! I breathed a sigh of relief (amidst the stink of the cat head) and the show went on.
The kids loved it, the cat was their favorite, the teachers and parents were very sympathetic with my sweaty state, and full of admiration of my performance and that I got involved when it was so difficult, and I had a great time. I'd forgotten how much I love to perform, and it was fun to be involved and work with the other mums.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Tomorrow marks the end of the 08/09 school year here in Mexico. There are various class parties etc on, although with 2 days to go K and L are still getting homework to do! School starts again some time in late August (although we're not exactly sure of the date), so the girls have about 2 months off school. We're going away for 2 weeks, and then we'll be at home, getting stuck into language learning. K and L will have 4 x 1hr lessons per week, S will have 3 x 2hr lessons per week and I'm going to intensive mode for August, 4hrs/day x 5 days per week for a month!
Hopefully this will be a big step up in ability for all of us.
On the 'work' front it looks like I'll be going to a large island south of Florida for a week to visit with the Creation to New Creation course in September. There is a seminary there that wants to take on the courses for their students, and I am going to go over and share with the students and faculty the details of the first course. It is a great opportunity. The biggest challenge will be that the whole thing will be in Spanish - so I really have to get cracking. I will have a translator with me but it is much better if I can try and do things myself.
This week's picture comes from my trip to Mexico City last month. It's the main cathedral in the Zócalo (the main plaza) in Mexico City. Construction of the cathedral began in 1573 with the Spanish making a point by building it right on top of an Aztec temple!
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I was sitting in Bible study feeling very grumpy, and like I didn't want to be there. I'd had the token greeting with the people beside me, and then sat uncomfortably in silence. The conversation went on around me, but it was too fast and I had no hope of understanding, let alone joining in.
But as the group went on, I remembered that at times I'd had similar feelings about my Spanish Bible study group in Melbourne. And that was one of the most valuable groups I've been part of. So I worked hard at humbling my attitude, and prayed that I'd be patient, and kept listening out for the occasional word that I understand.
At the end of the group I helped to serve dinner, then sat with a lady away from the rest of the group. She is the mother of the host and I'd spoken with her once before. In an attempt to make conversation, I asked her (in English) what she thought of the course that we had just finished. She was full of admiration for all that she'd been hearing about and the transformation of her son since he'd become a Christian. Then she said, "But I am a catholic. I am too old to change". I desperately wanted her to know Jesus, and I wanted to respectful to this kind, older lady. So as the conversation went on, I shared with her a conversation that I'd had with Miriam a few days earlier.
"Mummy do good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell?"
I replied, "Do you think you're good or bad?"
"I don't know."
"Do you think you're good enough for God?"
"Is there anyone who's good enough for God"
"That's right. That's why when Jesus died, his death was good enough to pay for my punishment."
"So how does anyone go to heaven?, I asked Miriam.
"By trusting Jesus", says Miriam with a smile. "So does that mean that if a bad person trusts Jesus they can go to heaven?"
"That's exactly right!" "What about if a good person doesn't trust Jesus?" I asked her.
"They go to hell."
"Yep", was all I needed to say.
I think it's easier to say hard things clearly out of the mouth of a 5 year old.
But the lesson that I learnt (again) is how much God prepares our good works for us. I was feeling like it was a complete waste of time being in the group. But God has his plans, and I just need to be patient to see how he will use me.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
As graduates of Moore Theological College, Sarah and I were both really encouraged to read the latest 'Moore Matters'. There is a particularly good spread on where Moore graduates are serving around the world.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
In my Ashbury days, this was a completely foreign concept. What could be terrifying about hospitality? Well now I know.
Inviting someone to do something with me is the scariest thing in my life at the moment. Who will I invite? What will I invite them to? What time should I make it? What food should I serve? What are the right snacks and drinks to get? What will my kids do? What will their kids do? How can I help the kids to play together when their languages barely overlap, let alone knowing each other as friends? Will it be too unpleasantly hot to feel comfortable sitting and chatting? Should I try and speak in Spanish, and have this awkward, frustratingly slow, superficial conversation, or do I try and build the friendship more and use English? And how do I arrange it - am I brave enough to use the phone?
Can you see why I find hospitality terrifying?
Fortunately, God in His kindness has shown me a way through the terror. Notice I said "through", not "around". I still experience the terror, but I can do the hospitality as well. The way through has been in small steps, and to trust that being obedient to God is the right way to go. I know that hospitality, and serving people, and building relationships with people to love them, is what God wants, and so I do it.
Apart from hosting a birthday party for Miriam (which kept me awake at night!), the first thing I initiated was an activity outside my home. Then I invited a school mum to come for the afternoon. This gave me confidence to invite another mum for the afternoon. She and her whole family ended up staying for a spontaneous dinner. This gave me confidence to invite another family for lunch (which ended up being dinner at their brother's place with a pool).
I still feel the terror. I still feel that I get lots of things wrong. But I do it. And I'm learning as I go. And God has never let me down.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
A couple of weeks ago we went to a waterfall where they had kids rides and picnic stuff. This is a twisty, deep fried potato with sauce!