Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Oh the humiliation!

Working in a language which you've had to learn as an adult is a humiliating experience! We've been here for 4 years now and I am still making the most basic mistakes. It is very frustrating.

I was chatting to a fellow missionary here the other day, and he was sharing his frustration at this week-in, week-out reminder of his failings. He shared that one of the things that frustrates him most is that it really threatens his ability to be useful and to be a "contributor to the team." In the end he said "I want people to like me and I want to feel like I am doing something useful - and my daily struggle with Spanish threatens that."

But he then went on to say - that is just ungodliness on his part, and it is something he needs to repent of.

I was thinking about this conversation later, and it really resonated with me. Language proficiency can be just another example of relying on our own abilities and our own talents, rather than being a jar of clay which displays that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2Cor 4:7) We want to fight the crushing, perplexing and despairing (2Cor 4:8) which comes from bad pronunciation and poor conjugation with an excellent fricative 'd' and a smooth use of the subjunctive.

But that's not where the apostle finds his strength in 2 Cor 4. He says

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you."  2Cor 4:7-12 (ESV)

I doubt whether anyone is going to kill me because I get my pronouns mixed up, but it can sure feel like  your contribution slips quickly down the "useful" rating when it happens. Our strength and our confidence needs to be in Christ, not in our abilities.

So if you are ministering in your own language, how might this be a problem for you? Where is your confidence? Or where is your lack of confidence, and how do you respond to that?

Is it in strategy - those key steps to implement? Is it in the schmickness and professionalism of style or presentation? Is it in a particular model or mode?

Wherever it is - be a jar of clay.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Helping the theological famine

One of the great challenges facing anyone involved in theological education in a language other than English is the availability (or more to the point, the unavailability) of resources.

In English, we are blessed with a massive number of books, articles, training resources, conferences and mp3s  - and the ease of the internet makes accessibility for many people more or less a non-issue.

This is certainly not the case once you step outside the English-speaking world. For example, in Spanish I am guessing that for every 100 English books and training resources, maybe there is 1 in Spanish. (That is a complete guess and I have no hard data to back it up, but that's the vibe.)

The resources are often also expensive, because they require translation and a lower production run for a smaller market, so in many cases, out of reach of the people who need them - pastors, church leaders etc.

I understand from my friends working in other cultures that the situation is equal, or worse for them.

I remember speaking to someone from Argentina who I have great respect for, and he said that if he knew anyone who was serious about doing some theological study, the first thing they should do is learn English - because that is where the resources are.

It is great to see that there are various groups trying to address this theological famine. In Spanish, books by Vaughan Roberts, Don Carson, the 9Marks crowd, and Matthias Media are slowly making their way into the market. Along with this increased availability comes an increasing willingness to buy, read and study - which is really excellent.

I particularly want to highlight the work of The Gospel Coalition - International Outreach.

This project, led by my good friend Bill Walsh has a number of projects on the go, but my favourite is the "Packing Hope" project.

TGC-IO raises money to translate and print great titles in some of the language groups that are suffering a theological famine, and then make the books available for distribution - using a really ingenious method.

The idea is that if you are a US resident and you are going overseas, either on a holiday or on a short term mission trip, you get in contact with TGC-IO and organise a box load of books to take with you. The books are free, all you need to do is pay the delivery from the warehouse to you. Brilliant!

There are a great number of titles available, and all the time new projects are seeking funding - in fact at the moment, Vaughan Roberts' "God's Big Picture" in Spanish is seeking funding.

If you are in US reading this and know people going overseas, please highlight this great opportunity to them. And if you are interested in helping relieve the theological famine that so many languages are suffering under, please donate to this great project.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

An open letter

An open letter to my brothers studying a DMin.

Dear Brothers,

I’m writing to you because I know that you think theological education is very important. You have demonstrated this in the sacrifices (both time and financial) you have made over many years. For many of you, you’ve served a 2 year apprenticeship, studied full time at Moore College for 4 years, have studied part time as an MA student, and are now making the long trek overseas to study your DMin while busily working in your church. I commend your commitment and effort to be well prepared for the ministries that God has prepared for you.

In this context, I’d like to share a challenge with you.

In many parts of the world, Christian leaders have nothing like the opportunities that you and I have to study and prepare themselves for ministry. For many, the opportunity to study theology is an economic and cultural impossibility, and yet they need to lead churches, teach their congregations and deal with the pastoral difficulties of life just like we do. In reality, they are lacking the most basic skills of reading the Bible and being able to share it with others. While there is absolutely no question about their faithfulness and their commitment to serving our Lord, many times their lack of discernment is causing problems for them and the congregations they lead. More and more we are seeing that as “schmick” packages are introduced to these hungry leaders, they are falling victim to false doctrines, such as the prosperity gospel, with disastrous results.

While we need to take a multi-pronged approach to helping equip these pastors and leaders, theological education is a key prong.

As people who have benefited so greatly from the great wealth of theological resources, I would like to challenge and invite you to be involved in the provision of basic theological education for those who have far less opportunities than us. Specifically, I want to challenge you to be significantly involved in paying for those who cannot pay for themselves.

There are many opportunities for doing this. I am sure you know of seminaries overseas that are struggling to offer the scholarships that their students need to study, and in many cases, the value that we get for our money is incredible. In Cuba, $50 provides transport, tutoring, food and lodging for one student to complete 2 ThC subjects as part of a 1 week MOCLAM (Moore College in Latinoam̩rica) intensive. In 2012 over 1,000 Cubans participated in this program Рsome of them studying up to 8 subjects in one year! In Paraguay young church planters and leaders can be taught a ThC subject in one week for less than the cost of a meal at LAX. In Chile the Centre for Pastoral Studies (CEP) tries to help students coming from the remote parts of Chile and from other Latin American countries, and then sends them back to minister in all sorts of situations.

Here is my challenge to you.

I know that studying a DMin is an expensive business. Would you please consider matching every dollar that you or your church spends on your DMin studies, with a gift to the scholarship fund of a developing world theological institution?

Please take the time to consider this challenge seriously and prayerfully.

Of course, I would be happy to give any further information, engage with you about this, or provide some direction as to where and how you might be able to direct your money.

Your brother

Peter Sholl
Monterrey, Mexico.