Wednesday, 27 May 2015

What if Christians showed up more on the pitch of life?

I love this short U-Tube clip, it's thought-provoking stuff:
Show up

and the follow-up clip
Show-up 2

Let's get more stuck into life, including politics, and encourage and pray for those who already are involved.

Friday, 22 May 2015

I stood in a lush field at the bottom of a floodbank in Nepal and felt secure. The bank was 4m tall and 1,200m long.  However when I stood on top of the same floodbank I didn't feel so safe.  The river water lapped just 1m below the top of the bank and this was in the dry season.  If the bank failed and the river washed through then my friends in Madhumalla village would, at very least, lose their crops and, at worst, their lives.  

Following the earthquakes in Nepal there will be a drive to 'build back better', to replace old structures with new more resilient ones.  I think that is great as far as it goes.  I hope, however, that all involved think of building more than just resilient things.  What if the goal was to build more of God's kingdom, not a kingdom of earthly power but of simple generosity to all, love for the marginalised, forgiveness and grace?  

If we want to see that kind of kingdom coming then we need to work with ordinary churches which won't have the resources, the 4 wheel drives or the logframes of the development world.  They can however, by God's grace, help bring this deeper and richer type of change.  Perhaps we need to encourage the church to think as much about discipleship, prayer and simple service (Acts 2 v42-47) as it does about physical rebuilding.

Maybe it will be the 'lowly things' (1 Corinthians 1 v27-29) that will bring the type of change that will last long after the international community has left.  Perhaps that's what it means to really 'build back better'.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Can churches really change nations?  Let me tell you a story that gives me hope that they can.  Even really challenging nations like South Sudan where fighting has just displaced another 10,000 people.

Burning village painting at

It's the story of the community at Lozoh.  It's pretty remote.  We reached it by driving through the bush following just a wandering path.  And its history is a sad one.  In 1996 fighting swept through this village, the pastor was killed and everything was burned to the ground.  'There we no more tukuls (thatched huts), only trees'.

The people fled and stayed away until the year 2000 when they cautiously started to come back.  But how do you rebuild when everything's been destroyed?  And how do you develop when your own thinking is caught in reliance on others?  'Our vision was just waiting for the diocese to come and develop the area' says Pastor Noel, a tall man with a broad back and warm face.  We were cultivating 'small, small', just enough to eat but not enough to sell to cover other essential costs like school fees, salt or soap.  

However when Pastor Noel heard the ideas of church and community transformation he caught the vision.  One of the big challenges for Lozoh village was the quality of their school.  When they showed me 'here is the government school' I said 'where?'  You have to look hard to see it - it's just some benches under trees.  And even then the school teachers don't always show up.

The church decided it was time for change.  They shared their church building for the school to use and identified and sent 3 volunteer teachers for training.  They also worked out a system where 17 committed villagers work hard to grow additional food to support the teachers.   Now 80 children are benefiting and 'even this year more are coming'.  This type of change will last as there is no outside money involved.

Detailed community health data
This is just the start of change for this village.  On the next day the church and community were planning to meet to analyse the 22 flip chart sheets (!) of information that they have gathered to decide what next to change.  And their vision doesn't stop with their own community.  Pastor Noel wants to share this with 6 other communities nearby.  He didn't ask Tearfund to pay for this - he's just going to do it.

The Anglican denomination that Pastor Noel belongs want to spread church and community transformation across the whole of South Sudan. You can start to see how this troubled nation could be changed from the grassroots up. 

The international community contributes something like $560 million/ year into relief for South Sudan.  This provides key life-saving support but, given that it keeps being needed each year, this money doesn't seem to be fundamentally changing the country.  Maybe we need to look instead to ordinary people working with our extraordinary God for whom 'nothing is too hard' Jeremiah 32 v17.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

We really are in trouble here’ thought Bishop Bismark. 

He’s a kind-faced man with round glasses and I enjoy eating dinner with him.  He started as a new Bishop in 2007.  He soon realised that his area was not developed and he heard people saying ‘we don’t see the churches doing anything’.  It wasn’t surprising that the church was stuck because their finances were practically non-existent.

For Bismark it meant there was no money to do work, no vehicle to visit churches and communities and just a grass hut to live in.   A local businessman wanted to give him a motorbike so he could travel but the man’s wife asked him – what if the Bishop falls off?  Instead the man gave the Bishop a small tipper truck!  This proved both useful, they could hire it out for income, and ‘a lot of fun’ as Bismark could fill it up with young people when he went out to visit churches.

The challenge of getting round had been solved but the financial situation was still dire.  Bismark realised that the entire weekly church collection in many of his churches was less than 10 Sudanese Pounds (about £3). 

Bismark was inspired by the ideas of church and community transformation.  So he started preaching that people needed to stop waiting for development from outside and instead start doing things using the small resources they already had.  He also brought in trainers from the capital Juba to run workshops on church giving.  We committed to teach this for 5 years (‘we are not giving up’) and led by example.

Gradually the church offerings have turned around.  This means that now the church has its own money to bring the hope of God to communities.  I think many other churches could learn from Bishop Bismark’s example.