Sunday, July 20, 2014

Biblical Balance or Contrast?

Our third and final Ministry and Marriage seminar was held here in the city of Jos, Nigeria over the span of three evenings. Anita and I were delighted to have over forty people, mostly couples but also some singles, joining us for our sessions.


The event was hosted by the Nigeria Bible Translation Trust (NBTT) that allowed us to use their Hall of Praise for the event. Better yet, they helped us out by running their back-up generator so that we could keep our PowerPoint projector running during the frequent city power outages that occurred.

Jos is located four hour’s drive north of the capital city, Abuja, where we held our first two seminars.
As a result, it is much closer to what Nigerian’s call the northern belt which is where the largest percentage of Muslim’s live. We also learned that people appear here seem to be more impacted by traditional African culture when it comes to practices of marriage and family. Many of our interactive discussion times centered on how to practically apply biblical teaching which is often in stark contrast with common cultural marriage habits.

One participant stated, “When a man pays such a large bride price to marry his wife, the usual attitude is that he has bought her and that she is therefore his possession that he can do with as he pleases. That is why the biblical principle of sacrificial service of husbands toward their wives is such a challenge, even for those engaged in church and ministry work.”


Anita and I have been learning so much about Nigerian culture during this trip. It’s been great receiving affirmation for our seminar and plenty of invitations to return for more training in the future, but we see how what we have offered has only cracked the door open on a truly significant topic of interest and concern Our hope and prayer is that all of those who participated in our seminars will be challenged to continue thinking through just what they many need to do to truly bring biblical balance to their ministry and marriage.


Armed Robbery!

No. It did not occur to Anita and me. But it did happen two nights ago to eight friends of ours, some of whom were our hosts for the Ministry and Marriage seminars we gave in the city of Abuja.

The group of eight were in a hotel having a debrief meeting after a regional gathering for the MANI network. (MANI stands for Movement of Africa National Initiatives.) Several armed men came into their room and forced them to give up money, laptops, iPads, wristwatches and other valuables. Thankfully, none of them were physically harmed, apart from the emotional trauma that such an event produces.

One of our friends, Reuben Ezemadu, was able to slip his cell phone under a sofa and that is how he was able to call for the police afterwards plus send us an email note telling of this tragic incident.

Having been robbed in our home years ago when we lived in Kinshasa, DRC, Anita and I know how abused and violated one feels when something like this occurs. It also has made us realize this country of Nigeria continues to offer huge challenges to anyone wanting to be engaged in active ministry here.

The good news part of this story is that one of the folks had their iPad security system alive and therefore was able to trace exactly where it was a few hours later. The police were able to make a raid on that house and found one of the men with some of the stolen property.

Thanks for all of you who have been praying for our own safety during these two weeks.  We have a day to go before we fly out for Europe and then home.

Under His wings,


Jon

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ministry and Marriage--Nigeria Style!

My wife, Anita, and I have now completed our first full week here in Nigeria and have finished two of three scheduled seminars on balancing ministry and marriage. For me, it’s been a special treat to have Anita accompany me this time, as opposed to working solo as I have the past two years.

The emphasis of our presentation has been to challenge couples involved in ministry work to find biblical balance between the demands of work and the priority of their marriage. We’ve been contrasting perspectives on both of these from current popular culture and Scripture. We’re trying hard not to let our Western cultural biases color our conclusions but, instead, help participants make their own comparisons between traditional Nigerian viewpoints and what the Bible has to say about it.

As a result, we’ve learned so many interesting aspects about traditions and habits here in Nigeria even among couples who are strongly committed to their Christian faith. Here are a few:

·         ***African culture says that men should always be the authoritative and domineering head of the home. Men in ministry struggle with living out this expectation from their extended family along with also knowing the Bible says they should love their wife sacrificially, as Christ loved the church.

*** Nigerian pastors have inherited the role of the tribal high priest, whom everyone venerates with the highest respect and seeks out for all life decisions. As a result, many pastors experience a status of huge respect among their parishioners that sets them apart and easily leads to excesses of pride and self-glorification. 

*** A wife’s expectation of submission to her husband often extends to the extended family as well, meaning that she can be routinely ordered around by her husband’s parents or elder brothers.

All of these realities and many more have led to some stimulating discussion times during our sessions as we’ve attempted to encourage a biblical worldview on both ministry and marriage.

Frequent power outages have impacted our seminars, causing major interruptions in our PowerPoint presentations.  Then there are the heightened security conditions. This has meant that some participants have been delayed up to several hours just trying to get to our meeting venue because of the multiple police checkpoints along the way. In one case, we waited for over an hour to start the session and had only three people there. By the end of the session, however, there were twenty-five!


Tomorrow we will begin our third seminar, this time in the city of Jos that is higher in elevation than Abuja, so the weather is quite comfortable. We’ve learned that announcements have been made on the radio, and posters with our picture have been displayed all over town. So, we’ll see just how many people show up this time. Whatever the case, we’re praying that God brings those who will benefit the most from our seminar and, therefore, become more effective than ever in both their ministry and their marriage.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Language Legacy

I hated it!

I was only twelve’s years old, but I my parents’ idea that I should start taking French lessons was not something I wanted to do AT ALL.  And it didn’t help that my sister, who was three years younger, and my grandmother, who was a whole lot older, consistently outperformed me on every single “dictée” and “examen.” Furthermore, I thought, I was being raised in Portugal and already knew how to speak Portuguese, why did I need to know French as well?

Little did I know that one day, I would be spending two days in Dakar, Senegal, where everyone only speaks French, mentoring a young ministry leader from Guinea-Bissau, who only speaks Portuguese, and try to write a blog about it to folks who only speak English!

Miguel Indibe, is the director of the Projeto Tradução de Guinea-Bissau (PTGB) an initiative to reorganize efforts to finish translations of the Bible in the remaining unwritten languages of his country. After completing several years of seminary training in Brazil he returned to his native land just two years ago to take on his new duties not realizing how challenging it would be for him to fully launch this new national effort. Thanks to Wycliffe Associate CEO, Bruce Smith, I was asked to extend my Nigeria trip for a couple of days and meet with Miguel to offer help him do some strategic planning and figure out just how to develop his new organization.

That’s why the last two days have been a delightful time of sitting together with Miguel here at the WEC guesthouse in downtown Dakar getting to know this enthusiastic young leader and discussing everything from board governance to cash-flow spreadsheets. The side benefit for me has been learning a ton about his tiny, mostly forgotten country on the west coast of Africa.

Guinea-Bissau was a former Portuguese colony that along with Angola, Mozambique and the Cabo Verde islands, still use that language. Even though it is a tiny country, however, it still has around fifteen native languages that have never been put into written form.  That also means there are no Bibles in those languages that people can read in their heart language. Miguel wants to do something about that.

Receiving some help from the national Evangelical Church, the primary Protestant presence in the country, PTGB has had some generous support from a group called One Book, a group out of Canada that encourages indigenous translation effort. Nevertheless, to achieve his goal, Miguel will need to connect with other key partners in the future and to do that, he must first make some major organizational changes in order to build some needed stability and credibility.

If the openness and teachability I’ve witnessed during the past 48 hours is any indication of his leadership capability, Miguel is well on his way. It’s been a privilege to pass on my thoughts, ideas and experience in mission leadership to him and even look forward to a possible follow-up trip to Guinea-Bissau sometime later on.

I guess I do have to admit that if all those years as a kid learning French and Portuguese meant that I would get a chance to do something like this, it was definitely worth it after all!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Standing Amazed

“A real eye-opener! A paradigm shift! Has given me a whole new perspective on how I should live my Christian life!"

These were typical statements written on the evaluation forms at the end of the two workshops I’ve gave this past week in both Jos and Abuja, Nigeria. To be honest, I’m more than slightly amazed by such strong reaction. What started out to be some basic instruction on biblical fundraising principles has certainly ended up becoming much more for virtually all of the seventy-plus participants in the two seminars.

My training event was divided into two days with one main subject each day. First, I attempted to lay a solid foundation on a theology of stewardship. Then, I showed how best practices of fundraising for ministries could be built on that foundation. Using what I’ve been learning myself during the past year from Tim Keller’s messages and the writings of my friend, Scott Rodin, I attempted to show how differently a steward mindset is from one that believes we get to control what we possess. Everyone appreciated the practical examples of fundraising methods, but it was really Day One that impacted folks the most. As I’ve reflected on it, I see at least three possible reasons.

1.       Prosperity Gospel--Nigerian churches are rampant with this false teaching. Many pastors are using it as a means of draining what little financial resources their parishioners have in order to pad their own pockets. Nigeria has the richest Christian churches in all of Africa, if not the entire Global South. Limousines and private biz jets are openly flaunted by Nigerian mega-church pastors as evidence of God’s blessing.  In contrast, my seminar friends immediately saw how a theology of stewardship directly counters a “name it—claim it” thinking. If everything we own belongs to God in the first place, managing it as a steward looks very different than greedily chasing after more material stuff.

2.       Gate-Keepers—African culture in general and in Nigeria specifically, anyone in leadership is venerated, especially pastors who are viewed as being the mouthpiece of God. As a result, pastors tend to become little monarchs who tightly control their ecclesiastic kingdoms. One fall-out of this is that few churches will open their doors to have a mission organization share about its ministry let alone consider financial support for anyone outside of the church. That’s why there was immediate interest in the transformational model I presented in the workshop of approaching churches as partners in the Great Commission as opposed to “begging” for a charitable donation.

3.       Harvesters vs. Sowers—Thanks to Scott Rodin’s insightful little book, The Sower, I explained the difference between a Harvester fundraising mindset that seeks to reap as much support income as quickly as possible with a Sower’s mindset of investing into people’s life-long journey of becoming a godly steward and letting God’s Spirit do the motivating for giving. This truly was a paradigm shift for most workshop participants and many pledged they would immediately change the way they interact with supporters.

Everyone at the workshops agreed that the people they wished could be challenged by this seminar were Nigerian pastors. So, several of them are already brainstorming on how we might be able to put together a more nationwide event a year from now that would specifically target the gatekeeper church leaders of this country. It will be exciting to see what happens.

There are a few times in my ministry career when I felt like I was simply doing something regular and normal, only to be blown away by how God unexpectedly used it as a channel of His blessing for others. Presenting these two workshops this past week in Nigeria has definitely been one of those times.






Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Nigeria--The Untold Story

As I write this blog, I’ve now been in Nigeria for a full week.  My workshops and seminars have gone great—a subject for my next blog post. But what has overshadowed everything else on this trip has, of course, been the news story of the kidnapped girls of Chibok.  Even as I write, the CNN channel in my hotel room is broadcasting a live report being made just a few miles away here in Abuja, an interview with a Major General of the Nigerian Army. It’s clear that this story is finally making its impact on the world, as it should have weeks ago right after the kidnapping happened.

But what has been most interesting to me is to listen to the comments of my local Nigerian friends and contrast them to the international news stories I’m seeing on TV. That contrast can be summed up in one missing word: Christian!

Absent from virtually every broadcast I’ve seen is the element that concerns local citizens the most—the fact that the Boko Haram has again and again specifically targeted Christian populations of Nigeria. Do you ever hear it reported that the school where the girls were taken from was specifically a Christian school? Or that a similar Islamic school not far away was not touched at all?  Or that several girls who were able (allowed?) to escape were all Muslim? Why is it that these facts never seem particularly relevant to the international media?  I can tell you these and other key facts about recent Boko Haram attacks on Christian villages, churches and schools have certainly not been missed by the population here in Nigeria.

One reason for this is the backdrop of growing frustration Christian populations in the middle of the country have about the slow by steady progression of Muslim Fulani tribal people moving down from the north. During the past several years, these nomadic cattle people have slowly, but surely, taken over traditional farming areas, pushing the non-Muslim farmers farther south. I’ve heard reports that sometimes the Fulani intentionally set fire to farmers’ fields as a tactic to dominate the land for their herds. As their numbers expand in a given area, they get key Imams elected to government offices who, in turn, support legislation that favor further Fulani expansion.

Now, they have moved into the rich, fertile Plateau State and in just the past year and people report seeing herds of their cattle on the outskirts of the city of Jos. Increasing civil disturbances and “incidents” in the city’s outlying areas have caused Christians to fear for their safety and therefore move out of those areas which are immediately back-filled by newly arriving Muslim Fulani. All of this has made many of the Christian ministry leaders I’ve been speaking with this past week more and more concerned and nervous about the future stability of their country. “The Fulani may not be as radical as Boko Haram,” said one friend, “but their ultimate intention is definitely the same—rid Nigeria of all Christian presence and turn it into an Islamic State.”

With 170 million Nigerians in this country, more than half of which are Christian, that is probably not going to happen anytime soon. But what could certainly happen is a bloody civil conflict not unlike what caused Sudan to be split up into two competing nations.

Is it any wonder that these local Nigerians are more than concerned when they perceive that the full story of Christian persecution does not get reported about the kidnapped Chibok girls?


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bail Out!

1st Lt. Arthur Lewis - US Army Air Force
It was early morning on November 10, 1944. A B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber took off from Rougham Field just outside of Bury St. Edmonds, England. The plane climbed up to join 235 other bombers and 154 P-51 fighters all being deployed on a mission to disable the Luftwaffe airfield at Wiesbaden, Germany.

Positioned at the very front of the plane was a young First Lieutenant by the name of Arthur Lewis. As the plane approached its target, he peered through his Norden bombsight, lining up the cross-hairs on the airfield below and pulled the trigger to release his bomb payload. Just then, however, the plane was hit by flack immediately setting two of its four engines on fire and puncturing its Plexiglas nose. Some of the fragments of the clear plastic Plexiglas struck Lewis in the face blinding his left eye. The pilot immediately put the plane into a steep dive that succeeded in extinguishing the engine flames but which also left them at tree-top level, alone and separated from the rest of the squadron.

Running on just two engines, the crew attempted to get as far as they could back to England but realized that they would have to abort the mission somewhere over Belgium—hopefully behind friendly Allied lines. The pilot gave the order for the crew to “bail out” and one by one the men jumped out of the plane already at a dangerously low altitude. Lt. Lewis dropped out through the bomb bay and immediately pulled his ripcord deploying a white, silk parachute. Seconds later, he was on the ground, landing in the soft dirt of a farmer’s garden.

Possible field near where Dad landed with his parachute.
Note the remains of a former windmill.
For the past day here in Belgium, I have been reliving the events of this B-17 mission as I’ve attempted to relocate and explore the very places that my father experienced on that fateful day in November 1944. Thanks to some on-line World War II forums, I learned about the exact location where Edgar Prigmore and Jack Malahy, the pilot and co-pilot of that B-17 finally were able to crash land the plane in an open field. I’ve triangulated more or less where my Dad landed with his parachute and also discovered the house that belonged to Dr. Vander Schueren, a local village doctor who took care of my dad for a couple days helping to remove some of the pieces of Plexiglas from his left eye. 
Dr. Vander Shueren's former home in
St Levins-Houten, Belgium

Although the plane was scrapped and never returned to service, all of the crew survived and were soon reunited to fly more missions with the 94th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force. My father completed 34 of 35 missions before the war finally ended. That led him to feel called to return to Europe as a missionary and finish out his “tour of duty.”

Standing alone alongside those quiet fields in rural Belgium, it was pretty amazing to think how much my own life has been impacted by the events of that fateful day. From my dad surviving a dangerous mission and parachute drop to my growing up as an MK in Portugal and inheriting his passion for missions, I am deeply touched by the way God orchestrates the events of history to shape our lives.


And I hope something similar will be said of me some day what is written on his tombstone at the Fort Snelling veterans’ cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota:  He finished his final mission.