Archive for November, 2007

If only stones could talk …

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

St- Mary Woolnoth 8857
It’s about 3:30 on a gray, cold, overcast London afternoon. I’m sitting in a very uncomfortable, rickety wooden pew at the back of the church of St. Mary Woolnoth.

I’m the only one in the building. Only a few lights are on in a magnificent bronze chandelier that occupies the center of the room. It’s musty, dank and has that old building smell. It’s actually a little spooky

However, St. Mary Wolnoth occupies one of the most prominent sites of any church in London. It stands at the junction of Lombard and King William streets, under the shadow of the Bank of England and a stone’s throw away from the historic site of the London Exchange.

A church building has been on this site since 1191 and the structure in which I am sitting is the fourth iteration. The second was built in 1438, the third by the famous Christopher Wren (architect of St. Paul’s cathedral) in 1674, and the last by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1727. It’s a majestic example of English baroque architecture.

But what is most gripping is to imagine what happened here in centuries past. From 1779-1807, the rector was John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace. From the pulpit that rises above me, he preached vehemently against the evils of the slave trade and encouraged others such as William Wilberforce who led the battle for the abolition of slavery in the British empire. Also, Claudius Buchanan, who launched significant missionary efforts to India was inspired by Newton in this place as was Hannah Moore, the writer, social reformer and philanthropist, and others.

Newton was buried here in 1807. On my left is a marble plaque that carries the following epitaph which Newton himself wrote:

JOHN NEWTON
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy
of our Lord and Savour
JESUS CHRIST
restored, pardoned, and
appointed to preach
the Gospel which he had
long laboured to destroy.

And now this building is a musty relic. Pretty much forgotten. Thousands of people pass by its doors every day here in the heart of London’s financial district, oblivious to what momentous, world transforming convictions had their genesis within these walls.

If only stones could talk.

Slavery Business Gallery 05 Plaq
John Newton and his memorial plaque at St. Mary’s

Business for Ministry in Romania

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

little-texas.jpg

Begun 15 years ago by a restless entrepreneur and his family, the Little Texas complex in Iasi, Romania is an amazing example of what business for ministry is all about.

Now a 125 seat Tex-Mex restaurant with accompanying four star hotel and business center, in 2007 this thriving complex will provide several hundred thousand dollars from its profits for ministry throughout Romania. Funds from Little Texas go toward support of Romanian families serving as missionaries, church plants, and a nascent church planting training center in Moldova. In Romania, it provides local, indigenously generated funding for a church planting movement, sports ministry, theological education by extension, work among teen-age orphans, a medical clinic, a dental clinic, several effective ministries among the abject poor, one of the largest and most respected Christian 1-12 schools in the nation, and an array of evangelistic and discipleship initiatives led by Romanian nationals.

The array and diversity of creative, effective ministry that swirls around Little Texas is dizzying and a little hard to get one’s arms around. Besides the direct support for this broad array of kingdom work, the presence of such a business enterprise that is done with excellence and without corruption produces huge amounts of social equity and helps redefine what it means to be authentically “Christian” in this setting.

What God has led Jeri and Gloria Little to accomplish through Little Texas is nothing short of remarkable. Hopefully, the full story will be available in book form this coming year.

We’re under no illusion that Garth Brooks on the CD and the life-size poster of John Wayne that adorns the wall are not necessarily replicable around the world. But the function that Little Texas represents has profound implications for missions and how such ministry efforts are supported in the decades ahead.

InnerCHANGE Romania

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Innerchange Romania-1
The focus of CRM’s InnerCHANGE team in Romania is Steps of Hope, a well-designed and led ministry to the younger generation which is making a substantive difference in breaking the crippling cycle of poverty among the poor.

Diane Moss leads this team and brings some great experience to bear after her eight years of work in Cambodia.

I’ve traveled throughout Romania since 1984 and have seen great changes throughout this land during these years. But despite now being part of the EU and other cosmetic advances, the vast majority of the population remains locked in the grip of poverty and hopelessness. These InnerCHANGE staff sow seeds that in years to come have the potential to be like the mustard seeds in the parables of Jesus. While almost unrecognizable to begin with, these seeds can eventually grow into something that will bring radical kingdom transformation to those at the bottom of a society in great need.

Moldova

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

Dan Onu Moldova-1

Now the poorest nation in Europe, Moldova is struggling to overcome its communist past. However, the degree of social pathology and brokenness that exists in this nation can be overwhelming.

Dan Onu, pictured here, leads a team of Romanian missionaries who are generating a movement of new churches in Moldova. He and his apostolic band of pioneers have already planted three new churches and are putting in place an innovative “school for church planters” that will work with a dozen leaders at a time who can give birth to new groups of believers throughout the country. I had a chance to see it firsthand in early November.

CRM has been honored to work alongside Dan for many years. Also, CRM’s Enterprise International businesses in Romania have been a source of local funding to support these efforts. It’s been a powerful model.

Norway

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Oslo Cathedral-1

I just returned from Norway.

90% of Norway’s 4.6 million people are registered as members of the Church of Norway (the Lutheran Church). But beyond being sacramentalized (baptized, married and buried), only around 6% actively attend the services of this “state” church.

While all the signs are there—and increasing—that the age of Christendom is over in Norway, this particular institution is proving to be quite resilient. What sets it apart from other state churches, such as the Anglicans in England, are probably two factors. First, is the small size of the country and secondly the relative homogeneous make up of the population.

Power, privilege and position are rarely relinquished without a struggle and some considerable pain. This is beginning to happen in Norway as finances and steadily declining numbers are beginning to get the attention of the ecclesiastical powers to be. Whether they can respond in time in any way that can alter what seems like the inevitable trend in Western Europe, is a long shot.

But from my superficial observation, I think there may be hope, albeit slight, that the Church of Norway, or portions of it, could be given a new lease on life and that the winds of spiritual renewal and missionality could quite possibly blow again in this body. I suspect so for two reasons:

1. At its center, there remains a core of Lutherans deeply committed to the historic confessions of the church and its mission. There appear to be some godly, thoughtful people who make up a sizeable percentage in this body. Some of the younger leadership is particularly impressive although it includes many who are justifiably skeptic that anything can be done to save this sinking ecclesiological ship. There may be some Charles Simeon’s lurking in the shadows.

2. With its posture in Norwegian society, this church may have a unique opportunity to stem its decline and missionally reinvent itself. If the will is there, the resources may still exist to pull it off. My take is they are on the precipice of the cliff and about to fall off. Whether the leadership has the guts to make such wrenching changes is up for grabs. The historic vote this week by the Church of Norway to ordain openly practicing homosexuals is not an encouraging sign.


There is a lot to admire in Lutheran theology. But there are also aspects, particularly in its polity, that are contributing to the free fall that is occurring in Norway.

What is encouraging is that God and his kingdom purposes are not bound by such institutional limitations. As he has done repeatedly throughout redemptive history, God may work through and/or bypass such moribund structures and bring new life and fresh expressions of his presence to a people in need. May it be so in the land of fjords, brown cheese, and Pinnekjøtt.

Cross-cultureal Leadership

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Hungary Conext 07 Hungary Conext 07 #2
These are scenes from this year’s CoNext meetings held this past week in Kovagoors, Hungary, south of Budapest. Attending were seven nations where nationals lead CRM ministries: Australia, Venezuela, Hungary, Africa, the UK, the Middle East, and the US.

Keith Uebele, senior strategist with Intel and a member of the CRM-US board of directors did an excellent presentation on distributive organizations. Sessions were also spent delving together into topics such as recruiting and funding in our respective nations.

Most impressive was the depth of camaraderie around a sense of common calling and vision that superceded significant cultural and geographical differences. These are the men and women who are making it happen all over the globe …empowering leaders for the Church and multiplying the structures that can replicate an apostolic movement among the nations. It’s a privilege to be part of such a company of the committed.

From Iasi

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

Iasi
As I write, it is early morning and I am looking out of the window of my room as a light snow begins to dust the ground here in Iasi, Romania.

Up in the Northeast corner of the country about 25 kilometers from the border of the former Soviet Union, Iasi has been one of the primary sites of CRM’s ministry in this country since the late 80s. Our focus here has been threefold over the years: a strong, individual discipling and mentoring work among younger leaders, business for mission, and an InnerCHANGE team.

The results of this patient, steady ministry these past two decades is nothing short of remarkable. It is a testimony to the power of presence. Some heroic people have given their all to help make it happen here on the ground, and others have faithfully partnered with us behind the scenes in prayer and through giving.

The results are transformational and are already altering the fabric of this society. It is a wonderful case study of the power of Jesus kingdom and how, despite human frailty, discouragement and sometime fierce opposition, the Spirit of God can bring new life in the midst of utter hopelessness.

Deo Gloria!

Urban Cultural Creatives

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

Germany

I recently spent several days with these skuzzy characters in Germany to get acquainted with a missional community south of Heidelberg.

What we saw and experienced is a fascinating case study of an emerging church uniquely crafted for Europe. It is led and populated by young, urban, cultural creatives.

Every generation has had men and women like this, but as Western culture staggers into the 21st century, the magnitude of this demographic is significant and growing. The future of the Christian movement in a setting such as Europe depends largely on how historic faith leans into, and is absorbed, by this cultural milieu.

  • It is all about the creative arts …music, design, graphics, film, art, dance …

  • Music particularly is the lingua franca. It is the poetry and vehicle of emotional expression that crosses culture and speaks to the heart. Luther may have changed the world because of the printing press. In our day, it’s the iPod.

  • Media reigns. Film and video are no longer elitist but accessible to all in a flat, virtual democracy which provides unbounded outlets to creativity

  • It’s a profoundly urban phenomena influenced by all the swirling complexities of “the city” in which the majority of the population in the West now live.

No generation in human history has had the leisure time or the affluence that allows for young, urban, cultural creatives to become such a sociologically dominating class. Even when such individuals were elitist and in the past lived on the margins of Western society, the effect on the culture was powerful. How much more so today when the margin is now the center and by sheer numbers dictates the direction of popular culture?

For serious followers of Jesus, the real issue has become how expressions of the imago Dei are fully integrated into the missio Dei. The future of the West hangs in the balance.

The Township

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Group

Soshanguve is a massive township north of Pretoria, South Africa. It’s hard to get an accurate count of how many people live there. Some say a million. Some say more. The name itself speaks volumes ..it’s a combination of the Sotho, Shangaan, Nguni and Venda peoples who were forcibly resettled in this area of Gauteng.

The group of men I’m with above come from all these different tribes, but they represent the hope and future of what God is doing in this place. They’re in their second year of meeting together and have been coached and mentored by CRM NieuCommunities staff.

Two Comfort Humble Leader

I was impressed with the maturity and the depth that I saw when I was with these younger leaders. Most of all, they have the potential for being catalysts around which fresh movements of new churches could emerge in this township and beyond. Men like this are the hope of Africa.

Back to the UK

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Camden1 Img 0731

Patty and I are living and working out of London for October and November.

Highlights so far include:

  • Living in Camden: Halloween is everyday in parts of this London borough.
  • Being consistently identified as a Canadian. I’m flattered. I’m also learning that it’s a better move to say “I’m actually from California” than to use the word “America.” The latter is not exactly popular in the European scene. Reminds me of that irritating ditty my grandparents used to say: “Oh, for the grace to see ourselves as others see us!”
  • Spending evenings in the clubs and pubs of Soho, Camden and Shoreditch, trying to learn and understand what life is like for the multitude of young, urban, cultural creatives who call this home.
  • Seeing more of the institutional church and why it’s struggling to not only to connect with a deeply secularized, post-modern culture but to actually survive.
  • Trying to get used to those baked beans in the English breakfast and the food combinations that are intriguing to Yankee taste buds.
  • Experiencing rugby mania and being grateful I never played such a bone crushing game. Those guys are huge!
  • Flying to South Africa with a 747 full of South African rugby fans after they won the world cup. Interesting.
  • The folks running the coffee shop were French, the lady next to me on the bus was Polish, the guy dishing up our soup at lunch was from Ghana, the doctor was Chinese, the therapist working on my sore knee was Portuguese, our friend and former landlord who came to lunch was a Turkish muslim, the lady taking my money for groceries was from India, the conversation on the tube was in Russian, and the Pizza Express waiter came from Sardinia. Kind of an aberration when one finally hears a “proper” British accent in this town.
  • A blocked up sewer in our building which meant the little patio in our basement flat became a flooded cesspool with all sorts of floating excremental delicacies.
  • Being told by a London cop, when asking for directions, that “You colonials don’t know how to talk.”
  • Discovering that Westminster Abbey has been a place where Christians have gathered to worship every day for the past 1,000 years.
  • Coming close to meeting my maker several times when I looked the wrong way crossing the street.
  • Trying to grasp how such a society combines lots of rules, understatement, a penchant for the “proper,” moral license, stiff upper lips, ethnic tolerance, resistance to change, no guns, clear social stratification, few orthodontists, and marvelous pubs, all into one cultural stew-pot. Fascinating!