Archive for the 'Into The Missional' Category

Business for Mission

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

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Wholesome Bakery is a business for mission project that Enterprise International - the CRM business for mission arm – has sponsored in a township outside of Pretoria, South Africa.

The benefits reaped from such a local, for-profit venture are substantial.  Not only do profits go toward sustainable ministry in the context, but people are employed.  A valuable, life-sustaining, and quality  product is produced.  And the entire community is served.  There are also a multitude of intangible ministry and relational results from the presence of such a business.

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Suffering in the Townships

Friday, June 26th, 2009

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I just returned from a far ranging trip overseas that included South Africa.

Most sobering was our time in one of the townships outside of Pretoria where CRM staff live and minister.  Being with those who cope with HIV-AIDS every day and the devastating effect the epidemic inflicts on a society where one in every three people are infected is emotionally numbing. Add to that the grinding poverty and the social inequities that remains from aparteid.

Yet the people we were with – who in word, deed and power represent the living Christ amidst such loss and suffering – are incredible individuals.   May God reward their faithfulness, grant them endurance and resilience, and add to their numbers.

Influence = Nadim

Friday, May 29th, 2009

It’s a region of the world where everything seems to collide.

Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Druze, Syrians, Palestinians, Iranians, Maronite Catholics, Orthodox, and Evangelical Protestants, all mixed together with the ever-present incendiary threat of Israeli bombs.  It’s an emotional pressure-cooker where the Christian movement is marginalized and routinely on the defensive.

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It is easy to want to flee.  To get out.  Any sane person would do whatever they could to insure the safety of their family and the opportunity to pursue a life free from war, devastation and persecution.

But as those who are serious followers of Jesus know, the call of God is not a call to safety, personal peace or prosperity.  It’s a call to sacrifice and sometimes to suffering.

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That’s why Nadim is one of my heroes.  He could take his wife, Julie, their son, and their two twin girls waiting to be born, and he could leave.  But he’s staying.  And more than that, he is committed to being, in word and deed, the presence of Jesus in this strategic region.  He is committed to giving his life to mentor, coach, train and multiply a new generation of leaders for the Christian movement in a region that is unquestionably the most critical flash point on the global scene.

cross-in-conflictThis month, the cover story on National Geographic magazine, entitled The Christian Exodus from the Holy Land, soberly describes how the beleaguered Christian population of the Middle East is shrinking.  In that part of the world where Christianity has its roots, the Church is fast becoming an endangered species.

May God multiply many times over more men and women with the courage, fortitude, and commitment of Nadim who will be the key to steming the tide this article describes.

Influence = Dave Everitt

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

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Dave Everitt is one of my heroes.

•    He is an unconventional “missionary.”  He breaks the stereotypes.
•    He puts flesh and blood to the concept of being apostolic.
•    Dave just “shows up” and God seems to do the rest.  No presumption.  No ego.  Just a willingness to be there and then trust God to do the supernatural.
•    The guy oozes passion.
•    He’s larger than life and is a mutation between a cross-cultural Rambo and a big, cuddly teddy-bear.
•    His legacy and influence in Cambodia will be legendary.  The lives he’s touched will affect the Christian movement in that nation for generations to come.

Dave and Lisa Everitt have lived and minister  in Cambodia with InnerCHANGE, CRM’s order among the poor.  For more information, go to www.innerchange.org

everitt-sf1I was with Dave in San Francisco last month and let him loose on a group of younger men – one in particular who may may have similar  potential to Dave but it’s latent – and Dave held court for four straight hours.   I was in tears at least three times as he recounted stories of God’s presence and faithfulness in Asia.  It was gripping.

There are places all over the world in need of people like Dave Everitt.  God, give us new generations of people willing to just “show up” and see the supernatural presence of God flow through them in word and deed.

Religious Freedom and Islam

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Thomas F. Farr is associate professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University.  An excerpt from his new book, World of Faith and Freedom, appeared in this months issue of the journal, First Things. It is a thoughtful, constructive analysis of a way forward to defuse Islamic radicalism.  Highlights include:

The threats [of Islamic radicalism] are unlikely to be defeated by U.S. military power alone, even when that power is combined with good intelligence, efficient law enforcement, and creative diplomacy.  What American foreign policy needs, as well, is a new religious realism….

Evidence suggests that democracies mature when they possess a “bundled commodity” of core rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly, equality under the law, and religious freedom.  The absence of religious liberty can yield democracy-killing religious conflict, religious persecution, and religious extremism.  The presence of religious freedom is highly correlated with political, social and economic good.  As Brian Grim [Pew Forum] puts it:  “Most advanced statistical tests suggest there is indeed a critical independent contribution that religious freedom is making.”

Among other things, such findings tell us that if we want democracy to grow in Muslim lands – especially as a means of draining the swamps of the pathologies that nurture extremism – we must figure out how to advance religious freedom.  We must encourage nascent liberal Islamic political and social movements to put religious freedom at the core of their political theologies.  This is a tall order.  So daunting, in fact, that few outsiders would even consider it.”

If we are to defeat Islamic radicals, we must supplement sound military strategy, good intelligence, vigorous law enforcement, and state-to-state diplomacy with what has, until now, been the missing link.  Ordered liberty demands realism about human nature.  If democracies are to succeed in highly religious societies, they must be grounded in religious freedom.


I think Farr’s thesis is astute and his argument persuasive.  Only, I don’t think he goes far enough.

For religious freedom to have the leavening affect on an Islamic society as he proposes, there has to be more powerful forces at work than statecraft and foreign policy to produce the tolerance of such diversity.  And the very nature of Islam—theologically and politically—makes it difficult.

Rather, I would argue that history proves that the presence of vibrant, authentic Christian faith can be the most effective catalyst to provoke such change. That stimulus can be generated from outside the respective cultures or it can emerge from within.  When both sources work synergistically (effective sodalic efforts from without and vibrant local, modalic efforts from within), then we may actually have a chance to see the type of transformational change that Farr advocates.

I believe both can be accomplished.  It is going to require committed, skilled men and women willing to cross geographical, cultural, and language barriers, give their lives to live incarnationally within Islamic cultures,  and be—in word and in deed—the presence of Jesus.  It also means that they work hand-in-glove with those whom God has already set aside as his people within such settings.

It’s possible.  Is is happening.  It isn’t fast.  And it isn’t glamorous.  It won’t attract those with the money and resources who want quick fixes and triumphalistic results.

But in the long run, if we want to see genuine transformation in what is the greatest challenge to the Western world in the 21st century, such a missiological commitment is an absolute necessity.

Airline Stories, continued …

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

It was back in the days right after the demise of communism and the advent of the “new” Russia, and I was schedule for a flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

In those days throughout the Eastern Bloc, domestic flights were from different airports than international air traffic, and the Moscow domestic airport was reminiscent of a Greyhound bus station in an American inner-city …grimy, dirty, horrible sanitation, with all sorts of sleazy characters hanging out.  And nothing was computerized.  Flight manifests, passenger lists, and reservations were all done manually.

As we were checking in for the flight – which meant having our names crossed off of a list – I had a large bag that needed to be checked through.  As the porter was taking the bag away from the counter, I noticed to my horror the bright red tag that had been attached to it read: “CALCUTTA.”

I dove for the bag, saying “Nyet, Nyet, Nyet!  Sankt Petersburg!”  Nyet, Calcutta!”

He shrugged his shoulders, and responded in broken English, “Sorry, sir.  All we have today.” When I arrived in St. Petersburg, the bag was there.  Go figure.

That tag still sits in my desk drawer, a visual reminder that no matter how crummy it gets on most of the airlines in the present day, not much can compare with the residue of Karl Marx’s influence on aviation.

Telling the truth in the UK

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

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I spent part of yesterday with a insightful missiologist who lives here in the UK. He is not some young, radical, grenade-throwing deconstructionist, rather a respected, older (than me) mission expert with extensive experience in church planting movements and particularly ministry in the Islamic world.

His comments about Christianity in England, and about Europe at large, were jolting. His observations sobering. Here are a few gems, or bombshells depending, on one’s perspective:

“In Europe as a whole, little can be done missionally with the existing, institutional church. It’s over.

At the same time, there is no use criticizing the existing institutional church. It is a good “holding tank” for modern people who are believers.

The existing church is helpless in relating to the culture around it with spiritual reality and relevance. Take for example, the Alpha course. Only 5% of the people converted through it are in the church 5 years later. 85% converted through it have had previous contact with the church. But only 8% of England is made up of such 1st or 2nd generation Christians. 92% is 2nd generation “pagan.” That means that 92% can’t even understand what the church is talking about.

The church in England, of all persuasions, has no idea how to converse with people outside its doors. The institution here is fortressed. Christendom is hunkered down in the bunkers.

The Celtic model is a good model for Europe. Small, apostolic communities which were a blessing to the community but were “outside” of the existing social structure.

Being non-conformist is not esteemed in England. For things to start outside of the box, they need to be started by people outside of the box and by people who are willing to be persecuted.

People with apostolic gifting plant new vineyards and don’t stop and become winemakers.

The Christian movement in Britian does not know how to stand up in the face of radical Islam. To do so will need a dramatic realignment within the culture and within the family. Instead, most Christians are terrified of Muslims.

Of the 20-25 initiatives I am aware that are actively attempting to minister among Muslims in London, all are church-based and none are effective.

Statistically, 2015 to 2020 is the tipping point where Muslim influence will be predominant in Europe.

Modernity in Europe is absolutely entrenched in the institutional expressions of church. Europe doesn’t need a new reformation. We need a whole new expression of the Kingdom of God in the West that embraces community and family, where individuals are important but not more important than the group.”

From Beirut

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

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Patty and I are in Beirut. We just finished helping lead a 2-day workshop for leaders based on Hugh Halter and Matt Smay’s excellent volume, The Tangible Kingdom. Hugh was with us and was the primary presenter.

Serving the Church in this region to move toward a more missional, incarnational posture is a significant challenge. It has been a sobering time. As we have been here, some of the comments we have heard include:

“Throughout the past 50 years, the church in the Middle East has imported models from the West, particularly the U.S., and we’re coming to the realization that these models have failed.”

“I left the church I am a part of here in Beirut because I came to be convinced that God wouldn’t give his Son for this.”

“Christians are supposed to only have close relationships with other Christians. If we relate to others, it is only to preach repentance and faith in Christ to them.”

“I don’t think we should relate to others outside of the church because we may loose our faith …it is dangerous and risky.”

“If I have an problem with God, I can always go to him and work it out. But heaven help me if I have a problem with a pastor. I am just expected to salute and obey.”


Of course, there are bright spots in this setting and these statements don’t reflect the totality of the context. But overall, the Christian movement, particularly that portion of the movement that is represented by the traditional, institutional church, oozes pathology. This is particularly discouraging because of the strategic nature of the region. The stakes are high.

Apostolic Gifting

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

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I just received a newsletter from some CRM folks who have been faithfully working in an obscure, difficult setting in Southeast Asia for the past 14 years. They have made a phenomenal contribution to God’s Kingdom purposes in their context. Who they are and what they have done is truly extraordinary. These are apostolic, pioneering types who genuinely get their thrills by going where most normal people would dare to tread.

In the newsletter, there was one paragraph which was a stellar description of what apostolic gifting is all about. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. They wrote:

“When we arrived in this country, it was a good time and place for pioneering type people. Our personality, skills and gifting are very useful when things are broken down and not yet built. We are the ‘MacGyver’ types who live with a Leatherman Multi-Tool on our belt, a roll of wire and duct tape, and a Mag-Lite close at hand for when things break or go bad.

We travel with our two favorite books in double layer ziplock bags; a Thinline Bible and a Field Medical “What to do when it all goes wrong” Manual. We don’t need traffic laws, and can drive anything from bicycles to tractors and have fun. Beds are fine, and hammocks are better (no bedbugs) and all we need is enough water to scrub the crud off once a day. We like good food, but are fine eating other interesting stuff. Life is good in the the ambiguity zone.”


That is apostolic gifting! God give us more.

Back to Camden

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

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“Rush hour Camden seethes with human beings like an old rat corpse seethes with maggots. Though rush hour on the Northern Line remains the true sardine experience, the line is on the whole better than its reputation suggests. Anyway, if you get really fed up with it you can do the sensible thing (ecologically and financially) and get a bicycle.” – Stuck in London Tour Guide

We arrived in the UK —living in the London borough of Camden— and will be here through the end of July. So I did the sensible thing yesterday. I bought a bike.

Tangible Kingdom Video

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Tangible Kingdom

Friday, May 9th, 2008

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A must read.

This book, written by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay who lead CRM’s Missio team in Denver, (published by Josey-Bass and available on amazon.com), is a challenge to the Christian movement to live out its missional, incarnational calling. It is illustrated with loads of personal experiences from Hugh and Matt’s own journeys as practitioners.

Tangible Kingdom captures the reality of missionality in a moving, practical way.

Jesus has left the building

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

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While the outside of the building was massive and imposing, it gave little hint to the spectacular interior. Stain glass, a huge valeted ceiling, and stone and woodwork that were remarkable in their artistic genius.

I’ve passed this church building numerous occasions during our stays in London. So yesterday to get out of my hotel and get a break from the computer, I hiked the neighborhood and decided to explore this edifice. I found an open door and went in. It was just me and a lady doing some cleaning.

I discovered there are about 130 active members of this congregation in a building that could easily accommodate a thousand. The parish newsletter was even sadder …a ministry that sacramentalizes a dwindling and dying population. Incredibly depressing.

As I marveled at this architectural relic, the words that came were almost audible: “Jesus has left the building!”

From there, I wandered across the street and came across a totally different scene. It was a Saturday morning, open air swap meet swarming with hundreds of people from every imaginable ethnic background. The smells, textures, colors, languages, all made for an incredibly diverse and vibrant setting. The contrast could not have been more stark.

Divine Encounter at 35,000 feet

Friday, February 29th, 2008

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I am on trip that will take me to the UK, the Middle East, and South Africa.

As Patty and I were praying before I left, she prayed specifically for divine contacts. As I settled into my seat on British Airways, I discovered that the distinguished African gentleman next to me was exactly that. He was an Anglican bishop from Uganda, on his way home after speaking at a conference in the states. A few notable highlights of the conversation were:

He believes the greatest challenge to the church in East Africa is that it “does church” meaning it is captive to the traditional and institutional and has lost its sense of missionality.

The greatest need in East Africa is leaders for the Christian movement and a means of developing them that is transformational and not just the impartation of information.

He is part of a think tank in Africa that wrestles with issues relating to the sending of Africans as missionaries but for the most part, he feels the African church, with a few exceptions, is not at this juncture. Existing models don’t work, particularly regarding the marshaling the resources necessary to accomplish the sending task.

When I asked if he was part of the Ugandan Anglican body that was accepting parishes of the American Episcopal Church which were leaving the denomination, he responded “yes,” but then politely corrected me. “These individual churches in the U.S. are not leaving the Anglican communion. It is the American Episcopal Church that has left us.”


In the course of our travel, the conversation covered a spectrum of topics, everything from Obama to the shabbiness of LAX. It was a pleasure to encounter and enjoy this godly saint at 35,000 feet.

Kenya

Monday, January 14th, 2008

I talked today with the folks serving with CRM in Nairobi, Kenya.

This couple, who are actually Nigerian, have lived and ministered in this East Africa nation for the past 20 years. I asked about their impressions of the violence and upheaval that has roiled Kenya after the conflicted presidential election held in December, 2007. One observation they shared was sad.

“In the midst of the social turmoil, the church has been strangely silent. And unfortunately, tribal loyalties have too often trumped kingdom loyalties. The situation is another example of the crises of leadership that grips the African church.”

In a land where the Christian veneer appears as a pervasive covering over all of society, to hear of another situation where ethnic bloodletting is tolerated or even encouraged by those who claim to be followers of Jesus is disheartening. It has the all too familiar ring of earlier events in Rwanda and Uganda. It is another example of the transformational presence and power of Jesus being compromised and being rendered impotent because cultural captivity.

Which way Anglicans?

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

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Do you jump ship on a sinking vessel or hang in there and try to save it?

That’s a perennial dilemma that many people face in denominations and churches that are on the downside of their life-cycle.

There is a part of me that genuinely longs to see a whole new wave of spiritual vitality and renewal sweep through the Anglican churches of Great Britain. I appreciate the incredible legacy of the institution and the way God has worked through it throughout history. And today there are some bright spots in the Church of England which include some gifted, godly people who feel God has led them to remain committed to what appears to be an ecclesiastical Titanic.

However, I have my doubts that this moribund institution will ever see again the type of movement of the Spirit of God that occurred during the four great awakenings and revivals that swept the Western world in the past 300 years and had profound effects at every level of British society. The ingredients, both internally and externally that would provide fertile ground for such a movement are simply not there.

What is encouraging is that God is not bound by such human limitations. His long-suffering and ongoing compassion toward a society such as contemporary England will not be thwarted by churchly forms that have lost their potency.

My guess is that the best hope for the UK is for to God multiply a new generation of Charles Simeons, inside or outside Anglican structures, through whom the transformational power of the Spirit will flow. They are the types of men and women I want to look for.

Deo planto is sic!

No one is buying what the Anglicans are selling

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Vestments

Perhaps one of the advantages of being cultural outsiders here in the UK is that we may have a little more objectivity than those immersed in their own culture. I know this happens in the States when those from outside American culture see what we don’t see because we are captives of our own surroundings.

The past couple of months, I have been overwhelmed, and sobered, by the presence and the state of the Anglican Church in Great Britain. There is virtually no place one can stand and not be in visual sight of an Anglican church building. The legacy of this institutional bastion of Christendom is astounding.

What is sobering, however, is how completely out of touch and irrelevant the overwhelming majority of the Anglican Communion seems to be to present day Britain. With less than 1-2% of the population ever attending a service in one of these historic relics called churches, you’d think the Anglican leadership would realize that what they are selling, no one is buying. If the Church of England was a business, the whole outfit would have been in bankruptcy a long time ago. (And from what I have begun to discover, it’s probably headed that way regardless. Apparently the only thing that keeps the institution afloat is selling off their properties and “redundant” churches).

It appears that the Church of England and its leaders are simply in a different universe than the culture around them. The communicative disconnect is jarring in a country where more than 1/3 of the people are admitted atheists or agnostics and more people in the UK attend mosques on Sunday than darken the door of an Anglican church.

On one hand, there is so much to admire about the Anglican heritage. The depth of the theological and liturgical tradition, and a remarkable legacy are attractive to anyone desiring a sense of rootedness and historicity. As with Orthodoxy and Catholicism, there will always be people drawn to the richness of a tradition that has evolved through the ages. Yet Anglicans hold fast to an attractionistic model of ministry that expects the secularized and increasingly postmodern populace to come to them, which simply will not happen.

What is also heartbreaking is to see the wasted resources. It’s staggering. If even a slight percentage of the buildings, parsonages, and properties that are owned by the Church of England were made available to people with spiritual passion and biblical vision—particularly in the emerging generation—the impact on this society could be profound.

An article in the magazine of the National Trust describes the future of the largest landholder in England. It laments that “…congregations and parish incomes are in a free fall” and over the next decade, “…the trickle of churches becoming redundant is predicted to become a torrent.”

It appears that theological and missiological realities have not been adequate motivational forces to generate the necessary renewal within the Church of England that could stem its slide into oblivion. Perhaps the immense practical pressure that money and property problems exert will force the desperately needed institutional change.

Regardless, God is not limited by such human institutions and will eventually bypass such forms to create new, vibrant expressions of his Kingdom presence. Such processes have happened over and over again throughout history and it’s no different today in contemporary Britain.

If only stones could talk …

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

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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.

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John Newton and his memorial plaque at St. Mary’s

Business for Ministry in Romania

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.