No! I don’t Want to Receive Prayer!

I admit it, I’m a bit of a language snob.

I generally don’t get very exercised about spelling and punctuation (as you may have noticed). This is partly because I’m slightly dyslexic and correct spelling and the use of commas are a mystery to me. However, I do delight in well formed sentences and correct plurals of Latin words and I don’t like the way some people talk about prayer.

However, for once, this isn’t my language snobbery, it is a serious theological point.

Take the common phrase, “Prayer Changes Things“. Does it? Well, the discipline of regular prayer, may well change the prayer-er, but it really doesn’t change anything else. God, in response to our prayers, may well change some things; but he is the one who makes the changes, not us and not our prayers.

Over the last few years, I’ve started to hear the phrase “Would you like to receive prayer?“; another phrase that I’m uneasy with. I can receive insults, compliments, chocolate, baffled looks and many other things, but I can’t receive prayer. We pray to God; He receives our prayers. We can pray for or on behalf of someone, but those prayers are addressed to God.

You might want to suggest that I’m just being picky; a stereotypical grumpy old man, but I would disagree.

Both of these common phrases exclude God from the picture and I think this is a problem from two angles. Firstly, the fact that God listens to our prayers and acts in response to them is one of the most profound mysteries of the Christian faith. Anything which sidelines this and allows us to take it for granted is, at best, unhelpful. Secondly, both phrases make it seem as though prayer in and of itself is effective. This can easily encourage us to focus on the form and act of prayer, rather than on the the gracious loving God who is listening to them.

The language we use both shapes  and reflects our thinking and our attitudes and there are some areas in life where we should be particularly careful about the way in which we express ourselves.

By the way, if you would like to pray for us, we’d be delighted! You can sign up to receive our news on the sidebar.

There Is No Such Thing as A Free Blog

It is almost ten years since I wrote the first post on Kouya.net. It started off as a way of sharing our work with Wycliffe Bible Translators, but it has evolved into one of the few regular blogs which discusses cutting edge mission thinking.

Since the early days we have published over 2,000 posts, that’s more than one every two days. Some of these posts have been informative and thought provoking, others have been funny and a good few have tried to be funny, but have failed completely.

While it doesn’t cost a fortune to host and run this blog, it doesn’t come for free. We try and defray some of the costs by using the Amazon affiliates scheme and with the occasional foray into advertising. However, sums we make doing this are significantly more modest than the cost of running the blog.

I knew absolutely nothing about blogging and blogging software when we first started and I don’t know a great deal more ten years on. However, kouyanet does need a good spring clean and some attention from people who actually know what they are doing. This is going to add considerably to this year’s running costs.

You know what’s coming…

If you have found kouyanet to be a useful resource and if you would like to see it continue, would you consider making a one-off gift towards our costs? If you have a PayPal account, there is a donation button at the top of the right hand sidebar; otherwise you could make a donation via Wycliffe.

You could always decide to support us on a regular basis if you wished!

Thank you in advance.

I am More Than the Sum of My Genes

Sam and Bec Registration

Well, that’s it. Both of my sons are married off; my genes have made it to the next generation and look pretty much on course for the one after that. I suppose I might have a role in helping to nurture the succeeding generation (“looking after the grand-kids”, is the technical term), but I no longer have much of a biological purpose on this planet.

So that’s me done, then!

Except, there is a lot more to life than this. There are still mountains to climb, dogs to stroke, music to listen to, books to read and hours to while away in the company of my best friend. I am more than just the sum of my genes and as long as there is breath in my body, I will have a purpose; to enjoy creation and the friendship of those I love and to grow in love and appreciation of my creator.

Don’t try and tell me I’m nothing more than a vehicle for passing on genes.

Notes From a Fallen World

It’s going to be a great day; Sam and Bec are getting married. There will be a worship service, food, wine and a ceilidh. Best of all, a great young couple get to start out on one of life’s great adventures. I’m not a great one for ceremonies and such, but marriage is great and it points to something better.

Meanwhile, not too far away, just over the Irish Sea, my brother is having surgery to remove a cancerous kidney. By all accounts, the prognosis is good and there is nothing to worry about, but I’m worried all the same.

As world created to be good, but ruined by the fall is full of these sorts of contrasts. But one day, through the victory won on the cross, it will be restored. Till then our wine and dancing are mixed with tears.

The Cross and Mission Financing

At one level, the question of financing world mission seems dead simple. People in the rich world give money and those in the developing world benefit from it. No problem.

If only it were that simple.

I’ve dipped into this question numerous times over the years, but I recently had an epiphany that helped me rethink some of the issues. Firstly, what are some of the issues that make this question so thorny?

  • The first problem is that a continual drip-feed of finance from the rich world can breed an unhealthy dependency, by discouraging local generosity and initiative.
  • It can make the recipients feel as if they have nothing to contribute to the work they are doing.
  • The other side of the coin is that it can develop an unhealthy sense of power among the donors. It is depressing to see how many Christian fund raising videos and such highlight the way in which Westerners have changed the destiny of a village or people group through their gifts.
  • When funds come from outside, they are often used to meet the goals of the donors and agencies, which may or may not line up with the goals of the local community.

I could go on. In an unequal world, problems like these are part and parcel of the world of mission and development; we all struggle with them. That being said, this doesn’t obviate the Christian responsibility of rich people to be generous to those who are not so well off.

The only way to work through these issues is through open and honest dialogue. However, my experience has been that these dialogues are often pragmatic – what should we do. Recently, I found myself wondering whether we shouldn’t take a step back and begin our dialogue at the Cross; where he who was ‘rich beyond all splendour, all for loves sake, became poor’. Would reflection on the cross and the call for all of us to lay down our lives change the way we reflect on these questions?

I’d love to see it happen.

World Vision Turnaround

Today, I’m going to do something that no charity CEO should do, I’m going to discuss a decision made by another organisation. In case you hadn’t heard, three days ago, World Vision USA (not any other part of World Vision) decided that they would employ staff who were married to a partner of the same sex. This decision was overturned two days later.

I don’t plan to look at the underlying questions about sexuality and employment in any depth, there are other blogs which do that sort of stuff far better than we could. All I want to do is make a few remarks from the point of view of cross-cultural mission.

  • I think the initial decision by World Vision USA was wrong. This is partly because I hold to a traditional view of marriage but also because the decision was bound to be divisive.
  • That being said, if they believed that the decision was the right one to take, they should have stuck with it. The fact that they could overturn such a major policy in just two days implies that they hadn’t really thought it through in depth.
  • Christian Charities should make decisions based on Biblical values, not pragmatism and certainly not on the basis of what will bring in the most money. From the outside, it looks as though WV are bending one way and then the other in order to please their donors.
  • Some of the reaction of Christians to this whole thing has not been pretty. When the initial decision was made, I saw some very nasty and ungracious things written about WV by conservative Christians. Then when it was reversed, some liberal and progressive Christians were just as vocal and just as unpleasant. I don’t care where you are on the theological spectrum, but if you can’t argue with grace and charity; stay away from social media.
  • We’ve taken our eye off the ball. The purpose of World Vision is not to provide employment for Americans, be they gay or straight. They exist to serve the poor people of the world; who have been somewhat overlooked in this whole process.
  • More importantly, yet again the Christian world is talking about sexuality and not about Christ. I know that issues of inclusion are important, I appreciate that charities have to make difficult decisions (tell me about it!), but there is a needy world out there that needs to hear the saving message of Christ crucified and a large part of the Christian world is consumed by an internal debate. This isn’t what we were sent to do.

I mentioned at the top that I hold to a traditional view of marriage. I know that some readers of Kouya Chronicle will disagree with me. Please can we just agree to disagree; I really don’t want the world mission focus of this post to be lost in the comments. 

Short Term Mission?

In 1962 Mary Steele arrived in Ghana to work as a Bible translator. Moving up to the North of the country, which was very under-developed at the time with few schools, Mary started work on the Konkomba language.

When the Konkomba New Testament was completed and local language literacy well underway, Mary started work in another language, Bimoba.

Then when the Bimoba NT was translated, she returned to help the Konkomba team work on the Old Testament.

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Last night I attended a reception at the British High Commission in Accra to celebrate Mary’s 52 years of service to this country. Perhaps the most remarkable intervention was from a former government minister from the Konkomba area who said that he and other successful Konkombas could not have received an education and done as well as they did without the work of the woman they call their mother.

Mary’s story brought to mind a recent blog post by Rollin Grams in which he writes:

The local church can support a missionary perspective by separating the recent concept of ‘short-term missions’ from ‘missionaries.’ Missionaries are called into a life-time of cross-cultural ministry. They are skilled in cross-cultural interaction, Biblically educated (or should be!), able to share the Gospel clearly, and working to evangelize, plant churches, and nourish people and churches in the faith through training in the Scriptures and for ministry. Their example is Paul the apostle and his missionary team, not the Peace Corps or the Red Cross.

Not everyone has the health and strength to serve for 52 years, but mission work is by its nature a long-term venture. This is something our short-term church culture needs to grasp.

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Local Food

There is nothing like travel to broaden the culinary horizons. I’ve eaten cane rat in Ivory Coast, delicious curry from street vendors in Thailand and something unidentifiable – but tasty – for breakfast in Cambodia. Today I ate lunch with a group of church leaders in Accra and was delighted to find this ‘local’ delicacy being served.

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Not as good a my mam’s, but not bad at all.

It’s Not All Black and White

Why do Christians easily fall into an ‘either/or’ mentality, rather than a ‘both/and’ one?

I don’t have any solutions, but I just thought I’d air a little frustration. For reasons I can’t fathom, many Christians act as though things are mutually incompatible, when they are actually two sides of the same (often multi-sided) coin. In the area of mission we see false dichotomies created between proclamation of the Gospel and works of service as if Jesus didn’t tell us to do both. You get competition between mission at home and cross-cultural mission to the wider world and so the list goes on.

Another expression of the same theme is the way in which when someone suggests a new way of doing things, others will immediately take this as a rejection of everything that has gone before. A new approach doesn’t mean that the former ways were bad, just that things have moved on and we need to take a fresh look at what we are doing!

I don’t have any solutions, just the mild bemusement that people who live in hope of a eschatological Kingdom, find it so hard to reconcile different ideas in the here and now.

Breathtaking Something

You know, I’ve always been impressed with the way that the Bible is organised. The big structure of the books from Genesis and Exodus through to Revelation provides a connected narrative that frames the individual stories. Not only that, but within the individual books, the chapters and verses all seem to be well organised. Chapter one verse one is followed by chapter one verse two and on into chapter two and so on. It all seems to make sense to me and hangs together rather well.

However, it seems that the traditional ordering of the verses in the Bible isn’t quite useful enough and the Top Verses website has come up with an improvement.

You will like TopVerses because we sorted every Bible verse by popularity. Now search the Bible and find verses in a useful order.

Ah, just what we need; a useful order for Bible verses because the old way of ordering things in order to get a message across wasn’t useful enough! What we need is the verses ordered by their popularity on the Internet. What?!

The lack of Biblical understanding behind this statement is quite breathtaking.

If you treat the Bible as a source of isolated sayings which can be picked at random according to their popularity, then you have missed the point entirely.

I wrote about this site a few years ago and my comments still stand:

It makes no more sense to chop the Bible up into different bits and to separate them than it would to reorder the sentences of Lord of the Rings. I love Lord of the Rings, it’s a great book and sometimes I’ll sit down and read a favourite chapter, but those chapters only make sense because I know the whole book. It is the same with the Bible. It uses many literary genres: history, poetry, proverbs and prophecy, but it tells one story. To pick out one verse as a top verse makes no sense – each verse only makes sense as part of the broader narrative.

According to Top Verses the number one verse is John 3:16 (no surprises there):

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This is of course a rightly famous part of the Bible. But look at it closely; the whole story of God loving the world and having to give his Son only makes sense when you understand the narrative of creation and fall in Genesis. After all, if the fall hadn’t happened, God’s love would be demonstrated in very different ways. And the notion of how and why God gave his Son isn’t actually filled out until the death and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, you can’t understand John 3:16 without understanding what went before it and what comes after it. Reading the Bible in context doesn’t just mean reading the paragraph that a verse occurs in, it means understanding where the verse fits in God’s big story.

 

A World Shaking Bible Passage

Imagine that you had the opportunity to preach a sermon at an event that had the capacity to shake the whole world; what Bible passage would you choose to expound? I suspect that most of us would chose something from John’s Gospel or perhaps the book of Romans; some might even stretch to one of my favourite passages from Colossians 1.

However, I don’t think that many of us would reach for the book of Joel; but that (of course) is exactly what Peter did on the day of Pentecost. His inaugural sermon of the Christian age was an exposition of Joel 2:28-32; hardly the most well-thumbed passage in the Scriptures.

Of course, Peter could hardly have turned to John, Romans or Colossians because they weren’t written at the time of his sermon. He could hardly ask his hearers to stand around for a decade or three while he waited for a text to expound. But, and this is important, he did preach a dynamic, evangelistic sermon from an Old Testament text.

I’ve harped on about this before, but I fear that Evangelicals often downplay the importance of the Old Testament (try this quote for example). The Top Verses website (which I have referred to before and will return to tomorrow) only lists three OT verses in their top thirty Bible verses (and one of those is generally quoted out of context).

The Bible exists as it is and most of it is Old Testament. Whether we are preachers, Bible translators or Sunday School teachers, we cannot ignore simply turn our backs on a huge slice of the book. After all, it was good enough for Peter, so it should be good enough for us.

Let The LAMP Die: Missionary Language Learning

Back in the mid 1980s, when Sue and I first started our training for Bible translation work, we were introduced to a book called LAMP (Language Acquisition Made Practical). Full of cartoons, wise sayings and practical ideas it was the latest word in self-directed language learning techniques. Though, even then, the ideas behind it were ten or more years out of date.

Seven or eight years later, after significant practical experience, a lot of reading and having helped numerous other language learners, I wrote a paper critical of LAMP called, Speech Led Versus Comprehension Led Language Learning. This was subsequently developed into a paper for the British Association of Applied Linguistics annual conference.

I won’t go into a detailed description of the issues here; I want to keep the few readers that I have. But the problem with the LAMP method is that it places a heavy stress on the language learner memorising phrases and repeating them essentially parrot fashion. This can give an impression of fluency very quickly, but the learner may not have a clue what is being said back to them. Lyman Campbell catches this dilemma in David Sinclair’s excellent guide to cross-cultural church planting (appendix 2).

A worker in India once told me, “When a stranger first starts talking to me in Urdu, I often have difficulty understanding him. Once I catch on to the theme, I do a lot better.” It interested me that this man had probably been using Urdu for twenty or thirty years, and was effective in
relationships and in his work. I encounter similar stories among people who have been working in a language group for five or ten years: “I can understand people who know me, when they are conversing with me, but when they begin conversing with one another, I can easily get lost.”

That worker in India illustrated that even with many more years, the situation may not change greatly. I believe that this profile—limited, though effective, language ability—often results from what Eddie Arthur calls “speech-led language learning.”

Some language learners tell me, “I only learn things that I feel I will have a definite need to say.” One such person, attempting to narrate an action cartoon for me in her field language, was unable to express the idea that “a drop of water fell and put out the cigarette.” She later commented

that she would never want to say that, in any case. This demonstrates a philosophy of language learning that focuses on “things I want to be able to say.” The problem is that five minutes from now someone might want to tell me a story in which a drop of water fell and put out a cigarette, or any of trillions of other possible, ordinary life events that might  have taken place—events which I might never have thought I would need to know how to communicate about.

Something that Campbell also highlights is the fact that the LAMP style learner must continually turn in on themselves to find information for language learning; whereas for the person who focuses on comprehension, every encounter with a native speaker is a learning opportunity.

In comprehension-led learning, by contrast, we aim for our own speech to be largely based on our growing familiarity with host peoples’ speech. Our vision is to move steadily and deliberately toward full comprehension of all we hear and, as a result of that, to keep growing indefinitely.

Don’t get me wrong; LAMP isn’t all bad. In its time it was revolutionary. It provided a daily structure and a wealth of ideas for the learner and these are extremely valuable. When I wrote my article criticising LAMP back in the 1990s, I wasn’t able to offer any better alternatives. However things have moved on in the last 20 years and self-directed language learners have far better options than LAMP available to them. Perhaps the best option is the Growing Participator Approach which you can read about here (there are lots of good links and resources to follow there).

So why am I rabbiting on about a twenty year old argument? Well, the thing is, despite having been superseded by more effective and more theoretically valid models, LAMP is still the language learning method of choice for many missions and mission training agencies. This worries me; if we can’t update our peripheral methodologies, will we be able to make the radical paradigm shifts needed for mission agencies to survive into the future?

By the way, if you are likely to have to learn a language or if you are responsible for training others in language learning techniques and you haven’t taken this course, then you should.