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Through the incredible generosity of so many of you, we were able to supply 615 GLO-related families with a chunky gift to help them with buying school uniforms and stationery, and getting their kids back to school. Just wonderful!

So on behalf of all the parents and children, THANK YOU SO SO SO MUCH!

GLO’s Grace went to visit our partner New Generation to film this ‘thank you’ video so that you can catch some of the joy of kids being able to go to school. It’s less than a minute, and might just bring a tear (of joy) to your eye.

New Generation is a great outfit working with street children and seeking to raise up leaders for the country. Do check out their work here

THANKS AGAIN! We couldn’t do it without you. God bless you LOADS!

Simon

PS It’s not too late to give if you hadn’t got round to it. If that’s you, please click here

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Leo walked 12 miles each way to and from school every day, so desperate was he to learn. That blows my mind. In the West, we’re not usually as grateful for the gift of education (although lockdown frustrations have maybe changed that a little). Recognising Leo’s commitment, we bought him a bicycle to save both time and energy. He is so deeply thankful.

walk to school

Many of my friends in Burundi during their childhood would walk 2-3 hours a day to and from the nearest school. Education is power, education is the future, education is the hope of a better life. So you sacrifice everything for it.

But this coming Monday morning is the saddest day of the year for many parents. It’s the day their children should go back to school. However, if they can’t afford the basic uniform and pen/paper pad, they can’t go.

As I packed my three kids off to school this morning, it occurred afresh to me that it’s never crossed my mind that all of them wouldn’t be able to go to school. Can you imagine having to choose one over the others? Or accepting that none can go at all?

Sometimes God intervenes beautifully, as our volunteer Maria testified recently. She’d all but given up on her three children’s chances of going to school, but she got on her knees and prayed. An old friend out of the blue contacted her and gave her an envelope of money which was enough for her urgent needs. She will never forget God’s faithfulness.

GLO’s partner organisations include 615 staff. We are under no obligation to them in this regard, but we’ve committed to giving £30 ($40) per family so that, at this the most challenging time of the year financially, they can pull through and keep their precious kids in schooling. In a sense we want to be Maria’s God-envelope of cash out of the blue for 615 families.

Do you want to be a part of it? Zero pressure if you are financially strapped, as I know many people are at this time.

If yes, be it for 1 family, or 2, or 5, or 10, click here to donate.

God bless you so much for your generosity!

Simon

PS In the happy event that we meet our goal to send gifts to all our 615 families, any additional donations will be put to equally invaluable use.

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Rend the heavens

‘Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.’ (Habakkuk 3:2)

Sunday’s sermon at Holy Trinity Cheltenham can be viewed below. The covid limitations and seating restrictions were a little strange, but it was good to be back in a church, and we had a powerful time.

Below is some of what I shared: 

A few years ago I flew to the Hebrides to speak at a number of meetings. It was great to go to places I’d read about from the 1949-52 revival there, and even talk to a surviving old man and ask him questions. 

The revival was steeped in prayer. Seven men and two old ladies had decided to pray and not stop until God visited them in a powerful way. One night, at a prayer meeting held in a barn, one of them said, “It seems to me just so much sentimental humbug to be praying as we are praying, to be waiting as we are waiting here, if we ourselves are not rightly related to God.” He asked God to reveal if his own hands were clean and his own heart was pure. Suddenly God’s awesome presence swept the barn. They came to see that there was a direct correlation between revival and holiness. A power was let loose that night that shook the island. A man arrived and felt compelled to go to church and get right with God. People had visions in their own homes.  

Duncan Campbell had been preaching at a conference in Bangor, Northern Ireland. He was due to stand up and preach when the Lord told him to leave immediately and go to Lewis. He told the man who had invited him that he simply had to go. Arriving as soon as he could in Lewis, he found that they were all waiting for him!  The stories are truly extraordinary.

Campbell shares: “Over 100 young people were at the dance in the parish hall and they weren’t thinking of God or eternity. They were there to have a good night when suddenly the power of God fell upon the dance. The music ceased and in a matter of minutes, the hall was empty. They fled from the hall as a man fleeing from a plague. And they made for the church. They are now standing outside. Oh, yes – they saw lights in the church. That was a house of God and they were going to it and they went. Men and women who had gone to bed rose, dressed, and made for the church. 

At another meeting, “suddenly, the power of God fell upon the congregation. Of course in Lewis and in other islands of the Hebrides, they stand to pray, they sit to sing. And now, one side of the church threw their hands up like this. Threw their heads back and you would almost declare that they were in an epileptic fit, but they were not. Oh, I can’t explain it. And the other side they slumped on top of each other. But God, the Holy Ghost moved. Those who had their hands like this stayed that way for two hours. Now you try to remain like that with your hands up for a few minutes and you will find it hard – but you would break their hands before you could take them down. Now, I can’t explain it – this is what happened. But the most remarkable thing that night was what took place in a village seven miles away from the church. There wasn’t a single person from that village in the church. Not one single person. Seven miles away, the power of God swept through the village. Swept through the village and I know it to be a fact that there wasn’t a single house in the village that hadn’t a soul saved in it.” 

The stories go on: “A schoolmaster that night looking over his papers 15 miles away from this island on the mainland suddenly was gripped by the fear of God. And he said to his wife, “Wife, I don’t know what’s drawing me to Barvas, but I must go.” His wife said, “But it’s nearly 10 o’clock and you’re thinking of going to Barvas. I know what’s on your mind, I know that you are going out to drink and you are not leaving this house tonight!” That was what she said to him – he was a hard drinker. And he said to his wife, “I may be mistaken, oh, I maybe mistaken, but if I know anything at all about my own heart and mind, I say to you now that drink will never touch my lips again.” And she said to him, “Well, John, if that’s your mind, then go to Barvas.” And he got someone to take him to the ferry, someone to ferry him across, and I was conducting a meeting in a farmhouse at midnight and this schoolmaster came to the door and they made room for him and in a matter of minutes he was praising God for salvation. Now that’s miracle. I mean you cannot explain it in any other way.” 

Campbell came for ten days but stayed for two years.  

“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalms 85:6)

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Have you ever wept in prayer before?

I can count on one hand the number of times I have. I guess I/we could fake it, but that’d be worse than not praying at all, I suspect.

PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO WATCH THIS… For those of us who heard it as he prayed, we were all left stunned.

Since lockdown, we have been meeting on Zoom every week with between 100 and 150 people from a dozen nations across time zones to hear what God is doing in Burundi. Various Burundian brothers and sisters leading different ministries have shared inspiring or gut-wrenching stories, and then we’ve unmuted and all prayed together, before moving onto the next leader. They’ve been amazing times.

In our last session, this is what happened…

Wow! Lord have mercy on us! May it be as he prayed! If that moved you, please share it with your networks through whichever social media platform – our strapline is ‘Transforming Burundi and Beyond…’, and this (with your help) could be seen by millions of people to stir their faith to humble themselves in prayer before God for a fresh revival. We so need it!

‘Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.’
(Habakkuk 3:2)

As Frank Laubach prayed: “Lord, forgive us for looking at the world with dry eyes.”

Bring it on!

Simon


Here are some links to the video on social media, if you’d like to share:

Facebook
Twitter
Vimeo
YouTube

Download a low-resolution version of the video (to send on WhatsApp or to show over Zoom)

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Arcade

Enough of the endless stream of bad news in our Covid-19-affected world, let’s read some heart-warming encouragements! The below is a selection of transformational stories from J-Life in the community of Ciya, an area decimated over the years of war:

Remember Arcade from my last newsletter, who looks like a 10-year-old but is in fact 19? He’s had his surgery in the capital, against all odds. He’s now fit and well, and itching to get on with his education. Fantastic!

Last Easter, we shared Theogene’s story. His parents had been murdered and he and his brother were destitute. We helped them out with rabbits and aubergines, and even though he’s just a young teenager, he’s made a viable business out of it. He pays his way and is excelling at school. We’ve built them a house, and they are secure and thriving, and full of gratitude. Love it!

Street-smart and influential, Mama Mugisha is a natural-born leader. Poverty forced her into prostitution, through which she contracted AIDS. Meantime she had 5 children, all from different fathers. When a microfinance project came to Ciya, her leadership was recognised and she ended up spearheading it. She developed eight different businesses, but then agonisingly lost every one of them in the 2015 crisis. When she came across J-LIFE, she had an encounter with Jesus, and renounced drinking, smoking, and prostitution.

One day, J-Life community teacher Elias asked her to join a group building a house. “Who’s it for?” “We’ll see.” She got stuck into helping the others, only to find at the end that the house was given to her! She told us: “I’m so grateful to J-Life for rescuing me from the indignity of the Devil, and giving me true dignity. People used to say to me that I would never amount to anything, let alone have my own house. I thought I was destined to always live in rented shacks. Now look at me! Receiving that home was one of the best moments in my life, and J-Life also now support my children’s schooling. I thank God!” Wow!

The nearby community centre that we built has struggled through lack of electricity. This has meant, among other things, that many children have suffered from eye problems because they had to do their homework by candle-light. Not any more! The centre is now connected to the grid, and the community’s just thrilled!

In February, I visited Boudesie and other ladies in their literacy class. I asked them to raise their hands if they couldn’t read this time last year. Hers and a number of other hands went up. Now she can read and write, and praises God. Her backstory contains so much pain, which only magnifies the joy now. She tells us:

Before I came to Jesus and learnt to pray, I had so much pain in my heart. My first husband was shot and killed, and my second husband died as well. When I became a widow, the grief overwhelmed me. I have four children and I couldn’t fathom how I would raise them. I used to cry out to God and ask Him how my life would turn out as I couldn’t read or write. My youngest child aged 5 lost his mind, but now by God’s grace is healed. Today I don’t pray for another husband. I ask God to continue to protect me and my family. I have experienced healing from the trauma and pain, and I head up a ladies’ Bible group of ten women. I am so thankful for J-Life because they’ve helped with school fees as well, and uniforms, and when I’m sad I can open the Bible and read and feel my heart be uplifted. May His name be praised!

This is just a small selection of stories that show what can happen when you pray and support our work… Just beautiful!

I hope they encourage you. Thanks for standing with us. May God sustain you through any challenges you’re going through.

Grace and peace,

Simon Guillebaud

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how long

“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, “I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,” that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, “It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,” it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real-really real. (Anne Lamott) 

Here’s a talk on Psalm 13, in which David gets really real with God. Be encouraged whatever you’re going through…

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Arcade

The answer is he is not a child, he is a 19-year-old young adult called Arcade. It’s difficult to believe… but when you hardly ever get any food to eat, physical development is stunted. More of his story is below… 

…before that, I want to praise the Lord for peaceful elections. Seriously. Last time in 2015, it got really messy. But in a month of dramatic twists, the outgoing President died suddenly, and so the new President was quickly inaugurated for the sake of stability. He’s got a tough job on his hands, but I’m praying (who wouldn’t want this to happen?) that he’ll be the best President ever, for the benefit of Burundi and all Burundians. Would you join me in that please (his nickname is Neva)? And for COVID-19 to have minimal impact.

Burundi was already the hungriest country in the world, but the situation is even harder on the back of the coronavirus and closed borders. One friend sent me a Whatsapp message: 

“Hello my brother, I’m dying of hunger! Things are so tight, I haven’t eaten for three days now. I ask you as you always stood with me, I know you can’t leave me to die of hunger, please send even $10.”

I hate those messages, received in my parallel universe of (albeit frustrated and restricted) comfort in England. Some sound so hopeless, whilst others are so hopeful despite the challenges of life at the moment. Another friend writes: 

“Thanks for your heart for Burundi and my family. God who protected us during the turmoil in the valley of the shadow of death, is still the same, He never changes. I’ve been so stressed about how to feed my family, food is expensive, it’s not easy. But I went to preach in Rumonge to 1000 people, over 100 chose Jesus! God told me ”take this message of hope, I am with you”. God is in control and His blood covers us. Go on praying for us, we will not die, we will live and proclaim the wonders of God.”

Back to Arcade: he is an orphan from Ciya village in the Burundian bush. He joined GLO partner J-Life’s porridge program for the malnourished because he had what appeared to be a distended belly. Despite the regular porridge, his tummy remained swollen. Local nurses tried giving him malaria medicine as a potential cure, but that didn’t work either. Eventually, Bosco took him to Bujumbura where a tumour was detected; and with contributions from you, he’s now had surgery and is convalescing. The impossible has happened for him – the poorest destitute and forgotten village boy going for surgery in a fancy hospital in the capital city – he can’t quite believe it!

There is always hope… I don’t know how you’re feeling right now. I’ve had a few sucker punches and have been struggling at different times. But being involved in Burundi helps me maintain focus and keep a sense of perspective on my own issues. Hang in there! 

If you can possibly dig deep to help others like Arcade, please give some money/hope HERE

Thanks for caring, thanks for praying. Do share the joy with me of peaceful elections and lives transformed in Jesus’ name! 

Yours hopefully,

Simon Guillebaud
www.greatlakesoutreach.org/give

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This blog will only make sense if you’ve read the last one, please do so…

Done? OK, I’ll carry on.

I felt the need to write a follow-up to the last blog because a number of highly intelligent and spiritual people, whom I respect deeply, responded unfavourably to it, expressing disappointment and loving concern for me. Was I going soft? On the edge of burn-out? Losing my faith?

The answer is no. My contention was and still is simply that the use of language is nuanced, and I question the received meaning of words such as ‘Christian’, ‘Christianity’, ‘missionary’, etc in the contemporary Western world. They are loaded with different meanings for different people.

Language evolves.

My Great-grandfather had begun translating the Bible when he died suddenly in 1941 in Matana, Burundi. On his tombstone was written ‘Harold Guillebaud, imbata ya Yesu’. ‘Imbata ya Yesu’ at the time could be translated as ‘Jesus’ servant’. Unfortunately, all these decades later, ‘imbata’ now means ‘duck’! I reckon all the more as a linguist Harold would laugh his head off to think that passers-by nowadays read of him as Jesus’ duck!

In Kirundi, ‘Umukristo’ means ‘Christian’ in the broadest sense, i.e. a cultural Christian. So I’ve never been an Umukristo/Christian in Burundi. There is another term, ‘umukizwa’, which means ‘saved’, i.e someone with a genuine living relationship and faith in Christ. Yet even ‘umukizwa’ has been debased in meaning through questionable political associations of the term. One almost has to say, when asked, “Yes, I’m an umukizwa, but… (and then qualify it further)”

Up until the mid-20th century, ‘gay’ usually meant ‘carefree’ or ‘cheerful’. Back then, I would have been right to identify as gay. Now it no longer means the same, and if I/you use it that way, I/you will be misunderstood.

I think you can see what I’m saying.

I received a number of comments on the blog itself, many more directly to my email. My wife, Lizzie, who doesn’t always agree with my thinking (thank goodness – how awful it’d be to live within an echo chamber!), was outraged by some of the comments. For me, they simply illustrated exactly what the blog was saying – that we Jesus people can do a massive disservice to our cause by not really imitating his style. For example:

Simon, you were never ever a Bible-believing Christian… otherwise your supposed faith would not have fallen away like a tiny raindrop. I know those in your organisation and their faith is similar… very shallow, just like the parable Jesus gave us about the seed that falls on shallow ground… very sad because you have no idea what’s ahead. I’ll be praying for you to return to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Whilst loyal Lizzie spat defensive venom, it was more like water off an imbata’s back for me. I literally laughed out loud… but then felt slightly sad. Another example:

Dude, keep your judgemental opinions about Donald Trump to yourself. You have no idea what you’re talking about… Please please please do more research. And don’t use google.

In contrast, I really appreciate this thoughtful one so much more, both in tone and substance:

Perhaps person-by-person redemption of the term – rather than rejection – would be better? Though that would obviously be a much longer-term project. A problem with rejection is distancing oneself not only from ‘bad’ Christians but an awful lot of good ones… otherwise I’m a big admirer of your work and the notes you strike more generally.

That makes sense to me. He’s right. There are so many beautiful examples of followers of Jesus that I would indeed be proud to identify with, and call Christian. But still…

So am I a Christian? Well, who’s asking? What does that word even mean to me/you/them? I don’t think my blog is going to change the world’s use of the term, but it’s worth thinking about.

As award-winning blogger/theologian friend Ian Paul (it’s well worth subscribing to his blog ‘Psephizo’) wrote to me:

“In my blogs I largely avoid using the words ‘Christian’ and ‘church’—in fact, when teaching at St John’s, I prohibited students from using the word ‘church’ in relation to the New Testament, because of likely misunderstandings!… People often don’t realise that the coining of the term Christianos in Acts 11:26 took place in a particular cultural context, and at the time was actually a term of derision which the followers of Jesus then happily took on themselves. They wore the mockery as a badge of pride!”

Context is everything, and so in different parts of the world, this discussion might not be relevant. But missiologically-speaking, there are many contexts where it’s definitely the wrong word. As one comment shows:

I’ve befriended Muslim neighbours. Also Jews. I’ve asked, “Do you consider that the Crusaders were Christians?” They always answer firmly, “Yes!” Then I insist that they were not, in my opinion, “Christians,” because they were NOT following Jesus! I have read a number of books by ex-Muslims, by Muslim Background Believers. They never call themselves Christians. They become “followers of Jesus”…We do not defend “Christianity” or “the church.” We are witnesses for Jesus. If asked if we are Christians, we must learn to reply, “How do you define a Christian?”

That’s surely right, isn’t it?

Thankfully, there were indeed plenty of other comments revealing that many of you resonate with what I’m wrestling with, such as:

Thank you for articulating so well something I have thought about and struggled with for years and think about regularly now in the midst of these world events and as the owner of a business that speaks into a lot of people’s lives. I have struggled with wondering if I am unfaithful to my Lord and my faith by struggling with identifying as a Christian. And I struggle with how to talk about and share my relationship with Christ, with others because of the issues that you bring up. Anyway, thank you for this encouragement to stand fast for Christ, but to not have to feel compelled to identify with a term that I know alienates people and often does not help bring them closer to Him.

Again, I got this was from an American friend of mine who is a passionate follower of Jesus, having served for a number of years in India:

I so appreciate what you wrote. I have struggled with American Christianity, or more specifically I’m realizing white evangelicalism for many years. Since the 2016 election, I have not been able to ‘identify’ as an evangelical for the same reasons you have written. White evangelicals handed Trump his victory… I can’t understand this at all. Now after George Floyd I’ve really come to a breaking point. Trying to find my voice in all of this and figure out how to speak out to the Christians around me and keep my love on.

Please, my US buddies, I’m not bashing you. Hear that! Indeed, to counterbalance the above, I agree with my friend Gerard’s concerns:

Your blog was a seriously interesting commentary. I just add one thing which worries me: there’s currently a generation of ‘Christians’ who are so determined not to identify with Bible-waving Trump, that in their efforts to appeal to his critics they have come to abhor everything about him, including his stand against abortion and his favour for freedom of speech and the right to possess a Christian worldview and not to be forced at work to act in contradiction. I am not comfortable with that either. We really need to think, and stick with God on everything, while adopting a culture that builds bridges from a solid place.

Agreed, Gerard. We really need to think, and (discern what it looks like to) stick with God on everything, while adopting a culture that builds bridges from a solid place. That’s our challenge…

Probably the most interesting module I ever did in my theological training (at Allnations) was a course on Christology. It was so fascinating to see how different cultures represented and appropriated their version of Jesus, as often seen through their art. You had the Latin-American-liberation-theology-freedom-fighter Jesus, the Aryan-blond-haired Jesus, the black Jesus, etc. We’re all inclined to do it!

The danger is we end up genuinely believing that Jesus agrees with everything we do. Or as Tim Keller warns us:

“If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshipping an idealized version of yourself.”

I don’t want to be that person. And I don’t think, put in those terms, any of us does.

Dostoevsky said of Jesus:

“I believe there is none lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic and more perfect than Jesus.  I say to myself, with jealous love, that not only is there none like him, but there could never be anyone like him.”

I agree. And I want to serve Him with my whole heart at whatever cost to the very end.

If you’re still reading this, and you’ve been put off Jesus by me or any of my brothers and sisters around the world because we’ve misrepresented Him, I’m truly sorry. Forgive us! Don’t give up on your spiritual search. I’d be really interested in hearing from you. 

So, in closing, I could still be wrong – please be kind in telling me so – but for the above reasons, that is why I still say that I no longer call myself a Christian… rather I’m a follower of Jesus.  

PS Why not, during this period of restrained movements, check out who Jesus really is in this brilliantly-produced short video series called the Alpha Course? Our church is launching the course this coming Thursday night, so you could join us for free from the safety and comfort of your sofa!

Thursday June 18th at 7.30pm, see you there? Sign up here

If you just want to check out week one’s content, here it is

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Gini was my first love (or should I say lust?). It didn’t work out well, much to my chagrin…

I was given 5 minutes as part of 24-hour speaking event, and this is what I came up with.

Feel free to pass on to folks who could do with hearing it.

Next steps? Over lockdown I’ve been looking at the Alpha Course. Short videos that are so clear and helpful. Here’s the first one:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBMMD5C0k-s

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It might surprise some of you when I say that I stopped being a Christian about ten years ago. Last week’s picture of the world’s most powerful man holding up a Bible for what was in my view a questionable photo-opportunity polarized many, and prompted much discussion and outrage. It certainly got me thinking, and such events reinforce my reticence to be identified with ‘Christianity’.  

In his book ‘Blue Like Jazz’, Donald Miller recounts how a secular talk show host urged him to defend Christianity on air. Miller refused to do so, which made the host curious:

He asked me if I was a Christian, and I told him yes. “Then why don’t you want to defend Christianity?” he asked, confused. I told him I no longer knew what the term meant. Of the hundreds of thousands of people listening to his show that day, some of them had terrible experiences with Christianity; they may have been yelled at by a teacher in a Christian school, abused by a minister, or browbeaten by a Christian parent. To them, the term Christianity meant something no Christian I know would defend. By fortifying the term, I am only making them more and more angry, I won’t do it. Stop ten people on the street and ask them what they think of when they hear the word Christianity, and they will give you ten different answers. How can I defend a term that means ten different things to ten different people? I told the radio show host that I would rather talk about Jesus, and how I came to believe that Jesus exists and that he likes me. The host looked back at me with tears in his eyes. When we were done, he asked if we could go get lunch together. He told me how much he didn’t like Christianity but how he had always wanted to believe Jesus was the Son of God.

Words can be so abused, misused, misunderstood. Am I a Christian? Honestly, I don’t know – or rather it depends who’s asking, and what they mean by it. I’ve not used that term of myself for a decade now. What sits more comfortably, and what I tell people more often, is that I’m a follower of Jesus.

I have a friend who is working in Mozambique. One time as he entered the country, he put ‘missionary’ as his occupation on the entry form. The official spat at him: “Missionary? We don’t want you missionaries in our country!” Now instead he writes ‘Transformational engineer’, and if they question him further as to what he does, he says he builds people! I like that. In fact, I started doing the same when filling out the ‘occupation’ box on my entry forms.

‘Christianity’, ‘missionary’, etc – they’re loaded words. Depending where you live, you or those around you may or may not have a problem with them.

Let me share another anecdote from Carl Medearis from his book ‘Speaking of Jesus – the Art of Not-Evangelism’:

I was teaching a class at the American University of Beirut one day, and after the class, a young man came up to me and asked bluntly if I was a missionary.
“Are you kidding?” I asked. “What makes you think I’m a missionary?”
“You were talking about Jesus earlier,” he said, “and I thought that you were a Christian missionary.”
I held a hand to my forehead, appalled. “Are you saying,” I asked, “that I’m one of those people who wants to spread capitalism and democracy and political idealism and Westernism and import a new religion?”
He looked at me, suspicious. “Well, that is what missionaries do, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I said, “typically. Now tell me, do I look like a person who would ever be interested in changing your culture, obliterating your heritage, and making religious converts? Why would I do that? There’s nothing sensible or right about that, is there?”
“Of course not.” He held up his hands. “Look, I didn’t’ mean to offend you, but I just had to ask.”
“Why?”
“Because…” He trailed off, unsure of what to say.
“Because you don’t trust missionaries,” I stated.
He nodded. “Honestly, yes. I thought maybe you had an agenda and I wanted to find out. Sorry if I offended you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Look, if you are interested in anything, just let me know, but don’t worry that I’m here to subvert your culture or anything, because I’m not. My interest in Jesus has nothing to do with religion, okay?”
“All right, Mr Medearis, I’ll see you later.”

If that’s all you knew of Carl, you could misunderstand what he meant. Let me assure you, he is a passionate follower of Jesus indeed, but one who doesn’t insist on wrapping Jesus in extra damaging and distracting cultural layers. That approach doesn’t benefit anyone.

In a telling discussion, Ayatollah Fadlallah (the late spiritual leader of Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah in Lebanon) said to Brother Andrew (founder of Open Doors):

“You Christians have a problem.”
“What do you think our problem is?”
“You’re not following the life of Jesus Christ anymore.”
“So what do you think we should do about that?”
“You must go back to the Book.”

For us, going ‘back to the Book’ will involve re-reading the Scriptures right now in the context of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter and humbly asking God how I/you/we’ve been blinded by my/your/our own cultural presuppositions. People talk of a ‘broken’ system. It’s not broken, it’s been designed that way.

In the USA particularly right now (but not just there), the Church has a real challenge finding her voice amidst all the outrage at the murder of George Floyd and the deeply-rooted systemic injustices in almost every sphere of society. As I wrote a decade ago in my book ‘More Than Conquerors’:

We are part of the system and share in its complicity. Desmond Tutu said: “I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself to be my master. I want the full menu of rights. If you’re neutral in situations of injustice, you’ve chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you’re neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Mahatma Gandhi’s comment on the Book to a group of missionaries rings as equally challenging today as it did back then: “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”

The Rev. Pattison, a respected friend of Gandhi, recounted how one Sunday morning Gandhi decided to visit one of the Christian churches in Calcutta. As he tried to enter the church sanctuary, the ushers blocked his path. They told him he wasn’t welcome, nor would he ever be allowed to attend this particular church because it was only for high-caste Indians and whites. He was neither high caste, nor white. As a result of that single event, Gandhi rejected the Christian faith, and never again considered the claims of Christ. He was turned off by the sin of segregation that was practiced by the church, and that experience of rejection prompted his declaration: “I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians.”

Tragic…

Mother Teresa was 85-years-old when she was invited to address the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. This frail old lady, dressed as ever in her simple cheap clothing, passionately and eloquently called on the powerful luminaries gathered around her to enshrine the protection of unborn babies in law. She pleaded for compassion on behalf of the ‘little ones’: “How can we speak out against violence, when we are the most brutal with the most defenseless?”

It was obviously a controversial and sensitive subject, and many of the media elite spoke of that awkward moment for the President Clinton, Vice-President Gore, and their wives as this humble diminutive lady spoke with such conviction. As she stood down, the audience gave a roaring standing ovation. However, a number of people, who were seated on the stage, very ostentatiously chose not to stand up, in obvious disagreement with what she’d said.

Afterwards, President Clinton was asked in an interview what he thought of Mother Teresa’s pointed message. He paused and said only this: “It is very difficult to argue against a life so beautifully lived.” He was wise to keep his words to a minimum, because he recognized that all the arguments supporting his opinion about her words were irrelevant at that time. Anything he said would only reflect his attitude toward Mother Teresa the person; and in the presence of a life well lived, he was no longer responding to an issue at hand, but to a person in front of him.

Jesus was the supreme example of a life well-lived. Indeed, he was and is the Life. He shows us the way – indeed He is the Way. He shows us the truth. Indeed He is the Truth. And we can remain hopeful because He is the Resurrection.

So we find ourselves at a critical, long-overdue moment – one full of noise, anger, and indignation. How will we respond? What/Who are we passing on to our children? Will we maintain our neutrality between the elephant and the mouse? There are many more big questions to grapple with…

May God help all of us to listen humbly, to learn important lessons, and to look forward in hope, committed to embracing the cost of authentic faith, whether we reject all labels, or proudly call ourselves Christians, transformational engineers, or followers of Jesus…


PS The above has resonated with many but alienated others, as showed in private or public comments on different platforms. Some people I care deeply about have misunderstood what I’m trying to express and been offended. To them I simply ask that they re-read it, without interpreting extra layers of meaning which I’m not intending. Apologies for where it simply hasn’t been well-expressed. Of course I’m still a Christian(!), and orthodox too, as we would both probably agree on defining. But ‘judgment begins at the house of God’, so asking painful questions, re-evaluating, and maintaining a stance of humility (and repentance where appropriate) are pre-requisites to our discipleship journey.

Click here for Why I’m No Longer a Christian… Part 2