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Here’s another segment from Eckhard Schnabel’s work on Early Christian Mission (pp. 241-242). It struck me as it made me think about the crowds in Togo. If you’ve followed the news reports, you probably think of the crowds as angry and violent. Believe me when I tell you that those folks are the minority, though they are certainly not to be dismissed lightly. What I saw in the eyes and heard in the voices of my Togolese neighbors was fear. They are indeed sheep without a shepherd, or perhaps it would be better to say, they are sheep who do not trust and who fear their shepherds. And like the crowds of Jesus’ day, Jesus has compassion on them. Please keep them in your prayers this week.

Here’s what Schnabel has to say:

“The crowds that wanted hear Jesus preach and see him heal do not appear as monochromatic. Rather, the presentation of the crowds reflects the historical reality that would surround any charismatic and popular itinerant preacher who is also controversial. Because crowds of people wanted to hear Jesus preach again and again, and because they brought their sick trusting that he would heal them (while ignoring the negative verdicts of priests, Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes), they appear in an essentially positive light. The people of these ochloi are not true followers of Jesus who are committed to being his disciples, but are neither they like the Pharisees and scribes who reject him. They know that he is a prophet, and they ask themselves, at least on one occasion, whether he might be the Messiah. . . . The crowds stand between agreement and mistrust, between acceptance and rejection – they are the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 10:6). This is the reason why Jesus has compassion on them.

“… [A]s Jesus extended his compassion to the crowds, Christians should receive all the curious, the neutral and the skeptical people whom they encounter in their everyday lives with similar compassion. It was Jesus who sent the disciples to the crods that pressed around (Mt. 9:35-38) in order to preach and heal people (Mt 10:1, 7-8). . . .

“Hans Bietrand* observes that ‘it is especially to these people, who have nothing in particular to offer, that Jesus directs his teaching and his compassion (Matt. 9:33),’ in contrast to the ochlos as the ignorant masses who did not keep the law’ (John 7:48-49).”

I hope that provides some food for thought. It did for me. In personal news, God is looking out for us here in Ghana. We have received a generous offer of a place to stay at the Village of Hope. We plan to move there Monday and remain for about a week, before attending the annual West Africa Missionary Retreat at Coconut Grove Beach Resort in Elmina, Ghana. This is always a highlight, so pray that all the missionaries planning to attend will be able to travel there safely.

*H. Bietenhard, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 2, p. 800.

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This is a word that brings chills to the bones of every missionary — something we hope to never experience, but know that chances are pretty high that we might.

For the Tabligbo team, evacuation became a reality today. We struggled with the decision before last Sunday’s presidential election, but chose to wait things out and pray that we would not have to exercise this option. We spent several days "living like Martha Stewart, not necessarily her lifestyle, but feeling that we were under house arrest, only occasionally venturing outside of our compounds. That was primarily to communicate with our teammates, as telecommunications were out in the country from Sunday until Wednesday.

After the ruling party candidate was declared the winner of the election, the security situation quickly deteriorated in the south of the country where we live, and where the opposition parties have their strongest support. We heard of attacks on foreigners in the capital city of Lome, and though we felt that we were secure in Tabligbo for the time being, all of our trusted friends and neighbors were expecting the situation to worsen. Not knowing whether or for how much longer we would be able to travel out of the country, we decided to leave in the hopes that we will soon be able to return to Togo.

We left Tabligbo at 5:30 a.m. and did not experience any difficulties with our "flight" out of the country. There was evidence of yesterday’s conflicts — remains of fires and barricades that had since been removed. We passed into Ghana by a little used border crossing. Some Togolese military gave us a few hassles, but by and large, we were well received by border officials on both the Togolese and Ghanaian sides.

The Bontragers and Newlins were scheduled to fly out of Accra on May 8. The Bontragers have been able to change their tickets and will leave here on May 1. The Newlins, who are on a different airline, may be able to leave on May 4. We are so thankful for all these families have meant to our team.

At present, we are all staying in the Baptist Guest House in Accra until Sunday. Their rooms are occupied after that point, and we need to find something a little more affordable for longer term stay.

We can all be contacted by our normal email addresses. In addition, the Parkers and Koonces have cell phones. Here are the numbers as you would dial them from the States:
Koonces 011-233-24-4090298
Parkers 011-233-24-3638990

Please keep the Togolese Christians in your prayers as fears are high in our part of the country. Also pray that we will be able to return to Togo soon, and that our homes will remain secure in our absence.

We plan to stay in Ghana at least through the annual West Africa Missionary Retreat that ends on May 12.  

*Today’s post also appears in the Tabligbo Times, our team’s weekly e-newsletter.  To subscribe, go to www.watchiharvest.com.

 

Rabbi Tanhuma (A.D. 380) told this story:

“Once a boat load of gentiles was sailing the Mediterranean.  There was one Jewish child in the boat.  A great storm came upon them in the sea.  Each person took his idol in his hand and cried out.  But it did not help them.  Once they saw that their cries were of no avail, they turned to the Jewish child and said, ‘Child, rise up and call out to your God.  For we have heard that he answers you when you cry out to him, and that he is heroic.’  The child immediately rose up and cried out with all his heart.  The Holy One, blessed be He, accepted his prayer and quieted the seas.  When the ship reached dry land [at the port], everyone disembarked to purchase his needed staples.  They said to the child, ‘Don’t you wish to buy anything?’  He said to them, ‘What do you want of me?  I am just a poor traveler.’  They said to him, ‘You are just a poor traveler?  They are the poor travelers.  Some of them are here, and their idols are in Babylonia.  Some of them are here, and their idols are in Rome.  Some of them are here and their idols are with them, but they do them no good.  But wherever you go, you God is with you.’”

Eckhard Schnabel* comments,

“… people who know that their god is far away feel free [to live as they please (ap)] and at home everywhere because their god cannot see them; people who know that Yahweh is omnipresent realize that he is, as Creator, the Lord of the world, in which a person can only be a guest.”

Today we are feeling our status as guests here in the world and particularly Togo.  We are spending the day at home while the rest of the country is voting in very controversial presidential elections.  Many are predicting trouble regardless of who is announced as the winner.  Because we know that our God is heroic, because  he is Lord of the world, we are at peace as we wait and pray for the people of Togo.

*The above story and Schnabel’s comments are found in Eckhard J. Schnable, Early Christian Mission, Vol. 1, Jesus and the Twelve (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2004), pp. 167-169.

I just received this from my friend Judy Miller, who serves as business facilitator for the Baptist mission in Benin, just next door to Togo. I thought it was an honest and realistic look at missionary life.

This week I thought of you as I sat waiting in our local bank. Waiting, waiting, waiting. I was there trying to cash 2 checks. Ahhhhh my grandiose dreams as a new missionary….expecting great things of God, attempting great things for God, Carey, Taylor, Moon now they got a lot done for the Lord. Waiting, waiting……..

I strike up conversations with all the new employees in that back section of the bank; fresh out of the local university trying very hard to impress their colleagues and the occasional client who gets back here to the holy of holies. They eventually let their guard down and laugh at this white woman that attempts to speak their language. I always ask what village folks are from because I know a good bit of the geography here in the south. Opportunities present themselves to share about my work and my Savior.

After about 4 hours of waiting and 2 trips to a very busy downtown just to cash 2 checks the Lord whispers to me, it’s all in the waiting. These employees watch how I react to unpleasant circumstances of being made to wait an outrageous amount of time and how our business was being handled. While I like to report that every minute I was there glorified the Lord, I’m sure the reality is my impatience came through. I did have a chance to share and even return with daily devotionals for these reading material starved educated young people. Pray that the Lord would indeed be glorified in my ministry of waiting.

Join me in praying for Benin’s neighbor, Togo. They are scheduled to have an election on Sunday. Suffice it to say there has been lots of protest and antics which could easily lead to violence over the weekend. Pray that the Lord will guard His children during all these events. Pray for PEACE. Pray that our missionaries will be safe and protected from any unrest.

Reuters AlertNet – FACTBOX – Key facts about Togo

Here is some information on Togo to keep in mind as you pray for this Sunday’s elections.

Yesterday two men came to my gate. They both are employees of one of my teammates who is in the States on furlough right now. One works in the house and the other is a guard. Before leaving, my teammate had paid his employees in advance for the time he would be away. But now, halfway through the furlough, the money is gone – all spent. They were wondering if I could give them each a $20 salary advance so they could get by for the remaining month and a half. Being a stick-in-the-mud, I told them that I would contact their boss, and gave them $5 each for the meantime.

How could both their three-month salaries be gone after a month and a half? How could this be anything other than blatant irresponsibility?

Well, it really isn’t. It seems that “a brother” (which can mean anything from next of kin to a fifth cousin) suffered three gunshot wounds during the political protests here a couple of weeks ago. They claim that he was an innocent bystander. They, and who knows how many other members of “the family,” had emptied their pockets to pay his hospital bills. Fortunately, he will live.

This reminded me of a couple of features of African culture. One is the tight sense of community. When there is a need, members of the community respond. There is a bond that brings about an obligation. There is also the assumption that, if they are in a similar need, the community will respond to help them. I’m reminded of the primitive communalism in the early Jerusalem church, where “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32). In a true community, there is no “private property.” There is a just a voluntarily redistribution, as hearts respond to need. (That’s where it differs from communism.)

The second feature is a concern for the immediate present that eclipses worries about the future. Deal with the here-and-now, and worry about tomorrow, well, tomorrow. Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”?

Now I don’t idealize African community. There are drawbacks. No doubt some of these very attitudes have hindered “development” as we understand it. But I couldn’t help but be impressed by the simple trust that led these men to do the right thing—help their brother—first, and worry about the consequences later.

This morning I had another visitor – a villager who had ridden his heavy, gear-less Chinese bicycle into town to seek help to pay medical bills for his daughter, who had just spent four days in the hospital. She is better, but you don’t get out until the bills are paid. Her bill was $25. This time, I was able to help, but it didn’t involve the risk that the two men had taken on behalf of their brother. It didn’t even involve sacrifice on my part, because someone else had given me money to use to help children here. I was just re-distributing what had been loaned to me. But when it comes down to it, isn’t that what all of our giving – even all of our spending – is?

Now, it would be irresponsible if I used the money in some way other than how the giver had intended. How much more should we reflect on how the Giver of all good things intends for us to use what he has put into our hands, and how irresponsible it is to use it otherwise!

OK, I have to say something. Benedict XVI has just been elected as pope. Fox News just interviewed a young (sounded young, I only have satellite radio) American seminarian, who was rejoicing that there is now a pope, because the pope is the representative of Christ on earth. The church, he said, had been like sheep without a shepherd in the interim between popes.

Wait a minute. I thought Jesus was the Good Shepherd; had he abandoned his sheep? (Granted, men do serve as shepherds, but that is on a more local level, not for the whole church.) And can a single man, or any single Christian aspire to fully represent Christ? Doesn’t the fact that the church is the Body of Christ, mean that it is the church as a whole who represents Christ on earth?

Well, obviously, I’m not a Catholic and can’t understand or appreciate all of their perspectives. It’s just that I’ve read a lot about identification with and commonality between Catholics and biblical Christianity, and I think there’s a danger of forgetting how far apart we are theologically.

That’ s not to say there is no good there or that there is nothing we can learn. I’ve been challenged by Henri Nouwen and you’re hard pressed to find better NT theology than Luke Johnson. But when Catholics speak as Catholics, there’s still a big gap.

I’ve now linked to a few of my fellow bloggers. Each has a unique style and purpose, so head on over and find the ones who interest you. I plan to add to this list periodically. Of course, listing of a blog does not imply that I endorse all views therein represented. If you read something you like, or something you disagree with, leave a comment, but make sure that truth and grace are equally valued. This is more about sharing, interacting, and growing than getting it right every time.

CNN.com – Pre-poll clashes kill at least 7 in Togo – Apr 17, 2005

Please pray for the people of Togo in view of coming elections on Sunday, April 24. Except for one day of violent clashes, things have been calm in our small town. We’re not so concerned for our own safety, as for the people of Togo and their future.

(Today’s post is a little long — stay with me if you can.)

I think I was a junior in college when I returned to my roots and started listening to country music again. It just wasn’t cool when Iwas in high school in the seventies. Back then, we were listening to brand newrock music that since has come to be described as “classic.” Talk about feelingold. When I was a junior in college, however, my parent’s college fund ran out,but they did let me borrow a 1972 Ford Pinto (yes, the exploding kind), so I could live and work off campus. The Pinto only had an AM radio, so I foundmyself listening to WSM, none other than the flagship station of the Grand Ol’ Opry. Even todaywhen I’m in the Nashville area, I nostalgically tune in.

Perhaps this helps explain why, since I got access to Worldspace Satellite Radio a few months ago here in Togo, I’ve spent hours listening to their “UpCountry” channel. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by the worldly or sexual content of the songs, but more often I’m impressed by the human and spiritual side of the music. Yesterday, I heard what was to me a new song, though it may have been out for a while in the States, sung by Clay Walker.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the lyrics, but the song begins by enumerating several modern-day dilemmas concerning the existence of evil in the world which the composer can’t understand, but then, taking a cue from chapters 38 to 42 of the book of Job, the composer confesses that he or she wasn’t there when God hung the stars, filled the stars, etc. In other words, humans can’t answer all of God’s questions, so we are in no position to demand that he answer all of ours. Still, the composer dares to ask God “A Few Questions” – hence the title of the song and the album.

I looked for more information on the song on Walker’s website, and found this quote from him,

“I was taught as a kid that you don’t question God, but this is written so well it’s pardonable.”

Somewhere along the line Walker’s teachers, decided that it was wrong to question God. I don’t know where they got that idea, but it wasn’t from the Bible. Though God never answers Job’s questions, he doesn’t condemn him for questioning. In fact, God was angry with Job’s friends who refused to question him, “because you have not spoken of me what is right, as myservant Job has” (Job 42:7, NIV).

And Job isn’t the only one to question God in Scripture.

Abraham questioned God’s decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (he lost), but Moses managed to talk God out of wiping out the children of Israel (Gen. 18:16-19:29; Exodus 32:9-14). The Psalms are full of people questioning God, and God chose to keep those questions in the Bible. A quick search revealed thirty-one occurrences of the word “Why” in the English text of the NIV ofPsalms, including these:

  • “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?” (10:1)
  • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (22:1)
  • “Why have you forgotten me?” (42:9)
  • “Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Arouse yourself!”(44:23)
  • “Why do the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” (115:2)

Even in the book of the Apocalypse, we find the martyrsunder the throne, in the very presence of God, questioning him, asking, “How long, Sovereign Lord?” (Rev. 6:10)

Obviously, God is not as disturbed by our questions as we might think. In fact, he invites us to ask. Obviously, we can go too far. We can question God, but we dare not accuse him. We dare not put “God in the Dock” (C.S. Lewis). Like Job, we do not have all the facts and we cannot expect to understand all of the cosmic forces involved in our struggles.But still, we can ask. Often times he calls us to wait.

He seldom answers quickly or in the way we expect to hear from him. He calls us to trust. He calls us to faith, but he allows us to doubt, to question, and to wait — to wait for that day when either all of our questions will be immediately answered, or they just won’t seem so pressing anymore. After all, we’ll have forever.