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“If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

I just want to share this with you so that you can praise God with me for His goodness and mercy.

What a morning I had this past Wednesday!  It started with some exercise in the yard (trying to encourage my older son Jeremy to do the same). After that, it was a rush trying to get breakfast ready and prepare lunch for the boys to take to school and have some for Anthony and me. You see, Wednesday is the day I go to Tsevie (che-vee-ay, a town about 45 minutes away from where we live) for language study. I felt rushed but managed to leave the house and arrived at my language teacher’s house only a few minutes late. I had decided that it would be my last session with Kate. The reasons are that I really do not like driving on my own especially with the road being bad with lots of potholes and also, with Jonathan starting pre-school and at a later time than Jeremy and finishing early, it is hard to juggle time to have everything done. I had a good session with Kate, said my goodbye and was soon on my way home.

All the time that we’ve lived in Africa, we’ve always tried to remember to ask God for traveling mercies because we have seen a few too many wrecks on the road!  I know that if it were not for His mercy, I might not be here today.

I was driving back from Kate’s, about three-fourths of the way home, and was about to pass a trailor truck that was parked on the other side of the road when I saw two more large trucks coming from the opposite direction.  When they were about 100 meters away, I saw the second truck attempting to overtake the truck in front. I was hoping that the driver of the second truck would stop overtaking when he saw my vehicle but to my dismay, he kept on coming. I realized that there will not be space on the 2 lane road (with a parked truck on the other side) so I tried to go as close to the edge of the road as possible.  He overtook the truck in front but because of the parked truck on his side of the road he cut into my side of the road and “squeezed” in between the parked truck and my vehicle, almost pushing me off the road. I saw my side mirror being pushed in and then heard the sound of scraping metal. By then we had both stopped. I was scared, but I was more upset than anything at the driver for his reckless driving. Praise the Lord that I was unharmed and the vehicle had only some scratches. Since it would be too time consuming to try to make a police report, and seeing that there wasn’t much damage done, I went on my way.

As if that incident weren’t enough, when I reached Tabligbo, and as I turned into our road, I got stuck in the mud. The rain over the past few days has made mud of the newly graded road. Anyway, with help from some people who were on the road, I was able to get out of the mud and drove on to the school to pick up Jonathan.  I had called Anthony and he soon joined me at the school after having walked most of the way before catching a motorcycle taxi.  It was such a relief to see him and to be back safe and sound. May God bless our going out and coming in. Praise Him.

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Those of you who remember our evacuation from Togo back in April and May may be interested in this report from the UN about the levels of violence. Please pray for those who still wait in fear to return, and for what appear to be recent moves in the government toward greater openness and democratization.

A number of my fellow bloggers have linked to Greg Kendall-Ball’s post citing a 1955 Good Housekeeping article about what makes a good wife. Most of the suggestions have to do with how a wife greets her husband when he comes home from work. It’s amazing how times have changed.

I was interested to see this BBC report on a contemporary study that shows that, in a less gender-biased way, they were on to something. It seems that coming home to a hug and a supportive environment can help both men and women deal better with the stresses of the work. But I don’t think we really needed Good Housekeeping or the British Heart Foundation to tell us that.

Correction:  The correct link for the Tammany Oaks relief blog is http://toccrecovery.blogspot.com .  My earlier link worked, but the text in the blog itself was wrong.

 

Credit:  The centripetal/centrifugal distinction originated, I believe with Johannes Blauw in a 1962 book, The Missionary Nature of the Church:  A Survey of the Biblical Theology of Mission (New York:McGraw-Hill), at least that’s who Guder cites.

It’s often been said that the Old Testament concept of missions is centripetal while the New Testament idea is centrifugal.  If you’re like me, you’ll have trouble keeping those terms straight.  Centripetal has the idea of a force pulling something towards its center.  A pretty convincing case can be made that the Jewish people, even up until Jesus’ day, did not engage in very many active efforts to bring non-Jews into the community of God’s people.  Instead, the dominant vision was of an eschatological drawing of all peoples to Zion.  Isaiah 49:6 is an exception, which speaks of God’s salvation going out to the ends of the earth.  But that was always something that would come later, and something that God would take care of.

When we get to the New Testament, however, there is a different vision.  A vision of actually Going to the ends of the earth to make disciples of all the nations.  Jesus uses the wording of Isaiah 49:6 to talk about the intentional witness of the Christian community.  Just as a centrifuge spins and scatters its contents, the good news of Jesus is to be scattered to the ends of the earth.

As can so easily happen, however, we need to avoid making a false dichotomy between these two.  Didn’t Jesus say that when he is lifted up, he will draw all people to himself?  That sounds centripetal to me.  And that city set on a hill?  The light works both ways – both to draw people to it, and to reach out and pierce through the darkness, giving hope to those who are lost outside the city gates.  It’s a tragedy if we just set inside our comfortable church buildings and wait for God to bring people to us.  It is equally a tragedy when we fail to embrace those he does bring.  When those who are lost are drawn to the city gates, what if they remain shut, and newcomers are excluded.  Could it be that newcomers to our churches ever feel that way, as they struggle to get past the walls of our warm, intimate fellowship?  Is that fellowship ever warm and intimate to those on the inside, but cold and intimidating to those trying to get in?

Here’s another passage from Guder that might help pull some of this together:

“The New Testament model for this understanding of incarnational evangelization is Jesus himself.  In his encounters with people, he constantly revealed his love for those to whom he ministered.  He dealt with individuals as individuals, he communicated with his hearers in terms they could understand, and he did not always say everything there was to say.  He accepted the measure of faith that was brought to him and worked with that faith, regardless of how immature or inadequate it might have been.  What Jesus said and what he did were congruent, and the heart of his message was that God was a loving Father to whom the prodigal could return home, just as he was himself a friend to whom the outcasts, the prostitutes, and the publicans could come and find help.

The network of relationships within which we live is the primary place where evangelization is tot take place.  This is where every Christian is a witness.  But it is also the harder place to say the witness, because congruence between being, doing, and saying is hard to achieve.  It is, ultimately, easier for the preacher to go straight from the study to the pulpit and proclaim the word.  But it is more incarnational to go from the study to the people, to share in their life, and to share one’s life with them, and then to grapple with the ambiguities and shadowy sides of normal life—and out of that crucible to go into the pulpit and evangelize.

By the same token, it is easier to approach a total stranger, develop a conversation in which a ‘testimony’ is given, and then present the gospel.  It is far more difficult to live with one’s ‘neighbors’ daily and to put words on one’s convictions, explaining who one is and why one lives in a certain way, called Christian.  It is, of course, more ‘natural’ to say the witness in such a way that the gospel surfaces out of the interactions of daily of daily life.  Through his relationships, the Christian explains and shares himself” (pp. 146-147; emphasis mine, ap).

 

I’ve been reading Darrell Guder’s 1985 book Be My Witnesses, and it’s helping me grow in my understanding of what it means to be a witness of Jesus.  This relates to my earlier post where I was questioning how that witness might look in a North American context. I’ve marked more quotable quotes than I could possibly reproduce here, but here’s a section I that I think sums up pretty well a lot of what Guder is saying.

“Much that is witness, and that bears the authority of the Holy Spirit working through it, will not necessarily become verbal.  The day-to-day example of that witness lived out by obedient Christians in all the spheres of life is perhaps the  most powerful and most persuasive form of witness.  Ethics understood as witness will point to the lordship of Christ in many situations in which speech is not possible … .  [The “saying”] of the Good News must emerge out of being and doing the witness.  In other words, being and  doing the witness provide the context and also the validation for  what we say. ….

To stop with being and doing, which is the tendency of many Christian movements today who have problems with ‘evangelism,’ is to reduce drastically the biblical mandate and the very nature of the Good News.  We are seeking to define the saying of the witness in such a way that it will not be isolated from the total scope of witness. But we must insist that our definitions are incomplete, and our concept of the church is less than biblical, if we do not focus the task of witness ultimately on the verbal communication of this Good News.  The witnesses (martyroi), as the witnessing community, must address the witness (martyria) to the world.” (pp. 133-134)

I think this is what Sandi was saying in her comment – that we need to be the kind of people and serve in a way that our verbal witness can be heard.  And Greg was right in saying that our witness must be heard as Good News.  In my encounter at the pool, I rushed headlong to an application that should come at a much deeper point in a relationship.  There just wasn’t that opportunity.  Whether I was speaking without thinking or following the leading of the Holy Spirit in that specific situation, I don’t know.  Somehow we have to find a balance between coming across as close-minded bigots and presenting Jesus as just one item on the religious menu that can be chosen or passed over.  Maybe that balance won’t be so hard to find when we learn to genuinely love those to whom we bear witness, and to be guided by the Holy Spirit in being, doing, and saying the witness.

 

The Tammany Oaks church in Mandaville, Louisiana has set up a blog to communicate with volunteers and inform those who are interested in the relief efforts they are doing.  Tod Vogt, my dear friend and former teammate is a minister there.  Go to tcocrecovery.blogspot.com .

Temperatures are warming back up in Togo, so yesterday we took a couple of hours in the capital city of Lomé to go to the swimming pool. Just as we were about to leave, we struck up a conversation with Togolese man who lives in New York. Two of his six children were with him and his wife, visiting a “home” that they barely know. This man said that his father had previously been the Togolese ambassador to the United Nations before dying in a plane crash over Ivory Coast, which he said was an assassination. I have no idea whether this was true or not, but this gives you an idea of how the conversation went.

He asked what we were doing in Togo and we told him that we were missionaries. He asked what church and we told him. He volunteered that his mother had gotten the whole family involved in Eckankar, and that was the religion he practiced.

I don’t know very much about Eckankar, but I have browsed through one of their leaflets. Best I can tell, it is an eclectic, new-ageish personality cult that preaches that truth is in all belief systems and they can help you cull out the truth—for a fee. Most of the adherents are African intellectuals (and, from my limited contacts, quasi-intellectuals).

For some reason, it came pretty naturally for me to tell this man that Eckankar believes everything and nothing at the same time. He told me that I was exactly right. Well, that emboldened me to tell him a little more about Jesus being the only Way, at least that’s what Jesus claimed, and you either have to reject Jesus altogether or accept that claim. The man was not in the least offended by my boldness. He didn’t convert on-the-spot either, but I got the feeling that he would consider what I said.

My question is—why is it so easy to have this kind of conversation with Africans, and so difficult to have with Americans?

At least that’s the way it was for me eons ago when I lived in America.

I think part of the answer is that, in Africa, questions of eternal truth are still in the public domain. Africans accept that these things are part of reality and can be discussed publicly as freely as sports, the weather, and today’s news. Every Westener, on the other hand, seems to have his or her own copyrighted version of truth and has privatized these issues so that even intimate friendships are threatened when they are introduced.

I’m planning to move back to America next year, and I want to be able to share my faith as freely there as I do here in Africa, but I’m afraid that I won’t know how. So—those of you who are on the frontlines of the kingdom in that foreign land – Is it possible to discuss your faith in the public domain? How does the Holy Spirit open doors for you? Is it as difficult as I am imagining? Is there any value in this kind of spontaneous witnessing without any possibility of follow-up? These are some of my questions – any answers?

Jonathan was excited to begin preschool today. Posted by Picasa

Nah…just kidding. A case of false hopes.

I have “My Yahoo” set to pick up on any news stories that mention my beloved country of Togo, so this morning I was suprised to see the headline “New Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar opens today” listed among the Togo-related healdliines.

I guessed pretty quickly this wasn’t for real, and even had a pretty good idea why the link was there.

It seems that Applebee’s Sonic-style carryout service is called …

… Carside “ToGo.”

Oh well, Maureen’s cooking is better anyway. Had some great $1.50/lb beef filet (trimmed of excess fat after it’s weighed and sold) and grilled shrimp (sold out of an iced bucket on the side of the road) last night. Can’t beat it with a stick.