Monday, December 20, 2010

CMS Gift catalog

Just in case you're madly rushing around doing Christmas shopping and can't work out what to get. CMS has some great ideas - including a way to directly help the work we are doing here in Latin America.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The northern hemisphere calendar

It's that time of year when everything's finishing up. School's finished for another year, work Christmas parties, kids are beginning the transition from primary to high school - or is it??

One of the things which is really striking us at the moment is what a difference being in the northern hemisphere makes to the way you view December and Christmas. While our southern hemisphere friends are rushing about madly doing having their school parties and farewells and Christmas functions and looking forward to a long summer holiday - we're not. I'll be working on Christmas eve and will start again after a few days break - back to normal.

We have the Christmas stuff - although here it all happens on the night of Christmas Eve, but we don't have the associated feeling of 'the year is ending' - because its not!. We get 2 weeks school holiday (after an 18 week term!), and then the year continues as normal. It really puts quite a different spin on Christmas.

(Of course long term northern hemisphere readers are thinking - of course, what are you talking about!)

But as the days get shorter and colder and we hear of the Christmas holiday stories floating our way over the Pacific - man, would it be nice to be on the beach at Valla this Christmas!

Catch a wave or two for us.

(By the way, the photo is of Grahame and Patty Scarratt and I at Bulli Anglican Church in November, at the 'festejo' to celebrate 30 years of Scarratt ministry in Latin America, and me being handed the 'poncho' to be the Director of MOCLAM)

Friday, October 22, 2010

When worlds collide

There are two big events coming up in Mexico in the next few weeks that make us ask of few questions about what our involvement should be.

On the 31st of October there's Halloween, and then on the 2nd of November its 'Day of the Dead'.

You can easily find good summaries of the history of Halloween, but it basically seems an adaption of a pagan festival from times past. In most cases I think the dominant theme now is consumerism with a 'ghosty' twist.

Thanks to our proximity to the USA, Halloween is becoming very popular here. At the moment there are quite a few decorations up around the place and yesterday at the supermarket I stood behind someone buying a plastic battle axe. (I assume it was plastic!) On the night of the 31st there will be groups of kids wandering the streets asking (or in most cases demanding) lolllies.

The whole thing seems to tap into the growing interest in spiritual 'other wordly' sorts of things which is being reflected in TV, movies and literature.

Day of the Dead is a bit different. Its more tradition than commercialism, more about family than lollies, more religious than fantasy. Its a great example of how the catholicism of the conquistadors has been mixed up with some of the beliefs and practices of the early inhabitants of Mexico. On the day, many people will visit the grave of loved ones, for all sorts of reasons. Some to reflect and mourn, others to celebrate, others to spend time touching up the grave and repainting the headstone.

In the classrooms at school and altar (thats what it is called) is constructed and the kids are invited to place pictures and favourite things of dead relatives on it, and the classroom is decorated in traditional stuff.

This of course presents quite a challenge for the Christian kids and families in the school. Halloween is a bit easier - the simple 'we don't do that' seems to suffice, but when its in the classroom its a bit more difficult.

Also, the altar and the stuff that goes with it is a bit more 'problematic' - if I can put it like that. We can largely ignore Halloween saying its American commercialism - but there is clearly a lot of feeling and belief going around on the day of the dead.

What to do?

Do we encourage the kids to just sit and observe and learn from the culture, or should we be more active that that? Should we say something to the school about what we believe and make a 'stand'? We know we are not of this world and therefore there are going to be things that challenge what we hold true about life, death and resurrection, so how do we respond in this sort of circumstance?

One of the greatest things I've seen recently is a friend who set up a table in her garage with the Two Ways to Live gospel tract displayed on big pictures. When kids came trick or treating, she invited them to take a leaflet, and a lolly, and read through the pictures. Great idea.

I wonder how you might apply this sort of thing in a more public setting, like a school.

We'll go and visit a cemetery on Day of the Dead - its an important part of the culture here and it gives us a great insight into the way people think - but the question of what to say / do / think at school is still churning in my head.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A bad day in Monterrey

Today was a bad day for security in Monterrey - probably made worse for us because the violence was in our area and had a personal connection.

This afternoon there was a major shooting incident very close to our church. Details are still being reported but there are lots of pictures of squads of heavily armed police, helicopters and cars with bullet holes on the TV. The nearby campus of the University which is across the road from our church was locked down for a while and then students were advised to go straight home. I was on the bus going into class to teach for the night when people started talking about it. Most students didn't make it to class - which was completely understandable. Apart from anything else, the traffic was shocking.

But also, it appears that one of the young men from a family at our church was kidnapped on Sunday afternoon (after being in church on Sunday morning) and was found dead this afternoon. I have no idea of the circumstances - but it is of course a terrible thing for the family and our wider church family.

We had hoped that things had quietened down a bit - there hadn't been much violence in September, but it seems things are getting bad again. There were 3 grenade attacks in public places over the weekend, and now this.

As usual - we don't feel threatened and are taking advice for the local people who we know and trust, but overall it wasn't a happy day in our city today.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why I've changed my mind on how to support missionaries.

Why I've changed my mind on how to support missionaries.

In the last three years a lot has changed for me. I've gone from being a parish rector in Sydney to being a missionary with CMS in Mexico. I've gone from being comfortable and confident in my surrounds, to being way out of my depth, struggling with language and culture. I've gone from someone who talked a lot and gave direction, to someone who needs to sit back and listen to the directions of others. And, I've changed my mind on how churches should be involved in supporting missionaries. (Of course, this change has been prompted by me seeing things from 'the other side of the fence', but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, nor does it make my change of mind illegitimate.)

Three years ago, if you'd asked me what I thought the role of the local church in supporting missionaries and mission organizations was, I think I would have said something like this.

Following the mission imperative of the gospel going to all the nations which is clear throughout the Bible, local churches need to be active in their promotion of cross cultural and overseas mission as a normal part of the everyday Christian life. Its important for churches to have particular missionaries they support in prayer and care for - for example through the CMS system of missionaries being linked to particular churches which they visit when on home assignment. The missionaries have a responsibility to keep link churches and other supporters up to date with prayer points and news, and the churches have a responsibility to regularly pray for the missionaries and their work - both in Sunday gatherings, small groups and personal prayers. The church as a gathering should model personal involvement with the missionary, and encourage individuals to contact and care for missionaries. The local church also needs to be active in recruiting and sending new missionaries to the field - usually through a society like CMS. In the matter of finance, the church needs to encourage all its members to become a member of the mission society and to be individually active in giving money regularly and generously.

Today, in answer to that question, my response would be 90% the same. I still whole-heartedly believe the local church has a critical part to play in the promotion of mission as a normal part of the Christian life, in encouraging people to pray for mission, to care for missionaries and to ask the question of going. The difference would come in the last sentence. I still agree that the local church needs to encourage its member to become a member of the mission society and to be active in individual giving. However, I now think that the local church also needs to be actively supporting mission financially from its own budget - having a 'mission support' line in the budget right alongside 'staff salary', 'building repair' and 'electricity'.

A number of factors have been influential in my mind change.

1. I think giving money 'as a church' reflects the scriptural model.
Generosity and giving to those in need and in ministry is a clear Biblical principle. (2Cor 9:6-15) In Acts and several of Paul's letters we get snapshots of the money that is being given from one group to another to aid the growth of poorer churches. (Acts 24:17, Rom 15:25, 1Cor 16:1-3) Paul himself benefits from the generosity of the Philippian church (Phil 4:15-16). In each of these cases, it seems it is the 'organised church' that is providing the material aid, rather than individuals.

I am in no doubt that Paul received aid from individuals as well (Acts 16:15) but also at times refused this aid, both 'personal' and 'institutional' so as to remove potential stumbling blocks (1 Cor 9:1-18).

2. Being a model
The local church plays an incredibly important role in providing a model of Christian life to its members. The things that the church thinks is important, it demonstrates and models to its members. Through the way we read and engage with the scripture in our public meetings we want to model serious and contemplative Bible reading that requires a personal response. In our public prayers, we want to model that prayer is important, how to pray and what to pray for. We want to model love, community, compassion, generosity, willingness… the list is almost endless.

Perhaps a question worth asking is 'How is my local church modelling partnership in cross-cultural mission?' We host a visiting missionary from time to time. Maybe we have a missionary prayer and support group. We encourage people to attend missionary conferences, like CMS Summer School.

As I thought through that question, and I thought about the church budget, I wondered if saying 'we are a church that supports mission' while not significantly supporting that mission through the church budget was something of a disjunction.

3. The role of mission society membership
Because Christian mission is a normal part of Christian life, rather than an 'add-on' for the really keen, I think it should be a normal expectation for all Christians to be involved in some sort of mission organization. In the case of CMS, that is seen in the form of being a member. Other organizations have partners, sponsors, givers - but the principle is the same. The individual is committed to the organization, prayerfully, financially and personally.

One of the great advantages of making this mission involvement personal rather than 'institutional' (ie: our church is involved in supporting mission) is that it encourages long-term involvement and more personal consideration. If you rely on your church to 'do' your mission involvement for you, and you move churches to a place that doesn't support mission, your mission involvement potentially ends.

Three years ago I would have said the model of giving needs to follow this model of membership, ie: its personal. I still believe that mission involvement needs to be personal, but I'm not sure that takes the local church out of the equation, particularly in the area of giving.

4. Missionary work is costly business
I recently heard a speaker say that his study had concluded that of every $100 earned by a church member in America, $0.025 goes towards cross-cultural mission. Even if that figure is out by a factor of 10, or even 100, the amount of money that is given to mission is relatively small, particularly in comparison to the amount of money that is given to local church ministry.

And, let's face it, missionary work is expensive. Relocating families, training them in language and culture, caring for their pastoral needs and helping to provide the resources they need is a costly exercise, but its an exercise that the gospel requires of us. Perhaps the burden of this expense needs to be shared by both individuals and churches.

I am not suggesting for a minute that most local churches are rolling in cash and spending without thought or careful consideration - I know from my experience and the experience of my peers that nothing could be further from the truth. Also, the budget figures of CMS clearly indicate that there are a large number of very generous members who see mission as a high priority and that priority has translated to their wallet.

But I do want to ask the question, in the context of the annual church budget, is the figure for mission support generous and adventurous? When the budget is increased for the salary of the next staff member, or when the building fund appeal is launched and the minister and treasurer make excited and 'visionary' presentations to the congregation, is the cross-cultural mission budget equally being raised?

Of course, it's not fair to say it's all up to the local church at this point. The missionaries need to be active players in the local church - missionary partnership, ensuring regular prayer points are sent, deputation times are well prepared and presented and that they are praying regularly for their partner churches.


My mind has changed over the last 3 years. The thinking behind that change of mind has been largely prompted by the fact that I've moved from being the guy who thinks about giving the money to the missionary society to the guy who asks for it. It would be easy to say "I've changed hats and therefore my perspective has changed." Yes - I've changed hats, but I think that has been the catalyst, rather than the reason for my change of mind.

So what's my request. I'd like it if all Christians were an active member of a missionary society. Praying for, caring for, giving for and sending missionaries. CMS is fantastic but by no means the only one. But I'd also like it if all churches were an active partner with a mission society. Regularly and publicly praying, actively caring, generously and adventurously giving and excitedly and regularly sending.

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's a real dud being sick

It's a real dud being sick - as I'm experiencing at the moment. Nothing serious, just a heavy head cold and a sore throat that makes me sound like I smoke half a packet before breakfast each day.

But there's something about being sick in a foreign country. I don't know what it is - its just different. The doctors and medical staff here are great (if you are fortunate to be able to afford them, which thanks to CMS we are). They have some slightly unusual customs and when I was recently giving blood for a test and asked the nurse 'Is it red?' she just kindof looked at me. But apart from that, everything is fine.

I think what it is, is that when you are sick, you want everything to be just that little bit easier and more comfortable. You'd prefer it if some of the hassles of everyday life just went away for a few days while you got back to normal. And the reality of our life here is that life isn't as easy and comfortable as what it would be if we were in Australia. Again - nothing dramatic - just the vibe. We have security considerations in our mind here which we wouldn't have in Australia. We have language issues, we have fewer friends and different relationships.

When you're sick, I reckon those differences become a bit more apparent.

By the way, the photo is our 'official' CMS snap for 2011. We took it two weeks ago in a canyon not far from here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


In our latest newsletter we're briefly mentioned the security situation here in Monterrey. Here's a few more details.

Over the last couple of years the level of violence has increased in Mexico generally, and particularly in the north. This violence is almost exclusively related to drugs. There are several cartels that operate major trafficing routes through Mexico into the US, and hence the northern borders of Mexico tend to be the places where they have their power struggles.

In the past there has been violence, but the violence has either been gang on gang, or gang on police / military. News of armed police raids and gang reprisal attacks were common. However, because it was all gang related, there were only ever a few unlucky everyday citizens who got caught up in the crossfire. It happened, but it was extremely rare.

On a personal note, on the way home from Bible study one night last year, I was stuck in a traffic jam, the cause of which was a gang vs army shootout.

However, in the last year, or even less, the violence has changed for the worst.

The gangs are still fighting each other - but the complete disregard for anybody else seems to be increasing. Just last week, a person was shot in the carpark of the supermarket we often use. The wounded man ran into the supermarket, around the checkouts (this is a big place, maybe 35 checkouts) and the gunman followed him in and shot him again - wounding a 14 year old girl in the process. Again, the injured man ran, this time into the carpark again, where the gunman caught him and put a bullet in his head. This all took place at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon in the last week of the school holidays!

This is very disturbing, but the violence is also changing in that it is now taking a political edge. It would appear that the gangs are trying to 'get at' the government by making life more difficult for ordinary citizens, which will in turn create more political pressure.

This is done in two ways. First, government officials are becoming more of a target. Just last week the mayor of Santiago (a pretty town of about 20,000 30 mins south of here) was kidnapped and 2 days later found executed on the side of the road. I have friends who worked with him on various projects and they say he was a good man. Apparently the reason for his execution was that he refused to cooperate with those who wanted to bribe him. Of the six arrested in connection with his killing, 5 are policemen.

My friend who lives in this town says all the police and officials have left - presumably in fear of their personal safety.

The second event which is happening more often around the city is a blockade. These is where gunmen hijack some cars - usually between 5 and 20, and create a roadblock which either just creates a nuisance traffic jam, or blocks up an area so the police are unable to enter and the gang can 'take care of business'.

Last Sunday afternoon, in a gang incident, 3 teenagers were executed in a suburb not far from here. As a result, between 7pm and midnight on Sunday night, there were 39 blockades across the city, causing huge disruption to traffic. Keep in mind its school holidays and Sunday afternoon / evening is out visiting families, enjoy the long evenings etc.

As a result, the local government has formed a new, heavily armed 'flying squad' with orders to respond to such incidents. Last night as I drove in the city there were many more groups of police parked on corners, on streetsides etc.

So how do we feel about all this?

Well, its terrible. We feel sad because the whole society is being affected here. In many ways what is happening is a form of terrorism and everyone is feeling and tension it causes. Everyone talks about it.

We don't feel personally under threat, although we're being a bit more cautious around the place, and tend not to go out at night if we can possible avoid it. We do what we can to keep a low profile. Thats been a bit easier because its been school holidays and our routine has been flexible, but school starts again this week so we'll see if there is any change.

Please pray for our city and the country of Mexico. Please pray for justice and incorruptibility in the government. Please pray that God would hold back the hand of those who want to be violent, and that those in positions of authority would make right and wise decisions.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The impressive work of a small local church

We've had a dramatic week in Monterrey this week. On the 1st of July, Hurricane Alex struck, dumping about 600mm of rain on our area in 24 hours. As a result, there was much flooding, destruction, homelessness etc. We were without power for 3 days and without water for 5. But our problems were pretty minimal compared to those living in neighbourhoods close to us.

And here's where the impressive actions of a little local church come in.

The pastor of this church (not our church, but a friend) lives in a house on the river which he moved into a month ago. On the night of the hurricane he had a foot of water and mud running through his downstairs rooms. That's all gone now, and has been replaced by a small army of people providing food for people in the area who have lost everything.

Three times a day, people from church gather to cook and then distribute hot meals around the neighbourhood - door to do. Kind of like meals on wheels, but its actually meals on gumboots - there is so much mud. When I joined the team last night, we walked carry meals through mud, twisted cars, rubbish and stormwater to reach people sitting in wrecked houses with no power and no water. What's more, it was pouring with rain and the river was starting to rise again - people were pretty tense.

The group from church has been doing this for a week or so, and they will continue to. I asked where the food comes from and he answered 'people just bring it.' Others in the area have realised what is going on and are dropping off bags of rice and other food. Its really quite amazing.

What they are doing is so valuable, because the infrastructure for helping people in relief centres or whatever doesn't really exist here - so its up to groups of individuals to make things happen. Its a great way for the local church to be taking an active, caring role in the community.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Reflections on preaching

I preached my third sermon in Spanish today (on Deut 6:24-25 and 2 Peter 1:1-11 for the record).

Preaching in another language, especially a language which you are still very much a beginner in is a difficult process. For me, I do my usual work on the passage, work out a main point, application etc from which I construct my sermon outline. Then, I write the full text in English and make sure it makes reasonable sense. Then the fun really begins.

I then translate the sermon into Spanish - the dictionary and and verb book get a good workout, practicing pronunciation along the way. I then deliver the sermon, paragraph by paragraph to Lillian, our Spanish tutor who gently, but firmly takes the red pen to it. She points our grammatical errors, helps with with idioms that I might have missed and generally gives it some sense. In my first sermon I think my correction average was about 5 per sentence, but now I am down to about 2 I think.

That correction process will take a couple of hours.

Then, after all that, I need to do some practice - so I can speak the words clearly, with a reasonable accent, acceptable intonation and timing, and even the odd pause or emphasis.

And so, Sunday morning comes and I deliver the thing. I think it goes alright.

So here's the reflection. When I preach in English, I write and use a full text, but I don't need to use it all that much. I know the material, I know how I want to say it and so I do. I can have a lot more eye contact with the people I am speaking to and hence get a much better feel for how people are responding.

But in Spanish - things are so much different, and difficult. I'm so busy concentrating on the words, and what comes next and taking notice of the pronunciation notes I've made, that I hardly have time to look up from my notes. Someone could be having a heart attack in the second row (they actually sit in the second row here) and I might not notice!

And as for having a question or comment time - something I used to love back home - forget it! I am so exhausted by the time I've finished I couldn't put an answer together - and that is assuming that I can understand the question (which I usually can't).

I'm hopeful that in a couple of years I might look back on this and think 'Ah yes - I remember those days' - in a fond kind of 'do you remember that camping trip we went on and it rained the whole time and it was horrible' sort of way. But right now, well, the camping trip is well under way!

Friday, June 4, 2010

The value of solid teaching

For many of you, solid and understandable Bible teaching is a meat and potatoes kind of thing. You have it, its normal, its good for you and it keeps you going. But, its kind of dull - in an inoffensive dull kind of way.

If that is you - can I encourage you to reconsider.

Largely because of the language barrier, meat and potatoes Bible teaching has been missing from our diet for the last 15 months. (Yes, we listen to mp3s, but its not the same). We miss sitting with people and discussing a passage in Bible study. We miss hearing the word expounded to us systematically and carefully and in a way which challenges.

One of the things that has made me realise how much I miss this was that last weekend we went to Dallas for what was basically a church weekend away. It was a small church (50 people or so) but they are committed to careful preaching, and so run a little conference each year. The speaker was excellent, the talks were careful and brilliant and the fellowship outstanding.

We did a round trip of 2100km for the joy of it - and it was worth it.

So - can I invite you dear reader, if you are in a situation where the preaching is meat and potatoes, and Bible study seems like a bit of a grind because 'we just keep reading the Bible' to not feel like it is boring or unimportant and therefore look for something more 'important' or a 'magic bullet'. Keep going, keep working, keep listening and growing - its the way God grows his church and his people.

If it feels to difficult to go to Bible study after work - please reconsider. Its an opportunity to serve and an opportunity not to be missed. If the drive to church feels a bit long, I reckon its not. If you feel like your programs at church need a bit of a spark - fair enough, but don't look for some magical technological fireworks - look for solid food in the taught word.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A report from Spain and England

I've just spent the last two weeks in Spain and England on MOCLAM business. It was a great trip - very busy, but also very productive.

Its always great to meet people who are enthusiastic about providing training resources for Christians, especially in places where the scope of materials is fairly limited (for example, Spain). The friends I met in the north of Spain (Gijon and Bilbao) are keen to be sharing the gospel with people in a very materialistic and 'style conscious' society, which makes their work very difficult. Coming from Mexico I really noticed how expensive everything was, how glamorous most people were and how few kids there were around the place. Apparently the national birth rate (children per couple) is about 0.4. I asked a few people why this was so low, and the basic answer was 'kids get in the way of the life we want.' Hmmmm - no wonder its such a hard field to plough in Spain.

One of the interesting problems we face providing resources into Spain is that Spanish in Spain uses a different word for the second person plural pronoun. This means we need to produce a new edition of our materials, with vosotros rather than ustedes. Fortunately this is relatively straight forward and hopefully can be done quickly.

There is also something of a 'snob' problem providing materials to Spain from Latin America. I'm not sure Spanish people are all that thrilled about being taught by the 'colonies' but hopefully producing the materials locally can give things a more 'home grown' flavour.

In England I had a refreshing time hearing the Bible taught brilliantly at St Helen's Bishopsgate and at Christ Church Durham. It was so nice to sing songs in English - I found myself having tears in my eyes singing 'When I survey' at St Helen's. I'm not sure the trainee sitting beside me quite knew what to make of that!

I had productive meetings with publishers and distributors, as well as meeting some people who are very keen to give money to help the work of MOCLAM!

To top it all off I had 3 days with some great friends in Durham. Just hanging around, playing with their kids, being 'normal' was so refreshing.

My project for the next two weeks is to prepare my teaching notes for a Summer School intensive on Old Testament 1. I have a group of 4 students who I'm going to meet with 4 hours per day for 5 days to do the whole course. Sounds intense? Well, get this. They have 10 days between the end of their exams and the beginning of their summer classes - and they are going to spend 5 of those days with me studying Old testament. I think thats pretty impressive!

Thanks as always for your support and prayers.

Friday, April 16, 2010

CMS Global Vision

Twice a year CMS publishes 'Global Vision' - an online magazine covering topics concerning mission, partnership with CMS, creative ways to be involved in mission - things like that.

The latest edition even has a review of blogs by CMS missionaries!

Can I suggest it would make worthwhile reading??

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A week in Chile

I've just returned from a great week in Chile. It was a two part trip - each part being quiet different.

I began at a rural conference centre just outside Temuco, about 600km south of Santiago. It was a beautiful spot - a bit like being in rural Tasmania. Green, cold, really nice! I spent the Easter weekend there with the Scarratts and about 35 students studying 'Introduction to the Bible'. Most of the students are doing an Education Degree and this was part of their accreditation so they could formally teach 'religion' in schools (Australian readers - this is the equivalent of School Scripture). It was a great class, lots of questions and discussion and because it was a residential conference there was plenty of time for personal discussion as well (as well as a couple of games of table tennis!)

On Sunday afternoon I returned to Santiago and spent two days visiting various people within the Anglican Diocese in Chile to discuss the ways they are using the Moore College material and learn from them. I stayed with our good friends Michael and Jo Charles - and it was a great time of catching up with them. I also got to feel my first earthquake! It wasn't a very big one, only 4.9 but the epicentre was only 45km away so it was actually pretty strong. Enough to make me put out a hand to rest on the wall and make the glasses clatter.

Of course Santiago suffered a big earthquake a few weeks ago and some of the damage is obvious. In the photo I've included you can see how one bridge shifted. The guide rails you can see used to join up and now are separated by about a metre (horizontally) and about 40cm (vertically).

As always, thanks for your interest and support.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Two worlds in Mexico

Here in Mexico, we live in a country of two worlds. The haves, and the have nots. Depending on which report you read and on which scale they measure, something like 70% of the Mexican population lives in poverty. For example, the between our house and the school the girls are at there is a large 'informal' settlement made of bits of tin and wood where a large number of people live.

But then on the other hand, there is a significant middle, upper middle, and upper class here. Big houses, flashy and frequently washed cars (you can guess who does the washing), pampered children, designer clothes - the whole bit.

Last week I was travelling through Mexico City airport and had a really clear demonstration of the two different levels of living in Mexico.

Like many airports in the world, in Mexico City its hard to tell sometimes whether you are in an airport, or just in a shopping centre with arrival and departure gates. The terminal is wall to wall shops, selling all those travel essentials like large bottles of alcohol, 1.5kg toblerones, designer clothes, sunglasses and watches.

While I waited for my flight I was reading my book (ironically on the topic of money and wealth) and noticed one of the airport cleaning staff emptying the bins. Pretty standard stuff - expect for the fact that she wasn't just emptying the bin, she was sorting it and keeping any scraps that were useful. A half eaten muffin here, a couple of ketchup sachets there. The remnant chips from the bottom of a McDonalds bag and an untouched tortilla. Into her personal bag all these things would go.

Into another bag would be the PET bottles, the cans and any reasonable piece of cardboard - presumably for selling later on.

But what really caught my eye was that as I watched this process, the backdrop was the precisely arranged and brightly lit display window of a top end clothes outlet - full of customers trying on items which if push came to shove, I doubt they actually needed.

It was as if the cleaning lady was a performer who had somehow wandered onto the wrong stage.

Living in Mexico is forcing me to think a lot about questions of wealth, poverty, greed and economics - and scenes like this are certainly adding material to the thinking process.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I've run out of patience!

Language learning is like climbing a mountain that just rises higher and higher into the clouds. You work hard, and you make progress, but the mountain just stretches ahead of you, and you still can't see the top. Sometimes you have times when the path is not so steep... it may even have a gentle down hill and you get to relax and enjoy view. They're the bits when you can see the progress that you've made and you can enjoy the way that you can communicate. But other times it's just hard slog and you can't see the progress at all.

I'm in one of the "hard slog" phases at the moment, so that colours everything that I say.

I'm frustrated and cross that I'm not understanding Spanish as well as I expect to and want to. We've been here for almost a year, and I've run out of patience with not understanding.

Those who know me will know that I'm a firm believer in solving problems. One way to solve the problem is to learn Spanish! Now given that I'm working on that, but the problem remains, I need another solution.

Today I realised something for the first time. My frustration is due to poor communication, but also, due to wrong expectations and unmet wants. If I change those wants and expectations, I can reduce my frustration, and that's got to help.

If I really trust God, I will trust that he is equipping me to do the job that he wants me to do. If I'm not able to converse easily in Spanish at the moment, it's because that's the way God wants me right now. God's ways and God's timing won't always match what we think is best, but they will always be best.

I need to pray that God will give me patience. Patience to trust in His timing. Patience to throw out unrealistic expectations and accept the way has God has equipped me now. Patient when I don't understand people. Patience to trust that he we use me with all my inadequacies in Spanish. Patience to keep working hard at learning and practicing. Patience to keep looking for ways to love and serve people just as I am now.

And courage is needed for all those things too!

By Sarah

Monday, February 8, 2010

What do you think about singing at church?

I don't know about you, but I like singing at church. I particularly like singing in Spanish at church. Often words just seem to work better in Spanish and with accents and rrrrrolling our rrrrs it feels more 'musical' than English. Its also good for us as we learn Spanish because song words are usually slower and often repeated, so we can understand whats going on a bit better.

But, you'd be well aware that songs and their words can be a bit of a battleground in church. The 'we want hymns vs the 'we want a drum kit ' discussion will continue for the years to come I expect.

But there is another question that does the rounds from time to time - and thats 'What are we doing when we sing?'. Is the activity we are engaged in 'worship' (as the description of the time of singing and of the person who is leading us in the activity often suggests), is it teaching, is it edification, is it a mix of all? And what about the musicians who are playing. Are they performing, helping us to worship or just making it all sound better and more enjoyable?

I don't want to go into the ins and outs of the debate here - I just want to reflect on a practical example of how what you think you are doing when you are singing comes out in practice.

In most churches these days the song words are projected onto a screen. Song words have evolved from hymn books to overhead projectors to data projectors. My personal favourite was the overhead projector - there's nothing quite like watching the operator get flustered when he can't seem to get the words up the right way - no matter what he does they seem to be upside down or backwards - great stuff!

Anyway - here's the question. What do you do when halfway through a song the projection method fails? The second sheet of words is lost or the bulb blows or the computer dies or whatever. For whatever reason the congregation can't see the words anymore. The musicians and the singers can - their music is in front of them, but the congregation can't join in any longer.

What do you do?

I think your reaction to that situation is a good indication of your theology of singing in church.

There are basically two options. Stop, or keep going.

If you stop then you are saying singing is for the congregation. If they can't sing, then we'll stop until they can.

If you keep going, I think you are saying singing is something we observe and join in if we want to, but its essentially a spectator sport.

For mine, I'm with the first option. I don't think singing is an 'act of worship' any more than washing up the coffee cups is. I don't think singing brings us into the presence of God - the blood of Jesus does that. Singing is about encouraging and teaching one another, expressing our joy in Christ to one another and reflecting on who God is.

So should we stop when the projection fails? Absolutely. Should we break out the hymn books instead? Maybe - or maybe just have a spare bulb handy!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Decisions decisions...

One of the difficult decisions a 'one off' preacher needs to make is 'Which text will I preach from?'

I have such a decision ahead of me in the next couple of days. I've been asked to preach at our new 9:30 service next Sunday, and as usual its the 'your choice' direction from the organisers.

But wait - I also have another choice. Which language?

If I preach in English (I will be translated) its so much more straight forward. Preparing is quicker, speaking is more natural and I can concentrate more on delivery and emphasis, rather than being tied down to my text and wrestling with pronounciation.

But then again, I need to preach I Spanish - because thats what I need to learn to do. It means many more hours preparing and practicing - and even then people might not understand what I'm saying??

So what to do?

Actually I think the decision has a lot to do with what happens tomorrow. Monday afternoon could be a big preparation time for me, or it could be a time when I meet with a guy to start working through of the Moore College courses.

We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Supporting missionaries

Over the past year several people have asked us how they can best support us and other missionaries.

Mark Rogers from the Gospel Coalition (a group of like minded friends in the US) has come up with some helpful guidelines here

(Careful readers might get a laugh at point #10).