The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Marriage and Family Day

Yesterday was marriage and family day.   One of the joys of being a Methodist Pastor is mentoring the next generation of kids who want to grow up and be Methodist Pastors.  We’re called Clergy Mentors, and we walk through the process, really a thick book for the student (or mentee) to work through, and ask the mentor, questions.   Yesterday was marriage and family day.

If you know me well, then you know I’m a process guy.  I like to figure out how the system works, and the develop a process to guide or inform that system. 

Ordering One’s Life:

 God, Family and Everything Else – by everything else I mean your job, truck, boat, soccer league, church (yes church), and anything else that isn’t family or the divine.  This is the life God blesses, its not an excuse to not get things done in the everything else category, for the sake of family or God, but to order or set your priorities so that your life can be ordered this way.   This is the life God blesses, change the ordering...and you're on your own.

Then Do These Things:

1)      Find a hobby, shared experience, or something you can do with your spouse on a regular basis.   For my parents it was playing golf.  I don’t care for golf much, but my parents did.  They were not crazy for it, but did enjoy 9 holes every few days at the country club in my home town.  Even as a high schooler, I remember how different they were when they came home from playing, I could see that they loved each other, and I’ve attributed that to this shared activity that they both loved and did together.

2)      Develop a mutual admiration for how the other spends their days.   Admire the work that they do, take pride in how well they do it, brag on what your spouse is doing. 

3)      Eat dinner together around a table with no distractions.  I used to say with the TV off, but these days the bigger problem is the internet, or txting.  It isn’t such a problem for Suzanne and I, but this next generation is going to have to figure out how to disconnect and be fully present.  The thing about eating a home cooked meal around the table is that family talk and tell stories, and interact in ways that life does not encourage. 

In premarital counseling I would run down this list, and then ask the couple if they would be willing to spend one hour doing this one thing that would virtually guarantee that they would be happily married the rest of their life.  It would take an hour a week.  They would both smile at each other and say yes, and then I’d ask, do you know what that one thing might be, and then to the husband-to-be, its not what you’re thinking.   

4)      Be active in a faith community, and it doesn’t matter what kind.  By active I mean commit to going together to at least three out of four gatherings of that community’s worship service.   

So these are the things I discussed with my mentee, and by way of review, with those who want to stay happily married. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Changing Questions

The Changing Questions

Missiologist Dr. Darrell Whiteman, in a lecture to the Accra Missionary Community[1], said “The center of Christianity is shifting to the Global South[2].” Whiteman quotes data from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity.  The Center concludes:

Over the past 100 years, Christianity has experienced a profound southern shift in its geographical center of gravity. Whereas in 1900 over 80% of all Christians lived in Europe and Northern America, by 2005 this proportion had fallen to under 40%, and will likely fall below 30% before 2050.[3]

According to Whiteman, over that same period Christianity in Africa grew from 9% (or 8.7 million) in 1900 to 48.9% (350 million) in 2006.  Latin America, India and China (since 1951) experienced similar explosive growth.  Overall, Christianity, as a percentage of the population, has remained almost constant,  33.4% in 1900 and currently 33.3% in 2006. Even though Christianity has declined in Europe and North American, it is growing in the Global South.  But Whiteman also warned that “if this explosive growth is not disciplined, we’ll have a very weak church. Without discipleship, the church will fall into nominalism and mediocrity.”  He adds  “decisions for Christ are easy; disciples for Christ are more difficult.”[4]

As the center of Christianity shifts, the questions that guide its witness are also changing.  The answer remains the same, Christ, but who is asking it, the context in which it is being asked, and the implied need within the questions are all changing.  Missionary John Taylor observed in 1963 that “Christ has been presented as the answer to questions a white man would ask, the solution to the needs that western man would feel”[5].   With this new center of Christianity, there will be different questions, ones that are not framed out of a Western mindset, pointing toward solutions, a developed world would expect.

It is not only the questions that are changing, but context they are being asked is from.  Globalization is changing the context.  For example, in Ghana our second year, we hired a driver; Eric is his English name.  Eric has the equivalent as of a 9th grade Ghanaian education. He finished Junior Secondary School, but did not continue in Senior Secondary School.  Ana, one of the Fulbright Student Scholars who stayed with us left Eric her laptop, when she returned to the states. My son, Fox who stayed in Ghana to graduate high school, taught him the basics.  I had taken Eric to an internet café and introduced him to the world of the internet, and now with his own laptop, and WiFi access, we correspond weekly on Facebook.  Globalization.

The needs that drive these new questions are also changing, influenced by a Global South worldview, along with the other world religions that enter into that conversation.  In our part of Africa, Muslims coexisted well with Christians, in fact when we had student gatherings at our house, it was not uncommon for students who were Muslim to pray for us, and do so in the name of Jesus.  Current thinking about how to reach Muslims[6] suggests not asking them choose between Christ and their cultural identity that came with their Muslim upbringing, but to offer Jesus Christ into the mix, and disciple them in his teaching, slowly incorporating all that He brings to a believers life.  It is indeed a beautiful thing to watch a—and I hesitate calling them a convert—but rather a new believer to continue to bow down and pray five time a day, and abstaining from food and water during the daylight hours of Ramadan, and do so in the name of Jesus.   Christ is still the answer, but the questions are changing, along with the context they are being asked from, and the needs behind them.

After two years away from the States, I notice that the questions here are changing too, influenced by an increasingly smaller world, one that the West does not control as it once did.  We think of Globalization as something that happens to them, there, but it is also changing us, here.  I suspect there has also been some cultural drift in the answer.  John Wesley is remembered for saying “Offer them Christ,” but I realize that the church I once led, was offering a lot more than Christ, and not all of it helpful.  Recall what Missionary John Taylor observed about the African Missionary Churches in 1963, that “Christ has been presented as the answer to questions a white man would ask.” I wonder if that applies to us in the American church, if we are seeking solutions that meet “the needs that western man would feel,” when what people need is to be offered Christ.  I wonder what would happen if our church mindset changed to be a missionary mindset  (or International Church mindset).  Because church like an extension of society, one that ultimately meets the needs of the society, regardless of people’s individual needs.   What perhaps almost burned me was not knowing that Society’s needs can never be met completely. People’s can, however, when you offer them Christ, and Christ alone.

[1] Whiteman, Dr. Darrell, Being and Doing Missions in a Post Colonial World, lecture  

[2] Global South meaning: Africa, Asia, India, South and Central America.

[3] Johnson, Todd  M, Christianity in Global Context: Trends and Statistics, webpage

[4] Whiteman, powerpoint from the lecture to Accra Missionaries

[5] Taylor, John V., The Primal Vision – Christian Presence in Buganda (London SCM Press).

[6] Decker, Frank, Sermon at Asbury Dunwell Church, Accra, Ghana. March 2008.