Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Jazzies Leaving Me Holding the Bag

"WTF" Moments in the Gospels with Brian Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.
So, here I am sitting in an open air coffee shop that faces the Gulf of Thailand, waiting for a groggy gaggle of Jazzy Piggies to get out of bed. One is rather burnt and in pain, the others being from Asian or Mid-eastern decent, have fared better. There are some advantages to being non-white. The tropical shrubs in planters just outside the cafe are all bending toward me, extending their fronds to greet me or to look over my shoulder to get a peek at the content of my post. Nearby shops are preparing for the first customers of the day. Herds of cows lazily nibble grass on the side of the road. The solitude is interrupted by a text coming in: "Can you go out and get us some aloe and some screen? I text back, "Only if you get your sorry butts out of bed and come with me!" No reply. The Jazzy Piggies leave tomorrow. We had a debriefing in my room last night, and I thought, "Gosh, what a fruitful time we all had." They worked incredibly hard teaching their English and Music classes, and made many relationships. Each night when they slept on at the DOVE Drop In Center on the office floor, they hung out with the staff playing UNO into the wee hours of the night. This was an extremely valuable learning experience for me. They taught me how to time hang out with people again. And I like it. It opens so many doors for deep, thoughtful, provoking conversations. I had always been too busy working hard, then running home to the solitude of my house, than to engage in the secular aspect of everyday conversation and hanging out. But, where do we really find God. In church? Our quite time? No,he is found in everyday normal existence and suffering of the mass of humanity. So how spiritual can we be when our lives consist of driving to work, working, coming home,etc? The most spiritual thing we can do is to try to become fully human, and that means hanging out where he hangs out: with tax collectors and prostitutes. Oh you Jazzy Piggies, who are you to teach me? You teach me that although you may be young, you are people of great depth. Oh, to have had what you have when I was in my early 20's (or 30's and even 40's)! Thank you Jazzy Piggies, for looking past your Sunday School Jesus for the real Jesus who is out there in the urban ghettos and the isolated villages. Thank you Jazzy Piggies for not being satisfied with the status-quo, and for your willingness to embrace a Jesus who is not predictable, not reasonable, and not able to be domesticated like too many of us prefer. Maybe I am one of the reasons God brought us to Cambodia together, so that you could teach me, and give me hope that your generation will be the generation that impacts this world for the kingdom, to restore my hope that there are some Jesus followers, somewhere, who will break out of their cultural prison, leave the chains behind and bear witness to the Kingdom of God in the same way Jesus did. This ones for you Jazzies! Peace, out.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Lords of Poverty

Mt. 8:27 “The men were amazed and asked, “WTF? What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
It has been a huge blessing to watch the interns interact with their students, the staff at Dove, and those in the DP 1 program. These 3 were nicked named, “Traye Ko Kompong Srey bay nek,” after the three girls on the can of fish paste sold in local market. Please note the resemblance.
These girls are having way too much fun. Even their bible class is having too much fun. I already had a formal request from the DOVE management team to send more interns like these back to back for a full year. They have had a very successful two weeks. Because they have chosen to learn Khmer at the Drop in Center, they have showed themselves to be learners, which is huge. The interns are experiencing mutual transformation. They are adding to the quality of young people’s lives, and in turn are being transformed by them through relationship. This is transformational ministry. They have no money to offer, so they cannot buy influence like so many of missionaries here (especially American, Filipino, and Korean) who depend on that power base of material wealth to attract people. Bryant Meyers calls this a ‘god complex.’ I recently watched a Korean pastor from American hand out snacks at an orphanage. All the orphans had to line up one by one to receive each package personally. Each had to bow (sat oh) and thank the Korean pastor in turn. I saw this happen again with a different Korean pastor a few days later. Cameras were flashing in the background. Mission Accomplished at this golden photo op. When, on occasion I have an opportunity to help the poor materially or financially, I give what they need to the national in charge and tell them not to say it came from a foreigner. So many of we missionaries have become “Lords of Poverty.” Some of us have become poverty brokers and consultants on poverty. We find some good projects that serve the poor, post heart wrenching photos in our newsletters or website, raise money, take our cut, and live very comfortably off of the lives of the poor. The poor indeed are served. They may be given clean water, a roof over their heads, and access to a school which is great, but the fact remains that many of us are able to sustain a rather comfortable life style because of the poor. The dissonance in life styles is often too great for us to make a real impression with the gospel. Too many missionaries (at least here in Cambodia) are loose cannons rolling around on the deck of the host countries, and ruling unconsciously as Lords of Poverty. People with international experience are fond of saying; developing countries are full of missionaries, misfits, and mercenaries. I say; "Too many missionaries are misfits and mercenaries. Misfits in that can’t make it back in the real world but with funding they can build an empire here, and mercenary in the way use nationals to build their kingdoms. And what can one do? The Lords of Poverty do not listen to anyone. They are on a mission from God, and God told them to do it-that is until funding runs out, then God calls them to another thing. Last year, I read a book called When Helping Hurts. It was about Christian mission (long and short term) in developing countries. It was very thorough and right on target (mostly). It dove tailed with my 20 years of experience on the field, and with what I learned at Fuller. The author comes from the Chalmers Institute of Development where most of my graduate studies text books on development came from. Anyway, I was a bit surprised that most of the mission people in the US were blown away by the book since I have been telling them pretty much the same thing for years. I guess I have yet to reach expert status. I believe the key is in educating mission pastors and the PIPS (people in the pews) about the efficacy of incarnational and integral/holistic ministry, about relief and about development, and finding missionaries who are willing to live as incarnationally as they can. I know this is a most difficult task with all the demands for commercial spots from pulpit on Sunday mornings, but we must find a way. Brian

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What is More Strategic Than Training Emerging Leaders?

The part of DOVE I am most interested in is DOVE’s training of emerging church leaders. In the west, many Christians react negatively when they hear the word, “Emerging Church” and they are not sure just what the church is supposed to emerging from. The Emergent Church in the west wants to emerge from its long history of association with colonialism, racism, and the white privilege gained on the years of exploitation of African slaves, the annihilation of the Native Americans, and the theft of Native American land. In a nutshell, they want to emerge from the attitude of entitlement, arrogance and self-confidence that is a part our way of being in the world.

Since Cambodian Christian young adults are from a church with a very short history, what could they possibly need to emerge from? For the most part, the church here has never really expressed a Cambodian cultural way of being the church. Early missionaries introduced a very western gospel and Christian culture, and many contemporary missionaries, both Asian and Western continue to encourage western expressions. Happily, the Cambodian church goes along because a western institutional expression with its hierarchy, property, and maintenance, keeps things very tidy within the four walls of the church.

DOVE believes that Cambodians need to be encouraged to discover and embrace a way of being the Cambodian Church with appropriate cultural expression. As church leadership fights to maintain status, roles, credibility, and order, Cambodian Christian young people are hungry to be about what the church is meant to be: people sent by God to cross barriers with the gospel in both word and deed. These young people resonate with social justice and holistic ministry because they know that engaging in such ministries bears witness to the reign of Christ and many are willing sacrifice and take risks for that purpose. These young people come alive when given the chance to be the church as it has been called to be. They instinctively know that the church does its best on the margins, serving those on the margins.

DOVE, through the Diamond Programs Levels 1 & 2, gives Cambodian emerging church leaders in Phnom Penh and three provincial cities the chance to reflect on the missional nature of the church. Through dialogue, dynamic reflection, exposure trips, field work, and interactive classroom activity, they gain the insight and the experience to minister creatively to and from the margins of society.

Pray with us at DOVE that we can first go deeper, and then wider with our vision of empowering Cambodian emerging church leaders to bring the needed changes to their churches that they might be more of the expression of the church that God intended them to be, and in turn, better reflect God’s love for all his children, and especially the poor and oppressed.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cry of the Gecko, by Brian Maher

Cry of the Gecko: Available in the US in book form or electronically. Available soon in Cambodia.

Gospel Trumps Culture?

Photo of David Ellison's grave in Kombol. He gave his life as a pioneer missionary to Cambodia, bringing the good news of the gospel in 1923

I once heard Presbyterian Minister Scott Dudley say that “Gospel trumps culture.” I like the saying because it should be true and I want it to be true but rarely (I say rarely) have I ever seen it worked out in people’s lives-maybe Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Wilberforce, Dr. Martin Luther King, Kevin Knight, Pastor Abraham, and few other heroes of mine. Most of us take the gospel on our own terms and develop intricate rationales to explain away the parts that call for too much difficult change, especially change that that might challenge our comfort and security. Living with uncertainty about tomorrow is, in itself, overwhelming, and fear of not having guaranteed security in the form of a myriad of security nets for tomorrow is a close second. But isn’t that what the real gospel calls us to? To walk out naked into the darkness of uncertainty for the sake of the gospel? Our culture has conditioned us to think we should be in control of everything. If only we realized how fragile our lives really are and how much we are not in control of things, we would flee to God. Is it not fear that encourages us spend our time arguing for correct doctrine (according to our interpretations) as a subconscious smoke screen to avoid considering just how to live out the truth of gospel which Jesus calls us to? The truth of the gospel is that Jesus came to earth to demonstrate what God’s character is like to the world. In his example of becoming human and moving into our neighborhood, Jesus chose to demonstrate God’s character in an incarnational way. He became one of us in the form of a refugee, a fugitive, an expatriate, a repatriate, a(as Sarah Palin so fondly puts it) Joe Six-pack type, a criminal, and finally as an outcast. In his missional (the nature of being sent out) expression he crossed economic, ethnic, religious, geographic, gender and class barriers to incarnate the gospel among the outcasts of society, those who were marginalized. Noah was sent and he went. Abraham was sent and he went. Moses was sent and he went. Daniel was sent and he went. Nehemiah and Ezra were sent and they went. John the Baptist was sent and he went. Same with Jesus, Paul, Peter and the rest of them. Some left great wealth behind but all left their safety nets behind. Do you see a theme here? Christians are called to be Pilgrims on a journey not settlers, but settlers we have become. We have settled down in this world and love the comfort and security it affords us. And, what was the reward for those who left it all? Jail, loneliness, beatings, flogging, and often death. It often seems like God demands too much, and even abuses and overworks those that obey by going. The truth of the gospel that God calls us to live out was demonstrated to us by Jesus and the Apostles. This is the example Jesus left us to follow. He did not give us a choice between being a Pilgrim or settler. Here is what I did, you go and do likewise. Does gospel really trump culture?

Not too long ago I listened to a sermon series on ‘Biblical’ financial integrity. The sermons were about stewardship, saving to put the proper safety nets in place, saving for possible crises/calamities that come up, and putting money away for college for our kids- and of course tithing. I was wondering with all those safety nets and back up plans, how could one ever fall into the hands of our God for his shaping purposes? We’ve spent all our time and money assuring ourselves that God’s shaping through suffering, crises, and calamity will never happen to us. If we insist on being exempt, I think God will allow that- but to our detriment. Does Gospel trump culture? Not when we can’t tell the difference anymore. If only Scott Dudley (who says that the gospel trumps culture) was right, we could turn this world upside down.

My last three years in the States brought home that Christians equate more Bible knowledge with spirituality. Sermons are just laden with information more than ever before. Every sentence is planned and executed to deliver the most efficient and effective sound bite. People are swimming in information yet they seem to be no closer to living out the truth of the gospel with more of this knowledge. Pastor Dudley, I think, has a PhD. in Literature (don’t quote me though on that)and by the way, is one of the few preachers whose sermon comes not in the form of an information dump, but as a catalyst to initiate a conversation between the congregants and God.

On most Sundays, and at most churches, people are off to get a ‘how to lesson.’ Gosh, it is so nice one someone fosters an actual dialogue with God on a Sunday morning. The one thing God hates more than the 7 deadly sins is to be left out of the conversation. And we do that every Sunday when we agree to receive the information dump. I listened to Pastor Rick from Imago Dei preach and I wondered why his sermon was so easy to listen to. He wasn’t marketing anything, he didn’t use a Ppt. presentation, and he didn’t say anything sensational or controversial. He just took the language of God, and put in the language of the people in the form of a conversation we could engage in.

Does gospel trump culture? I recently listened to a sermon by Francis Chan from the Berkley area. He is in his late 30’s. He was saying, “I don’t understand Christian older people. They buy more and more insurance policies, build in more safety nets, and continue to buy more material things in each passing year. But each year they get older, they are one step closer to walking into glory where there will be millions of angels around the throne shouting glory to an unfathomable God day and night. Since they’re that close, shouldn’t they be giving away all their things to the poor, and go out to do really crazy and risking ministry stuff because any second they just might burst glory where things and safety nets are meaningless? I just don’t get it.”

What I do get, is that God gave me a huge gift when he took everything away,and when it was all gone, I realized there was nothing left to fear. I now know what real freedom is like. I am free to missional and incarnational, and what a joy it truly is!