Just before I flew to the US for the conference, I had a severe bout of back pain that left me bed-ridden for four days. I did not want to cancel my Bible Study class with the women, and so I had them all come into our guest room and sit around the bed. I had assigned each of them texts from the Bible to lead a short Bible Study, based on seven questions. That day, two women led and I will never forget what happened.
One woman, Doris, led the Bible Study with confidence that she had not had the first time I assigned her to lead. Afterwards she said something to this effect: “I am unschooled and I am ashamed to read at home. Even my husband and children have not heard my reading voice because I don’t want them to laugh at me. Today is the first time I am reading the Bible aloud, and though nobody helped me prepare for leading this Bible study, the Holy Spirit has led me and told me what to do.”
After this, another woman, Hilda, took the lead with another text and again it was evident that she had renewed strength and confidence in the Holy Spirit. As she led, the other women were eagerly looking into their Bibles and contributing to the discussion and trying to see how they could apply the word to their lives. At the end she spoke to me and referred back to how far they had come in their spiritual walk with the Lord. “When we arrived here, you treated us like little babies. You fed us and fed us and now we have teeth and can eat anything!”
Hallelujah! I went up to tell Jon and began to cry with joy at the realization at what God was doing in these women.
We thank God for each of you and pray that as you labour in His vineyard, you will know that your labour in the Lord is never in vain. May His power be made perfect in weakness!
Love from all of us in the Solomons,
Jon, Tess, Avalyn, Cohen, Caeli, Judah, Immanuel, and Moses Hicks
The Hicks family are NZCMS Mission Partners in the Solomon Islands, supporting the training of Church leaders. Jonathan teaches at a Bible college while Tess home-schools their children and engages in ministry with local women.
Andy and his wife Shona along with their children, live in Costa Rica and have served as Mission Partners with NZCMS since May 2018. Andy is fluent in Spanish and works with Movida, which seeks to motivate young people to better serve local churches and to reach out through world mission.
Recently I attended a summit for mission mobilisers for the whole Central American region. Around 500 key leaders from seven countries representing at least 3000 churches were present.
I was expecting to just be a delegate. However, one of the key note speakers, Alex Paniagua, had to cancel at the last minute. This man is one of my mentors. Though we’re similar in age he has 20 years’ experience working across Latin America and is one of the key leaders of the Latin American Mission movement. Alex had to cancel as he fell ill with kidney stones so he “volun-told” me that I was doing his presentation!
He said “Andy the doctor says I cannot travel, but I’ve told the conference that you can take my place, I hope that’s ok!” He gave me three days’ notice and was going to send me his presentation on “New Trends in mobilising the church to the Mission of God”.
I was preaching for three days in another region so I only had a short time to prepare. We had travelled up as a family to Nicaragua; an eight hour road trip from San José to Managua with two hours to negotiate the border.
What Does the Lord Want to Say?
As I prepared the message, I felt strongly that I should speak from Isaiah 49:1-7. This is a favourite teaching of my father and has become very much part of my missiology and sense of calling. The picture of being an arrow is very special for me because for over 20 years I’ve been challenged by Psalm 127:4 which says “…the children of your youth are like arrows in the quiver of a warrior”.
Essentially, my ministry in Latin America is building on the last 40 years of my father’s ministry and passion to train a rising generation of Latin Americans who can effectively engage in the mission of God. Back in 2007, I helped connect a mission trip from The Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Auckland to the churches of the two pastors that baptised me, one in the capital city of Peru and the other in the jungle. At the time I felt very frustrated with God that He was sending them and not me. However, when they returned, we got together and the team prayed for me. The team leader had a picture he felt was from God for me and said “Andy I see you like an arrow poised in God’s bow. You’re drawn back and when the Lord shoots, you will fly true and hit the target”.
We are the polished arrow that Isaiah talks about! It applies to me and you. In fact the passage starts “Here distant coastlands” and you can’t get much further from Israel than New Zealand to the South East or Latin America to the west!
What else does this passage say?
- “Before we were born He knew us”
- “He has placed His word in our mouth like a sword”
- “His hand in upon us”
And lastly, it says “He has made us like a polished arrow and placed us in his quiver.”
A normal arrow was shot as part of a general volley into the enemies’ ranks so this didn’t require great accuracy. A polished arrow on the other hand was honed, practiced with, oiled and kept so that it would fly accurately and hit a specific target when required. Each one of us has specific giftings, upbringings and passions. The Lord uses these, even the painful processes of our lives, to shape us into the arrows He needs in His quiver. In fact our painful or shameful experiences are often the most relevant as they teach us dependence on Him.
A Word in Season
When I shared this message at the conference I knew it had hit the mark! It resonated with many people and a number of deep conversations ensued over the next few days.
Being on the speaking team changed everything about this conference for me. All of a sudden I found that God was answering one of my deepest yearnings. I had prayed “Where can I find mentors who really understand what I’m called to do?” Well now I was spending quality time with the other speakers, all of whom are mobilising networkers like me with similar gifting but 20 years more experience. During this time I was also interpreting for the key note speaker in private meetings with the leaders of a church denomination. It was an intense time of learning and of developing new relationships. This speaking engagement had opened up more opportunities and was challenging me to expand my thinking.
Now, this is where the Holy Spirit blows my mind.
On the last day of the conference, their intercessory team brought me to one side to tell me they had a word from God for me.
They had written this word down on September 19. It was Isaiah 49:1-3. And they had added the imperative for me in particular to press on because “The Lord Himself would direct me as His polished arrow to His targets”.
How could they possibly know I was going to speak on that passage and what that verse meant to me, ten days before the conference began?! On September 19 my friend Alex didn’t know he wasn’t going to be able to make it and it was ten days before I had even thought of sharing that message. I was incredibly moved as the intercession team proceeded to pray for my family and our ministry.
The Holy Spirit directs us and goes before us and, sometimes, outrageously demonstrates that we are in the centre of His will. You are also a polished arrow in His hands. Each one of us has a part to play in His mission.
In the Breaking Barriers story we heard from Mike and Ruth about what sort of barriers people can face when taking children onto the mission field. Below, we interviewed three of their now adult children and discussed how growing up cross-culturally on mission has impacted their lives.
Lydia spent the first eight years of her life alternating between living in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. While Hannah, and to a lesser extent, Abel do have vague memories of PNG, most of their cross cultural reflections come from when they moved to Cambodia with their parents for two years as teenagers.
What were some of the things you experienced on the mission field that were the major influences in your formation as you grew older?
I would say the Christian community was very different to my community in New Zealand in terms of culture, society and privilege, with many struggling day-to-day and yet, desiring to serve God regardless.
Do you think growing up in another country made you into the person you are today? If so, how?
I think that my time in Cambodia certainly made me more aware of the world in general, in all its diversity and beauty but also its brokenness and sin. It helped me understand Christ is needed in all countries and cultures. That’s not to say I didn’t think this before, but it had just never really crossed my mind in my small, New Zealand bubble of Christianity. So I guess learning that at a young age was pretty influential to who I am and what I value today.
What did you learn about what missions work is from living overseas with your parents?
That it is presenting Christ by loving, serving, equipping, learning and doing life with those in your community and beyond and using the skills and resources God has given us.
Would you encourage other families to take their children overseas on missions? Why or why not?
Absolutely yes. The perspective it can give a child is invaluable. But it must be something the parents and their children journey through together. Talk about why you’re there doing what you do, talk about culture and faith and involve them in your ministry where you can. Find a local community that you and your kids can be a part of and expect them to be involved and making friends.
What were some of the things you experienced on the mission field that were the major influences in your formation as you grew older?
Seeing the poverty and physical need in the individuals and communities we lived in overseas impacted me as a child and teenager hugely, mostly when seeing the pain and suffering that is in the world right in front of me and realising that God has the biggest heart and compassion for those situations. But also I learned that material things are not the be all and end all. It showed me how incredibly blessed and fortunate many of us in New Zealand and the West are.
Lastly, I learned that all of these realisations require a response from me personally, and from the church as a whole. Looking back now, my experience as an “overseas missions kid” shaped the way I view God and His loving character.
Do you think growing up in another country made you into the person you are today? If so, how?
I definitely think growing up overseas made me into the person I am today! In a positive and practical way, my understanding of other cultures and languages grew from just being thrown into them. My self-confidence and security in my own identity was most definitely challenged, being a kid and teenager who very much sounded, looked and, at times, thought differently to those around me. It was an awkward and uncomfortable experience at times, but ultimately it was a very positive (and accelerated!) way to learn these things. My wider worldview and love for others has definitely benefited from growing up overseas.
What did you learn about what missions work is in general from living overseas with your parents?
In general, I learnt that ‘missions work’ is just living your life with people, in community, giving your life to ministry and ministering Jesus’ love and wisdom to those who need it. As ‘ministry’ was just a normal part of family life for me – and it was incorporated into every aspect of life – I took from it that we can do that wherever we are. Not just overseas, not just with those we work with but anywhere and everywhere. And for that life lesson, I am grateful to my mum and dad for modelling it.
Would you encourage other families to take their children overseas on missions? Why or why not?
Yes I would encourage families to take their kids overseas. For me it was hugely positive and enlightening. I think it gives kids a kind of maturity that other experiences often don’t and provides them with a chance to see the big wide world that is so much bigger than just them and their needs. It also gives them the chance to learn languages and other ways of academic learning. It takes them out of their comfort zone and helps bring up questions and interests they might not know they had and also a way to articulate them. It puts a lot of things into perspective!
What were some of the things you experienced on the mission field that were the major influences in your formation as you grew older?
There are so many, so here are just a couple. First, the difference between feeling like one of the crowd and feeling like an outsider. There were times over my childhood that I felt like I blended in perfectly, and at other times like I stood out like a sore thumb. Interestingly, I think I felt more at home among people in Papua New Guinea than I did among my so-called ‘peers’ in New Zealand while growing up. From teenage years onward I think I found my groove a little more. Into adulthood I’ve found a way to come to terms with being different while fitting in and being comfortable with my differences, so to speak.
Secondly, I was very aware of haves and have-nots. I found it very frustrating in New Zealand when my friends would complain about not having enough. Even now, I often want to shake people and yell in their face, “You have everything you could possibly need!” I guess that comes with seeing people who do not have what they need.
Do you think growing up in another country made you into the person you are today? If so, how?
Yes it was definitely fundamental to many of the values that I hold onto strongly today. I think everyone is a product of their experiences, especially in their formative years, and I think that being exposed to different cultures, demographics, and many people who were, materially, much worse off than me, gave me a very strong sense of the world and my role in it. As a very privileged person I’ve learned how important it is to be an active member and bringer of change, justice and equality. I don’t want to be a passive observer in this life. But if all I had ever known was what was around me and similar to me in New Zealand, I may not feel the way I do now.
What did you learn about missions work in general from living overseas with your parents?
I learnt that, like many other jobs, there are very good days and very bad days. However, unlike other jobs, it’s often a very lonely life, where you need to rely heavily on those around you and especially on God. I learnt that your family are your very best friends. I learnt that you can be pushed beyond what you think your limits are, and survive to tell an incredible story of God’s faithfulness, in ways we do not get to experience in New Zealand very often. And practically, I learned that missions work is largely unseen, under-acknowledged, and definitely underpaid! Haha!
Would you encourage other families to take their children overseas on missions? Why or why not?
My first instinct is yes absolutely! However, after more consideration, my answer would be yes absolutely, if they are well-equipped, prepared, educated and determined to make it work with God’s help and commitment to family. It is not for the half-hearted, but also I believe anyone can do it. It is not just for a few special people who are called by God; I think it is for anyone who is willing to sacrifice their comfort and way of life to give to others. The rewards are incredible, but not without cost. Family must be a priority in the process, not just tagging along for the ride, but fully committed as a family unit to the work that they’re doing. Otherwise I feel that children may resent the hardship if they have no investment. I personally would love to do mission work with my family, and I think it is invaluable for children to experience that environment.
A tribute to Allan by Brian Carrell
Allan Anderson, for over 45 years a key lay CMS member in the Whanganui area, died on the morning of October 22. His funeral was held at Christ Church Whanganui this Friday morning, October 25.
Allan was an absolutely vital figure in arranging (and, in his case, accompanying) the airlift in Easter 1975 of sixty two dairy cattle to Tanzania, a project promoted and organised by NZCMS while largely funded by the Tanzanian and New Zealand Governments. Buhemba, under the oversight of CMS missionary Ian Foster, was the main destination of this herd, but one bull also went to George Hart at Hombolo. This was an astounding and unprecedented achievement for such a small mission society in those days.
Allan led the lay committee which made this airlift possible. He, with other Christian farmers, inspired the voluntary donation of first class cattle by a number of dairy farmers across the South and North Islands. To achieve such a major airlift they navigated the complicated arrangements for assembling these cattle in Christchurch and Auckland, and negotiated the charter of a Qantas 747 cargo airliner. Allan then saw the gifted cattle safely through to their destinations in Tanzania, half the globe away.
Allan and his wife (the Rev.) Rosemary Anderson have been continuing and committed members of NZCMS since that momentous time. One of their last actions together was to attend the episcopal ordination of CMS National Director Steve Maina in Nelson some weeks ago.
We salute Allan as a faithful servant of Christ, and extend our arms of love and gratitude to Rosemary and their family.
Greetings from Rosie, NZCMS National Director!
NZCMS were thrilled to be invited to join with the Anglican Diocese of Wellington Ministry Leaders’ Family Camp around the kaupapa of “Becoming Te Hāhi Mihingare (the Missionary Church)” held on October 10-12 in Waikanae. Fifty people from the NZCMS whānau attended including Mission Partners, staff, members and supporters. It was an incredibly fruitful time of connection, relationship building and learning.
A personal highlight was being invited to share the NZCMS story at the camp. It was wonderful to be joined in this by our partners from Te Pīhopatanga o Te Tai Tokerau (Tikanga Māori Diocese): Rev Howard Hauoterangi Karaka and Rev Dr Lyndon Drake. One benefit of having served myself as a NZCMS Mission Partner is flexibility in the face of unexpected events. As a result of a power cut, we ended up speaking into a megaphone while Diocese friends held a light for us!
Another highlight for me was being ordained as a vocational deacon at the end of the camp. Bishop Justin Duckworth’s sermon during the ordination service reminded those gathered that we are called to mission. The deacon is a reminder of the calling that we have: when we see a deacon “we get a sense of holy discontent” and a reminder of our own missionary calling. Part of my role as the National Director of NZCMS is to walk with people discerning a missionary call. In the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand, I hope to provoke a sense of “holy discontent” for the Church to look outside our own country and to learn from and contribute to the global Church.
Read more about the camp in the article below from Anglican Movement, Diocese of Wellington.
The original vision of the Church Missionary Society in Aotearoa was to serve Māori, but as history tells us, mass European settlement brought colonial oppression which stripped Māori of their land, forests and taonga, despite it being guaranteed to them in the Treaty of Waitangi. The missionaries worked tirelessly to uphold Māori rights but the wave of settlement eventually saw the Church side with the Crown, forgetting its original missional calling.
Reawakening ourselves to that missional calling was the kaupapa of Ministry Leaders’ Family Camp, held recently at El Rancho Christian Holiday Park in Waikanae, and attended by over 400 people, including leaders from our diocese, and from Anglican Missions, New Zealand Church Missionary Society and other dioceses and hui amorangi, and our families.
Keynote speaker Jay Ruka, author of Huia Come Home, believes that this can only happen when we rediscover the story of the Church in this land. He told us of a time when God said to him: “the church has amnesia.” Revelation 12:11 (NIV) says “they overcame [the accuser] by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony,” and Jay challenged us: “What is the word of your testimony but the apprehending of your memory?”
He went on: “If you have amnesia, and you have no memory, you have no testimony. My Bible tells me that my testimony is one of the greatest tools I have to confront injustice, to confront evil.”
Throughout the camp, Jay told us the story of the early missionaries, and told us that now is the time to remember these stories, and to rediscover our original calling. He told us of Henry Williams and his wife Maryanne. Henry was the man responsible for the translation of the Treaty of Waitangi into te reo Māori, and travelled around Aotearoa encouraging chiefs to sign it. They felt called to serve Māori and see them rise to a place on the international stage, and they were well respected amongst Māori as peacemakers. But as British colonial rule took root and the “growing evil” of land alienation expanded, Henry found himself targeted as a traitor to the Crown. Heartbroken, he was believed to utter the words “How cruel, how cruel” on his deathbed.
His reputation was further besmirched in 1972 when an academic by the name of Ruth Ross blamed him for the problems that arose from the Treaty, by incorrectly comparing his translation of the Treaty with his earlier translation of the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand. Wherever history is taught in New Zealand, he still gets the blame for everything that went wrong.
In the 1830s, the Christian mission to Māori was fruitless. But Williams and his wife came and focused on literacy, serving Māori and understanding their worldview. The Bible was translated into te reo Māori and a series of events (which you can read about in Jay’s book) saw the explosion of the Gospel in Aotearoa. At one point, 64,000 Māori were in church every Sunday, and they were hungrily devouring the Good News and spreading it amongst themselves.
Because of the trusted relationship that Williams had built with Māori, the chiefs were happy to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, believing it would genuinely protect their rights and privileges. It was a document never before seen in colonial history – thanks to Christian advocacy in England, indigenous people were offered citizenship of Britain. And some of the words used to translate concepts into a Māori worldview were neologisms derived from the Bible – for example, sovereignty was kawanatanga: kawa means law, kawanatanga was used to describe the governorship of Pontius Pilate over the Jews in the time of Jesus. Jay put it this way: “the Treaty of Waitangi is the history of the church in New Zealand that the majority of the church does not know.” It was a world-first opportunity to “do a nation together.”
Remembering our story means remembering the uncomfortable bits too. As settlement grew, missionaries were forced to take sides, and they sided not with Māori, but with their homeland – abandoning their missional call and focusing on the settlers instead. Jay told us a list of laws that were passed that oppressed and excluded Māori, ensuring further alienation of their land. This was done at the hands of Christian political leaders, too. “Does that sound like oppression?” he asked us. “Even though there was revival, there was an awful oppression because of the cultural blinders on the minds and hearts of Christian political leaders. The orientation of the Church shifted – and it hasn’t shifted back.” Christianity is now generally seen in te ao Māori as a synonym for colonial oppression.
With the learning of our history, there appeared to be a sense of empowerment throughout the camp, but for some – bewilderment. “What now?” seemed to be the collective wondering of the group. For some, there may have been a call to action but for others, there may have been a struggle to reconcile this information with life as we know it in our land. Jay was clear that the time is now for these stories to be remembered, and reclaimed by the church. Much as a rower looks backwards to where they have been in order to direct their boat’s path, those of us gathered at camp were called to remember our stories in order to direct how we might become missional again in this land.
NZCMS’ Youth Mobiliser, Kirstin, and her husband, Rowan, are delighted to announce they’ve just become Permanent Foster Parents for a 10 month old baby boy in need of a Home for Life. They are looking forward to this new season of Family on Mission.
Kirstin, after a month’s leave in October, will continue Youth Mobilising for 10 hours a week while Rowan takes the Primary Parental Leave.
Please pray for Kirstin and Rowan as they adjust to this new parenting role and provide a stable family environment for their son. (They only found out the news one month ago!)
Obstacles we can face when taking family on mission and how we can move through them; a feature on NZCMS Staff members, Mike and Ruth Robb.
Mike and Ruth’s missions journey began in 1980. A friend of theirs working in Papua New Guinea (PNG) sent them a letter inviting them to join him for six months and asked “Give me three reasons why you couldn’t come and help us…?”. The Robbs couldn’t think of one.
In 1983 and with their first child Esther in tow, they went back again to live on hospital grounds in Rumginae, PNG. This would be the beginning of twelve years of missions work there in which they would extend the Gospel through the vehicles of maintenance work, nursing, discipling and bible college lecturing. In this time, they had five more children after Esther: Lydia, Adam, Hannah and the twins, Abel and Jairus.
They left Papua New Guinea for the lat time in 1993 but after ten years of pastoring in New Zealand, they were then off again in 2004. With their now teenage children, Hannah, Abel and Jairus – Esther and Lydia had left home already – they moved to Cambodia to become the directors of Asian Outreach Cambodia for two years.
When considering raising their family on the mission field, their friends’ and families’ main concern would often be about health care. And for good reason! In the small village that they lived in Pangoa for most of their time in PNG, the nearest hospital was an hour’s plane trip away and you could be waiting for half a day before the nearest plane even arrived. And that was only if there was a plane available and near you. Mike recollected a time when their son, Jairus, suddenly stopped breathing and started going blue. In such a critical time, not even the fastest plane trip to the hospital would have helped if Jairus hadn’t suddenly started breathing again.
“Most of you were about six months old when we would return to PNG again – After returning to New Zealand and giving birth there -” Ruth said, commenting on how young the her kids were. “So it’s important that you do your due diligence and have things in place in case situations go wrong
Mike commented that after a couple years, certainly people began to make statements like “Well, you’ve done more than most people have, isn’t it time to settle down, get a mortgage and find a real job?”
However, when people asked whether PNG was too dangerous to raise children Mike and Ruth often responded “Not any more dangerous than New Zealand!”. They said that their children’s health was actually better and safer in PNG than it ever was in New Zealand. Sadly, their son Adam had died in December, 1986 and almost immediately after that, their daughter, Lydia, was hospitalized with meningitis.
Both of these events happened in Christchurch, New Zealand! So, for Mike and Ruth, anywhere could be dangerous at some time. Mike said that they’ve come to believe that the best place for any Christian, even if it’s not the safest place, is always in the will of God.
Another potential barrier that faced the Robbs was around education. In fact, many people presumed that, when they returned to New Zealand from PNG for the last time it was so that Esther, who was 12, could attend high school. Mike and Ruth found the best way through these challenges or concerns was to constantly pray about how they should raise their children, whether they were living on the mission field or not, and never to ‘presume’ to do something just because it had always been done or was supposed to be done a certain way.
“I often used to say ‘God why didn’t you put in your Bible ‘Thous shalt not end your kids to boarding school’?,” Ruth exclaimed with a laugh. “Then I could point to it and say ‘See that’s why I’m not doing it’. But He didn’t. And He didn’t do that with a lot of things. He didn’t tell us how to live, He tells us to have a relationship with Him and listen. And so it’s listening to what the Holy Spirit is telling you. And we were praying all the time and continuously re-assessing and evaluating…and also listening to those people around us. Don’t be isolated in making decisions.”
With this in mind, they continued to home school most of their children (except Esther who attended Year 13 in Dunedin) right through to the last year of High School. Ruth said that whenever it came to missions work and the decisions they needed to make when raising their children, it was the communication lines they kept open between God and those they lived with that broke down what could have become barriers to mission.
One of the most common themes that Mike and Ruth picked up from Christian people that also became a barrier for them in pursuing missions was a belief among many parents that their children need to be happy. However Mike and Ruth have a very different approach.
“Happiness depends on happenings,” Mike commented. “And sometimes things happen that aren’t that good. But we wanted them to be content. And the Apostle Paul said that, he’d learnt in all things to be content. Yeah ,sometimes life is really tough…but we want you to be content that we’re ok in this. That was more important than just happiness or being entertained.”
“Parents going overseas can feel like they’re denying their children things they could have back home,” Ruth said. “So they felt like they had to make it up to their kids.”
“And letting them away with behaviors they shouldn’t!” Mike added.
The Robbs believe that, much rather than denying their children experiences that others feel they should have had, living cross culturally provided them with opportunities and experiences that formed them into the people they are today. Now, all five of their children are grown, married and each serving God through various endeavors, whether that be through church ministry, missions or community development and support. Mike and Ruth commented that they believe one of the reasons for how their kids have grown up was because they got to experience a relationship with God on the mission field.
“We saw God answer prayers to situations where there was no other way out of it,” Mike said. “There was no plan B a lot of the time. And I feel like in New Zealand, there’s always another answer. There’s a hospital down the road, there’s a policeman you can call, there’s a mechanic you can call. So I think they saw things in that that they wouldn’t have experienced at home.”
The Robb’s believe that, when it comes to parents of young children deciding whether they should do mission or not, perhaps they need to re-evaluate what obligations God has given them as Christian parents. Much more than seeing their obligations as parents becoming barriers to doing missions overseas, Mike and Ruth feel they are motivators.
“Probably, the biggest thing is God’s more interested in our character than in our happiness,” Ruth said.
“I love that Steve Maina quote,” Mike said, referring to NZCMS’ previous National Director. “You can be brave or you can be safe, but you can’t be both. And if I can add to that quote, choose the brave option, don’t choose the easiest option. Choose the more difficult option, generally in life. I think that’s a good way to live.”
By Tessella Hicks, NZCMS Mission Partner to the Solomon Islands.
Being born in Germany in the 1980’s to missionary parents working with Muslim groups, I was automatically included in the day-to-day workings of mission in a cross-cultural setting. Looking back at photos of myself being held by Turkish believers during Bible Studies and sitting side by side with Uyghur and Kazakh children, I can only feel like I was always meant to be with people from other cultures, sharing the love of Christ with them. So when it came time for Jon and I to take our own children overseas to the Solomon Islands in 2015, it felt like the most natural thing to do. Natural, but not easy.
Becoming a mother has made me realise all the details my parents had to plan, worry about and deal with so that my siblings and I could live our ideal childhoods overseas. And now it was our turn to apply for passports and visas, get medical exams, raise funds, pack and plan for our new life.
Flashback to my family landing in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 1994 with 10 black suitcases containing all our worldly possessions. We waited around in the airport for what seemed like hours while my father used his Russian and Kazak language skills to secure us a taxi ride and get to our beds for the night. Dad must have been super-stressed, but I was just going along for the ride!
But even harder for Jon and I than all the physical preparation if moving to the Solomons, was the knowledge that we would be separating ourselves from our parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and how this would impact our children. Going onto the mission field with a family is often the best thing to do and also the hardest. However when we discuss taking our children overseas, we’ve found just how many misconceptions people have about a family living on the mission field. Here are a couple of the ones I hear most often.
Misconception One: Your Children Will Miss Out on Opportunities
This is one we’ve heard many people voice over the years. Initially people were supportive when we told them that we would be raising our family in the South Pacific with statements like, “Wow, what an adventure!” or “Your kids will have so many great memories!” However, as a bit more time went by, many people have questioned whether living in such a remote location limits our children’s opportunities to engage in sports, music, access to technology and mainstream education.
While our children are confined to the limits of our tropical seminary campus – we can only make it into the port town once every few weeks to get an ice cream and check the post office for letters or parcels – I think it’s a very real misconception that their lives can’t be rich and full of opportunity.
They have at least two hours of outdoor fun with their friends each day and with the children of our faculty colleagues and seminary students. They play soccer, tag, hide and seek and all sorts of imagination games, including a reenactment of the life of Christ around Holy Week that they did this year!
We gather to sing as a family once a day, as well as with our church community at evening services and Sundays. They’ve learned to harmonise and memorise lyrics to dozens of songs in not only English, but also Pidgin English and several indigenous languages.
We’ve also found that being unplugged from technology has been a great blessing to us. We have lots more time to read, explore the outdoors and engage face to face with friends. Our homeschooling programme gives the children freedom to read about diverse cultures, religions, people groups and time periods. I can say with confidence that far from limiting their possibilities, living cross-culturally has given my children incredibly unique opportunities that have expanded their worldviews in amazing ways and given them an insight into how God works across the globe.
Misconception Two: It’s Too Dangerous to Go Without Proper Healthcare.
Some people were very concerned about how adequate – or, rather, inadequate – the healthcare would be here. Some questions were “What if your appendix ruptures? What happens if somebody breaks a bone or gets a severe case of …well, you name it!?” Access to decent healthcare is taken for granted by so many of us that stepping into a situation with lower than average healthcare seems naive at best and negligent at worst.
We live about a 45-minute drive from the provincial hospital on the island of Malaita. While the basic Kilu’ufi Hospital does have an operating room, scanning facilities, medicines in stock – however, not always the ones you need – and trained doctors and nurses, we’re thankful we’ve never needed to go in for emergency treatment. So while I agree that the healthcare is certainly lower than many places around the world, it doesn’t need to be an obstacle to following God here. A misconception people may have about missions is that you can and should only go where you know you will be provided for. Just as we trust God in many areas of our lives, we need to commit ourselves, including our heath and our very lives, into God’s loving care.
An amazing story of God’s provision for our health was when we arrived in the country three months pregnant with our fifth child. We waited to arrive to tell our families, knowing that they might have advised us to delay our trip until after baby was born. We considered flying back to the USA or to New Zealand, but, since we had just begun our ministry, we felt that we needed to trust God and stay within the Solomons.
In country, with the hospitals being quite austere
complete with metal delivery tables, stirrups and national midwives being outlawed – we decided to ask an American midwife to fly out to us and deliver the baby. She waited patiently for our baby to arrive and helped me through a smooth and fast water birth in the comfort of missionary housing in the capital city of Honiara. We heard after the birth that the week prior, the nurses at the national hospital went on strike and as a result two infants had died. I was awestruck at how God’s hand was in every detail and was reminded again that we were in the safest place by being in God’s care.
We named our son Immanuel to remind ourselves that in the midst of the difficulty of life, God is with us.
Misconception Three: Your Children Shouldn’t Suffer With You
I think this is probably the number one misconception we have dealt with since bringing our children overseas with us. On visits back to New Zealand and the USA, we’ve heard comments from well-meaning people that while we have chosen to be missionaries and suffer for Christ’s sake, we shouldn’t be dragging our children into it with us.
Being here, our children have had to go through some tough things. One of us usually has some kind of infected skin sore that requires vigilant washing, dressing, medication and the occasional round of antibiotics. We had two bed bug infestations that made our house feel more like a battle-zone rather than a refuge from the outside world. We’ve seen death up close and personal, attending over five wakes – this is when the mourners gather around the body before burial and cry, pray, talk and sing together – and funerals of men, women and two infants. The children have willingly come with us to pray with the grieving families and see that, while we weep, we do not mourn like those who do not have hope.
Suffering comes hand in hand with following Jesus. We hold a deep conviction that if we try to protect our children from experiencing the fullness of being a disciple of Christ, we would be sinning. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). He asks this of everyone who puts their trust in Him. And suffering knows no age, gender or nationality. We’ve chosen to bring our children into God’s presence, presenting them to him who is their loving Heavenly Father and letting God meet them in trials and difficulty.
There was a moment when we were cleaning out a particularly deep sore, when one of the children said, “I wish we had never come here.” We acknowledged the pain and the difficulty and then prayed to our Lord Jesus to meet us and carry our burdens for us. And the Lord has proven faithful again and again.
Just recently, one of the girls said, “Whenever we travel back to New Zealand and the USA, it feels like I’m just a visitor. The Solomon Islands feels like home now.” Whatever difficulties we’ve gone through, we have done so as a family with the Lord’s strength and are often reminded of these words from Saint Paul.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
This article was taken from our annual publication Snapshot, published in March and written by our Youth Mobiliser, Kirstin Cant.
To learn more about Better World, visit the website here or download an application for 2020 here. Applications close November 1st.
The dream is still the dream. The challenges are still the challenges. The call is still the call.
NZCMS continues to have a vision of growing young leaders for the Church and raising up future long-term missionaries who are passionate about the gospel and equipped to do their part in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.
There are many ways NZCMS seeks to do that with its mobilising team throughout New Zealand. We invest in and mentor leaders. We facilitate and train teams. We speak about God’s mission wherever we go. We journey with a wide range of young adults throughout the province who are exploring their next steps into mission. We have our new model of the Mission Internship Programme – for individuals who we journey with for about 1 year and during that time they spend 3-6 months as an ‘apprentice’ to a Mission Partner of NZCMS (or partnership organisation) in a cross-cultural location.
But there is still room for more ways to engage young people in mission. We saw an opportunity and launched a new programme in 2019.
Here’s what we’ve seen and learned about young people: Most young people in New Zealand are interested in and passionate about issues of social justice around them but many do not know or understand that these issues are central to the Christian faith and the gospel. So to engage in this space, we have created a new Social Justice focused Gap Year called Better World.
Better World is a 10 month, full-time programme that takes the team on a journey in Wellington, New Zealand (5 months), Suva, Fijia (6 weeks) and Cambodia (4months). It is centred around issues of social justice in our world today and putting those issues into a context of biblical truth, the Great Commission, and God’s heart for these issues in the world. The programme is designed for young people who are seeking to grow in their understanding and experience of what it means to follow Jesus, to serve the Church, and join in God’s mission.
Better World also has a strong focus on spiritual formation and developing both the competency and character of the young participants with the end goal of preparing them for ministry in the New Zealand church and around the world. Better World aims to take a young person’s desire to ‘make the world a better place’ and turn that into a mature understanding of the role the Church can play in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth – joining in on the ‘better world’ that God has planned and is at work redeeming.
We focus on four social justice issues – Ethical Consumption, Climate Change, Urban Poverty, and Refugees and Migrants.
We see Better World as a critical part of the pathway for growing young people with a Global Mission heart-beat and are excited to create this opportunity in 2019. There is a comprehensive team of exceptional people who are bringing about Better World:
Guy and Summer Benton, who joined NZCMS staff in January this year, are the creators and coordinators of the programme, along with the support of Kirstin Cant, our Youth Mobiliser.
Much of the daily instruction of the Better World participants is carried out by two Team Leaders who live and travel with participants throughout the year. We’re delighted to have two exceptional leaders for 2019; Sam Tovey, and Luca Duckworth who both have significant experience to offer in terms of cross cultural living, local mission and ministry engagement, engaging with issues of social justice, living in intentional community, youth work, and administration. We’ve have taking on Sam and Luca as Short-Term Missionaries in these roles. Sam and Luca are raising support to serve Better World and are committed to the vision of raising up young leaders for global mission.
Better World also engaged Kate Day to develop and teach the majority of the curriculum for the Wellington Block. Kate has a decade of experience in Christian activism for social justice and is the Advocacy Enabler for the Anglican Diocese of Wellington.
The whole NZCMS staff team have roles in supporting and enabling Better World to happen. We’re so grateful to be continuing to step into what God is doing in New Zealand, faithfully serving and providing our skills and support to see young people joining in on God’s mission.
The dream is still the dream.
We are a part of it.
This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission. To receive this free bimonthly publication from the Lausanne Movement, subscribe online at lausanne.org/analysis.
The historical pattern of expansion in mission resourcing has not been a process of even progress from a single center. The 20th century marked a change in the flow of missionary personnel and financial resources from the Western world to the non-Western or majority world, and from the Global North to the Global South. What are the realities of this transition? How can we understand its nature? What does this change imply for future intercultural ministries? These are important questions to ask as we envision and strategise future ministries.
The main theme of the 1938 International Missionary Council (IMC) conference in Tambaram was the ‘Upbuilding of the younger churches as a part of the historic universal Christian community’. The 1938 IMC foresaw the future of world Christianity resting with the younger churches.
Larry D. Pate’s book From Every People (1989) projected that by the year 2000, the majority of Protestant missionaries would be from the non-Western world, assuming the growth rate of the time continued.His subsequent projection was that by 2000, there would be approximately 131,700 Western missionaries and 164,200 non-Western missionaries.
However, Michael Jaffarian, in an article in 2004, pointed out that Pate counted both domestic and foreign missionaries for the non-Western world, while only counting foreign missionaries for the Western world. His analysis of the 2001 Operation World data suggested that there were still more Western Protestant missionaries than those from the non-Western world:
- Jaffarian’s total count of non-Western missionaries reached 91,837—less than the 103,437 Western missionaries.
- He also pointed out that the growth rate of non-Western Protestant missionaries was 210 percent for the period of 1990–2000, while the rate for Western missionaries was only 12 percent.
My own observation is that Pate’s projection was not totally unsupported, even though he did not compare the same kind of missionaries. Pate focused on Protestant missionaries, whereas Jaffarian’s analysis showed the comparison including Roman Catholic missionaries. If we compare Protestant missionaries only, we could conclude that Pate’s projection was simply delayed in coming true. It could be that the number of non-Western Protestant missionaries outnumbered that of Western counterparts not by the year 2000, but by, say, 2010. To verify this hunch would demand solid empirical research.Korean missionary movement
The missionary movement in Korea might not be a typical example of a majority world missions movement. Korea belongs to the non-Western world, but is also a part of the Global North, like a few other developed Asian countries. The categorisation can be different depending on whether the criterion is cultural or economic. What is important is that the Korean missionary movement provides an example of a former mission field turned into a sending base for missionaries.
93 Korean missionaries working in 26 countries through 21 mission agencies in 1979
21,220 Korean missionaries working in 159 countries through 159 mission agencies in 2017.
This shift may look dramatic on the outside, but it took a lot of time and energy inwardly. The Korean church commissioned its first cross-cultural missionary Ki Poong Lee (1868–1942) to Jeju Island in 1907. It commissioned its first missionaries to go abroad in 1912 when Tae Ro Park, Young Hoon Kim, and Byung Soon Sah, set off for Shandong, China. After Korea’s independence, the Korean church sent more missionaries to other countries:
- According to Marlin L. Nelson’s pioneering research on Korean missionaries and mission agencies, there were 93 missionaries working in 26 countries through 21 mission agencies in 1979.
- By the end of 2017, there were 21,220 Korean missionaries working in 159 countries through 159 mission agencies (Figure 1).
THE KOREAN CHURCH IS NOW AN IMPORTANT SOURCE OF MISSION RESOURCING.
The Korean church is now an important source of mission resourcing. The churches in Korea today spend more than USD 363 million a year to support their missionaries’ ministries, counting only the amount that has been channeled through mission agencies and not including direct expenditures.
The Number of Korean missionaries (1979-2017)
It was in 1832, when Karl Friedrich August Gutzlaff (1803–1851) arrived in Korea for a short-term ministry as an itinerant, that Korea saw its first missionary. The first long-term missionaries Horace Grant Underwood (1859–1916) and Henry G. Appenzeller (1858–1902) did not arrive in Korea until 1885. Thus it did not take long before the Korean church began to send its own missionaries. However, it took almost 100 years for it to see a major missions movement catalysed to send multitudes of missionaries, with the start of the Mission Korea Student Convention in 1988.
Korea is only one example of the missions movement in the majority world. There are now multiple streams of the global missions movement in many parts of the world.
The pattern of expansion in Christian missions is not a process of even progress emanating from one permanent center, like that of Islamic expansion. After a number of serial expansions, there are now multiple centers in Christian missions.
The dichotomy between Western world and majority world or Global North and Global South gives the impression of a dramatic or paradigmatic shift in mission resourcing. The reality, however, is much more complex than this simple description. Looking into the process of the changes enables a subtle understanding of the gradual and cumulative dynamics of change. There is much more continuity than the titles of Pate’s writings convey. The Western centers are still functioning as missionary-sending bases, although there are new centers expanding continually in the majority world.
The global missions movement is expanding through polycentric multiplication in this ever-globalising world. The question is no longer a binary one of Western or non-Western. The issue is how to harness the plurality of the streams of the global missionary movement.
The Global South has as much or even more heterogeneity than the Global North. The cultural difference or distance between an Asian country and a Latin American country might be greater than those between an Asian country and a Western country. In this global age, categorising difference as a black and white dichotomy is no longer valid. The polycentric or pluralistic model is more realistic and applicable.
We therefore need to pursue true globalism in doing theology and ministry, overcoming the dichotomic view of Western versus non-Western. There are many kinds of parochialism that we need to overcome. No localism should dominate the scene. We need to pursue a dynamic balance between the global and the local.
INCARNATIONAL MINISTRY IN THIS GLOBAL AGE REQUIRES A DEEP COMMITMENT TO A RESPECTFUL MINDSET.
The art of leadership and competence in this diversifying world lies in how to handle differences. These differences are a given reality in such a world; what is important is how to deal with them. A desirable attitude is to appreciate, celebrate, and maximise the benefits of the differences to make them positive dynamics for synergy. Ethnorelativism, rather than ethnocentrism, will provide a foundation for this kind of positive attitude toward differences. As we respect other perspectives, norms, and categories, we can creatively maximise the benefits of being different. Heterogeneity might be uncomfortable, but it is an important condition for a synergistic relationship.
Incarnational ministry in this global age requires a deep commitment to a respectful mindset. It is not just a matter of strategy, but an essential quality of missional spirituality and leadership. True identification with people from other cultural backgrounds starts with recognising the different realities. True ecumenism honestly recognises and accepts the essential differences and learns to coexist with them.
What might be the practical side of the missiological implications? I would propose three ‘I’s:
- Interacting with other localities. A true practice of missional globalism would emphasise more efforts to cross cultures and traditions and work together.
- Integrating diverse localism into a globalism. We need to prioritise a willingness to accept one another and learn to form common ground overcoming differences.
- Standing in between the global and local in doing theology and ministry. We need to build up cross-cultural competence to think and work in and above culture.
To be more concrete, we need to invite others from different cultural backgrounds more. If necessary, we need to lower our expectations of proficiency in communicating. We should ask more questions instead of positing ready-made arguments. An emic category in a culture or language may not exist or be relevant in another culture or language. Asking questions instead of assuming common ground is cross-cultural wisdom.
ASKING QUESTIONS INSTEAD OF ASSUMING COMMON GROUND IS CROSS-CULTURAL WISDOM.
Also, we should listen more carefully. Before embarking on a discussion or consensus building, we need to pay attention to what others have to say. Sometimes what others are saying between the lines is very important. Inviting, asking, and listening are basic yet significant practices comprising a global mindset.
I have greatly benefited from inviting mission leaders from other cultural backgrounds into our programs. It has been an important part of God’s blessing on my pilgrimage. More recently, I have gratefully enjoyed various invitations from other corners of the world to write (as with this article), speak or share, give feedback, brainstorm together, or sometimes just to chat. Overall, I have benefited more from the friendship and companionship than I have contributed to it.
Let us invite people from the other side of the world into our fellowship and meeting; let us ask them to give us their feedback, share their thoughts and feelings, and participate in dialogue towards our common agenda; and let us listen to them more carefully to build mutual understanding and opportunities for cooperation and collaboration.
- Dana L. Robert, ‘Shifting Southward: Global Christianity Since 1945’, International Bulletin of Missionary ResearchVol. 24, No. 2 (New Haven: Overseas Ministries Study Center, 2000), 57. ↑
- Larry D. Pate, From Every People: A Handbook of Two-Thirds World Missions with Directory/Histories/Analysis(Monrovia: MARC, 1989). ↑
- Larry D. Pate, ‘The Changing Balance in Global Mission’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research Vol. 19, No. 2 (New Haven: Overseas Ministries Study Center, 1991), 59. ↑
- Michael Jaffarian, ‘Are There More Non-Western Missionaries than Western Missionaries?’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research Vol. 28, No. 3 (New Haven: Overseas Ministries Study Center, 2004), 131. ↑
- Ibid., 132. ↑
- Ibid.; Enoch Wan, Michael Pocock eds. Missions from the Majority World: Progress, Challenges, and Case Studies. E-Book (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009), Loc 168. ↑
- Marlin L. Nelson, Directory of Korean Missionaries and Mission Societies (Seoul: Asian Center for Theological Studies and Mission, 1979), 43. ↑
- Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, ‘Missions from Korea 2018: Mission Education’, International Bulletin of Mission Research Vol. 42, No. 2 (OMSC & SAGE, 2018), 171. ↑
- Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, ‘Missions from Korea 2013: Microtrends and Finance’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research Vol. 37, No. 2 (New Haven: OMSC, 2013), 96-97. ↑
- Andrew F. Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2005), 13. ↑
- Ibid., 13, 45. ↑
- Editor’s Note: See article by Allen Yeh, entitled, ‘The Future of Mission is from Everywhere to Everywhere’, in January 2018 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2018-01/future-mission-everyone-everywhere. ↑
- Editor’s Note: See article by Ben Thomas, entitled, ‘How Can We Finally Reach the Unreached?’, in March 2018 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2018-03/can-finally-reach-unreached. ↑
The Revd Gerald Clark, a former CMS missionary and then Council member, died on July 8, 2019. His missionary service and leadership role in NZCMS is acknowledged with gratitude to God in this tribute to the blessing he has been to this Society.
In 1958 the Dominion Monarch took over a month to convey Gerald Clark, his wife Noeline, and their infant son Paul to Capetown. The young family then waited ten days for another, much smaller, cargo ship to take them up the Eastern coast of Africa to Dar es Salaam, then the capital of Tanganyika, now modern day Tanzania. There they took a train for an overnight journey to their new home, Dodoma, to begin their service overseas as CMS missionaries. Gerald’s missionary interest began at a young age, attending the very first CMS Spring School in Christchurch in 1948 while still at High School. Gerald became a key figure in the early formation of the newly formed CMS League of Youth, assisting in running youth rallies and camps. It was during this time, in the early 1950s, that he and his soon to be wife, Noeline, began to discern the increasing sense of call from God for overseas mission service.
On a Sunday evening during a missionary service at St Martin’s Church, Maxwell Wiggins, Dean of Dodoma Cathedral, preached. During this sermon Maxwell read a letter from the Tanzanian Government approving the doubling in size of the Alliance School in Dodoma. This meant that they would need more teachers. Both Gerald and Noeline felt the call of God in this opportunity. In 1957, they met with the General Secretary of NZCMS, the Reverend Harry Thomson, who organized an interview with Bishop Alfred Stanway of Central Tanzania. It was soon decided they would be suitable to join the staff of the Alliance School and their application to NZCMS was accepted.
The Alliance Secondary School where Gerald would be teaching was situated in Kikuyu, a village about three kilometers out of Dodoma. Gerald was given classes to teach but found that he was surplus to teaching needs for the first six months until an additional stream of students increased the roll at the beginning of 1959. However, the only ordained man on staff was due to leave and there was no one to replace him. Gerald was encouraged to fill this need and he was ordained and became the Chaplain of the school. Though originally with no formal training in theological, he undertook study towards the New Zealand LTh each year, completing the qualification in 1967.
In mid 1961, Gerald was asked to be the headmaster of a new boys’ secondary boarding school to be opened in the extreme West of Tanzania at Kigoma. He was given the privilege of naming the new school and chose “Livingstone College” as, in the previous century, HM Stanley had found the missing David Livingstone only 10km away at Ujiji on the banks of Lake Tanganyika. Livingstone College was the first secondary school in the Western Region of the country.
In 1962 the Clarks returned to New Zealand and spent most of 1963 undertaking further study and deputation work. Gerald recruited two other New Zealand teachers to join him. As the school in Kigoma continued to grow the staff took on a very international flavour, with teachers from Australia, Britain, USA, Sweden as well as from New Zealand and Tanzania. By 1966 the school had grown from seventy pupils and two staff in its first year to 280 pupils, with two classes of 35 in each of the four years, and twelve staff members.
Educational difficulties for their growing family together with government requirements in 1967 that every school must be run by an African headmaster lead to the Clarks finishing their time in Tanzania.
After a brief time handing over to his successor, Gerald and his family travelled to England and lived in Canterbury, Kent, for two years where Gerald did a research degree in History and taught in the local secondary schools while Noeline nursed at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital. In 1969 they returned to New Zealand on the Southern Cross.
Following their return to New Zealand, Gerald was elected as a governing council member where he served for two full decades over the 1970-80s. He was later elected as Vice Chairman of the NZCMS Council.
This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission. To receive this free bimonthly publication from the Lausanne Movement, subscribe online at lausanne.org/analysis.
A recent study in the United Kingdom showed that 71 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 now identify as having no religious beliefs of any kind.According to Operation World, a growing majority of European countries, including France, the Czech Republic, and Spain, are composed of one percent or fewer evangelical Christians.
According to the book Churchless, ‘More than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice.’ This means there are approximately 156 million Americans who are not engaged with a church.’
Much of the formerly ‘Christian’ world is leaving its roots behind and is dominated by secularism (death to religion) and relativism (death to truth). The Bible is no longer considered the moral compass; rather, everyone is free to decide for themselves what is right and wrong.
Young people see the church as irrelevant to their day-to-day lives: a dead, empty tradition of the past.
And secularization, a trend closely tied to the globalization of culture among urban youth, is not limited to post-Christian regions like Europe or the USA. It is impacting cultures in urban centers of every region of the world, including the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. This next generation, connected by consumerism, social media, and the entertainment industry, forms the largest global culture ever to exist.
Throughout the Middle East, for example, an entirely new generation influenced by global secularism has been emerging. This is a generation well versed in modern technology, and highly engaged in global music and art trends. In spite of the political and social turmoil that have characterized the region, these young people are energetic, highly innovative, and creative. At the same time, they have become increasingly suspicious of traditional cultural and religious values, as they aspire for change and a new way of living. Presenting both a challenge and an opportunity in terms of evangelism, this emerging culture calls for new missional models and approaches, as traditional efforts in this region have tended to focus on the values and worldview of the previous generation.
We live in a time of unprecedented connectedness. Mainstream media, global economic strategies, and, above all, the Internet have eroded cultural boundaries. Youth culture is more homogenous than ever, leading to a truly globalized youth culture. At the heart of any culture are the core ideas that form its view of the world. For the globalized youth culture, these core ideas are secularism, relativism, and tolerance.
It is important to understand that secularism is not the total absence of God. Secularism is more accurately characterized by the marginalization and privatization of spirituality. Young people are not consciously rejecting God per se; they just do not think about it. Appropriately, these post-God young people have been dubbed ‘the nones’—a generation without any religious affiliations.
Religion and Christianity are irrelevant to their day-to-day lives. At best, they see Jesus as a good person or teacher, and, at worst, as a symbol of repression and bigotry. Just over 60 percent of Millennials consider Christianity to be ‘judgmental,’ and 64 percent say that the term ‘anti-gay’ ‘best describes most churches today.’
False perceptions of God leading to the mass secularization of young people is perhaps the greatest challenge to the church today. Not only has religion been relegated to the sidelines of societal relevance, but it also has become something strictly private.
The second defining worldview of secular culture is relativism. Relativism is the idea that there is no transcendent truth and therefore no universal morality. Concepts such as right and wrong, justice and duty, are social constructs and ultimately illusory. With traditional ethics swept aside, relativism is an absolute pillar of the globalized youth culture. ‘You have your opinion and I have mine’ is the slogan of our day. It does not have to make sense; just do not violate it.
Ironically, the only truth that is not relative is that truth is relative. Secular people have no problem embracing two mutually exclusive perspectives, as long as it serves the way they want to live. It is the ultimate ‘have your cake and eat it too’ philosophy. Relativism has become a dominant force entrenched in the minds of young people.
Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, points out the following:
“There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief if put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction – they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self – evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2+2=4.“
If followed to its logical end, moral relativism would lead to unmitigated evil and a total collapse of society, and yet this has not happened. This is because no one lives as if relativism were true. Notions of right and wrong, duty, honor, and justice are familiar themes in entertainment and pop culture, speaking to the larger rejection of relativism as a practical way to live.
Even secular writers seem to agree. Consider the thoughts of Helen Rittelmeyer, writer for The American Spectator, who says,
“Overprocessed chard – slayers like Katy Perry and Ke$ha do not act as if they want to be judged by the brutal honesty of their self – expression, and neither do mannered indie darlings like the Decemberists. As for cinema, anti – heroes are out and heroes are back in. Virtue, authority, and law and order are all in fashion, as the bank accounts of Chris Nolan, J.K. Rowling, and Marvel Comics will attest.  “
It is almost impossible to find someone truly committed to moral relativism in Hollywood or elsewhere. What you find in abundance, however, are people who say that morals are relative and yet live as though they are not. Secular young people have not abandoned morals and duties; rather, they have rejected traditional moral anchors and reference points, creating a value system of their own.
Jonathan Merritt argues in The Atlantic that ‘instead of being centered on gender roles, family values, respect for institutions and religious piety, it [the modern notion of morality] orbits around values like tolerance and inclusion. This new code has created a paradoxical moment in which all is tolerated except the intolerant and all included except the exclusive.’
Relativism is an important, unifying characteristic of secular young people in theory, not in practice. Though it has not produced the moral monsters and philosophical nihilists that it should have, it has given rise to another foundational belief of secular young people: tolerance.
We are told to be open-minded, and this sounds noble on the surface. Every idea, belief, and view is equal and should be respected by all people everywhere. It does not take a professional philosopher to see the self-refuting nature of this ideology. Tolerance is the logical extension of relativism, and it shares in its incoherence. After all, demanding the tolerance of all views is not very tolerant.
As D.A. Carson points out, ‘It [open-mindedness] no longer means that you may or may not have strong views yet remain committed to listening honestly to countervailing arguments. Rather, it means you are dogmatically committed to the view that all convictions that any view whatsoever is wrong are improper and narrow-minded.’
The best form of tolerance lies in the ability or willingness to listen to people with beliefs and opinions that differ from your own. In the past, people were sacred, while ideas were up for debate. Today, tolerance guards ideas and attacks people. This has created a climate of conformity. People no longer have the freedom to think critically about issues and come to their own conclusions, for fear of being rejected or bullied. Tolerance suddenly is not so tolerant.
In a culture dominated by secularism, relativism, and tolerance (at least as it is liberally defined and applied), it is no wonder that Christianity, with its exclusive truth claims and absolutes, is incompatible with secular culture. More and more young people reject Christianity because to follow Jesus is to swim against the current of our times—the road is too narrow, the cost too high.
As followers of Jesus, it is clear that we need to respond—but how?
1. Respond by developing authentic relationships. Get out of our Christian ghetto, develop authentic relationships with unbelievers, ask them questions, and really listen. Isolation is our enemy. We need to reintegrate into secular culture and eliminate the superficial differences that keep us isolated and irrelevant. Jesus’s life demonstrates a delicate balance: being part of culture while not being polluted by it.
2. Respond by gently challenging presuppositions. Help them see how believing in God is rationally sound, historically accurate, and philosophically congruent. Demonstrate that, unlike secular humanism, our faith is internally consistent and corresponds with how we really experience life.
3. Respond by seeking God. Pray like you have never prayed before. Let it disrupt your schedule. Ask for unreasonable things and demand that God move in power in and through your life, and do not stop asking until he does.
4. Respond by stepping through fear. Boldly preach the cross, take Holy Spirit–led risks, and do not wait. We may feel as though we have all the time in the world, but we do not.
Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5:15–16, ‘Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil’ (NIV).
Time is short, and the needs are great. It is time to act!
- Tom Powell, “More than half of Britons ‘have no religion’, survey reveals,” Evening Standard, September 4, 2017, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/more-than-half-of-britons-have-no-religion-survey-reveals-a3626896.html. ↑
- Jason Mandryk, “France,” Operation World, 2018, http://www.operationworld.org/country/fran/owtext.html; Jason Mandryk, “Czech Republic,” Operation World, 2018, http://www.operationworld.org/country/czec/owtext.html; Jason Mandryk, “Spain,” Operation World, 2018, http://www.operationworld.org/country/spai/owtext.html. ↑
- George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2014), 16. ↑
- D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 37. ↑
- Dr. Alex McFarland, “Ten reasons millennials are backing away from God and Christianity,” Fox News, 2017, https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/ten-reasons-millennials-are-backing-away-from-god-and-christianity. ↑
- Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 19. ↑
- Helen Rittelmeyer, “Moral Relativism, R.I.P.,” The American Spectator, 2012, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/the-death-of-moral-relativism/475221/. ↑
- Jonathan Merritt, “The Death of Moral Relativism,” The Atlantic, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/the-death-of-moral-relativism/475221/. ↑
- D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 35. ↑