Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Substitutionary Confession

In our staff devotions this morning, we read from Nehemiah 9:26-38. While I was reading, two verses stood out to me. "Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that You gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruits and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. And its rich yield goes to the kings whom You have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please and we are in great distress." (vs. 36-37) 

A lot has been said about the rampant corruption and violent crime epidemic in South Africa for a while now as well as about the crippling effects of the worst drought in decades. If we take some of the warnings in Scripture seriously, we may conclude that these seemingly separate subjects are actually linked by the collective sins of our people...we are told that peace and prosperity is a byproduct of God's blessing upon an obedient people...strife and struggle and suffering is a byproduct of the withholding of God's blessing. And, according to this reading, the rulers we have are those whom God places over us because of our sins...

The chapter as a whole is about confession, contrition, and covenant commitment...in it the Levites recited the nation's history from creation to their present day to point out a pattern of disobedience that eventually culminated in the nation being defeated and exiled. Now, they had returned to their land after 70 years in Babylon, but still they were not entirely free...indeed, they were never really free again, save for a short period under the Hasmonean Kings. 

But what struck me in the reading of this passage was the willingness of the people to confess the sins of the nation as if they were their own. We see this in Daniel chapter 9 as well, where a man described as faithful to the Lord and His Law even to the point of dangerous civil disobedience, confesses the sins of the nation as if they were his own with "prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes". "We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from Your commandments and rules. We have not listened to Your servants the prophets..." We...not they.

It is so easy for us to point fingers at others and to blame them for the current state of affairs in South Africa. We can look back in time and blame our ancestors...we can look across the political spectrum and blame each other...but the blame game does not solve anything. It just serves to deepen the gulf that divides us from each other and to perpetuate the resentment and bitterness that robs us of the dream of unity as the rainbow nation. 

But to confess the collective sins of the nation as a whole...to confess the sins of our ancestors and our contemporaries as if they were our own, may help to bring us together at the foot of the cross where the need for forgiveness, grace, and mercy places us all on level ground. And who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from His fierce anger, (Jonah 3:9), and may well hear from heaven and will forgive our sins and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14b).

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Mozambique: Day Three

Bang! Bang! Were we the only people in the guesthouse? Did no one else hear the sound? Bang! Bang! A wind from the ocean, only 20 km east from here, started blowing during the early hours of the morning and, as all windows are left open here, doors were being blown open and shut. Bang! Bang! I heard the voice of Lynn Bouterese of SAMS saying, “Earplugs, Johann! You need to use earplugs!”

Bang! Bang! Finally, I decided to get up to close the offending door. But the power had gone off sometime during the night as well, and it was so dark I could not see my hand in front of my face. Walking with my arms outstretched, I found our door, walked out into the courtyard, and towards the banging door. But first things first…I needed to do what men my age often have to do during the night…but the bathroom was pitch dark as well. I had to make sure I located the correct receptacle. Bang! Bang! Blast that door. Having succeeded in my quest, I slowly found my way to the source of the sound and closed the door. But oh, stuff and fluff! It had no clip and would not stay closed. The only other option was to open it all the way to the wall and hope that the wind would keep it there.

After having relocated our bed, I tried in vain to go back to sleep. After Louise and I had tossed and turned for what seemed like an eternity, she finally got up to make coffee…they had used Cassava branches to make the fire, so the water had a distinct sweet fire flavour. Hmm…Cassava flavoured coffee…

The cooks arrived as I was making our second cups at 5 AM. “No power?” she said in Portuguese. “No…no power,” I replied in sign language. Obviously she knew where the problem lay as it came on soon after. Our hot water for bathing arrived in a kettle…hmm, Cassava…now we smell like our coffee.

Morning Prayer was at 7 AM…and, praise God, one clever soul decided that we need to go directly to the conference room rather than wait for breakfast to arrive. Moving along.

The teaching was difficult today. This is an unusually large group. 45 participants plus spouses and visitors…some come, some go. People seemed to be tired and often nodded off. We had to take a lot more breaks than usual and we did stretching exercises and sang songs in an attempt to energise folks. Also, there seemed to be a tendency to go off on rabbit trails…this is quite normal when there are priests in the room (J), but unfortunately, in this case, it appeared to reveal a lack of unity and some dissatisfaction within the group itself. Some political questions came up as well…we tried to dodge them as tactfully as possible, bringing people back to the manual before them.

I also experienced a first today. One of my translators was checking his emails while he was translating and answering questions! Talk about multi-tasking…and he is not even a woman!

It started raining just before lunch…lunch that was not on time again. Have I said that this training has been very different and difficult? Not just because of the logistics and the inability to plan ahead. Not just because of the need for translation. Not just because we have English manuals and they have Portuguese manuals. Not just because this is actually a family getaway weekend for clergy families. But everything seemed to be in slow motion. At one point, during my teaching, I sensed that there was some spiritual disturbance going on. I looked over to Louise to ask her to pray and do spiritual warfare. She did and the air cleared. Strange…but real here.

The rain was wreaking havoc with the electricity throughout the day. On, off…on, off. And then, when lunch arrived we experienced something of a missionary nightmare. The dish is obviously a local delicacy, but not something westerners would normally find palatable. An acquired taste and smell, to be sure…like the Filipino fruit, Durian..or like Livarot cheese. It appeared to be the stomach of a goat…and you know what they say…if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…sigh, and we were doing so well.

The rain brought cooler weather to Maciene. For us, this was welcome, but for the locals this was catastrophic. Everyone went searching for woollen scarves and caps and jackets and sweaters. Windows and doors were closed…which created a bit of a problem with the goat, but that’s another story.

Then Bishop Carlos arrived together with Bishop Allen from Pretoria who was accompanied by two Archdeacons and a non-stipendiary priest…at this point the wheels came off the training bus. They addressed the group for about two hours. Then we had Evening Prayer and two choirs. Needless to say, no one was looking forward to another whole session of training…so we improvised as best we could and shortened it. I took the life of Peter and condensed it into a story, which, for some or other reason became a comedy. But through the laughter the penny dropped and I once again heard the Lord say, “You see? Leave it to Me and I will see that my children understand the message. I am still the One Who makes Fishers of people out of the most unlikely people in the most unlikely situations.”

So, yes…ultimately this was a very good experience…in spite of the many hiccups along the way, the overall message was comprehended. Bishop Carlos reminded us and everyone else that this was just the beginning…many people said they could not wait for us to return. Hopefully, next time, the groups will be smaller.

I gave my old clergy shirts to Padre Campira, our Growing the Church coordinator, and for one panicky moment I thought the man was going to kiss me. He told us that he only has one shirt…a shirt that was given to him when he was ordained many years ago. These priests and deacons have sacrificed so much to be labourers in God’s Vineyard. This was a humbling moment for us to be sure.

Their family time continues but our time has come to an end. Tomorrow we leave for South Africa…




Friday, October 27, 2017

Mozambique: Day Two

What is that awful smell? Something is clearly rotten in the state of the guesthouse kitchen! I hope it isn’t our lunch!

Day Two has begun.

Our night had been interrupted periodically as folks were arriving all hours of the night and morning. Nobody seemed to have received the “Please be quiet, people sleeping” memo. The birds apparently had not received it either. Needless to say, our day started in the early hours of the morning. Thankfully, the kitchen had left hot water in flasks so we could make coffee. And then that rotten smell invaded the guesthouse…

Thankfully, we had to attend early morning Eucharist and could escape from the powerful, pungent, pervasive pong that hung over the whole house. It was a full-on Eucharist with testimonies, prayers for healing, Choirs, and a possible demonic manifestation included for good measure. Then there was breakfast, which took a long time. Needless to say, we started late…but as everything we say has to be translated, we will skip the Dann Spader videos and make up time that way.

We had to stop at noon for prayers, but thankfully there were no further unexpected events. Lunch was from one until two, but as folks had been falling asleep throughout our teaching in the morning, we were not expecting anything better after lunch! Singing lively songs and doing stretch exercises did help to revive the group when the heads drooped too low…but we are still behind our usual schedule.

We had Evening Prayer, followed by two choir groups…stunning singing, that’s all I can say…even though I wanted desperately to get on with the teaching! Some times, one just has to chill and let God be God, no?

We decided to show two of the Dann Spader videos as we figured out that about two thirds did understand enough English to follow the message. Everyone seemed to appreciate them and applauded at the end of both.


Supper and bed…thankfully it is much cooler and we hope to rest well.

Mozambique: Day One

Voices…I heard voices…loud voices…and it was as light as day. I jumped out of bed, thinking we had overslept, only to find that it was 3:45. The city of Maputo never sleeps. From then on I tossed and turned until it was time to get up. Not a good start to our first day in Mozambique.

Bishop Carlos, his dear wife, Hortensia, and his daughter (a medical doctor) Graca, went out of their way to make us feel welcome. Even though it was so late and we were all very tired, they presented us with a lavish feast. Maputo is a port city, so fish is a staple diet…and oh the scrumptious spices!

At 8 AM we went to the Diocesan office and met up with Padre Campira. He and I met at the Growing the Church coordinators meetings back in December last year. Deacon Mauricio could not meet us because he had had a very bad accident just last week…he is fine, but his car is in bad shape…but, unlike in the US, cars are not written off or totalled here…there are merely knocked back into shape. As long as they can move, they are back on the road in no time. He told us that he had stopped skidding a few inches short of a deep ravine and that he believed the angels were looking out for him that day.

Padre Campira drove with us to show us the way. We picked up Chico, the J-Life representative, further down the road. Traffic had prevented him from getting to us on time. Maputo is very much like Addis without the livestock. Driving here is not for the faint hearted. But it is hot…not as hot as Gambella, but enough to make you feel uncomfortable. Even the locals were complaining.

The speed limit along the road varied from 60 km to 80 km and even 100 km in one spot. For the most part we drove 60 as there are traffic police everywhere and they will apparently stop you on a whim. Needless to say, it took us a long time to get to our destination!

Maciene is a rather small, rural village nestled among tall coconut trees and date palms. The Anglican centre has mango and orange trees as well as manioc fields…all in all, a picturesque place. We settled into the guesthouse, scouted out the place, had Evening Prayer where we heard some wonderful singing (cantare!), introduced ourselves to those present, and had supper. Deacon Mauricio had joined us earlier and we chatted about his accident. I told them that we had had a sense of a spiritual battle going on in the heavenly realm regarding this visit. They all agreed. Chico told us that two nights ago, their gas line mysteriously started leaking while they were asleep. His wife woke up because of the smell and alerted him to the fact. He turned it off, but could not find the source of the leak. I told them that we had many intercessors praying for us and for this training course.


When Satan goes out of his way to hinder the advance of the Gospel, something great must be waiting down the line. We are all anticipation. Come, Holy Spirit…come…

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

An Angel Named João

Today we flew from Cape Town to Lanseria, a smaller, and therefore easily navigable airport close to Johannesburg. From there we drove a rental car to Mozambique...quite a drive, but the landscape is so absolutely stunning that even the four stop and go roadblocks did not phase us.

We had been told all sorts of horror stories about the border crossing, from people waiting in line for 16 hours to people having to pay $500 bribes to get through, and so we were well prepared and well armed. Well prepared in that we had done our homework...we had everything we needed in the car from reflective triangles to reflective vests and ZA stickers for the back of the car. Well armed in that we had asked many to pray for us...and we prayed especially for the Lord's angels to go before us and to prepare the way.

The crossing on the South African side was confusing, but not a big deal. However, as we crossed over to Mozambique we were swarmed by people all offering to help us through for a price, of course. But as this just started happening, a car came up from behind and drove up next to us indicating that we follow him...which we did. The would be helpers begun to curse and swear at him. Who was he and what did he think he was doing...robbing them of the joy of robbing these foreigners?

João turned out to be an angel in human form. Not only did he speak the language, but he grew up here and knew every detail of what we needed to do. He went out of his way to help us get our visas and car papers and even called the Bishop to ask for directions to where we are staying tonight.

But then...wait for this...he actually took us there, driving in front of us all the way from the border into downtown Maputo...and he paid all our Toll fees as well.

Coincidence? I think not. He had gone to South Africa for a medical check-up and was on his way home when he saw us being swamped...and he stepped in to help.

Hmm...isn't that what disciple-making "Jesus-style" is all about?

Monday, October 23, 2017

An Encouraging Note...

We just received this very encouraging note from one of our most recent trainees (see below). Part of the requirements for our trainees is that they a) identify at least one person they can disciple, and b) train them to make disciples. In other words, they have to train others as we have trained them, but over a longer period of time...in fact, however long it takes...until they produce a mature disciple who can make more disciples. Also, we leave them with a 60 Chronological Study of the life of Jesus to undergird what we have taught them regarding the method Jesus used to make disciples.
Hi, guys I have started the 60 days devotional and I am finding it deepening my understanding of who Jesus is and who I am in Him. I have also shared with a colleague and he has developed an interest. I am praying about the 2 others that I have identified and trust God as I start gently conversations with them. Warm Regards and God's light be upon you,on your trip to Maputo.M.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Transparency culture...

In his book, "Work Rules! That will transform how you live and lead", Laslo Bock writes about Google's culture. The second cornerstone of their culture is transparency.

"Fundamentally, if you're an organisation that says, "Our people are our greatest asset" (as most do), and you mean it, you must default to open. Otherwise, you're lying to your people and to yourself. You're saying people matter but treating them like they don't. Openness demonstrates to your employees that you believe they are trustworthy and have good judgement. And giving them more context about what is happening (and how and why) will enable them to do their jobs more effectively and contribute in ways a top-down manager couldn't anticipate."

I couldn't help wondering how this would work in a traditional management setting, or, more specific to our own church culture, in a traditional church setting. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, "we've never done it this way before", implying that any and every innovation is automatically doomed to fail, I would be a very wealthy man.

Previous generations did not embrace transparency as a culture. For instance, my mother had no idea how much money was in my father's bank account...and yes, she did not have a bank account herself. In fact, my brother and I had no idea either until the day he died. He did it all himself and kept his cards close to his chest. Today, Louise and I have joint accounts and try to never do anything without prior consultation.

Hierarchical management systems tend to be more like my parents...the lower down the rung you are, the less you know. Boards meet behind close doors and make decisions employees are simply expected to implement. Budgets are closed books. Everything is controlled by a few...everyone is controlled...

Surely if we believe what Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:15, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you", we, as His Body, would embrace a culture of transparency...

But are we ready to forego that feeling of power that comes from being the only one who is in the know?

We need to be. People are voting with their feet. In todays' Google culture, operating in a closed system tells your people that you think they are not capable, or not suitable, or that you simply do not trust them. This is not a work environment or church environment people are likely to define as 'home' and they will move on...

Friday, October 20, 2017

Because she's just that kind of girl...

Yesterday, something Bill Hybels said in a talk at the Global Leadership Summit took me back to my childhood.

I wasn't a model child. My brother always said something went wrong when I started High School and got hooked up with the wrong crowd, but I think they just brought out what was deep down inside of me anyway. My behaviour was far from exemplary...and yes, I got progressively worse after going to High School, but maybe that had to do with finally understanding a lot of things that had already happened in my past. The anger that erupted somewhere between 7th and 8th grade was there all the time...bubbling, steaming, hissing...and when it all came to the surface, it wasn't pretty. No one wanted to be around me...and I don't blame them...I didn't want to be round myself...I didn't like myself one bit and it showed. I made people uncomfortable...

But there was someone who never gave up on me regardless of how irrational my behaviour became. She didn't have to stick around, she just did because she's just that kind of girl...she was loyal to a fault, blunt at times, but always honest and trustworthy. She never ratted on me or gossiped about me even when she could have won "cool" points with others who did. And when the Lord Jesus came into her life, she would not take no for an answer...she bugged me until I agreed to go with her to a Youth For Christ Crusade.

Georine knew me when I was at my worst. She knew every single dirty secret of mine, every single private sin as well as every public sin I had committed...but she saw something in me no one else did...she saw something in me I didn't see. And I owe her my life...so this short blog is to say 'thank you' to a person who is the embodiment of the God of Scripture...the one whose love never fails, never gives up, and never runs out on me (1).

She didn't have to, but she did because she's just that kind of girl...

Thanks Gerry...I will always be eternally grateful for your love and friendship.

(1) Songwriters: Brian Johnson / Christa Black / Jeremy Riddle
One Thing Remains lyrics © Music Services, Inc

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Entering Mozambique

Louise and I will be flying up to Johannesburg and then driving to Maputo, Mozambique, next week, 24 to 29 October. From Maputo, we will be driving up to Maciene in the northern region of the Southern Diocese of Lebombo. Apparently, it takes several hours to get there.


We are asking for prayer on a number of levels.

1. That we will be a blessing to everyone we encounter, from the moment we enter then country the moment we leave.
2. That our disciple-making training will be understood. We are using an interpreter who is well versed in our training material, but we are still asking the Holy Spirit to prepare the hearts and minds of those who will be trained so that they might understand on a deeper level than merely the mind. 
3. That we will be protected from all harm, whether physical or spiritual or emotional. The drive is long and the roads are not always the best. Also, Mozambique is just emerging from a long and bloody civil war. There are many who are not completely satisfied with the current situation. Also, on a spiritual level, apparently demonic possession has increased since the war...these spirits, called gamba, are identified by some as dead soldiers, and overwhelmingly possess women. Wherever we go, we plead the blood of Jesus over the area and those living there as so much blood has been spilled in southern Africa as a whole, but this is something different from what we have experienced up until now.
4. That we will not be harassed by people seeking bribes...either at the border or anywhere else. This often happens in places where "officials" are not paid well. 
5. For health...against malaria (not really the time, but we pray against that odd mosquito), and any other illnesses. We are up to date on all our vaccines, but contaminated food and water can cause all sorts of problems.

Thank you for praying with and for us...thank you for holding the rope as we descend into this dark, but spiritual gem-filled mine.

Many blessings.
Johann and Louise

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day...

So others have these kinds of days too...
Honest Conversations from Around the World. Literally. 
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The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

By Anisha Hopkinson on Oct 13, 2017 02:00 am
One of my favourite stories of all time is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. If you haven’t read it, you really should! This post is written with thankfulness to Judith Viorst, the author of Alexander’s bad day, who taught me many years ago that, “Some days are like that”.
The Very Bad Day
We lost power last night and it was so hot without the fan I couldn’t sleep. Then my neighbour’s rooster decided to take advantage of the fan-less quiet night and crow under my window till dawn. I definitely couldn’t sleep. This morning my clothes on the line still weren’t dry so I had to wear damp underwear and I could tell it was going to be, as Judith Viorst says, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
At breakfast my husband ate weet-bix and my son ate coco puffs and I picked the cornflakes and there were ants in my cornflakes. My powdered milk was lumpy even though I used a whisk.
I think I’ll move back to Florida.
On the way to the market my son kicked off his flip flop and it fell into the ditch. I tried to be nice and get it out, but the ditch is a sewer and I couldn’t reach his shoe with a stick and it made me gag. I cried and yelled at him for kicking off his shoe and he cried and yelled at me for being a mean mom.
Before heading out to teach kindergarten co-op I forgot to make coffee and so forgot to bring craft supplies. Instead of an educational activity to finish off the lesson I sent the kids to the playground for 45 minutes because who can remember craft supplies with no coffee?
When I got home I checked e-mail and saw a message from another missionary mom. I’d told her I was tired and it’s hard to parent and home school my son overseas and she said she was pregnant and homeschooling three children when she was overseas. Yeah well that’s nice for you, I thought. And even though Jesus says to love your enemies I hated her for being able to do what I can’t. I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t talking about other missionary moms.
I think I’ll move back to Florida.
For lunch I ate tofu and rice for the 186th time in a row. My food was dry so I added hot sauce, but I added too much and it burned my mouth and made my eyes water.
It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
After lunch we called for an update on our visa renewals and after months of waiting and promises that today would be the day we were told to try again tomorrow.
Yeah well tomorrow I’ll be in Florida.
This afternoon the neighbours threw a party and parked motorcycles in front of our house and blocked the gate. I couldn’t open the gate. I hate the neighbours.
For dinner I ate tofu and rice for the 187th time in a row because the cargo planes are down for maintenance and the shops ran out of flour and chicken.
In the evening the power went out during my shower and I had to stand in the pitch black hoping there was still fuel in the generator so I didn’t have to go to sleep with shampoo in my hair. My husband said there was no fuel so I had to rinse as best I could with the water still in the pipes. I cried in the dark. I hate the dark.
When I went to bed the rooster crowed beneath my window. I really hate that rooster.
It’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
But Judith Viorst is right, “Some days are like that.”
Even in Florida.
***
On the very bad days, humour and writing keep me from packing my bags and moving back to Florida. Have you had a very bad day recently? Write your own in the comments and share it with us.

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