The Spirit Gives Life

The Spirit Gives Life is a session built upon our new discipleship material, “Foundations for Life”. I’m currently writing a few chapters for my organisation Dignity. We have multiple authors from multiple backgrounds all callaborating to make a fantastic resource. As you can tell from the recording it’s really informal and the session would normally be done as a small group study in a village.

I’ve intentionally left the banter and interpretation in so you can get a feel for what speaking in Africa is like. This session is being translated into Bemba as I speak.

Also note, the importance of ‘story’ in speaking within Africa. The story of Faith and her sail in the Okavango Delta is designed to be memorable and a modern day parable of how the Spirit works in our lives.

Have a listen and visit another world!

Recorded at Dignity EQUIP Camp September 2016, Mkushi, Zambia.

© Jon Paul Witt and Dignity 2016.

© Image Copyright. Spyderonlines.com

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Dignity in Pictures

Next week there’s a photography exhibition in Mkushi, Zambia hosted by Dignity. As part of this I’m also exhibiting some photographs that I have taken over the years. There not necessarily my best photographs but they are ones that I think convey something of my work. 

Those that are down and out, desperate, just poor or have fallen on hard times. They are the ones in this world that are valuable and precious. It may raise money to show people suffering, but there is no Dignity in that. These are normal everyday people living normal but amazing everyday lives.  These are the people that God uses to bring love, meaning and comfort to many communities and people across the world. They are His hands and feet, and so very important.

My hope is that you will learn to see “the poor in Africa”, “asylum seekers”, “refugees” with the God given Dignity that they deserve. Only then will we treat people correctly and be open to the fact they they are more capable, more gifted and more precious than this world deserves. 

With Jesus they can do anything. My aim is to help people like this in every community realise who they were created to be and what they were created to do. The potential is amazing!

“But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

A lone rural zambian pastor studying his bible with one of the resources we use to help people to know God and their responsibility to each other.

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Some of the people I have connected with over the years who work with me and Dignity in many communities in Zambia and beyond. Competition, fun and laughter are all essential ingredients in helping these guys become everything they should.

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This is Augustine, one of our Impact Team members. He exudes dignity.

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Having fun around the fire. Sharing stories of how God is using each other in many communities.

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These are two village volunteers cooking for a training session being held in their village. They don’t get paid for this and they give their time freely. They give as part of the wider work in their community.

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This is Gervas explaining how to meet together in a Life! Group and how to work in a community. This is done most months of the year in multiple locations across Southern Africa.

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An unknown guitarist. And yes, it did sound great! I love the ingenuity!

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These are market traders in Livingstone Victoria falls curio market. These are the guys that harass you to buy their wares. What interested me was the camaraderie and friendship. Africans are fun and you can clearly see that in this picture.

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This is Hunter, someone we worked with many years ago. You won’t find a more honest, compassionate and lovely man anywhere in the world.

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These are some people worshipping at a training course we run to teach people how to meet the needs of their community. They learn how to help people to know Jesus and to practically serve those in need in the community.

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Some exuberant bush worship!

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This is the only non-African picture in my selection for the exhibition. It’s taken in Assam, India, I think in 2008. These are a group of Christian evangelists who worked in a very dangerous situation. Hindu extremists had beaten them, chased them and even killed some of their friends. Yet you would never guess this. You can see a joy and a quiet determination in them.

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Normal life in Angola. The flats are run down, it really did smell and yet people are just hanging about, chatting, doing the types of things that any of us would.

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This is my son Joshua being carried around a village by this lovely woman. There are some of us that believe different races are completely different, even better than one another. I don’t believe that we are that different at all.

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This is a lady called Mabel sitting opposite Jude outside our tent, which is our home in villages. I liked the way that their poses almost reflect one another like a mirror. Maybe we are not so different as we believe.

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Just a great shot of “poor” kids smiling and having fun.

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A scene that could be repeated around the world. A classroom with children learning. Do we think that those who are poor, somehow do not share experiences with us?

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I like the adult pose that this boy is taking. The reality is that many of those we would class as uneducated or poor, have faced situations that would cause many of us to disintegrate.

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A lovely view of an Angolan girl in a dark doorway.

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These Angolan women in Luena are praying that God would move outside the walls of their church and would reach the areas beyond. It’s through people like these, everyday people that God works and moves in power. God thinks small! Millions of people all playing their little part.

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The Otavi Lesson

The mountains to the left of me stretch to the horizon, merging with the dry veld in front of me. The view is truly stunning. Leopards, various buck and baboons clamber over the rocks of the various kopje’s that are scattered high behind me. This is Ghaub in the Otavi Mountain Conservancy, Central Namibia. It’s now a guest farm with a view to remember and a very poignant history.

Ghaub used to be a mission station. Started in 1895 with the aim of reaching the Bergdamara and Hai communities, this Rhenish Mission was established in what must have been a very tough assignment. Walking around today, you can still see the humble mission origins of the buildings. Although of course they have been significantly upgraded.

The shame is that within 25 years of the establishment of the mission station at Ghaub, land was already being sold off and eventually in 1968 the mission came to an end. You can read more about the history here.

Walking with my children on the vast farm, we came across the old mission graveyard. As they ran on ahead, I was left alone to savour the considerable silence and vista. Over a few minutes I was overcome with a great sadness. Here lay children who had died of malaria and missionaries who had given their lives. All of them in unmarked graves with small piles of quartzite stone arranged as a simple headstone.

What had they achieved? 120 years after they began, the answer was they had built a guest house. The Bergdamara and Hai communities didn’t settle on the land, today it is all commercial farms. In short they gave their lives for seemingly not much at all.

Yet, it wouldn’t have felt like it. I’m sure it was very tough, I know Africa enough to realise that. I can imagine though the sense of pride, thankfulness and achievement that must of accompanied the establishment of the mission buildings and operation. These were true pioneers in almost every sense of the word. Standing there however, I can’t help that they fell for a lie that still shapes so much in mission, aid and in the wider church today.

To put it simply, they believed the modernist notion that infrastructure, buildings, “stuff”, would be the transformative element within the people they wanted to reach. Not quite “build it and they will come”, but not far off.

If they could see their efforts today, a lovely guest farm, I wonder how they would feel?

They are not the only ones.

There are many churches who in an effort to re-invent themselves change the physical structure of their building. Their assumption is that if we make our building more accessible to the community, then they will come and they will be transformed. We end up with a plethora of sports halls and multi function buildings with mainly crèche and child care being provided. We have a few cafes thrown in too. The buildings themselves are not the problem, although they do cost an awful lot of money, it is our view of the mission God has given us. Mission is meant to be with people where they are, not with us where we are. The direction is wholly wrong. That’s quite a costly mistake to make. In terms of people it is wholly disastrous. The church mainly sits and waits for people to come………… and spends a lot of money doing it

I’m not for one minute saying we shouldn’t serve people, a cafe is a good idea, so is helping people with their children, but let’s go and do it in the heart of the community. Let’s spend our cash on that instead. I bet that way we will bring the truth and love of God to far more people.

History is littered with lessons like that in Ghaub. We have cathedrals and church buildings that cost a small fortune to keep. The tourist attraction is a witness people say. I’m yet to meet anyone who had their life changed via a stained glass window. There are other buildings that have become offices, mosques or even simply demolished. In Manchester I even remember an old temperance hall that was now a pub….. What irony!

Mission is the same. There are thousands of buildings built in an effort to transform Africa. Orphanages, child care centres, schools, everything you can think of. I know I’ve done it! I wonder however, if this really transforms anything at all? Is it the same lie that we are falling for. A simple case, transforming people equates to providing buildings. From the African side, there is a thirst for development and buildings satisfy that thirst. They can be status symbols both for the community and more sadly the organisation that built them.

I wonder what we will look back on in 25 years time and see? A litany of neglected buildings (they’ll be ruins here in Africa) and re-appropriated churches? There’s a great rush to build churches in Africa, and yet I don’t see the same rush to transform people, especially in the remote areas.

The lesson for me is to always prioritise people. Instead of believing that physical structure is the key item in transformation, let’s go wild and build real community with real people in the heart of real places. Let’s be sure that we take God with us too. Of course, sometimes a building will help. It is very much a means to an end, but they are not the integral item that we think they are and very often our money would be better spent elsewhere.

Our lives in Christ have the very real power to transform society. When we speak we can speak the words of Jesus to people. When we act, we can bring his love directly to people.

Standing in Otavi I cannot think for one minute why we would want to do anything else. Looking past the graves of those brave pioneers, past the quartz stone piles to the mountains beyond, I yearn for reality and a cutting edge in the mission that I’m involved in. I certainly don’t want people to look back in years to come and wonder what all the fuss was about, or stay in a building that was once my office. I don’t want to spend my life making stuff that simply wears out. I want to build love and eternity in real people.

There is a lesson to be learnt from Otavi. I hope that we are listening.

A Rural Future?

Glenelg is one of the most remote settlements in mainland UK. Around 150 people live there and it’s connected to the outside world by a 9 mile single track road. It’s a very seasonal place for some. During the summer tourists use the ferry to the Isle of Skye.

I have a small bit of history with Glenelg. 17 years ago on my honeymoon, I ended up speaking at a local Christian Fellowship there. Initially the 20 or so people present thought I was the replacement Pastor from Inverness. That certainly caught me on the hop! Two weeks ago I visited the Church again on a damp and very windy Sunday evening. After a game of pool at the local pub, Jude, I and the kids went back to see what it was like.

I recognised one of the guys as soon as I walked in, a lovely guy with a very broad Scottish accent. I could even tell him what his job used to be, and still was actually! When I was last in the church he had just become a Christian, now he was the leader. How times change. It was great, but a comment he made stuck with me very forcefully.

“Not just Africa, we need mission work here”

The fact is he is correct. I’ve been thinking the same for a year or so myself. In his county and the Isle of Skye there is a population of about 100000 people. Perhaps around a few hundred people go to church, which is 1% or lower of the population. That is incredibly low, and definitely a situation that demands a response of reaching out.

When I am in the UK, I have more recently made Snowdonia my home and I stay in my cottage in the hamlet of Cwm Penmachno. Over 100 years ago, it was a hotbed of the welsh revivals, more preachers came from Cwm Penmachno per head of population than anywhere else in Wales. An interesting point is that in welsh a vicar is called a preacher, pregethyr, a hark back to the revivalist days. Here, the situation is similar. At best in Snowdonia there are small handfuls of people who attend Church, there is one such group up the valley from where we are. However, I can drive 25 miles North West and 17 miles East and not really pass a church of any note at all, save for the one Anglican Church in Betws-y-Coed. Again, the population of the National Park is around 90000 people. Again, I would estimate around 1% or lower attend church actively.

It isn’t simply just about people knowing Jesus as well. There are profound issues in rural society, that the church would normally contribute to, and yet it doesn’t simply because there are no people. No people equal no money. No money and well it’s difficult to do anything. This of course doesn’t just affect rural areas, it can also be said of cities. My observation is that there are many churches trying to change this in the cities and towns, there are hardly any in the rural areas. The situation away from the odd mega church or tourist area is immeasurably worse.

There’s an entire generation of people that are either disenfranchised from the Church or is completely ignorant to what it is.

Historically we hold onto the fact that the church has been strong, and yet our current situation demands a different response. We can’t do “church” and Christianity the way we have done over many years, the landscape has changed completely. This landscape demands mission. I think you could justifiably state that some rural areas are “practically” unreached at this point toward the start of the 21st century.

This to me all sounds very familiar. For years I have worked in Southern Africa, within remote rural areas of Zambia and surrounding countries. Logistically the situation is actually more difficult, but there are many parallels and I think strategies and lessons that we can use from one ‘live’ mission situation to another.

Within Zambia I rightly or wrongly decided that the existing church structures often presented more of a hindrance to the gospel. That sounds incredibly rebellious and maybe even a little arrogant, I’m aware of that. They were either too settled and focused inwards or were power games where different church structures vied for dominance within an area. We sidestepped all of that and in a very simple fashion planted Life! groups of people to teach Christ in their community and provide a forum, a way of reaching their community. Everyday Christians from all church backgrounds met together and those that were disenfranchised came. Together they reached people and were extremely relevant in their community. At the last count there were around 200 groups, around 3500 people meeting and touching thousands more.

In some ways we have forged a new way, a new representation of Christianity for everyday people.

Whether it is more authentic and proper, I’ll leave for you to decide. However, I know it works and I could never go back to using the old ways. The future is not dominated by singular church leaders or even denominational churches. We need to learn to see the church in a village in its’ entirety and work on that basis. Sooner or later we won’t have a choice, we will die out if we don’t change. That sounds tough, but we are one generation away from that reality.

I have a very strong belief that through everyday Christians, people like you and me, God will reach our villages and that 1% could become 10% and maybe even more. Once we take that view it has to shape our modes of operation and activities to embrace that truth. This belief is also pretty universal for most rural areas wherever in the world I have been, whether they are completely unreached or simply “partially unreached”. The key is everyone aligning themselves with the plans that God has for the village and enacting them. For me it comes down to this.

We need a fresh vibrant Christianity right at the heart of the village for everyone. For the sake of places like Glenelg, are we willing to embrace it?

Mission for Everyone

This morning I’ve been for a walk in the what some would call, “the freezing cold wastelands of North Wales”. Yet it has snowed, it is icy and I love it! There’s something about the clarity and deadness of sound that fresh snow brings. You can see for miles and the snow deadens the noise of the world so everything seems pristine and tranquil. I can really think and see clearly!

I’ve been off for a few weeks and as well as getting on with some things other than ministry, I’ve been thinking and praying about what the future holds. I don’t know about you but I need threads, ideas and facts upon which I can base my future actions and movements upon. God understands this too. Faith is often not blind faith, principally it is faith in the one who calls us. He is totally reliable. In my experience faith is often not unrelated from the present either. The God who beckons us forward is the same God who has been preparing us, shaping our circumstances and leading us to the point where we may make a leap of faith or two. We notice the leaps but we seldom notice the quiet movement that the Spirit has been making behind the scenes for years.

There are all kinds of exciting ideas that I have looking at the future of Dignity, most of them are significant upgrades and developments of existing work. Yes there are some new leaps of faith as well. The one concept that we have always been about is that mission is for “everyday people”, wherever you are. We know the poor can be used mightily by God, how about everyone else? Over the years I’ve become experienced in cross cultural, rural and community based mission. Maybe it’s time to use some of these very hard learned lessons in equipping others and reaching others.

I do believe that God is moving anew in his people. Some of the ideas we have worked with for years are gaining traction in wider circles. There’s a revolution coming that doesn’t base itself on superstars in the faith, but on the church, a people, a mission for everyone. Whoever we are, wherever we are, we have a calling to serve, to reach out, to be Jesus to everyone we come across and to seek out those we don’t come across. We need to up our game in the forgotten and rural areas of this world. We need to reach more people and equip more people to reach others also. Simple really 🙂

Dr RT Kendall recently at The Evangelist’s Conference got all prophetic. Of course it was very biblical, he is a renowned theologian. However the sense of now-ness of what God is saying really spoke to me. “God will work through the faceless”. That phrase resonated with me powerfully. You can listen to the whole talk here.

Heidi Baker again not so long ago spoke about similar themes at a conference here in the UK.

Here’s an example of a call to action about mission and what God is doing from the leader of Ivy Church, Anthony Delaney. Ivy are the church that send Jude and I out on the ministry we have. Again, we are all needed and it’s about redoubling and focusing our efforts on the lost, together.

Whatever you think of the prophetic elements there’s one element that speaks to me loud and strong, God will move through ALL of his people. The Spirit will empower us to do this. The future of the church is for everyone to fight together in unity. For those of us who get a little twitchy at the sound of prophetic words and anointing let me remind you of something very rooted in the word. Isn’t that the point of the Body of Christ? We are meant to move together with Christ as our head. At the moment we have limbs all over the place. Arms flail in different directions, parts of the body who don’t know what they should do, everyone thinks they are the head…. it won’t do and I do believe God is calling time on this. What God will do is not new in the sense that we have not seen it before, but it will be in out time, in our generation, because let’s face it, his world needs it.

Are you one of the faceless? A person that has never been a superstar? Never called to the spiritual heights? Well that doesn’t really matter because God has a role for you, in his mission, in his plan to reach this world. That’s the move of the Spirit that’s coming.

If you need a few threads upon which to base your future, there’s some for you.

Don’t we understand? It’s a mission for everyone.

So if all I have said is true I wonder, what will our response be? Answers on a postcard please……

Don’t be a fool

No FoolsIt can be quite jarring how life’s priorities can be turned upside down in an instant. There I was just thinking I was coming out of a malaise of activity with no time to think. I felt that I was beginning to be able to breathe again. New plans were forming in my mind, new directions were taking shape and BANG! they all didn’t seem to matter.

My wife, Jude, fell down a 6ft car pit and seriously injured herself. Both of us, a long long way from the specialist care she required. Thank God she is OK and definitely on the mend. However there were a few, seemingly long moments where I thought she may not make it. She shared the same thoughts. They are humbling moments.

Our kids left at our place in Zambia not really knowing what had happened. I’m left in a maelstrom of thoughts, emotions and activity, desperately trying to get those first few hours sorted out. Every love and passion you hold falls into insignificance. It’s true place in your life cruelly exposed for the unimportant sham and it really is.

Mortality has a way of grabbing our attention like nothing else.

Many people have re-assured me that God was there. To be honest, I feel that some of those people are simply re-assuring themselves. An agreement from me, re-enforces what they hope to be true. Such a jarring, shocking event doesn’t simply shock those directly involved, it shocks all around. Maybe that is why I have written this.

Let me tell you something. I know God was there. I’ve been there before. I’ve been in deep trouble that I am powerless to defend myself against, usually in the continent of Africa. You learn to see the signs of His presence. He mobilises people, help, intervenes in the situation. In the middle of the night, people came to give blood, the insurance company didn’t play up, thousands (literally) of people prayed and Jude lived. I know that the story could have been very different.

We don’t fully understand why bad things happen in this world. Maybe we never will. We are however given a choice. Do we have no hope that we are on our own, abandoned in this wide universe? Do we believe there is someone who gives everything sense, direction and security? It’s very easy when life is well to say we don’t believe in God, to say that religion it’s a crutch. It is another thing entirely when the chips are down, maybe you will die…. it’s quite another thing to not believe in God then. You need a crutch then, you will do anything for one. We see and understand just how weak we really are.

Both Jude and I are indebted to the thousands of people who prayed for us, and especially prayed for Jude. We are indebted to the many people that have helped us with practical details in the last two weeks. Sometimes we feel out on a limb when we are in Africa, maybe the last two weeks have taught me just how much the family of God means to us. There are people out there, who if we are in trouble will go to the end of the earth to find us (you may have to one day!). I also never lose my sense of wonder at how God mobilises events and people when it really needs to happen.

Jude is still healing up and will be for a while. It still hurts her to even breathe. Both of our emotions are occasionally a little raw, but we know God is around us, helping us and we will definitely live to fight another day. We are not that easily put off. 🙂

In such times, there are precious viewpoints to be reflected upon. Such events do not come along often, we thank God for that. However, when they do, they give you a viewpoint of your life, your love and your relationships like nothing else. They help you appreciate your place in the order of all things, and the place of the God you say you have a relationship with.

The Bible says such troubles are light and for this moment. How can the Bible say that? In the light of all things, from the beginning till the end of time, they probably are. Yet they are up close and personal and the pain can be searing. Yet that same pain teaches, gives wisdom and helps us to live better. The viewpoints suffered achieve wisdom and correct perspective in life. Evil is somehow turned for our own and this world’s good.

It is the fool that becomes bitter at God at such a time for they ignore the source of life and healing. I don’t intend to be a fool and whatever your pain, maybe you shouldn’t too….

We have all the time in the world

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The date of October 16th 2012, would maybe not strike you as an auspicious occasion. It was my 37th birthday. My life is rapidly (well no more than it used to) engaging with what is known as the “late thirties”. Myself, I would still say mid thirties…..

Where does the time go? Older people tell me that time goes faster as you get older. Is this true? Is it like some kind of theory of relativity? The older you get the faster time goes? Opinions please…

What was significant about this year for me, is that I have been a Christian for 25 years. An entire quarter of a century, following and trying to know Jesus. For those reading this who are not Christians, I realise even that phrase will seem a little odd.

However perhaps it shouldn’t? Every person I know, all of us, are trying by various means to answer life’s great questions. Where are we going? Who are we, really? What will happen when we die, if anything? Whether we bury our heads in the sand, work ourselves into a lather, or embrace them, the questions remain, they never go away.

Over the last 25 years, I have blown hot and cold. Sometimes I have felt really close to God, other times, a very long way away. I’ve got many things wrong, there are many actions I have made that quite frankly I regret. I wish I was stronger. However, I’ve never known God to leave me, to forget about me and even when I am in the darkest hole, He has never ceased to inspire me. He has been constant. There have also been great triumphs in that quarter if a century, and I have changed from a rather shy and frightened 12 year old into what I am now, a missionary in Africa via college, university, software engineering and church leadership.

I must admit there is a growing hunger in myself to make the next 25 years (if indeed I have them) count for more than the last 25. The fact is none of us know do we? We don’t actually know how long we have. We have a need to make the most of everyday that is presented to us.

How do we do that? Is it by accomplishing great exploits; making lots of money or something other equally impressive? For many of us, working everyday, struggling with getting the bills paid, wandering if we are a good parent, these impressive showy, life affirming exploits are simply not within reach. How do follow an inspiring path when you are bleary eyed in the bus to work or all day in your office?

God has planted eternity in the hearts of all people. We have a yearning for something more, that this world cannot fill. The answer is something to do with our orientation to this truth? If we embrace something or someone eternal and seek to live our lives by these values,then our life becomes ‘full of meaning’ and direction wherever we are.

25 years ago I was introduced to this man Jesus, whom I was told at great cost to himself had shown and demonstrated Gods love for me. Embracing that love, giving your life to study, follow, understand and more importantly know it, is the most freeing, dynamic and courageous thing I have ever done.

25 years is a long time. However, in the context of living forever, I am only just beginning, not even a millisecond has passed. I literally have all the time in the world, to know God, His Love, His meaning and His power, forever!

The only pressing concern is that I have a short finite time to share this with people
like you reading this post, wandering where your life is headed. Maybe you too should give Jesus some time, he literally has all the time in the world to give you.