The 10×10 Challenge

A few weeks ago Ethan and myself travelled down to Bernard’s village to make a video for Dignity. Ethan did the filming, I did some scripting and then Bernard and myself took an inordinate amount of time getting it right!

We need to fund a huge expansion in the village work of Digntiy in Zambia. To do this, we need your help!

Please, please watch the video below and share it. We need 100 people to do the 10×10 challenge. Maybe you and your friends could be some of the 100?

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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.

Group Worshipping

Some exuberant bush worship!

Freda Singing

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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Off Message?

We live in a world that is more inter-connected than ever. The internet, instant messaging and communications make it possible for us to envisage a life that is truly international in nature. I’m currently sitting in the hamlet of Cwm Penmachno in North Wales and I’ve just been on the phone to Williams, a translator in Northern Zambia. I’ve also just messaged a friend some 40 miles away. Even a generation ago, this type of communication, at this speed simply wasn’t possible.

As we have understood the world in a more intimate and immediate way, we have questioned the way the world has been portrayed to us and new orthodoxies of belief have emerged. We have become an ever questioning people, the younger we are, the more true this is of us. Beliefs that are seen as older, more ancient are increasingly questioned as valid in this increasingly connected world.

Beliefs that are seen as older, more ancient are increasingly questioned

Within those that are Christian, there has been a shift towards defining who we are in terms of the prevailing ‘spirit of the age’. Christianity becomes about being nice, doing good and personal development. Mission is solely about confronting injustice and practical help alone. I think in some ways we are trying to simply ‘communicate’ well. For me though, there is an issue of losing the distinctive powerful message of Christianity, the message of Jesus himself.

Standing for nothing in particular?

Within the UK I’ve been listening to the election debates that have been broadcast. Of particular note for me has been the performance of Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales. Historically the party stands for and would like independence for Wales and yet on that front, in this election, there has been nothing of the kind said. They seem to agree with everyone else and importantly for me, have lost or are not stating their distinctive position. Not so with the Scottish National Party, they stand for the independence they crave. Not wanting to turn this into a political debate, I believe that Plaid Cymru have faded almost to insignificance, precisely because for whatever reason, they have omitted their central message. Yes people will still vote for them because they are welsh but I believe they could have so much more of a say. Have we in the Church done exactly the same?

The True Message of Jesus

As important as love, acts of righteousness and social justice are, they are not the key part of the Gospel. In fact anything we do is not the key part of the gospel. It is God’s sacrifice f his son to save us that is the key message. Mission in the bible was seen as pretty much exclusively the task of carrying the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth, an evangelistic message. The message was about transformation of individuals, communities and the earth through the acceptance and worship of Jesus in lives everywhere.

Today, mission is simply a ‘helping out’ exercise, dare I say it, one that omits the powerful message of redemption and forgiveness that Jesus brings to us. Have we become so earthly minded to not be of any heavenly use?

Christianity only makes sense if the power of God transforms people and then transforms communities. To try and transform a community without the message of the cross is madness surely? Yet, that is what a lot of mission has become. Why? It simply isn’t ‘done’ to talk of Jesus and so we have retreated in the face of some very real opposition. We often talk and stand for everything Christianity is, except Jesus.

Going Full Tilt…..

Please don’t hear me wrong. It’s important to love people. It is very important to serve them. All of the faceless tasks that Christian’s do from day to day in humility and without boasting are a powerful testament to the power of God working through everyday lives. There are people who without this would be dead, suffering or still in lives wrecked by circumstances beyond their control. That’s powerful stuff.

Yet I believe we need to make sure we go the whole way. We need to be open and share Jesus with everyone that we meet. I’m not saying get out a bible and batter someone with it, but have your life open to everyone so He can be seen and don’t be afraid to speak of him when it is right for you to do so. The ultimate expression of love and respect for someone is to introduce them to the Saviour that we know. To not do so, is surely an incomplete act?

If for the sake of fear we hold back, when the time comes to truly confront injustice we will be afraid to do so. What about the fate of Libyan migrants who are drowning? What about climate change that threatens us all? What about the elderly lady who is ignored by her family and they need to be confronted? In the power and through the message of Jesus, all of these situations come down to the transformation of individuals, groups and communities making decisions and taking actions that affect their fellow people. Some people with God need to initiate that change.

I come across many Christian organisations and people who separate themselves from Jesus to make themselves more palatable. Whether it be personal fear or institutional fear, the effect is the same. We lose our distinctive, we lose who we are. That is needless and such a great shame.

I come across many Christian organisations and people who separate themselves from Jesus to make themselves more palatable…..That is….. such a great shame”.

Will we stand relevantly, passionately for Jesus and the Gospel or will we simply blend into the background like everyone else. The questions of this age, the hunger for justice and love that all of us share, have an answer. We know the answer and yet are afraid to show it.

The question for all of us is will we relevantly present Jesus to this world in ways that people will understand? Will we confront the issues of this world with the love and power of the Cross in a spirit of humility?

Let’s not lose our distinctiveness in the ever more connected and busy world.

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?

Crossing the divide

My Colin Prior desk calendar sits on my desk in front of me. It pictures the Sound of Taransay on the Isle of Lewis. Probably a million miles from where I am currently sitting….or certainly feels like it. Outside my window, lies Miombo woodland and an outlook over our campsite that in a week or so will be full of Impact Team members gathering for their half yearly training.

Completely different worlds. Zambia is as different from the Highlands of Scotland as the Moon is from the Earth.

Why do it? Why change worlds regularly each year.

The other night I was sat in house group here in Mkushi with a bunch of commercial farmers. By definition all of us present were rich. Even if not monetarily, in terms of access to capital, we have few equals in the surrounding areas of rural villages. This mainly white world of farmers again is a different world, that hardly ever intersects apart from employment with Rural Africa. Again, we could ask why cross this divide?

Jesus was found as a man amongst us. From a world more different from our own as any of the above. He came to rescue us, to put things right, to put the whole of humanity on the correct course again. It’s good news and it started by what theologians call the Incarnation. In more simple words, changing worlds to come to our own and be found amongst us.

What Jesus did was to bring heaven to touch earth. He brought two worlds together.

This gives us an answer to the question why. It is nothing to do with what I can offer the rural places of Africa, it is everything to do with what God can offer. He wants me here at this present time and that settles it. There are some fringe benefits as well…… sunshine being one of them!

Seriously though, I do have maybe one attribute that allows me to enter the world of another. I can actually get there. I am rich enough in this world to be able to do at least something on behalf of others. I share that attribute with most commercial farmers, city people within Africa and even many of you reading this. We are able to bridge the gap and enter the world of another with the express mission of bringing them life.

So is that an answer, I feel God has told me to do it and secondly I am able to do it?

Given that positioning in life, why would we ever want to do anything different?

Let that not be an excuse to the poor to sit back and just receive. Everyone in this world has a God given calling whether rich or poor, with whatever resources we have. We can all do something. In travelling thousands of miles and diverse cultures, my aim is to help people find that ‘something’ no-matter who they are.

Maybe if we cross a bridge, cross a divide, it also helps others to do so. Conversely if we do not, others will maybe not.

Crossing the divide, changing world for the sake of others creates life and we aim for life in this world and the next.

Some questions: Where has God placed you? What divides can you cross? What will be the effect if you do?

Maybe just maybe, someone is depending on the fact that you do indeed cross the divide, whether it is sexual, racial, national or some other ‘al.

Values

Oscar was on sat on top of the climbing pole, some 13 metres above the ground. “I can’t do it!”, “I can’t do it!” he kept saying to himself. He was being asked to stand upright on a rickety 1ft platform atop a moving pole. Not an easy task.

The chant of, “Yes you can!”, “Yes you can!” went up from the other delegates gathered at the bottom of the pole. Some of them were holding his safety rope, his life depended upon them.

Oscar gingerly got up from his crouched position, his face straining with the effort. Slowly but surely he stood to his feet, his arms open wide in triumph. A smile from ear to ear was across his face. Finally he believed, “Yes he could!”.

I’m listening to Richard Thompson, the leader of Ndubaluba Outdoor Education Centre finish off our Impact Team Training Camp. Every 6 months we gather our impact team members together with prospective new members, to look at examining problems, have fun together, pray and understand the values that motivate us.

As well as traditional sessions, we use challenge and well yes sometimes overcoming fear to teach how Christianity and God can infuse our lives with the correct values to live and work by.

If there is one lesson that I can point to that I have learned is this. If you plant the Spirit of God and the right values in people, the work of community transformation, liberation and the gospel will grow and grow. It is the values that are important.

These values together with God are the engine that is driving our work here in Southern Africa.

3 and a half years after initially planting the work here in Africa, the reach is now, 3 countries, over 3000 community volunteers meeting in groups, the Gospel has been proclaimed in many places and over 110 groups meet week by week across Zambia and even into Angola and Tanzania.

Our impact teams own the work for themselves, it is their work. They visit groups, they help the poor, they proclaim the gospel.

They have internalised the values of Gods Kingdom and are actively pushing it forward. The results affect thousands of people, something that would not be possible any other way.

If you want to create something that will truly change the world, give your own power away so that others will internalise the mission before them. Give your own power away so that they can be free and in turn make others free.

Then what God will do through them will be like a new dawn rising.

Oscar now believes that he can do it, nothing can take away the achievement of overcoming what for him was a significant challenge. That lesson will encourage him, drive him and in turn drive others.

That’s why Dignity works the way it does. We believe that God working through people is the primary way that our world changes for the better. That’s why we invest money donated to us in training, encouraging, proclaiming the gospel and helping people see that there is great hope when they come together Rooted in Jesus to Love their Village.

My friends here will leave today and as they leave will be the hands and feet of Jesus everywhere they go.

They are not simply doing the work, they are the work and that’s a very important difference.

A Strong Cup of Tea

I’ve been writing a series of teaching recently about our lives being infused with God’s values and life. I thought I’d put the introduction here.

“An Englishman abroad is one thing. An englishman trying to purchase a decent cup of tea in Italy is another. I remember being sat in Verona, the “city of lovers”, where Shakespeare’s tragic “Romeo and Juliet” is set. I was sat in a small Italian Cafe, everyone partaking in the morning ritual of sipping small cups of thick strong espresso coffee. I called the waiter over, “Camanieri!”, I then explained the steps that I wanted to make the perfect cup of tea. He assured me that he understood. 10 minutes later, the tea arrived. Hot frothy milk with a tea bag unceremoniously dumped into it. This wasn’t what I had in mind….

What I wanted was a proper infusion of flavour. Traditionally, you take boiling water, and pour it upon the fresh tea leaves or tea bag waiting in the cup. There is some debate as to whether this should be bone china or not. Some people swear that tea tastes better in china crockery. Myself, I have always been a mug man. The bigger the better. It’s probably to do with me being from Northern England. As I was growing up, tea was practically on mains supply in my house.

The bottom line, what I was being served in our Italian Cafe in Verona was definitely not the real thing. Frothy milk is nice, but it definitely doesn’t make a cup of tea. I never have had a decent cup of tea in continental Europe. The problem seems to be that of infusing the flavour of the tea leaves into the water. After all you often throw the tea leaves away, leaving what has been left behind and become part of the water you poured into the cup. For this to happen well, the water has to be just off the boil. That’s why frothy milk, tepid water and adding milk to the cup beforehand never produce a strong, full coloured, full flavoured cup of tea.

It’s an interesting question isn’t it? What makes a good cup of tea?

Here is another question. “What makes life and the world full of flavour?”

In the same way that tea leaves, water and the infusion of flavour make a great cup of tea, what is the equivalent for life, and especially living as a Christian in this life. There are plenty of people who ask all kinds of awkward questions about Christianity. They wonder what God is like? They struggle to connect the conduct of the church with the picture that sermons and Christian talks present to them. The two simply do not match. In short they are asking, “Is Christianity real?”, “Is it practical?”, “Does it work in this life of mine?”

If we are honest, these are some of the very same questions that we carry ourselves as Christians. There are two possible answers to that question. The first is that somehow God himself has changed or indeed never was there. Maybe He never was practical, or relevant to life or never truly cared. Maybe the whole thing is a scam, a cruel confidence trick on billions of unsuspecting people. In short, we have to make the best of it ourselves. God either isn’t interested, doesn’t care or simply does not exist. There is no hope apart from that we manage to conjure ourselves.

The second answer is perhaps more apt to our situation. We carry these questions because the flavour of faith that either we have or have seen displayed is simply not the real thing. Just like a cup of tea made with frothy milk, we can sometimes accept a meagre taste of who Christ is and what life can really be about. The result of this is that other people by proxy also observe a life or a church that is weak and insipid, tasting of nothing.

Frothy milk has a lot to answer for.

The Apostle Paul quoting the Book of Isaiah, said some strong words about this to the church in Rome. “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you”.(Romans 2:24) Strong words. They were written for one reason. God’s people had missed the point.

In their devotional life they started to focus on rituals, controversy and being seen to do the right thing. They neglected the heart of the matter, which of course is the heart, the true seat of decision making in human affairs. Jesus said himself when talking about what we say and do, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile you. For out of the heart come evil thoughts. murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:17-19)

It is the heart that Christ and Christianity is centered upon. It is from the heart that all human behavior finds its’ origin. If you manage to make a change in the heart of an individual, a community or a nation then conditions and life itself can change radically.

Paul talking about the people of God said this: “A person is not a Jew who is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29)

They used frothy milk: their own effort combined with religion and the whole result was something that was undergirded by failed spiritual achievement and hypocrisy. They probably thought they were doing the right thing, but the result was the same.

In short, they and we have forgotten how to make a decent cup of tea and the world is worse for it.