Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Methodism IS Still Useful

**For reference to the title see my earlier blog found here.

There is a website for everything. I am convinced of this after I searched for light bulb jokes (you know…how many (insert group here) does it take to change a light bulb) and found that even this has a website dedicated to it. I searched for light bulb jokes on different denominations of the Christian faith. This is a small sample of what I found. 

How many Charismatics does it take to change a light bulb?
                - Only one since his/her hands are in the air anyway.
How many Calvinists does it take to change a light bulb?
                - None. God has predestined when the lights will be on.
How many Pentecostals does it take to change a light bulb?
                - Ten. One to change the bulb and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.
How many TV evangelists does it take to change a light bulb?
                - One. But for the message of light to continue, send in your donation today.

As you can probably guess there are many, many more light bulb jokes for the Christian faith, but I figured you got the point already.

So what about the United Methodists?

How many United Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?
                - 25. Twelve on the church council to appoint a task force. Five on the task force to investigate   different kinds of light bulbs. One to actually change the light bulb. Two to worry about the             ecological impact and five to talk about how the old one was better and we don’t need to     change the light bulb we just need a renewal movement of said light bulb.

What you may ask does this have to do with our ministry, life in Tanzania, or ANYTHING of any significance on planet earth? It is this.

Methodism is frequently translated into Swahili as “taritibu” which means process or the order of doing things. While this is not a bad translation and no one will argue that Methodists don’t like their committees I had a chance this weekend to teach the church in Mwanza where the name “Methodist” really came from. I had a chance to teach about our rich history, how the overhead view of England’s development and challenges at the start of Methodism can be reflected in modern day Tanzania, and how this new movement used the means of grace, works of piety and mercy (among other things) to move forward God’s kingdom in a time when it was badly needed. We discussed how the name Methodist comes not from our love of the Robert’s Rules of Order, but from the way in which early Methodists regularly observed prayer, Bible study, confession, fasting, and helping the poor among their neighbors.

It was something that came alive for the church in Mwanza. Earlier that day I had discussed with the church leaders some of their challenges for ministry. They included women wanting to study the Bible, but not being able to read or write, the church wanting to come together for a special day of prayer but people not being able to take a day off of work or risk the income that allowed their families to eat. Another, obviously painful challenge, included the frustration of the leaders who confessed to wanting to help the people in their church family with food or money for a hospital visit, but not having enough money in their own pockets to give. These challenges were brought to a new light as we started talking about the two sided coin of works of piety and mercy, of a faith that followed the laws of loving God and loving neighbor in a way that sees both the follower and the neighbors transformed. This church wants to follow God, but they understand that this means also having the means to help others.

In the end, as we were finishing up, I issued a challenge to the church that brings together works of piety and works of mercy in a way that I think pays strong head to our heritage as Christians and Methodists. It is a challenge that I am taking up and that I would like you (who are reading this…yes you) to think about as well.

I asked them to pick one day a week to fast. Any money they saved on food that day would go to the church fund for emergencies which they use for food, hospital bills, funerals, etc. as people have need. I am starting this today and will be sending the money I save to the various churches we work with who have an emergency fund. I would like you to consider the same. Send it the money to a food pantry or some other ministry that helps people without enough. If you don’t know one you can always send the money over here. I know plenty of people that can use it.

How much of a testimony to our heritage would it be if a whole church did this and could help fund a food pantry from the results of our fasting and prayers?

I hope that our heritage as Christians is not just a nice trophy to put on the mantle, but a living, breathing guidance for our lives today.

**In full disclosure I made up the light bulb joke on United Methodists. Others exists, but I didn’t like them as much.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Source

When we come from a literate society where we can get books in a book store, on-line shipped to our house, on a tablet, on a Kindle or Nook, on our computer, where text-books are handed out for free in our schools we sometimes take some things for granted. 

For Christians one of those things is the Bible. We have fifty million translations, many churches have Bibles in the pews or on a table to pick up as you go into worship, and if you grew up in church, at least the United Methodist Church, you probably received the Bible as a gift at least 3 times before you graduated high school. I think as I entered college I had five different translations of the Bible sitting on my bookshelf and I hadn’t bought any of them. 

Where we work in Tanzania though, this is not the case. You enter church and you may find only 2-3 Bibles for a church of 20 people. Out of these 2-3 Bibles maybe one has all of its pages. I have seen people carry English Bibles to church that they have been given by well meaning mission teams just so that they can have a Bible with them in church…even though they can’t read it. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked for a Bible, usually within 5 minutes of someone finding out I work for the church. People here are hungry for the word of God and they are tired of it being explained for them through missionaries, pastors, and church leaders. They want to have their own Bible, their own word of God  that they can study and learn from themselves.

I have at times been ashamed of how much development I have tried to bring into the local church as a missionary without putting the word of God as the top priority. I sometimes assume that this is already central in the church, but when 80% or better of your congregation doesn’t have a Bible this is a terrible assumption to make. I can’t rightly get upset that people don’t have a more full vision of the church when I, as a missionary, have failed to give them the one book that gives that full vision, not in my sermons or teachings, but the actual word of God for they themselves to read and understand. 

I write all of this to happily say that this is about to change. I am going this week to pick up Bibles to bring back to the churches of the Mara District. And this is just a small part of a conference wide project. Thanks to a recent agreement between Discipleship Resources International, a department of the General Board of Discipleship, and the Tanzanian Annual Conference, we have funding to purchase and then sell at a discounted rate, Bibles for the churches of Tanzania. While I am receiving Bibles for the Mara District, Bibles will also be distributed to all 6 of our other districts to be distributed to individual churches. This is the first step of our new publishing program. We have other books coming out, even this year, but we all agree that no other book is worth anything if we can’t first get the Word of God into the hands of Christians. 

This is the source of it all, the living Word of God to be used in the lives of people by the Living God. And I am honored to be a small part of this happening here in Tanzania. Anyone reading this who is so inclined, I ask that you pray for each person receiving this word of God in the coming months as the Bibles make their way to individual churches and then to individuals. That they be inspired by the Living Word of God to encounter, love, and receive the Living God.