Category Archives: cross-cultural

The school above the wind

It was Friday night, the night of power. The full moon was hidden behind thick clouds in the windless tropical night. The sky to the west was bright with the lights of the city far below.
It had been a busy week at the small school house on the top of the mountains east of the city. The students had finished the national exams on Monday and the teacher had been busy filling in for the other teachers who hadn’t made it up the grueling motopathq2rcycle road the rest of that week. She lived in a small wooden house on low stilts a 20 minute walk from the school. The kitchen hut was on the ground and a few chickens roosted in baskets tied under the edges of the thatched roof. She finished washing the dishes from her evening meal, blew out the small kerosene lamp in the kitchen and retired to the room up on stilts. There she had a solar charged car battery which could operate a couple of 10 watt fluorescent bulbs plus provide enough power to charge her cell phone or even a laptop. After putting the finishing touches on her lesson preparations, she settled down for the night. But that night she wasn’t sleepy so she switched on the radio to listen to a program in a local language that starts at 9pm.
She became aware of something big and heavy moving on the tin roof of her house, but at first didn’t pay much attention to it because she was busy answering a text. Then the sound came closer to where she was laying and it got louder, rattling the metal roofing. She jumped up and down on the bamboo floor to shake the house to try to scare whatever it was away. But it didn’t go away. She went outside to see what it was but couldn’t see anything even in the bright moonlight.
She went back inside and lay down again. But the sound occurred again. She opened the door and there was the wooden board for barring the door hanging there. The third time she didn’t go out. In fact she couldn’t move, it was as if she was paralyzed. Whatever was on the roof seemed to slither along the roof and sounded for all the world like a giant python snake. She began to pray. It occurred to her that it was something evil sent by someone “playing” with black magic, someone who had studied at the “school above the wind”. She told the thing that she has done nothing to the one who sent it and it should go back to the one who called it forth. And it vanished. [She texted me at midnight and asked me to pray]. It took her a long to get to sleep as she lay thinking about what had happened.
The next afternoon after school she hurriedly cooked, bathed, fed the chickens and ate her own dinner while there was still daylight. Her brother usually lives in a hut nearby but he is down in the lowlands at the moment so there are no nearby neighbors. She’s a bit nervous about being alone this night but says she remembers David’s plea for protection and vindication in Psalm 7. And she is remembering how her prayer for deliverance last night was instantaneously granted. I told her I would pray too that she would sleep like a log.

So Lord, please give her Your sweet peace and a refreshing night’s sleep.


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People don’t know they are corrupt

News headlines these days are full of cries of graft and corruption. For weeks now we have been hearing about the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice. I didn’t keep tabs on all the details but noted plenty of indignant denunciations by local citizens.

News from the neighboring country is also usually full of this or that government or business person being accused of graft, corruption etc. The president recently  made the comment that perhaps many people do not know that they are corrupt. Although ridiculed by pundits, I actually think he is on to something.

You say, how can you possibly not know you are corrupt? Well, for one thing it seems that most people assume corruption and fraud can only involve enormous amounts of money.  We usually do not consider that things we ourselves do might also qualify.

For example, in  my former residence it is expected that you have to pay unlisted “expediting fees” for government services in addition to what is already posted. Only the crazy  foreigners think this is something aberrant. Teachers and other civil servants are often at the mercy of higher level government officials who can delay promotions, pocketing the extra salary for months or even years. They can decide that everyone’s salary will be docked to support a Quran-chanting contest, or, in the past, to support the official political party in power. The governor has an annual dinner for prominent businessmen in the city at which they are informed what their “contribution” will be for the next year. (Don’t pay it and just watch  how fast your permits won’t be processed!)  The central government can earmark money or a vehicle for a certain orphanage or school  but a local official may just “decide” that it should go to someone completely different. At the village level, livelihood projects such as donated tractors, rice mills, etc which are intended for a community, all too often become the property of the village head or his relatives.

For years a committee was collecting funds to build a mosque and they never seemed to be able to start building (because they kept “borrowing” the money.) After several years the governor got mad at them and asked if he needed to assign a Christian to be the treasurer. But Christians aren’t always exempt either. There are plenty of cases of people “borrowing” church funds or otherwise profiting. I personally know of a committee that went to town to buy plastic chairs for their church and came back with receipts that were inflated by 25%. Guess who pocketed the difference? Indeed this seems to be a common practice everywhere – when I ask for a receipt shopkeepers in turn often ask  how  much they should write down on it.

When natural disasters hit a few years ago, no one seemed to think anything of it when those collecting relief supplies helped themselves to some before sending them on to the ship. The drivers also took their share. So did the dock workers, the ship’s crew and those who unloaded at the other end. Everybody along the way took their share. You can’t help but wonder how much ever actually ended up being given to the victims. Even on site, victims complained that they were given one small box of food  per family while the military got one box per family member– and most of them didn’t even have their families with them. (What did they do with the extra? They sold it to to shop keepers for cash who then resold it to the people.)

And in my home country where people have long prided themselves on their clean system, people have been vilifying bankers and politicians for graft and corruption for the last three years. A few weeks ago I read very interesting article called “Psychology of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things”  which presentes a case history of a “good” guy who ended up jailed for fraud

How many of us see that what we do is the exact same thing, even though on a much lower monetary scale? When people pilfer from their employer (even just pens, paper, TP, food, whatever) who thinks of themselves as being corrupt? No, no, that’s those other folk over there who have stashed millions or billions in banks somewhere.

What do all these people have in common? They are all experts in justification.

Jane Doe can rip TP off her employer – she rationalizes that they have lots and it’ll save her  a nickel. The military guy figures he’s on hardship duty, he can use the extra cash to send home to the wife and kids.   The truck drivers, dockworkers, ship’s crew after all don’t earn much and since they had to handle all this shouldn’t they be entitled to some too? The same for the mosque and church committes – don’t they deserve some perks for their hard work after all? And the village head feels he should be able to divert a tractor so his son will have a livelihood. And if I can sell slightly smaller “liters” of rice or kerosene or whatever, I can make extra profit. There is no end to mankind’s excuses and justification. We howl and complain when others get away with it, but when we do it we just don’t see it.

I really do think that president is on to something.

Every man’s way is right in his own eyes. (Proverbs 21:2a)

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Oblivious to God’s provision, love, and authority

A friend working in a formerly communist country in Europe, recently made this comment:

English camp this past week was a great treat for me – getting out in the woods, teaching, and spending time praying and sharing the gospel with young people who are oblivious to God’s provision, love, and authority.  It nearly bowls me over to realize how lost this country is.

I work at the opposite end of the earth and was just thinking a similar  thing, that so many people do live as though they were oblivious to God’s provision, love, and authority. Here the problem is not communism. In fact, everyone here has to have a religion by government mandate. Most consider themselves followers of a certain prophet though a significant minority claim to be followers of Jesus. Here they all believe in God but it often seems to be more of a preventive belief, ie do certain rituals just in case so that God won’t be angry and send disaster. It seems that in all religions there are a number of people who in essence rewrite their religions to suit themselves. One prophet follower said that she didn’t want to study her religion too much because the more you know the more you are responsible to do.  Another friend told me that recently some in her village church have been challenging those who oppose the use of black magic by saying things like “How do you know we should do such and so? How many times have you been to heaven and back?”

I was in my home country a few months ago and it was shocking to me how commonly accepted it is now to not only use profanity in the media but to openly mock people who believe in God and to mock even God Himself. Even some who claim to be Christians seem to have their own ideas of “God”, they in essence create a god according to their liking and not according to what He has revealed in Scripture.

The internet is full of websites, Youtube videos,  and commentary by people who don’t seem to have made much of an effort to study the Bible themselves but yet wax eloquent on how it is all fiction and how organized religion  is just a racket to control people. Instead they hold up other ideas that have far less concrete evidence for them and declare them as fact.

All of the above are oblivious to God’s provision, love, and authority. All of them show a profound ignorance of the Bible, from the formerly communist Europeans to the functionally illiterate Asian peasants to the highly literate but Biblically-ignorant internet bloggers and writers  of the English-speaking world.

Is the problem functional illiteracy? If everyone were literate and had the Bible in a language they could understand, would they all believe?  If people worked hard to broadcast radio programs and to bring Bibles into communist lands for people to read, would all believe? Never before have so many Bibles and helps in so many forms – written, audio, paper, digital – been available to the average person in the English-speaking world. Do all believe?  Many do believe and delight in being able to study God’s Word in such depth. But not all. Indeed, perhaps never before has there been such public scorn for God as there is now.

Jesus explained our condition to Nicodemus in John 3 like this:

19     “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.      20     “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. ”

We all start out like that. For most of us the problem is not that we can’t read, not that we don’t have access to a Bible but that we simply don’t want to know. The problem is, we don’t want to acknowledge that our deeds are evil, we want to think we are good. We reject God’s authority – we want to write our own rules according to our own desires. We think we are the ones who order the world and provide by our own efforts. And we like to think that love, especially divine love, means uncritical acceptance of any and all behavior – even though we ourselves would never think of  “loving” our own children that way.

We are experts in coming up with all kinds of excuses and we especially like to blame other people – Christianity is the religion of the colonizer, the evil capitalists, and the evil West. The institutional Church is corrupt and has been used to control people. There are too many hypocrites in the church, too many abusive clergy.  All those accusations have some truth to them. But it was not God who commanded us to colonize, to be corrupt or to control other people, nor to be hypocrites, or to abuse others. He didn’t ask us to believe in an organization, or in people who say they are religious. Instead He has  commanded us each and individually to repent and believe the gospel. That is, to repent and to trust in what God has done for us, namely that Jesus Christ who was perfectly sinless died and has atoned for our sin, appeasing God’s wrath against our sin thus making it possible for us to have eternal life and fellowship with God Himself. Now THAT is a good deal!

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Christians, buck up!

Bamboo- the more you cut it, the more it grows.

As I have traveled and talked with a lot of people in the first of my worlds during the last couple of months, many have expressed concern over the way things are going in this country, not just politically and economically but more specifically they find a growing intolerance of the Christian faith. Many feel fearful thinking about what may lie ahead. But today I was challenged that we need to buck up, because we serve a mighty God who is perfectly capable of providing for His own.

Today in Sunday school there was a guy from China speaking. He was apparently raised as an atheist as most Chinese are now days. He said he enjoyed reading western literature (for college?). He noticed there were a lot of quotes from the Bible and references to Jesus in the  literature he was reading. He became curious about the Bible and wanted to get a copy to read. But they had been destroyed during the cultural revolution of 1967-77 and he couldn’t even find a copy in the library. Eventually he did get ahold of an old beat up Bible from a friend, one which had survived the cultural revolution. He read it and began to wonder if maybe there really was a God. He then came in contact with some Christians in one of the Three-Selves church (the gov’t official church) and he became a Christian. A few years later he went to seminary, a Three Selves (3S) church seminary in Nanjing and also studied abroad. Later he became a professor at a seminary and taught for nearly a decade.

There are two kinds of churches in China, the official government sponsored 3S Church (about 15 million people) and the house churches (about 60-70 million). The 3S stands for Self-governing, Self-supporting, Self-propagating. It sounds good but the problem is that it is controlled by communism.

He said that on the surface the 3S church may look to Amerian tourists to be “free” and very similar to American churches with choirs, etc. But the difference is that the 3S churches are government controlled. The government decides who can attend seminary and who can be ordained and even who can be baptized. He said that in the 1990’s came what is called the “reconstruction of theology” movement in the 3S seminaries. It basically changed two things 1) justification by faith and 2) authority of Scripture.

According to this movement, all religions must be compatible with socialist society, and must not be exclusive. So instead of preaching that mankind is sinners and needs to be justified by faith they must preach that the important thing is to be nice to other people. In essence they created a new doctrine: man is justified by love.

The other thing is that they would teach that the Bible is just human words. They are not allowed to preach from Revelation or about the judgment, and not too much about sin.

Anything sounding familiar? It struck me as he talked that perhaps that is where this country is also going – to a centrally controlled or government controlled church, dictating what can and cannot be preached, moving towards a theology of justification by “love” with ridicule, harassment and possibly even persecution for those who do not conform or who believe the Bible is God’s authoratative Word.

He said that he realized that teaching went against the clear teaching of the Bible and eventually he decided that he had to stay true to Scripture and leave the 3S church, and his job. He began meeting in his house with 4 other believers. Eventually they were cramming 60-70 people into their small living room! They divided and became two and those two also eventually divided until now there are 13. He said they focus on Bible training, worship and prayer. They don’t have buildings and they don’t have complex structure.

He also told me later that because of his Hebrew and Greek background he is helping with the new Chinese Standard Bible translation that is being done in simplified Mandarin. The New Testament is now available and the Old Testament is in process.

He didn’t say much about persecution other than to say that it seems less now than it had been in the recent past. When questioned, he said that yes they are monitored, their phones and emails are monitored. He said small groups may stay under the wire as long as they stay small but once a group gets to 100 people or more it gets a lot of attention from the authorities.

One of his companions told me that he doesn’t like to speak about his own persecution, he doesn’t like to think of it as a big deal. But she said he had spent time in prison because he started writing articles against the reconstruction of theology movement. He was also a leader of a group of home churches. When he leaves home he has to always be prepared to possibly not be able to come back. She said he did not call his family on this trip because their phone will be monitored. (I think he will be speaking at a conference next week in Chicago). But his attitude is that he will not be fearful because the God of the universe takes care of him. He will not fear the authorities because he is on the right side and they are the ones in danger.

It is a real encouragement to me to hear Chinese believers like him telling of their ministry and their desire to continue to follow the Lord despite the harassment, and even threat of persecution and imprisonment. I find it humbling and at the same time immensely encouraging and challenging. They have survived communist persecution and thrived. So come on, folks, let’s buck up! Our brothers witness that God is taking care of His children in China. And that same God can certainly take care of His children in this country too, no matter what happens!

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Filed under Apologetics, Bible, Biblical truth, cross-cultural, discernment, God's sovereignty, scripture twisting, signs of the times, sola scritura, suffering

Music Crimes

I couldn’t help but smile reading a couple of pieces today. One here is entitled “On Musical Crimes in the Church”.

There are aural assaults going on regularly in churches today, as this piece from Christianity Today points out. Volume, many church bands believe, will make up for the fact that the “singers” are actually tone deaf. Churches are now reported to be full of “life” if the state-of-the-art sound systems can make attendees actually “feel” the music, like you would in a club. People totter out into the parking lot after the service, congratulating themselves on having found a church that isn’t “dead.” They won’t be able to say as much about their hearing after many Sundays in a place like that.

The other one is here and is entitled “Memo to Worship Bands”:

Can you hear me? You can? I’m sorry if I am shouting, but I have just spent half an hour in a church service with a typical worship band, and my ears are ringing. I’m sure to be fine in a minute. Or hour. Or day—I hope.
Why does everything every Christian musician performs nowadays seem to require high amplification?

Reminds me of an interesting situation here in the church I am attending.

The pastor is very fond of singing hymns, especially Chinese hymns, his native language. A few months ago he shared about how blessed he was when he started to spend part of his devotional time singing hymns out of his old Chinese hymnbook. The interesting thing is that though he loves to sing, he is tone deaf. During his private devotional time that is not a problem. But the problem comes when he is holding the mike during public worship. When he sings into the mike at preaching volume, it drowns out the entire congregation AND the piano and either drags others along or people stop singing in confusion.

In Chinese culture you cannot correct or advise one in authority such as a pastor. You never refer to him by name or even with the pronoun ‘him’. It is always Bok Su, pastor. So what to do? I have been amused at how this has been handled. Shortly after announcing his love of singing, he decided to join the Chinese choir. You can’t refuse Bok Su. So what they do is put him in the back row as far from the mike as possible. That way he can sing his heart out and yet not interfere with the song.

The other situation arises during communion when he is in front with the mike and gets to lead the singing during the passing of the elements. The PA system is controlled in a booth at the back of the room. So what they have started doing is parking a choir member in the front row with a mike. During the critical time of singing during the passing of the elements, the person in the back quickly switches the dominent mike to the one the choir member is holding and then back again to Bok Su when it is time for him to speak. Pretty clever, eh? This is a win-win situation for everyone – Bok Su can sing his heart out and so can the congregation!

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Filed under church music, cross-cultural, joyful sound, music

Send the poor to the poor?

An interesting comment the other day by a guy from one of the ends of the earth. They had just done a devotional on Elijah how during a drought God had sent him to a poor widow of Zarephath. (1 Kings 17:8ff) The man asked, “Why would God send a poor prophet to be taken care of by a poor widow? If I sent my son to the city to go to school, I would look for a family that was well off for him to stay with. Why didn’t God sent Elijah to a family that was better off?”

Why indeed? Years later Elisha stayed with just such a family, the Shunnamite woman who provided him with his own furnished room.

Perhaps God sent Elijah to a poor woman so that His provision would be more clearly seen. If only the rich help others, then they get all the blessing. Maybe too, when the rich help, they are often just relying on their wealth and not on God to provide, whereas the poor woman had to trust God to provide the wherewithal for her to feed the prophet.

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