Web 2.0 and Accountability

Saturday 18 April 2009 by

I was fascinated to read this perspective from Alanna at Blood and Milk of how the internet and Web 2.0 changes the way NGO’s relate to communities they work with.

In our interconnected world, you can’t hide from the communities you work with. That’s a good thing. It’s much easier to treat people with respect when you know that they’re watching you. Transparency is part of accountability, whether or not that transparency is voluntary. I think that’s part of development 2.0. We’re not just going somewhere and learning the local situation so we can do our work; they are looking right back at us, and they’ve got the tools to disseminate their views. read more

I think one of the reasons Web 2.0 is so important in an international development context is that it increases transparency. It is very difficult to talk condescendingly about “going to help the poor people” when you know that they are able to hear every word you’re saying.

For a long time development work has been presented from the perspective of the rich man generously giving of his time and money to help the poor man. This fits nicely with the ethnocentric worldview of the west, and so is a profitable marketing strategy to raise funds and recruits.

But it’s not the truth. True development is certainly not about rich people going and doing favours for poor people. It’s about rich and poor humbly working together in partnership – both genuinely accountable to each other, with the local community taking ultimate responsibility.

Thanks to increasing internet access through computers and mobile phones, information coming from NGO’s in the 21st Century has the potential to be read by anyone in the world. If an NGO wants to continue partnering with a local community, they must make sure that their communications reflect the reality of the situation rather than merely playing along to the narrative that the donors want to hear.

There has long been accountability between NGO’s and major donors. Now the open flow of information made possible by the internet brings all partners to the same table, and ensures the NGO is accountable not just to those with money, but much more importantly to the communities they are serving.

Bible, Mission and Metaphor

Monday 23 March 2009 by

Tim Davy at Redcliffe College in Gloucester has written an interesting post entitled Bible, Mission and Metaphor. He explains how the metaphors that we use to describe everyday activities actually tell a lot about the way we think about these activities.

As well as giving us a fascinating insight into other cultures, looking at metaphors used can also tell us a lot about ourselves and our own attitudes that we may not have realised.

How do we conceptualise mission? Do we take our imagery from Joshua (’mission is a battle’)? Or from the parables (mission is sowing seeds)? What other metaphors might we use? What would ’success’ or ‘failure’ look like according to each metaphor? How might it affect our relationships with those we are seeking to ‘reach’ (another metaphor!)? read more

Although the article looks at biblical metaphors, it started me thinking how in fact we often use metaphors that aren’t biblical at all, and reflect a worldly way of viewing mission that doesn’t line up with God’s heart. I was left wondering to what extent the language we use reflects the way God sees mission, and to what extent it exposes attitudes that are contrary to God’s heart for the nations.

When talking about Bible translation, do we talk about completing a task or sowing seeds? Talking about completing a task may reflect a focus on ourselves and our work, when in fact God invites us to join in with what he is already doing around the world.

Are we advancing towards our goals or working with others to help them achieve theirs? Just as God invites us to join in with what he is doing, he also expects us to be united with other believers around the world. This doesn’t just mean allowing them to be part of what we’re doing, but truly respecting and serving them as they play their part in God’s mission.

Is our aim increased efficiency in reaching people or better relationships in serving people? Western culture may value efficiency, but at the end of the day God’s mission is about him transforming hearts and lives, not us achieving tasks. In our desire to see the most lives changed as quickly as possible, we cannot afford to focus on simply accelerating a process at the expense of real relationships with people.

As Eddie reminded us a couple of days ago

The genius of Vision 2025 was its call to realign ourselves with what God was doing in and through his people worldwide. We need to be constantly working to renew our alignment with God’s mission on an individual and corporate level. read more

Over the last year I have really been challenged as to whether what I’m doing fits in with God’s mission, or if I’m trying to fit God’s mission in with what I’m doing. I still have a long way to go, but I pray that my attitude towards Bible translation is becoming more God-centred and people-centred, and less about completing a task.

Taking Liberties

Sunday 15 March 2009 by

Taking Liberties is a shocking, but hilarious polemic documentary that charts the destruction of all your Basic Liberties under 10 Years of New Labour.

Released to coincide with Tony Blair’s departure, the film and the book follow the stories of normal people who’s lives have been turned upside down by injustice – from being arrested for holding a placard outside parliament to being tortured in Guantanamo Bay.

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(view the video in higher resolution here)

While there are many details in the video that are open to debate, the main premise that civil liberties are being eroded in Britain is difficult to argue with. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of issue that we don’t tend to think much about until we’re the ones experiencing injustice.

As the video points out it’s ironic that in trying to defy terrorism, the government is eroding key parts of the democracy that it is trying to protect. Parts of the video reminded me of the TV series 24, where counter-terrorist agents get so focused on stopping a certain terrorist at all costs, that every idea of right and wrong becomes secondary to this focus. It makes for great TV, but isn’t a great way to run a country.

We have to be careful that we’re not so focused on the threat of terrorism that, driven by fear, we believe that anything is acceptable in order to eliminate this threat. Our moral judgments have to be based on striving for what is right rather fearing what is wrong.

The only way to counter terrorism is not through focusing on the threat, which produces fear, but by building a society based on love, justice, truth, respect and unity, as demonstrated so well by both political and religious leaders in Northern Ireland this week.

Stealth wars: It’s time we opened our eyes

Tuesday 10 February 2009 by

Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan… almost every day we hear about conflict somewhere. But how much do we really know about the wars happening in the world? We may be well aware of the violence that happens in Gaza City, Baghdad and Helmand Province, but do we know about the conflict that takes place every day in the DRC, or the continuing tensions in southern Sudan or northern Nigeria?

Virgil Hawkins at Stealth Conflicts makes some startling observations:

There is a newsroom truism in the USA that “one dead fireman in Brooklyn is worth five English bobbies, who are worth 50 Arabs, who are worth 500 Africans”. Sounds pretty bad. But the reality is much much worse. For a start, from the perspective of the news media in the West, 500 Africans have nowhere near that kind of value. The death toll from conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is literally one thousand times greater than that in Israel-Palestine, yet it is the latter that is the object of far greater media coverage, if that is any indication of the news value of the two conflicts. The numbers of victims from conflict in Israel-Palestine are counted down to the last digit, and the intricacies and nuances of the conflict, political situation and peace process are almost obsessively analysed and presented. Death tolls from most African conflicts (if anyone bothers to count) are usually rounded off to the nearest one hundred thousand (at times the nearest million), and the conflicts are frequently brushed off and dismissed as being chaotic, or worthy of some vague pity or humanitarian concern, but rarely of any in-depth political analysis.

The reality is that the scale of a conflict has very little at all to do with whether a conflict gets the attention of the media or not. Other factors (like the political interest of key policymakers at home, skin colour, simplicity and sensationalism) appear to be the key determinants. Once a conflict is ‘chosen’, it becomes the centre of attention, at the expense of all other conflicts – however destructive they may be. read more

I would add another factor, that the western media is driven largely by fear. In the UK we only care about armed conflict when it makes us feel vulnerable. If it is geographically close to us (Kosovo), or if we feel the conflict has the potential to spill over into our region (the Middle East), or if those suffering are people we perceive to be similar to ourselves (New York Twin Towers). When the conflict is in a far off land, in countries so poor that there is no threat of the conflict spreading outside of the region, between peoples of a different skin colour to us, we are able to give our sympathy but then turn off the TV and simply forget.

5.4 million people have died in the DRC in the last 10 years. It’s time we lifted our eyes up from our own preoccupations and saw the reality of the world we live in:

Tanzanian Pastor faces 6 months in prison after refusing to swear on Bible

Saturday 7 February 2009 by

I’d always wondered how Jesus’ instructions to his followers not to swear on any thing, but to let their “yes be yes, and no be no” applied to swearing on the Bible in court. So I was fascinated to hear this tale of a Tanzanian pastor. It’s told by Kenneth Mwazembe, and is in Swahili, so the quoted text below is my translation:

Pastor of the EAGT [Evangelical Assemblies of God in Tanzania – a large Pentecostal denomination] church on Ichenjezya street in the town of Vwawa, Mbozi District of Mbeya Region, Simon Kitwike (48), yesterday found himself with a 6 month jail sentence for contempt of court after refusing to swear the witness oath because of his religious faith.

The Pastor who had had his house broken into at the end of last year and had some things stolen, arrived at Mbozi District court to give his witness but refused to swear, claiming that it would be wrong.

The District Judge Kajanja Nyasige commanded him to read the section of the Bible which tells him not to swear in court, so the Pastor opened the Bible and read Matthew 5:35, which is where his view comes from.

… Judge Nyasige continued to be patient with the Pastor in order that he have the chance to change his stance, by commanding him to read from the Bible again – from the letter of Paul to the Romans 13:1-5. The witness read this section in front of the court, but when he was asked if he had changed his stance, he replied that he was unable to change his stance from this verse, and insisted that his position was still the same.

Judge Nyasige was compelled to read him the judgement that he was guilty of contempt of court and so was sentenced to go to jail for 6 months, and also that he would be expected to give his testimony in the original case on March 2nd this year. read more

What would you have done were you the judge? The judge was quite right in saying that Paul tells the church in Romans 13:1-5 that they should submit to the government and those in authority, but what happens when the law of the country directly contradicts an instruction of Jesus?

It’s an interesting dilemma that could equally have happened in the UK (and maybe has done in the past?) and highlights the irony of laws that require witnesses to swear on a book which instructs people not to swear on anything but simply let their yes be yes and their no be no.

Same Kind of Different as Me

Tuesday 27 January 2009 by

Same Kind of Different as Me is actually the best book I’ve read in a long time. OK that’s not saying much because I don’t read many books, but it was good.

It’s the story of two men in America – one a rich white art dealer who calls himself a Christian, and the other a black man who starts off life in virtual slavery and has a very tough existence on the streets.

The book is written by the two men, in roughly alternating short chapters, and is a fascinating spiritual journey for both of them. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but it is amazing to see God working in and through both of them, through suffering, joy and heartbreak.

I think one of the reasons the book really resonated with me was because of the parallels with what I have experienced in cross-cultural mission. The rich man starts off by thinking he is doing God and the homeless people a favour by giving a few hours a week to help out at a shelter. He has many struggles about the material difference between himself and the homeless people, while they have a hard time trusting someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to live on the streets.

But gradually a friendship is formed, and as it continues the rich man realises that in fact those he is ministering to, and his friend in particular, have spiritual insights that leave him feeling like he’s really the one who is poor.

I have to say the story did make me cry (happy and sad crying in roughly equal amounts), which doesn’t happen very often! And it made me realise once again that God involves us in mission to people who are very different from ourselves not just to bless them, but even more than that to teach us more about who he is.

Communication, Communication…

Thursday 8 January 2009 by

Ernest Goodman at Missions Misunderstood has written a post to help missionaries know how best to communicate with their supporters in the 21st Century, and has some good pointers.

Be creative in your communication. Post photos. Upload videos. Record a podcast. Publish a comic book. Produce a weekly online radio show. Make an iTunes music mix, print t-shirts, put together a desktop widget. Do something to insure that your relationship to the people who support you is interesting, relevant, informative, and encouraging.

Speak prophetically into what’s happening Stateside [MW: or in the UK, Kingdomside?]. There is a broad conversation among churches and church leaders about being missional. (Missional, in case you’re not familiar with the term, refers to an intentional Christian lifestyle that incarnates the gospel into one’s cultural context. It’s the opposite of “attractional” ministry and “forrays into the world” mission trips.) Of all the voices in the missional conversation, few (if any) belong to missionaries. If you’re not participating in the conversation, you’re missing a huge opportunity to speak into a massive and influential Christian movement. And the movement desperately needs the influence of those who are planting churches cross-culturally. read more

Posting regularly on the Wycliffe UK blog has made me realise how powerful it is when missionaries overseas post text, photos, videos etc of what God is doing in different parts of the world. For us here in the UK it often feels like we don’t have much exciting to communicate to people, but we can still be giving people a global perspective on the worldwide mission of the church.

If Laura and I become involved in a Bible translation project in Tanzania in the future I think that communicating what God is doing to partners worldwide needs to be a very high priority in our work, and social networking (internet permitting) has a huge role to play.

Now all we need is a video camera…

2008 in Photos

Friday 19 December 2008 by

This site has some incredible photos from 2008. Each picture tells a story and gives us a glimpse of the incredible diversity of the natural world, the peoples that live in it and the daily lives of those people.
Congolese displaced people2008 in Pictures

HT: Paul Merrill

Mission After Christendom

Sunday 7 December 2008 by

I’ve just finished reading an excellent book – Mission After Christendom by David Smith.

The book discusses how the modern missionary movement of the last 200 years has been very much tied to christendom – Europe and North America – and the modernist worldview, largely influenced by evolutionist philiosophy and the idea that science and reason would drive mankind towards an ever increasing utopia.

Missions were from the western church to the heathen nations, who were seen as backward and in need of the religion and civilisation of the west. As such, they often went hand in hand with colonial power and ideology, sometimes with the justification that “the heathens get saved, and in return we get their natural resources”.

The twentieth century, and all the war and destruction that went with it, saw the end of modernism as people realised that science and reason alone wouldn’t guarantee that civilisation would continually evolve towards higher and higher levels of development.

The main message of the book is that when mission is strongly tied to christendom and modernism (or to any one particular culture), the message it spreads is a poor version of Christianity, severely limited by the cultural lens through which it is portrayed. In reality, by God’s grace, over the past 100 years we have seen the growth of indigenous churches, expressing the gospel in their own cultural contexts across South America, Africa and Asia. This growth is not only a blessing to the church in these places, but in fact should be a blessing to the church of the traditional Christian heartlands as it sees the gospel worked out in completely different cultures.

For the Qom [of Argentina], as for the Saxons in ninth-century Europe, a mass movement toward Christianity resulted not in the abandonment of traditional culture, but in its revitalisation. A dispirited people, threatened with the destruction of their known world by the encroachment of a highly sophisticated technological culture, found in Jesus Christ the true redeemer who gave them as Qom, renewed hope, strength and life. Thus, the indigenous church which emerged from a movement of spiritual awakening in the middle of the twentieth century, the Iglesia Evangelica Unida, reflects a dynamic inculturation of the gospel among a people whose world-view is strikingly different from that of other churches in the Chaco, which simply adopted imported Western patterns of spirituality and worship. The Qom were able to distinguish Christ from the culture of the missionaries with the result that they now believe they have something important to offer to Western Christians from within their own cultural heritage. Thus, Hugo Diaz, an indigenous Christian leader, invites Western believers to assist the church in the Chaco in language which clearly reflects the post-Christendom context for mission with which this book is concerned: “We no longer want you to come and teach us the Bible. We want you to come and read the Bible together with us”.

Smith makes a very interesting comparison with the encounter of Peter with Cornelius in the book of Acts. Up until that point, Peter, along with the other apostles, had assumed that Jesus’ message of salvation was for the Jews, with other nations being granted salvation through becoming culturally Jewish. But after his meeting with Cornelius, and seeing the Holy Spirit given to non-Jews, Peter and the apostles rejoice at the realisation that “God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” (Acts 11:18)

In this light the whole of the rest of the New Testament continues the theme that God has united all peoples of all cultures in himself. Mission is no longer about going abroad and persuading other peoples to be like us, but it’s about witnessing to Christ and encouraging others to worship him in their own cultural context.

Almost every page of the book had a quote that I wanted to remember, but I think this one sums up well the challenge to 21st Century missions:

…are we able to imitate Peter’s missiological and pastoral response in such a situation [with Cornelius], trusting the Holy Spirit in such a manner that our urge to proselytise such individuals and movements is overcome, so avoiding the implication that following Jesus as Lord means becoming like us? Questions like these are critical on the frontier of pluralisation because devout adherents of other faiths are unlikely ever to get close to the Jesus of the Gospels as long as the lifestyle of evangelists, or the worship of churches shaped by Western individualism and modernisation, makes him appear to be the destroyer of all that is treasured within their traditions. The tragedy of the proselytising approach to mission is that it turns the Gospel into “bad news”, ensures the closing of ranks, and short-circuits the revolutionary impact of the living Christ within these religious traditions. What is more, it ignores the profound insight of John of Patmos that all the peoples on earth may bring their ‘glory and honour’ into the kingdom of God (Rev 21:26).

Which is why I believe that Bible translation into every vernacular language – accomplished as a partnership right across the worldwide church – should be at the forefront of cross-cultural mission in the 21st Century.

Waking up to reality

Monday 24 November 2008 by

As we turn on the TV again we’re confronted with a choice of hundreds of channels. We have a right to choose what we want to watch, how we want to live. We have a right to choose whatever gadgets, whatever clothes, whatever house and car. As long as we work hard, we have a right to a comfortable life.

We’ll watch the news, but only on the large flatscreen TV that we have chosen, and when we’ve had enough of the tragedies from afar we’ll switch over and return to our “reality TV”. The world where we’re in control, where we have a right to pursue an endless supply of wealth and happiness. The world where we look after number one, and then proudly pronounce that God has blessed us.

One day our TV starts telling us that we might start getting poorer. We might have less money to spend, and less choice of things to make our lives easy. Outraged, we insist that something must be done to stop this infringement on our right to ever increasing wealth and comfort. After all, we live in a developed country, and God has blessed us.

Our politicians tell us the only solution is to borrow, borrow, borrow. Buy more to breathe life into the stagnating economy, our trusted old friend who we thought was immortal. At all costs we must keep spending, not losing sight our God-given right to economic prosperity.

So we keep striving for ever-increasing wealth, desperately trying to make ends meet without having to give up any of our comforts. It’s our right to control our destiny. It’s our right to have power over our own lives, to be rich as long as we work hard. It’s our right to create a good and easy life for ourselves, to enjoy our retirement in comfort.

But then gradually, a haunting thought comes into our minds that won’t go away… what if it was all an illusion? As we have been chasing after our rights, we have a vague recollection that others, millions were dying, starving, being killed in war. As we have been arguing about tax cuts, and economics, innocent people have been tortured and murdered. As we have been worrying about our own comfort, millions have been wondering whether they will ever eat again.

But, surely… God has been with us all along. We have always honoured him with our Sunday mornings,  we have asked him to be with us, to bless our plans.

The thought won’t go away, and as we look around, desperately trying to comfort ourselves that we’re all in the same boat, we suddenly realise that there is a large ocean beyond the sides of the boat. All of a sudden reality isn’t as real as it seemed. We look to each other for comfort, but no one has any answers. Now the things we always took for granted, our comforts, our security, look so hollow and feeble, mocked by the reality that we are just now beginning to see.

Our saviour, the one we thought we knew, has returned. We can’t quite believe that our wealth, our democracy, our economic prosperity have vanished in the blink of an eye. As we think back what seems like an age to our world of reality TV, new clothes and fast food, we ask “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?”

Finally we realise all too late that  Jesus wasn’t in our multinational corporations. He wasn’t in our banks and our governments. He wasn’t on our entertainment shows or in our shopping malls. He was a poor man, living with the lowest of the low, enduring suffering, mockery and even death. And now he has returned as king.