Friday, June 23, 2006

Heading Off On Vacation

I remember when I was a pastor back in Manitoba how we discussed once whether to give our Sunday School teachers a break over the summer by canceling Sunday School during July and August. One dear saint remarked that Satan never takes a break and so maybe we shouldn’t either. I wish I had thought to respond, “Yes, but I have never seen Satan as an example to follow.” But I was young and not too quick back then.

Starting next Monday, I am going to take two weeks of vacation. I first have to go to Bartlesville, Oklahoma for the weekend to speak at the National Conference of The Voice of the Martyrs in the United States. But as of Monday, I will be kicking back with a coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I will be staying around the house most of the time, although my first three days are taken up with appointments with my oncologist, dermatologist, and dentist (sounds like fun, eh? At least I will catch up on my reading of ten year old Reader’s Digest and Time magazines while in the waiting rooms). I also have completely unrealistic expectations of all of the leadership and theology books I will read during my time off (yes, this really is my idea of fun). And I won’t be checking my emails (thanks, Jim, for taking care of this for me. Free at last, free at last!!). I also intend to catch a few World Cup football (not soccer) matches. Go England!!

Maybe this sounds a bit boring for some whose idea of vacation is to travel thousands of miles to see new things, but that’s too much like work for me. I would much rather stay home for a change.

So, I am not sure how much blogging I am actually going to do in the next couple of weeks. I suppose it largely depends on if what I read inspires me or puts me to sleep, or if I can sneak onto my computer when my wife isn’t looking to upload something. If you haven’t been checking on this weblog regularly, you may want to check out my main weblog site where you can find all of the blogs that I have posted since December (now there is good insomniac reading!).

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Witnessing in Jerusalem and Beyond

In Acts 1:8, we read, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

Why did the proclamation of the gospel have to start in Jerusalem? Before we address this question, however, we need to put aside three inadequate explanations that are sometimes proposed.

First, the gospel did not begin in Jerusalem because it was home to the disciples and thus they would find a more ready or receptive audience. Jerusalem was not home for any of the disciples. They were from Galilee, not Jerusalem.

Secondly, the spread of gospel did not begin in Jerusalem because it would be the safest place to start and the disciples would be able to get experience in witnessing before moving on to more difficult or resistant areas. Rather the opposite was true. The most dangerous place on earth for the disciples to start their ministry was in Jerusalem.

Thirdly, Jerusalem was not chosen to be the starting place for the spread of the gospel because the city was familiar territory for the disciples where ministry experience would prepare them for more unfamiliar ministry later on. Looking at the gospels, one finds that Jesus and His disciples spent relatively little time in Jerusalem. The urban setting of Jerusalem was unfamiliar to the rural Galileans.

Understanding this, we begin to see that the misapplication of this passage to teach a progressive succession of evangelism from home to distant lands is completely inappropriate.

The reality is that there was only one beginning of the gospel. In God's history there will never be another subsequent Pentecost point. Every later initiative is a down-line fruition of that outpouring and obedience. We are already in the "the uttermost parts of the world" from the perspective of Acts 1:8. Our calling is not to "reach our own Jerusalem" before we branch out from there to the rest of the world. Acts 1:8 is a geographical reference as much as it is a historical one.

What is clear is that the mission of the church begins in what is probably the most dangerous place on earth at the time. And yet, the church grows rapidly in the face of opposition brought about largely because of its growth.

So why did Jesus tell them to stay in Jerusalem? Two reasons are apparent.

First, mission cannot take place apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit has empowered Jesus for His work, so the Spirit was needed to empower the disciples for theirs. Jesus knew that as the gospel was spread, that His disciples would face the same opposition that He had faced. He had trained them for martyrdom. He had also promised that just as He had known how to respond and speak when handed over to religious and civic authorities for prosecution, so His disciples would also know what to say when it happened to them. The Holy Spirit would give them the words that they would need at that time (Matthew 10:18-20; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:11-12; 21:14-15).

Second, Jerusalem was God's appointed starting place for the spread of the gospel because there were considerable missiological and theological reasons for doing so. Jerusalem was the centre of monotheistic worship on the globe. It was the focal point of God's covenant with mankind. Christianity needed to be seen to be in continuity with what had gone on before in God's plan, rather than being potentially labeled as a Galilean sect. The work of Jesus and His church was part of the plan of God from the foundation of the world. The growth of the church, as seen is Acts, is the carrying out of that God-ordained work, carried out by Spirit-filled, cross-bearing messengers who followed their Lord even unto death in order to see this plan of God carried out.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Enemy of My Enemy is Not Always My Friend

For the past three years, I have watched in utter amazement as the U.S. government insists that Saudi Arabia is a sincere ally in the global war against terrorism. Is it naïveté, willful blindness or diplomatic babble, I am not sure. But this assertion is made despite the fact that for the past three years, the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom has cited Saudi Arabia as the world's top violator of religious liberty. The commission's report consistently states that freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia except for those practicing an extreme form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism (the very form of Islam that is behind the acts of al Qaida and other violently militaristic Islamist groups in recent years). President Bush can declare all he likes (as he frequently does) that the only faith that Islamist suicide bombers and terrorists have is that of hate. But such declarations do not respect the declared Islamic convictions of those responsible for acts of terror, destruction, and religious persecution.

I applaud the U.S. government's desire to make the world a safe place. But as long as they ignore the fact that Saudi Arabia provides the religious environment that not only makes such atrocities possible but inevitable, this is a war that they simply will not win.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Want, Need, Deserve

It is interesting to note the latest approach being taken by advertisers. By its very nature, advertising seeks to move us beyond wanting something to believing that we need it. We are lured into feeling that the status quo just isn't good enough. We are seduced into thinking that we must have the newest, the latest, the next big thing. Contentment is not a virtue to advertisers.

Perhaps we are becoming less susceptible to their siren call because the stakes have just been raised. Now, we are told by advertisers that not only do you need their product, you deserve it; it is your right, your reward, your entitlement. In fact, one car commercial goes so far as to say that yes, you do not need a car with all of the power and luxury that their model has, but you do deserve it!

I suppose that this new approach is an inevitable consequence of trying to appeal to a society that feels entitled to the best, even if they do not need it. Forget lust; go straight to pride!
How different from Paul's words in Philippians 4:11 where he writes, as he is sitting in prison because of his work for the Lord, that he has learned to be content in whatever circumstances he is in. He goes on to write in verses 12, 13, "I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

Verse 13 is often quoted out of context as some sort of positive thinking or Word of Faith passage. The actual meaning is far more profound. Contentment is a work of God in the heart of the believer. The ability to be satisfied with what God has entrusted to you in terms of finances and circumstances is a work of grace. For Paul, imprisoned for Christ and dependent on the gifts of others to meet his needs, he knows that ultimately all that he has comes from God and he is satisfied with that. He knows that his present circumstances and sufferings are because he has been obedient to God. By God's grace, he had found joy in life that went far beyond needs, wants and entitlements.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Why Do You Want to Lead?

Over the past several months, I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading about leadership; what it is, what it is not, how it is expressed. I am concerned that for many, even Christians (and to be honest, even myself at times), leadership tends to be about position, status, power, and the ability to get one's own agenda, dreams or desires moved to the front burner of the organization. Concern that they will not live up to their own potential or find personal fulfillment marks the lives of too many involved in the work of the Kingdom. When you talk to many today, it soon becomes evident that their primary focus tends to be on how they can best accomplish what they believe God has called them to do. It all tends to be so individualistic and, yes, even self-serving. And when change or re-evaluation become necessary in an organization, as they inevitably do, they are often viewed with concern by such leaders principally with an eye on how these inevitabilities might potentially impact on them personally, rather than on how the lives and ministry of others or the organization as a whole might be enhanced. It is almost as if the organization exists to meet their needs and not the other way around. At the very least, they reason, the two are not incompatible.

Perhaps. But if potential and fulfillment are to be priorities for the Christian leader, shouldn't the focus be on how to equip others to reach them? Is not the role of the Christian leader to sacrifice for others, to give of oneself so that others can be all that God would have them to be, to see one's labour as being so much more than the opportunity to personally accomplish something for God? Rather than creating an environment that will best suit his/her own strengths and enable him/her to achieve his/her personal goals, is the Christian leader not called to create an environment that allows others to flourish? To die so that others can live? To deliberately make it possible for others to exercise their gifts and to be all that God would have them to be, to the end that the organization, together, glorifies God by accomplishing the mission to which He has called them corporately to do? To be delighted when others (and especially God) get the credit, the limelight, the advancement?

Leadership is not opportunity to reach one's own potential; it is the privilege of helping others reach theirs.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Breath of Fresh Air in a Sea of ....

On Monday, Christie Blatchford, a columnist for The Globe and Mail, cut right through all of the politically correct reporting and spin doctoring that the RCMP, Toronto police, and much of the media have been doing since the arrest of seventeen terrorist suspects in Ontario last weekend. Finally, a breath of fresh air in a sea of... well, I let you decide what after reading this column:

Ignoring the biggest elephant in the room

I drove back from yesterday's news conference at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto in the northeastern part of the city, but honestly, I could have just as easily floated home in the sea of horse manure emanating from the building.

So frequent were the bald reassurances that faith and religion had nothing -- nothing, you understand -- to do with the alleged homegrown terrorist plot recently busted open by Canadian police and security forces, that for a few minutes afterward, I wondered if perhaps it was a vile lie of the mainstream press or a fiction of my own demented brain that the 17 accused young men are all, well, Muslims.

But no. I have checked. They are all Muslims.

Barely two days after the nighttime raids that saw 15 of the accused arrested (the remaining two, in Kingston, conveniently were already in the joint on gun charges), the great Canadian self-delusion machine was up and running at full throttle.

Why, it's not those young men -- with their three tonnes of ammonium nitrate and all the little doohickeys of the bomb-making trade -- who posed the threat. No sir: They, thank you so much, are innocent until proved otherwise and probably innocent and, if convicted, it's because of the justice system.

It's those bastard vandals (probably crazed right-wing conservatives, or maybe the Jews) who yesterday morning broke windows at a west-end mosque who stand before us as the greatest danger to Canadian society.

As Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who came to the building to offer his assurances that Muslims and Muslim institutions will be protected, said at one point: "Hatred in any form and certainly in its expression in violence and damage to property will not be tolerated."

Thank God: Windows everywhere in Canada's largest city are safe, especially windows in mosques. The war on windows will be won, whatever the cost.

Such is the state of ignoring the biggest, fattest elephant in the room in this country that at one point Chief Blair actually bragged -- this in answer to a question from the floor -- "I would remind you that there was not one single reference made by law enforcement to Muslim or Muslim community" at the big post-arrest news conference on Saturday.

Indeed, law-enforcement types there took enormous pains to say just the opposite: The arrested men are from a diverse variety of backgrounds ("They're students, they're employed, they're unemployed" one official said, which is akin to running the gamut from A to oh, C); they come from all parts of Canadian society; blah, blah, blah.

Even before I knew for sure that they're all Muslims, I suspected as much from what I saw on the tube, perhaps because I am a trained observer, or you know, because I have eyes.

The accused men are mostly young and mostly bearded in the Taliban fashion. They have first names like Mohamed, middle names like Mohamed and last names like Mohamed. Some of their female relatives at the Brampton courthouse who were there in their support wore black head-to-toe burkas (now there's a sight to gladden the Canadian female heart: homegrown burka-wearers darting about just as they do in Afghanistan), which is not a getup I have ever seen on anyone but Muslim women.

And from far outside the courthouse, if the Muslim question wasn't settled, there was the likes of Scarborough Imam Aly Hindy telling the Toronto Star that: "Because they are young people and they are Muslims, they are saying it is terrorism."

Now look, of course it is a good thing that Chief Blair, who is a wonderful guy, made the trek out to Scarborough yesterday.

It's even good that he told local Muslims that their places of worship will get extra patrols and that if anyone wearing traditional beards or the hijab is hassled, the police will investigate and treat it seriously.

The chief is right that now, as in the aftermath of 911 (talk about property damage), that all of us have to be particularly tolerant of one another.

And he is also right that there is a distinction, though in my view it may be a distinction without a difference, between terrorism motivated purely by religious zealotry, and terrorism, as was the alleged case with these 17 mostly young men, motivated by political ideology -- even if the ideology seems to have been nothing more than the ideology of rage fuelled by overseas conflicts.

And it should go without saying -- but it never, ever can in this country, and must be shrieked at every turn -- that this whole business is as at least as distressing to the vast majority of good, peaceable Canadian Muslims as it is to everyone else.

But what came clear at that meeting yesterday, which was an odd mix of community venting and news conference, is that many of those people who went to the microphone to ask questions, and some of those who answered them from the podium, are far more concerned about a possible anti-Muslim backlash to the arrests than they are about the allegations that a whole whack of their young people were bent on blowing something up in the city; that they are generally worked up about Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and the Americans in Iraq, and that even as they talk about Islam being a religion of peace, they do not sound or appear particularly peaceable.

Only one question from the floor, this from a young man, really dared to depart from the convention of deploring the supposed coming anti-Muslim backlash and the idea of Muslim as victim.

He asked what the imams were doing to ensure that the sort of violent views that allegedly motivated the homegrown terrorists were not allowed to "become entrenched in our community."

Sheikh Husain Patel answered him. "It is important we educate our young brothers," he said.
He mentioned a series of conflicts overseas, including Iraq and Palestine, then said: "You cannot justify a legal goal by using illegal means. The politics of overseas should not be addressed in a violent manner in Canada."

That did not ring in my ears as a renunciation of violence per se, but as a renunciation of violence in this country.

I wondered if the answer had satisfied the young man who asked the question, but I lost him in the crowd afterward.

The war on windows, though -- that goes well.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Being Willing to Wait for the Results

We live in a day when we want to see results as soon as possible; a quick return on our investments of time, effort or resources. Otherwise, we move on. Our patience is short, our attention span abbreviated, our loyalties conditional. Long-term "stickability" or the fortitude to wait for God to bring about His purposes in His own time is an increasingly rare commodity amoung Western Christians. "I want what I want and I want it now!" tends to be our mantra.

We forget that God is not bound by our timetable (and not even our lifespan!). He will accomplish His purposes in His own time. In our rush, we neglect to recognize that our calling is not to "do something" but to glorify His name and to enrich eternity, not to bring glory to ourselves and chase after our own priorities. God's purposes often take time, generations even, to come to fruition. Consider even this limited example:

1. A Sunday School teacher in Boston visits one of his students at his place of work, a shoe store owned by the young man's uncle. Edward Kimball goes to the back of the store where his student is stocking the shelves. He leads the young man, D.L. Moody, to Christ.

2. Year later, D.L. Moody becomes an evangelist and leads Wilbur Chapman to the Lord. Chapman becomes one of the next generation's leading evangelists.

3. More years pass. Wilbur Chapman is ministering in Chicago. A gospel wagon, playing hymns and inviting people to one of his Sunday afternoon service, drives by a baseball player named Billy Sunday. Sunday attends the service and accepts Christ as his Saviour.

4. Billy Sunday also becomes an evangelist. During one of his meetings, a young man named Mordecai Hamm becomes a follower of Jesus.

5. Mordecai Hamm later becomes one of the leading evangelists in the southeastern United States. During one of his meetings, a young man and his friend come forward to accept Christ. The young man is Billy Graham.

A line of succession; evidence of God's patient, unfolding plan of reconciling the world to Himself, often unseen or misunderstood but invariably relentless in its forward momentum. And, of course, the line did not start with the Boston Sunday School teacher, nor did it end with Billy Graham. It continues through the lives of those who faithfully and sacrificially serve the Lord even when they can't see the end results and perhaps even won't, at least not until eternity

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Worse

Reports out of Somalia today indicate that Islamist militia claim to have taken complete control of the capital, Mogadishu. It is unlikely that this will mean the end of the violence that has wracked this city. Many residents, however, told reporters that they hoped that a semblance of peace would result as the city's eleven Shariah courts vowed to re-establish order under Islamic law.

For Somalia's tiny Christian population, such a development is, indeed, foreboding. Islamists have gone on record as saying that a Somali Christian is a dead Somali. Christians are forced to worship in complete secrecy and reports of martyrdoms have leaked out intermittently over the past few years from this chaotic country. In our April 2006 newsletter, The Voice of the Martyrs published the testimonies of Somali Christians who had fled to Ethiopia because of the intense persecution that they received from their own families when they accepted Christ.

Remember to pray for our suffering brothers and sisters in Somalia. Please pray for us here at The Voice of the Martyrs, as we seek to find ways to let them know what they do not face this persecution alone.

Monday, June 05, 2006

So, They Aren't Really Muslims, Eh?

This weekend, seventeen Muslim men (most of them in their teens or early 20's) were arrested by the RCMP on anti-terrorism charges in Toronto, Mississauga, and Kingston, Ontario. This particular arrest struck close to my home in that at least four of them had gone to school with my children and one of the older suspects lived not far from my home. This fact, while shocking, is really not that surprising though. One of the young men, my oldest son told me, had been nicknamed "The Terrorist" by some of his classmates back in high school. Another had written in his graduation yearbook last year, "La ilaha illallah... do you really believe in it? You do? Then prove it... Before us there were many... after us there will be none... we are the ones... Allahu Akbar..."

And yet again, Muslim leaders in the Greater Toronto Area are going out of their way to try to convince the populace (and maybe themselves) that violence is not Islamic and that these men, if guilty, are not really Muslims.

How tiresome to hear to say the same old, well-worn excuses and rhetoric being bandied about that we have been hearing since 9/11.

Last summer, following the London bombings, I wrote an article that received considerable attention in which I stated that it is worth remembering that Islam is not a monolithic religion; it is a house with many rooms. As I noted then, claiming that terrorists who engage in their actions with the words "Allahu Akbar" are not real Muslims may provide comfort to politicians, media pundits and a degree of protection to the many moderate Muslims who live in the West who abhor these attacks done in the name of their god. And it may help to maintain civil peace in societies like Britain, Europe, Canada and America with large ethnic Muslim populations. But refusing to acknowledge that these are real Muslims who plan and commit such atrocities is both dishonest and dangerous and serves no one's interest ultimately.

At the time when I originally wrote these words, I suggested that progress will only be made with open acknowledgement by so-called moderate Muslims that this present terrorism is a problem within Islam and their acceptance of responsibility to effectively deal with it, both publicly and privately. I still believe this. I still contend that Islamic religious leaders in the West need to be seen to be actively cooperating with local police and security services and encouraging their congregants to do likewise. To their credit, Muslims in the West often know and appreciate their rights in a free society. Now they must also join all Canadians in accepting the responsibility to maintain such a society. This also includes an active isolation and exclusion of militant elements within their own midst that promote violence and hatred as a means to an end and the public repudiation of teachers of such hatred and violence, identifying them by name. Such civil responsibility must also include refusing to allow mosques to be used as recruiting grounds for militants and counselling parents not to send their children to schools abroad which are known to promote militant Islam. Until the Muslim community in the West begins to do more to actively uproot militancy from their own midst both publicly and privately, the claim that these terrorists are not "real" Muslims will never and should never be taken seriously.

Perhaps most importantly, I still contend that Muslims living in the West must learn to stop making exceptions to and excuses for violence. As David Frum put it in his National Post editorial of July 12, 2005 "It's hard to take a principled stand against al-Qaeda if you privately support Hamas and Hezbollah (in their actions against Israel)." And to cry out the recruitment of young Muslims into militancy would not take place if the West had not stirred Muslim resentment by invading Afghanistan and Iraq is short-sighted rhetoric. Forgotten is the fact that al-Qaeda actively recruited, conceived, strategized, and set in motion the events of 9/11 at a time when the United States and its Western allies were actively protecting Muslims in Kuwait, Kosova, and Bosnia. It was during the Clinton administration that al-Qaeda blew up two American embassies in Africa, first attempted to bomb the World Trade Centre in New York, and began to support militant organizations like Laskar Jihad and similar groups in Indonesia.

To be certain, the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq has contributed to the galvanization of more Muslims against the West and helped convince them of the truth of Osama bin Laden's vision for the world. But we must not forget that the roots of militant Islam go back much further than the beginning of these wars. Al-Qaeda, itself, was founded in the 1980's with the expressed purpose of overthrowing the Saudi monarchy (a goal that remains unchanged). Al-Qaeda has always been quick to invent some excuse or historical injury to justify its barbarism. Today it is Iraq. Yesterday it was Palestine. And if all else fails, bin Laden refers to Andalusia and the loss of Muslim control in Spain to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. Rest assured that in the future, as conditions change, new excuses will arise and new causes will be invoked to justify the unjustifiable.

And if present attitudes prevail, many Muslims living in the West and their sympathizers, will parrot these new excuses and causes, attempting to shift (or at least share) the blame, justifying acts of terrorism or, at the very least, deflecting criticism. Western Muslims (and their supporters) cannot continue to hold to this modus operandi and ever expect their fellow citizens to accept their claim that Islam is a religion of peace.

Theological analysis of Islam aside, I still argue, as I did last July, that no one should be prepared to consider the claim that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance until certain conditions are met:
1. When Western Muslims are prepared to fully embrace living in inclusive, democratic countries governed by the rule of law.
2. When Western Muslims support attempts to transform their former homelands into societies where freedom of religious belief is as welcome there as here.
3. When Christians, Jews, Hindus, and others can openly worship in Saudi Arabia and Muslims can be invited to consider the claims of Christ without fear of imprisonment, torture, and execution.
4. When Muslims can convert to another religion in a Muslim society with the same ease that religious minorities can become Muslims.
5. When Muslim moderates actively work to create Muslim societies around the world where religious minorities can feel safe from violence and retaliation for perceived anti-Islamic actions by fellow religionists, in the same way that they expect protection in the West from acts of vigilante retaliation for the acts of al-Qaeda.
6. When Muslim moderates in Muslim nations actively work to end the discriminatory practice of "dhimmitude" that disguises oppression for protection of religious minorities in Muslim societies.
7. When Muslim moderates in Muslim nations act to make effective legal changes that recognize equal rights under law for all citizens, regardless of gender or religion.

Last July, I expressed my doubt that such conditions would ever be met. I continue to hold to this scepticism for the exactly the same reason; while Islam is a house with many rooms, the entire building rests upon a historical and theological foundation of religious intolerance and discrimination. This places moderate Muslims in a dilemma. While they abhor the violence and the terror done in the name of Islam, they know that they share too much in common with the perpetrators to address the real issues that could put an end to militancy in Islam. How do you begin without dismantling the house entirely?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Uganda Martyrs Day

Did you know that today was Uganda Martyrs Day? Neither did I until I happened across an article on I have reprinted it so that, together, we can remember the courage of these young Christians and imitate their faith.

The Church of Uganda traces its roots to the young men at the court of the king who refused the sexual advances of their king due to their newfound Christian faith. Over half a million people are expected to celebrate this day in Uganda.

Rev Dr Steve Noll, vice-chancellor of Uganda Christian University writes: "The Uganda Martyrs were not really "page-boys," but rather royal courtiers, the king's elite officers. When many of these courtiers embraced Christianity, Kabaka (King) Mwanga came to feel his absolute authority was being threatened. He had learned the practice of homosexuality from the Arab traders and used it as a way of lording it over his inferiors. When the Christians refused, he saw it as one more sign of their treason. So, like the young men of Nebuchadnezzar's court, he decided to put them to the test: renounce the Christian God or die. And their response was the same: "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up." (Dan 3:17-18)"

The Uganda Martyrs

Christianity was very new to Uganda in 1885 when the first of 22 young Catholic converts gave his life as a martyr for his faith.

Catholic Missionaries led by French White Fathers (called White Fathers because of the long white robes worn by the missionaries), taught that both slavery and polygamy were wrong. King Mutesa had tolerated these teachings. When his son, King Mwanga, took the throne at 18, these same teachings led to the persecution and martyrdom of Christians.

To be baptized it was necessary to reject many traditional practices and many Ugandans looked on the young Catholic converts as rebels. The new King, who had, as a prince loved the missionaries, now feared the new religion and hated their admonishment of his behavior.

Joseph Mukasa Balekuddembe was the first Catholic convert to be martyred. Joseph had been a chief advisor to the King and had spoken out, condemning the King's order for Anglican Bishop Hannington's death. The King would not tolerate this criticism from his advisors and ordered Joseph beheaded on November 15, 1885. Joseph proclaimed "Mwanga has condemned me without cause, but tell him I forgive him in my heart."

King Mwanga may have believed that by killing Joseph he would convince other converts to give up their new faith. However, others in the King's service responded not with fear, but faith.

Charles Lwanga was the chief of the 400 pages who were the young men in the service of the King. When Charles learned of Joseph's death he went together with Bruno Sserunkuma, James Buzabalyawo and several others to the White Fathers and asked to be baptized. They escaped from the confines of the palace grounds at night to be instructed, knowing that they were putting their lives in God's hands.

Denis Sebuggwago, who was a servant of the king, was found teaching catechism and was killed on May 26, 1886. Andrew Kagwa who was the bandmaster to the King was also a catechist who had converted his wife and gathered many others to the new faith. Andrew and Ponsiano Ngondwe were beheaded the same day.

As the chief of the pages, Charles Lwanga also tried to keep the young men safe from the King's behavior and this angered the king further. The King's anger and distrust of Catholics grew and he announced that it would be necessary for the pages to choose between their faith and life. He ordered that all the "who prayed" stand aside. Charles Lwanga led the way and was followed by others, all knew what their fate would be.

Tied up, the next day they were forced to walk 12 miles to the hill that would be their place of execution at Namugongo. Gonzaga Gonza collapsed and he and Antanansio Bazzekuketta were killed on the road.

One of the pages, Mbaga Tuzinde, was the son of the chief executioner who tried to hide him. He escaped from his family and joined the others.

Once they arrived at Namugongo, the place of their death was not ready, and they waited for seven days. They were cold and hungry, but despite this they were filled with joy and kept praying the Our Father and Hail Mary. On Ascension Thursday, the drums alerted them that their execution was about to take place. Charles Lwanga was first; then the others were brought out and tied in bundles of three and thrown into the fire, where they kept singing and praising God until they perished.

June 3 is remembered as the Martyrs Day in Uganda, and today Christians travel to Namungongo for celebrations.

The King's intention had been to deter the growth of Christianity, but the martyrdom of these early believers sparked its growth instead. It has been observed in many other instances, that the blood of the martyrs proved to be the seed of faith. Christianity is now the dominant faith in Buganda and Uganda as a whole. The 22 known Catholic martyrs were declared "Blessed" by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. On October 18, 1964 Pope Paul VI canonized the 22 Catholic martyrs during the Vatican II conference. These 22 young men are recognized for their sacrifice and witness of faith.

PRAYER Dear Lord, the Uganda Martyrs were willing to give their lives as witness of their faith in You. Help us to have the same courage and bestow upon us the faith of these martyrs - that we too may live our lives as witness to Your Love for us, and our love of You

Friday, June 02, 2006

When is a Mission Trip Not a Mission Trip?

I have been troubled for some time over the misuse of the phrase "mission trip". It seems to me, that missions has come to mean virtually anything today that Christians do in service of God and others. So it was with interest that I ran across the following article by Jim Reapsome on page 7 of the Winter 2005 edition (Vol. 17, No. 3) of The Evangelical Missiological Society's "Occasional Bulletin." Read it over and tell me what you think. I think that this veteran missiologist (he served as editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly from 1964-1997 and of World Pulse from 1982-1997) has some significant points to make.

Words matter. They tend to shape our thinking and practice. A proper understanding of what "missions" is will largely determine how we carry out the Great Commission in the years to come.

When is a Mission Trip Not a Mission Trip?

Eight senior adults volunteered to go overseas for two weeks to do some repair and maintenance work at a conference center. The Sunday before their departure they stood with their pastor who prayed for them and commissioned them for their missionary assignment. They completed their work satisfactorily and everyone rejoiced at their safe return.

Their experience was far from unique. Thousands of like-minded U. S. Christians have done similar mission trips. The appeal of this kind of missionary service is widespread, not only for seniors, but also for junior high school students and everyone else in between. We lump them altogether as short-term missionaries.

By so doing, we risk blurring the line between biblical missionary service and works of labor and compassion that every Christian should do as part of his normal Christ honoring lifestyle. Help my neighbor build his deck? Sure. Why not? Take a sick friend to her doctor's appointment? Of course. We do these things in our own communities as a matter of course, but no one calls them missions trips. Why then do we call the same kind of work overseas a mission trip? Because we usually do it for missionaries in a cross cultural context. The flight to Bolivia makes it a mission trip because we left home and loved ones to do some work in a culture radically different from our own.

But are those sufficient reasons to qualify painting, building, digging, and repairing as "mission" work? I don't think so. Such activities are valid expressions of our love and commitment to world missions, but in the strict sense, they do not qualify as missionary work. If they do, then everything we do for someone is missionary work. If everything is missionary work, then nothing is missionary work. Why not call them exactly what they are? Work missions, building and repair missions, housekeeping missions, temporary replacement missions, or whatever. The distinction is vitally important if we are to keep gospel proclamation, evangelism, church planting, and discipleship at the heart of what we are supposed to do.

I heard a devoted man talk for half an hour about how excited he was to be part of a team that had gone to Mexico for a week to put the roof on a church. I listened for some clues about what else they had done by way of ministry. Nothing. They could not speak to anyone. They did not hand out Spanish tracts or Bibles. They did not give their testimonies using interpreters.

Did I deny the value of their work? Not at all. Where they an inspiration to the pastor and his people? Of course. Did they do missionary work? I don't think so. Good work, yes; missionary work, no. Theirs was a work mission, not a mission trip.

I hope that I am not straining gnats and swallowing camels. It's important for sending churches and schools to be clear about what they are doing. Some teams can go to Mexico to put a roof on a church: others can go and do soccer evangelism, literature outreach, camp ministries, children‘s work, and so on-with the proper qualifications and training. The latter, it seems to me, are doing missionary work.

The eight seniors believed they were doing a noble service for the cause of Christ-and they were. The conference center needed and benefited from their skills and hard work. They were sent off with their church's blessing and prayers. However, not one of them thought they were doing missionary work. They did the kind of good deeds required of all believers by Jesus and the apostles. They took a step that more seniors should take-a step out of their U. S. comfort zones for the sake of Christ overseas. They learned more about the people being taught and trained at the conference center. The building was improved and their lives were enriched. Hard workers? Yes. Compassionate Christians? Yes. Missionary work? No. Let's keep the biblical and historic definitions clear, so that no one can think that after building a church roof, or whatever, his or her work has fulfilled the extraordinary dimensions of the Great Commission.