Saturday, 31 October 2015

How do our actions demonstrate our beliefs?

'Even a child is known by his actions, whether his conduct is pure and right' Proverbs 20:11

That was our memory verse the other week. We've been trying to explain to the boys that your actions can betray what you really believe and what you really prioritise. So, it is not enough simply to say that you love God, or that you care for others; we need to show that through our actions. It is not enough to say 'God knows my heart', because so often our actions betray our true attitudes.

Having recently moved to an east African city, the aspect of daily life that I struggle with most is the driving. It is as though there are no rules, and every driver has only him/herself in mind. For example, at a roundabout there is no concept of 'giving way to traffic coming from the right'. If you did that, you would never move, and you would receive abuse from the other drivers around you! Instead, you have to inch forward even when it would not be considered technically your right of way. At junctions, similarly, there seems no concept of giving way to others. You go. And if the two lanes of traffic are not enough, you make a third lane, even if this results in an obstruction to oncoming traffic. As a pedestrian, you have to look both ways on both sides of the dual carriageway, as motorbikes will frequently go down the wrong side  in order to get to their destination more quickly. And at peak times, the motorbikes will mount the pavement and show little regard for pedestrians. As I have watched this (I am yet to drive in this city, but walk 5-10 Km daily), I came to reflect on what this shows about worldview. This is a country where about 80% of people would define themselves as Christian. As I watch the driving, I cannot see much evidence of 'love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness or self-control' (the spiritual fruit described in Galatians 5:22). As an onlooker, it seems very obvious that people are seeking short term solutions which are only storing up more difficulties for themselves and others. And yet, to the individual, what they are doing is (probably) the logical and right thing, and it is likely that they have never experienced another way to drive.

As I reflected, I also wondered how a person from here would react to going to the UK. They might find our driving very ordered and calm (perhaps frustratingly so). But what would they see in our general lives which betray the values we claim to hold dear? I imagine that one of the first things that would be seen as shocking is the individualisation of society - here, every driver is out for himself, but family and tribal bonds are highly valued. Back home, most people live life for themselves, for their comfort, their security, their happiness or their fulfillment, often without regard for the impact on their family or wider society. What about the materialism? How many people in the western world are thankful that their family of six have a comfortable two bedroom house? Or are able to eat more than once per day, even if it is the same food every day? How many people are thankful for a simple life, compared to always wanting that little bit more? Nicer clothes, more expensive holidays, bigger homes with gardens, more spacious and powerful cars? Would that seem strange to a person from the developing world?

Those are two examples that I immediately think of on a societal level. And maybe it is easy for some of us to be confident that these are not problems for us. But what about at the level of your own life? What do value most highly? Is it comfort? Popularity? Success? Being seen as a good Christian? Being a model homeschool family? Living frugally? Or using seeing every single thing you have as a gift from God to be held lightly and used for His kingdom?

How do your actions reflect what you prioritise?

'Search me O God and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offence in my ways, and lead me in the way everlasting'. Psalm 139

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Book Review: Everyday Church (Tim Chester and Steve Timmis)

I recently finished 'Everyday Church: mission by being good neighbours' by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. It is an extended study on the first letter of Peter, written to a persecuted and marginalised church, and seeks to challenge the readers to consider how we reach the world around us with the gospel. There were some areas that I found very helpful to consider:

1) We can be tempted to assume some level of judeo-christian heritage influencing worldview

When we move to a new culture, the first few months are spent listening, watching and asking. We want to know what people value highly. We want to know the stories of individuals, and to know what historical and cultural events have influenced their identity and worldview. And then, as Christians, we seek to find ways to interact and engage with this, bringing the hope of the gospel.

But in 'the west', we can easily assume that we know 'our own' culture. We can assume that those around us have the same basic moral compass, and have simply chosen to reject the things of God, or to choose to stop going to church. But in the current generation, there are increasing numbers who never went to church in the first place.

I heard the gospel for the first time aged 17. I had never been in a church, or attended Sunday school, and had been exposed to no  Christian teaching that I can remember. At the time (over 20 years ago now) this was a bit unusual. However, this is increasingly the norm.

We need to stop and take time to consider the prevailing worldviews, values and culture that surrounds us and prayerfully look for ways to engage. Sometimes the best way to do this is simply to listen, and to ask questions

2) Arising from the first point, simply adding more church events and activities may be futile

I know quite a number of Christians who seem to think getting somebody into a church building will have some kind of supernaturally transformative effect. Not only is this an error, but it becomes increasingly difficult to get people to come to church events, because they seem irrelevant. (Of course there will be people who walk into a church and immediately hear and receive the truth with gladness - and this is something we should pray for. But these are few compared to those who would never set foot in a church).

We can assume that people will come in to evangelistic and mission events, but in fact we need to go out and reach out to them instead.

3) People long for real relationship

Western society is increasingly fragmented. One of the best ways to reach people with the truth about Jesus is through building relationships. As we come to understand priorities, concerns, worries and hopes, we come to understand how we can bring the truth to people. (And some simple, practical examples are given). Certainly that has been our experience - so many people are lonely, isolated and long for somebody to take and interest and to care

Think of those around you who do not share your  hope. How can you reach out to them with love?

4) Daily life is full of 'mission' opportunities

Sometimes people can feel that they are too busy for another 'event' or specific outreach activity. Yet when you reflect on your day to day life, you will realise there are many points at which we are interacting with those who don't share our hope in Christ. These can be simple daily tasks - walking to the shops/ work/ the park, playing with our children, taking the car to the mechanic, going to the market, many others (take a moment to consider your life). We don't necessarily need to add extra things, but need to approach every moment with gospel intentionality.

Parents with children in school talk often of the 'school gate' being a mission opportunity; I believe home schooling families also have many daily opportunities to share their faith.

Consider the mission opportunities in your everyday life. Who do you interact with? Where can you spend just a few more minutes with somebody? Is prayer a daily priority?

5) 'By this all men shall know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another'

As Christians we are called to have brotherly love for one another, to see all our resources as gifts from God to be used for His glory, to be generous and hospitable and to open our lives to one another. This is radically countercultural in our individualistic society. Hence as we live in fellowship with one another, others will be challenged to ask for the 'reason for the hope that we have'. The authors are under no illusion that this is always easy - indeed as imperfect humans, real relationships can get messy, can be painful, can require hard work, commitment and forgiveness! But this is in part the power of it all - those in the world might simply give up and walk away, whereas the kind of relationships that the Bible calls us to would not entertain this option.

Challenge: Do you have true relationships with other Christians, or do you simply sit in the same room for a couple of hours every week?

The book moves on to describe an alternative model of church life, where the Sunday service has importance for corporate worship and Bible teaching, but where the true Christian fellowship and shared living takes place within smaller communities. The authors take care to emphasise that this does not mean that church events, mission activities and Sunday services are unimportant, but rather that reliance on these alone will result in missing a large sector of society.

For me, it was a refreshing read. Our aim in all that we do is to share our lives and our faith. I have had times when I have felt very guilty for not going to a particular event, or doing door-to-door outreach (I actually have concerns about that, and it makes me uncomfortable). However, the times when I have really seen people challenged in their faith, or asking the important questions about life, have usually been around our dinner table as we have opened our door and sought to share our lives with those around us. Similarly, reflecting on the area where we lived until recently, we did not have many (?any) of our neighbours attend church with us, but we did have many opportunities to spend time with people, to speak of our faith, and to help people with particular needs.

If you feel frustrated that church can seem irrelevant and disengaged from today's society, I would suggest you read this book.

If you want to use every moment of your life to serve God and help others see the light of His truth, I would suggest you read this book,

If you know you tend to compartmentalise your life into the spiritual and secular, and don't know how to move on from here, I would suggest you read this book

And if you see nothing wrong with the way church 'is done' but are interested in stopping to reflect and evaluate your outreach, then I would suggest you read this book.

Thursday, 15 October 2015


'I know how to be abased and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.' Philippians 4:12

'In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you' 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Currently in the northern hemisphere, autumn is in full splendour. Trees of orange and gold, fresh crisp mornings, warm jumpers, the first open fires of the year, the turning of another year. When I first worked with missionaries as a teenager, one thing that several commented to me was that they missed the seasons most of all, and at that time, I didn't really understand what they meant.

Today in science, the boys had some experiments to do. The book we were using as a guide clearly referred to autumn, and the boys expressed disappointment that we weren't having autumn here. But we went off to the garden anyway, to look at the leaves on the trees and to consider all the different forms of wildlife that were contained within each tree (insects, birds, other animals and so forth). And this was where we had the most wonderful surprise. In our favourite jackfruit tree, there was a lizard shedding its skin. The boys watched, transfixed. At one point the lizard ran onto the grass and then looked lost, so the boys rescued it and put it back into it's 'home'. And we all marvelled at how amazingly created these reptiles are, and rejoiced at the opportunities to see things which we had only read about before. Suddenly, the thought of a chilly autumn day back in the UK melted away and we were able to embrace our surroundings.

I think this is an important principle when it comes to transitions (indeed to all of us as described in an older post, but I am writing from that perspective). There is almost a choice to be made. Do you spend time lamenting those things which you miss, or do you take the time to embrace and explore the things which are new? I miss cheese. I really do (you can get some forms here, but they are very expensive and not all that nice. Previously my husband bought me two pregnant goats one Christmas so that we could try to make our own cheese, but our set-up here doesn't really include space for goats!). I digress... I do miss cheese, and nice wholewheat bread, and a few other things. But here I can easily buy abundant fruit - pineapples, bananas, papaya, passion fruit. It is not yet mango season. The vegetables in the market are fresh, flavoursome and there are some things which we don't seem to have in the UK - several types of dark green leafy vegetable, peanut (or g-nut as they call it here) flour, jackfruit of course. Whenever I feel tempted to bemoan the lack of cheese, I have to laugh because there are so many other delicious things to enjoy here. The bread is not great. But nsima/ posho/ ugali/ whatever you choose to call it is quite nice, and the boys love it.

Similarly, I do miss those fresh blue skied autumn days. And in time, I will miss the long summer nights. We are virtually on the equator here, so the day length does not vary. But there are good things there too. The weather tends to be predictable. It gets hot. In the rainy season, it really rains and you are likely to get soaked. And then it gets hot and you dry off. You don't have to carry a jumper and a waterproof and some sun cream all at once just in case of unexpected changes (and when you are nipping out with young children in tow, this really is an advantage!).

We miss friends. Of course we do. But slowly, slowly we are meeting new people and with the improvement in internet connectivity it is possible to stay in touch better than it would have been five or ten years ago. There is always a balance in a new place - how much to spend time keeping in touch with 'home', and how much to realise that your 'home' has now moved and there are people right in front of you to spend time with, love and care for, share the gospel with, challenge and encourage and so forth. And again, at some level, there is a choice in how we approach things.

Today, I feel like God gave us an amazing blessing and encouragement by showing us that the opportunities here are simply different. Yes, no autumn colours, but awesome, watching the lizard shed its skin.

Maybe you are in transition. Maybe you've moved within the city, within the country or between countries. Let me encourage you to open your eyes and embrace the good things about where you now are.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Are you blessed? Don't feel guilty, but give thanks!

And He said to them, 'Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses' Luke 12:15

As we packed up our life in the UK, the headlines were filled with dreadful stories regarding the refugees fleeing from Syria. So many 'normal', 'respectable' families were leaving all they owned and making tremendously dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea. Weekly there were reports of overloaded boats capsizing and many men, women and children being drowned. As I heard these reports, I was in the process of deciding which possessions to bring in our luggage, which to pack into a 20 foot container, which to store and which to give away. I felt acutely aware of the discrepancy; that I had the luxury of more possessions than I actually need and the financial blessings to enable the shipment, in contrast to those who flee with nothing.

What should our response be? Are there any Biblical principles to consider?

'There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land' Deuteronomy 15:11

'Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give,  willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life'. 1 Tim 6:17-19

'From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked'. Luke 12:48

From these sections, I would draw several principles:

1) In any society there will be those who have more and those who have less. 

2) Rather than feeling guilty about what we have, we rather should prayerfully seek how we can best use these things for God's glory

3) Our confidence and security should never come from our material security, but from our confidence in God

4) We have a responsibility before God to see all things as a gift from Him, to be used for His glory

I think new Christians often feel this way - that they immediately want to sell everything they have and give the proceeds to the poor. Yet this is not usually their calling, and indeed by doing so, they might simply join the number of needy people in the population. Instead we need to consider all things as a gift, and possibly a transient gift.

Indeed, there may be times when it is right to spend slightly more on something in order to serve God more effectively - thinking of our field of work, that could be a reliable laptop computer which enables us to work effectively when we move between sites and countries and when there are powercuts, or a car which tough enough to not require frequent repairs from driving on low quality roads in the rainy season and which is large enough to be able to offer others lifts. Sometimes, the best use of your money (after giving/ tithing) is to spend a little more than you might naturally choose to in order to maximise the opportunities. (We are very frugal as a family, and often find the most efficient and economical approach, so it is quite difficult for us to make these choices. However living frugally can also become a kind of idol, and again requires a prayerful approach).

We don't know what the future holds. When my daughter and I were evacuated by air ambulance seven years ago, I was allowed to pack one small bag. My husband followed the following day with 20 Kg of baggage. But we did not know that we would ever return to our home after that. And you know, that didn't matter at all to us then. We were content to leave it all behind, knowing God was with us and would provide all we needed. Things were just things. Here, we are in an East African country, which at the present time is relatively stable. But other missionary friends in West Africa are facing a military coup and much uncertainty which seems to have come about quite suddenly. We do not know the day or the time when such things might happen. Yes, we are expecting many of our belongings to arrive by ship in a few months' time - books, toys, camping equipment and so forth; but that day might never come. And our desire in having all these things is to be able to serve God well, to encourage others, to raise and educate the boys in a godly way, and to use everything for His glory.

When my daughter was ill, and after she died, some friends expressed a feeling of guilt for having several healthy children. I used to counsel them not to feel guilty, but rather to rejoice in what they had. None of us know what tomorrow might bring, and Jesus tells us quite clearly not to worry about tomorrow. And we are clearly instructed that we are to 'give thanks in all circumstances'.

It might be your material blessings, maybe your health, maybe your family - but please don't feel guilty about the areas where you have been greatly blessed. You may well have friends who would long for what you have, there may be others on your street, in your church, in your workplaces, in your city who are struggling tremendously. May I encourage you to give thanks to God and prayerfully seek how to use His blessings for His kingdom.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Sonlight - a couple of weeks in

Recently I described our first week with Sonlight, and how this was a very positive experience for us. Of course not every day is filled with milestones and celebrations, and I imagine with every family there are days of great encouragement and others which feel like plodding up a mountain through thick mud. As we start our third week, I have a couple of further reflections:

1) The pace. I like the steady, step by step pace. Previously we tended to move more in fits and starts, some days doing a lot and other days very little. I know that one of the great benefits of homeschooling is that you can follow the child's pace, speeding up for areas of interest, slowing down during times of illness, life events or when challenges are faced. I never want to lose that! But what we are noting with Sonlight is that there is plenty more time in the day - so when the children are begging for more of something, we tend to switch to a parallel activity, something which complements and expands what we have been doing, rather than going faster through the schedule. (One big reason we won't change the pace from the schedule is because my husband and I are sharing the schooling, and it is really useful for us to be able to come in and know exactly where we got to the previous day. I appreciate this may be different with other families). I think it also helps the boys to know more clearly what will be expected of them every day - and to be able to see when the task is finished. My middle son has been really thriving on the joy of achieving new things and stretching himself - this has been a real joy to see.

2) The potential to go off on tangents remains - perhaps one worry I had about following a schedule was that it might be too rigid. However, with a little imagination, there are plenty of activities that can branch out of what you have been reading about. For example, today we made unleavened bread using some unusual flours (corn and millet) - we had been talking about what people would have eaten in early civilisations, and also had recently been reading about the Exodus from Egypt. So we experimented, made plenty of mess in the kitchen, and learnt about different types of flour (ie the absence of gluten, but high levels of protein and magnesium in millet). If you feel you need a bit of inspiration, the Sonlight forums (which are open access - all you need to do is register regardless of whether you have purchased their materials) - have whole discussions about creative activities which can go alongside the Core curricula.

3) Thinking about how useful it is that the whole package - including consumables - is shipped. Here we have no libraries, and it is much harder to just pop to the shops to pick things up. Yes, we are in the city where we probably can find things if we really hunt, but I can see the huge advantages in having had all the materials sourced, consolidated and shipped together particularly for those in remote areas. I would advise friends of mine who are going to low resource areas to consider choosing a curriculum package since whereas the eclectic pieced together 'do it yourself' style which relies on public libraries, museums and art galleries, second hand shops and ebay and good internet simply isn't an option out here.

4) The need to carefully consider 'electives'. One criticism of mainstream schooling is the emphasis on basic literacy and numeracy at the expense of other areas. Home schooling has the advantage of offering a rich, diverse 'feast' for the child, but I can see how if you rigidly follow the Instructors Guide for the core materials, language arts, science and maths, and then consider that 'school is over' that one could fall into the same error. We've taken advantage of being close to the music school and enrolled the younger two boys in a class for 3-5 year olds, and are considering an instrument (or voice?) lessons also. We've found a local home ed sports group on a Friday (which chooses a different sport every term, which is a good idea). We are trying to do some more art once a week (and have some art appreciation materials on their way to us), and we're going to start Rosetta Stone Spanish in a couple of months when the rest of our things arrive. We deliberately decided to focus on the core materials for the first couple of months, to establish rhythm and routine, but I can see the need to be careful to include the electives and to give the boys the chance to develop their interests and talents. I also think having the philosophy that 'education is a life' ensures that you do not compartmentalise your day into 'school' and 'non-school', but rather aim for a seamless continuity of learning.

5) I feel less pressure now that the days and weeks are mapped out. Previously I was always a bit concerned that I might miss a certain area, or might be neglecting certain foundations. I feel I can now spend more time prayerfully considering the whole of our lifestyle, using the curriculum as a basis, but taking a bit longer to look at the Bible, character formation, consolidating things we have covered as we walk along the road, visit the market, do other activities. I feel I am able to worry less and to focus more. (Not everybody would agree with this - my husband never really worried about these things at all! But he does get to benefit from a more relaxed wife, so he will appreciate this aspect).

I'll continue to write about  how things are going from time to time - particularly if there are any key encouragements or challenges. If you are following a curriculum (or have done at some point in the past) - I wonder what the main benefits have been for your family?