Sunday, December 30, 2007

Costs, Contributions and Convictions

Early in the year I was in Asia to speak at some leadership conferences. I had not been home for Christmas, I had picked up a fever and over the meal table I had felt so isolated by not being able to speak the local language and chat informally with people. Then, to rub salt in the wounds, I got an SMS message from one of my relatives saying, “It’s nice to be some people jet-setting around the world!”

Early in December I arrived one night at a Kolkata hotel and the manager said, “Who are you? We weren’t expecting you.” I said I had booked online, the money had left my account and here is my receipt number. The manager said he had no room and there was a medical conference in the city so my chances of getting accommodation were slim. This was an early Christmas lesson in the experience of “No room in the inn” but amid my desperation I was counting my blessings that I was not accompanied by a very pregnant wife!

After a wonderful time at a conference e my visa did not come through for the second leg of my visit to India so I re-jigged my return flights and accommodation and headed for home. At Delhi, the plane failed to arrive and after waiting for seven hours when it could have landed the fog descended and people on our flight were stranded without food, water and hotel accommodation for 20 hours.

These have been some of the low points to illustrate a little of the cost of crossing borders and moving into new cultures.

The benefits and highlights have, however, far outweighed the discomfort. There have been many this year who have given of their time and expertise at conferences, graduations, in lectures and in listening. There has been much joy in the giving, new insights in communicating and fascination in thinking through how timeless truths might apply in different and changing circumstances.

Some of the people this year that have been visited by Theologians Without Borders personnel have been living in extremely poor conditions, with few material resources and little of the technology that seems like essential equipment in modern teaching institutions. Some visits have been made to communities that are displaced and detained and among people who lost their passports when they were fleeing for their lives. The warmth of welcome, the joy on their faces, the vibrancy of their faith and the eagerness to learn are gifts that make such a partnership so worthwhile.

Thank You
It has been intentional that Theologians Without Borders would commence slowly, while we sorted out our processes and so as not to raise expectations unnecessarily.

At the end of this year I want to thank you for your interest and support.

In the words of the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, I share with you this affirmation:

“For all that has been—thanks!”
“For all that is to come—Yes!”

Dr. Geoff Pound
(Chair, Coordinating Committee for TWB)

Image: This looks a beautiful place and it is, until one realises that this is home for thousands of people who are displaced and detained.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tales of a Theologian Crossing Borders

I have recently returned from speaking at an annual conference in Manipur, North India. The hospitality was generous and the people were responsive, appreciative and questioning.

I had been asked to give five addresses but this ballooned out and there were several extra things I had to do on the hoof.

I was glad that flights meant that I arrived early and as someone had left a doctoral thesis in my room I was able to learn the story of the coming of Christianity to South Manipur and the development of the Evangelical Baptist Convention (now in its 59th year). I found I could put snippets of the story into every address and this helped me to understand better the people and be both affirming and questioning of their culture.

In 1904-5 during the Welsh revival, Watkin Roberts of Caernarvonshire in North Wales went to these meetings and became a follower of Jesus. To add to his spiritual development he supplemented church attendance with conferences and in 1907 he attended a convention in Keswick and responded to the need for Christian workers in Mizoram, N E India.

When Roberts got to Mizoram he gave out basic medical supplies and literature. A woman in Wales sent him a gift for his own use but he used this to purchase 104 copies of John’s Gospel in the Lushai (Mizo) language. He gave these to every chief in Mizoram but one copy reached the chief in neighboring South Manipur. The chief read the booklet and was entranced. He wrote on the flyleaf these words, before sending the book back to Roberts: “Thank you for this gift. Please come yourself and tell us more about this book and more about your God.” Watkin Roberts took this as a Macedonian Call—‘Come over and help us!’

Roberts arrived in the Senvon Village, South Manipur and taught people for only ten days. Two Manipureans went back with him, became Christians and then he sent then back. The work was far from easy and there was severe persecution.

It was my privilege to share with people over these last few days and to meet people of the Paite tribe whose churches now spread from Manipur to Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Myanmar, Mizoram and even as far as Delhi. The vigor of the churches was impressive and the seminary community was making great strides.

Three things that were important 100 years ago and are necessary today:
* The willingness to cross the borders when one hears the call, ‘Come over and help us’.
* The light and life that comes from the Scriptures.
* The ministry that empowers the locals.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: It was a joy to share in the annual Commencement Service.