Monday, June 12, 2017

An important lesson from a terrible story

As I wrote in February, God has coordinated now as the time for working on primary school material, starting with literacy. We did quite a bit of praying and research to find where to start. We wanted to find starting material from before the 1920s, both because then it would be out of copyright and available for use, but also because that was before many of the modern flaws in education took root. We found the McGuffey Eclectic Readers, which were highly praised and used for many years across America. We were impressed with the rigorous way it builds up reading ability, and pleased to see its designs to teach students good moral lessons from a Christian perspective. We began reformatting them for use in Africa.

Near the end of the first reader, we came across this lesson:

O, what a sad, sad sight is this! A boy with a dunce-cap on his head! Why does he stand there, in front of the school? What has he done? He is a bad boy. He talks and laughs in school. He loves to be i-dle, and does not leam his les-son. Does he not look bad? All the good boys shun him! Do you think a good boy can love a bad one? Can his teach-er love him? I think not. No one loves a bad boy- No one can love those who are bad. This boy tries to hide his face with his hand, for it is red with shame. Can you see his face? Do you see how he tries to hide it with his hand? Poor boy! I hope he will be good, and nev-er have to wear a dunce-cap a-gain. God loves those who are good. If you would please Him, you must al-ways be good and kind.

Oh, my! How did William H. McGuffey, an ordained Presbyterian minister, come to write and publish something like that? How could he have overlooked that God loves us while we are sinners? And if Jesus commands us to love our enemies who do us real harm, surely a teacher can love a troublesome, but helplessly young, pupil! Perhaps this was added after his death by others who worked on the series; I don't know.

We rewrote this story quite a bit to emphasize that God loves us no matter what, and we are to love each other no matter what, although sin still brings shame and consequences. But I take this instance as an important lesson for me as a missionary to remember: we Christians, even professional teacher/ministers, can have huge blind spots in what we say about God, places where we should know better because the Bible clearly states the truth. But somehow, we have a tendency to read over the verses that don't fit with our preconceived notions. A lot of missionary training involves looking at the "blind spots" that have hurt mission efforts in the past, when missionaries doggedly stuck to their preconceived notions they weren't really biblical. Of course plenty of training highlights successes of missions as well, but this I find an important reminder to have humility, to plead with God regularly to give us His wisdom and direction in what we teach and how, that we may not lean on our own understanding.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Why I love SIM

There are so many reasons why I am proud to be a member of SIM. Here are some of the big ones:

  • SIM is holistic. So many missions err in the balance between preaching the gospel and serving people's needs. SIM emphasizes and integrates both. We have evangelists, medical professionals, teachers, business-as-mission entrepreneurs, seminary professors, and even soccer coaches in so many places where they are needed most.
  • SIM is sensitive to learn from the Lord when to stay and when to move on. Some missions come to a field just long enough to get professions and baptisms, and then leave the field, saying, "mission accomplished." Very often in that case, the church in a few years has died or been subsumed in cults. Other missions stay long-term, and then keep sending missionaries to the same field to meet needs there, which hurts the planted church because it keeps them dependent, and it keeps the mission's eyes away from the remaining fields still untouched with the Good News. SIM goes to fields with a long-term commitment, but also takes steps to regularly keep eyes on the frontier, finding new, often difficult fields in which to send missionaries with the love of the Lord.
  • SIM takes care of its missionaries. They keep many checks, counselors, coaches, and resources in place to help us stay physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy.
  • SIM takes accountability very seriously. They not only report to their board and follow the IRS's standards for nonprofits, but are also one of the founding members of the EFCA, and keep their audited financial statements publicly visible online.
  • SIM is passionate. I just read in a newsletter an excerpt from a letter by Walter Gowans, one of SIM's founding members, just before he left for west Africa:
  • When is the time for the opening of this field? My friends, I cannot but believe that, as in other things, so in this, God’s time is now!... Our success in this enterprise means nothing less than the opening of the country for the Gospel; our failure, at the most, nothing more than the death of two or three deluded fanatics. Still even death is not failure. His purposes are accomplished. He uses death, as well as lives, to the furtherance of His cause. After all, is it not worth a venture?
  • SIM is committed to diversity. SIM International and all the ministries that belong to it must have specific percentages of members from the different nationalities which compose SIM. We are also continually working with countries in which we have had a long presence to mobilize missionaries, so we are not just white people going to the majority world, but rather have Paraguayans going to the Middle East, Koreans going to Zambia, Ethiopians going to Sudan, etc. Dr. Bogunjoku, a Nigerian who gave a beautiful talk on diversity while I was at SIM training, is now our International Director!

And I especially love SIM because we are "By Prayer"!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Devotion in the drugery

There have been several times I've started a blog post in the last few months, but the words always ended in a jumble, as my emotions have been too strong to sort out what I even want to say. You can read my latest newsletter for a summary of what's come up lately to make me so.

I will try to add more updates soon, but in the meantime, a good thought I had in response to an email from Engaging Missions:

I've always found that "great devotions" come effortlessly on short-term mission trips--while I'm there, I'm full of anticipation and longing for what God will do, I'm watching eagerly for evidence of His presence. It's "at home" that I tend to lose that, or rather just let day-to-day problems crowd it out. It's so much easier to believe that problems have a purpose and I need to seek God wholeheartedly in the face of those problems when I'm out on mission. At home, it's easier to separate "life" from my mission, and thus bemoan the problems as if they have no purpose but to drive me crazy.

God, please forgive me for forgetting that every day of my life, You are at work accomplishing Your glorious purposes just as much as when I'm in Alaska or Nigeria or Zambia. Let me seek You just as hopefully and urgently when I'm at home dealing with a leaky pipe as when I'm in Africa dealing with a pile of problematic computers.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The time is now

We've always known that to see education that helps transform a whole society, the biggest part will be the primary-level education. For years, though, that wasn't even on the table for us. We knew of a lot of things that were wrong with primary school education, both in the US and in Africa, but we just didn't have the right opening, or the right background, to do anything about it. We'd rather assumed that of the adults we've been training in transformational education, eventually some of them would be called to reform primary school.

Yet at the same time, we knew we've been racing a clock. If we're reading the trends correctly, the web is quickly advancing a new educational system that will make college degrees obsolete, and make secondary school all about becoming able to compete in global exams for certifications in the student's intended field. It will also largely eliminate in-person teachers in favor of everyone learning from webinars, with just a supervisor/assistant in the classroom. This largely depersonalized system will reduce much discipleship opportunities, creativity, and community strength unless we can offer something better before it takes over. It will also subject young minds around the world to the agenda of a few.

Then in 2013, we got our first request for transformational education at the primary school level. It was by teachers interested in our program in Zambia, and so we planned for me to go over there and work with the teachers on it. Well, it didn't work out for me to go, but that was because God had better plans, both for me and the ministry. For me, it meant getting to be in the US to court and marry Kenneth. For the ministry, it allowed more pieces to be put into place. We refined our teacher training to disciple teachers of any discipline, not just computers. We developed aids for running a school with a networked lab so that, with a little more development, teachers can hopefully work with us easily. I got training on relating cross-culturally and on effective church planting. Anthony and I encountered books we worked through that change the paradigm of children's education (particularly, Gutta-Percha Willie by George MacDonald, "Teaching of Arithmetic: The Story of an Experiment" by L.P. Benezet, "The Lost Tools of Learning" by Dorothy Sayers, and The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.

In early 2015 we got our first request for a specific curriculum for primary school students: Christian computer education. I wrote about that here. We developed a year's worth (there's more that can be done), and it has so far been very well-received in Nigeria, as something excellent, fun, and useful to a wide variety of students.

Soon before I left for Nigeria, our Zambia director, Collins Sakalunda, expressed how he was excited about our vision and tactics for transformational education, but was disappointed that it didn't really reach his children's greatest needs. He and his wife had tried several different schools and were not impressed with the academic or spiritual progress their children gained. Couldn't TEN3 help give their children a better education in the core subjects, not just computers?

Well, we told him, we've had an aim to reach that area for a long time, but would need their help to make it happen. So we developed a strategy. We are gathering textbooks from before 1926, both because that makes them public domain, and because that puts them before the era of Dewey and Rockefeller's radical disfiguring of education. I choose the books, Anthony and three other volunteers convert them to a usable format, two of Collins' daughters edit any mistakes in the conversions and make notes of references unfamiliar to them. Then I format them for publishing, and Mrs. Sakalunda uses it to teach their youngest boy, and sends me feedback about how it went. Collins then starts sharing it with fellow pastors and educators, who we hope will work with us to contextualize it more for present-day Africa.

Interestingly, just as we started to make these plans with Collins, partners in Nigeria started telling us that the reading books would greatly help them as well. So many in Africa, even after attending whatever schools are available in their area, are still illiterate but longing to be able to read their Bibles and improve their lives with access to education.

The time is now. Please pray for us as we now tackle the challenge of teaching at the most fundamental level. May we raise up a truly powerful generation that can discern and reason, and that builds all their reasoning on the truth of Christ.