Tuesday, September 24, 2013

GO Retreat

OC's Center for Global Missions hosted its third annual GO Retreat on September 13-14. "GO" stands for global outreach, and the retreat is designed "for students who've gone and those who want to go" on short term mission trips or mission internships.

Though the retreat itself lasted less than 24 hours, we got to spend some quality time with 70+ students at the Central Christian Camp grounds in Guthrie, OK. We especially enjoyed joining our voices with them in singing praises to God - congregational singing in larger groups is something we really miss while in Vanuatu.

The focus for the retreat was Hope, which brought to our attention the fact that we often focus on faith and love, but sometimes overlook the importance of hope. In our breakout sessions in small groups, we shared ways in which we have seen others participate in actions of hope, as well as ways in which we ourselves have taken part in hope-filled actions.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has written a book called The Awakening of Hope, and was the guest speaker at the retreat. He brought with him loads of experience and presented some challenging lessons on looking for and participating in actions that manifest hope.

Shawnda and I thoroughly enjoyed the time with the students. We were even commended by all the "youngsters" for being able to stay up til 1am playing games. This is the first time in our lives that we are viewed as the older ones :).

Something that has struck us from day one at OC is the missions-mindedness of the students. That doesn't necessarily mean they are all planning to be foreign or domestic "missionaries", but that they all have at the forefront of their minds God's mission in their lives. We are blessed to be here, and hope that we will have a positive influence on them.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Missions Chapel

Daily chapel is a regular part of campus life here at OC. There is a "main chapel" everyday in the auditorium, and there are "alternative chapels" that meet on various days once per week. Every Wednesday there is a missions chapel, wherein students, faculty and staff come together to consider mission principles and mission efforts that are taking place in Jesus' name.

I was given the opportunity to speak in last week's missions chapel, and took the time to share with the students and others about how God has provided for us, titling my speech "My Voyage to a Village in Vanuatu." I wanted them to see some of the ways in which God prepared the way and provided the means for us to end up leaving corporate America and ultimately spending 2+ years in a rural, village setting.  I've actually blogged previously about this here if you're interested in some of the details.

I opened my talk by considering Philemon 10,11,15. The fact that the name "Onesimus" means "useful" has always stuck with me, and I've even found myself praying that I could be "Onesimus" in God's plan. Paul says "perhaps..." in v.15 which indicates his belief that God was working things out for Onesimus to live up to his name.  My story would indicate that God has been working things out for our family to be useful in His service in a similar way.

The takeaway for the students, hopefully, was for them to be prayerfully considering how they can engage their gifts and talents to be "Onesimus" to God, and expect Him to provide ways for that to be fulfilled in their life, regardless of whether they are "missionaries" or not.  The world needs Christian businessmen, Christian nurses, Christian engineers, Christian teachers and Christian parents as much as anything! May it be said of us all... "now he is indeed useful."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Traditional Religions

My second lecture was in the college's World Religions class.  They were studying through a unit on traditional religions, and I was asked to come in and talk about Melanesian traditional religions. As is often said, I learned so much more preparing to teach the material than I ever would have being the student.

I opened the lecture talking about how the gospel was originally introduced to Vanuatu, primarily through European explorers (who, upon their "discovery" of a new country, stimulated missionary activity) and returned "blackbirds" (Pacific islanders who were recruited by trickery or kidnapping to work in cotton and sugar plantations in Australia, some of whom eventually returned to Vanuatu).

I then talked about three specific activities that are still very much in practice in Vanuatu, all of which are based in traditional religion. First is the John Frum "cargo cult." The religion's mysterious prophet allegedly came on the scene in Tanna Island early in the 20th century promising locals bountiful gifts of western-style cargo if they would reject the western influence that was beginning to adversely affect their custom ways and traditions. When African-American soldiers reached land in Vanuatu a fews later during World War 2, the locals assumed that the prophecies must be true, as there were indeed "black men" who had access to the cargo (radios, fancy clothes, Coca-Cola, cigarettes, firearms, airplanes, etc). It is said that John is going to return with the coveted cargo on February 15, but the year is unknown. There are still several devoted followers who are expectantly awaiting his return.

Second I discussed the custom called "nangol" or land-diving, which takes place on the island of Pentecost. It has religious overtones in that locals build large towers out of local materials and "bungee-jump" from various platforms in an effort to please the gods and secure a productive yam harvest, with only vines attached to their ankles. I showed a short video clip of the modern-day performance of this ritual in class.

Third I talked about an event that took place shortly after we arrived in Vanuatu, wherein one of the country's active volcanos was causing serious concern in the locals by spewing ash onto crops and homes. Local villagers, some of whom claim to be direct-descendants of the Volcano gods, made a peace offering to these gods in an effort to appease their wrath. A newspaper interview showed that the villagers strongly believed in these animistic gods, and that they were convinced that their offerings (woven mats and pig tusks) were indeed effective.

By way of application, I talked about a few issues that we deal with on a regular basis that have evolved from these types of traditional religious beliefs. I discussed issues such as custom medicine, sorcery and black magic; marriage, fornication and adultery; kava consumption (intoxicant); domestic violence; and land disputes. The gospel has an answer for all these issues, but implementing them has proven to be a challenge as we are cultural-outsiders. In many ways we feel like we are just now "hitting our stride" in regard to dealing with these sorts of cultural issues.

I really enjoyed the topic and sharing about it, and hope that it was beneficial to the students. I told them that my aim in the lecture was to broaden their understanding of the differences in culture throughout the world. Though most of them will likely never serve full time on foreign mission fields in that type of setting, several of them will likely take part in a short-term mission trip or will be a part of a local congregation that is involved in some way in a mission effort in a developing country. I feel like putting everything together like that was beneficial for me as well, and will help me be more effective as we move forward with the work in Vanuatu.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

First Lecture

I got my first lecture under my belt today, filling in for one of the adjunct Bible instructors in his "Introduction to the Bible" course.  It is a leveling course designed for international students who are unfamiliar with Christianity, which covers the story of the Old Testament this semester. The instructor, who himself is originally from Brazil, also focuses a lot on cultural transition in the class (his father was an international student at OC many years ago, and became a Christian then).

By way of introduction, I asked the students to complete the following sentences: My name is...; I am from...; My major is...; I have been in the USA (how long)...; I first heard about Jesus (when)...

I had students from China, Canada, Japan, Sri Lanka, Syria, Ivory Coast, and an American who described herself as an "Army-brat" who grew up throughout the Middle East and Europe. Most of them had heard about Jesus at a young age, but knew little about him.  Two of the students said they knew "Jesus" from American movies (wherein His name is used quite frequently as an expletive - how embarrassing!).  However, three of the girls from China said they had never heard of Him until their first class (last week) at OC.  Wow!  All 18 of them said they plan to return to their home countries upon graduation. I told them that I hoped they would learn a lot about the Bible and Jesus, and that they would take that knowledge along with their education back home with them.

The instructor asked me to talk about Vanuatu in regard to the local culture and our adaptation to it, and why we are in Vanuatu. I emphasized that we are there to introduce people to the Bible, what it says about God, and the way in which we are called to live as we seek to imitate Jesus' example.

The students had some good questions following the presentation. They asked how our extended families felt about us leaving a modern society to live in an under-developed country, what our kids thought about living in Vanuatu, how we heard about Vanuatu (none of them had ever heard of it), and what the weather is like.

I heard a statistic last week that over 80% of international students who come to the US for university leave without having ever been invited into an American home.  I shared that statistic with them at the end of class, and told them that we would love to have them over for lunch or dinner any time.

My 2nd lecture is slated for tomorrow morning in a World Religions class, where I will be talking about traditional beliefs in Vanuatu and how they affect people's reception of and participation in Christianity.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

OC is Home

Our family has lots of "homes", and we can now say that Oklahoma Christian has been added to that list. "OC is Home" is a catchphrase for the university, and we have already been made to feel at home here. The faculty, staff and administration have been very welcoming as we serve in our role as Visiting Missionaries.

I visited several classes the first week of school, most of which I will be lecturing in at some time during the semester. My main role is to make myself available to students who are interested (or might become interested) in foreign missions. We have enjoyed opportunities to get to know students, and hope to have many more. There are actually four current OC students who have visited us in Vanuatu, and it has been fun to catch up with them.

Dr. Carpenter asked me to be a permanent part of his Vocational Ministry class this semester, and I am enjoying getting to know those students every Monday and Wednesday from 2:30 - 3:45. Ministering to others through your vocation is a wonderful thing to think about and plan for.

We are a part of the on-campus group known as Outreach, which is a missions and service organization that meets every other week. It is encouraging to see so many young people who exhibit a servant heart and are focused on fulfilling Christ's mission. 

First Week Follies is a very popular event on campus, in which the faculty performs a variety show for the students and other visitors. Some acts were serious and some were funny, but they all exhibited talent! It was a great evening to be a part of.

I have my first and second guest lectures scheduled for later this week, and am to speak in mission's chapel next Wednesday. More to come...