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Number 109, Mar / April 2020 ISSN 1837-8447
Your word is
TRUTH Why words count
Introducing FAITH WORDS mini testimonies by Naomi Reed
Why the battle for FREE SPEECH is vital for your witness
Caring for my daughter who does not want to live
MIKE RAITER How the Gospel in Simple English cuts through
Left or Right
MARCH / APRIL 2020
Obadiah Slope SUNDAY SMILES: Obadiah is one of those people who smiles at the communion servers – we stand at St Slopes – and so he could not help noticing the newest staff member has a nose ring. Totally un-noticed it up till now. Your prophet likes it that it was no big thing in hiring her.
News 2 In Depth 3-9 Bible Society 10 Opinion 11-16
TRESPASSERS WELCOME: Obadiah ran into Morling College Principal Ross Clifford at their brand new and very impressive campus near Macquarie University in Sydney. “Debt free” he told me in a very Baptist way (because Baptists are big on independence). But even more impressive was his greeting uni students who had wandered in using it as a quiet study place – “You’re really welcome here and please come back.” With big windows and welcoming architecture this is a college building rather like the kingdom of heaven, compared to a tree in which the birds of the air lodge (Matthew 13). POWER OF THE CROSS: Canberra’s St David’s Anglican, Red Hill manages to be both ecologically and theologically sound with the solar panels on their roof, The Canberra Times reports. Maybe this could inspire other churches with steep roofs, with northerly slopes.
Your word is
Free speech key issue TRUTH for discrimination bill JOHN SANDEMAN Freedom of speech is emerging as a key issue response to the Religious Discrimination Bill (RDB). One set of speech scenarios have received a lot of publicity. They come from a submission by the Australian Discrimination Law Experts Group, legal academics who want the RDB trimmed back. These included: • “An employer telling a transgender employee that their gender identity is against the laws of God; • A childcare provider stating to a single mother that they are evil for depriving their child of a father; • A receptionist at a medical practice telling a person with a disability that they have been given their disability by God so they can learn important lessons; and, • A cafe waiter saying they will ‘pray for your sins’ to a gay couple.” These scenarios – slightly rewritten – featured in an article by Judith Ireland in the Nine papers. Ireland quoted Monash University associate professor of constitutional law Luke Beck warning that parts of
the bill “appear to be motivated by a desire to allow people to be nasty to others.” Responding to the newspaper article, Neil Foster, Associate Professor in the Newcastle University Law School, points out that “neither of the suggested statements are unlawful at the moment, except in one Australian jurisdiction under a much-criticised and idiosyncratic provision. “So to say that the bill will somehow make these things legal to say is wrong – they are already legal.” (The much-criticised provision is Tasmania’s Anti Discrimination Law.) Foster continues: “Let me hasten to add that the fact that something is legal to say, does not mean it morally should be said! But the reality is that, to allow free speech in a community, we all have to put up with things being said that we don’t approve of. “That I don’t approve of these comments, does not mean that they should be illegal.” Foster hits the key issue – free speech. Many lawyers, not Foster, respond to the RDB by suggesting a
Bill of Rights. This is the approach taken by the Australian Human Rights Commission, in their submission, as well as in others. The tension between the freedom to freely talk of religion and a concern about humiliation or offending vulnerable people is captured in the Uniting Church in Australia submission “We are concerned that this clause legitimises the expression of an opinion that may be demeaning and harmful, as long as a case can be made that it is a statement of religious belief, which is itself broadly defined.” Protecting the freedom to express religious beliefs civilly and as part of public discourse is an essential part of maintaining a healthy and functioning democracy.” Freedom of speech, a fundamental human right, is the key issue in the religious discrimination debate. There is nothing more offensive than telling people that Jesus is the only way to salvation – and that you need to be saved. Free speech is an existential issue for Christianity to flourish.
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Australian Worship Top 25 Page 11
Your word is
‘Conversion therapy’ ban to silence prayer? TRUTH JOHN SANDEMAN Three attempts at legislation to ban “conversion therapy” are in process in Victoria, Queensland and the ACT. While Queensland’s draft bill has struck trouble in a parliamentary committee, Victoria’s Premier, Daniel Andrews, has promised to “drag these practices from the dark ages and into the brightest of lights.” The possibility of criminal sanctions for referring people to, or practising, “conversion therapy” on LGBT people has been raised by activists Nathan Despott and Chris Csabs in the Sydney Star Observer.
A common definition of conversion therapy is “any practice or treatment that seeks to change, suppress or eliminate an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” This can include Christian activity such as prayer, sermons or counselling. It includes activity by both conservative Christians who believe LGBT people might change orientation (as the sexual orientation change terminology suggests), and those who want to encourage celibacy. So when Despott and Csabs claim “Australia has the potential to lead the world in eliminating conversion ‘therapy’ and the ‘ex-gay’ and ‘ex-
trans’ movement that lies behind it,” Christians need to examine closely what is involved. The exact form of any new laws is of critical importance, both to conservative Christians and those lobbying for the new laws. “Hyperbolic fear-mongering” was the response from the SOGICE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Change Efforts) Survivors’ community to Eternity’s coverage of its “Survivor Statement,” because we described Christian activities as being targeted. Csabs and others believe this is a mischaracterisation, saying the Survivor Statement does not call for
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the church or individual Christians to change their beliefs, or to stop preaching. But it suggests that conservative theology about LGBT orientation should be removed from the public square. So, a key question is whether new legislation should capture practices (as distinct from beliefs) such as prayer, sermons, Bible studies and pastoral counselling. These practices appear on lists of sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts. In their piece in the Star Observer, Despott and Csabs say: “The question of penalties and deterrents is yet to be fully
debated, particularly the issue of whether there should be criminal sanctions for referring to, or practising, conversion therapy. “Determining what penalties should apply is about protecting the LGBT community and ensuring a clear message is sent to perpetrators …” Taken together, the “conversion therapy” debates and the Federal Religious Discrimination Bill suggest Australia is in need of a discussion about freedom of speech, where the boundaries of vilification, offence and harm lie, the place of religious teaching, and where legislation draws the line.
MARCH / APRIL 2020
Your word is
Meet Jesus in simple English MIKE RAITER Alberto was an accountant and Ana a school teacher. They were visiting Australia to improve their English. They were happy to meet at a church to study English, but from their experience church was irrelevant. At the English Second Language (ESL) class they were stunned by how fresh the stories of Jesus were. For the first time they were encouraged to discuss the Bible and ask questions. They saw the Bible could relate to their lives. Alberto said, “This is the most treasured thing I’ll take back with me. When I return home, I plan to go back to church.” The ESL teacher replied, “Don’t just go back to church but meet Jesus.” Samira is from the Middle East. She came to be with her daughter who’s studying here. She comes regularly to ESL and Bible study. One evening after Bible study Samira said, “I love Jesus. I love his miracles. I see he’s very powerful. But is he God? I don’t think so. But I don’t know. I wonder? So, I keep reading the Bible.” Ying has come to ESL for years. He came to Australia disenchanted with life in his home country. When he first heard the Bible stories, he didn’t believe. Each week he closed
his eyes and listened intently. And each week he “believed a little bit more.” Last year in front of other students, Ying stood up and said, “Jesus opened my eyes to understand that the Bible is true. I went to church to learn more and decided to be baptised.” ESL classes have mushroomed in churches across the country. People come to these classes for different reasons. Obviously, they come to learn English. Even if only here for a few months, they seize this freely provided opportunity. Also, many come just because they’re lonely. They know very few people in Australia and their poor English inhibits making friends. Unfortunately, many have not found the “natives” hospitable. Few have been welcomed into an Aussie home. Thirdly, some come with spiritual hunger. For some years, my wife has been involved in an ESL class at our church. I’ve been thrilled to hear of people’s responsiveness to the stories from the Bible. Each week, students take home a simple English Bible provided by The Bible Society and the Gideons. It seemed to me, and others, that a further resource would be useful – something to help students in the next step in their search for God.
Why not begin with a book that introduces the person who stands at the heart of the Christian faith, the Lord Jesus. I faced three challenges in writing the book. First, I couldn’t take for granted any prior knowledge of Jesus. While some readers would be familiar with the Christian faith, many others would know almost nothing of Jesus. Second, I had to assume that some would have limited ability in English. On the one hand, I didn’t want to write a book that sounded childish. Many of the prospective readers would be educated professionals and they needed to be treated with respect. At the same time, the words and concepts had to be both simple and simply-explained. Finally, as the title, Meet Jesus, implies, the purpose of the book is not just to provide more information. My opening words are, “I want you to meet a friend of mine. He’s someone who wants to meet you.” Meet Jesus is a short book in four sections. The first is “The Early Life of Jesus.” In four brief chapters we look at The Birth of Jesus, The Visit of the Wise Men, the Baptism of Jesus, and Jesus Begins his Work. In the second section we see five examples of “The Words of Jesus,” particularly emphasising what he
taught about salvation. The third section shows five examples of “The Works of Jesus.” In my original version I’d omitted Jesus’ exorcisms. A friend helpfully reminded me that many people from other cultures inhabit a world where belief in demons, spirits and ancestor worship is rife. It is important to demonstrate Jesus’ power and authority over all the forces of darkness. The final, and longest, section is “Jesus Dies and Rises Again.” Here we look at the Last Supper, Jesus’ death on the cross, the forgiveness of the dying criminal, his resurrection, the Great Commission, and the ascension. Each section follows the same format. First, a Bible passage in easy English. Then “Did you know?” where unfamiliar words are explained (for example, a “manger,” “twelve disciples”). Then, “The Meaning of the Story.” Finally, we ask, “Who is Jesus?,” showing how each chapter helps us to better understand who Jesus is and why he came. Each chapter concludes with questions for personal reflection or group discussion. The book concludes with “Where to from Here?” where readers are invited to “meet Jesus.” For decades God has been
bringing the world to us. They’re our neighbours, work colleagues, and fellow students. God calls us to love and befriend them. In easy-to-read English, Meet Jesus has been written to help migrants and overseas visitors come to know Jesus, God’s Son, who loves them and gave himself for them. Bible Society Australia wants to partner with churches running ESL programs within their communities. Alongside the linguistic and social good of welcoming and helping their neighbours, these classes are fantastic opportunities to engage people in the Bible and introduce them to Jesus. Bible Society Australia and Koorong have partnered to make Bibles more accessible – from March 1 till April 5, Koorong will offer a selection of Bibles in 16 different global languages to churches or individuals at 30 per cent off RRP while stock lasts. Michael Raiter is enthusiastic about this project, and has written the Meet Jesus resource to be used by groups and individuals. A free copy of Meet Jesus will accompany all purchases within this BSA/Koorong campaign. Discover the Bibles available: koorong.com/lote-bibles-for-easter (churches) and koorong.com/lotebibles-for-everyone (individuals)
English as a kingdom builder ANNE LIM Although many churches are involved in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), some ministers question the value of this outreach because it doesn’t usually translate into church growth. But according to Marcelle Rodgers, a former missionary who teaches ESL at two Anglican churches in Sydney, it’s an easy ministry for anyone who has a heart for reaching people and loves migrants. “It’s kingdom work. I wish every church was doing it. It’s mission. It’s easy mission because we don’t have to learn a foreign language,” she says. “I look at it like the reverse of being a missionary. Instead of going overseas, you’ve got them here.” She contends that ESL brings more non-Christians into church
buildings than any other outreach. While it’s still necessary to send missionaries overseas, she says, the mission field is also here among people who have moved cultures and would love to make friends with a native English speaker. “Having been a missionary, what becomes really valuable is getting to know a national person and having them as a friend and going to their homes and maybe going to their life events,” she explains. “So, in exactly the same way, there’s people living here in Sydney who would love to know a native English speaker and have them as a friend and mix in their life. “They’re here, they come to us, they’re appreciative, they want something from us – what other activity is any church doing that brings these gospel opportunities? I can’t think of anything. They’ll come again, they’ll come again,
they’ll hear the gospel again, they’re happy to sit through it, they’re not antagonistic.” I was inspired to take up ESL teaching when a church friend revealed that the two hours she taught English to migrants at church were the hardest of her week, and yet the most worthwhile. She was amazed at how little awareness there seemed to be in the church of how fruitful the ministry was. When she said 40 per cent of the students stayed back for the extra hour Bible study, I was deeply impressed. I wasn’t sure I would have the stamina to stay on for a third hour to study the Bible after two hours of English learning. When my friend mentioned that the team was crying out for new teachers because its leaders wanted to take a step back, I felt God touch me on the shoulder and say, “You can do that!”
This is a pressure point in ESL ministry, according to Sarah Brown, an Anglicare regional adviser for cross-cultural services. She says there are many Christians who have faithfully volunteered in this ministry for decades and are now needing to be replaced by younger recruits. At my church, a Bible story is a key part of the lesson and many of my students stay for the optional Bible study as well. One of these is Shimrit, a lawyer from Israel who started attending ESL at St Andrew’s Cathedral 18 months ago, a few months after moving to Australia. At first, she came just for the English classes, “but very quickly the reason became the people. The staff is very welcoming and gives a sense of caring. The fact that the work is done out of a mission is reflected in the lessons and beyond,” she says. Now Shimrit’s best friends in
Australia are people she met at the ESL classes, and she enjoys learning alongside them. “It’s always the best way to make everything more fun.” For Shimrit, coming from a Jewish background, Christianity was a taboo topic, “so the Bible classes have been a great opportunity for me to obtain a deeper understanding of Christian beliefs. Initially what really surprised me was how similar both Judaism and Christianity are, and the teachings of Jesus have definitely resonated with me.” Marcelle believes that while friendships may be transitory, ESL classes provide a really positive experience of life in Australia. “If you go to an ESL when your English is really poor and you learn it through a church, in 50 years’ time you’ll tell your grandkids ‘I learnt English through these lovely people at the church.’”
MARCH / APRIL 2020
E MOORE COLLEGE SPONSORED PAGE 4
A Change in Preaching Culture The John Chapman Preaching Initiative (JCPI) has been a supplementary ministry to the academic programs of Moore Theological College over the past ﬁve years. The Initiative has brought world-renowned preaching trainers – including William Taylor, Bryan Chappell, and David Cook – to work with College students, faculty, and alumni to raise the standard of preaching in our local churches. For too long, criticisms have abounded of preaching that is “faithful, but dull”. Our greatest strengths of rigorous textual engagement and rich biblical theology, can often become weaknesses when we fail to appropriate those strengths for our church audiences. At Moore College, we have been revising the way we train our students, not compromising on the important engagement with Bible and theology, but with how that engagement leads to
faithful teaching and preaching. So, students are taught how exegetical engagement fuels careful exposition. That is, we want to work hard on both getting the Bible text right, and getting the point across. We want students to recognise how theological doctrines aid more careful biblical studies. And, we want students to bring the Bible to bear on everyday issues. Preachers aren’t writing essays, they are leading people to be ediﬁed in truth, amid real life issues, so that they might live as true disciples of Christ. But training at College isn’t enough. Like so many occupations, preachers and Bible teachers need ongoing refresher courses for professional development. They need to revise earlier learning and build on the experience they’ve gained. The JCPI works to provide symmetry between what is taught in the classroom and what is practiced in our church pulpits and other
teaching platforms. By extending training beyond the few years at College to focus on alumni, there is an opportunity to reinforce the ministry philosophy once learned, and to continue to sharpen skills. This helps ministers to serve more faithfully in their current ministries. But it also assists to better train those in their care such as student ministers, apprentices, and other workers on their team. The goal is a changed culture in which preaching ministry continues to improve through and in our churches. In 2020 the John Chapman Preaching Initiative continues to offer opportunities for training. Only a little while ago, Moore College ran an afternoon conference with Nigel Styles, Director of the Proclamation Trust Cornhill Training Course in London. Nigel spoke on ‘Preaching Old Testament Narrative’, and the event was an opportunity for both longstanding and new friends of
Moore College to continue to hear from world-leading trainers in preaching. Having Nigel at this event was especially signiﬁcant. Nigel is regarded by many as one of the most astute and keen trainers of preachers in the UK. He directs one of the premier preaching courses in the world, the Cornhill Training Course, which has been running for nearly 30 years in London. The course is responsible for seeing many men and women equipped to proclaim God’s Word in the UK and all over the globe. Later in the year, the week of 7-11 September, there will be a 3-day preaching retreat for men and women working in full-time ministry. The retreat will be led by Simon Manchester, the newly appointed Senior Mentor for the John Chapman Preaching Initiative. These retreats afford ministers opportunities to receive some input on preaching a particular section of the Bible,
as well as to receive feedback on their own preaching in peer groups. More details will be announced soon. Space will be limited (the last retreat sold out). To register for this event, or for more information, visit: moore.edu.au/events. This initiative represents Moore College’s efforts to continue training the next generation of preachers and Bible teachers to rightly handle the Word of God. It is an important part of the College’s educational philosophy that one never “arrives”; there is always room for learning and growth. The John Chapman Preaching Initiative aims to be a good resource base and catalyst to good growth. Dr Chase R. Kuhn lectures in Christian Doctrine and Ethics and is the coordinator of the JCPI at Moore Theological College, Sydney.
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MARCH / APRIL 2020
Introducing Faith Stories testimonies from Naomi Reed, online on Eternity Instagram and Facebook
Stories that fill up the soul BEN MCEACHEN
Your word is
Photo: Peter Solness
Naomi Reed knows the power of stories and she wants to use it for good. “There is so much in the media at the moment that feeds our negativity or our fears,” explains Reed, an Australian author and speaker with a passion for real, personal tales. “Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could share short stories that fill up our souls?” Aiming to do just that are Faith Stories, a new series compiled by Reed and published by Eternity and Bible Society. Having written a book of faith stories in 2017 – Finding Faith – Reed was inspired to seek out more “ordinary” people and their “extraordinary” stories of God in their lives. “I wanted to keep asking people interesting questions about their faith journeys, and I wanted to keep sharing those stories, with a wider audience. “Stories are powerful because they connect us as human beings,” explains Reed, who began writing as a way to process her own difficulties with being a missionary family in Nepal in the 1990s and early 2000s. Dubbed “Australia’s best chronicler of Christian life” by Eternity editor John Sandeman, Reed has created a series of Faith Stories that capture what she calls “tiny snapshots” of a diverse group of people. From a young woman describing the death of her father when she was a teen, to a man who moved from England to Australia in his 70s – and started going to church – crucial to each person’s story is a Bible verse. “Some of them have described a verse that God showed them years
“Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could share short stories that fill up our souls?”
earlier at their conversion, or through deep challenges, or grief or fear,” says Reed. “Others have described something more recent – a Bible passage that they read this week or at work or while feeding a new baby. “Sometimes, we assume that faith stories are only interesting if they’re dramatic or foreign or larger than life. But we need to hear and tell the stories of how God is at work, through his word and his Spirit, in the ordinary days, while we were reading the Bible over breakfast or on the train to work.” Reed and her husband Darren served several times with International Nepal Fellowship, a medical mission, where they helped train local practitioners with their physiotherapy skills. In 2003, the monsoon hit hard. It was the seventh rainy season the Reeds had experienced; Nepal gets rain steadily for about 120 days each year, starting in June. “So there was a lot of rain and I was home-schooling our three boys on this Himalayan ridge. Without shops or ovals or swimming pools, internet or much electricity or running water. So that was a struggle. But as well as that, there was a civil war.” Bombings, “shoot-on-sight curfews” and strikes were unsettling Nepal, so Naomi was stuck at home all day and night. She started to write “as a means to stay sane” because she felt trapped and had plenty of questions for God. At the same time, she also found
Ecclesiastes resonating with her. Reed was not only struck by the biblical book’s expression of how “meaningless” our existence can prove to be but also chapter 3’s powerful reminder that everything God does will endure forever – and people should revere him for it. “I just stopped there and paused. That’s amazing; this is God’s world, he is at work, so we respond to him – and we can respond to him through the Lord Jesus.” Reed’s writings about her own faith journey became My Seventh Monsoon, and she was surprised to find that not only did people read it, many wrote to thank her for sharing her personal experience: “Because we connected through struggle, we also connected with the hope that we share – the hope in the Lord Jesus.” Reed wants people to connect deeply with Faith Stories and be “deeply encouraged. “All of them remind us that God is wonderfully at work across the world, speaking to his people, through his word, in struggles and in hardship, as well as in joy and delight – and mundane ordinariness. “Perhaps as we read them, we will see that we’re on the same shared road … Because if God can comfort and enable that lovely 60-year-old lady whose daughter died – and she became the sole carer of her three grandchildren – then God can also equally encourage and enable us in all of our struggles and ordinariness and surprising encounters.” eternitynews.com.au/faithstories
“Good move” “I was 75 when I came to Australia (from the UK). My daughter was already here and she said, ‘Come to Australia for a bit of an adventure.’ So I did. But when I got here, I thought, ‘What have I done? How am I going to manage?’ My daughter lived down a big hill and I had no car. I had to walk up the hill to get the bus, and the bus only came every hour. But then I realised that the church here is a bit like the pub at home – the centre of things. So I joined a church, and then we moved house. I got a car, and now I go to the church right in the middle of the shops. It’s great. They serve the community. For me, that’s what it’s all about. Jesus spoke about compassion in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, ‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you’ (Matthew 7:12). That’s how I try and live. Every day, I read Matthew 5-8 and I go out. I connect up with people and support them. I call them. I meet up with them for coﬀee. I want to be an encourager. And now it’s been ten years since I came to Australia. It’s been a good move!”
“Truth in a refugee camp” “I grew up in Slemani, Northern Iraq. When Saddam Hussein attacked our city, my family ﬂed with everyone else. There was a mass exodus of two million Kurds. The Iraqi army were shooting at us from their helicopters. I can’t tell you about the things I saw. It was a terrible few weeks. Finally, foreign aid agencies arrived in the mountains, distributing tents and food, and after a while, some families began returning to their homes. But I stayed on in the mountains to help. One day, I met a camp manager. He was sitting outside his tent, reading a Bible in Arabic. I had always wanted to read a Bible, ever since I was a child. I’d heard the name ‘Jesus’ mentioned in conversation. When I’d asked my mother about Jesus, she knew nothing. When I was at university in another city I took some friends to visit an old church. No-one spoke to us about Jesus. So, I asked the camp manager if I could borrow his Bible. He said yes, and I began reading Matthew. I got up to chapter 6, and something happened. I had grown up with a Muslim background, where people prayed in a memorised way, or for show. But in Matthew 6, Jesus said, ‘when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you’ (verse 6). It was true. I knew for the ﬁrst time I could pray to God, and he would hear me. Later some of the other Christians in the refugee camp asked me to join them in prayer. I did, and when they prayed, it was quiet and humble. They didn’t put on a show. That’s what convinced me the Bible is true.”
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MARCH / APRIL 2020
Bringing the Bible to all KALEY PAYNE When John Harris walks into the library at St Mark’s National Theological Centre in Canberra, he is in his natural habitat. He spends several days a week here, researching and writing. All who walk past him say hello. Many stop him in the hallways to ask him what he’s working on next. Because, there’s always a “next” for John Harris, a Bible translation consultant with Bible Society Australia. Turning 80 next year, he has been retired for almost 20 years, but in that time he has done some of the work he is most proud of. He is currently working on a book about Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie, the Governor of NSW from 1810 to 1821, and his wife, who played a significant role in the early colonies in her own right (including establishing the Bible Society in NSW). And he has just overseen the launch of the Auslan Digital Bible Project. About 22 years in the making, the project has translated several books of the Bible into Australian sign language and made them available for free online for the first time. Harris is best known for authoring One Blood, a landmark study of 200 years of Aboriginal encounter with Christianity. Published in 1990, it offered many Australians their first insights into Aboriginal Christianity, and their first exposure to the brutal truth that Christian missionaries played a role in both the best and the worst treatment of Aboriginal people during the 19th century. The influence of One Blood, and the story it told of hope and horror on Aboriginal missions run by Christian missionaries, cannot be underestimated. At the time it was published, Harris was criticised in some quarters for being too sympathetic to the Christian missions, but he says he believed it was important for someone with his background to write the book. Harris’ parents were missionaries to Aboriginal people and Harris spent the first years of his life on an Aboriginal mission on Groote Eylandt, off the coast of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. In the preface to the first edition of
One Blood, he writes, “I have been writing this book for most of my life.” “This is a warts-and-all book written by someone who loves the church, understands mission, knows where it went wrong,” Harris tells me. “It’s written by someone who understands why it went wrong but is willing to say so. And I also saw the good things.” He believes the book played a major role in prompting Australian church denominations to make official apologies to the Aboriginal people. “It was published around the time the churches were really just starting to come to grips with the true impact of the Stolen Generation and all that went on in the early years of European settlement. It was important for people to hear the churches say sorry for their part in that. And, sometimes, to hear the churches say it first. “There was hope and there was sorrow and there was joy. But yes, there was a lot of tragedy and there was a lot of blood. And, of course, the words ‘one blood’, that’s from the old Bible, the King James: ‘God hath made of one blood all nations to dwell upon the face of the earth,’” explains Harris, referencing Acts 17:26. “We are all human; we human beings share DNA. It’s why ‘one blood’ is such a powerful image.” Harris says he spent almost his whole life collecting material for One Blood, and that has not stopped. He is currently working on a third edition, to update the book with all that came after it was first published, including then-prime minister Kevin Rudd’s national apology in 2008. “You become your book – you can’t help it. People introduce me and say, ‘This is John Harris, he wrote One Blood.’ It gave direction to my life, I suppose. The rest of my career was in some way going to be connected with Aboriginal people.” In 2010, Harris was awarded a prestigious Lambeth Degree from the Archbishop of Canterbury – a Doctor of Divinity – in recognition of his “outstanding contribution as a Bible scholar and translator, his advocacy on behalf of Aboriginal Australians and his unstinting endeavours to raise awareness
of Indigenous issues within the church and the wider Australian community.” The degree, which Harris rolls out over his dining table in his Canberra home, is certainly a source of pride – an affirmation of a life of service. Yet some of the things John Harris is most proud of in his life are things he can’t (and won’t) put his name to. After writing One Blood, Harris joined Bible Society – like his father before him – working as director of its translation and text division, responsible for work in Indigenous Australian and Pacific Island languages. “You don’t put people’s names on Bible translations. It’s the word of God – not my words. You never have a translator’s name on it,” he tells me matter-of-factly. Harris says of all the translation projects he has been a part of – and there are dozens – working with the Nyoongar people of Western Australia on their Bible has had the greatest impact on him. In his capacity as head of Bible Society’s translation team, Harris was approached by Nyoongar women Vivienne Sahanna and Lorna Little. They asked for help translating the Lord’s Prayer into their language so they could take copies of it on little cards into a local prison, where Vivienne visited the many Aboriginal inmates. “She told me that there are angry men in the jail who would never talk to a Christian about Christian things. But she said they all took a copy of the Lord’s Prayer in Nyoongar.” That was, in part, because of the rarity of finding written materials in their own language. But also, says John, because the Lord’s Prayer in Nyoongar was a symbol of respect. “It told them their language was real, that it mattered. And the Lord’s Prayer in Nyoongar also said, ‘God speaks your language.’”
People in those communities working on Bible translation projects give their whole lives to it.”
The Nyoongar language is in danger of being lost, says Harris, who has viewed Bible translation work in the language as a “revitalisation project.” Decades of government policy which forbade the use of the Nyoongar language in schools and homes meant a generation of Nyoongar children grew up unable to understand their traditional language. As a result, the Bible translation project in the Nyoongar language has taken decades and continues to this day. The Gospel of Luke was published in Nyoongar in 2014, and work is under way to complete the Old Testament Book of Ruth. It’s work Harris feels so passionately about that he has chosen to continue with it into his retirement. “I’ve only chosen to be involved in [translations] for lonely people in lonely places, wanting the word of God in their village languages. Or damaged people in Perth, like many speakers of Nyoongar, who want the word of God to remind them that God was always present through all the tragedy. People in those communities working on Bible translation projects give their whole lives to it. And it’s a privilege to work with them.” Another such project is the Havai New Testament. Harris has been heavily involved in the translation work for the people of Ambae in Vanuatu for more than 20 years. He was approached by village chief Joseph Mala and Rev. Charles Tari to pick up the work of martyred Australian missionary Charles Godden, who began to translate the Bible into the Havai in the 1890s – the language of the Lombaha people on the northeast of the island of Ambae. Godden was killed in 1906 and the translation work was all but forgotten. It took 20 years to complete the New Testament in Havai,
which was almost entirely done by volunteers who live off the produce of their gardens and livestock that they kept in jungle clearings. “Often the only time they found to work on Bible translation was late at night by candlelight or hurricane lantern,” says Harris. Havai is another of those “small languages” in a remote part of the world that Harris has been drawn to for much of his life. Harris travelled to the island several times a year, every year, during that time. “I’ve been adopted there and feel I have family there. I even have a chiefly rank!” John Harris is one of the most passionate lovers of the Bible who I have ever met. For most of his life, he has had a “burning desire for all people to know God, through Jesus.” Such a love was given to him by his parents – Len and Margarita Harris, who served as missionaries with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) on Groote Eylandt before World War II, and where Len began translating the Bible into Wubuy, a language widely understood along the Arnhem Land coast. “My parents, of course, loved the Bible. My father was a Bible translator, and they were great lovers of the Bible. I had an incredibly warm and happy childhood, and the Bible was always there; it was always on the dining room table,” he said. After 50 years as a Bible translator, Harris fears the church today is not as committed to the Bible as it used to be. But one thing is certain for John Harris: as long as plenty of people still need to know Jesus, there’s always more work to be done. “People need Jesus. That’s what we need. And that’s what the Bible tells us. That story needs to be in all of the languages. “It needs to be everywhere.”
MARCH / APRIL 2020
Caring for my daughter who does not want to live PENNY MULVEY It was an ordinary day. My 16-yearold daughter was in the front passenger seat and we were stopped at a red light. It was peak hour. Cars, buses, trucks, bikes streamed by, travelling fast with the green. “I just want to walk in front of that bus,” the voice beside me said. I can’t remember what I said in response. Nine years have passed since that first spoken indication of a young woman articulating her desire for death. Too many conversations about not wanting to live. Sleepless nights. Helplessness. Worry. Fear. Love. Unconditional, unbearable, painful love cascading out of that constantly niggling fear of a precious loved one’s safety. There is no obvious why. It used to distress my daughter that she could not articulate a reason why she felt the way she felt. Most of the mental health education at school always seemed to point to someone having experienced an event, a trauma, something that could explain why they constantly felt flat, sad, full of self-loathing. She seemed to hate herself more for not having a reason. It reinforced her belief that there was something wrong with her. A perfectionist introvert, Molly* did not want anyone to know she was struggling. Nor did we as parents want her mental health struggles to impact her opportunities at school. She put on her super-bubbly, smiling, helpful face and so did we. But when the mask came off at home, the effort of all that false happiness having totally depleted her, the darkness would descend. Looking back, maybe the signs were always there. Mental illhealth is endemic in our society. The pressure for perfection is
everywhere. We are bombarded with advertising, we are told to keep consuming because that seems to be the way we are defined. We are customers, avatars, prospects. As each of us is now viewed as a potential buyer, everything we do, purchase, say, especially in the online space, is helping define whether we are warm, cool or red-hot advocates for that product as we travel down the online marketing funnel. For those of us born with the perfectionist gene, this consumption-driven narcissistic environment must be sheer hell.
Molly is the youngest of three. She has two older brothers. As a preschooler Molly ruled the roost at home. Happy, boisterous, full of fun. Imagine our surprise when we went to our first parent/teacher interview – she was a four-year-old at kindergarten – to discover that Molly did not participate. She sat on the edge and observed. She did not engage in group discussion. She was very reserved. How could this be? This was not the girl we lived with. The perfectionist gene became more obvious when homework was required. Trying to design a creative letter “G” became a source of torture. Nothing was good enough. Page after page ripped out, screwed up and tossed on the floor. Maths – normally done without a moment’s hesitation – when faced with a slightly more difficult question, stirred a flash of anger, a refusal to complete, tears, tantrum, slammed door. An hour later the same homework finished in five minutes. Were these signs of what was to come? Years later, Molly said that she felt she was at her best when she was ten. She wasn’t far off the
research. Pre-pubescent girls are largely untroubled by life. They have the same degree of confidence as boys the same age. Sadly, this shifts dramatically as they move into puberty. Doubt springs up. That voice in the head takes over. No longer are they ready to take on the world. Suddenly they think they are ugly, unlikeable, stupid, fat, and the list goes on. And this negativity, often self-hatred, continues well into their twenties and thirties.
How does a parent hold their child through such dark thoughts?”
Molly is no different to any other woman. Perhaps that negative voice is magnified for those who experience anxiety and depression. Certainly, that voice does not help! However, not every teenage girl wants to walk in front of a bus ... and certainly not regularly. And how does a parent hold their child through such dark thoughts? And when do dark thoughts become suicide ideation (a weird descriptor, but in psychiatric parlance it means anything from thinking about taking one’s life to actually developing a detailed plan). As a person who has known God and been loved by God my whole life, it is to him I turned for wisdom. I might add, not always. And not nearly enough. There were many times I tried to do it in my own strength. Or the two of us together, husband and wife,
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talked despairingly into the night expressing our love and deep-felt fear for our beautiful daughter.
There have been some serious heart-stopping moments on this journey. In my previous job I had two phones – a work phone and my personal mobile. It was just before Christmas 2011 or maybe 2012. I was working for a Christian organisation and we always held a staff Christmas service which included employee acknowledgements. I had been asked to do one of the Bible readings. I left the two phones in my office and was gone from my desk for about an hour and a half. When I came back, one phone had 12 missed calls and the other 15. All from my daughter. And there was one text message. It said “Bye.” Yep. That was my reaction too. My heart racing, I tried to call. No answer. Some deep breathing. What should I do? I called her older brother as he also lived at home. He answered. Hi. I calmly asked if he had seen Molly. Yes, came the response, she is right here beside me. And she’s okay? Sure. Why the nearly 30 missed calls? Apparently, at that moment, Molly was gripped with a desire to walk in front of a different bus. Thankfully, the spontaneous urge passed, and she went home, her brother none the wiser. Me, on the other hand, a nervous wreck! I think that “incident” captures the struggles of a severely depressed teenager. They are more likely to succumb to what seems like a spontaneous decision. A moment of such blackness that the only logical way out for them seems to be to get out of life. For it to be over. To save everyone else from the burden that is them.
I cannot begin to explain the pain, the heartache, of walking alongside someone you love so much, who does not want to be alive. How can this beautiful, intelligent, feisty, opinionated young woman hate life so much that she wants out more often than not? There is no logic to it. She cannot bear the thought of anything happening to those she loves but seems to put herself in an entirely different category. Over these nine years we have had a few very memorable moments, such as an overdose of everyday paracetamol-based medication and a trip to the emergency department in the early hours of one morning. Perhaps you were like me and do not know exactly how dangerous such medication can be when taken in high doses. If too many are taken and the person does not seek help promptly, the body starts to shut down and, by the time they have come to regret their decision, it is too late. The impact of the poison cannot be reversed and they die a slow painful death as their organs fail (about three days). Caught early enough, a blood test is taken to ascertain whether the levels are dangerously high and if so, the patient is administered charcoal to induce vomiting. Molly spent most of her time in the emergency department apologising to us for being such a problem. The minute she took the pills, she regretted her decision, and woke me up. I am forever grateful! She moved interstate for university. Her first two years were spent in college. While on a leadership course I received a call from the college dean. A friend of Molly’s had reported her concern to the college administration that she continued over ...
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MARCH / APRIL 2020
Caring for my daughter who does not want to live thought Molly was a suicide risk, as she was self-harming. Molly was cutting. They called a CAT Team (Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team), which I suppose they had to do. My heart sank. The dean told me that the college could not support suicidal students and if this should happen again she would need to leave. The CAT Team came at 8pm. By that time Molly was exhausted. They took it upon themselves to provide a diagnosis. I was totally stunned. And of course, once your child turns 18, they are an adult and the medical fraternity cannot, under law, give you any information about your offspring. The college made a decision because of their legal obligations that is so much more complex for a parent. While Molly could, in her rational mind, understand why the college did what it did, she also felt betrayed. Her mental struggles were suddenly made public by this one decision. She had worked very hard to keep her anxiety and depression hidden from the world. I, as her mother, understood this. I too, tried to keep it private. But my husband and I were trying to hold her together and hold ourselves together, with no expertise, constantly feeling like we were drowning. We loved her so much. We wanted to wave the magic wand and for it all to go away, but life isn’t like that.
What should I text?
Thankfully our relationship with our daughter is strong. It has never wavered. Molly and I text a lot. Texts that might begin like this: I am an abomination and don’t deserve anything Or I’m not cut out for this world. I’m not resilient enough Or I’m super ready to tap out of this life ma But they aren’t always like that. They can be funny, teasing, worried about uni performances etc. Or even: So I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo recently cause why not ya know, And I think it’s fate or something cause a place just opened up nearby so that’s totally a sign that I should go for it right? My response: No comment on this one darling. Just think about why, what and where. Xxx What a privilege to be invited to be part of such conversations. However, a comment such as “I’m ready to tap out of this life” raises serious alarm bells. How do I respond to that in a text? Well, I dig deep, send up an arrow prayer for
wisdom, hold back a tear or three and write: Do I need to jump on a plane Molly? Are you safe? What made you send that message when you should have been sound asleep? I’m super ready to tap out of this life has a different meaning to I don’t want to be alive anymore. It sounds proactive. Are you starting to be more proactive in your desire for suicide? If so I need you to tell me as you need help. Xxx M: I am safe I promise. Yes I would love to kill myself more than anything right now and it’s definitely concerning but I’m not going to do anything that would hurt you and dad, I promise. It’s just a low that is a bit more persistent than it should be P: Please hang out with friends whom you trust. Feel their love and kindness. You are a beautiful human being and your life is significant. On this Good Friday remember another who died for the world. His name is Jesus and he is my reason for living and doing. Xx P: Would you like some Bible verses to read? M: Thanks Mum. No it’s okay, I have a lot of uni readings to do today.
That voice is a liar. Do not listen to it
I have always sought to affirm Molly, remind her of God’s love for her, to stress that at no point, ever, would her friends and family be relieved if she decided to take her own life. That she is loved, that we would never get over it if she did walk in front of the proverbial bus. The conversations are clear. Look up Beyond Blue if you don’t know how to have such conversations with your own children. We talk about “are you safe?” Find some language that is understood that enables you to check in. Once they are an adult, they make their own decisions. Molly chooses to see both a local GP and a psychologist. She chose to go off her medication after eight years and no evidence of it helping her depression. She did this under medical supervision and we could not be more proud of her for taking such a courageous step. Her depression has not gone away, but at this moment she is grateful to be drug free. Late last year Molly called me clearly distressed. She wanted me to know that she was suicidal. The call was a cry for help. I was in an Uber at the time. Over the course of the next 20 minutes, the driver drove with the radio off, totally respectful of what was clearly a very
difficult call. The voice in her head was relentlessly telling her that she was worthless and everyone would be better off without her. She did not know how to turn off that voice.
I am so grateful that she knew she could call me.”
After nine years and the power of God’s loving wisdom, the concerned mother became the stern one. I addressed that voice. “Molly listen to me. That voice is lying. Are you listening to me? That voice is a liar. You need to know that no one will be better off without you. If you do anything to yourself, your friends and family who love you, will never get over it. Do not listen to that voice. That voice is a liar.” While I am talking to her, my brain is trying to process what I should do. What happens when I hang up? How can I guarantee she will be okay? I try to centre myself? I shoot up that arrow prayer. What happens if I hang up and she goes through with her desire to end her life? She told me she doesn’t have a plan yet, but how can I be sure she won’t? But if I call the police or a CAT Team, she will never forgive me. I will break her trust. But if I don’t do anything and she does suicide, I will never forgive myself. I tell her I cannot hang up until she assures me she is safe. I also tell her she needs to call a friend and get them to come around. She doesn’t want to do that. I reinforce the need. I suggest a male friend who is not studying. She eventually agrees. I ask her to text me when she has done that. She agrees. We eventually hang up. She texts me. Her friend is coming around. I ask her to text me when he arrives. She does. I ask her to ask him to text me. He does. Later Molly tells me that her psychologist told her that she showed great courage in reaching out. I am so grateful that she knew she could call me. She also told me she was glad I didn’t freak out. Thank you, God.
Things I have learned along the way
This is not the everyday. However, as parents of children with a mental illness understand, the black dog inhabits their child every day. And the anxiety about their wellbeing is always there. It never goes away. If they live away
from home, as mine has done, I will do all I can to answer her phone call, no matter the hour or where I am. There are days when we have long text conversations and others where I hear nothing. She has permission not to answer my call if she is not up to speaking. However, as you all know, if they choose not to answer or respond to texts, you start fearing for their safety. So we agreed that if she didn’t want to talk, she would send an emoji just so I knew she was in the land of the living. I did a leadership coaching course a couple of years back, and one of the sessions asked us, what do we carry around in our metaphorical backpack? What is the one thing, either at work or home, that is with us always? We carry it around wherever we go. That is my Molly. I carry her. God carries me and her. I have no choice. I have no control over her life. I have to surrender her to God. I pray that God will keep her safe. But I know there are no guarantees about her safety. And I have realised there is many a time when tears are not far from my surface. Don’t show me too much sympathy or empathy. I might not hold it together. What advice might I have? After years of raising and loving children and being present through the teenage and adult years, I can only say there is no rule book. You can only do your best and sometimes not even that. It’s okay. And don’t be afraid to ask others to pray. We need an army of both earthly and heavenly angels praying over our children. If this story resonates with you, I want you to know that you are among friends. I have learned that it only takes two or three questions to discover that just about every parent of mid- to late-teens into mid-twenties has at least one child who is struggling with their mental health. It might be eating disorders. Drugs. Depression. Various mental disorders. Destructive behaviours. Social anxiety. Gender dysphoria. Self-harm. The list goes on.
And I suspect you, as the parent, feel frighteningly alone. The good news is … you’re not. The bad news is this is an epidemic that is engulfing our young ones. What else have I learned through this? • Keep praying. Ask for wisdom. • This might be a lifelong struggle for my darling Molly. • Stay connected with the other parent. If anything has happened to your partner – death, divorce, separation – find another person you can share this with. • That I have no answers. I cannot solve this. I am not my daughter’s counsellor. • That you can be with a person for 23.5 hours and if that person really doesn’t want to be alive, they can still find a way to end their life in the remaining 30 minutes. What I mean is, don’t beat yourself up. And please don’t accuse a person who is suicidal of being selfish. They cannot control those dark dark feelings. • I am loved unconditionally by my Lord and Saviour. In the end all I can do is love my own child in that same way – unconditionally, without judgement and as much as is humanly possible, to always be available when required. For this is the privilege of parenting. I would not wish away any of this journey. For all of these experiences, struggles, incredible anguish and wonderful highs, they are the joys and tears of being part of my daughter’s life. She might want to wish them away, but that is not for me to say. For that is who she is, every single part of it. The dark, the light, the laughter and the tears. And I am so grateful that she has invited me to share a small part of it. *Real name changed to protect identity. This article was written and published with her permission.
If any material in this story has disturbed you or relates to someone you know, please consider: If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact Emergency Services on 000. Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 is a trusted source of information and support on suicide prevention.
Lifeline: 13 11 14 provides 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services.
Suicide callback service: 1300 659 467 provides free counselling for suicide prevention via telephone, online and video for anyone affected by suicidal thoughts.
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MARCH / APRIL 2020
A divine appointment with Down syndrome
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ” (Isaiah 30:21)
BONNIE BAKER ARMISTEAD Indonesia
he call came at night. The results of the amniocentesis confirmed a 99.99 percent chance that the child I was carrying, our second, would have Down syndrome. My husband and I, each holding a phone to our ear, looked into each other’s eyes as we tried to process the information the doctor had just given us. Down syndrome – what did that mean? Something was going to die that night: either it would be the baby girl that I was carrying, or it would be our dream of serving as overseas Christian workers. In that moment of decision, the years of preparation for mission work flashed before my mind’s eye: four years of seminary training for both of us; five years serving among an unreached people group. How could we have so missed hearing the Lord’s call that he would now pull us off the field like this? Was abortion perhaps an option in our case? And then my brain registered another voice speaking, but it was not the doctor’s voice. This voice spoke to my spirit, my brain making full sense of the words: Honour him, and he will honour you. Though I didn’t know if this was a verse from Scripture, I knew in my spirit beyond any doubt that there was only one choice that could come anywhere near to honouring the God of all life, and that choice was life.
Fortifying a weak theology of suffering
Though I was unaware of it, my personal theology at the time was that if, to the best of my ability, I did everything “right,” (that is, in line with what I perceived was God’s will), then God would protect me from “bad” things happening as evidence of his approval. So here we were, serving among an unreached people group at the uttermost ends of the earth in line with Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8. How could we not be in line with the Lord’s will? What’s more, before leaving for Indonesia, I’d spent four years getting my MDiv after I’d become a Christian in college through the ministries of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. When it came to choices about what I was going to do with my life, I had consistently chosen to act for God and his kingdom. This “crisis” led to some pretty hard feelings towards God. Like Job, I felt betrayed. What had we done to deserve this? Thankfully, unlike with Job, God was not silent during this time of confusion. In my living room where I sat perched every day on a borrowed sofa, facing an empty wing chair, I perceived the Lord speaking to my challenge from Psalm 23:6. “Goodness? How do you see it, Bonnie?” I heard the words spoken emphatically in my mind, “It is because I accept you as my disciple, Bonnie, that I have allowed this child to come to you the way she is. There are many things you don’t understand about my kingdom. Learn from her!” And in this way, the Lord broke through to my understanding. The
Lord was not pulling us off the field by giving us a child with special needs, as I had assumed. Rather, the Lord was deepening our call. Another word for “weakness” could be “brokenness,” and in his book Brokenness: How God Redeems Pain and Suffering, Lon Solomon says, “Brokenness is not an optional experience for the person who desires God to use them in a mighty way. ... [It] has been a critical part of the spiritual preparation process for every man and woman whose life God has ever used.” My first steps in this direction required that God expose and dismantle the radical internal commitment to self-sufficiency and pride that lay beneath the surface of my theological training. Four years in seminary had done nothing to dismantle this. It would take a special child to do that. On 10 December 1999, our daughter, Anna Joy, was born. She was a four-pound, one-month premature baby girl with Down syndrome. She had a heart murmur and a total block between her stomach and intestines that had to be surgically corrected on the third day after she was born.
The burning question
Within two months of Anna’s birth, we felt the first ripple of a breeze blowing in. We received word from our teammates that a new family had arrived on the field who had a seven-year-old daughter with Down syndrome and who was enrolled in the kindergarten class at the Christian international school in our city. Wow! A missionary family had the courage to take a child with a cognitive disability to a developing country! What’s more, this child was enrolled in a regular school! New possibilities began forming: If they could do it, why couldn’t we? Within the week, the call came: “Hello, you don’t know me, but I read your letter in our church bulletin announcing the birth of your daughter, Anna Joy. My name is Barbara, and I’m a social worker, and for the last 20 years I have worked as a parent educator for the Montgomery County Social Services Department. I have worked with many children like Anna and their parents, and have seen how, with early intervention, we are able to help move these children further along in their development than if there were no intervention. But, after 20 years serving as a parent educator, I have come to the conclusion that the bottom line for the success of these children in life is good parenting skills.” My heart skipped a beat. To make sure that I had understood correctly, I repeated back to Barbara, word for word, everything that she had just said, turning her last statement into a question, “And the bottom line for the success of these children in life is good parenting skills?” The voice on the phone said simply, “Yes, that’s right—good parenting skills.” And that was the end of the conversation. To this day, though I have tried to find her, I do not know who this lady was. She was from a supporting church
and felt moved to call us to give her expert advice as a social worker. Her input spoke directly to my burning question: her call was the voice of the Lord to me.
Green light! Wait?
I knew immediately in my spirit that this was the last “green light” from the Lord that we had been waiting for. If good parenting skills and not necessarily the training and resources of experts were mostly what was needed for Anna’s success in life, then we could do that in Indonesia just as well as in America. Rejoicing welled up in my heart. My husband also recognised the Lord was sending us back to Indonesia. And because the Lord was sending us back, we could have confidence he would provide whatever we needed (John 14:13–14). One month to the day of being off medication, we were on a plane headed back to Indonesia. Anna Joy was 6 months old, and our older daughter, Bethany, had just turned 4.
Evidence of God’s grace in weakness
At last, we were “home.” And though I was fragile, I perceived something new pushing up through the broken pieces of my life, and it had to do with the way I related with Indonesians. The invisible barrier of being a wealthy, white Westerner that plagued every relationship I had with my poorer Indonesian neighbours suddenly felt reduced. Of course, in my neighbours’ eyes, I was still wealthy, white and foreign, but on the inside, I was changed.
The education venture
Fast forwarding two years, Anna was accepted into the preschool program of the missionary-affiliated international Christian school in our city. However, by the end of first grade, the school informed us that they did not have the expertise or resources to continue to teach Anna in higher grades. The school administrators suggested that “If you, Bonnie, want to teach Anna yourself and be her aide, we can provide a desk for you in the back of the classroom. I couldn’t appreciate it at the time, but, in essence, the school was offering an innovative partnership: a parent-defined and parent-led mixed model of inclusion/homeschooling, in which Anna participated in the nonacademic life of the class, but I, as the parent, was responsible for Anna’s academic education.
A kingdom catalyst
What I didn’t realise at the time was that my training to become a Special teacher-mum *model used
had begun. Training was on-thejob, starting with my own child. From second grade, I was in the classroom every day with Anna, facilitating her every endeavour to grow socially and academically. Not only did I find I loved this job, I also began to see how interacting with Anna pulled good things out of her classmates. These children were learning how to extend grace to someone who was different from them and who sometimes did things they didn’t understand. Here are a couple of vignettes: One day in second grade, Anna refused to play dodgeball during P.E., so Kirsti, a classmate from Taiwan, marched over to me and demanded, “Why isn’t Anna playing the game?” I explained to Kirsti, “Anna’s favourite colour is red, and only one of the five balls out there is red. Anna would like to throw the red ball, but she can’t get it because the game is moving too fast.” I saw a twinkle appear in Kirsti’s eyes as understanding dawned. Without another word, Kirsti dashed away and made a beeline for the red ball. She captured it and went straight over to Anna, who threw it. This pattern of Kirsti getting the red ball for Anna continued for the duration of the game. My heart soared to see this breakthrough in relationship – a Taiwanese second-grader stepping into acceptance and serving so the disadvantaged might be included. At recess in fourth grade, I saw three fourth-grade boys, two Americans and a Korean, invite Anna to play a game of tag. I immediately suspected the worst, that these boys were looking for a laugh at Anna’s expense, but I waited to see what they were up to before I intervened. The game was nothing like what I feared! These boys slowed the game down and found their fun in allowing Anna to catch them whenever she was “it.” The kindness and gentleness these boys displayed towards one weaker than themselves brought joy to my heart. All these grace-filled interactions could not have happened without proactively educating Anna’s classmates. That job fell to me as Anna’s teacher and advocate. Every school year starting in kindergarten, I taught Anna’s class a devotion using Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and
*model used the Hare. After presenting it, I introduced the concept from Genesis that it pleased God to create creatures both fast and slow. From the animal kingdom, I moved on to the human family and made the same point – some people are fast and some are slow by God’s design. God is pleased with both. It wasn’t just in the expat community that Anna had impact. Indonesians were moved as well. Anna was not able to continue at the international school beyond age eight; it wasn’t working for us to be in the classroom anymore. So, we moved to an Indonesian school that used a Montessori-type teaching method. The founder, Ms Vivi, also wanted to pioneer a Special Ed track as part of her school, and so she personally invited Anna to join. When I attended my first parentteacher conference, Ms Vivi sat in while Anna’s teacher went through her portfolio of achievements. But Ms Vivi wasn’t able to stay quiet for long. I could tell she had something important to say because she had tears in her eyes. “Mrs Bonnie,” she broke in, “we need Anna at our school. Indonesian parents have no hope for children with disabilities, but when they see Anna, that she can read and write, that she loves God and interacts well socially, then for the first time they have a picture of what might be possible for their child.” Ms Vivi named a silent reality for Indonesian parents raising a disabled child – they have no hope. But when they looked at Anna, they were inspired to believe that their child could be more than what was being projected onto them. In Anna, they saw someone who was overcoming her limitations with dignity and grace, and the humanity contained beneath Anna’s Down syndrome broke through to them. That day, I realised Anna, indeed, had a high calling on her life, a call to carry Down syndrome with dignity and grace. Disability in Mission: The Church’s Hidden Treasure by David C Deuel (Paperback, 2019)
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BIBLE @ WORK
Rosaline Khan feels connect to her culture through the Nyoongar language.
Let every tongue confess
Australian Christians want to help their Indigenous brothers and sisters receive God’s word in their own languages. Bible Society Australia asked its supporters what projects they wanted to back in 2020, and supporting Indigenous Scripture translations was at the top of the list. “This work is initiated by Indigenous Christians and done in partnership with them,” explains Bible Society Australia CEO Grant Thomson. “They are the translators, checkers and narrators of audio books.” In south-west Western Australia, Nyoongar was spoken by the 14 clans of the Nyoongar
nation. It is believed that each clan had its own dialect, but now only three are spoken. Fluency is rare. Various Scripture translation projects have helped to “revive” this First Peoples language. Culminating in 2014, after 15 years, the Gospel of Luke was fully translated into Nyoongar. The Nyoongar translation of the Old Testament book of Ruth is underway. Charmaine Councillor leads Nyoongar language classes and Rosaline Khan is one of her students. Rosaline has experienced profound growth in her personal identity and spirituality by learning her mother tongue. “Yeah, I am standing taller,”
reveals Rosaline. “That language has brought me to where I am now. Just saying bits – words here and there – that wasn’t enough for me. “To actually speak it, and even singing songs in Nyoongar, it’s amazing. “The more you learn, and to speak it, you know you’ve got this identity coming. A full sense of belonging. “The language was lost, it was deprived … I think when you get that back, it’s a totally different feeling. Like you’re feeling connected to your culture, to the land.” Mother of four adult children and an eight-year-old daughter, Rosaline feels “proud” when her youngest, Brianna, speaks
words in Nyoongar. Brianna has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum and Rosaline is grateful for her daughter’s ability to focus. Having lost her own mother when she was nine, Rosaline also believes God sent Brianna to help her with being a mum. “I’ve lived a hard life. I came from a broken marriage, I met someone else and [Brianna] is the thing from it,” shares Rosaline. “I think she’s teaching me. “I think God sent her to me because … she’s on the spectrum. So, she has a photographic memory. Now and then she’ll say some Nyoongar words and make me feel proud. But yes, I think she’s teaching me how to love – and all that’s coming from God.”
Rosaline says another “big change” caused by reconnecting with the language of her ancestors is what it has done to her Christian faith. “I think with my Christian life now, I feel like I’m fully grown in that. I feel as though the Lord’s opened doors for me and one of those doors is language. “[I’m] feeling good about it, knowing that I can speak it and pass it on to my kids and my grannies; it wasn’t allowed, back in the days. I was a child back then.” With your support, more Indigenous Christians could be opening God’s word in their words, so they can share God’s love with their communities. Visit biblesociety.org.au/open
Indigenous Christians yearn to open God’s word to their communities. $40 helps print and distribute Scripture in their heart languages. Call 1300 BIBLES (1300 242 537) Visit biblesociety.org.au/yearn
MARCH / APRIL 2020
Australia’s Top 25 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.
10,000 Reasons What a Beautiful Name Praise the Name (Anástasis) Who You Say I Am In Christ Alone How Great Is Our God This Is Amazing Grace Build My Life How Deep the Father’s Love Raise a Hallelujah Living Hope Cornerstone This I Believe (The Creed)
14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.
Glorious Day Great Are You Lord Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) Reckless Love The Lion and the Lamb Good Good Father Come to the Altar Blessed Be Your Name How Great Thou Art Man of Sorrows King of My Heart Only a Holy God
Daniel Thornton leading worship at Strong Nation Church in Windsor, northwest Sydney.
What on earth are we singing? DANIEL THORNTON There’s no question that what we sing as Christians says something about us. So, what have you been singing? Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) is the largest licensor of churches around the world. Churches report the songs they use, and twice a year CCLI releases the results and distribute royalties to song owners. CCLI recently released the April 2019 reporting period data (songselect.ccli. com/search/results?List=top100). So, this is what you’ve probably been singing; it’s short-listed opposite for your convenience. So, what do the 25 currentlymost-sung songs reveal about Australian Christians at this moment in time? They are singing recently written songs, the median year being 2014. The newest on the list, “Raise A Hallelujah” (from the Bethel stable), was only released on YouTube in January 2019, but quickly found its place in the worship sets of churches through the immediacy of streaming media sites. Two other songs have made it into the list for the first time, “Living Hope” and “Only a Holy God.” There are only two Australian producers represented on the list,
Hillsong, of course, and “Only a Holy God” comes from CityAlight out of St Paul’s Castle Hill, NSW. This relative newcomer to the industry is finding a popular niche among mainline churches who want to bridge the gap between hymns and contemporary congregational songs. Six of the top 25 are from Hillsong, a few less than they have historically accounted for. Five songs (or six if you count “Living Hope,” co-written by Phil Wickham and Brian Johnson) are from Bethel, which has become a hub for a collective of worship leaders and artists over the last decade. Wickham has another song on the list, “This Is Amazing Grace.” Among the other North American sources, three songs come from Chris Tomlin/Passion, two of which – “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” and “How Great Is Our God” – have charted highly through CCLI for over a decade. “Good Good Father” could be additionally attributed to Chris Tomlin, since his recorded version (2015) of the original Housefires song gave it a substantial boost in profile. However, the original (co-)writer of the song Pat Barrett has gained his own prominence and has followed up with another globally prominent CCS, “Build My Life.” Rounding out
the North American influence is one song (“O Come To The Altar”) from Elevation Church, which has had a few global contemporary congregational song successes in the past couple of years. Five songs are from the UK, which include four of the oldest songs on the list, “How Great Thou Art” (1949/1953), Stuart Townend’s “How Deep the Father’s Love” (1995), “In Christ Alone” (2001) co-written with Keith Getty, and “Blessed Be Your Name” (2002) from Matt and Beth Redman. The other UK song is also co-written by Redman, “10,000 Reasons,” which has remained as the number one (or number two) song on the CCLI charts for the past five years. The contemporary congregational songs (CCS) no longer in the top 25 include the classics, “Here I Am to Worship” (2004), “Mighty to Save” (2006), and “Shout to the Lord” (1993), all of which have had long and illustrious seasons at or near the top of the CCLI charts. Most songs fit into the category of Praise/Thanksgiving (76%), while 20% are Prophetic/Declarative and 4% are primarily Worship. In terms of the key words and themes across the top 25, “love” is the most common, occurring in 14 songs. There are some interesting ties for
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The second person of the second place. “Darkness,” “heart,” Godhead gets the great majority “name” and “praise” occur in 11 of references and the only direct songs, with “sin” following close address. Fourteen songs (56%) use behind in 10 songs. The notion of “sin” would “Jesus,” thirteen use “Son,” eleven be seldom heard in many use “Lord.” “Christ” or “King” are contemporary sermons, but for both utilised in nine songs, seven some reason it is easier to sing use “Saviour,” and there are a about than talk about. It is a word scattering of other terms including that summarises the general “Lion,” “Lamb” and “Messiah.” In malaise of humanity and provides fact, only two songs (“Good Good a contrast to, and meaning for, the Father” and “Reckless Love”) saving work of Christ. don’t reference or address the “Darkness” provides a similar second person of the Godhead, to find out more panoptic word covering all that while intimate lyrics in CCS are is wrong with humanity and visit the fbbc.org.au overwhelmingly only directed world and is contrasted by a variety to Jesus. There is much more to Jon - 0452 319from 169my analysis, however of words like “hope,” “joy,” “life” and unpack “peace.” These are words firstname.lastname@example.org also you didn’t sign up to read a thesis. Do these observations of appear fairly regularly in CCS lyrics, contemporary congregational along with some less predictable songs represent your faith? They ones, such as “breath(e),” undoubtably represent Australian “forever(more),” “grave,” “heaven,” are seeking a part-time pastor. Christianity at large – a Christianity and “sun.” Youth and Children, they Also of interest is the way Families, in expressed within the broader which these songs address God. culture of consumerism To grow their Ministry with and Eight songs utilise the term “Father” celebrification, yet evidently focused for God, much higher than in on God (Jesus) in their worship. If such songs areHill, discipling years past, even though it’s only a backgrounds in Castle NSW.the church, cultural are you satisfied descriptive term rather thanof a direct peopleChristian from diverse with how you’re being discipled? address to the Father. Twelve songs is a Bible-believing community You have a voice. use the term “God” while “Holy Dr Daniel Thornton is Spirit” is referenced in only one Faith Bible Rev Baptist Church (FBBC) Head of Arts and Director of song, “This I Believe (The Creed).” CLASS (Centre for Learning “Spirit” doesn’t fair much better And Scholarship Skills) at with only one additional reference Alphacrucis College. in “How Great Is Our God.”
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MARCH / APRIL 2020
E BARNABAS FUND SPONSORED PAGE 12
Pushed to the brink in Cameroon
Barnabas is supporting Christians as wave of Boko Haram violence sweeps Far North Cameroon
Boko Haram struck after dark, forming a circle around the village. The gunmen howled and chanted through the night, while some swept through the community breaking into homes – killing, looting, and burning as they went. This was how an eyewitness described one of several terrifying attacks, by gangs of up to 300 Islamist extremists, as they targeted ﬁve rural Christian communities in Far North Cameroon in early January 2020. At least seven Christians were killed in the nightlong raids, and four children were kidnapped, leaving their families distraught. “We don’t know what to do. Pray for those who lost their beloved. Pray also for little children left without even clothes,” pleaded Pastor James when he contacted Barnabas. “Throughout the night I was thinking about the wives and children of those who were killed and how they will start life hopeless, empty-handed, so these families need serious prayer and help,” he said. Pressure on Christians “beyond persecution” Another Cameroonian pastor described the plight of Christians in the rural Far North as an extreme situation “beyond
persecution” that is plunging thousands of Christian families into a humanitarian crisis. Boko Haram began stepping up its attacks on isolated Christian villages in Far North Cameroon in early 2019, in its effort to establish an Islamic caliphate stretching from its base in north-eastern Nigeria across northern Cameroon and other countries of West Africa. The rampaging jihadists have reduced scores of villages to smouldering ruins, looted homes, plundered food stores, stolen livestock and devastated crops. The Cameroonian military are struggling to combat them. The UN estimates that more than 170,000 people, mostly Christians, have ﬂed the violence. Many now “hide out” in the mountains and bush, or travel to a town for safety rather than risk a night in their own beds. “The people had only their eyes to cry” “These attacks led to great fear, psychosis, trauma and panic,” said a local pastor describing the distressed psychological state of survivors. Another contact described how after three died in an attack on Zangola village, “the people had only their eyes to cry.” Children captured and forced to ﬁght Boko Haram often murderously target men, leaving families without a provider or protector. They also abduct boys and force
Barnabas is sending essentials, including food and medicines, to help Cameroonian Christian survivors of devastating Boko Haram violence. them to become “child soldiers”. A 12-year-old boy was brutally hacked to death in Tourou district in November 2019, when he resisted the militants’ attempts to capture him. In a raid on Mbreche village in December, the extremists kidnapped 21 young people – nine girls and twelve boys. Four others, including a girl aged 13, managed to escape. A harvestless year ahead A desperate struggle still lies
COULD YOUR CHURCH TAKE UP AN EASTER OFFERING FOR PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS?
CHRISTIAN VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE IN WEST AFRICA
ahead for surviving families. Last year, throughout the rainy season, people could not farm because of the attacks. “The lack of a harvest will cause long-term hardship for our Christian brothers and sisters in this forgotten part of the world,” said Pastor James. Our practical help lets our brothers and sisters know they are not forgotten by their Christian family Ngaldiyé, a widow displaced
by the violence and amazed to receive aid from Barnabas, prayed in gratitude, “God, You who do not give up on Your children, here I am rescued by people whom I have never known even for one day.” Barnabas Fund has sent food, blankets, sleeping mats and essential hygiene items to help thousands of Cameroonian Christians who lost everything, except the clothes they were wearing, when the militants attacked.
Eleven Nigerian Christians were murdered by militants on Christmas Day. In January alone, another 34 were killed in Nigeria, at least 18 in Burkina Faso and 12 in Cameroon. This Easter, as we remember Christ’s own sufferings and His joyous resurrection, could your church take up an Easter offering for believers in West Africa, who are facing horrendous attacks upon them, with deaths, injuries and destruction of their property and livelihoods? Thousands of Christians, including many widows and orphans, have been displaced by the extensive anti-Christian violence that is surging across West Africa. Barnabas is providing food, clothes and medical care and meeting other needs of destitute and displaced Christians in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria.
You can donate online at: barnabasfund.org/west-africa or by calling (07) 3806 1076 or 1300 365 799 Barnabas Fund Australia is a charitable institution but gifts are not tax deductible ABN 70 005 572 485
PO BOX 3527, LOGANHOLME, QLD 4129 email@example.com
MARCH / APRIL 2020
Loyalty is a dangerous virtue Michael Jensen on faithfulness, loyalty and staying true In all the discussion recently about church leaders who are accused of bullying their staff and their congregations, I kept noticing how often these leaders demanded absolute loyalty from those placed under them. A recent piece about a disgraced leader of a church planting network named “rejection of critical feedback, and an expectation of unconditional loyalty” as part of a style of leadership that has left an intercontinental trail of damage. The thing about loyalty is that it seems like an obviously good thing. And it seems reasonable, if you are working in a team, to expect loyalty from the team members – to one another, to the leader, and to the vision of the team. It’s surely right to expect that a person not sow discord or be a disruptive element. If a team member betrays the trust of the leader or the team, then the team can’t function. It’s treacherous. And the Bible seems to support the goodness of loyalty from two angles – first, in the idea of faithfulness, and second, with the notion of unity. God himself is the model of covenant faithfulness to his people. He is consistent and reliable in his loyalty to them. As we hear in Deuteronomy: “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations …” (Deut 7:9). God is faithful and does not betray his people. This is one of the most profound theological truths of the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we hear the call for the church to express its union with Christ by its own unity.
Jesus prays, in John 17:11: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” The church congregation is called to be a body of Christ, living out of its deep spiritual unity in him (Gal 3:28). And on the flipside, one of the great crimes of the New Testament is dissension and fractiousness. As Paul writes: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offences, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them.” So – God is faithful and we are to be faithful. We are one in Christ, so don’t cause disunity. Isn’t it important to be loyal – especially to our leaders, who have such a difficult job to do? Hold on a minute, though: we need to examine these concepts a bit more closely. Yes, God is faithful when he makes a covenant with his people. He is faithful to them through prosperity and poverty, in their faithfulness but even in their unfaithfulness. But God’s faithfulness does not mean that he overlooks injustice and corruption in them, does it? You only have to read a few pages of the prophets to see that he is fierce against them in their idolatry and their adultery, their greed and their exploitation of the poor. God’s loyalty to his covenant is ultimately his loyalty to himself. Which means he is loyal to his people in the very act of holding them to account where they have broken faith with him. It is in his faithfulness that he both judges them and restores them. When we hear of God “remembering his covenant,” we hear about him doing mercy to his people, and often judging their enemies – “for his name’s sake.” But this is not disregarding their sin, but dealing with it and mending it. What does this mean for loyalty with the church? It means that I can’t, as a Christian leader, require a loyalty of someone other than their loyalty to the faithful God. And their loyalty to me might actually be fully expressed in their pointing out my sin – so that I might be more Christlike. It’s possible, in other words, to be what I would call a “loyal critic.” In parliament, we sometimes talk about the second largest party as the “loyal opposition.” Their job is to hold the government to account – and this is not seen as treachery
but as crucial to the process of government itself. Likewise, it is vital to the life of the church that we are reminded of the standard to which we are called. The loyal critic – which we should all be ready to be – sees where the church or its leader is failing and, motivated by love, seeks its renewal. The Christian leader is never a law unto themselves or a “pope in his own parish.” They are always measured against the standard of the gospel of Jesus Christ – and as a sign that they understand this, should always seek accountability. (Beware the unaccountable leader: they may just think that they are God. Run a mile.) It’s not at all disloyal to hold a Christian leader to account against the standard of God’s word revealed in the Bible. We’re to treat people with grace and to be aware of our own tendency to be blind to our sin, for sure; but it is not an expression of loyalty to a leader to put up with their abusive behaviour. In fact, to speak the truth to their jerkiness with humility is an act of Christian love. If we take a second look at unity, we find likewise that the source and standard for unity is not the leader of the church, but Jesus Christ. We are united in him and by him. We are his body. And the New Testament images for unity do not ask for conformity to anything other than the mind of Christ. While leaders are to be respected, honoured, and even paid, it is not their vision or their ego or their charisma that unites the body of Christ. Christian unity is a
complex unity that does not erase diversity but transcends it. Now, to lead a group of human beings on this basis is not quite the same as leading an army or company. With the military or a business, there is a goal external to the group of people which provides a measure for its performance. Performance – victory in war or the attainment of profit – is critical. The leader’s job is to get that performance come what may. But the church does not exist in that way. It exists to glorify God. Its existence is its own end. The metaphor that best describes it is the family. Its relationships are not simply a function of the task that everyone has for winning a war (say), but rather the relationships are the point of its existence. So the leader is not accountable to achieve a target of some kind but rather to care for the flock – which may of course involve rebuke and discipline, but all with the purpose of making the church more itself, which is more like Jesus. Perhaps the story for our times is the story of Nathan the prophet. As King, David had become a law unto himself. He lolled about in his palace when he should have been patrolling his borders with his men. He demanded use of Bathsheba’s body when he spotted her bathing. He then tried to manipulate the situation to hide his sin from her husband Uriah the Hittite. Only, that didn’t work because of the loyalty of this foreign-born soldier and servant of the king. So David had Uriah killed in battle.
This was thuggish behaviour of the worst kind. David abused his power without regard to the dignity and the lives of others, and without regard to God. But who would challenge him? Step forward Nathan the prophet – one of history’s great whistleblowers. Now, consider for a minute Nathan’s position. It was not as if he had a court higher than the king to call down David. There was no one human higher than the king in terms of law or government. There was no separation of the powers here. There was no tribunal. He only had the word of God. He could only blow the whistle on David to David, and hope that David would recognise his position before the Lord. And so: Nathan stepped into the king’s chamber to tell him the story of an outrage of justice – the theft by a rich man of a lamb belonging to his poor neighbour. The king’s outrage when he hears this story is a beautiful trap – we might say that the king has been shamed by his own virtue signalling. And what results is the deep sorrow and repentance of David. Was Nathan disloyal to David? Not at all. In fact, his act of faithfulness to David in God was far truer than the kowtowing and compliments of many ‘“yes” men. What Christian leaders need today – what the church needs – is more Nathans. Michael Jensen is the rector of St Mark’s Anglican Church in Darling Point, Sydney, and the author of several books.
Are old fashioned values out of fashion? Not many media stories get under my skin. Call it a coping mechanism. But when the Today Show recently trawled up and mocked a Facebook post from an unsuspecting Brisbane mother of four, Brooke Smith, I must say I was rankled. The “offending” post read, I always make sure I don’t go to bed until everyone’s lunches are packed, their clothes are set out for the next day including my husband’s and the house is clean, dishwasher is on and load of washing on. It continues, Sometimes it means I get to bed at 9, sometimes that means I go to bed at midnight but I always get up early (4.30 with husband to make his breakfast and coffee). Dramatic smirks, groans, and dripping sarcasm were the response of all three hosts, as they stuck the
Martyn Iles on modern day expectations of traditional values boot in – not only to Brooke, but also her husband. One asked, “Who does this stuff ?” I think I can answer that.
Good, selfless people who want to serve others do this stuff: people who live for the blessing of others over themselves. Today would praise Brooke if she professed her devotion to her career. But Brooke Smith works for free. She isn’t trying to rise to power somewhere that the world praises. No, she’s given that away for her love of others. The scoffers find that hilarious, mockable and pathetic. Their god is materialism, dollars, status, appearance, success. They talk morning show banality down TV cameras, unable to comprehend that somebody would do something priceless for honourable reasons. Women’s empowerment and equality is often measured by the number of women in boardrooms, the benches in parliament or the Forbes rich list. Labourers and other jobs not considered lucrative,
powerful or glamorous don’t count. The scoffers rage against the patriarchy, seeking political power, financial power and earthly wealth. Some are starting to speak out, including Jordan Peterson, about the false promise of career satisfaction to young women. Truth is, my 30-ish peers are hitting the ejector-seat button in droves, realising there are things that they consider to be far more important. The big law, finance and corporate firms struggle to keep them. Reading through Genesis recently, I was struck by God’s clarity on gender difference; made at different times, from different materials, for different stated purposes. Two names – each a single word – are given to woman – “helper” and “mother.” Cue the feminist brain explosion! We are so tainted by a world of identity politics that I fear we’ve lost
sight of the goodness in that. If you are a helper and/or a mother, never be ashamed of it. It’s a beautiful thing. In fact, mothers and helpers hold a different power – they have the hearts and minds of a generation in their hands. Brooke is no fool. Christ calls us (men and women) to live for others, and in that there is great reward. How precious it is to make a home a place of shelter, belonging, peace, thriving and abundantly giving and receiving love. How precious it is to have children holding you in their hearts all of their lives. Brooke, let them laugh. They’ve got no idea what they’re talking about. Martyn Iles is Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby.
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Setting the Captives Free with Radio The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release from darkness to the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1 Today in India, especially in remote areas, women are facing discrimination, violence, inequality, acts of cruelty, trafﬁcking and indescribable abuse. Girls as young as 8 are tricked, taken and lured into a lifetime of slavery or held captive by their own family members. While struggles and religious restrictions are on the rise in India, FEBC is committed to using radio and other media for both the social and spiritual transformation of young women.
Our purpose is clear – every day we reach out and bring them hope. We believe we can, and will, Set Them Free.
Jaishree, one of the Program Producers at FEBC India, shares how her team bring millions of women hope. “We produce radio shows that speak into the hearts of women being tortured, trafﬁcked, enslaved and suffering domestic violence. We broadcast
into the villages and the cities to reach women who need to hear and be educated. We become a voice for all who cannot speak for themselves. We help set them free.” Nargis* lives in a village of West Bengal. After losing her father at the age of 4, her mother sought shelter in her uncle’s house. Soon after, he began sexually abusing her mother, leaving Nargis feeling like a mute spectator, unable to protect her mother or stop her uncle. Nargis was unaware that soon she too would become prey to her uncle’s desires. When she told her mother of the abuse, sadly, her mother demanded she say nothing, in fear of being thrown out of the house. Nargis’ mother felt she had no choice but for them to remain silent. They both endured years of horriﬁc abuse, and at the age of just 16, Nargis fell pregnant - her uncle ﬂippantly arranging an abortion. Shortly after, Nargis tragically lost her mother. Broken, devastated and with nowhere to go, she continued to endure another 4 years of torture until she completed school. One day she heard an FEBC radio program (Protyasha). The program that day addressed sexual abuse. Nargis immediately felt that this told the story of her life and made contact with the FEBC team who were able to speak to her at length, comfort and counsel her. Over the following months, Nargis was encouraged by the support team to become somewhat independent and begin
Girls as young as 8 are tricked, taken and lured into a lifetime of slavery. a tuition class for children. It didn’t take long for her to have several children from the local villages coming to her for regular classes. She began to earn a good wage and was soon ﬁnancially able to leave her uncle’s house. Today at 28, Nargis has her own home and runs a tuition centre. She is independent and empowered. She remains forever grateful to FEBC and the programs she heard that gave her the guidance and direction to change her life and begin again. Education, empowerment and sharing words of hope, truth and
life are the main priorities. “The radio programs are a platform where women can speak and be heard. We give them the opportunity to reach out and begin to heal the brokenness they have endured. They are learning to raise their voices, because they now understand their worth and a love and hope that never disappoints,” says FEBC producer Jaishree. The number of girls being trafﬁcked in remote areas is dramatically reducing, because they have been educated on how trafﬁckers operate. In the same way, domestic violence has been
reduced because men are also listening to the programs and they are coming to understand that it is not okay. Your support towards FEBC’s programs for women in India can make sure words of unconditional love and encouragement reach the hearts of women at risk or already trapped in slavery. Together we can help ensure future generations of women in India are raised strong, independent and secure of their worth in their Father’s heart. To give a tax deductible gift today, visit www.febc.org.au
*name and village have been changed for protection
MARCH / APRIL 2020
You got woke? You’re welcome!
Justine Toh on how Christianity throws a spanner in the churn of life Without Christianity, Tom Holland writes in Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, “no one would ever have got woke.” It may be a sweeping claim, but it’s one informed by the case the British popular historian makes, over 500 pages or so, that Western civilisation, its values and commitments, are all deeply indebted to the Christian faith. And this also applies, Holland says, to all modern movements advancing the interests of the disempowered. Take #MeToo, for example, which recognises the often disproportionate power between men and women (especially in the workplace), and calls for women to be treated with dignity and respect, and free from sexual harassment. These commitments may seem like touchstones of progressive politics, but the assumptions they rest upon are essentially Christian, Holland argues. Human dignity and value, the integrity of the body, the justice owed to the oppressed: all are indebted to Christianity. “Any condemnation of Christianity as patriarchal and repressive,” Holland writes, “derived from a framework of values that was itself utterly Christian.” All of which means that it wouldn’t be extrapolating wildly to claim that even International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated this month, stands in the long shadow cast by Jesus of Nazareth. To mark the occasion, CPX is releasing a suite of videos that sample some of Christianity’s contribution to the female cause. These snippets, ranging from
under a minute to seven minutes long, draw on raw interview material from CPX’s documentary For the Love of God: How the Church Is Better and Worse than You Ever Imagined – since the insights of more than 50 scholars were just too good to leave on the cutting room floor. In illuminating the ancient world into which Christianity was born, these contributions also highlight the strangeness of contemporary assumptions and attitudes. These scholars reveal the changes ushered in by the Christian revolution whose effects we still feel today. For instance, there’s Lynn Cohick, Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, on what attracted women to Christianity: “Christianity encouraged men to be faithful to their wives. In the Gentile world, wives were to be faithful to their husbands. But husbands could also have dalliances with prostitutes. If they owned slaves, they could also have sexual relations with their slaves. In the Christian family, the husband was to keep himself only for his wife. And that I think was probably good news for Christian wives.” So far, so unremarkable – but only because this vision of marriage became the Western norm. The sexual ethic of the ancient world assumed a Roman patriarch’s entitlement to the bodies of his social inferiors: wives, mistresses, prostitutes and slaves. But the Christian version of marriage required male restraint, as well as the assumption that men should not prey on those weaker than them. And this is why Holland claims that #MeToo has Christian roots. “Two thousand years of Christian sexual morality had resulted in men as well as women widely taking this for granted,” he writes. “Had it not, then #MeToo would have had no force.” In another video, Rodney Stark, the eminent sociologist of religion, declares his surprise “that every woman in the Roman Empire didn’t become a Christian overnight, because the advantages were so great.” For one, Roman girls typically married quite young, whereas Christian women more often married at 18 and had some say in whom they married. Christian women were also protected from abortion, Stark says. No doubt this comment would strike many as peculiar, since abortion – today – is often regarded in terms of women’s choice. But
in the Roman world, men decided if women would get abortions, and the practice was frequently fatal, since it went ahead in a time without pain relief or awareness of germs. “It was a brutal world,” Stark concludes, “and Christianity provided a very secure haven of humanity for people, and it’s not really surprising that that was attractive.” Widows also benefited from the charity of the early church, without which they would be forced to re-marry or fall into poverty, says theologian and philosopher David Bentley Hart: “We find lists of goods collected for distribution to the poor, 75 per cent of [which] are goods for women, women’s clothing, because they were the ones for whom there were no social shelters.” It bears remembering that before there was social security for all, the church provided social security for all. Marriage and family life were not the only domains to become more female-friendly. Women also played a prominent role in the early church, says Lynn Cohick: “you have women who are coworkers of [the Apostle] Paul. You have women who are given deep theological truths by Jesus. You
have these women who are very much a part of the teaching and the leading of the earliest church. That continues, in some way, through the second and third century. You have women who pay the ultimate price, as martyrs, for their faith. And these women are teaching the church. Their words are considered authoritative.” Of course, any praise of the (early) church’s progressive stance on women must also reckon with the ways the church failed to live up to these ideals throughout history. Misogynistic attitudes compete with more positive assessments of women in the writings of the early church fathers. And as the centuries roll on, women will be accused of witchcraft since, according to Catherine Brekus of Harvard Divinity School, witchcraft “is imagined as a women’s crime.” (Stay tuned for more on witchcraft: we have plenty of videos still to release on this topic.) That mixed history means, for Brekus at least, that it’s too simplistic to declare that Christianity is either liberating or oppressive for women. Her answer is worth quoting in full: “The answer is always both because Christianity is multiple. I think we
have to speak about Christianities in the plural rather than Christianity in the singular. Having said that, it is clear to me that Christianity has been a major force for women’s activism, Christianity has been the way that women have voiced their opposition to oppression, and Christian women have argued again and again that God wants men and women to be equal. They make that claim on the grounds of the highest authority possible for them, and that’s the authority of God.” At the end of Dominion, Holland offers a similar perspective as he weighs up Christianity’s influence. “Many [Christians] have themselves become agents of terror. They have put the weak in their shadow; they have brought suffering, and persecution, and slavery in their wake,” he writes. “Yet the standards by which they stand condemned for this are themselves Christian.” The archive is now available at: publicchristianity.org/interviews Justine Toh is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity, host of the occasional series Spiritual Lifehack on ABC RN’s Soul Search and, very occasionally, guest host of ABC RN’s God Forbid.
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MARCH / APRIL 2020
Are we too left or too right? The Right is strong in the “not yet.” God’s in charge, so the urgency to act on issues of justice, like climate change, gun control and refugees tends to dissipate. That can wait until Jesus comes. Billy Graham said in 1981: “I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between religious fundamentalists and the political Right. The hard Right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” At the recent US Presidential Prayer Breakfast, Donald Trump responded to another speaker’s remarks about loving our enemies with an attack on Mitt Romney, the only Republican to vote for his impeachment. He accused the Mormon politician of hiding behind his faith. Where was the outrage from evangelicals? To me, it felt like the prayer breakfast was a celebration of the political “marriage” that Billy Graham feared. Christian faith needs to avoid being captured by “left” or “right.” It must instead go deeper, seeking to preserve those things that need to be preserved while illuminating those things that need changing. Tim Costello is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity and Executive Director of Micah Australia.
Tim Costello why Christianity goes deeper than any ideology At a recent Christian meeting, a pastor told me he was concerned that many young people in his church were becoming left wing. I asked him if he was equally concerned that some of his youth were becoming right wing. He said, “No.” This raised an existential question for me about the politics of Jesus. Why do we Christians often polarise and retreat into differing political tribes? The prophet Malachi stated: “I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and
Jesus said the kingdom of God is here now but not yet in its fullness. Some injustices will remain until he returns. The Left is great on the “now” but its danger is that it challenges the great eschatology of the Christian faith. The view that the light has to happen right now – that it’s possible to create “heaven on earth” in this age – overreaches and lacks humility.
“salt” and light” that the world desperately needs. The Right is like salt – small and necessary. Salt conserves and stabilises our values, just like conservatives at their best want to do. Those on the left prefer Jesus’ imagery of light, exposing what’s in the darkness and fighting for instant change. Salt and light are both qualities that Christians should possess.
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CHILDREN’S MINISTRY CONFERENCE
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