Category Archives: Missions

Zimbabwe

An exciting opportunity has come up.

We have decided to join the team from Covenant Theological Seminary going to the Theological College of Zimbabwe this summer. The trip is basically a six week internship in theological education; 2 weeks learning and absorbing, 2 weeks researching and writing, 2 weeks teaching.

Below I have posted our support letter:

Dear friends and family, 2/28/2011

First of all, thank you for your many years of support and prayers both while we were in Malawi, and now in St. Louis. We are humbled and honored by the overwhelming support poured out on us by you all. We are indebted to the Lord who has joined us all to Christ. We have sent out periodic email updates about our lives, kids, seminary etc. If you would like to receive these, please email me at dfrobbins@gmail.

I am writing you today because of an opportunity that has come up which we are very excited about. Covenant Theological Seminary (where I am studying), is partnering with Theological College of Zimbabwe (TCZ) to offer a six-week internship in theological education. The first two-weeks is spent learning; attending classes, getting to know students and faculty. The next two weeks is spent researching and writing a piece of curriculum in line with some of the classes already in session. The last two weeks is spent teaching the curriculum I will develop in one of the classrooms.

For a long time we have been passionate and committed to joining in the theological education of the African Church. Yet, of the many locales where theological colleges are, Zimbabwe has been ravaged by the harsh economic and political circumstances for the last decade or more. Many have fled the country to find stability, reestablish their life, or to avoid political persecution. This, in turn has meant that the church there has lost many of its people. Without exaggerating the situation, the needs of the body of Christ there are pressing. You can see why we think this opportunity to partner with the faculty of the TCZ is amazing. We not only get to grow and learn, but can actually begin developing relationships with the body of Christ on the ground. TCZ’s mission from the beginning has been to provide biblically-rooted theological education for the local church; this is our passion too.

One big reason we want go is that we may want to come back and teach there long-term after seminary. Right now we want to develop relationships, investigate the culture and work of the college, and see if we would be a good fit. I was able to meet with one of their faculty members, Rev. Craig Jones, while he was traveling the US. His humble spirit and desire to see the church built up were very clear and encouraging. It was also great to hear that the college was founded by and for the benefit of local churches (it is a non-denominational college). These are all things we are looking for.

Of course, (you guessed it), in order to get all of us there we need to raise funds. Airfare is going to be around $6300. We will need to purchase three tickets (Lazarus is free still), each costing about $2100. The living expenses for our family while in Zimbabwe, lost income (and ever present bills for our St. Louis lives) come to a total of about $4400. We, however, are only fundraising for the airfare. If you, our lovely family of supporters, can help us to raise that $6200 we should be able to go, and join with the team Covenant is sending.

The only caveat is that we need to buy the plane tickets real soon. “If you need to buy the tickets so soon, why are we just now hearing about it?” My thoughts exactly; the details have not come together as promptly as I have wanted. Nonetheless, if you are interested in partnering with us, we would ask you to consider how much you would be able to give as a one time gift by March 20th. If you do want to partner with us, please send a check written out to Covenant Theological Seminary, with “World Mission Office – Robbins” in the memo line, to:

Attn: Joshua Hall
World Mission Office
Covenant Seminary
12330 Conway Rd.
Saint Louis, MO 63141

Thank you for your consideration and care for us throughout the years. We would love to chat with you about this if you have any questions or want to hear more. We are very excited about this trip, and hope you will be too.

Warmly yours in Christ,
Dan Robbins (for Bethany, Elijah and Lazarus)

Detroit

I recently read these two articles:

Detroit: The Death – and Possible Life – of a great City

What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones? A nighttime raid. A reality TV crew. A sleeping seven-year-old. What one tragedy can teach us about the unraveling of America’s middle class.

If Bethany’s extended family did not live there, I would have never thought about Detroit. But now, Detroit is on my mental map and I am astounded. I am so for two reasons:

1) I am appalled at how horrible the worst parts of Detroit are. I know that there are good parts, even vibrant portions of inner-city life. But the worst portions are horrible (even St. Louis looks good in comparison). The articles above do a great job in exploring the depths of these situations.

2) There is no PCA church within 45 miles of inner-city Detroit, not to mention the metro area. Here is a great map detailing this (I have heard that the church in Novi, MI recently closed). This does not mean that there is no faithful bible believing witness in that area. But, for our denomination it is embarrassing when in the neighboring Chicago there are around 16 PCA churches. This is not to impugn the motives of the Great Lakes Presbytery; the church plant in Novi is clear evidence that they greatly care. It simply is a continuing need.

We feel called particularly to missions and not church planting. So we are praying that the Lord would raise up someone who cares, and who would be a great fit (especially for an African American brother) for the work of the Lord that is so painfully needed there. Pray with us.

Hospitality and Being a Good Theologian

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I am in the middle of reading a chapter on the centrality of hospitality for the life of a theologian. The author, Max L. Stackhouse, begins by noting that Gregory of Nazianzus offers a list of questions would-be theologians should ask themselves, which follows:

Do we commend hospitality? Do we admire brotherly love, wifely affection, virginity, feeding the poor, singing psalms, nightlong vigils, penitence? Do we mortify the body with fasting? Do we through prayer take up our abode with God? Do we subordinate the inferior element in us to the better…? Do we make life a meditation of death? Do we establish our mastery over our passions…?

This list is great for a number of reasons. One is that piety is central to doing theology. Next, Gregory’s definition of piety is very different from what is commonly in my mind. The issue that the author I am reading picks up on, is hospitality topping the list. Here are Stackhouse’s comments on the relation of hospitality and mission:

As St. Gregory of Nyssa has taught us, God is hospitable. God’s own trinitarian life is not self-enclosed but oen to the other, “making room” for others’ ecistence and dlieght in realtionship with God. it is as God’s guests grounded in the Fathers’ deep generosity, identified as brothers and sisters of the meal-sharing Son, and renewed by the fellowship-creating Spirit, that we may dare to be hospitable, to one another and also and especially to those who are very different from ourselves.

Just so, we will find ourselves involved in mission. Christian hospitality calls us out of our tight circles and familiar cares and directs us outwards – to open up space and to offer a familial welcome to strangers. This missions is grounded in the hospitality of God at the creation … Its hope is the consummation of all of God’s activity of sending and gathering, that feast to which many will come “from east and west, from north and south” (Luke 13:29). And in between, God sends would-be guests to search for hospitality among human beings: “He came to what was his own, and his won people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who blieved in his name, he gave powert to be come children of God” (John 1:11-12; cf. Matthew 10:11-14). Where those gusts do receive hospitality, blessings are exchanged; the rols of host and guest quickly blur (Luke 24:29-31).

(Max L. Stackhouse, Commending Hospitality and “Polishing the Theologian in Us”in News of Boundless Riches: Interrogaiting, Comparing and Reconstructing Mission in a Global Era Vol. 2, Eds. Lalsangikima Pachuau and Max L Stackhouse, (Dehli: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 2007), 236 and 248.)

There are two implications that I think of right away. 1) To do missions is to practice hospitality in the name of your home church with those among whom you live. (Missions takes place by fellowship and takes place in order to increase fellowship). 2) Mothers and homemakers are ministering in one of the most essential ways possible. We often miss the centrality of hospitality because all the buzzwords of individualism (career, success, your path, your direction) cloud us. Welcoming into the home is a picture of welcoming home the prodigal son. What more significance could we want for a ministry?

DFR

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Missions and Money

I have been reading through this very helpful and thorough book. Up till now, he has been walking through the various issues which Missionary Affluence touches. Some times it has been extremely therapeutic to have him clearly name the root issues of my overwhelming guilt since living in Malawi. At other times it is quite provoking and challenging. When I have more time and energy I will post some quotes.

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Missions, Are We Misguided? How Bad?

The following quote is the sort of thing that has been rattling through my head for the last year, and I really don’t know what to do with it. It is discouraging at times, as well as challenging. So any thoughts on it are welcome. Here goes:

Roland Allen (1868 – 1947) served as a missionary in China until 1903. Thereafter … he wrote a succession of books and articles arguing with great persistence that the methods of contemporary mission were not those of Paul. He contrasted what Paul achieved in ten years of work with what modern missions had failed to achieve in a century. Paul could say that in four great provinces he had completed his work. By contrast, missions in Asia were still only at the beginning and no end was in sight. What was the reason for the difference?

As Allen looked at Paul’s missionary methods he saw four decisive points of difference from modern methods.

(a) When, as the result of the preaching of the gospel, a Christian community has come into being, Paul entrusts the whole responsibility to the local leadership and moves on. He does not do what modern missionaries have done; he does not build a bungalow! The new converts are simply “committed to the lord in whom they believed” (Acts 14:23), and the missionary moves on. His work is done.

(b) Paul does not establish financial relations with the new church. There are no subsidies or grants-in-aid. By becoming Christians the new converts do not lose their independence.

(c) Nor do they lose their status as adults. They are not treated as children. At no point does Paul lay down laws in the manner of the ten commandments. When he is consulted he adivses, but his advice is largely based on the ethical teaching generally acknowledged in surrounding society. Even on the question of contact with idolatry he does not lay down authoritative rules, but appeals to their own best judgment (I Cor. 10:14-22). In spite of the decrees of Acts 15:29, paul refrains from legislating in any binding manner on the subject of food offerred to idols (I Cor. 8). Even when, as in his dealings with the Galatians, he has to charge them with what could amount to apostasy, his language shows that he sees them as adults who must be resoned with, not as subordiantes who can be commanded. The fact that he speaks of them as children with whom he is again travail is vivid testimony to his own spiritual anguish, but the argument that immediately follows is addressed to mature men and women capable of following a subtle and passionate argument (Gal. 3 and 4). All of this is very far from the style in which missionaries have often claimed to direct the development of “their” own converts.

(d) Finally – and perhaps most important – Paul does not impose on them a ministry chosen and trained by himself. He has colleagues and helpers – Timothy, Titus, Tychius, and the rest – but they are available to be sent from church to church on special missions. The local ministry of each church is formed from its own membership. In contrast to this, modern missions have insisted on the necessity for training a new kind of leadership in schools and seminaries directed by the foreign missionary on the basis of the missionary’s perception of ethical and intellectual priorities. Consequently, whereas the churches formed by the work of modern missions have been able to develop a fully native ministerial leadership only after decades and even centuries of training, Paul could address the church in Philippi “with the bishops and deacons” within a very few years of the first conversions.

The central thrust of all Roland Allen’s writing is expressed in the title of a posthumoulsy published work, The Ministry of the Spirit. Allen’s charge against modern missions was that they had been tempted by their alliance with colonial powers to act as though the mission of the church could be pursued in the style of a cultural and educational campaign, as though the object was to multiply replicas of the sending churches. In contrast to this Allen rightly saw that in the New Testament portrayal of mission the central reality is the active work of the living Holy Spirit himself. It is the Spirit who brings about conversion, the Spirit who equips those who are called with the gifts needed for all the varied forms of ministry, and the Spirit who guides the church into all truth. The Spirit is not the property of the sending church or missionary who is sent. It is not part of the missionary’s duty to mold the new church into the style of the old. The Spirit is sovereign and free, and the missionary must trustthe Spirit to do his own work. Where Christ is confessed, where the word of the gospel is preached and the sacraments of the gospel are administered, and where there is a ministry that links the new community to the wider fellowship of the catholic church, there, Allen believed, the Holy Spirit must be trusted to provide all that is needed, and the missionary has done his or her work and can move on.

(pg 129-130)

We have been having a great time with the Mortons (David and Rebecca) while they have been in town. I lent David my copy of Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret: An introduction to the Theology of Mission. Of course, he devoured it in the space of two weeks (just as he did with N.T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God over the space of two months.) I am still about halfway through the book, and am slowly making way. When I asked him how he liked it, he read me the quote above. So basically I am not sure what kind of positive argument Newbigin has built up around it.

So this sort of thing makes me ask about our ministry here at ABC, or even the possible venues for theological education in Africa; Are we misguided and how bad is it?

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