Beauty in India and Nepal

Last night my plane touched down at Heathrow, but like many a traveller before me, as I battle jet-lag, my mind and my heart are still far off, refusing to come down to earth.

I’ve returned from an intensely stimulating yet refreshing week in India and Nepal, visiting the churches and partners there which Tearfund train and support in the pursuit of protecting vulnerable children from sex trafficking.  Cliches communicate so weakly, but please pause with me to engage with just one: “There’s beauty everywhere.”

RLP IndiaNepal - 15I saw beauty in people’s faces everywhere, in the resilience of humans finding a way to survive, in the sunshine and colours of India, the breathtaking mountains of Nepal and the amazing work of God in the fast growing Nepali churches.

 

Tearfund’s goal is to partner with local Churches around the world, where the needs is greatest. Serving the poorest and most vulnerable to empower them to overcome poverty and become a blessing to their communities. I’ve known Tearfund’s work for decades and I’m sure of one thing, they have thought, prayed and shared wisdom to a great extent in how to best help the poor.  The genius priority they have discovered is that to overcome poverty, we can help people to discover their own solutions to the problems they face.  One such form of poverty is the stealing of young girls from Nepal, who end up as women in prostitution in Indian cities, enslaved by debt and an underground corrupt system of exploitation which deceives and controls them.  I went expecting to encounter extreme ugliness in a messed up world of sexual exploitation, but amidst it I found incredible beauty in what people are doing, motivated by God’s love.

For the past 5 years the Holy Spirit has been teaching me about the key kingdom priority of empowerment rather than control.  This past week has been one of the most powerful and exciting modules in that learning.

The first part of the trip was spent in Mumbai, many writers have attempted to capture the mind blowing experience of visiting India for the first time, my wise cousin’s simple description: “Brilliantly mental”.

RLP IndiaNepal - 3Our focus was to visit the red-light district there, the foulest, darkest, busiest place I’ve ever been.  On our first evening we took time to prayer-walk through it’s streets, my heart simply yearned for God’s kingdom to come and His will be done.  There was ugliness everywhere.

I expected it to be a trip of two halves, the beauty of Nepal and the ugliness of the red-light district in Mumbai.  One of our group described it as protecting girls from being tricked out of heaven and trafficked to hell.  Yet what surprised me was that amidst the extreme dirt and ugliness, we found beauty.

Years ago my sister started working for a charity helping ‘women in prostitution’. I asked why she used a long wordy description, was it fussy political correctness, rather than calling them ‘prostitutes’?  Words matter and what she explained then, I have seen clearer than ever.  I expected to encounter ‘prostitutes’, women emptied by exploitation, lifeless units abused by broken men.  Instead we met women and children, who are enslaved by prostitution, yet still alive.  We met the children of these women, being protected and educated by Christians.  Still living with their mothers, but having a safe place to sleep and a happy place to learn and laugh.  They were so beautiful, it was genuinely impossible to get my head around their situation in life.

Then we met some of the women in an group which teaches them life skills, relational and practical ways to rebuild their lives and escape the slavery of debt.  Two pieces of beauty amazed me: Their friendships were a genuine source of life and hope, they loved one another.  And when I asked what we could pray and ask God to do for them, they had real faith, we prayed for them and saw the Holy Spirit powerfully impact them, bringing healing and hope.  I had nothing to offer them except God’s power and love.  Seeing Him move there will transform my boldness to pray in other places too.

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We moved on to Nepal.  A truly remarkable place, so different from Mumbai.  The central part of the trip was a visit into the remote mountain villages.  On the edge of steep mountain, small communities live so simply, in such beauty.

RLP IndiaNepal - 18What God is doing there is totally amazing.
We met Ashora, a young woman who was dramatically healed from a crippling stomach illness 7 years ago when she encountered Jesus.  She started a church in her community and then planted one in the next door community, (45mins walk away down a steep mountainside) These two churches have a combined membership of 500 people now. 400 of them have come to Christ directly as a result of them or a family member being physically healed by God!

The healings and growth was exciting, but the culture of the church was beautiful.  This was a church planted and led by a 17 year old girl.

 

They loved to pray, they loved one another, they weren’t driven by angst or in competition with their opponents, I didn’t sense a trace of hollow religion.

The  church is often persecuted because the kingdom of God overturns the caste system that traps people in a social structure of exploitation that dehumanises the poor.  These churches had received anger and violence in persecution.  As the church began to serve those around them, for example by helping people to save money and start small businesses to rise out of poverty, the persecution was pushed back.  In this village, when the earthquake brought unimaginable devastation, the church was mobilised to do a door-to-door review of what people had lost.  That audit data, meant fairness when government and NGO relief aid arrived.  We heard of how many communities elsewhere had turned on one another, lying and fighting over relief aid, in Ashora’ s community because of the church, there was peace and that is beautiful.

These snapshots of the beauty which we experienced everywhere have been so hugely refreshing for me personally. So now, as I try to land back in England, the question is how do I link this trip to the rest of my life?  Yes St.Chad’s will continue to support Tearfund and I encourage you to do so personally.  Through Connected Church  we will also stay in touch with the believers there and pray for them.

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I’m left asking ‘what is the poverty I face in my community and what solutions do we already have to overcome it?’

After being a husband and Dad, my calling is to facilitate St.Chad’s to see the kingdom of God invading Romiley and be part of the renewal of the Anglican church, out of Hollow Religion.  As I come back to England, I have an inbox and ToDo list full of problems and issues.  Coming home I see that so much of what I do as a church leader is to deal with problems.   My twitter feed is full of friends tackling those at General Synod, God bless them! We are swamped by problems, I’m usually so busy looking at them that I miss the beauty all around me.

One thing I learned was that poverty isn’t just about food or shelter, but about broken relationships.  A huge part of how the Nepali churches are empowering people out of poverty is  by building trust.

What do we already have which can help us overcome the poverty of relationships in the UK church?  How can we continue to build trust?

This week I have seen local churches, started through healing, growing through sharing Jesus and overcoming resistance through serving and empowering others.  Their life seems more beautiful than ours, but we do have beauty and the more we empower one another in local churches, the more we will see it everywhere.

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Do we know how to pray for salvation?

The Church of England is shrinking.

 

‘Church of England attendance declines below 1 million’

‘No religion now the new religion’

‘Decline is accelerating…’Picture1.png

3 weeks ago I attended a training course, which focussed on
church growth.

During that week, new statistics came out with harrowing evidence that attendance in Anglican churches is still in decline and weekly attendance has dipped below 1million. There is a growing urgency and momentum in radical and bold thinking about church growth.  Whilst you could be excused for believing that the only thing senior Anglicans talk about is unity and sexuality, the reality is that a lot of leaders are very aware that if we want to turn things round and see change, we have to change what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and assess why we’re doing it.

There are many facets to this: church growth, decline, attendance, sociological change, ‘Christendom and the kingdom’, and much more.  I came away from the course focussing on one aspect: Prayer.

I am convinced that the Church of England won’t grow until we get serious about praying for salvation of those who are not following Jesus.

As I engaged afresh with the complexity of numerical decline and the place of the Anglican church in the UK, what grew in me was a stronger and stronger passion to pray and to motivate others to pray for the salvation of those who don’t know Jesus.

I first drafted this blog on the day I got back from the course, but have sat on it for a few weeks, mostly due to busyness, but also a sense from the Spirit to wait and ponder.

This weekend the Archbishops have announced an initiative for the week of Pentecost to inspire Christians to focus on an intense week of prayer for evangelism.  Excellent news.

The challenging question I’ve been pondering is this:

do Anglicans know how to pray for the salvation of non-believers?

Or put it another way:

Is praying for ‘salvation of those outside God’s kingdom’ core to Anglican spirituality?

Are you ready for a broad sweeping generalisation with no data to back it up?

In my experience, if you ask a group of Anglicans what to pray for, the focus of the list will be:

  • To ‘remember before God’ with empathy: the sick & those struggling with challenge.
  • And more traditional Anglicans will follow the biblical mandate to pray for the Queen, Bishops etc.

What if you ask a group of Pentecostals, or members of new church movements?

I think the focus would be for the salvation of people in their community and transformation of society.

As a brash young curate I wrote a course called ‘Intercession made slightly less complicated’ which had a contrast as it’s central premise.

On one hand, the definition of intercession being someone at the front of church reading out prayers for the Queen, government, key news item that week & the sick. (I’m not dismissing that it is a very valid part of corporate worship)

On the other, Intercession being a passionate, sacrificial, extended process of crying out to God for the lost to be saved and communities transformed.

One of the key things I learned on the course on church growth, was research (found here ) that the characteristics linked to decline are: empathising, persisting and managing.  Whereas characteristics linked to growth are: motivating, envisioning and innovating.

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Manchester at dawn – my love for a city grows as I pray for it.

In my experience, motivating (encouraging, inspiring, calling, urging) others to pray is most effective when we inspire with a vision and a target.  For empathetic prayer this is the comfort or healing of those in distress, by contrast much Pentecostal prayer is motivated by a longing for Revival or Awakening.  We pray, because we long for something, so a starting point is to question what do our hearts long for?

If I had the skills, time and money I would love to do a statistical research to assess how the content of different church’s theology of prayer is linked to church growth or decline.

I believe for the Church of England to stem the tide of decline, the first strategic step is to learn to pray.

Teaching prayer isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

It’s hard to measure invisible results.

It’s a reality that we are one body with diverse parts, passions and priorities.

When a leader preaches ‘we need to pray more’ or better still says ‘let’s pray’ – then that means a vast range of things to all those listening.

In my sabbatical this summer I’m committing some time to study and research this challenge more.

As I’ve reflected on this subject and my own weakness in this area, I’m aware that it’s actually quite challenging for some to call others to pray for individuals to be saved.

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    How confident are we to publicly lead others in praying for the rescue of those who don’t believe they need help?

    We have to overcome the sensitivities that we’re praying for people we know and love to repent and change, how will they react to knowing we’re doing that? Are we somehow uncomfortable with them knowing that we believe they need rescuing?

  • Or we’ve got to overcome disappointment, where we or those in our churches have prayed for decades for friends or family and then seen them die without knowing if they did turn to Christ.
  • Or maybe we know deep down that when we pray, God will also call us to action, so we back off a few steps back.

It takes boldness to call people to pray for the salvation of those whose backs are turned to Jesus.

I’m delighted to hear that bold leadership from both Archbishops, calling the Church of England to prioritise prayer for salvation this Pentecost.  Can I encourage us to really think now about how we can prepare and resource our congregations to know how to pray for evangelism.

I would love to hear other’s perspectives on this.

[As always I welcome positive contributions aimed at growth above defensive debate, points scoring or destructive judging]