Stories are signposts

Walking in Singapore today towards Chinatown I passed several places where a god was worshipped. First I walked by St. Andrews Church. Then almost next to each other on South Bridge road was a Mosque, a Hindu Temple and a Buddhist temple. It is a relevant question today for people – is there a one-and-only, living God?

I think that one simple and still decisive way through which one can get on the right track to God, is to follow the stories. Stories, testimonies are like signposts. Good stories will lead to a good God. And the ”signposts” leading in the same direction will somehow be connected by using tha same ”colour-combinations” although all are put there by different people.

In our morning Bible Study Groups (during International Conference of Leaders) personal stories often came up as a way of understanding God’s word. Some were shared by Colonel Prema Varughese who together with her husband Wilfred are leaders in India Northern Territory. This is a story she retold.

OrissaIn the state of Orissa there is a lady in the Salvation Army working with self-help groups among Hindu women. She came to hear about a man who was in need of blood transfusion for an operation. No one in his community offered to give theirs so the woman said that she could do it. The man was a bit worried as the thinking is that it is not OK to mix hindu blood and Christian blood (and a woman on top of that). But he had no choice and accepted the donor as the blood groups matched. The operation went well and he was healed. When he came home he went to his community leaders, and specially the priests, and said: “Look here, I was in need of blood and you did not help me but this Christian woman did. And you consider them enemies and prosecute them! I saw real love in them and I’m going to join this group.”

Colonel Prema does not know what has happened after that but she will follow this up. I’m praying that there will be another good story to tell.

Self-help groups, by the way, are organized in areas where Christians are not allowed to preach or to pray. They are reaching out to women, who are considered second-class citizens and traditionally not allowed to handle money. They are teaching the women to address issues in their society, get micro-credits to start small businesses and generally empower them and lift them socially.

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Colonels Prema and Wilfrid Varughese

This story encourages me. So different from explanations I read in the buddhist temple during my walk. There were descriptions of several halls, all with 16 places of punishment where people fall until they have completed the punishment. Thank God for the story about Jesus. And he is creating ongoing stories which leaves signposts coloured by forgivness and grace.

A listening and learning conference 2014 ICL

Conferences are a venue where people talk. And that is true of the 2014 International Conference of Leaders too. But I personally find that the dominant factor here is that we listen. Salvation Army leaders from all Territories and Commands in the world and from International Headquarters are listening to each other. And fundamentally it is listening to what our Triune God is saying. To us, in this time.

As I write we are halfway through the week we spend in Singapore. Every morning starts with small-groups, sharing and and praying around Bible passages relating to the subject of the day.

The first two subjects were Adherent membership and Leadership development. We listened and shared and usually come to some points where there are varieties, often for cultural reasons, as well as finding a common foundation and goal of embodying the life and message of Jesus so the world can be saved into God’s Kingdom

Cultural differences in connection with a personal Christian faith can concern serious issues but also be quite funny. I had breakfast with a couple from Eastern India now serving in England. He at first thought it so strange to sing about the sun and using words like “there is sunshine in my life” as a metaphor for knowing Jesus. In my country, he said, we go and hide from the sun.

The overall subject for the last one and a half day has been lifestyle issues. There my listening has really given me new knowledge and understanding of the complexities when it comes to being a disciple of Jesus and giving guidelines for salvationists in various cultures. For example, in Hindu and Muslim dominated areas people come to faith in Jesus but do not dare put their name in a roll book.

Another example and question is, what constitutes a Christian marriage? Is a couple properly married when they register legally or have the church ceremony or when the dowry is paid, which can be years later? There is no use talking about exchanging rings in our international ceremony book as that never happens in many countries. You give a cup of tea or tie a string or slaughter an animal. Not to mention polygamy, whether it is official or unofficial. What shall be required of the man when he gets saved or if it is one of the wives?

The Church and homosexuality had a thorough presentation and we listen to the great variety of how this is a big or small issue in various countries. A general difference between Asian-African cultures and the West is that the West is very individualistic in its view of marriage while it is a matter for the whole family in many cultures.

Truly, my impression so far is that this conference is a learning and listening experience. We will see what will come out of the next half. New issues are on the agenda – Impact measurement and Accountability. It will be interesting to see which biblical passages they have found to prepare for that.

Skärmklipp India East

They come from a country where you hide from the sun.

Here is a link to the official Conference reports.

Learning a lot in Burundi – Rwanda 3

South of Rwanda is Burundi. The two countries make out a Salvation Army Command. We travelled from Kigali to Bujumbura by car. A journey that took us about seven hours and we were not bored a bit. The Rwandan mountains turned into Burundians while the slopes were filled with tea and coffee bushes, banana palm trees, maize etc. There is a constant traffic on the road and an amazing amount of bicycles. They carry incredible high, heavy and wide loads and go down the hills at a terrible speed – with no feet on the pedals. Or, there are cyclists hanging on to the back of trucks, mile after mile.

The capital is situated by Lake Tanganyika. We were warmly received at the house and office of the Burundi section officers, majors Moureen and Japheth Agusiomah. The corps meetings are also held here. The “hall” is under a roof in the garden.

Soon after our arrival the meeting started. And what a meeting. Salvationists and friends had arrived from the two corps and some outposts. Singing, greetings, more singing, testimonies. And before I shared the Bible message the women’s choir sang. And that song to the Lord opened the Highway of the Holy Spirit to Heaven, as we know it happens sometimes. We got a holy moment with God.

The next day in Bujumbura we had time to find out more through a well prepared brief and conversation with the majors. Who, by the way, are officers from Kenya West and arrived here last August.

The Salvation Army started only five years ago. There is now 296 soldiers, 151 junior soldiers, 100 recruits and 315 adherents. All belonging to two corps and four outposts. There are a total of four officers.

We also learned that 80% of the population in Burundi lives in poverty, i.e. has less than 1$/day to live on. Unemployment is high and many are HIV/AIDS infected. Actually most of the soldiers have HIV/AIDS. They do not come to the Salvation Army because we can help them with basic needs. There are no social programs. They come because Jesus gives them hope and a new life.

We learned that women with low education had been through a successful vocational training program. They were taught to do professional cleaning work in hotels. All of them were employed. Some got curious that a church did this and also, eventually, became soldiers. To develop vocational training was high on the list when the leaders talked to the project people. Quite urgent was to get money for a car, since the motorbike had been stolen and there was now difficulties visiting the outposts.

On Saturday morning, after the roads had opened after compulsory community work, we went to Gatumba outpost. They meet in the school building. All ages were present both inside and outside the schoolroom. They come her although neighbours mock them for not going to a proper church.

On our way back to Rwanda we stopped at Kamenge corps at the outskirts of Bujumbura. The home for the officers is a newly built house and the first one the Salvation Army own in Burundi. Some of the corps people had come, with their newly appointed lieutenants, and we prayed for them. Also here the “hall” is just a roof in the garden and they look forward to build a proper meeting place.

Travelling back with my Swedish colleagues, majors Robert and Anna-Maria Tuftström, presently serving in Rwanda, I also learned that we from North Europe have a lot of learning to do from our Burundian colleagues about relevant Salvation Army ministry.

Photos below: A Groups singing in the meeting in Bujumbura corps./ The new building in Kamenge with some corps people/ At the border crossing. The diligent Swedish Project coordinator Hanna Brandvik and Project Administrator Francois Nsengimana

 

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Doing things together – Rwanda 2.

Going from Kigali to Rukoma means taking off from the soft tarmac road and travelling on the red earth roads. The General Secretary for Rwanda-Burundy command, Captain Clénat is driving. He is from Haiti. On our way we pick up the Divisional Commander. He is from Uganda. The rest of us in the car are from Rwanda and Sweden. And, by the way, the leaders of the Command Lt. Colonels Nyambalo are from Malawi.

Exchange of officers between countries is just something natural for the One Army when we do mission. It adds challenges but also God-given dynamics. It is good doing things together.

The purpose for our trip is to take part in a ceremony. It will be the formal closing of a development project and the beginning for the surrounding villages to take on full ownership of the programme. It has been a sports- and reconciliation project. The idea has been simple but profound. Together with the local community a football pitch has been prepared and a wall was built around it. Young people, both boys and girls, were invited to form village teams led by a coach. When the different teams played against each other it gathered supporters and everyone had a good time. And, in the pause players and spectators gathered for a seminar on reconciliation.

The reason for that is, of course, the intentional building of a new Rwanda after the genocide in 1994 when 1 million people were killed.

After the football match there was a formal recognition from the executive secretary for the sector, thanking the Salvation Army for what it had meant to the people being part of this project. A committee is formed of local people who will continue looking after the football field and plan activities.

There had also been a competition between different village groups for traditional dance. The winning team involved us all in their performance and received their price. The group consisted of children and adults of all ages. It seemed they enjoyed doing things together.

Before going back to Kigali we Went to Rukoma corps for a meeting. There was more praise and worship to the Lord and a very heavy rain came while we all were in the building. But not a drop had fallen while we were on the football field. It seems like we are blessed by doing things together with God.

Pictures below:

The red roads of Rwanda. / The winning football team receives its price/ The winning group performing traditional dance.

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In the beginning there was learning (Toronto 2)

I have learned a few things today about Canada. It is a huge country with long (often straight) roads. Houses have numbers over 7000, and I didn’t see the end of it.

I have learned that for transport they mainly travel by car, at least here in Meadowvale. The helpful man in the hotel showed me on a map where the shops are. He estimated it to a 20-30 minutes walk. It took me 50 minutes – one way. I enjoyed the walk as this was a day of resting and adapting to the time change.

In the evening we all met for the welcome dinner. At my table eight people shared experience from serving in 20 countries. You learn a lot talking to people like that! Later, I will talk more to a couple originally from Peru who were well acquainted with Swedish officers serving there previously. The fruit of good influence is constantly becoming visible.

We are 130 leaders representing 124 countries. Almost half of the group are in a conference like this for the first time. We learned (or had at least a good rehersal) a new song based on the international vision - One Army. One Mission. One Message.

From General Linda Bonds opening keynote address I lerned that the twelve priorities that specify the vision are, for the most part, based on the desires and visions shared by all the candidates for general at the 2011 High Council.

There will be a lot to learn about each other and God during this week. The opening meeting tonight ended with all leaders in prayer. On our knees. Declaring and confessing that we wait for God to come over us again. We know a lot. We are constantly learning.