Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Little Mermaid? Or Lion of God?

Over the last few months the English Language Support Unit at the Anglo-Chinese School has had a string of teachers out of action for various reasons – which has mean that Anna has been called on to plug the gap.  Although sometimes teaching long days she has relished the opportunity to use her teaching skills as well as getting to know a large group of 16-18 year old students from Mainland China, Thailand and Vietnam.

One student rejoices in the English name of Ariel.  She chose the name because she likes the Disney character from the Little Mermaid.  She doesn’t realize that the name originally is Hebrew and means “lion of God”.  Ariel came to Anna and asked for extra help with her English.  She is under a great deal of pressure from her parents to rapidly improve her English in order to re-take her English O-level oral exam back in Hong Kong next month.  She needs to improve on her C grade from last year in order to follow the career trajectory mapped out for her.  Ariel comes from a wealthy Cantonese family and is the only child, now far from home and boarding in Singapore.  Anna asked her about how things had gone on sports day knowing that Ariel excels in sport.  Her eyes lit up as she described her races - she had done well and won an amazing four medals for the events she had participated in.  Anna warmly congratulated her and asked her if she had phoned to let her parents know.  At that point Ariel’s eyes filled with tears and she nodded before blurting out, “All that my mum said to me was, “Why are you wasting your time at sports? You should be studying!””

Anna simply sat and listened as Ariel told her of a life that was filled with all the comfort, convenience and privilege that money could buy but was almost completely starved of parental time and affection, despite the fact that she was an only child.  She loved her mother dearly.  But in order to set up her own successful business as well as establish her sister’s business, her mother had left the house each day before Ariel was up and came home at night after she’d gone to bed.  Even as a tiny girl, Ariel persuaded her maid to let her stay up past 11 pm night after night in order to catch a glimpse of her mother – in vain.  Eventually Ariel said, through sobs, that she gave up trying to spend time with her. 

Now that she has left home and is away at boarding school, her mother has realized that there is a vacuum where a relationship should be and insists that Ariel phones her four times a day.  “But I have nothing to say”, she cried, “I feel I don’t know my mother at all”.   Please pray for Ariel.  She is not academic at all, yet her parents have very high expectations that she will do well and get into University – and what she seems to understand at the moment is that good grades are the only way to gain their approval.  She is longing for love and acceptance.   Anna has given her a parallel Chinese-English New Testament which she has promised to read during the holidays.

Following God’s Golden Thread

Fifty years ago in obedience to God, Steve’s father Peter Griffiths left home & family in Wales to serve among the Shona people in northeastern Rhodesia, a country then divided along racial lines.  An exchange of vehicles at a rendezvous in the mountains led to an unusual romance & then to marriage with Brenda, a co-worker.  As part of a hardworking & dedicated team of national & expatriate staff they were involved in building up a multi-faceted work including a hospital, a secondary boarding school, primary schools & clinics & established a network of churches in the area.

But the war of independence where Rhodesia became Zimbabwe gathered pace.  Declaring their neutrality, the missionaries worked on as a tiny enclave of peace, enfolded in increasingly intense violence.  The work of the missionaries came to an abrupt end in a welter of blood, a mass killing taking place while Steve’s family were away on furlough.  Steve is working on a book telling their stories of love & loss, of suffering & new life, of lies & truth-telling, of failure & grace, of hatred & forgiveness, of following God's golden thread through the dark labyrinth that life can be.

Steve’s Mum has been able to access previously secret, confidential British Foreign & Commonwealth files of thirty years ago recently made available under the Freedom of Information act.  A most moving statement was the assessment by the Head of the Rhodesia Desk in the FCO, Patrick Laver who, following a meeting with Steve’s Dad wrote, “Peter Griffiths struck me as a .... man of complete integrity”.   All those years ago the “Rhodesia question” was one of the knottiest & painful issues that the British government was dealing with.  Seeing what is in the files has shed new light on the political impact of the intense suffering that Steve’s parents & their missionary colleagues endured. 

Of course, the writing has involved the reliving of old memories.  This has healing potential, but it is sometimes so sad to look back.  Steve has found it very engaging, often exhausting & deeply draining.  Anna has nobly continued cheerfully to run the household, coping at times both with a distracted & unpredictable husband & two busy, sleep-deprived teenagers.  Please pray for the glory of God to be demonstrated in what is written.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

I Want to Return to Those Days

At 2.46pm on Friday 11th March, 2011 what is now known as the Great Toohoku Earthquake, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, struck off the north-eastern coast of Japan. The largest in Japan’s recorded history, it resulted in a series of tsunamis that caused devastation over an estimated 800km of coastline. Coastal towns were swept away, some losing two thirds of their population. Close to 30,000 people are reported dead or missing. The nuclear power plant at Fukushima was damaged with cooling system failure & subsequent radiation leakage.

A Japanese pastor living close to the Fukushima plant wrote:

“My message the Sunday before the earthquake was titled "Hezekiah, an urgent prayer." When about to be destroyed by Assyria, Hezekiah put on sackcloth, prayed, & requested Isaiah to pray as they faced the life or death crisis of the nation. Before Hezekiah knew it, the crisis had passed... We were reminded that God of the history works in a wondrous way. I never thought I would have to request an urgent prayer just like Hezekiah, that we would be scattered, & read the Word at wherever we were placed. I humbly request your fervent, urgent prayers that our church would survive this crisis & the work of mission would not be stopped, that we would rise again, & that the radiation leak would be stopped. I covet your prayer.... About a third of our church members live close to the Fukushima power plant. They had to go through radiation checks, so we all gathered in the afternoon for a time of worship. I could hear people sobbing & saw that they had been through hardship. In the evening I went to a nearby hot spring. What a relief to have a soak after five days! People are so glad to find each other, which again led me to tears. Our nomad life has started. When I asked people whether they had any laundry, their reply was that there were no clothes to wash. All they have is what they are wearing."

One woman from his church was swept away in the wave but broke free & swam to safety. He stood for hours at a payphone, eyes filled with tears, calling his congregation. Around a third of his members still remain to be contacted.

OMF has a large team of over 130 people working in Japan, including areas badly affected by the earthquake. All are now accounted for but some of our members have been through difficult experiences. One wrote movingly of his work in the devastated areas, seeing how radically life had changed for so many. The missing are unlikely to return home. Many communities were so devastated & people so traumatized that they will never return – & must cope with creating a new life in a new area without anything remaining of the past. He wrote, “Mountains of every kind of debris representing the lives of the town’s inhabitants lay exposed for all to see but one particular item caught my eye… an old 45 rpm record. I wiped off
the mud revealing the title of the song, “I Want to Return to Those Days”

There will be many millions of Japanese who will be longing to return to those days before this massive disaster wrecked their lives. Yet there is no going back. They need not only physical help but spiritual & emotional hope, that there is a future & that broken lives can be repaired. Ultimately only the living, Creator God can give such hope.

Prayer requests:
  • Pray for spiritual openness & awakening throughout Japan.
  • Pray for the uncertain situation at the Fukushima power plant. Many are fearful. Pray for Christians to know how to deal with such fears, to grow strong in God & to reach out quietly & confidently to those around them.
  • Pray for all who are involved in planning the next stages of relief -for good co-operation between local councils & wise leadership from central government.
  • Pray for those who are staying in their own damaged homes, often in very spartan conditions.
  • Pray for little groups of Christians in devastated areas as they meet together for worship & pray for leaders to be strengthened by God for ministry at this time. 
  • Praise for the opportunities the OMF Hokkaido, Aomori, Sendai & Tokyo teams had to help local communities. 
  • Pray for OMF as they plan for short-term & long-term involvement in these areas.
  • Thank you for prayer for Josh’s broken hand. It appears to be healing well. Repeat x-ray on 28 April.
  • Pray for Aimée on an Outward Bound week on an island off Singapore 11 to 16 April – for safety and fun. 
  • Anna starts teaching ESL to struggling 4th years part-time at the children’s school on Friday 8 April.
With love & gratitude for your partnership in prayer,

Anna, Steve, Joshua & Aimée

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Evil and God

We have just heard that all our 130+ colleagues working in Japan are safe although some have harrowing tales to tell.  We have several living and working in Sendai...
"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." Our prayers are for the nation of Japan and friends and colleagues there. Wrestling with the question of evil that this massive disaster raises, here is a thoughtful article I found very helpful at the time of the Boxing Day tsunami back in 2004.
Finally, an amazing story told by a young North Korean girl, Sung Kyung Ju:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fractured relationships, fractured hand!

Mass Rapid Transit or MRT is the island-wide transport system that moves millions of Singaporeans daily. The train system is clean, cheap, fast – and so packed that all of us have had the experience of leaning back into the crowded carriage as the closing train doors rub across the skin of our faces! The opportunities for people-watching are plentiful!

Josh came home indignant. He had seen an older Singaporean woman enter a crowded carriage. A young migrant worker from South Asia immediately stood up and politely offered his seat. The Singaporean went over without a word, opened her bag, took out a packet of tissues and carefully and thoroughly wiped the seat before perching gingerly on its edge. Publicly humiliated for his kindness, the man stood silently, staring out of the carriage windows.

An exuberant, dreadlocked, black South African leant across to talk to Steve. She had been reading Tom Wright’s commentary on Matthew over Steve’s shoulder (packed carriages mean that one can take advantage of other’s reading material!) and wanted to talk. She was a midwife, working in Saudi Arabia and after a few questions was pouring out her heart about the tough, exploitative conditions that she was working under and the casual discrimination she experienced on a daily basis in the Middle East.

Anna watched as a young Australian school boy was asked to finish his drink before getting on a bus by the driver - eating and drinking is not allowed on the transport system. There was an explosion of bad language from the young man, used perhaps to doing as he liked on public transport at home, as he tossed his unfinished drink away and jumped on, without another word to the driver.

These are reminders of the powerful currents of tension within cross-cultural relationships in our supposedly globalised world. Who can heal the deep fractures & hostilities that lie between peoples, temporarily & imperfectly covered by a veneer of respectability but not truly accepting, affirming or loving? “We look forward to the wealth, glory and splendor of all cultures being brought into the city of God – redeemed & purged of all sin, enriching the new creation”.  This vision of the future brings a present challenge – to begin living alongside others now as we intend to go on.

Anna and Steve had a lightning visit to the UK to join in OMF UK’s National Conference. It was wonderful to see our parents (briefly ☺), to meet up with friends and engage with the exciting changes and reshaping of the OMF UK homeside. As we touched down at Changi Airport and turned on our phones a text came through from Fiona, who had been looking after Aimee and Joshua. She was in casualty with Josh who had been injured at the start of a rugby practice. Later that night, Josh underwent three hours of surgery to repair his broken right hand. Josh's hand looked like a grapefruit with fingers - seriously swollen. We are grateful for caring friends and expert medical care.

Pray for stamina for Josh as he shadows Dr Lim Poh Lian (who did her elective 20 years ago in Zimbabwe, staying with Steve’s parents!) at the Infectious Diseases Unit of a local hospital from 12th- 18th March.  Steve will improve his rugby coach skills by attending a training course with the Singapore Rugby Union on 19th/20th March.  Steve and Anna take part in a STEPS weekend run by the OMF Singapore National Office for those considering  cross cultural service, 26th/27th March. Pray we might be an encouragement to those we interact with as they seek to know the Lord’s will for their lives.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Holy Spirit and spirit worlds of Asia

I grew up in the culture of rural north-eastern Zimbabwe where the spirit world was real and everyday and affected people's lives in unpredictable ways.  Each family lived in a group of huts as a homestead, with fields surrounding them.  Homesteads of the extended family were clustered together.  Around each clan were the spirit guardians, the spirits of the dead ancestors who existed alongside the living, who needed care and appeasement but provided spiritual protection and guidance to the clan. 

The n'yanga, or traditional healer lived just across the valley from us.  Many saw the n'yanga as merely a herbalist but many n'yangas dealt with much more than physical illness.  For example, they would help those who claimed to be affected by ngozi, wandering spirits who were angry at the lack of ceremonies carried out at their death and who had been unable to join the clan spirits.  This was particularly relevant after the war of independence - many ex-combatants sought help, believing themselves haunted by the spirits of those they had killed.  There were also svikiros, or spirit mediums, those able to make contact with, become possessed by and effectively manipulate spirits - often for negative purposes.  My parents, as Pentecostals, were able to engage effectively with this world view, not to dismiss the world of the supernatural but to help transform it, not replacing it with Western rationalism but rather an authentic folk Christianity which took both the spirit world of rural Zimbabwe and the Holy Spirit seriously.

I am taking part in the OMF Mission Research Consultation here from 4th - 8th OctoberThe theme of the consultation is "Aspects of Trinitarian Mission - the Holy Spirit and the spirit worlds of Asia".  I listen to Moe Moe Nyunt, a Burmese thinker and writer talk about the Burmese world-view.  She tells us that Burma is full of pagodas, temples and shrines, a leading country of Theravada Buddhism.  But in fact, Burmese spirituality is firmly rooted in the worship of spirits called nats.  She describes the elaborate categories that exist to help describe this spirit world and it's interaction with human beings.  Moe Moe Nyunt mentions the authentic spiritual thirst that Burmese people have - and how a Western enlightenment theology that emphasizes the rational and the scientific and downplays the supernatural may miss opportunities to introduce the Burmese to the power of the Holy Spirit to enable them to come to terms with and make sense of their world view as well as have it changed by the good news of Jesus.  Echos of my childhood come back to me as she talks.

With the People

Twenty years ago, John & Sue and his family were friends and colleagues of ours in Mozambique. They lived in a village on the edge of the Great Forest in the northern part of the country. Their house was mud block and thatch built with help from local villagers, and like their neighbours they lived without mains electricity or running water. Over years, John has worked to determine a way of writing the previously unwritten Makuwa-Meeto language. John and Sue trained a team of Makuwa translators who are now rendering the Bible into Makuwa-Meeto. In addition, literacy programmes are running and aspiring writers are encouraged to create books of folk tales, local history, health guides and children’s books.

John was attending a Wycliffe Bible Translators meeting here in Singapore and it was so good to catch up with him. He showed me his “Shoebox” software – over 3, 000 Makuwa-Meeto words recorded, with their meaning, their phonetic equivalent, their grammatical description and more. For hundreds of words, there were notes on cultural practices and world-view. The painstaking research and passionate interest in the Makuwa-Meeto language, culture and world view and the affection that John and Sue had for their many Makuwa friends and colleagues was deeply moving. It gives the lie to the often-repeated fallacy that Christian mission has undermined and destroyed culture. Rather there is a passion to see God speak in every language to every heart and see every culture redeemed.

We want to see God speak too - Lamentations 3 is not the easiest chapter in the Bible to understand or to talk about meaningfully. How can an ancient dirge, written over 2,500 years ago and 5,000 miles away in a vastly different culture and language speak to families in safe, secure Singapore? But the Griffiths family have been tasked to take on this chapter as the theme for the next Family Service at our church here in Singapore. We’ll need to understand it deeply but tell it simply, in ways that children and adults can understand. Please pray for all four of us as we put the service together in (hopefully) creative ways.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A life in the day of....

Our day starts before dawn with a pint of tea…each! Steve is currently reading through Ezekiel (with the help of Chris Wright) and Anna through Mark (with the help of Tom Wright. A sleepy Aimée wanders through for a hug. Josh needs to be woken up by a parental incursion into the sacrosanctity of his bedroom. Josh and Steve take Millie the dog and go running in the Botanic Gardens. We eat breakfast together, while discussing the plans for the day, mainly related to the children’s plans for socializing. We read and pray as a family. Anna and Steve cross the OMF compound to the office while Aim and Josh head for the bus stop – already dripping with sweat at 7:30 in the morning. Steve reviews the International Personnel System (IPS) helpdesk inbox, (the system that helps our team leaders look after their people) and begins to triage problems for the Personnel team to focus on during the day. Anna begins to respond to the 30 or so emails that have come in overnight.

The working day officially starts at 08:30. We join around 50 colleagues from the OMF Singapore office along with new OMFers on the Orientation Course for morning prayers. Hanneke from Holland shares the story of her coming to faith. Robert, a Canadian, with a dry sense of humour has us laughing as he outlines prayer needs for Canada and updates us on a recent conference for Asian mission organisations working in dangerous and marginal situations. After thirty minutes prayer together, we spread out through the complex to our work.

The Personnel team has its daily lively five minute meeting to report progress on issues, and assign tasks for the day. Sin Ee, working in Taiwan with the urban poor, back on leave in Singapore, pokes her head round the door to say hello. Steve spends several hours working through detailed plans for a missional business in Cambodia. Anna slips out for a medical follow-up with her neurologist. Emergency calls come in asking for input and advice from China and Cambodia. Anna meets with a colleague to discuss candidates wanting to join OMF from Chile, Finland and Mexico. We host a case conference involving medical, home school support and educationalist colleagues to discuss support plans for a child with learning difficulties whose family is heading for rural Laos – and then spend time praying for the family. Wei, a key member of the IPS technical team arrives in our office. She wants permission to release requested fixes and enhancements into the IPS system. We review them together, and plan and prepare communications about the changes to those that will be using the system. We authorise the release and she runs upstairs to get the technical team to start making the changes. They will work into the night. Around 120 emails came into our inbox during the working day.

Josh and Aimée crash through the door after nearly 12 hours at school. They are both filthy after games of rugby on a muddy pitch. We eat hotdogs for supper while uproariously practising some games that we want to play as ice-breakers on the Orientation Course fun night. Steve leads the jollities as we play silly games with the new group on Orientation Course from Holland, Philippines, the US, Korea, Myanmar/Spain and the UK. Hot but happy, we all eat icecream with the OCers to cool down! Before we go to bed we check that the changes to IPS have gone through and the system is working as it should. We debrief as a family and pray together. By 11:30, all is quiet and still in the Griffiths household….but not for long.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

"Outrageous Hope" Down Under...

Sydney Harbour Bridge flag
Over the last few years, OMF Australia has grown under the energetic and capable leadership of an Aussie couple originally from Hong Kong & Singapore who worked cross-culturally in Korea. It was a privilege to spend a week with the Australian team in (a freezing-cold!) Sydney. We joined the Homeside staff conference as they prayed, reviewed the past few months and planned for the next 18 months. Dozens of committed, qualified new candidates have come through the hands of the Australian team. Overall the number of missionaries sent out has doubled to nearly 120. Despite the economic downturn, income for OMF Australia remains rock-solid and over 100% of what is needed. It was wonderful to see how the team has been built and the energy and enthusiasm they displayed was infectious! We enjoyed a morning off which gave us an opportunity to take a ferry down the Parramatta river, see the Sydney Opera House and walk across the Sydney Harbour bridge.

Kookaburra at Naamaroo Camp
We joined the OMF Australia National Conference over three days at Naamaroo Camp along Little Blue Gum Creek in a wooded area of Sydney – possums and kookaburras aplenty! The theme was “Outrageous Hope” with Steve giving the Bible readings from Habakkuk. Anna was encouraged and moved to meet many faithful OMF supporters who shared their memories of her grandfather Walter and great-uncle and great-aunt Alf and Allison Pike who served in China with CIM/OMF. Twenty-five candidates preparing to serve in east Asia told their stories. A number of Aussie OMFers currently on Home Assignment shared courageously and honestly of their struggles and joys.

The current OMF Australia Director and his wife are taking up a leadership position in a team in north-eastern Asia. Johan and Debbie Linder, a couple with many years of experience in Thailand and with the Thai diaspora in Australia are taking over. At the end of the Conference, we travelled across Sydney to the Sydney Missionary and Bible College where we participated in the induction service for Johan and Debbie. It was a demanding but rewarding time down under. Back in Singapore, Josh and Aimee thrived without us and Anna was glad to have survived the cold temperatures of the Aussie winter!