International Ministries

"I won’t go home the same."

March 28, 2011 Journal
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The words belonged to my friend Ron.  But they apply equally to me.  Ron was saying good-bye to the pastors after 3 days of very engaging conversations about Scripture and ministry.  What a privilege to be invited into their world for even a few days!                                    

It is a very different world.  They are a tiny religious minority in the bewilderingly complex land of India.  They are all from small minority ethnic groups in a country of a billion people.  They live in a climate of great social and political tension, punctuated with some frequency by political violence.  They work in cities, small towns and tiny traditional villages... or maybe not-so-traditional: cell phone ringtones now disturb the traditional quiet!  So, the pastors daily navigate a jumble of cultures, ethnicities, religions and even centuries--a challenge that boggles the mind.

What, on earth, could we offer them?  Certainly not the assured recipes of Western Christianity... so clearly awash in its own--our own--sea of struggles.  We did not come to give them the five principles, six rules or seven steps to spiritual success.   There were no canned Powerpoint presentations, four-color brochures or manuals.  Instead, there was Scripture.  And dialogue.  Real dialogue.  For, when working with Scripture, we tried to resist telling them what they were supposed to see, let alone, think.  (I say "tried" because, I confess, I can get pretty excited about what I think I have found in the text!)

Our seminar was devoted to a form of inductive Bible study that has come to be known as Manuscript Bible Study.  It is an approach that emphasizes personal and community discovery, rather than monologues from the experts.  The engagement of text, participants and facilitators followed a three-step pattern.  After a time of personal study in the text, we would invite small groups to have unstructured conversations about the observations, insights, hunches and questions each participant developed during the study period.  We did not give them a list of the "right" questions to ask or answer, but let them engage in their own self-guided process of discovery.  After the small groups had a chance to work, we pulled the 42 participants together to harvest the fruit of their labors.   Our opening questions were always open-ended ("What did you see?"  "What did your group focus on?"  "What do you want to talk about?")

Guided by a shared commitment to the text of Scripture itself, and making use of the group's own growing ability to distinguish between suggestions truly rooted in the text and those foreign to it, we came to generously-bounded agreements about the message of the passages we studied.  Then the foreign facilitators listened and offered encouragement as participants offered their own "so what?" statements about the meaning of the ancient message for life and ministry in North East India today.  It was a learning experience for all of us.    And, in the final session of personal sharing, one by one, the pastors said they, too, "would not go home the same."

Around the edges of the seminar, there were many more conversations, as well as forays into the life of the city of Guwahati, in the state of Assam.  Our incredibly gracious hosts--the Council of Baptist Churches of North East India (CBCNEI)--made sure that we were not only well cared for, but also enabled to learn about Assam's rich cultural heritage and get a taste of "real life" today.  All in all, it was powerful.  We're especially grateful to Dr. Asangla Ao and her husband, Rev. Dr. A. K. Lama (General Secretary of CBCNEI) for an unforgettable experience!

So, we do not return quite the same as when we left, though it is too soon to tell in just what way.  New threads have been added to the cloth of our lives.  Germinating seeds are at work, but the plants are not yet visible.  But, even now, I am grateful... to God, and to you.

Thanks for the prayers and gifts by which you make this possible, both for me and for my friends in the global church!

Blessings,
Stan

p.s. If you'd like more glimpses of our experience in Guwahati, you can find an album of my photos HERE.