Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: immigrants

But what do they think of us?

The city of Saskatoon has been growing rapidly aver the past fifteen years. Among the many newcomers, there is a high percentage of people Of Asian and African origin, including several thousand Muslims. Two large mosques have been built and are reported to be full to over flowing. Many of these people are showing up behind the counter at Tim Horton’s, as cashiers in Walmart and in other such places of business. There are a number of African doctors.

I hear some Christians expressing troubled thoughts about the kind of people that are coming into the country. Some complain that many of them have an accent that is hard to understand. Others express worries about Muslims taking over the country and wonder if we will soon have jihadist incidents.

A more pertinent question might be what do these people think of the Christians they meet here? Do we seem like people who love our neighbours as ourselves and have no respect of persons? Really, if we want these people to form a proper picture of what Christianity is all about, we had better conduct ourselves as Christians.

Many of the Africans who come here are Christians. Denominations based in Nigeria have established six congregations in the Saskatoon area. Is that good or bad? It could be a sign that the existing churches didn’t offer a warm welcome to the newcomers.

Recently there was a newspaper article about a young lady from Pakistan who was a long distance runner and competed in the Olympics. The government of Pakistan was supportive, but some Islamist militants made life dangerous for her, so she came to Canada. Her advice to newcomers to Saskatoon is to get to know people outside their own ethnic communities, make friends and learn to know and enjoy their new homeland.

That seems like good advice to those of us who were born here: let’s get to know these newcomers, make friends, make them feel at home. It is those who feel marginalized in their new land who are most apt to be lured into extremism. The more we get to know these people the more opportunities there will be to show what Christian faith is all about.

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Unreached peoples

Unreached peoples! How can it be that there are still people groups in our modern world who have never heard about the Saviour, who do not have even a portion of the Bible in their language? Mission and Bible translation and distribution agencies tell us with considerable urgency that many such groups still remain on planet Earth.

I do not wish to detract anything from the urgency of that concern. Nor do I wish to distract us from the worthy goal of reaching all those groups with the gospel. But while we are doing that, I wish that we could all take a look at the people around us, right here in our own land. One hundred years ago, most everyone in Canada would have had some grasp of the tenets of Christianity. The majority of homes would have had a Bible somewhere in the house, often in plain view, though perhaps seldom read.

None of that is true anymore. One has only to read newspaper reports of controversies about Christian activities to realize that we are living in a different era. The incomprehension of the reporters about what motivates Christians is strikingly evident to Christians; judging by the responses, or the lack of response, to these articles most readers are no better informed than the reporters.

I am going to suggest that most segments of Canadian society have become unreached people groups. I recently quoted a statistic that said 50% of Canadians have never read anything in the Bible. I would be surprised if even 25% of Canadian homes contained a Bible today. So I will lump all Canadians into four unreached people groups.

First are the aboriginal peoples: Indians, Métis and Inuit. At one time, many of these peoples would have professed some form of Christianity, but now the great majority have openly returned to their native spirituality or shamanism. Some try to mix Christianity and shamanism, but Christianity plus something else is no longer Christianity. There are some bright lights here and there, but the overall picture is of great darkness.

The second group is the recent immigrants. Those who come from first world countries tend to be mostly agnostics or atheists. From third world countries we have many people of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other Eastern religions. Here is our opportunity to reach out to these people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are a few reports of successful missions to these people, but in reality very little is being done. Among the recent immigrants from Africa there are many Christians. They could add some vitality to the Canadian religious scene, but often they establish congregations of their own.

The third group would be the French-Canadians, who at one time were solidly Roman Catholic. Unfortunately, during the time when the Roman Catholic Church controlled the schools and so many other facets of French-Canadian society, they did their best to keep people from reading the Bible. Now that most French-Canadians have abandoned the church; there is no lingering reservoir of Bible knowledge. There are many evangelical congregations established among the French-Canadian people, but their impact still touches a very small minority of the people.

The last group would be the Anglo-Canadians – English-speaking Canadians of various ethnic backgrounds. (It should be noted that Québec is also a melting pot – many French-Canadians are not of French ethnic heritage.) Anglo-Canadians were resolutely Christian at one time, at least in name. But society has changed, and many of the once dominant denominations tried to change with the times, watering down the gospel in the process. People have abandoned those denominations in droves. Anglo-Canadians still represent the largest concentration of evangelical Christians in Canada, both in percentage and actual numbers. But their influence on the mores and values of our society has greatly diminished. The great majority of young people today know nothing about the Bible or about the real meaning of Christian faith.

My hope is that when we talk about unreached people groups we wouldn’t only think of people in countries somewhere across the sea. There is a great need in those countries. There is also a great need right here on our doorstep where we might be able to have an impact on the lives of people without major organization or expenditure. If all true Christians would be alert to the little opportunities to speak a word for Jesus, the results might amaze us.

What is wrong with this picture?

We send missionaries all over the world from our North American congregations. We rejoice when reports come back of the faith taking root in countries where the prevailing belief is animism, Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam.

Then we go into Tim Horton’s and the person behind the counter is a recent immigrant from one of those countries and we complain about her accent. What is wrong with this picture?

I’ll venture a guess or two. First, in our minds we have separated mission work from normal Christian life. People from (almost) every country in the world are showing up virtually on our doorstep and it doesn’t click that here is a mission field right in front of us. You have to leave home and cross an ocean to do mission work, don’t you?

Secondly, we too easily assume that people around us aren’t interested in the gospel. If they were they would come to church wouldn’t they? Let’s be really honest here: who is it that isn’t interested? Is it them or us?

Thirdly, we like living in our little bubble where nothing much happens to disturb our accustomed cycle of work, leisure and church activities. It’s hard for us to conceive of how it would be if some of these people entered into our circle. They’re not like us, everything would change if too many of them became part of our congreagation.

Here we are then. Christianity has fallen into disrepute in our land; only ten to fifteen percent of the population attend a church, and many of those churches are more based on tradition or intellectualism than on the Bible. And we are helpless to do anything about it.

Or are we? If we are born-again believers, readers of the Bible, led of the Holy Spirit, don’t we have the tools to reach out to people around us? Perhaps we are just too unaccustomed to using those tools.

Let’s take an interest in other people, get to know them, ask questions about their lives, their aspirations, what is important to them. Then tell them in a simple way about the things that are most important to us. And I don’t mean our material possessions or the accomplishments of our children. Share the things that are of eternal value. Many people will never have heard such things before.

 

Is the trumpet giving an uncertain sound?

For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. (1 Corinthians 14:8-9)

The issue in question when Paul wrote those words was the disruptive influence of incomprehensible ecstatic speech in a worship service. I don’t believe it does any violence to the Apostle’s teaching to apply it in other circumstances.

Immigrants arrive in a new land – for instance Canada, USA, France, or Brazil – and they establish places where they can worship God in their mother tongue. The children learn the language of their new homeland much easier than their parents, but still have some attachment to the old mother tongue. But the third generation speaks only the language of the land of their birth. Their parents and grandparents continue to worship in the old language, but for this generation the preachers are speaking into the air. They have two options: look for another church; or forget about God entirely.

This happened to one congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite almost 100 years ago. The congregation had begun 50 years earlier, and the first and second generations were faithful Christians, worshipping God in the German language. The third generation knew only English and joined other churches in the community. Finally, the last surviving member passed away and the congregation was officially defunct.

The same thing almost happened in another, much larger, congregation. Young people were growing up, getting married, living honest, respectable lives, but never heard the gospel preached in a language they could understand. Finally the congregation called a minister who only knew English to come for revival meetings. Frank Haynes returned several times over a period of almost 10 years, and during those meetings at least 200 were converted and baptized. The congregation switched to English preaching.

But I am thinking that we may have a more subtle problem in our day. We are living in a post-Christian society, yet we continue speaking and preaching in Christian jargon that is incomprehensible to most people around us, perhaps even to many of the young people growing up in our homes. Is the trumpet giving an uncertain sound? Those of us who have grown up with this kind of language, or who have been Christians long enough to be familiar with the jargon, may not even realize that the words we use are not really getting through, but to most people today they are just words in the air.

The deceptive thing is that we are speaking important, eternal truths, but if others do not understand what we are saying, we are speaking in an unknown tongue. “Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me” (1 Corinthians 14:11).

It is surely our intention to speak words easy to be understood. Perhaps the first step would be to ask people if they really understand what we are saying. If they seem in doubt, or if they are confused by the jargon we use, we need to make efforts to find a way of speaking those eternal truths in a form that they will understand. That will mean leaving out a lot of the Christian code words and slogans that are so familiar to us. It does not mean watering down the gospel; if anything it means finding words to make the message come through more strongly, in clear unambiguous terms. We owe it to all the people around us who have never heard the gospel in a language that they could understand.

Rebels without a clue

I am struck at how clueless protest movements have become.

The “Occupy” folks seem to think it is the fault of government and business that they don’t have a job.  You worked hard and got your BA.  You apply for a job that seems to offer the pay and perks that you feel you deserve.  They ask about your work experience and you have to admit that you’ve never had a paying job in your life.

All the entry level jobs seem to have been taken by immigrants.  Who wants a job like that anyway?  Other immigrants are coming in who are trained welders and plumbers.  They are earning more money than you will ever make with your BA.  There must be someone you can blame for this mess you’re in.  So you and your friends set up tents in a park to complain about how unjust the system is.

Meanwhile, the immigrants who started out at the bottom are moving up to management level and even buying the business.  Moral?  Those who rebel against the supposed inequities of the system are getting nowhere, while others are going where the jobs are, working hard and succeeding.

Many of the Indian bands of Western Canada were making a good start at adapting to a settled society, until the government decided that they needed help.  That really botched things up.  It seems that in every generation the government realizes that their attempts to help the Indians are not working and they come up with a fresh idea on how to help them.  The “Idle No More” movement seems to think this is a good thing, but the government isn’t doing enough.

Meanwhile, some Indian bands are accountable and open for business.  There is a reserve not far from us that has a casino, a world class golf course, a tourist hotel and more jobs than can be filled by the band members alone.  There are at least four Indian owned gas bars in our nearest city, all are busy.  Other bands are in the forestry and construction businesses.  Moral?  You will get ahead faster by creating your own jobs.

The “Christian” scene is too confusing and depressing for a quick analysis.  The Christian book store that I frequently wander into is in the process of moving their displays of Christian music CD’s from a back corner to a more visible location closer to the front of the store.  One of the employees told me it is because too many CD’s have been walking out of the store without being paid for.  The rates of divorce, of cohabitation before marriage and of pornography addiction are not much different among those who call themselves Christian than among the population in general.  The most common form of rebellion is to just abandon organized Christianity.  The ranks of unattached, restless Christians are growing.  Are they finding life any more fulfilling outside an organized church?

“Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.”  Rebellion doesn’t fix anything, because we are rebelling against the wrong thing.  Rebels see the faults in everything around them, go about to set things to right and in the end things are worse than they were before.

The thing that is most in need of fixing is inside of us – our heart.  The first step to fixing it is to admit that I am solely responsible for the mess that I am in; nobody else made me do the things I have done or make the choices I have made.  The second step is to admit that only God can help me now.  This is called repentance and will lead to a release from the burden of guilt, a new heart, a new vision of the meaning and purpose of life, and genuine freedom.

It doesn’t work to admit that I have done wrong and try to reform my life so that God will be pleased with me.  Neither does it work to try to claim God’s salvation without admitting any guilt on my part.  Salvation is a complete package, only available on God’s terms.

Two thousand years ago the world was in worse shape than it is today.  It was said of the disciples that they “turned the world upside down.”  Who says it can’t happen today?

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