Time For A New Journal

New JournalNew Journal

New Years Day is when I open up a new journal for the coming year. As I do so I recognize that last’s years journal is not nearly full – quite blank actually with sporadic writings. Some years I overflow into two journals but not 2014. It is not that there wasn’t much happening – just the opposite. There was so much taking place that I barely had time to write. When I could find a moment here and there, I was lost for words.

One year ago today we received a phone call from our family doctor telling Brenda he had seen something in an x-ray that he wanted to have a closer look at. This led to her cancer diagnosis of stage-four lung cancer spreading to the brain and bone. At that moment, time stood still. From that moment on, time has been different for me.

We were told that Brenda might not see her birthday in August and that she would definitely not see another Christmas. However, doctors can’t know God’s time plan for Brenda. We are grateful to have celebrated the Christmas that was not to be. We are living with cancer as a reality in our lives now.

A lot can happen

How Time Feels

The first year of living with cancer seems to last forever. I have lost count of how many medical appointments there have been. We seem to measure time by when the next appointment is. Then when waiting for blood work test results or the latest MRI or CT scan time seems to take forever. Each day feels like a week. Weeks feel like months, and months feel like years.

Lengthening Days

Time has become very precious to me this year. Every second does count and we rejoice at every day we have together. Here in the northern hemisphere, and at our latitude, we are in a season when daylight increases by one minute per day. Brenda and I were out walking together and she asked, “So what are you going to do with your minute today?” At first I did not understand what she was talking about. She then explained about the lengthening of the daylight hours. This led to a very enjoyable, fun, and reflective conversation about how we might each use our extra minute that day. Suddenly I found myself dreaming about how I could use that minute – and then the new minute tomorrow and the next day.

For most of us, time is something that we never seem to have enough of. We have so to do that we scarf down our meals to get meetings just in time to get a seat. Then it is off to the next thing, and the next thing – then we swiftly make our way home for dinner and just when you think that the day is finally over – there is another meeting at the church or a workout that is calling your name. When we finally get to sleep it can be near or after midnight and we need to get up at 6am the next day. With all the expectations on us plus adding family, friends, relationships, volunteer work etc. – who has time for anything else?

How often have you heard in the marketplace, “Time is money”? Well time is not money. Time is life and you and I get to choose how we spend it.

How We Spend Time

The way that we manage time can be one of the most challenging parts of our working life. But remember that Jesus had more day-to-day demands than can be imagined and yet he moved throughout his days with a peace that came from knowing that there was always enough time to accomplish His Father’s will for that day. All the time that God allows to us, is just enough for the work that He calls us to. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Each year Brenda and I take a day to do planning for how we are going to use our time and resources in the 12 months to follow. It is our family annual general meeting and we do this right around the change of the calendar year. We are about to have that meeting and dream about our intentional use of our time in 2015. I said “dream” because we have certainly been reminded this year that time is in the Lord’s hands. However, this year it is perhaps more important for us to meet and discuss our use of time. We now have to factor in our energy level and capacity for activity. We have to be selective about our relationships – spending time with those who are inspiring and hope carriers and not draining. We are discerning about how we spend our minutes.

So I am thinking a lot about time. In fact I am spending more time than ever before planning how to spend my time.

Time With God

Time is precious. It is our most precious commodity. That is why I wanted to write something about it and emphasize that the most important activity of our day is actually our time with God. I have never been perfect at having intentional time with God but I have a long enough history and experience to know that it is extremely important.

Scripture reminds us, “Make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-to-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing!” ROMANS 13:11-12 MSG

If you spend days, weeks, months acting oblivious to God it is going to make a difference. What if you didn’t spend consistent time with your spouse, your family or friends? It would result in losing touch with one another – a lack of closeness making you feel “out of touch.” The same thing happens in your relationship with God if you do not spend consistent time with him.

So with all that you have to do during the day, make sure that your time with God does not go by the wayside. Make it a priority for the day. You can move around other appointments, but not your time with God. Figure out what works best for you. When is the best time? Just find a few minutes of private Bible reading, prayer, and close by thanking God for all He does for you and who He is. By doing so you will learn to love Him.

So that is how I am going to use my extra minute. Quiet time with God in my library and favorite chair.

Every day God thinks of you. – Psalm 68:19

Every hour God looks after you.- 2 Thessalonians 3:3

Every minute God cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7

Because every second, He loves you. – Jeremiah 31:3

Pue’s Christmas Card 2014

Pues 226Charles Dickens wrote, ‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.’ Well 2014 has proven to be such a year for us.

On January 2nd a routine X-ray revealed a tumour in Brenda’s right lung that was confirmed as Stage IV Lung Cancer. We agree that this is the worst news we as a family have ever received in our collective lifetime.

Within ten days Brenda’s mom moved in to care for us all and, gratefully, is still with us. Brenda was told to get her affairs in order and was given about six months to live (June). Family and close friends became even more important. Time with God was and is essential. People around the globe began praying for us. 2014 has been a year marked by prayer, listening, learning, and seeing God in the ordinary.

BLOGlowres (432 of 437)It has been a year of family retreats. All 12 of us gathered together on four different occasions – grandparents, parents, and grandchildren. These times away, plus family nights twice per month, have brought tenderness to an otherwise intense year.

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In August, we boated up the coast with life friends and Brenda celebrated the birthday that we didn’t think we would see.

In October our hearts filled with gratitude for the gift of another Thanksgiving, which also marked our 38th Anniversary. On the 31st  Carson stepped down from his role as ED at First so that we could have more time together. He continues to work part time advising on our church’s building project.

In November Arrow Leadership hosted a retirement celebration for Brenda that was very moving. As well we enjoyed three grandkids’ birthdays. All of these celebrations held something deeper for us.lowres (285 of 347)

Brenda is sharing her journey online and you may follow her here: www.caringbridge.org/visit/brendapue

The best of times? Well we didn’t know that such sweetness was possible in a cancer journey. But we do know that with God all things are possible.

Love, Carson and Brenda
21707 – 46 Ave, Langley BC, Canada V3A 8M9

Brenda Pue: One Hundred and Forty Six Days

146 Days

It is amazing that we are 146 days into Brenda’s diagnosis. We have been so blessed by the love and support of our family, friends and our church and the Arrow Leadership network.

Brenda is doing remarkably well all things considered. I wanted you to see for yourself so here are two video clips. The first is a message that she recorded for a series of Arrow events across the country that had she been well she would have probably attended with Dr. Steve Brown and our friend Ken Shigematsu who was speaking about rhythm based on his best-selling book “God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God.” It was recorded one week after her diagnosis.

She recorded it to greet hundreds of Arrow leaders whom she has known personally over many years.

 

Best Easter Ever

Brenda has only been able to attend church once with me since January – and that was on Resurrection Sunday. While I was in the midst of talking to our congregation. Safe to say I was not at the top of my game as it was an emotional day for me.

My colleague, and Senior Minister, Darrell Johnson sidled up beside me – and you can watch what happened. He pointed out to the church that Brenda was present and invited her up onto the platform with me. She spoke for just a few moments – and it was powerful. We have felt such love from this congregation in the heart of this great city.

Caring Bridge

Brenda’s writing about her journey has captured the attention of thousands and touched many hearts. I have been collecting all of her entries and we are praying about publishing it in a book form for others who face (what the medical community call) terminal illness. What is interesting is the amount of peace we feel when we take just one day at a time.

Brenda’s latest entry can be read HERE.

 

The Upside Down Cross

The daily commute and normal people

Skytrain-BurrardI love taking public transit to work and one of the reasons is that it surrounds me every day with ‘normal’ people – those who are not followers of Jesus. I say normal because they are the majority – especially in my city.

Yesterday, a young woman in her twenties boarded the train dressed in black from head to toe and sat right in front of me facing sideways. She was sharply dressed and looked as though she might work in one of the large office towers in the city centre. Her style was like ‘professional Goth.’

As she was getting settled in her seat she turned her head to the side and I was able to see a tattoo on her left cheek. It was an upside down cross.

“I notice your tattoo, where did you get it done?” I asked. (If you are putting a tattoo on your face I figure you are inviting conversation.) She looked directly into my eyes pondering if she would even respond. Was I being judgmental or condemning? Why was this man even talking to me? Eventually she answered with the name of an artist and she had it done nine blocks from our church.

“I guess if you are going to get a tattoo on your face, you would sure want to have the right artist.” I answered. “My son gets his done by an artist in Calgary.” This seemed to suddenly change our relationship and I even got a small smile. Now, keep in mind, the entire time I am looking at a young woman the age of my oldest daughter-in-law. She is attractive yet her dark eye makeup and the upside down cross on her face shout out a defiance that I am sure comes out of deep hurt.

“What is the meaning of the tatt?”inverted-cross

Laughing she responded, “It is my way of giving the finger to organized religion”

“Well it is a very appropriate tattoo for this week,” I responded.

“Why is that?”

“Because the Pope announced he is resigning and he actually sits on a chair that has an upside down cross engraved on it.”

“He does? Unreal!” She was really mystified. “Why.. would the Pope have this on his chair?”

“Well maybe he wasn’t brave enough to put it on his face,” I quipped.

She laughed with a big smile.

Flummoxed

“Before I tell you more, and out of respect for you, I want you to know that I am a minister. I work at First Baptist downtown.” She was flummoxed, her head now fully cocked to one side.

I continued, “I know that organized religion can be incredibly frustrating for people to understand and even experience.” More puzzled looks. “But the Pope has your symbol (pointing to her cheek) on his chair because for us as Christians it reminds us of Peter, one of Jesus’s disciples. Peter was  crucified on a cross like Jesus – but upside down. He was killed because he refused to renounce his faith in Jesus. He didn’t feel himself worthy to be crucified like Jesus and asked to be hung upside down..hence the cross on the Pope’s chair. The church was founded by this man – Peter.”

With a subdued softer bewildered look, she began to gather her things together getting ready for her stop. My morning friend did not seem anxious to run away and, had our commute allowed it, she might have liked to talk more.

Invite rather than tell

The Cross of St. Peter is shown in this French...

What will she think about when she looks in a mirror today, and tomorrow, and next week?

Inviting people to think, instead of telling them what to think is an effective way to engage normal people.

I hope I meet ‘cross lady’ again to continue the conversation.

Sitting in Daddy’s Chair

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As the rain gently fell upon the skylight above me I noticed the quietness of this moment. There was a holiness about it.

Memories of images – seeing you sitting in this chair early in the morning reading, often with the Bible in one hand and the paper in the other trying to make sense of life through the lens of God’s Word.

Thank you dad – for life, for your chair, and for all that you instilled.

Irish storytelling, wisdom, humour, faith, and a diligent work ethic. For your love of my mother, the church, duck-hunting, and working with your hands – you have left a legacy that often makes me smile.

I’m missing you this morning. I wish you were here to see how my wife has matured into that amazing woman you always thought she would be even from the earliest moments. I miss seeing you look at her with fatherly eyes and embracing her as if she were your own.

I’m missing you not knowing your grandsons as young men. Dad, they are incredible and I see a lot of you in them. Faithful, intelligent, wise, talented, generous, helpful, loving, funny and handsome are some of the words that describe them today. And the women they have partnered with are amazingly perfect for each of them and proof the Pue thing is continuing another generation. Oh Dad, how I wish these ladies had known you. You would have loved each of them, and they you. They are all teasable but can dish it out too – each of them loving and strong, kind and wise, generous and faith filled.

I’m missing you not being here to experience your great grandsons . They would have brought so much joy to you. Each of them unique, much like your own sons. There is an Irishness about each of them that would make your eyes twinkle. When I’m with them I realize the love I feel is with the same kind of love that you shared with my sons and they with you.

I’m missing you as we prepare to welcome our first grand-daughter – picturing you with tears as you would have held her in your big arms with her head completely protected as it rests in your large hand.

I’m missing you and the thought that your “wee lad” as you called him even when he could take on both of his brothers without showing any fear, plans his wedding. I know he wishes he could have introduced his fiancé to you. He is so in love and so proud of her. You would adore her as we do, she too is perfect for him.

I’m missing you when I think about how much you would love our church. The preaching, the choir, the worship, the opportunities – and I can’t help but smile as I think of your pleasure that I am back in the local church.

Yet as I sit in this chair, I realize you haven’t missed anything have you? Your love somehow continues to flow. You do love your grand daughters and wink affirmingly about them to “your boys”. You are cheering blessings over those great grand kids. You are still so proud of my bride and believe in her – being Dad to her, and if it were possible – still spoiling her.

And for me, I have not only a chair but years of Sunday phone call memories where each you closed with “you’ve got to walk by faith son.”

I still hear you Dad, and try to do so every day.

– Carson Pue

Poverty to Prosperity: Singapore

Back to the City

For those of you who have been following Bob and I on this journey around the world and have read my updates you may appreciate the shock we experienced being transported from a Lahu village to downtown Singapore.

Singapore is both an island and a country, and just one degree off the equator. On our drive from the airport to downtown I was struck again by Singapore’s abundance of parks, and lush, tropical greenery. Although highly urbanized and densely populated (five million people), fifty percent of land area of Singapore is covered by greenery.

I also noticed construction cranes present and a lot of growth in magnificent skyscrapers since my last visit. There is a building boom taking place for sure.

We stayed right downtown in the Orchard district. Its unique ethnic tapestry blends Malay, Chinese, Arab, Indian and English cultures and their religions and food. The cuisine here is amazing.

Focus words that come to my mind re Singapore are: clean, safe, efficient, and opulent. I have Singaporeans as friends and love that they are friendly, confident, and determined.  It is a “get ‘er done” city that boasts the highest concentration of millionaires anywhere on the planet.

With fifteen percent of the households here filled with millionaires it has become a shopping paradise. Singapore’s malls along Orchard Street are populated with high fashion brand name stores kept open late into the night or open for 24 hours. An intricate network of underground passages, tunnels, and walkways connects them but we got a bit lost while walking back to our hotel.

Opulence

Another thing that got me a bit lost here was the opulence. I mean how many Prada stores do you really need – (or insert your favorite high fashion brand)? We had jumped from the simplicity of the village to this urban hub that seemed to lack for nothing.

It made me grateful for those who live here and are trying to minister to these people. Peter Chao and my friends at Eagles Communication have been doing so since 1968. They have watched Singapore grow up around them and are held in very high regard.

There are many mega churches in Singapore like:  City Harvest Church (30,000), Faith Community Baptist Church (10,000) and New Creation Church (24,000) along many other churches with one to five thousand attending weekly.

Bob and I attended New Creation Church at the Rock Theatre in a shopping mall. We were there right at the start time of the service and met by some friendly hosts who informed us that the theatre was full and could they escort us to the shuttle that took us to an alternate location.

Impressive

It was impressive. Every fifty feet there was another volunteer pointing the way down this hallway and the next eventually leading to escalators. We rode these down to a back entrance where we queued up with about two hundred other people awaiting the arrival of shuttle buses that came about every eight minutes.

I stopped to ask the leader of their “hosts” how many people he needed to ‘make all this happen?’ He replied, 1,100.

“At all the campuses?” I asked.

“No, that is just here at the overflow. I am not sure how many we have altogether.”

I was gob smacked by this yet another reminder of how much time people ‘sacrifice’ in the global south. This is a consistent theme I have encountered on this trip. (Sacrifice is my term for most volunteers in the North think they are sacrificing when they give of their time).

After a ten-minute bus ride we entered the underground parking level of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, this iconic landmark in the city.

From the bus another string of volunteers led us up elevators to a floor where the church had taken over every ballroom and converted them into seating areas or children’s ministry centers – and this was the overflow section!

 

We had missed all the singing and sat down in time for the sermon by Joseph Prince who is known globally through television and books. That is not his birth name – he changed it … not unlike a movie star.

It Takes All Kinds

Prince is known for ‘Word of Faith’ teaching, which means by faith one has the guarantee to be healthy and prosperous. This theme clearly runs through his communication but Prince has changed the basic premise. Instead of using “by faith”, he teaches it is “by grace,” so it has more of an appeal. An example of this prosperity gospel language can be found in his books, such as:

You are destined to reign in life You are called by the Lord to be a success, to enjoy wealth, to enjoy health, and enjoy a life of victory.Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious – Joseph Prince 2007

I intuit that this kind of message is especially effective among people from a Buddhist culture and perhaps from poor family backgrounds – but I’d like to study this more on my return in discussion with my Asian friends and colleagues.

During our Sunday visit I found his sermon using a lot of scripture that was projected on the four large screens. He preached against sin and of God’s grace. The appeal for offering was not high-pressured.

It takes all kinds of Christian churches to reach all kinds of people from village people to über wealthy, urban, suburban, white, black, latino, asian whatever cultural background and influence.

Surely God can work through Bible Churches, Charismatic Churches, Traditional Churches, and Seeker Churches. He can use Baptist Christians, Methodist Christians, Episcopal Christians, and Spirit-filled tongue talking Holy Ghost rollin’ Christians.

Over this global experience of meeting followers of Jesus of many tribes I want to say this: No matter how much you enjoy your particular expression of worship, your church won’t reach the world alone.

Northern Thailand: The Village and Loving Your Neighbor

THE LAHU PEOPLE

My niece Christina lives in Chiang Mai. She is a teacher there and speaks Thai fluently, which was a huge advantage during our visit there. She is married to Teerawood, a man she met while on a mission trip, who is from one of the hillside tribal groups called Lahu.

Many of his family members still live in the hills near the Burma border. These hills are sometimes referred to as mountains but for someone from Vancouver we will just try to stick with hills.

BURMA

In 1989, the military government “officially changed” many British colonial-era names. Among these changes was the alteration of the name of the country to “Myanmar“. Many countries in the world (including Canada) do not officially recognize the name and still refer to the nation as Burma, which is what I am choosing to do in this article.

Burma is one of the poorest countries in the world and has had a civil war taking place for the past fifty years. The decades of military dictatorship have basically destroyed the country’s infrastructure and leaving over 30% of the population of 50 million live in poverty. Burma under this regime has become the world’s second largest opium producer and the main producer of methamphetamines in SE Asia.

World Vision tell me that the country also has one of the highest HIV infection rates in Southeast Asia–more than 240,000 people are living with HIV and AIDS.

Foreign Affairs Canada advises against all travel to areas along the Burma/Thai border due to “clashes between the military and armed groups, ethnic conflict, banditry, and unmarked landmines in these areas which pose risks to the security of travellers.” Okay, that seems pretty straightforward. Sporadic fighting between military forces and armed resistance groups is still occurring along the border with Thailand and, tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced and are living, hiding or are in refugee camps

So, when Bob and I were asked us if we would like to go to ‘the village’ by the border we weighed the situation for about fifteen seconds and then jumped at the opportunity.

THE VILLAGE

It was almost a four-hour drive north of the city through stunning countryside. The lush vegetation, valleys, rivers and villages along the way were worth the trip of themselves. The jungle made me constantly think about Vietnam and how they could ever fight a war in jungle like this.

When we reached the village of Huay Kok Moo it was like entering another world. The village name translates ‘Pig Pen Village’ and derived its name because the people there literally keep their pigs in pens.

Everyone we met welcomed us warmly. They are not used to having too many visitors in this remote area. The mountains in the background mark the border to Burma and the close proximity made it clear why the people here are affected by the government struggles. At night you can sometimes hear the gunfire from near the border just kilometers away.

Our sleeping accommodation was on the second floor of a home building were the entire family slept together on the floor with mosquito nets over each bed. After getting our beds set up and dropping off our overnight bags we walked through the village on paths up and down the hills as the neighbors and especially the children stared and smiled. Usually built on stilts using split bamboo for walls and grass for roof thatch, most of these small houses have no running water.

Many  village houses are raised up on stilts and underneath are kept the family chickens and pigs. Inside you see a supply of bare-bones essentials: partitioned sleeping quarters with a mat for a bed and a kitchen of sorts with a wood-burning hearth on the floor. The kitchen doubles as a social gathering place for its inhabitants.

There is primitive electricity now in the village and a few satellite dishes set outside the huts making me smile just thinking about the positive and negative influence of television on this tribal culture.

Back at Teerawood’s parents home the women were busy cooking the evening meal. A number of guests had been invited to meet with us – pastors in the area (really the elders of the village).

The meal was greens and fruit picked from the garden or jungle, some chicken, pork, rice and garnished with some spicy condiments and hot local tea. For dessert we ate the most delicious pineapple and mango we have every tasted – picked just minutes before.

As we talked after dinner I observed a beautiful simplicity to life here in the village. The people are usually smiling, gentle and caring for their neighbor. These particulate Lahu people are mostly Christian having been reached by missionaries years ago. They know well the teachings of Jesus about loving your neighbor as yourself. Yet many of them are displaced themselves from Burma.

The war in Burma is truly a horrendous situation. Rambo notwithstanding, the stories have not been exaggerated. Torture, murder, systematic rape, villages burned down, men forced to carry heavy loads for days on end with no food or to “sweep” for landmines…it all happens. There are apparently over 100,000 Burmese refugees living in the jungle in camps on the Thai side of the Thai-Burma border. Agencies of the Thai government and NGO’s are helping to get them resettled but as soon as they are new ones arrive to take their place.

I wondered, “How do you love neighbors like the Burma Army and their execution squads?”

LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR

In Thai the word for village is หมู่บ้าน (pronounced ‘muban’).

When in Chiang Mai, Christina would refer to what I would have called subdivisions as muban. They were ‘villages’. The city is composed of neighborhood ‘villages’ and I love the image of this.

Our neighborhoods in Vancouver are actually like little villages – although we often don’t love and care for one another like they do here in Huay Kok Moo. I don’t have to live with the thought of a military force displacing me or forcing me to walk before them across roads or rice fields to clear mines. But we have a struggle of our own taking place in that I see clearly as a Christian leader in a downtown church.

We live in interesting, and challenging days being followers of Jesus of Nazareth in Vancouver. In one of Jesus’ central teachings, he commands us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31). Yet we don’t know what to do when we don’t agree with our neighbor about something – especially something important, like our religious beliefs. And while we love our neighbor in “the village” by meeting physical needs and being kind, there is an overlooked, application of this passage.

To really to love our neighbor we actually need to stand up for the possibility of truth. We need to protect the endangerment of honest disagreement concerning the nature of reality.

Today a battle is raging in movies, television, newspapers and university classrooms concerning the nature of tolerance. There seem to be 2 competing definitions:
(1) False Tolerance: We can make no judgments at all about the truth of others’ beliefs.

(2) True Tolerance: We allow others the freedom to hold beliefs that we judge to be false.

If we cannot tell our neighbors or ourselves the truth about reality, then we cannot really love them. Because love involves seeking another’s highest good. We must fight false tolerance that seeks to intellectually bully our village into agreeing that every viewpoint (especially when it comes to religion, and morality) is equally valid.

We must speak up in love for the possibility of truth.

Loving our neighbor requires this.

Thai Wai, Family, Spirits and Kissing

  The Wai Greeting

When we arrived in Thailand we were greeted by people raising both hands, palms touching with the fingers pointing upwards as if in prayer but touching the body somewhere on their head or chest. This called wai – pronounced ‘why’.

The wai is a sign of greeting but also respect in Thai culture. These people are extremely respectful of hierarchical relationships and during our time in Thailand I sensed people we met were trying to place where we fit within a hierarchy so they know how we should be treated.

There are many variations of the wai depending on the difference in status or level. The heights of the palms are the most crucial criteria of respect to be demonstrated to another. The higher the more respect is paid.  Here is a list I found that summarizes the rules for wai:

  • With less important: Thumbs about on breast height.
  • With ones of equal rank: Thumbs about on chin level.
  • With important and older people: Thumbs on level of the upper lip.
  • With very important people: Thumbs on level of the nose tip.
  • With monks (and members of the royal family): Thumbs on level of the eyebrows.

Family


When Bob and I came through security at the Chiang Mai airport, we received a different kind of welcome. My niece Christy and her husband Cahtaw were there to greet us with their children Isaiah and Celina. They were all excited to see Uncle Carson. There was no questioning where we fit in a hierarchy – we were family.

No wai here – just lots of hugs.

Family seems to be the cornerstone that holds Thai society together. It reminds me of Ireland where family relationships are more closely knit than in most western cultures.

However, in Thailand, as with most Asian cultures, there is a strong hierarchy within the family structure with males and older individuals occupying a higher status. The role of the wife is to be passive and to adhere to husband’s family, be subservient to the male, take care of the home, and to have children (preferably sons). The role of the male is to provide for the family however the primary duty is to be a good son; obligations to be a good husband and father come second to duty as a son.

Present and the Past – at the same time

Now it is one thing to live with this in the present, but in Thailand you see many ‘spirit houses’ on display outside homes. I found this interesting because Buddhism dominates Thailand and yet spirit worship (animism) are found side by side. In Thailand devotion to Buddhism most often shows itself in ritual within a temple while Thai devotion to spirits most often shows itself in their own front yards. There can be a statue of Buddha in the doorway and a spirit house outside.

It is not uncommon for Thai’s to worship the spirits of ancestors and therefore live in a constant “past present” time orientation. So this ‘respect’ for family members can transcend even death. I witnessed people give wai towards a spirit house in respect of the ancestor or spirit they thought was occupying the house.

It is for reasons like this that Christian believers in Thailand have questions about whether they should use the wai or respond when waied (if that is a word?). It can symbolize belief in spirits or be viewed as an act of worship – hence the problem. This is perhaps a topic for a separate blog, let me instead get back to familial hierarchy.

I have been pondering this as a follower of Jesus, and as a leader in a multi-ethnic church where we are trying to create community in the heart of the city. Hierarchy does not flow from the mandate and example of Jesus. He emphasizes servant leadership – “first shall be last” modelling.

The doctrine of the Trinity itself – three equal while different persons – challenges hierarchical structures of power. The word hierarchy is not found anywhere in the New Testament. So is it right for Asian Christians, or Irish Christians for that matter to place more importance of family and hierarchy than on what Jesus desires for us?

More pondering required on this.

Wai/Kiss

In other countries where Bob and I have visited we have been greeted with a “holy kiss”. In South America, people are fairly tactile: they hug and kiss (on the cheek) and hold hands all the time. This men-kissing-men takes a lot of getting used to, especially for us reserved Canadians.

In Peru they kissed twice, once on each cheek, and in Argentina it was three times – a formulae I always seemed to get wrong. Do you go for the right cheek, the left cheek? Do you hold back and wait? Do you lunge and embarrassingly kiss mid-air or bump heads? It was safer in Kuwait. There, kissing outside the home can land you in jail for a week, but then again so can driving a jet ski inside a little red buoy – but that is another story. 🙂

While I loved the graceful gesture of the wai in Thailand, it will not be a practice I am encouraging back home.

I think we need to kiss more.

Transformation of Kuwait

Kuwait City

I have come here really knowing Kuwait for one reason; it was a catalyst in sparking the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991. Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait August 2, 1990 bombing Kuwait City to smithereens. In response to this surprise attack, President George H. Bush deployed American troops to Kuwait as part of a coalition force to beat back the Iraqi Army. But the damage had already been done. Kuwait City was in ruins. Iraqi troops set oil wells on fire, eliminated all resistance, and stole $700 million worth of gold bullion was from the Kuwaiti government.

Today, Kuwait City is a completely different place. With help from the US and other countries, they have rebuilt a new country and so much of the city has been rebuilt from the sand up.

Driving in Kuwait, the modern buildings of Al Kuwayt (Kuwait City) pierce the skyline proudly show casing the wealth of the nation. The architecture is outstanding. We could also see the palm trees and plush green landscape weaving through this concrete jungle, and sparkling blue water of the Persian Gulf encompasses the northern part of the city.

It is flat.

It looks like you are in Saskatchewan at harvest time for golden sand stretches to the horizon. (Well, it does but without the grass, rolling hills and trees.) The highest point in this entire postage stamp size country is 306 meters high.

The population of Kuwait is about 2.5 million. Most of them live in Kuwait City and of these, one-half are non-nationals hired to serve the Kuwaitis.

Transformation and Change

The people once lived as tribal nomads or as town dwellers but with the discovery of oil in the twentieth century, the traditional Arab culture of Kuwait advanced rapidly. Unlike most Arab countries, Kuwaiti Arabs enjoy a modern, industrialized society. However, I did witness how at times the old “Arab ways” and values conflicted with modern, urban life.

Kuwait is hot. The temperature remained in the low forties the entire time we were there. Bob and I are travelling with special clothing made for washing in hotel room sinks and drying over the shower bar. During our time in Rwanda it rained a fair bit and so drying our clothes became a three day operation. I did a wash in Kuwait, hung my clothes to dry outside and voila! Ten minutes later they were not only bone dry, but stiff also!

Islam and other faiths

The prophet Mohammed lived in the area, and it was here that he developed Islam as a new religion. Kuwait culture is now based on Islam, and it is the main religion in Kuwait. It influences architecture, clothing, food and other ways of life.

The Grand Mosque

While Muslims demand for concessions in non-Muslim countries like my own, Canada – non-Muslims are systematically persecuted, terrorized and ethnically cleansed from most Islamic lands. But unlike other Arab countries, Kuwait allows non-nationals to practice their own faiths. Today, eighty-five percent of the people here are Muslim and the remaining thirteen percent are Christian, and two percent Hindu, and Parsi followers.

The church

So in the heart of Kuwait City there is a church – by that I mean the body of followers of Jesus – who are living and leading well. I do not want to be too specific about the nature of their ministry so as to not possibly hinder their presence there, but I had the privilege of preaching at four of their twenty-four services on the weekend we were there. That is correct, twenty-four. (I think it is now up to twenty-eight). Bob also preached a one of the services and it was a very meaningful experience for us both. This is a church that ‘gives back’ when you preach. They are engaged, responsive and people of action. You get the impression they will take what they learn from this sermon and apply it next week where they live or work.

A ministry and marriage seminar was also held on the weekend for leaders of this large congregation and I was again impressed and touched by this group of people. I loved them and their leaders.

This is a church that has grown through multiplication. At the heart of it is transformation – they celebrate transformation in people’s lives. They have a very in-depth discipleship process as a key element of their church.

As I have pondered our fantastic time in Kuwait (including an afternoon on jet skis in the Persian Gulf) I learned something I am bringing home to our church.

Transformation is the key,
and obedience is the key to transformation.
And when transformation happens, multiplication always follows.

My new word for child prostitute: “Victim”

Sanjay Macwan, Executive Director International Justice Mission in Mumbai, India

During our week in Mumbai we spent time with the team at International Justice Mission with Sanjay Macwan, the IJM Mumbai Director and Jamie McIntosh, part of the Arrow Leadership community and Executive Director of IJM in Canada.

It provided us an opportunity to meet with their team – a committed group of men and women who go out daily gathering information on brothels and human trafficking sites throughout Mumbai.  It was a real eye opener for Bob and I to hear them tell of the detail that goes into finding girls and women who have been forced into the sex trade and partnering with local officials to release them.

Effective

The topic of human trafficking has been somewhat trendy in North America among Christian organizations for the past five or more years. By that I mean that many organizations have started using the language in their brochures and newsletters – now how involved they are in effectively doing something about it is another question. IJM are effective.

Informed and knowledgeable as I was on the subject, I was not prepared for the emotions related to being in this setting with this team and then meeting some of the girls freed from slavery by the cooperative work of IJM and the law enforcement agencies of Mumbai.

Carson gets Angry

A large percentage of adult women and men in prostitution here are trafficked into “the trade” by force, fraud or coercion. Typically, the victims are young women and children from villages who are recruited by traffickers through the fraudulent promise of work in the cities. When they arrive – usually by India’s efficient trains – they are sold to brothel owners and forced into prostitution in any number of different venues, from the more traditional “cages” brothels to beer bars, dance clubs, slum brothels, and flat brothels scattered across this massive city.

There are naive and vulnerable girls lured by slick-talking people promising them work who are then often drugged, beaten while they are held hostage for sex. These are children, and the casualties of human trafficking that IJM are specifically targeting. While visiting the girls in one Aftercare home we saw a room filled with sewing machines with girls producing beautiful products. It was encouraging to see the smiles on their faces as you admired their work.

“Every one of these girls has been raped,” the Aftercare home director said quietly.

My head tilted to the side.

I felt numb.

But then anger began to well up inside me. I was ready to call the Pue boys, get them over here and help me do something about this. I will not share what I was thinking of doing – but I was so upset by how ‘not right’ this all was. My favorite Bible verse suddenly become Matthew 21:12 (I am saying that with a smile).


Extreme Poverty Ripples Out

In places of extreme poverty mothers also sell their children into prostitution for a quick but meager influx of cash. We met a young girl in an IJM Aftercare home who had been sold by her mother for only eight thousand rupees, about $150 Canadian dollars. These girls are locked up for days, starved, and beaten until they learn to service up to 25-30 clients a day.

As I stared at this sweet dear child in front of me I pictured my grandsons who are excitedly awaiting my arrival back home. I thought of Kristin and Shari, my two daughters-in-law who are amazing mothers and love their boys so much. I wondered how possibly a mother could sell their own child and just walk away. It is beyond our ability to even imagine –but extreme poverty has ripple effects that are often out of sight and out of mind.

Minor victims

Unfortunately, sex trafficking is thriving in Mumbai and this was completely visible to us. I personally saw young girls that were unquestionably minors who were now working in the red light district. While I expect that it is near impossible for anyone to get accurate statistics the country’s federal police said four years ago that 1.2 million children were involved in prostitution in India. IJM have noticed a decrease in minors in the years following but I suspect that it is because of the work they and others are doing with local law enforcement to focus specifically on seeking convictions for those who are trafficking children.

In our week there we celebrated with the team on the ruling from the courts convicting a brothel manager from an arrest they assisted with two years earlier. There are many stories of rescues that provide hope and I am so impressed by the passion, conviction and professionalism of the International Justice Mission staff. They don’t want a “Pue boy” solution like I had in my head. This team of Indian nationals wants to actually change the system, the society, so that this will stop completely.

To act justly

As a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, and a leader in the church, I am inspired by Michah 6:8 and the mandate that it shouts out for Christians:

He has showed you, O man, what is good.

And what does the LORD require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Walking humbly with God means taking a healthy assessment of who you are – recognizing that it is only by Jesus and God’s grace that you are saved from your sinful nature. Others can as well and need to be told of this.

Loving mercy is to be compassionate for our God is a compassionate God. We are to have mercy on those impoverished around us. I believe every Christian needs to have some aspect of their life and income focused on people in poverty. Consider how you can reflect God’s heart for the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the strangers and aliens, the migrants and refugees, the hopeless and helpless, and the last, the lost and children.

To act justly is to do what is right – re-enacting God’s mercy. Our serving justice in an unjust world is our acting out the gospel. But to act justly is much more difficult for churches, for by doing so we seek to address underlying causes more than symptoms. Although difficult, it must be a part of Christian ministry. I am personally challenged to help see that justice is a part of being a fully mature disciple in our community and can hardly wait to gather our Mission and Justice team at First Baptist to discuss these things with them.

Howard Snyder summarized the challenge for those of us leading in the church: “Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people think about how to get people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world”

 Back Home

When I am home in Vancouver, in a North American context this will take on a different ‘feel’ than it does for me right now being a fresh experience. I have a video I am bringing home and will show when speaking if appropriate. It is about a young girl that we were with at the Aftercare home. When Jamie asked how she was doing she looked at him with eyes that were hopeful but did reveal she has lived in hell for part of her childhood.

With a strong voice and a smile on her face she said, “I no longer look back at the past, I have been rescued and I am looking forward. I want to live in such a way that other girls will not have to go through what happened to me.”

This young woman was rescued and will never be the same.

After meeting her, I don’t think I will be either.