Thursday, 30 July 2015

The amazing 2 week legacy of John Livingstone Nevius.

I've just returned from a wonderful two week holiday in a far flung place, but if you write to the locals next week they would not remember me. There is no trace of me having been amongst them, no legacy from my impact, any tracks left in the sand long since washed away.
John Livingstone Nevius spent only two weeks in Korea in 1890, yet the simple advice he gave to missionary leaders on that visit continues to shape the ongoing growth of the Korean church to this day!

Travelling into Korea from his base in China, Nevius was at odds with the normal, colonial missionary approach. He understood that both the gospel and church plants failed to penetrate national culture when they remained in the hands of western missionary leadership. Nevius believed that local leaders could and should be trained. Leaders who could establish their own churches and reach their own people far more effectively.

Thankfully the Korean missionary group who heard Nevius in 1890 were open to his remarks. He left them four principles which continue to underpin the growing work there. These principles were staggering at the time, and even now have a ring of mutuality and pragmatism which we would do well to take note of in the UK, nevermind in our work into other cultures.

1/ Nevius said that Christians should remain in the situation in which they lived, learning to witness to their friends and family within their circle. He stressed the importance of the new church not becoming dependent on ministers or missionaries to do the work - rather, they should release ordinary believers who are equipped through study and prayer.

2/ Structures should only be developed if the local church can take full responsibility for them. No more schools or clinics which are funded by missionaries originally, which later become a huge financial liability for local believers.

3/ The Korean church should select it's own leaders, appoint them, and take responsibility for supporting them. Again, local leaders should not be imposed from outside of the culture, especially those funded by foreigners!

4/ Church buildings should reflect the Korean style, and built from the resources of the local believers rather than being funded from a missionary pot. There was no place in Nevius's thinking for replica Anglican gothic buildings complete with clock towers and gargoyles in downtown Seoul!

In Western Europe today, as the church struggles to connect it's message to rapidly changing culture, Nevius has things to teach us. If he spent two weeks amongst us, would he remark in similar fashion?
What we can't argue with is the stats -in 1900 Korea had a Christian population of 0.1% Today it is nearer to 35% with perhaps as many as half the people in the capital, Seoul now following Christ.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Founder's Day - Reflections on 150 years of the Salvation Army.

As a young boy growing up in the Salvation Army, it seemed as though every home I would go to had a dark and terrifying print of William Booth, usually on the stairs. It was worse at night, the beaked nose, the stern face, the full white beard - all left a young Junior Soldier like me in awe of The Founder!

As an adult, I'm no longer scared of William Booth, but I remain in awe of his life, the ferocious pace, the crystal clear vision which first impacted the East End of London, then quickly spread around the world.

150 years ago today, Booth began preaching in the filthy poor streets of the East End, true Dickensian England at it's worst. His motto from the start, 'Go for souls and go for the worst!' Night after night in those early days he would return home after midnight, bruised, bleeding, his clothes sometimes torn after being assaulted. It was only after the conversion of former prize fighter Peter Monk that Booth had a bodyguard to stand with him in the more intimidating moments.

Stations opened up quickly across London as Booth discovered the established church didn't want his kind of converts. One radically changed life attracted another, and an army of saved men and   women was born.

In the space of only 20 years, Booth's East End mission had expanded to 80 church plants, 130 Evangelists, 1000's of volunteer preachers - but the onset of fierce persecution against the Salvation Army in the 1880's only caused the pace of growth to increase more rapidly. In 1882 alone, almost 700 Salvation Army leaders were brutally assaulted, and the first martyr for the gospel came at Hastings that year.

Great social change was taking place in late Victorian Britain, and Booth and his Salvation Army were at the forefront here too. More than just a gospel preaching movement, they fought for the rights of the poor and the worker, lobbying parliament, setting up homeless shelters and eating houses way before their time - always with the gospel to the fore - 'You can't preach the gospel to a man with an empty stomach', were Booth's words which led to the slogan, 'Soup, soap and Salvation!'

Nearing the end of his life, Booth was told to slow down. His response: 'While women weep as they do now, I'll fight; While little children go hungry as they do now, I'll fight; While men go in and out of prison as they do now, I'll fight. I'll fight to the very end.'

By the time of his death in 1912, Booth had travelled all over the world. The Salvation Army had already spread into 58 countries and his gospel had touched the lives of 100's of 1000's from amongst the poorest of society.

The General whose face scared me as a child and shaped my upbringing, began a kingdom legacy 150 years ago today which is still not complete. He would not have been one to rest and celebrate. Even when he had the chance to mix with royalty later in life, the gospel was the one focus of his thinking. Writing to King Edward VII these words say it all: 'Sire, some men's ambition is art. Some men's ambition is fame. Some men's ambition is gold. My ambition is the souls of men.'

We salute you today General Booth. May your one ambition continue to be realised through us!