I am an anxious parent

Another  biblical exhortation to not fear.
This one is also from Genesis (I will jump into the New Testament also), when Hagar was sent away by Sarah and is convinced both her and Ishmael will perish in the desert.

What troubles you?

Hagar has little food and no water. It is obvious what the outcome will be and she cannot bear to watch her own child die of thirst. How many millions of women have wept in Africa and elsewhere as their children slip from this world for lack of water? How many have desperately cried out to God and received no answer?

And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. (Genesis 21:17 ESV)

The unseen

In this particular case God says to Hagar, “Fear not”. Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. (Genesis 21:19 ESV)

These incidents always seem odd to me – how come there was a well of water there but she couldn’t see it? How this actually happens is a mystery but these sorts of incidents are moderately common in the Bible (see Numbers 22:31, 2 Kings 6:17-20, Luke 24:31), reminding us that there are realities out there which we are not usually able to see without God’s enabling.

Can I claim it?

Given that this promise to Hagar doesn’t really apply to Christians directly – let’s face it, Ishmael’s descendants are not particularly favourable towards Christians – can we claim this ‘fear not’ as having any relevance to us?

I think there is at least one way in which it does apply: When we are stressing over how to provide for our children we need to remember that God has a destiny mapped out for every child ever born. Sin, corruption and evil do their utmost to derail our destinies but I think we can at least be assured that it is never wrong to commit our children into God’s hands when we are anxious over being able to provide for them. In fact, Jesus tells us not to fret over food and drink because God knows we need them and we do better to seek God’s kingdom first (Luke 22:22-30).

Why children die of starvation and hunger even when their parents pray and beseech God to save them remains unanswered. The reasons for poverty, drought and food scarcity are many and I suspect God’s reasons for allowing these things are likewise very complex. I do think that regardless of our circumstances the person who pleases God most is the one who seeks him and His kingdom in all situations, even poverty. How, I do not know – I’ve never been in such a place and based on my previous performance I doubt that I would be pleasing to God in my own responses.

Try it with me

In my current circumstances I am going to turn my heart to God today and seek to glorify Him rather than my ability to plan, save, hoard or work for a paycheck.

So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.
And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
(Genesis 21:14-19 ESV)

Nothing looks the same

Last Friday evening my wife and I went to a concert by New Zealand’s two best gospel singers, Derek Lind and Steve Apirana.
Steve & Derek regularly tour NZ in support of Tear Fund, playing for donations in local churches. Their concerts are humorous and spontaneous, these guys are relaxed and genuine. They also have depth, there is no flashy lights or stage makeup, what you get is real faith accompanied by experience and wisdom.

This particular concert has challenged me. It occurred at a time when God seems to really be on my case about reaching unreached people groups in hard places with the Gospel and love of Jesus. Then along comes the Christian singer who has been in my ears since 1989 and seriously reinforces that message!

In fact God niggling at me about missions work is nothing new either, over 20 years on that one too! (I’m a slow learner). There has also been a lot of background work needing done before I would be fit to inflict upon the world.

During the month of October I was praying and writing about the Shan people of Burma. For over a year now they have been on my heart and I would love to do more than praying only. Recently I was offered the possibility of going to Thailand to visit some of the work being done amongst the Shan people there and see first hand what I have been writing and praying about.

What I am finding is that my perspective is changing. I am seeing things differently, myself, my life, my place in the world, the realities facing others don’t look the same.  There is no undoing the knowledge I now have of how much suffering is happening in Burma. With that knowledge I am responsible (to paraphrase Brooke Fraser), I cannot just pretend it is not a problem.

Nothing Looks the Same

Fly the friendly skies,
nothing looks the same.
From this distance,
nothing looks the same.
Fly the friendly skies,
and hang your head in shame.
From this altitude,
nothing looks the same.

Was that a lightning bolt?
Nothing looks the same.
Was that a camera flash?
Nothing looks the same.
Is God taking photographs,
for evidence for blame?

From this distance,
nothing looks the same.

But under the spell of gravity,
there is dissonance and danger.
This voyeur gets to touch,
and taste and small and see,
This is not fiction,
it’s fact, and it’s stranger.

This is not a checkerboard,
these are paddy fields and fishponds.
This is not quaint,
it stinks and it’s ugly.

From this distance,
nothing looks the same.
From arm’s length,
nothing looks the same.
Even from 35 millimetres,
nothing looks the same.

Just remember this
at the end of a long hard day,
I get to fly away,
you get to stay

Nothing looks the same
Nothing looks the same
Nothing looks the same

Derek Lind – Nothing Looks the Same

External Links:

I am one of the richest men in the world

Community well in Burma
Community well in Burma

Lately I have been thinking about poverty and the gap between the wealthy in this world and the poor. Oddly enough, I am actually one of the ‘wealthy’ pretty much by virtue of where I happened to be born. So here I am, wondering how we will manage to pay the bills this month, with Christmas and about 6 family birthdays looming, and an economy class summer holiday to scrape some dollars together for, wondering how I happened to get classified as ‘rich’?

Realistically, it costs a lot to live even a modest lifestyle in this country, yet people on the poverty line here are still considered to be among the wealthiest 20% of people in the world! That seems a bit screwy.

Where is our wealth?

Our family has a car. It may be 10 years old and have a few dents in it but it is reliable. However, a car is not much use without roads to drive it on. There is a network of roads from my house to any place in the country that I would like to go. These roads are maintained by thousands of workers using very expensive equipment. All paid for by taxes.

When I want some water I simply turn a tap and there it is, fresh, clean water piped into my house. The city council ensures that the water is of good quality and free from microbial contamination. This is paid for through the combined rates of all property owners in the city. New Zealand has good water supplies, we even have schemes funded by central government to assist in providing good quality water to small communities (though some politicians have taken an axe to the scheme’s budget!). Nobody here has to carry water for hours from the nearest well.

At night our family sleeps in peace. Fortunately our politicians have kept our nation free of conflict internally and have provided us with good international relations such that there is no significant threat of invasion. We have a police force that mostly keeps on top of crime and is largely free of corruption. I can go to work, even on night shift, confident that my family will be safe.

I have several tertiary qualifications, my wife also has a degree. My children are all being educated well at little personal expense to me. They learn their own language, are taught science, art and mathematics. At primary school the kids are even taught to swim because our nation is an island and kiwis love to be on, near and in the water. In addition, one of my daughters has been learning violin for 5 years in classes subsidised by the Ministry of Education.

This is only a small sampling of the riches I enjoy simply by being a citizen of this particular nation.

So even when the bills are mounting up and I grumble at the unrelenting costs of living, so long as I have even $1 in my pocket not urgently needed for basic necessities, I am rich. Our society likes to makes us think that everyone should have vast reserves of discretionary money to spend in order to be ‘happy’. The perfect dream for many is to win Lotto and have millions of dollars to spend as they like. That sort of ‘happiness’ is of little value according to Jesus:

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36 ESV)

Gifts I have noticed recently (#673 – #690):

673) More than enough food to eat.
674) Water at the turn of a tap.
675) Clean water, with no pathogens in it.
676) Hot water.
677) A water filter to remove the chlorine from and cool my clean water!
678) Electricity reliably provided to my home.
679) The ability to pay the electricity bill
680) Shops where I can buy what I need.
681) Phone and internet connections.
682) Choices in what I want to eat.
683) Freedom to worship God without harassment.
684) Bibles for sale in the local bookshops.
685) Enough clothes to be warm and comfortable.
686) Access to healthcare when I need it.
687) Good dental care, even if it does cost a lot – when necessary I manage to find the money.
688) A vote of equal significance to everyone else in elections.
689) Warm shoes.
690) Abundance of what I need.

Other posts related to this topic:

Image of well in Burma: Vision Beyond Borders

From pew warmer to poverty fighter

The Unlikely Missionary is an ebook by Dan King, a blogger who has moved from having vague thoughts about poverty to writing about the topic on his blog to taking a trip to Africa with Five Talents International.

In taking this trip from Florida to Kenya and Uganda with the purpose of helping teach basic small business skills to local people, Dan doesn’t set out to change the world, the purpose in his heart is to sow seeds. In the process a seed is also sown in his own heart:

What if my greatest impact on a trip like this went beyond the work that I did while I was there? What if I could continue to have an even greater impact in the life of my son by showing him that I’m serious about making the world a better place, and that he can help? What if this whole thing sets off a chain reaction (even if it is just in my family) to make a difference not only half-way around the world, but even in our own backyard?

He comes face to face with the reality of poverty and also hope. Beyond the stereotypes of what “poor people” look like or act like, he sees the daily struggle to cope under difficult conditions which are not of their own doing.

How is this relevant to me?

What attracted me to this ebook is what I see God doing in me through my own blog. I have just spent a month writing and praying about the difficult circumstances of the Shan people. Doing this is changing me.

Many of us live in unbelievable wealth compared to most people in this world. It is easy to forget this when the budget won’t balance and the cost of fuel and groceries goes up. But even having a vehicle which requires fuel is a sign of wealth, being able to buy a week’s worth of food all at once would be unthinkable to many. Much of the wealth we have is in the infrastructure of our society – water to our taps, education systems, healthcare – all these make our lives easy and provide opportunities for us.

Lacking infrastructure makes life really tough for people in poorer countries. Then there are injustices, exploitation, environmental disasters and wars which compound their suffering. Our world in broken. None of us can fix all this brokenness, but I challenge you to pray for what is broken.

Whatever it is that most bothers you in this broken world, pray about it consistently. Do this and I am sure God will both use you, and change you.

A tin village

Today I went to visit my other neighbours. About 500m down the road from my house is a Shan slum. It had a rickety wooden fence around it and the houses are made out of corrugated iron. The children are riding their bikes and playing on the dusty earth. I’ve assumed it’s Shan before even though I’ve never been into it, because most of these kind of slums are filled with Shan people who have escaped from the oppressive military regime in Burma and work for around $3-$6 a day as construction workers in Thailand. As a result of their work, they often move around from construction site to site, and so they just bring their families and build these slums near their work. (Visiting my neighbour)

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 26

Needing to escape the hardships of Burma, tens of thousands of Shan have migrated into Thailand hoping to find safety and a better life. It is hard to know if they really do get a better life. Being paid a pittance, living in slums, working long hours, often 7 days a week, they end up being little better than slaves.

You could say that at least they are not being persecuted by the Burma Army, but the Thai police can be quite ruthless to those who are unable to pay bribes. Without work permits Shan people still live with constant anxiety that they may be caught by police and deported back to Burma – into the hands of the Burma Army.

Hopelessness can overtake people in such circumstances, and often does. Without hope there can be a rapid descent into alcohol, drugs, gambling, crime, prostitution. How can the Shan have hope? In dark times, in weakness and poverty, what is there to hope for?

We know that Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, He gives light and eternal life of more value than any material goods. He gives all this and more to those who believe in Him. All they need to do is hear, understand and believe.

For this hope to come to the Shan, someone must go and tell them.

Freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:8 NIV)

Cardboard was piled in the gaps between the roof and wall, probably to block the wind. I’m sure everyone could hear everything though. They slept on the floor, but did have electricity. It would be cold at nights, since they only had one layer of iron around them. (Visiting my neighbour)

Pray for:

  • Workers who will go where the Shan live to speak truth in languages they understand.
  • God to prepare hearts and make a way for all Shan to hear about Him and the love He has for all people.
  • The Shan who live in Thailand in subsistence housing who face prejudice, rejection and exploitation daily.
  • The Gospel to spread rapidly from Shan to Shan and transform lives as it takes root in hearts.

Other posts related to this topic:

External Resources:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Image of Shan slum in Chiang Mai: Jazng

Sweatshop slavery

What do you mean by crushing my people,
by grinding the face of the poor?”
declares the Lord GOD of hosts.
(Isaiah 3:15 ESV)

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 17

It is easy to view the Burmese ruling Generals and the Burma Army as the ‘bad guys’ of Burma, the oppressors who are destroying the nation.

But evil is never this clear-cut. Corruption lies in every human heart, so wherever people are vulnerable they will be exploited. This is unfortunately the case for Shan who flee Burma. They have no rights in Thailand, meaning that nobody will care if they are underpaid or worked to exhaustion. Nobody worries about their living conditions, they have no right of access to healthcare.

When they get across the border into Thailand, Shan people are viewed as cheap labour, to be used, exploited, then discarded like trash. If they protest or are weak they are simply handed over to Thai police and deported back to Burma. Sometimes a protest or strike is successful if outside agencies assist and ensure justice occurs in the courts.

But even when workers are given the minimum conditions demanded by the law, it is little better than slavery. Girls as young as 15 sleep under their sewing machine and work 14-hour days for a pittance. Consider this when you next go clothes shopping.

“You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the LORD, and you be guilty of sin.
(Deuteronomy 24:14-15 ESV)

Pray for

  • Shan workers to receive fair wages for their work.
  • Thai authorities to soften their harsh stance against the Shan people in particular.
  • God to bless the work of those reaching out to Shan workers in Thailand and direct them to the most vulnerable.

Other posts related to this topic:

External Resources:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Image of workers from the Nasawat Apparel factory in Mae Sot, who tried to organise a strike after the workforce had not been paid for three months, being taken to Thai immigration holding pens before deportation back to Burma. January 2004: JPHulme