Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Illiterate Again!!

A few months back I wrote a post about being illiterate in Sweden.  It turns out I am a lot dumber than I thought.  At least in Sweden I could read the letters, and occasionally could figure out a word.

In Mongolia, not only could I seldom read a word, I could seldom even recognize a letter!

Here's an example of what I mean.

This is the MAIN building of Mongolian International University.  I asked a student, "Does that sign say, 'Mongolian International University'?"  He said yes, but he could have been just kidding me, I have no way of knowing.

Mongolian language sounds Asian, with just a dash of Russian thrown in.  Given its location, wedged solidly between China and Russia, I guess that might be expected.

But the Cyrillic alphabet, I really wasn't expecting that to be thrown into the mix.  A little Wikipedia investigation suggests that the Cyrillic is used in (Outer) Mongolia but the traditional Mongolian script (pictographic) is used in Inner Mongolia (large section of China to the S and E of Outer Mongolia).

But beyond the alphabet, I was still illiterate. In Sweden many people, and virtually everyone younger than 35, could speak English.  In Mongolia, almost NO one spoke English.    My deficiency was most crucial when I was trying to buy groceries or trying to explain why some part of my hotel room (hot water, tv, breakfast) wasn't functioning.  The grocery store had no one who understood a word of (my) English.  Fortunately, one person on the hotel staff could understand me, and I could occasionally partially understand her.

Being in this illiterate, unintelligible situation is always humbling for me.  I am dependent.  I wish I realized that a lot more often in the USA.  I am dependent, but know that I act far too independently.

If G^d doesn't do it, if not for His mercy and grace, all is lost.  I wish I would depend on G^d more; I wish I wasn't so self-sufficient.

Given my inability to do anything but "wish", L^rd I am depending upon You to make me more dependent, more a person who lives by faith.  Amen.

I did recognize one Cyrillic word, it just wasn't Mongolian.  See below.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No Yellow lines in the Coldest Capital City of the World

I have been highly blessed to travel around the world.  Everywhere I have gone I have observed how drivers act towards one another and the law.

Ulaanbaatar takes the prize for the best drivers doing the worst possible things.  I mentioned in an earlier post about the traffic jam that sets my record for the worst and most foolish I have ever seen.

On Thursday past, I did the only travel by private auto of my trip.  I was able to see firsthand how drivers navigate the potholes and crowded, and I mean REALLY crowded, streets.  I had learned a bit about this in trying to cross the street.  If you are too cautious, maybe even just justifiably cautious, you can seldom cross a street in UB.

By the same token, if you drive in a cautious careful manner, you can’t get anywhere.  Everyone is in some hurry, and if the street lane is slow, just pull over on the verge (side of the road) and keep a goin’.  I only saw a couple of fender-benders, but I was only there a week. I must assume that these drivers are highly skilled and all know the unwritten rules, among which seems to be:
  • Do NOT allow any space between you and the vehicle in front.
  • Never let anyone cut through.
  • Passing on the right is expected
  • Passing can be at any time or place- there are no yellow lines!
  • Watch for potholes, and go wherever necessary to avoid them.
  • Above all, have faith, G^d will somehow provide.

In some ways, UB driving gives us some good illustrations of the Christian life.  We have to take chances, by faith.  We avoid potholes at all costs.  We must drive with boldness.  Even if you have an occasional small accident, at least you are moving forward.

So, throw caution to the winds.  Live recklessly for the Christ. Above all, have faith, G^d will somehow provide.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bishop’s Law of Opposites Strikes Again

Bishop’s Law of Opposites states, “Whatever my (Phil’s) first inclination is, if I do the opposite, I am more likely to be in accord with G^d’s desires.”

My good friends invited me to come give some talks to students and faculty of the Mongolian International University (MIU), Ulaanbaatar.  I was excited to do so, and began preparing three secular talks for faculty and two Christian talks for students.

I really like to aim talks at the specific audience, so I inquired of my friend at MIU about the audiences.  I had to apply the Law of Opposites.  He told me they needed Christian talks for Faculty, but more secular talks for students.

What?  Yep you heard him correctly.

MIU was started by Koreans about 10 years ago, with a definite Christian foundation.  It recruits Mongols from Mongolia, but also the Mongolian diaspora in Russia, Khazakstan, Afghanistan, China, and elsewhere.  This results in a diverse student body.  It is both International and Christian in the truest sense.

Most of the faculty and many of the students are Christian and an impressive number show up for the noon-hour prayer meeting in the biotechnology laboratory.

It is an age-old battle beginning at the temptation of Eve.  There is a battle going on for the hearts and minds of these students, cliché or not.  I am extremely thankful for those faculty at MIU, at U of Alabama, and around the USA and the world, who are willing to stand up and be counted for the cause of Christ.  It is perhaps a bit easier to be a Christian at MIU than at UA (hence my initial confusion), but it is hard either way.

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
Gilbert K. Chesterton

Difficult as it may be, it is worth the effort.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Good news... for non-Evangelists

I heard an interesting testimony tonight by a professor who was a former atheist.  She noted that she was really "put-off" by "pushy" Christians.  She was herself put-off by questions about what would happen if "she died tonight."

Somehow I found this encouraging.

You see, I hear these stories about Christian friends who sit next to a stranger on an airplane and between Cleveland and Charlotte they lead the stranger to Christ. On my last flight, from Seoul to Atlanta, I sat for over 12 hours next to a guy who spoke no English.

I've been trained by Cru and other ministries to share the 4 Spiritual Laws, the Bridge Illustration, the Roman Road, the Gospel using bracelets, and colors and books without words.  It just turns out that in academe, where I work, those things aren't nearly as useful as the example set by Jesus with the Rich Young Ruler, or the the woman at the well or Nicodemus.

In acadame, you earn the right to share your beliefs.  In acadame, you bide your time, you see your opportunity and you take it subtly and indirectly.  You share Christ, not with Bible verses, but slowly by loving your enemies and by praying for those who persecute you,  (Matt5:44).

Not to say that on occasion a more direct gospel may be effective, just there are more ways to evangelize colleagues and students, than a conventional direct evangelistic approach.

As St Francis is reputed to have said,  "Wherever you go, preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words."

As we go, let us Share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and may we do it without speaking.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ahhh, finally retired! Not so fast!

Retirement is an issue I think about a lot these days.  Financially, despite the economic downturn, we are in a financial position, thank you L^rd, where we could retire any day.  And to some friends, it is a great mystery, and a substantial foolishness, that I don't hang up the erasers and dry-erase markers.

And, why not?  Why not devote more time to the beach, or hunting, or fishing, or travel?  Just a few weeks back a friend at work, Gwen, who gives tickets to errant parkers on campus, said, "Why don't you retire so that you and Brenda can travel?"

"Why would I do that?  I can travel already, as much as I want, and the University usually pays for my travel expenses.  IF I retire, I'll have to pay for these trips."

That was intended to be a little joke, but it contains a larger truth.  A few months after our friend, Jimmy Moore, sold his business and retired, Brenda and I asked him about the downside to retirement.

Jimmy quickly answered,  "When you retire you lose your forum for ministry."

Wow, Good point!

Now, true enough, many people retire and expand their ministry.  My mentor  Rae Mellichamp did just that.  So it is certainly possible to do just that, retire to MORE ministry.

But I can't give up my job just yet:
I've been trying to learn my trade for over 30 years, I can't give it up yet.
I get lots of ministry opps here at the UA.
I get lots of ministry opps around the world.
I've been trying to improve/increase my ministry for over 40 years, I can't give it up yet.

Caleb (the one who faithfully spied out the Promised Land) in Exodus is one of my heroes.  When they were giving out the parcels of the Promised Land, as an old man (~85 years) Caleb says, "Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said." (Josh 14:12)

L^rd give me the heart of Caleb.  Nothing is too difficult for You.  Let us continue to serve the True and Living G^d!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Cave of 100 Lamas

This is the cave where during the  Communist religious purges of the 1930s, 100 Buddhist Lamas hid for two months, before being found and killed.  The Mongolian people are small of stature, but I try to imagine packing 100 of them into this small cave.  It was definitely close quarters for 2 long, long months.

It seems especially brutal to me that anyone would be able to execute 100 peaceful, gentle Buddhist priests.  The space is small, the floor uneven, and there no heated toilets or bidets.  I doubt that food was abundant, and it makes me wonder which was worst, the hiding or the dying.

These are two things us modernists try to avoid thinking about:  physical comfort deprivation, and death.  Of all our fears, these are the most prominent.

Fear is an interesting emotion.  “Perfect love casts out fear” we are told ( I John 4:18).  What does that mean? 

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28)

For several years I have asked wiser colleagues what it means to "fear G^d".  The same word is used for "fear not" as is used for "fear G^d".  Despite all their theories, I think "fear" means fear, in its most common and mundane sense.

In  Deuteronomy (second Law) we see:
  • 5:29 Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!
  • 6:1,2 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.
  • 6:13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.
  • 6:24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today.
  • 10:12-13 And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
  • 10:20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name.
There are literally scores of verses on fear scattered throughout the Scriptures, and to come to the end of Scripture,  Revelations, 19:5 “Then a voice came from the throne, saying: "Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!"

Maybe we ought to meditate on that a while?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Got (Horse) Milk?

As interesting as the city of UB is, I found one thing more interesting.  When my tour guide failed to interest me in horseback riding or camel riding, she became desperate to fill my time.  Finally she offered, “Would you like to visit a traditional Mongolian Family?”

Would I?  Of course!

We immediately turned off the main road into Terelj National Park.  We take a peaceful lane into a beautiful valley.  We drive through a quietly feeding herd of Yak and pull up to a ger with a large, strong Mongolian man standing outside.  He recognizes the guide, and after a few words we are taken inside the ger.

The wife comes in and magically produces first three shot stools, and then tree clean ceramic bowls.  From a 30-gal barrel covered by a cloth she ladles each bowl full of beautiful white milk.  

I immediately take a sip and discover a clean delicious taste with just a hint of zing.  My guide explains that this is a specialy Mongolian beverage made by fermenting the milk.   This particular batch is still in the early stages of fermentation, so it is not as acrid as it will become when finished.

Despite her explanation, I still enjoy the clean taste.  Then it strikes me, this milk is “cleaner” tasting than ususal milk.

“This isn’t cow’s milk is it?”, I ask.

“No, it’s horse milk.”

Hmmm, I should have known.  Horses are the prize animal in the Mongolian outback.  Think of Genhis (Chingis here) Khan and his Mongol Hordes riding horses into battle.

“How does one milk a horse?” I wonder to myself.  
“Why don’t we drink horse milk, or goat milk, or other kinds of milk in the USA?”  The taste is good and the unusual has appeal, and we have plenty of horses, whose milk is no doubt going to waste feeding young colts.

Of course there are likely some economic problems with marketing commercial horse milk, but there are also problems of custom and tradition here.

“We’ve never done it before.”  “We don’t do that here.”   “That’s just weird.”  “Why would we want to change what we have always done?”  “Our milk is just fine as it is, why change?”

Wow, that sounds like a conversation in a church deacon’s meeting doesn’t it?

Jesus scolded some church leadears in Matthew 15: 1Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
3Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’a and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’b 5But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ 6he is not to ‘honor his fatherc’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

Which brings up the question, in what ways do we (I) “nullify the word of God for the sake of your (my) tradition.”

Most of us are guilty, we just do it in different ways.   “They said to Him, "Lord, we want our eyes to be opened."  Matt 20:33