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The Contemporary Scene

Category Articles
Date October 1, 2000

These are not easy times but we have known some genuine encouragements in the past two weeks–in the midst of much that could undermine our conviction that the Lord is reigning.

A month ago four of us were planning the Grace Baptist Assembly for May next year. We have some men speaking who take the gospel to Muslims and we wondered if we could have some converted Muslims to give their testimonies, and we looked at one another rather blankly. None of us knew any. We were going to ‘make inquiries.’ I had frankly forgotten about this quest until this week when I heard of the situation in a church in South Wales. It is set in a dire Council Estate on a bleak hill on the edge of the town. It is where the single families are, and the drugs, and petty crimes, and the video culture–someone hires a video when the shop opens, watches it that morning and passes it on to a neighbour, who watches it and passes it on to a neighbour, and so on down the street, so that when it is returned on the next day half a dozen will have watched it, and then it is another neighbour’s responsibility to get a new video. That is where this church is set, where every car is vandalised and no one has a job.

In the middle of this estate is the much protected church-building–steel door and bars and mesh on all the armour-glass windows. With a small congregation of 60 people it was not a fashionable church where the students and yuppies might go, and its leaders actually drive there for the Sunday and then drive away to the more salubrious suburbs where they live. Five or so years ago in that church a Muslim was converted, and then he talked to his family and brought them there, and then other Muslim friends in the city began to attend. Today there are 35 former Muslims in the congregation, and over half those who attend the mid-week Prayer Meeting are converted Muslims. Earlier this month the new pastor came to speak at a student meeting at the University, and he brought one of these Muslims with him who gave his testimony to the students. Five years ago that church was not thinking or planning that in the next half decade 35 Muslims would be saved. Salvation is of the Lord, in its particularities of its conception as well as its continuance. What other wonders lie before us?

We went to the north of England earlier in the month. I had been invited to preach at the anniversary services of a church there. The pastor is originally from Liverpool and his son was a student in Aberystwyth. He has also begun in the ministry starting as an assistant, to another old Aberystwyth student in North Wales. There is another son who went to Leeds University. He always wanted to be a sports journalist–very desirable vocation for the young–and in the last year he had an interview for a newspaper. ‘One thing I want to make clear to you,’ he said to the panel, ‘I will not work on a Sunday.’ ‘That’s hopeless,’ they said to him. ‘So much sport is on a Sunday. We’re sorry, but we could never offer you work under those circumstances.’ He was at peace, and continued to apply for jobs. Then he got a call two weeks later from that newspaper. ‘We’ve been thinking,’ the editor said, ‘and we don’t believe that there are that many demands for Sunday coverage. We will offer you the job just as long as you will work every Saturday.’ He was more than pleased to do that, and this year he has been travelling by train (he can’t drive either!!) all over the north of England covering sporting fixtures. His father must be enormously thankful for two such sons, both glorifying God in their very different ways.

Cecil Siriwardene wrote to me from California on October 24th:-

Yesterday we had a man in our service who was one of the first missionaries this church supported. He is with Wycliffe Bible Translators and has laboured for more than 40 years first reducing to writing the Chumula language and then translating first the New Testament and now the Old Testament. The Chumulas live at about 7000 feet in Southern Mexico not too far from the border with Guatemala. The area is about 1000 square miles. They have their own rigid traditions and anyone deviating from these is killed. No foreigner is allowed to enter Chumula land. To do so would mean instant death. The Chumulas are of Mayan descent. They are pagans with witch doctors attending to their spiritual and physical needs. They drink a very strong alcoholic brew which is called, ‘The drink of the gods.’

This missionary, Ken Jacobs and his wife Elaine set up house in a town close to Chumula land and found Chumula Indians coming in to find work. They quickly assisted those who came and began the tedious task of reducing the language to writing. The phonetics were not difficult, but Ken said that the grammar was nothing like what he had expected.

It took him ten years to get the language in written form. He then began work on the New Testament which took about 20 years. The result was that today there are some 35,000 Chumula believers with autonomous, self supporting churches all outside Chumula land. However, more recently some 60 house churches have been brought into existence inside Chumula land itself that took the Chumula elders by surprise that they have found themselves unable to do anything about these.

Ken has recently finished the Old Testament and the dedication of the complete Chumula Bible is to be in the spring of 2001. I suggested to him that he might consider translating some good books into Chumula and he is going to seriously think about this. Ken is 80 years old but looks 70. He spoke both at the morning and evening services and it was so good to hear him. He is a very gracious and humble man.

That kind of man is a real missionary isn’t he?

A friend went to Westminster Chapel earlier this month on 7th October to the annual International Christian Human Rights Conference organised by Christian Solidarity and Premier Christian Radio. There were 800 present, and Christians spoke from Egypt, Burma, China and East Timor of the sufferings the church has known there. But the most moving time was when four women entered the pulpit, Patti Tenenoff, her daughter Dora, Nancy Mankins, and Tania Rich. Eight years ago they and their husbands were in Colombia working for the New Tribes Mission when guerrillas took their husbands hostage. The women have not heard a thing from them since that time. Yet they believe their three husbands are still alive, and Dora read a poem she had written about growing up without her father. What contented, peaceful, trusting women they were, modestly standing there and committing themselves, their husbands and the cause of Christ into God’s hands. Our friend had a lump in her throat listening to them. This is the poem the
teenager read:–

There Once Was a Man…

There once was a man,
a man I once knew.

Who told me stories every night,
laughed at my jokes, and held me tight.
He told me, ‘Don’t quit!
Always fight the good fight!’
He said, ‘Love the Lord with all your heart,
and serve Him with all your might!’
He begged me, ‘Do right!’

There once was a man,
a man I once knew.

Who taught me how to tie my shoe,
and gently smiled at every picture that I drew.
He told me, ‘When you start something,
don’t stop until the job is through.’
He said, ‘I love you.’

There once was a man,
a man I once knew.

I saw him in my dream,
and it made me scream,
I called out, ‘Daddy!’
but he told me nothing,
He had nothing to say.
For what can you say,
When you are far, so very far away?

‘Daddy?’ I said,
then a voice echoed in my head.
I lay quiet and still in my bed.
Again the voice,
‘Your daddy made a choice,
a choice to serve Me with all his might,
To not give up,
to fight the good fight!
He is doing a job for me and is not yet through,
so remember: I love you!’
There now is a man,
a man I now know.

He lived and he died to save men
from their sin.
He made it possible
for us to be born again.
I know because
my daddy told me so.

And even though he’s no longer here,
My God will always be near
To fill in the gaps
and show me which way to go
I miss my dad so much,
But God has a plan.
So for now I’ll just wait
and watch the work of his hand.

There once was a man,
A man I once knew.

He’s now just a memory
slowly fading away.
‘Dead or Alive?’ you ask,
‘I don’t know’ I say.
So I beg you,
Please pray!!
Pray my daddy knows that every night,
I whisper, ‘Daddy, I love you!’

There now is a man,
a man I now know.

Every day he becomes
more real to me
Every day in him, I grow.
Every day I pray that
my love for him will show
I’ve made a choice,
to serve him with all my might.
To not give up,
to fight the good fight.
Here on earth, I may not see my dad again,
but that’s all right.
‘Cause when my life is through,
I’ll finally hear them both say
My child, I love you!!

All the above examples of Christian heroism are, amazingly, coming out of an evangelicalism which is being undermined by a diluted gospel, or lulled to sleep with a soft devotionalism, wafted nowhere in particular by an increasingly sentimentalised hymnology, incapable of the robust praise and worship reflected in the great hymns, an evangelicalism which has largely taken the initiative from God and placed it in the hands of men. Yet in the midst of that the Lord has his own people, doing exploits for God today.


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