April 2013

I am sitting here trying to deal with fact that we have not updated this blog for almost two weeks and I am not sure what to do about it. Recognizing that our stress levels were off the chart, we sat down two evenings ago and made a list of the things that are weighing on our minds so that at least we would know why our guts are in a permanent knot, if that helps.

Steve, on his second course is an old hand at this Master’s thing and there is not much he enjoys more that writing a good research paper and is, of course maintaining his 100%. Nevertheless he is frantically trying to finish out this school year well, and preparing for all three of his classes to present Waiting for Godot at the Drama Fest the first week in May. In the midst of that, all of his students are preparing their final ISU’s for the semester and needing an incredible amount of support. Add to this the almost daily requests for him to take on tasks to support the other staff and students and that is why he is not blogging.

I, on the other hand am frantically trying to come to grips with writing a research paper for a most unhelpful professor and wondering what made me think that I wanted to spend four hours trying to get the punctuation marks in the correct place for a Turabian style citation. Meanwhile, I am attempting to plan for a week long training session in Cambodia amidst a huge number of obstacles that will undoubtedly impact this project over the long term. Praying that somehow my passport will be returned by the Malaysian government in time for that to happen.

We are wrapping up our sixth year here and planning for all of the details of our trip home like buying and insuring a vehicle, and looking after all of the financial staff that always need to be dealt with. Given that Steve will only have four days in Ontario we need to basically schedule them by the hour. We are missing our kids and grandkids and so looking forward to seeing them but already know how hard it will be to say good-bye again and this time to a new little grandbaby. Part of the preparation for going home always involves getting the apartment ready for Steve to manage on his own which means repairs and air con maintenance which is always a battle here. The brightest spot in my day is when I get to suck up thousands of little ants with my vacuum in some kind revenge for them having taken over the entire 27 storey complex.

However the real problem with the blog is that much of what we are dealing with right now is “unbloggable” either due to its sensitive nature or because it is news that just can’t be shared yet because details are still being worked out. We have been busy with meetings and even a trip as part of the planning process and are hoping to be able to share that soon. But… in the meantime there just is not much to blog.

Pam and I are both pretty busy on our Master’s at the moment. Much is going on, but not much time to write about it. Here is a recent essay on the book I have just finished.

Paul Gordon Hiebert (1932-2007) was born in India to second generation Mennonite Brethren missionaries, and passed away in at the age of 74. Dr. Hiebert combined rigorous anthropological and theological scholarship with a passion for God’s global missionary work and was a vigorous researcher who authored twelve books, of which Transforming Worldview is his most widely admired.

Hiebert’s thesis grows from the understanding that “when we seek to win people to Christ, we look for some evidence of conversion” in behavior. However, he notes: “people could adapt their behavior to get jobs, win status, and gain power without abandoning their old beliefs.” He reasons that, “transforming explicit beliefs is not enough to plant churches that are faithful to the gospel,” and posits that, “conversion may include a change in beliefs and behavior, but if the worldview is not transformed, in the long run the gospel is subverted and the result is a syncretistic Christo-paganism, which has the form of Christianity but not its essence.” Hiebert argues that transforming world view must be the central task of the church in the twenty-first century.

Hiebert supports his contention by first looking at the concept and characteristics of worldview. He defines worldview as, “the assumptions people make about the nature of reality which they use to order their lives.” This includes myth and other meta-narratives that cultures use to explain eternal truths that lie outside the bounds of empirical measurement and analysis. Such worldviews are resistant to change as they help to shape and integrate entire cultures. Hiebert then examines how worldviews are contested, citing the work of Michel Foucault, Lewis Mumford and Neil Postman.

Hiebert then directs his attention to an examination of spiritual systems, noting that, “Satan seeks to blind people by keeping them bound by false ideologies,” and that “concern for this life rather than eternity has led to a stress on physical comfort and material abundance.” Later chapters explore other impediments, such as “the myth of evolution” and “the myth of redemptive violence,” which Hiebert sees as rampant in Western ideology, brilliantly tracing its roots to gnostic dualism.

Hiebert then traces the decline of modernism, noting that over the past one hundred years, “this presumably enlightened century has loosed more rivers of blood and piled up more mountains of corpses than any century in history” and that as far as the present age is concerned, “the vision of utopia provided by modernity has been lost.” In its place post-modernity holds out a fractured view of humanity that focuses on individual, rather than community values, and has little room for the grand meta-narratives of religion.

Hiebert’s scope is breathtaking. In this relatively short book, Hiebert exposes all the shortcomings of the missionary enterprise of the past 500 years. For our current missionary understanding, this book is foundational. The man is fearless, wise and insightful. He spares neither secular empiricism, nor theological/missiological syncretism. I particularly appreciated his analysis of the intellectual paucity of scientific reductionism, whose superficial understanding of the complexities of reality is matched only by its didactic arrogance.

My own exploration of culture since my conversion, largely as a result of the writings of C.S. Lewis, has been limited to Neil Postman, Noam Chomsky, Herbert Marcuse, Edward T. Hall and John Pilger, secular writers who alone it seemed were willing to take on the intellectual hegemony that has characterized the last fifty years of thought in the West. Christian writers seem largely concerned with padding their pews and their wallets and were little inclined to gore their own gilded ox. Reading Hiebert was like watching Muhammed Ali thoughtfully and remorselessly reducing his opponent to physical incoherence. A very impressive work.

One of the chief goals of CHE is to help people move from dependence on outside resources, to understand their own potential and give them the tools they need to articulate their own needs and goals and to develop a plan to move forward.  I would like to share an excerpt from this months’ health initiative report in Cambodia that demonstrates how this works.  Road access to villages is essential for villagers to have access to outside services, work, schools, and markets and is often viewed as the responsibility of others such as government or ngos and often does not happen.

These three villages are not yet part of a formal CHE project but have participated in a few CHE lessons facilitated by our TWR staff.  They each were able to identify the need for a road as a key issue and to come up with a strategy to meet their own need.

prey khmengIn  Prey Khmeng village outsiders had previuosly built a road wwithout full knowledge of the area and when the rainy season came, it was washed away and no one ever came repair it.  The villager leadership developed a plan to gather the money together to repair it and lift it above the flood levels and now use it happily. It brings a sense of ownership to them and pride in their work.

beung knarThis a road in Beung Knar village which used to have many big holes and it was terrible to get into this village. Now it is so nice to travel here because those holes were filled and people there travel joyfully. There was no help from the government, but the people there were able to save the money and fix their own road and now know how to keep it under repair so their village will no longer be isolated.


In Knart, the villagers collected some of there own money to repair the road but also learned that they could access money that they were entitled to through a government assistance program. It is amazing to see that they have started to identify their needs and take ownership for repairing and taking care of their own community.

As people are dependent on outside help, over time they begin to see themselves as incapable and somehow deficient and helpless, leading to all sorts of problems including illness, alcohol abuse and violence. Building and maintaining a road in your own village may not seem like a big thing to us but to these people it is a first step in regaining their self respect, some joy in their own accomplishments and a hope for the future.