Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hangin' with Miss Universe Ladies

It was a late night...one that brought out the beautiful, the bad, and the ugly. Last night I had the privilege of attending the Miss Universe 2007 pageant here in Mexico City, thanks to Javier Amaya, a friend and assistant choreographer for the show. The event took place just a few blocks away from my apartment.

I went with my buddy Jason and remember telling him outside the theater how nice it would be to go to a "cultural" event where people aren't screaming all the time. I prepared myself to experience a nice laid-back evening. Reality fell a little short of my expectations the first half of the night.

We had outstanding seats about fifty rows from the front of the stage, dead center. My seat put me right beside Miss Iberoamérica. The night was set!

Well, things took a turn south as soon as Miss USA hit the stage. I had done a little homework on Rachel Smith to find out who I could root for. She seemed like a rock-solid representative for the US, graduating Magna Cum Laude from Belmont University where she also served as editor of the newspaper, and professing a faith in Christ (although not real outspoke about that). Yet all of the accolades didn't seem to matter when the Mexican crowd decided to make a political statement by booing Rachel whenever possible.

As the field narrowed, the crowd divided its time between booing Rachel and chanting "Mé-xi-co" whenever Miss Mexico was anywhere in sight. As my blood pressure began to rise, I looked around to see who all the naysayers were. I didn't have to look far. Several people in their forties directly behind me, whom in other circumstances I might have mistakenly identified as dignified people, joined in the foolishness.

At one point, Mario Lopez seemed to motion to the crowd to tell them to stop chanting after returning from a commercial break. During another break, an announcer asked the crowd to refrain from booing. Their response...they booed.

Now many of you know how much I love Mexico City...the culture, the people, the events. But after sitting through over an hour of the torture (where my tie felt like a branding iron around my neck), I poised myself to take a few of the scalawags out behind the woodshed as soon as they let us out. I thought better of it, and figured I'd practice loving by faith instead. But the temptation was a strong one.

After the show, I spoke with Christy, an American whose daughter helped with the pageant. She shared my sentiments when she said, "I don't care if a girl was from freakin' Natzi Germany, I still wouldn't boo her."

Thankfully, Miss USA showed her solid character by keeping her poise through the barrage of boos and recovering beautifully after taking a spill during the evening gown section of the night. And Jason and I left the scene without incident to enjoy a fantastic evening/early morning with several of the Miss Universe contestants. We figured we probably wouldn't have an opportunity to hob nob with some of the most beautiful women in the world again anytime soon, so we schmoozed well into the wees hours of the morning.

The night was full of surprises, including my encounter with Nick Lachey, who is dating Vanessa Minnillo, the pageant's co-host.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Loud Voice of the Internet

Are you listening? The New Media continues to scream around the world. Those in Christendom that learn how to ride this wave and use it to spread the grace and goodness of the Lord will tap into a coming tsunami.

Just as a way of example, here is a story of some bloggers that have created a grassroots groundswell of support for the television show Jericho. I've never seen the show, but it's supposedly a conservative family-oriented series about a small town in Kansas enduring the aftermath of a nuclear attack. In response to CBS canceling the show, supporters have sent more than 20,000 pounds of real peanuts to the station.

Here is an excerpt from the grassroots website:
Welcome to the NutsOnline home page, where fans from all over the world are pooling their resources to send thousands of pounds of peanuts to CBS to protest the cancellation of Jericho. In addition to sending individual orders to CBS programming executives, as a Jericho fan you can now contribute money to massive shipments of nuts. NutsOnline will do our part by pooling monies and supplying nuts at a steep discount! At the end of each day we will tally dollars collected and ship out huge quantities of roasted peanuts in the shell!

Why nuts? In the final episode Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) borrowed the historic phrase "NUTS" in response to a final offer of surrender from a hostile neighboring town. CBS decided to cancel the show, and fans are uprising to save Jericho by sending, you got it, NUTS to CBS executives.

After just a few days, a local news station aired news about this movement:

Pretty nuts huh?

Eat Your Car

With gas prices in the U.S. soaring out of control, someone finally designed a car that doesn't consume resources. In fact, you get to consume it. A complete car made out of cake and gooey frosting. Genius!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Changing Face of Christianity

Philip Jenkins has a fresh release out called The New Faces of Christianity. I've mentioned Jenkins' book The Next Christendom in this blog before, so I'd thought I'd take a look at what he's been up to lately. I came across an interesting interview with Jenkins conducted by The Wittenburg Door in October of 2005. Here is an excerpt:
DOOR: What's the big picture? What will the mass of Christians look like 50 years from now?
JENKINS: My argument is that one of the big factors will be ethnic. In the United States, looking at the whole population, something like a third of Americans will have either Latino or Asian roots, and the vast majority of those come from backgrounds, which are presently Christian. I think it's quite likely that those people will still continue to be Christian and they will certainly be very dominant voices in the Catholic Church and probably most of the mainstream churches.
Globally, Christianity will be much more of a black and brown religion. The figures I suggest, with all awareness of the queries about numbers, somewhere between four fifths, and five sixths will be in Africa, Asia, Latin America, or from migrant communities in the West. Non-Latino white Christians will represent only about a fifth or sixth of the whole, so Christianity will be much more a black and brown religion.
DOOR: Have any demographers mounted a serious challenge to your projections?
JENKINS: No, which either means one of two things. It either means my figures were impeccably right, or that demographers haven't bothered to look at my book. Don't forget, my book [The Next Christendom] certainly does not pretend to be an original work of demography. I'm relying on standard sets of statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.N. and so on. So I'm not doing anything really radical or surprising.
DOOR: How does the faith of what you call the global south differ from the faith of the U.S. and, say, Europe?
JENKINS: It differs much more from Europe than it does from the U.S. First of all, faith in the global south, like the global north, is very diverse. Obviously, it has very liberal people, it has very conservative people. But, insofar as you can generalize, the religion of the global south tends to be more charismatic, evangelical or Pentecostal, and yes I know those two things are different.
As I've said before, the race is on for the hearts and minds of millions in the Global South. Come join the fun!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Catch the Vision

Angela Loveless, one of the staff women on our team, had one of her students recently catch the vision. Angela has a Life Transformation Group with Mari, who is already involved with a Christian club on her campus (club meaning an inwardly-focused group). Angela came alongside Mari to help her grow but to also help her multiply her life.

When Mari began to understand the Great Commandment and Great Commission more, she sought to live in obedience to Christ. She soon shared Christ with her friend Lizett, who prayed to receive Christ. Lizett now wants to start a Life Transformation Group so she too can live in radical obedience to her new Lord.

After Lizett received Christ, Mari took the news back to her Christian club on campus, and guess what happened? They too caught the vision for living out the Great Commission on their campus. They now plan to go out sharing weekly as a group. Let the multiplication begin.

Friday, May 18, 2007

What would Tom Cruise do?

Given the fairly recent rise into the media of Scientology and its attempt to garnish worldwide credibility as something beyond the absurd, I figured I'd post the recent BBC report on this movement. This documentary contains nearly unbelievable first-hand accounts of harassment by officials within the "church".

Panorama, the longest-running current affairs television program in the world, asks whether or not Scientology should be classified as a cult.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be moved to disgust (at least I was), but I think we would do well to protect anyone considering an affiliation with this cult. Though Scientology at its core seems ridiculous. . . it was after all founded by a science-fiction author. . . it can obviously have devastating effects on families and individuals. Sorry Tom Cruise.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Race is On in the Global South

Steve Addison's blog drew my attention to a fascinating report on the major shift in religion happening in Latin America. Is this the beginning of what Philip Jenkins calls The Next Christendom? Jenkins writes, "We are currently living through one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide." He looks at the global numbers to exhibit a coming shift that will move the center of Christianity out of the pews of Europe and the megachurches of America into the dirt streets of Africa and the passion-filled people of Latin America...and the transition will have major ramifications on world affairs.

The facts below show the current race to capture the hearts of Latin Americans. They're ready to receive something that will inflame their passion and ignite their faith. The only question is what that something will be.
  • Protestant evangelicals, and sects like the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses are on the rise. Mexico now has the second largest Mormon population in the world, and there are a million Jehovah's Witnesses in Brazil.
  • Forty million people left the Catholic church in Latin America during the last ten years.
  • Latin America seems to be a free-for-all, for all the fast-growing Christian sects that have sprung up here. Not only are the more mainstream evangelicals and Pentecostals here, we've got the Latter Day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, and any of the plethora of lesser-known but equally fervent new churches. And they're all thriving in their new fertile pastures.
  • The number of Pentecostals and charismatics combined in 1970 was only 4% of the Latin American population. In 2005, the percentage of Pentecostals alone was 13%, or 75 million. Charismatic members of non-Pentecostal churches accounted for another 15% or 80 million people.
  • One of Latin America's poorest countries, and one of the biggest success stories for evangelicals is Guatemala, where Gallop polls show between 25% and 30% of the population identifying themselves as born-again.
  • 2,000 people are leaving the Catholic church per week in Mexico.
  • The Assembly of God church has 12 million people in Brazil; in Mexico there are a million Pentecostals. But Catholicism still has a very strong presence in Latin America; the problem is, the dynamic is completely different to what Latinos want. For example, the current Pope has ideas which are totally contradictory to the dynamic. These are more straightforward things than issues like abortion. He wants to go back to mass in Latin, and teaching it in schools. He prohibits what he calls profane music in churches, but if he goes to the basilica in Guadalupe, he'll see mariachis, and on the Day of the Dead you'll see a lot of people dancing. So really, the people will keep doing this. The problem is that the institution is culturally disconnected with very high costs.
  • Mexico only has 14,000 priests for those 80 million people. That's one per 7,000 followers. Compare that to the evangelicals who have one pastor for 300 people.
These numbers combined with future predictions of global growth make me believe more and more that our work here in Mexico City is critical. Praise the Lord that He has led us to employ a style of ministry that focuses on empowering nationals to lead and create from the beginning.

Nazarene Pastor, Mario Rayez, had this to say about the history of the Church in his country:
"Here in Guatemala, the evangelical church came in a long time ago. It brought an Anglo-Saxon culture into a Latin American culture. But the church started to understand it needed to grow, and to grow it needed to clean hearts of men. It started adapting the church to Guatemalan culture, which is very different, because also the church was very passive and sedate when it started here. But bit by bit, it started waking up. We Latinos are very joyful, so while the church was quiet when it started, we said, 'No, we need to get more people, more young people'. And young people are very energetic and they need more movement. And then of course, we started working in their hearts."
Bingo. We're targeting the future generation of leaders in the country - college students. When you look at the fact that in Mexico, 43% of second-generation evangelicals have no affiliation with the church, it's time for an awakening of the Mexican church.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Another Completely Student-led Movement

I went to campus on Wednesday to follow up with several students who came to Christ during the month of March. I've been to this campus several times, and I knew there was a group of Christians that meets on Wednesdays. I wanted to try to track them down after several times of missing them.

Sarah, Skye, and I headed over to the copy center where they meet. (It turns out that the copy center doubles as their Christian headquarters, complete with a third-floor room with Jesus posters, resources, and sound equipment.) I was able to connect with Joel, a student who invited us upstairs before the meeting started. It turns out that he was the former leader of the group and became a divine connection for us.

When the current leader showed up (along with about 6 other students), we sat down to talk more about Enfoque México. They knew a little about us from some students in the group that had contact with us before. I could tell the leader was welcome to help but guarded in how he opened up to us (wise). They shared the vision of their group called "Generation with Vision" (nice).

Then we made our intentions very clear. We're simply here to help students create a movement of spiritual multiplication. We have no intentions of controlling. In fact, we want the opposite of that. We need students to have complete ownership of leading their movements.

That seemed to put them at ease. Joel shared how he felt we were an answer to his prayers. They had been asking God to bring them resources to help them reach their campus for Christ.

Here was a movement that has been led by students for the past 10 years without a single staff person . . . more evidence of what God is doing here. We're beginning to build a network of students that have the vision and commitment to reach their peers for Christ. They just lack the resources and a little training to make it happen.

Lord, I want to be an answer to the prayers of more students throughout this country!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Entertained by the "Trivial"

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, conducted an interview with Dick Staub, author of The Culturally Savvy Christian. Staub has an enlightening perspective on pop culture and its affect on America.

Increase in Harvest Means More Poo

Huh? Well, as I was reading through proverbs this morning, one struck me afresh. Proverbs 14:4 says, "Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much increase comes by the strength of the ox."

This proverb focuses on a cost/benefit ratio. Solomon makes a few wise observations. You can have a nice clean manger, which means not a lot of work for you, but you're not going to have much of a harvest. Or you could reap a big 'ol fatty harvest and have to deal with some beasts that are eating, drinking, and pooping all over the place.

It made me think of our highly organized churches and missions organizations. We sure do value cleanliness. We like to have all of our structures in place with human resources following everyone around with a wet wipe making sure there are no messes. What would happen if we started unleashing some oxen? I'm not saying we through out all structure and live in chaos, but could we loosen our control a little to allow the freedom and creativity of individuals and different cultures run more broadly? I truly believe when people are allowed to live in freedom, their spirit soars and creativity and passion know no bounds.

Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom give a great example of this when talking about the Burning Man experience in their book "The Starfish and the Spider":
On the one hand, there's freedom to do what you want, but on the other hand, you have added responsibility: because there are no police walking around maintaining law and order, everyone becomes a guardian of sorts. You become responsible for your own welfare and that of those around you. In open systems, the concept of "neighbor" takes on more meaning than just the person next door.

That captures the Burning Man experience. When you put people in an open system, some of them will get high, dance all night long, and attack street signs. But most people will create elaborate art, share snow cones, and try as hard as they can -- in their own way -- to contribute to community. And Burning Man, though outside the mainstream, holds a crucial lesson for businesses [churches]. When you give people freedom, you get chaos, but you also get incredible creativity. Because everyone tries to contribute to the community, you get a great variety of expression -- everything from twenty-foot giraffes to seminars on raw food, to free haircuts, to a five-star hotel-tent.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Buildings...will they last for eternity?

I could hardly believe this video when I first saw it. These people really value their church building, maybe a tad too much...

In a Mexican Jail

One of our team members today made their way into the Mexico Focus Hall of Fame Storybook. Skye Hopple headed down to the city historic center today to share the Gospel and minister to some people she has befriended there. Skye has shared the Gospel and had Bible studies with many of the folks in the zócalo. She even had one of them put her hair in dreads.

On this particular day, the police decided to raid the city square and take away all of Skye's pot-smoking friends. It so happens that they decided to haul in Skye along with them. She pleaded her case, and they searched her thoroughly, but in the craziness of it all they just decided to throw her in the car. (Warning: Wearing dreads can be hazardous to your health.)

Skye made a phone call to our house from the back of a police car. After my roommate calmed her fears and we figured out what the heck just happened, I spoke with some of the nice officials to help them understand their big blunder. They released her without a whole lot of fanfare. Thankfully, the only thing she walked away with was a really good (albeit scary) story to tell her friends.

Congratulations Skye!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

CNN Video on Campus Crusade

Just in case you missed this CNN spot about college students' spirituality and Campus Crusade...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Just a Thought on Missions

I have a friend who is part of a large influential missions organization. His organization recently polled a large percentage of their staff. One of the questions asked, "How often do you share your faith (in ministry, in your community, through your church, through a website, etc)?" The options for answers were "daily, weekly, monthly, occasionally, never".

Over 62% of the staff answered "occasionally" and 21% said monthly, while only 9% said they share their faith weekly. A surprising 6% stated they never share their faith.

I expressed my surprise over these numbers. It seems that a ministry focused on missions would have more people actually doing missional work to bring people into the kingdom. Somehow I doubt that the people in his organization enjoy twiddling their thumbs all day. More than likely they work hard and aim to achieve the goals they've set in ministry. The "problem", then, must lie in another area.

Could it be that our highly organized missions have created structures that actually hinder people from living missionally? Has living as the Church taken a back seat to putting on Church?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Consider it Pure Joy

Countless times in my life I have praised the Lord for a woman in my church that made me memorize the first chapter of James when I was a young boy. The words "consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" have seared my heart and my mind, and the Lord has used His words often to remind me to give thanks.

These words came to mind once again yesterday after my car was impounded by my friends in the Mexico City police force. After refusing to pay a bribe, my good buddy happily (actually he wasn't real happy) escorted me and my teammate to the local car impound, which made us late for an important meeting to forge a partnership with another Mexican ministry. It wouldn't have been so bad had I not broken my favorite K-State mug (a giant graduation present) that morning. And that wouldn't have been too bad had my cell phone not been stolen out of my pocket the day before. (I really am smiling here.)

After traveling for two more hours to the north side of the city without a car, I chuckled as I waited for my last connecting ride to the house where our two ministries were meeting. I couldn't help but laugh as I thought of all the blessings in my life and the ways Satan tries to bring discouragement. It seemed a little ridiculous that I had been so upset earlier in the day given the incredible trials so many others have to go through. What a privilege to partake in the expansion of our King's reign.

Thankfully our hosts we're very gracious and we forged the first of many firm partnerships that will help us launch movements on the more than 400 university campuses in Mexico City.