Oxymoron: A rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined, as in “a deafening silence” and “a mournful optimist”. (dictionary.reference.com)
A friend of ours has kindly given us a subscription to “The Briefing” magazine. It is a fairly middle of the road evangelical journal, and to be honest we are so grateful to have reading material in English that we usually read it from cover to cover as soon as it arrives in the postbox.

This month I was reading a book review, during which the reviewer was lamenting the lack of Biblical content in the publication he was critiquing. He gave several examples, as in the following:

“One curious example can be found in chapter 3 where he describes a “World without God” with examples from poetry, Pink Floyd and Nietsche, but without a single reference to any Bible passage…. Another is when he uses Dorcas (of Acts 9:36-42) and the Samaritan woman (of John 4:1-29) as models of the way that we might evangelise. It’s not that we can learn nothing from Dorcas and the Samaritan woman, but to choose them as examples over and above biblical instruction….”

Now this guy’s Bible might be different to mine, but I have managed to locate both Dorcas and the Samaritan woman in my Bible, and therefore I was left slightly astounded by the inference that these examples were somehow as “unbiblical” as Pink Floyd or Nietsche.

It might be that the guy has an unfortunate writing style, or that the editing job could have been more thorough, but I suspect that it is closely related to the viewpoint that “if it isn’t Paul it doesn’t count”. I haven’t seen it on sale, but I know there is a marketing opportunity for a “wallet edition evangelical bible” starting from Romans and ending with Philemon. It would be an instant best seller.

I don’t know the reason for this phenomenon, I imagine it might be because actually we have no idea what to do with the Bible, and rather than say “we have no idea what to do with the Bible”, we try instead to stick with the bits that we think that we can most easily reduce to “three rules for holy living”.

What I do know is that this phenomenon needs challenging, if only because in some quarters the phrase “evangelical thinking” is hovering on the brink of being relegated to our list of favourite oxymorons, along with “police intelligence”, “Microsoft works” or “airline food”.


Now we have a new piece of paper to add to our collection. We have stopped being “precarious residents”, and we are now “temporary residents”. This gives us two years during which we are free to come and go at will, and is also our ticket to progress to the next stage of the residency process, which is to go to the civil registry office and start jumping new hoops to obtain official identity numbers. Having an identity number would be rather useful. They are needed for many aspects of daily life; having phone-line or a mobile phone in our own name, having a driving licence, participating in courses, and even when buying electrical goods (as we discovered when trying to buy a CD player.) We went to the civil registry, who kindly furnished us with a new list of documents, to collect and bring to the next appointment on the 30th of May. Watch this space.

Skills for life.

In the childrens’ home in San Marcos for two mornings a week I am working on literacy and numeracy skills with three young people who, for various reasons, are not going to school. They’re great kids, I’ve been working them as hard as I dare, and we are pleased with our progress. One is a lad of twelve, who went to school for the first time last year. It was an unmitigated disaster, and he was sent home by ten o’clock every morning for fighting. So last November we gave up with school, and started working with him from zero again. Over the last couple of months he has really progressed to having a basic foundation of literacy, and in the last couple of weeks we have witnessed a real breakthrough as he is beginning to realise that reading is a transferrable skill which is actually useful to him, and he is finding words everywhere he looks…. from posters on the wall, to CD cases and even food packets. In the afternoons I focus on the children who do go to school, coaching the kids who struggle, and challenging those who are further ahead. I use a range of activities and different types of literature, including stories from the Bible. In the last couple of weeks with a few of the older kids we have been looking at the structure of the Bible and how it works…. the Old Testament, and the New Testament, using the index to discover different books, and looking up chapters and verses.
Visiting another city, I was talking with a lady from Bolivia, about a trip that she had recently made back to her home village after an absence of many years. What had impacted her the most was the almost complete death of Christian witness in her valley. When she had left there had been an evangelical work, with about 35 active families, and now there was nothing. She attributed this to several reasons. One the local governer and the “Catholic” priest were hand in glove, to the extent that people are fined for not attending mass. Two that there was no permanent Christian leadership, and the teachers who used to visit from the city had stopped coming. Three that there are a lot of people coming through peddling different religions and philosophies, and the local people listen to all of them without discernment. Four, the high incidence of alcoholism and lack of social-economic opportunity in the area. And yet, she found that when she produced her Bible and started reading from it, there was a real hunger and desire to know more, and the people came and sat on the ground around to listen. So what had gone wrong? Quite simply she believes that the uniting factor behind all the reasons above is a lack of literacy. Without literacy, people don’t know that they have religious freedom, so they don’t know that they are free not to go to mass without paying a fine. They are unable to read the Bible so they cannot learn or grow for themselves, hence they have no tools to discern between good and bad teaching. And they are unable to develop socially, or take advantage of economic opportunities. Thus the cycle grinds on.

I believe we can see a clear link between the two accounts above. Sometimes I have met people, or read articles by people, who want to say that literacy work is “secondary mission”, or even “not Gospel work”. To those people, in the light of these experiences, I would like to offer a word of suggestion: “Rethink”.

The Starfish Story

“Ding”. It’s four in the morning and I’m wide awake. What on earth…..?
“Gottit” says my mind, “The starfish story”. You what……?

The starfish story was my trademark for a number of years. You probably know it, it goes like this….

One morning a man got up very early and went for a walk along the sea shore. The tide was going out, leaving behind it hundreds upon hundreds of starfish stranded on the shoreline. In the half-light of the morning the man could see that he wasn’t the first person on the beach, a young man was there before him. As the older man drew closer he could see that the young man was working his way along the shore-line, picking up the stranded starfish one by one and throwing them back into the sea.
“What are you doing?” asked the older man
“I’m putting these starfish back before they dry out” said the younger man
“But there’s hundreds of them, you’ll never be able to save them all.”
“No” said the young man “but I can still make a difference to this one” and he went on throwing the starfish back into the sea.

It’s a great story, it’s still a great story. Why it woke me up at four o’clock on the morning…. Is it a word from the Lord, or do I need to stop eating cheese at night? Maybe time will tell…