Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Quote of the Week

"A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in little things is a great thing."

J. Hudson Taylor (quoted from Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century, Book Four: Survivors’ Pact, p154.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Open Source Mission - Gospel Translations

In my prior post, we discussed the strategic importance of making gospel centered books and articles available to the growing global evangelical church. In view of the limitations of current translation and publishing models, is there a way to tackle this problem leveraging the advantages of Web 2.0 world? I think so and here’s one proposed way to do it.

Since April, I have been involved in launching a new ministry initiative called Open Source Mission (OSM). OSM is a non-profit initiative to enable translation of contemporary evangelical materials from English to various languages through the power of mass collaboration. We believe that accessibility to biblically sound content is of strategic importance to the vitality of the growing church in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

There is an opportunity to bring translated Christian materials to the non-English speaking world by taking advantage of technology innovation and an “open source”, participatory model of translation. Our vision is to create a new, revolutionary, framework for translation by combining the following components:

• Global social network of volunteer translators
• Proven “open source” methodology
• Web 2.0 collaboration platform

In essence, what we hope to see are several ongoing translation projects fueled by the passion and skills of volunteer translators, resulting in an online reference portal of translated books and articles in a multitude of languages – all available for free.

The distinctive focus of OSM is simple -

Mass Collaboration - We want to enable translation through the mass collaboration of volunteer translators. We believe the Web 2.0 world has opened unique opportunities for collaboration through a community participatory model. Such models have been proven successful in other arenas. By applying methodologies similar to those used in an open source software projects like Linux or Web 2.0 projects like Wikipedia, we hope to effectively tackle the translation challenge.

Contemporary Gospel Centric Writings - We want to focus on contemporary, evangelical, gospel centric materials. We’re not interested in doing Bible translations – that’s best left to professionals. Nor are we planning to tackle historical writings (i.e. Puritans, Reformers, early Church Fathers) - there are sufficient hurdles in bridging the translation and cultural gap without undertaking the challenge of a historical gap as well. We're initially focused on contemporary translations from our partner organizations.

Leveraging Technology - We want to leverage technology to make these materials accessible. We believe that the trajectory of technology adoption in the developing nations means that the most effective and inexpensive way to get materials to our fellow Christians in these nations is to provide this material on the web, searchable, cross referenceable and free. (Did I mention the translated content will be available for FREE?)

OSM, together with partners like Sovereign Grace Ministries, Desiring God, 9 Marks and other like-minded organizations, will work on the Gospel Translation Project. The Gospel Translation Project involves building a "wikipedia type" portal of translated content at www.gospeltranslations.org. (Disclaimer: the portal is currently in beta and content is still being loaded onto the site.) Initially, our focus will be to work on translating materials from the aforementioned partners who have generously contributed to our translation permissions library.

If you find this intriguing, interesting, or possibly even inspiring, here’s how to get involved:

1. Check out the OSM website , learn more about what we do , offer feedback and please pray for the ministry.

2. If you are bilingual, please consider using your language skills in one of our projects. You can sign up on the OSM website or email our Ministry Coordinator, Andrew Mahr - andrew@opensourcemission.com. By participating in one of our projects, your contribution will impact your fellow Christians for years to come.

3. Please help spread the word. If you're a blogger, please consider blogging about OSM and the Gospel Translation Project. This is a grassroots movement and thrives on individual volunteer initiative. If you should blog on this, please let others know of the need for translation and issue a gracious call for bilingual Christians to consider participating in this.

4. Also, consider linking to Open Source Mission on your sidebar and send Andrew an email to let him know. We need help to make this work and we'd love to have you get involved in some way...even if you can't translate.

Is it just a crazy idea or something that might change how translations get done? Let us know what you think.

We realize that we don't have all the answers but our hope is that, if the Lord wills, the Gospel Translation Project might be a blessing to many non-English speaking believers throughout the world.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Global Church - Bridging the Translation Gap

I ended last week's post with this quote from Philip Jenkins:

“Christianity will enjoy a worldwide boom in the new century but the vast majority of believers will be neither white nor European, nor Euro-American.”

Here's Michael Gerson, former Bush speechwriter making a similar point in a 2006 Newsweek article:

"The center of gravity of the Christian world is now arguably in central Africa, with more than a third of a billion Christians on that continent."

Apparently, the center of Christian world isn't just shifting...it has already shifted.

Yet, the vast majority of evangelical Christian materials are published in English and not accessible to most of these believers due to a language barrier. While church growth in these emerging regions is impressive, the lack of sound doctrine is a concern for many churches and Christian organizations operating in those regions. The lack of supplemental materials to train and encourage new converts in the basic doctrines of Christianity is a substantial problem. If left unaddressed, this deficit in biblically rich, gospel centered materials will have a detrimental effect on the church worldwide.

The need for bible translations have long been accepted but it is also important to translate secondary, supporting materials to strengthen the doctrinal foundations of the church. In the history of the Christian church, there is a tradition of building upon knowledge and works of prior generations. However, in the case of this rapidly developing church in Africa, Asia and Latin America, this progression is impeded by the translation gap.

Translating gospel centered materials into various languages is a vitally important need.

Over the years, there has been substantial time and resources poured into enabling translation of books and articles into other languages. However, despite the fine efforts of many publishers, the problem remains largely unsolved due the enormous challenge of translating into numerous languages and the cost of undertaking a translation project.

The fundamental issue is that the existing model for translation and distribution of Christian content is both limited and expensive. Publishers often have to decide whether to undertake translation projects based on economic/financial parameters. In practical terms, this means that books that do not sell well in the popular US market are not likely candidates for translation. Unfortunately, this also means that many (most?) doctrinally sound, gospel centered books fail to make the cut. This is no critique of Christian publishing but rather a statement of the economic realities they have to operate under.

The other challenge with the current model is the cost of distribution. Today, distributing Christian materials to other non-English speaking countries means printing and distributing a physical, hard copy book in the hands of the reader. The cost for doing so relative to the number of Christians in these nations makes it non-scalable and economically infeasible. Furthermore, the price point of the books that are translated, printed and distributed overseas would typically make it prohibitive for the average Christian in many of these nations.

In today's digital Web 2.0 economy with its social networking, virtual communities, blogs, wikis, etc... might there be a way to tackle this challenge? I think so.

My next post will propose a strategic approach - and you won't have to wait a week to hear about it. ;-)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Face of the Global Church is Changing

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be blogging about the global church - how it's changing, and what it means to every Christian who shares an interest in seeing the good news of Jesus Christ known throughout the world. This series of posts speak to a critical issue the global church faces today and how we can play a role in serving them.
First, let's discuss how the global church is changing...

The center of the Christian world is shifting away from Europe/North America to the developing regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America. According to the Lausanne World Pulse, the evangelical population of Africa, Latin America and Asia represent nearly 60% of all evangelicals worldwide. This ascension is fueled by remarkable church growth in these regions.

Nowhere has the growth been more apparent in recent years than in China. In a recent article, John Piper offers his perspective on how the church in China has grown since the first missionary, Robert Morrison set foot on Chinese soil two hundred years ago. Here's a quote from the article -

Persevering against the hostility of official opposition and the resistance of foreign merchants, Morrison baptized the first Chinese Protestant Christian, Cai Gao, on July 16, 1814. After the baptism of Cai Gao, Morrison wrote prophetically in his journal, “May he be the first-fruits of a great harvest, one of millions who shall come and be saved on the day of wrath to come."

God answered Morrison's prayer to a greater measure than even he would have anticipated.

The numbers are staggering. In 1949, prior to the Communist takeover, there were approximately 1 million Christians in China. Today, conservative estimates place the number of Christians at approximately 50 million. Some have even estimated this number as high as 100 million. The contrast is stark when you compare this growth to most of Western Europe where church attendance has been below 2% for decades.

This means that the evangelical church worldwide today and in the foreseeable future will no longer be, primarily, a Western institution. Philip Jenkins reinforces this point in his book, The Next Christendom

“Christianity will enjoy a worldwide boom in the new century but the vast majority of believers will be neither white nor European, nor Euro-American.”

What challenges do these new Christian communities face? Certainly, persecutions for some, poverty for others. But there is another challenge they face that might not seem as dramatic but is no less significant - they do not have gospel centered materials in their native language.

To extend Philip Jenkins' point, the other implication of this growth is that most of the worldwide church is non-English speaking and do not have access to gospel-centered books, articles and resources that you and I take for granted.

What can we do about this? How can we serve them? Over the next two posts, I'd like to share how, by God's grace and help, we might be able to meet this challenge.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Quote of the Week

"The point of every deadly calamity is this: Repent."

"Let our hearts be broken that God means so little to us. Grieve that he is a whipping boy to be blamed for pain, but not praised for pleasure. Lament that he makes headlines only when man mocks his power, but no headlines for ten thousand days of wrath withheld."

John Piper, quoted from article, Tsunami and Repentance, January 2005

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Make Meaning

Guy Kawasaki, Managing Director of Garage Technology Ventures, business author, and former Apple marketing whiz, talks about how to successfully launch a startup. According to Kawasaki, the most important part isn't your business plan, it's the desire to "make meaning".

Here's part of what he says:

The core, the essence of entrepreneurship is to make meaning...

Many, many people start companies to make money. I have found the companies that are fundamentally founded...to make the world a better place, that make meaning...they are the companies that succeed

If you make meaning, you'll probably make money but if you set out to make money, you won't make meaning and you probably won't make money either.

Kawasaki goes on to say that there are three ways to make meaning:
  1. Improve quality of life
  2. Right a wrong
  3. Prevent the end of something good

I have no idea if Kawasaki is a Christian but his challenge to make meaning in what we do is provoking. There is something about his challenge that seems to resonate with me - I believe God wants us to live and work with eternal purpose.

If you're starting a new company, non-profit or ministry initiative (or if you're just interested), you need to check out the entire video clip. It's only a couple of minutes long.

I'd only temper what Kawasaki's message in the following way:

We cannot "make meaning". I believe it is God who "makes meaning" in this world - we can only discover meaning...but we can experience joy as we give ourselves to it.

What do you think of what Guy Kawasaki says?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Quote of the Week

"I value all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity"

John Wesley (1703-1791)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith

I wanted to post on Time's article about Mother Teresa early last week but got behind. By now, you've probably read about this in other places but I thought it might be interesting to raise the topic here.

If you haven't read the article, here's the gist. Time Magazine's religion writer, David Van Biema has written a piece entitled Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith where he peers into the private doubts and spiritual life of one of great humanitarian icons in the history of the world. Most of the content for Biema's article is based on Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, a newly released book by Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk.

Biema writes:

A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, "neither in her heart or in the eucharist."...Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain...She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God.

Documented examples of Mother Teresa's struggle include the following quotes from her:

Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.
— Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979

Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one — the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One.
Mother Teresa, addressing Jesus in a letter

Biema's article is interesting because he takes the time to carefully note the different responses from both supporters and detractors.

Why did Teresa's communication with Jesus, so vivid and nourishing in the months before the founding of the Missionaries, evaporate so suddenly? Interestingly, secular and religious explanations travel for a while on parallel tracks... Kolodiejchuk finds divine purpose in the fact that Teresa's spiritual spigot went dry just as she prevailed over her church's perceived hesitations and saw a successful way to realize Jesus' call for her. "She was a very strong personality," he suggests. "And a strong personality needs stronger purification" as an antidote to pride... The atheist position is simpler. In 1948, [Christopher] Hitchens ventures, Teresa finally woke up[to the realization that religion was a human fabrication], although she could not admit it. He likens her to die-hard Western communists late in the cold war: "There was a huge amount of cognitive dissonance," he says. "They thought, 'Jesus, the Soviet Union is a failure, [but] I'm not supposed to think that. It means my life is meaningless.' They carried on somehow, but the mainspring was gone. And I think once the mainspring is gone, it cannot be repaired." That, he says, was Teresa.

Of course, Hitchens exposes his atheistic bias and as Christians, we not only disagree with his analysis of Mother Teresa's dilemma, we also strongly oppose his premise.

However, I wonder if this peek into Mother Teresa's private life can serve to teach us anything about the nature and struggle of faith. Since I don't know much about Mother Teresa beyond this Time article, I wouldn't want to venture to judge the quality or authenticity of her faith. Nor do I question the breadth and depth of her humanitarian works performed out of a devotion to her calling. Yet, as I read the article, a few thoughts some to mind:

1. Faith is a gift. Make no mistake about it - true faith in Jesus Christ that brings about soul satisfaction and eternal life is a gift from God. It cannot be manufactured by our emotions or created by cognitive reasoning. In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds us that saving faith comes from God.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast

2. The kind of faith that pleases God and endures through the darkest nights isn't based on what we achieve - "not by works, so that no one can boast". Instead, it is firmly planted in celebrating what Christ achieved on our behalf.

Our acts of righteousness, no matter how sincere, only pay tribute to our pride when they are performed apart from the work of Christ. When this happens, our joy dissipates and we can find ourselves hopeless. And, self abasement does nothing to such an insidious form of pride.

Let me be clear - I'm not implying that this was the source of Mother Teresa's problems. Only that in some way I find myself similarly affected whenever I forget the bounty of mercy I've received from Him. As I've mentioned in a prior post, we must never "serve Christ" as though He needed anything from us. Our service to Him must be marked by a receiving from Him.

3. Unbelief, not doubt, is the enemy of faith. I think there's something "normal" about the doubts that enter our minds from time to time. Yet, in the Bible, it is not doubt that is broadly condemned but unbelief - a turning away from trusting in a holy God, who has revealed Himself as all-powerful, supremely loving and incomparably wise.

4. While I don't know much about Mother Teresa's faith, I know that many Christians over the centuries have suffered from prolonged battles with depression and struggles of faith. Sometimes, what emerges from their struggle is a vivid picture of God's grace. One such person is William Cowper who penned one of my all time favorite hymns - There is a Fountain Filled With Blood.

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.
Washed all my sins away, washed all my sins away;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply, Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die. And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die; Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

Perhaps, you get the pure light of the gospel only after you struggle through darkness.