Friday, 27 February 2009

Chennai Steeple Chase - February 2009

In the footsteps of St Thomas

I attended Egmore Wesley Church in the morning for the 8:30 service.  Doors and windows were open in the airy church Fans whirled over head, Simple décor of whitewashed walls, stained glass (patterns not pictures) no wall plaques. two large Chandeliers. Pastor Leanard preached on ‘God is your lover’ to a packed church. More exhortation than encouragement, with a strong an emphasis on obligatory rather than optional obedience. Communion was wafers and individual glasses of juice at the communion rail. I was somewhat distracted by a second collection which seemed intrusive. But I was surprised and uplifted by the choir singing an anthem Mozart’s ‘Ave Serum Corpus’ . They were very good.

Afterwards over chai/tea chatting to members of the congregation I asked about places to see in Chennai, One person suggested a ‘steeplechase’ of the historical churches and the different influences on Madras/Chennai: Mount St Thomas, Little Mount, San Thom Basilica St Mary’s chapel in Fort St George The Armenian Church at Paris corner, Portuguese Luz Church and Scottish St Andrew’s Kirk. There were plenty of options.

Back at the CSI guesthouse I found a taxi driver who could take and along with Victor, a young internet professional from a Telagu background, who had taken me to Egmore Church in the first place, I spent an enjoyable afternoon evening racing around Chennai visiting 4 out of the 8 churches.

Little Mount

St Thomas reached Muziri around 51-52 AD having established 7 churches in Kerala. He converted King of Maliapore (Madras) He was martyred in AD 72.The Church of our Lady of Health, built in 1551 by the Portuguese, Is situated on a small mount about 80 feet above sea level Known in Tamil as 'Chinna Malai' and Portuguese as ‘Monte Poquino”

In the grounds, a DisneyWorld style Via Dolorosa (way of the cross) to walk and interact with statue tableaus of the Stations of the Cross.. This was a pilgrimage that anyone could make. It was visual, colourful and compelling. A young man knelt in devout prayer at the foot of the cross. Two young boys were running around flying a kite. A woman sat under a large sign in English and Tamil declaring Thomas’s mantra: ‘My Lord and My God’ 

St. Thomas is remembered as the Apostle of India.   Here is a cave where he sheltered and another small cave where he before an ancient carved cross. There is a red ‘footprint’ for devotees to touch and water from a Spring to drink - the same spring that succoured Thomas. 
It is a place to walk the way, to pray. to mediate, even to picnic. To express very practically and tacitly the faith. 

I thought it was very appropriate at the site of the so called doubting apostle Thomas. ‘Unless I touch … smell…. feel, I will not believe’. Here faith is made physical.  

St. Thomas Mount Shrine

Called ‘Phirangi’ in the vernacular and ‘Monte Grande’ in Portuguese, the Mount lies 300 feet above sea level. It is the scene of St Tomas’s martyrdom,  On the way up we passed the ‘brothers of the Sacred heart’ and ‘St Thomas Retreat House’, ‘a place for retreat and pilgrimage’

Outside a statue where people could pose for photos, like Madam Toussauds,  Mother Theresa was particularly popular with women.   When I visited no-one was posing with the Pope
The church contains a simple shrine an ancient 'weeping' cross, a Madonna and child painting supposedly by St Luke himself, a relic containing fragment of bones of St Thomas.  

We were allowed surprisingly close right into the sanctuary itself and photography was encouraged. In that we differed from Medieval pilgrims.  

Afterwards we had a cold drink of Mango juice in the convent which runs a baby’s home, with cheap tacky religious souvenirs. I picked up a copy of a book 'In the Steps of St Thomas' by Rev Herman D’Souza (Siga Madras 2008)  

San Thome de Melipor Tomb and museum

The Catholics do things well and on a big scale.   The church was large – a basilica - and a wedding was happening inside. It was full of life and noise.

At the back of the Church a museum with artefacts connected with Xavier and Thomas. In particular ancient stone crosses and a double sided stone with Thomas on one side and his convert Kandapa Raja, Gondaphores, the King of Mylapore on the other.

There was also an underground shrine above the supposed burial site. Devotees knelt in reverent prayer before their Indian apostle.  And a very graphic scene depicting his murder , stabbed in the back by a spear as he knelt in a garden in prayer (before an ancient cross. An almost Gethsemane like betrayal.

St Mary’s Church in St George’s Fort

This was the most difficult to find since it is located within was the military fort now the Tamil Nadu secretariat.   We were well past the closure time but the lady guard took pity on me, when she knew I couldn’t return the next day and let us in to see the church from the outside.

We had to walk around old camp buildings to get to the Church itself. Built in 1680, this is oldest church east of Suez. Clive of India was married here and the founder of Yale also worshipped here.  I would have loved to see the plaques inside but we had to be content to look at the gardens though iron railings and get an idea of the shape. A Military museum was also closed but a statue of Cornwallis was clearly visible through the doors.  And ancient canon  upon the walls, (including some from Sind ) completed the image of Christianity as a colonial religion. Mission backed by military gunboats.

Which I suppose is why the St Thomas narrative is so important. His arrival in India predates Xavier and the Portuguese in the 15th century and the British East India Company in the 18th and 19th century.  

I find it ironic that he who doubted most, travelled furthest with the gospel. But then the Great Commission was given to all believers including the doubters (Matt 28:17)

Friday, 20 February 2009

Tahaan - a boy with a grenade

one of the advantages of travel is the opportunity to see different things. Access to different movies whether on the plane or the bazaars. 
I stumbled accross this truely beautiful film   'Tahaan: a boy with a grenade' Directed by Santosh Sivan

Set in war torn Kashmir (the Indian side) it tells the story of Tahaan an 8-year old boy who is parted from his beloved donkey, Birbal.   
It is an allegorical film,  a  parable  about searching for meaning.   His grandfather and mother look after Tahaan, since his father has been missing for 3 years.  They live in hope of his return. But for Tahaan the return of his donkey becomes his soul purpose in life.  He will do anything to get his donkey back.   So when he is asked by an older boy to carry a handgrenade over the military checkpoint his adventure takes on a  more dangerous turn.

It was shown at the BFI  in October 2008  and a  movie trailer preview is available on YouTube 
Also take a look at the  official website.
There are some stunning images. A great movie.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Satvana - a home in Pune

Satvana Home started in 2005. Dr Lalita Edwards had been working in the HIV/Aids field particularly with children at risk. Initially she was doing casework in Mumbai and alter focused on Pune.

According to Lalita, India has 19lakh (1.9million) women who are living with Aids. 90% are married and living in a monogamous relationship. ‘India is about to be hit by the worst epidemic in the world'
She started opening up her own home, initially to 6 girls, high risk children from traumatised backgrounds, some on Anti-retroviral treatment.

Satvana currently has 25 children staying with 2 more on the way. Many are orphans, but some with a living parent or relatives are able to go ‘home’ twice a year, although I suspect they find more of a home with Dr Lalita that they do elsewhere There was a great atmosphere when we visited, a positive caring environment where children can grow and learn and have a sense of hope.

She uses a building belonging to a church, which is rented, The children can attend the church and the local schools. Satvana only has only one full time staff member plus Lalita herself and a social worker, Shamil. Also some voluntary help.

But together they make a small army

Monday, 16 February 2009

The changing face of Asia - UBS Pune

The changing face of Asia

At our recent CMS co-mission partners CoMP conference we had people from all over india, north and south, Mixzoram, Nepal and other neighbouring Himalayan countries plus Singapore, Honk Kong and Korea. They came together for a week’s programme at UBS Pune. And they represented the changig face of CMS in Asia

This was followed by a day’s consultation with leaders and partners from all over India. We were listening to their voices regarding the future of CMS in Asia. We followed an appreciative enquiry cycle of Describing current reality, Dreaming about future possibilities, Designing a road map for the future and Delivering practical steps towards the common goal. It was an excellent day with a high level of participation. More of that another time.  

The overt purpose of the CoMP programme was for further (core) training but as always the main benefit was definitely relational. Fellowship over meals and trips out cement friendships. And friendships build community. These can be maintained by electonic means e-groups Facebook,  Flikkr. But face-to-face encounters are a must.   

I have been reading ‘God is rice’ by Masao Takenaka. He suggest it is through eating rice together that we build community and bring in the kingdom.  

As a part of the programme we also visited Satvana Home as well as Dr Lalita Edwardes work with Hijra in Pune  plus IMCARES homes for children of sex workers in Pune

We were meeting at Union Biblical Seminary  (UBS) Pune. Founded in 1953 by Dr Frank Klein a Methodist. They have been hosting an Annual missionary conference since 1977 and CMS consultation since 1992 - when initially 8 papers presented on Missiological issues in Indian context . These papers were published in 1994 ‘Doing Mission in Context’.

Other publications include:
'The Church in India: its mission tomorrow' (CMS 1996)
Consortium for Indian Missiologiocal Education (CIME 2002)
UBS journal and CD ‘Celebrating God’s faithfulness’ (UBS 2003)
10th CMS consultation in 2004 on ‘Nationalism and Hindutva: a Christian response’

The Centre for Misison Studies (CMS) was inaugurated - integrating the Dept of Mission, CES and Students wives programme It was supported through a bicentenary grant by CMS UK
I bought a ‘shelf’ of books, around 2000 Rs worth, for the Crowther mission centre library in OXFORD. This is part of changing the face of mission in Britain through hearing more Asian voices.

Christ Mandela by Nalina Jayasuriya

This is another post in the series 'God is Rice'  with quotes from the book by Masao Takenaka

Christ's anointing by Nalini Jayasuriya from Sri Lanka 

Many Asian Christian artists such as Jyoti Sahi, Nalini Jayasuriya and Alphonso are utilising the rhythmic form of the circle and centre to express the presence of Christ. They clearly and simply place Christ at the centre and in that representation he embraces the cosmos as a whole. 

Take for example the painting Christ Mandala by Nalini Jayasuriya, She is a third generation Christian from Sri Lanka, where Buddhism is the predominant religion. To be sure, there are numerous expressions of mandalas, varying according to locality, such as Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese. The original meaning of mandala is ‘assembly.’

In Nalini Jayasuriya’s Christ Mandella we find in the centre the Christ figure. He is seated in the lotus posture of meditation with his hands in a Mandala gesture of blessing. He is surrounded by a circle which can be interpreted as a mandala or halo (a ring of light) position) representing the glory of God. Or it can be read as a mandala of a circle of light showing Christ as the centre of the Universe. To the left and the right are fiur small human figures representing the four evangelists (left above Matthew , the human figure; left below Mark the lion; right below Luke the ox and right above John the eagle) we also note tha above the figure of Christ there are three suns representing the Trinity, and all the motif’s float on a sea of fine circular lines suggestive of the vibrations from the centre outwards and back again.

This suggests a harmony rather than dualism between spirit and body, secular and sacred, the paternal an the material , heaven and earth. positive and negative and good and evil

you can find more on Yale's Prism
and and article by Nalina Jayasuriya on art as theology
The 'Christ Mandella' image is used on the front cover of Christianity and the Religions: From Confrontation to Dialogue by Jacques Dupuis, 

 Christianity and the Religions by Jacques Dupuis: Book Cover

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Ecumenical learning at Jeevan Jyothi, Hyderabad

I had a morning in Hyderabad on my way to Goa so had arranged to visit an All India Sunday School Association (AISSA) training programme, being run by Rev Dr Ipe Joseph of the Mar Thoma Orthodox Church. He is the General Secretary and Bp Naresh Amballa of Eastern Himalaya Diocese Darjeeling is the President. They made me feel most welcome. It was a joy to sit in on 6th National Training programme Teachers Training Certificate Course being held at Jeevan Jyothi Catholic retreat centreI met around 40 teachers from different churches and language groups, participating in their reflective style worship, joyous singing as well as b
ringing greetings and sharing a little about CMS. It was we agreed infinitely better than drinking Nescafe in an airport waiting lounge. In fact it was more akin to ‘dessi chai’ (local tea)
Religions Plurality

Ipe Joseph presented a paper on Christian education in the context of religious plurality. Ipe Joseph is a man with a big smile and endless energy. He advocated what he called ‘ecumenical learning’ ‘a process which enables people of the world belonging to various countries religions cultures races economic classes and genders to become sensitive and responsive to those who are different from themselves…. While being rooted in ones own faith and tradition, an ecumenical learner takes the risk of being open to change’ He outlines 7 basic affirmations (which Include without comment because they are definitely worth reflecting on)

1 There is only one God. We are the children of that God, even if we belong to different countries, religions and cultures. Accordingly all people share a common humanity
2 Plurality is a gift of God. God created many colours, species and other diversities. God’s world is like a garden of many colours. Discrimination in any form is against God’s plan
3 Life came first and religion much later. So we need to respect life more thane we respect religion.
4 God is at work in God’s creation. So creation declares the handiwork of God
5 God is at work in all people and in all religions. So we need to respect other faiths
6 Understanding the faith of others will help us to understand our faith better. So Christian educators should make special efforts to learn about other religions. It is a sin to condemn other religions without knowing what they believe!
7 Jesus loves people of other faiths as much as he loves us. Jesus is for the whole world and not for Christians alone

In Mumbai one of the first things I saw was a sign on the back of a car: an expression of religious plurality and indian integration   

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Bethesda Life Centres Goa

Bethesda Life Centres GoaMartin and Beena set up the ministry in Goa in 98 not long after their marriage.Martin spent time in Papua New Guinea for 3 years and they were also in Hillsong Australia as a couple for a year after their marriage.
Her father VA Thampy started the New India Church of God’ www.nicog.orgin Kerala in the 1970s. There are now more than 2000 churches over India as well as Nepal Dubai. They also run Children’s homes and schools, refuges for women as well as 11 missionary training schools. The model is sending out mobile teams. This is not so much a denomination but a mission movement ‘Christ for the Nations’ 


Meena’s Father VA Thampy He was converted aged 19 in a remote village in Kerala from a Greek orthodox background. He became passionate about sharing the gospel even preaching from the top of Palm tree, using a home made megaphone (I’ll write that one up later) The story is told in a book by Brendan McCauley ‘India – one act of Kindness’ (Tate Publishing 2004).


I spent the day visiting the various projects: ‘Daniel’s Enclave’ home for 58 boys (where 2 of my children Andy and Jo have worked on summer programmes) I had kids climbing all over me and we even celebrated Jo’s birthday with chai and cake and banana chips.
The girls home ‘Rebecca’s Enclave’ is home to 36 girls. When we visited they were playing a version of HopscotchThey are also renovating a 3rd home which will they have bought to relieve the pressure on Daniel’s enclave Plan to take e in another 15 who need admission70& of the children are without parents, children of aids victims HIV+ve children are refereed elsewhere The others are mainly children of sex workers plus some leprosy background children

They also work with women to help them return to their villages.
Martin and beena have established a newtwork of support from churches in Woking,  Gretton and York a charity in UK exists to support
Girls from our church were also spending time there as part of as gap year travelling in Asia. Our church youth ministry 'Graceworks'  sends teams each year to work with them, to both encourage and are themselves encouraged by the experience. They appreciate short term volunteers but they also need trained people who can take responsibility and bear some of the burden for the work.

Goa has a colonial feel to it. The Portuguese colony with a strong Catholic influence . The relaxed, easy pace of life attracts tourists It is particularly famous for its beaches and now it seems for the casinos. I stayed at the Mandovi Hotel on Panaji, near the water front. A number of floating casinos blared out dance music. The Indian-Portuguese mix is reflected both in the food and in the churches. Here the twain shall meet.


I also visiting the bible school run by Manoj, Registrar and Ligi, academic dean. It started in 1997 as a missionary training centre They run a 2 year residential programme with a one year practical internship. To ‘train and send’ This might be to work with children, schools, street kids, church planting, training centres, mobile evangelistic teams

Around 20 students from Orissa, West Bengal, Kerala, Kanata, Tamil Nadu, Andréa Pradesh Manipur and Myanmar.  I shared my own journey in a mixture of Hindi/Urdu and English, as well as some Biblical principle of mission and some of the changes and challenges in the mission scene. The students were enthusiastic and welcoming, We then had a quick lunch before dashing off to the airport to pick up my flight to Chennai. A great way to spend a morning.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Goan Christian Art

The Museum of Christian Art at Old Goa, Goa is sited in the Convent of Santa Monica, Old Goa, in the vicinity of world Heritage Monuments. It is an attempt to showcase some of the Portugese Art which was created by Indian, prominentlly Hindu, artists. This was Asia's first Museum of Christian Art inaugurated in 1994.

It wasa bit out of the way, not too easy to find. I suppose I was looking for more of a blend between East and West.  It part of the search for images of the Global Christ.   I didn't qiuite find that but I especially enjoyed some of the figurines.....  

left to right:  Bust of St Alyosius (46cm);   Pieta (36cm);   Our lady wth infant Jesus (31cm);   Statue of St Sebastian (105cm) 

There is a link on the website to a couple of interesting articles  on  The Image of Christ in Indian Art  and on Churches and Convents of Goa

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Autobiography of a sex worker: Nalina Jameela

I have just finished reading a fascinating book, ’Autobiography of a sex worker’ by Nalini Jameela. 

Nalini Jameela (50) holds her book 'The Autobiography of a Sex Worker' in the southern Indian state of Kerala December 14, 2005. Her long, wavy, black hair tied loosely in a knot, Jameela looks like any other Indian housewife. But this attractive, largely uneducated mother of two is a best-selling author and prostitute whose outspoken views of sex work as an ordinary career choice have stirred controversy in conservative India. [Reuters]

“I am Nalini. Was born at Kalloor near Amballoor. I am forty-nine years old.” When Nalini Jameela wrote the first sentences of her autobiography in a notebook in 2003, a client who chanced to read these lines left her — not out of fear of exposure, but because she had told him she was only 42!

When the autobiography finally appeared in print two years later, in Malayalam, it sold like hot cakes. In J. Devika’s English translation of the revised memoir, Jameela speaks as a sex worker, a description deliberately defined by her profession.

I wanted insight into the lives of some of the people I have seen in Pune and in Kolkatta. I have met children of sex workers, many HIV+ve in various orphanages, in the Alpha Village, in Satvana, in Bethesda, all desperately seeking love and affection . I was also struck by the movie I saw (Zindagi break the cycle Timothy Giakwad) which portrays sex trafficking of a young teenage girl. What is life like for these women? So when I saw the book in Hyderabad Airport I picked it up. It was an opportunity to read a real story of one such woman.

What is fascinating is the total 'otherness' of her life situation  and the experiences she goes through. She is a Malayalam speaking woman of a similar age to me, but totally different circumstances. She describes a chaotic, unstable, a ‘perchance’ sort of lifestyle wandering from opportunity to disasters, tossed about by people who variously use her and abuse her. At different seasons of her life a labourer in a clay mine, a wife and mother, a business woman, a sex-worker, a social activist and filmmaker, a political speaker and writer. She appears to drift between worlds and describes it all naturally without much polish.

She starts life a Hindu and marries a Muslim. It was particularly fascinating to read of the twilight zone surrounding mosques where she sought refuge at various low points in her life. One particular concern is protecting he honour of her daughter. Her greatest challenge is how to provide for and nurture her offspring without the normal social convention of a male protector.

It is disturbing in that it brings into the public arena what is so often swept under the carpet, it gives voice to sex workers. It even defines language which is more acceptable. It is controversial in that it gave voice to women sex workers through one of the community who has spoken out and told it as it is. Some accuse her of being too outspoken.

Sex worker are free in four respects. We don't have to cook for a husband; we don't have to wash his dirty clothes; we don't have to ask for his permission to raise our kids as we deem fit; we don't have to run after a husband claiming rights to his property."

One web based review I read: 
It's not long -- 143 pages -- and its translation doesn't feel right -- but I would say it makes complusory reading.
It is, in many ways a shocking book -- NOT because of what it says about the life of a sex-worker but for what it reveals about the lives of so-called "ordinary" Indians. ….. Jameela's story is one of extraordinary resilience - Against the backdrop of Jameela's account, however, "ordinary" and "extraordinary" cease to have much meaning -- she shows us that the huge majority of "ordinary" people have "extraordinary" experiences, in which case they are no longer extraordinary in the sense of unusual, but merely the norm –--- Jameela's life and the lives of the huge majority of those amongst whom she lives -- not just sex-workers, but the tradesmen, the rickshawallas, the policemen, the small hoteliers -- are marked by unrelenting insecurity, hampered by such extremes of heartlessness that it is really difficult to understand how they can bear to face up to their realities –
The Malayalam edition of her book was snapped up -- 13,000 copies were sold in the first 100 days, according to the introduction of this book. It is not a salacious book -- no-one reading it, I believe, is likely to get any cheap thrills from it. To some extent, I miss the spice that has been (I think deliberately) left out.
How ironic that less provocative books -- lacy fictions built on middle-aged fantasies -- are decked out like scarlet ladies, while this one, about and by a scarlet lady, looks as meek and saintly as a vegetarian recipe book!

See also related article in China Daily,  Dec 05  Indian prostitute mum sparks storm with book

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Sorrow of Christ - K.C.S. Paniker

The Sorrow of Christ

Masao Takenaka writes 

‘One of the most appealing artistic pieces I saw in India was by K.C.S. Paniker . It is called the Sorrow of Christ Pakiker was a noted Indian artist and art teacher. In 1957 he became principal of the Government College of Ats and Crafts in Madras. After his retirement he helped organise a village of young artists, outside Madras city at a place called Cholamondal. I remember visiting him there. I took a jeep from Madras. It was a hot day and the road was dusty. It took almost two hours to reach the place. Paniker, white-bearded welcomed me. He was at that time 62 years old. 

He took me to his studio and showed me his sculpture called ‘The Sorrow of Christ’ I asked him: ‘Tell me, what led you to do this work?. He said “ I am a Hindu. We contemplate and pray and fast. We meditate on the way of compassion. I read the Bible at Madras Christian College, where I studied. I was impressed to find that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, not only prayed for, but actually related himself to the misery of marginalised people, such as those who suffered from leprosy.”

The sculpture vividly shows the compassion of Christ, identifying with the misery of suffering people. His nose is distorted. His mouth is misshapen and his eyes pop out. I thought the Christ, of the mis-shapen nose and his eyes pop out. I thought this Christ, of the misshapen nose if one of the most penetrating images of Christ in Asia where the physical condition of leprosy and the social status of the outcast are still a part of our existential reality.’  

Masao Takenaka 'God is Rice: Asian culture and Christian Faith'  WCC 1986 p 35-36

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Hijra of Pune February 2009

Penna, Stella and Koelli talking with Dr Lalita 

I visited ‘Budwar Pet’ Red Light district in Pune with Dr Lalita. We walked to the Satvana crèche run for children of sex workers every week day from 5:30 – 9:30 for the last couple of years. They weren’t there but it gave us space to talk (in hindi/urdu). Being able to communicate makes all the difference. It gets beyond the superficial, the outward appearance of things. Dr Lalita calls the Hijra ‘her special people.’

I met Panna who runs the crèche, Koelli from Keralla who has been in Pune for the last 25 years and Stella from Tamil Nadu for the past 20. All three have come out of the trade. As we talked they gave a demonstration dance and Penen sang a song: ‘Koi bhi chore mujhe, Yesu kebhi nehin chorega’ (even if others leave me, Jesus will never leave me)

Dr Laita stared working at Jadhav Natva Sansar and befriending the hijra or 'kinnar' (eunuchs). It was a real lesson in acceptance. Dr Laita has befriended and served them, demonstrating unconditional love. They are now in turn helping others. They all seem to call her ‘uma’ (mum) or ‘aunty’

We went on a walkabout the streets. Narrow dirty lanes, full of shops, DVD stalls, narrow lanes and gullies. People milling around.  Penna and the others greeted men and women and fellow ‘kinnar’ and the mamas sitting outside the doors. Everyone eyes everyone else up.
At night it is the twilight world of TGs (transgenders) FSWs (female sex workers) and MSMs (men having sex with men).  In the heat of the day, the home spills out onto the street, difficult to discern private and public, domestic and professional.    I was concerned about girls not much older than my daughter. So much exploitation. 
In her small one room flat over a cuppa ‘germ chai’, Penna showed me pictures of her heyday, her dancing days. With all her make up, she looked like a Greta Garbo figure from Hollywood. Then she earned 10,000 Rs a night dancing. But she wouldn’t swap those days for now anytime. Now she has a sense of peace and purpose.

Penna quoted by heart Isaiah 56: 4-5 in Hindi - verses that mean so much to her: 
'For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.’

Monday, 9 February 2009

Bush fires in Australia - news from a freind

A wildfire rages in Healesville in Australia

I received the following from a good Aussie friend  Warwick 
It makes the reality of the Bush fires come alive 

I have never seen anything like it in my life. The temperature was 48 Celcius, the winds were gusting at 80 - 90 MPH.

Whole towns have literally been wiped from the map. The toll so far is 108 confirmed dead but that is expected to grow as police get to sift through the debris.

We are aware of 2 Christian rehab centres caught in the fires. One was only opened last year by a group called Betel. They had bought a former guest house in Marysville and had a small team in place and 6 residents in the program. The fire came at such pace that they only had time to climb into cars and escape with what they were wearing. In the confusion I am informed that one female member of their team is missing. Their whole centre is just ashes today. One of the leaders who is based in Italy is flying home at the moment to assist them. The township of Marysville is no more. The whole town, which has been a very popular tourist centre for over 100 years and only an hour & a half from Melbourne, is gone.

The other place is run by a group called Remar International. Their property is in the middle of dense bush and at this stage we have not been able to contact them at all. All communications in that area are down. Due to the ferocity of the fires in that area we can only presume that their centre will have been destroyed but we will keep trying to find more detail about this group.

It is fair to say that the whole state of Victoria is in shock today. Everyone I have spoken to today has a story to tell about a relative or friend caught up in the fires. Either people missing or dead, or houses burnt to the ground.

Please pray for these situations. The tragedy will be ongoing for many months. Even when rebuilding begins their will be scarred lives struggling to deal with all that they have experienced.
According to the BBC  the fires were started by arsonists and so far 170 lives have been claimed

Sunday, 8 February 2009

God is rice: Masao Takenaka


I am reading the classic book on Asian Spirituality 'God is Rice:  Asian Culture and Christian Faith' by Masao Takenaka (WCC,1986)
I will share some of his insight over a number of blogs because it covers a range of interests in church, culture, mission, art, spirituality. And it connects very much with the search for indigenous, Asian missiology.     The following is an extract:  

Asia is so big and diverse. It is not easy to identify Asia. What we have in common is the habit of eating rice, the ubiquitous bamboo, and the use of broken English as a necessary evil for inter-Asian communication.

We can trace the Silk Road along which silk was transported by horses and camels. We can trace the ceramic route taken by boats. Both were primarily for the rulers and the rich. But we can also trace the rice road, and that was used by common people all over Asia. To be sure there were varieties of rice; what one ate depended on geography and personal preference. Nevertheless, it remains true that rice has been and is our daily food in Asia.
It is appropriate for us therefore to say ‘God is rice’, rather than ‘God is bread.’  Kim Chi-Ha, the well known Korean Christian poet, who was sent to prison several times in the last 10 years (70/80s), has written
Heaven is rice
As we cannot go to heaven alone
We should share rice with one another
As all share the light of the heavenly stars
We should share and eat rice together
Heaven is rice
When we eat and swallow rice
Heaven dwells in our body
Rice is heaven
Yes rice is the matter
We should all eat together

It certainly reminds us of holy communion, which is the occasion to share our daily food together with all people and a symbol of eternal life. This has a social implication as well as a spiritual meaning. The Chinese character for peace(wa) literally means harmony. It derives from two words: one is rice and the other is mouth. It means that unless we share rice together with all people, we will not have peace. When every mouth in the whole inhabited world is filled with daily food then we can have peace on earth.   (p 17-19)

'Last Supper by' Sadao Watanabe

When he was in his mid teens Sadao Watanabe, a well-known Japanese print artist, fist visited a Christian church, introduced by a neighbour who was a school teacher. He had lost his father when he was ten years old, and tended to live a closed and isolated life. He described his first impression of Christianity as follows

'In the beginning I had a negative reaction to Christianity. The atmosphere was full of "the smell of butter", so foreign to the ordinary Japanese'
(Sadao Watanabe - the man and his work by Masao Tekenaka in biblical Prints by Sadao Watanabe 1986)

Now in his print work he joyfully depicts the celebration of the holy communion with sushi, pickled fish and rice, a typical Japanese dish, served on traditional folk art plates. For him rice is a more natural and a more fitting symbol of daily food than bread which is foreign.    (p6-7)