The Famine in Madagascar

For those who haven’t yet seen it, David Muir from ABC did a special on the famine in Madagascar. We can personally attest from our own experience the situation in Southern Madagascar has worsened throughout the last ten years. To hear it from the locals, rains were more frequent, dried-up rivers still running, and fields much more productive 20 to 30 years ago. Something has changed. What ABC captured is not just “political.” It also isn’t recent. Obviously it’s getting publicity because of the recent UN summit, but because this situation has been building for a while, the solution will also not be solved by bandaid aide or ideas.

In 2018, we had two days of rain in the South. Two days! Crops have failed year after year when the Malagasy plant their fields after the first rain only for them to burn up in the withering sun with no follow-up rains. COVID-19 just made things worse. The villages we know in the South had already come to depend on the supplemental food handed out by World Food Program, USAid, Red Cross, and many others working in Southern Madagascar. But as soon as COVID-19 hit, those Non-Profits pulled out. Only one or two returned. So, at the same time COVID-19 lockdowns restricted access to shipped-in food, the organizations who have been handing it out haven’t been handing out as much, leaving many, many villages to flounder.

We are not in any way experts in weather or climate change. From what we’ve seen, this is absolutely driven by deforestation and sudden weather changes in the past 10 years. The foreign food aide has helped, but it misses the need for water that only massive infrastructure development could help offset. Unfortunately, the reality of this drastic situation is that any solution will only be a drop in the bucket.

People are suffering and dying in Southern Madagascar, and no matter which way you slice it, we have a responsibility as humans, first, and especially as Christians, to do something about it.

Please pray for the Malagasy, especially the Mahafaly and Tandroy tribes that are most heavily affected by the drought and famine. Learn more about what caused this famine and how to help. Pray for the efforts of local, Malagasy churches who are working to get food to their churches in the middle of all this (one trip is scheduled for next week). And let’s ask God what our drop in the bucket should be.

Resource Spotlight: Black History Month

Chyella is still loving her French preschool! And we love it too–we love that she can make friends with children from many different places, and that she can learn a new language too! We also really enjoy doing “worksheeps” together at home on off-days, so this month we’re supplementing with some Black history month resources! If you have ideas or resources, please share as well!

Here are some fun animated Black History Stories as videos for preschool age. They’re from Goose Goose Duck YouTube channel, and it seems they have lots of fun videos I want to check out!

I was also able to download free printable coloring pages highlighting famous African-Americans on ScribbleFun. Looking forward to learning with Chyella many of these historical Americans’ stories this month! There are many other great resources–here’s a link to lots of ideas–but most of these are for older kids than preschool.

Our organization has also created an app to share new initiatives and current stories of what God is doing around the world. This app has been promoted through many of our SBC churches–feel free to download it here. A few months ago, our organization partnered with Barna Research Group to do a study on the Future of Missions. Barna and others then shared much of what was learned through the app. This month, starting February 7th, our organization is highlighting many stories of African-American missionaries who have served around the world and throughout history, including some children’s resources! Check out these stories through the app!

We’re so grateful for these initiatives and look forward to learning a lot this month–both with Chyella and ourselves as adults! At the same time, as a couple, we have also learned a lot this past year about the racism in our history in the SBC, and, honestly, in our own hearts. We absolutely want to celebrate the contributions of African-Americans to our denomination and organization, and any progress we are making toward greater racial equity. But we also want to acknowledge that we still have a long way to go. This Christianity Today article talks about the low numbers of African-American and other minorities serving as missionaries with our organization, compared to the numbers of those minorities in our Southern Baptist churches. This IMB.org article discusses why it matters–the great loss to our organization and its impact around the world without more minority voices and leaders.

For our awareness and learning in this area, two books have also been very helpful in the last year: Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise, and this collection of Southern Baptist pastors and professors writing specifically about the SBC’s history, Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention.

We have a lot to learn!

Resource Spotlight: Learning in 2021

Happy New Year! We Bakers are starting this year off with high hopes for lots of reading and learning . . . we’ll see how we feel a few months in!

For us, 2020 was extremely eye-opening. It seems that many things we had been oblivious to were revealed. We still have a lot to learn.

We’d love to hear from you what you learned in 2020, and what you’re hoping to learn in 2021. Any book recommendations or reading goals? Any new podcasts we should check out?

For our resources spotlight this month, we want to share our Bible reading plan and our reading lists for 2021. Remember, it’s January 4, so our reading list is . . . ambitious . . . to say the least. Again, ask us how we’re doing a few months in!

Last year we did Bible Project’s yearly reading plan. We loved it, and we love Bible Project and the fantastic Scripture resources they have available–check them out! This year, we wanted to try a chronological plan–where if a prophet is talking to a king, you’ll read that portion mixed into reading 1 and 2 Kings, for example. Here’s the one we found that we’re going to try. Feel free to join us and share your thoughts!

Here’s some of the books on our reading list–would love to hear your thoughts and recommendations and what you’re reading too!

Tom Steffan’s and William Bjoraker’s The Return of Oral Hermeneutics: As Good Today as it was for the Hebrew Bible and First-Century Christianity: We work with oral-preference learners here, and we have so much to learn about how oral people learn and think. We are so used to only reading to learn that we’re constantly having to re-examine our efforts here where the majority of people don’t read–which is a good thing! We’ve seen people grow deep in their knowledge of God and His Word, and their obedience to it, through storying. Still, when we talk about things like seminary education the impulse is always to do more and more reading. We’re hoping this book (ironic to read a book about oral methods!) can continue to challenge our thinking and help us learn tools that will better serve our people.

Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.’s Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul: One thing we’ve learned this past year is that not everyone thinks the same way we have about America, about race in our country, about our history. That includes the local believers and pastors we work with here! We have a lot to learn. We as a couple have been remiss in assuming that we understood our history and the current racial landscape when we’ve only ever really heard about these topics from one perspective. This year we’ve intentionally listened to African-Americans and other minorities on race in America, and we have learned so much–but only scratched the surface. Looking forward to learning what this book has added to the conversation.

John Owen’s On Sin and Temptation: I confess I started this one in April of last year and haven’t finished!! I got pretty bogged down. A sweet friend and I were reading a whole series of books on spiritual formation, but I didn’t make it any farther than April! Oh dear. My plan this year is to keep plugging away at this one all year 🙂

Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah’s Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery: We work in a country that was colonized by our European neighbors–even possibly ancestors. We can see evidence of this all around us–of the ongoing effects on life here for Malagasy people. Our presence here as missionaries does not exist in a vacuum from this fairly recent history of colonization. We have a lot to learn about how this history affects even faith and religious practice here. Martin Meredith’s The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence is in this category as well, and is also on our list.

James Cone’s Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian: Even theologically, the sources we’ve taken in over the years have come from an extremely limited perspective. I don’t think I’ve ever read a theology book by an African-American Christian, or an Asian Christian, or a Native American Christian . . . much less an African Christian (other than Athenasius and Augustine, of course). And yet I think I can contextualize theology to Malagasy Christians much further from me culturally? Whew. I have a lot to learn. Here’s to a start.

Eugene Nida’s Message and Mission: The Communication of the Christian Faith: We read another book by Nida (who has some foundational works on Bible translation) that gave us new frameworks for understanding aspects of what we would call a concrete (not abstract) culture here in Madagascar. Hoping this book can add to those types of frameworks in a helpful way.

Dean Fleming’s Contextualization in the New Testament: Contextualization–how truths are understood and expressed in different cultures and languages–is a big part of our life and work here. The reality is, as Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah point out in their book (Nathan started it this week! 🙂 all of us are living in a contextualized Christianity, as no human currently on earth shares the specific context of the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament. Understanding how the first Christians contextualized, we hope, will help us recognize contextual decisions our own culture has made, and help us learn from local Malagasy believers as they contextualize Scripture and the Gospel in their own culture.

Michael Gurian’s The Wonder of Boys: I’ve got no brothers and now a son! 🙂 I have a lot to learn about the ways boys communicate and learn. What a challenging moment for children we’re in, where discussions around gender and sexuality have become so complex. I believe that God’s Word provides answers to gender and sexuality questions–but honestly I’m not even sure what questions people are asking, and so certainly can’t answer them effectively. Looking to read a lot more on this topic. We welcome suggestions! Hopefully this will be a good start.

Richard Delgado’s and Jean Stefancic’s Critical Race Theory: An Introduction: The topic of Critical Race Theory has gotten a lot of attention recently in evangelical circles. At this point, we as a couple don’t even know enough about it to explain it to someone or form any kind of statement on it, so we’d like to learn about it from the primary sources first–thanks to Dr. Christina Edmondson for her encouragement to do this on the Be the Bridge Podcast!

Resource Spotlight: Preschool Fun from home!

Tessa here, with a few fun preschool resources that have been a lifesaver for us during this time! Chyella was loving her French preschool here in Toliara, and thankfully has been back in school for the month of October! During the “confinement” as we have called it here, we found these great websites for educational worksheets and videos! These links work for me here in Madagascar, but may not work for you if you’re in the USA—sorry about that! Just Google the names and that should work, and let me know if you have trouble 🙂

Thanks to my friend Jodie’s recommendation, we used Talking Letter Factory and Talking Word Factory videos to introduce basic alphabet and reading skills—Chyella watched these repeatedly last December and learned her letters–woohoo!

We worked through this â€śLetter of the Day” worksheet series from Preschool Mom twice! 

Great “Read the Alphabet” curriculum from This Reading Mama. We haven’t really tapped into all the resources here, but our favorite worksheets in this reading series are the “Color by Sight Word.”

And speaking of sight words, this whole series of “Meet the Sight Words” videos from the Preschool Prep Company has helped Chyella a ton with learning the blends and lots of new words.

We also have some favorite books—the Jesus Storybook Bible of course, and God’s Very Good Idea. This last one is a new addition and Chyella loves it!

Also, here’s a fun shot of Chyella trying a sidewalk chalk obstacle course we did–thanks to a friend, Caroline, for this idea on Facebook! 🙂

Resource Spotlight: Undivided

If you’re part of the SBC you may be aware of the recent decisions of some to start calling themselves Great Commission Baptists. If you’re asking yourself, “Where did that come from?” or are just puzzled by the current cultural climate, particularly in the church, then I have some resources for you.

NAMB: Undivided

A friend just recently made me aware of an SBC effort to talk through several issues disturbing our society. As an international missionary constantly engaging in cultural issues here in Madagascar, I was stoked to hear that NAMB (our national baptist missionary sending branch) is trying to help people be on mission in American culture in this moment. I’ve found it really helpful just to hear the different voices as people seek to address what ails us from a biblical perspective. There are several sessions covering multiple topics but focusing on race and social engagement. Check out the trailer below.

History (American, Church, and otherwise)

So much of what I’m currently learning as pertains to current American moment comes back to not simply race, but history. We have Black History month as if that is somehow segregated from the rest of American history. It’s not. What some of us conceive of as one country is, as one of my black brothers pointed out, not United States but several “countries” of people with different versions of history. As a missionary, I would say we have to know these different versions of the story if we are going to engage people with the best story of Jesus.

Unfortunately, there is a version of the story that is pretty uncomfortable for the “American Church.” I put that in quotes, because what I have learned is that what I think of as the “American Church” is really a predominantly white church. I have been helped greatly by Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise. He does an admirable job of condensing the American Church’s timeline into an historical survey that brings out the heavy silence from the church on racism. Historically speaking, there would be no Black Churches, Asian Church, Hispanic Churches, etc. if it were not for white Christians who would not accept their brothers and sisters who did not look like them as equals.

If you doubt that, or think of the Church’s role in things like slavery as just an unfortunate incident, then please read the Appendix to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. I am thankful I was taught to view Douglass as a heroic figure. Yet, I was never aware of his scalding words on the “American Church” and our version of Christianity:

. . . between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 95.

He goes on, and I would encourage you to read it. From the very beginning of American history and therefore the history of the church in America, we have been a double-minded and divided people.

I hope that resources like Undivided can help us course correct. But if we don’t engage with other resources like The Color of Compromise or aren’t aware of our own complicated history of complicity, there’s no way we’ll be able to talk to each other, let alone understand one another.

Resource Spotlight: Politics

Yep, be very afraid, we’re dipping into politics. We know we’re all thinking about it. How can we not with social media lit up with opinions and ire and a presidential election around the corner? I’m not looking to fan any fires: if anything I’d like to recommend a couple of resources that I hope will if anything dampen our sound and fury while helping us discern our role as Christians in this time.

Jonathan Leeman @ Downtown Church

Jonathan Leeman from Capital Hill Baptist and 9Marks ministries has four sessions on the Church and Politics. He covers the Church’s distinct perspective on politics as people who follow King Jesus. The church is an explicitly political organization because we follow a king, not a party, platform, or president . . . the king of kings. He also discusses how to get along as church members with differing political views and gives some advice on thinking through voting as part of our role in American politics.

We do not agree with everything Leeman says. In fact, though Leeman is very thoughtful, helpful, and non-incendiary, it struck me how very unfair it is for me to expect one voice (be that a person, pastor, pundit, organization, church, etc.) to give me all that I need to be faithful to God in the political arena or even just the upcoming election.

I am very grateful for how Leeman deals with both his political agency and authority in his local church with the appropriate gravitas and humility. What struck me, however, is how little we have these discussions around politics together as Christians. One man, like Leeman, cannot possibly educate us and give us enough discernment for the job of political engagement. We talk about the great gift and responsibility of voting. But if it’s such an honor, why don’t we do a better job of educating ourselves on how to do it well together as Christians?

I think that’s the unique contribution of the next organization I want to recommend . . .

The (&) Campaign

The (&) Campaign is a non-partisan political movement designed to clarify the Church’s voice in politics. That I am aware of, they have a website, a podcast, and a book (below) that just came out. I’m reading through the book right now and I have found it very practical. It’s called Compassion and Conviction because they are trying to bridge the partisan political gap between a lack of compassion from political conservatives in the Church and a lack of conviction from political progressives in the Church. The faithful way of political engagement for Christians, they argue, is both compassion and conviction, a middle way . . . or perhaps a politic that looks radically different than any current, partisan options.

For people in the States, they also have local chapters people can join to discuss and mobilize for political action. We are not in the States; we’re only able to learn from afar through the podcast and book. Still, I’m extremely grateful for a para-church organization doing just that: gathering and organizing churches to give us a forum for political discussion and action. Trying to address what ails our nation is so much bigger than just voting in November. The Church cannot be part of the solution until we listen to each other (especially those with very different perspectives) and mobilize in our local communities. Voting is a big part of that; but it’s so much more. I hope these resources help us work together to become the alternative society God has brought us together to be.

Extra! Extra!

Some timely resources with some explanation . . .

  • The future of post COVID-19 missions
  • How statistics can be helpful (or not)!
  • Podcasts and leaders in digital ministry

COVID-19 and Missions

You may be familiar with Operation World for the global prayer resources they provide. This little book is really no different. Mandryk, in concert with voices of leaders from around the world, has compiled some, self-admitted, speculations about the mid to post Covid-19 World, especially when in comes to missions. Some of the more helpful bits to me were his reflections on how sending, training, and organizing missionaries will have to change.

I first came across this at lausanne.org and you can download it below.

I have found lausanne.org a natural place to peruse for resources on global mission during this time. Lausanne is an evangelical coalition of Christians (first founded by, among others, Billy Graham and John Stott). Take some time to explore all of their content, the variety of voices from around the world has made me wiser about our current moment.

Also, as you think about missions, here’s an infographic from our organization to help you think about missions in your context. Breaking down the goal of missions into these categories has aided us as we follow along this progression with our church plants here in Madagascar.

As churches continues to decentralize their more and more, it becomes even more important for each of us as Christians to find our place in the Task picture above. No one Christian can complete the Missionary Task. It is actually a Church effort where everyone, whether accountant, artist or theologian, has a part to play in one or multiple sectors of this task.

Statistics

We’ve been working recently to learn better ways of gathering and reporting data for our mission here and I’ve been reminded many times of Kahneman’s warnings in Thinking Fast and Slow. A respected expert, Kahneman’s dense book walks through multiple ways we misunderstand and misapply statistics on a daily basis, especially because of media.

Kahneman worked as a researcher in the field of psychology, and is especially interested in decision theory. His thesis, over a lifetime of research, is that we are not rational thinkers. Instead, we resort to a plethora of what Kahneman calls heuristics (cognitive traps or biased ways of thinking). As he himself explains, “This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution” (12-13). 

The novel corona virus has made everything more complex. But sometimes it looks like we’re replacing these complex questions with easier ones. Especially in the current onslaught of statistics in the media, you may find this book helpful. Kahneman winds through example after example of particular traps (heuristics) we use unaware: we are highly suggestible, we are naturally lazy thinkers, we abhor loss, we are overly optimistic, we don’t learn inductively, our intuitions suspect, our memory trumps experience, etc.

Throughout his book, Kahneman challenges the notion that we are rational thinkers. We need tools, strategies, and even better language to help us think things through. The best application, most likely, is to slow down in situations you recognize may incite cognitive traps instead of accepting the first answers that present themselves. So, instead of immediately sharing that scintillating new graph, we should think through whether something means what we think it does.

Digital Ministry

Speaking of statistics . . . a new podcast from Barna. For years, Barna has sought to equip church leaders with real time data. Barna’s ChurchPulse Weekly podcast is now what I listen to every week as I race around for groceries. Every week they seem to improve upon the last, digging deeper into data about church attendance, race, cultural trends, and digital ministry. They’ve also hosted a range of voices who have helped me think through our changing context here (even when the contexts are vastly different!) The most recent one was again on digital ministry.

090 | Dr. Matthew D. Kim on the Loneliness Epidemic, Reaching People in Pain and How a Good God Can Allow Suffering ChurchPulse Weekly

Dr. Matthew D. Kim (author and professor at Gordon-Conwell) sits down with Carey Nieuwhof to talk about preaching to people in pain. Matthew shares about how he has dealt with grief and pain in his own life, ways to connect biblical narratives with the pain people are feeling and how to answer the difficult question of how a good God can allow suffering.   —   Learn more from Matthew Kim in his latest book, Preaching to People in Pain: How Suffering Can Shape Your Sermons and Connect with Your Congregation. Go to medishare.com/churchpulse to calculate your cost savings and see how much you could be saving on health insurance by switching to their services.
  1. 090 | Dr. Matthew D. Kim on the Loneliness Epidemic, Reaching People in Pain and How a Good God Can Allow Suffering
  2. 089 | Rick Warren on Why Christ Has Not Yet Returned and How to Build a Mission-Driven Church
  3. 088 | Bonus: Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman on How Pastors Want to Quit Full Time Ministry and Ways to Persevere
  4. 087 | Aaron and Michelle Reyes on Navigating Diverse Cultural Differences During a Pandemic
  5. 086 | Loneliness, Community, and Discipleship Online Versus In-Person with Ben Windle and Jay Kim

This is the second time they’ve hosted Nona Jones. She does a great job helping leaders on social media think not about mere “reaches” or “likes” but actual engagement for discipleship. I’ve dropped a more extended talk by her below if anyone is interested. She also has a book, From Social Media to Social Ministry, that I have not yet read, though I’m sure it’s also helpful based on what I’ve heard from her.

An extended sessions from Nona Jones on digital discipleship.