Sunday, June 30, 2013

Making Theology Interesting to a Society Which is Not Interested

Freshers’ Day, Baptist Theological College, Pfutsero, 29th June 2013                
By Lipok Dzuvichu

I was raised in the border of the wild. One evening after early dinner, we saw a deer walking up the slope facing our house. If you are wondering where that place might be, it is a few hundred metres from where we are right now. There. I was a small boy who played cricket and football with BTC students. Raised in this locality, I saw people come and go. Today, it is an honour to be standing in front of the community that I grew up in.

Much of what I want to say to theological students have been said when I recently spoke at Oriental Theological Seminary, Dimapur. It is uploaded in the internet, so please have a look there. If you type in google, my name or title of the talk, ‘Taking Theology to Bazaar’; you will be directed to my blog ( which has the talk. 

Today is a special day and I thank the Students’ Association here for inviting me. As a local chokra here, I would like to extent my invitation to the new students. As you have read on your way in to the Mission Centre here, ‘There are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met’.

(Pause)‘How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?’(Romans 10: 14,15a). Today, you freshers have responded to that call and said, ‘here am I, send me’. So, I not only welcome you, but I congratulate you for deciding to give all of your lives in the service of God, the Almighty. But for our reflection today, let me stretch those Bible verses and problematize our situation. (Pause) Even if they are sent, how will they believe if they are not interested? How do we preach a message of salvation when people are not interested to be saved? How do we make them repent when they don’t feel the need for it? How do we speak of heaven when they don’t want to go there? How do we convince people to read the Bible when they don’t have the time for it? That is the situation we are in today. There are atheists who are opposed to the idea of God. But worse are the people who simply don’t care. They are not asking the big questions of life. They may not antagonise religious people so long as they don’t get on their way. They’d be rather left alone to do what they have to do. They think religion is for people who are interested in those sorts of things but it is not their cup of tea. They think religion may be psychologically helpful but not interesting enough for them to give it a try.

Such people are increasing in our Naga society. We have a lot of Christians who don’t go to church. On special Sundays like Mothers’ Day, even if you go to church on time, you can’t get a seat. And you wonder, ‘where did all these people come from?’ That is just one example of how interesting our regular Sunday worship services are. Minus the people who go to church on special Sundays, and you have the regular church goers. How many among them live as Christians? Week after week, they are in the church, some even very busy; but where is the substance to mark their discipleship to Christ? So, church for many simply becomes like a cultural centre where people come to socialize. Thinking people who can see through such hypocrisy of our church people are put off even farther. So, we have many intelligent people who are consciously moving away from church. They think church is for simpletons who blindly believe anything without questioning. Sadly, we find that people outside the church seem to be more broad-minded, more accepting, and more forgiving than church people.

Before I suggest how as theological students we may recapture the interest of people to follow Christ, let us look at the possible put-offs; things that we might have been doing wrongly as Christians and as church people.

Have we got the Gospel wrong? What is the Gospel? We evangelicals will be very quick to respond by saying out loud the so-called four spiritual laws: God loves you and has a special purpose for you; but you have sinned the punishment of which is eternal death; Jesus paid the price for your sins by dying on the cross; if you believe in him, you’ll be saved and you’ll go to heaven. We have reduced the Gospel to that personal salvation formula. The Gospel is so packaged so that if we tick the right boxes to those set questions, we can have salvation delivered to us in full. By taking up Theology, if you are here to learn some set formula, to master the techniques of soul winning, my friends, you are in trouble. We are so used to it and it doesn’t seem to be working. Research shows that only 22% of people who had born again experience continue as disciples of Jesus Christ down the line, not more than Christians of other denominations who had no born again experience. This is quite revealing to me of how we view the Gospel. I have always thought that to become a Christian must always be accompanied by saying yes to that formula. I knew of no other way the Gospel can be preached. Scot McKnight, the Baptist New Testament scholar says that pressing people with such formulaic Gospel to precipitate a decision is a post-1957 evangelical revivalist construction. The Gospel was never preached that way before. Even during the protestant reformation, Luther or Calvin did not press for people to make a decision. Mcknight contents that if Apostle Paul were told that that is the Gospel, he’d be shocked. 

So, before we take up the challenge of taking the gospel to the world, we need a reality check. What actually is the Gospel? We need to question. We need to dig deep. 

Have we got the church wrong? We hear people say, ‘I love Jesus but I hate the church’. The church as an institution has done grievous harm to the cause of the Gospel that it tries to champion. It has lost its distinctiveness from other social organizations and has become a kind of spiritual health club. It has colluded with worldly powers. The church is hand-in-gloves with the civil rulers and has become mute in the face of injustice and corruption. The construction of the NBCC Convention Centre by the Nagaland government is one such instance and it has shut the mouth of truth in the face of evil. The Clean Election Campaign was nothing more than a car sticker campaign as the dirtiest election of all times happened under the nose of it. Our Bolero Baptist Churches don’t do well either, by not challenging the status quo but only legitimizing it. Instead of being a subversive force to be reckoned with, our churches are the most unequal places to be. Rich donors get all the extra attention and special seats. Preachers make sure that they don’t inconvenience anybody with the sour truth. We have bowed down to the idol of material prosperity over justice & righteousness.

What is the way out? In the light of the two problems raised, let me first suggest that we unlearn how we have always understood the Gospel so that we may read and learn it afresh. The Gospels are not primarily about the fact that you are a sinner and that it contains a plan for your personal salvation. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus. So, the question to ask as you read the Gospels is, ‘Who is this Jesus?’ And as we proclaim the Gospel, we tell the story of Jesus. You may question, ‘Is there anything new to know about Jesus? Haven’t we figured him out and known all there is to know?’ Well, we have been holding on to caricatures and modern constructs of Jesus rather than the Jesus of the Gospels. We do not pick verses as if they are separate pieces of timeless proverbs but we need to read the whole story. When we are selective in our reading, it appears as if Jesus was born only for the purpose of dying; to die for our personal sins. His teachings in between his birth and death get sidelined. Also we must remember that the four Gospels are the climax to a much larger story. It is the story of Israel. If we ignore that, we get a truncated Gospel. I keep thinking about this: What if we ban preaching from the New Testament for a year? If we start from Genesis, preach the story of God with the nation of Israel found in the 39 books of Old Testament for the whole year, then bring in the New Testament only during Christmas, the Birth of Jesus Christ; preach on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ till Good Friday and Easter when we listen to the stories of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection; wouldn’t that be interesting? Scot McKnight argues that we have created a salvation culture with overemphasis on the need for personal decision on salvation that has distorted the Gospel itself. Professor N.T Wright, another New Testament theologian also on this account points out the fallacy of interpreting the resurrection. When we say ‘Jesus is risen’, we tend to take it as meaning, ‘now, we can go to heaven’. But Wright says that resurrection doesn’t mean that. Instead, it is, ‘Jesus is risen, therefore new creation has begun’. The Gospel is so much more than personal piety. It is nothing short of the total transformation of the whole cosmos, not excluding the social and political order. To proclaim that even Caesar has to bow down before a crucified Jewish carpenter-preacher was scandalous. It sure must have caught the attention of so many people in the Roman Empire. Now, that is interesting. If we are true to the Gospel, we don’t have to worry about sensationalizing it in order to garner people’s interest. We only have to be authentic and preach the Gospel as it really is. 

As Jesus would angrily clear the temple, there are a lot of tables to turn and dirt to sweep in our churches. We need courageous church leaders who value holiness over church budget. Churches must stop their abuse of privilege and come down from the pulpit to meet with the common people. The community of believers through love and care for one another must be an example of counter-culture; an abnormality, if you like, amidst the existing class, linguistic, ethnic, gender and such man-made divisions and barriers. If the church exists as church, there is no need for a publicity department. The warmth of the fellowship, the truth of the message, and the exemplary living of its members will be enough to attract people towards our churches. 

Let me add some more general suggestions on how we may make our conversations of theology interesting.

Alister McGrath in one of his talks on atheism thanked the new atheists for starting the conversation on God. In our modern times when talk about God seem to have been fading out, the challenge of New Atheism the proponents of who are much more vocal and hostile has created an opportunity and a platform for Christians to  talk about God. New Atheism is a term given to modern atheist writers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens who are of the view that Religion should not be simply tolerated but should be countered by rational arguments. From this example, I want to make a point that one way to talk meaningfully about the Christian faith is to join in the conversation that others have started. Jesus lived this style of communication about the kingdom of God. By the well, the Samaritan woman offered Jesus a drink. He carried on the conversation to talk of another kind of water. On the way to Emmaus, the resurrected Jesus joined in the conversation of the two men. Only after they broke bread did they recognise him. That is an interesting style of communication. When Jesus preached, he’d use very simple examples that people are familiar with and are talking about: A Sower who sowed seeds on different types of soil surfaces, a son who ran away from home, and a widow who dropped two copper coins into the offering box. He was very much alive to the people around him. That is a very important trait that we must emulate. What is the word on the street? What are the congregation thinking? It pays to be observant and to be alive to the surroundings. And if we join in the conversation that others have started, we can never be accused of forcing our way to push the Bible down someone’s throat.

My last point is something that I have not properly grasped yet. It is from a book with a very interesting title called ‘Conversion of the Imagination’ written by again a New Testament scholar. He says that Paul was imaginatively interpreting the Old Testament in the light of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Jews had their Psalms of the Old Testament. Paul read them as well. After his conversion to Christ, he read them differently. He now read the Psalms Christologically. The laws of the OT captured new meaning as Paul did what Hays called ‘revisionary interpretation’ to them. Paul also drew his teachings on ethics and church from the OT. So, Paul was using Israel’s scripture (OT) but he was giving them new meanings through the lens of Christ’s resurrection. If we care to study, listen and imagine, we will find fresh new ways to preach the Gospel in a whole new way. The Gospels are the same, but each generation has the challenge of interpreting the Scripture to the times in which they live. And if conversion to Christ is the conversion of our whole selves, it involves even the conversion of our imaginations. 

To study theology, as I have stated earlier, is not to learn the methods or formulae on how to win souls. Our education system is based on memorisation and swallowing of facts without chewing. To be able to vomit in the exam hall what we swallowed in the class room is called getting an education. As soon as you step out of BTC to start your ministry, the world will have changed and your memorised formula rendered useless. That is when what you have learned has to be imaginatively interpreted to the new context that you find yourself in. While you are here in BTC, read, read and read. Reflect even more. Build a discussion atmosphere in your class rooms, hostel rooms and dining rooms. Be teachable. Learn from your lecturers, classmates, and juniors who will come. Start early on which line you would want to go. Will academics be more suitable for you or church ministry? Missiology or Systematic Theology or Applied Theology? Decide early and groom yourself in the line you want to go. While you are a theological student, keep your pursuits of theological learning above all interests and hobbies. Be observant; keep your minds open; be alive to your surroundings. Climb a mountain, go to the cabbage fields of Pfutsero, and make friends with the local kids as the old BTC students did those days when we were young. Learn from the community. See how you may contribute your service to the people here as if it were your own hometown. Make lasting memories of your stay here at Pfutsero. God bless you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

To rejoice when others succeed

When I see people laughing their hearts out and having a good time, I feel happy for them. In this world of pain and suffering, laughter is a precious gift. So, I say in my heart, ‘Have fun my brother and God bless you sister’. But at times when things aren’t working well for me, it is harder to feel that way about others. 
In a society filled with envious people, success becomes a danger. When a person becomes successful, some people make it their life’s mission to bring him/her down. That is a very sad reality that we face today. We have many people who cannot stand the success of other people. Some people have this mentality, ‘If I can’t have something, I won’t let anyone have it either’. 

Jealousy, envy, one-upmanship, and backstabbing are common in the work place. Instead of supporting one another, it is ‘each one for his/her own interest’. Behind the flatter are motives to trap and tarnish the image of fellow colleagues. One cannot meet the other with a straight face and talk straight. One has to read in between the lines and try to decipher the intention of what was actually meant behind what was said. It becomes a dirty game where factions are formed and psychological wars are fought. 

Not so, the Bible tells us to think of others as better than ourselves. We are to look for the interest of others above our own. It tells us to encourage and build up one another. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for others. Jesus’ self-giving love in giving all of his life and giving it up unto death for us is the supreme example of how our attitude should be towards other people. 

Our society’s structure is being reshaped that people have become more individualistic. To look for the interest of our own without regard for the welfare of others is not an anathema but is a shining example of our ‘free modern society’. Personal autonomy except for economic transactions between people is a good way to respect the freedom of others, or so it seems. Even Christianity is reconstructed in such a way that salvation is privatised and individualised. ‘It is something strictly between you and God’, we say to those who we want to bring to Christ. That is a very modern construct. Life in Christ is a call to life in a community: A community of many parts but one body (the body of Christ). Each part is incomplete without the other. The hand cannot say to the eyes, ‘I don’t need you’. In a community, we need each other’s success for our own good. If a good person gets into the civil services, we should be happy for her, for we need good leaders. We also need good teachers, politicians, farmers, engineers, and dedicated sweepers. Without the service of office clerks, an office full of officers will collapse. 

If we have Christ-like self-giving love, we discover that we can rejoice at the success of others. In Christ, we find that though we suffer defeat or are surpassed by someone else, we can still find the grace to carry on with malice towards none. After all, it is God’s world and even if we should play second fiddle, every good work contributes towards building God’s Kingdom. We may plant the seed while others enjoy the fruit, but God never overlooks any noble deed done in secret. God’s yardstick for measuring success can be very different from ours.  

Some success can be annoying. Some people are such show-offs who love to parade their achievements at every given opportunity (or despite the absence of opportunity). But even in such cases, it is not for us to pull them down. They will be their own downfall.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A lifetime is too short

She thinks she has age on her side
She says she is not ready
She thinks she has to first conquer the world
Little does she know that
A lifetime is too short for love

Anti Malaria Month (June): The Importance of Source Reduction

Malaria is a seasonal disease and the season for malaria is here. Mosquitoes do not breed out of nowhere. There are conditions which favour their breeding which when controlled will reduce the burden of malaria. Malaria is a disease; a medical condition. But seen from a different light, we can also say that malaria is primarily not a medical problem; it is an environmental problem with health consequences. Source Reduction, which is the reducing of breeding habitats for mosquitoes, is the most effective, and eco-friendly way of controlling malaria. Control of mosquito breeding is also an exercise to improve overall sanitation, and therefore it has extra benefits. It not only controls malaria, but also reduces the incidence of Japanese Encephalitis, Dengue, and other water borne diseases like Acute Diarrheal Disease, Typhoid, Cholera, Food Poisoning, etc. 
What are the ways in which we can reduce the breeding places of mosquitoes? Some of the ways are listed below:

1.      Draining of stagnant water bodies

Any collections of water around the houses are potential sites for mosquito breeding. It may be your discarded utensils, vehicle tyres, flower pots, clogged drain, or simply any depression in the ground where water had collected. A simple act of turning such utensils upside down will do the job. Making passage for water to flow, or minor engineering works may be required. If it is inevitable that some water bodies are formed due to rain, drying up such water bodies once a week will work. It requires a week for the mosquito eggs to hatch out. Drying the water bodies within a week will therefore prevent them from maturing into adult mosquitoes. That is why, it is advised that coolers commonly used in hot climates be dried and water changed once a week. Social works may be organized during the season to fill up the depressions, ditches and clearing of clogged drains.

2.      Covering of water storage tanks

Rain water harvesting is practised by most of the households in Nagaland. Therefore even in a relatively clean environment, such water storage tanks have the potential to be breeding sites of mosquitoes. Covering of water tanks with a lid will prevent mosquitoes from breeding. In slab concrete roof tops, water stagnation is common from where water is harvested, and this is a common breeding site in urban areas.

If the water bodies are too huge to drain or cover, e.g. pond; larvivorous fish may be put which will eat up the mosquito larvae.

3.      Enacting laws to prevent mosquito breeding

There are ways of controlling mosquito breeding at the individual level some of which are cited above. It is also the responsibility of various government departments and organisations to plan and formulate ways to control breeding of mosquitoes. At the village level, Village Health and Sanitation Committee along with Village Council can pass resolutions on zoning for housing, common drainage system, waste disposal, etc and organize sanitation drives for control of mosquito breeding sites.

In urban cities like Mumbai and Pune, there are Municipal Civic bylaws for the prevention of breeding sites of mosquitoes. Pune has drafted a law recently called 'Malaria, dengue, chikungunya and other insect- and mosquito-borne diseases bylaws, 2013'. Any mosquito breeding sites in or around the property of citizens can invite fine of Rs. 1000. The law direct individuals and institutions to take measures to eradicate mosquito-breeding sites on their premises. Such measures can also be adopted by municipals in Nagaland where malaria is prevalent. 

4.      Intersectoral coordination

Faulty engineering works are also responsible for creation of mosquito breeding habitats. Ensuring quality engineering work, and also considering water stagnation in the project design itself will help prevent malaria. Fishery department can help in the breeding and distribution of larvivorous fishes which is a very effective way of biological control of malaria. Department of Information and Public Relations can help in creating awareness on mosquito control during the season. Various departments like Forestry (Forest malaria), Agriculture (wet terrace fields),Irrigation, PHE (leakage from water pipes), Transport (awareness message on buses); and also NGOs and public organizations like churches, colony clubs, NSS, etc can all contribute towards mosquito control.

Research shows that we might have been underestimating the importance of source reduction in malaria control. It is not possible to remove all the stagnant water bodies which are potential health hazards. But research shows that if the water bodies are removed considerably, the mosquitoes are not so smart in locating the few water bodies. And due to the reproductive cycle of the mosquitoes, if the laying of eggs is delayed due to scarce breeding sites, the mosquito population is reduced substantially and malaria thereby prevented.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Public Awareness on Malaria

What is malaria? What are the types of malaria parasites found in Nagaland
  • Malaria is a disease associated with fever which is transmitted by the bite of infected female anopheles mosquitoes
  • There are two types of malaria parasites found in Nagaland: Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium falciparum. Falciparum malaria is the more serious of the two.
What are the common signs and symptoms of malaria?
  • 9-14 days after a bite by infected mosquito, the patient may develop the following signs and symptoms:
1.      Fever with chills and rigor, sweating followed by intermittent relief of fever
2.       Headache, vomiting, and other flu-like symptoms
3.      Anemia in severe cases, fits/convulsion and loss of consciousness
4.      Parasite may go to the brain which causes cerebral malaria
5.      Malaria in pregnancy could risk the life of mother and child
6.      If not treated early and adequately, the person may die due to malaria.
How is malaria spread? 
  • When a female anopheles mosquito bites a person who is already suffering from malaria, the parasite is picked up along with the blood.
  • The parasite matures inside the mosquito and when it bites other person in the community, malaria is spread.
Where does the Anopheles mosquito breed?
  • Anopheles mosquitoes breed in wide varieties of clean stagnant water bodies such as over-head tanks, ponds, ditches, open water storage containers, flower vases, discarded tyres, irrigation channels, rice fields, slow moving streams, animal hoof marks, wheel tracks, water coolers, unused utensils and pots, etc.
What do you do when malaria is suspected?
  • All health centres are covered with health workers such as Surveillance Workers/Multi-Purpose Workers, ASHAs who are trained and provided with Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) kits and medicines for on-the-spot testing and treatment if found positive. Health Units with laboratory are equipped with facility for blood slide examination and treatment.
  • Test all fever cases for malaria. There are two kinds of tests for malaria:
    1. Slide Test: Blood smear in a glass slide is examined by a technician under a microscope. This method can detect both vivax and falciparum malaria.
    2. Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT): A drop of blood is put on a test strip and result can be seen within 15 minutes. RDT at present is only for testing of falciparum malaria.
  • Chloroquine for 3 days and primaquine for 14 days is the treatment of choice for Plasmodium vivax malaria
  • Artesunate Combination Therapy (ACT) for 3 days is the treatment of choice for falciparum malaria.
  • Ensure that the treatment is completed. Incomplete treatment will result in relapse (P. vivax) or resistance to medicines.
  • For pregnant mothers and children below 1 year, Primaquine should not be given. Contact nearest health center.
  • Diagnostic tests and all medicines for malaria are available for free.
How can you prevent malaria?
  • Prevent mosquito breeding near your houses: Remove all water stagnant bodies. Cover the water storage containers, put kerosene in coolers/containers or empty them once a week.
  • Prevent mosquitoes from biting: Always sleep under mosquito net, preferably under insecticide-treated nets (e.g. LLIN). Ensure that at least pregnant women and children sleep under mosquito nets. Wear long sleeve clothes, and use mosquito repellents. Put wire mesh in doors and windows. Avoid sleeping outdoors without protection.
  • Accept Indoor Residual Spray (IRS). DDT spray indoor is a safe and effective method for mosquito control. Spraying outdoor is ineffective (e.g. washed away by rain) and counter-productive (chases mosquitoes inside the house).
  • Put larvivorous fishes in water bodies which cannot be drained. Such fishes feed on mosquito larvae and reduce mosquito population.
  • Promptly test all fever cases for malaria. Ensure that appropriate and complete treatment is given.
  • Spread awareness on malaria prevention measures, diagnosis and treatment.