Sunday, February 07, 2010

In the image... of a creative God

For the last two years I have been writing a book. Well, it hasn't been continuous work but the initial writing and re-writing happened a couple of years back and then it's been the last year doing the layout, proofing, proofing and more proofing. It's now available on Amazon:

Below is the introduction to the book... to hopefully show you where it's going.


For many years I have been involved with trying to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people: young people through the youth groups at various churches, and others through media in the UK. More recently it has been through media in the Middle East and, of course, directly with the occasional person I might talk to about Jesus: everywhere from a transatlantic air flight to a meeting in the street.

I don’t think I do it well. Looking around, I’m not sure many of us do it very well.

Some people I know are much more open and will talk about Jesus with almost everyone they meet… even with a stray customer coming out of the same restaurant in a same lift or elevator. But it’s not how often we share Jesus that matters so much as whether we really do communicate.

When we try to explain who Jesus is to Muslims, it’s pretty hard. And most of us feel we don’t do that at all well.

I started writing this book as a result of attempting to develop methods for evaluating what we are doing in our media communication of the love of God to Muslims. The following methods were developed by a Muslim Background Believer with whom I shared my thoughts. In the process we became friends.

For some time the group I am involved with had been longing for a set of tools to help us evaluate what we do. Someone from another group worked with us for about six months, trying to get his head around the problem. He wrote, we talked, he thought. He talked with Arabs and he tried different methods, but it just didn’t ‘come together’.

However, something in the chemistry of having this friend from that background in our office every day for six to eight weeks worked, and we ended up with something we have found helpful. One of our aims, as a group, is to act as a catalyst for sharing the Gospel with Muslims through media. My colleague Peter said this should not just stay with us, but be shared further with others trying to do the same thing. So I started to write a book.

As soon as I started I realised that I wanted something out of it myself. Even if it never gets published my desire is that it will accomplish the second aim. That is, to help me think through the issues relating to communicating Christ in a post-modern Muslim context. I added the word post-modern because I think it’s relevant for two reasons.

People have talked about this being a hinge generation, passing through from one established world view to another. Though the implications are very different in East and West I think something similar is happening all over the world.

As I see some post-modern attributes in the youth of the Middle East, I also see examples of pre-modern thought among the older generation there. There are two results of this: Firstly, there is a major culture gap between generations in the Middle East. Indeed, I would see the difference between a young person in the Middle East and their parents as being similar to the difference between a young person in the West and their great-grandparents.

Secondly, there is another significant culture gap when Western modernists attempt to communicate Christ to a simultaneously pre-modern and post-modern Middle East. It is as if people from the West attempt to sail through the gap between the two world views, without really making contact.

Much is written about post-modernism in a Western context, but almost nothing is being written from the point of view of the Middle East. So this book is a journey for me to research, and think through, and see what new things God is doing in the region. God is, as He always has been, creatively dealing with the world.

We need to catch some of that creativity in communicating Jesus. This is a journey that can particularly influence the way we communicate the Good News to people from the Middle East.

There has been talk of an ‘online church’ linking believers from the Middle East together in secret. We have been working towards building online communities who have decided to follow Jesus. However, despite many reservations about the institutionalised church, I am not sure how the body of Christ can be anything other than incarnational. We are commended to meet together, and an online community lacks much that we gain from face-to-face communication and physically shared worship.

There is a third aim in writing this book for me, and that is to re-discover my place in the Body of Christ.
Recently I have become somewhat disillusioned with traditional evangelical church structures and communication techniques, tiring of its output of modernist verbiage. Though I am comfortable sharing the Good News about Jesus, I am not sure that the church is very good news for me, let alone the average Muslim.

Philip Yancey shares a similar path, though his disillusionment and re-finding happened when he was younger. GK Chesterton and CS Lewis were the two authors who he felt helped him along the path.

Although separated from me by a vast expanse of sea and culture, they kindled hope that somewhere Christians existed who loosed rather than restrained their minds, who combined sophisticated taste with a humility that did not demean others, and above all, who experienced life with God as a source of joy and not repression.1
In answer to the question Why did I return? Yancey explains:

My career as a journalist gave me the opportunity to investigate people… who demonstrate that a connection with God can enlarge, rather than shrink, life. I began the lifelong process of separating church from God. Though I emerged from childhood churches badly damaged, as I began to scrutinise Jesus through the critical eyes of a journalist, I saw the qualities that so upset me – self-righteousness, racism, provincialism, hypocrisy – Jesus himself fought against, and that they were probably the very qualities that led to his crucifixion.2

If we are to communicate the love of God to the people of the Middle East, we will need to find ways to separate their preconceived ideas (some of them painfully true) of the ‘Christian message’ we communicate, from the person who is both our and their Messiah.

While you are reading this, you will find that there are areas I leave open to discussion or debate. Sometimes those are in places where I cannot personally see a clear Scriptural direction. Other times, I do see a clear Scriptural direction, but know of other Biblical followers of Jesus who see things differently. One of the major differences between following Jesus and being a Muslim is the acceptance of diversity. We should celebrate this. It’s part of our freedom in Christ. He treats us as people with whom He wants a relationship.

Post-modern Christians frequently object to didactic - formal, structured, unidirectional teaching. They do not talk about a set of doctrines, but about a dialogue. This book, then, is an attempt to start such a dialogue.
Richard J Fairhead
Autumn 2007
1 Soul Survivor – Philip Yancey – page 41
2 Soul Survivor – Philip Yancey – page 42-43

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Every Monday the team gets together to review the previous week and plan the next. Dena, one of the key team members felt that there was a word from God: 'Hang in there' for this week. When we had come into work on Monday had found that there were notices on all the cars telling us there was going to be a power outage from 8:00 to 13:00 hours on Tuesday.

So because I was the duty person this week I came in early on Tuesday to turn off all the servers. The duty person is one of the three of us who receive SMS text messages telling us any problems with our servers. For the week we are on duty that person is the key person for all maintenance and the other two [hopefully] get an undisturbed week to work on other projects.

I started powering down all the servers at 7:45, and at 7:56 CLUNK... the power went off. Very unusual for Cyprus to be early. The final server was closing down and the battery backup system gave it enough power to close down neatly. Well, there was nothing to do so for the morning I went off to the boat to put a coat of paint on her.

I arrived back after lunch and the power was already on. So I powered up all the servers. One had a hard disk problem which I manually corrected, but the main Internet connection wasn't working. Diagnosed it with a colleague to be one of the Cisco routers that might or might not be working. This isn't like the router you have at home, its a much more complex rack mounted piece of equipment that when new was a couple of thousand dollars (we bought second hand through ebay). It's a complex unit - we have two of them, which we need to replace soon.

Cisco routers have a terminal connection that you can connect a 'dumb terminal' to and check their status. So tried that and found that the programs we used to emulate a dumb terminal didn't seem to work and so we were then scrabbling around to try and work out what was happening.

Peter arrived in an hour later and said it looked like that when the power had come back on there was a surge which had blown the power supply. We keep spares for some things and did have a spare Cisco power supply so we then had to take it out of the rack to change the power supply.

At that point we found a layout logic problem with the rack. All the cables from the switches to the patch panels went across the routers. This meant we had to remove all the cables in the bay before we could remove the router. This meant all the cables needed labeling so they went back in the right place.

Now detail is not my middle name so it took three attempts to label the cables correctly. We then unplugged them all, and changed the power supply and the router started up correctly. Sounds nice and easy... well... we also had to remove the rat droppings from a vermin attack last year that we had not seen before!

We put it back in the bay and some things started working. Well... most things started working. There had been about 40 cables to label and then plug back in the right place. I had misplugged some of them and mislabeled one of them! I told you detail was not my middle name.

Eventually between all three of us (me on duty and the other two who should be doing other things) we got the system back up and running and everything working again.

I say everything... come Wednesday and totally unconnected with this there was a problem with email on one of our servers in Germany and Peter had been working on this problem and thought it was a problem with the security certificate. So he ordered another one. Unfortunately he put a password into the certificate when there should be none, so when the certificate was authenticated and delivered it didn't work. So he tried (with me across it, as I am the authorized representative of the organisation) to get a replacement.

That failed, coming up with a 'security failure' - so then I am trying to phone South Africa to talk to the company that issues the security certificates and find out what is happening. No answer from the company and tried sending emails/response forms... still now answer. All the while this means our and other companies email is not working!

I'm frustrated. I hate computers. Peter and I ended up talking about the future. I realised I spend my time approximately the following way:

  • 80% Technical
  • 10% Writing proposals
  • 15% Organisational admin
  • 25% Partner interaction
  • 10% Media
Those of you astute will realise the total is 140%. Yes, that's right I spent more than a working week each week working! The bit I enjoy is the media. The bit I hate is the technical.  Of course, if I have too I shall continue this pattern, but I would really like to somehow get more time for media.

I try to get the technical to be a smooth operation - it's not smooth, we have more work than possible for the team - and that creates a burden for me.

So, why don't we just drop the technical? Or reduce it?

When I say technical, what I mean here is the system maintenance. Maintaining more than 10 servers as a platform to enable the media work to proceed. Many different organisations rely on these servers.

Pete and I looked at the different servers and realised that if we just cut back to our core media project we would still need to maintain almost all of the servers just for that one project. We would save very little time. And... the partner contributions from many different groups actually help us to run those servers which then creates the platform for the main media project we want to achieve. Sort of Catch 22.

Come Thursday and I am still 'Hanging in there', but frustrated.

I get an alert (I'm duty person remember) about the temperature in the server room. The air conditioning in the server room is not working. No problem... obviously didn't restart when the power went back on. Walk round to the server room and press the remote.

Nothing happens.

Oh, must be flat batteries on the remote, since we leave it on 24/7 and don't change it. Find another remote for the same type of air conditioner, test it to make sure it does work on the other air conditioner... take it to the server room and press the remote start.

Nothing happens.

Obviously something else blew up when the power went back on.


When Dena (our administrator) is back in on Monday I shall have to get her to arrange an air conditioning technician to come and sort out the unit. This being Cyprus, who know how long that will take.

Anyway in all these frustrations we realised we had two needs:

  • A Finance Director
  • About size young people Media/IT literate 
With both those two needs met then I would be released to spend more time on the media. I'm not looking for 100%, coming up to 50% is what I would like. And I'd like to bring my working week down to about 120%.