Meet the speaker – Annual Online Dinner 2022, Heart of Mission podcast transcript
Posted on: 27th May 2022
Finished listening to the one-off special episode ‘meet the speaker – Annual Online Dinner 2022’ of the Heart of Mission podcast? Read the transcript here
Hi, Mark Peterson here and the Heart of Mission podcast is back!
This is a special one off episode because the CMS SANT Annual Online Dinner is just around the corner on the 22nd of June. And before we get there, I want to give you the opportunity to meet our main speaker.
We loved our first season of the podcast, which came earlier this year as a result of having to cancel Summer Conference. But what a blast we heard from all our conference speakers, plus our Gospel Workers. Thank you for listening, and for all the very helpful feedback.
You can catch up on all five episodes on any major podcast platform. I’m glad to say we have more in store in a few months time.
Before we get to our speaker, what is this Annual Online Dinner anyway? Well, in the dim dark history, we used to run an actual dinner with actual food. Who knows one day, we may do that again. But you know, COVID schmovid, COVID hit and getting 500 people together in one space – let’s just say SA Health was not a great fan of the idea.
So we jumped on the bandwagon with all the churches who were having to make video work for their regular ministries. But there was some special benefits of doing an online event for a mission agency that we couldn’t possibly have imagined beforehand.
Like getting our overseas missionaries into the programme – all of them and live. And because churches in country regions and in the Northern Territory couldn’t just come to Adelaide for a dinner, all of a sudden, we could have them involved too.
So it’s now the Annual Online Dinner.
Yes, you have to provide your own food. But you know, tell your minister about it, plan a church get together where you can participate as a church. And maybe someone can pull together a food roster, or tell your home group leader about it, and maybe everyone brings a plate. The CMS SANT Annual Online Dinner is happening on Wednesday, the 22nd of June. Search on our website, register, it’s free, and you’ll get sent everything you need.
Now, who is speaking at this year’s event, we’re going to meet him now. Simon Gillham has been married to Margie for 28 years, and together they have two adult children Maddie and Noah. Simon and Margie have served together in local church ministries in the Hunter Valley, as CMS missionaries in Namibia, and for the last six years at Moore college where Simon is the Vice Principal and Head of the Department of Mission in Sydney.
Welcome Simon to the Heart of Mission podcast.
Thanks so much, Mark. Great to be here!
Now I heard that you used to be a police officer, and this sounds really interesting to me. I’m sure you’ve got lots of stories that you could tell. Can you tell us what that was like, and what did you learn about people? And what did you learn about yourself?
Yeah, I went into the police as a young guy. I was only 19, I think when I first signed up. And one of my reasons for wanting to go into the police was to actually see a bit of the world coming from a sheltered background – and I certainly got that in spades.
I think I learned so much about people, and it’s amazing to think of the things that, whatever your background is, God will use things that you learn in lots of different contexts.
And for me, the capacity to talk with people from a really wide range of different backgrounds, to talk to people who are angry and emotionally really upset or to people who are going through very difficult times in their lives – I think those things have been really helpful for me in pastoral ministry over the last 25 years or so.
Now speaking of the decision to go into pastoral ministry. I know you’ve had an interest in global mission – we’re going to talk in a minute about a bit more about what you’ve done and where you’ve served – but where did that interest in global mission originally come from for you?
Well, it’s interesting, I actually made it almost all the way through Bible College without thinking about global mission. So I didn’t go into ministry, originally thinking about the world and thinking about cross-cultural work.
My wife and I both met in the Hunter Region, and it was really our great goal to go into ministry in the Hunter Region – very white Anglo traditional kind of third, fourth generation Australian families.
The interest in global mission came about through going to CMS Summer schools up in Katoomba, year after year – that was the way that we started our years.
And it was just hearing about the great needs in in other parts of the world, and really in meeting Christians from other parts of the world, that my love and Margie’s love particularly for Africans came about.
So it was a slow burn for us, it took a took a decade or so before we even began to ask whether it’s something that we ought to consider.
Yes, well, we’ve certainly heard many stories of people coming to conference and finding that their horizons are lifted to what God is doing in other parts of the world.
And you may not necessarily have been expecting it, and you find yourself taking an interest in people and places that were previously unfamiliar to you – but they are captivating in some ways, and particularly that idea of God at work in ways and places that we couldn’t have thought about.
Now, you served with CMS, the Church Missionary Society for about eight years, I think in Namibia. (I’m) not sure how familiar our listeners would be with this African nation, tell us about the people and tell us about their their customs and values, things that you noticed, whilst living amongst them – and particularly what’s life like for the Christians in Namibia?
Sure. Well, I sympathise with those people who don’t know much about Namibia, because when we were first asked to work there Margie and I had to look it up in an atlas – this is before Google so much.
It wasn’t a country when I was at school. It’s a very new country, which is why not many people have heard of it used to be part of South Africa, or a protectorate of South Africa, and only became a country in 1991. So it’s one of the world’s youngest countries.
The people come from a wide range of very different cultures. So one of the things about Namibia is it’s 80% desert, and you have large tracts of desert separating different people groups.
And so we had connection with all the different people groups to some extent, but really our closest connections were with the majority people group. Which is from the north of Namibia, on the border of Angola, the Ovambo people.
And, like, there’s so much to love! I love their laid back approach to life, I love the fact that they just dwell outdoors – so being indoors is a chore and being outdoors is a joy. Many places in Namibia, it only rains kind of a dozen days of the year or something like that. So you actually can be outdoors all year round, it’s not much of a problem at all.
But it is a desert area, it is an area where that harsh environment does shape the way that people interact together. And so there’s a lot of being outdoors, and a lot of an approach to life that is unhurried – you don’t do anything in a rush in the desert, and I just love that.
So that’s something that’s been really attractive to us.
Margie and I are going back shortly, and the thing that we’re most looking forward to is seeing friends again. It’s the relationships with people that you love in another part of the world that draws you back again and again. And that’s what it is for us in Namibia.
80% of the population are regularly in church, and many more than that, more than 90% of the population would call themselves Christian. So it’s a very high degree of association with Christian things. But alongside of that, most of the pastors in most of the churches in Namibia are not trained. And for many people, their Christianity exists alongside a lot of traditional beliefs.
And so traditional African animistic beliefs, the fear of the spirit world and the fear of being cursed or bewitched by somebody else is overwhelming for many people, and even for many people who regularly go to church.
So the real need in that part of the world is for deep Bible teaching, for Christian leadership that helps to grow people to maturity – that they’re not blown backwards and forwards by every wind of the latest craze that comes about. And whether that’s traditional African beliefs or something like the prosperity gospel, that the dangers of theological error are never far away. And they always result not just in kind of intellectual problems, but in really deep, emotional, pastoral issues – where people are robbed of the assurance that Jesus brings.
It is so easy to take to, I guess, to take for granted our own pastor and the training that our pastor has.
You just sort of assume that if a person gets up there and preaches a sermon, that they actually know what the Bible says, and know and they have thought about some of the theological challenges – and particularly as you mentioned – some of the particular theological challenges of the context. Whether it’s the animistic beliefs, or whatever it might be in our own context.
So you’ve mentioned that the need for theological education – and some of us here in the South Australian Northern Territory branch are familiar with the Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary, NETS for short, because Mike and Karen Roe from our branch served there for a few years.
But perhaps you can tell us a little bit about it, you were serving there in a leadership role – tell us about educating pastors in that context.
And if I can ask you, how does a well educated white Aussie missionary serve the wider church in Africa through this theological education agenda?
Yeah, well, I actually think it’s one of the one of the most valuable contributions that we as Australian Christians can make to the church in Africa is in this area of theological education.
African Christians have been doing a great job at evangelism, they tend to do really well in lots of contexts in church planting. There are lots of things going well in the African church.
But it is the the level of training of leaders that is really problematic – as the church grows so quickly, many leaders are needed. And so that was the challenge in NETS that we sought to try and address.
Some of the complications are, when we get a student into a college in Australia, we expect that they’ve had a really good level of basic education, perhaps already done another degree.
Whereas in Namibia, half the country doesn’t finish grade 10 at school, and even if they do, it’s at a much lower academic level than we would expect in Australia. And so basic things like comprehension, the capacity to be able to read a piece of text, and work out what it means, who are the characters, and what are they saying to one another?
The kinds of things that we would assume, need to be taught – so that level of teaching.
In Namibia, we were teaching English as well, because English is the language of schooling, and certainly the language of higher education. But you need to be able to engage in the written word to be able to teach the Bible. And so teaching those skills before you even get to the complexities of theologically ‘what does this mean? And what are the implications?’ – that’s the kind of work that I think many Australians are equipped to be able to do. And it makes an enormous difference in that part of the world.
Now, your context has changed, but you’re still in the theological education area. You now work at Moore College in Sydney, you are the Head of Mission there. How does that compare with your work at NETS in Namibia?
it’s interesting, when I was in Namibia I was the principal and I actually had a guy who taught mission. So I managed to do mission without ever teaching it. And now I’ve come back to teach it, and not do it anymore. But I love it. There are many, many of the things are the same.
We have students here as we did there, who know and love the Lord Jesus and want to be better equipped to serve him. I think one of the big differences in a place like Sydney is that the world is on the doorstep. And so, every single student here is involved in cross cultural ministry every week.
There are people from different cultures, in every church. Just walking up the street is a cross cultural experience. And so the kinds of skills that that I’m teaching, for being able to communicate the gospel across culture, are the kinds of skills that people need in ministry everywhere. There are other things that I’m teaching as well in in terms of really trying to raise up missionaries, who will go around the world.
So cross cultural work, here in Australia – absolutely – and everybody’s engaged in that.
But there is a smaller group of people, about 8% to 10% of the students here will serve overseas in mission. And that’s something I’m really keen to continue to see expand and to be supported.
So there are things that the overseas cross cultural missionary needs to have as kind of additional tools in the toolkit. Most of them I think are attitudinal, but some are extra skills.
But if you’ve got an attitude of humility, if you came to learn from other people and to serve other people, then the tools will come and people will get the skills and be able to do it. So really just trying to encourage one another, to have that real heart for genuine, humble cross cultural service. I think that’s the main thing that I’m here to try and do.
Yeah, I was just reflecting with a friend this morning about how we tend to think that a missionary’s role overseas is really quite very different. But in some ways the context is what’s different, but the type of work or skill, or the thing that we bring to the people of God in a different place – it may actually be quite similar.
And there may be a whole lot of roles that people are able to do here that they’ve just never considered might actually be a helpful role to play in the context of an evangelism and a local witness in a different country around the world. Have you got any reflections on that?
Yeah, look I’m sure you’re absolutely right, Mark. The truth is that in Australia, we tend to underestimate the extent to which we are already trained and equipped for gospel service.
And if you’ve been in a church, where you’ve been taught the Bible well, and you’ve perhaps been part of Bible study groups, and you may have even done some courses – you are likely better trained than most people, leading churches around the world. That’s an extraordinary level of privilege to carry.
And whether you’re going to be a teacher, or a doctor, or nurse or an engineer, or indeed to help support a local church around the world, most of us are far better equipped than we realise. The real challenge is actually to be able to GO, and to humbly serve, to be able to use those gifts, and yet not to be proud.
So to be ready to learn from the people that we’re going to serve as well. And to see the great strengths that they have, where they can correct some of our blind spots.
I think that’s one of the great joys of cross cultural mission work – that not only do you get to serve others, but I found it incredibly enriching in my own reading and understanding of the Bible to hear the perspectives of people who just come from a different culture than me.
So yeah, I mean I often wonder – why wouldn’t people want to be involved?!
I agree, great question.
I mean it’s interesting isn’t it, because many of us will travel overseas, and, you know, go on a holiday to this part of the world or that part of the world.
And there is often a sense that there are parts of the world that I’d feel comfortable going to, people that I’d feel comfortable getting to know – and then almost a concern or a worry about parts of the world that I don’t know what that people would be like, and they’d actually be much more different from us.
And in some ways, there’s a barrier there, isn’t there, about crossing into the unknown? And I suppose, I want to ask you a question just in terms of your teaching Theology at Moore College and teaching mission at Moore College in the Australian evangelical context – do you find this a hard topic to teach in? And how do you find the students – are the students open to thinking about the needs of the global church? And in a sense, helping the church to be mobilised for global mission? Or is there a real pressure to focus on local evangelism in the ministries that they’re going to, and the ministries that they really want to be doing?
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think there sometimes is a tension. So there is sometimes that that strong desire to do local evangelism, which seems to be exclusive of an evangelistic zeal beyond our kind of parish boundaries, or something like that.
But I’ve got to say it’s less common, I think it’s less common than it used to be.
And I wonder if part of that is actually the multicultural nature of the City of Sydney now. That you can’t be ignorant of the needs of the world because they are on the doorstep. And we have the blessing of migrants from all over the world, who are just constantly reminding us that the world is bigger than what than what we know.
And I think if you make a friend who’s a Pakistani, you’re more open to the idea of hearing about what’s going on in Pakistan and perhaps even visiting. And you can make that Pakistani friend by stepping out your door and that they’re just there. But I think just being engaged in relationships with people who are from different parts of the world, tends to open that up.
And so I’ve got to say, at the moment at Moore College, I have no trouble at all getting people interested in global mission, and no trouble at all convincing people that they need to think carefully about cross cultural communication. It’s just so much part of the air we breathe in a big city like Sydney.
It’s very encouraging to hear. Finally, the CMS SANT Annual Online Dinner is coming up, you’re our main speaker. Can you tell us a little – without giving away any spoilers – tell us a little about what you’re going to be sharing with us on the 22nd of June?
Yeah, look, I’ve been reflecting particularly on 2 Corinthians 4, and thinking about what it means to have the tremendous treasure of the gospel in a weak earthen vessel.
Why is it that God has chosen to use weak, vulnerable, frail, fragile people to convey this extraordinary message?
And I think in terms of global mission, thinking about missionaries as being weak and vulnerable, and serving, not because of their own capacity, not because of their excellence – but because of the excellencies of the Lord Jesus. That’s what I want us to press into a little bit more as we get together.
That sounds fantastic, we really can’t wait!
Simon Gillham, it’s great to have you with us on the Heart of Mission podcast. Can’t wait to hear more from you at this year’s Annual Online Dinner, 22nd of June from 7:30pm South Australian time. It’s a free event, you can register at the CMS SANT website.
A great opportunity to share a meal with your church group, or your home group, or just a bunch of friends that you invite over for dinner, we’ll send you a host pack to help you to organise the evening.
A great way to explore global mission and get involved with what God is doing in many different parts of the world.
Simon, thanks so much for being with us. It’s been great to hear a bit of your story, and we’ll see you online very soon.
Thanks so much Mark, my pleasure to be with you.
Now, just before we go, we are planning a full second season of the Heart of Mission podcast – which we will be releasing in a couple of months time.
Follow us on your podcast app and you won’t miss a moment of it.
We’re going to focus on lifting our eyes to the horizon, the world is bigger than our backyard – and what God is doing in his global mission will fill our minds and hearts with great joy.
In the meantime, may God fill your heart and mind with a hunger for Jesus to be made known in all the world.
Thank you for listening!