Monday, January 28, 2013

Vancouver Missionsfest

Just got back home from three days at Missionsfest Vancouver.  It seemed like a long trip, especially last night driving through the rain on dark, unknown highways (I was staying east of Vancouver, and they didn't seem to have any useful signs).  Apparently I had too many things on my mind, because I was misplacing things right and left -- my passport (no idea where it went, or how it escaped my grasp), the cord and battery to the computer I brought, my flash drive.   

I spoke three times, on different subjects.  Both seminars were packed: on World Religions, and on "How Christianity Fulfills the Chinese Culture."  Lots of questions, especially in the first seminar.  Yesterday I also spoke in a charismatic church in Burnaby on "Gamble on Jesus."  Lots of interesting people came up to speak both before and after the morning service -- a librarian at a seminary, a man involved in ministry with a very critical view of pastors and church, a older fellow with a ministry of prayer and healing -- all that talking may have been a contributing factor to my forgetfulness.  Things have been busy lately, with deep layers of multi-tasking under the surface layers of multi-tasking.  (I was going to start a sentence listing some of the things I am involved in doing right now, but realized that might be too ambitious an undertaking for this evening.  Maybe I'll read a Russian novel instead.)

I was hoping to take in some seminars myself, but the only one I was able to attend was by the evangelical demographer, Patrick Johnstone, on "the future of the Global Church."  He projected that by 2050 there will be quite a few Christians around the world, even more than there are today.  His talk was very interesting, and a lot of what he said made sense -- he obviously knew his stuff.  But I have my doubts about predicting what people will choose to believe 40 years from now.  (Will humans even still be in charge?)  Who in 1970 would have predicted the fall of the Evil Empire?  Who would have predicted the growth of the Christian faith in China, or the beginnings of the house church movement in Iran?  Who would have predicted the plunge in birth rate even in so many non-western countries? 

I challenged Johnstone on this issue a little.  His response was, no, we can't predict disasters, but human trends are pretty predictable.  I let it go at that, not believing it very much. 

Even if man were predictable (not so much), machines will change things -- and so might God, whose plans we cannot claim to foreknow, without revelation.  But divine oracles are not a normal part of social science.  As every level-headed person knows, 97.6% of what we say about the future turns out to be pseudo-scientific hogwash. 

Having missed seminars on Islam and on persecuted Christians by a few minutes, I walked along the waterfront to Stanley Park.   This is one of the ritziest parts of Canada, and I was impressed by the inventive and attractive architecture, mostly waterfront or near waterfront condos: one shaped like a sail, others in blue and green and pink glass.  (The Convention Center itself is formed like a giant sailing ship with its bow pointing out into the harbor, with a sea plane airport on one side, and a couple terminals on the other.)  One building advertised itself as "as green as you can be" because it had an acre or so of tall brown grass on its roof -- which no doubt cost millions of dollars, that could have fed a mid-sized African town for a year.  This struck me as self-congratulatory preening.  British Columbia is covered with tens of millions of trees that plant themselves, and never make a cry about their hue. 

But Vancouver really is a beautiful and fascinating city -- the latter quality arising from the multiplicity of ethnic groups, the city's complex geography, with mountains and ski areas rising across its excellent harbor, and the good use city planners have put it to. 

I have to confess Vancouver has, in some ways, done better lately with its geographical assets than its twin city to the south.  Whereas Seattle's downtown library, designed by a famous European architect, feels like a cubist's nightmare about to topple over onto pedestrians walking beneath, Vancouver opted for a classical style, a comfortable building in tan rock which creates social space and a sense of community by its welcoming style.  Seattle's convention centre is reasonably impressive, and Freeway Park spanning I5 improves the city, but neither its location nor its beauty -- well that word won't do, its aesthetics -- can at all compare with Vancouver's lovely sailing ship into the harbor.  Vancouver has even managed, it seems, to avoid most (not all) ugly modernist public art: I noticed instead an attractive killer whale rising vertically in rectangular blocks in a square facing the bay. 

Sky Train is much nicer than our new subway is looking to be, not buried underground like the tombs of the kings.  And Vancouver's policy of catering to immigrants with money or skills pays off in the character of the community as well. 

Missionsfest is also an impressive innovation, which Seattle and other cities are copying.  Being busy, I didn't have time to meet or hear from as many people as I would have liked.  Probably the most interesting meeting of the weekend for me was talking with a woman at a booth whose mother runs three orphanages, including for some kids with AIDS, in Cambodia.  I asked her questions, and she told me stories, very forthright about the challenges (different drug cocktails for levels of illness, the dirth of good men in a nation wracked so long by war, working with village leaders, how to avoid the notice of the mafia), for about half an hour.  I felt like I had gotten to know her obviously very spunky mother as well, by the time I walked away.  Maybe I'll say more about them later. 

A kind Canadian couple a little older than I took me in for the weekend.  They lived on the 11th floor of a condo overlooking the Fraser River, with shipping moving up and down it, and trains sounding off below us in the middle of the night, just a few minutes walk from the Sky Train station.  They'd just sold their car and were depending on public transportation -- if they really wanted to go somewhere, they explained, they could always rent a car.  One of his hobbies -- he used to be a school administrator -- is to go around town and check on graffiti, making sure it gets cleaned up.  They were missions-minded people, readers of Madeline D'Lengle and Tolstoy, and he was a cross-country skier, and we did not find it hard to find things to talk about. 

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