Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Not So Secret

Review of Graham Orr's Not So Secret: Being Contemporary Agents for Mission.

Graham Orr worked for a number of years in Japan with OMF before moving to Northern Ireland where he now trains church members and missionaries in evangelism.

Orr has gone through the experience of returning to his country of birth to find that it has changed hugely from the place it was when he had left. This book is the result of his reflections on that changed reality and the place of the disciple of Christ within it. His central thesis is, “God has chosen each of us to be not-so-secret agents in his mission to the world” (p. 14).

Orr’s style is conversational and indirect, perhaps a product of his immersion in Japanese culture with its deeply face-saving, indirect communicational approach. You will not find an up-front list of topics dealt with point by point. Rather, Not So Secret deals with topics by walking around them and observing them from different angles. So it took me a while to catch where the book was going.

In each of the ten chapters Orr tackles one aspect of what it means to be a ‘not-so-secret agent’, especially in the UK, today. To do so he shares stories of his own ministry in Tokyo. These stories give insights into the difficulties of sharing the gospel with a people who are not familiar with the Bible – the situation in which Orr now finds himself back home. And Orr looks to the life and ministry of Jesus in the Gospels for biblical guidance on those themes.

As you would hope from a person with long term intercultural experience Orr is deeply sensitive to personal and cultural issues: 

[E]verybody has a lifetime of experience before I meet them, and most of that experience is foreign and inaccessible to me. So I have had to learn to stop, look and listen. I need to watch and observe. As I think and pray and love and wait, I remind myself that I know nothing about another person’s uniqueness, except what they explain and show to me. And so much more of that needs to happen before anything I can blurt out about Jesus will be meaningful to them.

But this is not just for fulltime missionaries or gospel workers. Orr is at pains to help even the youngest and most inexperienced Christian realize their potential as witnesses of Jesus in their place of work or study or home. 

For me, the shine was taken off the book just a little by two things: firstly, a discombobulating sense that I had from time to time, that Orr had just switched from writing about his life in Japan to his new life in Northern Ireland or vice versa; and secondly, the strange advice to “try placing a bet at a bookmaker’s” (p. 121).

This book, then, will most likely appeal to students and especially new believers, who want to share their faith with their acquaintances but need some help along the way. It is personable, humane, wise (for the most part), and spiritual.

Orr, Graham. Not So Secret: Being Contemporary Agents for Mission. Nottingham: InterVarsity, 2012, 160 pages, paperback, £8.99.

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