Sunday, July 30, 2006
It is time for the short term mission team from the UK to leave. As I left the team last night I found myself quite emotional. It is probably down to a number of things including tiredness and the fact that in some ways the team represents a home that I miss (last Sunday was my youngest nieces dedication service the first big family event I have missed since moving to NZ). But the major reason is that it is an ending of a community and that is sad to extent because we may not see each other again.
I have had a few conversations of late about how develop a healthy and strong Christian community. I have realised afresh over the last few weeks that it is not primarily programs or sharing personal struggles or anything like that which develops authentic Christian community. It is joining in evangelism that develops authentic Christian community.
Over the last few weeks the team's primary task has been to serve alongside the Christians students from the Massey Christian Fellowship and Overseas Christian Fellowship with the events and activities that they have arranged in order to reach out to their friends and wider campus community with the gospel as part of Jesus week.
They were a team who didn't really know each other before arriving here. They came together to do evangelism, they got to know each other as they prepared to do evangelism, they grew closer and stronger as they supported one another in their evangelism. Longer term I am confident that people will become Christians as a result of Jesus week.
Along the way they have experienced persecution (two team members have had family members back in England taken seriously ill, people have responded negatively to evangelism). They have gotten ill to varying degrees. They have experience the stress of getting used to a different country and culture. They have experienced the heartache of people rejecting the gospel but also the joy of people wanting to know more. They have joined together in pray for each other and for those they have been reaching out to with the gospel. They met together for bible study and training on evangelism. They have been servant hearted, humble and loving. They have had fun and laughter together and encouraged each other when there have been struggles. And it has all centered around evangelism. This is what authentic Christian life/community is like and how it is built (1 Corinthians 11; Philippians 1 : 2 - 5 & 27; 1 Thessalonians 2 : 2; Romans 10 : 14 - 17; Colossians 3 : 12 - 15).
As I left Palmerston North with the team I was struck by the thankfulness of those whom the UK team left behind. They had written cards, bought gifts, and turned up pretty early (for students anyway) to say goodbye as the team left. This was not emotional hype or put on sadness; the NZ students were thankful for the teams efforts alongside them and were said to be saying goodbye. Their service together had drawn them closer together and they had to say goodbye and that is sad.
As I then left the team last night I felt that sadness too. I will miss the team; I have been humbled by their example, they have been a huge encouragement, a joy to be around and a joy to be involved with. Driving home I flicked on the Lord of Rings: Fellowship of the ring sound track and I began to think how the departure of the team is like the breaking of the fellowship of the ring at the end of the first film. They came together for a specific task but end up separated. There is sadness at the separation but that separation is necessary in order for the primary objective to be achieved. In the Lord of the Rings the objective is the destruction of the ring of power. For us it is making disciples of all nations. The NZ students will continue on spreading the gospel here and the UK guys will continue on spreading the gospel in the places that they find themselves in the UK. Each person involved will take the experience and change that God has worked in them over this time on with them.
At the end of the Lord of the rings the fellowship is reunited as they have accomplished their mission. The team has been studying 1 and 2 Thessalonians whilst they have been here; one of the major themes in Thessalonians is that of Jesus return. For now good things (like short term mission teams) will come to an end but only until Jesus returns and brings the world as we know it to an end and all Christians are united with Him in the new creation. That is why the ending of the community is only sad to an extent because one day we will again be reunited.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
The week has included lunch time talks around the theme of Who is Jesus and what would he say about various issues. "Who is Jesus" was written in chalk (this is allowed and we washed it off after) all over the campus. Across each day people were out giving flyers advertising the events, doing surveys to find out what students believed and having conversations about Christianity off of the surveys. In the evenings people had friends round for meals and shared testimonies, a couple of nights we gave away pancakes and chatted with folk about Jesus as we were asked why we were giving away pancakes. On the final day both the lunch time and evening talks were about Jesus and why he died on the cross.
A few non Christians have signed up to read the bible with someone, and a number of people have heard the gospel. This is what we are here for and it was great to be a part of it.
For myself I left encouraged, challenged and with questions. I was encouraged by a couple of great conversations I had (I have never been told before by a non Christian after a conversation about how we are all sinful and in need of rescue that "it is good that you are here because that is not what most New Zealanders think Christians are about") and other conversations had by students and other folk helping out with the week. I was challenged by the fact that I find surveys an uncomfortable evangelistic tool. But what alternatives are there and how can I help students try both surveys and other approaches of reaching those with whom we don't normally have contact? My biggest question is how do you stop "I don't care" being the end of a conversation about Jesus? This was a standard response from students and all of us found it difficult to move any further past that statement. But if it really is the general view amongst students here we need to find ways of engaging with it.
Some additional thoughts I've had since I wrote this originally:
The use of testimonies in a lunch time talk is very helpful. After the talk on what would Jesus say about racism a Christian student who used to be a neo-nazi gave his testimony. This really helped some people see how what had been said in the talk looked like in someone's life and took it from being a theory to a practice.
Secondly, the importance of listening. It is probably the same the world over but people here seem very sensitive to whether you are generally interested in what they have to say or are simply talking to them in order to communicate something about Christianity. Now sometimes we are talking to people simply in order to talk to them about Jesus but in the process we come across as not actually valuing people and what they have to say which we should be doing regardless of whether what they are saying is right or wrong and regardless of whether it is our first conversation or thousandth conversation with the person. Not only is this the model that the New Testament lays down for us but in practice I have found that if I have listened to what someone has to say they are for more open to me questioning their view and talking about Jesus.
Thirdly, and this is linked to the previous point, I am considering adding the question "Why do you think we are doing these surveys/having Jesus awareness week?" to future surveys I am involved in. All too often people have misconceptions as to why we do evangelism and these misconceptions colour the whole conversation. Hearing them say why they think we are doing what we do helps us realise some of the misconceptions that are out there and it gives us the chance to apologise if we have given the wrong impression and explain why we are really doing what we do: that the gospel really is good news that they really need to hear and that we are doing it because we love them.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Yesterday I went to see the All Blacks play South Africa at rugby. It was amazing (better pictures coming soon)!
The game itself was okay but the atmosphere was was really made the difference. Being there with thousands of other supporters cheering people on. One thing really struck me: Why did people (me included) get more excited (at least externally) when a player gets a try than we do when someone becomes a Christian?
Friday, July 21, 2006
This week has been one of those occasions were I have felt a bit confused and frustrated as English man in New Zealand. Previously in England after 2 years as a student and 4 years with UCCF I was pretty used to busy and quiet points in the year. At the TSCF conference and someone from England commented on how they felt they should be on holiday from university and that it should be summer not winter.
I hadn't really thought much about it but I came back into work after a few days off to find all sorts of conversations needing to be had with students who were thinking about being group leaders for the Christian Union and International Christian Fellowship. I didn't want this - I wanted a quiet few weeks. In my old world this should be happening in January February time not now! People had warned me that Annual General Meetings were coming but for a number of reasons I hadn't really taken it in that AGMs meant new leaders.
To be honest all too often I feel like I am reacting or responding rather than preempting or being proactive. I guess the lessons to learn are to stop and listen regardless of how busy I am may be (and the run up to the conference was busy!) but also to ask questions about what lies ahead month by month.
Anyway, my average coffee intake of an afternoon has doubled this week due to having coffee with potential leaders. It has been a wonderful time of getting to know students better, hearing ideas on different ways that the work on campus can be developed and what mission at Victoria should or could look like. But has also been encouraging to help some students begin to think through what it means to be committed to Christian service, be it a TSCF group or youth work or church based group. All too often commitment is based on what the individual gets or does not get out of a group that they are involved in rather than being committed to building other Christians up (Ephesians 4) and being missional (Matthew 28). Thankfully this is not always a deliberate approach to commitment and some people respond positively when questioned but others sadly do not see it as a problem.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
The conference is over.
There are so many things I could say and much has already been said by other folk (Andy, Nigel, Scott for example) on their blogs which is basically what I'd be repeating so I'll settle for saying that I agree wholeheartedly with them.
One story that I would add from a student here in Wellington:
Before I went to conference I used to wonder why God couldn't just zap sin and make it go away. I now realise that He could not do that as if He did He would no longer be a just and good God. I now realise why the cross is so important.
Shortly after sharing this the student went on to volunteer to be involved in leading one of the campus groups here in Wellington. This is what I prayed and longed to see as a result of the July conference. Students coming away not only understanding the gospel better but that understanding being worked out in their day by day lives and choices after the conferenceOther significant conversations have been had with students at the conference and following on from the conference. Things are different. People are different.
For myself I have been struck and therefore horrified by how little I care about the dire situation that those who are not Christians are in. I have also been struck by how theoretical I have become about evangelism. I can talk about evangelistic strategies and ideas but am I putting it into practice in my own life? Not really, aside from a couple of conversations with people as I have flown on planes to various places. I can all too easily excuse myself by the fact that it is difficult to make non-Christian friends when I spend most of my time with Christians. I need to think more about how I use casual conversations (be it on planes or buses or in cues or cafes) as well as looking to develop meaningful friendships with non-Christians.
I have also realised afresh and deeper that a key motivation in doing evangelism is how deeply we are struck and gripped by how much good news the gospel is.
Many folk have said that the song for the conference and the song that in many ways sums up the conference is in Christ Alone and I very much agree. But a song that I have listened to a few times since the conference is the hymn "It is well with my Soul". I recognise that the hymn was written by a man in far worse circumstances that I have ever yet to experience but the following verse struck me in particular:
I'd prefer the word truth to the word 'thought' but never the less it sums up some of what I thinking and feeling since the conference. Jesus paid the penalty for my sin through His death on the cross. This changes everything in this life and the next. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord oh my soul!
My sin oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin not in part but the whole
Was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord oh my soul!