Sunday, July 30, 2006
All good things must come to an end?
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.