Monday, December 26, 2011

Doh!

We visited a local church on Christmas day, for the first time. We actually enjoyed it - it felt quirky and therefore similar to the church we ministered in and loved in Liverpool - Trinity Church, Page Moss. Half way through the service an elderly lady appeared, dressed from head to toe in pink, complete with angel wings and halo - not, as we assumed, to take part in the service, but just because it was fun to dress that way. The service proceeded normally, but you had the feeling that chaos or comedy was never far away. Our kind of church.

Then the service ended, we shook hands with the Vicar, and came home. Which disappointed me, because the members of that church should have been all over us like a rash. A family, two middle aged parents, a son of 24 and a daughter of 18 - families like us are gold dust in church these days. Maybe they assumed we were just visitors to the area, or once-a-year churchgoers - but the point is, nobody even asked. They don't have any contact details for us, so there will be no follow up. Honestly - pathetic and tragic.

Compare this to Mike's recent trip to the dentist for a check up. They found nothing that needed any work doing - but all the same, a day after his visit a postcard arrived welcoming him to the practice.

If we can't even get the very basic concepts of welcome and care for people when they visit our churches, then there is little hope. So we're going to go back to that failing church, and see if we can change things round!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thoughts and Prayers

I write this blog as Christchurch struggles to cope with yet more powerful aftershocks. The social media sites have been filled with messages of support, a simple, immediate and effective way of conveying our deep and sincere sympathy for the folk of that battered city.

I was provoked to write again after a long silence by one such twitter - which ended "my thoughts are with you all again today". While understanding the sentiment, I was struck by what an impotent expression of support this is. Thoughts alone offer no hope, no solution, and little comfort.

My experience so far has been that my Christian faith is at its best and most useful in times of crisis and emergency. To be able to send the promise of prayers is so much more powerful a statement - that into this mess we can intentionally invite the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, Lord of Lord and King of Kings - offers supreme hope, consolation and a little optimism.

So with joy I send my prayers to the distraught and drained folk of Christchurch; to a friend's friend whose son who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy; indeed to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Prayers do not arouse God to action, or bring him into a situation - as Bishop Kelvin wrote "God is not, cannot be absent." But they serve to remind us that he is available, and able, if we can but see.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Very Important Things

I did one very important thing today.
I spoke with a Bishop, but it wasn't that.
I booked into a significant and strategic conference, but it wasn't that either.
I helped make a major step in deciding Church Army's future internationally, but it wasn't that either.

It was this...I went for a jog, and came across a (non-Christian)friend of a (non-Christian) friend. I stopped to chat, interrupting my exercise, and he introduced me to two more (non-Christian) friends. And so the Kingdom spreads, "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."

Jesus while on earth seems to have spent most of his time simply being with people, and I intend to do more of just that.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Much ado


A modern day parable. We have a little solar flower, which sits near one of our big French windows, soaking up the sun, and for most of nearly every day it is a minor flurry of activity, with leaves and flower moving constantly in a pleasingly un-coordinated manner!
During a time of prayer today, Monika rightly observed that our little solar flower is symbolic of much of church life, and our own. We soak up energy from the Son, and respond by producing a flurry of un-coordinated activity - which, just like our little flower, produces absolutely nothing. Being active but producing nothing is what the flower is supposed to do - and achieving this gets the flower noticed, as it taps irritatingly against its plastic flower pot.
I shall remember that flower each day, and pray that I may be saved from such unproductive activity, designed to attract attention but to produce nothing. I shall take the flower to meetings, to help save us from such a fate. I shall share this parable with anyone who will listen. And in doing so my unproductive solar flower will bless others in spite of itself - as God, in His mercy, enables me to do.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Value judgement


One of the new stated values of Church Army NZ is "Sharing Jesus radically on the margins." But I have moments of self-doubt when I am no longer sure that I know where the margins are or who dwells there, let alone how to begin sharing Jesus with them.

We could discuss further, read more books, attend other conferences and write further documents, because that seems to be the default position of much of Christendom. I am aware of the great danger I am in - as I train others in evangelism, run seminars and workshops in evangelism, speak at conferences in evangelism, enable and support others in evangelism - that I forget how to actually connect with the hope-less and unlovely and invite them to follow me in the most exciting, exasperating, exhausting journey ever - as a follower of Jesus.

So this Sunday we are heading for the margins - otherwise known as Avondale Market. Here thousands gather week after week to browse, socialise, saunter, and occasionally purchase. A minority are white. The Christians will be there, faithfully witnessing, apparently oblivious to the fact that nobody is listening.

Our task is both simpler and infinitely more complex. We will seek the margins, to see who we find there. A read of the Gospels tells me that Jesus spent most of his time at the margins - in a social, religious, moral and physical sense - so I expect to meet him there, along with some of his friends. We will seek to follow Jesus on the margins and see who joins in. I might get a whole new seminar out of this!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Balanced evangelism

I struggle sometimes with the tension between "proclamation evangelism", and "presence evangelism". Speaking words that nobody has any interest in is a waste of time, but just being there isn't enough either! So I found these thoughts from members of a Servants of Asia's Poor team in Mexico supremely helpful.

"Through being here we have seen the effect that living in poverty has on people’s self-belief and hope. Poverty is limitating; it entraps people in lies that speak to the very core of their being and robs them of their joy and dreams. If transformation is to come to communities and people trapped in these kind of circumstances, it has
to offer more than just financial gain or improved living conditions. While these things certainly help people to have access to better goods, services and opportunities, they don’t necessarily touch people to their core, and help bring about internal change in how they see themselves and their community. Spiritual transformation, however, has the ability to break down lies and distrust
and build healthy new paradigms and core-beliefs.

This is something that can’t be forced and can’t be achieved by what we do. It is the work of the Holy Spirit guiding and calling a person into new life with God. And it
can achieve true and lasting transformation in a person’s life. Having said this, spiritual transformation has to be wholistic. It has to touch a person’s physical needs as well. As the adage goes: a starving person thinks of nothing but food. So we need to realize that at times the best way to share God’s love with another is by offering them food when they are hungry, clothing when they have none, or friendship when they are lonely. When we fail to seek wholistic transformation our desire to see hope where there is hopelessness will always fall short.
"


To which I have nothing to add.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Camping out?

Normally, it is great to be in a country which leads the world in welcoming each new day - but Harold Camping, with his prediction of the world ending last Saturday at 6pm, left NZ facing the rapture before anyone else could test his prophetic accuracy. We all know now, as we knew then, that he was wrong. I was saddened by the whole sorry episode, and the way in which it brings the followers of Jesus into disrepute once again - but pleased that most Christians displayed grace and sympathy to his misguided followers, rather than ridicule or condemnation.

Repentance, admitting I got things wrong, asking for forgiveness, and expressing a desire to do better next time - this is all at the centre of the Christian life. How we are perceived as thinking that we are better than everyone else - when the reality is that we know all too well our "sinfulness" and our need for God's mercy and grace, I'm not quite sure.

But then along comes such a brother as Harold Camping. He got it wrong in 1994, and he got it wrong last Saturday. Surely now he will admit his stupidity in doing something Jesus plainly said we would not be able to do? Surely this time round he will slink off into embarrassed oblivion? Sadly - no! Instead he now informs the bemused, irritated world that the rapture will be five months later - I would tell you the actual date, but frankly, I don't care.

To slightly change a very famous prayer -
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things about myself I cannot change;
the courage to face up to and admit and change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference
.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Back in Christchurch

I was not sure what to expect on my return to the earthquake hit city - how much would things have improved in the 5 weeks since I was last here? My overall impression is that we are still at sticking plaster phase - doing immediate tasks, but not yet into long-term rebuilding. Roads are mended, holes and cracks filled in, only to re-appear with the next aftershock. Portaloos and chemical toilets are an improvement on long-drops in the back garden, but a genuine flushing toilet still is my preferred option! The big decisions about the long term future are yet to be made.

In some places, unsafe or partially collapsed buildings have been demolished, and roads have been cleared of rubble. Shops are open, trying to operate business as usual, adjacent to red-stickered unsafe properties, or empty cleared plots.

On our arrival, we stopped at the site of the CTV building, where nearly 100 died - one end remains intact while the rest has been cleared. You can see the height of what was a 6 story building, and the size - a poignant reminder of the terrible destruction suffered. It is a place to be quiet and reflect, and my preference would be that it is left in this condition as a raw memorial. Let's not sanitise death and tragedy and human powerlessness.

We visited the Sumner-Redcliffs area, a beautiful part of Christchurch, now living under the continuing threat from looming cliffs with loose rocks and boulders. Life carries on as normal, and yet of course it cannot.

At some stage houses will be assessed, demolished and rebuilt, or extensive repairs carried out - meaning the residents have to move out. Areas have been found which will become temporary communities, for up to five years, with transient populations. There is an obvious and desperate need for a Christian presence, and the church is aware of this, but unsure how to respond. We visited one such site - hundreds of campers vans parked side by side - in effect, a one room home. Can people really cope in such conditions - I doubt it. We were horrified - imagine living for weeks on end, in a one bedroom house on wheels, with just a few feet between you and the next van. I am not sure what other facilities will be made available, but someone, somehow, has to try and make life bearable by offering community. When asked what ministry his church would offer to one such camp, a Vicar suggested it was more the kind of thing Church Army would be equipped to do. And he is right, but who, and how do we finance them?

Back in the day the National Director would simply send Church Army people to Christchurch and they would find somewhere to sleep at night, and somehow get food etc - but that isn't how we operate any more. Shame, because I suspect that by the time we are ready to respond, it'll be too late!

So, impressions so far - enormous needs and opportunities, but equal frustration because our response feels so inadequate. Who will come and join us?

My next blog will tell you what is happening, and how what we can do and are doing is making a difference.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The last lap?

I have just read an advertisement for "Affordable retirement units in the Diocese of Waiapu" - the blurb reads "Our villages are ideal for the over-55's seeking independent living in friendly and supportive local communities." Excuse me?! Over 55's, that gives me very few years before I can settle down in my comfortable chair and slippers. A sobering thought. I had better get a move on.

My current book is "We have recovered" by Steve Baughan, who is my equivalent in CA USA. It tells how those with full on addictions have recovered using the Common Solution Recovery Programme, with classic AA input. Addicts are particularly prone to procrastination - working through some of the steps, but not all. One phrase caught my attention - "‎"Wait" is often the door to never."

There are countless reasons why now is not the best time, why we should not rush in, why we need to plan carefully, why we need to get others on board, why we need to avoid spreading ourselves too thinly, but when all is said and done a heck of a lot more is said than done. If 55 is the beginning of the end, there really is no time to wait.

Having complained in my last blog about the number of people on the CANZ mailing list who never contact us or send donations, I must praise the number of people who have responded with such generosity to our recent Together magazine - we have had a steady flow of donations large and small, many targeted for Christchurch, which leave me humbled and deeply grateful. We even received a parcel from England containing "toys and treats" - I can't wait to see the kids' faces when we these are handed out when we visit Christchurch next week. I'm excited about going back, and hope to blog more frequently!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What's Director to do?

I am in the final stages of preparing our magazine, "Together", which goes out three times each year to church leaders, churches, friends and supporters. One of the things I've been meaning to do for while was to trawl through our database, and see how many individuals have not contacted us for four or more years - and by definition have given not a cent during that time.
What a depressing task that was - precisely 641 people fall into that category. They receive our magazine year after year, and perhaps read it from cover to cover and use the contents to pray for us and to promote our ministry. But really? Many will give it a cursory flick through, then lay it aside or simply bin it - not considering the wasted resources of time and money.
So each will receive a little piece of paper with the next edition - inviting them to reply and let us know they want to remain on out mailing list. and I hope many will choose to make the effort and do so.
Passivity sometimes infuriates me - how right it is that we ask forgiveness not just for the wrong we do, but for the good we do not do. Tomorrow I shall walk to our local Muslim Centre, find the Imam and seek his forgiveness for the idiot American who thinks it is cool to burn the Qur'an, and explain that not all Christians are like that. What an impact it would have on Muslims in the West of all Christians humbly did the same.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Christchurch Day 6

Today was my final full day here, and I loved it - all day out with the bus and knocking on doors, meeting families in the low decile community of Rowley. I met loads of great Samoan and Maori people, learnt my first words of Samoan, and felt the presence of God in the conversations.

Most people are coping pretty well. The lack of water is a problem - a "toilet" which is actually a hole in the back garden is rapidly filled with 7 kids contributing! Typically, we've seen numerous portaloos around, especially in the more affluent areas, but not a single one in the whole of Rowley. Louise is onto it, and hopefully the council will fulfill their promise to supply some tomorrow.

Most kids are staying at home, bored, but afraid to go out to play as they normally would. Many folk in Rowley are unable to access the food and water that is apparently available, due to language issues, lack of transport, or simply because they have forgotten how to take responsibility for themselves - though I am probably not allowed to say that. I have literally seen kids drinking filthy silt-polluted drain water.

But what perhaps concerns me most is this - the number of times I have heard how resilient, resourceful and self-sufficient Cantabrians are (Christchurch is in an area called Canterbury for non-Kiwis.) While it would be harsh to call this arrogance, I have been surprised at how few people are turning to God and asking for His mercy and protection. Despite two significant earthquakes, the prevailing attitude is that we can and will rebuild our City, better and safer and stronger than before. While I have no doubt that many church leaders are responding to the disaster with faith, courage and action, those who make it into the press or TV talk of human tragedy,the need for us to pull together, and offer encouragements for us to care for our vulnerable neighbours - all well and good, but not an adequate Christian response. We have an obligation to point people to Jesus Christ, first and foremost, as the ultimate source who alone meets our deepest needs. As I write we again suffer the telling reminder of what may yet happen again, with a sizable after-shock, and our best plans, designs, and building techniques can offer no guarantees.

Christchurch has a place in my memory and in my heart that few other cities have earned. I hope and pray with all I am that this city will turn to the Lord and King whose name she owns.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Christchurch Day 5

I enjoy being in the presence of experts - people who genuinely know what they are talking about, who speak with a quiet authority that comes from having acquired great wisdom not in the classroom nor lecture hall nor library. I joyfully soak up their wisdom, truth and expertise.

So it was today, as I listened attentively to the Canterbury Kids Coach team, as they discussed the immediate (this week) and medium term (this year) response of Church Army to the situation here in Christchurch. These folk knew their stuff, their community, their limitations and their responsibilities. They quickly identified the priorities - a highly visible presence on the streets, with the Bus out every day; a concentrated door-knocking campaign, to care for those who are too vulnerable, afraid or isolated and are likely to fall between the cracks of normal provision and after-care; and manageable events to bring fun, laughter and community back to local life - with a Fun Day on the local park this Friday. Then, sensibly, a debrief next week to assess how this week has gone - no grand long term schemes here.

One outcome for me was that as the CANZ Board meets this week to see how we can support the ministry here in the medium to long term, the focus has to be on strengthening the workers and work already in place. I hope we will coordinate volunteers to come for specific needs and programmes, and bring team members and carefully selected families to Auckland for desperately needed holidays, but the focus must be on resourcing the amazing folk here.

But then I did the maths. If the Board takes the financially foolhardy decision to use $20,000 out of our reserves this year, we could employ one person, already volunteering many hours each week and taking increasing responsibility, for 20 hours each week at minimum pay. Which is better than nothing, far better. But those who push pens, design buildings, plan new infra-structures and make great pronouncements will be richly rewarded, while we scratch around for a few thousand dollars to reward those whose ground-level worth is inestimable. At a Christian Leaders' Congress I attended for the early part of last week, one person questioned "why does the church starve its evangelists?" And no adequate response was forthcoming.

I hope the cashflow in Christchurch will be different, but I fear it will not be.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Christchurch day 4

It was good to meet with fellow followers of Jesus this morning. We shared stories, and grief; heard of friends and relatives, and one church member, all who were lost or missing; poured out our hearts to God, and drew on His endless strength.

Let me tell you about the lady I sat next to. The Canterbury Kids' Coach happened to pull up outside her home one day. Her children hopped on board, and soon Mum too was drawn to these caring folk. Her life was a bit of a mess, but she was encouraged to discover for herself life as a Jesus-follower. She knows the love and grace of Jesus in her life - and is starting to memorise songs as she can't read, this summer has successfully grown a few vegetables for the first time in her life, and has secured a part time job. Complete life transformation, so 'text book' she sounds like a made up case study. But this is 100% genuine, and like all of heaven I share the sense of celebration having met one sinner who chose to repent.

Tomorrow we head out on the bus once more, praying for those divine appointments and fresh opportunities to pave the way for Jesus-centred transformation to lighten the silt and despair covered streets of this amazing City.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Christchurch day 3

Worthwhile futility. At one level many of the activities that Christchurch people are engaged in are pretty futile! Today's major task was sweeping the drive which is covered in fine dust - leftovers of the silt produced by liquefaction. The fact that friends who arrived to help couldn't actually tell which parts of the drive I'd already done was a little discouraging! The dust is so fine that you can literally sweep the same spot 5 times and remove a thin layer each time. It felt futile - but the end product was a drive which LOOKED much cleaner. Little things matter in situations like this, because little things are holy, and filled with the stuff of God.

My friends swept and cooked. They could have gone to church to pray, or prepared a sermon, or done some other such worthy act, but instead they swept and cooked. The outcome - a shocked "I can't believe a Vicar is sweeping my drive!" - and another vicar is cooking your dinner. As I said, little things are holy and filled with the stuff of God.

Christchurch will need countless such little holy things to happen, because the road to recovery will be seemingly endless. The people here will need to be reminded and reassured time and time again that they are remembered and loved. So please tell them and show them. Send love parcels of chocolates and other goodies, be extravagant and waste money on postage because they are worth it! Send stuff to me if you like and I will make sure it reaches worthy recipients!

I missed a wedding today - Ryan and Stacey I wish you endless joy and love in your years together, filled with fun and meaning and impact on the world around you.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Christchurch day two

A dull grey drizzly morning welcomes us after a decent night's sleep, disrupted only four or five times by aftershocks. We have been unable to contact Sister Elsie Close, a CANZ veteran and legend, so decide to make the hazardous trek across Christchurch to find her.

The results of liquefaction, an occurrence I had never heard of until September last year, are everywhere to be seen. Grey, heavy silt, up to 30cm deep in places, now lies in massive heaps at the roadside, having been dumped there by householders keen to get it off their property. The roads themselves are in places like crumpled bedsheets, in other places deep holes have appeared - all making the trip an arduous one.

Arriving at Elsie's Carehome, we find considerable destruction - and thankfully we find Elsie too, one of a handful of remaining residents. "I wasn't really afraid, the Lord was with me - and if it is my time, well I'll go to be with Him - but it was horrible." The staff are doing an amazing job - coping with few resources - yet more unsung heroes. Elsie is flying up to Auckland tomorrow to stay with the other CANZ legend, Sister Kath King.

Then off to Hornby for a Community lunch arranged by one of the students on our Certificate in Evangelism and Local Mission. Around 40 people enjoy food, company and friendship. The earthquake has brought a sense of urgency, so the usual talk is Jesus focussed and to the point - get yourself right with God, His friendship will see you through.

The Canterbury Kids' Coach heads out once more, the Community centre cannot be used as we have no water, but it is vital to maintain a presence on the streets. Many people have left Christchurch already, but others cannot - so friendly familiar faces are needed and appreciated.

A large aftershock causes more fear just before the evening meal - they go on and on, each one bringing memories of the "big one" and renewed threats of more to come. The only thing I can liken an aftershock to is when a large ship judders - but here we are on dry land, and these last longer and are louder. The whole house shakes, windows rattle, and we hold our breath, hoping it will soon subside.

The student army has been awesome - cleaning up endless tonnes of silt and helping in any and every way. Farmers came round at 10pm last night offering water to everyone. If only we could keep hold of the community mindedness when things settle down, and the sense of perspective - it is about people not possessions - life would be so much better.

Fear lingers - some people choose to sleep in tents as they worry that their houses may not survive the next aftershock. As adrenalin levels inevitably fall, and exhaustion increases, frayed nerves and quick tempers come into play. This City will take months if not years to rebuild, and its people at least as long to begin the road to recovery. It will be a long painful road, and I thank God that i have met some amazing people who are in place to make that journey possible.

Christchurch blog Day 1

It is nearly 19 hours since I awoke, ready to catch the first public flight into Christchurch since the earthquake - so I won't at this stage go onto details of aftershocks and what life is like here, with no water etc

We are here for the people - we set off in the Canterbury Kids' Coach soon after 9am and as soon as we pulled up at the side of the road the kids came running, each eager to tell their earthquake story. Some offered scientific explanations of why earthquakes happened, others gave advice on what to do should another big one happen - all had a tale to tell. They were each encouraged to offer prayers of 'thanks' and 'please', and nearly all did so.

Louise spotted a lady walking by, and at the first gentle question the tears flowed freely. Prayers were offered and gladly received on the roadside. Another Mum sat on the bus and stared into space - seemingly overwhelmed by it all and grateful for a place to pause and rest.

Another team member arrived, having called in on a lady to find she had tried to take her life with an overdose - the police and paramedics arrived in time to save her life. Thank you Lord. Another distressed lady explains that her home has been condemned, and she has no idea where she will live in the coming months. No answers at this stage, but sympathy and the promise of ongoing support.

I could go on - but you get the picture. These stories are all real, and from today. This is work at the coal face, at ground level, with desperate folk. This is an authentic, powerful expression of God's love, and I am fiercely proud of our team here.

Tomorrow - life without water, aftershocks and students.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

At the coal face

I received an email which I want to share. It comes from one of the ministries we support at a distance, and inadequately, but for which I have enormous respect and love. In an understated way, the email reads,

"On Friday we had news of two couples separating - hopefully temporarily, one collapse requiring ambulance (fortunately nothing serious) and almost all our kitchen help away! We were very aware of prayer cover and despite all that the night went well and was not particularly stresssful! Thanks Lord!"

What strikes me, and moves me, is that here we have a group of people genuinely living in community. In the vast majority of churches I visit I see little of this - we are too busy showing how spiritual and how together we are to admit that we are broken, fragile, sin-battered humans on a painful journey of transformation in Christ. I can pretty well guarantee that in the majority of churches in NZ this weekend there were couples whose marriages were hollow shells, or worse; husbands and wives who were overwhelmed with despair, fear, anger and guilt because the key relationship in their life was failing. But we don't talk about that, no thank you.

If we do not create genuine, authentic community then our Christian gatherings become impotent and ultimately pointless. If we cannot cope with pain, failure and sin, then we are nothing like Jesus.

At the coal face, the margins of ministry and society, we find Christ, welcoming, offering grace, and bringing healing. "Thanks Lord!" indeed/

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ministry - where?

I was impressed recently by the contributions made by young adults (under 25!) in a church service. It was not a "Youth service", yet they welcomed, led worship, played in the band, read the Bible lesson, preached, administered communion and even took the collection. But I was also slightly concerned that this might give the impression that real ministry can only happen in a church building.

This fear was reinforced by a conversation I had with a 17 year old this past week, who is entering her final year at school. It is a massive mission-field, with over 2,500 pupils, plus staff - and this particular girl was explaining that she was on the leadership team of the Christian group in the College, was trying to arrange for a concert to be held, had a speaking engagement coming up, and was aware that for some of her non-yet Christian friends this school year may be the last realistic chance for them to experience Jesus.

The conversation was prompted by a decision she has to make - having been invited to help lead a small group in her church for younger kids, which she would enjoy and would do really well - she found herself struggling to prioritise her time and energy.

So - pour yourself into a tough mission field with literally thousands of lost souls to invite into the kingdom; or engage with a small lovely group of kids already surrounded by Christianity? Genuinely a difficult decision. And I fear that 'church' will praise, support and encourage her if she chooses one way, and be totally unaware of the significant leadership role she will be carrying if she chooses the less trodden path.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

This "born again" thing

I read today the wonderful story of a lady who had been kidnapped as a 19 day old baby, but after 23 years had managed to trace and meet up with her real mother. Carline White (her real name) said, "I'm so happy. At the same time, it's a funny feeling because everything's brand new. It's like being born again."

Wow! We know that in the West we have an epidemic of broken homes, "blended families" and countless fatherless children. But hang on a minute - they are not fatherless. If only they could get to meet up with their real Father, they too would have that born again experience. In my darker moments I wonder if Christianity really has much to offer the people of the world - and then I come across a deep truth like this, and i can only say - thank you father God that you are still the ultimate answer for today, and tomorrow. And I also need to say - sorry for doubting you, and for keeping you to myself.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Final Northy

As she looked back on her life and ministry, Sister North was able to say "I can think of no other way that I would rather have spent my life, and I would have exchanged it for any other."

How wonderful to be able to assess one's life in such a positive way - no regrets, no omissions, just satisfaction and celebration. Many of us don't lack opportunities, but we struggle to know which ones to take. Those of us who follow Jesus, seek his guidance, others weigh up the options and consult with family and trusted friends. Perhaps one way of making big decisions when faced with more than one choice would be to ask "what might I most regret NOT doing?"

Sister North was from a different generation - but her sacrificial, committed wholehearted, risk-taking service of Jesus is a model we can all try to emulate.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Northy 7

After a while in Church Army HQ, Northy was asked to undertake work among the Maori people, for which she felt ill-equipped. "Well of course one said yes...you don't say I'm not going to do that, but it scared me stiff. I had hardly ever seen a Maori person, and I felt that I didn't know how to approach them - how to talk to them."

It seems to me that most of us feel that way about haring our faith with anyone - we basically don't know how to do it without causing offence, or putting people off. So we don't bother most of the time.

Sister North persevered, too the risk of rejection or 'failure', and had an amazingly effective ministry that is still remembered with affection and appreciation today. She concludes "they did seem to love me and we got on well together; and that is really the secret."

It really is that simple - being friendly, not being ashamed of Jesus, sharing the words and actions that together express the Christian faith.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Northy 6

Another young evangelist who benefited from Sister North's gentle apprenticeship training was Eileen Brady, who enlisted for a "Cycling Bike Hike Mission" without mentioned the fact that she could not actually ride a bike!
"Really, the falls that poor girl suffered, it was dreadful." But Northy's approach was persevere rather than surrender, and that is what happened "she had the most dreadful falls but although she fell down, you couldn't down her." Perhaps that was a reflection of New Zealand at the time?
Many of my faith heroes have that same belligerent, stubborn, never-say-die attitude, in contrast to many who claim God's call to ministry, but return from the mission field - at home or abroad - after a few years or even months. "I couldn't cope with the heat/food/people/loneliness/hard work/stress/boredom(???)/language/rejection etc. etc." Or the vague "it just didn't feel right." So what happened to God's call?
I have to say I have loved ministry in every place God has called us to - but nobody can say that for the Clark family it has always been easy - indeed, at times, it was only the certain knowledge that God had called us, that enabled us to carry on. Maybe that's just my stubborn Yorkshire streak - but if you are thinking of giving up, why not pray for strength and determination from God instead?