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Waiting… and waiting

I am in a time of waiting. I suppose that is appropriate given that it is also Advent, a season in the church life in which we wait and prepare for the Christ child. But I have been waiting longer than advent.

At first, the waiting was a welcomed time in my life. 2016 has been an intense year for me with many challenges, many hard learnings and, thankfully, some beauty to keep me going. I wrote a major paper this summer culminating practical learning, Biblical studies and research. I am proud of that paper and proud of the mark and comments from my professor. At the end of the summer, I felt that I needed to take some time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. I also felt that I needed a break from school and that I would like to find work to stabilize and improve finances.

For a couple of months, I enjoyed reading, hanging out with my cat and rabbits, connecting with people, swimming most days. And I’ve been applying to everything I am qualified for, open to where God might lead me.

I was offered a job. I was a bit surprised at this given the questions that they asked and what would match the particular setting and what my answers and beliefs are. After prayer and talking with my mentors, I felt that I needed to turn it down. I felt like God was saying to me, “Wait – I have something perfect for you.”

I’ve never had the privilege of being able to turn down a job before and I have to say I was not at rest after I turned it down, even though in my heart I knew that it was the right thing to do. And then the confirmations came that I had done the right thing. The biggest confirmation was attending another church that I applied to and walking through the area realizing that the setting was far more along the lines of what makes my heart excited. I think I was enticed by the monthly paycheque and a common theme these days in my life is that I need to rely on God alone.

I believed that the church that I visited was where God wanted me to be. They accepted applications until the end of November and I haven’t heard from them. Either they have been exploring other candidates or they are caught up in advent and Christmas stuff – both are good possibilities. I am still hopeful.

But this season of waiting… is now hard. I’ve been making the most of this time. But I long for more. I long to be contributing in some way. I want to serve in ministry again. I am so darn ready for that “something else” that I felt God promising me. I don’t want to wait anymore!

The meditation for the 17th day of the month in the second celtic daily prayer book spoke to me today:

What God may hereafter require of you,
you must not give yourself the least trouble about.

Everything He gives you to do,
you must do as well as ever you can.

That is the best possible preparation
for what He may want you to do next.

If people would but do what they have to do,
they would always find themselves ready for what came next.

George MacDonald

God has directed me during this time of waiting. It’s not exactly what I would have chosen for these past four months.

But – I am involved in ministry. I have been devoting time to pray. Not because I’m some holy person or anything. But out of recognition that I cannot do anything to change lives, situations or fix things. And that ultimately it is God at work. I’m inspired by the Alpha program where people commit to pray in a separate room throughout the whole teaching and discussion time. There are ministries working with people who do not know God and I know that the evil one has his ways of trying to prevent this from happening. My ministry right now is to pray.

And I’ve been studying the book of Isaiah. Again, not because I want to be super holy or anything. But this book has intimidated me with its 66 chapters and different genres and some of it’s really harsh passages. Any time I’ve had the opportunity to write on Isaiah – I choose anything not Isaiah. But it’s such a foundational book that needs too be studied if I am going to shepherd and pastor any community.

George MacDonald’s words encourage me that I am not only in a season of waiting, but in a season of preparation for what is to come. And while I wish to be a part of something more, I do believe these tasks are God-directed and I must do them well. They will prepare me for what comes next. But also must be continued as the fuel for whatever comes next and now is the time to establish patterns and commitment while I am waiting.

Waiting is hard.

But waiting need not be passive. It is a time of preparation.

And so I wait.

 

Thou Shall Not Go Alone

 

 

A 'nesting tree' is one that has fallen, died and is rotting away. Seeds fall into the rotting tree and begin to take root, replenishing the forest. This picture was taken in Cathedral Grove, B.C.

A ‘nesting tree’ is one that has fallen, died and is rotting away. Seeds fall into the rotting tree and begin to take root, replenishing the forest. This picture was taken in Cathedral Grove, B.C.

Reflections on Green Shoots out of Dry Ground (ed. John P. Bowen)

Introduction

I write this reflection as someone who has ventured to areas where people do not know the love of God and wandered into the church to find a loving community to journey with them. I also write from the perspective of one who has often felt like a ‘lone ranger’ once on the mission field. Green Shoots offers a wealth of wisdom and challenges to consider in church planting. For me, the most powerful message is that church planting is not about being a lone ranger: we join in the mission that God has already begun connected with the community of saints who have gone before and with us and along the way build networks of support that help sustain us and the fledgling ministries we have planted.

New territories come with new challenges

Pioneer ministry is inherently difficult. We exist in a society where many people would never walk into a church building or see a need for God. Many people do not understand or agree with doing church in ways that stray from the way things have always been done. There are frequently few financial resources and people to do the work.

In addition, the Church is increasingly recognizing the need for pioneer ministry and fresh ways of being church in the world and yet, we do not have a clear blueprint for the Church God is calling us to be. Alan Roxburgh claims that pioneers enter the “space-between” which is both uncomfortable and uncertain.[1] In doing so, we join those whom God has called from the beginning of time. For example, the journey from Egypt to the promise land was a liminal space in which the Israelites relearned how to trust God and forget Egypt by falling a giant cloud and pillar of fire, and relying on the daily provision of manna.

 

God goes before us

God goes before us in mission and we are invited to join him in the work that He is doing. This seems like such a basic tenet of ministry. However, I was struck by the number of times the authors referred to it and my own tendency to forget. There are so many days when I set out to fix the world with my unending to-do list. I too frequently function by asking God to bless (or fix!) the project I have started. Yet, my starting point needs to be communing with God: “We begin by discovering the heart of God.”[2] I find this refreshing because it gives weight and value in a task-oriented society to simply being in the presence of God and learning about who He is.

In addition, I take comfort in knowing that it is God’s mission and that He will finish a good work that He has started. I begin to feel like a lone ranger when I believe that success in ministry depends on me. Cam Roxburgh helps me to redefine my task and responsibility: “God does not send us into areas where he is not already present and at work. Our task is simply to recognize God’s presence and to join with him in that work.”[3]

As the challenges of pioneer ministry increase, I am prone to feeling abandoned by God. Bowen’s description of the gospel is especially helpful for me to remember in those times. The Gospel is “the announcement of the good news that this is so – that God still loves us, that God has not given up or forgotten us, that God in Jesus Christ – his life, death, and resurrection – is going to make all things new.”[4] The fact that God is a missionary God who cares more about His creation than I ever could is proof that I am not alone.

Spiritual disciplines root us in God and community

Gefvert writes that the spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith root us in our relationship with God and with all those who have gone before us.[5] She writes:

These are the intentional ways we choose to cultivate our life in relationship with God through various forms of prayer and disciplines of living: teaching and learning, fellowship, breaking bread, prayerful reading and study of scripture, fasting, and sharing resources.[6]

These practices keep us rooted in God but also connect us with the community of saints that God has provided for us. I have found that pioneer work can take all of my energy and focus. I have often felt too tired to invest in the faith communities that support and feed me. I need to remember how life giving and reenergizing fellowship, breaking the bread or praying with other Christians are even when I consider myself too tired and busy to include them.

I belong to a dispersed, new monastic Celtic community that is held together by a rhythm of prayer. As I pray the morning liturgy of this community, I am reminded that there are hundreds of Christians around the world praying with me. In addition, there have been countless Christians who have also prayed the various prayers in the liturgy over the years. As I pray, I join with the saints and the whole church and am reminded that I do not go alone.

Building Networks

Pioneers need to build networks with other pioneers to support one another through prayer, encouragement and sharing the lessons learned. During one youth mentorship program that I launched, I witnessed the whole Church of God coming together in a way I had not previously. People across denominations and throughout Canada supported a hobbling ministry in one block of a large city through their prayers, financial support, encouragement and coaching. Without this support, the program simply would not have happened. Since this experience, I have been realizing the importance of connecting with others and building support networks that will help uphold a new ministry. Moreover, these networks will help dispel the myth that I am a lone ranger.

In addition, I am greatly encouraged by Jenny Andison’s chapter[7] about the growing number of practical resources within the Diocese of Toronto and beyond. Moreover, it encourages me that the Church is realizing that many pioneers feel like lone rangers and are striving to improve and increase the amount of support and training to help sustain not only pioneer leaders, but the young seedlings of ministry that have been planted.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we join God in the work that he has already started. We share this work with others who join in God’s mission through community. And we build networks to help sustain each other and the ministry to which God has called. We need to hold onto the truth the following truth:

The church, no matter how many members it has, is an icon of hope, simply through its continuing existence – a statement that no matter what happens, God is planted in this community and has not abandoned it.[8]

In other words, we are not alone.

References:

[1] Roxburgh, Cam. “Discovering God’s Heart for the City.” In: John P. Bowen (ed.) Green Shoots Out of Dry Ground: Growing a New Future for the Church of Canada. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub., 2013), pg. 192

[2] ibid., pg. 68

[3] ibid., pg. 76

[4] Bowen, John P. “Why Mission? Why Now? Why Here?” In: John P. Bowen (ed.) Green Shoots Out of Dry Ground: Growing a New Future for the Church of Canada. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub., 2013), pg. 7

[5] Gefvert, Constance Joanna. “The Ancient Paths: Spirituality for Mission.” In: John P. Bowen (ed.) Green Shoots Out of Dry Ground: Growing a New Future for the Church of Canada. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub., 2013), pg. 201

[6] ibid., pg. 202

[7] Andison, Jenny. “Help! Where Do I Go from Here? Resources for the Journey.” In: John P. Bowen (ed.) Green Shoots Out of Dry Ground: Growing a New Future for the Church of Canada. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub., 2013), pgs. 263-279.

[8] Harder, Cam. “New Shoots from Old Roots: The Challenge and Potential of Mission in Rural Canada.” In: John P. Bowen (ed.) Green Shoots Out of Dry Ground: Growing a New Future for the Church of Canada. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub., 2013), pg. 56

the wrong crowd

on the subway today, I was reading about the rules that many of us have grown up with as to what it means to be a Christian. one of them is to not hang out with the “wrong crowd” or as we used to joke, “I don’t smoke, don’t chew or hang out with those who do.” I am aware of my need to be around Christians, to be held in my faith journey by the prayers, wisdom and presence of other sojourners on the way. I need people to encourage me when I’m discouraged, cheer me on when the going gets tough, challenge me when I need to grow. Sometimes I need to be surrounded by Christians  just simply know that I am not alone.

also, I do know that youth is a time when you are quite impressionable combined with wanting to be accepted in a social sphere. it’s probably wise to be careful who influences you – not just in your youth.

But as I was on the subway, I found myself wondering – what does it mean to be with the “wrong crowd”?

who would count as the wrong crowd? obviously those sinners (not me, of course!)

who did Jesus hang out with? prostitutes and tax collectors. heathens and the unclean. lepers and the demon possessed.

is it possible that as a follower of Christ I hang out with “the wrong crowd” if I merely hang out with people who are like me, believe as I do, etc?

and perhaps a more humbling question: am I – a sinner – part of “the wrong crowd”?

Serving at the Table

February 16, 2014 1 comment

Today, I visited a church where I will be doing an internship of sorts this summer. It’s a totally different setting from other churches where I have worked and so today I just went to observe and listen and to pay attention to what goes on there.

I have to admit, I wandered in my mind during parts of the service. Over the past couple of months, I have been wrestling with God about calling and ministry. God has heard some pretty angry words from my heart. As I realized some of the potential in this space, I started to get excited. Now, usually that would be a good thing. But I was frustrated as I want to run from ministry these days. I’ve been reflecting on my experiences lately, trying to glean lessons from them, especially as I embark on projects. And a recent ‘aha’ moment enlightened why I am so reluctant to get involved again in leadership. My most “successful” week in which God daily added to our numbers and conversations with children, youth and their families went pretty deep – was also an experience where I felt utterly and completely alone and void of comfort. I won’t go into all the details of what happened that week, but there is a side of the story that doesn’t get told in the joyful celebration of what God did. And believe me, it was amazing and I am blessed to have been a part of that experience. But that deep sense of alone-ness haunts me. Is this what it means to be successful in kingdom work? As I’ve presented this question to God over the past few months, I’ve followed it up with – if it is, then no thanks! I have contemplated, once again, if I should just quit school and get a real job. Data entry. something like that.

And then, unexpectedly, the priest needed someone to serve the chalice and asked me. And I held the cup and looked into each person’s eyes saying “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation”. I have no words to describe this experience. There was something profound and beautiful at being able to share in this sacred moment with other Christians. To remind in words and actions that Christ died for their salvation, that the blood of Christ was poured out for them as this cup of wine was given to them. It was a holy moment. A beautiful moment.

And as I served at the table – I found myself saying yes.

yes to serving. even if it is hard. even if it is lonely.

yes to walking with people, in their brokenness and in their joy.

yes to serving the cup of salvation and reminding others that Christ died for them.

Interestingly, as I’ve been reading about the priesthood and talking to God about my calling, one thing I have said to God is that I have never felt a call to serve at the table. I feel a call to write, to preach, to counsel, to lead, to disciple. But not to serve at the Lord’s table. I could see myself doing it, but never felt called.

Today, I felt called. And it’s a beautiful thing.

My summer experience

September 16, 2013 1 comment

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This summer I had quite the wild adventure running a nine week youth mentorship program out of a church. My role has ended there and I am excited about the things that lay ahead. I have some writing to finish that I’m slowly getting to it. This letter (or some version of it – this blog version is quite edited in terms of revealing details and a few specific ‘thank yous’) is being put into this week’s newsletter for the church. Thought I’d share it as I received a lot of prayer support and encouragement from people I know – and many who I do not know – as a summer of my experience and to encourage you about the good work that God did in our midst.  

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Wow – what an incredible adventure the youth program was this summer. I feel quite privileged to have journeyed with these amazing youth, to be trusted with their stories and invited into their lives as they grow as leaders and individuals. I have so many stories to tell, so many precious moments.

It was exciting to see how the Lord added to our numbers – sometimes even daily! We started with a group of three youth who quickly invited their friends. By the second week, we had a group of 14 youth who came almost daily for 9 weeks to the basement of the church and 3 youth who joined in the fun every now and then. Having worked with youth in many settings, this growth and commitment is rather significant. Youth do not tell their friends to come to something in less they are absolutely confident that it is safe to do so. Some of the youth turned down other commitments because they wanted to be here.

We witnessed a quiet group of youth grow into enthusiastic learners, teachers and leaders throughout the summer. We watched as they took risks, trying new things and invited feedback into the experience – and I watched them thrive as they discovered themselves and that they were loved in our group. One common goal this summer was to learn how to cook. So,daily we traveled the world in the industrialized kitchen discovering the joy of cooking together. For most of the youth, this was a new experience and a highlight of each day. 

We journeyed together for four weeks, looking at the biblical concept of covenant and creating our own to make this an environment where we can learn and grow together. We participated in workshops that made us reflect on who we are and built skills that we can take into our lives. One interesting workshop led us to consider how we get our needs of approval met. The workshop leader spoke from his experience of finding those needs met in ourselves, while the majority of our youth find their approval through doing things with others. We all agreed that if we look to others or ourselves for approval, eventually we will be let down. We then had a very interesting conversation about needing to find a different source – my suggestion was Christ, which we explored a little together.

We led Animalia Day Camp with a small group of children. While our numbers were small, the needs were great and we were able to offer much needed attention to each child as well as mentor the youth as they work on their leadership skills, dealing with real time situations. We traveled to several parts of Toronto that the children had not seen before including the Humber Bay Butterfly Park. One of the many highlights of the week was our trip to the zoo during which we marvelled at each creature that we saw, the magnificent colours and beauty, and the intricate details. 

Week six was a rest week for us as we debriefed the day camp experience, prepared for the next few weeks, and relaxed together! Team dynamics are very important when working day in and out with each other. Our rest and ‘wasting time’ were just as important to the summer program as the workshops themselves as they tightened the relationships and allowed for spontaneous conversations and sharing. 

Week seven was our Mad Scientist Day Camp and an opportunity for the youth to continue working on their skills and for us to connect with more children and families in the neighbourhood. Some children returned from the previous day camp and others joined us. Our big adventure for the week was a trip to the Science Centre, however a surprising highlight of the week was the Allen Gardens. What a joy to watch these children discover God’s creation in new ways!

Our last day camp program was definitely a highlight of the summer. In the morning, we ran a high energy vacation Bible school program in which the children learned through songs, Bible stories, crafts, games and other activities the missionary journeys of St. Paul. By the end of the week, 34 children could tell you that God loves them (and you!), recite 5 Bible verses, and tell you why Jesus died on the cross. Each day we filled the sanctuary walls with our prayers of thanksgiving to God. Unlike most vacation Bible School programs I have been a part of, these children were largely from unchurched homes which opened lots of conversations with parents. One boy found a Bible in the house and went searching for Jesus – he came back the following day asking if we could help him! In the afternoon, we were joined by a Christian arts educator for a high quality arts program, exploring all sorts of art mediums.

 Our camping retreat and final week was a pretty awesome time. Many of the youth had not been outside the city let alone camping before. There were times of intense conversation with different small groups. We talked about who we want to be/known for (as opposed to what media/society tell us we are) and how we might live that out. A very beautiful time was sharing what we learned this summer!

I’d like to thank my awesome summer team for the many hours, enthusiasm, creativity and love they poured into this ministry over the nine weeks. We couldn’t have asked for better camp counsellors!

The summer was a beautiful experience and I am grateful to each of you for your love, support, financial givings and encouragement so generously given to me and this ministry. Thank you for your trust of me and your love of youth and children and their families in the area. As I move on to further studies and future ministry, I will cherish the many lessons and blessings from the opportunity.

I continue to pray for you and the good work you have done with me this summer in reaching new families for Christ’s kingdom.

Peace.

letting go

ImageIt’s been awhile – but I have not dropped off the face of the earth. It just happens to be a very busy and intense time in my life. I haven’t had the energy or desire to write on here. I’ve always had a rule when it comes to writing – if it doesn’t come naturally, now is not the right time. Typically, my writings that get posted on here are effortless and when I feel forced in anyway, I try to put away the thoughts and wait for a time when they are clear. Sometimes time brings clarity, sometimes time puts those ideas in the trash bin. Today, on the subway, I was listening to a song and felt inspired to share one of the challenges that I am facing.

We are in week four of our nine week youth mentorship program that I have headed up. I am very grateful for the support, encouragement, coaching and help that I have received from so many people over the past 6 months. The task has been large – grant applications, fundraising, publicity, advertising, web designing, hiring staff, networking, program design and execution. The skills that I have learned/worked on through this program will be ones that I will use in so many ways in my life I am sure – but it has been a lot of work. I have put in long hours… and then some.

I have learned to take Sabbath. At first I thought this would be impossible – I mean there is so much work to do!!! How could I think to take a *whole* day off work? And then it became a necessity. By Saturday, I was so exhausted that I needed to sleep, rest, and not think about work or school. I began to take Sabbath not because I wanted to so much, but because my body wouldn’t let me do anything else! And now… I look forward to Saturday. I do not respond to emails, check phone, update facebook or the website, or even think about work. Well, sometimes I admit that I worry. But most times, I just enjoy the day. I do not usually go out and I am not available for anyone except my cat! Sounds selfish perhaps – but I need to recharge my batteries and the other six days of the week are jam-packed with being available.

Working late one night, a friend challenged me, asking why I am so intent on making this a success? I kept justifying. And his questions persisted and he challenged me to let go.

Let go? this program is my baby! I have put way more into this program than into anything else in my life. I have worked hard and the program is becoming known. There have been pressures in all directions and I *need* to be successful. Moreover, I love the youth and love God and ministry. How on earth can I let go?

My friend’s challenge is a hard one. As much as I would like to dress it up as a faithful response to God’s love for me and the world, there is sin and brokenness in my life that spill into my motives for this program. Oh how discouraging sin can drive one away from God and trusting His sovereignty, love and grace – even in ministry! It is humbling. Actually, this whole experience has been humbling on many levels. I think to lead is to be vulnerable. I have warts and rough edges and pain and insecurities. It’s a lot easier to hide all this when you sit quietly, and unknown in a group.

I don’t know. I don’t have an answer to this. But I cling on to this program to tightly. Somehow I need to let go. I need to trust that God is at work and – as much as he has been looking after me and providing for me – he will provide and care for the youth and the program that he has called me to lead.

On the subway, I was listening to a song by Robin Mark that reminded me that I need to perch myself at the foot of the cross. I need to let go of everything there and find my strength at the cross.

I’ll come to the wonderful cross-

And my whole life I lay down.

My whole life I lay down.

 

Make me believe

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Last Sunday, the kids and I looked at the story of doubting Thomas. I began our discussion with talking about things that we believe on faith – things that we know to be true but don’t see it or have proof. We talked about how we believe in ‘wind’ because we see what it does, that we believe that the air has oxygen in it because scientists have discovered it and we believe that there are people living in Australia even though none of us knew anyone there or had visited. We also talked about how there are things we know to be false even though we don’t have any proof. For example, i couldn’t convince these astute kids that there are igloos in Egypt or that Aliens were taking over the world. The point of this exercise that led to many giggles was to talk about how there are things we know to be true without needing to prove they are true.

After talking about doubting Thomas and how Christ met him where he was at, we talked about our own doubts in the stories that are handed down to us. The kids found Jesus’ miraculous healings to be among some of the hardest things to believe. We then went to draw something in our discussion that stood out to us.

The above picture was drawn by one youngster. It is a picture of people being healed by Jesus. He told me he was done and I asked if there was something he wanted to write on the page to help him remember what we talked about today. He asked if he could write a prayer.

His prayer: Make me believe.

I sat there with a huge smile just enjoying the precious moment.

All week, I’ve had this picture and this simple prayer on my mind. The youth program I’m running is quite exciting – but my to do list is multiplying at a faster rate than it is decreasing. And, as I’ve mentioned on here before, I wonder if I can do it.

I’m waiting to hear if I got accepted into the graduate program I’ve applied for. And doubts, many doubts arise. I can’t help but ask what if I don’t get in?

Opportunities are opening up and I bounce between feeling confident and wondering if I’m really capable of what others think I am.

I wonder about my future – will I be able to find a job that is fulfilling post graduation? Can I really find a partner who will walk the journey of this life with me? As I was taking care of the little boy I babysit, I started wondering if I am really capable of being a mother?

So many questions, doubts, fears. I seem to have trouble believing that God takes care of me and that he has my life under his sovereignty. I seem to think I have to take care of everything because God may not. I easily slip into thinking that everything depends on me. I worry that I am not up to the task that God has called me to do and forget that he is with me.

The young boy’s prayer – make me believe – is mine tonight. Make me believe Lord that you have everything in your hands and that you love beyond what I can imagine. Make me believe that you are trustworthy. Make me believe that I can do all things that you have called me to through Christ who strengthens me.