So here we are in mid-January and I am finally feeling that I have come up for air. My sabbatical was amazing: such a privilege to be given time to study and research, to reflect and pray, and travel.
My research of the Baptist Deaconess Order proved to be much more fascinating than I had anticipated and because I had to stop myself after three weeks there is much yet to write down and reflect upon. My reading on mission both stimulated and confirmed the way I had begun to think but now the task is to envision the leadership and the church in the task of mission in our community. Coming back straight into Christmas was a very stressful thing to do and for a couple of weeks I felt depressed and overwhelmed but then we had our Christmas family service which the previous year attracted no-one but this year we more than tripled our congregations – testimony to the success of the new ventures we began that were designed to be a stepping stones. Now the task is to diversify our activities but also how to help people move from them towards a more obvious seeking of faith. One picture that helped me was that a stepping stones across the river which we need to provide.
The other activity that was very rich for us us was the travelling around the world to see relatives in the states, our Foster daughter and the son of some friends in New Zealand, and a few days in Hong Kong. In the states we experienced beauty of mountains and sees, the excitement of a college American football game (where I was told I was going to hell by a street evangelist because I was a Minister – the captured crowd stood with me on the traffic island quickly turned against him at that moment: a failure in transmitting the faith for him). I was privileged to go into a high school and see lessons in Spanish, English and special education – the best question from the students to me was: ‘how did they teach you your accent?’ My reply: ‘how do they teach you yours?’. ‘But I don’t have an accent’, Came the expected reply! Oh how easy it is to see what is normal for us as the norm and everybody else who is different is wrong.
New Zealand brought so much beauty again from snow laden mountains, sees, ice blue lakes, sperm whales, seals, an albatross and beautiful empty roads. I decided I must be a New Zealander at heart because I have never known people who are so willing to speak and share their lies with strangers- they will talk to anyone. The most friendly place I have ever been which was quite a contrast Hong Kong which I think must be the friendliest place I have ever visited though the food was great!
But also what interested us was that each country had its own particular interests and fears of those entering: USA-terrorism, New Zealand-biodiversity, Hong Kong-illness. I wonder who it is that we in our churches fear and what we can do to take down the barriers between us those who have not yet found God but also how we can stop ourselves and try to make them like us and allow them their individuality, even as we all seek to be more Christlike.
But it’s back to normality now, and yet I have been changed by those three months and so normal is different. I look forward to what God has in store for us as a church in the coming months and I’m excited.