Every morning when I log on, Facebook greets me with “We care about your memories” and an offer to repost a photo from yesteryear. It is evident from the reposting that goes on that some people enjoy using this utility, though I look in vain for the ‘go away and leave me alone’ button.
We like to remember. We have photos of long-dead relatives on our bookshelves. We hang pictures of our favourite places on our walls. Our conversations are peppered with “Do you remember when…” as we laugh about situations we’ve been in. Individuals and families do this well. Countries build war memorials, or statues of great leaders. Hikers build cairns. But the world of mission is generally not good at remembering, and we certainly don’t build memorials or statues, because we want the glory to go to God, not people.
The first thing the ancient Israelites did after crossing the Jordan was to set up a memorial. They built a cairn (Joshua 4:1-9). One person from each tribe was selected to carry a rock from the bed of the dried-up river and build a cairn on the bank so that the people would always remember God had parted the river for them to cross over. They turned memory into something physical so that they wouldn’t forget.
We need to remember because not only does it honour God to recount the things He has done (Psalm 145:4), it builds our faith to be reminded of his provision for us in the past. David built his courage for fighting a giant by remembering that he’d already killed a lion and a bear (1 Samuel 17:36).
As we enter the Promised Land of 2017, how are we making arrangements to remember what God has done? Here are some of our suggestions:
- Have a photo gallery of previous co-workers in our agency. We often honour the founders of our mission agencies, but do we remember the others who made a sacrifice to pass the founder’s baton on to us? Do we honour the ones who gave their lives in service to God?
- Celebrate anniversaries, not only of the founding of the agency, but peoples’ ‘birthdays’ in the mission field, the founding of a church or ministry.
- Have pictures, artefacts or ornaments which meant something significant at one time, and make a point of telling newcomers why they’re important.
- Keep an “on this day” diary, reminding you of when God spoke, or did something significant for you.
- Make a point of reminding old friends and colleagues of situations you’ve been through together. Ask older co-workers about their memories of people and places.
- Research and write biographies of people who’ve inspired you – not just the great saints who are well documented but the unknown saints who laboured in obscurity to lay the foundations of where we are now.
- Use ‘Blue plaques’ or a suitable equivalent on your property to remind yourselves of who was there and what they’ve done.
Remembering the past doesn’t mean living in it. We remember it to give context to today and help us move into the future. Not long ago, as a visiting speaker I got a (somewhat bewildered!) church to build a cairn in their meeting room. I provided enough rocks for them and encouraged everyone to pick up a rock and build with it, each rock representing a commitment to tell a story to someone who hadn’t heard it, ask a question of someone who had been in the church a long time, and celebrate what God had done – so that they could build on their past as they embrace their future.
Let’s all find ways of doing something similar!