Photo by Keppens Toon from FreeImages

One of the major challenges we have faced this year is uncertainty.  Events have been rescheduled, re-rescheduled and moved online.

Flights have been booked, rebooked, cancelled.  Churches have been open, closed, partially reopened, re-closed.  And so on.  I don’t need to tell you how unsettling the uncertainty is.

Many mission workers I talk to have found the inability to plan ahead has been particularly hard to deal with.  It has been costly, as they have paid for flights at short-notice but then not been able to get entry to the country.  It’s been emotionally demanding as they wrestle with enrolling their kids in the local education system or not bothering because they might be returning home soon.

One of the reasons this is a challenge is that we live in a structured world that doesn’t facilitate spontaneity.  I once heard a story (probably apocryphal) about a western mission worker in Tanzania who was on a bus to Dar-es-Salaam which had broken down.  As the delay grew longer he grew more and more nervous until the calm African man sitting next to him asked if there was a problem.  “Yes”, replied the Westerner, “I’m booked on a plane this evening”.  To which the African replied “Isn’t there another plane tomorrow?”  But of course, it doesn’t work like that.  Tickets aren’t transferable.  In so many ways, we are locked into planning.

A deeper and more disturbing reason for our discomfort at being unable to plan is that we like to be in control.  Or at least to have the comforting illusion of being in control, which has been completely stripped away by recent events.  Very few of us are naturally comfortable being tossed on the rough seas of life with no means of navigation, even though most of us normally have no more control than a cork in the ocean, comforted by the mere fact that we are still afloat.

Deprived of control, we are confronted with our own feebleness.  How do we respond?  We may become, like Job, angry at God because this isn’t the way things ought to be, thereby proving the faults in our own theology.  We may, like Saul, succumb to tyranny as we struggle to maintain control by our own authority, masking our weakness by bullying others.  Or perhaps, like Belshazzar, we use avoidance techniques to convince ourselves that the problem isn’t really there.

And if you think those are rather extreme examples, consider what they might look like in our day-to-day lives.  Job may represent the person who is giving up on God because God didn’t stop all this happening and has let our friends and relatives die.  Saul is the Myers Briggs J who, valuing order and stability, tries to bring order into her world by creating rules and regulations which others feel are aimed at control and repression.  And how many of us, like Belshazzar , are drinking more wine or gin than usual, or reverting to the comfortingly familiar foods of our childhood?

So how do we face the reality of living in a world in which we have no control, and continue to thrive?  Firstly, we know the One who is in control.  We may have robust debate among ourselves about how direct and extensive that control is, but few of us will believe in the ‘absent watchmaker’ of the Deists.  We believe that the incarnation and crucifixion prove that God is intimately involved in this world, and the many daily miracles and intimacies prove his ongoing concern for it.

Second, we have to learn to ‘freewheel’ a little more.  Does everything have to be so neatly planned, deftly coordinated and well-organised?  Or can we share the love of God through a chance encounter, a spontaneous act of kindness, or an expression of comfort.  How hard is for us to learn to go with the flow for a bit?  Many of us are missing the gift of the present by becoming overly concerned with the future.

Third, we need to be listening to the Holy Spirit a lot more.  We’ve already blogged about Paul and his team being frustrated in their plans.  We need to learn the difference between a good idea and the moving of the Spirit, to pray intently into everything we plan, asking not for God to bless it but whether God is telling us to do it at all.

At times like these I am thinking a lot about the Israelites in the wilderness.  They never knew when they’d have to pack up their homes and move, where they were going next, or whether they were pitching their tents for a stop of one night or three years.  All they knew was when the Pillar moved, they moved.  And in the midst of all that uncertainty and insecurity, they learned to trust God for their protection, their provision and their guidance.

The moral of the story: keeping watching the Pillar!

 

Other blogs in this series on identity:

Episode 1: Who am I?

Episode 2: What do I do?

Episode 3: What is my calling?

 

Photo by Svilen Milev from FreeImages

 

Calling.  It is one of the most nebulous concepts in mission.  We all know we need it.  We all agree it’s an essential requirement for a cross-cultural mission worker.  Hopefully we all believe we have it.

Yet we find it very difficult to define it.

Calling, as you will recall from our Guide to Going, can be very personal and subjective, may vary from one person to another but can generally be defined as a deep-seated conviction that God has a task for you to do, or a place for you to be.  It is discerned both spiritually and practically by a community working together to determine what is right for you – a community made up of family, friends, church and agency who together confirm your course of action.

And every now and then, like the pillar of smoke in the wilderness, the calling moves on.  Sometimes it takes us to a new activity, or a new field, and sometime it brings us out of the mission field into some other form of ministry.  The problem for each of us at the moment, when we can’t be where we feel called to, or do what we feel called to, is knowing whether the calling has moved on or not.

So we begin a time of prayer and reflection, asking God for guidance.  We discuss with friends, church and agency what the nature of that call might be now.  Like a person lost in the mountains (I know plenty about that!) we retrace our steps to the last point we were confident of where we were, and we re-examine the map.  We do this by asking ourselves some deep questions:

  • What did I originally feel called to do?
  • How has that calling changed over the years?
  • Is what I normally do still true to that calling?
  • Have I taken on roles and responsibilities I am not called to?

In doing this, we can get back in touch with our sense of calling.  But that is only half the problem.  What if we are confident in our calling to a place we can’t currently be, or a role we can’t currently do?  Isn’t that part of the evidence that the calling has gone?

Not necessarily.  Calling doesn’t necessarily guarantee an easy journey.   Was David stilled called to be king of Israel while he was living in the wilderness on the road from a mad tyrant?  Was Paul still called to be an apostle to the Gentiles while stuck in prison in Caesarea?  Or was Moses called to lead his people out of slavery when Pharaoh kept saying no?  Let’s look further at his story.

Reading Exodus 3 we cannot doubt his spectacular calling, yet he experienced the doubts of the Elders of the sons of Jacob, the opposition of Pharaoh and his magicians, an impassable sea, rebellion among his leaders, jealousy in his own family, people who wanted to go back, hunger, drought, overwork and warfare, not to mention 40 years in the wilderness.  Had his calling deserted him?  Perhaps he wondered that in his darkest moments of despair and frustration.  But we know the rest of the story, and although Moseshe never actually completed the task of leading his people into the Promised Land, they still revere him as the man who brought them out of slavery, gave them the Law, and built them into a nation. Not a bad heritage.

So what about us?  We’ve already looked at who we are when we can’t do, and what we can do when we can’t do what we should be doing?  How do we fulfil our calling remotely?

We can pray for people and situations we know.  We can keep in touch via social media.  Perhaps we can pastor or teach remotely.  We can advocate for our host nation among our friends.  We can probably find people from our host nation in our sending country, and can get to know and support them.  We can support recruitment and training of new workers for that field.  So although we can’t actually be there, there is still a lot we can do to fulfil our calling.  Just because we are temporarily frustrated in our calling, it doesn’t mean our calling has been revoked.  It may just look different for a while.

 

Other blogs in this series on identity:

Episode 1: Who am I?

Episode 2: What do I do?

Episode 4: Coping with loss of control

 

 

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.  [1]

This hymn, frequently sung at funerals, on Remembrance Sunday and (curiously) at Cup Finals, is often overlooked in other contexts because of its connection with death.  My mother told me she hated it because it reminded her of funerals, yet it needs some rehabilitation because of its wonderful words.

I once had it sung at a church service I led, with a largely older congregation, who afterwards said they really enjoyed it, unshackled as it was from its connection with lament, and freed to be a great statement of faith and trust in God, even unto death.

Loosely based on the words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:29), it is said to have been inspired when Rev. H F Lyte visited a dying friend who kept repeating the first three words, and it was remembered many years later by its chronically ill author when facing his own death.

As inspiring as it is, I wonder if the prayer is not actually redundant. Since God promised never to leave us (Hebrews 13:5), and Jesus said he would be with us always (Matthew 28:20), are we actually praying for something that is going to happen anyway?

In one sense yes, but while we are aware that God is always with us, there are many times in our lives, perhaps particularly now, when he feels very far away.  Perhaps when we pray the words of this hymn, we’re praying for something more experiential – not merely that Jesus would be with us on the road to Emmaus, but that we would recognise him.

This is very much a prayer for our time.  But if the idea of our faithful Father abandoning us is ludicrous, we are very much aware of how we prodigal children so frequently stray from the presence of God and, whether intentionally or accidentally, we go off on our own ways.  At times when we feel far from God, perhaps we should instead not pray for him to abide with us, but for us to have the discipline and determination to abide with him.

 

 

[1] If you are unfamiliar with the words of this hymn, click here for the full version.

Source: www.freeimages.com

 

“What do you do?”

It’s a very normal question here in the West.  We ask it fairly early on in a conversation with a stranger.  Our doing defines us, as we looked at last week.  But in the field we might not introduce ourselves as “I’m a mission worker” for a number of reasons: security, misunderstanding, or just ignorance of what a mission worker might be.

So we probably say, at least at the outset ‘I’m a lecturer (in a Bible college)’, ‘I do admin’, ‘I run a business’, or ‘I’m a community worker.’  All of these could be true but they are drilling a bit deeper into what we do rather than who we are.  So who are we when we can’t do what we’re supposed to be doing?

Many of us have found creative ways around the challenges we are facing by not being able to meet people face-to-face.  We can lecture by webinar, we can pastor by Zoom, we can lead church using Youtube.  But for some of us, what we do can’t easily be done online, particularly if we’re not even in our host country or we’re locked down at home.

At times like these, we need to widen our focus and look beyond the field and project that we feel is our work.  How are church planters taking the opportunity to plant a church in their sending country?  How can Bible teachers help their sending church develop its biblical literacy?  Can we continue to do what we do in a different context?  St Paul was a good example of this: sitting in prison, unable to be in the market place telling people about Jesus, he simply carried on telling people – in this case the prisoners.  Why else would the prisoners not run away from the broken jail in Philippi (Act 16:28)?  Paul had already led them to the Lord and they followed his lead.  Also, unable to visit and care for the churches he was responsible for, he started writing them letters.  He found new ways of carrying on his ministry in different circumstances.

Or focusing wider still, we could pay attention to our more general activity rather than the specific.  We are mission workers – we do mission!  The word ‘mission’ comes from Latin and means ‘sent’, and is related to the words message and messenger.  In other words, we are people who are sent with the message of good news!  While we usually interpret this as being sent abroad, in fact we are sent into the whole world.  It is not important whether we’re sent to the other side of the world or the other side of the street – we are still sent!

So a question for each of us to engage with is:

If I can’t go to the country I’ve been sent to, can I be sent to the country where I am?

So how can you continue to bring good news into the lives of those around you, even under these challenging circumstances?  One family I know, forced to stay in their sending country due to lack of travel opportunities to their field, but given free accommodation by a church they don’t know, have taken the view that this is a time to serve that church, build links with it and invest in its ministry.  No doubt they will be a blessing.  And they are still doing mission.

 

Other blogs in this series on identity:

Episode 1: Who am I?

Episode 3: What is my calling?

Episode 4: Coping with loss of control

Frank Lake’s dynamic cycle

In these days when Covid-19 continues to disrupt all manner of missionary activity, along with all the practical challenges which many cross-cultural workers are having to come to grips with, there are also some very deep existential questions about the nature of their life and ministry which are lurking in the background.

“Can I really call myself a mission worker when I’ve been living in my sending country for the last six months?”

“If I’m called to do something I can’t actually do at the moment, what is the nature of my calling?”

“How can I plan things when I don’t know what is going to happen?”

Today we’re starting a series of blogs which will help us address these issues and regain confidence in our identity and calling in the midst of uncertainty and disorientation.

We’re going to start with identity.  For many western Christians, what we do is paramount in establishing identity.  We get to know strangers by asking what they do.  We make knee-jerk assumptions about them based on the answers – about their social class, intelligence, voting intentions, economic status – even though we know we shouldn’t, and we may well decide whether they are worthy of our interest on that basis.  I myself once suffered the indignity of somebody just turning and walking away without a word when I answered “I’m unemployed”!

Perhaps some of us are ‘unemployed’ right now, in the sense that we’re not doing.  And that can be a very vulnerable place.  So who are we when we’re not doing?  For activists, as most of us are, this is particularly hard.  If you’re a Mary, you can be quite content doing nothing, sitting with Jesus, but Martha needs to be busy.

Here then, is a list of some of the things we are even when we’re doing nothing:

  • Salt and light (Matthew 5:13-14)
  • A child of God (John 1:12)
  • A branch of God’s vine (John 15:1)
  • A friend of Jesus (John 15:15)
  • A slave of righteousness (Romans 6:18)
  • A co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)
  • God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16)
  • A member of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:27
  • A new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • A minister for reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • God’s co-worker (2 Corinthians 6:1)
  • A saint (Ephesians 1:1)
  • God’s craftsmanship (Ephesians 2:10)
  • A citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)
  • A living stone (1 Peter 2:5)
  • Part of a chosen people, a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9)
  • An alien and stranger on this planet (1 Peter 2:11)

 

You can probably think of more!  If you meditate on just one of those, and what it means, every time you’re prompted to wonder who you are, you will re-establish your identity quickly.  OK, I don’t advise you to introduce yourself to people as ‘God’s temple’ unless you want to be instantly labelled a religious nutter, but these are who we really are.

But all those things we are cannot be achieved through our own effort or godliness; they are a free gift of God’s grace.  They are not a reward for good performance.  We have referred before to the ground-breaking work of Frank Lake in this respect.  He observed that our identity is founded on the fact that God accepts us unconditionally.  This by his grace enables us to be significant in Him.  From our position of significance we are equipped to go and do things with God, and the harvest we reap points us back to the grace of God who accepted us in the first place.

Lake observed that in most Christians this cycle flows the wrong way round: we achieve in order to be significant, so that we can be accepted.  And if you doubt that is true, ask yourself how significant and accepted you feel when you stop achieving!  If your self-esteem is currently low, it may be because your dynamic cycle is flowing the wrong way round and your lack of achievement is having a negative impact on your wellbeing.

If this is the case, the remedy is simple – look to the cross!  Remember that no matter how hard you work you cannot repay Christ.  Receive gratefully his acceptance of you, acknowledge the truth about your totally-unmerited significance, and do what work you can in a spirit of thanksgiving.

 

Other blogs in this series on identity:

Episode 2: What do I do?

Episode 3: What is my calling?

Episode 4: Coping with loss of control

 

Image courtesy of David Padfield at www.FreeBibleimages.org.

‘The LORD said to [Moses] “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied.’(Exodus 4:2)

Moses’ staff was among the few possessions he had. It was probably his shepherd’s staff and represents what he knew and what he already had. God took that and made it a tool Moses would use many times on the new journey that lay ahead.

All of us already have gifts, talents, resources and experience given us by God which we can use to glorify Him and serve others. He’s asking us to be faithful with what we’ve got; to bring it to the table. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us that “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Whatever our skill set or gift mix, wherever we are and wherever we go there’s a place for us in world mission [or… we can participate in the mission of God.]

So, what’s in our hand, as it were, that God can use? How about doing an inventory of all the things God has provided? For example, a house or apartment, your vocation, your skills and gifts, a car or motorbike, your finances, your position of influence in your family or workplace, your time, even your dining room table (hospitality is a great way to participate in mission!).

For years I thought the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17) involved David making a totally unrealistic, impossible attempt at taking out Goliath with a few stones and that it was a total miracle. In fact, David knew how to wield a slingshot. Wielded by an expert, stones could be sent flying with great speed and accuracy. David was using what he had, what he knew. Unlike all the trained soldiers who stood in fear on the sidelines, he cared so much about God’s glory that he stepped forward combining his trust in God with his skills and took a risk.

David’s approach was unconventional; the other soldiers had swords, spears and armour. Maybe we’ve been sitting on something God wants us to use but we don’t think it fits with the norm or it doesn’t seem useful. Sometimes we let false humility keep us from using our gifts, talents and resources. Or we’re waiting until we’ve got more – more resources, more qualifications, more influence. Or we let a perceived limitation, including a disability, stop us. Moses hoped his limitations would get him out of what God was calling him to do. He told God he didn’t speak well (as if God didn’t already know!) and even said, “Please send someone else to do it” (Exodus 4:10, 13).

George Stott wanted to make Jesus known in China. Because he only had one leg he was turned down by several mission organizations. Hudson Taylor, founder of what is now OMF International, accepted him. When Taylor asked him why he would think of going to China with one leg, Stott replied, “I do not see those with two legs going, so I must.” He wanted to use what he had, do what he could, instead of coming up with excuses why someone else should do it.

One of our national offices wrote to me earlier this year about a teacher and his family interested in joining our team. He has rheumatoid arthritis. I love his willingness and courage for the sake of the gospel. Many healthy, gifted people are doing very little with what they’ve got. We’ve found there are workable solutions to managing his condition here and we’ll see how things develop. Examples like these challenge me to use what I’ve got, not lament what I haven’t got.

About our vocations, Charles Spurgeon wrote that “Every lawful trade may be sanctified by the gospel to noblest ends.” Maybe God is nudging you towards a new way of using your vocation or seeing how it connects with His mission where you are maybe in another part of the world.

Our team here is involved in a wide range of fantastic work. Some have started social enterprises and small businesses to create jobs and help families out of poverty. Some of us are serving vulnerable, exploited or abused children and youth. Others are discipling students and teaching at a university. A few of us are health care professionals. We teach the Bible and share the good news about Jesus, partnering with local churches as they witness to their local communities. Others of us provide vital support to the missions community through teaching at an international school, providing member care and running a language school.

So, calling all the artists, carpenters, teachers, engineers, accountants, techies, nurses or administrators! Calling singles, couples and families. Calling everybody who loves Jesus: bring your tools to the table; God will put them to use.

A prayer: Lord, I bring before you all the gifts, talents and possessions which You have so graciously given to me. I dedicate them for Your service that they will be a blessing to others and be tools in your hand to help others come to know You, experience Your love and the transforming power of the gospel. Amen.

This week’s guest blogger is Alex Hawke, a Country Team Leader with Interserve (www.interserve.org) in South East Asia where he serves with his wife Ellie and their two sons. 

 

I spent the first two months of this year working hard as part of a team planning a conference which takes place regularly every two years.  It was due in mid-March and we ended up cancelling it because of Covid-19 with just one week’s notice.

In the months that have elapsed since I have reflected on that, and the many other events, programmes and services that have been derailed by Covid-19, and the big question I have been left with is why a group of people who claim to be led by the Spirit, and together have the mind of Christ, were so blissfully unaware of what God knew was going to be happening.

In Genesis, God gave Joseph a dream which enabled him to plan for the famine which was coming.  God sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn them of impending destruction.  In Acts 11 God used a prophet called Agabus to warn the church of a coming famine, so that they could prepare.  Paul was regularly warned about the impending suffering he would face (Acts 20:23).  The unchanging God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, warned people of the trouble that was coming.

I am sure such experiences still continue even though I’ve not experienced them.  I recall hearing a story, though I can’t find it online, about a church in central New York city which felt led during the summer of 2001 to buy in stocks of blankets and bottled water, with the result that on 9/11 they were able to be a resource to the injured and the rescuers of the Twin Towers.

Yet I have heard no story of any church or agency having any inkling at all that Covid-19 was coming, though I’m sure now I’ve published this that the reports will come flooding in.  Whether you believe in prophetic gifts, or Holy Spirit-inspired common sense, how come the millions of Christians on this planet who all talk to God daily didn’t have a clue?

Having reflected on this, I’ve come to a conclusion:

It’s not that God didn’t warn us, it’s that we weren’t listening.

For example, I never once prayed about whether we should organise our conference; we just did it because we do it every two years, and I asked God to bless it.  I suspect many of us were so busy asking God to bless our plans that we didn’t even question whether they were his plans.  Quite possibly most of our planning meetings are more like secular management meetings (topped and tailed with a prayer and maybe even a biblical reflection) than a discussion reminiscent of Acts 15 where different people relate how God is leading them and together they come to an agreement that “seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).

Perhaps now would be a good time, instead of us asking God to ‘bless the work of our hands’ each day, to be asking ‘What are you doing today, God, and can I join in?’  It may result in havoc in our programmes, but an incredible Spirit-led involvement in the lives of random strangers.  I wonder if this was what Ananias was doing when God told him to go and pray for Saul (Acts 9:10).  We know nothing about Ananias – who he was and what he did – but he clearly was able to listen to God.

Perhaps now is the time to start dismantling much of our structures and become more flexible and spontaneous as we seek to lead people to the Lord.  Maybe it’s time for our churches and agencies to be led not by those who are good organisers or planners but by contemplatives and reflectives who are comfortable spending time listening to God, people who may have little knowledge of how to manage processes but great knowledge of what God is doing in this world.

Could the Age of Martha finally be ending, and the Age of Mary dawning?

Last year, as I was researching how Christian mission workers live, work and thrive with long-term sicknesses, one amazing lady reflected on years of living with an illness which could easily have knocked her flat.  Like many of us, she could have been wondering why God allowed her illness, but she made a more positive choice of using it to see God at work in her life.  Her conclusion?

God is more interested in my character than my comfort

The last few months have been a challenge for many of us, even those who are fully healthy.  Many of us have not had the opportunity to live comfortable lives: living perhaps in temporary accommodation in our sending country, seeing and ministering to those suffering around us, coming to terms with the death of loved ones, leading churches that cannot meet in person, adapting to preaching and pastoring through social media, and ourselves grappling with having to be confined in our homes.  Such situations could only be made harder for those already suffering from health challenges.

Many in the West seem to assume that we have a right to comfortable lives, and part of the trauma that we struggle with comes from the disorientation of thinking that the current situation is just not right.  And yet historically we look back and see how the majority of people have led lives which were “nasty, brutish and short” yet filled with faith in a loving God.

The apostles were familiar with this world as they prepared themselves and their congregations for oppression and death.  The whole tenor of the New Testament seems to assume that there will be suffering, mitigated by our joy in what Christ has done for us, and the comforting love and solidarity of the church.  James wrote: “Count it pure joy when you encounter various types of trials”, because it gives us an opportunity to become perfect (James 1:2-4).  Peter says the trials that distress us are proof of our faith that will result in glory and honour (1 Peter 1:6-7).

We are not promised an easy journey through this life, but each challenge we face is an opportunity to give vent to our fleshly frustration, or to grow in patience and Godliness as we endure.  As Scott Shaum pointed out in his book “The Uninvited Companion”, the question we should be asking when difficulties occur is not “Why is this happening? but “How do you want me to walk with you in this Lord?”  As we take this opportunity to walk more closely with the Lord, we will find our character shaped more into the likeness of Jesus.

In recent months it has been a joy to hear reports, mostly from countries where it can be dangerous to be a Christian, of local believers going to great lengths to feed the hungry and tend to the sick.

Much of this work has been done unofficially, below the radar of repressive governments, but it has made a huge difference to the local population as they see the love of Jesus shown to them by believers.  Evidently, people of a variety of other faiths have been willing to receive prayer and to listen to the Gospel, because of the example of compassion shown by those whom previously they too might have oppressed.

The Christians have risked their lives to do this.  They could be imprisoned by the government, they could get sick themselves.  Why would they take such risks when they could stay home and keep themselves safe?  A 19th century missionary to Fiji might have the answer.

James Calvert is not a household name.  He was a trainee Wesleyan minister who was sent with his wife and several others to minister in Fiji in 1838.  A story is told about him that when they arrived, the ship’s captain begged them not to disembark, as they would doubtless be killed by the warring cannibals ashore.  Calvert’s reponse?

We died before we came here.

In fact, the missionaries weren’t eaten, and Calvert went on to minister influentially in Fiji before also serving in South Africa and as a minister in the UK.  But that’s not the point.  He, like so many other mission workers ancient and modern, recognized that “my life is no longer my own” (Galatians 2:20), that “we have died and been buried with Christ” and that He deserves our obedience, even to the point of death.  After all, we have nothing left to lose: “for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)

Meanwhile Fiji has been the focus of much missionary attention and almost 2/3 of the population identify as Christian, according to Operation World.  But there remain some large gaps: indigenous tribes living in remote areas, and the significant Asian-background communities who continue in the religious traditions of their ancestors.  Who will lay down their lives to bring the gospel to them?

You can read more about James Calvert and his colleagues at:

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Evangelical Times

By now you’ve hopefully realized that the plan can’t be to just ‘sit this out’ or ‘weather the storm’ until life returns to normal. We have to accept that some things won’t be the way they were. People are talking about BC and AC – Before Corona and After Corona.

As teams, organizations or churches we quickly learnt to cope and (mostly) adapt well to meet the initial practical challenges and we can be proud of that. We also, however, need to process what’s happening to ourselves and the world and be like the men of Issachar who understood the times (1 Chronicles 12:32).

Systems, methods, habits and lifestyles have changed. Jobs and livelihoods have been lost. Everywhere people have had their worldview messed with and they are disoriented. This is leading to increased spiritual hunger among many. Sadly, suspicion of foreigners is commonplace. Fear is at the forefront in hearts worldwide. We’ve been humbled as we realise we are not in control; we are weaker than we thought. The Corona virus has exposed where we have put our hope and what we have taken for granted.

This is also a time to rethink, review and evaluate what we do and prepare for life beyond Corona. It’s not simply a case of ‘keep calm and carry on.’ Keep calm yes, but change and prepare as necessary.

Here are a few questions for leaders that might help us navigate, process and prepare in the weeks ahead:

What is God saying or teaching us? Make time to listen to God; don’t just plough on. There are lots of voices and opinions; value God’s above them all.

What new or different needs are there around us and how can we serve? It’s tempting to go into self-preservation mode but it speaks powerfully when we don’t in times like this.

What do the people we are responsible for need right now? What does our community need? Too often we assume we know. Ask.

What do I need right now? Those of us who are responsible for others need to look after ourselves too. Practice self care. You, your family and team will be glad you did. Operating in crisis mode is exhausting; we need to still be functioning in the medium and long term, not just the short term.

What have we lost? It’s important to acknowledge losses and grieve them. Process along the way so it doesn’t hit you later in one big wave that takes you out (I’ve been there, it was horrible). Staying hopeful is important but so is acknowledging that this is hard for everyone. We lose trust if we’re out of touch with reality.

What are we grateful for? What do we realize we’ve taken for granted until now? Gratitude is a powerful weapon against hopelessness, despair and despondency.

How is our world, our culture and community changing? How will that affect what we do and how we do it? There are some things to keep and likely some things to let go of that are no longer effective or relevant.

How can we stay true to our vision and mission even though the way we do things has had to change? In the scramble to adjust don’t forget why you exist. Crises have a way of helping us see what really matters and what just isn’t as important as we thought it was.

What new possibilities does this situation create? The cliché is true: in every crisis there are opportunities. Don’t miss them. New ideas and initiatives could be waiting to develop. Also, as one national director in our organization noted, we now have something in common with everyone on the planet which we didn’t have before. The shared experience the world is going through can help us relate and identify with people in a new way.

What are we learning that we don’t want to forget when things improve? Maybe some things we had to come up with now can be kept along with other insights we’ve gained along the way.

A prayer:

Lord, we’ve never been here before. Please help us to navigate this territory and perceive what is happening. We ask you for insight and wisdom to lead effectively. We pray we would learn the lessons You are teaching us and not forget how much we need You. Shape us for what lies ahead. Holy Spirit make us brave to face the changes this is bringing upon us. O Lord be glorified through Your people in this critical hour. For Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, Amen.

 

Alex Hawke, April 2020

Alex Hawke is a Country Team Leader with Interserve (www.interserve.org) in South East Asia where he serves with his wife Ellie and their two sons. 

 

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash.com

The boxer has been in a fight many times.  His face is lumpy where the bones have been broken.  His nose is crooked.  There are small scars all over his face where blows have split the skin.

But the boxer is unbeaten.  Many blows have been landed on him, but none of them was the knockout punch.  The boxer is durable, resilient.  He’s been winded, wounded, and on the ropes, but has always found enough energy to get back in the fight.  He knows he’s only got to hang on till the bell, and there’ll be a break. Sometimes he’s only won on points, but the win still counts.

You are the boxer.

Your mission field has thrown everything it’s got at you and you’re still standing.  But each blow leaves its mark.  Your bruises have bruises.  The scar tissue is building up.  You are tired, desperately tired, but you know you’ve only got to hang on a little bit longer and you’ll get that break.  The holiday, the retreat, the home assignment is not that far away.

But all of a sudden the rules have changed and the bell is not ringing.  The holiday has been cancelled.  The retreat centre is closed.  Home assignment is deferred due to travel restrictions.  Some of us have had to leave our field of service for health reasons.  Others have found themself stuck in the UK and are unable to return home.  Some short-term workers have had their once-in-a-life-time gap year truncated, or their overseas medical elective cancelled (see last week’s blog).

For worn-out mission workers, most challenges and disappointments are not a knockout punch.  We’ve been rolling with those hits for years.  That’s why we value resilience, because we know the hits are big, but we can weather them.

Covid-19 may not in itself be a knockout punch, but it might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  It’s a low, cunning, unexpected hit, but what’s even worse is that it comes just when we thought we could make it to the bell.  One top of all the other blows that come again and again, our resources are drained and our resilience tested.

And now, all of a sudden, we have to find a new way to do ministry.  We have to homeschool our kids.  We are home alone and can’t meet with our friends, or we’re stuck in the house and have to face the tensions in our marriage.  We are concerned about getting the right resources, finding the right balance between loving and leaving.  We wonder if we made the right decision: should we have stayed in the field?  We feel guilty because we have the freedom to choose when those we work with don’t.  We carry the grief of friends and family who have died and we haven’t been able to be at the funeral.  And although others are suffering too it’s different for us, and nobody else understands, but we can’t tell them that for fear of appearing elitist.

Syzygy loves the bell at the end of the round, because we know every mission worker needs time out to refresh, take stock, ask some deep questions and re-envision for the future.  It’s those short breaks that restore our strength to get through the fight.  So we’re changing the rules back, and ringing the bell anyway.  You may be stuck in the UK but you can still have a retreat.

Together with Global Connections, we’re running an online retreat for mission workers who are stuck away from their place of calling, struggling to keep their ministry going.  It’s an opportunity to connect with God for three hours on 14th May, and reflect on what’s been happening. Find out more by visiting the Global Connections website.

We hope you can join us.

I’ve been hearing stories recently about short-term mission workers whose time abroad has been rudely interrupted by Covid.

Young people on a gap year who had barely got into their stride in the field when their agency called them back home.

People on a DTS who can’t go on outreach.

Medical students planning an elective abroad whose plans have been frustrated.

For many of these people it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to serve God abroad, and now it’s not happening.  Perhaps it’s never going to happen.

Many of these people are disappointed, confused and angry.  They need to process this.  They have questions like “Why did God send me abroad only to bring me back again?”

An interesting Biblical case to look at is John Mark.  He went with his uncle Barnabas and with Paul on their first mission trip to Cyprus.  We don’t know if they originally planned to go on to what is now Turkey, but they did, and for some unknown reason Mark went home.  We don’t know why.  Perhaps he was homesick, perhaps he didn’t like the food.  Quite possibly he didn’t get on with Paul!  Whatever the reason, Paul clearly regarded it as desertion and refused to take him on the next trip (Acts 15:36-41).

Mark could just as well have asked “what was all that about?”  He’d been willing to travel for the Lord.  He’d stepped out in faith and perhaps thought of a life in ministry.  And now he was back home in Jerusalem.  Fortunately his uncle believed in him and took him with him on another trip to Cyprus.  This gentle restoration led Mark back into a life of mission, associated with both Peter and again Paul.

So for people grappling with their disappointment and frustration, here are few suggestions:

Find a Barnabas.  Identify someone in your church (preferably with mission experience) who can mentor you through this, help you ask the right questions and seek God for what comes next.  Or perhaps your agency can find you a staff member or retired mission worker to do this.  Don’t grapple with it alone.

It’s not about you.  OK, so you wanted to experience another culture, enjoy different food, enhance your CV.  How much of that was about you, and how much was being available to serve God wherever he wants you to be?  Yes, there is an element of personal enjoyment in much of our travel, but if God’s now saying he wants you here, how are you going to get on and do that with as much enthusiasm as you were pouring into your overseas mission?

It’s not once in a lifetime.  So you were going to take a gap year before going to university.  Great!  But just because that opportunity has been taken away doesn’t mean that was your one shot at it.  You could go after university.  Or later, in between jobs.  In fact, you can go any time at all.  Who goes straight from uni onto the career ladder and stays there for 40 years anyway?  I took my gap year when I was 32, taking a year out from my job to do short-term mission.  I just never went back!

God told me to do this, and I did, and it didn’t work out.  This is perhaps the most challenging of all questions, and it’s too big to unpack in a single paragraph so we’ll come back to it in a couple of weeks’ time.  But just as a spoiler, God isn’t necessarily looking for success – he’s looking for obedience and faithfulness.

Mission work is full of frustrations and while with grace and support long-termers may learn to take these in their stride, for many short-termers it can be their first taste of things not working out and it comes as a nasty shock.  We’ve blogged a few times about disappointment, why not take a look at some of the other blogs and see if there is some help in there for you?

Source: www.freeimages.com

At the moment, many churches are asking how they can support their mission partners.

In some ways, mission partners are going through exactly the same as everyone else: locked down in isolation or with family/housemates, unable to meet others, trying to work out how to do church and ministry via social media while homeschooling their kids.

In other ways, that could be a very different thing for them.  They may be trapped in their sending country, unable to return to their home and their church community.  Others may be living in a country with a less-developed infrastructure, erratic electricity supply, and inadequate healthcare systems.  And once the borders are closed and the flights have stopped, there is a terrible finality to being locked into a country with no opportunity to leave, which they might not have had to cope with before.

And while pastors and community leaders here are stretched by the challenge of caring for their flock, that could look very different in the mission field.  Many of their flock could be day labourers, who have no income or resources to fall back on without work.  They will not have freezers full of food, so if markets are closed, they will go hungry.  They are more used than we are to relying on community and extended family so will find self-isolation difficult.  And possibly they have no access to clean running water in their own homes.

So, how can you help them?

  • As you already do, pray for them, encourage them and be there for them. Make a point of checking up on them and finding out how you can help.
  • Consider making extra funding available to them if they face unanticipated costs, which may be significant if they need hospitalisating.
  • Support them in the decisions they have made, whether they have stayed or left. They have made a heart-wrenching decision and don’t need others criticising them when they may already be feeling guilt or fear.  And if they have returned to their sending country because their agency instructed them to, they may also be grappling with feelings of disempowerment and disappointment if they personally felt they should have stayed.
  • Make time to listen to their concerns. Even if you can’t do anything to help, they may not have anyone else they can talk to who would understand.
  • Find out if they have close family members who could use some support from the church.
  • If they are back in the UK they may have challenges finding accommodation and transport, or just getting used to the way things are being done. Help them and make sure they know their way around this new world, and how they can get things done.  Some of them may be in quarantine far from their usual support mechanisms, so try to help them find a local church that can give them support.
  • Make sure they know how to access the NHS as a UK resident if they need secondary health care – primary healthcare remains free for everyone.

And don’t forget there is further help on supporting your mission partners in our churches section!

During this situation, Syzygy is aware that many mission partners might need access to additional pastoral support which we are offering free of charge to any mission partner who asks for it.  Contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk.

In these times of uncertainty, there is a lot of talk about keeping safe.  The current lockdown is designed to keep people safe.  We exhort each other to stay safe.  And I see people wearing facemasks who a month ago would have laughed at east Asian tourists for doing so.  The risk level has changed, and so has our response to managing it.

It’s natural to want to stay safe, to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our community from harm.  Safe is the sensible choice.  But safe can also be the selfish choice.  Safe can mean we’re not there for others.  Safe can mean we contribute to food (and toilet roll!) shortages by hoarding enough for ourselves.  Safe can mean we board up the doors and windows to keep danger out, but in doing so we cut ourselves off from neighbours.  In the parable of the talents, a slave was punished for playing it safe because “I was afraid” (Matthew 25:14ff).

There are times when we are called to nail our colours to the mast and step out in faith.  That doesn’t mean we are blithely nonchalant about risk.  It means we evaluate risk, take steps to mitigate it, but then step out in faith to do what we are called to do.  Whether it was Hudson Taylor or Søren Kierkegaard who first observed “Without risk there is no need for faith”, it is undeniably true.  While we play it safe, our faith withers on the vine.

Over 25 years ago, when I first felt the call to the mission field and planned to go to live in post-civil-war Mozambique, a friend asked me what I thought the risks were.  It took me a while to answer as I reflected on it.  I thought about my financial well-being if I couldn’t get a job when I returned.  I thought about my health, living far from a hospital in a country plagued with tropical diseases.  I thought about my prospects of finding a wife and bringing up children in that environment.  I thought about my mortality, going to a country littered with landmines and where guerillas still roamed the countryside.

I realized that all the things I stood to lose were not particularly important to me.  What was more important to me was, as St Paul wrote:

that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, …that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

(Philippians 3:8-11)

My answer was “There is no risk.  A risk only exists when what you stand to lose is of value to you.”

That’s not a licence to be irresponsible when the lives of others may depend on you.  But let us be people who in this current environment are not known for our fear but for our faith.

Source: www.freebibleimages.org courtesy of www.LumoProject.com

I’ve noticed a tendency in me recently, whenever I have an idle moment, to head outside and do some gardening.  Maybe it’s just the sunnier days and the warmer weather encouraging me out of doors, but I think it could be something deeper.

At times of stress, uncertainty, difficulty or danger, it can be very tempting to walk away from the situation that confronts us and go back to something familiar.  Something safe.  Something we know how to do and where we can feel in control.  I used to work as a gardener, and it was one of the happiest times of my life.  I’m going back into my comfort zone.

2000 years ago, Peter did the same.  Having had to deal with the terror of the crucifixion, the shame of denying Jesus, the confusion of seeing his messiah ‘defeated’, and the challenge of three wonderful inspiring years of ministry coming to a gory end, he was worn out.  He wanted to go back to what he knew how to do.  So he went fishing (John 21:3).  He wasn’t necessarily turning his back on his life as a disciple; he just needed to get some space.

In a similar way, Elijah responded to ministry burnout by wanting to be on his own, just like he had been for three solitary years when he was fed by ravens (1 Kings 19).  And in his cave, angels ministered to him.  In his fishing boat, Peter met the risen Christ.  These times of stepping back from ministry are not necessarily the end.  They may be a place for recommissioning, re-envisioning and refocusing.

Good self-care steps back for a bit when the world threatens to overwhelm us.  And in doing the simple, familiar tasks, whether they be baking, gardening, reading or watching Netflix (you probably can’t go fishing at the moment!), we create a space in our busy lives for Jesus to come and meet us afresh and revive us.

Peter came away from his fishing trip with a renewed relationship with Jesus, confidence in his ministry and vision for the future.

How are you creating space in your life for Jesus?

Across the world, billions of people are being told to stay home.  For weeks.  Quite apart from the economic damage this is causing, there is a huge social trauma as people have to adapt to a new situation.

For a small number of introverts who live alone, this is heaven.  They get solitude enforced on them; how bad it that?  But for some introverts it’s a nightmare: being shut up in a house with housemates, a partner, children and no private space will be a huge challenge.

And for extraverts, they will be struggling with the lack of companionship and group activities.  We are finding the limits of social media – you can be on your phone all day long and still feel starved of people.  And many of the more tactile of us will be longing for physical touch.  An extravert with an introvert partner will be clinging to that partner for company, at the very time the partner is wanting more space.  There could be divorces as a result of this.

To manage this situation well, first work out whether you’re an introvert or an extravert.  It’s not always easy, as some introverts are highly social and can look like extraverts, and some extraverts can also be reflective.  It all boils down to how your regain energy: if solitude drains you, you’re likely an extravert.

Second, communicate this to the people you’re living with so that they know what you need.  And listen to them so you understand why their needs may be different to yours.

Third, work out a compromise that delivers some of what you all need.  Define times for space and times for being silent or social.  Agree that a certain room is designated either noisy or quiet.  Come up with a sign that you need to be undisturbed, like wearing a particular hat or putting an apron over your head like John Wesley’s mother!

Fourth, pray for each other to have the grace to put up with you!  In The Marriage Course there is a wonderful testimony from a man who said he spent the first 15 years of his marriage focussing on his needs and his wife’s shortcomings, and the second 15 years focussing on his wife’s needs and his shortcomings.  The second 15 years was the best!

During this challenging time, let’s all be people who put the needs of others before our own.

Last week, we looked at how Jesus cleansing the temple can be a metaphor for making our church more accessible to those who are unchurched.  This week, it’s personal!

You will of course be familiar with the idea found in 1 Corinthians 6 that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  The immediate context of this teaching is the licentious lifestyle of some of the Corinthian believers, but the wider context is of our union with Christ who dwells in us and in partnership with us by the power of the Holy Spirit – something we’ve blogged about before.

In physical terms, the temple is the place for worship and witness as we declare the glory of God to an audience visible and invisible who do not worship him.  So to cleanse the temple is to make sure that it is fit for that awesome purpose, and contains no impediments or distractions to its epic task.

So as we approach the Christmas season and plan to welcome Jesus into our cribs, nativities and our very lives, what does it look like to allow him to clean up our lives?

Physically – this is probably not the right time of year to be recommending a detox, but we do need to remember to keep ourselves physically in shape.  As a general practice, eating fresh healthy food and minimising our consumption of stimulants (caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and –sorry! – chocolate) is part of keeping ourselves physically healthy and maintaining resilience).  Do any of these things cause others to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:13)?  Do we eat and drink forthe glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)?

Mentally – for some of us, watching a bit of rubbish tv or playing a computer game is an effective way of winding down and de-stressing.  But how easily we can become addicted to our favourite soap opera, youtube, or scrolling through Facebook.  Those apparently harmless activities can easily steal productive time from us.  How can we start to reclaim those idle moments and make the best use of our time (Ephsians 5:6)?

Spiritually – what are the things in our lives that are ‘strongholds’?  Places that are not yet surrendered to Jesus and are holding out in opposition to his rule?  These can be the things that cause us to be ashamed of ourselves and lack confidence in our identity in Christ, and can also be the things which others see and think to themselves “How can he call himself a Christian when he is like that?”  They could be a quick temper, a gosspiping tongue or a greed for fame, power and wealth.  What does it mean to us to kneel in obedience and hand over the keys to him?

So in the midst of this busy season, with all its focus on services, parties, presents, family and holiday activities, I invite you to set aside an hour to make the really important preparations.  Sit somewhere quiet and invite Jesus into the temple which is you.  Ask him to overturn the tables and chase out the traders.  We cannot do it ourselves – we have tried and tired – but when he looks us in the eye and says “I don’t think that should be in here” we have both motivation and authority to clean up our act.

Let’s welcome Jesus into a place which he can truly make his home this Christmas.  Not a stable, but a heart.

 

Source: www.freebibleimages.org courtesy of www.LumoProject.com

We are all aware of the incident when Jesus overturns the tables in the temple and upsets the traders, but we might not be fully aware of what was really going on here and how it can relate to us today.

The public space of the temple was divided into 3 sections starting with the outer court, which was freely accessible to anyone who satisfied some basic requirements and so has become nicknamed ‘the court of the gentiles’.  Then came the ‘court of women’ where only Jewish people were allowed to enter and in which most public worship took place, and then finally the ‘court of Israel’ in which the sacrifices took place.

It seems that there were not a lot of Gentiles coming to the temple, as Israel had forgotten its role of revealing God’s blessing to the nations (Psalm 67) and focused on their exclusivity as the people of God.

At the same time, since it was quite difficult to walk with your ram or bull all the way from your far-flung home to the temple, worshippers were allowed to sell their sacrifice at home, bring the money with them to Jerusalem, change it in the temple for ‘holy’ money, and use that to buy an animal to sacrifice.  What better place for this to happen than in the temple precinct itself, handy for the altar?  So the underused court of gentiles became full of traders and moneychangers.

So, if Gentiles came to worship God, they found themselves not in a place of tranquility but in a bustling market place, full of smelly animals and busy people, and the air full of the sounds of haggling and mooing.  Not a pleasant place to worship.

It appears that this is the focus of Jesus’ wrath – they have not made it easy for to those who don’t yet know God to come and worship him.  And Jesus is blisteringly angry with that.  Of the gospels only Mark (11:17) makes evident the link between this and the verse from Isaiah that Jesus is quoting:

For My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations

(Isaiah 56:7)

In this context Isaiah is prophesying that Gentiles who choose to worship God will be welcome in the temple and their sacrifice will be accepted.  The outsider is welcomed in, a theme clear in the New Testament with Gentiles being welcomed into the early Jewish community of Jesus-followers.

I don’t know of any churches today that have money-changing booths, or indeed cattle markets, but I wonder what practices go on in your church and mine that are obscure, esoteric, or just downright confusing to an outsider today.

For example, I knew one lady who went to church and came out shuddering: “all that talk of blood, it was disgusting”.  Many of us who make the decisions about how we do church have been Christians for a long time, and it can be easy for us to forget the confusion and bewilderment we felt when we first met the church.

In this context, cleansing the temple means making it accessible, both literally and culturally, to those who are outside it.  It means removing abstruse and arcane language (see what I did there?), and explaining clearly where we use symbolism.  It means intentionally creating an environment conducive to spirituality and in which other people, other cultures are embraced and accepted rather than required to conform.

If Jesus walked into your church meeting this Sunday, what would he be overturning?

 

If you buy someone a bunch of flowers in Romania, be careful what message you’re giving.

A conversation with a friend recently accidentally revealed the potential for a major inter-cultural error.

Apparently, in Romania, you give even numbers of flowers for a funeral, and odd numbers for another occasion.  Since every Romanian knows this, they automatically count the flowers to check what your message really is.

This is a good example of ‘culture’, which can be defined as the unspoken shared assumptions about ‘the way we do things round here’.  When people within a given community all know something, they don’t even consider the fact that outsiders might not know it too.  My friend was astounded that I wouldn’t consider it an insult if you gave me a bouquet with 10 roses in it.

Mission workers live in this world of cultural faux-pas, particularly in more inscrutible cultures where it can take decades to learn the subtle nuances, which may even be intentionally kept secret from outsiders.  We can all tell stories of our embarrassment at insulting somebody while trying to be polite.

But it a world where more mission workers are coming to the traditional sending countries of the West, and internationals (particularly students) are brought to us from all corners of the globe, how aware are we of our own unspoken shared assumptions?  How inscrutible do we make our culture to others when we don’t stop to explain why we talk about the weather so much, queue politely, or roll our eyes in exasperation at our neighbour on the bus when somebody else has music on annoying loud but we don’t actually talk to the offender?

One of my great joys is to welcome incoming mission workers and provide some training and cross-cultural orientation for them so that they stand less chance of alienating the British with their brash approaches to cross-cultural interaction.  When I was conducting some research (among people I hadn’t trained) I asked them what one thing they now wish someone had told them when they first arrived in Britain.  The main answer was “I wish I’d known you don’t mean what you say.”  Ouch.

Perhaps it’s time to be more honest, with others and ourselves, if we’re going to help them thrive cross-culturally in our world.  After all, not everybody knows they have to count the petals.

By F.G.O. Stuart (1843-1923)

This story has been doing the rounds on social media and is too good not to reshare…

 

We all know the story of the Titanic, how on April 14, 1912 an iceberg scraped the ships’s starboard side, ripping open six watertight compartments and leading to the death of over 1500 people.

On board the ship that night was John Harper and his much-beloved six-year-old daughter Nana. According to documented reports, as soon as it was apparent that the ship was going to sink, John Harper immediately took his daughter to a lifeboat. It is reasonable to assume that this widowed preacher could have easily gotten on board this boat to safety; however, it never seems to have crossed his mind.

He bent down and kissed his precious little girl; looking into her eyes he told her that she would see him again someday. The flares going off in the dark sky above reflected the tears on his face as he turned and headed towards the crowd of desperate humanity on the sinking ocean liner. As the rear of the huge ship began to lurch upwards, it was reported that Harper was seen making his way up the deck yelling “Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!” It was only minutes later that the Titanic began to rumble deep within. Most people thought it was an explosion; actually the gargantuan ship was literally breaking in half. At this point, many people jumped off the decks and into the icy, dark waters below. John Harper was one of these people.

That night 1528 people went into the frigid waters. John Harper was seen swimming frantically to people in the water leading them to Jesus before the hypothermia became fatal. Mr. Harper swam up to one young man who had climbed up on a piece of debris. Rev. Harper asked him between breaths, “Are you saved?” The young man replied that he was not.

Harper then tried to lead him to Christ only to have the young man who was near shock, reply no. John Harper then took off his life jacket and threw it to the man and said “Here then, you need this more than I do…” and swam away to other people. A few minutes later Harper swam back to the young man and succeeded in leading him to salvation. Of the 1528 people that went into the water that night, six were rescued by the lifeboats. One of them was this young man on the debris.

Four years later, at a survivors meeting, this young man stood up and in tears recounted how John Harper had led him to Christ. Mr. Harper had tried to swim back to help other people, yet because of the intense cold, had grown too weak to swim. His last words before going under in the frigid waters were “Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” This servant of God did what he had to do. While other people were trying to buy their way onto the lifeboats and selfishly trying to save their own lives, John Harper gave up his life so that others could be saved.

Which raises an important question: what would you do in the last few minutes before you died?