Wednesday, 4 April 2012

How much more can I take?

Usually this is a comment of despair; the balance between circumstances and resources seeming strained beyond breaking point. It is this balance of circumstances that has brought me back to blogging after a shameful delay.
A bit about circumstances: life is busy. This is something that everyone knows, but perhaps it most evident to first time parents. This new person in their lives takes creates a mountain of work.
The birth of a new Church seems to create a similar amount of work, although fewer nappies (diapers in case any Americans get to read this)
We began meeting on Sunday Mornings last Sunday. We had previously met in the afternoon to allow people to find out what we were like. Morning meetings are an important step for us as it forces people to make a choice about the Church they want to join. We also began a minibus service to collect people because we recognise that the number of cars in the Church has created a limit to future growth. 21 people came, which was a  bit down on recent numbers, but we had communication from most the people who didn’t come explaining that they wanted to come but circumstances prevented them coming on that particular day.
We have begun a meeting to train future small group leaders. We now meet every Tuesday and these are often an immense encouragement. Last night we had the best follow up to a sermon I have ever heard. There was a brief summary of what had been preached (hospitality) and a really practical discussion of how do we work out hospitality in a multi-cultural, socially diverse, inter generational Church.
We also have a leadership group that meets on alternate Wednesdays and Saturday mornings. This is where we plan and review.
A few of the guys went to Zimbabwe 2 weeks ago for a conference where Julian Adams, Simon Holley and Sam Poe were speaking. It was a time of huge encouragement by all accounts and our expectancy to see similar things amongst us has grown. We are planning to have times where we can wait on God together, however this means more time!

We have a visit from Terry Virgo in 2 weeks for a leadership conference. We are excited about this and are trying to work out accommodation for all the delegates. This is complicated by slow responses from delegates and hostels that don’t answer phones or reply to emails!
So why the title? Last night I was driving some guys back after the meeting and hit a pot hole which took the front wheel off. No one was hurt, we were not travelling fast. It is however something of a discouragement and will be expensive. Coupled with my the rupture to my Achilles tendon and difficult relationships  with the administration at the College whereI teach, our stay in Zambia has been trying.
However, it isn’t to these events I am referring, but rather to Romans 8:32 (ESV)He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
I had turned to this chapter to meditate on Romans 8:28, but kept reading. If God did not spare his own son... but with him graciously give us all things, it must mean that the supply from Heaven will always exceed our circumstances.
Our Church will grow despite opposition because God’s provision dwarfs opposition. We will see leaders produced, people of character and integrity, because God’s provision is sufficient. We will see the manifestations of God’s power both in Church and outside, because God’s provision is able to do far more abundantly, beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.
So if the question is how much more can I take, the answer is there in the abundant provision of God. There is enough to see the mission completed; enough to reach the finishing line and not run in vain. But I must take more of his provision, there is so much to take.
Please pray for us, it is quite demanding at times, pray that we don’t lose heart, but press on.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Because we’re eternal...

We said goodbye to 2 friends of ours today. Martin and Amanda Rider have been part of the Lusaka Church plant group for 6 months. Their story has been one of battling to get a permit to stay in the country. They had to spend 7 weeks in Johannesburg in the middle of the South African winter (which is cold!) waiting for permit problems to be sorted, they were then allowed back into Zambia, but ultimately permission was withdrawn and they are on their way back to the UK as I write. Why?

Marts and Amanda have become very precious to us. It helps that they are very nice people, but it’s more than that, we feel that God has joined our hearts to them, we share the same mission, we love the same God and now we feel their absence keenly. Why we do we make ourselves vulnerable to relationships which can get broken?

The answer to these questions is a simple one, we are eternal people. Eternity is not something that happens to Christians when they die; eternity broke into our lives explosively at conversion. Being eternal means we see the tree hidden in a mustard seed (Mark 4:31-33) We understand that the Kingdom of God begins small, but grows large, for this reason we are not discouraged by what we see: 2 Corinthians 4:18.
In Lusaka, we are gathering between 20 to 25 people, with the vision of eternity I can see the outlines of a City Changing Church.  The question that we’re asking is what sort of Church will change a city? We are becoming convinced that it is a Church where we lay down our lives for one another by the eternal power of God breaking out in us. We expect this power to be seen wherever we are and with whomever we are.
There is a risk in this. We are making friendships that will be broken when we return to the UK, we might take steps of faith and see no immediate return, we cling to risk taking because we are eternal.

The last fortnight has been eventful. We had a weekend in Kitwe which is a 5 hours drive north of Lusaka. I had my first experience of preaching in 2 morning services, the Kitwe Church is called Dayspring . It was a very exciting time, 6 people responded to the gospel and there was a good opportunity to pray for people. Whilst I was preaching a goods train went past the Church, its horn blowing. It felt like a trumpet call. The Kitwe Church has planted 9 other Churches and is a great example of what we are looking for in Lusaka. The Church in Kitwe runs 2 orphanages and feeding programmes for malnourished children. Whilst in Kitwe we had our first experience of deep fried eating caterpillars (surprisingly nice!)

Kitwe Feeding programme

We now have a car,which is making travel a lot easier. We are so grateful to the members of our Church in Bexleyheath for loaning us the money to buy the car.

Our car

In the remaining time before returning to the UK for Christmas, we hope to visit Christian Discipleship Church in Kabwe. The Church is hosting a conference in April when Terry Virgo and Stephen Van Rhyn are coming to speak. We are helping with the planning. For those of you who know me well, you will understand that by “we” I mean Elizabeth!
As December approaches and we celebrate the breaking in of eternity into the world in the person of Jesus Christ let’s remember that we are eternal and cling to risktaking even if it is reluctantly.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The rains have come

Zambia has 3 seasons: Winter, from May until August, and is cool and dry. From September until mid November it is hot and humid, I don't know what the season is called! Summer is from mid-November through the end of April and is warm to hot and rainy. The weather in Lusaka is moderated by Lusaka's height, it is positioned on top of a central plateau at 1300m. But the last few weeks have been very hot, this season is known as suicide month. The inside walls of our house were warm to the touch. Even locals find it hot and discuss when the rains will come. Last night the rains started, there was a loud thunderstorm and steady rain, this morning the temperature is refreshingly cool and there is a lovely smell in the air; the smell following the rains is called petrichor.
Coming from the UK it is difficult to get my head around the suddenness of the change in season. I am used to gradual transitions with unpredictable weather; feeling cold in summer and commenting on the unseasonable heat in April or October.
Last weekend we had Gary Welsh, Vuyo Gcilishe and Gavin Bingham visit us from South Africa. Gary and Gavin attend Helderberg Christian Church in Somerset West a town about 50Km from Capetown. It is set in a beautiful area, mountains, vineyards and oceans. Vuyo leads Uzuko Lwake Church in Khayelitsha a huge informal settlement (township) just outside Cape Town. We also had Jeremy Gibson and Norman Amey from Honiton Community Church UK. They came to Zambia to welcome a Church called Christian Disciple Centre (CDC) into the Newfrontiers family of Churches. CDC is based in Kabwe about 2 hours drive away from Lusaka. The Church plant group travelled up from Lusaka and managed to arrive (almost) in time for the morning service which was exuberant, loud, joyful and hot. It was a unique pleasure to be grabbed by Joseph Mwila, the leader of Dayspring Church in Kitwe and taken to dance at the front of the Church. (I think we will have to start building Churches with kitchens for me to hide in) I believe there is even video evidence, unfortunately my bandwith limits prevent this awesome display of my dancing inability being uploaded. My exploits do seem to have caused much amusement to some members of the Church plant group in Lusaka.
At lunchtime, pastors from the town were invited to lunch and in the afternoon there was the adoption service.  In pride of place at the centre of the Church was a wedding cake to celebrate CDC joining Newfrontiers. As part of the service, Newfrontiers vision and values were read out by various Newfrontiers leaders.
1. A gospel-preaching church that is loving, righteous in its lifestyle, involved in world mission and reaching the unsaved in its community by both public and personal evangelistic activity.
2. A church where regular teaching and preaching of the Bible holds a primary role and where Scripture’s authority is final.
3. A church whose people are assured of the grace of God in their lives and are clear about the full New Covenant benefits of being in Christ.
4. A church whose people are baptised in water and in the Holy Spirit, and brought into a genuine life in the Spirit.
5. A church where God’s presence is prized and where God is enthusiastically worshipped with genuine freedom for men and women to worship publicly in the Holy Spirit, to use spiritual gifts and to participate in ‘body ministry’.
6. A church which is a loving community, meeting both publicly and from house to house, sharing and caring for each other’s needs, both spiritual and material.
7. A church where Biblical family life is highly valued, where husband and wife embrace male servant leadership and joyful female submission, where godly parenting is taught and practised and where the special value of singleness and its unique opportunities are affirmed.
8. A church led by male elders (one of whom is clearly understood to be gifted to be lead elder) who are ordained by the Holy Spirit, recognised and confirmed through apostolic ministry. These men are to be helped in fulfilling their calling through ongoing fellowship with trans-local ministries.
9. A church where elders are honoured as servant-leaders, caring for the flock and providing appropriate spiritual disciplines where necessary.
10. A church freed from complacency and endeavouring to grow in gospel impact, faith, prayer, generosity, action and influence.
11. A church whose individual members are equipped for their role of service within the church and community, including the release and training of those called to trans-local ministry.
12. A church which is fully involved in our shared apostolic mission to extend the kingdom of God globally through the recovery of New Testament church life, making disciples, training leaders and planting churches by all means, including wholehearted financial commitment, welcoming trans-local ministries, regularly attending corporate gatherings, promoting our publications and communicating our news.
13. A church which is serving and empowering the poor within its own ranks and beyond.
14. A church which wholeheartedly embraces the New Testament teaching of the one new man, demonstrating love and respect between the races, cultures and sexes.
15. A church which is proving to be both salt and light in its location, impacting the culture of the community.
16. A church that is committed to excellent relationships with other Christians and churches in its community.
17. A church desiring and welcoming encouragement and correction from trans-local ministries in the fulfilment of these objectives.
Gary preached excellently and quite briefly, which whilst not explicitly a Newfrontiers value seems a good model, especially when the temperature was around 38 Celsius (in the shade, it was hotter than that in the marquee!)
Gary spoke to the Lusaka Church plant group the next evening, it was so useful to understand that Church planting is an apostolic activity. Gary is planting a church, we are working with him. He encouraged us to build strong friendships with one another and with those around us, to take opportunities to reach out to people and invite them to become friends with us.
Which brings me to a question some people have asked:"why are you planting a Church in Lusaka when there are already many excellent churches there?" We are here to share the New Testament values that God has shown us over the last few decades. The Church we plant will be recognisably Zambian. We are not here to turn Zambians English, we are here to form communities that are recognisably New Testament. This can only happen by the power of the Holy Spirit transforming ordinary lives by His presence.
God spoke to His people Israel in Zechariah 10:1 (ESV) — Ask rain from the Lord in the season of the spring rain, from the Lord who makes the storm clouds, and he will give them showers of rain, to everyone the vegetation in the field.
In the Bible, rain is often a picture of the Holy Spirit. It is time for Holy Spirit rain. would those of you who read this blog and know how to pray, pray for this? Church History is full of times where the season changed suddenly, this can happen to individuals, Churches, communities and Nations. Just as investment schemes carry the warning: past performance is no guarantee of future performance, we can pray in the confidence that our future is not defined by our past, but by the promises of God.
Next Monday I start teaching some revision classes at Chiamama College, and in a week's time I am visiting Dayspring Church in Kitwe where I will be preaching. The following week, I go down to Livingstone for a few days and spend time with the Church there. In between times we are trying to get to know people, studying and preparing for lessons and preaches.
I hope to blog more regularly as we now have an internet connection in our house.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

It’s been just over 2 weeks since we arrived in Lusaka and patterns are beginning to emerge. We have landmarks by which we navigate, these tend to be shopping places, although we also drive past the President’s Palace sometimes, there is also a road with a wall covered in Omo posters. We are making friends and can now put faces to names we have heard about.
Last Sunday, (2nd October) We had the first Sunday meeting of the Lusaka Church plant. A group had been meeting on alternate Tuesdays for some time, but last Sunday was a first.
What was it like? There were 13 of us, 7 English and 6 Zambians, we worshipped in English, Bemba (one of many Zambian languages) but more importantly we worshipped in harmony. Not just because Zambians harmonise brilliantly anyway, but there was a harmony of purpose; we want to see a Church built that is defined by the presence of God, made up of people of all ages, all social backgrounds and from many nations, enjoying God’s grace with a confidence that God keeps his promises Psalm 2:8.
We face challenges, we need to find somewhere more permanent to live, we need to have permission to stay in the country, and we need to sort out some transport. At times these seem very big issues, let alone seeing a Church built and we can feel dwarfed.

This morning I was praying and I felt God speak to me. The God who has established an eternal dwelling place for His Children can provide houses. The God who has given permission to dwell in His presence forever can manage the permits we need to stay in Zambia. The God who carried Israel on Eagle’s wings can arrange our transport.
We would value prayer over these areas and for wisdom on how we should use our time. There is a temptation to do anything rather than wait to see what our Heavenly Father is doing, please pray for opportunities to meet Zambians, share our lives with them and serve the Church.

I have been listening to a Paul Oakley song Jerichos which puts into words how we feel.

We have also had the opportunity to see some of the beautiful places in Zambia. Last Friday we drove to the Lower Zambezi with some friends. It was a wonderful experience to see hippos and elephants and crocodiles in the wild and build friendships with the people God is joining us to.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

We are here!

It seems like we were planning to come to Zambia for ages, and now we are here. The last few weeks were very busy and we are grateful to so many people who made it possible for us to be ready in time.
We arrived to an overcast, windy Lusaka and were picked up by Marts and Amanda Rider and were taken for a much needed coffee and onto the house where are staying. I am almost reluctant to put up photos of where we are staying because it is so nice. 

I sit on the verandah in the morning and am joined by the 2 dogs who live here, I drink coffee and pinch myself!
The views are lovely as we are quite high up.

Our days are not all relaxing, we are learning to find our way about Lusaka, where to shop, where to drink coffee, gradually we are recognising places.
In between the shopping and drinking coffee, I have had time to pray. There are real challenges ahead: Lusaka is full of Churches, why would Zambians come to a small Church plant like the one with which we are involved? How will we meet people? How do we build in such a way that the poor are welcome from the start and feel they belong.

God has directed me to Isaiah 40:18. What are our limitations and obstacles compared to our mighty God?

I am praying for 4 things regarding the Church plant in Lusaka.

  • Team from the start
  • Remember the poor from the start
  • Manifest presence of God from the start
  • A supernatural people from the start.

I hope to blog again soon with more pictures and news of what we are doing.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Countdown has started

It feels like everything is happening very quickly now. We move out of our house at the end of this month and are busy packing up and decorating ready for the people who will rent our house. It is so nice to write this, we wondered if we would find someone who would rent our house and are very pleased to have someone.
We also have our Volunteer Visas, so it feels like the countdown clock is ticking.
In all the business, I feel God is still talking to me about values, not only values that I believe that should shape Church, but values God is emphasising for life.
The value I am learning at the moment is confidence in the prior activity of the Father.
Tozer wrote in "The Pursuit of God"
"We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. "No man can come to me," said our Lord, "except the Father which hath sent me draw him" John 6:44, and it is by this prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming...God is always previous."
The temptation is to think that to be useful in Zambia, I need to read lots of books or listen to lots of podcasts and these things can be very helpful, but they cannot make me effective. Any effectiveness in Zambia will be because of the prior activity of God, We are God's workmanship, created for good works Eph 2:10.
Scott Marques took an amazing seminar at Together on a mission where he talked about this.
I won't be useful because I have read books, attended conferences or training courses, have experience, I will be useful because the Father has started something. I don't need to wait for the lift off command, I need to look for what the Father is doing. This is not to say I don't value the books, conferences, training and experience, but I recognise that the Father's creative work in me is the essential thing.
There will always be more qualified, better read, more experienced people than us, but like Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:8-10, the issue is primarily about God starting something.
I am praying that a Church will be planted in Lusaka that recognises God is in the business of creating us for doing the works of God.
In the next few weeks I will be looking for what God is doing.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

What's the story, eternal glory.

I have been away on holiday in Turkey, it was glorious! Seven days of cloudless skies, temperatures in the mid to high 30's. Because I woke up earlier than the others who were with us, I had the joy of reading and praying on a shady balcony with sea views.
In the last blog I wrote that I would be thinking about values that might help shape the Church in Lusaka.
I read a quote by Alasdair MacIntyre a few weeks ago and it has resonated with me."A central thesis then begins to emerge: man is in his actions and practice, as well in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal ...I can only answer the question 'What am I to do?' if I can answer the prior question 'Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?"
After Virtue, p. 216
I have been thinking much about the story in which I find myself. I don't relate easily to Mission Statements or vision and values, but I get stories.
As I prayed and read on my balcony in Turkey, I marvelled again at the story that has captured us, Genesis 1:26-27. Man in the image of God was not completed in the creation of Adam and Eve, but will be completed in a bride suitable for Jesus, Revelation 21:2.
As I prayed and read, I was struck by the story of Jesus stilling the storm Matthew 8:23-27.
Jesus' disciples were professional fisherman, accustomed to the conditions on Galilee and the danger of the sudden storms. As the storm arose, it became the compelling story of their lives, however the true story of their lives was Mark 1:17.
Under stress, we can revert to the wrong story, the small story. If we are to see a God glorifying Church in Lusaka, we will need to work together to focus on the big story of a community in whom the image of God is being formed.
The first value I am praying for is an understanding of belonging in God's story.

In the last post, I mentioned that Gary and Nicky Welsh were visiting our Church, Bexleyheath Community Church. He spoke brilliantly and you can download it here.
Our extraordinary Church also had a love offering for us as we go to Zambia, over £12,000 was raised. It is a small Church and the sum raised represents faith, sacrifice and love on a staggering scale. It is a privilege to be part of this Church.
In the next post, I will share some more about values and what I learnt at Together on a Mission in Brighton.
I would love to begin a discussion on values and vision with anyone who reads this blog (hello Mum!) Please feel free to use the comments section.