It was around 15 years ago that we set out as a family to be missionaries in the new Perth suburb of Butler – known better by the estate name ‘Brighton’. You might remember the TV ads… ‘Brighton – Its what a community should be!’ We remember them well as we were the family in them – mum, dad, two blonde kids and a labrador…
I set off on that adventure ready to change the world, ready to break new missional ground and to chart a course for those who would follow. This blog was to be a journal of our learning. I read everything I could about mission and went to every seminar. I was the full bottle and if knowledge was the key then I couldn’t fail.
As we began living there I connected with everyone I could, went to places I wouldn’t normally go, hung out with people who I wouldn’t normally connect with and did anything and everything to make this thing work. It was hard work at times but we seemed to be making some progress albeit slow.
At the start of that time I remember well a conversation with my mother in law where I asked her ‘Hey Val – if you were moving into this suburb as a missionary what would you do?’ I was hoping for some ‘ancient wisdom’ – some gem of insight that just wasn’t available to a 38 year old. Her response was underwhelming to say the least.
‘I’d just live my ordinary life’ she said.
‘Really‘ I thought? ‘Really?…‘ That’s so lame! So boring… so unimaginative! Surely you could be more creative and innovative than that?!
I didn’t say that of course… I just ignored her and carried on with the stuff I had read in books and been inspired by at conferences. The books I was reading called for innovation and entrepreneurship – creativity and new initiatives. So I turned myself inside out trying to dream up new ways of connecting with people and doing things I wouldn’t normally do in the name of mission.
If I were to sum up the time in Butler it would be to say, I tried so hard to be effective in mission, but I just couldn’t seem to find my niche. There were some great moments and some good times, but no matter how hard I tried – and no matter how creatively I sought to implement all I was learning and thinking I never felt we got close to what we hoped for. I always felt out of step and for me it was a time of failure. (Danelle would see this very differently – but that’s another story and related to expectations)
In the last 8 or 9 years since leading Quinns and being less involved with the so called ‘missional scene’, I have found myself with fewer and fewer answers for how to ‘reach Australians with the gospel’ (or whatever language you choose to place around that idea).
I have also become increasingly skeptical of anyone who claims to have found ‘the key’. I think mission and more specifically evangelism is tough going in this context and there are no easy answers or ‘strategies’. Most days I feel a bit like someone who has run out of ideas – hope even at times – but the sense of calling to be a missionary is still as strong and as deep as ever.
That’s a bit weird I admit – feeling called to a task but then feeling completely at sea when it comes to pulling it off.
Around 7 years ago we moved to Yanchep – this time with no intent at all for any ‘SAS style’ missionary work. We just moved into a suburb we loved and began to live there because it felt like a beautiful place. And we have fallen in love with this part of the world – in fact we can’t imagine ever leaving.
And part of living here for me, has meant working – running a business locally and spending a lot of time at the beach, surfing and swimming. Its what I do.
And I found that after a while I was getting to know people – lots of people. This year I began taking daily photos of the beach – which obviously means being there every day – and this has catalysed more connections. Its hard now to walk the dog without stopping for a chat with someone. I’m better connected in my own community than I have ever been.
It wasn’t intentional or planned… it wasn’t a ‘missionary strategy’.
I just got on with living my ordinary life...
Ha… It only dawned on me a few weeks ago what has been happening. My mother in law had actually given me a gem of wisdom but it wasted on my 38 year old A type personality!
I find myself now immersed in a community I love, where I feel a deep sense of connection and where I have made some good friends. But the most significant bit is that I’m ‘not trying‘ any more. (That’s not to say you sometimes in mission don’t have to ‘try’.)
But I’m now just living my ordinary life and paying attention to what God is doing in the midst of that. From business to beach I find myself loving my life and the people I find myself around.
I’m actually convinced the real hope for mission is not a well thought out missiology or cleverer strategies, but a community of people whose hearts are centred on Jesus and who are willing to be his people in their everyday lives. It means coming back to helping people in their discipleship and devotion to Jesus, rather than starting with funky initiatives.
Over the last year as we been praying and chatting with our church crew we have been asking God about the idea of planting a church community up here and we are at the point now where it feels like its going to happen. Not quickly and immediately, but it does feel like we are planting seeds and watering them, waiting to see what will develop.
So after 15 years I find myself at this point again – excited and hopeful – wanting to see people know Jesus – but with a totally different approach to the exact same task. Fifteen years ago I felt confident, focused and sure of what I was going to do. Now I feel a different sense of confidence, a different understanding of focus and a much less certain agenda for what I think we will do.
But I’m loving life, loving how its shaping up and the possibilities I see in the future. So Hamo’s tip for today is ‘listen to your mother in law’…
Random information – did you know mother in law is an anagram of woman Hitler?