Right now there isn’t much that is certain about the road ahead.
However if we’re really honest there never is.
Sometimes we have this illusion of certainty that we sit with for a while, but in truth life is way more fickle than we would like to admit. We don’t have anywhere near as much control over our future as we sometimes like to kid ourselves with.
I remember being a youth pastor at Scarborough Baptist and sensing my time was up there. I hadn’t made a ‘pastoral movement’ before (chuckles quietly to himself…) so I didn’t know quite what to expect. My only guidelines for God were that I would go anywhere within a 3km strip of the coast. I think he chuckled quietly to himself too…
Then came a call from Lesmurdie Baptist Church… in the hills of Perth. I laughed and quickly dismissed it as lunacy, then 9 months later ended up going there as the youth pastor. Strangely those were 5 of the best years of my life, and we were privileged to be in a place where the Holy Spirit did some pretty exciting stuff. I would never have expected to enjoy my time there. I never thought I could enjoy life anywhere away from the ocean, but when I drive up the ‘hill’ I now have a feeling of warmth, familiarity and even a willingness to go back.
Then my time as youth pastor ended and slowly the calling emerged to be the pastoral team leader of the same church. The current team leader was willingly stepping aside to focus on more pastoral aspects of ministry and the church invited me to step into the role. I said ‘yes’, expecting to be there for a long time. We did improvements on the house and got ready to bunker down.
Then one day on the back patio, 14 months into this new role and barely with my toes in the water, I sensed God calling us to move on and to start over. As a church, we had been looking to support another church plant somewhere but no one was emerging as a church planter. I sensed God saying ‘just go and do it!’
I didn’t expect that.
I did expect to be there another 10 years and to lead the church as it grappled with some significant issues. But I couldn’t deny this calling. It certainly wasn’t in my ‘5 year plan’. I sensed there were 4 other families I was to ask to join us.
I don’t hear God like that much at all.
But we asked them… and they all said ‘yes’, to selling up, moving 65 km north and building houses.
It was embarrassing and awkward to share this with the church. I was stymied as to why it had developed in this way.
We left but not with the blessing of the church. Despite affirming the whole idea of church planting and mission when the rubber hit the road and it cost them people and friends, we felt ourselves on our own. It was said that we were ‘released with their blessing’, but the fact I/we have been invited back just once in 5 years to share what we have been doing communicated a very different message. There are a few who pray for us and we love them, but from the ‘organisation’ cut us adrift and didn’t want anything to do with us. Requests to go back and share news have been met with disinterest and a request for financial support when we were heading into difficult waters as a family was never responded to.
A little while back I heard that ‘Hamo had pissed off and taken a bunch of families with him’.
The lack of interest from our home church was extremely sad as most of us had been in there for at least 10 years and some most of their lives. Loss, grief and pain can bring some strange and unexpected responses. It has taken us a long time to come to grips with this.
What’s strange is that if we went back there this Sunday I have no doubt many people would hug us, kiss us and treat us like family and it would be genuine. What do you make of that?…
So we came to Brighton expecting to set the world on fire. At least I did. I thought we would be the people who demonstrated a new way of doing mission and church and would inspire others to do similar. It was somewhat brash, but then I had pretty much been successful at everything I had put my hand to so logic would say that this project would follow suit.
If you’ve read this blog for while then you’d know that our inability to do what we set out to do has been an issue I have grappled with for most of our time here. Lately I have been at peace with where we are at, but it wasn’t always that way.
Most people hate to use the word ‘failure ‘in relation to our venture up here, but I’m not so reserved on that one. We have achieved a lot, learnt a lot and in many ways experienced God, community and mission in ways we probably never would have back at home base. In that alone our experiment has been a wonderfully successful venture – that and the fact that we have simply done what God called us to do and haven’t quit.
However we didn’t actually achieve what we came here to achieve – so I am content to say we ‘have failed’ on that front. (And for what its worth I would still very much love to see many local people come to know Jesus and follow him – so I haven’t ‘rationalised’ that one away.)
But almost 5 years on (we moved into our house on Sep 12 2003) we have seen our core team shrink from 5 key families to 2 and with us on leave next year it doesn’t seem wise or even practical to leave Gav & Helen to hold things together on their own.
The question of what to do is still up in the air. We have talked, prayed, waited… but there is no clear sense of whether we stay or go, whether we reshape and re-imagine ourselves or whether we stop Upstream altogether.
I am tired, very tired and aware that I need a long break. I haven’t ground to a halt and I’m not close to a breakdown or anything like that. I feel more like a long distance runner who has slowed to jog and is now pacing himself so he can get to the end – the ‘end’ being a sabbatical year in 2009.
I’m genuinely not sure what the season beyond that will hold.
I sense some shifts in life direction and focus starting to emerge and I think life will ‘re-form’ when we return, or maybe ‘as’ we return, but I’m not sure what shape that will be.
A part of me would be happy to re-imagine our work here and keep going. Another part of me would happily pull up stumps and go back to leading a church. And then again we have also spoken of heading to the bush and starting a new project there.
Based on past history the chances are pretty good that the future will not look anything like any of the above!
Anyway, I was aware my reflections on our own missionary experience have dried up a little lately, partly because of my own innner tiredness, so I thought I’d take some time to let you know what’s ticking away inside of me.
If you’ve read this far then you’re probably a friend and someone who cares, or maybe you’re just a nosey bugger.the curse of el charro online