May 2019

Big Walls and Small Walls

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Martin, a Youth Pastor in Christchurch, reflects on where he sees the need for the Gospel here in New Zealand. I came to New Zealand about 5 years ago. Before that, my experience of this beautiful country was limited to a high school case study about cattle and sheep farming for geography class. It’s safe to say that never in my thoughts could I have envisioned living here. However, as I’ve come to realise and accept, God’s plans and my plans are very different, and it usually works out for me if I abandon my plans and follow his. Growing up, I always knew I was going to be a lawyer. This position was emphasized for me in high school, because all the teachers talked about was excelling and joining the “Big four” professions, i.e. Lawyer, Doctor, Engineer and Pilot. It was while studying Law in university, in my third year, that I specifically heard the voice of God calling me into full time ministry. The first time I ignored him for two reasons – I did not know if it was my own thoughts playing a trick on me. And, secondly, I was enjoying law school, so why would I quit and do something different? Thankfully, God did not give up on me and, in my fourth year, he came calling again. This time, he’d been working in my heart and I said yes. After graduation, I started working at Nairobi Chapel as an intern. The plan was to do the internship program for two years then go out and plant a church somewhere in Nairobi, or around Africa. About a year in however, St Augustine’s Anglican Church from Christchurch came calling. How did I know it was God’s plan? I wasn’t sure I’d be able to adjust to the culture and, even if I could, I would never get the documentation required. However, it was God who had called me, so that process, although long and tedious, went smoothly and I became the youth pastor at St Augustine’s Anglican Church. This was the beginning of a deep learning process for me.The Kiwi CultureThe first thing I realised about this community is that people were friendly, but without any depth or commitment to the friendship until they knew who you were and they felt they could trust you. This is what I call the ‘small wall’ and the ‘big wall’. In many cultures, especially in Africa and America, if the community does not like your ministry or presence, they will make their feelings known very quickly. So you’re under no illusion as to where you stand. You immediately experience a ‘big wall’, and you have to start bringing it down brick by brick. When the big wall is down, people can trust you and mission becomes easier. Generally, I’ve found this can take six months to a year. In the kiwi context however, it’s the other way round. Everyone seems friendly and happy, giving you the illusion that everything is working well and things are good. But no one trusts you for a long time, until you have proved your worth. This process can take between 1-2 years depending on how consistent you are in interacting with people. However, underneath the clean and neat exterior that forms the thread of our society here in New Zealand is a hurting generation that needs a saviour more than it realises. This Kiwi community needs healing, the healing that Jesus Christ himself can provide, and the confidence that comes from believing in a saviour who loved humanity, not only in word and thought, but through action. This is what I’ve discovered when I started to scratch the surface. Our society is suffering from many things, but I see two big problems. A Life About OurselvesWe are individualistic and are struggling to grow the value of community and togetherness. But because we look like we have it all together, those people who are struggling are repelled by us. The irony of this is that not one of us has it together, yet we drive each other away from ourselves, and from real and authentic community. Reducing GodThe second problem is that we often reduce God to an understandable and malleable concept. Our God has become too small and manageable. By doing this we dethrone him, thinking that we’re autonomous and can do all things right in our own eyes without any consequences. The result of this way of life is that our mental health suffers, especially when we discover we cannot do it on our own, and we end up feeling even more inadequate. These two issues become a vicious cycle hidden under nicely mowed lawns, picket fences, manicured nails and fancy clothes.What Does Mission Look Like?These are the core reasons why I think New Zealand needs missionaries, people who are totally sold out for the Gospel, ready to die to self and proclaim Jesus as king in their lives. People willing to be in an authentic community of believers to grow and be known by others in order to attract and not repel. Henri Nowen, a Dutch Catholic priest and theologian, articulated it well in his book “Out of Solitude: Three meditations of the Christian Life”. “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” In New Zealand today, mission is denying ourselves and putting away our inclinations of individualism, consumerism and anything else that the western world offers as an alternative to real authentic community. We need to pick up our cross daily and realise that we’re all fallen people. We’re not mistakes needing correction. We’re sinners needing a saviour. A saviour who tells us that he is strong when we are weak. Finally, mission is following Jesus. This means prayerfully and intentionally gravitating towards those in our society that are looking for an authentic relationship, first with others and, even if they do not realise it, with Jesus Christ who understands their deepest hurts and pain. This type of mission cannot be fulfilled within a year or two years. New Zealand needs people who are willing to commit at least seven to ten years of their life to intentional communities that are full of life, love and grace. I finish with the words of Jesus in Matthew 9:37-38. “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest”. There are many ways you can spread the Gospel, but perhaps the first most important question would be to ask the Lord of the harvest Lord, “What are you doing within me and around me, and how can I be part of it?”

Re-thinking Our Mission Misconceptions

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NZCMS Mission Enablers, Guy and Summer Benton, reflect on the misconceptions the New Zealand young adult community has about mission and what they have been doing in response. A Valuable GenerationWhile our family lived as long-term missionaries in Cambodia for eight years we learned a lot about what mission could look like in reality. We didn’t realise that some of the preconceptions we held about mission would be challenged.Where do the ideas come from about what missionary work might be like? Is it through one-off missionary talks? Is it through history lessons at school? Is it through scrolling Facebook feeds and seeing youth mission trips? At the end of 2017 we moved our family from Cambodia to New Zealand where we took on a role as Mission Enablers with NZCMS, working primarily with young adults. Through this role we’ve been surprised to see how many misconceptions the younger generation in New Zealand has regarding mission. And these misconceptions can often become a massive barrier to their interest in and willingness to participate in mission. As a response to this we’ve developed a new gap year called Better World which strives to combat many of these same misbeliefs. Our hope is to show our younger generation that they can not only participate in mission but that their presence in those spaces is incredibly valuable. Young people are actually striving for significance and a way to engage in God’s work in the world. But sadly the barriers they have around mission often stops them from seeking out these opportunities and recognising that they may even be called to mission themselves.Mission Misconception: EvangelismOne of the misconceptions we’ve encountered lies in the role of evangelism in mission. Many young people have communicated to us that they think evangelism means only preaching and teaching.  Evangelism is then often reduced down to single events of preaching the Gospel, the cross and the resurrection across cultures, often in clunky and awkward meetings with strangers. While we know it does include those very important things, it is also much more than that. Due to many dynamics that are present in our younger generation, they often shy away from verbal evangelism for a variety of reasons including fear of repeating mistakes of the past such as colonialism, manipulation techniques and preaching a fear-based Gospel. There is also fear of appearing to embrace a spiritual paradigm that is dominant to other paradigms in the culture. When society is saying “There is no one way and all ways are fine” then it’s incredibly hard for a young person to declare that Jesus is the only way. Lastly, there can be a lack of discipleship which often results in no real conviction that God is actually good news that’s transforming their own life. This misconception means that you have a whole generation of young adults cringing away from any idea of sharing the Gospel. Mission Misconception: Traditional RolesAnother misconception often held by the younger generation is that to be a missionary you have to have life aspirations that fit into ‘traditional’ missionary roles of teacher, preacher, doctor, or church planter. These misconceptions are often the result of exposure they may have had to other missionaries and the type of work they’re doing. If young people don’t feel called to a more traditional vocational ministry then they often don’t think they could be called into mission. That couldn’t be further from the truth, especially today. The modern mission field is filled with missionaries who are business people, lawyers, IT specialists, lawmakers, human rights activists, engineers, and artists. It’s arguable that what the world needs most is Christians who are bold in their faith and offering their unique gifts for the work God is doing in the world. We are the body of Christ and we all have a part to play in God’s Kingdom work.The Temptation of Shallow MissionsIn addition to these misconceptions, in a society built on fast-paced answers and instant gratification, there is a risk that a young person who is passionate to make a difference in the world is looking to altruistic volunteering short-term opportunities as the answer for that. Further to this, the explosion of connection and networking through the information age has created a dynamic where young people are bombarded with information about things happening in the world and, while they may feel that they’re able to engage in issues they’re passionate about, this risks a glassy-view of helping without much depth or commitment. Also, if they do choose to participate in mission work, they don’t necessarily know what it takes to thrive in that work long-term and, as a result of their individualist culture, they often go about it alone rather than surrounded by a community of support.Better World These are just a few of the core tenants behind the vision for NZCMS’ Better World Gap Year. This program strives to combat these misconceptions by taking young people on a ten-month journey of exposure to what God is doing, both around the world and in New Zealand, and walking with them as they discern how their personal gifts and passions may intersect that work. Our first year of Better World participants have  returned from five weeks in Fiji where they’ve already learned so much about what serving God and sharing their journey authentically with other people can look like in the world around them. And it’s an exciting place to be in as we watch God take hold of these young lives and set them on a path to serve him in the unique way that he created them to serve.The Better World programme has recently begun taking in applications for their 2020 intake. To learn more go here or, if you want to download an application, click here.