What are the challenges inherent in Jesus calling his disciples friends? Our Mission Partner in the Solomon Islands, Jonathan, shares his story.Election is a difficult subject for most people. And I’m not referring to what went down at the polls in the United States. I’m speaking about the scriptural teaching that God elects or chooses certain people to fulfil specific purposes. This teaching raises several tough issues. While talking to God, Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof points out two of them when he says – “I know, I know. We are your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t you choose someone else?” 1) The choosing of some means that others are not chosen. 2) The chosen do not always like it. Though we can’t hope to address both of these issues adequately here, we can look for a moment at the second.We overhear Jesus in John’s Gospel declaring that he has elected his disciples. “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (15:16). Jesus speaks of his election in the past tense. And as it turns out, he is referring to something he mentioned just a verse earlier when he said “I no longer call you servants…Instead, I have called you friends.” If any evidence is needed of Jesus’ right to call his disciples friends, he has already supplied it when he says that he will lay down his life for them in John 15:13. So Jesus elects the disciples as friends by loving them to the end. The Challenge of ElectionListening in attentively, we hear Jesus telling the disciples what this friendship entails. “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing” (15:15). And a little later in verse sixteen – “I…appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” The two thoughts, knowing what the master is doing and going to bear fruit, are connected. The friend, knowing the master’s plan for the vineyard, can no longer use the servant’s excuse for passivity. The servant will spoil the master’s plan if he acts in ignorance of his will. So the prudent servant waits and does not act until the master commands him. But not so the friend. He knows. And because he knows he is summoned continually to “Go! Bear fruit!” As long as the master is working, his beloved friends work with him. Far from lessening the workload of the newly-befriended, Jesus has increased it three-fold! Warming to the challenge that this election will present to his disciples, Jesus continues. The world will hate them because, now that he has chosen them, they are no longer of the world (John 15:18-19). If they needed any proof of Jesus’ words, they had only to wait a few short hours before the mob arrived in Gethsemane. “So let’s get this straight,” they might have been thinking. “Now that we’re your friends, we’re going to work harder than ever before, and we’re going to be hated by the world the same way you are?” To borrow a line from Shakespeare – “Ay, there’s the rub.” And we’re not even done yet! 1 John makes it clear that God’s friendship with the apostles is paradigmatic for his friendship with other disciples. That’s right, with us. When John calls his readers “beloved” he is referring primarily to God’s disposition toward them (4:7, 11). We have this name because of God’s choice. 1 John 4:10 says: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us.” We also have the same responsibility that the disciples had, born of the knowledge of God: “[L]et us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (4:11). And finally, we’re caught in the same intense hostility between the love of God and the world (2:15-17) in which they were entangled. The challenge of being elected God’s friends is no bed of roses! And so we run into the perennial temptation to re-write the script. We internalise the idea of God’s friendship in the following – distorted – ways. Jesus – “Hey guys, I love you all just the way you are. I wouldn’t change a thing about any one of you!” The disciples – “Yeah, we know. We’re all pretty decent…” Jesus – “I don’t want to force this on you, but I want to let you in on my master plan. It’ll be pretty tough, so I don’t want you to agree until you know what you’re getting yourselves into.” The disciples – looking at each other with uncertainty – “All right…” Jesus – “I want you all to love other people the way I love you. It’ll be pretty hard at first, but the world will come around sooner or later to the fact that all it needs is love.” The disciples – “Can we try it on for size first and see whether or not we like it?” The biggest problem with re-writing the script in this way is that we begin to participate in a world that is not real. And “the rub” – as Shakespeare put it – is eventually much stiffer in this imaginary world. Why? Because God is not at work there, in this imaginary world of ours. Instead, Jesus is our consultant friend and we are its kings.Resisting the CallAllow me to illustrate. Recently, obedience to a clear leading from God and ecclesial authority led my family to take up a missionary post in the Solomon Islands. Our first year was difficult and when the second year arrived things didn’t improve. Our children got sick on a regular basis. My wife and I, for what seemed like months at a time, were taking care of their sores from dinner to bedtime. My work wasn’t very satisfying. I spent hours preparing for lectures that, as far as I could tell, had very little impact on my students. The climate was stifling. We had some serious relational problems with our fellow-villagers. So I stopped investing. I began to work on various projects that had very little relation to my missionary vocation, but that satisfied my longing to do something fulfilling. This period lasted for over a year. Through out I had numerous warnings that I was responding to these difficulties in a way that was unfaithful to my calling. I tried to ignore them, and had a sense that I was turning my back on God and the people he had sent me to. I wanted to sleep constantly, but this had more in common with the guilty sleep of Jonah than the tranquil sleep of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee! After my wife and I realised how depressed I’d become, we began to pray, asking the Lord to give us joy in our vocation again. Several months later, after recommitting ourselves fully to the work before us, joy began to return.The Three Facets of Friendship I had been forgetting three spiritual matters so important to the life of friendship with God. First, God remains Lord when he elects us to friendship. “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Within this divine choice we’re free to act as God’s friends, working with him in the way that we know he is working. In my case that means teaching his Word faithfully, loving and being present with his people, and praying for them daily. But we’re no longer free to withhold what God has claimed as his own when he calls us friends. I became depressed because I was acting against my own being as a friend of God. I was acting against freedom.The second spiritual aspect I had forgotten was – “I appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” The kind of fruit we bear depends wholly on whether we’re working in the Lord’s vineyard, or in vineyards of our own planting. We know now what our friend and master is doing. He is planting a harvest that will grow up to everlasting life. To refuse this calling is to bear fruit that will perish or to bear no fruit at all. And finally –“I appointed you so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” For the present, our own evaluation of whether our work seems fulfilling or not is unreliable. We’re told though that our future desire will correspond with his. We will come to love that which he loves. This will happen as we claim that for which God has elected us. We will pray for and receive things beyond our comprehension now, because he is inviting us “further up and deeper in” to that friendship whose depths are eternal. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (15:7). Let us come to know God not in the imaginary friendship we would elect for ourselves. Rather, let us receive God’s friendship as it is, given to challenge and change us, and given before we could even ask for it.
After six months of intense preparation, Bio village welcomed over three thousand guests to celebrate my ordination to the priesthood on October 16. Two weeks before the feast, Tess and I were sitting down with the ordination committee, wondering how we were going to feed so many. How richly God provided! Within days we witnessed several minor miracles. Far-flung communities from different tribal groups and languages sent assistance in the form of pigs and rice. One village even volunteered to do all the catering for our special guests. Our dedicated feasting account suddenly had an unexpected (and unexplained) surplus of $2000.
The day itself was an immense celebration of God’s calling. We were led by panpipes into the church where dancers sang the ‘Gloria’ to open the service. Our Bishop, Sam Sahu, sounded a clarion call to the Church of Melanesia to revive the practices of prayer, fasting and the reading of Scripture as part of her response to God’s calling to be his people. Many heard and celebrated the commission. We’re grateful that this event not only embodied for us the lavish hospitality of the Kingdom of God (and we thank our Melanesian brothers and sisters for teaching us a thing or two about this), but also for arriving when it did, on St Luke’s Day: “Pray to the Lord of the harvest, to send out more labourers into his harvest.”
Jonathan will be ordained to the priesthood on October 16 at Bio Village, Malaita. This is a very special ordination because Jon’s father, Douglas, designed and built the church and will be coming from the US to celebrate with us.
This is the first ordination for the village and they have used this opportunity for community development. They are completing a beautiful rest house for incoming guests, making permanent lavatories and planting trees and flowers. For the past five months, the villagers have been planting root crops and raising pigs and chickens for the feast that will follow the ordination. Different groups of men, women, and children are rehearsing dances and songs to entertain the guests. We pray that this day will be a joyous celebration of God’s faithfulness in the past and his continuing work into the future.
Tess has begun a Tuesday night Women’s Bible Study with women in the village. They gather in the dining room around the table and on the floor. Tess is leading them through the Gospel of Matthew, reading from the Pidgin Bible. Many of the women are illiterate, and those who can read don’t always have access to a Bible. They sing together in English, Pidgin, and Kwara’ae, the local language. After the study, they break up into small groups to pray for various needs in the village.
Many women are too shy to pray aloud. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will enable them to have boldness to come before the Lord with their burdens and praises.
We’re delighted by the news of the birth of Immanuel John Hicks at the start of the month. Here’s a short update from Tess about Immanuel’s arrival.
The time around Immanuel’s birth was a mixture of trials and grace. We all sailed to Honiara on May 10 to wait for the baby to arrive. As soon as we got there… we all came down with pink eye. Then Jon got malaria and was bedridden for a week! To top it off, I got a nasty sore on my foot which required a course of antibiotics. I was feeling very pregnant and uncomfortable as well. Through it all, we were convicted to ask God for strength and grace to suffer graciously, as well as to ask for protection from spiritual attack through physical set backs.
Our lovely American midwife, Rebekah, arrived on May 19. We got to do some fun things as a family that we can’t usually do in the village: go out for ice creams, eat at cafes, swim in a pool, watch dances at the national museum, and watch a few movies with the internet working well.
On the night of June 1, my contractions began at 9 pm. We filled up the inflatable birth pool and a few friends came to boil water to make the temperature right. Jon was a great support and at 5:35 am, Immanuel John swam into the world! He was alert and caught onto breastfeeding on the first go. We woke up the kids to see him still attached to me in the water. They were tired but very happy.
Jon and the kids went back first to the village a week after the birth while Immanuel and I stayed a week more to get him vaccinated and gaining weight. Our housegirl, Josephine, looked after us well so I could just rest and eat. On June 20 we flew back home which only took 30 minutes compared to 3-7 hours by boat. We are happy to be reunited.
Yesterday I came down with a fever and body aches, so today we went in for a malaria test. Thank God it was negative, so I may just be fighting off some kind of infection. I feel quite a bit better after sleeping a lot of the day. Please pray that I can get strong to be able to keep up with looking after the kids and house. Pray also for Jon as he preaches tomorrow and Sunday at two different churches.
We are grateful to you all at NZCMS. What a blessing to be a part of your team to serve the Lord.
We’re happy to report that we’ve arrived safe and sound (including all 19 checked bags, and 12 carry-ons) to Honiara, Guadalcanal! We left New York on Saturday, October 31 at 5pm. Our baggage was checked through straight to our final destination, which was such an answer to prayer. After 3 flights, with a combined air-time of 23 hours and over 30 in total travel time, we arrived in Honiara at 3:45 pm on November 2. It was Judah’s 3rd birthday that day as well, so we celebrated with a chocolate chip muffin in the Brisbane airport, a lego toy gift and birthday card from his grandparents.
Once we arrived, we cleared customs easily, got our bags and waited on the curb for our friend Jerry. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, he was in the village and could not read our last email detailing our arrival time. So we ended up waiting for over an hour, and were the last people waiting for pick-up. God provided, however, because Jerry’s cousin, Rosa, works at the airport and was able to call around and talk to some men to help take us to our accommodation for the night with the Wycliffe Bible Translators.
As we had no dinner plans and were all pretty tired and hungry, our friends the Ashleys graciously cooked us spaghetti and beans and even gave us food for the next morning. Jerry’s wife, Ruth, also came by bearing gifts of fruits, juices, cookies and crackers for the kids. Since arriving on Monday, we have slowly gotten over jet-lag and gotten a bit used to being sweaty all day. We have made family excursions to the downtown to shop at the market, visit the diocesan office, eat fresh hot buns from the Honiara Hot Bread Kitchen (let me tell you: it is HOT in there!) and we even bought ourselves a smartphone… something we thought we would never do.
It turns out we may not easily be able to get access to internet on our computer in the village, so the next best thing is getting it through the phone so we can at least email and Facebook.
The children have made some friends on the Wycliffe compound and enjoy jumping on the trampoline, playing with the pets and trying our Pidgin English. One of their favorite Pidgin games consists in trying to imitate the cash collectors from the city buses. We came out after nap one day to sounds of them shouting: “Foafala S-D-A” (i.e. “Four spaces left for the bus going by the Seventh Day Adventist Church”) Their favorite part of going out is cramming onto the small buses that weave in and out of traffic in Honiara!
Tomorrow night is our last night in Wycliffe housing before moving over to Jerry and Ruth’s home on the other side of town while we wait for word from Malaita for our guest house to be ready.
Please keep us in our prayers as we continue to adjust, learn Pidgin English and communicate with people in the village about our arrival. May God bless each and everyone of you! Your prayers have been felt over here!
Jon’s work permit has been granted. Now we’re waiting for the visas to be approved.
We have moved out of Tess’ parents’ home in Boston, and are now in Stony Brook, New York with Jon’s parents while we wait for our visas to be approved by Immigration in the Solomon Islands. Thanks be to God, we have 98% of our funding raised. Next Monday we will begin homeschooling Avalyn (4th grade), Cohen (2nd grade) and Caeli (Kindergarten). We bought Ava and Cohen ukuleles for music this year, and Tess will be learning guitar along with them. Judah is quite taken with the uke, so we may have to get him one of his own.
Please pray over the next few days for a quick approval of our visas so that we can buy tickets for mid-September. We are so excited to arrive in our new tropical home and to be able to worship with our Christian brothers and sisters in Malaita.
Our training in Toronto was wonderful. Thanks for your prayers. The children were encouraged by their age-appropriate lessons and field trips. They learned about paradox, or “pair-o-ducks,” while moving to a new culture. They were given two ducks, a “yay” duck and a “yuck” duck, to illustrate that there will be “yay” moments and “yuck” moments during our transition. There are good things and hard things about saying goodbye to friends and family here, and hello to new family and friends. Pray that all our kids will know how much they are loved and be secure in Christ while they experience transition.
Jon and I were encouraged to lean on Christ’s strength and let his power be made perfect in our weaknesses. A sentence that kept coming into my mind was a petition to God to “expand the borders of my heart.” I truly feel God breaking down existing boundaries and letting me receive grace and love from an ever-increasing community of believers. I also feel like he is leading me to go where I have not gone and trust him to give me the words to share his good news with those who need to hear them. God give us grace!
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