Mission Partners

Tending the Mustard Tree

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Waiting. We’ve been doing a lot of that the last six weeks or so haven’t we. Some of you will remember I waited three years for a visa to go to my country in South Asia between 1989 and 1992. That was hard. Hard because I didn’t know why it was delayed or if I’d ever get it. Hard because God had placed before me a vision of what He had for me to do. Would I ever get to do it? And if not, then what has He been saying? Have I got it all wrong?The other reason it was hard was because some of those around me began to hint that it was time to move on to other things, that I was wasting my time and that there were other urgent needs out there and I was in the wrong place. How did I answer them when those thoughts were already whirling around my mind. But they just didn’t ring true.Well, there was an anchor. A promise and a sign that was given. And God gave me instruction to wait for the visa. And when it finally arrived he gave more instructions: “Don’t try and begin what I’ve shown you. Do what you’re asked to do. Wait, and I’ll begin everything at the right time”.That time, waiting for God to start the new things, was another seven years. And now, since serving the original vision He gave me, it has taken another 15 years for that vision to come into being. And, in truth, there is still a lot yet to unfold.So now that I have returned to New Zealand, how am I responding to the wait now? Will I ever get to go back? What about the unfulfilled vision and expectations I have?A Generational PerspectiveOver these many years I have learnt that God’s ways are not like our ways. His timetable is way, way different. We think in terms of months or a few years. Maybe even a decade or two. He spans generations. Just like the mustard tree in the parable, the Kingdom of God grows. But it may not be possible to see its progress in the short time we have on this earth.I’ve also seen Him keep me in a country where fellow workers have had to leave. I’ve seen him time and time again nullify the plans of others that interfere with His plan.Now I’m more relaxed about the future than I would have been 30 years ago. I know that if I rest and trust and remain ready to obey, then God will do something amazing. But it might not look like what I was expecting. It seldom does.Our Part to Grow the KingdomBeing able to rest in this truth means I’m not so driven about being in the centre of it all. Because God’s Kingdom is far larger than my role. Like Jesus modeled, I’m expected to do my part and to follow the guidance given. To see the mustard tree grow in and through my work. Then I need to leave the rest of the results for God to work out into future generations and see its final beauty from the perspective of Heaven.So often we tend to try to wrap it all up and ‘finish’ the work in our lifetime. But we need to see the Kingdom from a multigenerational point of view.I know many who came in years past to my town and area who never got to see fruit in their time. The mustard tree didn’t seem to grow at all. Some left disillusioned. Others trusted that seeds sown would, in time, come to fruition. All of them sacrificed much to be there. Some stayed only months. All contributed to where the mustard tree is now.I’ve been the fortunate servant who has seen many of those seeds sown now start to sprout and become fruit. Was it my doing? No! We owe it to the generations before us to honour their hard labour, tears and prayers in the desert.Seeing our labour in Kingdom terms for many means jagged endings. Unfinished, unresolved issues, questions and situations. It doesn’t gel with our need for closure and tidy endings. It means trusting that our unresolved ending is, in fact, another part of the growth of the mustard tree. We trust God will fit it in the right place. And we wait and trust God with the ambiguities.This Article was written by a Mission Partner who serves in South Asia. For security reasons, names and places have been omitted or changed.

Why NOT Go?

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This article was written by one of our Mission Partners serving in South Asia. Are there any good reasons for not serving God overseas? You bet! There’s heaps: obligation, middle-class guilt, idealism, Saviour complexes, a thirst for adventure. And no doubt many more. Motivations are funny things, aren’t they? More often than not we actually aren’t truly aware of what really is motivating us. Self-awareness is important for everyone, but even more so for mission partners. It’s so important that its a major thing that NZCMS personnel look for as they interview prospective mission partners. “Hmmm” you might be thinking, “Surely there is no such thing as perfect motivation.” Am I a write-off as soon as something murky is discovered lurking in my motivational faculties?” Good question. What hope is there for those of us with mixed motivations? If dodgy motivation is our topic of choice, there’s no better Biblical passage to explore than Matthew 20 (v20-21). The passage opens with two of the disciples (James and John) getting their Mum to ask Jesus a doozy of a request. “Give your word that these two sons of mine will be awarded the highest places of honour in your kingdom, one at your right hand, one at your left hand.”This must be one of the most ridiculous requests of all time! And to make matters worse the brothers got their Mum to ask for them! Although the rest of the disciples get mad when they hear about this sneaky request (fair enough!), Jesus doesn’t. While on one hand, he calls their arrogance what it is (pivoting into a teaching point on humility), he seems to honour whatever good intention there was behind the request. Check out his answer (in verses 23-24) for yourself. Jesus response to James and John’s poorly motivated request is 1. To gently call out the motivation for what is it, 2. To honour whatever good motivation and intentions there are, and 3. To offer to redeem the stink stuff.  My experience has been similar to James and John’s. There have been several moments in my life when the penny has dropped, and I have realised that my true motivations were much more ego than the Kingdom. But when I’ve taken these hard-earned truths to God, I’ve been met by his grace rather than judgment. Rather than condemn me for my bad attitude,  I get an opportunity to move forward in greater awareness of myself and my motivations. 

Living in Cambodia

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Here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we’re not under an official lockdown, but still, many things have changed. We’re in our eight week with no school, this will be our eight weekend with no church meetings  and our language learning has mostly had to move online.Cambodia, being a relatively poor country with minimal health support, is not well equipped to deal with a major virus. There are few testing kits – mainly limited to the capital city of Phnom Penh – there are no ventilators in the country and if you do have to go to hospital often your family has to be the ones to provide daily care for you.I’m sure you’re aware that social distancing and working from home is a luxury that many people around the world just cannot afford. It’s no different here. If people don’t work, they don’t eat. They generally can’t bulk buy in advance and the lack of tourists is hitting many people hard. For many of the poor they will be affected economically much more than anything else.On the spiritual side, it’s been disheartening to hear of some Cambodian Christians who have turned away from God at this time to lean on traditional religious practices. However, there are hopeful moments too; recently we had non-Christian Khmer friends asking us to pray for their families!One of the biggest decisions that the government has made was to postpone the Cambodian New Year holiday and all the celebrations that go with it. This is one of the biggest holidays of the year and most people go back to their hometowns for a week to be with their families. However the government has said that, rather than travelling and potentially spreading the virus, it is safer to continue working.As for our family, our three children have coped well which has made life easier. They won’t physically be back in school until the new school year in August however, so we’ll see how we’re all doing in a few months’ time. We have delighted in being able to spend some more time together, even if that involves playing the same board game several times a day! It’s also been lovely having “home-church” where we’ve been able to pray and sing together and tune in with various church services from New Zealand.  The joys of technology!Like all Christians around the world, we can’t give definite reasons as to why this is happening. But  we can endeavour to show love to our neighbours and share the very definite hope we have in Jesus.

Godly Safety in a time of Risk

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Zane writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.There’s no doubt that living with COVID19 in a mega-city of 30 million people raises some questions.  How reliable is the drinking water supply? How we can be the church in a meaningful way when we can’t meet? How are we ever going to open a bank account now?We also know that some of our supporters have got questions too. The question we are asked the most by people in New Zealand is “Is it safe?”NZCMS have been brilliant at keeping in touch with us. They have offered us amazing support around planning for this pandemic as things have changed on the ground. And they’ve also  offered to help us get back to New Zealand if we felt that was the best option. We haven’t felt it was the best option.When we decided to serve with NZCMS we knew we would have to risk something. Reputation. Lifestyle. Friendships. Aspirations. Hopes. Dreams. We traded them out for something different, something truly unsafe, a gospel vision for Jakarta.We haven’t felt like returning to New Zealand was the right thing to do because we weren’t ‘safe’ here before. Not safe in a kiwi senseThere are inherent risks serving here. Risks of illness, of terror attacks, of disease, of robbery, of motor vehicle accident and risks associated with the healthcare system. But we knew some of the risks of living and working here before we signed on the dotted line with NZCMS. And that’s true for almost all of NZCMS’ Mission Partners.We aren’t unconcerned, über victorious super-Christians. We’re regular, and at times, very sub-par followers of Jesus who have responded to God’s call to live in a different paradigm and a different place. That’s unsafe. Following Jesus should never feel safe.As we’ve grappled with safety, in the wake of our new home having the worst COVID19 fatality rates on the planet we’ve asked ourselves “What’s the worst that could happen?”. The answer is we could die. But what was the worst that could happen before COVID19? We could die.Having just worked through the book of Philippians, Paul’s words ring loudly; “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” – Philippians 1:21. I don’t write that flippantly. My wife, Karen, and I have run through the worst-case scenario a couple of times. It’s scary. Would we go home? What would change? How would life look?We’d be gutted. Devastated. Heartbroken. Yet, God would still be on the throne in heaven. Such a tragedy as one of us dying would undeniably change life forever. And that’s ok, because at the end of the day, we know that our safety doesn’t rest on a set of earthly circumstances, pandemic or not.We can be sensible, and we can minimise our exposure to risk; we’ve been following the advice of the New Zealand Embassy here, which is essentially the same advice as in New Zealand. But the safety we enjoy is in the hands of God, it is in an eternal safety.Our surroundings may not always feel safe, but Christians live and serve in the knowledge that our souls are safe with Him. Psalm 46 says the God of Jacob is our refuge and we serve in an unsafe place so that others might come to know this eternal safety too.Want to keep thinking about this theme of “Godly Safety’? Join in on our “Happy Hour” zoom meeting on Thursday, April 23.

Hard Pressed, but not Crushed

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“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” My work partner Emma shared this on Facebook yesterday. You’ll soon see why. On the surface, lockdown here in Northern Uganda seems relaxed compared with New Zealand. We can move around, buy food and bike where we want. Yes, shops are closed and we can’t catch public transport but Tessa and I live comfortably. If you are poor however the story is radically different. Fragile situations fall apart. Our neighbor Florence used to raise a couple of dollars a day by ferrying water for people. Now the borehole keeper won’t let her continue, as Florence may ferry the virus. Our good friend Opiyo worked as a laborer on a building site, but with hardware shops shut he can’t continue. Forget about recovery packages and wage subsidies. There is zero help from the government here – you’re on your own. Opiyo’s wife Paska is about to give birth she’s not sure how she will reach the hospital. Before lockdown, motorbikes acted as ambulances for over 90% of hospital transfers. Under lockdown motorbikes aren’t allowed to carry people. Reaching hospital is now treacherous, and difficult situations are now deadly.Tessa and I live near Florence, Opiyo and Paska in Lacor center, a hospital village.  When Paska’s labour starts, even if she can’t catch a motorbike she’ll walk down the road to the best hospital in the region. She’ll be fine. Deep in the village the scenario is far worse. Yesterday I got a call from nurse Innocent, who manages a remote OneDay Health center, operated under the Anglican Diocese of Northern Uganda. A 10 year old boy was almost unconscious with severe anemia from malaria. Innocent gave intravenous antimalarials and fluids, but the boy needed blood and fast. Unfortunately the motorcycle taxis refused to carry the boy to hospital, fearing police brutality under lock down. The ambulance arrived 6 hours later. Too late. A 3 dollar motorcycle ride probably would have saved him. Nurse Innocent prayed with the distraught father today when he returned to pay his dead son’s medical bill. Obviously we forgave it. Today I feared a similar tragedy. Just a few hours ago nurse Simon was treating a pregnant woman with severe malaria in remote Ocim OneDay Health Center. Fortunately a motorcycle taxi was willing to brave the brutal police roadblocks, and she arrived safely to hospital.As coronavirus approaches , our limited resources will be stretched past their limit. Our staff use one face mask per day while health workers in New Zealand use one per patient. By the end of tomorrow our masks will run out in St. Philips, our busiest health center. Today I biked around 5 pharmacies in town, only to find that all face masks were sold out. The New Zealand health system may be put to the test, but Uganda’s failed before Covid-19 moved from a pangolin to a primate. John the Baptist said “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Perhaps this applies to face masks as well.  I wrote this article last week, and since then there has been an incredible response. We’ve raised enough money not only to buy enough supplies for our 19 Anglican health centers but also to contribute to critical shortages at our local Catholic hospital and pay for transport to larger hospitals if our patients need it. Even in these times which are so hard for New Zealanders it is inspiring to see so many people think of the least of these on the other side of the world. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed” Kia Kaha and God bless, Nick and Tessa

Private Jet gets Mission Partner Home

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Just over a week ago, Dianne miraculously found herself flying back to New Zealand on a private jet. A Mission Partner to the Philippines, Dianne first arrived there 43 years ago in September, 1976. At that time, it was her first flight abroad and she had $80 in her pocket. At midnight on March 29, 2020, she flew into New Zealand for free aboard the jet.After over four decades of ministry in the Philippines, Dianne had recently handed her position over and she was preparing to come to her New Zealand home. A farewell party was planned for her and she had even organised a trip to Israel before returning to Aotearoa. But these plans were all put on hold as the Covid19 pandemic spread across the globe. The opportunity to fly home via Singapore opened up but, just as the plane was booked and the tickets issued, all the borders were closed.“Not only was I disappointed,” Dianne said, “I felt like a deflated balloon. Disappointed doesn’t even go near to how I was feeling! However Matthew 6:33 kept coming to me; “’Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.’” And miraculously, God provided. Out of the blue, Dianne was invited to board a private jet flying directly from Manila to Auckland. With facemask on, Dianne boarded the plane. “The rule given was that the plane could not leave unless I was on it!,” she said. “I felt like the Queen of Sheba!” Nine hours later, the plane touched down in New Zealand!Dianne is currently under lockdown along with the rest of the country. When the time is right, she plans to return to the Philippines for a proper farewell. She would like to thank everyone who has been praying for her.

4 Truths from Week 2 of Spanish Lockdown

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This article is written by an NZCMS Mission Partner serving in a Spanish community. We asked her to share her reflections with us after two weeks of being in a strict lockdown. I have never been so envious of people with dogs or quite so elated to take the rubbish out to the bin. Spain is in its second week of full lockdown and cabin fever is starting to get real.The authorities have enforced strong measures to prevent people leaving the house for anything other than the essentials. Unlike New Zealand we can’t go out for exercise with the exception of dog owners who can leave the house briefly for doggy business.What was last week considered quite unique is now very quickly turning into a nightmare. We have clocked over 2,500 deaths here and in my region the toll stands at 25. How is God leading me in this? My reflections are not fully formed but I would like to share a few with you as New Zealand moves into lockdown as well. Church Is Still ChurchLike many places, my church here is finding creative ways to stay in communion with each other through online group calls, messages and phone calls. I even participated in an online talent show the other day! God is teaching us how to lovingly serve one another and to look out for those who are by themselves and/or feeling alone. Prayer Gathers MomentumIn these extraordinary times God has been moving me to pray even more fervently for the Church and for those without certain hope. It has been beautiful to see brothers and sisters in Christ praying even more fervently for our very sick and fearful country, for the authorities, medical workers and for those that are suffering at the hands of such a terrible virus. As the days drag on the momentum can wain but I hope we will persevere and stay motivated. Unique OpportunitiesThrough something so devastating God is giving His church here some unique opportunities to speak into people’s lives. In my wee corner of the country a small team of us are using Facebook to share reflections and questions that we hope will engage people on a spiritual level. Please pray with us that people would be in touch and that they would be moved to pick up dusty Bibles sitting on bookcases. God Knows What Will Happen TomorrowBelievers here often say “If the Lord wills it”. I had thought that it got overused but, in these days, the Bible verses that follow that very theme have stuck in my head. I really don’t know what will happen tomorrow because I am not God. Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” – James 4:13-15.In these unknown times the two words that God keeps bringing back to me are ‘unchanging’ and ‘rest’. I don’t know what tomorrow holds or how long this crisis will go on for but I can always rest secure in Him because He is the one who never changes. I pray for all of those reading that you would come to know this reality in your lives. Please pray with me that the church here would rest in this security and that others would come to know this secure hope for the first time in the midst of tragedy. 

Hear the story of our newest Mission Partners to Papua New Guinea

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John and Elaine moved to Papua New Guinea two weeks ago. Elaine writes a bit of their story and what they will be involved in there. John has just finished working as a building tutor at Ara Institute of Technology, where he’s been since 1985. Over twenty years ago he took three years sabbatical to work in Mendi in the Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea in the early 1990’s. When we left there with our four sons, we said “Well, that’s done, goodbye PNG!” Now we’re saying, “Who would have thought we’d go back?!” We always thought we’d like to volunteer around retirement age but this was just slightly sooner than we imagined. Now we have four grandsons and will have no family with us at Kapuna. We feel God has really set our path straight before us with support coming in from Gulf Christian Services, Hope Hornby Presbyterian Church and NZCMS.I’ve worked as a Midwife and Registered Nurse and have just finished work in Christchurch. In Kapuna, I’ll be working to help with health education and anything else along those lines that is required and John is going to assist in hospital extensions, renovations and various other projects around the hospital.Please Keep John and Elaine in your prayers as they settle into their new location and work in Kapuna, Papua New Guinea.

Where God Guides, he Provides

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CMS Mission Partner, Dianne, reflects on the fruit and faithfulness of God as she leads a children’s ministry in the Philippines. “You did not choose me but I have chosen you…….that you might go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.” – John 15:16I went back to Philippines in January 2018 with a broken arm. A good way to start the year! But I knew that way back God chose me to come here to the Philippines and therefore he would fix it. In January 1976 I was driving my rusty little VW over the hills to Camp Raglan where 120 plus children were arriving for a week long camp. I read the verse for today on my dashboard which said ”…the Lord has chosen you…to serve Him.” – 2Chronicles 29:11. At that moment the word “Philippines” flashed across my mind. I told the Lord “I don’t want to go there!”  I could go to England yes, because I could visit relatives I’d never seen before. However I then added “Well Lord, if this is really from you please make it clear!” The next day my director went to our P. O. Box for the mail. I hardly wrote letters, so I hardly received any. He gave me a blue airmail letter, which was my first ever letter from the Philippines, and it contained a direct invitation to join the children’s ministry there! Since then, I’ve known very clearly this whole time that God has chosen me to minister in the Philippines and he provides what we need to obey him.Fruit that I’ve seenOur fruit for Jesus just keeps on growing! From  teachers sharing the Gospel in their classes, parent’s Bible studies and the odd parent our Principal leads to the Lord, to children and staff devotions in the Children’s Home and visiting disabled people who are “shut ins” in their homes.  We held a Summer Children’s Camp, to which 80 came. I worked with four Bible Clubs which saw 80 plus come to Jesus. Two training seminars brought in another 170 children. A very meaningful event for me was hearing the blind pastor in our Camp for Disabled clearly preaching a salvation message along with his own personal testimony using his braille Bible.Overall, I can conservatively estimate that 400 people have come to Jesus in the past year, most of those mainly children. What incredible fruit!Fruit going on for JesusAnother area where I have seen fruit is in the ongoing involvement of former students. We held reunions for both former Bible College alumni and Children’s Home alumni, which brought about 80 people to tell their stories and catch up with us. A good number are involved with churches, some with Christian schools and some are overseas or in far distant places. Three new teachers in our school are former pupils and converts, who want to continue this legacy. To top it all off one of our former children’s home boys, who is now a businessman, contacted me a month ago from Qatar. He had started a church plant there for a Baptist church a few years back and wanted lecture material on children’s ministry so he could teach their members! How is that for fruit going on for Jesus!“Whatever you ask in my name, I will give to you”. – John 14:13Another story is very close to my kiwi heart! One of the most joyful events in the Children’s Home is when we celebrate a children’s birthday. All was set for the day. The decorations were ready, the gifts were wrapped, the games were prepared, and the favourite food was ready to cook. And of course we had a cake. Unfortunately, we had no ice-cream! We had prayed, but there was just not enough in the budget for it. However, the Lord says “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” – Isaiah 55:8.Early next morning there was a knock on the Children’s Home door and a man entered with a steel container with two big tubs of ice-cream! The owner of the Popular Ice-cream Company was having his birthday that day and he thought he would share his blessings with the children in the home. Everyone was surprised and jumping with joy. Thank you Lord!If you remember, at the beginning of this article, I wrote about how I broke my arm at the beginning of last year. Well it has now healed beautifully and I can even do push ups! In reflecting on the fruit that I’ve seen God grow in the last year, I am constantly reminded, just like with the story of my broken arm, when God chooses you he provides your needs!

Elected to be Friends of God

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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.