Robyn Appleby served as an NZCMS mission partner at Msalato Theological College in Tanzania for six years and now serves as a priest with All Saints’ in Palmerston North. Robyn first heard the call to ordination in Tanzania. Recently priested in the Wellington Diocese, she reflects on the journey from first acknowledging the call to ordination, to fulfilling it.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart."
I liken my journey toward priesthoodto God leading the Hebrews through the wilderness before the time was right for the next step of His plan. They had lots to learn.
Like the Hebrews, I wondered what it was all about and if the wandering would ever end. They complained, were impatient and wanted fulfilment of the promise “Right now!”. Being the ”Doubting Thomas” that I am at times, it was easy to think that I’d been mistaken in the call to ordination. But it is God’s faithfulness and love that patiently leads, and He provides and teaches us through the challenges as well as the celebrations. I needed to learn the grace of walking into the darkness and trusting that God was leading the way.
Like Abraham’s wife Sarah, I laughed when some of my students at Msalato said I should be a priest. ’Yeah right!’ I said. I thought they were just being nice and honouring me as their teacher. But when it came up more than once in different contexts I realised it was time to talk to God about it. Unlike Sarah, it wasn’t the promise of a baby in my later years but it sure was a kind of rebirthing and definitely the start of a new life. For a while, I felt guilty about doubting and questioning but I eventually realised it was okay. Even the ‘greats’ like Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen asked questions about what God was leading them into and whose desires were driving the thinking.
I imagine it was similar for Sarah when that little butterfly-like stirring happened within and the realization of something growing within her. Could this really be true?” She may have asked herself. “Is there really a promise growing and taking shape in me?’
Over time and through conversations with trusted praying friends, my wondering turned into amazement then denial, then dread but finally excitement. “Wow!” I said. “This is amazing and wonderful. Yes Lord, here I am!”
Fortunately, the 10-year journey hasn’t been as long as the Hebrews’ 40 years or as traumatic as having a baby in old age but I’m truly thankful for the way I‘ve been guided along through this journey..
In my 6th and final year at Msalato, I sensed a withdrawing in my spirit that troubled me until I realised this to be ‘Godly discontent’ and preparation for time to move on. This made me sad, as I love Tanzania and the people and the teaching, but the energy and passion had left me. I felt a failure and guilty, but to stay meant I needed to recommit another three years and that just didn’t fit comfortably.
‘Hope deferred …’
My first big test came when back in NZ, the diocese discernment team closed the door and said no to ordaining me! If there was ever an opportunity to give up, this was it. The temptation was great to give up and to take myself out of this sense of rejection and of not being good enough. But, like Peter, I had nowhere else to go! I believed in the priesthood of believers and I knew I had to keep going in faith. By grace, I was given a pastoral role in the church and I perceived this to be the call of God. was serving God’s people and building the church.
However this was to be the continuation of my training. I needed to get over my sense of rejection and learn to engage with the New Zealand church and community. I only knew my passion for the church and I thought this to be the same in New Zealand as it was in Tanzania. But no, this is of course a different culture. Same God but different needs.
I often reflect on the words of the “Hound of Heaven”/ All that I have taken from thee is not for thy harms, but that you would find it in my arms. There were deep valleys in my wilderness - re-entry, culture adjustment, finding a home. And these were just small things compared to some major health and financial crises. But the deepest valley was the death of my youngest son with cancer in June 2019. All these are the prisms of God’s loving refining work. But even in the midst of all this came the invitation to reconsider and re-apply for ordination discernment again! I’m very thankful that it didn’t take another ten years in the desert, even though the repeat process was more intense than the first.
Now I feel deeply centred, and I no longer wonder about God’s Call.Like the Hebrews who sang their way into freedom and the new life, I can sing a new song of “Goodbye” and “Hello” with the melodies that continue to grow within me.
“Somewhere within my yearning has been met
The God of graciousness has graced
The God of tenderness has blessed.”