Greetings from Auckland! Next week, Dennis, Sue and I are participating in the first GCI Australasia pastoral conference under our new structure, to be held at Tweed Heads, Qld, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Your prayers for this event are solicited, and also for the Community of Practice meeting on Thursday, where John McLean, Daphne Sidney and Dennis will be working through the outputs and implementation of the conference.
The following weekend, February 16-17 will see the Women’s Retreat at El Rancho, Waikanae, preceded by Board meetings that Friday, and with a National Pastoral Team retreat also running over that weekend. More than 40 ladies have registered for the Women’s Retreat, including a number from other fellowships, as well as visitors from Australia and Fiji. Please join us in prayer for the busy preparations now going on for what promises to be a very special weekend.
A few other happenings since my last update:
In the last few days of 2018, Typhoon Usman struck the Philippines, causing more than 100 deaths. The regions affected included the home area of Manny and Ruth Ornejas, and the NZ Church was able to add some money to a relief offering sent there by our Masterton congregation. Prayers are still needed for those recovering from such a tragic calamity.
Peter Wong, David’s brother, and a former WCG member known to many of us died in Auckland in December, aged 74, after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
In the last update I mentioned John Mata’afa’s severe fall. I’m pleased to report that John has pulled through a very serious situation and is slowly continuing to recover.
You might also remember the news item I passed on about a marathon church service being held in the Netherlands. As it happens, this service has finally ended this week, having fulfilled its objective. Here’s a report from yesterday’s New York Times:
After 96 days, non-stop church service to protect refugees ends
It was one of the longest religious ceremonies ever recorded, lasting for more than three months and involving nearly 1000 pastors and priests. But on Wednesday afternoon, local time, a Dutch church's non-stop 96-day vigil finally came to an end after its organisers received confirmation that a family of refugees sheltering inside the church would no longer face immediate deportation from the Netherlands.
Taking advantage of an obscure Dutch law that forbids the police to interrupt church services, ministers at Bethel Church in The Hague had been running a round-the-clock liturgy since October 26 in order to prevent the five members of the Tamrazyan family from being arrested and sent back to Armenia.
With xenophobia rising in Europe, Christianity's influence waning and governments taking harder stances on migration, the service quickly became a symbol of how the church can still play a role in contemporary European life — and how liberal causes can still resonate with European populaces. Pastors from across Europe visited Bethel to participate in the service, many with several members of their congregations in tow, while more than 250,000 people signed a petition calling for a change to the law under which hundreds of families like the Tamrazyans could have been deported.
"This is just the beginning," Derk Stegeman, one of the organisers of the Bethel service, said in a telephone interview after it had ended. "I hope it's a new way of being a church — a new way of having an impact on society, a new way of standing up for vulnerable people," said Stegeman, a Protestant Church pastor who has acted as a spokesman for the Tamrazyans.
Warm regards to all, Rex