Visit to Lower South Island Members
Over this past week I have been visiting members in the far south. Having lived there earlier for several happy years it is like ‘coming home’ each time I return.
Visiting to encourage old friends is always a pleasure, a chance to find out what is on their minds and hearts. Plus, I get to tell them what I’m busy with and aiming to do. This year my hope was to learn more of how they are active in their communities and what they hope to see one day. They also, like we who live further north, have been pondering what impact is possible with limited numbers and resources.
My first visit was to Gordon Bisset in Mosgiel. He was part of the congregation Sue and I served in the 1980s, is now 93 and doing very well. What I remember so well from that time is how often he would go out of his way for neighbours, family and friends, and his generosity with handyman and gardening help. Gary Pullar, who lives nearby and not far from the airport, accompanied me and we spent a pleasant hour encouraging Gordon and reminiscing highlights of our shared past.
Following that, I shared a soup and toast lunch with Pat and Gary before driving to Invercargill and joining Les and Kaye Evans for a home cooked dinner they had prepared for me. They are currently active building another new house, which they plan to sell in support of their outreach work in the area and partly to go toward future opportunities they see emerging.
Since the Southern Light centre closed, Les and Kaye now operate under the Southern Light Connections banner. Their aim is connecting with and supporting local outreaches into community. One of the ‘connector’ things they do is share a little gift (pot of honey, chocolate almonds, etc.) with those who serve them in their travels. After dinner out Friday night, a gift of chocolate almonds was given. Often recipients are bewildered but they are never unhappy about it. It is a way of showing gratitude and spreading a little cheer.
Friday morning was spent with another old friend, Anne Miller, whose husband Eric died recently. After catching up on family challenges and celebrations, we enjoyed a pleasant couple of hours over morning tea discussing a few questions she had and talking about what the church is doing globally and locally. Then in the afternoon I visited with Gordon and Sue Wood.
Sue Wood prepares Samaritans Purse Christmas boxes with some financial help from the congregation, collecting supplies through the year and assembling them for dispatch as the season approaches. Another outreach she does she calls Bible planting. For this, she assembles a New Testament (bought inexpensively from Manna Christian bookstore plus other good quality literature) (see the picture alongside). These are put into a Ziplock plastic bag with a Southern Light Connections card and a small flier saying all is free for the taking. Then she places these packs in high foot traffic areas on benches, atop low walls, on power junction boxes outside stores, etc. Checking back an hour or two later she often finds they have vanished. The intention is to equip and bless whoever picks them up and encourage them toward connecting with a local church.
Gordon’s talents are in journalism. He is presently readying a series of pamphlets answering questions experience has taught him people are interested in. His next challenge will be finding ways to put these in people’s hands.
Another activity Sue Wood and Kaye Evans are involved with is an outreach called Know Your Bible (KYB). Aimed at Christians and seekers, this is a ladies’ study on biblical and other topics prepared by CWCI (Christian Women Communicating International). They started doing these privately, but soon other ladies joined them. Although still a small group, the opportunity for others to join them, including not-yet-Christians is clear. The CWCI also runs teaching camps which Sue and Kaye have attended. They find these a wonderful opportunity to meet others of like mind, share experiences and glean new ideas.
During my trip to Invercargill, I also spoke with the group. I could not help but smile when the RCL readings for the weekend fitted so well what we had been talking about and was so easily adapted to the opportunities they see.
Sunday morning held a special treat as Les and Kaye, along with Sue Wood and me, visited a rural outreach of the Tuatapere Presbyterian church called “The Well”. Located 80 km to the west near the Southland coastline, it is a café and place to meet and talk. Lynley McKerrow, a church elder there, had a vision to lease a couple of buildings and bless people of their small town, especially the children. So, a year ago, she and her husband Terry Hunt, established “The Well”. He does the cooking, and I can vouch that it is good food served with a spirit of generosity. The cafe is bright and spacious; an inviting spot to congregate.
Lynley, a gracious lady with infectious enthusiasm, shared that her vision includes more than just the café. Another building is being prepared to act as a hangout for teens after school, a vacant area between the buildings will have an area for playing basketball, and there will be also a small children’s bike trail out back. So much has already been accomplished and God’s hand seems strongly on it. She asked of me that I would pray also for this outreach, and I invite you to add yours also.
This experience reminds me that vision for outreach starts with God. It also confirms that vision is not about ideas to do ‘anything’ but having a definite ‘something’ clearly in mind around which to plan. When God is in something it will prosper despite the obstacles, though it may take time and grow only slowly. But he is patient, and so we can be too. What is always essential is that our eyes stay on our goals, and especially on Christ, who gives us that vision we are pursuing.
That day wasn’t over just yet for me, as I was stopping the night with Alan Minty, who lives about 50 km to the NE, again deep in rural Southland. As we always do, Alan and I had a spirited conversation on what God is doing and how the Holy Spirit is at work in us despite the challenges of isolation. We all have neighbours who all need Jesus. He and Raewyn (at a school camp that day) serve their rural community as there is opportunity, being a steady, helping hand to neighbours and friends there.
My last full day visiting, Monday, began with a 150 km drive north to Queenstown to see Bert and Noeline Chandler. They too made me cheerfully welcome, and the conversation quickly turned to family, neighbours, and outreach. As we talked, Bert made a passing comment that is so true; good ideas only help when our hearts are in what we are doing, and our lives reflect the love, generosity and joy that Christ and his Spirit within generate. They too are working with ideas, and we talked though one in particular that may prove useful.
Bert’s comment brought to mind the Benjamin Zander TED talk comment several of us saw at the Waikanae Refresher Weekend. When we are strongly convinced of something, which is another way of saying that we have a vision, then that changes everything! Hence, in light of that, “How would you walk, and how would you talk, and how would you be?” Everything in God’s service comes back to our convictions and our vision. If we will then step out on whatever that ‘something’ is that for us is a door of opportunity, God will empower that (since he is its source anyway) and help us along the way to achieve it. And invariably, that will lead to another ‘something’ to pursue, making life both challenge and joy, hope and fulfilment, and life in family and community immensely richer and more satisfying.
Following on from the Chandlers, I stopped in on Mike and Ana Wright in Arrowtown. My intent here had another element to it since Mike had invited me to enjoy 9 holes of golf the next time I came through. What a wonderful way to both catch up on things and talk, and to destress at the same time.
And so again, this trip also has proved profitable, encouraging, and memorable in equal parts. Please pray for the church in the far south. Though isolated from each other most of the time, they are keenly involved in what we as a church are more and more finding our focus fixed upon and are actively doing what they can in the harvest field of our Lord.
May God’s blessing and favour rest on you all.