Hi there! Dennis has returned from his trip, and we begin this week with his report, after which there are a few other items of news.
2021 (Nov. 8-23) South Island Tour Report
The last three weeks seem now almost a blur of travel interspersed with fellowship and little breaks in between for rest. Before setting out I asked for your prayer support for this trip, especially for the conversations I would have, and those prayers were certainly answered. Each conversation seemed to me deeper and more vital than in past years. Even the weather seemed ‘covered’ and I encountered hardly any rain between stops.
In all my years visiting our scattered South Island members I come away with a sense of joy and uplifted. Each year it seems we pick up where we left off the previous time and carry on as if we’d only drawn a breath in between. And what a pleasure it is to share conversation in such pleasant settings and hear their stories, how each is handling the stuff of life and facing their spiritual challenges. Each proves a rich launching pad to explore the questions life throws up and encourage each other’s faith. It reminds me of Jude’s words, “Keep yourself in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (v.21).
The first four days were the most testing physically travelling from Blenheim through Nelson and Westport down to Invercargill. One of the serendipitous advantages of travelling down the West Coast is the uninterrupted time to think with so little traffic to disturb the reflecting. And the scenery is uniquely its own and beautiful in its own way, as many of you know. It was a wonderful trip despite the odd hiccup. My intention had been to connect with Helen Horton soon after arriving in the South Island, but the ferry was so delayed arriving into Picton that we rescheduled for my return through Blenheim a fortnight later.
Hence, I met first with Beryl Salmond in Richmond, and shared a lunch with her in the retirement village cafeteria. She is in good spirits and passes her regards along to everyone. I know many of you remember her well. Later that evening I enjoyed the hospitality of Dean and Anne Asher and resumed our conversations of earlier years, which were always lively and uplifting. They serve on the leadership team of the Stoke Elim Church, hence we discussed church dynamics and challenges as well as swapping personal life stories. They too are in good spirits, but Anne has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Please remember her in prayer. From the Nelson region I moved then to Westport to see Yvonne Wayne. She was her typical cheerful self, and we shared a pleasant lunch together. Yvonne is the most isolated of our scattered members and enjoys any of us dropping by, as some have done in this last year. And thanks also to all who keep in touch with her by phone, text, and email, all of which at age 84 she is remarkably adept at using. Sadly, she has faced health challenges in the past couple of years and would surely appreciate being remembered in prayer.
My first chance to catch my breath was Invercargill, where I caught up with Les and Kaye Evans, and later attended the Invercargill small group in the home of Sue and Gordon Wood. Here the conversation is always lively. And yes, we shared a meal together, reminding me how often our fellowship centres on food, and how often also the biblical stories do too. While there I enjoyed also a morning with Anne Miller and her daughter Michelle, friends of more than 40 years, that many of you will remember also. This too proved to be a long chat about family and faith, sharing stories of God’s activity in our lives and encouraging each other in that journey.
The trip resumed on Sunday morning, beginning with Alan and Raewyn Minty who live near Nightcaps. Over morning tea and later lunch we enjoyed another wide-ranging discussion of the Bible in the real world and what we might do in it. It was a stimulating, fun time together, as it always is. Next stop was Queenstown to see Bert and Noeline Chandler (and some of the family, as it happens, who were also visiting). As you would expect, there were stories aplenty as we shared our experiences and caught up on things. Bert was keen to know some of what the Refresher Weekend in July had covered, so I laid out for him the basics of the “5 Voices” communication system now being widely used in GCI and why we are finding that so useful. If you care to, check out https://equipper.gci.org/2021/07/fitly-framed-together.
That night I stopped in Arrowtown and visited Ana and Mike Wright next morning for a delicious brunch in their home in the Arrowtown Lifestyle Village, sitting outside in the warm sun and greeting neighbours as they wandered passed. Mike showed me through their Recreational Centre and later engaged me in a deep dive into things he has been studying, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Mike’s health has improved remarkably after his stroke, and he is playing golf once again.
My next destination was Mosgiel, where I caught up first with Gordon Bisset, who along with the Millers I first met in 1980 when Sue and I moved to Dunedin and served the small church there. He is 92 now but still has a broad smile, keeps a good garden, and as befits a former farmer and house builder, has a very firm handshake! Again, how enjoyable it is to catch up on old friends. Moving on, I went out to nearby Allanton to visit with Gary and Pat Pullar for another long conversation touching on past and present, the various paths our Christian calling leads us down, and lifting up our needs in prayer. They are in good health, and he still works at his taxidermy but is moving to retire from it in the next little while.
Before heading north to Timaru on Wednesday I dropped in on Robyn Kerr, whose husband Fraser died in August. Again, they too were part of the Dunedin congregation in 1980 plus I had worked with Fraser briefly on my return from the UK in 1974. After passing on my condolences we spent two hours talking about family and experiences since Sue and I departed Dunedin in 1985 and reminiscing about common friends all over the country. Later in the day Chris Hoskins and I shared a long conversation around ideas centring in the New Covenant and who Christ is in that for us. These are themes, I noted in reflection, we have been dealing with in recent RCL passages in Hebrews. As you would expect, our discussion was robust and fruitful. He is involved in some community service in Timaru, but it is a struggle to identify how and where GCI might have an involvement beyond individual connecting and serving. This is a conundrum many of our smaller congregations face but is particularly hard for our scattered members. I would appeal that we all pray for the Lord’s inspiration and wisdom in this area and share ideas we have with others so they may focus their prayer there also. Prayer is such a vital part of our Christian living, not merely for the good of the individuals we lift up to God for protection and encouragement, but also, as we read in Ephesians 6:18-20, for fruitful outreaching to others and sharing our faith.
Passing through Ashburton to Christchurch, I stopped in with Brian Collins first, and later with Cameron and Julie Hay. Brian’s background in teaching means we always have a good discussion ranging from the things of daily life to the deeper things that challenge Christians in living and expressing our faith. That evening I stopped in with Julie and Cameron, whom I had been unable to visit on my last trip. Their four boys range from about 12 to 17 now, so theirs is a challenging time of life and much of their focus is on raising them well.
Friday was spent visiting first with Phil Baldwin in Darfield, catching him up on the many discussions I had been having and themes that had emerged. After which I moved on to the North Canterbury region to drop in on Jason and Rachel Krause and their boys Timothy and Theo for a relaxed dinner and chat. They are developing a small farmlet above Oxford, so it was interesting hearing the challenges of that endeavour as well as those faced in Jason’s working week. A special pleasure here was to meet Rachel’s sister Kristine Chadwick, who is recently returned from the UK and plans to settle in Christchurch.
As it happens, I had no visits for Saturday so was able to finalise my sermon for the next day. It was lovely to see Sandra Joy again, whom I was also unable to see during my last visit, along with Margaret Hammond, Brian Collins and Phil Baldwin. As some are aware, Sandra is awaiting surgery early next year, and Margaret is shifting soon. Please keep both in your prayer. Sandra and Margaret both spend much time praying for many of us, which is how they serve the church and bring encouragement to others, and it is fitting we return the favour.
My last stop Monday was to catch up with Helen Horton and share that evening meal we missed the fortnight before. She too is in good spirits but in some pain following recent surgery and would appreciate your prayers. It will be early in the New Year before she has her next check-up consultation.
So, it has been a wonderful two weeks spent with friends. It has also been so encouraging to note the many ways God works in, with and beyond us in our lives. And, in truth, many of us are wondering what more we might do in the service of His Kingdom and God’s question to Ezekiel (37:3) seems appropriate to many of us, “Can these bones live?” to which Ezekiel answers, “Lord, you alone know.” Again, please commit this yearn of the heart to prayer. Always, before the church moved to do a new thing, it followed a season of prayer where all join in unity to ask the Lord where he wants us to serve, and the contribution we might personally offer in that new calling. God is still on His throne and still answers when we pray (1 John 5:14), so let’s ask. And let’s also get ready for whatever it is that he sends us to do. I’m sure you, like me, want to hear those words Jesus gave in his parable to the workers (Matt. 25:21, 23), “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Zoom Services: With NZ moving to the new Covid Protection Framework (the traffic light system) as of December 3, we will be returning to our regular national Zoom services on the first Sunday of every month. This means we will have a Zoom service on December 5, and the next one after that will be on January 2.
We are looking into the feasibility of live-streaming weekly Auckland services, but there are a lot of technicalities involved in this, and we will advise if and when we are able to get these going.
This weekend's Zoom service will once again be presented by our Fiji members. I’ll send out the service sheet tomorrow.
Prayer Update: After a long wait, Sandra Joy has now been given a date for her heart operation, a little earlier than the date she had discussed with Dennis when he visited, as mentioned above. It has been scheduled for Friday Dec 17. She appreciates everyone’s prayers.
Exciting News from Fiji: The “Healthy Church Challenge” was an activity run over the last couple of months by the GCI Home Office, where young people from around the world submitted drawings and videos focusing on the faith, hope and love avenues.
We are delighted to report that two young people from Fiji, Zayne Panuve and Margaret Boyd, received the joint first prize in the age group for 8-11-year-olds. The prize was $300 USD to be used by the youths to host a healthy church activity in Fiji.
Hope: I thought a recent communication from the Bible Society of NZ was very topical, pointing to the current world situation and the answers provided by the Church.
"We are living in strange times experiencing constant change, pain and disruption. Fear is being propagated in our society and we are challenged on many fronts through the pandemics, climate change, freedom, economies, to name a few. With the seeds of fear and uncertainty sown daily, we are seeing the effect on people’s faith, hope and love for one another, but especially their hope.
“Bible Society NZ is committed to move our nation away from this position and mindset of fear in announcing our theme for Bible Month in July 2022: ‘The Bible is Hope!’ During this special month in July, we aim to share and encourage believers and non-believers with the Hope that we have available through the Word of God.
“Once you've registered, in early 2022 we will provide you with resources to help prepare you and your church for Bible Month 2022. These resources are designed to equip you to provide the message of Hope and further engage your congregation in what a biblical Hope means today. So, join us in 2022 as we go on the journey together to reposition ourselves and our communities from fear to HOPE through exploring what God’s Word teaches us around the subject.
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." — Jeremiah 29:11
If you would like material from the Bible Society on this theme, you can register at https://biblesociety.org.nz.
Vanuatu: It was nice to note the following in this week’s issue of the Vanuatu Daily Post. “The Minister of Education, Samson Samsen, said before the establishment of government schools, it was the churches which started to educate the people in Vanuatu. He said the government sees the importance of the churches’ contributions because they shaped the future of a child with formal and spiritual education. Samsen said the spiritual education of a child is very important today because the world is changing and social issues are increasing.”
That’s it for this week. Warm regards to all, Rex