Around the World in Seven Weeks, February 2007
In February and March, 2006, Grace joined me for a trip around the world speaking and networking with people who are part (or becoming part) of the emergent conversation. The trip marked a new beginning for us. We completed 24 years of pastoral leadership at Cedar Ridge Community Church (crcc.org – which will continue to be our home church) and began a new phase of life, concentrating on writing, speaking, networking, and otherwise “plotting goodness” in new and undiscovered ways.
We began in Sydney, graciously hosted by our friends Fuzz and Carolyn Kitto. The first event had about 180 people in attendance (they had hoped for 100, so this was very encouraging). Guests came from across denominational lines and included a number of denominational leaders, along with plenty of church planters and other interesting folk. Response was very positive. The organizing group - Converse - has an exciting future!
While in Sydney, I had my first day "out of the pulpit" as a pastor. (The previous Sunday didn't count because we crossed the International Date Line, passing from Saturday night directly to Monday morning!) It was a completely free day for us. We had an experience that I thought I'd share. It was a truly holy and glorious moment and I felt God spoke to me through it.
We walked down to the "Circular Quay" where the famous Sydney Opera House is situated. Across from the Opera House is a district called "The Rocks" - full of shops, sidewalk booths, etc. It was a perfect summer day, beautiful breeze, blue sky, sailboats filling the bay behind us. A jazz group was playing on a stage in a courtyard, and we got something to eat and enjoyed their music. A middle-aged couple got up and started dancing - they were amazing! Then an old lady got up, then an old man, and soon there were half-a-dozen people spontaneously dancing to this beautiful music - blues, swing, etc.
Near the stage, I noticed a five or six year old boy who appeared mentally handicapped. He was absolutely entranced with the music. He put up a fist to his mouth as if it were a trumpet and pretended to play it with his other hand. Soon, without realizing it, he had moved out beside the stage. His eyes were closed and he was playing his heart out on his imaginary trumpet. The sax player noticed this, and the hopped off the stage and stood beside the young guy. When he opened his eyes, the sax player started dancing around as he played and the little boy followed his lead. Then the trumpet player saw them, and he came down. The little boy in between the two musicians ... "playing" and dancing in an obvious state of ecstasy - the audience started applauding and I know my eyes were overflowing with tears to see something so beautiful and spontaneous and glorious.
Then I looked back to where the boy had been, and his grandfather was standing there in obvious delight to see his grandson so happy. I leaned over to Grace and whispered, "It's a glimpse of the kingdom of God."
It was a perfect end to our time in Sydney, and that scene will stay with me as a reminder that God is at work everywhere, if only we have eyes to see.
From there we went to Melbourne where we were hosted by Mark and Robyn Pierson at the Urban Seed headquarters. Fantastic organization and people! Mark arranged a number of gatherings - with pastors from the Uniting Church, with pastors from the Baptist Churches, and with a variety of people at Tabor College, an interdenominational school with Pentecostal roots. Each event was full of interested and gifted people, and I left very much encouraged by the response.
Our time in New Zealand was equally good and rich. Mark Pierson accompanied us and treated us royally. We spent the first weekend in Aukland. I spoke for a conference there, then at two Baptist churches. We then travelled south to Palmerston North where there was another one-day conference plus a lot of good conversations with some very sharp young leaders. Next we flew to Christchurch where we stayed with some wonderful artists, Peter and Joyce Majendie, who do installation art (Stations of the Cross, Christmas, etc.). We did a one-day conference plus two church services and had lots of worthwhile private conversations and dinners.
Then we flew here to South Africa. Mosaiek Church, led by Johann and Wilma Geyser and a tremendous team, has helped create a wonderful network (MissioNet) which brought together 120 leaders, twice the size of their previous gatherings. These were really thoughtful and committed leaders from a variety of backgrounds - pastors, church planters, theologians. Emergent Africa (emergentafrica.com) helped promote the event. Then I spoke at the Sunday services at Mosaiek, one of the warmest and most talented and hopeful churches I have ever visited. Grace was able to visit a township church and get a feel for the important work being done in the midst of extreme poverty.
From there we went to the East Cape, spending time with our friends Graeme and Jane Codrington and John and Colleen Benn, key people in emergentafrica.com and wonderful hosts. We spoke for several gatherings held at First City Baptist and toured the HIV/AIDS clinic they have developed. Then we traveled with Sean and Monica Callaghan to Port Elizabeth. Sean and Monica are church planters and leaders who epitomize what is good and hopeful about emerging churches. We spoke at a vibrant multiracial Baptist church, and had a breakfast meeting with a wide array of innovative leaders from that city.
Our trip ended with a week in Stellenbosch, just outside of Capetown. Wilma Enslin, a pastor at Stellenbosch Community, arranged our time and proved to be a truly “lakker leader.” She and senior pastor Theo Geyser (brother to Johann, our host in Johannesburg) treated us far better than we deserved and made our time a real delight. Dr. Jurgens Hendricks invited me to speak to a group of church and university leaders on economics (a topic of growing interest to me, since one can’t address poverty without addressing what makes for a healthy and just economy). After speaking to a large group of students, I led a half-day seminar with about 180 Christian leaders from the region – a group representing 32 denominations!
I also spent a day with Johannes Erasmus, a caring Christian leader who has helped “map” extreme poverty in the Cape. First we visited African Indigenous Church leaders in Khayelitsha – a community plagued by poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDs, overcrowded and temporary housing without adequate infrastructure, rapid immigration from rural areas, and other related problems. Then we met with leaders in another poor community – Mitchell’s Plain. These meetings were a great privilege for me – as I was able to ask questions, listen, and learn from people who are seeking to serve God in the Africa that breaks so many hearts. Jurgens and Helen Hendricks introduced us to a number of their friends – PhD students from across Africa who are being mentored by this wonderful couple.
Our last day in Africa, I spoke at Stellenbosch Community, one of the most vibrant young congregations I’ve seen anywhere in the world. When we left, Grace and I had a tear in our eyes and a lump in our throats, as we felt we were leaving new friends whom we will miss greatly.
At most gatherings, Grace has been able to bring together some amazing women leaders. The tide is turning and doors are opening for women leaders, although all of us wish the progress was faster and farther along.
Through all this we've had great meals, met phenomenal people, heard both inspiring and heartbreaking stories, seen glorious scenery, laughed at great stories and more than a few jokes, and grown in our awareness that something important and far-reaching is indeed happening around this conversation about emerging, missional, post-colonial Christian faith. I sense that we are very near a "tipping point" - and my concern is not that this emerging global movement won't fully emerge, but that we won't be fully ready when it does. The growth of the emergent network globally is indeed an important and needed endeavor (amahoro.info).
Of course, each locale has been unique, but I'd say that the similarities among the events, churches, and leaders are more striking than the differences - both the similar problems and the common sense of hope, both the shared obstacles and the uniting dreams for better days for the church and for our holistic, integral mission in God's world. It was a privilege beyond words for us to get a glimpse of what’s happening, and I hope in some small way to encourage it.