This Sunday, we begin the season of Advent. Growing up, my long-lasting memories of this season include making advent wreaths, lighting candles each Sunday, and the joyful anticipation recalling the Christmas narrative. Advent is a hope-filled time brimming with excitement as we remember God coming to dwell among us as a baby boy. It surely is a season where we party!
In the year of 2017, Advent came alive in a new exciting way for me, as my husband and I had just received the news that we were pregnant after years of challenges trying to create a family. I identified with Elizabeth, I resonated with Mary, and felt the wonder and celebration of the season so profoundly. Then, on Christmas Day, we lost our baby. We were confronted not only with the heart-wrenching loss, but also faced the painful juxtaposition of this celebratory season all around us. Where were we to find ourselves in the joyous Christmas story – and not just this year, but in all the years to come?
In the biblical narrative of Christmas, there’s a couple of verses in Matthew I had never noticed before. They’re not the ones we hear sermons on or write Christmas carols about (Who’s gonna write a Christmas carol about a genocide?). Herod goes on a power trip, and fearful of the news of Jesus’ birth, he orders the genocide of all baby boys under the age of two across the region (Matthew 2:16). Here in the midst of our Christmas narrative we find awful, ruthless loss. We see injustice and political powers destroying the most vulnerable in society; it’s not all ‘joy to the world’ in this moment. Quoting Jeremiah, Matthew reveals the grieving reality of those who experience these horrors.
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted
because they are no more.”
– Matthew 2:18
A voice is heard. A weeping. A collective of voices, mourning mothers (and fathers) who are in the gut-ripping claws of grief. This inclusion of the brutal reality of loss that first Christmas made it possible for me to feel a part of the Christmas story. I identified with Rachel, a weeping mother.
At the same time that Rachel weeps for the children who are no more, there is celebration for a child born – the Saviour of the World. Here is the juxtaposition right before us. A paradox of lightness and darkness that we still see today. The birth of Jesus is the inauguration of God’s Kingdom coming on earth, yet all creation is groaning and awaiting Jesus’ final return as King, making all things new.
We can see in our world today that the rule of the King and restoration of the Kingdom has not-yet reached fruition. And there are a lot of things in our world not-yet restored. There is so much loss this year. So. Much. The world feels more fragile than it ever has, a global pandemic, political upheavals, racial injustice, ruthless poverty and hunger, uncontrollable fires, devastating floods and much, much more. There will be a great mourning this year for the 1,430,000 families (to date) who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, not to mention all the ‘hidden’ losses of babies, the loss of jobs, livelihoods, or homes. There is much to grieve in our world.
In the Advent narrative, like Rachel’s weeping, God’s sorrow at a broken world is the very reason God has come to dwell among us. Advent actually invites and makes welcome our tears and grief as a part of the story. We see our ‘not-yet’ realities, and we look to a future hope where all will be restored and every tear will be wiped away.
Loss and grief are no longer an end, they are included as part of the way to resurrected life in Christ. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
And that really is hope for our world.
So as God’s people who are sent into this world, we are invited to live into this juxtaposition. Grieving for the losses while celebrating that our Saviour is born and all that means for our future hope. NZCMS sends people to the hard places to demonstrate Kingdom reconciliation. We hold the global realities before the NZ Church that we might be stirred to pray, to give and to go.
As God’s people we hold hope in the spaces of our world where it looks hopeless. We embody peace and reconciliation in a violent world tearing each other down. We practice joy by celebrating any small miracle or good news amid the sorrows. We enact radical love in a world handing out cheap love and calling some ‘unlovable’. We grow in faith as we courageously (and fearfully) say ‘yes’, like Mary does, to the arrival of God in our midst.
To those of us who are carrying grief and loss into this Advent season, you are included. May we live the juxtaposition deeply this Advent. May our Advent be a joyful party and a season for grieving as we know God with us.
Kirstin Cant, Missions Enabler
2020 has been a year full of changes, and learning how to continue trusting God every day. NZCMS continues to rely on God to see Kingdom transformation around the world. In this week’s email newsletter, our National Director, Rosie, shares a video update about what this year has looked like for us so far and invites you to continue joining with us in serving God in mission.
Watch the video here.
I praise God for the response of the Gospel In Te Puaha O Waikato. Praise Him for the huge growth of the Marae ministry. On October 18 we had 86 local Iwi attend our second Sunday service at Te Kotahitanga Marae. Many of our kaumātua (Elders) attended with some travelling from as far as Rotorua, a 3 hour drive! Many of these people had not attended church for over 20 years apart from funeral services.
God is good. This ministry has been very effective in regards to reaching the unsaved, unchurched and those who have a belief of spirituality but do not know the King of Kings. The Lord is turning the dried waste land into flowing streams.
Kororia ki te Atua.
Glory be to God.
An update while I am in “town’ this week after a three month series of Bible trainings for clergy. Covid19 legislation meant that we are not allowed have large church gatherings. This became a blessing in disguise as we were able to think in terms of small groups of clergy coming deanery by deanery. So we’ve had over 40 attend together for a week doing three things:
– Whole of bible Overview – Anglican Studies colleagues think Old Testament and New Testaments overview materials condensed from 12 months to six days!
– Theological Reflections
– Build a community of men serving one another in worship through household chores such as cleaning and dish washing. Selfishly, it was great to be banned from the kitchen for three weeks.
Bearing in mind that the groups were multi-cultural and multilingual, praise God we all survived peacefully. Also, praise God we were fed well. Lastly, I praise God for just enough money from supporters for dinghy fuel and for the generator so we that we had electricity for four hours each evening.”
I love India. It is vibrant and pungent with aroma and colour. It is ancient and earthy, communal and spiritual. It is raw and real and pulsing with life. Relationships dominate, rather than tasks. India is the people I know.
I hate India because, where I have been, there is so much pain and intense suffering and every single story stands as a testament to what is true for thousands, perhaps millions of others. This, let’s be honest, can be overwhelming. But, I guess I want to say is that I’ve come to know there is more than that. Because the invitation continues!
Recently I was reading from Luke 24. Jesus had just died and despair and confusion among his followers reigned. Two of his followers were talking about this when Jesus himself joined their conversation. It took some time for the truth to be opened to them. But when they finally recognised Jesus they exclaimed “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us along the road…”
The risen Messiah was breathing real hope into the confusion, the despair and the aimless wanderings of these two men on their way to Emmaus. I almost cried, because I know that feeling, of my heart burning within me. The hope of His presence bringing a different future! And this is the stuff that matters to me.
You see Jesus’ invitation is not to despair, and not to aimless confusion. His invitation may travel through these, but it has always been to see through His eyes. Eyes of hope. Real hope. Where there seems to be none. And then to love in action.
The stories I want to share with you here are stories of transformation. Stories where hope has become real, one baby step at a time and where I see His Kingship touching down on earth which makes my heart burn within me. I’m not sure if, in a few paragraphs of print on a page you will be able grasp the full extent of what these stories mean to the people involved. But let’s see.
These few stories I have chosen are from the work of the many dedicated Indian Christians we worked alongside as part of Emmanuel Hospital Association’s (EHA) community work.
While these people all live many, many miles from New Zealand, my prayer is that they will encourage you and enable you to think about Jesus’ invitation to you, into His own heart, even be it though despair, that you would be enabled to see with hope and then to act in love. I know they would be excited to know of such impact!
Nitu is a girl from Bihar in India. Two years ago, when she was 15, Nitu was studying in 9th grade. She was good at her study and dreamed of becoming a teacher but extreme poverty forced her to leave school and work in a neighbour’s field. Being a determined girl however, she re-enrolled herself, but failed her tenth grade exam. After this her father tried to arrange her marriage. The prospect of marrying a much older stranger devastated Nitu. She tried to convince her parents that she should not marry but they too were determined!
Nitu heard about a girls group which had been started by the EHA project in her village. She joined the group and told her story to the group members and project staff. Several of the members and project staff visited Nitu’s home and talked with her father about the risks involved in getting married at a young age and that child marriage is a punishable offence. Nitu’s father was unaware that what he was trying to do was illegal and that he could be imprisoned for up to 2 years and fined. He agreed that it would be best to cancel the wedding plans and for Nitu to return to school. The project supported Nitu by paying her tuition fees and she has since passed her tenth grade exam. She is working hard to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher.
THE ROSHNI SELF HELP GROUP
In a mainly tribal area of Champa district, the community had relied on agricultural work. With continuing poor rains and lack of land ownership, there were huge struggles. People were starting to migrate for work (with all the dangers involved in that) or were doing small local jobs. The EHA project working in the area helped 15 of the women form a ‘self help group’. Together they were able to identify some 5 acres of uncultivated land to use. They fenced it off to protect it from animals and worked hard, transforming it into a vegetable growing area. The project team supported by digging a bore well. Through this initiative the women appreciate the time they get to spend working with their friends. Most importantly, they are all now self employed and earning enough to support their families!
Mr. Raju is from Fatehpur in the state of Uttar Pradesh. He has had a disability since birth and was totally dependent on his parents for all his needs. Through the EHA project he was supplied with a wheelchair that was customized for him. This enabled him to help with chores and he was able to go out with friends. His parents were relieved with the changes they saw. The project motivated him to take part in a skills training program and he learnt to repair mobile phones. He has since got work at a local phone repair shop and now also can stand and walk a little with a stick.
Amanda, Returned Mission Partner from India
For the last few months it’s felt as if we’ve been straddling two worlds. We’ve been readjusting to life in New Zealand, while still seeking to minister to the needs of the people at All Saints’ Jakarta. It has been no easy feat. But we have been sustained by God, who has shown his goodness to us again and again. We are always amazed at how God uses people to walk alongside and draw us on when we are facing new challenges.
We are so thankful for your kind messages, financial support and your prayers. We have been on quite a journey since we left ‘home’ at the end of 2018. With great sadness we wanted to write and let you know that our journey is now taking a vastly different direction to what we had hoped and dreamed.
Yesterday I wrote to the Church Council to tender my resignation as Acting Vicar, and Assistant Minister of All Saints’ Anglican Church Jakarta. We have arrived at this decision through a pretty robust process of discernment with NZCMS.
I’m sure you can understand that this has been an exceptionally difficult decision to make. When we left for Jakarta, we were leaving with the intention of long-term service overseas. We sold up, packed up, and shipped out.
I have wrestled at length with a great desire to serve the faithful men and women of All Saints’ Jakarta in the midst of a growing sense of unease as we’ve tried to develop new ministry initiatives, by distance, in a new role (Acting Vicar rather than Associate Minister).
There have been some incredible joys in the past ten months as we’ve seen God’s faithfulness to us as a family and within the parish church in a time of incredible trial. But I have also come to the realisation that my personality and style of ministry leadership is not a good fit for All Saints’ Jakarta.
This reality, coupled with the uncertainty of remote ministry during a global pandemic and the pressure this places on my wife, Karen and children, William and Amelia, during this time of flux, has led us to the conclusion that the current ministry arrangement is untenable.
We’ve offered to stay on with All Saints’ until the end of this year. After that we don’t know what God has in store for us, but our sense is that basing ourselves in Nelson where we’ve got amazing support around us will be the best thing for now, God willing.
NZCMS have generously committed to supporting us until the end of March 2021 if required.
We couldn’t be more grateful for the support of Lesley our Personnel Manager who has been right there for us every step of the way, to listen, reflect and pray for and with us. The whole team at NZCMS have been absolutely stellar.
While much about this is difficult, we have not lost our heart for cross-cultural mission. It seems unlikely that we will be ‘heading out’ again any time soon, but, we want to encourage others in global mission and to be people who share the Good News of Jesus wherever we are.
In time we will be in touch with more news, but for now we would appreciate prayer in the following areas:
- Pray for All Saints’ Jakarta as they digest this tough decision. Ask God to encourage them, and prevent them from despair.
- Pray that we would have wisdom about how to walk in a godly way in a time of uncertainty.
- Pray that we would know God’s peace as the impact of this decision, and uncertainty about the future sinks in.
- Give thanks for the amazing team of supporters who walk with us (you!) and the staff of NZCMS.
Thanks you again for your partnership and support, with love Zane, Karen, William and Amelia.
For the weeks following, I had planned to surf waves, build relationships, and tell stories. Instead, I ended up in hospital with a bad moustache. The funny thing is, all of these things, the relationship building and storytelling, still happened! Just not how I had planned them. And I definitely wasn’t surfing any more.
I recall this story because 2020 hasn’t happen as we planned either. At the start of this year we were excited for Better World 2020. This would be our second year of taking young people on radical adventures for Jesus throughout the globe and exploring the big issues of justice and faith. Then COVID19. Talk about falling off the surf board and getting smacked in the face! With all the uncertainty of the first lockdown and the unknown nature of the COVID19 pandemic Better World and the NZCMS leadership decided that the best option was to cancel Better World 2020. We spoke with our past and present participants and also made a way for them to engage in the Anglican Youth Movement here in Wellington so they could continue to engage in radical discipleship.
When the thing you’re investing in or planning to roll out doesn’t go to plan it’s easy to sit there and say “Sorry folks it’s all said and done” or “Let’s just wait till the pandemic is over.” But when we decided to sit at the feet of our radical God who can overcome or use anything for Kingdom advancement, it felt only right to reimagine our program and press into the core things that Better World Gap Year stands for: adventure, growing in faith and discipleship, and going deep with young people in mission.
These things are still true to what Better World is. Only now we can’t unpack these things in another country. What we can do, however, is unpack them here in Aotearoa. Being able to adjust and pivot to changing circumstances is something that we have had to rely on God for a lot in this season. Maybe if I’d done that while surfing I might not have landed in hospital.
So, after two years building up this Gap Year program and with a movement of young people starting to trust and get in behind it, we asked God “What are you doing?” The fruit of this questioning is that in this season, we’ve sat at his feet and trusted in His faithfulness. We’ve also decided to pair this with enough gumption to keep going rather than throw it all away because it’s not working the way it was before.
We’ve learned to be bold enough to trust in what God is doing amongst young adults here in New Zealand and continue to recognise how passionate they are about exploring the world, faith, justice and their role to play in advancing God’s Kingdom here on earth. As we’ve been riding the wave of this current environment, we continue to feel called by God to be passionate about exploring, discipling and journeying with these radically ordinary young New Zealanders as we learn what mission looks like today.
That is where Better World 2021 Aotearoa has come from. And we would love to include you in that journey.
NZCMS Mission Enabler