This morning when I arrived back home from the service, which I had the privilege of conducting for the first time at my "new" Society of St Andrews Methodist Church in Eldorado Park, I fired up my trusty Dell and logged onto my two favourite blogs - those of Dion Forster and Wessel Bentley. I have never met either of these gentlemen, but through reading their blogs, sharing comments, and having received the most encouraging e-mails from both of them, I feel as though already we are friends (despite me stubbornly clinging to my Windows computers, and riding a Vuka scooter rather than a Vespa - more about that some other time).
Having been called to enter full-time ordained ministry, it was with a keen interest that I read the piece on Dion's blog entitled "At the end of the day - discerning a developing call". For it was at the same Synod in 2006, where I asked a ministry candidate the question "why ordained ministry", rather than continuing in what already sounded like an amazing work for God in a lay capacity, where two days later God placed "that" stirring upon my heart.
There has been many an occasion where I questioned God concerning this call. I had just started a tax consultancy, and was in fact halfway through the first year of a Higher Diploma in Tax Law (which I couldn't complete - the call to ministry was so strong that I just lost all motivation for tax, knowing in my heart that I needed to start with theological studies as soon as I possibly could). I was already 37 years old, and I've already been through the pain of going through articles for my training as an accountant. The difference then was that earning a salary that was less than the minimum wage for beer-truck packers at SA Breweries is fine when you are 21 years old with relatively few responsibilities. 16 years later, things are a bit different, what with being married with a 9 year-old son, and having three retired parents to look after as well.
But God is faithful to those whom He calls, and He has shown His faithfulness by giving me the most incredible wife any man could ask for. When I came home from that 2006 Synod, and shared what had happened with her, there was none of the expected questioning such as "how will we survive on a Phase 1 stipend", or "what about James's schooling", or "what if the Church sends you to Tweebuffelsmeteenskootdoodgeskietfontein" (for my non-Afrikaans readers, I'll explain this at the end of this post). Rather, her view was: "God has called you. God will provide".
In fact, one of the most incredible aspects of all is the total lack of surprise expressed by my wife, my mother, and my son. The general feeling was one of "it's about time you finally started listening to God for a change!"
But I still wasn't convinced at first. As I shared on Dion's blog, I was just like those Pharisees in Jesus' day, constantly asking God for a sign. And another. And then another. Finally, when driving home from my visit to Rev Kedibone Mosweu, who candidated from my previous Society and was at this point doing her Phase 1 in Khunwana (which is part of the Onalerona Circuit), I asked God for yet another sign.
As though being witness to a miracle that morning was not enough! We had loaded my car to the gills with clothing to take to Khunwana, since Kedibone had shared with me the dire poverty that is prevalent in this rural community, and to be quite honest, we were feeling quite chuffed with ourselves. That feeling faded rapidly on the Sunday morning during the service, when the stewards started distributing the clothing among the members of the congregation. You did not need a Masters degree in financial management to establish that there was no way on God's great earth that there was enough stuff in those boxes to meet the needs.
I then realised how that boy with the five loaves and two fish must have felt when he gave them to the disciples, who needed to feed multitudes of people. Yet God showed me how powerful He is that day, for the stewards kept bringing clothing out of those boxes right until the last person in the congregation had received something. Surely THIS had to be the sign that I needed?
Oh, how little faith I had. Not two hours later, on the way home, there I was again, asking God for another sign! And I praise God, for He met me where I was at. About halfway home, we saw the most amazing rainbow - the type that you will never see in Johannesburg - and we were so amazed that I stopped the car so that we could admire this symbol of God's promise to Noah all those thousands of years ago.
And while we were looking at the clarity of the colours, I heard God's voice as clear as though He was standing right next to me: "Steven - how many more signs do you want?" That was it! No more questions. No more doubts. God had truly called me to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
Little did I know that all hell was about to break loose in the life of our church. Being called to serve on two pastoral commissions, and the things that I encountered there, as well as becoming involved, by virtue of my position as Circuit Treasurer, with a number of crises in our own Circuit, would be enough to convince anyone that this organisation we call the Methodist Church is rotten to its core.
So it was on more than one occasion that I asked God: "Are You sure about this?"
God was silent on those occasions - at least in terms of a direct answer to my questioning. However, I believe that it was His divine Will that led me to Matthew 4, where Jesus was alone in the desert, having to face the devil, with nothing to hold onto but "It is written...". That's when I knew that the calling was true.
Just like the disciples going through the storm, I did come out on the other side. I guess that having seen aspects of our Church at its worst, I can never have the excuse that I went into ministry with my eyes closed!
Nearly two years on, I believe that the call of God to ministry is as strongly on my life as it was in that cold Bedfordview Town Hall during May 2006. God has proven time and time again that He is worthy of our trust in Him. He has brought me through the first four quarters as a Local Preacher on trial, the first batch of exams, and that frightening pack of forms that had to go through to EMMU.
My prayer now is that when I appear before the screening committee in a couple of weeks time (where I hope to meet Dion in person), God will give me the strength and the words to convey this call to the committee members.
Please pray for me as I enter into this crucial phase of candidature.
The meaning of "Tweebuffelsmeteenskootdoodgeskietfontein"
This is an Afrikaans word which, when translated directly, means "Two buffalos were shot dead with one shot fountain". The "fountain" part is a common suffix of many South African Towns (e.g. Bloemfontein), and the "two buffalos" part is a colloquialism that refers to tiny, out of the way towns stuck out in the middle of nowhere. The longer the name, the more remote the town. When candidates for the Methodist ministry enter their first year of probation, known as Phase 1, it often happens that you are stationed in the most remote locations, as far away from home as possible. At least, that's how it works in the Central District - Bishop Paul Verryn's "toughening-up" programme for softy probationers, perhaps?
Friday - As the world braces itself for Black Friday, can I take this chance to remind us all of the GREATEST Friday of all time - the day that Jesus gave his life...
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