God's Word for today

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Images of refugees

I had some problems uploading pictures for a while, and only managed to do so this morning. However, the post slotted in further down as it kept the original date upon which I tried to create it.

Please scroll down if you want to see the pictures.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

I'm accepted!

After a process of candidature stretching over nearly two years, it has finally come down to this - the final appearance before our District Synod. This would determine whether we would be accepted as probationer ministers in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

The "whittling-down" process has been ruthless. While I don't know how many potential candidates entered the first stage of appearing before their Circuit Quarterly Meetings, of the 39 people in our District who made it onto the list of candidates issued by the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit at the beginning of 2008, only 7 of us got to stand in front of the Bishop and the rest of the Synod delegates to make our promises to the Church.

There were many tears flowing as the Bishop prayed for us, after which he invited the Synod delegates to participate in "organised chaos" as over 200 people came up to hug us, shake hands, and offer congratulations.

Up to now there have been three pivotal moments in my life - receiving Jesus as Lord, marrying my wonderful wife, and seeing my son come into the world. Being accepted as a probationer for ministry must surely rank up there.

I give thanks to God for choosing one so unworthy to be part of the Great Commission by calling me to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. It is only by His grace that I can even hope to bring Him glory in this manner. I also want to thank those who have supported me thus far, including my family, friends, and the many people within the Church who have journeyed with me (even those who "nailed" me in the February screening - that experience has enabled me to grow).

[I have not long returned from this morning's service, and since I have not even seen my family for nearly four days, we are going out for a meal to celebrate. Words and images from Central District Synod 2008 will follow shortly.]

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Images of Jeppe police station - sanctuary for about 1 400 refugees (1)

There seems to be a problem with either Blogger or my FTP site at the moment, as I am unable to upload pictures. Post to follow...

Changes to Synod procedure - eek!

For the past couple of months I have been preparing to share my testimony and call to ministry before a fairly small group, referred to as a "listening committee". While this is nerve-wracking enough, at least the intimacy of such a group allows one to clarify one's thoughts if it doesn't come across 100% the first time.

This morning I received a call from Faith Whitby, who informed me that the procedure has been changed for this year's Synod, and now I would need to give my testimpny and call in front of the entire Synod.


Please pray for me - I've heard some horror stories from ministers who went through a similar process in previous Synods when they candidated, and some of them went through a rough ride!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Images of Jeppe police station - sanctuary for about 1 400 refugees (2)

The problem with uploading images seems to have been sorted out, so this is just a quick post and some pictures of the refugees who are being sheltered at the Jeppe police station as a result of the xenophobic violence currently sweeping our country.

This one is the view from a balcony overlooking the area from where we were serving food. People everywhere...

This one is another view from the balcony. We were using the staircase to the left of the picture as a means of controlling the crowd. Yesterday we were nearly crushed by throngs of starving people. This method was much better!

Soup galore!

I had a bit of “spillage” in the back of my truck. I guess that with about 100 litres of soup sloshing around in various pots and other containers, SOME of it had to spill over…

This is what we had left in bread at about 16h00 yesterday – that should give you an idea of how much we started with…
More to follow...

Monday, 19 May 2008

Ministry: not for cissies

The past couple of weeks have seen an alarming upsurge in xenophobic violence against foreigners in various parts of South Africa, with even the Central Methodist Church being targeted this past weekend as a result of that church providing sanctuary to some 1 000 (mainly Zimbabwean) refugees.

Apart from the physical trauma that such violence has caused, there is also a potential humanitarian crisis in that members of the affected communities are flocking to police stations and other places of safety in order to escape possible further attack.

This morining our Circuit Superintendent received a call from Bishop Paul Verryn, who expressed concern that there are rumours of possible attacks on schools in the Jeppe / Malvern area, where many foreigners live and whose children attend school there, and he felt that a strong clergy presence would assist in keeping potentially hot tempers calmed.

As it turned out, all was quiet at the schools. Not so at the Jeppe police station, where about 1 400 people are currently seeking refuge. Our brief: To go and distribute as much bread and soup as we possibly could, since most of those sheltered at the police station had nothing to eat.

When I left home this afternoon, my mother pleaded with me to put on one of my newly-acquired clerical shirts and collar, so that I could be clearly identified as clergy. However, since I only appear before the final screening committee at Synod this coming weekend, and having not yet been formally recognised as a probationer minister, I had to make do with ordinary clothing. Needless to say, I stuck VERY closely to anyone wearing a collar, so that there would be no doubt as to the purpose of my presence at the police station.

Things got a bit hectic at first as we tried to set up serving stations. At one point one of the ministers and I thought we were going to be crushed as the crowd surged forward, trying to grab some bread. The minister jumped onto the table and started yelling at those crushing in, while I had to stiff-arm one or two people attempting to snatch whole loaves of bread from our arms. Thankfully, and with the assistance of a burly police captain, we managed to move our serving points to the bottom of a flight of stairs where access could be better controlled, and somehow we all got the people lined up in orderly queues.

There were about eight of us in total distributing bread, and I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say that we have no concept of what it's really like to be hungry as we witnessed the desperation on the faces of the people we were feeding.

Of course, in a situation like that, one can always expect some opportunists, and there were a few trying to pull a fast one by jumping the queues, joining the queues more than once, and so on. However, what distressed me was that despite our efforts to feed the women and children first (thereby making sure that at least they could all be fed, since we were initially instructed to cater for about 700 people), the men just pushed forward - almost like the law of the jungle, where the strong survive and the weak get left behind.

We unfortunately had to take the soup back with us, sonce the group that had promised to bring containers did not arrive. One or two of the ministers were dispatched to purchased polystyrene cups this afternoon, so that we can serve the soup when we return tomorrow.

The strange thing for me was that despite going into what was potentially an extremely volatile situation, I felt no sensation of fear. Some would call this foolhardy. I'd like to think that it was the assurance of God's arms of protection wrapped around us throughout the time we were there.

It was then that I realised that we tend to over-complicate this whole ministry "thing". Jesus said, "If you love Me, feed My sheep". As our country goes through this time of turmoil, with tempers running high and the politicians doing the usual blame thing or putting their heads in the sands, I pray that we don't lose sight of what our Lord expects us to do in this situation.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Am I a suitable candidate?

My previous post referred to the upcoming Synod, in which the delegates will determine whether or not I would be a suitable candidate for the Methodist ministry, and make their recommendations to the Connexional Executive.

However, I came across this (supposedly confidential) pre-assessment of the various candidates by one Circuit, which makes me somewhat nervous about next week...

Report from the Circuit Stationing Committee:
We do not have a happy report to give. We have not been able to find a suitable candidate for this church, though we have one promising prospect. Thank you for your suggestions. We have followed up on each one with interviews or by calling at least three references. The following is our confidential report.
ADAM: Good man but has problems with his wife. One reference told us how he and his wife enjoyed walking nude in the woods.
NOAH: Former pastorate of 120 years with no converts. Prone to unrealistic building projects.
JOSEPH: A big thinker, but a braggart; believes in dream interpreting and has a prison record.
MOSES: A modest and meek man, but poor communicator; even stutters at times. Sometimes blows his stack and acts rashly in business meetings. Some say he left an earlier church over a murder charge.
DEBORAH: One word --- Female.
DAVID: The most promising leader of all until we discovered the affair he had with his neighbor's wife.
SOLOMON: Great preacher, but serious woman problems.
ELIJAH: Prone to depression; collapses under pressure.
HOSEA: A tender and loving pastor, but our people could never handle his wife's occupation.
JONAH: Told us he was swallowed up by a great fish. He said the fish later spit him out on the shore near here. We hung up.
AMOS: Too much of a country hick. Backward and unpolished. With some seminary training, he might have promise; but he has a hang-up against wealthy people.
JOHN: Says he is a Baptist, but doesn't dress like one. May be too Pentecostal. Tends to lift both hands in the air to worship when he gets excited. You know we limit to one hand. Sleeps in the outdoors, has a weird diet, and provokes denominational leaders.
PETER: Too blue collar. Has a bad temper, even said to have cursed. He's a loose cannon.
PAUL: Powerful CEO type and fascinating preacher. However, he's short on tact, unforgiving with young ministers, harsh, and has been known to preach all night.
TIMOTHY: Too young.
JESUS: Has had popular times, but once when his church grew to 5000, He managed to offend them all; and his church dwindled down to twelve people. Seldom stays in one place very long. And, of course, he is single.
JUDAS: His references are solid. A steady plodder. Conservative. Good connections. Knows how to handle money. We're inviting him to preach this Sunday in view of a call.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Countdown to Synod...

After nearly two years since I first felt my heart "strangely warmed" with God's call to full-time ministry - wrestling with the call, meeting with the Superintendent, the Circuit Quarterly Meeting, a truckload of paperwork, registering with TEE College, more meetings with the Superintendent, attending pre-screening, the Essay on Methodism, the screening itself, then two trial services - it has all come down to this: the 2008 Central District Synod, where I am to present my conversion, call to preach, and call to ministry, before a listening committee which will then determine whether or not the Synod can recommend my acceptance as a probationer minister.

I have never felt so scared in my entire life!

I'm not scared in the "is this the right decision" sense, for in the last two years I have experienced a growing conviction that there's nothing on earth I want to do more than serve God as a minister of His Gospel. Rather - as my previous post indicates - I am scared that I will mess up. As an accountant, there was no mistake that I could make that could not be fixed with a journal entry. As a minister, such "mistakes" cannot be fixed so easily, since I will now be entrusted with the spiritual welfare of God's people. The responsibility is immense, and I often get the feeling, "Why me, Lord? There are many more worthy than I."

All I can do at this point is to ask God to keep my heart pure, and help me remain true to His call. The rest of the "stuff" will hopefully come with training and experience. The butterflies are wreaking havoc with my innards at the moment, so please pray that by the time Synod convenes in just under two weeks time, they are at least flying in formation!

Sometimes I just feel so USELESS

I'm not sure whether this is just my lack of experience talking, or whether 40-year veterans of the ministry still feel this way at times, but the following events that took place during the past couple of weeks have made me feel completely useless as a future minister:
  • A man has an argument with his gardener over work performance, resulting in the gardener's dismissal. In response, the now ex-gardener returns to the house a couple of days later, breaks in, and bludgeons the man to death with a 4-pound hammer. He also brutally rapes the man's wife, who is currently in a critical condition in hospital.

  • A good friend of mine, the primary breadwinner in her family supporting a 3 year-old daughter and a husband who is pastor of a small congregation (and receiving a similarly small stipend), celebrated being promoted by the large bank for whom she worked. I say "worked", because not four weeks after the promotion, the "powers that be" called her in to inform her that the marketing function would be "restructured" resulting in the position to which she was recently promoted, becoming redundant. Although she is highly skilled in her field, she is also six months pregnant with her second child - you can just imagine how keen recruiters are when they hear THAT news!

  • A family member is buckling under the pressure of the accumulation of interest rate hikes, and faces the prospect of losing the one and only home he has ever owned. Any pleas to discuss the matter with a decision-maker at his bank have thus far fallen upon deaf ears.

What do these three incidents have in common? Apart from the stress and pain they have caused in the lives of the people concerned, they have also left me feeling absolutely useless, with nothing tangible to offer them in the way of comfort or relief.

At the risk of sounding flippant, I feel like Michael J. Fox's character in "The Secret Of My Success". In the one scene where Fox, as the mail-room clerk, is pressed into service as a driver for one of the executives' wives, he notices that she is rather stressed and enquires whether there is any way in which he can help in her situation. She responds with her list of problems, including the breakdown of her car, the sudden resignation of her maid, the splitting of a nail, and the conviction that her husband is having an affair with a work colleague. Once she has rattled off her list of problems, she challenges Fox by asking him what he had in mind, to which he feebly responds: "A stick of gum?"

As a future minister faced with situations such as those described above, I feel as though what I have to offer is about as useless as that stick of gum. Now this is not to say that I don't have faith that God will provide comfort in these situations. It's just that sometimes I wish that I had the power to bring back the murdered man, "unrape" his wife, restore my friend's job, and bring my family member's bond up to date. The fact that I can't do these things is so frustrating, and the fact that I am not expected to be able to put these things right doesn't make it feel any better.

Yet there are also times where I feel that I am actually making a difference. Take today, for instance - one of the Society Stewards contacted me with a request to visit an elderly member of the congregation, who had just lost her husband of nearly 50 years. What does one say to a person in this situation?

In fact, I felt like a typical government drone as I guided the family through the completion of the forms we use to facilitate the services, funeral arrangements, etc. I mean - here's a woman who has just lost her life's soulmate, and I come along like a clerk filling in paperwork.

Other than that, there wasn't actually much that I could do. Obviously I prayed with the family. They then offered me a cup of tea, and the widow then started talking to me about how she and her late husband were among the founder members of St Andrews Methodist Church, which started in a garage, then moved to a school, and finally to the wonderful building we have today. And as she spoke, it dawned on me that by just sitting there with the family as she spoke, I was giving them the opportunity to start the healing process as they remembered the good times.

When it came time for me to leave, the family thanked me most profusely for spending time with them. I'm not sure exactly what I did (besides the paperwork) - my counselling textbooks don't exactly subscribe to the "sit down, drink tea, shut up" method of counselling, and to be honest, I'm still not entirely sure what one is supposed to do in such situations.

But I know that God's presence was in that house this afternoon. Whether this was because of my visit, or (more likely) in spite of my visit, I know that this family's healing process has begun thanks to the grace of God.

Yet my heart still wishes that there was something more I could actually do in situations like these, even though my mind tells me that I actually have little tangible to offer. Perhaps this is an area of my life (and my ministry) where my faith still needs to grow? What do the "voices of experience" out there in the blogosphere suggest?

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Lord, I'm about to lose it...

The past three weeks have been absolute chaos.

This year is meant to be my "transition" year between being a tax consultant and becoming a minister, and the idea was to gradually wind down the business side of things while at the same time increasing my ministry responsibilities.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry - especially since the changeover is not quite as smooth as a DJ fading out one song as he fades in another. Maybe it's just that time of the year, but I seem to have tons of accounting work while at the same time my ministry responsibilities continue to increase. Then of course there's our Circuit's 4C Schedule (financial report) that had to be submitted. Add into the mix two assignments (that were late, necessitating a grovelling letter to the markers concerned), and at the moment it's a case of "if it wasn't this annoying need to sleep..."

So if I can get through the next 2 1/2 weeks without going completely postal, and arrive at Synod in one piece, I should make it through the final phase of candidature (Lord willing).

(Of course, after having gone through all this, the Connexional Executive could still say "no", but I've been told unless I do something really stupid like dip my fingers into the Circuit's bank account or run off with the organist, this is unlikely.)

In the meantime I take comfort from God's Word, Psalm 92: 4 - "For You, O Lord, have made me glad through Your work; I will have joy in the works of Your hands."