My Favourite Day Yet

Today was a very special day.

I began visiting the Ranfurly Homes for Children a little over 2 years ago, shortly after my arrival in Nassau. It began with a basketball game in which I was greatly outmatched by a group of emerging basketball stars and where I learned what it feels like to be dunked over (a bit frightening). I quickly discerned that I needed another venue to connect with the Ranfurly youth—realizing that my aging body wouldn’t hold up playing ball against these boys. I began to regularly take a few boys from Ranfurly to breakfast at McDonalds on Saturday mornings. Relationships were forged, and I began formally mentoring one of the boys. Over time, they began to ask more and more questions about the Kirk and about Christianity. Eventually, I am told, that many of the youth requested to the Ranfurly Administrator that they be allowed to attend services at the Kirk. Shortly thereafter, a bus was procured by Ranfurly and was used to transport most of their youth to the Kirk each Sunday.

Those who know me well, know that I resist titles. I’d rather you not call me Reverend MacPhail or Pastor MacPhail. “Just call me Bryn” has been my mantra during my 15 years in ministry. These youth, however, only refer to me as “Pastor Bryn” (pronounced “Pasta Bryn!”). I must admit, that I’ve grown to like that address. Not because I like being addressed according to what I do, but because of what I think they intend by the phrase. To many of the youth at Ranfurly Home, they see me as their pastor. This theory was confirmed when I inquired as to whether some of them were interested in taking Bible classes with me, with a view to joining the Kirk as members. The children were surveyed, and 7 signed up for the 6-week course.

When I showed up at Ranfurly to teach the first class, 17 showed up! For 6 weeks we studied together, what I termed, “the essentials of the Christian faith”. To my delight, some of the leaders from the Kirk showed up each Tuesday to audit the class and to build relationships with these children. The youth at Ranfurly enthusiastically engaged in the process. They were eager to read Scripture, ask questions, and dialogue about what it means to be a Christian living in Nassau in the 21st Century.

As the course drew to a close, it dawned on me that there might be a couple youth who have not yet been baptized. I asked them to put up their hand if they needed baptism. 11 of the 17 raised their hand.

This morning, at St. Andrew’s Kirk, 17 youth from Ranfurly professed their faith in Jesus Christ and became members of the church. 11 of the 17 were first baptized.

It is difficult to put into words how I felt. I tried not to think too much about what was happening for fear that I might be overwhelmed by emotion and not be able to proceed effectively. I could see people in my periphery wiping tears from their eyes. I think everyone in the room fully understood how huge this moment was–first, for these 17 youth, secondly, for this 202 year-old congregation, and thirdly (most importantly) for the kingdom of God. Young lives are being transformed and these baptisms and professions of faith were marking this profound change for us.

After the professions of faith, I proceeded to hand out Bibles to the youth, along with a hand written note for each of them. When the formalities were done, someone yelled (uncharacteristically!) from the congregation, “Amen!”. Moments later the congregation broke out into spontaneous applause.

I recognize that not every Sunday service is a memorable one for those that gather. Today was different. I suspect that everyone present at the Kirk today will remember what they saw, and will give thanks to God for it.

After lunch, I took a couple of visitors to Nassau on a tour of Ranfurly. When we went into the boys dormitory we immediately realized that we had awakened one of the boys from a nap. It was one of the boys who had professed his faith in Jesus earlier in the day. I was moved by what I saw–this boy awoke, not clutching his pillow, but clutching the Bible which was given to him a few hours ago.

I will forever thank God for allowing me the privilege to participate in His plan to draw young men and women to Himself. What a blessing.

Yes, today was a very special day.

Facebook & Twitter vs TV & Gaming

On August 1, I wrote a post explaining my decision to give up Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Bejeweled, and Television for one month. If you would like to know why, I encourage you to read that post. If you’re interested in some of the things I learned during this technology fast, keep reading.

Lesson #1 Learned: I’m not very good at giving up things

My draw to all things technical was stronger than I imagined. I could start listing excuses for why I caved a little bit, but let me instead cut straight to the results…giving up the video game Bejeweled was easy. Never played a game. Never missed it.

Giving up TV was fairly easy. Since my family didn’t give up the same, I was often in the vicinity of television, but I assure you there’s nothing they watch which interests me.

Giving up Google+ was just my covering an anticipated loophole so I wouldn’t give up Facebook & Twitter for Google+. Now for the cave…I did post a few things remotely via Stumbleupon, but what felt like the bigger cave was not changing my browser homepage, and not closing the Facebook tab when it automatically loaded. I sometimes read what was on that opening news feed. I also took a hiatus from my tech fast during Hurricane Irene. Like I said, it appears I’m not great at giving up things.

Lesson #2 Learned: Facebook & Twitter are a better use of my time than TV and Video games

Quite simply, nobody but me benefits when I play video games. Please understand, I LOVE video games—always have. I find they keep my mind sharp, help with hand-eye coordination, and help me to decompress after a stressful day. For these reasons, I plan to keep playing video games, but in much greater moderation. I concede that playing video games is an anti-social activity and, as such should be limited.

TV is not far behind on my list of “Useless Activities I Enjoy”. This is not a rant about the quality of television shows. I would say this even if I only watched the news and professional sports. No one in my household but me benefits when I watch TV (unless the members of my household want a break from me!).

Facebook and Twitter are in a different category altogether. They are interactive–they truly are social. Within the first 24 hrs of my tech fast a friend from the Kirk sent a message to me challenging me to rethink this. His argument was that my online presence was an encouragement to those who track with me on Facebook and Twitter. To the extent which that is true, I am humbled. My friend’s point lingered with me, but from the other side—I hugely missed reading the online updates of my friends and family.

Lesson #3 Learned: Face time with family, and prayer time with God is the best use of my time

Did I not know that before August 1? Sure I did. But, somehow, the portioning of my time did not accurately reflect my true priorities. Having coffee with Allie on the front porch massively benefits our family. Getting 3 stars on every Angry Birds level does not. Investing 2 hours poolside watching my daughter swim massively benefits our family. Investing 2 hours watching Major League Baseball does not.

I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m now anti-video games or anti-television. I’m not. I’ve simply been reminded of the helpful phrase, “Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1Cor. 6:12).

I’ve also been reminded that Facebook and Twitter are merely social tools. These tools can be used, or they can be ignored. These tools that can be used to tear people down, or they can be used to build people up.

I’m grateful to know that, in some small way, people have found encouragement from my online commentary. The writer of Hebrews exhorts me in this regard: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). I’m eager to do this. And Facebook and Twitter are going to help me.

The Mission Is Huge

The island of New Providence is just a shade under 80 square miles, and while it is one of the smaller islands in the Bahamas it is the largest (by far) in terms of population. I have only lived here for two and a half months, but with each passing week I am gaining a greater sense of the need of the people here—it is massive.

Last week I was able to meaningfully connect with two of the missions on this island. On Thursday, I drove out to the All Saints Aids Camp to tour their facilities and to meet those ministering to the people there. One volunteer described the camp as “a modern day leper colony”—a group of people that society doesn’t know how to cope with. These people are not unwell enough to require hospitalization, but they are not healthy enough to reasonably care for themselves. The camp is in a fairly remote area of the island and cannot be seen from a main road. I might have never heard of the Aids Camp if it weren’t for the fact that a bus load of U.S. volunteers working at the camp showed up at the Kirk a few Sundays ago.

A ministry from the United States, Next Step Ministries, has been sending down teams of volunteers all summer long. These groups have built two new cabins, repaired the “bath house”, and have rebuilt one of the concrete walkways. In addition to the very practical assistance Next Step has provided, these missionaries have also been a loving and caring presence to a group of people with emotional and spiritual needs.

As the summer season closes out, the work of the Aids Camp is largely left to a U.S. missionary couple, and a few paid administrators. I understand that the Aids Camp already has a couple of connections to local congregations, but I’m hoping and praying that at least one more connection can be made.

This past Saturday I had my second visit to Ranfurly Homes—a residence that provides a safe, structured environment for children who have been orphaned, abused, neglected or abandoned. I’m just getting to know the children there, but my intention is for my support to be long term. On Saturday, we mostly played basketball—what a delight it was to do this, and to see how playing sports can offer a boost to a child’s joy and self-esteem. The age of the boys playing ranged from 10 to 18, so this old pastor thought it made sense to try and cover the 18 year-old. Turns out that I chose poorly as this “kid” is a bit of a phenom. He dunked over me once, which was one part impressive and one part terrifying.

I recognize that my effectiveness in these contexts is diminished unless I make myself a regular an reliable presence in these children’s lives. I want to do that. I recall that James says in his letter, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

God cares about the most vulnerable, and so should I. But I also realize that I ought not to act alone. I need to think about meaningful ways to enlist and equip others to share in this work. The mission is huge, but this means that our potential for Gospel impact is also huge.

I am encouraged by the words of Jesus who recognized the immensity of the task at hand when He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2).

I will be praying for this. I will be praying for a new generation of Christ followers to come alongside the most vulnerable, and to offer them the love of Christ and the eternal blessing of His Gospel.

Needed: A Partnership With Parents

I’m just back from a week of holidays and a two-week hiatus from blogging (please forgive me). Let me ease back into the latter by encouraging you to view the video below, produced by a church I hugely respect: Connexus. The video is based on ‘Orange’ principles and, if you want to know more about what that means you will want to read a blog post from one of the all-stars at The WellDiana Loach (who is currently on her way to the Orange Conference in Atlanta, GA). And thanks to Cliff Cline (all-star musician at The Well) for directing me to this online promo.

Misplaced

The video below chronicles what today’s youth are saying about the church. It’s an honest, sometimes hard-hitting, evaluation of how the church is, or isn’t, serving the needs of our young people. Even the host of ‘Misplaced’, Shauna Simmonds, laments over the “low relevance of the Canadian church” and implores the church to put aside the usual fare of programs in favour of creating “God-centred gatherings.” What a great thing to aim for! The vantage point this video offers is immensely helpful in facilitating an understanding of how the church can help, rather than hinder, the next generation. Produced by Make You Think. Run time = 15min 38sec.

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How does this strike you?