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.

End of An Era

I’m more than a month late posting these pics from my final Sunday at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well. My personal reflection on the events of May 16 can be accessed in a previous post. I simply wanted to use this space to post a few pics with a couple of comments on each…

The Well, May 16, 2010 

The Well was born on September 7, 2008. As an idea, it was born almost a year prior to that. The Well is an informal, highly contemporary, service that succeeded in attracting new families to St. Giles Kingsway and nurturing them in the faith. I was so pleased that on our final Sunday at The Well, we completely packed the place! As usual, Allen Froese and his band did an outstanding job leading the music, and Diana Loach was fantastic teaching and engaging the army of kids that showed up for the finale. Our hospitality team, led by Lois Taylor and our greeters, brought their “A” game, and we lingered afterwards over pizza.

In this pic is Don Taylor—elder, Clerk of Session, and one of my best friends in the world. Engaging Don in conversation is our almost 8-year-old daughter, Anya—who just adores Don! Anya is wearing her new necklace, a gift from the congregation, presented to her following the 10 am service earlier in the day.

Besides apparently giving myself a neck massage, I am engaging another one of my best friends, David Terry. David, if I recall, came to St. Giles Kingsway in 2003. David and MaryAnne became members and I had the privilege of baptizing their two children. David later became the Convenor of the Worship Committee and a member of our Session. At every turn, I was encouraged by David’s persistent support for me and for the new initiatives of the congregation.

This picture captures the final moment of my leading my final worship service at The Well. For me, it is the end of an era. It was a good run that produced great memories. I learned a lot about ministry during my 8 years at St. Giles Kingsway and am so thankful to have had such great people to work with.

I believe God was honoured here—not only in our ministry, but also in our friendships.

Up To The Challenge

I have had the privilege of working with many outstanding elders in my 12 years as an ordained pastor and, as I transition to St. Andrew’s Kirk in Nassau, I am thrilled about the pool of elders here. I’m not one who normally likes meetings, but I must say that my first elder’s meeting at the Kirk last Wednesday was enjoyable. The Session here is enthusiastic about the work at hand, and about the opportunity we have to promote Jesus Christ in Nassau.

Wanting to begin well, I explained to the Session that I would like to meet with every elder individually to get to know them and to hear about their hopes and dreams for St. Andrew’s. Once I’ve done that, I asked them if they would accompany me on some pastoral visits—at least for the first few months. Today I had lunch with one of my elders and, not only was he eager to accommodate this request, but he pledged to go with me once a month, for the next 12 months, to visit folks connected to the Kirk.

I know it is early, and I suspect that some of my cautious colleagues will remind me that this is the “honeymoon” stage of my ministry here, but I am quite confident that this group of elders “is for real”. These folks continue to exceed my expectations and have demonstrated at several turns that they are up to the challenge presented by congregational ministry.

As I read Peter’s description of elders in his first epistle, I think of the Session I now have the pleasure of serving with:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:2-4)

To the Session of St. Andrew’s Kirk—thank you for being up to the challenge!

Dreaming Big In Nassau

On Sunday, June 6, I was inducted as the Pastor of St. Andrew’s Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas. This past Sunday, June 13, was my first Sunday in the pulpit as the pastor here. If June 6 was a day of celebration, then June 13 was a day of dreaming. I invited the congregation here to dream with me about what we could become as a congregation.

Our passage was Ephesians chapter 3. Here we are reminded that the Christian Church is part and parcel of God’s grand, cosmic, eternal plan to renovate, heal, and redeem this troubled world of ours. We are reminded that while Christ is present by His Spirit, He is currently absent in His resurrection body. As such, God’s design is for the Church to be the conduit through which Christ continues to function in a physical environment.

This implications of this for God’s people are massive. If we believe that Christ can make a difference in this world, then we are compelled to believe that we can make a difference in this world. But, here’s the key: The Church cannot function on behalf of Christ unless it is connected to Christ.

The call upon the Church then is not simply to try hard. The call is not simply to “do the right thing”. The call is to be entirely animated by another. The call is to be willing conduits for the power of Christ.

What then might we expect? I love how the apostle Paul closes the chapter:

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20, 21)

If Paul had said that God is able to do all that we ask or imagine, we would want to highlight this verse. But he does not say this—he says God is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”!

To put it another way, God is not limited by our modest expectations. He is not handicapped by my puny imagination.

Believing this, I want to dream big about what God might do in Nassau through the conduit of St. Andrew’s Kirk.

Last Sunday was a special day for me as I began my preaching ministry here. I got the distinct sense that I was not alone in my dreaming. As I looked out into the congregation, I could sense others dreaming as well. It was then my privilege to declare to the people here that we worship a God who can deliver beyond our wildest dreams.

What a joy! What an opportunity we have. I want to encourage you to dream big about what God can accomplish through willing conduits. I want you to dream big about what God might accomplish today, this week, this year—through you.

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You can listen to the message “Beyond Your Wildest Dreams” by clicking below.

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Still Overwhelmed.

I communicate for a living, but recently I’ve had great difficulty communicating.

God is so good. Friends are so kind. We feel so loved in this emotional transition from life and ministry in Toronto to life and ministry in Nassau, Bahamas. I blogged on May 16 about the send-off we received that day from the people of St. Giles Kingsway and The Well. The encouragement continued with a plethora of emails, facebook posts, comments, and messages from well wishing friends. In our final days in Toronto, we celebrated and said “good-bye” with numerous meals with dear friends.

We’re now Day 4 in Nassau. Today I was inducted as the minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk and its mission charge in Abaco.  I was also received as a minister within the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (USA). The Kirk in Nassau/Abaco is grateful for the support of the EPC as a denominational harbour while we plan and pray about the formation of a new denomination, The Presbyterian Church in The Bahamas (our long term goal).

It has been an emotional transition—it was extremely hard to say good-bye, and yet, the welcome we have received here has exceeded all expectations…

Day 1: Landing day. Met at the airport by three elders who helped transport our family, luggage, and pets to our new home (the manse). We arrived at the manse to a small army of people who were putting the finishing touches on the yard and house. Welcome baskets for each member of our family, including a basket of goodies for our dog and two cats! From there, the phone rang repeatedly—members of the Kirk wanting to bring words of welcome.

Day 2: Recovery day. Lots more phone calls, and then an invite to enjoy a swim and a BBQ at the home of one of the Kirk elders.

Day 3: Settling in day. Never have I filled 2 grocery carts before. One of the Kirk elders provided so generously for us, helping us to set up our kitchen. In the evening, we had a lovely reception at the home of another one of the elders. It was a fantastic night with great food and inspiring speeches, but for us the highlight was the surprise arrival of three friends from St. Giles Kingsway! It is unbelievable to me that these three flew down to Nassau to support our family during this transition. We are so touched, so thankful, so overwhelmed by all this kindness.

Day 4: Induction day. Today is my first day as the minister here. Members of the Presbytery of Florida (from the EPC) officiated much of the service, but it was my delight to lead the Kirk Session through the reaffirmation of their vows and to officiate Communion. After an hour and a half service, we were treated to what was perhaps the most impressive church brunch I have ever witnessed (I think I’m really going to enjoy the food here!). I hope to soon post some photos of the cakes which were especially made for today’s celebration (we even got to take one home!). Tonight, we’re heading out for dinner with our three friends from Toronto.

Day 5: Not sure what lies ahead, but I do expect I’ll be able to say, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

We feel so affirmed in this call. We feel so welcomed in this transition. We feel so loved by a congregation that is just getting to know us.

I marvel at the kindness of so many. I am still overwhelmed.

I recognize that, very soon, I’ll need to push through the emotions of this transition and settle in as the minister here. There is much to do. There is seemingly limitless opportunity for the Kirk to increase its influence and impact upon the surrounding community. I feel so privileged to be a part of that.

On this, my first day as minister here, I’d like to offer a passage to my new congregation. May it inspire you to soar!

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:28-31).