My heart is so full. Yes, I’m slightly exhausted, still bit a sick, and a tad afraid to go back and resume my normal daily life. But I can truly say that my heart is so, so full! This was my second time at Maitland Alive, and once again, God never ceases to amaze me with the way in which He works. It certainly wasn’t an easy week, but I would not have it any other way. Despite the stresses and frustrations and wanderings throughout the week, I am left with a deep sense of joy that God has done His good work, in both the people of Maitland and in our own lives as the Sydney team. And though it is my second time here, I have yet again learnt so much and have been challenged in so many ways. Would you allow me to share with you some of the stories, joys and struggles of this week?
Kids. Hearing. About. Our. Saviour.
This year in KHAOS, we turned ‘mission’ into ‘mission impossible’ and became Agents of KHAOS as we journeyed to uncover the truth each day with our brilliant spymaster Louis. Propelled by the quest to figure out each day’s secret code, we would discover truths about God’s good order, humanity’s brokenness, the redeeming work of Jesus and the hope we look forward to. It was insanely awesome being swept up into the world of KHAOS – I found it such an exciting, cohesive and compelling storyline that pointed towards the greater story of God’s story. I can certainly say that everyone had loads of fun, kids and leaders included! Sure, in the first day or two, the kids were surely possessed by the spirit of annoyingness as they yelled ‘POTATO!’ to every question we asked in discussion groups. Talk about frustrating! But, once we grew out of our potato phase, it just got better and better, and it was so awesome to see these kids come to grips with God’s truth. Here is one of my favourite stories from the week:
It was concert time on Wednesday.
Chewy was up the front, leading the kids. Of course, it was time for a quick review of the previous day.
“Alrighty boys and girls, yesterday, we learnt about how we put ourselves first instead of God first. Can anyone remember what the word for this is?”
These were keen and excitable kids. Many hands immediately shot into the air. Chewy looks around the room and asks one lucky little boy, in perhaps year three or four, for his answer.
What does he say? He says “Iniquity!”
* Wait, what? *
Everyone in the room paused for a second.
Iniquity? Iniquity. Seriously? See, we were all here expecting that simple three letter word, ‘sin’. But here was a primary school boy giving us ‘iniquity’. Give that kid a theological medal! It was thoroughly hilarious. I looked around the room and saw looks of utter bewilderment and shock on the face of many of the minis leaders. How on earth did this small child answer with such a big word as iniquity?
Of course, in KHAOS, we knew. It was only yesterday when we sang Colin Buchanon’s classic children song Isaiah 53:6, where we taught them this big and scary word. But little did we expect to see it to come back like this!
It was such a delight to see the things we taught being sown as seeds into the little hearts and minds of these children, in the most unexpected ways.
How to bait kids
Dealing with kids can be difficult sometimes. So, we had lots of fun discovering ways with which we could work with the kids. We called this ‘baiting the kids’. One of my favourite baits was an ingenious one by Rachel. In this situation, a year five boy named Logan had a crush a girl called Lily. And so, when Logan was messing around and misbehaving a bit, Rachel popped this clever line: “Hey Logan, stop doing that. Lily isn’t doing it!” – Logan promptly stopped.
Other great baits:
The false dilemma:
“I don’t want to do the craft!”
“Well, we are either going to do the craft, or we will sit here and do nothing.”
“Okay fine I want to do the craft.”
“I need to go the toilet!”
“You know, I bet you can’t hold it until the end of the program.”
“Oh… I can hold it. Actually, I bet you I could hold it for the whole day!”
“We bait because we are fishers of men.”
This year, I was once again reminded of how important community was. I could see this both in our relationships with the people of Maitland, and our relationships with each other on team. Once again, the families of Maitland welcomed us with open, loving, hospitable arms – inviting us into their homes each night for showers. This year, I had the great privilege of showering at the home of Ken and Diana. These folks were one of the founding families of Maitland Evangelical Church, and were just the most awesome, faithful, and humble couple. It was an encouragement to see them serve all these years, and even now, to serve in whatever capacity they could – including the most mundane of tasks, such as washing all our team shirts. As a young guy who doesn’t meet many older people, it really warmed my heart to get to know such faithful and God-loving people from a completely different generation and culture. By the end of the week, coming to Ken and Diana’s to shower really felt like coming back to a second home.
I suppose that’s one of the things about coming up to Maitland. When you meet the people, when you see them in the flesh, you suddenly realise that it is a real community you are serving. There are real people here, with real needs, and that is who you are serving. Community is so central to the way we do mission here in Maitland. It’s a partnership, between Sydney and Maitland, built on relationships centred around the gospel. That’s what makes it so special.
No matter what we do, God will work through all things for the good of His people and for His glory. I’ve needed to cling onto this truth for dear life. Because whilst God was doing amazing work throughout the week, and whilst there were certainly many moments of great joy and delight and laughter, I found that my day-to-day experience was often fraught with difficulty and discouragement. I’ve struggled with many things personally this week, but I am glad, because God has taught me some hard, but very important, lessons at mission this year.
This year, I was section leading KHAOS alongside Rachel – and this brought with it a whole host of additional roles and responsibilities. One of the most important lessons I needed to learn was the humbling lesson of coming to terms with my own finitude. See, there was a sense of wanting to do everything. I wanted to be able to take care of my section and oversee the program as a section leader. I wanted to be servant-hearted and help out with the small tasks, like cutting out materials for craft. I also wanted to do the front-line work – to get to know the kids and invest in them, to build relationships, to have gospel conversations, to meet families. And there were many other things to deal with here and there. It wasn’t long before I realised I couldn’t do all these things. I was becoming stressed and exhausted. And my reaction to this reality was either that of guilt – ‘oh… am I not putting in enough effort?’ or FOMO – ‘oh dang… if only I could get to know that kid better, etc.’ What I really needed to realise was that I physically could not do all these things, and more importantly, that I did not need to do all these things. God has called us to our particular places and roles in the body of Christ, and it is OK to not do everything.
However, in my exhaustion, I was too prideful to rest. I was a fool – I knew the importance of rest, yet I ignored it. My sinful heart wanted to be that person who was competent, who was reliable and who had it together – the super saviour. Yet, these were all empty idols, and I was left with the realisation that I was broken and weak. There were times were I just broke down and felt completely powerless and confused. When the week was over, and we had our section debrief, I was able to get the chance to stand back and see how things had unfolded. It was funny. At the beginning of last year, when I started to section lead, excitable and filled with ideas, I set out to do two things: firstly, to have complete clarity and make sure everyone was on the same page, and secondly, to be so people-centred that we first and foremost cared for each other as brothers and sisters in everything we did. Over this mission week, it turned out that I had almost achieved zero out of these two things. Yeah, wow hey? At this point, a good dose of self-doubt started to kick in.
But, it was here where I learnt something really important. Despite my inadequacies and shortcomings, the week turned out to be a huge success. The gospel was preached. Relationships with the community were formed. People were encouraged. So much fun was had. God worked through all this, even with my broken efforts and poor decisions throughout the week. As I reflect now, I can safely say this: Even if I am the best section leader in the world, if God doesn’t work, no good can come out of it. Yet, I can be the worst section leader in the world, but if God works, He can use that produce a whole harvest of good fruit. It’s never me doing the work. It’s always God. This was a lesson that I needed to relearn and experience in a very real way. It was a deeply humbling lesson. And I am deeply grateful to KHAOS for being so gracious and loving despite my stress and exhaustion this week.
Lastly, I’ve learnt that it’s okay to have hard conversations – whether its bringing up some form of rebuke, or perhaps opening up with the struggles I am facing. I like to avoid confrontation, and I love to run away from saying things that may be hard to hear – perhaps because my sinful heart wants me to only say things that make me popular and easy-going and likeable. Or, perhaps I am scared of rebuking lest it reveals my own shortcomings – and if I want to maintain my blamelessness, perhaps it better to not say anything at all. Sometimes, I just want to hide and keep everything to myself. But no, this is not loving. Loving is not coddling. Loving is not shouldering the burden all by yourself. Loving is speaking the truth in love. And if we are brothers and sisters bought by the blood of Christ, we can be open and speak the truth in love. Let’s just get it out there. I am sinful. You are sinful. We are all sinful. So, let’s be open and talk about it. I remember coming out of our final section debrief – one of the hardest meetings I’ve ever had – and Jas says to me, ‘You can cry if you want, there are plenty of towels in this room’. There was so much comfort in knowing that it was OK to be feeling these things, to be struggling, and that I didn’t need to hide. That’s what I want to do from here – to keep on opening up, and to speak the truth in love:)
Beautiful moments in time
On the Friday the program finished, we had our team afternoon off at Maitland Park. I just wanted to share this because it was just so beautiful. Such a happy place.
And I can’t really string together some coherent sentences, so I’ll just write some phrases instead.
What I think of this moment: Golden hour. Sunset rays on a vast green field. Warm. Gentle breeze. Surrounded by the people you love. Entering into rest after an exhausting week. Gospel preached. Sigh of relief. Taste of code gold?
The sun sure was gold.
The stories we hear and tell
One thing I’ve been thinking lots about lately, only to be reinforced by Sam’s talks at mission, was the idea that our lives are inevitably shaped by the story we hold onto. Being at mission has reminded me that we are all part of a bigger story – just as Tatooine farmboy Luke Skywalker found himself being called into the great story of the Jedi, so too are we called into the greater story of Jesus – the God who saves. We’ve told lots of stories over the week at mission, and we must continue to tell ourselves stories each day to remind ourselves of the truth of this world.
Maitland Alive isn’t the main thing. Mission isn’t the main thing. There will be one day where mission ceases to exist. It is only part of a bigger story – the story of God’s glory. And so, whilst Maitland Alive may be over for yet another year, the story of God’s glory sure isn’t.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32