Monday, October 20, 2014

When Blindness is a Blessing

“God blesses those who are merciful”. 
  This Beatitude, as recorded in Matthew 5, was our topic of study for Kids Club last night.  In order to engage the kids in a lesson on the meaning of mercy, I took them on a sensory journey through the story when Jesus heals the blind beggar in Luke 18.  The man is completely blind, unable to see, and is reliant upon Jesus to do for him what he cannot do for himself- restore his sight.

 That is the essence of mercy: God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  

 God, in his mercy, withholds the wrath that we deserve to receive for our wrongs, and instead pays for those wrongs himself, by sending his Son Jesus Christ to die on our behalf.  This is mercy at its best!
To draw the kids into the story and give them an appreciation for their own physical sight, I blindfolded each of them and took them through a series of tests where they had to use their remaining four senses to discern and identify various objects, smells, sounds, textures, etc.    You know, the usual: vinegar was used to test smell, salt for taste, animal noises for sound and good old “goop” for touch (cornstarch and water).

Naturally, some children were apprehensive about what they might encounter that they could neither see nor control.   That was precisely the point. Life can be quite frightening and dangerous for the blind, for they are literally at the “mercy” of others to do for them what they cannot do for themselves.  (We witnessed that when working with children and adults at the Mango Tree Centre in Tonga.)  Likewise, life is scary and treacherous for the spiritually blind, those who do not have the illumination of God’s Holy Spirit within them to warm them of approaching  temptations and light a pathway of escape. Every single human being born on this planet is at God’s mercy and must make the choice to accept his mercy as an act of grace.  (Amazing how mercy and grace go together, eh?)
Anyway, as we carried on with our story and discussion on mercy, something that was said triggered insatiable curiosity in the minds of many of the youngins. What was originally intended to be a 15 minute portion of our overall lesson, turned into a 40 minute deep theological discussion!  No joke!  The kids started asking very pointed questions about heaven, hell, baptism, other religions. . . you name it! I dare say we covered most of the Articles of Faith and the Apostle’s Creed in 40 minutes!   

I couldn’t dare end the lesson without giving each child the opportunity to say “yes” to Jesus and invite him into his/her life.  One seven-year old boy did just that!  He decided he wanted God in his life; he wanted this mercy, and he wanted to follow Jesus!  We prayed together a prayer of confession and commitment and this little boy is now a child of the One True King!  Next week we will secure a Bible for him and continue to disciple him and help him to grow in his faith and relationship with Jesus Christ.  

 What a gift it is to work with the kids of Whangarei. 
 And in this instance . . blindness can be a blessing!

(I didn't take any photos last night, so have included a few from the past few months.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Operation Christmas child

25 boxes and counting. What a blessing these will be for children in need in Melanesia and the South Pacific!

Every year our church participates in "Operation Christmas Child", a ministry of Samaritan's Purse that involves millions of people all over the world communicating the love of God to children living in poverty and war-torn areas.  How do we do this?

By filling a shoebox with goodies such as school supplies, hygiene items, small toys. . .and lots of prayers.  Each box also includes a gospel message in the local language of the child receiving it and the children are given the opportunity to connect with local churches and aid organizations that can assist with long-term development programmes and spiritual discipleship.

Once again, I am so proud of our little flock here at New Hope Church.  I know that God is pleased by BIG generosity from this small group of people.  (Many more people were involved than pictured in this photo.)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

200 Years of Hope!

Ever had an experience that stopped you dead in your tracks, leaving you speechless?

Completely unexpected.
Beyond your imagination.
Absolutely real.

This weekend a friend and I decided to make the trek to Marsden Cross, the site where the first Christian message was preached on New Zealand shores 200 years ago, Christmas Day.  Marsden Cross is located at Oihi Bay (pronounced "Oh- ee- hee") in the Bay of Islands.
It's about 2 hour drive from Whangarei and then a short 20 minute hike down through a secluded little valley that suddenly leads you to the sea.

 We had no expectations for the journey and only thought it was an appropriate time to visit because of the upcoming bicentennial celebration of Christianity in NZ.  Upon arrival, we happened upon a group of people gathering around the monument.  Selfishly thinking they were tourists and would only spoil our photo ops, we avoided them for a while and took an extra hike.  When it became clear to us that cluster of alleged "tourists" weren't leaving anytime soon, we approached them only to find that we had struck gold!
What was taking place before our very eyes was the signing of a new reconciliation agreement between Christian Maori and Pakeha (non-Maori, European decent).  The document was an official recognition of repentance for past grievances between the British and Maori, the breaking of strongholds that have been present for far too long, and a spiritual proclamation for the future of New Zealand, acknowledging Christ as the true King of this land.
The document has traveled from London to NZ and will continue to make its way all across our great nation gaining signatures and supporters, before it makes it way back to the British Crown in London. 

After identifying ourselves as fellow Christians, getting the full story on what was going on and committing to personally sharing the gospel ourselves, they invited us to sign. 
This is no small thing. What an honour!
My friend and I both stood in awe at what we had just encountered, and as we looked out over the sea, with grateful hearts we spoke out our praise to God for all he had already accomplished in the spiritual realm on behalf of our nation, and prayed with expectancy about what amazing things he had in store for the future of Aotearoa.


You can read the back-story and the words of the proclamation at the link below.   Watch this blog for more updates on how God is transforming the lives of Kiwis in this bicentennial year of celebration.  God's not dead in New Zealand. He is surely alive and we are only beginning to see the tip of the iceberg of his love and power at work in our midst!

A Spiritual Declaration for New Zealand

Sunday, October 5, 2014

In The Presence of Royalty in the Kingdom of Tonga

Koe Otua lei lei.  Koe Otua lei lei. Koe Otua lei lei.  Otua lei lei, ki a te au.

God is so good.  God is so good.  God is so good. He's so good to me.

Perhaps you you know that song? If so, why not hum it along with me as you read this blog post.

Our team returned from another meaningful and memorable trip to Tonga to join God in his mission, lived out through those who serve at the Mango Tree Respite Centre.  Mango Tree serves those living in poverty with disabilities through physio and occupational therapy, parent support, Braille classes, home visits and computer classes, as well as equipping clients with wheelchairs and other equipment.  It's quite a remarkable ministry really, and I count it a huge privilege to have been able to see and participate in their work first hand for two consecutive years!

We worked hard, laughed a lot (and sweat a lot!) hosting a sensory learning Bible camp for children with severe disabilities.  Many of these children have limited to no mobility and are dealing with visual, hearing, and intellectual impairments.  It was messy, tiring, and oh so wonderful!  We were amazed at the stamina and faithfulness of the Tongan staff members and the parents of these precious children, just making it through each day on their "daily bread", reliant upon God for every need of every kind.

As I crawled around the floor with the children, covered in slobber and sand, with an aching back and sweaty palms, the Lord stopped me in my tracks and cautioned me: "Alison, take note and humble yourself.  You are in the presence of royalty.  These are those 'least of these' who will be the greatest in my Kingdom. They will one day be kings and queens." 

Whoa.  What a much-needed reality check. I was brought down a notch.

 Who knows how many times I have preached about serving the "least of these", or taught on importance of ministering to the marginalized and poor, yet have done so from a place of authority, superiority, or false humility?   These children, whom Tongan society generally considers "cursed" and less than human, are on the bottom of the world's caste system.  They are pushed aside and hidden away from public view, and parents are often left unsupported and alone in their efforts to provide care.  Most of these children (and adults) are completely vulnerable and helpless, at the mercy of others for protection, feeding, bathing, educating, etc.   For individuals with disabilities and impairments, the world is an especially dangerous place.  They are the lowest of the low, the bottom of the social and political totem pole.

BUT. . .

A different reality is on the horizon.  In the Kingdom of God, the least become the greatest.  The last become first.  The paupers become princes and the peasants become royalty.  The children, the poor, and the helpless suddenly find themselves on top, while the self-important, self-sufficient, and arrogant are conveniently shifted to the bottom of the social order.

Right there in the middle of  this tiny Pacific island hardly noticeable on a world map, I found myself in the presence of royalty!  I honestly cannot wait for the day when I meet these children in heaven when the Kingdom of God is complete, and see them running free, exercising their God-given authority as children of the King.

Please enjoy some photos from the Kingdom. (And yes, don't forget that Tonga's official national name is "The Kingdom of Tonga".  Kinda appropriate, eh?)