Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Umzimkulu mud between my toes

Its 2:50am PST.I've been awake for about an hour.The Melatonin tabs aren't working.
So I'm musing about our trip. A three week feast of family, friends and ministry - right now a bit of a blurr. In three weeks we didn't spend more than three nights in the same bed. So I'm squelching through the moments and memories like a slow walk along the muddy banks of the Umzimkulu River, before I throw myself back into life in the city that never slows down.

Honestly, that was one of the simple pleasures for my family during the few days we stayed on the Drakensberg farm that once belonged to my Great-Uncle. Walking barefoot again. Even though my kids got thorns in their feet, they refused to put their shoes on, preferring to risk pain for the sensation of grass, mud, wood and water on their feet.

Our family motto for the trip was 'great memories, good meetings.'In that order. That meant that between ministry, we made quality time for memorable reconnections on both sides of our family. I loved watching all the cousins mix - particularly the older ones - where the teenage intersection of personality, puberty and faith-journey is fascinating. The younger cousins seemed to simply pick up where they left off three years ago. We have an incredibly rich heritage of family, and I am firmly 'forgetting not God's benefits' of quality time with them.

The thing is though, that in our world, its impossible to separate family, friends and ministry neatly. We often had all three together at once! And that's probably how it should be - where the blood-lines are blurred because of the blood of Christ.

Again, very sweet reconnections in the four churches we were with, all unique communities which we deeply love and respect. Here are a few common threads I noticed.

All of them are on a sincere journey of transitioning from having Community at the center, to being Communities with the Gospel at the center.

All are facing the reality that a 'Biblical Model' and 'Apostolic Partnership', are no longer enough to grow a strong church. It requires first and foremost that we are good stewards of a Message.

All are facing some sort of pressure to polarize, either towards a conservative reformed journey, or to a hyper-charismatic expression. Most are wrestling to find their own radical Word/Spirit blend around Mission. Churches unable to guard sound doctrine are generally losing people.

Most are around 30% down in their income, which means honest assessment of staff productivity, less travel, and increased volunteer efforts to keep doing the work of ministry.

I loved our time with each one. I felt like we were able to encourage them on each of their journeys, at a time that is crying out for clear, courageous leadership. Again, it is a mystery to me how easy it is to give altar calls in South Africa!
But I have come home more convinced than ever of our calling to the U.S, and that this nation is more ripe for the gospel than it has been in the last 30 years, and is longing for a Church on Mission, strong in both Word and Spirit.

A confession. I purposefully left a bit of dried Umzimkulu mud between my toes as a memoir. I know,I know, the customs people wouldn't love that. But hey, a bit of clean African mud never hurt anyone.