Well, we made it to South Africa. From the time I left my driveway to the time we got to the retreat center where we would stay took a whopping 30 hours. Frankly, I had no idea! It was the most grueling day of travel I’ve ever experienced.
Often, when we go on mission, we have a project that we’re working on – building a church or doing a Bible School in a village or repairing homes. Other trips have a more nebulous intent. I spent 3 weeks in Cuba a few years ago and the purpose of that mission was to make some important networking connections in what we called a ‘mission immersion experience’, or MIE. It sounds boring or relaxed, but it was actually a packed schedule meeting with church leaders, touring facilities, talking to locals, and interviewing government officials.
Susan and I came to South Africa because I had a distinct sense that God was calling us to come. And while I had a loose idea of what I would be doing, I really wasn’t sure. In Acts 16, Paul has a vision of this guy in Macedonia calling to him asking Paul to come and help them. Well, that’s a little how I felt.
This morning, we had our first debriefing meeting, and it’s becoming increasingly clear why we’ve traveled half way around the world. There are pastors here who are really struggling. They’re out of steam, out of ideas, and out of the will and energy to keep going. So, after hearing about the Innovative Church Network that we formed with three other churches a few years ago, some of their leaders invited us to come and help them dream about how an ICN might come to be here in South Africa.
Riaan Niemand talked this morning about his own journey from traditional church to an innovative church model that is focused on reaching people who don’t go to church. He spoke about the times he wanted to give up, the frustrations along the way with the established denominational bureaucracies, and some of the moments along the way when God reminded Riaan of His purpose. He spoke about his longing for other pastors who are trying to make a difference here to form the kind of support that we’ve been able to find in Virginia. I can relate to all of that – to the difficult seasons, the discouraging moments, the times when I wanted to quit, and the huge blessing that our ICN has been to me. Some of the other guys in the ICN have become some of my closest friends, and our families do things together. I never have to wonder about them leaving the church if I say something that offends them. I never have to ask them for money. I never have to evaluate them for leadership. It’s not just that we can be real – I do that all the time. I’m the same Monday through Saturday as I am on Sunday. It’s that being the Senior Pastor of a large, growing church has a unique set of challenges, requiring a unique set of learned skills. Very few people really understand. These guys do.
Riaan is asking us to help about a dozen high capacity, highly visionary pastors here in South Africa develop the same thing among themselves that we have found for ourselves. And while the context and culture is a little different, the idea is the same. Now I have a greater understanding of what kind of work God has in mind for me and the rest of us here on the team.
Tomorrow, we’ll preach in a couple of churches and then prepare for the inaugural “ICN South Africa” which will happen Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. After that we have some other things to do. For example, we’ll visit an orphanage and learn more about the problem of children raising children because of the AIDS pandemic. On another day, we’ll go to the site of the 2010 Soccer World Cup and talk about the millions of people who will be here and the ministry opportunities and possibilities.
I’ll give you some specific prayer requests on Monday. But for now, thanks for praying that God would show us continued clarity for our reason and purpose on this trip.