A perk of getting up so early Friday morning was the sunset I was blessed to witness outside the window of the old B&B. Purple and orange battled across the sky, competing to kiss the most weatherboard houses and gothic cathedrals across the vista. The high ceilings and Victorian fittings spoke of an older time but breakfast was good old Weet-Bix with toppings and some toast. The assortment of spreads was reasonable, and when I’d finished with the Sanitarium Peanut Butter and Marmite I lined them all up at the front (pride of place)—my bit of ministry for the morning, I thought as I chuckled to myself.
As a team, we met up at Pastor Peter’s house and had worship before heading back to Christchurch for the final leg of our road trip. These morning worships had been one of the highlights of the trip for me but this particular morning stands out. First, we debriefed the previous night’s program and talk about the dream of planting a university church in Dunedin. This city has 40,000 students and represents a whole lot of potential to be a centre of influence, not just for the country of New Zealand but also for the world. We dreamed and brainstormed. It was humbling to be in a room full of people who have a vision to impact the world for God’s Kingdom, and I hope that you will pray for the plans for Dunedin.
We read the story of Joshua found in chapter 1. Moses has died and Joshua is told to lead the people. A huge task. God’s message? Be strong and courageous. God tells Joshua three times to be strong and courageous. Joshua has been discipled by Moses for forty years, he has sat outside the Tabernacle, he has seen the Promised Land and he has waited for Moses at the bottom of mountains. He is well qualified but he doesn’t feel ready. He knows the challenges ahead. God is looking for an attitude, an orientation, of strength and courage and obedience. His promise? God will give Joshua every place where he sets his foot.
Has God changed? Have we changed? Or does God play favourites? If your answer to this question is no, then we need to face the reality that no matter what challenges to ministry this modern world throws at us, we can make a difference for Christ. Was the Holy Spirit taken back after Pentecost? Or do we have access to the same power.
Joshua was given a vision and a promise. As Adventists, we have also been given a vision: to proclaim the good news to all nations. And we have been given the promised Counsellor and Holy Spirit to go before where we set our feet.
This week was all about keeping the church young by attracting and empowering young people—a seemingly insurmountable challenge but nothing is too much for God. If we keep our faith strong and courageous, leaping to challenges and testifying of God’s power in our everyday lives, then this is the legacy we will be passing on.
As we drove back towards Christchurch, Dr Nick Kross and I stopped in at Larnach Castle, “New Zealand’s only castle”.
Surrounded by exquisitely manicured gardens and breathtaking views of the waters and hills around the Otago Peninsular, Larnach Castle was actually built by an Australian. A mix of the old world and the new, the high ceilings, ornate carving and tapestries could have come straight from any manor in Europe. Yet the upper verandah is bordered by laced ironwork lattices, a popular look in Australia at the time.
William Larnach was a banker from Australia, who was brought to New Zealand to help start up a bank. An ambitious and wealthy man, Larnach built this ambitious home in what was still a remote region in 1871. Yet tragedy stalked his family. His first two wives died; his children didn’t get along with his third wife. He ended up killing himself at the New Zealand Parliament building in Wellington. His children fought about who would get the castle and eventually sold it, even though his son Donald wanted to remain living in the family home. His son also took his own life.
All that ambition and power came to nothing. We are left to marvel at the beauty, while Larnach’s family fell into ruin.
Yet on the wall of the music room, there is a sign that maybe it didn’t all have to end the way it did. There is a note of thanks and appreciation from the people of Ballarat, where Larnach was based as a young man, commending him for his good and generous nature. Where did it all go wrong for Larnach? How did good intentions end in disaster? I don’t know.
I pondered it as we drove towards Christchurch. But the adventures of the day were just getting started. Here we were, two Australians in the wilds of South New Zealand with no phone reception (for some reason, neither of us had roaming working), no GPS and only a plan to meet the team somewhere in Christchurch. The only challenge was getting there.
While I won’t say we got completely lost, we did track over some of the same ground more than once and we did have to stop and ask for directions, the first time at a business who kindly printed us a map. The only problem was, the streets that were too small at that zoomed out level didn’t have names and so we just had a general direction.
The second time we stopped, we were closer and the person knew exactly the place we were looking for. What a relief to arrive at our destination, where we had another paradigm shifting conversation.
Two key churches in Christchurch are looking at what a centre of influence could look like there and how young people could be involved. The idea is still embryonic but I expect exciting things to happen soon.
After this we were off to Addington Samoan church who hosted a number of churches around Christchurch for the evening meeting.
Throughout the week, Dr Kross shared this Ellen White quote:
“The youth need more than a casual notice, more than an occasional word of encouragement. They need painstaking, prayerful and careful labour. He only whose heart is filled with love and sympathy will be able to reach those youth who are apparently careless and indifferent. Not all can be helped in the same way. God deals with each according to his temperament and character, and we must cooperate with Him. Often those who we pass by with indifference because we judge them from outward appearance, have in them the best material for workers, and will repay all the efforts bestowed on them. There must be more study given to the problem of how to deal with the youth, more earnest prayer for the wisdom that is needed in dealing with minds” (Gospel Workers, 208).
What we’ve seen around the South Island was a willingness to implement a vision for a younger church. Careful prayer and wisdom is being expended, as well as the leaders’ time we travelled north, south, west and east around the conference. Like Joshua, we can be confident that God’s promises are sure and that where we place our feet, He will give us victory. Unlike Larnach, we don’t have naked ambition, without a higher purpose or calling.
I spoke with Addington youth leader Lusi Sione and his wife Ruby. They told me about the things that they have been doing already for the young people and acknowledged the need to include and focus on an even younger age group. There is still more work to be done.
President Mike Sikuri reminded the group of the need to make a difference now.
“If we don’t do something now, within 10 or 20 years, we will need to close our churches. We don’t want to close churches.”
That is the last thing we want to see. We have been gifted a legacy from our those that came before us. We need to make the most of strengthening and investing in our legacy so we are not just left a question mark in history, or a quaint tourist attraction, haunted by the pain and failures of the past.
Please comment below or if you have any thoughts about the Youth Retention Tour, email firstname.lastname@example.org.