A STORY THAT SHOULD STRENGTHEN ‘OUT-OF-TRADITIONAL- CHURCH’ BELIEVERS, IN THEIR CHOSEN LIFESTYLE
Just before Christmas, Mavis and I received a letter from friends in New Zealand. It recounted a series of happenings which both of us found very interesting and very encouraging, and we think it is worth passing on to our fellow “out-of-traditional-church” Christians. The letter came from a couple in their mid-sixties – Graham and Shirley – who have followed the Lord outside the ‘Organised Church’ for twenty years. In the seaside town in which they live, they are part of a small family-style group of believers, numbering just eight people.
About four years ago, Graham was walking along the beach when he saw a man of swarthy complexion peering at a piece of paper, and obviously in some distress. The guy (called George) turned out to be a temporary migrant worker from one of the Pacific islands, who had been upset by some problem with his pay-slip. Graham helped sort out the immediate problem, and he and Shirley kept in touch with him for the remainder of the season. Sometimes, in their conversations, the Lord Jesus was mentioned, and George seemed interested to know more, having had no previous knowledge of the Christian Faith. There were many faiths on his island, including Baha’i, Mormons, and Christian, but it was Graham and Shirley’s Christian family lifestyle that George was drawn to.
The following year, George returned to New Zealand for the seasonal work, and the friendship was renewed. George gave Graham and Shirley the surprising news that, back home – as a result of their conversations the previous year – he had given his life to Christ, and so had his wife Madeleine! So they encouraged him, and continued to pass on Christian truth to him that they reckoned would be helpful.
They also learned much more about the living conditions on his island. It turned out that these were rather primitive, certainly in the district where George lived. In particular, his village had no water supply. Every drop of water had to be carried up a steep hill, from the nearest well, some distance away – mainly by the women and children. Government officials were adamant that there was no way of having water pumped up to the village, especially because there was no power supply available.
When George was explaining all this, Graham and Shirley’s son Adam, who is a mechanic, was present in the room. He knew of a ‘Ram’ pump that would be suitable for the problem, but at 7000 New Zealand dollars per pump, plus NZ$2000 transport costs, that solution was out of the question. The village had been saving for years and only had $1,200. However, after much research, experimentation (and, Shirley says, “much laughter”) Adam was able to invent and produce a small, light, easy-to-fix-in-the-field pump that seemed fit for purpose. When it was ready, Adam went to George’s island for a month, and satisfactorily installed the pump, with George learning on the job. Adam also spent valuable time with the family sharing his faith, and, just before he left, Madeleine asked to be baptized, as George had been baptised in New Zealand.
Before long, word was spreading on the island of the success of the pump and more villages wanted them. Adam started sending more over, improving the pump design each time, with George installing seven pumps at different villages. The following year, Adam felt the Lord wanted him to return, to build up the faith of George and his wife, and to see George’s work, as by this time he now had a trained pump installation crew (4 men) and was running his own little village business. Adam was able to train the ‘crew’ further, but, more importantly, he was also able to share Christian truth with others in the village. People had been intrigued by the change in George and Madeleine and, by the time Adam left, six more islanders had been baptized!
Over the next few months, eleven more pumps were installed by George and his crew – backed by a successful application, from the islanders to the United Nations, for additional plastic tanks to hold the water. Last year, Adam returned to the island to give further advice and training. George’s village business means there is now no need for him to make any more long trips to New Zealand, away from his family. Through all that has happened, the Lord has provided them with a small but adequate income.
On that particular visit (two years ago) Adam was accompanied by Graham and Shirley, and by his sister Lisa, all of whom were able to give practical help, and encouragement, and to relate to the various islanders Adam had got to know. (Incidentally, the villagers built the New Zealand family two little grass
houses, so there was no accommodation problem!) Many of the folks our friends spoke to wanted to know more about the Christian Faith. As conversations about this grew more frequent, still more villagers acknowledged Jesus. Graham and Shirley have taught these new Christians just to live like a loving extended family, with Christ at the centre of all they do. They continue to pray for other villagers who are asking questions.
Last year, Graham and Shirley went back again with Adam, and the fellowshipping and informal teaching continued. To date, there are sixteen new believers on the island. At some point or other, all of them have expressed the desire to be baptized. On that last visit, there were even more baptisms.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has begun to show further interest in the pumps. A representative from UNICEF has flown in from Fiji to investigate what has already been set up, and there is a possibility of Adam’s pump being installed at quite a few other locations. As in “The Acts of the Apostles”, God is pouring out blessing that is both spiritual and practical.
AN IMPORTANT LESSON WE CAN LEARN FROM THIS STORY….
I believe that those of us who are seeking to serve the Lord outside the Organised Church can learn an important lesson from this account that has been sent to me from New Zealand. Let me begin by giving you the context for what I want to say….
From time to time I get, from various earnest “out of church” believers, an expression of dissatisfaction, which goes something like this: “I try to live the “Cross-My-Path Care” lifestyle – keeping my eyes open for those whose lives intersect with my own, and my ears attentive for the Holy Spirit’s promptings on how best to serve them – but I seldom seem to have anything particularly newsworthy or impressive to report. By contrast, my ‘churchy’ friends always have projects and missions to talk about, and, even though a surprising number of their programmes fizzle out, and don’t actually come to much in the long run, their opinion is that I, personally, don’t do much for the Lord.”
There are two comments I should like to make about this. The first is that Jesus actually seems to prefer that, most of the time, what Christians do should remain hidden. He tells his followers to do their “good works” in secret, and not to let them be “seen by men”. He tells us to “lay up treasure in Heaven”, where even the giving of a cup of cold water is noted very favourably! He is insistent that, if our Heavenly Father sees what we do in His name, that should be enough for us. Consequently, I don’t think we should ever be specifically aiming at living a “newsworthy” life.
However, my second comment is that, every now and again, the Lord seems to use “Cross-My-Path Care” to do something that has the potential to “hit the headlines”. In both Acts 2 and Acts 5, we read that the caring lifestyle of the first Christians was something that got attention from the general public. To my mind, the same thing has happened in this Pacific Island situation.
The folks in New Zealand simply engaged in “Cross-My-Path Care”, and the Lord used their faithful step-by-step obedience to do something that is genuinely newsworthy. I think it’s important to learn, from the events recounted above, that – when it’s within His purposes – God can use “Cross-My-Path Care” to bring about events that are impressive and newsworthy. We need to know that “Cross-My-Path Care” can be as good a channel as any, when the Almighty wants to do something on a grander scale.
All in all, don’t underestimate the potential of your seemingly informal lifestyle. Go on keeping your eyes open for those who cross your path, and your ears open for the Spirit’s guidance – and leave the ‘results’ to the Lord. If He wants the outcome to be impressive, so be it. If, on the other hand, He wants it hidden until the future time when all will be revealed, let us rejoice in that also. One way or the other, let us be content, at all times, simply to walk closely with Him, among the people with whom He links us.