Inspired by the letter from the Apostle John to Gaius in 3 John, our text for this series, Nigel Webb wrote a letter to us ahead of their deployment to Colombia:
Nigel, to Brett and our beloved cession|community
When I first walked through the doors of cession 8 ½ years ago, I was a broken man.
As a family we had served God in Ecuador for 8 years, joining in what He was doing in the city of Guayaquil, a hot coastal city in South America full of life, but also full of violence. After being robbed twice at knifepoint and then gunpoint, as well as being in a taxi accident where I ended up ½ in and ½ out of the car, I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder — hyper-vigilant at all times. Despite this, I loved the people of Guayaquil and it had become our home and we were serving in house church movement that baptised around 1000 people a year as well as providing leadership and pastoral care to the SIM team in wider Ecuador.
Then we were asked to return to NZ so I could lead the NZ SIM team to send missionaries into some hard places in the world with the life-changing good news that Jesus came, died, rose again and that that makes all the difference to our lives, our society, our world, the whole universe. So, like Paul in Acts 16:9, we accepted the Macedonian call to “Come over and help us.”
Yet, returning to NZ both Riche & I and the boys, we were all wounded warriors — spent, also needing help, trying to adjust our identity to a new place that wasn’t “home” anymore. We were trying to jump from one trapeze to another, but in that instant when we held neither, we fell down with scars of depression, anger, emotional stunting and law-breaking in the family of those missionaries “of good reputation” (3 John:12). That night, I walked the gauntlet of the depot hallway, not sure where to go. I sat at a table alone, but not for long, as Scott came and said hello. And too soon, it is time we say goodbye.
In the words of the Elder (3 John:5-6a) Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love.
And I testify today to your love for us as a family. You didn’t know us, but you accepted us into the cession|community. You helped us in many ways as we recovered and recreated ourselves and found here our Turangawaewae, a place to stand. Joining a cell-group where we could be honest and open and have friends, coming to interesting services where there was food, fellowship and genuine interaction with the Word — these were streams of life to us. You morally supported us as we put the jigsaw puzzle of our lives back together in a different way and returned to leadership in SIM. Thank you for your true love and for your missional hospitality that expresses the welcome of God to each of us.
Then when we were ready, you gently incorporated us into ministries like worship, creative team, stations, preaching, laugh your way to a better marriage course, cultivate and servant leadership where we could meaningfully contribute and encourage one another to engage with Jesus, find out what God is doing and join in with the Trinity with the gifting he has given each and every one of us.
It has been fantastic to see people like Carmel mature into an amazing youth leader. She gives out so much — support her, regularly pray for her, develop her. Over the years people have said hello to us and some goodbye to us as a church, yet never leaving without knowing the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, expressed in the act of communion and the outworking of our community with each other and into the community that we are a part of. Don’t lose this openness to others. Even with big tables and big hearts, it is easy for us to just be friendly and not friends to new people. So take every opportunity to deepen relationship with new people and with those on the fringe. Let us never be a clique which is here only for ourselves, but a people who are generously welcoming and including and open to others. In the words of Lévinas (TI, 300), "In the welcome made to the Other I welcome the Most High to which my freedom is subordinated." When we truly welcome others, we realise that we learn and receive so much more than we offer and give; the guest becomes host and the host guest, as the Spirit gives, and receives us all into the mystery of the Trinity. Hold fast to this truth in a world where alternative facts would cause us to reject the sojourner.
As we are thinking about saying goodbye, Richelle & I are also thinking about saying ¡hola! In the two visits we have made to Colombia we have met some great people who are keen to see churches and individuals from the 5 million strong evangelical church mobilised to take up the challenge of intercultural mission involvement, to reach some places where it is difficult for Western missionaries to go. In particular, we are joining a seminary community in Medellín, which has welcomed us into the faculty as of last Friday and will be the next community to receive and welcome us in. There will be many ¡holas! Just as we join to serve the Colombian church, the Colombian church will help us as we find our place there.
But these next 9 weeks are gonna be hard. Already on our travels around NZ we have said goodbye to many friends and supporters. But soon we say goodbye to you all, many of you have become close friends. Brett, we have shared regular times of peer-mentoring (or should I say beer-mentoring J ), that I hope will continue from afar. And we say hasta luego to Caleb & Jordan, Isaac, Shadow (our cat), and our parents, sisters and their families. When we first went to Ecuador, our parents bore the cost of us leaving and taking their, at the time, only grandchildren across the seas. This time we leave our boys behind for the sake of the Good News and that sux. This time we leave behind ageing parents – and it costs. In the words of Bonhoeffer (Letters),
Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute: we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; he doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us to maintain our former communion with each other even at the cost of pain.
But we do it and we encourage others to consider such a call as this because we know that…(from my thesis)
Just as in Rublev’s painting [of the Trinity, that I so love] the table is open to all. The Son who was
sent by the Father sends us through the Spirit and the good news is taken to the four corners of the earth. The hospitable God who seeks for all nations to be blessed through the descendants of Abraham asks us to continually reflect and re-read this story so that we may continue in a posture of openness, not fearful but hopeful, ready to be surprised, giving and receiving hospitality, living missional hospitality as we participate in the life and Mission of the Triune God.
And now we say adios, amigos :( It is a-Dios – to God and goodbye - God be with you, hasta luego - ka kite anō, but not sayonara – the big adios – as we will be in and out of town until August, and every couple of years we will return to this Turangawaewae that is in you. Then from afar by skype, facetime and social media, and when we return to again say ¡Hola! we will, like Paul returning from his 1st missionary journey to the church in Antioch, “…gather the church together and report all that God has done through us and how he has opened a door of faith to [those who are living and dying without the gospel]” (Acts 14:27).
As one of our sending churches, you are part of our mission team. The elder continues in 3 John: 6b-8. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.
So now your love for us shows itself in a practical form as you send us on our way to Colombia, helping with provision for our journey as we go for the sake of the name of Christ, supporting us so that together we may work for the truth. Right back on 5th October 2015, when we met with you Brett and shared this possibility, you were super excited and started planning how cession and the wider Wesleyan church could be part of our going. Over the next couple of weeks, Rob & BJ will be sharing how our partnership of missionary, agency and church works. From where we stand, we see that we go on your behalf to contribute to the church in Colombia, so as cession|community there is a sense in which you go with us, you are all joining in with what God is doing in Colombia and beyond. Only after all the goodbyes and tears are over for all eternity will we know how our joining with the Colombian church will impact many peoples lives across the world as they hear about Jesus and join in praise to our God. We pray that our going will also enrich your lives as a church as you get to be part of what God is doing in another part of his world in a more personal way.