Tuesday, December 02, 2008
The South Pacific Regional Training Event took place this week at the Australian National University in Canberra. This is the first event of its kind that has been done for some time and brought students from NZ, Fiji, Vanuatu, PNG and Australia. There were around 1000 there overall which was great.
Canberra is a strange city in many ways. It was made the capital of Australia as a result of Sydney and Melbourne’s rivalry and inability to agree on which should be the seat of the Federal Government. It has been planned at every stage and has wide roads, much grass and a sense of there being nobody there. It is Milton Keynes as Federal Capital but it is not without interest despite the negative press it often attracts.
We had a small group from NZ who enjoyed being part of the small group streams each morning and being able to interact with students and staff from other parts of the South Pacific. Richard Chin has been very helpful in enabling this kind of interaction to take place.
It was great to see friends from PNG again. Each of the nations had a chance to do a cultural presentation each evening. Hearing news from these countries and seeing them share something of their culture in song and dance was really good. The interactive learning that the Australians were using in the morning streams was also very positive.
Peter Hughes interviewed me one night and I made a comment about the importance of creativity and content needing to go together. I am frustrated that sometimes the most creative people have no idea about content and those with the best content are sadly lacking in creativity. This comment led to some fruitful conversations and some embryonic relationships forming. This is an area where I think we can make a contribution in networking and encouraging those with creative gifts and vision. Although you may be relieved to know that I only wear my green Kiwi shirt and PNG cap on rare cross-cultural public occasions!
I had the opportunity to speak on the last two nights on Matthew 27. The plan had been for Richard Chin and I to do two evenings from the Bible and for Daniel Bourdanne and Lindsay Brown to share stories from around the world so that there were two speakers each night. Unfortunately Daniel could not come because of visa issues. Lindsay stepped into the breach and shared stories each night of student work around the world. This idea of two talks each night worked well and many students found the stories challenging and memorable. I found it tough adjusting to the shorter time and I did not feel on top form but there was a lot of positive feedback.
The conference was on the theme of Cross and Culture. On the last night I gave an opportunity for public response. Several hundred stood to pledge their lives and their commitment to living lives defined by the cross in marketplace or mission.
Jodi, one of my Aussie friends who I first met a couple of years ago was keeping time for me on the last night. She has a strong sense of God challenging her to spend some time in the Middle East. She was one who stood in the front row. “I thought about what the students I work with might think but then said forget them! I know that I am being taken out of my comfort zone but I cannot say no” I sometimes wonder what on earth I am doing in the Pacific and doubt the value of my speaking and seeking to invest in people. Seeing the tears stream down Jodi’s face reminded me of why we have come here. Talking to other students the next day was also quite moving.
I hope some who were at the conference will add their own comments for the encouragement of those who support us from around the world.
I can see more opportunities starting to open up. I am increasingly convinced that the structures that served the gospel in the last century are not the same that will serve the structures in this century. I believe that a new generation of influence is starting to be arise. I was very encouraged by some of the emerging leaders that I met here. It was also good to meet the Student Y guys from Port Elizabeth in South Africa and to hear what they are trying to do.
I also had some conversations with a few who are keen to explore possibilities of partnership, either with short term teams or in longer term work themselves. There is huge potential in these trans Tasman and South Pacific friendships. Australians who are culturally sensitive, who can work with others with a range of theological convictions, who are able to separate out the priorities from the programmes, who a have a heart to serve and a vision to help raise up Kiwi leaders. I think we are getting to know some.
It was also good for me to spend more time in Australia. I think part of my difficulty in speaking was related to a consciousness of not having spent much time in Australia. I am slowly starting to understand the culture and was encouraged by some saying very strongly that they would like to see me doing more in Australia. I am certainly beginning to feel that there may be opportunities to contribute.
When you are in the middle of one thing you often get news from another world. I was saddened by the death of Neil Young. Neil had a big heart and was a great encouragement to me when I first got involved in Mission Scotland. That is now four men who were on the board of Mission Scotland who have gone home early. I learned from them the value of following Jesus in the company of friends and how a small group can do great things. I miss them all. I have on my study wall my radio tag from Release the Power. Neil Young was Scotland 12 – Contraflow. The Contraflow interactive exhibition is still one of my creative highlights. He made the vision of the exhibition a reality and managed it during the event. It was a very significant event for me to have people like George and Neil get behind my wacky ideas!
I remember the last lines of a poem I wrote that Neil insisted on copying to give to everyone who was there. They ran:
“No dress rehearsal, this is the show.
Go with the crowd or contraflow”
Neil lived like that. He loved good news stories and sought to integrate his faith and architecture while putting his energy into meaningful relationships and strategic projects. He was a servant. It is how we have been calling a new generation to live this week. Neil would have been fascinated to interact with the students from PNG and hear their passion for mission.
I am very aware of my need of new friends. Although coming across this small Scottish outpost in New South Wales did make me smile.