Sunday, September 28, 2014

real presence at पचपन

I am 55 today. In Hindi, 55 is the catchy little alliterative, puchpun (पचपन). My mum enjoys ticking off her children as they pass through this age and stage. Just one more to go, Mum.

I have moved past the expectation of real presents on my birthdays (although my son Joseph did send me a much-appreciated basketball this month). No - with this post I want to bear witness to the real presence of Christ in my life, surprising me at times beyond my expectation.

I've trawled the memory bank for episodes in which God has drawn near in Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit touched my life.


Episode One: A Sunday morning in Lagos (Nigeria)
It is almost twenty years ago. My first sustained visit to a non-Western country since my childhood in India. No direct flights from the USA in those days. New York's JFK airport had a big sign, prominently placed: 'Avoid Lagos Airport'. I arrived at the aforementioned Lagos airport before dawn. Humid. Eerie lighting. Fans whirling inches from my head. Guns everywhere. Custom officials viewing the contents of my bag like self-service at a lunch buffet. After three long flights, it was getting to me. The words of the woman next to me on the flight - 'thank-you for coming to my country to tell people about Jesus' - no longer seemed so thrilling.

The first conference in Ibadan went OK. Then, during the weekend, the thought of flying on my own to a little place in the jungle called Owerri became too much for me. I freaked out. Timid little me got a big dose of the fears and panics. Just as well I didn't know that there would be no one to meet me at the airport. Just as well I didn't know that soon after my arrival at the guesthouse, while I was left to rest and everyone else went into town for provisions, more big guns would arrive at the door and take away my passport. Just as well I didn't know that I would sit in transit in Port Harcourt airport reading a newspaper shouting headlines about the most unsafe airports in Africa - with #1 and #2 being ... you guessed it, Lagos and Port Harcourt.

But I was in better shape by that time. I had woken early on that Sunday morning in Lagos. Fear is a dependable alarm clock, I find. My mind was playing games. I resolved that I would not be getting on that plane. I would remain in Lagos. No Owerri for me. Then I heard it. Quietly at first. Then stronger and stronger. It was a dawn church service. I recognised the tune being sung. Then I picked out the words. Before I knew it I was singing along. 'Because He lives I can face tomorrow. Because He lives all fear is gone'. The real presence of Christ breathed peace into my life and gave me the power to pack my bags.

Episode Two: Multiple mornings in Auckland (New Zealand)
If you speak to my peers, in my late teens I was a huge advocate for global mission. One year we ran a World Christian group at university. The next year it was in our church. Once I counted a couple of dozen people for whom God's call overseas journeyed through one of those groups. I fully expected to be one of them. But it was not to be. God had other plans. After theological training and marriage to Barby, we were to spend 25 years focused on the church in New Zealand.

But midway through Year #20 something happened. I was taking my morning walk to get a newspaper from the Mobil Station on the corner of Dominion Rd and Mt Albert Rd. I was in good spirits. It was the day after Christmas. On the day before Christmas news came through that Nigel Pollock had agreed to come to NZ to head-up our TSCF/IFES work. Having been on the search group, I was elated. But now, on the day after Christmas, the headlines carried tragedy. Boxing Day 2004. The tsunami broke my heart. It just did. For many early mornings after that, in my little walk-in closet of an office perched in our home, I found myself weeping. It still affects me. I was retelling this story in Sri Lanka just last month and the moisture readily returned.

This molten moment matured into a refreshed call into global mission. I see this more clearly now. It was the turning point. Those who knew me best could see it happening as well. I knew not when or where things would change. But the real presence of Christ in my life was softening and redirecting me. As it turned out, my time as principal at Carey Baptist College still had five more years to run. And so, like Mary, I was left to ponder things in my heart, fed now by different authors ('Bless you, Philip Jenkins and Lamin Sanneh'). When the time came for a new direction, I was surprised by the quickness with which everything happened. I shouldn't have been.

Episode Three: A Sunday evening in Bangalore (India)
Just over four years now. On this very SAIACS campus where I sit now. I had come for a long weekend (to speak at graduation) on my way to Assam to explore the feasibility of Langham Preaching commencing in Northeast India. But trouble had surfaced while I was in Vanuatu in the preceding week - with a tooth. The dentist in Auckland had no light to shed on the problem.

Off I went to India. Painkillers were popped like jellybeans. I made it through the Graduation Ceremony, speaking about how God's amazing grace is not just evident at conversion. It tracks with us through all of life. On the Sunday morning I had offered to preach in a local church. I still don't know where and I have no idea what I spoke about. Over lunch I confessed things to a couple of SAIACS staff who were hosting me. I was in trouble ... and I was leaving for Assam early in the morning. I had never been to Assam before, but I was sure I didn't want to visit a dentist there.

These SAIACS people immediately got onto their mobile phones. Eventually a dentist near to SAIACS was located in Chennai (some hours away), but returning later that Sunday. Would you believe it? He agreed to open up his Agape (!) Clinic for me on a Sunday night. In 120 minutes he completed an entire root canal procedure. Never before had such skilled hands - quick, decisive, gentle - entered my mouth. Meanwhile the principal of SAIACS, Ian Payne, sat in reception and waited for me all that time. Amazing grace tracking with us through all of life? I spoke about it one night and then on the next night, I experienced it as the real presence of Christ touched my life through his people.

Episode Four: A long weekend in Auckland - and Sydney
My precious Dad breathed his last breath on a Wednesday morning, just as the Hallelujah Chorus reached its crescendo on the tape recorder by his bed. Or, so I am told - because I did not get there in time to be with him. But his pain-filled ordeal was over - finally. Apart from the grief that gripped me, it created a huge dilemma. I was meant to be in the Blue Mountains (near Sydney) for Fri-Sat-Sun, speaking at the Reach Out Mission Conference. What do I do?

We decided that Dad would want me still to go. So between my Dad's death and my Dad's funeral I popped across the Tasman to give multiple messages at a mission conference. I did my best. I don't remember much, except feeling a little star-struck on the Saturday night because Reuben Morgan and his band from Hillsong led the service before I got up to give a mission message from the book of Ecclesiastes. Sunday morning it was straight home again, but given the unfriendly time zones, not reaching home until 6.00pm. And then ... the challenge of preaching at my Dad's funeral the next morning. What on earth was I thinking?

I went to bed almost straight away. Then from 2.00am until 10.00am I  experienced something as close to 2 Peter 1.21 as I am ever likely to experience: '... but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.' My mind, my heart - and my fingers - were 'carried along'. Romans 10 fell open with a message that captured my Dad so well, drawing us all into the orbit of the real presence of Christ - especially me.


It is good for me so to reflect and write.
I pray that my episodes can precipitate a few of your own.


nice chatting

Paul


[NB: Breakfast for a 55 year old birthday boy - pink guava, orange papaya and red pomegranate]

3 comments:

Heather said...

Thank you.

not a wild hera said...

Thank you, Paul, and happy birthday :)

Brother Boz said...

A wonderful read, Brother Bob!