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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Space for the Unexpected, and true Community

Those were our goals going into a ten-day period of back-to-back conferences for our field.  First a five-day Leadership training for the team leaders from our four countries, then a five-day all-field retreat for everyone.  Logistically, managing 112 people for various time periods coming from various continents (3) and countries was a mammoth task, and over the last year I would not have made it without the unflappable, steady, patient task-completing Heidi Lutjens.  In fact we started well over a year ago wrangling a date and location, inviting speakers, planning a theme and a flow.  Eventually we narrowed it down to Easter as the time period most people could come, and the Kenyan coast as the most affordable and relaxing destination.  Terrorism in Kenya, I said?  Sure, but the risk is statistically the same as being killed as a student in a school shooting in America.  Now that all is said and done, Heidi and I are both taking a few recovery days and breathing a sigh of relief.  But not just relief, true gratitude.

Because the Garissa attack sickened us with sorrow, and heightened tensions where we were as well, though hundreds of kilometers from Garissa.  Our hotel was just over the border of the coastal zone considered "safe", in the wrong direction.  We were fairly remote, and there was another group like ours also meeting.  It is not easy to invite people we love into a time of refreshment, and then sense the weight of risk and danger.  Our hotel stepped up security and our guardian angels worked overtime, and in spite of some illnesses and anxieties we emerged mostly intact.  Our hearts were with the Garissa students, mourning the cruelty and evil so palpable in that slaughter.  When you "retreat" in this part of the world, it is only a temporary gathering of strength to return to the battle which continues to rage.  And I don't mean the battle between Kenya and its neighbor.  I mean the battle for hearts to forgive, to connect, to choose love over violence.

Space to encounter God was our primary goal.  We set aside time for worship, for the preaching of the Word, for silent reflection, for small group discussion, and for prayer.  In each of these settings different people engaged with God in their own unique ways, and the Spirit was at work.  We watched as some who arrived broken with mourning, weighed down with despair, weeping with discouragement, drank from the well of God's presence and life.  Our theme was the rhythm of Holy week:  surrender, suffering, loss, resurrection, and journey.  As I doodled those words in planning months, getting over the wall of our will, descending into suffering and loss, rising into life and going out into the world, they reminded me of an EKG, so Liana Masso designed a word-logo for our time, to show that this rhythm is our heartbeat of life in a broken world:

We want our teams to fully engage in a theology of the cross.  True worship begins in the wilderness, as Michael Card writes, where we surrender our will, and lose our lives, and hold onto the God who is present and loving even when we have no evidence.  New life starts in that darkness, the subtle seed that grows.  We grasp the truth by faith, we empathize with the suffering of all around us, and we reach resurrection with scars to show that it is by wounding that God heals.  Then that resurrection power pushes us into the world, where the impossible becomes true, where power is unleashed to make all things new.  We work to bring peace to people who have been looking for it in the wrong places.  And as we move into the world, we find that the main person God is pursing is me, transforming us as we live by faith.  This rhythm of loss and life becomes our heartbeat, seeing resurrection stories over and over.

And all of this happens not as lone pioneers, but as a community of faith and work.  We loved our times of sharing stories and receiving prayer, of gathering around and laying on hands, of lifting each other's hearts and cries to the Lord.  We shared meals, we talked in groups, we danced on the beach.  Our retreat time was bookended by sacrament.  To begin, a Messianic Passover Celebration, an ocean-side sunset retelling of the exodus from Egypt in the context of Jesus' fulfillment.  We sat in the sand (at least a bit authentic to the wilderness of the Sinai), leaders washed feet, wine and unleavened bread were distributed.  And our last night closed in a time of prayer for new fields, then communion together, a circle of goodbye and benediction.

Many thanks to our supporters, who helped us subsidize some of the extra costs for travel for those who could not afford it, an purchase some supplies as we were the primary planners and hosts.  Many thanks to our Serving Center leaders who came to participate.  Many thanks to Joanna Stewart and her amazing team of childcare volunteers, including a handful of former missionaries who came to bless us on their own dime.  Many thanks to our Kenyan hosts, whose hotel became a place of respite.  Many thanks to Heidi whose planning meant that our massive bill was spot-on expectations as we settled accounts yesterday morning.  Many thanks to Scott who survived working in the ebola-zone, and quarantine, and landed just in time to walk through ten intense days of ministry with me, patiently praying and listening through meetings too numerous to count.  Many thanks to all our Sergers, whose presence and vulnerability and laughter made the entire time a delight.  Many thanks to God, who protected us and met us.

And today many thanks to two non-Serge families who invited us to four days at a nearby beach house, where we are able to lay down the responsibility that has been pretty intense over the last few months and just rest.

Planning a regional retreat is a little like having a baby--so much work and pain, you think as you go along, I am not able to do this again.  But then the reality of engaging with people we love and blessing them with opportunities to be filled, well, it makes all the struggle fade, and the relief of finishing is tinged with sadness that we will have to wait another three years to do this again (we try to have one regional gathering between our 3-year cycle of all-mission gatherings).  Thanks to all who prayed and read this far.  Signing off to rest!


Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about you, praying and checking for updates. Thank you for this! So glad it went well and that you get 2 days to recuperate a little. Many of us who are far, far away from Kenya are grieving over Garissa, too, and trusting for love and forgiveness to triumph over hate.

The photos of Passover on the beach are beautiful!

Jill said...

Thankful for his abundant blessing! Beautiful photos!