Thursday, 17 September 2015

Transition Reflections 1: Community, Relationships and Ministry

I haven't written much over the past month because we were busy preparing to move back to Africa. It was a hectic time, but God provided for us in amazing and often unexpected ways. We were very aware of His blessing upon us, even though we were somewhat exhausted. Tonight is our first night in the apartment where we will live for the next month or so before moving into a house. The boys are asleep now, and I want to start processing some of the things which have particularly challenged or encouraged us during the move:

1) Finding a place in our community. Last time we made a big overseas move was 10 years ago, when we had no children and both worked full time. We didn't really know people in the neighbourhood, but would pretty much come home from work to eat, sleep, go to church meetings a few miles away, host Bible studies and then return to work. However that has all changed. We spend a large proportion of each day in the nearby parks, and along the way we meet many people every day. You know the people who become part of your life, but you don't even know their names? The thing that hammered this home to me was that our own postman, and the postlady who does the adjacent streets BOTH knocked on the door with gifts for the boys and to wish us well. Several of the neighbours sent us cards. The ladies at the checkouts at the shops we use commented they would miss us. And I felt quite emotional with some of the goodbyes. I think I had not realised how embedded into the local community we were until it was time to leave. And I have some reflections on this:

  • Alongside all the 'advances' in society, the mobility of the population and the increasing tendancy for both parents to work and children to be in full-time childcare from a young age, there simply is not the close, caring community that older people might remember from their childhood. Often when I think about what the biggest need in our society is, I think it is to feel known, loved and cared about. The postman seemed quite emotional when we said goodbye, and this led me to consider that his role must often seem quite invisible and lonely; how many other people feel this way? And how as Christians can we reach out and make a difference? I think that homeschooling families are uniquely placed for this ministry - because we live out our real lives within a neighbourhood, have time for relationships to develop and the ability to invite others to our homes. 
  • I have been following a thread on our homeschooling group Facebook page, discussing how we can feel that our decision to home educate has an impact on the types of ministry we can engage in. I think it is really really important to realise that we can minister in different ways, but that is no less of a ministry. For example, I have often felt a bit guilty for not being involved in 'one to one' mentoring or being involved in some of the outreach activities arranged through church. However, I have realised that in fact we have been doing more and better evangelism simply by living real, Christ-transformed lives. A couple of the other parents I meet in the park (again, those I do not really know well) have commented on our faith, and that they have seen something different in us. That really really encourages me that we can effectively reach others with the gospel whilst busily homeschooling a young family
  • Taking it slightly further - some of this outreach and ministry would not be possible if it were not for our children. Polite, friendly children who ask others how they are, and occasionally ask them if they worship God (!) are great ice breakers. My husband in particular has commented how it was always a bit more difficult as a young man to start conversations with neighbours etc, and how the children have opened many doors. I find it really frustrating when people consider that devoting time to your children is a hindrance to 'ministry', because I really do believe that they are stereotyping ministry and trying to force it into a far narrower mould than the Bible would suggest.
2) Perhaps relating to the above - the power of an open home. Several years ago I really enjoyed reading about Francis and Edith Schaeffer and their L'Abri ministry which commenced in Switzerland but later became worldwide. One quote was that 'as many people came to faith through Edith's baking and loving care as through Francis's apologetics'. Whilst indeed feeling a bit guilty for not being involved in structured one to one Bible studies, there have been several young adults who have basically become part of our family, have spent many afternoons with us in the park, have had many chaotic and lively meals with us, and in between that we have discussed how our faith impacts upon real life. Perhaps you could even argue that this is more effective discipleship than to set aside a formal hour every week. As with my first comment, I do not think I fully appreciated the depth of some of these relationships until it was time to leave.

3) The closeness of Christian community. We changed church a few years ago, basically because we used to walk an hour to church (and everybody else drove in to the community) whereas a young lively congregation sprung up literally on our doorstep. It got to the point where we seemed to be more a part of the local church simply because of the way our daily lives interacted. Additionally, it is much easier to invite people to things that are local rather than being in a part of town they might not otherwise ever go to. Anyway, we've felt really encouraged and supported both by the church as a whole but also by our house group. People have asked sensible questions about how they can pray and otherwise support us. It was really positive for the boys to be sent out by the church, and to have the chance to publicly explain a bit more about our work here. You might think this should be standard, but the situation was very different 10 years ago, and I never really thought I'd get to the point where I felt closely involved in a church. As with the other comments, it was only really in the build up to leaving that I realised how much we have been encouraged, and how much grace and healing there has been from the previous situations we were in.

These three points are very much inter-related - because in all of them, we simply aim to live as Christians, to share everything we have, and to make the most of every opportunity both to witness to unbelievers and to encourage those who already know the Lord. The 'classic' Christian home education passage is in Deuteronomy Chapter 6 - and we believe we've seen that in our lives. Most of our 'ministry' to our children, to Christians and to unbelievers has taken place as we walk along the road, as we sit at our meals, as we undertake the activities of daily life. I do not want to dismiss the importance of other forms of ministry (and for example, we have been regularly involved in church and Christian Medical Fellowship events, as well as starting a monthly mission prayer meeting, and for seasons of time have done more structured evening Bible studies with young adults). But the purpose of this post is to encourage Christian home educating families:

1) Do not underestimate the power of a Christ-centred life within a community

2) Do not underestimate the day to day conversations and the relationships you and your children form with shopkeepers, postmen, gardeners, mechanics and the other people you regularly engage with; you might be the only Christian they ever know, and so many people are just crying out for love

3) Do not feel guilty if you cannot commit to activities during 'school' time (such as morning toddler groups). Rather seek to live your life alongside younger Christians and disciple them as they share your lives

4) Look around you and consider the relationships you may take for granted. Pray for the people you live amongst. Thank God for the unique opportunities given to you and your family.

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