With a title like that, this post may be longer than some.
Different church groups have different ways of supporting those involved in missionary work, church planting or church revitalisation. My ministry has been a mix of all three of those. The association of churches that have supported me over the years have a couple of ways of vetting and supporting those involved in the aforementioned ministries.
One of those ways is through a process they have termed “deputation”. A candidate for a given ministry sets out on the road, travelling from church to church, asking for prayer and financial support for the ministry in which they hope to serve. The process has its ups and downs, but overall it’s one I mostly enjoyed. My family may feel otherwise.
When I graduated from seminary, we sold everything and set out on the road to raise prayer and financial support for our ministry in Australia. It was difficult to see our entire lives spread out on the lawn for a yard sale and watch people pick through our belongings, more so for my wife.
Once we set out on the road, I felt a tremendous sense of freedom but also much uncertainty. Often we didn’t know where we would be staying from one day to the next or what the churches would be like we might be visiting that week. Some were warm and friendly, others not so much.
It was a great opportunity to see the personality and culture of many churches. There are a few appointments in particular that stick out in my mind. I had an appointment with a particular church on a Sunday morning.
DEPUTATION WORK PROVIDES A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO SEE THE PERSONALITY AND CULTURE OF MANY CHURCHES.
It was Saturday, and the church was about a 10-hour drive from where we were at the time. It was just my wife and myself on this one, the kids were visiting their grandparents. We spent a long day on the road covering the many miles to our next appointment. We would learn that it was a good thing we didn’t have the kids with us.
At one point, we navigated from one place to the next by map. My wife became a skilled map reader and would give me directions as I drove. Most of the time, this worked well but could get a bit crazy when navigating a big city with heavy traffic. One of the best investments we made in our travels was a GPS unit, well before navigation by smartphone was a thing. My wife and I joke that our GPS saved our marriage, but that may be less of a joke than we like to admit.
ONE OF THE BEST INVESTMENTS WE MADE WAS A GPS UNIT AND JOKE THAT IT SAVED OUT MARRIAGE.
After our long day’s drive, our GPS directed us to our destination, the pastor's home of the church we would visit the next day. As I set the parking brake, there was an older man in the yard trimming bushes who didn’t look very happy to see us.
The house was two stories. The front door was open, revealing what seemed to be a construction zone complete with building materials, paint buckets and the dirt and grime that inevitably comes with a remodelling project.
We stepped out of the car and walked up to the door. It seemed quiet inside the house as I knocked on the already open door. At this point, the grumpy bush trimmer shouted, “They’re inside, walk upstairs"! I don’t normally walk into people’s homes without an express invitation from the owner. It was an awkward situation, but we did as instructed.
As we entered, it was obvious that the inside of the home was in various stages of repair and had been so for some time. There was no carpet or tile, only a dirty subfloor that had not seen a broom in a while. I shouted, “Hello!” as we ascended the stairs.
When we reached the top, we were greeted by a large woman with a baby under her arm as we stepped into a living area that might have been described as a wide hallway. The one clean thing in the room was the largest TV I had ever seen. Considering the room's width, a person would have been unable to actually “watch” the TV without turning their head back and for as if constantly shaking their head “no!”.
Our hostess was quite friendly. She plopped the child down on the construction zone floor and welcomed us. I thought, “That kid’s going to have a good immune system”. She explained they were remodelling. Apparently, this remodel had been going on for a while.
She said her husband wasn’t home, but they planned something special for the evening, and we would catch up with him later at the local race track. I told her that sounded great we would check into a hotel and then return. She then said they had prepared for us to stay with them and insisted that we do so.
I learned a hard lesson that day. If you don’t know what you are getting into, check in at your hotel first. Again I found myself between a rock and a hard place. Anyway, we agreed to stay.
We chatted for a bit, and as we did, the bush trimmer came in and made himself at home as if he lived there, but I gathered he didn’t live there and wasn’t part of the family. In our brief time, I never quite figured out his role. We didn’t have to wait long before heading to the local race track for the evening’s festivities.
The raceway was a small local venue with an oval track. As we entered, we were escorted to a large roped-off area. Apparently, several local churches would be coming out for this special event. I guess they roped us off so the vendors wouldn’t accidentally sell the good church-going people any beer. As the night wore on, I figured it was probably best we were roped off anyway.
It’s not unusual for ball parks, race tracks etc., to host event nights centred around a theme. This event was one I had never seen before. The track was hosting a “Faster Pastor” theme night. Yes, you read that correctly.
THE RACE TRACK WAS HOSTING A SPECIAL EVENT- A ‘FASTER PASTOR’ THEME NIGHT.
The race track had somehow talked several drivers into letting the local pastors take their cars out onto the track and race. When it came time for the “Faster Pastor” event, it was obvious that they had not been able to talk a particular class of drivers into allowing pastors to use their cars as the local pastors came out onto the track in everything from super-modified class cars to jalopies that belonged in a demolition derby.
Each part of our roped-off section began to cheer as their respective pastor came out onto the track. Our man came out last. He was in a rusty old mini-van. The number “8” on the door looked as though it had been thoughtfully applied by a preschooler with a can of fluorescent orange spray paint. Our crowd went wild as the local pastors took a few warm-up laps. They formed up two by two behind the pace car in preparation for the green flag.
The pace car pulled off the track as the pastors came around for their final warm-up lap. The green flag dropped as they rounded corner 2, and engines came to life. For some reason, our man in the mini-van immediately turned hard to the right and smashed into the car next to him. Maybe it was the excitement of the start of the race.
As I mentioned earlier, the cars were greatly mismatched. Some were quite fast, others were not, and the rusty minivan was the slowest. After several laps, the checkered flag came out and determined a winner. As is traditional, the other cars returned to the pits while the winner took a victory lap.
While the winner took his victory lap, the others returned to the pits, except for our man in the mini-van with the artful number 8. As a matter of fact, even after the winner returned to the pits, he kept doing laps. He was even black-flagged by the official.
Apparently, during the collision at the beginning of the race, the steering on the mini-van had been damaged, rendering it unable to turn right. This was fine during the race as it was an oval track, and all the turns were left turns, but the driver was unable to turn right to leave the track. I guess mini-vans weren’t designed for the race track. Eventually, with some help, they got everyone back to the pits.
The pastor returned to where we were in the grandstands, and we finally met him in person. He was a very likeable guy. Mercifully we didn’t have to stick around much longer and headed home for the rest of the evening.
When we returned home, we were told we would throw some hot dogs on the grill for dinner. We moved out into the backyard to continue the evening. The large backyard pool was one feature of the house we had not been introduced to yet. In keeping with the theme of the rest of the house, the pool had water that was about waist deep and covered in a green film. No big deal, I wasn’t planning on swimming anyway.
At about this time, a group of approximately 12-15 younger teenagers showed up. We learned they were heading to a church camp the next day after church service. We also learned they would be staying in the house with us. I’m unsure exactly where they spent the night, but I believe it was downstairs amongst the building materials.
A few of the boys were eyeballing the pool. The pastor noticed this and said, “Hop in if you like”. I wondered if this was his first time around teenage boys. They immediately obliged and hopped into the waist-deep green water. Admittedly, I probably would have done the same thing at their age.
Things were all getting to be a bit surreal at this point. I don’t remember much of what happened between then and bedtime, but bedtime finally came. We were shown to our room. It was in the same state of repair as the rest of the house. It was normally the baby’s room (the one with the good immune system), but it was being made available for us. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite ready, and the bed frame still needed a bit of assembly.
There was a mattress leaning against the wall that had reached its “use by” date sometime around two decades before. We finally got things put together and were ready for bed. The room had two very interesting features. One was the mattress itself. As we lay on the bed, my wife and I slid down into the centre of the mattress. The mattress was similar to sleeping in a canoe in firmness, shape and overall comfort level. We still occasionally refer to the “canoe bed”. Another feature of the room was that it had a street light immediately outside the window and a single sheer curtain on the window to block out the light.
It was a long sleepless night. We climbed out of our canoe the next morning and began to prepare ourselves for church. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, reviewing my material for the presentation I would give that day. I was checking my watch and noticed it was getting late, and I had not seen my lovely wife for some time.
If I remember correctly, there was just one bathroom to share among family, houseguests and teens preparing for church camp. The other bathroom was downstairs under construction of course. But my wife had been gone for a while, and I wanted to shower also, so I checked on her.
I knocked on the bathroom door and said something like, “I need to shower too”. She opened the door slightly, and I could tell by the glare/look on her face that all was not well. She wanted to shower but could not because she had to clean the bathtub first, which is no mean feat when you are trying to do so with only tissue paper.
The bathtub had an encrusted ring of what appeared to be dried soap and black hair. I mentioned it looked like someone had shaved a monkey in the bathtub: a black one, a large chimpanzee, by my estimation, although I couldn’t imagine a large chimp being willing to go along with such a thing. Maybe it was the bush trimmer guy. We decided to give the shower a miss that day. We got dressed and went to church.
THE BATHTUB, ENCRUSTED WITH DRIED SOAP AND BLACK HAIR, LOOKED LIKE SOMEONE HAD SHAVED A MONKEY IN IT.
As it turned out, there was so much going on that particular day that there was no time for me to give a presentation about my work. There was a brief mention of “so and so from such and such is visiting with us today”. And that was it. Sometimes that is the way things go.
Everywhere you go, people have different ways of navigating life. Many things are not so much right or wrong; they just are. This was just one of many entertaining adventures.
EVERYWHERE YOU GO, PEOPLE HAVE DIFFERENT WAYS OF NAVIGATING LIFE- NOT RIGHT OR WRONG, JUST DIFFERENT.
I’m grateful that our brothers and sisters in Christ were willing to take us in, even if the circumstances were interesting. They were nice people who loved the Lord and cared about what they were doing. I’m sure God has them right where they need to be. I pray that all is well with them.
I like the way the King James translation puts it in I Peter 2:9 “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;” Yes, a peculiar people indeed.