An inauspicious start, it would be fair to say. It’s five o’clock in the afternoon and I should be in the air somewhere over Africa. I ought to be reclining in a comfortable seat, gin and tonic in one hand enjoying a film I’d never pay to see, and due to arrive in Madagascar in a few hours’ time. But I’m not. I’m in Paris. Charles de Gaulle airport to be precise. Fog over France meant that my connecting flight from London Heathrow didn’t get here in time. We were delayed by over an hour and they left without me. But the wonderful customer services staff of Air France has found an alternative way to get me to my destination. And so, instead of arriving tonight, having a night in a hotel and travelling up to Mandritsara in the morning, I’m going via an Island in the Indian Ocean I’ve never heard of. Sadly there won’t be an opportunity to stop off and savour the delights of the beach but I may make up for that in Madagascar.
I guess I need to back track and say something about why I’m going. The church of which I’m the senior minister supports a medical missionary couple who we’ve known and loved for years. Peter and Claire-Lise Judkins were some of the first people to join us when we planted CCB. A few years later they headed off to Benin for a years’ short term mission project. And they got the taste for mission. Peter then did a two year part-time apprenticeship with us, funded by working part-time at St George’s Hospital Tooting. He and Claire-Lise, now with their two girls Keziah and Naomi, are living in a town called Mandritsara in the north of Madagascar. They’re involved in the Good News Hospital, which was set up twenty years ago by Dr David Mann, a missionary from the UK. I’ll say more about this work in subsequent posts. At this stage all I know is what I’ve read and what others have told me. I’m looking forward to getting some firsthand knowledge of what’s going on there. David has kindly asked me to come out to Madagascar and teach on the spiritual retreat for the missionary staff. The CCB elders were enthusiastic, the International Support Group from Co-Mission was supportive and David was persuasive. I took it to the Chief of Staff and she wasn’t obstructive! She actually thought it’d be a good thing for me and a real encouragement to Peter and Claire-Lise. And so, it was an invitation I didn’t feel I could turn down.
Until very recently I’ve been reluctant to go on missionary trips. At university I developed a suspicion of the enthusiasm shown for short term mission trips. I nearly went on one. I’m glad I didn’t. I went to camp and have turned out much more useful for the gospel than I suspect I would if I had gone to West Africa as I’d planned. For me, and for my peers, short term mission had much more to do with going somewhere exciting than telling people the gospel. I’m not saying that everyone who goes has that motive. But I am saying that it’s a risk. For my money, people do more evangelism on a UK beach mission than those who sign up for missionary tourism. Don’t misunderstand me, I believe in missionary work. After all Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations and I’m not going to correct him. I support overseas mission; four of the guys we’ve had as apprentices are currently overseas. It’s just that my heart is for the church and the people in our neighbourhood. I’m not a Jonah; honest. Madagascar is not my Nineveh. I believe that the Malagasy people should have the gospel preached to them in a language that they can understand. I’m thrilled that Peter and Claire-Lise, and others like them are over there working flat out in gospel ministry. And I’m really looking forward to being a part of that. It’s just that I want the church and the congregations I serve back in the UK to believe that they’re doing missionary work by explaining the gospel to their neighbours. Mark Driscoll says something like ‘missional living isn’t simply crossing the world to take the gospel to the nations but also crossing the street to take the gospel to our neighbours’? I don’t agree with him on everything but I’m with him on this one. And so I want every Christian in our church to think of themselves as a missionary and to commit to the mission of the church. I don’t want to be one of those Christians who communicates that all the action is overseas. So I guess my lack of campaigning on the overseas mission of the church and my moderate temperature for it derives from a good and godly desire to emphasise the evangelistic mission of the local church. Don’t nail me for that. But I guess it doesn’t need to be an either-or and so I’m exploring the both-and! And for what it’s worth, one of the aspects of the missionary work in Madagascar that I’m most looking forward to is the work that Mat Linley does with the local Baptist Pastor in training church leaders. I think I‘ll have lots to ponder after seeing what they do.
But back to my reluctance. Up until five this morning, when I kissed goodbye to Rosslyn, part of me really didn’t want to go. And then it was too late; the taxi was waiting outside. I’m not sure many people are persuaded by my lack of enthusiasm for going. They couldn’t get passed the opportunity for travel. But I’m not that enamoured by travel; people matter more to me than places. And so I really don’t like leaving my family and I don’t like the disruption it causes. They need me and I enjoy having responsibility for them. I feel like I’m ditching that by being away for almost two weeks. The kids are still pretty young and can be quite full on when they want to be. And I do feel like I’m dumping Roslyn in it. And knowing that at least part of my time away won’t be spent in impoverished Malagasy countryside but on an idyllic island paradise does little to assuage my guilt! But that’s not going to stop me from making the most of it!
As you might expect, I didn’t sleep brilliantly last night. I was a little preoccupied. I spent a lot of the evening sorting and packing. I got up at five so that I could grab a shower and some breakfast before heading out to the airport for check in. I needn’t have bothered. I could have left London at the time of writing this and I’d still be able to make the flight out of Paris. But the Lord knows what He’s doing and I trust Him. It makes no sense to me whatsoever to get me out of the house before the kids were up after a weekend where I was away with our evening congregation to spend the day wandering around Paris CDG. But I’m not omniscient. And I’ve benefited from pondering that! Sadly, I’ve not been able to work as I’d hoped; a combination of standing in queues, collecting baggage and just being plain bushed. I’m currently stood in the check in queue for the 7.45pm Austral Airlines flight to St Denis de la Reunion. No? Me neither! I’m hoping to get a bit of work done on the plane but I’ve just heard the wailing cry of a small child. Forgive me for a moment, I just need to pray! OK, done.
On the spiritual retreat, I’m giving seven talks on 1 Corinthians 1-4. Don Carson’s written a book for pastors on those chapters. I suspect it’ll be helpful. I’ve loved working hard on the text over the last couple of weeks. And I’ve been profoundly challenged by some Corinthian tendencies in my own motives and methods. But Carson’s a genius with the Bible and he gets ministry so I owe it to the missionaries to at least have responded to his material. He may have some helpful pointers on lines of application. On the first flight to Paris I began Paul Miller’s book ‘A Praying Life’. It’s been an encouraging start though the combination of turbulence and a craving for a cup of tea did little to aid my concentration. But these were only the opening chapters. He’s just limbering up. It’d be good to have finished the book by the time I get back. For that reason I only brought one secular book with me; an Alistair MacClean. I don’t want to waste the time and regret feeding my spiritual flabbiness!
Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on what we do and what I made of it. I board, God willing in 45 minutes.