Have you finished your coffee now? Perhaps it is time to refresh it or even go for something stronger. It is time to pick up the story again.
We came back to New Zealand again seemingly at the Lord’s instructions. But how could we trust His leading into the future when everything about the way we left Sulawesi seemed wrong. We had learned to trust Him over the years despite appearances or our gut feelings that what we being called to do was absurd, it just didn’t make sense. But then again God has shown us so clearly that it was right, so we would moved forward on the basis of His Word to our hearts. Most often we could cling on to the fact that He led us both together in sync with one another. He had seemingly led us home again but to what purpose? And furthermore God, what was the point of those years in Sulawesi again? Just what did we accomplish there? We certainly didn’t get to do any Bible translation. Oh we worked on the preliminary things and were making progress but then the rug was pulled from under us and we had no alternative strategy like the other translation teams to move to the Philippines and continue the work there.
We returned to our home base in Matamata (Hobbiton) where people asked us the big, high level questions:
- So how much of the Bible did you get translated for the Rongkong?
- How many people were saved and brought into the kingdom?
- What are your plans now that you are home?
- Why have you come home when you “knew” you were to be the translators for the Rongkong?
- What has happened to the Rongkong project now?
- Why are you home here in New Zealand and what are you going to do here?
All questions to which we had no answers! I was totally disillusioned and wondering what the Sulawesi phase of our life was all for? Had I heard God at all? Was all the leading just out of my own head? Lord, what is happening here? Have I done something wrong that has caused us to lose our visas and not have an alternative to fall back on? Lord speak to me but then again don’t speak to me because I thought I heard your voice but seemingly I got that wrong too. Lord I just don’t know anymore. Perhaps I ought to go back teaching high school again. I did for a short period do some relief work at the College where I once taught but it was so not me anymore. Lord, what are you wanting me to do? What do you have in store for us? I just don’t know!
During that time I was asked by Wycliffe if I would go on the Board to represent the perspective of the field teams. After a period of time our pastor at church asked if I would pick up a pastoral role at church as an associate pastor for Missions. We prayed about it and asked God if that is what He wanted us to do, but how would we know anymore how to hear His voice. Everything made me feel so numb and I just simply moved through the process responding to requests. How else was to handle this? It felt akin the time in Sulawesi when we wanted confirmation that we were to go to the Rongkong but I got no confirmation whatsoever. It was like the heavens were brass and we heard nothing. Now the heaven were brass and frozen over. In each situation God reminded me of the verses in Isaiah 30:21 about “turning to the left or to the right”. He taught me during the Sulawesi phase and seemed to be telling me again during this time in Matamata that the strength of the Hebrew was “in the turning to the left or to the right”. That is when you are you are heading in the direction God intends you will not necessarily hear anything by way of confirmation. But in the moment you deviate, i.e. turn to the left or to the right, you will hear a voice behind you saying “this is the way walk in it.” Meaning when you turn from the set course, you will hear a voice of correction guiding you back to the way you were on. Well ok God. Yes ok. If what the Pastor feels is right for us, then we will follow his request.
Oh my goodness did that lead us into hot water. Especially when the pastor got up before the meeting for the people to vote on whether Ian and Tania were to move into this role and told the people when they were ready to vote that if they didn’t vote for us to pick up the role, he (the senior pastor) would have to resign. With that statement to the people my heart hit the floor. I was as shocked as the church were. I turned to Tania and said, “Why did he say that? That wasn’t good.”
That process came back to haunt us over and over through the next three years. There were four men who felt that Ian was scheming his way to get into the pastor’s role and take control of the church. Little did they know Ian had taken a backward step and was just stumbling along following God in the best feeble way he know how. These men made it their mission to see Ian gone from this role. For the next three years it was the bane and the pain of my life. I tried to go to each one of these men individually and tell them what had happened on the basis of the verses in Matthew 18:15 onwards and assure them that I had no pretensions or motivation to take the Senior Pastor’s role. That was the furthest thing from my mind. But I was told that they knew my motivation and I could not convince them that I didn’t have a plan to take over the church. Well that left me more disillusioned than ever.
I won’t continue with this part of the story except to say I concentrated on getting my heart attitude right and forgiving these men for what they were doing and saying against me. It was a very awful time and it took all my energy and focus to be able to forgive them. I started forgiving them through clenched teeth and ultimately came to mean it with all my heart. It wasn’t until much later that I learned there was another man who had been feeding them misinformation based on a hidden agenda he had. I was in a no-win situation. God what have you got me into? Or did I somehow get myself into it? Much soul searching went on and constantly I would ask God to search my heart and reveal any hidden motivations in me.
During those dreadful three years I would spend time promoting mission in the church, preaching, ministering to people, counselling and visiting those who were sick and in prison. My Wednesdays were particularly crammed to which I added prison visitation in the afternoons following the church leaders’ meeting. I would come home exhausted and fall asleep on the couch before dinner. Tania was concerned about me being so tired. Despite people telling me I was such a great counsellor I knew otherwise. Oh I knew the Word of God well and could take portions from it and minister to their need but it drained me; it didn’t energise me. My role on the Board for Wycliffe did similarly. My heart beat for the world, not for the minutiae of administration and policy. Then I was asked if I would give input to tertiary students at Waikato University on Wednesday evenings which I took with both hands and ran with. Tania was mortified. “How can you do that Ian? You come home from prison visitation at Waikeria exhausted and now you want to add mission meetings at university on Wednesday evenings. You’re crazy!” But I needed to find myself again, and in the process, find God again. What I was doing at that stage was nothing more than spinning my wheels. I went with the plan and came alive again. I would drive home from the university on Wednesday nights late, singing at the top of my voice after experiencing the blessing of input to young adults who were asking questions of God as to what they were to do with their lives. I was back in my element.
But Tania would say to me, “you are doing too much and you do everything you do with 110%. Your problem (and mine) is that you have taken on three roles – Wycliffe Board, Pastoring and Mission promotion at Uni. Ian the phase of mission for us is over, why do you persist with it? Just stick with one thing and do that.” Into this phase of our lives came a request. In my role on the Board of Wycliffe I was part of the board decision making process for choosing a new Director for Wycliffe. But I was getting frustrated with the way the Board was handling it. Instead of making a decision they were opting for a short-term solution and had asked David Cummings to pick up the role of Director in New Zealand at the same time he was Director in Australia. What kind of decision making was that? They asked him at a Board Meeting if he would accept an interim role as Director in NZ as well as Australia. To which he replied to my surprise that he was willing to do that. I went up to him at the coffee break and asked why on earth he said that. To me it was a ridiculous situation. He said, “I am only willing to do it until the New Zealand Director is appointed. Everyone around the table thinks that you are the right man for the job.” If I thought I was shocked before that, I certainly was now. I said, “Well there is no way that will happen. I can think of five reasons off the top of my head why that won’t eventuate.” I listed them for him.
- Tania won’t agree to it, she thinks our time in mission is over.
- Our pastor won’t agree to it, he has moved heaven and earth to get us in the role we are in.
- Nor will they support us financially in the process as they are handling some big issues at the moment.
- We have no sufficient financial support to pick up a non-paying role as Director of Wycliffe.
- Our kids wouldn’t go with that. It’s all wrong and it’s the wrong timing.
David said, “Well all I ask is that you pray about it, Ian.”
“Yes, David, I will do that. But I can’t even imagine that role is for me. There are too many things against it. Not the least of which is my wife and God has always moved us together as a couple on the big decisions. You are not going to get that one past Tania. That’s the first hurdle and it won’t be happening. ”
“Ok Ian, that’s fine. Just give it to God in prayer.”
“Yes David, I can do that.”
I felt I was safe on that basis. This was a pipedream. There was no way this would pass first base. All the times I had turned down admin roles in Sulawesi, this wasn’t going to happen. I was confidant heading home to Matamata on a mid-winter night knowing that this wouldn’t get past the first blockage – Tania and the girls. I came in the door and into the lounge where Tania and the girls were sitting in front of the open fire, Marissa spread across the floor to one side of the fire. As I walked in Tania asked how the meeting had gone. I said, “Oh alright, but I have something to tell you that we have to talk about.”
Riss rolled over and said, “They asked you to be Director.”
I was shocked for the third time that day and said, “Why did you say that? Yes that is what they asked me.”
She said, “I don’t know, it just popped into my mind.”
I said, “But that won’t be happening because mum doesn’t think we should be doing the mission thing anymore. That is something that was in the past.”
To which Tania responded, “No, that is not true. It is not mission work I am opposed to. It’s the fact that you have taken on three full time roles. If you did just one of them and mission was what God had for us that would be ok.”
Blockages 1 and 5 had disappeared within minutes of arriving home. It took two further weeks to see two others removed and now it looked like we were going to be moving into the role of directing Wycliffe NZ. Well, who would have thought that. Certainly not me. Over this time I felt God restoring my confidence in Him. I certainly did not understand at this stage the purpose of the years in Sulawesi but we were willing to follow God again into whatever He had in store for us despite not knowing all the answers or having the plan worked out. I did have the sense that we had not finished yet with Weston Finlay’s word to my heart of 14 or 15 years before, that “I would see the next step really clearly and would see all things in perspective”. I did feel that this Wycliffe journey was not over yet. That God had more to write in the story. Not only that, but pat answers and Christian clichés had been wrenched from me as a result of all we had experienced in Sulawesi and from the three years pastoring in Matamata. I no longer had a hot line to God. He was just as much an enigma to me as He was to the others around me. God had challenged me deeply during our time in Indonesia and our time back home. I could confess that God’s thoughts were not my thoughts, neither were my ways His ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are God’s ways higher than my ways and His thoughts than my thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Oh how I knew that to be true. I had concluded from our experience of being led to the Rongkong of Sulawesi that we would be doing that forever and a day. How wrong I was. I figured on coming back to New Zealand and back Matamata that part of our life as over. Any sense of God’s leading in my life was a thing of the past that clearly I had misinterpreted and now I was back to living a normal life in Matamata NZ again. Whatever “normal” was I didn’t really have a handle on because nothing felt normal about being back in Matamata. It had felt painful in ways I couldn’t have imagined. But yet I had learned once more that even when God doesn’t seem to be following the plan that He had given me a glimpse of, I could trust Him, tentatively, with the next forward step.
Ok God lead us into the next phase. . . we are still open to following You despite the pain. Pain has a purpose when You are writing the story. Lead on.
Time for another coffee.