It’s Sunday, the 6th of January – Day 4 of our mission trip – and it was the Sabbath!
I was looking forward to this day because Amos, a youth leader on our team, was going to deliver the Sunday message. I’m always up for hearing fresh preachers. Sometimes we are used to the same old preachers, the way they structure their sermons, the illustrations they use. You can almost predict what they are going to say. Sometimes, you’ve even heard their recycled sermons.
Some churches now do a “Young Guns” series: a couple of Sundays a year when new (usually young), upcoming preachers in the church get to preach a short 10-minute sermon on a topic of their choosing. It’s amazing what young people can do when given the chance. It’s also a great way to raise the next generation of preachers.
We had gathered at Agung’s place in readiness for our Sunday service. I was going to do the worship, Ernie would administer the communion and then, the main event – Mossy’s preaching (I don’t often say that preaching is the main event since after all, every part of the service is just as important – but just for that day, I was happy to make the concession!)
We began our time of worship and once again, I felt a great sense of God’s presence as we moved into intercession for East Timor. As usual, Ling prayed through her tears.
After communion, Mossy took us to his text for the morning – Isaiah 6 – as a reminder for us to remain faithful to God and His call on our lives, even when we can’t quite yet see the fruit of our labours.
Isaiah 6 has always been a favourite passage for me as a worship minister, because it describes how Isaiah encountered God’s presence and how the glory of God filled the temple. For me, the passage had always been about how our encounter with God through worship empowers us to go forth into the nations – “here am I, send me”. But Mossy didn’t end there, and that’s when I received a fresh revelation of this passage.
Even though Isaiah willingly gave of himself to the cause, God’s response to Him in verse 9 was that the people he would preach to would ever be hearing, but never understanding, seeing but not perceiving. Imagine being called to such a tough gig! I think many of us might have given up or questioned whether we had heard God correctly in the first place. But Isaiah remained faithful to the call, and in the course of his ministry, penned some of the most profoundly beautiful verses of prophecy in the entire Bible, many of which prefigured the coming Messiah.
And even though Isaiah didn’t seem to be bearing immediate fruit, the fruit of his ministry ultimately lasted through the ages.
After an awesome Sunday service, it was time for lunch.
We then had quite a bit of free time before our next program, the Sunday afternoon cell meeting.
Originally, we were meant to use the time to prepare a skit, but frankly a lot of us were feeling quite spent. We managed to convince Gary that we shouldn’t do the skit. Thankfully, he agreed!
So instead, Gary got his face painted, some of the us made bead bracelets for the village girls and I started to restring Agung’s old guitar.
The beads looked like fun, and eventually, I got to string some beads together too, but I struggled to tie the knots with my fat fingers.
Lynn did a great job of painting the Timorese flag on Gary’s face.
The time of rest was gratefully savoured by all. And it couldn’t have come at a better time because nothing could have prepared us for what was to come next.
When you and I think about cell group, we think, maybe 12 to 15 people sitting around in a circle, singing a few songs, sharing a testimony or two and doing some Bible study. Boy, were we in for a rude shock.
Three round trips in the Landcruiser later, a whopping 53 people had gathered – many of them children. You might call it cell group – I’m thinking it’s more like the beginnings of a full-fledged church!
After everyone had gathered, everyone was split up into different age groups, with the adults staying in the “auditorium” for a more “traditional” cell group time, whilst the rest of us were left to herd the children into various areas – a very strategic divide-and-conquer tactic, I must say.
Ling, Wen and me ended up in the equivalent of “creche” – kids who were around 6 years old or younger. I remember doing creche duty when I was growing up in church – you just sit there with the kids and play with the toys. Easy.
Except this time, there were no toys! There were no books either! How were we going to entertain these kids for the next hour?
We brought out our stash of balloons and quickly began making balloon animals. The $2 pump and the bag of balloons were looking like a very wise pre-trip investment.
However, our limited skills meant that there were only so many permutations of animals we could make (in fact, we could only make three variations) and before long, we realised the kids weren’t super-impressed with the animals so much as being intrigued by the pop of exploding balloons when they bit on them hard enough.
Meanwhile, in another room, it seemed like the older kids were calmly playing organised games. How nice…
Outside, on the porch, it looked like they played more organised games.
And look how well behaved the parents were in their cell group setting – probably singing together in lovely harmonies.
They probably also politely took turns to speak and pray for each other. How serene and peaceful this all was.
Look at the wonderful time of sharing and edification that was going on in the auditorium.
Meanwhile, back in the creche, it was fast descending into chaos. At one point, I saw a look of sheer desperation on Wen’s face. This was the first time I’ve seen her look that way.
Whilst Wen and Ling scurried to find other things for the kids to do, I was given one instruction only – keep making those balloons! So I did, and I even got one of the kids, Abo, to learn to make one with me. I have to say though, my balloon dog was so much more well-formed than his.
Later on, one of the mums, Anita, came into the room and the atmosphere toned down somewhat, to our relief. We taught Anita how to make balloon animals as well. She learnt it all after one demonstration. We had a future children’s church worker/minister on our hands, so the next day, Anita inherited some of our pumps and a few of the extra balloons. Good riddance that I will never have to see a pump and balloon ever again.
After over 2 hours(!), we were told the cell had concluded and that we should go to the auditorium to pray for the various families. We had been granted our parole, and as we left the creche room, the air could not have smelled any sweeter.
After praying for the families, it was time for dinner – for 53 people.
It had been a chaotic night. And I was knackered. It was quite late by the time we got back to Tibar, and having a nice shower and getting into bed never felt so good.
But that evening had left a lasting impression on me. I had had a foretaste of the future church of Liquisa. What we had seen was embryonic – imagine what it would be like when the church reached full maturity. No doubt, a big part of the church would be an army of passionate, praying and worshipping children, strong in the Word, and with a penchant for balloon animals.