Scars and Hopes 5: Plan

We all need to plan, never more so than when you’re trying to be obedient to the missionary imperative of the God who tells us to make disciples. That doesn’t happen by accident; it needs you and me to make some plans. Those plans, though, need to be held lightly. It seems that God, for reasons best known to Himself, allows us to make one set of plans under His guidance … and then dump them.

Photo from Bev Meldrum Photography bevmeldrum.com

Photo from Bev Meldrum Photography bevmeldrum.com

A few years ago we realised that the area around our church needed community more than anything else. It’s a busy, vibrant, bustling area with little meaningful personal connection. So we decided we’d eat together every Thursday evening, tell others about and make it available to anyone. We envisaged it as a focus for the church’s life, a building of relationships, as well as a way of getting to know students, workers, commuters and the like. As the weeks passed, it changed into something else; an evening which was primarily enjoyed by the community of people without homes. We hadn’t envisaged that; if we had, the church probably wouldn’t have got it off the ground. To discover the right plan, we had to let go of our plans.

We discovered that we were in good company. Paul had all sorts of plans about where he was going to go on his missionary journey, only to find those plans frustrated and an inescapable tug to Macedonia. It’s all terribly inconsiderate and humbling. God seems to care less for our convenience and vindication as leaders than He does for establishing that He is in control of the missionary and endeavour, and He’s simply invited us along for the ride. It’s not that our plans don’t count; it’s more that they seem to count for rather less, or rather different things to that which we imagine.

So make those plans, but hold them lightly. They’re less, and more, important than we think.

Introduction

Soup

Time

Listen

Towards Another Future, Part 2

For the first part of this story, click here

It takes a community to raise a child. Bearing that and our position of community leadership in mind, we became acutely aware that any decision we took on the issue of fostering would have ramifications above and beyond our immediate family. More than that, we knew that if we did end up caring for children we would need help, advice and support. Everybody in a parenting role needs that; if you take the traditional biological route you tend to get built-in networks of people at a similar stage. We wouldn’t have that; so we’d need to seek it out. So it seemed only fair to include our networks in the decision taking process.

An important distinction to draw is that we didn’t want to remove responsibility for the decision from ourselves. This was and will remain our decision. However it’s clear that God likes to speak in and through relationships – the Biblical prophets proclaimed truth to a people, not individuals; Jesus taught crowds; Paul wrote letters to be read out to gathered congregations. So we invited members of our local community to gather around us and help us listen to God around one specific question: What is God saying to us about fostering? Not should we foster; not what sort of child should we foster; not to get parenting advice … although all of those are important and helpful. No; we wanted to get a sense of what, if anything, God might be saying to us about fostering.

IMG_1966

We specifically invited a group of local people who know us and have some specific experience or knowledge in this area; we then flung the invitation open, inviting people not local to pray and support us from a distance. On Saturday we gathered – about 15 of us – over breakfast to listen to God and each other. Bev spent some time with the children present, enabling them to contribute to the process; I spent time with the adults. The children painted a picture of what our family’s future could look like, and the adopted children present wrote down for us what they felt we should know. With the adults I outlined the story so far; we listened to God in silence and through Scripture; we listened to God through each other; and we prayed some more.

It’s a humbling, vulnerable process inviting people  – even people you feel you know well – to speak so directly to you. It involves a willing ceding of control, a crucifixion of the desire to be in command. As we did so, we were graced with a few themes of what God might be saying. One was around the importance of children in His purposes; another was of the fact that we are all  – children or adult – dependent on God for good things; we would need to continue to depend on others throughout this process. We became aware of issues within ourselves and the process and the culture around us that could make the process of fostering a difficult one. We were pointed in the direction of other people and places we could look for wisdom, insight and support.

Essentially we emerged from a short but intensive morning with no answers, some wisdom and a few more questions to ask of ourselves and others. Which is what we expected, but perhaps we didn’t expect that strange sense of conscious disempowerment that comes from committing to undertaking the process in such a public way.  All of which may be strangely apt, giving us maybe a hint of what it feels like to be a child moved from home to home – disempowered, but held.

Which may be the point, after all.

This series will continue as and when there is more to report. For part one, click here

Towards Another Future, Part 1

This post marks the start of a new dynamic on this blog. The old stuff will continue – musings on a variety of issues will carry on as before. What I’m adding in this series is more about the recording of a journey my wife (Bev) and I have stepped into. We’ll be documenting this journey was best we can, with what I hope will be appropriate honesty without over-sharing. Thank you for joining us.

Photo from Bev Meldrum Photography (bevmeldrum.com)

Photo from Bev Meldrum Photography (bevmeldrum.com)

Before Bev and I got married, which was now over 15 years ago, we took the decision together that if we were to have children we would do so by adopting. Bev herself is an adopted child, as is her brother (from a different birth family). We decided that if children were to be part of our future, then we’d want to make sure others had the same sort of opportunity Bev had. She was always acutely aware how differently things could have turned out if she hadn’t been adopted into such a loving, stable, Christian home. That decision having been taken, we carried on with married life occasionally touching in with one another on the subject of children. Each time we did so neither of us felt any sort of stirring towards adoption.

However we sought to promote the idea. We see it is a profound expression of Christ-centred love. The Bible is rich with the imagery of God’s love for us expressed in terms of adoption into God’s plans and family; we would, when the opportunity presented itself, urge Christians to give more thought to the option of adoption as something they may be prompted to explore. We also took the decision to open up our home and lives to people with less than supportive home environments, as a result of which there is a small number of people with whom we have unofficial, but no less meaningful, parental-type relationships. These relationships are life-giving to us, not without challenges, but have seemed to express the heart God has been drawing out of us. Coupled with that, the church I’m now leading (St Peter’s, Mowbray, Cape Town) is not a large one, but it’s one that seems to have more than its fair share of people who have adopted and/or fostered children. We found it interesting to reflect that, without a great deal of effort, this seemed to have happened, to be the shape of this community.

Earlier this year that sense shifted up a gear or two. Through a series of social media connections, we were invited to join a discussion with a few church and NGO leaders in Cape Town, facilitated by British theologian and adoption advocate Krish Kandiah. In the UK Krish heads up an organisation called Home For Good, which seeks to promote the idea of adoption in British churches. He was facilitating the discussion in Cape Town to help us see what like-minded people here could do together. He also ended up speaking at our church the next day. Over that 24-hours, a fire was lit in us. We were encouraged that there were many others around in this city who felt similarly, and Krish’s experience and theological grounding gave us real insight. At a break Bev and I turned to each other. Bev voiced what I was feeling too  – that if we really wanted our church community to take this seriously we needed to be the ones leading on it. Maybe we needed to consider again what we ourselves were doing.

This lead to a series of discussions, dreams and thoughts between the two of us; which led us to the point where suddenly the possibility of fostered children in our future was a real, viable and heart-warming one. There are, however, a series of unanswered questions – around our visa status (we’re in the potentially year-long (or more) wait for approval of our application for Permanent Residency in the country), not least. This means, for instance, that official fostering is not yet an option. So we’re only, at this stage, considering fostering of an unofficial nature; certainly not adoption, and until we have visa clarity, not fully official fostering either.

We were, however, that we do not exist in a vacuum. We are in a position of community leadership; and to adapt an old saying, it takes a community to raise a child. We have a church community which we lead and for which we hold responsibility. A decision we take affects others.

So this weekend we invited our community to gather around us and help us begin to discern what God might be saying to us on the subject of fostering. That is the subject of part two, to follow soon.

Scars and Hopes 4: Goal

I am not moved by small ideas, targets and visions. Ever since I can remember I’ve been far more intrigued and caught-up by the absurdly big as opposed to the comfortably attainable. Why have a game of table-football when you can have your own World Cup? Why lead a church when you can change the continent?

That can lead to a dangerous type of hubris, of course. We all know people who are always talking about changing the world and what ‘this generation’ (usually people 20 years younger than the one talking) can do. So the key is in being content to not meet the goal.

Huh?

bevmeldrumphotography.com

As the turn of the millennium approached, my wife and I and some others felt that it needed celebrating in a more subversive way than that of which we’d yet heard tell. So we (who were all engaged in some full-time, part-time or voluntary capacity with the London homeless scene) read the Gospels (always a dangerous to thing to do) and decided to hire a big, well-known venue in London as close to Millenium Eve as we could and throw a huge party for as many different homeless people as we could. We set ourselves the goal of 1,000 (it may have been 2,000 … I can’t remember now). We worked a lot with a lot of different people and agencies arranged transport for people from projects all over London; we made sure there was good food and good music; we got a lot of free stuff; we dreamed and hoped and talked and prayed.

By the goal we set ourselves, it was a failure. We didn’t get 1,000 people; we got several hundred (I can’t remember how many).

So what?

Celebrations were had; we danced with people who didn’t look or feel homeless for one evening; there was a lot of laughter and fun; industrial quantities of quite-good-actually food were consumed.

The goal didn’t matter. The kingdom of God was expressed and anticipated, a prophetic challenge was issued to the church and the city, and though it wasn’t a perfect event it was pretty good, all told. I have no idea what other events and ministries it has since inspired, but I’m sure it did provoke more strange ideas.

Mission-shaped living needs big goals, big enough to get you out of bed on cold, grey, relentlessly wet London morning to see if you can get the price of the food reduced by another few £s; but you need also enough grace to remember the goal itself doesn’t matter as long as you’re on the right journey. It’s a goal expansive enough to permit failure and redefine success. Which needs courage, faith and a healthy dollop of prayer.

Hear that?

It’s the applause of heaven as, on your terms, you fail to reach yet another unobtainable goal.

Also in this series:

Introduction

Soup

Time

Listen