When I was five my parents moved to the UK from Zululand where they had been missionaries for 16 years. I’m embarking on a kind of pilgrimage to visit for the first time the place I was born and the places my mum and dad ministered.
A couple of years ago the Edinburgh festival ‘voted by the public’ best joke was by comedian and past supporter of The Light Project Tim Vine: ‘I’ve just come back from a once in a lifetime holiday. Never again!’
Well I’m just back from South Africa and while I went understanding it really was a once in a lifetime experience I’m sitting here dipping my Uma rusks into my redbush tea making plans as to how I can head back with the family in a few years time (I’m going to have to seriously save my pocket money!) and also I’m praying as to how I may work with churches in Vryheid to do a week or two town wide mission based on the principles of small groups engaging in good news sharing with those around them. It’s good to dream big!
If I had to choose just one word to describe how my pilgrimage to my birth land has left me feeling it would have to be: loved.
There is something about reflecting upon who I am and my heritage that hasbrought me to a deeper understanding that I am loved by God. I realise that for some of you reading this that the idea of there being a ‘God’ let alone one who is capable of being ‘love’ is just too much to comprehend. Yet I return home with a deeper knowledge that the God whom I serve and is revealed through Jesus is a God who loves me.So how have I experienced this love on this pilgrimage?
1. Firstly through others. Seeing Jesus in others that I have met and encountering his kindness through
them has shown me how loved I am. I don’t mean just people like Maggie who radiates her faith and who is a retired priest from the Anglican Church in Vryheid and who I ate with in the evenings but the strangers who bacame Facebook friends and those who listened to my story and shared theirs too. Praying for people and sharing good news reminds me of how loved I am!
2. Through creation. Before going to South Africa people told me what a beautiful country it was. This didn’t prepare me for what I saw which just blew away any imagination of how beautiful the nature was! I spent half my time with my mouth wide open dumbfounded as to how stunning the country really is. The wildlife just blew me away and somehow being immersed in it made me feel both very small and very loved all at the same time.
3. Through His Spirit. To feel loved is a precious gift that I believe each one of us can experience from God. There were times throughout my pilgrimage that I simple ‘felt’ God’s love for me, poured into me and through me.
One profound moment was when I was praying in the church building that my dad was vicar at and seeing a number at the back of the church building: ’36.’ I felt drawn to that number like it was something I needed to note, so I just took a picture of it and moved on in the day. It was later on that I was reminded about the number and I felt God whisper… It was 36 years ago you were last here. It was just in that moment that I felt thoroughly known by God. Such a small and (seemingly) coincidental thing made me feel loved.
4. Through silence and solitude. These two spiritual disciplines are not ones that I practice often or find all that easy! However travelling alone for 12 days and encountering God through the discipline of silence was beautiful. Disciplines like fasting and prayer are not ones that ‘bend Gods arm’ to come and meet with us, but rather ones that make us aware of His presence in our lives. This is what I encountered when travelling and being alone, in silence and choosing to be still and not be distracted drew me closer to God and made me aware of his presence with me.
So, it’s back to writing and the rest of my special writing sabbatical that I am blessed to be on, thanks to The Light Project team and trustees.
In a months time I go back to the ministry that I do with a renewed focus and a deeper understanding that I am loved. And you know what? That knowledge is simply enough.