Fostering a National Missions Community
In November (2015) I was asked to present a 10 minute snapshot of my vision for the future of mission from, within and to Aotearoa New Zealand. This is a slightly edited version of my inaugural address as the new Director of Missions Interlink, our national association of mission passionate organisations and people.
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take a branch from the top of a tall (kauri), and I will plant it on the top of the highest mountain. It will become a majestic (kauri), sending forth its branches and producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches. And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said.” Ezekiel 17:22-24 (contextualised).
I am a short tree, a seedling sprouted in a state house duplex in Champion Street, Cannons Creek, Porirua East, to a solo mum in the days before the DPB (domestic purposes benefit). I grew up more advantaged than some, less privileged than many, but God found me and he called me and that made all the difference. It is He who makes the short tree grow tall. If I am tall at all in anyone’s eyes it is only because of Him. I am deeply honoured to represent my peers in Missions Interlink, all of whom I deeply respect. I am humbled to be entrusted with a duty previously discharged admirably by giants in the faith.
When I was told I had been selected for this role, I envisaged a garden. In this garden were towering trees – seeds of mission planted by gardeners long gone. From the tree of Ezekiel saw, they are branches sent forth producing seed and bearing much fruit for the exotic birds who continue to find shelter there. These are our long standing missions and mission leaders who have gone before. To the ‘totara’ (a large native tree, representative of renown people) in Missions Interlink’s membership I greet each of you and all of you, tena koe; tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
In addition to the established trees, in the garden are smaller trees, branches more recently planted and garden plots of all sorts, producing all manner of plants. For this, I honour all the ‘gardeners’ who preceded me as leaders of Missions Interlink New Zealand. I honour previous Director David (with Lydia) Hall for their faithful tending of the parts of the garden that flourished under their nurture. They opened up new plots, planted new seeds, created sacred space for new birds to shelter, here, in our midst, and new trees to grow – from around the Pacific and Asia – whose branches are only just developing. I will do my best to water and feed. And I pray that we will see those birds and branches endure and grow and go and spread seed.
Mission is about transplanting.
After all, mission is all about transplanting. It’s about sending forth branches and producing seed and providing shelter for birds of all kinds. Every Kiwi (New Zealander) with a missionary call is a branch and their Gospel centred labour is the seed. Christ’s body, the Church in Aotearoa NZ, the manifestation of God’s Kingdom in this nation, is Ezekiel’s tree that sends the individual trees/branches forth.
Missions Interlink is not an office where staff scurry around and produce missions widgets. It is a collective of active members. To continue with my metaphor, Missions Interlink is the garden not the gardener and his (or her) administrator. There is only so much my wife Pauline (providing administrative assistance) and I can do to help this association thrive. If it be God’s will, we may open new parts of the garden as He leads, but for the most part we will tend and nurture and feed and water.
My commitment to the members of Missions Interlink is a commitment to kauwhanga korero. A commitment to create sacred spaces for conversation. These will be opportunities for us to dwell a while and discuss how to help the garden of mission thrive in Aotearoa and fulfil God’s call on our nation to be a blessing to the nations of the world. It is a place of cross-pollination. What fruit is borne from such waiting together and talking kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) is for Wairua Tapu (the Spirit of God) the Director of mission, to determine. But I think we all have an idea of the take (topics or issues) we ought to explore.
We are all in this together. We are a small representation of Christ’s body in Aotearoa. We are drawn together because of our shared conviction that God is at work in this world, drawing people to allegiance to Christ and calling Kiwis to participate in His Kingdom advance. We are together concerned with extending God’s Kingdom. For me, Missions Interlink is: TOGETHER | EXTENDING.
- Together we call the Church in Aotearoa to take seriously it’s mandate to be a blessing to all the families on earth and send forth branches to spread seed in the world – that is, Mission from NZ.
- Together we challenge the Church in Aotearoa to embrace cultural diversity, to shelter the exotic birds of all kinds with acceptance, loving kindness, and generosity; bearing witness to the love of Christ – that is, Mission within NZ.
- Together we encourage the Church in Aotearoa to engage with its local communities, to seek the good of their villages, suburbs, towns and cities; and bear witness to the power of grace and hope in reconciling relationships and restoring whanau (families) – that is, Mission to NZ.
- Together we spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24 NIV), realising with Fredrick Buechner that the place God calls Kiwis to is “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” And the people of the world aren’t hungry for someone to tell them what to do. The people of the world are hungry for people to show them how to love. That’s what we’re extending.
Is missions activity dying out in Aotearoa? Absolutely not. Is missions activity morphing in Aotearoa? I think so.
The garden of missions here is fertile and lush and long standing. Almost as soon as we, as a nation on the edge of the British empire, starting receiving missionaries, we started sending them. Revisionist historians can pervert that narrative all they want but the fact of the matter is, Aotearoa New Zealand is a missionary nation.
It is not for no reason that a senior leader in the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand sidled up to me at a conference in Pattaya; eyes wide and in a whisper the Thai leader asked, “is it true that you are from New Zealand?” When I answered “yes”, he looked around so as not to offend anyone in earshot and said, “you must send us more Kiwis!” “Kiwis make the BEST missionaries to Thailand.”
I’ve lost count how many non-Western people have said something similar to me in my missions journey about Kiwis in their home countries. We simply must send more Kiwis. But they must first be well nurtured in our soil before they are transplanted branches, grafted as a blessing to all the families of the earth.
Kia ora, Jay Matenga ahau,
(Life to you, I am Jay Matenga)
Nga mihi nui. (Warmest Greetings) 👊🏼