Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Bridge: A New Beginning

A few years ago, Hans Stein, Karen’s step-dad invited us to a Christian concert at the Kitsilano showboat. Hans, who is a skilled tradesman, had apparently been invited by one of his clients who, as I recall, plays in the Bridge band. Although Hans is not a Christian, he thought that since we were Christians we would like to attend. Well, as we soon found out, the Christian concert was run by a local church called the Bridge. At this concert, we received a water bottle. On this water bottle are the paraphrased words of Jesus: “Every person who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water Jesus gives will be satisfied.”

As we enjoyed the concert and as we sipped from the water bottle, the irony became apparent. Here were a handful of Christians and police officers gathered around for a concert worshipping and drinking from the only water that can truly satisfy (Jesus). In the backdrop were a multitude of people playing in the pool and beaches in an abundance of water neither of which could satisfy. I got to wondering – what makes that water so much more attractive than this? I had seen packed audiences for the showboat before - Was our community of Kitsilano really this void of God that people would rather be out there than here listening to praises? Were people so turned off by the sound of Christian music that cops had to be called in to keep the peace?

An uneasy burden grew in our hearts so we decided to keep the water bottle as a reminder. Over the years it sat empty, gathering dust in our cupboard. Little did we know that God would use this very water bottle to call us to serve our community and this church a few years later: When Karen was pregnant with Erich, we, as first time parents were rather cautious. As the due date grew nearer, we got more and more worried that her water might break. What if her water were to break midway through church service? Our church at the time was 40 minutes away! So what does a good husband do on a Sunday morning when his wife looks like a balloon about to burst, barely fits into his sports coupe and is dreading the 40 minute car ride to church? That’s right – he goes and gets an empty water bottle. No, not to catch the waters should they break! But to look up the address and service time for when the Bridge meets!

Now seriously, this is how we got to the Bridge, but we believe that there is a much greater plan at stake here. God had been planting a burden in our hearts for our community and had simply used Erich’s birth to give us a time to re-evaluate what His will was for us with regard to ministry. Before we came to the Bridge, we were heavily involved in our ministry at a church in Coquitlam called Coquitlam Christ Church of China - an independent evangelical Christian church. Eight and a half years ago we were called to serve as church planters and missionaries to this church. Our mission was to start an English ministry in a Chinese church.

Much like the ministry here, this involved administrative work, establishing an identity, establishing a community, teaching, leading worship, preaching – many things that we felt horribly inadequate to do. But God was faithful and God used our service as a way of humbling us, and teaching us to rely on Him. He gave us a passion for His Word. He increased our faith. We watched as our congregation grew from nine youth holding worship services in a Sunday school room to now over 60 young adults worshipping, praising and serving God.

Most importantly though, we saw many people brought to salvation through Christ over the past eight years. We saw God move in their hearts: first learning about God, then personalizing that faith through knowing Jesus, and then ministering to others in the community through the Holy Spirit.

So as this heavy involvement came to an abrupt pause, we took inventory of our life once again. Three questions arose: First, had we succeeded in our mission in Coquitlam? Second, were we beginning to become too comfortable in our ministry context to the point where our own spiritual growth had stopped? And third, did we need to get out of the way so that those leaders whom we had reproduced had room to flourish on their own?

The answer to the first question is rather easy – given the quantitative facts, yes we had indeed succeeded in starting an English ministry and instilling in a group of young leaders the desire and passion to spread God’s Word. But the second and third questions were much harder to answer.

Early on in our Coquitlam ministry, God had taught me a very valuable lesson. Although I have always had a heart to serve God, my often stubborn and self-confident attitude presented a stumbling block to being effective in ministry. Through many challenges, God humbled me and taught me that in order to be effective; I had to rely on Him fully. He taught me that effective ministry is not only about DOING, but also about BEING an effective Christian. Our relationship with Him MATTERS and has a direct correlation to how effective our MINISTRY is.

So when we felt that we might be too comfortable where we were, this set off some warning flags. Reaching beyond our comfort zone in our relationship with God and in our service to Him is what causes us to grow. If we were too comfortable, it meant we weren’t growing, and that meant our ministry wasn’t as effective as it could be. Challenging others to do the same also enables them to grow. So the answer to both the second and third questions is also yes. God was telling us to move beyond our comfort zone.

As we prayed over what we felt God telling us to do, we sought for His timing. We prayed specifically that certain circumstances would come to pass with regard to our Coquitlam ministry and indeed they did, so a few weeks ago, we said our goodbyes and were blessed as our congregation prayed for us as we moved on to the Bridge.

Serving our own community will be a challenge. Effectively ministering to a community so turned off by God is definitely beyond our comfort zone. But we feel that through our service here, we will grow spiritually and we will cause others to grow too. We have always felt very welcome here, and Karen and I really appreciate the sincerity and humility of the leaders here. We feel we have a lot to learn from all of you. We look forward to being part of the community here – sharing life’s journey together with you, worshipping our God and serving you.

-- Address given to The Bridge congregation Sunday, September 10th, 2006

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