Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Iris Harvest School, Oct-Dec

Is it possible to sum up two months in a few paragraphs? It is even more of a challenge when those two months are spent intensely, sometimes learning an abundance of new thoughts, sometimes mediating on the beauty of the oldest truths, the heart whizzing through the weeks with barely any time to digest all that is poured in. Does that make any sense?

Let me start with our home. We were given a little concrete house amidst fifteen other houses. In this little house we had a room a little larger than our double bed. We shared our wee kitchen with eight other women (also doing the school). This was to be our community for the next ten weeks. We woke around 6am, to have tea and bread for breakfast, have a quiet time, sometimes hand-washing our clothes until we dripped with sweat, and began class at 8am singing to God and loving him with all our hearts. We sat on the floor for 5 or 6 hours listening to some of the most inspirational people walking the earth share with us – on all manner of things… on love, on being with the poor, on learning a new culture, on miraculous healing and raising the dead, on being intimate with Jesus, knowing the Father’s heart… It was truly shaping and we would always leave for beans at lunch with our heads spinning and our hearts on fire – inspired to be what we heard about.

Afternoons were free, but we would often have meetings, hang around with kids, read our required book list… Yet sometimes Nick and I would escape the crazy schedule and catch up over a soda. It was a deeply beautiful time and we learnt a lot. During those months it felt like my head was full, my heart was full, and I was hungry to see what all of this teaching looked like in practice.

A question Heidi often posed to us was “what does love look like?” To the widow, to the orphan, to the rich banker, to your sister, to the lonely? And I felt my heart enlarge… She shared from her depths, pleading with us to stop with compassion for the one in front of us, and also inviting us to stop to spend time with God, to let him be a Daddy to us, to cover us with his love. Often we would spend time singing to him, talking to him after someone had taught, and it was in these times that I felt him open my eyes to new things – like, for example, I felt a huge joy that I had been forgiven. Often people tell you in church “oh you are forgiven through Jesus” and we are supposed to be happy about it, but sometimes we are pretending because we don’t know what that really means. One day after Rolland shared about Jesus saving us I felt so happy, so delighted, so grateful I was in tears.

The Iris Harvest School is an incredible opportunity to grow in your faith. For us, it was like someone holding our hand as we had ventured out of our home countries into Africa, following a sense of God’s call to work with children in need, but with no home or place to go. Some of you may have been to church conferences or church weekends and experienced God in a new and more powerful way. The school was a bit like that, but tenfold. People had come from all over the world to experience God and that itself bought a really exciting feel to the group of 150 or so students. On the other hand most of us found being outside of our comfort zones pretty tough – lack of personal space in the houses and out and about, the soaring temperatures, the basic diet (oops, we’re now responsible for that diet!) – and that meant it was pretty difficult at times. Also, for me it was stretching to hear so much about miracles and the supernatural and to be with a group that was quite as loud as this one was in the meetings. At times some would scream and laugh and cry and fall over when they were experiencing God in some way. It’s always tempting to judge people for doing this and want to feel like they are looking for attention, but I tried to fight this as hard as I could and just focus on my response to what we were learning about.

By far and away the most inspirational teaching came from Heidi Baker who started the ministry with her husband. I have never heard teaching with the heart that she has and with real life action to back it up. The only reason Iris is here in Mozambique at all is because 15 years ago she started going to a rubbish dump and telling them about Jesus, and then started taking in kids to their home when they found orphans who’d been left to fend for themselves. Rolland Baker too brought excellent teaching, bringing a lot of wisdom and balance to the more fiery visiting speakers. And fiery ones there were! From the USA, from Singapore, from Brazil, from Mozambique… people Heidi thought would inspire us and who were walking the walk too. Some of the major themes were taking risks, expecting miracles, being compassionate to the one person in front of you when surrounded by so much need, coming to a new culture humbly and from a place of service and bringing in the kingdom of God through preaching the gospel and praying for the sick. Iris Pemba has an incredible commitment to send out teams every weekend week in week out to visit villages in the bush to show the Jesus film, preach the gospel and pray for the sick.

I think this last thing was the thing that impacted me most on the school. I think for a long time I have drifted from the commitment I had in my 20’s to enable people to hear of the wonderful grace that is available to them in Jesus. He has absolutely transformed my life and continues to do so, and I want to live and speak in a way that brings people to God. I think for a long time, under the cover of sensitivity or feeling like I was too hypocritical to preach any message, I have long ceased to live like that. I felt like a weight lifted off me on the school. I think it helps stepping out of the UK and being in a different culture – it helped me see more clearly what my life had become. I was also spending a lot of my time and energy focusing on issues of the environment and of the institutional church. These are still areas I am passionate about, but they had become far too dominant for me. Jesus’ first disciples had a pretty simple message on their minds when they travelled village to village.

For me, the school was not only a beautiful walk but a wrestle. “What does love look like?” is a challenging question, and I found myself constantly probing myself. Is it ok to have a coke? Should I live in a mud hut? It is easy to say “no, no, don’t be too extreme” to these kind of questions, but I think there is beauty in loving the poor so much that they become my family, and it is difficult to see huge gulfs of wealth between me and my family. But there is also a beauty in letting God be Daddy and letting him treat me, nurture me, look after me, and that might mean a coke! Throughout the school I wrestled a fair bit, and occasionally drifted into the arid lands of pushing myself towards a simplicity of lifestyle that I could not achieve – nor one Daddy was asking of me. I found the food tough too and found myself longing for a feta salad like never before.

Despite all this, I was ringing with joy from so many different wonderful experiences. With hindsight now I see a lot of beautiful thoughts were carved into my heart during that time… But, really, life is more beautiful now we are actually living it (more about this later). Yes it harder now. Yes we have to engineer our own spiritual input rather than pitching up to six hours of teaching and singing. Yes now people can be really mean and a lot of people during the school was amazingly sweet. Yes we slept more then than we do now. Yes, then, we were free to go to the beach whenever we wanted, and now we have to hand out plates of beans and deal with terrible conflicts. But I found learning about love was absolutely not what I crave. I crave to live a life of love. A life that spends hours receiving the beautiful love of my saviour, and a life that pours out, like wine, unceasing, full of compassion for the one who fights, full of healing for the one who hurts, overflowing and pouring, redeeming and changing. Why only learn about the most beautiful thing on earth when one can really become it?