Book by Rene Laurentin, Waco: Word, 1982. Video/DVD/YouTube originally by Catholic Charismatic Renewal, USA.
The book by Rene Laurentin, Viva Christo Rey! (Word, 1982) tells the amazing story of God’s work among the poor of El Paso and Juarez on the border of Mexico and Texas.
People there who live in cardboard homes without electricity or running water, without employment, have found in the Holy Spirit an abundance of joy, grace and riches which few people today enjoy.
A charismatic Catholic prayer group took the gospels seriously, and decided to provide a meal for the people who scavenge their living from the city dump. They were prompted by Jesus’ command to share food with those in need. They provided food for 150 people at Christmas, but over 300 turned up, and then brought their friends. The food did not run out and there was enough left over to give to various orphanages.
So began a ministry of love and care which has grown for over forty years. The sick are being healed, both medically and through prayer. The hungry are fed, and food has never run out in twenty years. Employment has been provided in cooperatives. Better housing has been built.
Fr Rene Laurentin writes that ‘most importantly, they have found in the Holy Spirit the source of the spiritual conversion that has made for more humane living through converted action. The Holy Spirit, too, has given them a capacity for renewal, a capacity rarely found among intellectuals, who are so often lost in things, in learning, and in the orchestrated power and influence that earned the rich the reproach of Jesus. The gospel is still the good news proclaimed to the poor.’
One prayer group decided to do something in obedience to Jesus. Miracles have followed.
The one hour enthralling DVD (copy of a video) of the same name, Viva Christo Rey! (Hail, Christ the King) provides a stirring documentary of early beginnings and recent developments. It was produced jointly by the Catholics and Assemblies of God.
‘Stand in faith for your healing,’ they exhorted him. They had prayed for his healing with sincerity and compassion, but the long road of days, weeks, months, perhaps years, of ‘standing in faith’ stretched ahead. Who would stand with him?
During those days when doubt and uncertainty assail the heart of faith, who would be there to encourage and pray with him again and again until the conflict was clearly over?
If ever there is need of a small company of Christian friends and pilgrims, it is in such cases. How often the physical dis-ease is a symptom of loneliness, resentment, or buried anger. The care of others in a close knit group, ministering the grace and forgiveness of Jesus can dispel the loneliness, melt the anger, and affirm the healing process.
The small group needs to learn the Christian graces of perseverance, longsuffering, gentleness, faithfulness and hope for others. Those who have entered deeply into a small group experience will know the personal pain, doubt and fear borne on behalf of one another. You stand in faith for a brother or sister. Like the four men who let down their friend through the roof to the feet of Jesus, you bring your brother or sister again and again to Jesus.
Recently a good friend of mine died of a brain tumour. He had experienced several years of remission of what was an inoperable condition. This remission was a direct result of prayer for healing. During the subsequent years, to a large extent he stood alone in his church and there was little experience of a surrounding healing community. Would it have made a difference? I do not know. I do know, however, we have often failed in our healing ministry because there has been no community of Christians in daily, weekly, close-knit support. To be in community means to have all things in common – even our pain and sickness.
Cures are to be looked for, not only in the sick person, but also in the community. R. A. Lambourne (1963: 110) expresses it this way: ‘So a man who has a congenital defect about which he is chronically embittered, may be saved by the loving service and prayers of another person or group and yet retain his congenital deformity, whilst one of the group who has been involved may be relieved of a peptic ulcer.’ Experience has shown us that those with such defects may also have significant healing through persevering, persistent prayer.
The recorded experience of God’s direct intervention in healing over the past twenty years has often been the accounts of healings received through the ministry of the healing evangelist. Books on healing were initially a description of the way God intervened in healing in a wide variety of physical, emotional and spiritual conditions through that healing ministry.
Subsequent literature has come to grips with biblical principles of healing and methods of preparing all the people of God to pray for healing and exercise the gift of healing, but little has been said or taught about the importance of people being immersed in a healing community.
It is good that those at the healing meeting are asked to stand in faith for the person prayed for, but what happens after the meeting has concluded? Many are completely healed and may well stand alone, but not all. What community will these have to sustain their faith as the healing work goes on?
In some fellowships, healing teams are used so that the individualistic approach is modified. The teams are prepared to handle whatever may emerge, whether it be physical healing, deliverance from demonic oppression, or the healing of past hurts and broken relationships. Wholeness of life is the focus. Yet the need for continuing care may not be met.
A person from a strong Christian fellowship who experiences the healing grace of God can depend upon the support of that fellowship. There the healing process will be strengthened in the combined faith and mutual commitment to one another.
It is quite a different experience for people with a history of broken relationships and little personal discipline to find a community of people who will lovingly guide the formation of their Christian life and growth in faith. They need a caring community committed to support them.
The formation of Christian life and character – the whole area of Christian discipleship – needs a long period of painstaking care from the committed community. A young woman convert with a history of broken foster homes and drug taking experienced significant healing, but her life habits and attitudes formed over many years needed to be changed. She usually stayed in bed till the afternoon. For months an older woman would travel across town to her one-room flat, wake her, and see her washed, dressed, and out into the everyday world.
We long and pray for these alienated people to be brought into the Kingdom. Yet we recoil from some of the long term implications of lives that need to be made in the image of Christ. How beautiful that we are not alone. The Holy Spirit grants his gifts of knowledge, wisdom, discernment, courage and healing. We also have one another, if we can genuinely find oneness of purpose and love or common unity. That is community.
Christian community is an ideal we cherish but find difficult to achieve. In the many communities to which we belong – a sociology dictionary lists some ninety – we submit only a small portion of our lives. An ultimate goal of Christian community is to have all things in common. However, in our Western church we have absorbed a materialistic individualism which results in a rejection of strong commitment to group values. A pietistic approach to the Christian life emphasizes our individual personal relationship to God and tends to devalue the group relationships.
The instructions to the New Testament churches were primarily for groups, not individuals. ‘Saints’, commonly used in the New Testament for Christians, occurs there 62 times and 61 of these are in the plural form. We belong together.
Church communities need to provide a structure and opportunity for people to so relate with each other that these relationships show them how to become healing people. Christians in small groups in sensitive communication with each other a more likely to be aware of the needs of the wounded.
To a greater or lesser extent we are ‘wounded healers’. Our own wounds give a sense of identification with the wounded. We have all known, for example, how loneliness and loss bite into our emotional stability. James Lynch, in The Broken Heart: the medical consequences of loneliness (1979: 181), says, ‘The lack of companionship, the sudden loss of love and chronic human loneliness are significant contributors to serious disease (including cardiovascular disease) and premature death’.
He adds that ‘the true revolution of our times is the disappearance of friendship and that has gone hand in hand with the loss of community’. Those who lack the surrounding comfort and support of an intimate community lack one of the most powerful antidotes to stress and disease. In a neighbourhood group members can be immediately responsive to emergent need. The immediate awareness of need and the continuing healing issues out of fellowship; the formation of a new lifestyle from the witness of what Jesus has done in the lives of others. How often, too, the healer need healing. Pressure and stress need to be discerned, understood and prayed for in the whole group.
No group will be free of every ailment and oppression, but what a joy it is to have fellow pilgrims to be part of one’s whole life. In the midst of our human frailty we can experience a wholeness in the Holy Spirit which transcends our weakness. One of our friends, dying of cancer and surrounded by her own healing community, entered into a wholeness not experienced previously.
As Lambourne (1963: 110) puts it, ‘This type of situation is exemplified by the dying patient who makes of dying, as of life, not just “one damned thing after another”, but a “reasonable, lively and holy sacrifice”, a time of growing in wisdom and stature. Those who are near, serving, easing the pain, enter, if they wish, into the wholeness into which the patient by faith has entered … so the community in acts of healing, relieving suffering, and suffering together, enters the communion of saints, the community of those made whole.’
Lambourne, R.A. (1963) Community Church and Healing. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.
Lynch, James (1979) The Broken Heart. San Franscisco: Harper and Row.
After years of prayer, vision and planning, we have established a place of healing the whole person from a Christian perspective. It is called the Christian Wholeness Counselling Centre (See: Living Wholeness ).
This is a place where Christians and non-Christians can be seen by Professional Counselling Consultants from a number of disciplines, including Psychology, Social Work, Occupational Therapy, the Pastoral area and Psychiatry. It is a place where our passions are to strive for excellence in the area of psychiatry, psychology and the social sciences, and counselling within the context of a Biblical theology.
The psychiatric, psychological, social and spiritual issues are addressed within a framework of professional Christian counselling, facilitating one’s journeying toward wholeness. We acknowledge the spiritual dimension of the person in addition to the physical, psychological and social dimensions. We invite clients to integrate the spiritual aspect of their life within a Christian counselling context. It is also a place where professional counsellors can develop their skills, integrating their Christian beliefs with their professional practice. The centre helps to equip and train Christian counsellors and the church in Christian counselling and pastoral work. All this is done in an ethical manner with integrity and compassion. Here, the problems relating to the whole person can be addressed. These include personal, emotional, psychiatric, behavioural, physical, spiritual, social and family, educational, career related, stress, and trauma related problems.
The problems can relate to the whole person so the avenues for healing are focussed on each part of the person. In essence, helping the person to face their failures and their pain in the presence of God and from there to move on to practise the presence of God is the spiritual pathway to healing. Healing comes not only in practising the presence of God, but also in walking alongside with a fellow human being, and in conjunction with a supportive church network. Thus, healing does not come in a vacuum but is done in the context of the priesthood of all believers, the presence of God and being part of the body of Christ.
Integrated approach to healing Spiritual healing or prayer in itself often is not the only thing which needs to happen for healing. People often need other interventions. That may be medication, marital therapy, or some of the other forms of professional interventions. God never made us just to be spiritual, although the spiritual is central. God also made our bodies and our minds which often groan. Our bodies and brains may need medication, and our minds therapy. These are provided in many forms at the Christian Wholeness Counselling Centre. They include: Individual Therapy, Group Therapy, Family Therapy, Marital Therapy, Child Therapy, Adolescent Therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, Pastoral Counselling, Psychiatric Treatment, Educational Assessment, Career Guidance, Grief Counselling, Crisis Counselling, Trauma Therapy (EMDR), Stress Management, Anger Management, Conflict Management, Assertiveness Training, Communication and Social Skills Training.
The likelihood of success in healing depends on how motivated or desperate the person is to change, the extent of how much they feel they can be involved in changing compared to how hopeless they might feel, and how severe their problems are in terms of physical, psychological, social or spiritual ones. The longer the problems have been going on, even back into previous generations, the harder it seems to be for change to occur. Intervention may include prayer for inner healing, breaking of past bondages, and on-going medication or counselling support. For some healing happens at a faster rate, for others it may take a number of years.
Healing is significantly enhanced if, in the context of coming to the Centre, a person can be free to be real and open in the Body of Christ. Thus the importance of close fellowship is vital. The church itself is a major organ for healing. In summary, Christian Wholeness Counselling looks at the whole person in the context of their relationship with God and the church, and their own social network. It acknowledges that our bodies are yet unredeemed. It acknowledges that at times God does work in miraculous ways, but normally tears will not be dried or taken away until we reach heaven. Healing follows a sequence. Here are essential steps on the pathway to wholeness.
Admit and be Real about Failure START HERE: The place for healing to begin is where one walks alongside another – one step beside and one step behind. In that posture, the person is strengthened to be able to face the pain, their failures and their sin. This often seems to be the hardest part but is where healing starts.
As the darkness is brought into the light, then that which was hidden can be addressed. Where many find it hard to walk on a road to healing, is this very first step of even acknowledging the problem. For true healing this needs to be acknowledged to oneself, to God and to another human being. Admitting and being real about one’s failures and sins is the place to start. The Christian Wholeness Counselling Centre allows this to occur in a place where the issues of the whole person can be addressed.
Believe and Receive Forgiveness THE 1ST STEP: Having faced and, to some extent, owned the problems, the first step of healing on a spiritual dimension is to return to the rock from which one was hewn, to receive the things which God has done. This step to healing is through a repentance, a returning, a step of faith rather than by the primary strivings of our wills and our own efforts. This step is one of believing and receiving God’s forgiveness. It happens initially at conversion, and needs to be repeated frequently. As we remember and return to what God has done, rather than trying to strive to better ourselves, change can come. It is through this step that one returns to the rock from which one was hewn, to receive the things which God has done to stand in one’s true position.
YOUR POSITION: Where is the position to which we need to return? What has God done which is healing? What is it that is there for healing, even when we have failed and fallen? God has done four major things for us in this area: he has provided us with his presence, he has placed us and set us apart for himself, he has given us his purposes, and he has provided all we need. This enables us to say, ‘I am yours and you are mine’, even in our pain or failure as well as in wholeness. First, God’s presence is with us: Emmanuel. Although we can quench the Holy Spirit, we have been sealed with him as he has been stamped on to our hearts. For those who are truly his, we cannot rub off that stamp. Even though the prodigal son felt no longer worthy to be a son, the Father thought otherwise. Even in our darkest moments, the darkness cannot turn off the light. Even in our lowest periods, God is beneath us. Even where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.
Healing comes as we realise God has not abandoned nor forsaken us, but is there for us right in the context of our pain. God owns us despite our sin. Second, God has placed us close to himself. He has given us an identity of being a child of the Father with his Spirit indwelling us. Being identified with Christ in God lifts up the head of the shameful and weary traveller. Third, God has purposed us to relate with him in intimacy, in Jesus by his Spirit. This gives us a reason for living which nothing can touch, even in the context of suffering. God’s purposes remain constant despite our unfaithfulness. This leads the wandering person to have a God-given clarity and perspective on where they have come from and where they are going. So, even in our groaning, with all around seeming to overwhelm us, God’s purposes can still be fulfilled. All things can work for good. His good is our intimacy with Jesus. Our imitation of Jesus can grow. Our conformity to him can be renewed. Our sense of companionship and closeness to God can deepen. Fourth, God has provided for us his forgiveness and his freedom, leading us to his fullness.
Our lives and experiences so often betray what God has done, leaving us feeling hypocritical, shameful, and in effect no different from what we would be if we were non-Christians. Our lives more often than not are lives of the wilderness rather than those of the Promised Land. The tendency then is to believe much more in our failings and feelings than in what God has done because the two do not seem to match up. Having faced our own sins and failures and returned to what God has done, we can stand in his grace, mercy, and forgiveness. In the context of facing the reality of oneself, the head of the wounded and fallen can be lifted up and can see another reality, the reality of God and what he has done. Through being real about these realities a new perspective and new direction can again be followed. So the shameful may stand upright, in grace and access to God; the lost may belong; the fallen and failed may get up, yet again.
Choose to Respond to Freedom 2ND STEP: From this position, we can move on in the freedom which God provides. Receiving the provision of God’s freedom leads us to relate with God in the fullness of his Spirit and walk in wholeness and healing. Only as we receives what God has done in our life can we move on to practise the presence of God in the context of our humanity. But how do we receive and respond to this freedom? Where does this freedom come from and where does it lead? How do we take this second step? This is where the mystery of God’s provision applies. Because he has placed us in Christ, we also died with him and have been raised with him. We know, however, that we are very much alive and our sinful nature abounds. How is it then that we continue to sin? A major reason appears to be not only the abuse of God’s grace, but the unbelief of what God has done. The unbelief is partly because the reality of our experience shouts louder than the reality of what God has done.
Thus in Romans 6, Paul provides 3 steps to receive and respond to this freedom.
* First (v 6), we must know and remember what God has done. We must realise that we have been crucified with Christ. We should have been warned of this when we became Christians.
* Second (v 11), we must believe this and reckon ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
* Third (vs 12-13), we must then yield ourselves to God and not to our own sinful desires.
Our bodies are very much alive but our self-centred nature has been crucified with Christ. However, it is only as we know this, it is only as we believe this and as we then put this into practice that we appropriate and apply what God has done. As we take these steps in the face of our selfishness, a Godliness can slowly and falteringly develop. There can be a renewing of our minds and a conformity to Jesus. This is a gradual walk and needs to be applied to each situation. As we do this, as we present our bodies and our minds as a living sacrifice, to be renewed by God, then we can move on to practise the presence of God, to fellowship with God and to love others. Then we can start to move into true Christian wholeness.
YOUR PRACTICE: As we respond to God and to what he has done, we can move our position into the practice of Christian wholeness and healing. Wholeness was defined best by Jesus when he said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength … Love your neighbour as yourself’. So as we struggle with issues, we start to bring into God’s light and into God’s presence these problems and, together with God and a fellow traveller, we can move on. The pains and hurts of the past and the present can be cast on God; we are now not alone. As they are faced, the past which lives in the present can be let go on and released. Forgiving others starts to become possibe. Changing thoughts, perceptions and behaviours in relation to oneself and others can begin again. We go on again. Love arises. The salvation which God has worked in us starts to become worked out.
So we are freed to respond and to relate with God. In the context of pain and sin, we can actively relate with God and in doing so can actualise and realise the presence of God in their humanity. Being very real, we can start to interact with God, to imitate Jesus and to slowly experience some kind of intimacy with the Trinity. We can start to live who we are, to walk by the Spirit and not just to be born of the Spirit. Shame and guilt no longer hold their power. We are free to leave our self-centredness to live a God-centred life. We are free to respond to God even as the Psalmist did, in ruthless reality. We can now move from the isolation and aloneness of darkness into abiding in God. This is not ‘airy fairy’ or living in some supernatural spiritual cloud. This is relating to God and being free to do so as a very real human being. Having reconnected with God, hope revives and we can once more go to others to love them and to bring God’s healing to them. There is power to go to those who have hurt us, in our families especially. There is power to be real about the pains which we have received from others and yet to go and to seek and touch our offenders with the wounded hands of Jesus. Spiritual warfare can be done. This is practising the presence of God. This is the narrow road which brings life. This is knowing God and showing God. This is being filled with the Spirit. This is the narrow path that leads to life, and healing.
RETURN TO THE START: Yet so quickly practising the presence of God seems to disappear yet again in our sins and failings from which we have just come. And so, returning to the reality of our failures, we can AGAIN turn to our position in God and from there move on to practising a God-centred way of life. This is not sinless perfection, but a spiral – from practising the presence of God to falling back into sin to repenting, to walking on with God. As we do this, it is more than going round in circles. We spiral up on a journey, as with wings like eagles, slowly rising in sanctification. As we take hold of God in this way, God takes hold of us and as we open to God, God fills us with his Spirit. This is the spiritual aspect of healing – abiding in God, and is something which we need to encourage in each other. However, when things get too hard, a place like the Christian Wholeness Counselling Centre can further facilitate healing. Consultants cannot of themselves do the work, but in closeness to the suffering clients, and in the presence of God, all three in a healing triangle can walk the road to true healing, to wholeness, to Shalom.
Summary: a sequence of healing and wholeness.
START HERE: “I Admit and am Real about my Failures.”
1ST STEP: “I Believe and Receive God’s Forgiveness.”
YOUR POSITION: God’s Presence, Placing, Purposes and Provisions.
2ND STEP: “I Choose to Respond to God’s Freedom.”
YOUR PRACTICE: “I Do live and Relate with God in the Fullness of his Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit may at times break down existing patterns of prayer and worship in order to renew his people.
Sometimes this is because of inadequacies in the attitude of those worshipping, as in Isaiah 1:10-20. There God is tired of the sacrifice and worship of those who do not repent.
At other times the working of the Holy Spirit comes simply to give a renewed vision of the majesty and holiness of God, to refresh devotion and commitment, and to lead people to a new understanding of his nature. This is a part of the contiunous renewal of which Paul says, ‘let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … and the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish … and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God’ (Colossians 3:15-16).
Such a time of renewal took place over three days in September 1993 during second semester at the Bible College of Victoria (B.C.V.). This special and unplanned period became a time of renewal, growth, conviction and great blessing.
B.C.V. is an interdenominational, evangelical college training people for ministry in Australia and overseas. There are about 180 full-time students and almost as many more part-time students. Ever since its foundation in 1920 individual, group and community prayer and worship have been an important feature of the community life of the college.
The priorities of the college are expressed as ‘Knowing, Being and Serving’. This means knowing God in personal relationship; being transformed to become more like the Lord Jesus Christ as Spirit-filled people of compassion, faith, vision and power, living holy lives in the personal and social realms; and serving God in the world, developing gifts for ministry for building up the church, meeting the diverse needs in society, and proclaiming the gospel to unreached people.
As a consequence of this commitment, time is regularly given over to prayer. Students and faculty pray in daily chapel services, in fellowship groups, in lectures, at meal times, in faculty groups, in pairs and room groups on special prayer days and nights, and in prayer cells for specific issues including healing, evangelism, community life and student ministries. People pray, sometimes with conviction and joy, at other times with doubts and fears.
Continually there are testimonies to the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is programmed as an important part of college life and God honours that commitment, but on occasions God wants to do something different.
A desire for God
The recent time of renewal began with the group responsible for preparing for a regular day of prayer. Others had a growing conviction that God’s Spirit wanted to move in a new way. One student, reflecting the feelings of many, said, ‘My heart had already been prepared to meet with God – and I was not disappointed. For some time I had recognised the hunger in my heart and my need for God to refresh and renew my weary spirit.’
A number of people felt a desire for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Various experiences indicated that the Lord wanted students to be involved in all night prayer to prepare for the day of prayer for the whole college.
Many would agree with the student who said, ‘For the last two years it has been an increasing prayer of mine that God’s Spirit would move across this nation, and more recently that I would experience more of God’s fulness in my life.’
Significantly, a desire for God to work in this country in a dynamic way is connected with a willingness to allow God to work in a new way personally. It is difficult to communicate what one has not experienced.
One student observed that although none of those who met the Lord on that day would claim the necessary qualities for spiritual leadership in this generation, nonetheless a start was made, for ‘when God raises up spiritual leaders, He first judges them so that they may depend on Him alone’ (Holland 1993:1).
The presence of the Spirit
On Tuesday 21 September about 140 of the college community gathered together in the chapel for prayer. A time of teaching followed the praise and worship. The teaching was brief, about 20 minutes, low key and even understated. Then as people were invited to pray or receive prayer, the effect was as tremendous as it was unexpected.
What had been planned as a 50 minute session became a four hour response to the presence of the Holy Spirit as he touched people’s lives and moved them to prayer, repentance, reconciliation, testimony, praise and commitment. It is difficult to describe this; it needs to be felt.
All who were present found that this was a special time. The college community comprises diverse groups of people from a wide range of denominations and traditions of prayer and worship. Many of them are prayerful people but most had never experienced a time like this.
The Holy Spirit convicted, empowered, challenged, encouraged and renewed people. Forty or more sought prayer. They had a tremendous ministry together.
The day’s program was transformed, replaced by the plans ofthe Spirit. Significant personal matters were dealt with that day and in the days that followed.
One student acknowledged, ‘God was convicting me of my doubt in the Holy Spirit’s power to work in and through my life. … I knew I had once again to give the Holy Spirit permission to consume those parts of my life that had been preventing me from loving God more completely.’
For many, the infilling of the Spirit meant that they were overcome – sometimes with grief and repentance, at other times with joy, often with weeping, and often with relief and rejoicing.
The ministry continued over the next couple of days. People were reconciled. They shared in prayer. They ministered to one another and were counselled.
Two days later, when the college community was gathered together, an opportunity was given for people to share testimonies of what God had done over the past few days. One hour became two, then three and four hours, as they praised, prayed, and gave testimony to the experiences of the Spirit.
It was a time for hearing how people had been challenged about their prayer life, their relationship to the Lord, their relationships with others, personal attitudes, and ministry challenges. Again there were tears and rejoicing.
Lives had been changed, barriers broken down, resistances overcome, forgiveness granted, and blessing received. Although lectures had been planned, they simply did not happen that day. Such was the intensity of the moment that no one wanted to leave the chapel.
Lessons of the Spirit
Four points stand out as concluding observations, although many other things could be said.
1. Historic connections.
There is a connection here with the noted revival which took place at Asbury Seminary in the U.S.A. in 1970 and which had far reaching effects throughout America (Coleman 1970).
The speaker at the start of the day of prayer was the Rev. Mark Nysewander who was visiting B.C.V. with the Rev. Richard Stevenson. Both are part of the Francis Asbury Society (U.S.A.), a society focused on renewal through the Holy Spirit. Mark had been present as a student at the revival at Asbury Seminary in 1970 and is continuing that ministry through the Francis Asbury Society.
2. Future influence.
This experience at B.C.V. may or may not spread to other people and places, but whether it does or not, it will continue to mean a lot to those who experienced it. Many future ministries will be enriched by this personal experince.
Knowing through experience what God can do in renewing a community is essential for communicating this to others and for preparing them for it. The historic connection between revivals may continue as students and faculty better understand the power of God to move people and as they become more confident in ministering in his name.
3. A gentle ministry.
It should be emphasised that the ministry exercised over these days was described as ‘a gentle ministry’ with ‘no hype’. Others were ‘surprised by the quietness’ of the time shared together. It is no insult to those leading worship beforehand or to those involved in teaching to say that the worship and teaching were not extraordinary in any way.
There have been more articulate, more dynamic, more profound sermons preached at B.C.V. than these. The worship was more restrained than it has been at other times, but this time the effect was different from all other times. Clearly, the issue was not human hype, enthusiasm or ability, but the providence of God who initiates and controls.
4. An openness to the Spirit.
While no one can command the activity of God, it is clear in retrospect that there was a willingness on the part of many people, students and faculty, to be open to whatever God had to offer and a commitment to not allowing programs to interfere with the work of the Spirit.
This openness had surprising implications. While many were looking for a wider renewal in Australia, God wanted to work closer to home, with those who were praying.
God deals first with his messengers and challenges them to be the kind of servants he wants them to be.
Coleman, R., ed. (1970) One Divine Moment. New Jersey: Fleming Revell.
Holland, H. (1993) ‘An Extraordinary Day of Prayer’ in Ambassador: Official Journal of the Bible College of Victoria, No. 151, p. 1.
See also comment on the Asbury Revival in Renewal Journal (1993) #1, pp. 44-45; #2, p. 51.
I will never forget January 1975. I was in Melbourne as the representative of a youth prayer group to attend a national conference on charismatic renewal. It was a time when the charismatic renewal was riding on the crest of a wave. Thousands of people had gathered from across the country as well as overseas to hear a line up of exciting speakers. They represented many denominations and the gatherings were marked by an incredible sense of joy and freedom.
During this conference, Fr Vince Hobbs, Brian Smith and John Carroll, three leaders from the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Brisbane, began to share a vision of developing covenant community. They also took the opportunity to speak with Ralph Martin, one of the conference speakers, who was also a leader of a charismatic covenant community in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The Statement of Community Order Document (Section B.1.) explains that ‘A covenant community is a group of Christians who have been led by the Lord to express their love and commitment to him and to one another as part of a divine call or vocation. They do this through a public life-long commitment called a covenant.’
A time to begin
I still remember Brian Smith coming to me at the conference saying, ‘I really believe now is the time to build community.’
The idea of charismatic communities was not new. We had been in contact with them from as early as 1972 when Brian Smith first went to the United States. The hesitation about moving towards community was always a question of timing and maturity. Until now, no one was ready to step out and make that first move. That was about to change.
On their return to Brisbane, Brian Smith and John Carroll with their wives and families began to meet with two other couples to pursue this sense of call. In February of 1975 the four couples washed each others’ feet as a sign of their commitment and as an expression of their service to one another, not just in spiritual matters but in the whole of their life circumstances.
A new foundation was being laid which others would soon be invited to join. These couples shared their vision with the people of the prayer group at Bardon, which was the principal meeting place for Catholics involved in charismatic renewal with about 400-600 attending.
Responses varied. Some were excited at the new iniative because they had been looking for an opportunity to be more committed and for a way of including their children in this charismatic experience. Others were cautious and questioned this new direction.
After some weeks the community had its first intake. Thirteen families expressed a desire to be part of this new move of the Spirit. In the first year the community grew to nearly 200 members.
I observed the community from the beginning, preferring to remain part of the youth prayer group that had also begun to develop a strong sense of community. I had some suspicion about how this Brisbane Covenant Community (as it was then called) was going to develop. Would it begin well and simply become another prayer meeting or would it actually begin to achieve the goal of building a Christian way of life?
By the end of the first year it was obvious that the community was not only talking about a way of life, it was actually living it.
Early in 1976 our youth group of around 30 people decided that our call was to a community way of life and that it was better to join with the Brisbane Covenant Community than attempt to go in our own direction. After a few months formation our group made covenant, committing ourselves to follow the Lord in the context of this people called the Brisbane Covenant Community.
A time to build up
The first years of the community were life the beginning of a great adventure. It was the time of laying the foundationstones. The dynamism of the charismatic renewal had flowed into the community. Charismatic gifts played an important role in bringing depth and richness into our praiseand worship.
As well as gifts that we’d come to appreciate in prayer groups, we realised there were so many more gifts that we hadn’t thought about as charisms. As we shared life together as a community, other things became important.
Different ministries with children and young adults began to emerge as well as gifts of administration and various roles of service. Our horizons were broadening. We grew in our appreciation that charisms were given for the building up of the body.
We had a growing consciousness that this Christian community lifestyle was important both for the church and for the world. Cardinal Suenens had already begun to articulate the need for the church to offer pilot projects as a prefiguration of the kind of human community for which the world is searching so painfully… From a human point of view, it might seem paradoxical to make the future of the church dependent upon small Christian communities which, no matter how fervent, are but a drop in the ocean… But if we consider the spiritual energy released by every group which allows Christ to fill it with the life of the Holy Spirit, then the perspective changes, for we are putting ourselves in the strength and power of God (A New Pentecost, pp. 151-153).
If the Church is to fulfil its mission, communities which demonstrate this Christian way of life are an integral part of that mission.
A study conducted by Fusion, a Christian organisation committed to evangelisation in the Australian context, spoke of Australians as ‘people who think in terms of the concrete rather than the abstract, and very often thought forms that are used to express the Christian message are alien to them… What Australians need is a model. Once it’s seen in action they are quite capable of recognising its meaning’ (Fusion 1986).
This challenge to be a Christian community for the church and for the world was somehow at the heart of our mission.
One of the other hopes which was born out of this community life was a longing for reconciliation between Christians. While the founding members were predominently Catholic, there were also two Anglicans among them. This experience of sharing life together, coupled with the general enthusiasm of the 70s with regard to ecumenism, caused the community to hope that through the charismatic experience and a committed way of life it might find a way through the problems and divisions of a separated Christianity.
In late 1976 the name of the community was changed to the Emmanuel Covenant Community and with the change of name was a growing confidence that God really was with us and leading us in building this way of life. From the point of view of structure, the community lifestyle encompassed four main expressions, as outlined in the Emmanuel Statement of Community Order Documents (Section B.5.):
1. The General Community Gathering which is a meeting of the whole community to worship, to receive teaching and to maintain a common vision and fellowship;
2. Small group meetings are opportunities for share the Christian journey and receive encouragement and support;
3. Formation teaching courses are conducted to provide teaching on the spiritual life and everyday living as well as giving a clear orientation on the life of the community.
4. Social life in the community plays an important role in developing a genuine and balanced Christian lifestyle.
While these basic structures were important, the community had to offer more if it was to be a model to the church and the world. One of the most important developments in this area was the forumation of clusters.
In 1978, members of the community began tomove geographically closer together so that the community dimension would take moreconcrete expression. Community had to be demonstrated in practice, not just in theory. As families and single people moved closertogether, more and more opportunities presented themselves for the building of authentic Christian community. These included travelling to work together, sharing mowers, syupporting people when they were sick, providing practical care for widows, and other expressions of support.
Localised community expressions also enabled Emmanuel to be more effective in its local outreach and to contribute something to the wider community. Taking initiative at the local level to hold football games, Australia Day celebrations, picnics in the park, and Christmas carols were but a few ways that we endeavoured to share our lifestyle and contribute to our local community.
These were bridges of friendship which were built in local neighbourhoods to let others know we were ordinary human beings and not aliens from another planet ready to capture them and take them with us (which was one rumour circulating about us). Time and good will helped to break down some of the initial fears that were encountered when devloping clusters.
A time to reach out
While the initial concentration of energy in Emmanuel was in trying to become that which we claimed to be – a Christian community – we didn’t cease to reach out to others in local parishes, at national conferences, and in assisting other groups in both Australia and New Zealand in their desire to develop community.
In February, 1980, when I was conducting one of those outreaches to northern Queensland, I received a phone call asking me to serve as an Elder of the community. ‘An Elder is a leader in the community who together with a body of Elders exercises a governing role in the community’ (Statement of Community Order Document, Section D.3.).
My first response was a sense of awe as I reflected on God’s call in my life. The second awareness that I had was the sense of responsibility in leading and caring for this people that God had called into being. The prophet Jeremiah came to mind and his exclamation to the Lord when he protested that he was too young. ‘Say not, “I am too young.” To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak’ (Jeremiah 1:7). I was 25 years old at the time, married for three years with one small daughter. In the days ahead, that scripture gave me a lot of strength.
In November of 1980 the Emmanuel Community began its most ambitious missionary outreach. Responding to requests for assistance, three teams of five people travelled to six south east Asian countries to conduct leadership and training programmes for the Catholic charismatic renewal. I led the team which went to West Malaysia and Indonesia.
For each one of us who participated in these outreaches our lives would never be the same. Asia and her people had taken deep root in our hearts and in the coming years God would give some of us many opportunities to return, to live amongst the people and assist them in the devlopment of their own covenant communities. Today there are at least six covenant communities in Malaysia with new groups forming year after year.
Our outreach to Asia was not just a matter of going to Asia and giving out. We received more than we could ever hope or imagine. This was true for Emmanuel as a whole, especially when Asian brothers and sisters would visit us. In sharing life together, we were changed by their humility, love and commitment to Christ. Through our contact with them we became aware of our own poverty.
This experience of our own poverty was to be relived over and over again as future teams would go to Papua New Guinea and Fiji sharing life with the people and growing in love and understanding of their culture and way oflife. For Emmanuel, the key to outreach is living the life.
The people who participated in these outreaches were not experts but ordinary people who gave up their own holidays and paid their own way. What they had to do share was not so much what they had read in books but what they had experienced in trying to live the Christian life day by day in the context of a community. These were things that people could relate to, whether they lived in the highlands of Papua New Guinea on in the coastal villages of Fiji. Through outreaches like these the community grew to realise the importance of being faithful to the challenge of living the Christian life day by day.
A time to die
The first ten years of the community, although facing many challenges, were rather like when the apostles walked with Jesus and never ceased to be amazed at what he could do. Then just as the apostles were called to a baptism of suffering, so were we although I don’t think we really anticipated what we were about to experience.
Our baptism into Christ emcompasses his life, death and resurrection. All of these elements are imporant. What is it like for a community to be baptised into the death of Christ?
For Emmanuel, there was no single event but rather a series of them which brought about a real sense of dying in the community. At a very human level, people were tired of living such a committed life year after year. It was demanding and the cost was high. People struggled with their commitment and asked the question, ‘Is it worth it?’
At around the same time ecumenical tensions arose as well. We found ourselves struggling with the same ecclesiological problems that the wider church was experiencing. Despite our early hopes and many years of hard work, we had to admit our own limitations and faced the fact that it was not possible to build the ecumenical community we had once dreamed about.
Added to this was the breakdown of international relationships amongst covenant communities resulting in divisiveness and resentments. The once young and healthy community was suffering through its own sin and human limitations.
Perhaps the greatest test of trust was to come on 1 February, 1988. We had just celebrated Eucharist at our community office when we received word of an urgent phone call for Brian Smith. No one could have anticipated his words as he emerged from his office: ‘My daughter Teresa has passed away.’ The next twenty-four hours would reveal the truth of Teresa’s brutal rape and murder.
The question on everyone’s lips was how could God allow this to happen. Like many other people in the community, I had known Teresa since she was a little girl. She was a real character, full of fun, life and faith. That evening as Brian and Lorraine Smith were interviewed on national television, they spoke of their forgiveness for Teresa’s murderer. As the Emmanuel community attempted to comfort Brian and Lorraine, so too did they comfort the community by continuing to speak of forgiveness and the need to surrender to God’s will.
While Teresa’s life had a wonderful impact on the lives of many, I would dare to say that her death had a greater impact. There is no doubt that she was a servant of God in both her life and in her death. As we trusted in God to raise Teresa, his servant, from death into fulness of life within him, it somehow gave us all a little more courage to believe that God would raise Emmanuel from its despair and bring it to new life.
A time for healing
The resurrection for which we hoped was not immediate but it did happen. It did not come as a result of good planning or skilled leadership but purely through the action of the Holy Spirit. Members of the community were renewed in their commitment. There was a new enthusiasm to move on. It was a different enthusiasm from that of the beginning. It was one marked by realism and a desire to give in to the will of God.
This was especially evident among the young people in the community. While the community is now clearly Catholic and not ecumenical in its entity, the heart to work towards Christian unity still remains an important charism.
A fruit of the difficulties experienced between communities internationally has been the development of two international associations for communities.
The first is the International Brotherhood of Communities (IBOC) which provides a meeting place for all the different expressions of covenant communities around the world. It is ecumenical in its expression and seeks to encourage leaders of communities as they respond to God’s call.
The second group is the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Communities and Felowships. Inaugurated in Rome in November 1990, the Catholic Fraternity had very humble beginnings. While fewer than 40 delegates from 13 communities gathered for the inaugural meeting, we experienced a conviction that God intended to do great things from this small beginning. More than 200 covenant communities from around the world have sought information on becoming part of the Fraternity. The Emmanuel Community in Brisbane was not only a founding member of the fraternity but did much of the preliminary work which culminated in a formal recognition by Pope John Paul II. This is the first time a cononical approval has been given by the Vatican to any charismatic group.
As I look back over my years of involvement in the Emmanuel Covenant Community, some things are clear to me. The contribution of covenant communities to the life of the church and the world must come out of brokenness and humility rather than pride or arrogance. The path to humility is the way of the cross and whether we like it or not, Jesus calls us to embrace it. ‘Whoever does not take up his cross and follow in my steps is not fit to be my disciple’ (Matthew 10:38).
We are not people who have it all together, but people who are on a journey, people who experience the same trails and temptations as anyone else. Unlike our early years when we thought we were going to save the whole world, we have come to find that our only boast is the cross of Christ. The cross is our redemption. As we surrender to the cross, so too do we dare to hope in the resurrection.
Fusion (1986) ‘Understanding and Reaching Australians’, a Position Paper.
Dr Dorothy Mathieson was the Australian Coordinator of Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor, and lived and worked in the slums of Manila in the Philippines as well as travelling to support Servants staff internationally.
Dr Tim McCowan served for eight years with Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor in Mainila
Only the Spirit can bring forgiveness, love and patience,
so essential to community building
We are called to community with one another and with the poor in the slums.
This is one of the principles of a group of crosscultural workers called Servants in Manila,
Bangkok, Phnom Penh and other Asian cities. We are trying to respond to God’s heart for the poor. We have embarked on a journey of vulnerability discovering gradually how increasing intimacy with the Father leads to opting for the poor and the despised, not for the systems of power and control. Only the Spirit can empower this.
Servants’ principles are not just abstract Guidelines but living realities, forged in the context of the joy and struggles of welding teams together and living with the poor.
Incarnation calls us to the poor, to live with them, learn from them, discover the poverty of our rational, materialistic worldview and stance of western accomplishment.
Simplicity calls us to live focussed lives, discovering the freedom of releasing as many resources as possible to God’s agenda of lifting up the downtrodden.
Servanthood reminds us that followers of Jesus must live as he lived, as a servant. Then we will be eager to empower and liberate the poor through relinquishing our own agendas, expertise and control.
Holism calls us not to function with a limited mandate in the context of a complicated poverty and injustice. What is the gospel to the starving mother, the prostitute supporting her extended destitute family, the community worker jailed illegally? We are called to preach the word, show compassion, plant churches, heal the sick, but also to do justice. The whole gospel for the whole person means the Spirit must be allowed to operate so the good news comes truly in word, deed and in power.
Community challenges us to forgo our cherished individualism and private agendas and to
discover how others are totally necessary for our survival, effectiveness and spiritual growth. But it is here that we founder. We need a clear theology of community and we need to flesh out what this means for us.
Tim McCowan of the Manila team has worked on this:
Servant’s Community: Theological Basis
Christianity is a communal faith. ‘Individual Christianity is a contradiction in terms’ (McAfee Brown, The Bible speaks to you, 202). We cannot live the Christian faith in a vacuum, or without others. This belief is based on the following theological foundations.
1. God is ‘a community’
As Christians we believe God is a trinity of persons, called Father, Son and Holy Spirit. An intimate communion of three making one. Distinct but unified. A community, selfsufficient yet desiring to reach out and include others in their extravagant love.
2. God’s image
According to the evangelical German theologian, Karl Barth, we most accurately reflect God’s character and image when we are in community. God ‘created man in his own image … male and female he created them.’ The image of God is not so much ‘our rationality’ or volitional capacity, but our communality. God’s image therefore is only properly reflected when we are together in our differences and complementarity. Art Gish in his classic, Living in Christian Community (p. 21) says that the phrase ‘Let us make man in our image’ indicates that the fellowship in the Godhead created the manwoman community to reflect God’s concern for fellowship and communion. The human ‘we’ identity is to be a reflection of the divine ‘we’.
3. God is a covenant maker
God delights to make covenants to show his concern for ‘peoples’ rather than just individuals. All his covenants, although made with individuals, are focused on affecting his people or the nations. They embrace communities, not simply individuals.
4. Jesus is a community builder
Jesus intentionally called a group of disciples, and gathered them together into a community. They were to be ‘with him and to be sent out’ (Matthew 10:1; Mark 6:1; Luke 9:1, 10:1). Jesus’ central teaching was to the so called kingdom or reign of God. But
if it is true that God’s reign concerns history … we who live nineteen hundred years after the event [of Jesus’ living, death and resurrection] must share in its power, not merely by reading of it in a book or hearing it in a verbal report, but by participating in the life of that society which springs from it and is continuous with it … The centre of Jesus’ concern was the calling and binding to himself of a living community of men and women who would be the witnesses of what he was and did. The new reality which he introduced into history was to be continued through history in the form of a community, not in the form of a book (Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, pp. 5758).
He called them to leave their families and previous vocation and stay with him. They lived together, shared a common purse, and adopted an alternative lifestyle from the surrounding society. He also sent them out in pairs to preach, heal, cast out demons and invite others to join their wider band. He therefore formed them into a ‘community in mission’.
5. The church is a community
Throughout the New Testament, the church is described in communal terminology. It was a community of believers, centred on Jesus Christ, more than an institution. The Reformers, living in a time of ‘Corpus Christianum’, sought to define the church by its various functions, i.e. the teaching of the Word of God, the administration of the sacraments, and right discipline. Yet this misses a fundamental point. The church does not consist of those who merely do certain things, but by those who are ‘in Christ’. It is a fellowship of persons, entirely without an institutional character. It is the body of Christ; the family of God; a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people (1 Peter 2:9).
Tim applies these biblical principles to Servants.
Servants’ community in Manila is:
1. A ‘missionary band’
We are expatriates in a foreign land, called and committed to a single, broad missionary mandate. We are not a community just to share our struggles and a few possessions, but to engage in holistic mission amongst the urban poor. Like the Moravians before us, we are a ‘community in mission’ that seeks to find empowerment for ministry through our communal life together. In other words, we are bifocal, aiming to keep community and mission holding hands. We live separately, but come together two days a month, in order to be sent out again. This is our missionary spiral, if you like.
2. A valiant attempt
Trying to engage in strategic ministry whilst living with the urban poor, plus maintaining a viable communal life, places us in an unavoidable tension. We often feel torn between the calls of our squatter neighbours and our own community. Where is the priority? Not wanting to lay down hard and fast rules, and keeping our bifocal vision, means we have sadly seen some fall through the gaps. We are still not sure how possible it is for us to ride this gigantic wave of the Spirit, who calls us with such amazing patience, to trust him for ‘the impossible’.
3. A fragile association of ragged radicals
Every Servant starts off as an idealist. We are all very different, but we all come out generally to see the slums transformed. Pretty soon we realise that most squatters are set in their ways, and are not so open to being changed. When all our plans have filled the waste bin, we discover just how much we need each other in the team. Maybe our self esteem or a particular project is in tatters, so that our frustration level is up and our energy level is down. These are the times when we come into ‘teamtime’ wounded, bruised and broken. This is why we are unashamedly committed to each other, to be burdenbearers, available to be agents of the Lord’s healing for each other.
4. An ‘open circle’
Servants is not a selfperpetuating community. Our real empowerment for mission comes not just through our corporate life together, but our corporate worship life. In our fragility and brokenness, we unashamedly open ourselves up to our Healer, Redeemer and Lord. The depth of our need goes beyond ‘the water’ each of us can contribute. We need ‘the living water’ that only he can give. He is the reason for our leaving family, friends and earthly treasures, and embracing the pain and joy of serving the ‘little ones’. Beside the extravagant generosity of our God, we are mere grateful beggars, trying to encourage some others to accept his gracious invitation.
5. A ‘little leaven’
Servants is a small daring minority, that seeks to be an agent transforming both the squatters and their slum communities. Although we boldly cling to such a grand vision, few outsiders know of our existence as a community. It is ‘hidden’ and seemingly insignificant to any social analyst. We are seeking not to multiply our organisation, but our distinctive ethos and values. Slowly, yet wonderfully, this leaven is spreading through ‘the dough’. Others (both Filipinos and Westerners) are now joining us as we follow the Lord into difficult discipleship amongst the poor and marginalised.
6. An unfinished story
We have made many mistakes on our journey as a ‘community in mission’. We don’t claim to have the whole truth, or to be on our last chapter. We are on a big learning curve, wanting to keep listening to the Lord, each other, the poor, and our brothers and sisters in the wider body of Christ. We’re not builders laying concrete footings, but sojourners putting down a few tent pegs, that we may just have to pull up tomorrow. Our structures, our leaders, and our composition have all changed, but the One who calls us on is faithful and he will accomplish what he has set out to do (1 Thessalonians 5:24). We don’t wish to put ourselves up as the only model of mission amongst the urban poor, but to be faithful to the vision and invitation that the Lord has given us in this small corner of his world. Please pray for us.
Community only possible through prayer
The theology is sound; the derivative principles are inspiring. But the gaps created by the reality of community living are glaringly obvious. We discover that our desperate inadequacy for the huge task reveals not only our own weaknesses but those of other team members. After the first thrill of involvement, we reach the awful conclusion that we don’t like one another, doubt the others’ callings, disrespect their motivations.
Closeness lowers the barriers, then we fear losing control. We dissolve, become belligerent, too passionate for side issues, too reformist about others, too accusing of our own shortfalls. The more and more we try to create unity, we destroy it. The high call to selfsacrifice that community issues jars against our pervading personality preferences, impressive education, theological training and expertise.
Only the Spirit can bring forgiveness, love and patience, so essential to community building. And it is happening, but it’s so fragile. We have to abandon ourselves to the dynamic of the Spirit, not to legislation or to past successes. What will the Spirit reveal next …. in me …. in us …. in new directions?
As we respond to his painful and joyful refinings, we can build ourselves into communities which the poor can see and say in amazement, like the earliest observers of the faith did, ‘See how they love one another.’
The Rev Dr Charles Ringma taught at the Asian Theological Seminary in Manila and Regent College in Vancouver and was the founding Director of Teen Challenge in Australia. He reflects on Christian community in our homes.
If you had seen her in a crowd you would have been none the wiser. She probably would not have arrested your attention although she was attractive. Deena was a prostitute supporting a drug habit. Her small inner-city flat was her place of work.
Deena’s life was spinning out of control with a failed marriage, a small child in tow, poor health, hassles with the police, an expensive drug habit to maintain, and an increasing sense of loneliness and despair. At this point our paths crossed through my involvement in regular street work.
After several conversations it became obvious that Deena did not need a hospital or a psychiatrist. She did not need a treatment centre or a drug rehabilitation program. Rather, she needed a place of safety in which she could start again and rebuild her life. So Deena eventually came to live in our home.
In this we were not alone. One way in which charismatics and pentecostals, particularly during the 1970s, sought to demonstrate their concern for others was by taking them into their communities and homes. This was one way to help broken and wounded people who were not only on the fringes of the church but also on the fringes of society.
There were many reasons for this development.
1. Charismatic renewal was not yet heavily institutionalised. The focus was on people more than programs. Ministry took priority over buildings and projects.
2. The empowerment of the Spirit was celebrated as equipment for service, not as an enhancement for personal wellbeing and selfdevelopment.
3. The new discoveries of renewal brought the church into closer contact with the wider
community. This happened through the use of theatres, general community buildings, and the creation of dropin centres and coffee shops as ways of reaching out to nonchurch people, especially youth.
4. Renewal had not only brought new life to church members but had also brought new people into the church.
5. Inspired by such books as David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade, Christians
touched by renewal believed that something could be done through the power of the Holy Spirit for people with lifecontrolling problems.
For these and other reasons the church seemed to be closer to the person in the street.
There are several reasons why ‘caring charismatics’ became involved in these types of initiatives.
1. One factor was that, unlike the traditional churches, charismatics were not overwhelmed with seeking to maintain massive institutional structures. They were therefore free to explore other ways of expressing their social concern.
2. Another factor was the rediscovery of small groups in homes where people could share their lives, pray for one another, discover and use spiritual gifts, and involve friends in informal activities.
3. A similar factor which helped to direct the particular expressions of their concern was the renewal’s rediscovery of community. Christians in the 1970s believed that being church had something to do with being together and sharing life. As a consequence both institutional and informal Christian communities were established as well as house churches.
What characterised this impulse towards Christian community? It was not introversion and
escapism. The purpose of sharing life together was not simply to celebrate God’s gift of new life in Christ. Nor was it simply to care for one another. Instead, this life together, consisting not only of spiritual fellowship but also of sharing resources, sought to provide a context into which we could bring those needing help and encouragement.
Furthermore Christian community was seen as providing a way to make the good news in Christ more visible. This does not mean that the life of the community takes priority over the Word of God. It simply means that Christians sharing life together could demonstrate something of what it meant to be part of the body of Christ.
An underlying idea was that if others could see Christians sharing life together in common
worship and service then they would gain some idea of what the Christian life was all about.
Some might see this as a high risk strategy. They may believe that it is better for ‘seekers’ to be exposed to the purity of the preached word. However, those practising a community approach of life together believed that ‘seekers’ should see something of the warts and all life style of Christians.
The intake process
So Deena came to live in our home. She was not the first and certainly not the last. Nor was she the most difficult. During a period of fifteen years, my wife Rita and I have invited a range of young people into our home.
The most difficult were not drug addicts or prostitutes but those with major psychiatric
disturbances. But for them all, the invitation to live in our home was not a haphazard process. Early in the piece we had learned some valuable lessons from young people who needed help but in fact took advantage of our generosity.
This caused us to develop a simple but multipronged intake strategy.
First of all, Rita, Jenny (a wonderful Christian fellow traveller who shared our home), the children when they were older, and I would discuss and pray about taking in a certain person.
This person was then invited to share some meals with us over a period of several weeks and was then invited to stay for a weekend. The purpose was to build some relationship. Our concern was to determine whether our situation best served this person’s needs or whether he or she required a more structured environment such as a rehabilitation centre.
Certain guiding principles emerged.
1. Our home was not a crisis centre nor a youth refuge. It was an extended family practising hospitality to people who were invited to stay with us for a period of time.
2. The invitation to join us did not depend on the person being a Christian. In fact, the opposite was the case. Nearly all those who shared our home were not Christians when they joined us. Nor were they made to understand that they had to become Christians during their stay. What was made clear, however, was that we were Christians, that we sought to honour Christ in our life style, and that we practised certain disciplines which included devotional times.
3. We attempted to make it clear that the person was not a client, a patient, nor a family member, but a guest of the family. The focus, therefore, was not rehabilitation nor psychiatric counselling. We offered a safe place in which the person could reevaluate his or her life and begin to rebuild it.
Within this context, counselling was informal. The key strategy was to encourage the person to begin to live a life of responsibility and integrity.
A theology of hospitality
A set of theological ideas undergirded our practice of hospitality to Deena and other troubled young people who came to share our home.
It should be noted, however, that the ministry of hospitality was not a formal ministry for us. It was simply a part of living life. We were all involved in other areas of ministry.
1. One of the broader concepts that guided our action was that God calls his people to
demonstrate to others the quality of love that God has shown to them. Put differently, God wants us to reflect to others something of the kindness and goodness he has shown to us.
While there is an emphasis in Scripture that this care for others should be demonstrated within the community of faith (see Deuteronomy 15:1215; Galatians 6:10), there is a corresponding emphasis that this requires a wider application.
In the Old Testament both those within the community and those who were strangers and aliens were to be treated with similar fairness and justice (Deuteronomy 24:1718). The reason for responding in this way was because God is his great goodness had liberated his people from slavery. They were commanded to treat aliens with similar generosity and goodness.
The New Testament also requires this. Not only is there a persistent emphasis on caring for brothers and sisters in the faith (Romans 12:13; Galatians 6:2), but acts of service must also be extended to those who were outside the Christian community (Luke 6:3435; Galatians 6:10).
2. A supporting theme is the emphasis in Scripture on the ministry of hospitality (Genesis 18:15; 19:12; Judges 19:1520; Job 31:32; Matthew 25:3446; Acts 9:43; 16;15; 1 Timothy 3:2; Hebrews 13:2).
A key inspiration for this type of ministry is a concept central to the work of Mother Teresa in India. It is that when we minister to the poor and needy we are somehow ministering to Christ himself. This idea comes from Matthew 25:3446. It is also supported by other passages of Scripture. The statement that ‘whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’ (Matthew 18:5) conveys a similar idea.
We can also put this a little differently. By inviting a needy person into our lives we are involved in a process of seeing that person grow into wholeness. Where that leads to a Christian commitment we are seeing that person’s awakening to the Christ who was already there calling him or her to the fullness of life he has for them.
In this sense a guest, no matter now broken that person may be, is a very special person. While the temptation is to become fixated on this person’s needs and problems, the challenge of Matthew 18:5 (welcoming Christ) is to focus on what is yet to come into being and to emerge in that person.
So the practice of hospitality for people with lifecontrolling problems involves receiving them in hope and to trust for the emergence of Christ’s life within them. This can be an exciting adventure.
3. A third ideological foundation for this kind of ministry is Isaiah 58:612. Some themes in this significant passage should be noted. The most basic is that God desires us to convert our spiritual disciplines into strategies of social concern. Fasting can be expressed in seeking to set oppressed people free and to practically care for their needs.
A related theme is that genuine ministry is a twoway process. Working with wounded people makes us all the more aware of our own needs and imperfections. We too need further healing. As we serve others God promises that our own ‘healing shall spring up quickly’ (58:8).
Finally, working restoratively with individuals means that not only will their individual lives be renewed but that potentially families and communities will also be transformed (58:12). A healed person can also mean a healed marriage, family, or wider set of social relationships.
A rhythm of restoration
Our ministry of hospitality was supported by these theological ideas. They also helped to guide our practical application in living together.
1. A basic issue in our praxis was that the normal rhythm of our life as an extended family could act as a way to orient our guest towards more normal behaviours and attitudes. Most drug addicts, prostitutes, or people with lifecontrolling problems live highly irregular lives with little routine or structure. We found the experience of a more disciplined life style helped to orient them towards a more realistic approach to life.
2. A related idea is that life involves responsibility. Deena was not with us for a holiday. She was a guest of the family with corresponding benefits and responsibilities. Along with all the others she had her part to play in the functioning of the household. For all of us this meant cleaning, food preparation, shopping, cooking, and gardening.
The idea behind the involvement of all of us was that no one was more important than someone else and all had responsibility. Coupled with the joy of working alongside of each other, this had the effect of reinforcing the idea that we have to act responsibly in life. Life is not merely a number of arbitrary forces. I am not simply the victim of my circumstances. Life is also what I make of it and how I choose to live.
3. A further idea is that hospitality involves creating free space for the guest. Simply put, we are not there to entertain and look after Deena twentyfour hours a day. The home is neither a prison nor a fun parlour. This means that Deena has the responsibility to manage some of her own time. It also means that she has time for reflection and solitude.
Personal space for reflection is particularly critical. Many people with lifecontrolling problems are people who are in flight. They find it difficult to face their pain and disappointments. Yet, however slowly this may occur, these do need to be faced so that like a boil they can be lanced.
The framework then for the rhythm of restoration was realism, responsibility and the creation of a free space.
Journey to wholeness
The outworking of restoration varied according to each person. No one makes the same journey on the way to wholeness. But there are some common factors.
The first issue that usually occurs early in a person’s stay is the temptation to return to the old and the familiar. Because the shape of the new is not yet clear there is a pressure to revert to old habits. This occurs even when a person was thoroughly sick of their previous life style and desperately wanted to change.
Clearly, when this pressure takes place the person must take more time in order to begin the rebuilding process. This critical transition phase requires that the other household members provide much encouragement and quiet intercessory prayer for the person.
A second feature is that the guest begins to question whether the new is really possible. This is the crisis of hope. Questions emerge. Can I really make something better of my life? How can I overcome my past problems? What will my new life look like?
In this phase the guest usually begins to probe the spirituality of members of the household to see if that may possibly provide the bridge to the new life. Questions are asked. What does prayer mean to you? What does it mean to have faith? What is Jesus supposed to do for you?
At this point it is important that time is given for these questions to be explored properly. A guest should not be pressed into an easy decision for Christ. In our experience, people took many months to settle these issues.
Once a person came to faith in Christ and began to grow in his or her discipleship, issues of restitution and reconciliation with others began to emerge. This was usually followed by
questions of future life direction.
Somewhere within the space of the year that a person on average stayed with us there would come various crises of faith. These crises usually led to the realisation that further inner healing and renewal were required.
Facing the world
Our home was not the end of the road. It was the beginning of a further journey for people. This journey would also take them beyond our situation. Our place was only a temporary stopping place. It attempted to provide a place of safety and normality in which people like Deena could begin to rebuild their life.
It made no attempt to provide anything magical. Nor were easy solutions offered. The invitation, instead, was to face life realistically and responsibly. Living with Christians gave these people a close look at what the Christian life was all about for us. It allowed them to observe and to ask questions. It furthermore allowed them to explore what Christian spirituality might mean for them and what answers the Christian faith held for their lives.
We made no attempt to live a special life in front of these people. We were ourselves. We also made time for our own special family needs and for the other priorities in our lives. We made no attempt to make our home a little haven for people. They, like us, had to come to terms with the real world. So as time went on the issues of employment, where to live, vocation, calling and further life direction became issues of discussion, reflection and prayer.
Just as the intake was a careful process, so leaving us was a series of moves that gave Deena increasing responsibility. Beginning moves for her to create a life of her own included more free time, weekends away with family and friends, and eventually employment with the additional choices a steady income provided.
A final reflection
God calls the Christian community to be salt and light in a dark world. The church is to be God’s instrument of transformation. That transformation, however, must be conceived holistically and it must take place at various levels.
While on Sunday the church is the gathered community, during the rest of the week it is the scattered church. As such, Christians find themselves in families, neighbourhoods, and in a great variety of work situations where they are to be God’s instruments for good, reconciliation and reconstruction.
This means that Christians are involved in all of life. They work with the poor and in areas of policy and economics and get their hands dirty in areas of microreform.
What we must keep in focus is that we lack credibility when we pontificate on the big issues but never become practically involved with individuals and their needs. Here the example of Jesus is practical and to the point. His was the task to usher in the kingdom of God and to build the new community of faith. But Jesus also made time to heal and care for those who came to seek him out. Thus, while we seek to practice social justice to bring about a more just society, we can also lower the drawbridge and bring this ministry into our own homes.