Saturday, 12 July 2014

Independence Day - 4th July

It was actually the 3rd and not the 4th of July, but here I was, taking part in an Independence Day celebration. How had this come about?

Because of the mountain ranges we rarely had chance to meet up with our wonderful Lutheran colleagues while in Papua New Guinea, but it was when I was living alone as a single missionary in Ghana that some American SIM Southern Baptists were my neighbours and became Just 3 miles up the road, I passed their houses,  on my way into the city of Kumasi.
I was in a language class for ex pats at the university when this couple approached me and, seeing I was serious too, suggested we got together to have some extra lessons with our teacher. This led on to meeting up with other families and to precious times of fellowship. It was a great blessing for me  to attend a Bible study with some of the wives. Though I loved the Ghanaians, sometimes it meets a need to be with people of our own cultural background.

They became close and very caring friends. It was another couple who took me into their own home to care for when I was ill. And yes, I was even invited to a family celebration for Mark and Amy, their youngest missionaries. I was first taken to meet them the day Amy had given birth to their third child.  It was at a time of great political upheaval and insecurity and, unable to face the hassle of queueing for hours for petrol I  had found myself ‘confined to barracks.’ It was only later I realised that it was  God who had shut me up to protect me from the frightening situations that were all around.

But it was during this time that there was this special anniversary to celebrate. Their parents, seasoned missionaries, were visiting but had arrived to share all the hardships of the coup. Nevertheless, they had arranged to have a celebratory meal in the prestigious City Hotel  for this special occasion. Unbelievably they came first to invite me, and then to fetch me, insisting I share in their joy. I felt they were giving of their life blood in using the precious petrol they had had to queue so long for, but oh, what an oasis in the wilderness was that happy celebration.

But yet, in all their wonderful kindness, there was one celebration from which I was excluded, and that was 4th of July. Yes, Independence Day. That was very specially for Americans.

But now here I was, included. We always look forward to their Ladies Night, held in the Vine Christian Fellowship the week that our visitors from Louisiana are over, but remembering my experience in Ghana, it was of special significance to me to  find that  this wonderful team had made it an Independence Day celebration. The Vine was decorated with flags, balloons, tables laden with gifts and cakes, all decorated with stars and stripes. There were activities, gifts, and a programme of song and moving testimonies all to assure us of our welcome in the Kingdom of God. We were not excluded even though our speech, and customs too, must seem very strange to them

How moving it was to hear them singing their national anthem, and we shared their joy and pride as we were united in knowing we are one family in God’s kingdom, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The years have passed since our friends in Louisiana, and especially the pastor and members of the First Baptist Church of  Monroe were burdened to hear of the terrible decline of hope among our young people and proliferation of suicides. Prayer led them to action, and Pastor Alex Ashton has been used as the link with us in the Bridgend district. Year after year  a party of fifty or more have come over, all at their own expense, to spend a week visiting the schools, churches and care homes;  and with the support of local churches, taking outreach services, providing wonderful opportunities to reach the unchurched and make Christ known.

Not as old as me, maybe, but there is an amazing mix of old and young, singles and families, some even with grandchildren now coming to join in the ministry. We look forward to ongoing testimonies as we have heard their amazing stories.

God bless you, our dear friends from the deep South of America, even today as you are going into the schools and care homes, and have this outreach in the Pavilion tonight. When we meet up in heaven, may we hear of many who have entered the kingdom through your ministry to us over here in Wales, and a very special thank you for sharing your Independence Day celebrations with us. God bless America and us here in Wales too.