We just wrapped up the Serge Mission-Wide Conference. It happens once every three years. All of the staff from around the world come together. This time it was in Spain, chosen for its centrality and affordability.
Staff came from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and North America. There were more than 500 people there all together, including children and support personnel like workshop leaders, counselors, and childcare providers. It was a gathering that could make the most extroverted person eventually need some time alone!
Scotty Smith, served as the keynote speaker along with Josiah Bancroft. A main focus of their talks was to encourage the mission to retain its foundational values, even as we experience growth. A call was made to honor our past while trusting God with our future.
It was a celebration. It was a memorial service. It was a time for teaching and equipping. It was an opportunity for “third culture kids” to hang out with each other. It was a “mile marker” of sorts.
There were so many stories represented in one room. It was impossible to take it in.
Following the gathering, Rose Marie Miller, who co-founded Serge with her husband Jack, wrote:
Did you know that our [organization] was born out of persecution, prayer and hospitality? In Uganda in the 1970s, [Idi] Amin persecuted Christians, and the family of Kefa Sempangi was driven out of the country finally coming to Westminster Seminary, to New Life Church, and to our home [outside of Philadelphia].
All night prayer meetings were started pleading with God to deliver Uganda from the destroyer of their country. In 1979, he was gone, and Jack and I, Bob Heppe, Dave Powlison, Phil Gross, Walt Kendal and Steve DeMoss [visited Uganda to encourage the church]. In 1983, out of this early beginning, our [organization] was born.
Thirty-three years later… workers from 20 different countries met to celebrate, learn, connect and be blessed by teaching, fellowship, and prayer not to mention sunshine in Southern Spain.
Rose Marie’s presence among us alone is a story to be told. At 90+ years old, she serves as a Serge staff member in Southall, U.K. She still gets an annual review by her team leader! Her focus is on building relationships with South Asian ladies and being part of the life of New Life Masih Ghar.
One of the themes that was repeated throughout the week was “comparison kills community.” Imagine that? A gathering of people who are driven enough to raise financial and prayer support, move to a new country, likely learn a new language, cross cultures and serve where there is great need. Do you think that same driven-ness may lead the temptation to compare one team’s work to another’s? Of course it does!
Another theme that arose regularly was ministry from weakness. That includes the fact that we face our own sin and need for forgiveness, even as we meet others with the good news. The idea of ministry from weakness is wrapped up in this quote from Lesslie Newbigin:
I know that I have myself failed over and over again, that I am a moral and spiritual weakling. But here also it is true that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. The Church is not an organization of spiritual giants. It is broken men and women who can lead others to the Cross… For what is the work of the ministry if it is not to lead others in following Jesus on the way to the Cross?
It also means that suffering is part of the call of the Christian, and that there are no “little people” (in the words of Francis Schaeffer).
Finally, it was a joy to gather with these saints and think about a future day to come. We ended the time singing together:
We will feast in the house of Zion
We will sing with our hearts restored
He has done great things, we will say together
We will feast and weep no more
–by Sandra McCracken
I could go on. It’s no small thing to witness interactions like parents with an American dialect talking to their own children who have a British dialect—and know that this is what incarnation involves. Or to see an American weep over the loss of a S. Sudanese Bishop’s son—and to know that relationships cost. Or to watch a couple worship and serve God sacrificially, when I also know that several years ago their young adult son died in the U.S. while they were an ocean away—and to simultaneously see them be honest about the grief they carry.
Instead of going on and on and on…I’ll close with this quote written by Wendall Berry coming from the mouth of his character Jayber Crow:
What they came together for was to acknowledge, just by coming, their losses and failures and sorrows, their need for comfort, their faith always needing to be greater, their wish (in spite of all words and acts to the contrary) to love one another and to forgive and be forgiven, their need for one another’s help and company and divine gifts, their hope (and experience) of love surpassing death, their gratitude.