“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
One of the highlights of my early school years was class story time. When the teacher would announce that it was that time of day, we would rush to the carpet and sit still — very impatiently it has to be said — waiting for her to pull a book off the shelf. Class story time was a much-loved part of the school day. It received way more love than PE or mental maths — unsurprisingly. As a writer today, I still love stories. I live and breathe them and I’m always on the lookout for good ones. But we all know that love for stories isn’t unique to writers or Zambian school kids! Stories are universally loved. Good stories are even able to connect people of different generations and cultures.
Here at the 2016 Lausanne Younger Leaders Gathering (YLG), we have had the privilege of hearing some really great stories. These stories are being shared during mealtimes and over coffee, on afternoon strolls and in elevators, on video and via social media. Most people I’ve met over the last two days have stories I couldn’t have made up or imagined. The theme of the gathering focuses on one story — ‘the Great Story’ — so it’s appropriate that on our first full day here, we focused our activities on that story and the art of storytelling.
Dave Benson, the Programme Chair for YLG, spoke briefly prior to a dramatic telling of ‘the Great Story’. He reminded us of the story God has been weaving from Creation to New Creation via the cross: ‘At the heart of Christianity is the radical claim that God is there and he is not silent. Our conviction at YLG2016 is this: a complex stage requires us to re-enter God’s story. Doing this helps us bend our ears to the Director’s voice — to hear God’s take on this epic drama.’
The performance by the drama team took us through six stages of ‘the Great Story’ — Creation, the Fall, Israel, Jesus, the Church, and the New Creation. We were reminded that as the global church, we have both the obligation and the privilege of being engaged with God’s divine rescue plan. ‘Mission is simply re-entering this ancient story. It’s showing and telling the gospel in fresh ways’, Dave said.
In black T-shirts, jeans and bare feet, the actors held the audience captive with a masterful performance. It was a very real demonstration of how to engage in mission creatively. As younger leaders, what gifts have we been given? What are our passions? How can we do the greatest good for the Kingdom where God has placed us?
After the main morning session, participants went into their Connect Groups to hear their mentors’ life stories. I joined Connect Group 106 to hear from its mentor Jetteke Noorzij. The group was made up of a Mozambican, a Brazilian, an Australian, a German and an Indonesian. This was only their second meeting but there was camaraderie, support and an eagerness to hear from each other.
Jetteke is Dutch. She is warm and enthusiastic and has a big pastoral and evangelistic heart. She was quick to bring me in and make me feel part of the group. She is an artist and has worked in youth ministry for about 35 years now. She attended her first Lausanne-related gathering — Amsterdam ’86 — as a somewhat reluctant student on her summer holidays. She later joked about throwing a party at YLG2016 to celebrate 30 years. As soon as she arrived at the Amsterdam gathering, she was bowled over. With its theme ‘Do the work of an evangelist’, that event turned out to be life-changing for her.
She has been teaching and training youth leaders for almost 25 years now, a passion that sprung, perhaps, from her own painful experiences growing up and God’s healing of her heart. Loneliness at school and a father who loved her but was always away for work are two things that have been the source of conflict and hurt over the years. During a time of deep anguish, the Lord challenged her: ‘The only thing I want is your whole heart and the deep pain.’
God brought about restoration in her relationship with her father. She said, ‘The Holy Spirit came upon him and from that moment on, he knew Jesus. Really knew Jesus! It didn’t mean that everything changed right away. Some things never changed because sometimes you have patterns in your life. But people said he started to talk differently about me and the work I was involved in.’ Despite her struggles, Jetteke was able to say with great confidence that God had blessed her immensely and for that she was thankful.
She spoke of her baptism as a baby — something she only recently discovered had taken place — as significant and key to her story. Her godly mother had a very strong and clear faith in God and that had made a huge impression on her from an early age: ‘Even if my dolls were ill, she would pray for them. When I look back now, that placed in me as a little girl the idea that Jesus is in the whole of life.’
After her teacher training, she worked for Youth for Christ as a receptionist. She then moved to the US to work as a Youth Worker at a church in Omaha, Nebraska. Later, she attended Tyndale Theological Seminary in the Netherlands. ‘It was there that I realised that the call to mission I had from childhood was still there.’ An art teacher encouraged her to pursue art to the highest level but God had different plans for her. At different times, she has been involved in ministry in North America, South America, Africa and at home in the Netherlands. She has also been involved in training believers in listening prayer.
Years ago whilst suffering from serious work burnout and being very sick, she expressed her thoughts to the Lord: ‘When I get a counsellor, I would like someone who is significantly older, has a lot of experience in missions, lived with other people, lived on support and has Dutch friends.’ She was very specific. The Lord responded in the most wonderful way! He provided Paula who was the perfect match. Even better, Paula was also an artist! Jetteke’s story reminded me of God’s faithfulness and grace. He graciously weaves our stories into his. Is there another God like this?
Jetteke isn’t just someone who loves to speak the gospel. She has clearly been transformed by it and continues to be so. I asked her about her biggest hope for her Connect Group mentees: ‘That they would passionately tell others about Jesus and galvanise other believers to do the same. Jesus says go! Until he tells us no, until he tells us otherwise, we must go!’
This gospel is good news! It’s a story worth telling to every nation, tribe and tongue.
Dave Benson challenged us on the race to be run: ‘Church, wake up! No more stumbling in the dark. No more repeating other’s lines. It’s time to play our part on a complex stage. We must act with wisdom, courage and love.’
In an ever-changing world, this grand story is anything but changing. The author — our great God — remains the same yesterday, today and forever. And he promises to go with us as we share his story. As the hymn-writer says, ‘We go in faith our own great weakness feeling; and needing more each day thy grace to know; Yet from our hearts a song of triumph peeling; we rest of thee and in thy name we go!’