Sunday, 8 June 2014

Pentecost in Bukori

In the early nineties my wife and I spent three years in the Republic of Panama where I served as a minister within the Methodist Church there.  During that time we lived in Panama City, certainly a city in what might be described as the developing world, and a range of challenges that brought, the biggest one perhaps being that for most of our time there the water was switched for around nine hours a day, in our case, fortunately, usually overnight.  However, shortly before returning to the UK in 1994 we spent five weeks in a remote area towards the Costa Rican border supporting the work and ministry amongst the indigenous Guaymi people.  With the constant company of the mobile phone, it is hard to believe that, just twenty years ago, we spent five weeks with no phone at all, five weeks when our water supply depended on the immediate rain, five weeks when the only local means of transport was foot or boat.  I ran a week’s training course for the lay evangelists who led the twelve Methodist churches that were dotted around that peninsula and then we spent some time going out to some of the communities leading what we might now call awaydays at home.
Arriving by boat, we would clamber up the hillside to the little local church and the people would gather.  I still remember the day we went to Bukori.  Their evangelist was so excited.  Apart from their own minister visiting something like once a quarter, who happened to be another missionary, nobody from the church leadership ever went to their village.  They would all always have to go to the central village.  He rushed round telling people: Pentecost has come here today!  Well, on the one hand, I am not sure about that – but, on the other, isn’t it precisely the case that we are to take the love of God to those whom we encounter?  Isn’t it true that we can only do that in the power of the Spirit?  And when the Spirit comes, isn’t that Pentecost?
Let me explore another Latin American connection.  Henri Nouwen is one of my favourite writers.  He was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest who left an academic career to go and live with a L’Arche community of people with serious disabilities.  Earlier in ministry he explored a call to Latin America and spent some time in Bolivia and Peru.  His book, ‘Gracias’ – thank you, in Spanish – offers a record of and reflection on some of those times. 
I was reading a reflection in the book about the beginning of Isaiah 11 – but just as new branches sprout from a stump, so a new king will arise from among David’s descendants.  The spirit of the Lord will give him wisdom ….  It is a reading that we are more likely to associate with Advent or Christmas – but then I would want to suggest that Advent and Christmas and Lent and Holy Week and Easter and Pentecost are all bound up with each other.  And this particular image fits with Pentecost because it is an image of hope.  This is a picture of promise.  One of the things to be aware of is that we are sometimes looking for big things to happen, when God is actually calling us to do little things.  In a brief comment in his journal on this sentiment from Isaiah, and very much rooted in the Bolivian context in which he was then living, Nouwen says this: “When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence – the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends – I will always remain tempted to despair.  …..  The work of our salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with its claims and promises.  But the promise is hidden in the shoot that sprouts from the stump, a shoot that hardly anyone notices.” 
Our problem can be that we are so busy looking for the Spirit to come like a mighty wind that we miss the gentle breeze that is the slow, gradual, but tremendously important work of the Spirit.  I love it when I see God doing big things, and I do see that sometimes, often unexpectedly.  But I love also all those little things that actually pile up and make a great deal of difference, but they also are so much more manageable because it is little by little, sometimes almost imperceptively, but still heading towards the big result.  I don’t for one moment think that my visit to a very remote village in Panama called Bukori in the early months of 1994 was a matter of major importance.  But it was good to see the Spirit at work in that community that day.  Indeed, Pentecost had come.  How great when we can see God working those little bits of gradual transformation.

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