November

It is November 2011, I am in Poatina village, Tasmania. My heart is somewhat heavy as I consider the journey i find myself on with my brothers and sisters, as I consider the future… as I sense the depth of God’s compassion towards us, his unequivocal, complete response to us on the cross. And I pray these words:

We have become weary of soul, we have done unwise things, we have lost our joy in your presence and we have lost our sight and vision, we have not seen clearly.

Father would you bring your word to us once again, that we might together be revived again, that we would know the moment and be wise, that our joy in you would be restored and we would once more see clearly – see you, your path and each other.

  • The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
  • The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple
  • The commandments of the Lord are right bringing joy to the heart.
  • The commands of the Lord are pure, enlightening the eyes.

 

God’s word, that is Jesus, brings life, joy, wisdom and vision.

It is July 2012, I am in Oxford, UK. My heart draws strength as I read and pray these words again and consider that although we have not yet reached the destination, we are not where we were, and God’s compassion has not wavered.

 

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Poatina – what it took…

I have just spent 6 months in a remarkable community. Poatina used to belong to the Tasmanian Hydroelectric company. About 15 years ago the village went up for sale and Fusion Australia made the purchase. This despite Fusion not having any where near the necessary capital and all the good business advice to the contrary. But there was a dream held by a core group at the heart of the Fusion movement at that time. It was a dream to see an intentional Christian community established for the purpose of caring for disenfranchised Australian youth – young people who had come to the end of the road as far as family and society’s systems and expectations, and were now to be hung out to dry. The dream was borne of the call to see godly justice, mercy and compassion expressed in Australian society, particularly amongst the youth. To make the purchase a handful of families in Fusion’s leadership sold their homes and used the proceeds for the down-payment.

When the keys were handed over those families and others made the trip from the main-land and the task of turning the ghost town into a center of life, warmth and hospitality began. Hearing the stories from these early days as everyone banded together to make things work is incredibly inspiring. Imagine families walking through the village, checking out the different houses and choosing which one would be theirs for life. Apparently there was a bucket of keys all unlabelled, that had to matched to every front and back door and every lockable cupboard – what a job!

B y the time I first visited Poatina 6 years after Fusion moved in, it was a thriving community providing hospitality to the public, home to a bunch of vulnerable teenagers and families seeking help and healing. It was also home to a bunch of trained Fusion staff and their families providing training and support and managing the affairs of the village and its many enterprises. At that time Fusion was expanding beyond the shores of Australia and Poatina was the central hub providing support, training and the ingathering of the movement – I wrote a blog recently about our International Conferences and what they were all about. During my 3 and a half years in the village I was part of the staff running the growing K-12 school attended by kids and young people from across the region and providing the opportunity for those on the youth program to achieve a certificate of high school education through specialized programs.

I have recently read Jean Vaniere’s book ‘Community and Growth’ in which he shares his own journey in establishing and leading intentional Christian communities at L’Arch and the continued learnings as brother and sister communities spring up across the globe. Anyone who wants to take seriously what it means to be in intentional Christian community needs to read any of his books! It has given me a new appreciation and respect for what a small group of committed individuals and families achieved in Poatina. I love what we stand for, I love the dream that brought that place to birth, I love that it was all by God’s grace and power and not the work of any one person.

The last two years have tested Poatina, the dream and our trust in a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever. At times like these many of us well meaning types can be ready to fix things with new strategies and slogans of change, quick to identify the past as the source of difficulty,  all in an effort to ease the discomfort and prevent more storms from coming. But there are no fixes – quick or otherwise – in Christian community, only the daily call to lay down ones life for the sake of the others, to take up one’s cross and follow the one who has purchased our redemption utterly; to lay down ones rights in grace and forgiveness of both oneself and others… all this for the sake of the poor who we have been called to serve. Living in Christian community goes against our natural drive towards self preservation, we will never escape the storms that rage from the epicenter of that reality… narrow is the way and few enter by it.

As I leave Poatina, I carry in my heart and prayers those who still have the dream burning within them, those who, though weary from the journey, still take up their cross each day and live to see the weak and vulnerable cared for, who are willing to manage their own ‘stuff’ in order to be a safe place for others. Our God is the same yesterday, today and forever – when you tell us the stories of the early years, of the dream and the work of Jesus amongst us, you help us to recognize God’s work today and remind us of what it means to live into his tomorrow. Thank you for putting your lives on the line and stepping out on faith and a prayer.

teenage heroes

The year 2006 was a very special year for me. There were a group of remarkable teenagers at the core of our community at that time. I happened to be on staff at the senior school and got to teach and work with them pretty closely. These guys had largely grown up together, their families were Fusion staff workers, many of whom had lived the missionary life for decades, but at some point during 2005 the boys had made a choice to love God and make a difference with their lives. They then proceeded to shape the culture amongst the students from kindergarten to year 12, and unconsciously they became part of the heart beat of an entire village, leading by example and service not only their own peers, but scores of people much older and ‘more experienced’ than they.

Doyle is now in China as part of a university degree which he commenced after obtaining Fusion’s diploma in youth and community work. Joe ‘Baxter – Boy’ is now a qualified primary school teacher, Isaac is just finishing his university degree in Sydney, Matt is working in Tas, a professional skateboarder and still doing youth work in his spare time – he also did Fusion’s Certificate IV in youth and community work. Jonno is progressing up the ladder at a healthy pace in banking.

Some of my favorite memories of them include seeing them plan and execute a day out for the entire school and watching them individually care for the youngest students and create an atmosphere where everyone had fun. They dutifully wore their school sun hats in the summer months because they knew that the younger ones looked up to them as ‘gods’ and would follow their lead. At school they formed the hub of a pastoral care network and lead the ‘houses’, they enjoyed heading down to the junior school campus at lunch times to hang out with the kids.

Joe, Doyle and Isaac formed a funky, tight, band called ‘safety first’ and would regularly perform their own (often hilarious) material as well as popular covers for school and community events. I think Trinity College’s school song was written by them and there are several songs still sung today that they crafted for the movement at significant moments over those 3 years or so. There was one period of time when each week they all headed out to a nearby town where they would help run a youth café and perform, as part of the team with the Cert IV youth and community students.  I was regularly amazed at how they were able to switch from entertaining a crowd one evening to leading in worship the following morning. Every Sunday they ran a high energy ‘Kids Grow’ program for the younger members of the Poatina community church, they poured all their creativity and love of life, fun and the kids into those programs – this then spilled over into the week long kids program they ran for the movement’s annual International Conference. They were truly a force of life.

In three weeks I leave Poatina after being here for about 5 months, the last couple of years haven’t been simple for Poatina village, but we have rich treasured from our past that could unlock the future for us. Those boys taught us some precious lessons about living with God and with each other, they spent their teenage years serving others, I admire them for that and I for one, want to make sure that the lessons they lived out don’t go unheeded.

the garden on the side of the hill

I have been in Poatina for 12 days now and I feel as though I am finally arriving! There are a number of things that I do whenever I arrive in the village again that help me to arrive. Sitting by the fire in the chalet lounge is one, finding a way to get some toasted muesli and yoghurt for my breakfasts is another and making sure I get to morning tea is yet another. There is one particular thing however, that unless I do I find it hard to feel fully present to the village.

At the bottom of the village is a beautiful golf course full of stunning gum trees and old conifers; friends of mine had their wedding in it one year with the breathtaking views as the back drop to their vows. In one corner of the golf course is a memorial garden with particularly spectacular views, there is a wooden hexagonal gazebo in the middle where I have spent many hours over the years sitting with God, journaling and settling my heart. I love to return to this place when I am in the village. Before sitting on the steps of the gazebo when I first arrive, I take a walk a few meters down the slope where I spend a few moments with some very special people.

The first plaque I come to is one belonging to Alex. Alex went to be with Jesus when she was 11. I never had the privilege of meeting Alex, but when I read her plaque, I recall the stories that her family tell and the pictures in their home and I look forward to being with her one day. The next plaque belongs to Gordon. I felt as though Gordon and his wife Agnes adopted me as one of their grandchildren when I first arrived in the village. I would invite myself round for tea and biscuits, Gordon would tell me all about the wild birds in the village and they would share stories from their lives over the years. I like saying hello to Gordon.

Next I think is Bob, he died about 6 months before I arrived in the village. He seems to live and breathe in the stories and memories of many, many people I now work with, both young and old, including his wife, a good friend of mine. He loved God and he loved his students and colleagues and I somehow feel certain that he would love me too – not because of me, just because of who he was or is. Most times when I come to his plaque I really, really wish I could sit and talk with him for an hour or two. There are things that I would love to ask him but most of all I have a feeling that he would help me recognize Jesus when things feel a little hazy… as they sometimes do these days.

Then there’s Samuel, baby Samuel. I never met Samuel. When I see his plaque I think of two friends of mine who I love, they are usually on the other side of the world trusting God, loving him and those around them. And then I think to myself, I cant wait to meet Samuel one day. The last plaque belongs to Richard, he was a good friend. In my early Poatina days I would pop round and spend a happy hour with Richard and his wife Bev drinking tea and hearing amazing stories of God’s grace. Richard taught one of my class mates to read and write.

If I am honest I don’t really know why this meeting is so important to me each time I return to Poatina. Somehow greeting each one seems to strengthen my faith. There is something about the mixture of grief and loss, joy and celebration that deepens my sense of God’s faithfulness. There is something incredibly powerful about being part of history, that I am connected to amazing people who have lived and breathed and proved God to be true and no amount of pain or death or loss can destroy this story that I am part of. All this and much more helps me to find my bearings and be a little more grounded as I arrive here in Poatina each time.