Yesterday afternoon the delegates participated in 'submersions' - mission experiences.
Some were involved in conversations, for example with overseas delegates, sharing stories.
Others did a flash mob dance on a nearby beach, then handed out fair trade chocolates.
There were groups helping out with Habitat for Humanity's ongoing support for families in Queensland, by doing gardening and landscaping, or helping to serve meals for homeless people and hearing some of their stories - and so much more. Everyone I've spoken to enjoyed the experience - though there are some sore bodies today after the gardening!
While they were off doing that I was preparing today's bible study, which includes a milk and honey ritual (this is often celebrated at baptisms, and is associated with remembering the blessings of God). Nathan and I thought it might be a good way to finish off the time together, as it draws on the first passage from Isaiah we looked at, with God calling the people to come, buy and eat - without money and without price - and to delight in rich food, and the first passage from Matthew - the list of blessings of the kingdom of heaven. Also, the image of milk and honey goes back to ancient Israel, with promises from God to bring the people to a land flowing with milk and honey, symbolising the blessings God bestows on us.
Last night's worship featured stories from submersion experiences, and a song that reminded me of so many of the psalms with its cry out to God who feels distant and silent. It was introduced with the reminder to the people that, especially in the midst of submersions into difficult mission contexts, where it can feel like the problems are overwhelming and what can we possibly do, that it is OK to feel that way, and OK to ask - where are you God? We won't always have answers, certainly not always easy answers, and this song was poignant and painfully beautiful.
Gillian focussed her reflection on John's story of the woman at the well who encounters Jesus asking for a drink. I thought it was interesting that she chose a different passage to those set for the day, but it illustrated well the point about not judging those we meet as we seek to share the message we have.
I liked her illustration of the way not to turn it up - inviting Ali Cox, the lead organiser of NCYC, to help her. Ali was taking the part of someone who just wanted to speak their message, leaving no room for Gillian to ask questions or engage in conversation. The illustration from John's gospel counterpoints that approach well, with Jesus' respect for the questions the woman asks, his patience with her, and his ability to meet her where she is and allow her to be an equal partner in the encounter and conversation. Jesus knows her - Gillian challenged us to take the time to inconvenience ourselves and get to know people. When we know people, we can discern how to share our story in a way that might be more likely to be engaging, inviting, life-giving for another.
Following worship, our resident magician for the week, Christopher Wayne, gave us his full stage show. He's a great entertainer, blending tricks of sleight of hand with skills in reading people to guess one truth teller and four liars, a bit of risky chance with a russian roulette exercise, comedy, and the houdini get out of a straight jacket trick. He also shared the story of how he came to be a magician, beginning only five years ago and now winning awards and appearing on television. Part of the story was an encounter with his religious education teacher in high school, who told him she believed that everyone is made special, different, but special, and encouraged him not to let his fears get in the way of realising his dreams. Almost ten years later he lived according to this advice. That person was Ali Cox. I was almost in tears when he revealed this - I can't imagine how she must feel. What a gift to be able to witness the impact you have had on a young person. Most of the time we will never know. I'm almost in tears thinking of it now. So remarkable.