The first day for the Younger Leaders Gathering was scheduled to commence at 4pm on August 3 but God-ordained connections and lessons were already well on the way before that.
A few members of the Sydney team arrived on Monday night after approximately 14 hours of travel and before we could utter a word of complaint about the long travel, we heard stories of brothers and sisters who’ve had to overcome significant challenges in order to be there. For example, I heard a story of a married couple who had to sell their wedding rings in order to afford the trip. I heard of another who spent his life savings in order to pay for his airfares and so travelled without any money for food. For so many of us, these are not our regular experiences. But for many of our brothers and sisters from the majority world, making significant sacrifices for the cause of Christ is the status quo. My eyes were opened once again to see how comfortable we are in Australia. Even for university students who make minimal wage (I did that for 3 years), our so called poverty is nothing close to the poverty that my new friends experience on a day basis. But you know what blew my mind? Their contentment and the generosity of the Christian community.
You see, my new friends who shared their stories told us their experiences without a hint of bitterness or regret. Instead, they shared it so that we could celebrate God’s goodness. They had little but their joy surpassed many whom I know own multiple investment properties. They had little to eat but their smiles stretched further than those who dined at restaurants with high ratings. It’s not that investment properties or fine dining is wrong per se. But there was something about their lives that was so admirable and desired. It felt warmer than sitting in front of a fireplace and it fed me more than a hearty meal.
But that wasn’t all. Because although they had little, they were still willing to share! While they struggled to join the gathering, they still asked those around them if others had any need. In addition to their generosity though, other brothers and sisters also offered whatever they could. There’s a story of a group of people who missed their flights because there was an issue with their visas, and as such, they had to fork out extra in order to pay for new tickets. They updated the group about it and within minutes, someone said ‘let’s pull our money together and pay for them’. As I witnessed this unfold before me, I was dumbfounded because these guys saying ‘let’s help them’ didn’t even know the people they were seeking to help! There was no question of whether the other was Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist or any other denomination. For them, it was as simple as ‘my brother needs help so I’m going to help’. I wonder if that’s a lesson for us. So much of my experience in Christian communities back home is that of verbally saying we’ll help yet keeping our wallets shut. Yet while we’re a hundred or even a thousandfold wealthier than my new friends, they are a hundred and thousandfold more generous than we are.
At this point, I need to specifically thank the Lausanne committee for the generous scholarship that helped cover all my ground fees and a dear older brother Daniel Willis who paid for my airfares. This too is a crazy story. Our Sydney team met together for a dinner at Daniel’s house a few months ago and I had to leave earlier. After I left, the team talked about fundraising and my friend Hugh mentioned in passing that I was still working on raising funds for my travel. The next day, Daniel messaged me asking how I was going with that. After telling him I was still in the process, he asked for my account details and gave me more than I needed. This man barely knew me and didn’t wait for me to ask. He just gave. I kept thanking him and asking how I could repay him and he simply responded, ‘God has been generous to me so I’m just passing that on knowing that you will too’. Without the Lausanne committee and Daniel, I wouldn’t be here this week. So if either of you are reading this, I just want to say ‘thank you, thank you, and thank you’.
So the gathering commenced with wonderful worship and opening addresses. There’s something amazing about worshipping next to the Archbishop of Sydney and a pastor from Ghana that gives you a snapshot of the new creation. One was lifting his hands in the air and the other was singing in harmony. I won’t tell you which one did what. Soon after, Michael Oh from Japan casted a vision of what can happen under God when a generation of Christian leaders worked together for global evangelism and disciple-making, and Sarah Bruel from Rome told us the story behind the 3 year preparation for the gathering. No doubt, this is only a foretaste of the days to come!