Thursday, 20 February 2014

The other side of the boat

Serving an Australia Day meal to over 100 seasonal workers in the Huon Valley.
Peirce is giving his talk on "Redemption" from the top of an apple crate.

We were hours away from putting on our 4th and final outreach dinner for international fruit pickers and seasonal workers at Lucaston Park Orchards. The previous dinners had gone smoothly. We'd set up in a covered outdoor venue with nicely laid trestle tables with table cloths and simple flowers.

The aim was to show love and care to the workers in the form of a meal, a conversation, and a short talk about Christianity. In return, we received warm thanks and sincere questions. We felt we'd been doing pretty well. Depending on the evening, we'd had anywhere from 50 to just 5 workers, and that was fine.

We were organised. We were ready.

"Go fish on the other side of the boat," Jesus said once, and the disciples broke their nets.

Just hours before our final dinner, on January 26th, otherwise known as Australia Day, we learned that a conflicting event had been organised for the workers (I should say, very kindly organised, without knowing there was a conflict).

While hardly the end of the world, this did feel like a very disappointing end to our Huon summer mission. We had a crew of no less than 7 Pilgrim Hill volunteers coming along, whom we'd have to call right away and ask to stay home.

After taking a moment to pray together, Peirce and I discussed our options. There was just one more possibility - the two events could be combined? We could bring our food and people and help make the Aussie barbecue even more of a hit with the workers. The answer was yes! Even better, we got the all-clear for Peirce to give his planned final talk, on "Redemption".

So, a few hours later, our plan for a sit-down meal summarily abandoned, we showed up at the Orchards with a lot of meat pies, sausage rolls, and pavlova (Australian traditional fare, for those not in the know) to go with the sausages ("snags") already provided.

Lest I sound too chirpy, I want to be honest - the whole event necessitated an attitude change on our part. We couldn't be organised. We couldn't do things "our way".

We were setting up a trestle table among farm equipment and an impromptu rivulet at the same time that the workers were pouring out of the packing shed, hungry and curious. We were trying to keep an eye on our 3 children (5 and under), who showed a marked fondness for disappearing into tractors and running off into the apple orchards (understandable).

Peirce adjusted quickly to giving his talk on top of an apple crate (see photo) to over 100 people, when he'd been expecting to give it sitting down in a sedate dinner setting with less than half that number. The guests at our previous dinners had all been Asian seasonal workers, mostly from Taiwan and Hong Kong, who listened politely and attentively to something that was very new to them. Now he was springing an overt Gospel message on a large group of people, many of whom were from post-Christian cultures like Sweden, France, Belgium, England, Scotland, the US and Canada, and might not be expected to be quite so polite or interested.

So how did it go? One worker walked away, but the rest stayed and listened while they ate, though they had no obligation to (we gave them their meal first). Surprisingly, there was even applause at the end of Peirce's talk. Several people came up and thanked us warmly.

We had the opportunity to talk with them afterwards about Christianity. I talked at length with a Russian woman, whom you can see in the photo (short blonde hair) leaning against the apple crate to Peirce's right. She had investigated and rejected Russian Orthodoxy, then converted to Islam, and now finally rejected strict religious legalism for a more permissive unitarian theism. She asked me a lot of questions and I had the privilege of sharing with her about the Trinity and salvation by grace, the latter of which seemed to be completely new to her. Upon leaving I asked her if she would like me to continue praying for her. She broke into a smile and said, "I would like that very much."

On January 26th, 2014, we had a glimpse of Pilgrim Hill. We tasted God's providence, which shatters our organised little schemes and messes them up, leaving us with broken nets, and hearts full of His goodness.