May 2008 - Vol. 19

Kaikoura, New Zealand, photo by Gareth Williams

Unity and Diversity: The Lamb of God
Community in New Zealand

By Roger Foley

Land of the Long White Cloud
The Lamb of God in Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud), otherwise known as New Zealand, is a  long way from its closest full-member sister community in the Sword of the Spirit – in fact something like 13 to 15 flight-hours to Manila. To give a sense of these islands for those who have not visited – New Zealand is a beautiful place, sub-tropical in the north to more temperate zones in the south, and stretching northeast to southwest over a couple thousand kilometers. Mainly comprising two islands, this is a diverse land of great natural beauty, ranging from active volcanoes to boiling mud and sulphur thermal regions to majestic ice-covered mountains to major glaciers pushing within a few kilometers of the ocean.

In the words of Carlos Alonso Vargas, a leader in the Sword of the Spirit community in Costa Rica, the Lamb of God is the “underbelly of the worldwide Sword of the Spirit.”  And proud to be.

The Lamb of God, not surprisingly when considering its geographical spread and isolation, has a different structure than any other community in the Sword of the Spirit. We are a “national community”, being one people, multi-locational, with one financial account. The community is established in 14 towns and cities, and this requires a particular structure to effectively serve people with leadership and pastoral care. Our 14 locations are encompassed in five geographical regions. Each region is supervised by a coordinator, and he in turn is a member of the overall governing body, the National Council of Coordinators. Larger regions have two members on the National Council, giving a total at this time of eight, including myself as senior coordinator. There is a parallel structure for our Women's Councils, and a separate National Service Team to coordinate our Kairos Pacific Youth Ministries throughout the land and into the Pacific. At local branch level, within the five regions, our centers are served by teams of elders supported by the local women's council. Additionally we are both ecumenical in composition and extremely ethnically diverse. We currently number about 375 to 400 adults and I guess about 200 to 250 children, located in 14 centers throughout the land. Some of our members live 2000 kilometers from each other, yet are in full membership with each other.

Kairos in New Zealand is an outreach program for  youth and university age people

A call from the Lord
Being so spread out has many special challenges. For example, we do not have the advantage of many talented people coming together in a single-location community of say 650, such as musicians, song writers, an abundance of skilled pastoral leaders. We also face substantial costs for communication, internal travel, leadership development, and visits to our branches. We have differing levels of intensity of life, depending on location and branch size. However we are committed to our calling in what we believe is the Lord’s plan for us.

Our beginnings
The community was established in 1979 in Christchurch when 12 adults made a verbal commitment to the Lord and to one another to “be available to the Lord for the building of a community.” It was “raw stuff” as I recall one. For instance, one of the 12 actually asked the names of some individuals he hadn’t known before verbalizing his commitment. We then asked for help, and the Emmanuel Community of Brisbane, Australia, gave good assistance for about four years. It was during this period that I first met Steve Clark, President of Sword of the Spirit, when he visited our fledgling group during our first 18 months.

The community started to grow and within two years established a cluster of homes in the same neighbourhood in Christchurch, now with 25 households. During that initial two-year period, the group received calls for assistance from 16 other New Zealand groups. In 1985, five of these groups merged, and the Lamb of God became a national community.

Since then we have continued to grow and establish new groupings, and have seen some remarkable works of the Lord, in particular in Auckland, our largest city. I can recall how difficult it was to “keep hands on the plough” but instinctively knowing that it was important we have a branch in this major city. And just 15 to 20 people joined that grouping over a ten-year period. The advantage of the National Community in having “one financial account” was important in that pastoral trips, training, and development were never hindered by how little financial resource was actually available from this small Auckland group. Praise God, he had a plan, we just needed be faithful to "our call". Now Auckland is a strong work of the Lord numbering over 350 people, and ethnically diverse with Samoans, Indians, Filipinos, Malaysians, Europeans, Zimbabweans, folk from Singapore and many, many more lands.

summer Oasis program held in Christchurch January 2008

To conclude, three important things
One. Our Prayer Watch. In facing our many, and ongoing, challenges I would never underestimate the importance of our 24-hour 7-day-a-week Prayer Watch, now in its 17th year. As I travel to our various branches, I am constantly encouraged to hear members speak of the value of the Watch in “knitting us together” as one people. Is it difficult to maintain and sustain? – of course it is. Has it value? – the scary question is “where might we be without it?”

Two. Our innovative fundraising. A community of our structure and multiple locations needs funds to advance its work in addition to the normal community giving from individual members. We do a variety of fundraising, but our most successful has been to establish a confectionary manufacturing/wholesale business in the Christchurch Branch some 16 years ago – the production of lamington cakes boxed in dozens. We have produced over 90,000 dozen-boxes, all pre-sold, over the years. We have developed a sophisticated operation which, at top production, needs just 26 adult volunteers. Profits have allowed the purchase of a former Baptist Church complex, plus an adjoining house. The Lamb of God Centre is now debt free, and ongoing profits established substantial reserve investments for longer-term National Community development. Recently we have assigned lamington profits to three particular needs: one third is given away to needy families, one third pays registration fees for all of our children for family camps and retreats, and the final third is set aside to subsidize our youth mission teams into Fiji each year. 

a recent gathering of Lamb of God members

And finally our membership in the Sword of the Spirit. Our gaining full membership was a long and costly journey, due in part to our geographical isolation. But the journey was worth the cost and sacrifice. We are grateful to  Steve Clark for his contribution and assistance. Back in our exploratory days in the late 80s through mid-90s I would visit Ann Arbor [Michigan, USA] year after year and we would sit and talk. But it was more than that. A friendship and trust was being established. We both wanted Lamb of God to be part of the Sword of the Spirit; it just took a while! Now, as the “underbelly”, we are committed with all the member communities in the Call and Mission of the Sword of the Spirit. But again, geography plays a part – our work in assisting and strengthening other communities stretches from a mere four hour flight then four hours by land travel to Suva, Fiji, to a thirteen hour flight into Northern Malaysia.

If you live in Aotearoa New Zealand – everywhere is a long way!

Come visit the Land of the Long White Cloud, and stay a while.
Roger Foley is the senior coordinator of the Lamb of God Community. He and his wife Veronica live in Christchurch, New Zealand. 

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