October 2006 - Vol. 1
“Unity and Diversity: The Lamb
Community in New Zealand”
by Roger Foley
photo of Kaikoura, New Zealand by Gareth Williams
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 thirteen to fifteen flight hours to Manila. New Zealand is a beautiful place, sub-tropical in the north to more temperate zones in the south, and stretching NE to SW over a couple of thousand kilometers. Mainly comprising two islands, this is a diverse and stunning 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 Alonsa Vargas, a leader in the Sword of the Spirit's 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 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 fourteen towns and cities and this requires a particular structure to effectively serve people with leadership and pastoral care. Our fourteen 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 Encounter Jesus 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 two thousand kilometers from each other, yet are in full covenant membership.
Because this is our calling in the Lord. And this has many special challenges. For example, we do not have the advantage of many talented people coming together in a single location community of 650, such as musicians, song writers, an abundance of skilled pastoral leaders, etc. We 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.
The community was established in 1979 in Christchurch when 12 adults made a face-on, verbal commitment to "be available to the Lord for the building of a community". It was "raw stuff" as I recall one of the twelve actually asking the names of some of the small group before verbalizing a 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 in our first eighteen months.
The community started to grow and within two years established a cluster in Christchurch, now with 25 households, and over two years received calls for assistance from sixteen 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 works 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, yet seeing the reality of 15 to 20 people joining us 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 was never hindered by a mindset restricted by how much financial resource was actually generated by this small Auckland group. Praise God, He had a plan, we just needed be faithful to "our call". Now Auckland is a remarkable work of the Lord. Numbering over 300 and ethnically diverse with Samoans, Indians, Filipinos, Malaysians, Europeans, Zimbabweans, folk from Singapore and many, many more lands.
To conclude, three important things
One. Our Prayer Watch. In facing our many, and on-going, challenges I would never underestimate the importance of our 24-hour 7 day-a-week Prayer Watch, now in its 15th year. As I travel 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 additional to community giving to advance its work. We do many things but our most successful has been to establish a confectionary manufacturing/wholesale business in the Christchurch Branch some 15 years ago — the production of lamington cakes boxed in dozens. We have produced over 80,000 dozen-boxes, all pre-sold, during this time. 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. All is now debt free, plus the lamington production has established substantial reserve investments for longer-term community development. As I write, we are exploring "franchising our methods and expertise" to large main city churches in centers outside of Christchurch. This certainly has potential to bring incomes of $10,000 per annum per church without our need to actually make another lamington cake!
And finally our membership in the Sword of the Spirit. Full membership has been a long and costly journey due in part to our geographical isolation. But, we have made it. I applaud Steve's contribution and assistance, especially back in our exploratory days in the late eighties through mid nineties. 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 on a firm foundation. We both wanted it to happen, it just took a while. Now, as the "underbelly", we are commited 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 .......................
Come visit the Land of the Long White Cloud, and stay a while.