Did you see the article in Touchstone about the International Rural Churches Conference that Diane and I attended?

Touchstone is handed out at church but anyone can pick up a copy at Cornerstone, or find it on-line .

As always for me it was church at its best.  Country people, people of the land and sea, gathered from all the continents and many islands, each of us unique, all of us belonging as church together.  The theme was “Growing Together” and grow we did, with “the gifts God gave to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”. (Ephesians 4:11-12)

Ninety-four people from India, Sri Lanka, Romania, Switzerland, France, England, Scotland, Canada, USA, Korea, Fiji, Tahiti, Australia, and New Zealand, we stayed at Lincoln University, from pōwhiri on Sunday evening (April 15) to breakfast the following Saturday.  As we wrote in the Conference Statement:

  • In worship, music, presentations, workshops, and times of fellowship, we immersed ourselves in the faith that unites us, looking at the contexts we inhabit through the lens of biblical narrative. What is different between us, culturally and denominationally, is not a barrier but rather a source of inspiration and growth. We came together to encourage each other and learn from one another, in our work of serving God and our communities so that they can flourish. Sharing deeply, in a great variety of accents and perspectives, inputs reflected both our diversity and our commonality as rural people. Our common goal is for our churches and communities to live the vision God dreams for the world.

It was 2002 when I first experienced this international church belonging. I’d been handed the job of NZ email member of the organising team so I had at the conference in Chennai, South India.  There I got handed the job of Chairperson of IRCA, which meant saving furiously again and attending the next conference in Canada. (Thank you to those who helped with my saving.)  I did the same again to go to Germany in 2010, as it was also an opportunity to go to Scotland and Ireland and stand in places my forebears came from.  Then it was Malawi – wow to be with churches in one of the poorest countries of the world: what an inspiration they are.  Finally here in NZ (just as well, because my passport had run out).

We always had difficulty getting visas for people from different countries.  I used to think, if only we could hold the conference in New Zealand because it was very straightforward to get visitor visas.  But being so far away, the cost was seen as prohibitive.  Sadly, by the time the leadership group decided the distance was worth it for the benefits of visiting our fine country, the temporary visa situation had changed dramatically.

If you live in a poorer country, even though you are in ministry and totally committed to your family, church, and community, and to their well-being and growth, Immigration New Zealand assumes you won’t return home.  Therefore a temporary visa is not granted.  Even, in one case, with the sponsorship forms all filled in and signed (for my Malawi colleagues).

It was a huge gap for me in an otherwise wonderful, even best ever, conference.  It is reason to persist as a network of rural followers of the Christian Way.  Again as the Statement we want shared with churches and communities world-wide puts it:

  • Our world is bigger than our own backyard. Many regions face challenges that risk lives and we are aware of the impact of climate change, especially on Pacific nations and low lying con-tinental regions, of persecution on minority faiths in many parts of the world, and of consumerism on traditional livelihoods. Awareness calls us to change our behaviours towards the planet, other nations, and others in our own context.

We ended with these words:

  • The Association reaffirms its solidarity with rural communities which are vulnerable to global economic and political influences and to man-made and natural disasters. Rural areas need a voice. We in IRCA will continue to take on this God-honouring role to be intentional voice with the voiceless, and be active in raising the profile within our churches of the challenges of rural ministry.

​  Rangimarie Peace Shalom, Robyn