Every time I go to New Zealand something good happens. There are at least two reasons for this, and neither is because of me. Those reasons? God is good and New Zealand is the best place on earth.
God’s goodness is a certainty, as the Gospel makes clear.
New Zealand’s position as “the best place on earth” is, I’d like to think, perfectly objective. After all, it’s like California, but with a tenth as many people and four coasts (north, south, east, and west). Add to that mountains, meadows, forests, rivers, and some of the friendliest people on earth and you’re just getting started. Have your doubts? I’d advise a visit. The longer the better. You’ll see.
But bad things happen there too.
This is, after all, earth we’re talking about.
My most recent trip exhibited the following pattern: first a good thing, then a bad thing, and then a good thing again.
The first good thing was our What Does the Future Hold? Bible Prophecy Seminar held in the city of Christchurch. The bad thing was a deadly earthquake. The second good thing was the resumption and success of the seminar.
In the two weeks before the February 22 earthquake, the seminar had 350-400 attending nightly, half of which were visitors from the community. These are almost incomprehensibly good numbers for New Zealand, one of the most secular nations on earth. The biblically-based and relevant presentations were being enthusiastically received, and every night we had new visitors. The meetings were rolling in a way that exceeded everyone’s expectations except, of course, God’s.
Then tragedy struck.
The meetings stopped because everything stopped. Everything, that is, except the search and rescue and recovery and repair operations. When the dust settled, nearly 200 were dead, and the city was dealt an inestimably blunt, cruel, costly, destructive, and far-reaching blow. See my Frontline Report and God and Mark for more on this.
Then, two weeks later, the meetings resumed. The resumption was not easy. It required planning, hard work, sensitivity, and tact. But what choice, really, did we have? Could we ignore the city’s spiritual needs and new-found openness? Certainly not. So we opened with a two-part series titled In the Wake of the Quake: Where is God When it Hurts? and re-advertised.
The re-opening night saw a packed house listening intently to a biblical perspective on the still-very-fresh-in-the-memory earthquake. Some of our former attendees were back. Others simply couldn’t make it. Some had lost their houses. Others had lost loved ones. And others just couldn’t imagine being in a large building so soon again, especially with aftershocks still rocking the city on a daily basis.
So we did what we could. And God blessed our feeble efforts.
March 26th saw nine persons baptized into Christ and His church. It was a beautiful, wonderful, high day. Smiles were everywhere. Love was everywhere. And as platitudinous as it may sound, it was nonetheless true that it was like a “slice of heaven”. The Ilam Seventh-day Adventist Church, one of the loveliest and hardest working congregations I have ever had the privilege of associating with, was doubly Spirit-filled on this particular Sabbath. It was an incomparable joy to behold and to experience. Truly, heaven came down.
The baptisms were the first-fruits of more than a year of focused labor. And dozens more have made the same decision. Their “heaven came down” day is soon to come.
ARISE graduates, Samuel and Amber Riemersma will be following up on the more than 150 interests for the next year. There is no doubt in my mind that they, in cooperation with the Ilam Church, are God’s team for this time in this place. Recently married, Samuel and Amber bring a wealth of ministry experience, a Christ-centered approach, and a Spirit-filled maturity to the the table. That they will succeed wonderfully is not in question.
In addition to Samuel and Amber, Daniel and Sylvia Pel are part of the follow-up team. Daniel and Sylvia travel the world as part of Daniel’s itinerant preaching ministry, Living Water. Both are experienced gospel-workers and, like Samuel and Amber, possess both Christ-centeredness and a Spirit-filled maturity.
In 13 years of conducting evangelistic seminars all over the world, I have never felt so confident about the follow-up of one of my meetings. Truly, this is an “A Team” by any measure: the hardworking, Spirit-filled Ilam church, Samuel, Amber, Daniel, and Sylvia.
My deep and heartfelt appreciation goes out to the Ilam Church for the privilege of having partnered with them in this bold, innovative, and blessed outreach event. They did all the hard work; I just showed up and preached my guts out. And God put His seal of blessing on our partnership.
So the meetings are over, but the work has just begun. The first-fruit baptisms have taken place, but the larger harvest is still to come. It doesn’t always come like we expect. But it always comes. God’s Word, faithfully proclaimed and practiced, simply will not return to Him void. Once again God has been true to His Word. He has kept His promise.
Tavita. Moses. Colin. Teresa. Debra. Isaac. Renee. James. Coleen.
All precious. All children of God. All trusting in Jesus. All members of God’s end-time church. Talk about a good thing! In fact, there is no better thing.
So once again God and New Zealand have delivered something good. Even, this time, in the midst of something bad. It was an honor to play a small role in what God is doing Down Under.
Your prayers and partnership are critical to ARISE’s ongoing efforts to bring the Gospel to the world. New Zealand, like its Down Under neighbor Australia, is a very secular country. At present we are not seeing thousands of conversions in a day there (or even in a year, for that matter), but we believe that time is coming. Because the first-fruits are just that: the first fruits.
Curiously, New Zealanders have coined a word for their incomparably beautiful country: Godzone. It is an abbreviation of “God’s Own Country”.
And in fact, since the whole earth is His, it is God’s country!
That more and more New Zealanders would recognize it as more than a clever name, and as a statement of profound fact, is the earnest hope of myself, ARISE, the Ilam Seventh-day Adventist Church, and, most of all, God Himself.