Episcopal Diocese of Albany, NY
Business Office: 68 South Swan Street - Albany, NY 12210 - (518) 465-4737
Christ the King Spiritual Life Center: 575 Burton Road - Greenwich, NY 12834 - (518) 692-9550

Mission Outside the Box

by the Rev. Patti Hanson-Foss

“Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a dead calm. They were amazed saying, ‘What sort of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey him?’” (Mt 8:22).

These words launched the parish of St. James’ Au Sable Forks into a mission that was totally unexpected, and has changed our hearts forever.

In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan tore through Jamaica. Our local apple harvesters employed by Sullivan’s Orchard in Peru, had lost all contact with their families. They were worried and wanted a place to gather for prayer. David Sullivan contacted Deacon David Ousley and the parish of St. James prepared a service, music (and of course) coffee hour. Deacon Blair Biddle joined us, representing his parish of St. Paul’s in Keeseville.

We stood outside the church, by the road, praying in joyful anticipation of ministering to a new group of God’s children. We were shocked and in awe to see them arrive by the busload! Over fifty men entered the doors of St. James’ church that night, and no one left unchanged. God’s word was spoken both by the Episcopal clergy and the Jamaican church leaders. God’s love was present and the Holy Spirit set our hearts on fire. As Jesus calmed the storm for the apostles in the boat, he also calmed the storms in the hearts of those men. Before we left the church that night, we all stood in a large circle, holding hands. Each of the men, in turn, named their wives and children aloud and we prayed for them. Although Ivan damaged property, none of the families of those men were injured. Praise God!

We all knew we experienced something special that night, but the blessing did not stop there. The men knew that St. James’ is a small, loving parish, but without the funds to keep the church open all winter. Services are held in the chapel in the parish hall during the coldest weeks. The Jamaican harvesters gave their time and labor freely, and gleaned the orchard of the fallen apples. They sold them as juice apples, and gave the proceeds to St. James’ for fuel. Over $2400 was raised. We experienced mission in reverse! Half of the donation was given back for relief efforts in Jamaica.

What an inspiring story of love and mission! But it didn’t stop there. The blessings continued. Most of the men returned home, but some stayed to work through the winter. They continued to attend St. James’. They became members of the church, not visitors. The attended Bible study, healing services, and became greeters. St. James’ became their church. When the group that had gone back to Jamaica in the late fall returned in the spring, they came home to their church in Au Sable Forks. They too became church family, and began participating in church activities. Their offering of praise music got us on our feet, praising God with joy!

When the harvest in the orchard required their labor seven days a week, they were unable to come to church services. Our flock had been scattered. We all missed each other. And the words of Jesus spoke to my heart. “Do you love me?…Feed my sheep.” David Sullivan invited us to come to the orchard and hold a service for the men. The Orchard Chapel and the Orchard Mission were born! David and his family cleaned out a storage area and placed a large wooden cross on the wall. A small table served as the altar. Prayers for the light of Jesus to fill every dark corner were said before each service. At eight o’clock on Sunday evenings, a group of worshippers from local (ecumenical) churches gathered together with our Jamaican brethren and worshipped the Living God in that chapel. The music was a wonderful blend of hymns, contemporary love songs to the Lord, and Jamaican choruses. Depending on the availability of the musicians, voices were accompanied by guitar, keyboard, drums, saxophone or flute. That service of prayer, praise and Holy Communion set our hearts on fire with the love of God. God blessed it, and it grew. Almost 60 people attended the first service. The second service blessed 67. Before the third service, David sent four of his men out to pray (two by two… sound familiar?) with other harvesters in the area orchards, and invited them to the evening service. 89 came to praise the Lord for that service! The fourth service was a strong in spirit, but fewer in number, as many of the men had headed back to Jamaica , after completing the apple harvest. But to this Deacon, it was the best service held in the Orchard Chapel. One young man was born into new life. He made his decision for Christ and was baptized there in the Orchard Chapel, surrounded and loved by his Christian brothers and sisters. Praise the Lord!

Everyone who attended services at the Orchard Chapel, and at St. James’ has been changed forever: American, Jamaican, Episcopalian, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Congregationalist, male and female. We have crossed boundaries of culture, religion, race and gender and bonded as a family in Christ. Now we understand a little more of what St. Paul was talking about in Galatians “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NIV)

Titus Presler defines Christian Mission as “the activity of sending and being sent across significant boundaries of human experience to bear witness in word and deed to God’s action in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.” ( Horizons of Mission, p 18 Cowley Publications 2001). We need to understand this if we are to be faithful to the Great Commission. The face of Mission, as we have long seen it, is changing. It is becoming increasingly rare for the missionary to carry the Gospel into the darkness of faraway places. We now look to serve in the IMBY-NIMBY mission field. IMBY (In My Back Yard) mission may include serving those in your own home, town, parish, state or country as God calls you. NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) mission is an answer to a call from God to serve His church away from home. According to Presler, mission doesn’t have to entail trips around the globe looking for the lost. The wilderness is all around us HERE! The unsaved are in our own backyard. We are surrounded by people who live in darkness and bondage and are crying out to be rescued; crying out for someone who can calm the storms in their hearts and minds. Listen, and you will hear it! Be still, and you will feel it! Let go of your preconceived ideas about mission and tell the Storms in the lives of those around you about Our God!

Rev. Hanson-Foss is Deacon at St. James, Ausable Forks, member of the Diocesan Missions Board, and has twice visited Sudan

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