Today is 20 years exactly since i hopped on a plane and left my country to go to Asia and then beyond.
I am taking a bit of time for myself to jot down some of the defining moments and struggles that have got me to this point. You are welcome to join me on and off during the day. I am probably going to re-install the tagboard to make it easier.
1. 1985. Leading a team into Malaysia. I was 21. At my home church I wasn’t asked to do anything. The week before I left, they had me pray for the bread (or was it the wine) for communion. A week later, I am heading up a 4 week mission team into a difficult country (some of the team didn’t make it over the border) and preaching in churches. I had to grow up quick.
2. 1985. Leading a church planting team into Austria. It was a great experience and I didnt think Operation Mobilization would ask me to lead a team, but they did. 15 people from 9 countries. A few of them “problem people” (hi Vic and Pat if your’e out there) and i learned a lot about relationships, leadership, faith. Especially faith. They sent us out with enough provisions for a week. We were gone for 2 months and were not allowed to ask for money. God had to provide or we would starve. Heavy duty stuff, but we saw God do miraculous things and we made it through.
3. Germany. Summer of 85. God gave me a huge passion for Eastern Europe – something heavy that i carried around with me like a sack of potatoes. Every night I would go outside, face the direction of Berlin, and pray like crazy that the wall would come down and the good story of Jesus would be free to travel throughout those countries. I had never been captured by a quest like this. I was willing to sacrifice everything for it. I signed up for a special Bible smuggling team and went through interrogation training, and began memorizing Scripture – as much as i could – 3 verses a day – so that i could last out in an Albanian prison for a long time. I memorized 2 Timothy in 6 weeks and then started on Philippians. I actually never made it to Eastern Europe. The mission ships needed my help and I accepted. A girl who tried to join that smuggling team also got relocated to the ship. Same ship – MV LOGOS. In 1987, Debbie and I got married and eventually God would lead us over to Prague to assist in what we helped start many years earlier.
4. 1986. Conference speaking and preaching. In South and Central America I was often speaking about 3-5 times a week. I would sign up for preaching at every church and youth rally and conference I could. And since my job on the M.V. Logos was working with churches and organizing the teams, I put myself up for as much as i could handle. Once I signed up myself to preach in 4 different churches on a single Sunday – EXTREME.
But all that public speaking was good for me (hope it was good for the groups who put up with me). Coming from a fundamentalist-type Baptist church, I found myself preaching in pentecostal, charasmatic, churches were large numbers would run down the aisle at the end for me to pray for their healing (freaky the first few times) and hyper-conservative Presbyterian churches where hand clapping was forbidden, and everything in between. Usually, we didn’t know what to expect until we got to the church.
That was great training! – i feel quite comfortable in all kinds of churches now, and i can usually get up and speak the same ecclesial language, and preach without causing offence.
more on the way – i have to cook some lunch
[ok – back]
1986 Prayer Walk. In Montreal, Canada, we organized a prayer march for the churches of the city. 4000 turned up and walked side by side through the city. It was the first time, they told us, the various churches had ever worked together. From that point on, we started doing our own prayer walks – prayer on location, walking around the perimeter of cities to pray over them. I had used prayer walking as a discipline in my own life back in bible college days (1983) and had continued the practise. For years to come, and even today, prayer walking for all kinds of reasons, and walking the some famous pilgrims paths around the world.
1988 Pastoring churches in USA. Someone (Dr. Jerry “Chip” MacGregor) was foolish enough to bring me on staff at 23 years old to be the Outreach Pastor of . . . [take deep breath] First Evangelical Free Church of Southwood Park, Portland Oregon. When Chip left, me and the other guys had free reign of the church for a spell. But in that moment of suspended freedom for creativity, i started a “contemporary service” in 1989 in the church basement which was designed around a coffee shop/comedy club. No pews, no pulpit. I storied/preached from a stool and people sat around small tables, drinking coffee and eating danishes. I realize that the Brits were way ahead of the Americans as far as emerging church goes in the late 80’s, but at the time, I didnt know of anyone else out there who had tried a coffee shop setting for church. In fact, coffee shops had were still a few years away from kicking in so it was quite radical. The problem was that people from the more traditional service began to come over to mine, and there was some tension. Until I was away for a month in Australia, returning to find that the elders had solved the problem for me by canceling the contemporary service.
Chip was cool and taught me a lot about organization (why didnt i listen??) and discipleship.
My next church (1989-1991) was Glenwood Community Church (called “Minnehaha Community Church” back then). Senior Pastor Paul Jackson was a huge influence – teaching me much about communication and vision.
1993. Youth Camp, Australia By 1993, I was pastoring a large Baptist church in Perth, W. Australia. A defining moment for me was during a Baptist Youth Camp. There were 250 kids (a record) I was the speaker and I had brought my drama team and band with me so we could teach as a large multi-media team. We sampled Steve Camp’s Fire and Ice album (remember it?) and created dramas around the theme. It was all very impressive to everyone including ourselves. But the single highlight of the entire camp, the turning point, the place were God showed up, was NOT during my hyper-cool messages or the multi-media. It happened as a part of the prayer. A prayer team, headed up by Kerry Newell (Beaker) met each morning at 5am to pray. During the camp, they built a large cross out of wood. One afternoon they invited everyone to go and pray by the cross. So everyone turned up, and prayed or whatever they did there (i don’t remember) but when it was done, no one left. The presence of God had filled the area and young people were weeping. They stayed there for hours. Next to the cross. During the camp, day after day, they kept going out to the cross to pray and be in the presence of God.
I have looked at worship differently ever since. The year before (1992) I had created a prayer walk at Kings Park, Perth, using the various statues, view points and places of historic interest as promptings for prayer. Today I would call that a labyrinth. I took my youth group through it and they loved it. Some of them used to return to pray at the park.
1995. San Francisco. God put street kids on our heart and we began to live out the life of Jesus among them. by 1997, we were having all kinds of ministry with goths, punks, hippies, ravers. Drug addicts were getting cured and metalheads with voices in their heads were unloading their spiritual hitchhikers and witches were coming over for dinner to hear more about Jesus. It was a wild crazy time – our children learned about spiritual warfare at an early age and we learned a lot about the power of the gospel.
I also had to rethink the forms of church. We experimented with house church, did raved based worship with DJ’s, ran a club on Haight Street, led a community center, fed the poor, and formed a quasi urban monastery that people on the streets called “The Celtic House”. None of it a very big deal, but in the mid-nineties, there was just no one else that we knew of doing that kind of stuff. The North American Mission Board (SBC) was very supportive of us and encouraged our work. I was also supervising students from Golden Gate Baptist Seminary in San Francisco and hosting all kinds of mission teams that were coming from all over USA. In the summer of 1997, we had over 300 missionaries come to help. And the first thing we did was send them on prayer walks.
1998. Our travel around USA began. We left California to go to Texas, (Chris Seay invited us) and through a new team called Young Leaders, that was forming around its leader Doug Pagitt, we started to throw some conferences around USA to connect with other young people dealing with emerging culture. The best conference was the New Edge Conference in New Mexico. A lot of the people i work with today were there (Derek Chapman, Shannon Hopkins, etc) and it was a defining moment for the group which would later change its name to Emergent.
1999. By now, we had a Winnebago donated to us by a Presbyterian church in Boca Raton and ditched the white van. We formed Boaz and hosted an event in Austin called Ecclesia. It was a networking/training/teaching/worship kind of event that none of us had ever experienced before. No key speakers, but lots of important people were there. We created a multi-media labyrinth on all 3 levels of Austin First Baptist Church, which is my home church even today.. We really connected on a deep level with The Baptist General Convention of Texas and they asked me to be their consultant for postmodern culture. This was back in the days when you could use that P-word without getting blow torched. We later dropped the word but I am still working for them and they are the group that covers our back as we make new inroads around the globe.
2000. We left USA for Europe and began making connections and encouraging young people on the continent who were starting up new churches. I was flying back to USA every 2-3 months which was crazy.
A key event was Tribal Generation, hosted by St Thomas Crookes and DAWN ministries (Wolfgang Fernandez). Wolfgang handed me a copy of Jim Montgomery’s book “DAWN 2000: 7 million churches to go”. I told him that I had read the book ages ago, and had even studied church growth under C. Peter Wagner at Fuller School of World Mission (1993-94) but that i was a little critical of the book’s approach and, i wrote in the back cover of the book, if DAWN Ministries wanted to see church planting movements happen in the global emerging culture, then they would have to move beyond the limitations of 1980’s thinking and military vocabulary. I dont think i would written all that down on the cover, if i had known Wolfgang would pass the book around the DAWN team in Colorado Springs.
But he did. And rather than getting defensive, they asked me to be an Associate and assist them with discovering emerging leaders that God was raising up to ignite new movements. Which i am still doing with them. What i discovered was that DAWN is a movement that is highly relational – seeking out those people with a passion for their nation, and supporting them to start spirit-led movements of new churches that emerge in an organic way. I guess we found each other on the same page.
2001. Epicenter, Austin Texas. This event was an experiment in global networking and bringing together the missional strategists AND the most creative worship artists we could find in the world. BGCT and DAWN both partnered in it. We limited it to 50 leaders but later opened it up to 75. It was an incredible event and radically altered the way we thought about conferences, networking, worship and more. Must tell you about that sometime.
1997 – Intenet. During a prayer walk, we were handing out seeds. A pastor from Argentina (Hector Gimenez) stopped in to San Francisco and gave us mustard seeds from his church. We gave them out on Haight Street and prayed over people. I stopped in at an internet cafe and went into a chat room – and told them i was giving them all a “virtual” mustard seed, which they thought was cool and interesting and weird. So began my internet exploits. That year, we started a site called My Phathers House and a page on it was my personal diary called “Andrew’s Tea Salon”. Each entry started with the date and place and then some personal thoughts. This was before blogging engines that did that automatically . . and before the word “blog” had come into currency. In 2001, I latched onto a blogging engine (Blogger) and started tallskinnykiwi. It was the only Christian blog i knew of at teh time (although some others were also blogging – joshua rudd started in 1996, before me). Within a few weeks, a few people who saw my site started their own – including jordon Cooper and Alan Creech . By the end of 2001, I could name more than a dozen theoblogians.
2000. VJ. During our rave-worship phase in the late 90’s, i had invested in laser lights and smoke machine and other equipment that every emerging church in the 90”s needed back then (although we could not afford a cappuchino machine) and liked the visual side of music events. In 2000, i got an iMac and could make short videos which i uploaded on my site. I also found G-Force, VJ software for non-linear video projection, and i was hooked. A baptist camp i did in California that year was when i really transitioned into a digital storyteller and began experimenting with multiple screens, sampling music loops, ambient video loops as wallpaper, and the other basic disciplines that are quite normal now among churches and youth groups, and the huge number of VJ’s. But quite radical back then. Ahhhh . . .
ok – i am not there yet . . . but this is getting too long and probably no one is reading it anymore
i think i will stop here and one day pick it up again
my kids are coming home from school now. Thanks for listening to part of my story
Thanks God, for letting me do what is in my heart to do, these 20 years. Thanks that i am still standing, my kids still love me and my wife still talks to me. Thanks that even though i dont have the energy or the time or the radical enthusiastic craziness i used to have when i was younger, that you still like me and have use for me.
Help me figure out what to do with these next 20 years, so that i dont waste them, so that i will worker smarter and find more enjoyment in what my hands find to do. Amen.
Sounds like some interesting times! However, I’m always wary of the sort of approach that you mention (away for 2 months, provisions for 1 week, “rely on God to provide”) because of experiences some friends had with OM teams that imploded because they weren’t given enough support. I feel that “you mustn’t ask for money” is a stupid rule; if you need it, you need it, and the “God has to provide or we’ll starve” sounds like blackmailing God. Sometimes I feel that God must be screaming “there’s stuff there for you, just ask someone!”.
pax et bonum
now send me $10 (he he he)
During my time with OM, they changed their policy from “Dont tell dont ask” (ala hudson taylor) to a “Dont ask directly but give the information out”
which was a good move.
However, even under the old system, God is still perfectly able to work within multiple interfaces.
But John, people send me young missionaries from USA and UK and sometimes they have never trusted God for anything substantial and they just cant move ahead without a credit card or a bank account – and that can be difficult to work with.
I agree that trusting God is a good thing to learn, but throwing someone in right at the deep end can be too much. There is lots of space to explore between begging on street corners and silently hoping that an evelope full of money will drop through the door.
I know that God does provide miraculously sometimes. But I also know that God doesn’t always seem to do so, which can leave inexperienced teams or individuals in serious trouble.
pax et bonum
yes, thats why Luke 10 is so important in all our training. Yes, we send young people out, like Jesus did, without a lot of gear or extras . . but there is a person of peace awaiting them at the other end, prepared by the Holy Spirit, with a soft heart for God and a full refrigerator for his messengers.
Im enjoying this providence dialogue in the comments, and Im enjoying the post even more…it really helps me understand you more fully, not that you need me to or anything, but im enjoying seeing your journey..Keep Writing! Interestingly I was born in 1985..so there ya go.
your a youngin’. my CAR is older than you!!!!
hey liam – i think i need to in aberdeen this week. i will call you up.
A wise man once said that “the resources are in the harvest” (while at a conference, perhaps Soularize). Myself and many others have found that principle to be refreshing, challenging, freeing, frightening . . .
Reading how God has provided for people who stuck themselves out on the edge, depending on him completely is a call for me to listen for the leading of the Spirit. It’s very common, especially America, to think that God will only move once the resources are meticulously in place. This has been my reigning paradigm and it needs alternatives.
I believe that two people can go without any resources, trusting God to provide, but one can be obedient while the other is not. The question seems to be, “Is God calling you to take this step?” I think that Andrew was simply obedient to God’s leading. That does not mean we have a new paradigm for everyone to follow. But it does open the door to some possibilities for ministry that we often rule out and should consider more often than not.
Things that Might have Been
It’s eery-weird when you find how your story lines up with someone else’s…
Here in my house in Masatepe, Nicaragua we have couches, sleeping mats, hot showers, and a fridge full of good eats for anyone God’s calling our way on mission, pilgrimage, or just to relax in the tropical sun…
I was at that Tribal Generation conference in Sheffield. I joined the staff team at St Tom’s back in Jan 2000, and now I’m just about to move on. (Oh, and another connection: my mum mentioned to me recently that she’d met up with you at some conference not long back.) This spring I felt God say, leave this place in the summer, and go to the place I will show you…Thankfully my wife was cool with that, so, with two kids in tow, we’re on the move, not knowing where, having sold the house and expecting only that God has a nomadic life for us…
I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, finding it really helpful, inspiring in all kinds of ways. So, thank you. Every blessing to you and your family.
Thanks, Andrew, for your story.
Ah, you guessed right in your comment on my blog, I am Free Church, so I headed over to read up with interest when I saw the “retrospective.” God Bless!
I’m taking a History of Missions class over the internet right now thru Gordon-Conwell Seminary. Part of the class is to do a whole bunch of reading in Missionary Biographies. Thanks for the mini bio. Who’s writing the full-fledged version, and when?
If Dr. Carson knew that one of the earliest accounts of the current incarnation of emerging church in USA happened in his own denomination . . . well . . lets just not tell him. My wife is also Evangelical Free and we were married at Swindoll’s church.
Andrew – I met your mum (Dr Rose Dowsett) in Malaysia, at the Great Commission Roundtable 2001 – a WEF/Lausanne/AD2000 thing.
At the dinner table she gave me a hard time about the word “postmodernity”, she told me off sharply (you can imagine) but i calmed her down by saying that her fury was directed more at moral relativists than at young church planters who really did believe in truth.
Hutch – thanks – no biography – they are written for people who finish their course.
\i am reading David Livingstone’s actual account at the moment – found the old book in a Scotish thrift store – it has maps and all kinds of stuff.
Congratulations my friend and teacher. What a beautiful and no doubt painful 20 years. Thanks for sharing some of those milestones. You and your family have so consistently offered yourselves as gracious and spacious hosts to pilgrims of the avant-church. You have been more than a permission giver; you have been the champion of fools for Christ.
To your wife and kids, I also say as huge “thank you.” I can only imagine the cost they borne for the sake of the Kingdom – with many great joys thrown in too, I’m sure.
From Lynette, Pascal & I, we pray your next twenty years will be marked more by an ever growing sense of wonder and awe than by endurance; more by trust than by safety; more by dependence on God than by self-confidence; and more by reckless love than by guarded affections. May you and yours continue to take steps of faith in keeping with the greatness of our God, and may you find God faithful.
I love you Andrew and pray for you often. It is not an overstatement to say that I could not be who I am without you and your family.
Grace and Peace,