Three weeks ago a number of us from Port Elizabeth in the East Cape attended, by kind invitation of a dear brother and fellow-blogger from Bloemfontein in the Free State, a weekend retreat in the southern part of that province. The venue was a sprawling farm house on a game farm, surrounded by grassland and koppies (little rocky outcrops). Counting teens and children we were over 30 folk attending, some from Bloemfontein, some local sheep farmers and then four of us from the Bay viz. Justin, Marthinus, Melanie and myself. The experience itself, for us anyway, was unforgettable. It was ‘organic church’ in action, it was ‘a baptism of love.’ In this instance ‘baptism’ depicts immersion, and love depicts both felt love (as one dear brother put it in Afrikaans, ‘As jy se jy is lief vir my, dan moet ek dit darem redelike kan voel,’ i.e. ‘if you tell me you love me, I should be able to at least feel it) as well as what Francis Schaeffer called the ‘practical, observable love’ of Jesus and his Church.
Having introduced the subject, let me provide four ‘windows’ into the weekend, from four different perspectives and in their own words.
First, Justin’s perspective. I was amazed and blessed by the confidence with which people shared their thoughts about what the Bible said and meant. It wasn’t arrogance, of the kind some flashy churches use to persuade a person. It was the quiet confidence of folk who had been led into these truths through the simple work of the Spirit in their daily lives.
I was blessed by the sensitivity of each person to Jesus’ leading in the gatherings. This meant that we experienced unity as a fruit of Jesus being allowed to lead.
Finally, I was deeply touched and moved by the humble, practical love that was shown by all. I arrived to meet a room of strangers, but I left feeling like I had found more brothers and sisters in Jesus. Thanks!
Second, Marthinus’s perspective. The weekend was unique in that we were almost immediately ‘on the same page,’ having had prior common revelation of the things of Christ and the gospel. Cf. Eph. 1:15-23.
The weekend fellowship reflected ‘a common brokenness.’ Those who participated had obviously been to the cross, been crucified to self and made alive in Christ and to his righteousness. Cf. Rom. ch. 6.
Third, Melanie’s perspective. The large farmhouse had a wonderful homeliness about it. The only sound that could be heard at night was that of the far-off generator providing power. The smell of the veldt made one feel like you were in another world!
Some of the folk attending were hard-working farmers, desperate for rain. Please remember to pray for them. [water-restrictions have been announced as of today]
I’ve been to many retreats but have never felt so part of a family! The atmosphere seemed charged with genuine Christlike love. As people shared, I saw authenticity – no super-spirituality! Folk had gotten past their natural shyness and showed their true emotions. They made themselves vulnerable, which blessed me so much. Big men shared and wept unashamedly – there was a total abandonment to Christ and his love. No pretence, just brokenness.
Everyone supported and edified one another with words of encouragement, and personalised it with great sensitivity.
Fourth, Erroll’s perspective. I have so much to share of the experience, that I’ll put it in point form (I heartily affirm all the things highlighted above, so let me touch on a few aspects not mentioned or expanded on thus far):
- The retreat was made up of ‘grassroots’ people. There was no special speaker, program, etc. Precious ‘ordinary’ believers understanding and practising that fundamental NT teaching of ‘the priesthood of all believers,’ incarnated the life of Jesus.
- There was no agenda as such, except the Spirit’s. There had been some attempts at ‘sessions,’ but these were quickly abandoned as the God-conversation continued for up to three hours at a time. (cf. the Book of Acts)
- In a very real sense there was no formal leader, as things just happened under what Frank Viola calls the ‘functional headship of Jesus.’
- The weekend for me was not an event, but a gathering of the saints, a ‘koinonia’ (what 20th century martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer called ‘the life together,’ ‘life’ meaning the life of Jesus), a bubbling up of living water (Cf. Jn. 4:13-14), and a generous serving without any sense of duty or obligation. It was life-imparting!
- Yes, it was a baptism of love. For one thing, while busy hanging up the washing on the Monday morning, the incessant whining of our neighbour’s dog next door didn’t even trouble me, instead I lovingly thought of the poor animal who after all was just somewhat bored and longing for someone to give him a little tlc!
One of the passages that emerged on the Sunday morning, among many other momentous and life-changing passages (Acts 20:17ff, etc), was that of the beautiful Shepherd in Jn. 10. God willing, I plan to share some of our mutual discoveries in that passage in the near future.
In closing let me, from my heart, thank my brother Tobie (blogging under Natural Church), his wife and all the saints who made it possible for us to share in their annual retreat! I’m still savouring those tender, tasty Free State lamb chops off the braai… (for non-South African readers, ‘braai’ = ‘barbecue’ on an outdoors wood fire)