It's a good weekend for looking back, what with Woodstock and all that. My looking back though, doesn't go quite that far, since I was only 13 when the festival came down, and living on the wrong coast. Instead, I looked back this weekend, to an island, and was reminded of the parable about the seed and sower.
Back in 1990 I'd had enough of being a pastor, and so had set out to do something different (was it calling? frustration? my own initiative? God's? Yes). As a result, I would spend the next six years travelling the world and teaching from the scriptures for Torchbearers Missionary Fellowship, a coalition of Bible Schools scattered on various continents. Of all the places I taught, the place where I invested the most time was the school closest to home, located on a spectacular island in British Columbia. That first year of my new ministry, I probably spent 10 weeks up on this island teaching students. What I loved about doing that then is the very same thing I love about doing it now, which is that my role when I teach there is twofold: teach, and hang out with students, hearing their stories, and sharing in their lives.
I still remember when I was invited up for six weeks to simply teach and shepherd students. "Are you kidding me? You mean, besides teaching the Bible, you'd rather have me playing two on two volleyball with students, or roasting oysters on the beach than make budget proposals, attend board meetings, and interface with government officials about building codes? Um, yes, I'll be there on the next ferry." Thus began a relationship with the ministry on this little island that has continued for 19 years.
I still go teach there. I still love hanging out with students, sharing the scriptures with them, sharing meals with them, and hearing their stories. However, one of things that I've grown to wonder after all these years is, "what happens to these students?" Of course, I know that statistically speaking, some press forward and some don't. But my question is more personal. "What happened to Chris? Linda? Stacey? Liza? Darrin?" because these were some of the ones with whom I spent the most time during that very first year, when I lived there so much of the time.
I boarded the ferry again, one week ago today and headed there to teach this week, not for a week of Bible School, but for a family conference, which is like a "Bible study vacation" (unimaginable for some, I know, but in this big world, there are lots of people who love having their meals prepared, their dishes done, and their children cared for, while they in return wrestle with themes from a book of the Bible, as these guests did this past week while a taught Exodus).
My big surprise and joy came when, upon arriving, I realized that many of these past students had signed up for the week of teaching. Now in their mid-thirties, they'd made the trek from Alberta or Saskatchewan or wherever in order to return to this island, a place of their own spiritual roots. There they are, in the picture, only now they all have teenagers.
Yes, they have questions. Yes, they've faced disillusionment and trials. And yes, they're still walking with God! I was able, at various times throughout the week, to speak with most of them, amazed that they remembered specific things from talks I'd given in the springtime of 1990, when I was 34. We took the picture above on the ferry, as we were leaving (one student never left the island... he's the one working for the ferry).
As I stood here with the students, my heart warmed by the reality that, through all the joys and sorrows, all the disillusionment and idealism, these students are still showing up, still seeking and serving Jesus. And that's when I remembered those words from Jesus about a sower who went out to sow seeds in the field. As a kid, when I saw that parable on the flannel board, and we planted tiny seeds in the soil, I was told again and again, until I couldn't bear to hear it any more, that Iwas the soil and God was planting seed in me so, by God, be a good little boy so that the soil of your heart will let the seed grow.
Yeah. I get it. But Friday, on the ferry, I was reminded of something equally true: I'mnot just soil...I'm a sower of seed, and the reality is that, because of my particular calling with students, I don't always get to see whether the seed really takes root or not. But long after I've boarded the ferry and moved on to other things, the seed that's been sown will work it's mojo, not because I'm clever, but because God uses things like rocks, donkeys, and messed up humans to accomplish his purpose. I was reminded by the faithfulness of these old friends to keep on sowing; when I feel like and when I don't, when the soil seems receptive and when it doesn't. One never knows, nor does one need to know, what will happen when particular seed meets particular soil. But if seed and soil never meet, one knows for certain, that there will be no fruit.
O Lord, God of seed and soil;
Thanks be to you for the miracle of life
That happens as seed meets soil
Be our constant reminder that we are both:
seed and soil giver and receiver.
So enable us to sow faithfully that
Your blessings are spilled through us
Into the soil of this beautiful and broken world.