In President Bryan Born’s chapel message on Thursday, Sept 7, 2017, he shared stories from his adventures in Africa and from Mark’s Gospel to encourage us to be good guests on the spiritual journey we’re on together this year. Here’s an adapted version of his talk.
Our theme for O-Week is “Pilgrimage: The Journey We are On.”
Think back and recall your most memorable travel experience. Was it enjoyable? Was it scary? Was it crazy? Did you learn something? Would you do it again?
One of the interesting aspects of a journey is that we become guests. We enter new territory, meet new people, and experience places we’ve never been before. This can be both exhilarating and terrifying, all at the same time.
For some, it’s easy. It’s fun to meet new people and discover new things. For others, it’s intimidating. We’re not sure how to act or what tosay. I want to address those who are excited, those who are anxious and those who are mixture of both (so that pretty much includes everybody!).
I had the great privilege of living in Botswana, Africa for 12 years. One weekend, everyone was excited because church leaders from three countries – Botswana, Lesotho, and South Africa – were gathering for worship and discussions. We had a great time visiting during the day-long trip, and once we arrived at the town of Teyateyaneng, it only got better. These leaders, most of them older men, embraced as they greeted one another, and we were soon fully engaged in worship and meetings.
Late that evening, our host, Bishop Moshoeshoe led me to a large sleeping room where mats had been laid out on the floor. These elderly men, tired after a long day of travelling and visiting, were already sound asleep. In the dim lamplight I could make out that the South Africans were all on one side, and the Batswana leaders were on the other. My host gestured that I was to occupy a fairly narrow area between these two groups of large, elderly church leaders.
I got undressed, wrapped a blanket around me, and squeezed myself into the space between two large African men. I can still sense it now – a cacophony of different snoring sounds, lots of wheezing, a few coughs and grunts. Interesting smells.
For a few moments, I lay there in amazement, thinking two things to myself: first, how did I ever end up in this place? And second, this is the most freakin’ awesome thing ever! Who could ever imagine that a white boy, from a dairy farm in Matsqui village would end up sleeping in a room with a group of older African bishops? How come I was so lucky that they should invite me to do life with them!
Now, why did I tell you that story? First off, because 20 years later it still makes me smile! But more importantly, I told you the story because it says something about journeying.
Now that you’re here, you have begun to experience the Columbia portion of your life’s journey, and I wanted to pass on to you 7 keys to being a good guest on this journey, illustrated with stories from Mark’s Gospel and my own experience.
- One – know the purpose of the journey.
- Two – get to know your guide well, because you need to trust that person.
- Three – fully engage in the journey – don’t be a spectator.
- Four – watch your mouth.
- Five – count the cost.
- Six – watch out for those on the edges.
- Seventh and last – humbly learn to serve.
First, know the purpose of your journey. In Mark 3, Jesus invited 12 men to be his disciples, and Jesus was clear about the purpose: to be with him, and to send them out to preach and drive out demons.
You have been invited to Columbia to participate on a spiritual journey – to explore God’s calling on your life. What does that mean? You’ve been invited to pursue your relationship with Jesus, and with others who want to follow Jesus. There’s more to it than that, but that’s where it starts.
Your spiritual journey at Columbia isn’t meant to be a solo hike – accept the invitation to journey with Jesus and your fellow pilgrims. I could have chosen to find a hotel that night in Teyateyaneng, but I would have missed out on the experience of a lifetime!
Second, get to know your guide well. In Mark 4:35-41, we read the story of how Jesus calmed the storm. Terrified, the disciples woke Jesus up and cried out: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” They didn’t know who they were travelling with.
During my years in Africa I stayed overnight in some very dangerous neighborhoods. When I recounted my experiences to foreigners, they sometimes reacted with shock. I told them that the only time I was ever afraid was when I didn’t have an African friend along with me. They were my guides, my hosts, and I knew that when I was with them, they would put their lives on the line before allowing me to be hurt. I had nothing to fear because I knew my guides.
On the boat that stormy night the disciples received a clearer picture of who Jesus, their guide, really was, and it blew their minds: “Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him?”
As we journey together this year, I hope and pray that all of us as students, staff and faculty alike will learn to know Jesus, our faithful guide, in ways that surprise, shock and delight us.
Third, fully engage in the journey. I know that this is easier for some than for others, but journeying requires us to take some risks. When Jesus called his disciples to himself, it wasn’t just so they could hang out and watch him do cool stuff. In chapter six of Mark’s Gospel he sent them out two by two to preach and cast out demons. He told them to take nothing on the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money. Depend upon the hospitality of others.
As I look back at some of my most meaningful journeying experiences, it was when I stepped out in obedience that I met Jesus most powerfully. Just prior to returning to Canada after our first 3 years in Botswana, I was worshipping with a congregation of people who had very little in terms of finances, but much in spirit. When it came time for the offering, the leader indicated that they would give the offering to me and my family because we were about to embark on a long journey back home.
I remember standing there, feeling so humbled by their generosity – everything within me wanted to refuse their gift, but I knew I had to accept their gift because it was their expression of love and thanksgiving to us. Fully engaging in the journey may take you places you’ve never dreamed, but it will be worth it.
Number four – watch your mouth. Almost everyone has horror stories of observing tourists who were obnoxious and demanding. That can happen on a spiritual pilgrimage too. In Mark chapter 8, when Jesus told the disciples that he would soon be arrested and killed, Peter tried to set him straight. Peter thought he knew the way better than Jesus. Not smart.
As you enter the Columbia journey, you will likely hear new things and encounter new ideas, and sometimes you might find yourself shaking your head a bit. It’s OK to question things – we encourage you to think carefully. But don’t follow Peter’s example in this case.
If you find yourself wondering about an idea, or maybe something you hear even makes you a little upset, take a breath and think about it. Pray about it, and then ask a question. In Botswana, one of my nicknames was Rradipotso (Mr. Questions). I always wanted to understand better, and I tried to ask questions that didn’t imply judgement, but a desire to learn more. Good guests watch their mouths.
Good guests also count the cost of the journey. In Mark 8:34-35, Jesus told his disciples “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” As I said before, embarking on this journey with Jesus is not always easy. I have served as a pastor, missionary, professor and now Bible College president. In every one of those roles, I have had to take on responsibilities that I didn’t want.
When we first went to Botswana, I watched my kids struggle with disease and learning to fit in, and that was hard. I had to learn a new language, and look foolish, and I didn’t enjoy that. I had to bury many friends because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and that battered my soul. Here at Columbia, I have felt the need to make decisions that have upset people. There is a cost to this journey, but I also am fully convinced that “those who lose their lives for Jesus and the Gospel will experience the full and abundant life” he promises. Don’t be afraid – this pilgrimage with Jesus is the greatest journey one can ever experience.
Two more thoughts quickly, and the first may surprise you a bit – on this journey, good guests watch out for those on the edges. In Mark 10:13-16, we find the disciples sending away parents who were bringing their children to be blessed. This ticked Jesus off – the text says Jesus was indignant. Jesus loved kids; he loved all those on the margins – women, the poor, the sick, the powerless – so we better love them to.
One of the most fun things I did in Botswana was address assemblies at an elementary school that was located in the poorest section of the capital city. The principal asked me to come every Wednesday morning before classes and tell the students Bible stories or African stories with a moral, and then teach them songs like “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”. Such a blast!
Totally by accident, this became one of my most effective ministry strategies because the kids all loved to sing. Later, when I would wonder the streets of their shantytown, they would run up to me and start singing. Their parents were suspicious and wanted to know, “who is this white guy?’ Their kids would quickly introduce me, and once they knew that I was helping their kids, I was automatically accepted into their homes. When we watch out for those who seem to be on the outside, when we help them along the way, when we don’t abuse our freedoms, we send the message that we care, and we are on this journey together.
Finally, humbly learn from Jesus that guests on the journey are called to serve, not be served (10:35-45). Nobody likes an arrogant guest. When James and John asked Jesus for the best seats in his glorious kingdom, Jesus gently told them that they didn’t know what they were asking for. He challenged them to realize that they would face some uncomfortable circumstances, and then he called them to become leaders of different sort, servant leaders. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
During one of our trips back to Canada, I was sharing in a church service stories of what God was doing in southern Africa. After the service a young man approached me, and blurted out that he was really impressed by our bravery. I was kind of surprised because I didn’t feel particularly courageous, and I told him that we were just doing what we felt God was calling us to do. He responded with words I’ll never forget. He said, “You know, I’ve never fully committed my life to Christ because I’m afraid that if I do, he’ll send me to Africa.” I had to smile as I replied, “You should be so lucky. If God calls you to something, it may not be easy, but it will be good.”
I’m saying the same thing to you this morning. Journeying with Jesus isn’t always easy; he never said it would be – but it is the best journey. So as good guests on the greatest journey, pack light, focus on Jesus, our guide, and embrace the road ahead.