SAMS Missionaries Guy and Summer Benton are program directors for Better World, a gap year program of the New Zealand Church Mission Society (NZCMS). Better World has a vision to equip “a whole generation of young people to reach into the suffering in the world around us and bring the light of the gospel of Christ.”
Keep reading for a testimony from a recent graduate of Better World.
“Our final ceremony to end the Better World Programme for the year wrapped up on Saturday the 14th December. It was here where I truly realised just how many people have been supporting us all year long. Generations of NZCMS supporters and missionaries showed up to send us out, most of which I have never met, who have been praying for a revolution of missional youth to carry the radical heart of Jesus into our communities since they were my age! That is a long time. I feel very excited to see what God is doing in our generation, and how he is raising up young people today to live as radically as Jesus did in our world as we know it. It was a sudden realisation that this gap year is a small part of a much bigger plan. Far bigger than I realised. God is answering the prayers of generations of passionate people, some of which have prayed every day for the last 50 years.
“Better World has done exactly what it set out to do. It has re-awakened passions in me that God planted years ago. It has moved my heart and challenged me to respond to areas of injustice I never thought I would be interested in. Before this year, I was planning to live a safe life. Safe from financial problems, safe from inter-personal conflicts, safe from judgement of others – safe through the eyes of the Western world. I used to believe in God, but not in a God that was bigger than these things. I have now learned that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I am excited to step out into the next season of my life to
continue to learn and up-skill in the areas I feel most passionate about,
whilst continuing to live prayerfully and radically in community, trusting that
God will be in front of me as well as behind and beside. Sometimes this looks
like lifting your foot up without knowing where to put it down, but stepping
out in faith anyway, in the knowledge that God will show you. This is a bit
scary, but trust me, God is bigger. He has been bigger than me and my life, he
is bigger than our politics. He heals, and he saves, and he loves. Most of all
“This year has changed the course of my entire life. I would recommend it to absolutely every curious young person who is wanting to ask the hard questions about God and about injustice. It is challenging and by no means is an easy ride. Our comfort zones may be familiar, however nothing grows in them. I challenge you to quiz God on where he might be moving and ask him to show you where to go next. It was the best decision I ever made.”
A few minutes walk from our apartment is the 120-meter high, man-made Teufelsberg (Devil’s Mountain). This hilltop plateau with views of the city and the surrounding Grunewald (Green Forest) was made from some 75 million cubic meters of rubble from the second world war. It is frequented by tourists and locals, who come to take advantage of the views and of the wide open space to run their dogs and to fly their kites.
Monday, in spite of the gray and cold dampness of the afternoon, someone was there flying a kite. This is a common sight year round. Often multiple kites and remote controlled gliders and drones are in action simultaneously. But somehow, this week it seemed to me a sign that spring is on the way. Soon the gray landscape of the Grunewald will match its name again! I turned and walked along the edge of the plateau, and I saw below me were several more kites. These, however, were no cause for hope at all, for they were caught, broken and hanging rather forlornly in tree branches.
They reminded me of the lives of so many people who have lost hope, countless individuals, who for awhile may have soared, but who are now caught in the ugly entangling circumstances of life–trapped by their own unwillingness and inability to do what they were created to do.
Kites, it seems, are always in danger from trees. (Remember Charlie Brown and his kite-eating tree?) But the problem isn’t really the trees. As long as kites remain connected to the kite flyer, they remain free to do what they were created to do, which is fly! As soon as a kite breaks free from the string or in rebellion gets away from its master, it will inevitably be lost and caught, unable to ever fly again . . . unless it is rescued.
Sin, which is a term for rebellion against God, breaks the connection we have with Him, and leaves us unable to achieve our created purpose, which is to live in relationship with Him. Away from the Master, we find ourselves caught by our own sins, trapped and hopeless. And unless we are rescued, we have no hope of ever being free.
But praise God, He has come to rescue us!
In light of our metaphor, it is interesting, how! For when we consider the Cross of Jesus, we see there a figure caught and hanging on a tree–broken, lifeless, seemingly without hope. But when we look beyond the Cross, we discover His broken and lifeless body raised up in the resurrection on the third day and ascended back into the heavens. The Scriptures teach us that by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus we are granted the forgiveness of our sins. Through faith in Christ, we are set free, and we are also raised up to eternal life and ascended with Him into the heavens. May we receive this gospel and fly again for His glory!
God called me to Madagascar November 2007 when I heard Rev. Patsy McGregor speak in Miami. After three short term missions I finally arrived in March 2018 with a commitment to be here for 3 years to work at the Women’s Center in Toliara. I retired from teaching high school March 2017.
I thought my purpose here was to teach the women and as I had experienced time here as a short term missionary I unfortunately assumed I knew what to expect. Was I wrong, for three months I studied the language (a very difficult language and each area has their own dialect). I have always struggled with language learning and this was no different. I felt isolated and lonely, living on a compound with mostly Malagasy people and two couples from the West. I lived in a room at the women’s center that has all the basic amenities, electricity and running water. I craved communication with people who speak the same language and have experienced a similar culture.
I struggled for nine months, talking regularly with God and often angry and frustrated, asking Why am I here, when I feel like a fish out of water. I would have what I called regular melt downs and say I‘m going home, but something kept me here. I have to say a thank you to my son James who always told me to stay because I had worked hard for a long time to come here.
December 2018 I decided to take a break. I went to England for Christmas and spent time with my two brothers and family and actually enjoyed the cold and rain after the intense dryness & heat of Madagascar. During the time I was in England I felt Jesus telling me to rest in his arms and to spend time walking and visiting with extended family.
I then went to a SAMS retreat in Cape Town in February and God revealed to me why I was in Madagascar. Teaching is a small part of my work, but my main purpose is to be a prayer warrior.
In England I had attended a silent retreat and learnt what a Postinia is and actually used one. At the retreat the speaker, Rev. Richard Copeland talked at length about prayer and also what a Postinia is, a room usually with no windows where one goes to pray and meditate. I do not have a Postinia in Madagascar but most afternoons I go outside and sit under the trees to pray and meditate.
God persevered with me and his call for me to be here with the people of Madagascar to give them hope and joy. This year I have found joy and peace and there are still struggles but God is there with me in the suffering and I learn more each day.
“Where there is a will, there is a way”- especially if it is the will of God. Ron McKeon, SAMS missionary with his wife Debby since 2008, was not one to accept tragic circumstances as an excuse not to follow God’s call. As we wrap up our focus on perseverance this Advent with our SAMS theme “Keep Calm and #CarryOnAdvent,” we would be amiss not to give tribute to a minister of the Gospel who persistently gave witness on Earth to the glory of his “Lord, Savior, and Friend,” until he went home to God on September 28, 2019.
Ron speaks to Portuguese parishioners in 2006.
At the time of his passing, many of our Society were together at the New Wineskins Conference in North Carolina. During the announcements before Eucharist on Sunday morning, New Wineskins Director Jenny Noyes recapped Ron’s call to ministry powerfully while sharing the sad news of his death: “[Ron] was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2003, and they removed his tongue and thought he couldn’t eat or talk again through the mouth. But God had called him to be a preacher, and he obeyed- not only did he learn how to eat and swallow, not only did he learn how to talk and how to be able to be heard and understood without a tongue- but He was ordained and God called him and Debby to Brazil- where he learned Portuguese.”
Filled to overflowing with God’s love by the Holy Spirit, Ron and Debby engaged in ministry in Brazil initially through short term trips, year after year. They stayed with a different church family each time so as to build genuine relationships. Ron engaged in preaching and pastoral care of clergy and laity, magnetically engaging youth with the love of God after church services. Debby trained children’s ministry teachers with Portuguese translations of the program Godly Play, empowering them to raise up other teachers. In 2015, Ron and Debby became full-time missionaries and moved to Brazil. Ron and Debby dedicated themselves to helping the Anglican churches in João Pessoa grow spiritually, numerically and missionally–especially through equipping Brazilian leaders for ministry.
Debby trains children’s ministry teachers in the Portuguese translations of Godly Play, “Na Presença do Pai.”
Ron McKeon’s life could be described as a path in the footsteps of several biblical figures. Ron’s daughter Anna reflects on his life, and the road he travelled to ordination: “I always thought he portrayed a bit of Jonah- he would switch jobs searching for the right one yet he always knew that God was calling him to go to seminary and become a priest, but he didn’t think he was the right person for the job. God was calling him to ministry and kept sending ‘whales’ until he finally said- okay, I will go into ministry. He had some Job in him too- his brother died in the World Trade Center attacks, and then a year later his mother passed away, and then four months later he got tongue cancer. But, like Job, he was never angry, he didn’t say ‘oh, forget God.’”
Far from it! The saving grace of God, as well as a second chance to serve Him on earth, joyfully propelled Ron not only to remember God, but also to share worshipfully the love of God with the people of João Pessoa, Brazil.
This time of year, Christians are likely to hear or read the Angel Gabriel’s consolation to the Virgin Mary regarding the first Advent of our Lord Jesus. “How will this be?” she asked. “Nothing is impossible with God,” the angel said. Armed with the knowledge of the Spirit’s miraculous favor upon her and her cousin Elizabeth, Mary carried our Lord, Savior, and friend in the womb, persevering in the face of social disgrace. Her betrothed, Joseph, also placed his confidence in God, caring for Mary and the Holy Child in Bethlehem and as refugees in Egypt. Ron likely heard a similar message from God- nothing is impossible with Him. Ron’s miraculous ability to taste food, to talk and be understood in spite of new speech impediments astounded doctors and medical students. It was impossible. Well, God specializes in “the impossible.”
The relational depth of Ron and Debby’s ministry was evident in the love and care they received back from the Brazilian church community, the Anglican Diocese of João Pessoa, as Ron fought an aggressive cancer. His family shared how this church community “surrounded this ‘couple of Christ’ with love, support, and assistance with the cultural uniqueness of Brazilian daily life. And so, as Ron’s days grew short, this special form of Brazilian love and support grew to immense importance for both him and Debby.” Over Ron’s last few weeks the clergy of the diocese held an around the clock prayer vigil by his bedside.
SAMS Mission Director Stewart Wicker passed on a story from Diocesan Bishop Marcio Meira of Brazil of Ron’s perseverance in spite of devastating setbacks in the weeks before his death. “It was made clear to Ron that he would not ever speak again. So when Bishop Marcio went to visit him, he was surprised to see that Ron had a guitar since he had never seen Ron play one. Ron was able to communicate to the bishop that he had just picked it up because if he was never to preach again, he would learn the guitar to praise the Lord in order to continue his ministry there.” Ron carried on the hope of the Gospel to the very end of his life- he never took his limitations as an excuse not to give witness to the greatness of God. He continues to worship God in heaven, joyfully anticipating with us the day when Christ will make all things new.
How did Ron never give up? How did he maintain hope after losing his brother, his mother, his tongue, and finally his voice? He learned that his identity was not in the fulfillment of his plans and hopes, but as a servant “hidden with Christ in God.” While giving the missionary testimony at New Wineskins Global Mission Conference 2013 (which you can view here), Ron concluded:
“The unexpected is God’s plan for my life. Only with a life hidden with Christ in God can Debby and I put all that we possess, even our very lives at risk, to serve God alongside our brothers and sisters wherever we are sent, that all may have the opportunity to hear the Gospel of peace and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
During WWII, the British Crown created a royal image
with the text “Keep Calm and Carry On” to encourage the people to press on
through a dark time. Our Heavenly King is also calling us to persevere and
carry on His mission.
Why #CarryOnAdvent? Advent is a season of past and
present waiting – we remember how the Israelites waited for the Messiah and the
Magi sought for a King who came as a baby, and we ourselves practice waiting
with hope for the second coming of King Jesus. How is God teaching you to wait
in joy or lament for Him to make all things new? How is He calling you to carry
on His message of hope, whether through persevering yourself or raising up new
disciples? Share in the comments below, or on social media with the hashtag
Additionally, we have a request for you to prayerfully consider. Here at SAMS, we are answering God’s call to help missionaries “Carry On” in the mission to which God has called them. We forge ties that the global church may carry on the Good News of the coming Kingdom to all. Would you support us in this through a gift or pledge towards the Great Commission Fund?
Check out this video for more information on your
Society’s role in the missionary sending process.
Type #CarryOnAdvent into our blog search bar or into social websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for stories of perseverance in Christian mission, and don’t forget to share your own!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV
Mentors, parents, and teachers receive great pleasure when their mentees take what they are learning and share it with others. Missionaries experience the same joy when people in whom they have invested carry on the work of the Gospel to new communities, especially when they make an arduous journey on mules to do so!
Mike and Betty Kaszer have been bringing medical mission teams to La Ceiba, Honduras for many years, providing healthcare where it is scarce. Rev. Nery Yolanda Varela Zuniga is an Anglican priest in this community, at the church Iglesia Santisima Trinidad. They met her 12 years ago, shortly after she was ordained. In Betty’s words, “She’s smart, energetic and sold out to Jesus. She’s amazing! She imitates everything we do in the medical clinic and in discipleship. She has picked up our training, even though we didn’t realize we were ‘training’ her. She is carrying on the work we started and building up the pharmacy at the clinic. She is only 36 years old. She loves the Lord so much! When you see her she radiates love and gives you a big hug.”
Recently, the Diocese of Honduras informed Rev. Nery that people of a small mountain village, Las Flores, needed food and clothes. She figured that they also needed to hear the gospel, so she went prepared with a team of people from La Ceiba to minister to this village of about 25 families. However, this day-trip was not a simple drive to a local destination. The team drove 3 hours to the base of the mountain, followed by a 45-50 km (28-36 mile) trek up a mountain with the help of mules. This village is multi-cultural with various people groups from within Honduras, and the chief of the village, Don Pedro Ramirez, is a descendant of Maya Shortis Natives. As they ministered, 10 people responded to the Gospel message, and Rev. Nery baptized them. The team from La Ceiba returned home the same day- spiritually encouraged by the Lord’s work in Flores and quite tired, no doubt!
Nery plans to return to the village with a small medical brigade. The
Kaszers have started an operating clinic in La Ceiba, from which Rev. Nery will
take the doctor and nurse on the next trip (date to be determined). Rev.
Nery will use the medical ministry skills she has learned from the Kaszers in
Raising up leaders in mission reaps joyful fruit. Betty shares her joy, “If you go and build a building, it can be lost in an earthquake, but when you teach people to disciple other people, it goes on forever.” Whether missionaries train locals in evangelism, healthcare, or construction skills, investment in local leaders is a gift that keeps on giving in the mission field. How will you #CarryOnAdvent this season, empowering others to share the hope of our King’s first advent (coming), as we wait in hope for His second advent?
See the video below of Rev. Nery’s team ministering in Las Flores. You may hear an unexpected voice join in the singing!