One of the most significant events for me at the start of this year has been the death of one of our pastors – Mark LauYoung. Mark was 46, and he was outstanding. Three years ago to the day of his death I was involved in commissioning him as Senior Pastor of the Hosanna World Outreach Church.
This is one of our largest churches in the Wellington region and it is also one of the most genuinely multicultural. Mark was the perfect pastor for such a church in that he too was genuinely multicultural – Chinese, Samoan and Pakeha.
Mark was significantly gifted. Prior to being called to Hosanna he was one of the most respected people working in the government. He made considerable sacrifices to become a pastor. He was humble, wise and had a passion for learning.
He was also blessed with a beautiful personality. His fellow pastors loved him. I remember meeting him in a cafe, just months ago, when he told me that he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and was waiting for tests to determine how serious it was. At that stage he was fairly upbeat and able to talk about it quite lightly.
As time went on he became thinner and weaker, and always there was the hope of a miracle of healing.
I met with him the day before he died and he was very thin and very jaundiced. His spirit was strong and, although he couldn’t speak, he was smiling and making small gestures to indicate that he was well in touch with the conversation that Pastor Chris Sola and I were having with him.
The following morning he was gone.
What do you make of this? At the human level it makes no sense. There is a tremendous sense of loss. When Chris and I were with him we were all praying for a miracle. Chris made the simple but profound statement, “Mark is in God’s hands, and we are trusting God for him.” And so we were.
Mark’s funeral was amazing, with delightfully honest sharing from his children and, from his wife, Merita, a powerful affirmation that the work God had begun and developed in partnership with Mark would go on. There were some great words of faith and affirmation to us and we are trusting. We don’t understand and we don’t have to, but we do believe:
• That Mark is truly and wonderfully more in God’s hands than he has ever been.
• The work that Mark has been a part of will go on. How many times have we seen God do something out of a situation that we see as one of human tragedy?
• There will be others who will step forward to become great leaders.
In reflecting on our loss of Mark I found myself thinking about faith and how much easier it sometime seems to exercise faith at the landmark periods of our lives and how difficult it is to actually live by faith in the “in-betweens” – and yet how much we need to.
I find myself thinking of the moments when Lorna and I took the big steps – when I first sensed the call of God to pastoral ministry at a time when I was on the verge of an international singing career that God seemed to have mapped out for me. For us, at the time, this was a momentous decision where there was discussion and prayer that involved family, friends and our faith communities.
It was similar when at a later stage I moved from my career as an opera singer based in the UK back to New Zealand to become the pastor at Wellington Central Baptist. We moved with great confidence that God was in this, To quote Chris, we were in his hands.
We are called to live by faith – not just at those huge moments of change. If we are truly to be God’s missionaries just where we are in the workplace, the home or our social environment, we need to be able to operate with the confidence that God is leading and has prepared the way for us.
Friends, this doesn’t just happen. We involve our faith communities and families in the momentous decisions, in the same way we show discipline with our own practices of prayer, seeking God’s mind through scripture and sharing with friends at those momentous times – isn’t this the way that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to consistently live?
At a recent Assembly Council and national ministry heads retreat we identified the need for a new boldness in our witness to Jesus and who we are as his followers. Again – this doesn’t just happen!
Eugene Peterson puts it this way – “[We need] a readiness to clear space and arrange time to look at these elements of our life that are not at all peripheral but are central – unobtrusive signals of transcendence. By naming and attending and conversing, we teach our friends to “read the Spirit” and not just the newspapers” (Working the Angles).
He’s writing for pastors, but then we believe in the “priesthood of all believers,” don’t we!
Let’s continually practise and learn the art of living by faith, taking nothing for granted. We are a generation that is focused on physical fitness but are we as concerned for soul fitness and a life of faith?