When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it. - Isaiah 41:17-20
Last Sunday, I was invited to back to St James’ Church (SJC) to participate in a Thanksgiving Service for the retirement of Pas Henry Yeo (in photo) who has served as the youth pastor for the last 20 years. That visit brought back many precious memories, including the promises from this passage in Isaiah 41.
As we rejoice over the many cohorts of youths that have grown through this youth ministry, I can recall that when in my early years as Vicar there, the youth ministry was in quite a desperate condition. The youth pastor then was struggling with being burned out after serving a stint. We agreed to let him focus on theological training and off he went. There wasn’t another youth pastor in the horizon and we just managed as best as we could. The number of youths in the ministry was low and there weren’t many who were stable in the faith or showed leadership potential. As always, the state of the youth ministry also reflected the health of the rest of the church.
We were “poor and needy, seeking water and our tongues were parched with thirst. (v 17)” I can recall having coffee at a café opposite the church at Holland Village. On that morning, I sense the Lord speaking and giving me a vision: “Many youths will be walking up from the various walkways in the direction of the church.” At that point, it was really hard to see how that could be possible.
As many of you know, I am a very keen in hydroponic farming. I like to see plants grow from seeds to seedlings, and eventually full grown and ready to be harvested. As a start, you need healthy seeds to be able to hope for a harvest. At that point in SJC, I could not see the “seeds” in the church or the youth ministry. How then will the ministry grow?
Later, Pas Henry joined as the new youth pastor. It was a slow start and Henry himself was also learning the ropes. Slowly but surely, day by day, and week by week, the Lord began to work. The church and the youth ministry slowly grew. Eventually, the lives of hundreds of youths were impacted. Many move on to serve as young adults and eventually, as young families in the parish. Some joined the fulltime ministry or served in Missions. And the ministry is still fruitful today.
As SJC pastors retire (Henry) or move on (me), the work continue to grow as it has never been about us. We were not at the center, God is. 1 Corinthians 3 reminds:
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.
Yes, pastors are just God fellow workers, planting and watering the field which belongs to God. “Neither of us were anything.” It is the Owner who gave the growth
This story reminds me of the promises in Isaiah 41. As many have evaluated - as they “see, know and consider and understand” - this can only be the doing of the Lord. It was our part to desire, to pray and to facilitate and avoid standing in the way of His work. In this way, He alone is glorified.
I have many similar “dryness to fruitfulness” stories to tell and it has been my privilege to experience this again and again in the various parishes I have served in.
Let’s continue to look to the Lord for MPCC or the cell or ministry He has entrusted you. Be faithful in the little things. Keep ploughing even when it is hard work. Be careful to give Him the glory. And you will see the rivers flow and the abundance of fruitfulness.
And may all know that it is the “the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.”