It is cool under the trees. Well, at least at 08:43 in the morning it is. Temperatures at mid day are in the high 30’s, 37-38° C and the humidity is low, today it was 16% by mid day, much lower than Antakya. At night the temperatures drop to a very pleasant, almost too cool 16° C. In many ways it is an ideal location for the annual GÖK (Southeast Region) Family Camp.
This year, however, there are different events which have cast a shadow over our time together.
One was the unexpected passing of the leader of a fellowship in İstanbul (whilst on holiday with his wife in Greece – on the island of Chios, just off the Turkish coast). At only 48 years of age, in reasonable health, this was, for us, totally unexpected. Several, including the camp speakers will be leaving early to attend the funeral in İstanbul and then returning (missing one day – their teaching to be covered by another brother).
The other shadow is not so emotive nor so visible – noted more for its absence rather than its presence. The Southeast Fellowship of Churches is a voluntary association of the various churches in this region. As part of the function of the group, there are meetings of the leaders once a quarter to share, encourage and pray for one another and there is an annual four day retreat for the leaders of the various churches which combines teaching appropriate for people in ministry and a time to rest.
The biggest function organised, and I feel a very effective ministry, is the family camp where believers from all over the region, many from small, minuscule and isolated circumstances, come together. For a week we worship as a large group, sit under teaching from someone outside our own fellowships and join in small group discussions after each morning session (this affords getting to know other believers from different fellowships and areas).
If you are from a fellowship of six or eight souls, it can be profoundly refreshing and eye-opening to be with two hundred believers at one time in one place. Sometimes, when the Word is taught by someone outside the fellowship it can be accepted whereas the very same truth taught by someone within the fellowship can go unheard.
I believe the Family Camp punches above its weight in ministry terms because of the intermixing of saints from all over the region.
But, now, it seems that two fellowship in the western part of the region may have decided to host their own church camps.
Now there is nothing wrong with fellowships organising and holding camps just for their fellowship.
Let me reiterate, there is nothing wrong with having your own, church-specific camp. But, if it is decided to do this ‘instead of’ joining with the saints at the Family Camp – then I perceive a potential problem.
If a church specific camp is ‘in addition to’, I see no problem, but if the parochial is esteemed exclusively over the universal, then there will be a more limited experience, and at the same time, will be depriving us of the opportunity to get to know them and to fellowship with them – both they and we are affected, deprived of one another’s fellowship.
In any event, this year there is an absence, an empty space that they occupied in former years.
Let me be clear, it is fully correct and acceptable and they are free to come and likewise, free not to come, but there are natural consequences to the choices we make.
If they have gone the parochial route, the camp they host may well be more intimate, but, at the same time it loses the opportunity to mix with, be exposed to, to learn from, to share with a wider slice of the universal church of God.
What we do, does not just affect us… it affects all those we come in contact with – both as fellowships and as individuals; both for the good choices we make, and the bad.
No man is an island – and if that wording stumbles you, then, no individual is an island.
What I do matters. It matters to me. It matters to God. It matters to my family. It matters to the Fellowship. It matters to those I bump into in the normal thrust and parry of life.
That which may be ‘okay’ for me, may not be beneficial for my family. That which I ‘approve of’ may cause some in the fellowship to stumble. That for which I give myself a ‘pass’, may proclaim the wrong message to my community.
It is not enough for me to consider something from my own limited and, dare I say, selfish, perspective. For example, it matters how I handle and manifest my grief at the passing of a dear friend and leader in a Turkish church, or my attitude towards Family Camp, or the wee ‘cheats’ that I allow myself with regard to my diabetic diet.
I need to consider God, first and foremost. Is that which I am deciding, pleasing to Him? Would the Lord Jesus do this? Does this advance the Kingdom of God or detract from it? and so on…
This is the essential starting point, but it does not end there.
Beyond what I think, feel and believe about some action, purchase or behaviour, I need to be cognisant of its effect on my family, the fellowship I am part of and the community in which I live.
No individual is an island.
No one acts in isolation – everything has an influence.
The greatest commandment is to love God – the second is to love your neighbour.
My natural human inclination is to love me first before the two commandments mentioned above.
Now to be balanced, I acknowledge that we do need to have a healthy self-image. We do need to like ourselves. We do need to love ourselves. Loving God and our neighbour in no wise encompasses, invites or comprises self-loathing.
Having a healthy self-image, liking ourselves, is an essential part of being a healthy and balanced individual. But this is only the beginning, not the whole. Loving ourselves is essential, but not loving ourselves exclusively – not to the detriment of those we interact with. We need a holistic, comprehensive approach, not neglecting ourselves, nor those around us, nor the fellowship we are part of nor the community we find ourselves in.
The goal, the balance, is found in loving ourselves, but in the context of the two great commandments to love God and to love our neighbour. The struggle commences when our self-love becomes the all-important, even all-consuming factor and God, family and community get the short shrift.
If we were to replace self-love with self-loathing then we cannot truly love God nor our neighbour.
What we choose, where we go, what we do, what we say, what we laugh at, what entertains us, how we spend our money, how we act and how we react are all important – it all matters. It matters to us, we, who are doing it. It matters to our families. It matters to the people we work with. It matters to the fellowship we are part of. It matters to the community.
It matters to God.