Shepherding the Field

This is the Field

Here is the first post from Gaz Kishere. I have known Gaz n Vic (Gaz is the rather tall gentleman in the photo… and Vic – come on you can work it out!) for some 20 or so years, back when they lived in Bournemouth, and in recent years have heard bits and pieces about what they are up to in Athens. I asked Gaz if he would stick a few posts up here this month. Enjoy!


By way of an introduction my name is Gaz Kishere, dunked a Baptist at 18, Anglicanised because they let me play drums at 22, then a decade exploring the 90’s phenomenon of youth church in club culture and all things church unity.

Somewhere in there we managed to have 4 children and now have 4 grand children.

What I write below are really glimpses of my journey which I hope will provoke interest and folks will push me to draw down my learning. Till now, in terms of speaking back to the body, I am largely silent.

It was 1993, I was told that I had a face like a slapped arse when Roger and Sue Mitchel prayed a Pastoral anointing over me. To me it seemed that during the secret Santa hand out i’d been given a Mrs Miggins Pie Shop embossed tea towel. Nothing of that title spoke of daring adventure or dynamism.

The last three years of my life in organised Christianity was spent as pastor of our ragamuffin crew of co-workers and people we had helped navigate a way from institutionalism to find, for me, we had only travelled a few feet from such ideas.

It was a beautiful human being from YWAM called Jeff Pratt showing up in town which was the final nail in the coffin. He was one of those troubling empathic Jesus types who asks actual questions, ones where everything in you rushes to your mouth to share the truth. ‘Hows things with you guys’? he asked ‘Awful’ I replied , ‘we are burned out and feel total fakers, do we wait to be found out or just confess that we don’t really do people’.

We had considered stepping back for a few months now, doing it all properly, a smiling face handover masking the trauma. Jeff asked how long do you have left in you… my answer ‘Two Weeks !’

It was unfair of me as an extreme introvert who has learned to engage for the sake of others, to suggest I don’t enjoy being around people. I would not discover for another decade that it was simply the wrong context, the fold. We had overstayed beyond our shelf life and my memory of it is that we left with our hair on fire, running.

After 6 years working in community development and counter human trafficking (sex exploited children), my wife and I felt compelled to work in Athens where we have been engaged in the refugee crisis for the last 4 years.

I would like to suggest that this dislodging from the known and the inherited was prophetic and at no point was born out of a desire to leave church, but to pursue it. It was and continues to be a revelation to me what constraints I have had to cast off along the way. I would though have to confess that as one who organised the body to gather in prayer and seek prophetic pathways, I could no longer pray for God to make a space for us, the saints, and for nobody to walk in and occupy it. This was a conflicted time for me trying to live more holistically, move forwards and at the same time not wanting to cause more wounds in the land or to the body.

My first formal meeting in Athens to discuss Child Protection from exploitation would set the scene for most of our time here. I met a young lady in a coffee shop to discuss doing a workshop with unaccompanied Iranian and Afghan minors.

15 minutes into conversation she broke down in tears, talking about burn out and dysfunctions in team and the project.

Have you ever felt made for a moment? I felt like the accumulation of everything I had done, every season I had walked through, my dislodging from inherited thinking and structures was for now.

I simply said ‘I can help with that, I can help with all of that if you let me’.

Since that moment I have been working with grass roots projects, workers, leaders, founders in what I can only refer to as helping them come to fullness.

I invest in them, and I work with them to challenge and uproot ‘life and outcomes limiting structures and organisational cultures’.

I view all of these people, none of them Christian, to be about the work of the Kingdom. All of whom fight for justice, stand between the oppressor and the oppressed, people who break themselves at the feet of the least and the disinherited.

It is in this field, I can finally accept the words ‘shepherd’, and I have.

Everything that is both right and wrong about organised Christianity has prepared me to arrive here and be useful. Having said this, it is my current opinion that very little of organised Christianity can help me stand here. It is not the well that I drink from, nor the context of my learning.

I have deeply imbedded myself amongst those who have not needed to re enter the land nor come from no such alternative universe as the church. They have only, always dwelled fully in the creation, responding to its groans.

I have undergone an immersion, a re baptism back into culture, back into society alongside Kingdom people. The reality of those I see, and what they do, it screams to me that these were their works, prepared in advance for them to do at their conception. I know there is no kingless kingdom, but I cannot ever say they do not flow from the same king as I.

I stand with ordinary extraordinary people who are getting on with it.

This is the field.

Our Fears…

If you are European a great weekly resource is Jeff Fountain’s weekly newsletter from The Schuman Centre for European Studies. In my inbox this morning came False Expectations Appearing Real. At a recent summit Dr Katrine Camilleri gave a blistering talk. She works in Malta right at the centre of the migration route from Lybia. She said:

For a country the size of a rock these arrivals strain not only our logistical capacities but also our longstanding tradition of hospitality. It is a little ironic that the country that prides itself on having welcomed St. Paul with unusual kindness, as the Acts of the Apostles tells us, welcomes these arrivals by locking them up in detention centres.

Migrants were held in detention in some cases up to 18 months. The conditions were completely substandard. The centres were overcrowded. People didn’t have access to basic services, which we knew were desperately needed.

Walls

Many, she said, were fleeing war and massive violation of human rights. The journey itself made many of them pass through hardships difficult to imagine. Many were legally entitled to international protection. Katrine couldn’t but ask if receiving these people who turned up at our doors asking for help was not completely out of sync, completely incongruent with our self-perception and with our European values?

The response of the EU to the asylum seekers who came through Greece in 2015 was much the same, she continued. Although we are part of a Union founded on the core values of solidarity and respect of human rights and human dignity, we saw states acting alone, refusing to see this as a European challenge and refusing to develop a common and effective response.

‘European states are still responding by putting up walls,’ Katrine said. ‘We put up these walls to protect ourselves from real or perceived threats to our culture, to our Christian values and heritage, to our stability, to our comfort and possibly to our security. Walls in many shapes and forms: border walls, ever more sophisticated and militarized border control measures, agreements with third countries such as Turkey, and Libya, countries where asylum seekers can’t find effective protection. The list is endless.

‘These walls are, in part, the result of indifference. Pope Francis talks repeatedly about the culture of indifference, which doesn’t allow us to see the needs of the other, much less to empathize with them. Fear makes you completely unable to think of anything else except your own protection. Everything looks like a threat and you respond accordingly. You put up walls to protect yourself.

Less human

‘On the individual as well as on the national level, fear leads us to build walls and makes us incapable of looking beyond our own self-preservation, to the needs of the people who are going to be affected by those walls.

‘I don’t want to minimise the challenges posed by large numbers of arrivals. The challenges are real. People worry that it will change Europe, and I say they are probably right. But I believe that what will change us is how we choose to react to this challenge. We can choose to put up walls, to react out of fear, out of an instinct for self-preservation or we can choose to welcome, to receive the people who are arriving at our shores, who are fleeing as we ourselves would want to be treated.

‘Reacting out of fear is also very problematic for what it does to us. Fear prevents us from seeing refugees arriving at our borders as people, as individuals with needs and with rights. Dead people at the border, arbitrary detention and miserable conditions, ill-treatment, abuse: what to do? Fear allows us to assume that the violation of human rights is in certain circumstances necessary and justified. Fear allows us to dehumanize the refugees and close our eyes to their needs and suffering, which we are obliged by law to respond to. We are obliged by law to protect and assist refugees.

‘Not only the face of Europe is changed but our soul. We become less human. We turn to the opposite of what we profess as individuals and as a Union, which is supposedly founded on solidarity and respect for human rights. We respond in a way that is anything but Christian even if we do it ironically to protect our Christian heritage.’

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Why Did Dirk Willems Turn Back?

I owe a lot to the teachings and approach of Anabaptism. I have been deeply impacted by their prioritisation of the Gospels when it comes both to the practice and doctrine of the Christian faith. I did not take the ‘oath’ when serving on a court jury due to their teaching. It was not as simple as a law – Jesus said do not swear (an oath), so we do not swear, but an understanding that as followers of Christ our ‘yes’ has to be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ to be a ‘no’. Our allegiance to Christ means we are truth-tellers and to put ourselves under an oath would be to suggest that it is Christ + an oath for us to be truth-tellers. I am aware we live in the world and have to find a way through on situations, so I am really not sure what I would do if I lived in a country that asked for allegiance to a flag. An Anabaptist approach really says our allegiance is to Christ and therefore to the whole human race.

There is a story told that is very challenging of Dirk Willems who could have escaped but turned back to help his pursuer, and as a result was soon to be martyred. Not only am I challenged by ‘what would I have done’, but the interpretation of the event. Would I have interpreted it as God has delivered me, and went away praising God? I cannot but believe he did the ‘right thing’, even if I would have done the opposite. The challenge remains, often in small, non-life-threatening situations as to how I respond, and how much my faith in Christ enables (gladly obligates) me to live in a distinct counter-culture way.

(Below is from: https://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/article/why-did-dirk-willems-turn-back/)

1569 was a bad year to be an Anabaptist. The Martyrs’ Mirror lists a number of martyrs that year, some of whom lived close enough to Dirk’s home that he would surely have known of their deaths. I imagine the prospect of death was constantly with him, a steady part of his inner life. I imagine he frequently asked himself, “What would I do if …?” or, more likely in his circumstances, “What will I do when …?” His ruminations must have been shaped to a great extent by the teaching of the little Anabaptist fellowships, one of which met in his home. With arrest and death ever-present dangers, Anabaptists spent considerable time preparing one another to meet them.

Late in the winter of 1569, Dirk Willems of Holland was discovered as an Anabaptist, and a thief catcher came to arrest him at the village of Asperen. Running for his life, Dirk came to a body of water still coated with ice. After making his way across in great peril, he realised his pursuer had fallen through into the freezing water.

Turning back, Dirk ran to the struggling man and dragged him safely to shore. The thief catcher wanted to release Dirk, but a burgomaster – having appeared on the scene – reminded the man he was under oath to deliver criminals to justice. Dirk was bound off to prison, interrogated, and tortured in an unsuccessful effort to make him renounce his faith. He was tried and found guilty of having been rebaptised, of holding secret meetings in his home, and of allowing baptism there – all of which he freely confessed.

“Persisting obstinately in his opinion”, Dirk was sentenced to execution by fire. On the day of execution, a strong east wind blew the flames away from his upper body so that death was long delayed. The same wind carried his voice to the next town, where people heard him cry more than seventy times, “O my Lord; my God”. The judge present was “finally filled with sorrow and regret”. Wheeling his horse around so he saw no more, he ordered the executioner, “Dispatch the man with a quick death.”

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