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There is a small craft sitting on my desk. It is a sailboat; not your fancy dream yacht but a typical souvenir sailboat. It is carved out of wood and the sail is made of dried palm leaves hanging on a tiny mast. It is so rough and coarse that you might wonder if it will actually float and sail. It is from Vanuatu, a South Pacific island. I received it from our guests of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu to the 134th General Assembly. It is a precious reminder of the sacrifice many of our ancestors paid.
Rev. John and Mrs. Charlotte Geddie left Nova Scotia 160 years ago for Vanuatu. They were Presbyterian missionaries who had a vision to serve the South Pacific region with the gospel. It took them three years to get to Vanuatu. Soon after they arrived on the island, John was martyred. The people in Nova Scotia were deeply saddened by the tragic news and his brother decided to go to Vanuatu. He also was martyred on the island. Many more martyrs followed. Now the majority of Vanuatu’s residents are Christians. They are the fruits of the gospel that was planted 160 years ago.
There is a stone monument standing beside the entrance to my church building. It is the monument of Rev. Dr. Jack McIntosh and a part of his ashes are buried under the monument. Rev. Dr. Jack and Mrs. Beth McIntosh left Canada to serve Koreans in Japan in 1961 as Jack graduated from Knox College. They served Koreans in Japan as if they were their own brothers and sisters. Jack and Beth were actively involved in many projects including a petition to the Japanese government to improve the human right of Koreans in Japan. During this long and tedious legal fight against the Japanese government, Jack’s health deteriorated and it eventually forced him to retire from ministry. They both came back to Canada in 2001 after 40 years of service in Japan. Jack passed away that same year to join those who had been called before him.
There is a stonewall standing in the center of Yanbian University of Science and Technology, China. On the wall, along with Psalm 23 inscribed on the marble surface, there is the name of Mr. Chung-Il Ha, a Korean-Canadian elder from Vancouver who volunteered to teach at YUST. It is a university founded by Korean Christians who had one thing on their minds: To serve and to share. Moving to China meant giving up everything they had prepared for decades including a very comfortable and secure retirement. It also meant a separation from their beloved children. All the staff at YUST were self supporting volunteers. Yet, the Has went to China, where the living conditions were very harsh to foreigners, especially in the winter. While he was working, Chung-Il had a heart attack and passed away. His family made sure to bury him in the land he loved serving, China. Mrs. Ha still lives in Yanbian and continues to teach young people. Chung-Il was the first one who left his name on the wall. I believe there will be many more to follow.
These are just a few examples of the many people who realized the purpose of their existence and gave themselves to the sacred call without any hesitation. They served without knowing what the result would be like but they knew one thing very clearly—they laid the foundation for the next. This call sometimes asks for the ultimate sacrifice—giving up what we have, or who we are.
We are gathering at 135th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada this month. As we come to deal with the business arising before us, we are once again reminded of the mandate—we gather together not to lay down a safe and smooth path but the foundation for the next generation. And it may require some sacrifice. There will be complicated issues followed by endless debate, motions, amendments and petitions that make commissioners wonder if there will ever be an end. Still, as we remember we are standing on the foundation of the ultimate sacrifice laid by our faithful colleagues, we will be able to make the right decision for the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church.
May God bless us all as we gather to put the road for the future.