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Preparing for the return of international students

1I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. 5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. 9 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other. John 15:1-17

A vineyard through the four seasons

For all of us the last two years have been difficult. We have each experienced sadness, frustration, confusion, anxiety and exhaustion – all symptoms of the effects of living with a pandemic. The borders of our country have been shut to new International students; the flow of fresh, young faces with dreams and aspirations to study and succeed among us has been cut off. Some of us have felt like a grapevine in the deep of winter: leafless, pruned, cold and seemingly inactive. In terms of its external appearance the vine appears lifeless, but I can tell you that, as a plant biologist, this is not the case. The vine is dormant, it is overwintering, it has stored reserves in its stems to carry it through the winter, and its roots remain strong. As the days lengthen again it is ready to make the most of the water and nutrients in the soil and the sunlight and CO2 from the atmosphere. Even in its dormant state imposed by winter it is still geared for life. How about you?

You may feel that your ministry has been somewhat dormant during Covid, but I trust you have experienced how God is not. How has God been at work in your life and the lives of the International students you know? What have you learned about God and yourself over the last two years? What has sustained you? How have you been pruned? Jesus said that pruning leads to a more abundant harvest in the future - we need to hold on to that promise as we think about the imminent return of International students to our shores. Can I suggest some areas of preparation.

Acknowledge and deal with your disenfranchised grief. Often with Covid we can feel that our losses haven’t been that great compared to others. But what have you lost? Your losses are still valid. Take them to God and work through them and find the compassion and comfort that God promises us when we mourn.

Maintain your devotional life and that vital connection to Jesus through Scripture reading, prayer, Bible study with others, music, art, and contemplating God’s creation. Hear the call from Jesus to stay joined to him – that is where the life flow is.

Maintain and deepen the relationships with those you work with. I strongly believe that Jesus calls us to develop small communities of faith, hope and love. And if people see that they will want in on it. Jesus therefore puts a premium on the quality of our relationships, in fact he commands it: “This is my command: Love each other.” You prepare for the arrival of new International students by nurturing small communities like this that they will sense an attraction to.

Get the training you need. This morning Dianne and I walked beside the Manawatu river and we saw volunteer firefighters training for Rapid Response Rescue. They were training in preparation for the real thing. If they have the sense to train so should we. Paul emphasised to Timothy that he needed to train in order to be effective in ministry. So, what training do you need and who can help you?

Pray with expectation. Prayer changes us, it shifts the posture and attitude of our heart to the things of God. Pray into those “divine appointments” that you long to have with new International students, in this way you will be ready and fully present to them when they arrive.

Prepare to be fruitful. Jesus, the Spirit and the Father want us to be fruitful, fruitful in our quality of love for each other, our love for God, and seeing others join themselves to Jesus and the eternal life of love he offers. A life lived like this brings joy to us, to others and to our God.

Are you ready?

Paul Stock

Palmerston North City Leader

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