The following address was given by The Upper Room Emmaus Ministries International Spiritual Director Rev. Stephane Brooks to the South Africa National Board earlier this year.
In the present circumstances, I have no doubt that apart from being an opportunity for conversation and an accountability mechanism, this year’s meeting of Emmaus Ministries South Africa’s (EMSA) Board is a space for healing and encouragement. The present circumstances dictate this.
This is a role that our office has increasingly embraced over the past two years, since the COVID-19 virus upended our world, rendering it very challenging for Emmaus Ministries communities to hold in-person events. This situation has been extremely challenging and discouraging for communities—especially those communities that had placed Walks, Flights, and Encounters at the center of their work. In some of these communities, discouragement has resulted in resignations. Some communities no longer exist. In some of these communities, the blow dealt by the pandemic has been so debilitating that internal struggles have ensued.
So, as I said earlier, I have no doubt that in the present circumstances, this year’s meeting of EMSA’s Board is a space for healing and encouragement as the world continues in this season of uncertainty. As you endeavor to be sources of healing, encouragement and inspiration for each other, I want to share some good news with you: It is not all going downhill.
There are some very good things happening—whether it is coming out of the International Office in Nashville or from communities like yours around the world. Let me begin by sharing some of what is happening in communities or regions around the world. During the past eighteen months, we have had the opportunity to work with a number of communities. One of the things that these communities have in common is their conviction that, if God’s kingdom is to come on earth as it is in heaven, they must continue to contribute to the development of mature and spirit-led Christian leaders for the local churches and for the world.
With these communities, we have been helping them to understand that Walks, Flights, and Encounters are only catalysts for our real work. They are only the beginning of the story. We have been working with these communities and helping them understand that the Walks, Flights, and Encounters are only set-ups for the Fourth Day—the Fourth Day during which the growth in grace that we are aiming for takes place.
This work has resulted in the Emmaus Ministries communities in one region recently launching what they called a “spiritual formation program.” They became convinced that they were no longer wanting to invite a person to a weekend or a series of events. Instead, they were wanting to invite them on a life-long pilgrimage with Christ. They are dethroning the Walks, the Flights and the Encounters and replacing them with the reunion groups that are central to our work.
What has happened is that along the way, as we were having these conversations, first, these communities got a clearer understanding of their WHY—their mission. And, secondly, they came to a clearer understanding of the centrality of a graceful accountability mechanism—that is provided through the reunion groups— for ongoing connection with God and growth in grace. These communities have decided to flip things around and—in this season of uncertainty, doubt, and fear—the feedback that we have been receiving is just incredible. Lightbulbs have been going off in persons minds.
Friends, it is not all going downhill. But there is an invitation that came with COVID-19. It is an invitation into reflection: reflection on our mission and reflection on our practices as we seek to renew Christian disciples and strengthen local churches for their mission. This reflection can be hard work. It can be very hard work, especially if we have come to love our weekends and events. Yes, it can be hard work, but now more than ever, the reflection is necessary if we are to strengthen and position ourselves for the next steps.
Emmaus Ministries is a renewal movement that is rooted in the good news of God’s transformative and empowering love for humanity. This message is alive, and any organization or group of persons that are bearing this message is called to be humble, to be reflective, and to allow God’s spirit to carry it on transformative and renovating work. All is not going downhill, but there is an invitation to go on a deep dive, to partner with God, and to be determined to be instruments of God.
Many other things are happening. We now have a new one-day offering that can be virtual or in-person: that is Day Four Restore. We are also continuing work on our new virtual offering in the Emmaus Ministries family. The International Office is also about to launch its online university through which clergy and laity will be able to receive training on various aspects of the work of the Emmaus Ministries community. I can give you a list of things that are happening.
All this to say that even in the midst of the present uncertainties, for us, hope continues to be a reality. As you gather this weekend, you are a forum for ongoing conversation on the work. You are an accountability mechanism. You are a space for healing. And you are a space for encouragement.
My prayer is that, as you come to the end of this session, you will leave not with heavy hearts over who was elected or not or over what should have been done here or there, but that you will leave with hearts filled with joy to be part of this gathering and hearts filled with hope, a hope that results from the knowledge and assurance that God is not dead and that—no matter what the challenges might be— God will continue to sustain God’s people as they faithfully carry out the mission to which they have been called.
Rev. Stephane Brooks
International Spiritual Director, Emmaus Ministries
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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