We had another wonderful worship experience this Sunday at Fjordland New Life Church on the South Island of New Zealand near Milford Sound.
That’s Benji in the picture, their minister and he is an incredibly friendly guy. They were a small congregation but full of energy and clearly kind and welcoming. We entered, and they had a little coffee/kitchen area and tables for everyone to meet and greet before the service. We were greeted repeatedly and had several conversations before we even entered. They have several interns that work with them in missions and their work to stop sex trafficking. This is their vision:
I’m afraid we just can’t imagine in the South. We could only find less than ten churches on the whole South Island of New Zealand! Wikipedia tells us “In the 2006 census, around 55.6% of those who answered the question on religion identified themselves as Christian. This gives a total of slightly more than two million Christians in the country.” We aren’t in a heavily populated area near Milford Sound, but there millions of tourists through here.
We met Marina Kurban after she shared the message with us. She is originally from Tajikistan, which was formerly part of the Soviet Union till it collapse. After the collapse, the country was plagued by civil war and Islamic militarism increased. They are bordered by Afghanistan to the south, Republic of Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyz Republic to the north, and People’s Republic of China to the east. Islamic Republic of Pakistan lies to the south. Not exactly the most peaceful place to live and grow up. These are her words:
“My name is Marina Kurban and for me, the concept of “investing in lives” was born many years ago.
I grew up in an environment that was very challenging to say the least. Every person in my immediate family was effected in some way by the harrowing realities of poverty, abuse and of commercial sexual exploitation.
Many of my close friends and classmates were swallowed up by this atrocity at a very young age. There were no welfare agencies or religious organisations for them to turn to for help. Even those who tried to escape and live a normal life couldn’t due to a lack of resources. Integrating back into society was pretty much impossible because of a lack of skills and support.
From a very early age my dream was to change this reality. On a small scale, I was able to impact lives and provide necessary resources to enable individuals to leave the traps of poverty, abuse and enslavement. This included financial and emotional support as well as mentoring.
Independently, I’ve been investing in lives for many years now but this year I have decided to bring a community together which will enable us to be more effective and impact more lives.”
She shared an incredible inspiring sermon with us about how generosity creates righteousness.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15 “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”
Proverbs 3 “: 27-28 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act. “Do not say to your neighbor,
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—when you already have it with you.”
And tears came to her eyes as she shared:
Isaiah 1:11-20 “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land;
but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
She also reminded us in Matthew 25:31-40 – “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Notice he didn’t say because our worship services followed the proper order and we sang great worship songs and prayed convincingly – actually in some ways these are the things he was sick of in Isaiah, but they were only wrong because they neglected what was most important, loving one another, and with real deeds not just words.
Please check out her website at http://www.investinalife.org, and consider supporting her efforts. She was an amazing lady, allowing the Spirit to lead her to do hard things in her home country, when to go back was definitely not the comfortable thing to do. I can not imagine. But her story about how God brought her to this place of returning to her country and overcoming her hate of Islam and the men who abused her family was incredibly moving and I wish I could have recorded it for you here. She returns for 3 months to Tajikistan on February 27, Ella’s birthday! She is working to raise $13,000 with her church and through the website. I hope you might consider supporting her!