This time last week, I was on a small tour boat on my way to a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Arm in Vancouver Harbor.  There were 28 people on board. 

I have gone to view how Joy Fellowship, ministry within the mentally challenged community,  in Vancouver, B.C. would conduct their leadership retreat.  We are interested in learning how to better use our members who have leadership qualities.  I would like to take another week to mull over the things I learned but I’m afraid that rather than blending, it could ferment.  So here goes:

  1. In many ways, their leadership techniques are similar to those used in Special Gathering with shades of differences.
  2. Their leadership has complete freedom to contribute a thought, a verse or a song during the worship services.  It was common to have two or three people interject their thoughts during a teaching.  This could be a result in the fact that Joy Fellowship has a worship service on Sunday.  Then during the week, they have their Bible studies.  At Special Gathering, we have our worship time, then a Bible study afterward.  We ask our members to not interrupt the worship time.  However, they are encouraged to ask their questions during the Bible study time.  I’m actually not sure which I prefer.  However, I found the spontaneity of their leadership refreshing.
  3. The teachers taught passages of scripture, rather than one or two verses.  This gives the members an overview from the scriptures of what the main principle is.  At Special Gathering, we read one or two scriptures and teach only one point during each devotion.  During the devotion, we will tell (rather than read from the scriptures) the Bible background of the story we are teaching.  There may be two or three points in the Joy Fellowship teachings.  Because these men and women are higher functioning, they appeared to be able to assimilate all the points.  Because I didn’t attend a regular service, I wasn’t able to see if a passage of scripture is also used in the normal worship services.
  4. They had an interesting combination of preparation and informality.  The entire weekend was presented in written form contained in a booklet of questions and activities.  This gave the people leading the small groups concrete instructions to follow.  These groups were exceptionally easy to lead because of this booklet.
  5. The informality came during the teaching time and praise and worship.  For example, during songs the signing choir knew, they would come up as though on cue, though there were no verbal instructions.
  6. Some of the leadership had become a tad bossy with the other members.  There was gentle instruction and correction given.  This is an issue we also face and we have to address when it occurs.
  7. Last year after their leadership retreat,  a member of their leadership team had collapsed and died on the dock  immediately after the retreat.  Because of this, there was a need for a memorial service during the retreat.  This was bitter/sweet time for everyone.  I was happy to see the teacher hit the issue of grief head-on with tears of remembrance and joy that a friend had gone to heaven.
  8. The ushers and signing choir had been trained to respond automatically to their service offerings, rather than on cue. 

Of course, there was more but my mind is still sorting.  In all, I was impressed with their leaders and their teachers. 

What are some of the things you have learned regarding leadership that you believe are important to share?

Of course, I remember when time dragged by, unless it was summertime or the weekend.  But that was several decades ago.  It’s April and I only begun to feel really comfortable writing 2009.   My mother told me that as she got older and dementia slowed her activities,  time began to slow down again.  That made me a bit sad.

 I visited with a couple who are approaching their eighties this weekend in Canada. They are the founders of the ministry, Joy Fellowship.  They are still active with nonstop phone calls, visits to make, letters and e-mails to write.  They were commenting that the first months of 2009 have flown away.  It was refreshing to hear.

While I dislike the fact that there seem to be more tasks than time, I would hate for the opposite to be true.  I have a close and dear friend who is only a few years older than I.  He has nothing to do but eat, sleep and go to church on Sundays.  While he never complains, he also does not seem to have much interest in his surroundings, except watching the next TV show. 

Chris and Lisa are twins who attend Special Gathering.  They are joyful, peaceful spirits.  Chris is blind but sharp as a chef’s butcher knife.  Lisa is much lower functioning. Yet she radiates love for her sister and life.  I don’t think time passes too quickly for them.  But I know it doesn’t drag either.  Together they share a peaceful bond of love for each other and the Lord.  They sing and laugh during our worship times.  Their caregiver tells me that they are so joyful that taking care of them is a delight, even though it is arduous work. 

Whether time is your friend or your foe, whether it zooms by at lightning speed or creeps around you like a snail, it is the reality with which we all live.  As my hosts showed me this weekend, making the most of the time we’ve been given is the key to conquering the time complex.  And the twins remind me often that the fruit of the Spirit–joy and peace–make our time tasks delightful.

Is time your friend or your foe?  Does it speed along too quickly or creep too slowly for your tastes?  Do you think that activity is the key to redeeming the hours?  Or do love, peace and joy hold the answer?  Perhaps, it’s both?

There are a few people who don’t have to do because they can simply be.   When they enter the room they bring a vital presence of God along with them.  That was my new friend, Joanne. 

Joanne is Chinese-Canadian and more than 80 years old.  She fiercely introduces herself as Canadian but her straight black hair, dark complex, small statue and eyes betray her Chinese heritage.  She barely reaches four feet tall but she is a giant in the faith.  Spending almost 30 years in India doing tribal missions, she was forced to leave her adopted home in the early ’70s and returned to Canada.  Since that time, she has traveled all over the world, doing short-term missions work.  Some of her stays were years.  Other were weeks. 

Her mission field is now the mentally challenged community.  She is the co-director of the signing choir for Joy Fellowship in Vancouver (JFV).  With all her years of experience and training, she meekly says, “I leave most of the leadership of the signing choir up to Shawna, who is my co-director.  We use different sign languages.  And to be honest, Shawna is a much better teacher than I am.”   Shawna is about 25 and a high-functioning member of JFV. 

After spending a few days with Joanne, I admitted to her, “You are what I want to be like when I grow up.”  We had just completed a mountain hike of about a mile.  Joanne had jauntily agreed to go with us.  Of course, we had to wait a bit for her but her laughter and joy made the slight delays well worth our time.

She will travel this spring to a nation which was formally part of the Soviet block.  She will go with a group of educators.  They were invited by the government to teach ethics and moral development.  After four days of the “official” seminar, they will take an unofficial day to teach the scriptures and the ethical applications of the gospel.  In previous years, everyone attended the extra day and almost all of the attendees accepted Jesus as their Savior and Moral Guide.

By the end of our weekend together, Joanne promised to come and visit us in Florida.  “I can’t come this trip,” she said.  “But I’ll be there.”  I look forward to being with her again because I know that I can learn so much from her about teaching and living and humility. 

Pooh, I might as well be honest. I don’t care, if she teaches me anything.   I just like being around someone who brings an almost tangible presence of God with her.  Don’t you?