Thursday, September 06, 2007

My Farewell Speech

The following speech was delivered on Tuesday evening to those assembled at my last gopher-year prayer meeting in Southeast London.

Here are the first seven minutes in a youtube video. (Mind the "speach" typo!) The full transcript is below.


I will never forget this year.

This was the year I got detained for seven hours at Heathrow airport, the year I became a British citizen, the year I preached the gospel to a small house-church congregation in Al Qaeda territory in Northern Pakistan, and the year I got my first-ever girlfriend while somehow observing OM's “social permission” policy.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the name “George Verwer.” It was like he was always there. My dad had been in OM in India in the 60’s, and he and George had kept in touch ever since. So we would hear of George & Drena often growing up: in my dad’s stories, when the Special Projects newsletters arrived in our mailbox; or, for example, when we heard the shocking news, back in ‘88, that the original OM ship, the Logos, had run aground off the coast of Chile. Most exciting of all, though, was when Dad would get an unexpected phone-call from George Verwer himself. After all I had heard about this legendary man, it was like getting a call from Billy Graham. :)

Unlike most teenage boys, I never did get the “birds & bees” talk from my dad. But the George Verwer tapes he gave me were just as good! “Did he really just say that?” I thought, as George preached about things that make the birds & the bees look tame. No, here was someone who was willing to preach about what needed to be talked about, a man of openness and vulnerability, a leader with a passion for God, and a missions advocate of great vision. It wasn’t long before George became one of my personal heroes.

Not long after that, when I was about seventeen, my dad told me how George had a young man travel with him every year – to help him with practical things. This young man was called George’s “gopher.” Now, although I held George in very high regard, I didn’t feel this job was for me. I wanted to get my degree and plunge into the business world, so I didn’t take my dad up on his suggestion.

A few years later, I was sitting with my parents and sister at a ship fundraising dinner in Toronto. George Verwer was the speaker and, during the meal, was making his way around the tables – greeting old friends and meeting new people. Finally he arrived at our table. He greeted my parents and then turned to me. What would he say? Would he give me a prophetic word? Would he see something special in me? “What are you studying?” He asked. “Internet business,” I said. Not visibly impressed, he turned to my sister and said, “What about you? You look more recruitable than your brother.” :)

Although this encounter did not leave me particularly inspired, I didn’t hold it against George, and it wasn’t long before I found myself, well, recruited – serving on the Logos II ship for 4 ½ months. It was a fantastic time.

Several months went by, and later that year, 2004, I found myself sitting across a table from none other than George Verwer; it was at a Missions conference in Montreal. I had traveled up from Toronto to talk with him about the possibility of becoming, you guessed it, his gopher. Needless to say, my dad’s idea of several years prior had grown on me. George and I chatted for 20 minutes or so, and I expressed my interest in becoming his gopher in 2006—about two years away. George said “okay.” No difficult questions. That was it.

The interim time passed quickly, and in early August 2006 I arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to begin my adventure. Of course, in the very early days, I met two other people whom George’s gopher works very closely with: his marathon-runner wife Drena, and his super-efficient PA Vera.

Vera picked me up from the airport and, as we made our way to the West Wickham base, we passed the scene of a accident. Now, I think most of us consider accidents a nuisance – something that slows down our journey. But Vera’s reaction was different. Tears welled up in her eyes as she contemplated the people who had been involved in this very serious accident. That’s Vera; a person of deep compassion. She is one of the hardest-working people you will ever meet. She loves young people, she is super-hospitable, and she makes a great friend because, well, she is lots of fun.

It was also a real treat to get to know Drena this year. I had heard so much about her in George’s messages on tape. I remember him calling her “mega-loyal” in one of them. And I know that my mum has always looked up to Drena as something of a hero. Now, I know that Drena views herself as very ordinary, and she doesn’t give herself credit for much, but there is no doubt that Drena was God’s choice for “making George human,” to use her words.

I got to spend more time with Drena than most gophers, and I was always so blessed by how patient a listener she was. She has also been someone I can go to for advice. To be honest, Drena is one of the most tender-hearted people I have ever met. She is someone who will cry over the words in a Christmas card as she remembers the person and relationship behind the person who wrote it.

And what can I say about George? Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay him is to say that, after spending a whole year with him and seeing him at his most vulnerable moments, he is still a hero to me. The difference is that, to use a word he uses for me, he is also now a friend.

George is a one-off. He jumps out of bed in the morning and he dives into bed at night. He is a bundle of energy. In fact, I have never seen George sit still for more than 60 seconds. He is a tornado. I remember the time in Korea he spoke seven times in one day – each time with a great deal of energy.

George often says that he has a big mouth; it’s true, but he uses it for the people in the world who don’t have a voice. You’d think his vision was big enough in the early days of OM when his desire was to see the whole world evangelized. Now, believing that we must meet the needs of the whole person, his vision has grown. He doesn’t just want to evangelize the whole world. He wants to feed the whole world, clothe the whole world, and educate the whole world. And we need to treat the world itself—the earth—better while we’re at it.

What am I going to take away from the unique training program this year has been? What have I learned from George? I have learned that I need to make every moment count, and that one person can do a lot. I have learned we need to be God’s the 168 hours per week He has given us. I have learned that to love Christ means to obey Him and that to obey Him takes discipline. I have learned that even though people are so fallible, God uses us; and that God works in all kinds of ways. I have learned that we need to be broadminded and big-hearted or we will quickly become judgmental and disillusioned. I have learned that it is better to give people the benefit of the doubt, even though at times they will let us down. I have learned how massive-vision thinking and realistic strategies can be used in tandem to achieve great things.

Now, at the end of my gopher year, my heart is filled with gratitude. It has been a joy to be part of the Southeast London Fellowship. Thank you Fawzia for helping me deliver that parcel just in time. Thank you Suzanne for your constant words of encouragement. Thank you Mary & Neale for praying for me. Thank you Gwenda, and John for being a great pal and for showing me what joy is and what it means to finish well. Thank you Dennis & Carole for your words of advice and encouragement. Thank you Kenny & Bee Lee for giving me so much food to take home! Thank you Jensie, and Martin for sharing some of your writing with me, especially the piece about British culture; that is useful when one has a British girlfriend! Thank you Peter & Melanie for your advice and for making me feel welcome. Thank you Debbie for praying for me when I needed it. Thank you Dave & Judy for that great meal you sent home for me. Thank you Radha & Sheela, and Chacko for showing me around when I got here. Thank you Jessika for driving with me to Moorlands College when my stick-shift driving was not the best. Thank you Sheila for picking me up from the train station when I got back. Thank you Mike & Kerstin for taking me to Pakistan—the highlight trip of the year—and for the food and conversations we shared. Thank you Pam for doing my bookkeeping, and Dave for helping me ship books for George. And thank you to the rest of the team for showing me what it means to serve God wholeheartedly.

Before I finish, I would like to hand the baton to Mark Roberts, and wish him a gopher year as good as mine. Mark, stay close to Jesus, choose joy and grace, step back and look at the big picture from time to time, get enough sleep, and do your best to love every minute of your year.

So, here I am, one year later: 20 countries, most of the US states, 3 ships, 100 flights, 250 meetings, 200+ book tables, 10 or so messages of my own, a few recruits, an extra passport, lots of mistakes, 1000 new friends.

Thank you to all of you: George, Drena, Vera, Mark; God’s special forces of Southeast London Fellowship; and thank you, Lord, for giving me this year, for redeeming some of my weaknesses, for taking me to places where I had to trust you, and for always being faithful. Amen.

(Download this speech as a pdf here.)
ar TORONTO, CANADA | 2023+



27 Sat (1) 11am Commencement speaker at R. University, (2) ~3pm+ time w/ V/AR+
29 Mon (1) 9:30am VT prayer, (2) 3pm mtg DerCh - Mississauga
30 Tue (1) 10am ph call (AA), (2) 5:30pm video mtg (IsTan), (3) 8pm neighbourhood prayer mtg

1 Thu (1) 11:30am Zoom mtg (LM), (2) 4pm mtg (VS,KBr)
2 Fri (1) 10:30am ph call (PVDW; SL w/ boys; ~J working)
3 Sat SL w/ boys and MG
5 Mon (1) 9:30am VT prayer mtg, (2) 2pm Europe call, (3) 5pm mtg/walk (YM)
6 Tue (1) 11:30am lunch (GD) - St. Jacobs, (2) 4pm mtg (AF) - Cambridge, (3) 7:30pm worship night
9 Fri ~J's b'day
10 Sat North Bay trip
13 Tue 11am mtg (DAy) (~J school trip w/ ~Co | text BD)
14 Wed 9:30am time w/ BD
15 Thu 4:30pm video mtg (Paul T.)
16 Fri (1) 9am video med appt, (2) 15-km run (Prayer Journey "warm-up")
17 Sat Prayer Journey (my own: 50km GTA bike-ride; Jessie's: 5KM) and speaking at GTA after-party
23-25 Fri-Sat poss. SL
26 Mon 2pm Europe monthly call
29 ... July 7 Thu-Fri poss. holiday in Arkansas

... 7 Thu-Fri poss. holiday in Arkansas
~8-17 SA+ in Toronto; P/H Bell likely visiting too
15 Sat aft+ baptism (Saj; NaB may be coming)
17-21 Mon-Fri Kids Kapers camp
24 Mon 2:45pm med. appt
26 Wed (1) 11am video mtg (SM), (2) 3pm Zoom mtg (SMa,SB), (3) 7pm ~J speaking at Greenhouse/Zoe - UofT downtown
27 Thu 10am video MVT board mtg
31 Mon 3:05pm med. appt
July/Aug CCWM board mtg / AGM

2 Wed 11am video mtg (SM+)
6-12 Sun-Fri Cottage w/ O/DN+ and UB/AC - Windermere; plus Muskoka
19 Sat poss. ~J fam beach day - Brighton area
25-29 Fri-Tue MoveIn staff retreat - southern Ontario

Sep 21 Thu - MVT board mtg
Sep 23 Sat poss. date of GV memorial
Sep 24 Sun ~Ch's b'day
Sep ~26-28 Poss. time in Lushnjë, Albania
Sep 29 - Oct 6 MoveIn Europe Conference+ - Durrës, Albania
Oct 21 Sat poss./unlikely date of GV memorial
Oct 21-27 Dollar-a-Day week
Early Nov Poss. fundraising event - Niagara
Nov-Jan Poss. time in India - Goa; Philippines - Manila+; Indonesia - Jakarta/Bali; LA/San Diego