On Friday evening, Chris and I were guests of the Gideons International for one of their conventions or, in Gideon parlance, an "encampment." Most people know the Gideons for the Bibles they place in hotel rooms or the pocket New Testaments they give to students around the US. But the Gideons are truly international, currently publishing the Bible in 94 languages (with more translations in progress) and distributing them in 197 countries. Last year they gave away more than 84 million Bibles. (That is more than two Bibles given away every second.) Do you ever wonder if those Bibles placed in hotel rooms and given to students actually have an impact in leading people to Christ? Yes they do; and the Gideons have plenty of testimonies of changed lives to prove it.
We were blessed to hear a banquet address by the International President of the Gideons, Dr. William Thomas, a physician and surgeon from Sheffield, UK. In his address, Dr. Thomas mentioned his friendship with Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria, and the fact that Abp. Kwashi's conversion to Christianity came from an encounter with a Gideon Bible. I was one of Ben Kwashi's examiners when he completed his DMin degree at Trinity School for Ministry. Later, after I was Dean and President at Nashotah House, we conferred an honorary D.D. degree on Ben--a great man of God and a dynamic witness to the Gospel in an area of Nigeria where martyrdom is an almost daily possibility. As the only Anglican clergyman in the banquet hall of 1000 people, I couldn't help but reflect on how amazing it was to be here in Western Colorado, listening to a speaker from the UK tell about his friend from Nigeria who I had known since my days on a seminary faculty in Pennsylvania. But that is the sort of thing that seems to happen regularly since I moved to Montrose.
This spring I am taking the course Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Although I have a doctoral minor in Missiology and have taught Missions at the seminary level, I have never had the opportunity to take the Perspectives course. Montrose, population 18,000, hosts the Perspectives course every 18 to 24 months. No other town this size in the United States (that isn't a suburb in a larger metropolitan area) even manages to host the Perspectives course, much less to host it so frequently.
Several churches in the Montrose area (Colorado's "Western Slope" of the Rockies) got together and decided to underwrite the entire cost of a Bible translation for the Mepha'a tribe--an unreached people group in southern Mexico. It is called the Western Slope Bible Translation Project, and is a groundbreaking approach to funding new translations by the Wycliffe Bible Translators.
I am blessed to serve a remarkable congregation. Among the members are three other Anglican priests (one ACNA, one PEAR-USA, and one REC) and their wives. Professors from Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia and Trinity, Ambridge, PA own houses here and are a part of our congregation during sabbaticals and vacations. Another local professor who is a permanent resident of Montrose, who also teaches for TSM and San Francisco Theological Seminary, and his wife make our congregation their home and bless us with their gifts in teaching, spiritual direction, and music.
We have five teams of musicians, including a wind ensemble, who provide our worship music on weekends. A higher percentage of our congregation is involved in music ministry than any other congregation I know. Through a program known as Community Options, our musicians provide a program of music therapy for developmentally challenged adults in Montrose. They perform together in a group known as Joyful Sounds. One of the things that impressed me most when I interviewed here (in addition to the generally high level of volunteerism) was this group of musicians, several of them with advanced degrees, devoting their time to helping developmentally challenged adults make music--and having fun doing it! That kind of humility and selflessness speaks volumes.
This morning my colleague, who is a postulant for the vocational diaconate, preached at our 8am and 10am services. She has taken her course in Introduction to the Old Testament and is now enrolled in the New Testament course in the Diocese of Quincy's St. Benedict School for Ministry, which I have had a part in founding. Having spent more than 30 years in seminary education, I can attest that most of the three-year MDiv graduates I have known couldn't have preached a sermon that handled the Scriptures as clearly and as well. I am blessed and gratified to have her as a colleague in ministry.
Montrose probably has more non-profit organizations per capita than any other city in North America. Members of All Saints Anglican Church have been involved in founding Haven House, Christ's Kitchen and other ministries. Habitat for Humanity's Montrose operation dwarfs that of many larger cities. The congregation's latest initiative is a community garden on acreage behind our church, designed to be an outreach to lower-income individuals in our community.
This afternoon, Chris and I attended the closing service of Kairos Prison Ministry weekend at the Delta Correctional Center. Men from All Saints and other Montrose churches selflessly devote their time to providing Christian discipleship among the prison population. One of the first events to which Chris and I were invited after arriving in Montrose was a concert at the Montrose Pavilion by alumni of the Kairos program--men whose lives had been transformed returning to say thanks and give testimonies about the ministry that had introduced them to the Savior who had changed their lives.
Tomorrow, a local Christian businessman and philanthropist has invited me to have lunch with missiologist and author Don Richardson, author of such books as Peace Child, and Eternity in Their Hearts. Richardson, who is in demand as a speaker all over the world, is spending this week preaching in churches and teaching in Montrose. Yes, in Montrose.
Next Saturday, Christians from all over Montrose will take part in ShareFest. This annual initiative mobilizes churches in local communities in an effort to show the love of Jesus Christ in in tangible ways, undertaking jobs of maintenance and repairs in schools and parks, and performing other tasks for folks unable to do for themselves. Once the smallest community in the United States to begin a ShareFest, Montrose now attracts one of the largest number of volunteers proportionate to its population. And so it goes.
People have asked why, after 30 years in theological education and involvement in the larger church, I came to Montrose. To be honest, I can't say I have always known the answer to that question. But God did.
"And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31a).