I am Kevin de Beer, a minister who has served the Methodist Church of Southern Africa for 25 years. I wrote a book, published in 2014, that celebrated these 25 years and what they have taught me regarding life and ministry. The second chapter of this book describes the beginning of my call to ministry, which I expressed in prayer as follows:
Fire, Fire, Fire! A heart ablaze! An amazing privilege! Living God, I thank You for that of which Blaise Pascal could write that my conversion was an encounter ablaze with the One who is alive; an encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yes, the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is still alive and speaking even to me.
Hear then my confession living Lord. I have lived life fairly well and yet in a stupor: In so many ways a heart intermittent – cold at times and yet occasionally warm. Yet now ablaze! Wonderful moments, the possibilities of conversion, of new ways of seeing!
Now all of life was new and the entirety of life was consumed by possibilities presenting themselves:
Poised for a new way of understanding all things!
Suddenly all of life offered invitations
All decisions would have to be revisited. Yes, and they would be…
Such was a prayer that hinted as to how a life could be changed by the notions of conversion, covenant and call.
I have lived my adult years within such a framework and the season of Advent and Christmas of the year 2014 offered further possibilities for reflection and my heart and mind turned to Scotland.
Why Scotland? The question is a legitimate one and the answer unfolds on a variety of levels.
My life is African, having been born and raised within 100 kilometers of the so-called “Cradle of Humankind.” Africa is widely acknowledged as a place of origin with Stephen Oppenheimer, alongside other respected scientists, arguing that mitochondrial DNA clinches the argument. It might well be said of Africa that the biological vision of creation is in keeping with the remarkable opening chapter of Scripture: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2). God is able to bring something new, life-giving and creative from the depths, and Africa is just such a place. Raw and energetic, Africa breathes life and South Africa, in its own right, has proved a place of both passion and possibility.
I have served my country of birth with distinction and commitment, and I am not running away from the place of my birth, nor is my call motivated by fear. The simple truth of the matter is that my heart is Scottish and there is probably no paragraph that better explains it than Catherine Carswell’s imaginative tribute to one of Scotland’s favourite, yet controversial, sons – Robert Burns.
She writes the following of the Scottish people: “The Scottish were saved by a certain quality of heart – a very warm sort of humour – and by their rude but genuine piety. Sturdy in mind and heart they retained a kindliness that famine itself could not quench…The Scots were a humane folk…” (The life of Robert Burns, by Catherine Carswell 1930:5).
The book, from which I have quoted, was a Christmas gift from when I visited Scotland in 1994. Twenty years on from that Christmas it proved time to pay attention to my heart.
My wife is of Scottish descent and her heart longed for home. She had a dream as early as 1999 that we were going to Scotland. In keeping with the sacred nature of dream work she recorded it carefully, but kept it within her own heart, knowing that our call as couple and as family was to serve the unfolding South African dream. We have served that dream to its logical conclusion for us as family.
It was when a South African colleague spoke of Scotland that our hearts stirred once more.
We made all the necessary excuses:
- We could not take such a risk.
- My reputation in ministry was solid in South Africa and yet still to be tested in Scotland.
- Our children might not cope with the challenges of relocating to a new country.
We have, however, found that each excuse has been met by a resounding Yes from God’s Spirit. A conviction is being formed in our hearts and lives that Scotland is the place for us to be. I am confident of the God who works within and of the continuing conversation rooted in my initial call which is found in Matthew 6:33-34 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Yes, and so we find ourselves in Scotland and God continues to confirm the call. We have been welcomed by the Scottish people in a way that has surpassed our expectations.
Yours in Christ’s service
Kevin de Beer (with Cheryl, Michael and Sarah).