marvelous mess

IMG_20150215_100639The image that comes to some people’s minds when we talk about a church service is somber, quiet reflection on God in an atmosphere of neat, orderly worship.  But some of the services at Takanini Community Church, an Advent Christian church in South Auckland, New Zealand are anything but that.  There are games and toys and learning exercises going on all over the place. Instead of everybody facing a speaker in rows of pews, most often big kids are working on projects in small groups, or small kids are playing together or singing and dancing together, with lots of noise and a bit of controlled chaos.

A few years ago, Takanini church made the decision to really be a community church.  They have worship services, and can be quiet and somber when the time calls for it, but what really sets TCC apart is its ministry to people (not just from the church fellowship, but) in the community.  Every Wednesday, there is Noah’s Ark Playgroup, where small kids from the community come together and enjoy playing with each other within the church’s fellowship hall and lounge, and on the church grounds.  Later, the kids and their parents enjoy singing and dancing at our Mainly Music event.  It’s like a really lively Sunday School, but it’s designed for those kids and their parents who do not go to church.  It’s a way of introducing them to fellowship, wholesome fun, and Christian life without the formal structures of membership. 

IMG_20150215_104938One Sunday a month, TCC has what we call Messy Church.  This is a little bit more structured than Playgroup, and also attracts kids who are a bit older.  It still involves a great deal of activity, learning projects, fun and fellowship.  Everything is centered around a Bible lesson, and the staff teaches that lesson well, but not with a long sermon.  The kids learn through their projects, and the short teaching time drives it home.  It is more like a Vacation Bible School event than a church service.  However, like VBS, this may be the only opportunity for some of these kids to hear the gospel message.

There are many other things we at TCC do to immerse ourselves into the community.  We offer our sanctuary and other rooms to be booked for personal, social group and community events.  We invite other churches and church plants to use our property for their meetings.  Our staff volunteers for service in schools and government run programs.   The commitment is to not just be located in the Takanini community, but to be part of that community, to touch as many lives as possible, through as many means as possible.

That is ministry.  It makes an impact on people in the community with the gospel.  It also gives those within the fellowship a chance to prove their love for God and others by kind acts of service. Lots of churches are beginning to realize the potential for these kinds of programs.  We are just beginning to see that “effectiveness is not measured by what happens inside the church but rather by the impact the people of the church have on their communities.”In Takanini, Advent Christians have committed themselves to the task of serving others as a means of winning them to Christ.  It is a costly commitment, and it means getting a little messy now and then.  But it is a marvelous mess.



{Here’s Penny Vann helping some kids construct a tower.  This month’s lesson was all about the tower of Babel.}

Jefferson Vann

Auckland, New Zealand


1 Rick Rusaw, Eric Swanson, The Externally Focused Church.


what a kitchen table is for

office 001On a few rare occasions, Penny and I actually use our kitchen table for eating.  But, most of the time it looks like this.  We have not yet moved in to our office at the church, so we do most of our emails and writing and Skype phone calls from our laptops, right here on our kitchen table.  From this operational headquarters, we are setting up new accounts, corresponding with people here in New Zealand and overseas, making plans, writing sermons, doing conference calls, etc. 

So far, we have set up a bank account, tax identity, library account, got a Fly Buys account (a shopping promotional thing), bought two phones (one of which is not yet activated, and made a doctor visit).  We have had some meetings in person with actual people in ministry here, but it is amazing how much can actually be done online now. 

But that does not mean we are staying home.  We go on long walks just like we did back in Virginia, and we visit people from our church.  Although the setup process is going somewhat slowly, and is much more complicated than we expected, we are still having lots of fun, and are excited about the chance to serve the LORD here.  Thanks again for sending us, and for supporting us with your prayers.  They are felt.

Jeff and Penny Vann

Auckland, New Zealand

We’re back in New Zealand!



Penny and I are back in New Zealand as field missionaries now.  We arrived in Auckland on Sunday, 1 February.

We are gradually getting ourselves sorted out and set up in our new environment.  Just today, we applied for our IRD numbers, and we didn’t even know what that was until this week. 

We want to say a big THANK YOU to all those who are supporting our work here, and for all of you who are praying for us.  Your prayers make a difference, because God makes a difference!

Please continue praying over the next few days because setting up life in a new culture can be a bit stressful.


— Oh, and I started this new blog to replace some of my older ones (which I will soon retire).  If you want to stay up to date on our work and exploits, subscribe to this blog.  Jefferson Vann.

Africa journal entry #10


final service in the big tent

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

During the “Sunday School” time in the big tent at El-Shaddai church, several choirs from El-Shaddai and other churches were singing and dancing.  I noticed another instrument they were using.  It was a megaphone, of sorts.  It could be beaten with ticks, but also sang through like a microphone.  One of the choirs also brought a large drum, similar to a bongo, in that it was struck with the open hand.  Oh, and sometimes they used whistles!

IMG_20140803_124404_996Bryce spoke from John 1:35-51, in French.  He had shared his ideas about this text to me earlier, so I could tell where he was going, though I could not understand the actual words he was using at the time.  The idea was that Nathaniel was probably meditating on the story of Jacob’s ladder from the book of Genesis. But he had been having his private devotions “under his own fig tree.”  But Jesus knew what he had thought when he was alone before the LORD.  Jesus told him that he would see heaven opened, and the angels descending and ascending on the Son of Man.




The closing exercises included presentations of gifts to both Bryce and me.  The ladies whom Bryce had taught gave a gift (accompanied by song and dance) to him.  The elders I had taught gave a gift to me, and some gifts to Penny through me.




More songs ensued, and more dance.  Various people were introduced, and appreciated, before they asked me to close in prayer.  Then,more songs, more dance.  The service lasted five hours and ten minutes.  It was not your usual Sunday service. It served as a great send-off for Bryce and me.  We would be departing for South Africa the next day, and then back to Atlanta, where Bryce and I would part ways, and I would fly to Richmond. 

I found out while in Atlanta (by means of my cellphone which actually worked again) that I would be missing Naomi’s departure from Richmond, because I would arrive after she left.  That made me quite sad, but it is somehow appropriate.  Father and daughter, travelling around the world, serving the same Lord.

“And whoever has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29 NET).

Africa journal entry #9


under the mango trees

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

I was finally able to get back onto the internet this morning – only the second time since arriving in Africa.  I found that Penny had been having just as stressful a time back home as Bryce Whiting and I have had here.  I was sad to hear that, but thanked her for being my partner in life and ministry.  Nothing increases one’s appreciation for his wife like being away from her for a few days.

Today we were scheduled to meet at Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)  Advent Christian conference president Bertin Mwanya’s house.  A group of leaders of the conference met with us under two large mango trees.  We had conversations all morning, covering three topics:

  1. I gave an overview of the Global Training Initiative, sharing the variety of ways that we in North America might be able to assist DRC leaders in their leader development and ministry training.
  2. They asked me to summarize the distinctive doctrines of the Advent Christian denomination.  I had done this many times, in many places, but never without any notes.  An hour later, I came up for air.  I wish I had recorded the talk, French translation and all. It was amazing.
  3. Then the conference shared their plans for ministry in the coming years, and what they needed to accomplish those plans.  There were numerous projects mentioned, including the construction of a permanent building for the new church plant, a school, a medical clinic, a new well (which is already dug).



Bricks piled up and ready for the construction of the new sanctuary for El-Shaddai Advent Christian Church.





The new well dug for the community surrounding the church plant.






The current


of El Shaddai.


Afterward, we shared a meal together, and enjoyed fellowship with these men of God.  Some had come from hundreds of miles to participate with other Advent Christians in the week-long training event.  We were all very grateful for the opportunity to get together, form new friendships, and pray with one another under the mango trees.

Africa journal entry #8


last day of the conference


In case anyone is interested in what a gas station looks like in a developing country, here is my commercial advertisement for today.



Friday, August 1st, 2014 am  Democratic Republic of Congo

This morning we tried again to withdraw cash from several ATMS, to no avail. After having breakfast at the hotel, we took the long, dusty, crater-filled to the tent-church again. 



I continued presenting the distinctive Advent Christian doctrines again. After discussing the twelve texts in the study, I answered questions that emerged from the discussion until about 1pm.  Then we took a break for lunch.


IMG_20140801_140600_728I concluded the week’s study with instruction on how to use Matthew’s Gospel as a tool to disciple other believers, getting them ready to the point where they can make disciples themselves.  I had been instructed that we were going to have to leave immediately at 4pm, so I concluded the study by simply thanking my brothers for the privilege of sharing with them for the week.  I left and went out and got into the taxi.  Several of the men followed me out and  (I guess) just wanted to have a last look at me. They are such a precious people. thank God for them.

We were finally able to contact the denominational offices and let them know about our money dilemma.  They are wiring the funds to president Mwanya’s account, which will pay our bills and enable us to leave the country.  It is so good to have people back home who can help when crises like this happen.







This evening, after the evening meal, we went to visit the home of one of the hotel waiters, whom we had befriended. He has three beautiful children, and is also looking after two others, who (if memory serves) are his sister’s children.  Bryce gave them each a balloon. It was so fun to watch them having fun.  After the kids had some fun with us, we walked them back home.  We went through a room where the hotel guards stay.  One of the little girls (about 3 years old) reached out and grabbed my hand for me to walk with her.  When we got to the room where the guards were, she tensed up.  Apparently the guards treat the children roughly, and the little girl was frightened, so she had sought my hand.  I was so glad I was there to help her. It is a cruel thing to make a little child afraid for one;s own amusement

Africa journal entry #7

the family

an amazing day

Thursday, July 31st, 2014  pm

The ride to the church-tent had been challenging and disturbing, but the training sessions at the church today had been absolutely phenomenal.  I finished my instruction on serving and leading with a talk on the value of working together as a family in ministering the gospel.  I had a picture of my family to use as a simple illustration.  It shows my wife and me, our three daughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren. The LORD impressed upon me that I should walk around and show everyone that picture, and talk about my family’s testimony and history.  I shared how this family is a gift to me, and that many trust me to minister the gospel to them because of the integrity they see in my family. 

The trainees were hooked!  They wanted families like that.  One older gentleman in the group admitted that his wife was a snare for his ministry.  I felt so bad for him; I told him that I would pray for him right then.  But before I did, several others confessed that they had similar problems.  So, we had those few men sit in the center of the sanctuary, and all the rest of us formed a circle, surrounding them and stood  facing them.  I asked everyone of those standing to extend their hands toward those in the center, and I prayed for God to work a miracle in their lives, giving them the godly families they need to minister in his name.  It was amazing.  These men were overjoyed.  We had found and addressed a major need, and were confident that the LORD wanted to meet that need.

IMG_20140801_141536_478My plan for the rest of the day was to give an overview of Advent Christian theological distinctives.  I was very concerned because I did not want the visiting leaders from other traditions to feel that they were being attacked.  So, I explained that these distinctives were not gospel essentials, like the Lordship of Christ, the authority of Scripture, or salvation by grace.  I asked everyone to accept these teaching on the distinctives as my testimony, and to avoid defensive or divisive in their response, either way,  They did exactly that.

I finished teaching at 4pm, because Bryce and I expected to be picked up and brought back to the hotel in the city.  But, as always, there were several questions.  One of the questions was on the subject of women in ministry.  I knew that was a controversial subject in Africa – and just about everywhere else.  But the LORD’s Spirit was present, and they were delighted with my answer on this very complicated subject.

The amazing day was not over yet.  It turned out that our driver had not known that we planned to be picked up at 4pm.  He arrived sometime after six.  In the meantime, several of the women, and one teenage boy began an impromptu concert of African gospel songs.  As they sang and played and danced, another woman gave Bryce and me the translation of some of the songs.


“Since I claim to be a Christian

but I don’t like my friends

God in heaven

doesn’t like me.”

“If I bring my bible to church

but I don’t like my friends

and I don’t like my pastor

God doesn’t like me.”


Me, I’m the door

whoever comes through the door will have eternal life.

There are others who try to go through the window.

They are brigands.



“I will not eat this meal again

until I eat with you

in the heavens.”



Bryce and I arrived at the hotel too late to do anything but have supper, and then a wonderful discussion until about 10pm.  I was thankful to have stayed awake that long, thinking that I might just sleep through the night for a change. Wouldn’t that be a great way to end this amazing day?