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.