I have developed a new appreciation for sheep. I suppose it has something to do with being surrounded by them all the time. There are about 30 million sheep in New Zealand. In our new home town we have our favorites—the one ram with the super curly horns and the two that like to stand on the giant tree stump—they are far more adorable than I ever realized. The only drawback is that they are too skittish to stand long for a picture, so most of my sheep photographs are of their posterior end.
My wooly neighbors are teaching me about myself in relation to God. I see that sheep are indeed defenseless, which works here in predator-free New Zealand. They are terrified of sheep dogs and are putty in the hands of a shearer. I have seen sheep trap themselves behind gates and blatt piteously to the rest of the flock, completely incapable of backtracking to rescue themselves. We are more like sheep than I want to admit.
Among the flocks of students at Otago University, God has been calling his own and they have heard his voice and responded. Over fifty students—a third more than last year—caravanned to Queenstown for the Student Life Otago fall conference. A handful of the students were not yet believers and there was a huge group of students who received Christ in the past few weeks or have just gotten involved with Student Life this year.
The name of the conference was “Whole-hearted” and the main speaker encouraged everyone to wholeheartedly listen to the promises of God and trust our Shepherd’s voice. We led a Lifelines version of dodgeball that focused on sacrifice, and the evangelistic outreach portion of the conference centered on digitally sharing the Gospel. One student, David, ended up in eight different text message conversations that lasted his whole trip home as he shared the Gospel message with his “mates” back on campus.
My highlight of the weekend was the men’s and women’s night. Terena, one of the student leaders shared her story of her ongoing struggle with purity and the victories she has experienced. Her vulnerability set the tone for the night. Next, we invited the women to anonymously fill out a survey with questions regarding sexual purity, thought life, eating disorders, and a variety of other common and often never addressed sins. Then we shuffled all the papers and handed them out randomly and read through the list asking the women to stand if the question read was checked “yes” on the survey they were randomly given.
My heart was wrung out as I watched those women stand on behalf of their sisters in Christ. The abundance of women who stood for having same-sex relations, eating disorders, alcohol or drug addictions, having been abused, etc. was staggering. I looked at those beautiful, talented young women and just wanted to weep for us all.
Later in small groups, the student leaders facilitated a discussion which led to more confession and open tears. “They would act so nice and I would want to please them, so I would have sex with the guys in my hall and the next morning they would treat me like trash” admitted one student. My eyes blurred as I thought about this tremendous woman trying to fill an empty space in her life and consequently being treated like trash. It was all wrong. Unless the Lord is our shepherd, we will want and not be satisfied. We will follow the crowd, mindless of the dangers. We will be at the mercy of an unmerciful world.
Confession is the road to healing, and you could feel the shift in the group the next morning. Relationships were fathoms deeper, students laughed and encouraged one another, and the non-believers in the group were interested in learning more—asking for Bibles, exchanging contact information with new friends, and seeking out action groups to take part in.
When I see lumbering double-wagoned trucks studded with protruding white noses swaying down the road, I understand the Biblical description of being led like a sheep to the slaughter. If not for our Good Shepherd, we would be the ones on that truck. I thank God for his promise in John 10:27-28: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”