The Letter, Part B
And thus the Letter began to take shape. Henry had begun writing in the early stages of the church breakdown, aided by the fact that we had more free time after the entire staff was told to “stop doing the ministry” until issues were resolved. Henry doesn’t remember that announcement (funny how random memories are), but I recall it like a bucket of cold water. I felt like we’d been thrown off a high-speed merry-go-round and crash landed, dizzy and disoriented. It was a portent of things to come.
Sometime in the midst of this, the lead couple stepped down, acknowledging the sins and weaknesses in their leadership. They realized that attempting to hold onto their position would not help the church move forward and heal. I believe they are a godly couple who got off-course but were sincere in their repentance and their love for God’s people. They have both demonstrated a spirit of sacrifice and a heart for the poor during their many years in third-world ministries. London was a devastating chapter in their lives, too.
It was at this juncture that Henry started writing, or rather, dictating his letter to a brother who was also on “pause”, and had much faster typing skills. (There was a wild rumour circulating for a while that this brother actually wrote most of the letter himself, and then attributed it to Henry. Not true! I heard the dictation in progress, and every word was Henry’s own – as those who know him can easily discern. The brother who helped is still in London and still in friendly contact with Henry.) Much of the letter’s contents had been percolating for a long time in Henry’s mind, and the rest sprang from what we were witnessing in London. It was a blend of long observation and experience with firsthand crisis reportage – suddenly all of the pieces were falling into place.
Here the timeline gets a little hazy. (Maybe this kind of ‘remembering’ explains some of the minor inconsistencies in the New Testament, too: one witness remembers two demon-possessed men, another remembers only one. But the essence of what they saw Jesus do – drive out legions of evil spirits – is the same.) In London, the meetings with the 50 were limping along, with little to no palliative progress in sight. In fact, by this time the main discussion was around preparing staff severance packages as the church funds dropped lower and lower. The London members were so disgruntled over how the delegation had handled the Group of 50 that they stopped giving altogether.
Henry finished composing the letter, which was addressed to the leaders in the ICOC, not the general membership, and decided it was time to send it out. I remember standing with Henry before he pressed “Send”, praying and wondering if we’d soon be jobless and churchless. We prayed that the Letter would be read and discussed seriously among the upper tier leaders, leading to real repentance and fundamental change. (Were we hopelessly naïve?) It went out to about 70 (this number we’re not sure about) world leaders and elders. We held our breath waiting for responses.
The silence was deafening.
We got one response within the first 24 hours. An elder’s wife wrote a brief and chilly sentence, telling us we were extremely “ungrateful” toward the ICOC, after all they had done for us.
Within the next 72 hours, there was a handful (if that) of responses. Two of the world sector leaders and two or three of the ‘Kingdom Teachers’ said they appreciated and agreed with the Letter. These statements were retracted once the Letter became public.
The American elders who were part of the Rescue Op were among the first to receive the Letter. One of them, who seemed to be the In Charge person at the meetings, had also been Henry’s good friend and discipler for many years. When Henry asked him for his thoughts about the Letter, he shrugged it off as inconsequential and irrelevant.
At this point, Henry was convinced that the group of 50 needed to read the Letter. As I wrote earlier, most, if not all, of the members thought this was just a “London Church” problem, and that their past and present leaders were the ones to blame. Henry reasoned it would be extremely helpful for those in the group to comprehend that the actual problem was the fundamental structure, teaching, culture and hypocrisy that had developed in the ICOC over the past twenty years. The word he used for this was “systemic”. He reasoned that recognizing this fact would be essential before any meaningful changes could take place in London.
And so he passed out copies of his letter to the church-elected delegates, not to fan the flames, but to raise awareness and calm everybody down. And to hopefully stop the non-ministry members from eviscerating the caught-in-the-middle ministry people, who wanted change as much as anyone. And to help the leaders see how truly harassed, helpless and angry the members were, for plenty of long-standing and completely justified reasons. The Letter was proffered like a pair of bifocals, to clarify what felt too close and dangerous, and to see the Bigger Picture. He urged the delegates to keep the Letter to themselves for the time being. Henry knew that it would eventually become a public document, but wanted to give the world leaders time to digest and respond to the contents first.
As many of you know, the fateful step from ‘limited’ to ‘worldwide’ access happened fast. One of the brothers from the delegation felt strongly that the Letter needed to be made public right away. Henry argued with him to wait until he felt the time was right; the brother would not be dissuaded.
And so the zealous brother posted the Letter, and the rest is history. His name is not a secret, and we carry no hard feelings. I don’t think “going viral” was a pop expression yet, but that’s exactly what the Letter did: Godspeed.