One of the things I love most about working at the PAONL is the sense of belonging. I’m not sure what you envision when you think of walking in the doors at 57 Thorburn, but for me it is a family. Mary, Owen and Dave are more than just MDSI Team members. Owen and I started ministry together in central NL in 2007. He is my ride to the airport at 4AM with a bag of sour keys when most sensible friends are still in bed. Mary is my mentor, pastor, friend, and cousin. Dave is my best friend, and a sounding board for all my craziest ideas. The same goes in various capacities with all of my relationships with the other GEO, staff, GEC, and pastors. Personal history aside, there is a camaraderie that is borne out of spending copious amounts of our week together, praying and eating together, succeeding and failing together, and being on mission together.

Humans have an innate longing for belonging. The very first “not good” in the opening chapters of the scriptural story, after a long litany of “goods,” was that Adam was alone (Genesis 2:18). We need belonging, and it isn’t simply a by-product of sharing space or even words. The majority of interactions we have with others are unfortunately largely transactional, and it is entirely possible to work and even live with people without experiencing belonging.

In the context of family, I belong to my wife as she belongs to me. It is an imperfectly complete mutual submission where we each sacrifice our own good for the good of the other. We are mutually committed to helping fulfill the purposes of God in each other’s lives and now in the lives of our teenagers. Our family has a mission: to leave it better than we found it. We are committed together to living out the values of leadership, grace, and honesty. That’s what it means to belong to the Nippard family.

When I think of the times in my life when I have most intensely experienced belonging outside of my family, it has been when I have committed to a network of people for a purpose: joining my high school’s robotics team, going on a missions exposure trip, living quasi-communally with other Christians in my university year, and of course, being in leadership in local churches. Each one represents a community that was very meaningful in its time and place, and from which some connections still persist today.

The key verse for the PAONL in this 2024 year themed, “Belong,” is Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (NIV). There are so many nuances of this text that are relevant to true belonging. First and foremost, we belong to Christ because he created us purposefully and specifically to be “in Him.”  All true belonging flows out of the eternal relationship of love known as the Holy Trinity (Acts 17:27-28).

We are not created in Christ haphazardly. Individually, and especially collectively, we are His poēma, his masterpiece, the new creation. We are created to discover the special gift that we are meant to be to the church and the world. We were thoughtfully crafted by our maker and renewed in our purpose and design by our inclusion in Him and in the body of Christ. My dad bought me a beautiful, ornate, well-balanced chef’s knife this year for Christmas. As nice as it is to look at, it is most beautiful in the context it was designed for – the preparation of a delicious meal. It is fundamentally good because it is sharp and sturdy, made for those who are excellent in their craft. It is a gift that will bring joy to many for many years to come.

I belonged to my amateur Christian band in 2003 because I could sing and play guitar – passably. I helped 20 people create a robot that could play hockey because I excelled at physics. I express and experience my belonging in Christ best when I do what I was created to do where I am with the people that he has given me to belong to. “We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We experience and express our belonging when we grow, love, and share life together in those good works. Have you found the place where you belong?