Thursday, August 4, 2016

Trusting the Shepherd

As I write this, I assume most people would know we have returned to the states for a period of time. Typically one would expect some common follow-up questions wen sharing news like that: "Oh, how long are you back for? When are you going back? What are you doing?" etc. This is a polite way of showing interest in someone's life, and in this case, following our ministry as well.

Yet, what I find for many people in missions, you can find yourself in a season where those questions, while they seem fairly simple, are quite difficult to answer. They are the loaded questions, the ones that when you try to answer can leave you feeling like an idiot.  Loaded not because of what is implied by the one asking, but loaded in the sense that it can stir up a lot of emotion.  Loaded with the cultural sense of obligation to have a plan, (We did, of course, have a plan when we set off as missionaries) loaded with the assumption that your plans should make sense, loaded with the personal desire to feel in control, that your decisions will clearly check off steps to reaching the next goal, or objective. That your time will fit into a nicely organized and defined category: time for rest, time for fundraising, connecting with supporters, or staff building, or "active ministry," like teaching, counseling, building houses etc.  And believe me, I love those nice little sense-making categories. I put a lot of effort into shaping those clear-cut boxes and check-lists and schedules.  I want to say "I/we have decided," "I/we will be doing," "Next, we will be going to," etc. But instead, I find myself digging for words to describe how we will "pray for direction," "discern God's timing," "follow open doors," "flow with the prompting of the spirit."  All those nice categories kind of blur together, overlap, rearranging themselves, constantly being revised, in a way that makes those simple questions difficult to answer.

A life in missions can be complex for several reasons. I feel that we come from a culture that is so goal-oriented, it is hard to communicate a goal that is primarily relational in the first place. The programs and work we do are ultimately just avenues to lead to a place of building trust, so we can speak into people's lives. So, we have to be flexible with our goals. Secondly, a career working in ministry is like having several bosses: you are aiming to serve the Lord and his calling according to the scriptures and personal revelation, you have an organization and various people you may need to report to or seek authority from, you have the individuals and community whose needs you want to serve and relate to, and the supporters and/or home-church you receive spiritual and financial covering from. That being said, the focus of time has to be spread among spiritual growth and connecting with God, personal reflection, family transition, relating to people muliculturally and internationally, dealing with the need for finances, all in addition to the "work" or "programs" you want to do.  Then, there is the element of spiritual warfare. Plain and simple, there is an enemy who wants to dismantle all of our efforts. Add in human error, and learning as you go, there is plenty to contribute to a "bump in the road" here and there... change in plans.

But the true wrestle is seeking God's will within ever-changing circumstances and overlapping purposes. Assuming we are responding to God's call according to what the scripture says, and zeroing in more specifically to how he has gifted us to serve, we can certainly set a mission statement, vision and goals. And those things can serve as a sort of compass, or help establish a rough timetable. But what when things go wrong? You don't have enough finances, or someone in authority gives you a 'NO', or health, or emotional issues/heartache slow you down or circumstances seem to indicate danger?

It is comforting to me to follow the apostle Paul's missionary journeys. He had a broad missionary strategy to plant churches, and allowed divine revelation and circumstances to help him prayerfully determine when and where to go. Paul would normally have several options before him, not just one open door. I believe the Lord does give us room to pick and choose from several things that would be within God's will, and he will give us nudges more-so in what to avoid, or how to fine-tune the plan to meet the right people, or help us get support we need. Gary Shogren has noted (about Paul) that:

Aloud or in writing, Paul was comfortable with using language such as “I plan, wish, desire, hope, I have decided, it is my ambition, my prayer.” His changes of plans led some Corinthians to suspect him of waffling (2 Cor. 1:15-2:4, our comments on 1 Corinthians 16:5-7), but Paul responded with careful reasons for the altered timetable. He strikes us as a man who was constantly thinking ahead, moving in optimum fashion and always with prayer.

( Read Shogren's full comments here.)

It is also reassuring to remember the passage in Romans 8:28:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

We can wrestle with God over the roadblocks, the mistakes, the worries, the unreached goals. But ultimately he is a sovereign God who loves us. That brings me peace. Even though I want him to show me more of the plan, I want more divine revelation, I want more knowledge of what may lie ahead, I mostly want to be more secure in his love. In his perfect love, there is no room for fear or regret, no need for striving ambition.

When I feel lost, and ask like Thomas did in John 14, "how can we know the way?” Jesus answers, “I am the way and the truth and the life..." I don't think this is just an eternity question. Everything comes through trusting him. He is the shepherd. He not only leads; he cares. And that is what makes it okay to simply be a sheep.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

2 years

Amazingly, March 4th marks the date of our move to Jamaica 2 years ago! 2 years can seem so long and so short at the same time. But praise God, for he is so good. Please take a few minutes to allow us to share with you about some of our reflections.
I feel emotional even as I write this. Because in two years, we have witnessed people fall in love with Christ! Yet, so much of this journey has been so much more difficult than we ever thought it would be: going to a 1-vehicle, 1-driver household, not being able to go for walks, not having any parks or malls, trying to keep up on laundry in the rainy season, not being able to go places alone, or after dark, trying to get any government papers in a reasonable amount of time, having to drink milk out of a box, or just living life so far from the comfort of our old friends and family.  Yet, how do you even measure what would make the sacrifices, whether certain inconveniences, cultural clashing, or discomfort, even heartbreak worth it? What if we don’t get to see immediate fruit? What if we don’t see the fruit for ourselves? Is there a magic number of salvations or students that will make my sacrifice worth it, or justify when I can say I have done my job and allow me to go back home to the comforts of my old familiar life? But we keep reminding ourselves of the sacrifice God made for us.  That love, though never earned, is the only motivation to keep us from giving up. Love others, because he first loved us. And we love in response to the opportunities God has set before us, in the context of the unique giftings he gives each of his children within the body of Christ.
 
God has placed such a desire in us to see people get to experience His love, and restoration. That has not changed. We are thankful that God has opened up so many doors for us to be able to serve him in this way. And thanks be to God that he will wash us in his sweet grace each day, or we would have been disqualified, and would continue to be disqualified, to represent his name at all.
 
We received some very good advice that we hold onto: Never doubt when you are surrounded in darkness that which you heard God speak in the light.
The reality is we are not exempt from the attacks of the enemy; this is the battleground. And, to speak quite honestly, we feel the fatigue and stress of the battle. The ache in our hearts from living in a place governed by poverty, abandonment and abuse of authority grows heavy. And as we try to make our little dent in this community,  the enemy does not want the plans God has to succeed, so we are the targets: susceptible to discouragement and frustration and sadness. And I can only imagine how God’s own heart aches. I don’t know if we should be asking God to help us be better at giving this burden to Him, like we will be better able to not hold it so close as time goes on, or if we just need to know to take breaks to just cry it all out.  
If you agree that there is hope in Christ, and believe in the New Life vision:
To provide the youth, fatherless, and impoverished with hope and skills to pursue God’s purposes in their lives, won’t you please pray with us? Please pray that we could have the time to debrief and know God’s heart for this ministry as we make decisions for the future, and that we would be able to raise the necessary support to continue this work.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Brave Love

February 10, 2016 Journal Entry by Michelle

Am I brave enough?
Brave
enough
to do what God has asked of me?
Am I Brave enough to love... a dangerous love that may not ever be returned...
Awkward, uneasy, unoffended love.
Expensive love:
the heart-in-your-throat-and-I-can't-breathe- kind of love.
That love that would reveal I am nothing more than powerless.
Vulnerable...
Exposing my own hungry, tired, fearful self
with no quick fixes, but quick-responses
to a world
that hurts and tears open, raw.
Broken-hearted love.
Powerless,

YES, powerless,

but.....

Hopeful.

The brave love of
one
who is filled with hope.
Perhaps that kind of brave, hopeful love,
can let the heart ache, but not brake
because it is beating so hard in my chest
through silent tears of

Halleluiah.

God, please let me be brave enough. That I would always feel that
heart-
beat... heart-
beat. That
wonderful God-given heart-
beat.
And I praise you for your never-ending
heart-
beat... heart
for me.
That brave. dying on the cross for me.
That unoffended love for me.
Won't you please help me be
brave?