Meditation on Giving Something Up

We’ve been on deputation just over 5 years now – we started full-time deputation in January 2010. Thankfully, partners have pledged almost all our support, so we can begin detailed preparation to leave.

This 5 years has held a lot of good things for us and for our children. They’ve also held some challenges. Our children have become very aware of some of those challenges. Sometimes they express their wish to be at the same church every week, or get involved in school or community programs.

Now we’re adding more challenges: selling books, packing boxes, telling them that this visit with this relative will be the last in a long time. The other day we took apart the bunk bed so we could try selling the frame at a consignment sale. And we’re still facing some of the old challenges with a few more deputation meetings.

With all these things going on, I wasn’t surprised to hear more than one of my children say recently that they wish we didn’t have to do something specific related to going to Taiwan.

It wasn’t the first time, and won’t be the last. And I sometimes think the same thing. But the Lord gave us a teaching opportunity, reminding our children that Jesus left heaven to live and die on earth for us. If Jesus did that for us, can anything He asks of us be too much?

From the sidelines… watching, or something more?

Several recent experiences have reminded us of God’s sovereignty in using His servants.

A few weeks ago I started a project to package our current presentation (power point) as a video. We’d started deputation with a video, which we loved. But when it became apparent we needed an update (Owen, not in the video, was 1 year old!), we decided to update how we presented our burden and vision as well. Hopefully, in 3 years of deputation, we’ve gotten better at it, we thought.

So I had an opportunity of have our presentation shown without me being present. The power point wasn’t very good for that – just pictures and some words. But when I was halfway through my project, I found out I might not need the video, and almost decided not to worry about finishing it. (It looked like I’d be able to talk through the power point over Skype.) Just in case, I finished the video anyway. It wasn’t glamorous – just an Audacity recording of me talking through the power point combined with some of the slides in Windows Media Player.

It worked. But it was now just a backup. Just in case Skype wasn’t working this past weekend. In the Lord’s providence I got sick Saturday afternoon. I was supposed to Skype the presentation very early Saturday morning. But since I’d already sent the video, I just let them know I couldn’t do it live, and they were all set. We were in Virginia for a meeting, but I was still sick Sunday morning. So Erin showed our presentation in Sunday School, and that was all set. Unusually, I wasn’t even scheduled to preach that day.

Slide1

Title Screen

In both of those cases, if I hadn’t done the work (which at the time I thought wasn’t very important, though very time-intensive), we’d have had nothing to contribute. I wouldn’t have chosen to be sick, but the Lord was arranging things for me to be sidelined, and things worked out anyway. In fact, the church I was supposed to Skype my presentation for took us on for support! All I could do, after I’d done the work I could, was pray.

We’d just talked with our children about a set of verses in Proverbs that emphasize God’s normal way of providing for His people: diligence to do the work He gives them when it needs done.

But we were seeing much more significant cases of sidelining in ministry. Two veteran missionary families who couldn’t return to the field because they couldn’t get enough more support. One veteran missionary family returned from the field for health reasons. One pastor, a former missionary, seeing the end of his ministry coming due to Parkinson’s; another, in early stages of dementia.

So why does God do that? Why set aside servants who may seem to be just at the point, humanly speaking, when they can serve the best?

Just three thoughts. First, the Bible has an answer, though I’m not exploring all of it here. Second, to start the way into the Bible’s answer, when God does this it highlights the fact that He is the one in control. He often highlights that by using the weakest people and the most unlikely ways. Third, I’m reminded of a line in one of Milton’s poems: ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’ I’m not sure of all Milton meant by that, but whenever I think about it, I rejoice in God’s grace that places waiting and praying, along with serving, right at the level of worship.

Being sidelined doesn’t mean we only get to watch. We can still participate in bringing God glory. God is working out everything to the end He’s chosen ‘so that God may be all in all’ (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Our life – in an elevator

I’m so thankful for my wife, who spends so much of her time on deputation unpacking, repacking, and cleaning up after our family. Since we’re usually in a different church every weekend, that work happens all the time. We’re so grateful to the Lord when He provides a place we can stay for a few weeks between meetings. Sometimes we get to go home between meetings, and that’s wonderful too.

Basically, our whole life gets packed in our van, unpacked from our van, crammed into an elevator, and moved into and out of hotel rooms, missions houses, and the homes of really hospitable people. Easy? No. Worth it? Definitely.

Elevator

all that stuff (except the shelf) came out of our van to be stacked into this elevator

One wrong turn deserves another…

This past weekend we had an experience that captures one of the challenging facets of deputation. Since we’re traveling to different churches to talk about our calling to Taiwan, we find ourselves in a new place almost every week.

After checking in at our hotel, getting some Wendy’s, and playing at a park, we realized we needed some things from a grocery store. Now in situations like this, a GPS is a very helpful tool. Usually.

Since the GPS already knows we’re in a small town in Tennessee, we just need to tell it to look for grocery stores nearby. There’s one .2 miles away. Great! We should be able to see it from here.

A short drive later, we’re sitting in an empty parking lot, looking at an empty building. Not discouraged, I located the next grocery store, which I’d correctly remembered was .4 miles away from our hotel. As we approach the address, I experience déjà vu. The GPS is telling me to drive to a half-empty parking lot at a large shopping center. The empty half is in front of an empty building, the (former) Food Lion, according to the GPS.

Next stop? There’s a Kroger .7 miles away, and it looks like we’re already headed the right direction.

Oops. This neighborhood doesn’t look like there’s a big grocery store in it. I should have checked the map before I started driving, so now I check it on a side road while someone behind me waits to get to her mailbox. Hmm. Kroger is on the other side of the river, so we have to drive almost 2 miles to a bridge, then almost 2 miles back.

On the beautiful drive to Kroger, we laugh about how hard it is to find the most basic things in a new place, and talk about how glad we are that we’re still doing it in English.

One day (hopefully not too far in the future) we’ll have to do all this in Mandarin Chinese. The bright side is that we’ll get to settle down and not be in a new town every week. We’re really looking forward to learning our neighborhood: knowing where the post office is, where the grocery stores are, and which intersections don’t offer good openings for left turns. We even more excited about getting to know neighbors, vendors, and clerks as we look for opportunities to build relationships and speak the truth.

Home again, home again…

Two weeks ago we returned to our house from a 3-month deputation trip out west. From the time we drove into town, our children started asking if we were on our road yet. The final turn into our driveway prompted cheers and squeals from the back of the van.

We as parents enjoyed opening the door to a completely clean house. It didn’t stay that way for long. Within minutes, it seemed, all the toys were out for a happy reunion.

But we weren’t home for long. After a quick repack of suitcases from winter/spring clothes to summer clothes, we left the next day (a Wednesday) for the last 3 days of the Gospel Fellowship Association Missions family conference in North Carolina. That started lots of happy reunions with people we hadn’t seen for the 3 months – or longer. We wished we could’ve returned from the west soon enough to be there from the beginning on Monday. Being part of that group of godly, faithful missionaries is a privilege for us.

While the sessions and fellowship encouraged us, our children loved the children’s classes and the free time activities. For the first time, Bella was with the older children. At first she didn’t want to leave her brothers, but when she came back from the first activity time with her age group, she was glowing.

Our first afternoon we spent our free time tubing on and wading in the creek. Arthur flipped off his inner tube before we got started. Then just down the river Bella flipped out of hers. I was really concerned because I couldn’t stop right away (Emmett hadn’t wanted to go on his own tube, so I was holding him, and he didn’t want put down.) But Bella was a brave girl. She popped right up, got steady and cleared her eyes. She was yelling, and after a moment I realized she was yelling “I’m OK. Just don’t keep going without me!”

For the last day, Bella worked up the nerve to do the whole water slide. They’d been letting her start about 2/3 of the way down. This year she kept asking to start higher until she went from the top!

When we got home from the family conference we felt like we still didn’t have a chance to settle back in. A deputation meeting in town and a late-night get-together with good friends on Sunday was followed on Monday by a great visit with a friend who’s a missionary in Taiwan. Tuesday we had lunch with Taiwanese friends. That night started home church’s Whetstone pastor’s conference. This year’s theme was “Amazingly graced.” It gave us some great spiritual encouragement. Among those attending were several pastors in whose churches we’d had meetings, including two really good friends and their families, visiting from New York.

So here we are, home two weeks, and feeling like we just arrived because we’ve been so busy since we got back.

Prayer Letters: a monthly blessing

I find one of the personal benefits to writing prayer letters is we’re regularly forced to think about what God has been doing in our lives. We don’t want to be on deputation forever – just until February 2014, Lord willing – but we get so many experiences of the Lord’s grace. Having to write them down lets us ‘count our blessings’ and see that we can’t put them all into a letter, or the letter would get much too long. So we have to select highlights or summarize. We look forward to more of the same benefits when we get to write prayer letters from Taiwan.

Enjoyed visiting the Nathan and Katrina Bate, starting a church in Roseville, CA

Enjoyed visiting the Nathan and Katrina Bate, starting a church in Roseville, CA

Friends gave our children a trip to Funderland in Sacramento, CA!

Friends gave our children a trip to Funderland in Sacramento, CA!

Awed by God's amazing creation. "When I consider.... What is man?"

Awed by God’s amazing creation. “When I consider…. What is man?”

Another advantage to prayer letters for us has been the constant challenge to articulate the ways we want people to pray for us. Since people are praying for us, we want to suggest biblical, significant, and timely ways they can pray for us. We want our requests to be simple, clear, and specific. For example, I’ve been asking people to pray the Lord will give us effective ministry in churches. Putting that in a prayer letter forces me to ask myself, what do I mean? What will an effective ministry look like? Good questions, and I’m glad I have to think through them. God is growing us, and He’s using things like writing prayer letters to do it.

March Meetings – Part 2

Following our conference in Denver we drove through the Rockies to Farmington, NM, where Pastor Mauldin at Grace Baptist had given us a meeting on short notice. Because we left early in case there was snow in the mountains (it didn’t come), we had extra time. So we stopped at Aztec Ruins, the site of a 900-year-old Pueblo complex. Our children were fascinated, and are still talking about them and making ruins out of various things (to be distinguished from the usual children’s practice of making ruins out of various things).

Ruins Doorway

 

Arthur at Ruins

 

Aztec Ruins

Over supper with Pastor and Mrs. Mauldin, and then during services on Sunday, we heard how the Lord has been providing for them to consider expanding their missions budget. Very exciting.

To get to our next meeting in western Colorado, we took the most scenic route marked on our map. They should have also marked it as the most scary, since we crept around several bends trying not to think about the fact that the edge of the road was also the edge of the mountain.

Looking down on Silverton, CO!

Looking down on Silverton, CO!

But it was beautiful to see the mountains and consider the Lord who made them.

Comfortable housing was waiting for us at Pear Park Baptist in Grand Junction. Our children enjoyed the church playground. We had a few days of our normal homeschool and work routine. Church members at the Wednesday evening prayer service were friendly and encouraging, and we were glad to present our burden for Taiwan there. A couple who’d taught English in China for 3 years treated us to a good meal and great conversation.

Our next drive was 6 hours to the southwestern border of Utah. We’d planned to visit our friend Kevin Collins who’s teaching at a Christian school in St. George. After a brief stop to see his church and school, he took us to a museum created from the trophies and specimens of big-game hunter Jimmie C. Rosenbruch and his family. Then we had a picnic in Snow Canyon at the foot of a petrified sand dune.

Petrified Sand Dune

 

Family at Snow Canyon

 

Some of the sand dunes are coming un-petrified! The world is a playground. In this case, a sandbox.

Some of the sand dunes are coming un-petrified! The world is a playground. In this case, a sandbox.

Just one night in St. George (our children asked why we couldn’t stay longer, and we wished we could), and we were on our way. We’ve been eager to return to San Diego to see our friends Tim and Eileen Sneeden who’ve planted Metro Baptist Church. When we think of them, we think of Paul’s statement that he was willing to “spend and be spent” for the people he ministered to.

Since we’ve been praying for Metro Baptist since it started, we considered it a special treat to visit. I got to teach Sunday School, give an update, and lead a Sunday evening Bible study. Lunch was a picnic at a park with the Sneedens and a visiting youth group. We were glad to find other ways to serve the Sneedens and their church.

Tuesday we helped them stuff door hangers with Easter service invitations.

Erin Stuffing Door Hangers

 

Brian and Bella Door Hangers

 

Easter Tract and Postcard

Wednesday morning they let me putter around with some potted plants, doing some work they haven’t had time to do since their recent move. Speaking of their move, we were also excited to see their new home since we’d prayed with them for the Lord to provide the right one for their ministry since they didn’t have space at the condo they used to have.

March closes with Easter Sunday, and we’re glad to visit friends at Grace Bible Church in Menifee, CA for the Easter weekend. Friday morning Pastor Tim Lovegrove invited me to join a leadership meeting with him, Eric Rea, and Eric True. Most of the meeting was a very good prayer time for each other as men and ministers, and for Easter Sunday events.We’re looking forward to a baptism and communion service after the morning service.

Lord of the harvest, send more laborers to work in these field!