Shifting Gears

Anticipating a move to the mission field, we’ve approached our whole married life with the attitude that we’re not accumulating a lot of stuff. So we either got nice things that are worth taking with us, or we got cheap stuff that we could get rid of. As our departure for Taiwan drew near, we went into get-rid-of-stuff mode. Yard sale, trash, Goodwill, family. Either it’s coming with us or we’re getting rid of it. So we’ve ended up with just a very few things stored with parents.

Thankfully, that all happened in the spring. We’ve had a whole summer of not having to work on that. A summer of staying a few weeks at a time with friends, thinking about one feature of our life in Taiwan: we’ll get to furnish an apartment.

That shifted us completely out of get-rid-of, into accumulation mode. It’s really been fun to think through what we’ll need and what’s essential to get first. And I think it will be fun to look for appliances and furniture, trying to find deals and decide what we want the apartment to look like and feel like.

Lord willing, we’ll experience the Lord’s grace to stay patient and gracious while we find just what the Lord has for our family and furnish our apartment in a way that will provide a safe, comfortable (but not extravagent) home for our family, and at the same time an inviting, comfortable place for people we minister to. Here’s another chance to do everything for the sake of the gospel.

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?

A penny saved…

On long road trips, we need a break from the van every few hours. Sometimes that’s a rest area, a park, or a playplace. But most often they’re gas stations. Not the best places for kids to run around, but they work.

Looking for coins motivates our kids to move around. That started a long time ago when they’d say they didn’t want to get out of the van, or that there was nothing to do. So now they keep their eyes open all the time. Recently they’ve made out pretty well – finding a few quarters and dimes along with some pennies.

a welcome break from the van

a welcome break from the van

This game lets us see into our children’s hearts, so we often have little counseling sessions. But lately we’ve noticed something we like. Our daughter and the two older of our sons have started pooling their money. They keep counting it up and planning to get something with it. Their first purchase, a week ago, was a container of tic-tacs.

We’re so thankful the Lord lets us travel as a family. It’s not always easy, but we have so many fun times. Even at gas stations.

Making Friends

One of the great things about deputation is the chance to see old friends and make new ones.

Recent travels have introduced us to several new Taiwanese friends. In North Carolina, a Taiwanese couple shared a meal with us. They encouraged us in our vision for planting stable, growing churches in Taiwan. They also told us about their outreach to Chinese students in the States. We shared a basic discipleship resource in Chinese, and met a recent convert they’d been working with.

In Ohio (also over a meal), Taiwanese students at a state university shared their stories of coming to Christ, giving us more insight into Taiwanese thinking, and more appreciation for the power of the gospel. Their pastor told us about several resources for Chinese ministry we weren’t familiar with. He even gave us copies of some of them.

In Minnesota, we met a Taiwanese woman at a supporting church. She was so kind in offering to help in any way, suggesting resources, and talking about Taiwan. We were pleased to learn she knew about the church we’ll be part of while in language school. Her unsaved relative lives nearby.

The Lord has given us so many helpful people – not just Taiwanese – and we’re so thankful.

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.