Just after we sent out our May email update, a few things began to sink in and in turn we had an internal wrestling match. At that time we were still planning to depart in early July for Europe. While God was bringing new partners and new donors for whom we are so thankful, we were not reaching our recurring support goal as quickly as we had expected. We had travel plans for May and June that would limit our ability to continue support raising and in turn reach our support goal in time to depart in July. At that time, the Dutch government indicated to us that they would take longer than expected to get back to us about just the first of three steps in the visa application process. We began to think about having to say, "Goodbye," to friends and family in the US and began to grieve. Moreover, we were concerned that any further delay (we've already been delayed twice) in our departure could cause problems for those involved with temporarily overseeing Pioneers Europe until we can move to Europe and rebuild the organization. Not to mention the effects of any departure date change upon my family.
In addition, we recognized the many other potential ministry opportunities for our family here in the US near extended family and friends where we wouldn't have to experience the challenges of ministering cross-culturally (learning a new language and culture, being away from family and long-time friends, etc.).
I didn't question God's character, including His ability to bring together the details for us to be able to move to and minister in Europe. There was not a question about our willingness or ability (God-given) to persevere through whatever challenges we were facing and will face in the future. I was considering the questions of how God wanted us to move forward: Were these bumps in the road God redirecting us to get involved in another ministry or at least another ministry role? And regarding support raising: should I work harder than ever on it until we leave in July (as expected at that time) and probably become burnt out in the process? When we were preparing to return from the Philippines to the US last year, we felt that God wanted us to become much better at our human part of the partnership development (prayer and financial support raising) process while continuing to ultimately depend on God to bring in the necessary support. Many of you have mentioned in the last few months that you have noticed improvement in how we develop support relationships and how we tell the stories about what God has done through our family's ministry. For various reasons, such as unexpected Pioneers Europe work, not because of laziness or ineffective methods, we haven't reached our support goal quite as quickly as we expected. We've been planning to be at our support goal by end of April at the latest and then spend May and early June on Pioneers Europe prep work, and then June until we left in early July on visiting family around the country, recovering from a busy ministry season of support raising and Pioneers Europe prep, and then packing and making the many final arrangements to move to Europe.
In summary, at the beginning of May, we wrestled with making sure of God's leading in regards to a particular ministry and with resolve and motivation to continue on that path. Was and is God able? No doubt. Are we willing to endure whatever he brings our way? Yes. Crush us if you will God, but please make it count for your glory.
During the second week of May God seemed to be nudging Susanna and I through what we read in Scripture and through prayer that I should stop approaching new potential partners and focus on the other things that I we had planned for May-early July when we were scheduled to leave. We have a handful of churches and individuals who are considering supporting us who plan to decide in June about whether they will support us financially and they could help us meet our support goal by the end of the month, but maybe not, we'll have to see how God leads them. That same week I met with the father of a close friend of mine in order to share about our family's ministry and invite he and his wife to partner with us. I had found my conversations with him over the years very encouraging and wondered if this conversation might prove to be the same. This man is a retired and very wise and experienced Christian counselor. I expected to spend one hour with him, but instead ended up talking for five. He began the conversation by saying something like, "As I prayed last night about our conversation today, I sensed God might want us to deal with other issues besides just discussing your family's ministry." It was essentially a therapy session that God used to release me from several unnecessary burdens, to "Let go" of all our concerns, including about pursuing new partners for the time being. He summarized our support situation by saying, "I believe you that you've been diligent and faithful, like you say you've been, to do your part to reach your support goal. New/increased support has been coming in during the last couple of weeks but not at the rate that you expected that it would. You have other things that you need to spend your time and effort on besides developing new partners and the thought of continuing to put as much effort into partnership development as you have been, in addition to making all the necessary arrangements to move to and minister in Europe, does not give you peace. And, actually pursuing that course of action would burn you out before you even move to Europe. Therefore, it seems that God is actually withholding the support and the visa in order to teach you some things, including that he wants you to let go of some things. So, let go!"
Wow, I was deeply moved by these words and they seemed to me to be from God and a confirmation from him that I should stop pursuing new partners for now, and just focus on following up those who we have already invited and all of the other things that I need to during May and June. Some other lessons that were summarized and confirmed during that conversation:
- Related to support:
- Before returning to US and while in the US the previous few months: work hard and effectively to raise support, all the while prayerfully trusting God to move in people's hearts to partner with our family's ministry.
- How God wanted us to work on support starting early May: while God normally brings fruit through our hard, faithful, and effective work, sometimes he wants to bring fruit through our rest and letting go.
- I need to let go of the sense that I am responsible for the challenges associated with the missionary life that my family experiences. God wants each of us in our family to experience these challenges and wrestle through them.
- Remember often what God has done and be encouraged accordingly. God has worked in the Philippines, he's always been faithful to our family, and he has already brought in a majority of our support goal for ministry in Europe!
I walked away from that conversation with a great burden lifted from my shoulders. I had to fight over the next few days to "let go" of the things that I sensed God wanting me to, but God refreshed us after the previous weeks of wrestling that He wanted us to experience. In addition, Susanna and I sensed in our hearts that God gently and quietly said, "First, I quietly led you to commit to leading Pioneers Europe and I haven't slammed that door closed yet, so keep moving in that direction. Second, your motivation to continue to pursue this ministry opportunity is my glory and the desire to complete the specific ministry to which I have assigned you."
If there were any unhelpful motivations in our hearts up to that point of time, God pruned those off. The high quality of life in Europe, the higher profile and greater influence of this new ministry role, the potential to disciple churches and individuals into missions involvement, even the desire to reach the unreached is not motivating enough for us to continue pursuing this ministry. And they shouldn't ultimately be what motivates anyone. It's not wrong for them to be minor motivations, but aren't ultimate motivations. We've experienced too many challenges, including delays and the many effects that these delays have on our family, and raising a significant amount more support. The pull to live and minister near our family and long-time friends is too great for any earthly motivation to cause us to continue to pursue this ministry role. So what is motivating us to continue to pursue this ministry? First, we want God's glory. Second, we believe God wants us to glorify him by obeying him, and during this chapter of our lives he is quietly and gently leading us to obey him by serving as leader of Pioneers Europe, regardless of the challenges that we will face in the process. Regardless of all of the other good opportunities that we could pursue, but that God doesn't want us to pursue. He wants us to raise support, in spite of or because of the many significant challenges associated with it, and we see it as a privilege to minister to others in this way. We are able to share about what God is doing in the world and through our family's ministry, and invite people to have a serious conversation with God about their budget and whether God wants them to include our ministry in their budget.
This has not been an easy 18 months of our lives. But, God has been very near during the challenges and has been growing and pruning us in very significant ways.
For God's glory, and His glory alone.