THANK YOU CHURCH!

 

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As most of you know, the internet situation in Gweru has been a bit spotty for us thus far. We are currently in the process of negotiating with TelOne (broadband company) about getting service out to the campus of BTSZ. In the meantime, I am left to dodgy smartphone service and finding a seat at internet cafes in town which offer Wi-Fi for $1/hr.

It just so happens, however, that today I am in one of these cafes and was able to check Twitter at more than 1kb per second. In doing so, I saw that our sending church Redemption Hill has exceeded its Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal of $15,000! I am blown away by the generosity of this faith family. Every year since launch we have exceeded our goals in both national and international missions. Please keep up the good work as I can tell you with confidence that your “sent out ones” at Hope Church Utah, as well as those of us in North Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe feel the impact of your giving every single day.

As we embark on yet another week of language learning, cross-cultural engagement, strategizing for the future of BTSZ, and well, just living life, we just wanted to say THANK YOU for your generosity to all those who gave to the LMCO this year!

The One Who Calls

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“I hate it here. I’m uncomfortable and I feel like I have no control of anything. I can’t even ice. I’m writing this and being honest so that if and when you change my heart and call us here, I’ll know it was you.” 

This is an excerpt from a journal entry from when I visited Zimbabwe in November 2013. God had made it clear that He wanted my husband to go to Zimbabwe and train eager-to-learn pastors. Nick had taken several trips to teach at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zimbabwe and after his 6th trip or so, he said he was ready to move there and meet the need that seemed to be increasing with each trip.

I told him that I’d happily let him use our money and I’d keep the kids alive while he continued to go on his short-term trips, but I was sure that was all God expected from me as far as mission was concerned. My husband understood, but he graciously asked me to pray that God would change my heart if He wanted us to go. I agreed to do that, because I already “knew” God didn’t have anything different for me. I began praying and He began changing my heart. I was able to see for the first time the difference between someone who does not know Jesus because they have little to no access to learning about Him and someone who has had the opportunity to accept His love and grace all their lives, but continues to treasure the world rather than desire to be rescued from it.

As I was studying the book of Hebrews, God was showing me the importance of longing for a better city and being able to let go of the comforts here because of what we have in store. He was teaching me about having faith in a God who had sworn by His own name (because there is no higher name to swear by) that He will keep His promises to those who love Him and something infinitely better is coming.

So…when Nick asked me to go on a short-term trip, I went. I worked it out for my sister to keep the kids, my husband sold his guns and guitar and bought me a ticket to Zimbabwe with him. The journal entry above is from that trip. It was nothing like I had expected. It was way worse and way more uncomfortable. From the food to the electrical outlets, everything was unfamiliar. And it scared me to death, because I knew it was a real possibility that God might want us to move there.

By the end of the week, my heart had softened somewhat and I was able to see some of the joys in being there. The primary joy was the people. The conversations. The wives who I had planned to teach about 1 Peter 3, but who instead asked me to teach about the resurrection and the age to come. The women who told me they do not covet anything about my life because I have everything I need, and thus no need to pray. I loved the image of God I saw in them.

But I came back from the trip still not quite ready to dive in. Maybe even a little more reluctant having seen what I would be getting into. A couple months later, I was reading an article about a woman in China who at 8 months of pregnancy was dragged from her home, beaten unconscious, and woke up with her dead baby by her side. I was overwhelmed by grief looking at this article complete with a picture that will be forever imprinted on my mind. All I knew to do was pray for her. “God, thank you for sending your Son to claim victory over sin and death. Thank you for the hope that we can have in these situations….” But then I stopped. This woman more than likely is grieving a level of grief that I pray I never will, but without the hope of the Gospel.

So I picked back up, “God! Send someone to share your good news with her! Send someone to tell her that she can see her baby again and that you will make all things right!” Wait. Here I was praying for God to send someone else to do something I myself was unwilling to do. So I continued, “Send me. Send us. We will go.” I went home and told my husband I was ready, I was being compelled by the Spirit and after a year of wrestling (and losing) I knew this was our Ephesians 2:10.

Now, here we are. We have been living in Zimbabwe for over a week. I had prepared myself to have the same emotions, feelings, and discomforts as my first trip. I was ready to battle those feelings with the truth that this is where my King had called me and told me to serve Him. But I haven’t had to. This is the same Africa that I first hated. The Africa where you open up a cabinet to find a wasp nest or a spider the size of your hand. The Africa where you drive down the road (on the left side) and see women carrying 100 lbs. on their heads and precious babies on their backs, no a/c, no TV, no ice at restaurants, no filtered water, and no one who “gets” you.

But I love it. The place is the same, but my heart is not. He has changed me, and this is the power of the Gospel that He gives us to die to ourselves so that we can live for Him. I pray God will use us to show His power to redeem lives from the pit and give purpose amidst suffering and hardships. Some may read this and say I’m too optimistic considering we’ve only been here a little over a week and haven’t yet experienced many of the hardships that will inevitably come. We haven’t had random power outages yet, etc.

But the point in writing this is not to talk about what an awesome missionary I am after having not really even engaged the culture or done any real missions yet. The point in writing is to take away the admiration for missionaries and point it where it is due. My heart is selfish, lazy, and longs for pleasure and comfort for myself alone. My heart hated Africa because it did not cater to my every whim, satisfy, and gratify every desire of my flesh. I am unfaithful. But the One who calls us is faithful, and He will do it. That is why I am confident that not only will we be okay here, but we will thrive even through the hardships. Because He is faithful. He will not call without equipping.

Most of the people in my life and most of you reading this are not called to international missions. You more than likely serve as a different part of His body. But no body part is unnecessary, and no role is easy. Every role carries heavy weight toward the same end…His glory. His name, and His goodness reaching the nations. Every role is difficult. Every role requires sacrifice and faith. There is no “easy” role in the Kingdom, because having a role in His Kingdom implies we have forsaken this present one. So it isn’t just missionaries who need to hear, “the One who called you is faithful.” Its the business man and wife who are called to use their resources to fund the mission, but constantly battle the temptation to indulge and spend God’s money on themselves. Its the pastor who is called to mobilize the church for the mission, but is tempted to tickle ears in order to keep people in the seats and build bigger buildings. Its the housewife who feels insignificant and is tempted to forfeit her role of praying for laborers. Its the teacher who is faithful serving God by serving often disrespectful students and is tempted to lose heart, not realizing there may be a Paul or Mary Magdalene in that room. The list goes on.

But the point is this, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). We’ve often heard through this process of going, “missionaries are our heroes!” Well, I can say with sincerity that senders are mine. Thank you to all of you who are being faithful in your role so we can be faithful in ours. What a privilege to be part of this body. I cannot wait to see what He has prepared for those who love Him. So stretch your legs, grab some water, and let’s run this race together toward the prize to which we’ve been called. He is worth it and when we know what an honor it is to be known by Him and have a seat at His table, there is no such thing as sacrificing for His name’s sake.

How can we sacrifice something that was never ours? Comforts we are not entitled to? The only thing we are entitled to is an eternity in Hell. Yet He gave us what only He is entitled to. He is the only One who knows what it means to truly sacrifice. The only word to describe what we do, is privilege.

Our Father Gives Good Gifts

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I am super excited to be sending this update! This delay has proven to be a blessing in disguise in many ways, but the “disguise” has some days been more apparent than the blessing. Good news…all of the kids are alive and there is now a light at the end of the tunnel…

We love our kids, but man…being holed up in a house with 7 kids and no schedule is enough to turn Mother Teresa into a monster. We have one son in particular; I won’t mention any names (starts with a J and ends with an “immy”) who has a tendency to question me. “I don’t think this is the way, Mom,” “We are going to be late, Mom.” “You’re going to forget, Mom…” His questions leave me frustrated, offended, and often, hurt. Why? He’s just trying to be sure things don’t go wrong, right? Yes. But he feels like he has to because underneath the anxiety is a little boy who doesn’t trust that I am looking out for him and have his best interest at heart.

As much as this may hurt my feelings (not to mention my pride) for my son to consistently doubt me, I do the same to my all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving, and perfect Father. This process has had many ups and downs and I’ve often felt like we’re on a roller coaster of emotions. Each time God decided to change the plans and mess up my perfectly controlled and comfortable little world, I like Jimmy began to doubt and become anxious about what might happen next. The Spirit has brought Matthew 7:9 to mind several times, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Because I am flawed and apparently “evil,” Jimmy actually has reason to doubt my love, adequacy, and intentions. But I have no right or reason to doubt a God who can do no wrong. Instead of getting frustrated with me and calling me a “know it all” (not that I do that to Jimmy…) He patiently pursues me, proves Himself faithful/trustworthy, and wins my heart over and over. This is what His word means in James 1:3 “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” He is using these little tests by showing himself strong and building our faith in Him! This result of this test is no different than the others…He came through. Not only did we receive an email today with news that our visas were approved, we were granted 3 year visas!!!! Our logistics Coordinator who has been in Africa over 30 years called this “unprecedented.” This will save us a lot of trouble not having to reapply until 2018 instead of every year!

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 10.56.07 AMI long for the day when I see Him for who He is, and I am so thankful for Jesus who never doubted Him the way that I do. I still have a long way to go in learning to release control and trust His plan and timing, but He promises to love me while He finishes the work He began!

Please pray He would direct the planning process for departure! We will keep you posted when the dates are set.

 

Shepherds After My Own Heart

Willie 2First, I should probably go ahead and get out on the table that as far as our Zim visa status goes, there are still no updates. Our LC emailed this morning that he visited the Immigration office and the status is still “in process.” However, we are hoping that later in the week there will be someone who can help speed things along. Also, because of the fact that the immigration officials have been so open and helpful thus far, we are optimistic that this will only be a delay in processing, not an outright rejection. Lord willing, we will hear an affirmative later this week that will allow us to go ahead and book plane tickets and head out soon!

In the meantime, several people have asked what I have been doing to stay busy during the delay. Among other things, including “last minute” shopping and Amazon orders, re-packing airline luggage, and scheduling enough time with friends and family to last the next 3-4 years, I have had the privilege to be somewhat productive. World Hope Bible Institute (WHBI), the institute for which I have served on faculty the past 3 years, has recently begun to explode in expansion throughout the world, but particularly in some very exciting “East Asian” contexts. One of the immediate demands that has surfaced here is the need for a training module on the topic of “Christian Leadership.” WHBI president Stuart Sheehan graciously enlisted my aid in helping put together a module on this topic and, by God’s grace, the rough draft is finished and in the editing phases as we speak.

As I worked on this material, I was simply struck by the wealth of material the Bible contains on the subject of leadership. I will not reproduce the entire training module here, but suffice it to say that from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, the biblical storyline revolves around this topic! In Genesis, God appoints Adam as His image-bearer to represent Him and rule over the cosmos– to “subdue” and “have dominion.” In the Fall (Gen 3), we learn that Adam surrenders this mantle of leadership and the result is a creation that becomes unruly, insubordinate, chaotic, and which groans for the “revealing of the sons of God” (Rom 8:19). In the fullness of time, we know that this longing for leadership will finally be put to rest when the Chief Shepherd appears and “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15). But in the meantime, what of godly leaders and leadership?

A brief survey of the Old Testament shows that God’s plan of redemption seems to hinge upon those He calls out as leaders. Prophets, priests, and kings- throughout history God is setting apart those He calls “shepherds” over His people. But there is a problem, a major problem. Time and again, those God sets apart to “shepherd” prove themselves wicked and faithless. The prophet Ezekiel is called upon to prophesy harshly against these leaders “because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:8). The Lord goes on to vow that a day will come in which, “I will seek out my sheep,” “I will rescue them,” “I will bring them out of the peoples,” “and I will feed them” (Ezekiel 34:12-13). Of course, we know (as mentioned above) that this promise is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the True Son of David. Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” who fulfills all of God’s promises by laying “down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11) and being raised up and seated at the right hand of God where He waits to come again and separate His “sheep” from the “goats” (Matt 25:31-46).

But we dare not think that in this “time between the times” He has left His flock untended. Immediately after His resurrection and before His ascension as He sat by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, what was Jesus careful to entrust to Peter (as representative of the 12)? “Feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Jesus repeats the commission three times to emphasize the magnitude of both Peter’s restoration AND the task that lay before him. Small wonder, then, when Peter wields a similarly strong exhortation to the elders of the churches of the dispersion to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” until “the chief Shepherd appears” (1 Pet 5:2, 4). So follow this chain of logic- God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36, etc.), Jesus commissions Peter (as representative of the 12) to serve as “under-shepherd,” and Peter (along with the rest of the NT) says this shepherding task is handed down from generation to generation as local churches are formed and “elders”/”pastors”/”overseers” are appointed. Jesus has not left his flock untended, no indeed.

One thing that becomes clear, however, in the New Testament teaching on the offices of the church is that these “shepherds” are only effective insofar as they fulfill what the Lord promised for His “shepherds”. When the Lord promised to rescue His people, He vowed to bring “shepherds after my own heart” (Jer 3:15). Again, ultimately there is “one shepherd, my servant David” (Ezek 34:23, i.e. Jesus) who meets this description. But elders/pastors/overseers function as representatives of this Christ until He returns…IF they strive to walk as Jesus walked. This is why the qualifications of elders in places like 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 are so significant for the life of the church. It’s not just that we want to hold someone up as a “good example” for the congregation (although that’s certainly true, 1 Tim 4:12), it’s that these leaders will only shepherd Jesus’ flock effectively insofar as their leadership resembles…well, Jesus. Like Adam in the Garden, the effective leadership of church is 100% dependent upon the leaders’ obedience and faithfulness to God’s word.

This brings me to the heart of this post (and sorry for the long path getting here). In our process of going, some have asked us something along the lines of, “Why go to a place that has been classified as ‘reached’ when there are still so many who have little to no access to the Gospel?” To this, there are many answers we could give. Some have to do with the accuracy of statistics regarding the true status of the church. Others may have to do with what “reached” really means or how effective is a 2% “tipping point” anyway?, etc. But the primary answer we must give to this question is that we really love Jesus’ sheep. And because we really love Jesus’ sheep, we really love His shepherds. Having served as a local church pastor for the past 8 years, I might have thought it a bit self-serving to write such things, but now that I’m a layman again I feel total freedom to say- Jesus loves pastors a lot! They are special people. They have been commissioned with a heavy burden and a significant task in the Great Commission- namely, to shepherd the flock that has been set apart by the Holy Spirit to be and do everything Jesus commanded them to be and do.

One of the many blessings our visa delay has afforded us has been the opportunity to participate in the life of our local church, Redemption Hill Baptist Church simply as church members. For the past few weeks, we have had no leadership roles, no responsibilities, no oversight, no expectations (other than those of a regular church member), we have simply been able to enjoy being “shepherded.” And I have to tell you- we may be a little biased, but as far as we’re concerned we have the best pastors anywhere on the planet. We praise God for the shepherds Jesus has given us to “keep watch over our souls” (Heb 13:17). But even as we revel in the opportunity to be loved and fed by these faithful shepherds, we are constantly reminded of a tragic reality around the world. In a recent article over at Training Leaders International (TLI), Weymann Lee writes:

75% of all Christian believers today live outside the U.S. in the “majority world”, where the majority of the world’s population resides – in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Many refer to this area as the “10/40 Window.”

As a result of this radical move of God in the Global South which Philip Jenkins calls the “The Next Christendom,” many new churches are being established and growing at an astounding rate. A corresponding reality, however, is that with the increase in these churches there is “an insufficient number of pastors who are theologically trained in God’s Word to shepherd the growing number of believers in these churches!” Lee estimates that there are about 5 million pastors outside the U.S., 85% of whom “have very little to no solid theological training or have no access to it.” To put that in perspective numerically, Lee cites the following:

* Ratio of theologically trained pastors to people in the U.S.:            1:230

* Ratio of theologically trained pastors to people outside the U.S.:     1:450,000

This is a sad reality that many (including the folks over at The Gospel Coalition International Outreach [TGCIO]) have termed a “theological famine.” And lest you think these folks are merely foisting western church expectations upon pastors in the majority world, consider that “the number one need and request from missionaries, churches and pastors outside the U.S. is for pastoral and leadership training.” What I see in this statement is the fact that pastors in the majority world are simply saying the same thing I said 8 years ago when I entered pastoral ministry (and have continued to say ever since), “I want to shepherd the flock of God, but how in the world do I do it?” By God’s grace, Christianity has been established in the U.S. (particularly the Southeast) for long enough that the options for pastoral training and equipping have been virtually limitless for me. I can literally open my laptop to find a library of resources at my fingertips that most pastors in the world (or church history for that matter) could only dream of! This is an embarrassment of riches in the truest sense.

So what can we, who have so much, do to help those who have so little? Well for starters, consider praying for and giving to organizations like TGCIO. Here is a video recently released by TGC in which pastors John Piper and Randy Alcorn cast a vision for TGCIO’s “theological famine relief” campaign. Follow the relevant links here to contribute in any way you can. But your involvement need not be limited to helping from a distance. In recent years, a number of organizations have sprung up to meet this global need by mobilizing U.S. pastors, professors, and even laymen who have theological training to travel on short-term trips to share some of their wealth of resources with pastors in underserved areas. Although (praise God!) there are now many of these organizations in existence, here are some I highly recommend: World Hope Bible Institute, Training Leaders International, Reaching and Teaching, and Teaching Truth International.

Finally, as missionary with the International Mission Board, I would be remiss if I failed to reiterate the priority our organization places upon meeting this need. Under the leadership of president David Platt and Zane Pratt (Vice President for Global Training), the IMB has adopted a posture of prioritizing global theological education. Around 1997, the board made a decisive move away from training institutions (including seminaries and bible schools) and the negative consequences have been felt. As a result, the board has begun moving back toward this task by not reducing seminary personnel overseas and even appointing new personnel (like us!) to such posts with the hope revitalizing these institutions and emphasizing theological education throughout our organization as a whole.

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About 6 years ago, when I began personally to recognize this global need, I looked around at the ministry landscape to see who was addressing it and to be honest I almost threw up my hands in despair. But in God’s goodness, we have seen major progress in this area as ministries such as those listed above have raised up servants and resources to send to the nations to help ensure that none of our Shepherd’s sheep are left without under-shepherd, and particularly those who know how to shepherd in a way that is “after His own heart.”

Looking To The Fields

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Up to this point, much of our attention in life (and on this blog) has been focused on the logistics of getting our family moving toward the field. And while we would love to be on the ground getting started in ministry already, this time we have been given in waiting has provided us an opportunity to focus our hearts on the work to which we are headed. Much goes in to preparing for simply doing life on this field, but we must remember that we are not simply going there to “live,” we are going there to “work!”

Most of you know that our primary task in Zimbabwe will revolve around the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zimbabwe (BTSZ). Our goal will be to come alongside those who are leading this institution to help continue building a convictional theological education and ministry training center from which hundreds (dare I say, thousands?) of men and women will be launched into Kingdom service through church planting and mission work all over Zimbabwe, Africa, and to the ends of the earth. We believe God is up to something amazing on this campus and through its leaders. Faithful national brothers with the support of steadfast missionaries have labored for years to bring this seminary to a place where it is firmly rooted in and built upon the inerrant word of God. This is precisely the kind of institution God blesses and uses to blaze the light of His Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Along the way, there are many US partners who have thrown in considerable effort to help make this institution what it is today. To list them all, there would be too many to number, but here are some for which I am especially grateful. First, the teams from Redemption Hill Baptist Church and Trinity Baptist Church who have come to do physical renovations on the seminary campus in recent months. This is not only an immense practical help, it is also a huge morale booster to those who are laboring to build the school organizationally. There is still much work to do and many needs that can be met on this front, but these faithful workers have made a huge dent in the task to be sure.

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I’m also incredibly thankful for the books recently provided by many donors through Book-Link International to the theological library of BTSZ. I was just informed this week that the crate containing thousands of volumes of theological and ministry materials has arrived on the campus and is now being processed into the library. You may recall from an earlier post the divinely orchestrated circumstances of this partnership. What a blessing this partnership has been and I am confident God will continue to use Book-Link and Olin Williams in phenomenal ways to equip those around the world He has called to preach His word and shepherd His people.

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Another huge piece of this puzzle has been the steadfast labor of the folks at World Hope Ministries International. God is working wonders through Stuart Sheehan and his team to establish World Hope Bible Institute programs all over the world, but particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past 3 years, the institute in Zimbabwe has served to bolster the training BTSZ offers, generate new interest in the seminary’s programs, and also forge partnerships that I am confident will bring health and vitality to seminary, the Baptist Convention, and all Kingdom work in Zimbabwe and surrounding areas in the future. By God’s grace, we will celebrate our first graduation of diploma students through this institute in mid-November 2015.

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Lastly, I want to mention and thank my alma mater, Southern Seminary. Without the investment of SBTS in me personally and also in the work our family is being sent to do, we honestly wouldn’t even know where to begin. From collecting book donations for our library, sending students on short-term trips to teach, helping raise awareness and prayer support, and even laying ground work for future partnerships between our seminaries, SBTS has been behind us all the way. And for this we could not be more grateful. Though an ocean away, the impact of SBTS on BTSZ will be long-lasting and palpable. Soldiers of Christ, we part to meet.

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BTSZ has a long road ahead of her, but with the investment and partnership of faithful brothers and sisters like these, I know God is going to do great things in and through this school. One of the privileges and responsibilities of serving overseas with our company is that of being a “mobilizer” for our stateside partners. I am thankful for folks like this who have made our job much easier because they are already “in motion” and making great strides toward our goal of building one of the premier theological schools and ministry training institutions in all of Southern Africa.

Pray for these 2015 students of BTSZ and those who are faithfully teaching and leading them. And please continue to pray for our process of getting to the field and joining these faithful ones in the task!

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More Together Than Apart

Before you get excited, there is still no movement on the visa front for us. We are still eagerly awaiting word from our LC (Logistics Coordinator) that the Department of Immigration has approved our TEP (Temporary Employment Permit, a.k.a. “Visa”) and that we are cleared to travel. At our last communication with him, he checked in to see if perhaps there had been any quicker than expected progress, but no such luck- our file was still “in process.” He plans to check back on 10/15 to see if there is any new word at that point. The good news is that once we receive this green light from the DOI, we can book our plane tickets and head out as soon as possible.

Until then, we are still in the waiting game, but it has not been an idle wait in the least. After a couple weeks at the beach (much needed after the 9 of us spent 8 weeks cooped up in quad living during training), we traveled back to KY and spent a week with our family and the church that was our childhood home church and the church in which we were married, First Baptist of Grayson (pictured below). The pastor of FBC graciously invited me to preach this past Sunday morning and during the service this video was shown:

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Of course, I have seen videos like this countless times. But there I was sitting in an auditorium full of people from my childhood and many new folks I had never met, and I was reminded that these folks were just as much a part of sending us as anyone. Because of their faithful contributions to the Cooperative Program (CP) and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO), missionaries like us can be deployed and supported on the field. As a pastor I always knew the importance of this concept in theory, but now as a “sent out one” I understand in a new way how much of a lifeblood the CP and LMCO really are!

After preaching Sunday, we got to spend some sweet time with both sides of our family before heading back to Louisville (in the awesome van so graciously supplied by our sending church, Redemption Hill). We may not know all the reasons behind our visa delay, but we are sure that at least part of why God had us still in the US was for this meaningful time with FBC and family.

Now that we are back in Louisville, we have been extremely blessed by yet another sister church, Westport Road Baptist Church. Upon learning of our delay, one email to our local Baptist association yielded a quick response that Westport Road had a mission house that was vacant and available for us to use while we wait. I hope you are picking up on the theme here. All that goes into sending a family like ours to the field could not be accomplished by a single church or even a mission board. This is definitely a “cooperative” effort and we have already seen our faithful SBC brothers and sisters step up to meet needs like this time and time again. The house that WRBC has so graciously made available to us is perfect for us and will serve as a wonderful place to await our visa approval.

It may sound repetitive, but we would be remiss not to continue saying “THANK YOU” to all of the faithful Southern Baptists who make what we do possible. Your ministry to us is undoubtedly appreciated, but more importantly will be certainly rewarded by our Father who sees every bit of it. Please continue to lift us up in your prayers: 1) For quick and seamless visa approval and travel arrangements & 2) For quick sale of our mini-van that is still on the market.

Get There Fast…And Then Take It Slow

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Traveling around the past couple months in a vehicle without an mp3 input, we have returned to that “ancient” technology known as the Compact Disc. In doing so, our kids have grown quite attached to a Beach Boys CD we had laying around in our CD wallet (remember those?) and one of their favorite songs from the CD is ‘Kokomo.” One line from that song that has resonated with us is, “we’ll get there fast and then take it slow.” While I understand the Beach Boys probably had something much different in mind with this line, for our family over the past few months this pretty much summarizes the “hurry up and wait” nature of the process of being sent out ones.

At last update, we had just arrived for our 8 weeks of training in Richmond, VA. One of the reasons we are only updating again now is that the past 8 weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. For a brief overview: during our time of training, we had a family wedding in EKY, visited two of our nations landmark cities (DC & NY), celebrated 2 birthdays (Happy B-day to Johnny and Jimmy), had one broken foot (let Jake tell you the story), and bobbed & weaved through wave after wave of the Norovirus that plagued the campus for the entire 8 weeks. And this was all in addition to the full docket of training that our company does a great job of putting together. I wish I could begin to explain all that we (especially the kids) gleaned from our time in Richmond, but space would fail to do so here. Hopefully we will be able to share some in person soon (the kids may even do so in Taiwanese :).

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All this is to say that the past 8 has pretty much embodied the “get there fast” portion of that Beach Boys line. While I’m sure there were times during training that it seemed to be taking forever, we now look back and cannot believe it is over. Which brings us now to the “take it slow” portion. We were informed about a week before training concluded that our TEP (Temporary Employment Permit, a.k.a. work Visa) documentation had only JUST been submitted to the Department of Immigration. Since we thought these documents had been submitted 6-7 weeks prior, this obviously meant that we would now be without a “green light” for 6-8 more weeks. Our Logistics Coordinator (LC) has assured us he will check back in on our application on 10/15 and then again on 10/26. He is hoping to hear something positive on 10/15 so we can go ahead and book our plane tickets for the field and possibly arrive there by the end of October. Keep in mind also that our travel crate (see previous post) cannot be shipped from the US until this Visa is approved, so we are really hoping for this approval by the end of October. That is our prayer!

With that said, please be in prayer for the following specific items from our LC Barry Robinson for our visa approval on 10/15:

  • That Immigration officials will be pleased with the requests from the Mission, Convention, and Seminary.
  • That those who review the file would be friendly, sympathetic believers. (There are several in Immigration who are sympathetic to our endeavours.  They just have to be at the right place at the right time.)
  • That each committee that must review the file would be expeditious in their deliberations.
  • That those who review the files would understand that you and your family will add to the economy, not subtract jobs.
  • That the typing pool would be quick and accurate as paperwork is produced.
  • That the file would not be lost among thousands as it moves through the process.
  • That the application would be approved without the need for appeals

Thank you all for continuing to hold the rope for us as we “hurry up and wait.” In case you are wondering, until we are cleared for deployment to Zim we are taking a page from the Beach Boys and spending some long-awaited time on vacation. After that, we will be making the rounds to see some family and friends in Florida, Ohio, Eastern KY, and Louisville before we fly out. Hope to see you soon!

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We’re Here…Or There…Or Whatever?!

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(ILC Front Entrance)

The time has finally come! I apologize to all of you local folks (especially those at RH) who heard us say back in April that we are going to the field, then saw us appointed in May, and yet have continued to see our faces all over the place. We have gotten the response, “Hey, I thought you guys were already in Africa?!” more times than we can count.

We totally understand that question and beg for grace on the long (drawn out) goodbye. The way our company’s timeline is set up, there are at least a couple months following approval/appointment in which missionaries are expected to visit a number of partner churches to raise awareness about our work and solicit prayer support and partnership. We are so grateful for these faith families who were kind enough to host us and graciously bless us along our journey.

Our primary partner church (a.k.a. “sending” church) is, of course, Redemption Hill in Fisherville, KY. In addition to RH, though, the Lord has blessed us with a stellar lineup of partner churches whose members have committed to “pray”, “give”, and even “go” in order to help see our mission succeed. Among these are:

Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY

First Baptist Church of Grayson, KY

Parkland Baptist Church in Louisville, KY

Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, KY

Center Point Church in Lexington, KY

Hope Church in Salt Lake City, UT

Words on a weblog aren’t close to sufficient to express our gratitude to these congregations for the kindness they have each displayed to our family and the commitment they have made to lift us up in prayer. The material support these churches have provided has also been a phenomenal provision from the Lord to help us get all the things we needed to prepare our family for the field. I wish I had time to personally thank and hug each person who has helped us along this journey, but I pray the Lord uses these updates to in some small way help you guys feel a part of what God is going to do through our family in Africa!

This past week has been an absolute whirlwind of activity and emotion. On Friday (7/17), months of preparation and planning came to culmination as our crating company arrived and packed up all our possessions. The precursor to this involved meticulously sifting through and deciding which personal items we want to keep and those we no longer need AND which items we can do without on the field for 3-4 months while we wait on our crate to arrive. Once we had this list narrowed down, we were ready to have the company come load it all up. As mentioned in a previous post, these items were first loaded onto 205 cubic foot wooden crates called “lift vans.” We ended up packing (I mean really packing!) 4 of these for a grand total of 820 of our allotted 1100 cubic feet. The moving company did a phenomenal job of packing these things to the brim.

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From here, the “lift vans” will be loaded onto a 20 ft. shipping container and then put on a ship (again think Captain Phillips) to head overseas. PLEASE PRAY, however, as our container being able to ship is totally contingent on our Temporary Employment Permit being approved. Today I FedExed all of the necessary documentation (huge thanks to Jana C for being my go-to notary public) to Harare (capital city of Zimbabwe) to have them submitted for our application. Pray that this application is approved the first time through and that our crate is able to be shipped out to Zim and (hopefully!) arrive by Christmas! What a Christmas that will be 🙂

After the crating process was over, it was time to get the mission house in which we’d been living back in order to give back before leaving for FPO. In the midst of this flurry of a weekend, however, we had a sweet opportunity to celebrate one final time with our Redemption Hill family. This past Sunday morning, the RH pastors gave us perhaps the most meaningful set of charges and encouragements we could have possibly received at this time in our lives. Having the opportunity to hear from numerous friends, mentors, and significant leaders in my life (some in person, some via video) as well as getting to sing and break bread with our covenant community was without a doubt one of the highlights of this entire process for us. Thank you Pastors Josh, Justin, and Seth for putting this amazing service together and thanks to all who took part in making it special (especially Dustin Bowers and the worship team for rocking out the music!).

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Finally on Monday we packed up the van (huge thanks to RH for the loaner while our van is on the market to sell) and headed to Richmond, VA. After about an 8-hour drive from Louisville, we rolled through the front gates here at ILC (International Learning Center) just in time to check-in for FPO (Field Personnel Orientation- this is only the tip of the iceberg on our company’s set of acronyms by the way). Since arriving on Monday evening, it has been non-stop activity, but we are having a blast! From meeting with different consultants and learning about life on the field to making new friends (or “aunts” and “uncles” for the kids) who will be serving our Lord all over the world, this has already been such a special time for our family and mission. Below are some pictures that give just a glimpse of what life will look like for us over the next 9 weeks. Please pray for this time to be fruitful for our family to prepare us and spur us on to our first term of service with the board. That’s it for now. Keep an eye out for more updates as the days go by here at ILC and that African sun looms on the horizon!

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You Asked For It!

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Every place we have gone in recent weeks, inevitably there have been numerous people asking to be put on the list for email updates. Even when they didn’t know exactly what to call it, I could always tell when the sentence began, “How can we get signed up for your…” that these folks knew the missionary drill :).
So…without further ado…with a little (LOT!!) of help from the good folks over at MailChimp, we are now live with email updates. Sign up to get yours HERE

On The Shoulders Of Giants

The closer we get to our training and deployment (training in Richmond, VA July 20-Sept 15, deployment early October), the more God seems to be delighted to gather the “small world” of the IMB missionary community around us for encouragement. During this time, I have been particularly struck in recent weeks by the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us as missionaries in Zimbabwe. Through a long series of “coincidences,” many of these folks have been placed in our path as reminders of God’s faithfulness as well as examples and mentors to help prepare us for the work. For this we are extremely grateful.

First, at our appointment week in Louisville, then again at the SBC in Columbus, we had the opportunity to spend some time with D.Ray and Kim Davis. D.Ray now serves on staff with IMB in Richmond, but prior to that spent 13 years on the field in a variety of locales throughout Southern Africa including…you guessed it…Zimbabwe! Even this small amount of time with D.Ray and Kim has been immensely helpful to us in answering many questions about about life and raising a family in Zimbabwe. The world gets even smaller when I realize that D.Ray is the brother of Daren who will be our CSL (Cluster Strategy Leader…still learning our many company acronyms 🙂 once we arrive on the field.

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One of the great things about getting to spend time with D.Ray and Kim is not only their own invaluable experience, but also the number of people and stories they know! Kim is a journalist by training and for the past several years has developed a ministry helping veteran missionaries put their stories into writing.

One of those stories is that of Wana Ann Fort. Wana Ann, together with her husband Giles (medical doctors both), were the first medical missionaries to Zimbabwe in 1953 and through nearly 36 years of service helped to launch a spiritual awakening through the Sanyati Baptist Hospital mission. The number of connections we have found with the Forts and the Sanyati mission is utterly astounding. Gregg (the fourth of five boys Wana Ann and Giles raised in Africa) and his wife Donna (pictured below middle with his parents and younger brother, ca. 1980) will be our supervisors once we arrive on the field. His older brother Gordon (pictured below left with Wana Ann) was one of our leaders at appointment week in Louisville and will be a big part of our training with the company in Richmond. The Sanyati Baptist Mission has recently undergone a tremendous makeover project with no small amount of help from our own Kentucky Baptist Convention. In fact, some friends of mine from KBC will be traveling in a month or so to formally dedicate these newly renovated facilities. This community of missionaries feels more tight knit to us every day.

To learn more about the story of the Forts and the Sanyati Baptist Hospital mission in Zimbabwe, check out this memoir by Wana Ann Fort (with Kim Davis) entitled A Thousand Times Yes.

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Another set of introductions D.Ray and Kim were able to facilitate happened at the Southern Baptist Convention last week in Columbus, OH. A few days before my most recent trip to Zim (March 2015) I learned about a newly released book that Kim helped put together called Both Feet In. This book is the memoir of another veteran missionary named Marion G. “Bud” Fray. Bud and his wife Jane (pictured with me below left). Bud and Jane served with the IMB for 28 years in both Zimbabwe and South Africa and left an indelible mark on the work that is still going on there to this day. As a matter of fact, Bud even served for a time as a professor at the same seminary at which I will be serving in Gweru. Prior to the SBC, I found out that Bud would be speaking at a WMU event that was in conjunction with the SBC and just had to meet him! D.Ray and Kim were happy to make this possible. Another couple I had the opportunity to meet during that week was James and Nema Westmoreland (below right). James and Nema were appointed with the board to Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in the 1960’s where they raised their children alongside the Forts and their 5 boys. Meeting these saints who had gone to do essentially the same work we are about to embark upon and hearing their testimonies of God’s faithfulness through it all gave great joy to my soul and encouragement about the treasure trove of blessings that lay in store for our family in the days ahead.

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One final connection I’ll mention that the Lord has been pleased to make in recent days has been with Quinn and Martha Morgan. I first met Quinn and Martha while they were still on the field during my first short-term trip to Zim in August of 2009. We kept in touch sporadically as Kyndra and I were feeling our way down the path of God’s calling to the field. Then, this Summer (coincidentally) the connection was reestablished when Quinn learned that our church is sending a team of volunteers to do some renovation work to help prepare our house prior to our arrival on the field. Quinn heard about this trip and, even though he and Martha retired after nearly 35 years on the field, wanted desperately to come help. Quinn’s experience and “whatever it takes” attitude continues to be a huge blessing to this missionary family as well as the field we are about to engage. For a brief glimpse into Quinn and Martha’s ministry during their time in Zim, check this video

I could honestly keep going on about the number of people God has put in our path in recent months with whom we have been able to make connections and draw encouragement about mission work in Zimbabwe, but I’ll stop with these. Suffice it to say that one of the chief ways the Lord has been spurring us on as the day of our deployment approaches is by reminding us of the “great cloud of witnesses” that has gone into this land before us and laid for us some astounding foundations! What a great reminder that there is never just one missionary or family that God will use to reach a people. Rather, as Paul says to the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor 3:6). We truly stand on the shoulders of giants as we walk into this new endeavor and by doing so are able to see clearly that this work is not new at all, we are simply reaping where many others have sown in decades past. Our prayer is to simply be faithful with this wondrous heritage and, by God’s grace, do our small part to extend this great Kingdom work in honor of the Great King who has called us into His fields!