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This afternoon, I was printing out some Scripture verse coloring pages and came across this verse again: Joshua 1:9 – “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” It brought some bittersweet emotions, because just a few months ago we were talking about this passage in anticipation of a pretty big “GO” for our family – concerning our decision to move to Jos, Nigeria, where Ryan has been appointed as missionary faculty in the Theological College of Northern Nigeria. And now … here it is April, and we haven’t gone anywhere yet.
The surface reasons are obvious: because of the current pandemic, nobody is going much of anywhere right now, let alone making a transatlantic move. We don’t even have our visas issued that we know of, let alone returned with our passports, and since the offices in New York are closed as we understand it, we don’t know when we might have that resolved. And as to whether there is a larger “reason” for our delay – we don’t know that either. Actually, I don’t think it’s necessarily helpful to look for a reason, even though it’s kind of instinctual to do so. I appreciated this piece by N. T. Wright, suggesting the posture of lament in this pandemic situation, rather than one of demanding an explanation.
We do seek to trust God’s timing, and we do believe that no part of what is or isn’t happening is a surprise to Him. We know this: what feels to us like a lot of turmoil and confusion is not confusing or frustrating to our Father. So, we keep laying our fears and questions at His feet, seeking to trust that no matter what happens to our plans, His purposes will prevail. At the same time, I am not saying it is easy to feel at peace in our hearts, as we (and pretty much everyone else in the world right now) live with all kinds of day-to-day unknowns, and try to find some kind of “normal” (is that too ambitious? ha!) in our house partly emptied of various belongings and furnishings, and with half-packed boxes in nearly every room. It’s awkward, strange, and sometimes just plain difficult.
So what about seeing that Bible verse again today was sweet? The word “wherever.” God has not promised to only walk us through the big hard moves, but to be with us during the ones that feel small and inconsequential too – yes, even moving from the living room couch to the back porch step. As I lean in to that promise, I am thankful for voices like Emily P. Freeman, helping to name and acknowledge what is hard about this time and these circumstances, but also giving hope in the reality that God is present even here, even now, and even into an unknown future. Listen to her wise and comforting words here: The Next Right Thing. Another short listen that speaks to my anxious heart is here at The Giving Up Normal podcast; look for episode 36 “Things to Remember In the Wilderness.”
I’ll echo Emily’s closing words here, from Psalm 31:14-15 – “But as for me, I trust in you O Lord; I say ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands.”
~ I shared some of this on Instagram, but then thought that it might be nice to have it recorded here too … so here are just a few words on how God’s timing is exactly right.
When everything became “official” for us with Resonate Global Mission, one of the first things we had to do was create some content for our prayer card and informational brochure. This included choosing a Scripture verse or short passage that was meaningful and relevant. We chose Psalm 67:1-3 “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let all the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” We think these verses describe the very reason we were created: to bring glory to God, and the reason for missions: that all nations would know His saving power, and thus praise Him. We ask God’s blessing on us and on our work so that we might do His work. We were writing for this prayer card, and choosing this passage, back in May or June of 2019. Fast-forward (and it kind of does feel like that’s what happened) to now, and the passage we just finished memorizing in our home-school — the passage assigned in the curriculum — was none other than Psalm 67. Thank you, Jesus, for seeing all this happen before we even thought of it.
The very first passage we memorized together this school year was Joshua 1:9, “…for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go,” as mentioned a couple of posts ago. So this next bit is interesting, by which I mean is gratefully received confirmation from our Father that He does work all things — all things — in His time. We have been reading through a delightful book together in our home-school devotions: Sally Lloyd Jones and Jago’s Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. Cannot recommend highly enough; it’s such a lovely volume, and so rich in precious truth. The very last reading is this:
What a good God is ours, who would take us by the hand, guard us, and be with us, wherever we go.
~ some thoughts about and prayers for our church family ~
The last time we wrote something for this blog, we were talking about new beginnings. Now, here we are at the end of December, thinking a little a lot more about endings than beginnings. I’m sure many people are reflecting on similar themes in this funny sort of limbo time between Christmas and New Year’s, as the old year wraps up, and the new one waits just ahead.
Yesterday, December 29th, was Ryan’s final Sunday as an official pastor at Faith Church, Pella. It’s been nearly 14 years since we came, answering God’s call to live and serve among His people here. When we arrived, we knew that our hope was for a longer-term ministry than what many of our colleagues might consider “normal,” but we didn’t really have any particular number of years in mind. We knew we hoped to put down roots, but we didn’t know, couldn’t have known, how deep those roots would go, nor how much this place, this town, this church, these people, would become home for us. Thank you, Faith Church, for being home. Thank you for the beautiful service yesterday. For the songs and the heartfelt prayers, for the hugs and the laughs, for the delicious lunch and cake, and the beautiful, meaningful, flowers that represent our whole family. We came home after church and lunch yesterday with overflowing hearts, and overflowing eyes, too.
Endings are hard. We try to put a good spin on it, to console ourselves, saying things like “it’s a new chapter in the same book,” or “we’ll still be partners in ministry, just in a different role,” and these things are true – but they don’t negate the fact that this different chapter and role involves a different continent as well. We’re going to miss this place and these beloved people, and we, especially Ryan of course, will miss the role we had here, even in the excitement of what’s coming next. Here we find ourselves holding grief and joy side by side, and still, again, learning to let it be that way. This is hard and holy ground.
Looking back over all that has come and gone in our years at Faith Church certainly gives us hope and encouragement for whatever may come and go in our years ahead. We so often see God’s hand more clearly in hindsight than in the moment, and we cling to His past faithfulness in the uncertainties, fears, and questions about the future that accompany our upcoming move to Nigeria. At the same time, some of the very things that lift our hearts are breaking our hearts. Our friends, our family here, have shared a wide scope of life experiences with us, and us with them. They have rejoiced and celebrated with us, and they have walked with us through dark and heavy places; they have carried our burdens with us, for us, alongside us. There is something about shared grief that binds hearts together in a unique and precious way. This move feels like a tearing away, and tearing away hurts. I know that speaks to the depth of goodness we have experienced here, and honestly, we wouldn’t want it to be any other way – what a gift it is to leave with full hearts, even as they break a little, or a lot, as we go.
Saturday night, the night before Ryan’s last service as Faith’s pastor, the reading in my “Let’s Read the Bible Together” plan on the Bible app included Isaiah 55. I’m thankful for the audio option on this app, because it’s easier to listen with tears running down your face than it is to keep reading with your eyes. It seemed like every verse connected or applied to either our time at Faith Church or our hopes and prayers for Faith Church going forward. Go ahead and listen here: https://www.bible.com/bible/59/ISA.55.ESV
I know that God is speaking to the nation of Israel in this chapter, but I believe these words are for us here and now, too. I believe God called our family to Pella in part to demonstrate His covenant faithfulness to us, and He provided for our thirsty, weary souls while we were here (vs 1-2). I believe that through Ryan’s leadership at Faith, a nation we did not know is now part of God’s call on our lives – in fact more than one nation. First a move to stay in the United States instead of returning to Canada, and now a move to Nigeria, to be a witness to the peoples (vs 4-5).
If there is one thing we pray for our church family here, it is this: that they would continue to seek the Lord (vs 6-7). Sometimes it feels like we are abandoning ship as it were, leaving while there is still work to be done, but we do believe it is God’s work, not ours, and our part here is over, or is at least changing. And we can believe this with confidence because of the promise in verses 8-11 – His ways are so much greater than we can ever know in this life, and He will accomplish His purposes through His word just as surely as the rain and snow bring water to the earth.
May you, Faith Church, go out with joy, and be led forth in peace, and may you make a name for the Lord that shall never be cut off. We love you deeply, and yet we know that our heavenly Father loves you immeasurably more, with a sure and steadfast love and in an everlasting covenant. We trust Him to hold us all in His hands together, even as we part.
To Him be all glory.
Here in Iowa, August and September are full of beginnings. In the past few weeks, everyone in our family has had some activity start up or re-start, including things like soccer, piano lessons, gymnastics, dance, kids’ midweek groups at church, our family’s small group from church, and of course, school.
School for all of us is all home-based this year, from the 5 year old to the 15 year old, (okay, even the 1 year old will not be left out!) and we have the boxes to prove it! This is not even all of the boxes …
We’ve spent just over a week “in the books” now, and it feels like we’re getting some rhythms figured out together, but oh boy; we have a lot going on, and it’s bigger than those boxes of books. When I first opened the Instructor’s Guide that includes our Bible readings and memorization assignments, and saw the verses planned for Week One, I could hardly keep back the tears. It truly felt like Jesus Himself was there in the room, speaking right to my anxious heart – and I know of course He was and always is, but knowing and believing aren’t always the same, are they?
“This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8-9)
So where are we going? Well, maybe the people who put this curriculum together were thinking about how the beginning of a school year can feel daunting and even frightening; maybe they wanted to encourage us that as we travel through our studies together, our God is with us, even when we feel inadequate as teachers or students. All of that is certainly applicable for us, this year and every year. But maybe the Holy Spirit prompted those verses for other reasons, too. It is constantly amazing to me how Scripture, written thousands of years ago, to vastly different people in vastly different circumstances, also speaks right into the here and now of my own life.
Our family is beginning something besides the usual school and activities this fall: we are beginning a transition out of this small town Iowa life, where we have lived and grown for almost 14 years, as Ryan has pastored at Faith CRC in Pella … and into a life that so far still feels like more questions than answers, more vague ideas, map dots, and emailed pictures than anything else. We have been working with Resonate Global Mission towards Ryan’s appointment as a missionary in Jos, Nigeria, where he will be teaching at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, and it is now official! (Click on images to enlarge brochure)
It’s been a long and sometimes complicated and confusing process, but also one that keeps leading us to Jesus, as we continue to intentionally (and sometimes desperately) seek God, quietly listen for His voice, watch for His hand, and trust His timing to be more perfect than ours. We are, and will be, leaning hard into the promise that He will be with us, and in fact, even goes before us (Deuteronomy 31:8), wherever we go.
Before we do actually go, and over the next few months, our transition primarily means preparation, as we gather a network of prayer partners, build a team of financial support, and continue to ask the millions of questions that arise when considering moving a family of 9 across the ocean.
At this time, we are asking for prayer partners, maybe even as many as 200. Will you come with us in this way? Email Ryan at email@example.com to receive our prayer letters to your inbox, and to share your own requests, so we can come to our Father for each other, together, no matter where we may be, or may go.
You can also message us with your contact information through the “Drop Us a Note” tab at the top of the blog. We’d love to hear from you!
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word.” (Colossians 4:2-3)
This is a more personal post than most of what we write here; I hope you don’t mind. You see, I’ve been sorting through our “May” photos of this year, and I came across one I’d really like to share. This is one of my favorite pictures of Ryan:
Every year at Tulip Time here in Pella, Ryan gamely puts on his Dutch costume, and takes our children street scrubbing. I like this picture, even though it’s a bit out of focus, and the lighting is weird, and Ryan’s not even looking up – I like it because it almost looks like he’s about to soak the girls’ feet. I like to think of it as washing their feet. I love this picture because it shows Ryan doing what he does best: serving. This is just a small example, but a good one: it might be really hot at Tulip Time, or really cold, and always kind of tiring, but he’ll take them anyway. Tulip Time and all the time, he’s been putting his kids first for well over 14 years, and he never complains. He actually finds quite a bit of joy in doing so.
I was thinking of sharing this picture yesterday, which was Father’s Day (here in North America at least). But I saved it for today, for a couple of reasons. One is that over the past several years, specified “days” like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day have become very poignant for our family. Oh, we celebrate on them, and we rejoice in every one of the children that have made us a father and a mother, yet we mourn on them, too, for the children that wait for us in heaven are no less loved than the ones here with us now. Sometimes, the sorrow makes days of joy all the sweeter. Sometimes it makes us have to look hard for the light. We feel very keenly, on these days especially, that as believers in Jesus, and in His promise to wipe away every tear, we live in the already-but-not-yet of this earth. Oh, hold our tiny precious babies close, Heavenly Father, and hold us close too. It makes us feel like heaven is not so far away for a minute, when we picture all 11 of us being held in His hands.
Another thing I wanted to share, sort of in honor of Father’s Day, is this beautiful piece, full of truth and pain and love, by Eric Schumacher: Dads Hurt Too. It rings very true for our family, and maybe a father you know would be encouraged or comforted by it too. The grief of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss is not reserved for mothers. As Ryan and I have grieved, together and separately, for our children, we have drawn comfort from the strength of love we see in each other for those children. Burying our tiny son together, and then leaving him in Kenya, is the hardest thing we have ever had to do, and yet we found grace in not having to weep alone. I sure didn’t see that picture in my head when I was 24 and reciting wedding vows that included “mourn when you mourn,” but when it happened to us, how grateful I was, and am more all the time, for a husband that lives those vows out, even in fatherhood.
It has been wonderful to be back at Bridgeworld College this week. It has been a very full week, teaching Preaching Apocalyptic Passages: Studies in the Books of Daniel and Revelation every day from 9.00am to 3.30pm. The class has been very well attended.
I was pleased to present 45 students and several members of Bridgeworld’s support staff with Africa Study Bibles this afternoon. The highlight, however, was presenting an Africa Study Bible to Bridgeworld’s own Professor Lois Semenye, a contributor to the Africa Study Bible. (Click on any picture below to open slideshow.)
All that’s left now is grading all of the exams, submitting my grades to the registrar, and packing for my return trip on Saturday night. A very big Asante Sana! (thank you) to all those who partnered with me on this trip, and especially to those who purchased an Africa Study Bible for a brother or sister here in Kenya. Words cannot express how excited and appreciative students have been to receive a copy of the Africa Study Bible.
Last Friday morning I traveled across Nairobi to Bridgeworld College in Karen. As most of my time last week was spent indoors or inside compounds at Deliverance Church and the Wang’ombes’ home, I was eager to get out and explore Karen on Friday afternoon. So, after greeting the staff at Bridgeworld, taking tea with Dr. and Mrs. Lee (principal of Bridgeworld), and getting settled in my guest room on campus, I borrowed the office car and visited our old neighborhood and the places we often shopped. There was one friend, John, our gardener, that I was delighted to meet on the street. There were some others, herds of Maasai cattle that can create traffic jams, that I was not as delighted to meet again.
I was grateful to spend time on Saturday morning at the prayer garden where Findley is buried. I was glad to see that the rose bushes we planted, though not in bloom, survived the drought, and I was again deeply grateful for the counseling center’s kindness to our family and for their care of Findley’s grave.
Saturday afternoon I reconnected with Phil & EJ Blohm, dear friends of ours in Nairobi. We enjoyed a late lunch together before attending a Hillsong concert that evening.
Sunday morning I worshiped and preached at St. Matthew’s ACK, our home-away-from-home church in Karen. It was wonderful to see so many friends. (Click on any picture to open slideshow)
Because the service included both a baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it was a bit longer (2 1/2 hours) than usual (2 hours).
I was delighted to see the school that the church is building. (Click here for an earlier post about and pictures from the construction.) The first two classrooms are now complete. Because they will begin using them tomorrow, the congregation had a special time of prayer in them after this morning’s worship service. While we thank God for these classrooms, we know that there is still much work to be done. The church hopes to complete two more ground floor classrooms yet this calendar year and four first-floor (aka second-floor in North America) classrooms next year. They are also praying that by the end of next year, when all eight classrooms are complete, they will be able to purchase a bus for the school.
Finally, on Sunday evening I enjoyed tea and dinner with Guy & Susan Rainsford, our across-the-street neighbors in Karen. Our girls especially enjoyed their time with the Rainsford’s daughters Josie and Rehemma during our time in Kenya last year.
Tomorrow my one-week intensive course, Preaching Apocalyptic Passages: Studies in Daniel and Revelation, begins at Bridgeworld College. Classes will be held Monday through Friday from 9.00am-3.30pm. Please pray for stamina and endurance.
Today is the final day of at the School of Preaching 2017. It has been a full but truly delightful week. Sessions have been held each morning, Monday to Thursday, from 8.30am-12.30pm. Along with daily lectures on the book of Daniel, I taught sessions on expository preaching, preaching Christ from the Old Testament, and sermon design and delivery.
The School of Preaching also includes evening sessions from 6.30-8.30pm. During these sessions, I preached a sermon (45-60 minutes!) on a passage in Daniel, demonstrating what was taught in the morning sessions. Over 130 people have attended these sessions each evening, including a former student from Bridgeworld College and his bishop.
Peterson and Ann Wang’ombe and their family have been wonderful hosts during my time in Kahawa Sukari. Peterson is the pastor of Deliverance Church, where the School of Preaching is held. I look forward to returning the hospitality, and possibly the birthday party – I was with the Wang’ombes for Ann’s birthday; Peterson will be in Pella over Graeme’s birthday – in a few short weeks when Peterson comes to Pella.
Tomorrow morning I travel across Nairobi to Bridgeworld College in Karen, where I’ll be teaching a one-week intensive course, Preaching Apocalyptic Passages: Studies in Daniel and Revelation, from September 11-15. Being in Karen over the weekend will give me the opportunity to spend time at Findley’s grave, with the Blohms, dear friends of our family who live in Nairobi, and to preach and worship at St. Matthew’s ACK (our home-away-from-home church; see the second half of this post).
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Eph. 6:19)