On Hard and Holy Ground

~ 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.