"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20, ESV).
Ever since I became a Christian several years ago, I was always fascinated with the idea of doing missionary work. From my earliest days of attending my first men’s Bible study, I was captivated by the stories of traveling to faraway countries to share the Gospel. In fact, the couple who helped lead my wife and me to Christ just moved overseas to become full time missionaries in Bosnia. I did not however, expect the type of missionary work that seems to now be unfolding for my family, and it all began with a whisper of the Holy Spirit in my ear one Sunday, and as is usually the case, ends with something much heavier and blunt on the head.
It was a fairly routine Sunday morning at our previous church last summer, and I was serving in my post as head of the ushers and working at our guest services desk. I had a conversation with the woman who coordinated our son’s support services in Sunday school, and she mentioned to me how we needed to be praying for good helpers for him for the coming fall. When I inquired a little more to her about whether or not we had enough help lined up for him, she plainly said no, as most of the high school and college kids who did support him were moving away and such. Normally, this really wouldn’t phase me, as we always had help show up for him, even at the final hour, however this time something struck me as different, like I needed to be paying attention to this. I initially brushed it off and then moved into the sanctuary, as a family we had known for a few years was getting commissioned by our church to be missionary partners in Thailand. I stepped in and stood in the doorway as I watched our lead pastor pray over them in front of the congregation, and as I listened to him describe the nature of the moment, and how God had brought them to our church but now needed to move them on, I really took notice.
I came home after service that day and immediately went to my wife (who had stayed home that day) to describe the events at church and what I had experienced both in and out of the sanctuary. If you know my wife, you know that her instincts and foresight are greatly spot on, and so when I shared what I was feeling to her, she matter of factly reminded me of some conversations we had had several months previously where she shared these same feelings. At that time, I wasn’t ready to hear it, but now, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I knew it was time.
So, we began the process of finding a new church, and since it was late summer, we knew we had to make a fairly quick decision since we wanted to have our new home by the fall. In our heads, we only really came up with two choices, and after going to each church for visits, interviewing the staff and touring the facilities, all the while considering how our child would fit in with every part of it, we decided on the one that we always felt would be where we’d wind up. This was mainly due to the fact that it was actually a megachurch that was a satellite campus of an even bigger (and very popular) main campus that we had attended programs for special needs families before, and so we felt confident that we could somehow replicate that there. It was admittedly, very difficult for several reasons, one because we had made the decision and move relatively quickly, it was a much bigger population and so harder for us to fit in, and most importantly, there was no direct support for our son initially. While the coordinator for the Sunday school program was very hands on with us, and had solicited the help of a retired special education teacher, what we really needed were young, energetic but capable hands that could handle being with our son, while also engaging him. This situation continued for about the first couple of months, and with no clear support for him in the classroom setting, my wife and I found ourselves volunteering as his helper, which while ok, was not the long term solution we had hoped for.
Our initial experience with transitioning to our new church was filled with self doubt, frustration and anxiety, all the while feeling adrift, uncertain of whether or not we were hearing God’s voice at all. We continued to lift each other up, pray for a better situation for all of us, and slowly we started to see the changes take place, beginning with two wonderful, regular helpers for our son, one a teacher from his own elementary school, the other a special needs mom. We were able to attend service as a couple again, which was great for us individually but also as for our own marriage. We began to attend some of the special events during the week and on weekends and joined a new life group which allowed us to get to know some new people on a more personal level. Yet despite all of this, there was one more surprise God seemed to have for us that we didn’t expect, and it came out of a conversation my wife and I had on the way home from life group one night several months ago.
While in the car we began to discuss how we still didn’t feel like we were connecting with God’s purpose for us at our church, and how we felt like something was plain missing. As we talked through we realized that we had come to a church community with a substantial special needs population and had actually made some efforts to connect with them, even helping to coordinate a meet and greet for those families. That turned out to be a nice event, but even more than that, why not create our own life group for special needs parents, with a focus on those issues that are specific to our families and how to best support them. In the same way I felt the spirit moving me with the first conversation about moving to the new church, we now both felt we were being moved by God to start this new chapter in life.
A short time later, we had reached out to a contact in our church’s administration about the idea of starting our life group, and it was met with great enthusiasm, and I’m pleased to say that we have received a great deal of support in this endeavor. We are still very much in the planning phase, and hope to get it up and running by the late summer, with some other meet and greet events planned before. The buzz this has created has both manifested in a lot of excitement from random people we speak to around church, but also within our own family, as the reason for us being called to leave our former church becomes much more clear. But God is not one, as I have learned, to keep anything to chance, so to bring His point home, I received one more confirmation while listening to a sermon a few weeks back. The pastor was speaking on biblical principles for managing finances, and as he closed his sermon who related a story of a mentor of his who asked him about how much he was investing, not in his portfolio but in the afterlife. He shared how his mentor reminded him that his Kingdom work here prepared him for the day he’ll be called home, and how using his gifts and talents here are an investment in eternity.
Then it hit me—my family and I had a profound gift to bring to this community, one that, until now, was not available to anyone.
While at first we were saddened by having to be moved, I was reminded of the experiences of the first missionaries, and how much they must have given up to commit themselves fully to their work. Yet, they new the importance of what they were doing, and regardless of where they were pulled to, they never forgot they were still ONE body, and when asked to move, they just moved. We may not always know the answers to the “why” questions, especially being special needs parents, but we always know the one who has all of the answers, and so we must only be patient, and be willing to move on command.
Pray: Father, you map out the course of our lives before us, and number our steps just as you number our days, all for your divine purpose. I pray that every day we may have ears to listen, hearts to serve, and feet willing to move, to wherever and whatever we are called to. May every action of our hands and every word we speak fulfill your mission for our lives and for the glory of your wonderful kingdom. In Jesus’s name, amen.
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