Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving - Telling Cindy's Parents

Henry Blackaby, in Experiencing God, would teach that if you are truly walking with God in every action, thought, and desire, and plan, God will be there before you get there and when you get there. The next step in your life journey will be natural out of the things God is doing in your life and people around you won't be all that surprised. He teaches that God goes before you if you are following him.

We decided that our parents were the next people who needed to know our decision. Scott's mom often joins my family for Thanksgiving. It is casual (we order most of the food from K & W Cafeteria) and relaxing. We knew our house was to go on the market shortly after Thanksgiving and wanted them to know why. All of our parents are Christians and expected them to be both excited and sad. Excited for what the future held as we were obedient to God, sad as they realized their grandchildren (and maybe a little their children) were going to be far away.

At the beginning of Thanksgiving week Scott's mom changed her plans about coming. She just wasn't up to the trip. AT first we were disappointed then realized telling the parents separately may be a good idea anyhow. Scott arranged to go see her at a later date. On Tuesday, my dad called and left a message reminding me that my mom's birthday was at the end of the week and asking if I would call him back. He had a favor to ask me that wouldn't cost me any money, but to please call him back when I knew mom wouldn't be in listening distance. Not an unusual request as I often help with his shopping, but the no money thing had me puzzled.

I called him back and the puzzle got bigger. He said, "since this might be our last Thanksgiving together" would I please say the blessing on Thursday as a birthday gift to my mom. "Last Thanksgiving together" - why? I immediately drilled Hannah who had spent a week with him and she promised she had not said anything. Then I got excited to realize God had already been ahead of us in this conversation too, but of course doubts had to sneak in. Scott asked if i thought the statement meant there was something wrong with one of my parents.

Oh my! What if that was the case? I had to pray and think about whether I was willing to be obedient in this call, regardless of the situation. Once again I returned to prayer and the verse about forsaking family returned. I knew if there was a problem with one of them I could be obedient. I would just have to "trust and obey" that God was in charge of their life as well as mine and that he had the perfect plan with the perfect timing.

Thanksgiving lunch is about over and I am stressing as to how to begin this conversation. I mean, they have no clue its coming and you don't just pop up and say "we are moving to some unknown country at some unknown time in the future," but God even had a plan there. My dad gave my mom a GPS for her birthday over dessert. Perfect intro into the conversation - "hey mom, do you think that GPS might work in another country?" Unfortunately she took my question serious and for the next ten minutes she and dad discussed whether it would work or not. Finally, I had to interrupt and tell them what I really meant.

There was silence for a few minutes, but then the questions. My mom was excited (and even kept the tears to a minimum) and my dad wanted to be sure we were going to be taken care of. My sister and her husband had a few questions too, but the mood was joyous and not disbelief or sadness. It is such a blessing to be in a family of all Christians. I pray I never take that for granted.

If I learn nothing else in this process I have already learned that when you are obedient to God's commands the path is a lot easier than when you forget ahead on your own. I later asked my dad why he made the comment about the last Thanksgiving together, and he said he really didn't know, just that he thought Zach being in college and all may not be able to always be home for Thanksgiving. God will even use those around you to remind you that He is in charge. Oh Thank You dear Heavenly Father that this journey is one that you are leading and that we are not alone.

Zach - will he still have a home?

This whole college parenting thing needs a manual. How do you continue to parent someone who is really an adult (or at least in their mind) who for most of the year makes their own decisions, doesn't check in with you, and lives on his own until...he needs money, laundry done, a home cooked, meal or a bed to rest his head in that is closer to his girl friend than college? Every trip home he makes is a learning experience for us both. And now, we want to take away his home.

In some ways this decision was made in a vacuum, a vaccuum that no longer included our oldest son who is away at college. This decision would impact him, but he no longer really had a part in the decision. I am beginning to understand why Jesus said in Matthew 10:37 "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." If I love Zach more than I love God I will not be willing to be obedient completely. There will always be strings and buts. Oh how I do love Zach, but my prayer is that how he sees his parents being obedient will teach him to be obedient to whatever God calls him to do.

We decided to share the decision with Zach when he came home for college and that Scott would take him away from the home and talk with him. I just prayed and let go. They left and came back and all seemed the same as before they left. Scott said it went fine and Zach's only reaction was that he was glad we waited until he had moved out (whew! isn't God's timing perfect?). In a man's world, that was enough description of the conversation, in a woman's world, I needed word by word account. So now how to pry without prying?

Even God took care of that. Zach opened the conversation with the fact that he had been considering applying for a job at college this coming summer that would keep him there for 8 weeks. Remember, he made that decision before he knew we were praying to leave and in our time schedule we would leave in late summer. Then in another conversation he shared that he had applied to two different army programs for the summer of 2010 and he wouldn't be home that summer at all (he is at college on an ROTC scholarship). God is good!

He is still trying to figure out how all this impacts him. As we pack things up to sell and give away (we are downsizing our life now, regardless of the decision the IMB reaches) he is caught. He isn't leaving, but his home is. He wants to keep things, we are getting rid. He had a good conversation with his grandparents (Cindy's parents) and they assured him that he always had a home there. Those who know here in Greensboro have already promised him a bed anytime. God will take care of him.

Pray for him as he figures out how he fits into this whole picture. He says he is is a "short term missionary at heart" and this works great for that. Pray for us as parents as we try to parent him as a college student who we will leave behind. Pray for our hearts as we commit to loving God more than anything, or anyone.

On a side note, he is on a full scholarship, but because of an illness that occuppied the majority of the semester, his scholarship is in jeopardy. He must pass the ROTC PT test by December 12th. He will have an opportunity on December 5th. Pray for the physical strength and endurance to pass. Pray for his determination to keep doing what he needs to do. Pray for us as parents to let go and let him make his own way. I'll keep you posted.

People Will Know

Scott and I determined that we would not make our decision public until further into the process. We did have a couple on the mission field that was mentoring us and serving as great prayer partners, but those who we saw everyday were not to be told. Scott's job would be at risk if they thought he was quitting and my job would just be awkward.

Keeping it quiet is a lot harder than it seems. This decision has become all consuming. Every thought you have an decision you make is filtered through the idea that you are giving up everything to serve.

One day in the WEE School office Sherri Howard and I were talking about selling houses. She guessed. I said nothing and yet she guessed. When I asked her what made her think something like that she said, "people who really know you know that you have a heart for missions, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone."

In an effort to prepare to tell Zach we also chose to tell Suzanne. She was first caught by surprise, not by the decision - she said it made sense, she saw it in us, just by the fact that it was happening now.

What did this mean? It was actually confirming that people saw God working in our hearts and lives even before we answered the call. Teachers have said that part of assuring that you have heard the voice of God is to talk to those wise believers. They should be able to confirm to you that they have seen the fruit of God leading to this call and decision. What great assurance that God had truly indeed been at work in our lives leading to this point!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Planning to Participating...Cindy's Beginning

I never imagined that I would one day be preparing to head to the mission field full time. I grew up in the Baptist church. I participated in GA's, heard about WMU through my grandmother, prayed for missionaries on their birthdays with my "adoptive grandparents," and always heard of mission work across the world. I participated in a variety of mission projects growing up but never felt called to actually "do" mission work.

Seven years ago Cornerstone Baptist Church, our home church, was preparing for a mission trip to India. I worked with the children ministries and wanted them to participate in a way that made them feel like an integral part of the trip. They couldn't go to India, but we could bring India to them. I helped turn the gym into a city in India and taught the children about the area our team would be serving. I then introduced them to the idea of Looking Good Bags. These were bags for people the team would encounter that included hygiene items such as a comb, toothbrush, soap, washcloths, and etc. We collected three duffel bags full. I have never felt so excited to be serving as then.

Two years later I answered the call to full time ministry and began to work on my seminary degree in Christian Education and went to work for Cornerstone part time. Shortly after that Marsha Judy stopped me in the hall one morning and asked when I was going to commit to the upcoming Ecuador mission trip. I told her I had no plans to go. God was using me with the children to assist in the trip and I felt fulfilled. I had no inkling that God actually wanted me to go, not just participate. I agreed to pray for the weekend about the trip and God answered boldly and clearly that I was to go.

Six weeks later I was in Ecuador working with the Quichua people. Our goal was to walk the streets of a village to find evangelical believers that the IMB missionaries could connect with for the purpose of church planting. I was hooked by the 2nd day. There was no greater high than being on the mission field sharing God's love.

The final day of the trip reminded me that missions can be fulfilling, but it requires a willingness to lay everything down. As our team handed out Bibles to the Quichua people at a local market, my translator and I were mobbed. His passport and wallet was stolen and I was literally lifted off the ground by the people pressing in to get their own copy of the Bible. I was scared to death and it took quite a few hours to recover, but later I realized that God had been faithful. I also had to question what was I willing to give up to put the Word of God in the hands of people who did not know him.

After the experience of the first trip I knew that God had called me to missions. I imagined continuing to go on short term trips and maybe one day leaving my position of Children's Minister to become a Director of Missions, or maybe one day even going to work for a missions organization to help coordinate trips.

I went on four more trips to both Ecuador and Ukraine. I went as a strategic planner, as a team member, and as a team leader. I struggled to do the rest of my job when there was a mission trip that called for my attention. I felt torn between loyalties - loyalty to my specific job description and my desire to do missions full time, loyalty to Marsha Judy who was in charge of missions and a desire to facilitate more trips.

All along I felt a call to missions. I even applied and interviewed with a mission organization that worked with children. The position was that of a team planner and facilitator. Just what I felt both gifted and called to do, but after much prayer, God said no. I was disappointed, but I knew I had heard God clearly. I figured one day God would open the door, but I don't think I totally believed it. Missions was my goal, but my family would never go along with the whole idea, so I knew it would never happen.

Then my world totally changed on November 2, 2008. Scott and I had taken Alex and Hannah to Myrtle Beach for a few days of family time and get away. Walking along the beach I said something about going to the mission field in a joking manner and both Scott and Hannah came back with responses saying they were just waiting on me to be ready to go. It was like a slap in the face. They were waiting on me and I had dismissed the idea that they would ever go. The rest of the trip was a blur. I was constantly asking them if they were serious.

Scott explained that years before he had committed to God that he would go, but knew that he had to let God work on me. He was just waiting. Hannah had gone with me to Ukraine that summer and had believed that God had called her to fulltime missions. She was ready to answer that call now.

I asked for time to think, pray, and process. All of a sudden we were no longer talking about one day in the future going to the mission field, but questioning was I willing to give up whatever it took to reach people of the world for Christ. I spent time praying, studying, and questioning. Was I really willing to do what it took to reach people for Christ?

On Monday, November 10, we submitted our application to serve with the International Mission Board, part of the Southern Baptist Convention. Hitting submit came with a variety of emtoins - a sense of relief, fear, and excitement. This would be the beginning of an incredible journey that only God knows where it will take us and when this portion of hte journey will be complete.

This is "the ride of a lifetime." I know that there are many ups and downs to come, but I am already discovering that walking this close to God brings with it more joy, peace, excitement, and love for people than one can imagine. Whatever the IMB decides, I pray that I grab every moment of the journey and spend it right up close to Christ! No longer will I be satisfied with just planning for people to share the love of Christ, I will participate.