Saturday, December 29, 2012

With a Year of Waiting in the Past, Next Up is France

As I've shared in a few posts like this one , this one and this one 2012 has been a year of waiting.  While those blog posts hint at that fact, I never actually declared on this blog that 2012 was my year of waiting, but that's what it has been.  While praying sometime early in this year, I had a clear sense that 2012 was to be a year of waiting; that God was teaching me patience, to trust him to guide my future (rather than trying to force things to happen) and to seek my significance in who I am as his child rather than what I do for him.  I've had to remind myself that 2012 is a year of waiting as I've spent the past year working an incredibly unfulfilling job and have been wrestling through thoughts and experiments for how to best use my ministry gifts.  All of 2012 has been a year of waiting.  In the exact middle of 2012, I was very close to landing a great job in a university setting.  In fact, I already had one foot out of the door of my current job and was thinking that I'd gotten off easy in this year of waiting; I would only have to wait 6 months for the next major step in my journey.  Then, in a way that was both humorous and painful, I found myself on the wrong side of nepotism and didn't get the job.  Again, God reminded me (I wish He could do it more gently sometimes) that ALL of 2012 is about waiting.  So I kept waiting and seeking and praying and waiting some more.
In late summer of this year, as we were sitting in our living room folding clothes, Erin announces "you know, if we're really going to consider serving a year with Nazarene Mission Corps , the next academic year would be the time to do it, since it will be Dawson's last year before kindergarten.  Erin's statement was completely out of the blue; I never expected to hear her say that.  I'd been talking with her about this idea for a few years but she had been a bit hesitant.  Honestly, I was hesitant, too.  While it sounded like a good idea, I wasn't sure we'd ever really decided to pursue it.  I had tried to get Erin to attend the Cross Cultural Orientation required for those considering Mission Corps, but she remained hesitant.  In fact, I tried pushing it pretty hard last spring but she told me, in no uncertain terms, that she wasn't ready to consider that major of a life change as we were not yet far enough removed from the previous painful life changes.  Last summer, however when she announced that it was time to think about it, I knew two things: 1) We'd both fully recovered from our season of loss and transition and 2) God was clearly speaking to my wife.

Even after that conversation, we wrestled with our doubts.  After one difficult conversation on a Saturday night, God immediately addressed Erin's fears.  The very next morning, God spoke to Erin through our pastor's morning message and a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that she heard on PBS, "Faith is taking the first step, even when you can't see the whole staircase."  As I'm tempted to interpret challenges as a sign from God that we need to stop pursuing this, I heard my mom's admonition, "now that you've committed to this because you know God is leading you, don't let the inevitable challenges stop you from doing it."  So despite the numerous challenges we face in moving overseas to spend a year volunteering for our Denomination, we're determined to do our best not to back down from the challenges.

After committing to spend a year with Mission Corps, our next big challenge was to decide where to spend that year.  My first two thoughts were: 1) I'd love to go to France and 2) No way we could consider a year in France as mission work.  So we started exploring all the other options.  We talked with
Dave and Betsy Scott in Croatia , the Sunbergs  about Budapest and a coffee shop in Krakow, Poland   CaribbeanNazarene College  and some teaching opportunities in the AfricaSouth region .  We knew all along, though that our hearts were with the Eurasia region. 
While all of those opportunities seemed exciting, they also all had obstacles that didn't exist with the opportunity in Versailles, France.  So after all those opportunities faded away, we were left with our original hope, a year in France. 
Our decision to choose France was the result of two factors.  First of all, we're intrigued by the culture.  Several years ago, we spent some time in France and really liked the culture.  I realize that a week touring a country doesn't give one a true sense of the culture, but just like we felt in 2003 when feeling drawn to Gardner, something seems to be drawing us to France.  When talking with the Missionary in France, Brian Ketchum , he told me that if I were talking about Hungary the way I was talking about France, he'd tell me to get off the phone with him and immediately call the Sunbergs, but since we seem to have a draw toward France, we need to trust that God has a reason for planting that desire in us.  Randy and Lorie Beckum, mentors of our from college and who also served as missionaries in France, told us to not assume that mission work means we go somewhere we'd rather not be but rather pick a place where we would enjoy living and to know that God will use us anywhere.  For us, that's France.  Really, could you choose a better place to spend a year of one's life than Paris? 

Secondly, and this was the main factor, we already have a solid base in the language.  At the end of a year in Budapest, we might have finally mastered the basics of the difficult Hungarian language.  We're going to France with a basis in the language and with the possibility of being close to fluent by the end of the year.  While English is the international business language (meaning people across Europe speak English) and we can serve despite language barriers, we're excited about both serving in a place where we can have simple conversations and where we can become fluent in a second language (a language spoken in many other parts of the world, too). 

I started my French studies in the fall of 2008 on a bit of a whim.  While working on French homework one day, I had a congregation member,
Joe Kumor ask me why I was doing all this work.  I told him I wasn't quite sure but that maybe God was preparing me for some future mission work and that I've found that God has always turned my hobbies into service opportunities.  As I look back through some blog entries like this one here ,  I see that four years ago, I was already thinking about the possibility of serving in France.  In this entry, I explain the possibility of serving and teaching in Versailles, which is exactly what I'll be doing next year.  Finally, this blog entry makes me laugh.  I was writing about starting my semester at KU and I finish the blog entry wondering how God will use this intense language study.  Well, now I know. 
I became convinced that France is the place for us about two weeks before Erin came to the same conclusion.  Her decision was made on the fact that we can fill a ministry need in France.  Our year in France will be spent doing three things: 1) Serving the Versailles Community Church of the Nazarene, helping them during a pastoral transition and helping them think through ways to serve their surrounding community.  2) Helping train future pastors for the France District.  Currently, there are no trained pastors to take the place of current pastors (should they leave) nor to start new churches.  There are people on the District who have answered the call to ministry but now need the training.  I'm pumped to have the chance to teach and spend time with future pastors.  3) Learn how to build partnerships between US churches and French churches.  There are already some partnerships growing but we'll have the chance to deepen and expand those partnerships.  French pastors can be a great resource to American pastors since American pasors will eventually face the same cultural challenges pastors in France are already facing.  The possibility of a long-term relationship with the France District helps us know that our ministry in France will extend past this one year. 
After Brian explained all the ways we could serve and help the France District, Erin became convinced that we really would be doing mission work, not just going on a long vacation.  I have to admit though, we will be doing mission work in the country visited by more tourists each year than any other country.  I guess that's called, "suffering for Jesus."

As I shared with my home church in Burlington, IA last Sunday, I believe that my experience planting/ pastoring Trinity Family has brought us to a place where we are open to and possibly even partly prepared for the ministry context of France.  As this post is already too long, however I won't go into all of those details.  Maybe later.  For now, we have two big challenges to overcome before we leave sometime in July.  1) Raise the $30K necessary for a year serving in France and 2) Find someone to rent our house.  Prayer and donations (a website will be set up soon) will be appreciate.

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