Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Our Testimony

A little over two years ago, I signed up for a short term mission trip to the D.R. Little did I know that it would change our lives drastically. Celia and I had just gotten married, yet she was not going to go because we could not afford for two. However, right before the trip, a lady from our church had to back out, offering Celia her ticket, expenses paid. Looking back, we can easily see the Sovereign hand of God at work. I say this, because while there, Celia struck up a deep friendship with a Dominican family- a relationship that probably would not have happened if Celia had not come. The friendship led us to schedule a 3 week visit there the following year instead of the ordinary 1 week mission trip. When our church and the other churches we came with would go home (the next year), we would stay two additional weeks in the home of this family, totally immersed. We thought it would be for fun-God already knew otherwise, yet it would be another year before He clued us in.

Shortly after our return to the States, Celia and I both started to become agitated spiritually. We grew uncomfortable with being comfortable in life. Months later, we started reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan and that didn’t help matters. The challenging and convicting nature of the book conjured reflections upon the immense brevity of life, the vapor that it is and the fact that we don’t have much time here. I didn’t want to waste my life by focusing on temporal things. The feelings of discomfort continued to grow but I didn’t know what to do about it. Amidst the confusion, we began praying. We continued to seek God’s guidance and wisdom but didn’t really feel that He was moving in any way yet. Looking back, however, we can now clearly see He already was. The Sovereign hand of God was stirring our spirits for what lay ahead.

Fast forward a bit to the plane trip over to the D.R for our 2010 mission trip. I can only think of lost souls and the chance to preach to them again. I am hoping it will go as well as last year. I don’t have to wait long to find out: the answer is a resounding “NO!” I am scheduled to preach first and we head back to the church after VBS but no one follows except the missionaries of course and a few regulars. I was expecting a large and diverse crowd of lost souls like last year. We have a bright idea and turn the speakers out to the neighborhood (the church is right in the middle of it and everyone hangs around outside in the streets), but then the microphone cuts out. Satan seems to be doing his thing very well. I can hardly blame half the listeners as they falling asleep as I preach after a hard day working and just arriving the day before.

Discouraged and defeated, I’m driven to my knees. Looking back, I once again see our Sovereign God at work. What I thought was a failure was used by God to make me do what He wants us all to do the most-pray. I cried out that night that more than anything, I want to be used by God and to have His power in my life. I sat out on the balcony as everyone slept, pouring my heart out to God, offering Him my life and begging Him to please use us mightily. Less than 12 hours later and on that same balcony, God would answer and shake our world in an unexpected way. Ephesians 3:20-21 would come alive to me. It reads: Now unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. Moments before a devotional Pete would lead, I was joking around with others, light-hearted at the moment you could say. Pete prayed and then began reading out of Genesis 12:1-Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee. At the end of the word “country” out of nowhere I felt my gut clinch and in a way that I can’t fully describe with words, I knew what God wanted to do with Celia and me. It was as if God said, “Jared, get thee out of thy country.” It was so overwhelming; I bent over and started weeping like a baby. Eventually, I slipped back into my motel room and sprawled out on the bed and talked with God like never before. I heard no voice, I saw no vision but I didn’t need to. I just knew and there was no doubt. I told God I’d give Him everything, my family, friends, job, retirement, hobbies, comforts, home, everything. I could feel Him taking them as I offered them and that was when it hit me-there is no turning back, this is really happening. I had placed my hands to the plow (Lk. 9:62).

I called Celia in first and she simply said, “let’s go.” I was like, “Ok, that was easy.” I then called my pastor in and later spoke to Pete. They were supportive; cautious yet supportive. Everything started falling into place. This is the real reason we were staying 3 weeks and living immersed alone from all other Americans-God was giving us a taste of what we were getting ourselves into. Our whole outlooked changed as to our being there as we realized these two additional weeks were a mission, not a vacation. Nevertheless, I’d love to tell you the rest of our time there was wonderful but it’d be a lie. Hot, A/Cless nights, swarming mosquitoes, getting sick, but worse- a struggling church, an inexperienced, tired, but willing pastor, a lost world, false converts. Guess what though, this confirmed our calling more than having the best time-of-our-lives ever could have. Our hearts were set and our minds were stayed-not by our own doing but by God. This peace in the midst of what I’ve just described created joy unspeakable in our hearts, and we were also enlightened to the goal of our mission-discipleship.

I don’t think last statement is very groundbreaking. The great commission does say to “go and make disciples.” And that is our goal. We are working with Pastor Paul and some local pastors, including Pete to develop a more detailed approach. The opportunity to get some training by David Platt and the IMB (the author of the book Radical) has presented itself as well.

Well, we returned to the States, a little nervous that the comforts of home would erase our current goals and new-found mission, and that we might indeed glance back, while holding the plow. That was not the case. There has not been one day that has passed in over the past 18 months that we haven’t felt secure in our calling, not even when we were unexpectedly surprised with Arianna. We sold our house a few months after returning, and have recently started attending a different church-a Spanish one to get acclimated with the culture and pick up some Spanish along the way. Pastor Matos and pastor Adalberto are both giving us Spanish lessons as well.

In January we met with a lady from the IMB to garner support through them. We met their qualifications but had one problem. They told us we would have little chance of going to the D.R. Instead of turning them down immediately, we prayed fervently for the Lord to direct us. Over time, the thought of going somewhere besides the D.R. felt like disobedience. That conviction was confirmed in our hearts one night as we prayed for God to send laborers (Lk. 10:2) to the harvest in the D.R. It was as if He said, “Yeah, you are the laborers…and haven’t I made it plain already?” Again, the peace of God filled our hearts, and even though we will not have the benefit of having the IMB at our backs, Celia and I have not stopped trying to get there ever since.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Update! Missions Forum East 2012 Conference

I will be heading to First Baptist Trussville (Alabama) on February 20th to attend the International Mission Board’s (IMB) training for missionaries. Below is a brief description of the event.
Missions Forum is a learning and sharing event designed specifically for missions leaders, addressing topics vital to effective missions involvement. At the Forum you will be able to:
  • Receive practical information on many aspects of the missions task, ranging from church mobilization and preparation to field connections and engagement strategies.
  • Hear speakers who are successfully engaged in the missions task, providing inspiration and practical "how-to" suggestions.
  • Dialogue with other missions leaders and missionaries to explore effective methods.
  • Talk with IMB and NAMB missionaries and learn how you can partner with them.
David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham and Gordon Fort, vice-president for Global Strategy IMB are the forum speakers.
There are two tracks:

Awaking and Exploring - for those who are in the initial phases of missions outreach; presented in an instructional form. Topics include Basic Missions Strategies, Biblical Basis for Missions, Planning a Successful Missions Journey, The Effective Missions Leader and others.
Taking it to the Next Level - for those who are more experienced in the missions task; using a breakout group format. Topics include Planting an Indigenous Church, Staying Strategic, Oral Strategies (reaching oral learners), T4T (Training for Trainers), Reaching the World at Your Doorstep, Risk Management and others.
Obviously, the first track is what I will be taking. I am looking forward to meeting other missionaries, IMB officials, and of course, David Platt (author of the book Radical). But what I am most looking forward to, is gleaning the wisdom of many missionaries that will be there so we can in turn apply anything useful to our situation and efforts in the D.R.
In viewing the above information concerning the Missions Forum, I am expecting to leave that conference with a lot more practical knowledge and ideas that can be utilized immediately upon our arrival to the mission field...though I feel the necessity to make a disclaimer: Some trust in chariots, I will trust in the name of the Lord my God (Ps. 20:7). Father God, may it not be said of us that we trusted in strategies (chariots and horses), but rather that we were a people of prayer who could accomplish nothing of our own accord, but great things...mighty things through your Son, Who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).

Thank you for your prayers,