Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Are You Willing To Sacrifice? From April 12th Lutheran North Chapel service

Linda and I had the opportunity to present and give the message at a Chapel service at Lutheran High School North in St. Louis, where Eric had taught for 7 years.  The message gives all of us something to think about, so we thought we would post it here.


(Eric) What are you willing to sacrifice?

This question has been on our minds and hearts a lot lately. As you know for many years, I have felt called to work in Africa, but the time never felt right. When I married Linda, who also had a passion for international ministry, we strongly sensed that the time was now. We knew that it was going to take a lot of sacrifice. Honestly, one of the hardest sacrifices I had to make was leaving a place I loved and students I cared for (i.e. you). Yet, sometimes God calls us to make these sacrifices.

(Linda) As we started down the process of finding a placement, we soon had to sacrifice something else. Our timeline. We had hoped to leave by the start of this school year, working in positions that would pay us. The months wore on and nothing seemed to be coming together. Either a placement would want Eric, but not have any position for me. Or they would have a spot for me, but not a married couple. We finally realized the best way was to raise our own salaries and go with a volunteer missionary organization.  But this takes a LOT of time. We waited until we had two options and after praying about it, we felt that we were called to Jos, Nigeria. We knew there were safety risks there, but there were also a lot of other missionaries there and a system in place to reduce the risk.

(Eric) In December, we traveled to Nigeria, excited about the ministry we thought we would be doing in Jos. When we got there, our story took another turn. The Lutheran Church of Nigeria didn’t want us in Jos. They wanted us to work in Obot Idim in Southeast Nigeria. This change would mean more sacrifices. There were no other missionaries in that area, so we would lose all of that support. The place also had a long history of kidnappings. People looking for money would kidnap ex-patriots (i.e. non-Nigerians), government officials, or wealthy Nigerians in order to hold them for ransom. Sometimes those who were kidnapped did not survive. As we saw the needs at the school there and in the community, it wasn’t a perfect fit for our skills, but we knew we could help. So the question was before us “What are we willing to sacrifice?”

(Linda) Our story took yet another turn. While we were in Nigeria, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania contacted our organization asking if we could come there. We dismissed the idea, because we were in Nigeria. It was too late in the game to make any changes. We came back and talked with family and friends and the head of Global Lutheran Outreach. He asked us if we wanted to consider Tanzania, and we said the only way we would is if their needs fit our skills exactly. We also realized that we felt more called to Obot Idim than we felt to Jos. Yet, we still felt unsettled. Why were we unsettled? We didn’t know. Then, we found out a little more about the jobs in Tanzania. They seemed to fit us. What were we going to do? To consider Tanzania meant more money and more time. And I struggled with this. Why did I feel more called to Tanzania than to Nigeria. Was it because I was afraid? Was I really willing to risk our lives? In my quiet time, I started to focus on stories where God called people to sacrifice. One day I landed on the story of Abraham and Isaac.

(Eric) In the story, Abraham was told by God early in his life that he would have descendants more numerous than the stars.  There was one problem though.  He had no children.  Until one day God performs a miracle, allows his wife the age of your grandmother to give birth, and they have one son, named Isaac.   God knew that Abraham was faithful to him, but for reasons Abraham did not know, God tested him.  God called Abraham to go to a mountain.  Then God called to him to sacrifice his only son.  Now, this means for Abraham, that if God allows him to go through with this, he will possibly not have any descendants.  But Abraham trusted in the promises of God.  He took Isaac on to a mountain to sacrifice him.  Abraham raised up the knife to kill Isaac.  God saw that Abraham truly trusted in Him, and provided a ram instead.

(Linda) As I read this story, a prayer came to me. “God, is Tanzania the ram?” God didn’t provide the answer immediately. However, as the weeks went by and we got more information and talked with more people, we realized that while we were willing to sacrifice and potentially give our lives wherever we went, God had provided a ram. When we went to Tanzania in February, we realized the work they needed us to do fit EXACTLY with our passions, our interests and our skills. So this is where we are headed.

(Eric) There is still much sacrificing. It’s not over. And there will be many struggles. But we know it’s going to be ok, because God made the ultimate sacrifice. He provided the ultimate ram. When it looked like Isaac would be lost, God provided the ram. When it looked like we would be lost, God provided his son. That knowledge is worth sacrificing everything.

So we ask you, what is God calling you to sacrifice? Time? Money? Popularity? Don’t worry, He’s not calling you to sacrifice school ;-)  But this is a question that we all must ask ourselves. And no matter the sacrifice, God promises that He will always be with you.  Forever and ever Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

God's Plans

Well, we've moved into a new phase of our journey. Since we returned from Tanzania in February, we've felt a new sense of clarity about our decision. When we looked back at what we had been praying for in a location, we realized God answered our prayer exactly. Here is what was on our wish list to God when we started our search last July.

-          A place in Africa to fulfill Eric's childhood dream (or perhaps a better word is "call") to work in Africa
-          A place where we both can use our skills meaningfully (preferably with a job description, accountability, and team environment)
-          A place that struggles deeply with issues such as poverty, malaria, HIV, lack of education, etc.
-          A place where we can learn and grow and step out of the fast-paced, perfectionistic culture of the U.S.
-          A place that is consistently warm, but not so hot at night that my sleep would be further disrupted (related to my fibromyalgia diagnosis)
-          A place that has access to medical care should we need it and/or should God bless us with a child (just to be clear, no plans of that right now)
-          A place where we can feel safe to walk around and visit our neighbors
-          A place where we feel supported by the local church and can have meaningful friendships with people native to that country
-          A place with at least one other missionary family in our area who can guide and encourage us as new missionaries
-          A place where at times we can step away from our work and have new adventures (even missionaries need a vacation sometimes)
-          A place where we can use English in our work, though we are willing to learn a new language as well
-          A place where we have the ability to step out of the urban environment and see God through the beauty of nature
-          A place where we could speak about our faith and share the love of Christ

As the months of searching for a place like this wore on, we started to lose hope and considered compromising. We thought maybe we were being too picky and asking too much of God. The call to Obot Idim, Nigeria fulfilled many of our desires, but we left Nigeria with several concerns.
1)      The heat can be incredibly intense there and we weren't sure how that would affect my fibromyalgia
2)      We would not have been able to visit with our neighbors on our own due to safety concerns.
3)      There were no other missionary families in the area where we would be.
We were willing to go to Nigeria despite our concerns, but then God surprised us by giving us exactly what we asked for in Tanzania! We are amazed and truly grateful.

The only item on our wish list that God did not grant was our wish for paid positions (i.e. a salary). Yet, as we begin our journey of "Support Discovery" in earnest, we are starting to realize why God may have said "no" to our previous request.
1)      The numbers are daunting and scary for us. We need about $35,000 to pay for our one-time out-going costs (items such as a vehicle with four-wheel drive, extra luggage costs, a refrigerator, a stove, furniture, etc). Then we need about pledges for $60,000 a year for our ongoing costs (rent, gas, electric, gasoline, medical insurance, legal fees, etc). We know that we can't do this on our own, and that knowledge truly humbles us. We need other people and we need God to move in a mighty way if we are going to leave by September.
2)      If we had found a position that paid us, then we would not have nearly as many people praying for us as we begin our new lives. When I moved to Papua New Guinea years ago, I found such strength and comfort in the fact that so many people were praying for me and supporting me. There were many days in PNG where I took the knowledge that people were praying for me and God was with me dried my tears and gave me hope. I see now that had a lot fewer costs as a single missionary supported by a family of missionaries in PNG than we will have as a married couple trying to set up a household in Tanzania. However, greater cost means even more people are going to be invested in our ministry. Even more people will be praying for us. The thought brings tears to my eyes- happy tears.

In the past few weeks something happened that put an end to any remaining doubts we had regarding if we should be going to Nigeria rather than Tanzania. The LCMS decided the risk was just too great and pulled out their missionaries. While we were in Dallas, TX in March, we were able to meet with the Rasch family, a missionary family we grew very close to during our time Nigeria. We still aren’t exactly sure why God had us go to Nigeria only to change our plans right after the trip, but maybe it was for this reason: that we can now be an encouragement to families who had only a few days to say goodbye to a life and friends they have known for many, many years. Their lives are forever changed by this experience. Our prayers are with all the missionaries of Nigeria and the church at large. We pray for peace.