Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My Pastor, Pastor Mark

                This last Sunday our family went up to my home church to say good-bye to our pastor. The year I graduated high school, Pastor Mark came to serve our church. He was the first pastor I had that really equipped me to follow a call into ministry that I had been trying to be faithful to since junior high. I remember when he showed up to the 4-h fair, and I asked him what he was doing there. He said he was there to see us. I remember how much that meant. No one had ever come out of the church to see me before. Now that is a practice I try to keep every place I serve.
When I approached him in college about starting a small group for single 20-somethings, he didn’t just listen to my crazy idea. He opened his home to our group, and built relationships with us even though we represented many different church affiliations and congregations. Through his support, I began to understand what it meant practically to be “kingdom” people, more concerned with God’s whole world rather than just our little corner in the world.
                He and his wife would sit through interviews as I learned in college what ministry would be all about. His wife would give me the advice, “Only go into ministry if you can’t do anything else.” It was one of the most powerful statements and has driven me forward through hard times. And it was something that I saw this couple live out. Mark had left a career in chemistry to serve. That was a much bigger sacrifice than any back-up I could imagine for myself.
                Later, Mark would provide marriage counseling for my husband and I. He would perform our marriage ceremony, and in all the nervous weight of those vows, he would say, “I think you two will be all right.” When we moved back from what felt like a failed attempt of ministry in Mississippi, he was there. He came to our home to welcome our first born into the world and helped us to introduce her to the church. I saw him welcome MOPS moms who would never attend his church into his office for pastoral care. Again, a kingdom-person. Under his leadership, I would see my parents become more active in using their gifts. I would hear about them teaching teenagers, picking up elementary boys for worship, being greeters, teaching the children’s message, and becoming a trustee. I am confident that much of their growth was because of Pastor Mark’s influence, especially when he nor they knew it was happening.
                I don’t know what is next for Pastor Mark and his wife, but I believe that whatever God calls them to, they will be faithful. God’s timing is often not our own, and I wish He would hurry up and let them know. But in the meantime, I am praying for them, and thanking God that they were a part of my life at such a critical time. I pray that I can be as faithful to my calling as Mark has been to his. It has not always been easy for him, and sometimes it is easy to get lost in the negative voices. So I hope this will be a voice to counter those voices. Well done, Mark. And most of all, thank you.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Testimony

I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was twelve years old, after my mother brought our family to a new church. Our new church, Camp Creek Church of the Brethren seemed like a perfect fit for our family. Dad had friends there, they had a great youth group for my brother and sister, and they had plenty of young kids. In fact, there were three other girls my exact age. The only problem was that none of them would talk to me.  I went from seeing my best friend every week to being the outcast.  I prayed and prayed that God would give me friends and Sunday night after Sunday night I cried myself to sleep, alone. One Sunday morning, as we sang our opening songs before Sunday school, I prayed something different. I said to God, “God, I’m sorry.  I have been praying the wrong thing. Church isn’t about friends, it’s about you. Today I am here for just you; I don’t care about anyone else.” As soon as we finished singing, all three girls came up to me and invited me to sing special music with them. Not only that, but they also asked me to sit with them! The moment I had started giving God the attention I wanted and centered my prayer on him, he answered it. I knew in that moment, that God was real. All those stories I had heard in Sunday school became alive.It didn’t take long for me to make a commitment to follow Jesus. 
When I was in 8th grade, this calling of faith deepened into a call of vocation. At a church revival service to which I came for selfish reasons, a preacher shared how God wants each of us to serve him with all of our life. I know that he wasn’t talking directly about pastoral ministry but that night as I prayed, I gave God my career. I didn’t know what he wanted to do with it yet, but I was going to serve him with it. In high school I shared that God was calling me into ministry with my pastor, who encouraged me to start testing that call through leadership in youth group and counseling at church camp. I loved it. It seemed only natural to take on such leadership roles, as I had always been assigned as the group leader in school. I loved speaking and singing in worship and the church supported me with open arms. I went on to study pastoral ministry in college, where I met my husband Nick. We were married the day he graduated, and co-pastored in Mississippi March 2007-October 2007.

Nick and I moved back to Indiana in December 2007.  I had a daughter in January 2008. It was winter and the beginning of the Great Recession but somehow my husband found work using the carpentry skills he had learned in Mississippi. We were poor with one meager paycheck, a new baby, and a massive amount of undergraduate debt. Camp Creek Church of the Brethren provided all of my daughter’s clothes for the first year of her life. I got diapers at parenting classes at Women’s Care Center in Plymouth, and breastfed to cut costs. I also spent time everyday sending resumes and making phone calls to churches and denominations alike.   

That May, things got worse.  On a Wednesday, my husband cut his fingers in a table saw. We went and visited his parents living in Marion on Thursday and Friday. On the following Monday, my husband was fired and on Thursday his mother died. The following two weeks were filled with my mother-in-law’s funeral in Indiana, and a burial in Michigan. We came home from Michigan to find our power out and everything in the freezer room-temperature. With our credit cards maxed and no income, we needed the miracle we had been praying for for months. It was then, with nothing but God to cling to, that the miracles happened. A Christian neighbor filled our bare refrigerator and cupboards with food. Even more miraculous, we had received a call from  a United Methodist District Superintendant. After looking over the resume I had sent him, he placed us in a two-point charge. God had not deserted us and was not done with us. He provided for us at just the right time.