Greetings! Some missionary newsletters might start with “Greetings from the other side of the world.” I was thinking of starting this one with, “Greetings from the other side of … ,” but I wasn’t sure quite what to enter in the blank. I have definitely come through what seems like a ‘far side of the world’ experience lately.
Some of it has been unusually good. It should have been unusually enjoyable. Instead it brought me to the edge of burnout. Not quite over the edge, but close enough that I could see it from where I stood.
Yet I’d say again, almost all of it was really, really good. Emphasis on almost. The one obvious exception was Covid, which both Sara and I caught early in July. We came through it better than many other people have done, obviously. The latter part of July was when all the good stuff was supposed to happen, though, and I had a lot of speaking to do. I had planned extra time to prepare for it, and it should have been an enjoyable time, rich in friendships as well as ministry.
Instead it turned into an exhausting, overwhelming blur of catch-up maneuvers on the job without ever feeling caught up, and not doing so well in our health situations. That in turn made August a month of catch-up, and then September … until somewhere along the way the best thing of all finally happened: I slowed down enough to hear from God.
I’ll come back to that in a minute. Please allow me tell you some of the great things that happened along the way, though.
The Apologetics Fellowship I’m leading brought three conferences to the southwest Ohio region. I spoke at two of them, and attended the third, a high-level, national apologetics training seminar, as a student.
- One of those conferences drew attendees from hundreds of miles around, including one from Toledo who’s been in touch since then, hoping to learn from us for the sake of his own ministry in Toledo. He’s planning to bring ten people three hours south to join our next Fellowship meeting here on November 12.
- It’s more than apologetics. I’m constantly teaching relational ministry at the Fellowship. And I really loved the story one of our members told. It started with an apologetics-related book he reading as a result of being in the Fellowship. In it he learned a new approach to reading through the New Testament several times a year.
- He went back to his church’s men’s group and asked, “How many of you men have never read through the whole New Testament?” He was shocked, he says, at how many of them admitted they’d never read it all. He got them on board with this plan, though, and at last count, though, six of them are reading the New Testament like they’ve never read it before. That’s discipleship on another level, if you ask me.
- There’s one more story I cannot fully tell here. It involves a great friend, a pastor involved in the Fellowship, whose church has been wracked by divisions over sex and sexuality. (He inherited much of that conflict when he took his position there.) More than once he’s told me what a refreshing breath of joy it was when he got my email last year, saying we were forming this Fellowship. Several members of his church became regular attenders along with him.
- Conflict in the church reached peaked last month. He’s feeling enormous pain over it, and it’s set both the church and his own ministry career into a dizzying set of unanswered questions.
- Nevertheless, he told me just today he’s seeing many people there growing in Christ through it all, specifically through deeper study of God’s word on account of the moral questions the church is wrestling with. And he said thanks for how the Fellowship has been there to show them resources, and to encourage them in their study.
- There’s more besides. I’m frankly astonished at all God has done through this group in its short year-and-a-half existence.
Our daughter, Lisa, was here with our grandson Shepard for a great visit in late September/early October. She and Shepard walked into the dining room one day, and she said, “Shepard has a new name he needs to tell you, and he doesn’t even know it yet. It’s ‘big brother!'”
She’d just found out. First she called Morgan, her husband, and then we got to celebrate with her very early. (Morgan hadn’t been able to come with her this time, unfortunately.)
Please pray for them: They know they Army is going to move them to a new duty station next year, they’d like to be planning for it already, but they don’t know where it’s going to be.
Jonathan and Emily are doing well. Jonathan is meeting with a pastor regularly for in-depth Bible study. It’s great having them living close by.
There were hard times along the way. Unusually hard, actually, and I say that from the perspective of 43 years in ministry.
People have different needs when that kind of thing happens. What I needed most was just to stop. I took three full days in mid-October just to walk in the woods, sit by a lake, pray, read Scripture and encouraging material, and for a large part of the time simply do nothing. God reminded me there I’d been taking too much responsibility on myself, and not trusting Him to do things His way.
It’s funny how that almost sounds respectable: taking on too much responsibility, that is. It’s a good thing only if we let God assign us those responsibilities, and if we remember it’s all up to Him. It’s God’s responsibility, through and through.
I’d lost sight of that. Maybe I’ve been needing to learn it for quite a long time. I really was responsible for lot in that series of conferences, and obviously Covid didn’t help. Still, God had to almost forcibly remind me that the work is still His. His “force” is gracious, thank God, and by listening to Him I am recovering the strength He means me to find in Him, and the joy of leading and fellowshiping in ministry.
Sara and I are enormously grateful for your participation in our work. We’re moving forward with real, Christ-centered joy. Thank you so much for your support and your prayers!