Friday, January 21, 2011

And The Journey Continues...

2011 marks a new beginning for our family!  It has been a wild ride getting to this new beginning.  I recently read the book, Interrupted, by Jen Hatmaker.  As I flipped from page to page, and read from chapter to chapter, I couldn’t help but recognize our family’s story on the pages of this book.  Reading the Hatmaker family’s story is what actually inspired me to attempt to write a narrative of our own story.  Mind you, this will be shorter… as it won’t be a whole book!

Writing a narrative of our family’s story, however, isn’t totally new to me.  Back in January 2008, I wrote one entitled Journey, Not Destination.  It was the story of how God led our family out of the church we had called home for 15 years and plunged us into a church planting ministry, helping to start a brand new church from scratch.

The narrative I am writing today would be about how God’s mercy, grace and faithfulness sustained us through the new church’s early years and about how He eventually led us to the place where we find ourselves this day.

I ended the narrative Journey, Not Destination like this:
Thus ends this journey and the next one begins! We are excitedly and eagerly anticipating what God has in store for us through this church plant. I know that it will be a wild ride --- another journey that will grow us and mold us into the people that God wants us to become! To God be all the glory.
A wild ride it was, indeed.  We have definitely grown over these three years and God has definitely been molding us… shaping us more and more into the likeness of what He wants us to become.  I can say without a shadow of a doubt that we are not the same people we once were.

This is our story, our narrative…

The year 2008 was exciting!  We were dreaming, vision-casting and planning. This was to be a church that sought to serve the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken --- giving hope by offering help.  Hubby and I were inspired by this vision.  It was something very different from what we’ve previously seen or heard.  We felt that it was God-inspired and we loved it!

Our family hit the ground running… trusting in the promise that God had given us in the form of the verse from Joshua 1:9 which says:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
April marked the start of pre-launch Sunday services with our eyes set on September for the public launch.  This brand-new church launched to the public with over 90 people in attendance.  People were excited, eager and enthusiastic.  We were always looking for opportunities to serve the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken which resulted in us doing food drives, cleaning the park, serving our neighbours during community events, visiting the elderly and running a summer sports day camp.

As anyone who has been involved with church planting would tell you, church planting work is hard and progress is slow.  Hubby and I came to realize this very quickly but we were enjoying every bit of this challenge.  God was opening doors and things were moving along.

Around May of 2009, God gave our family a verse.  It is from Isaiah 6:8 and it says:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”  And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
This became our family’s theme verse for the rest of 2009 and for the following year as well. We were always on the lookout as to where God wanted to send us. We sought to live an on mission lifestyle as a family… as a sent people. It was, of course, very natural for us to assume that God was indeed sending us to reach the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken through the church that we just very recently help to plant/start. We were truly loving the work that we were doing to reach into the community around us for the Kingdom.

2009 was uneventful. Well, not quite (really!)… but it was ‘business as usual’. We saw attendance starting to dwindle at this new church, which resulted in waning commitment as well. Hubby and I (and our kids) continued to serve in many capacities and filled in as best we can where there was a need. Although 2009 ended with less people who called this church their home than when it started, all in all it was a good year. Our family felt that we were still where God wanted us to be… we were optimistic, we felt good, comfortable, and safe.

Shouldn’t I know from previous experiences already?!? Isn’t it when we start to feel good, comfortable and safe that God shakes us out of our comfort zone? Well, that’s exactly how 2010 shaped up to be!

Our family started off year 2010 by claiming the verse from Isaiah 6:8 as our theme verse for the year --- Here I am. Lord, send me!  After all, we had just started to get really comfortable with the idea that God had indeed sent us to minister at this baby church plant, right? To reach the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken, right?  We were in this for the long haul, right?. Wrong!!!

Little did we know, God was going to do a lot of “sending” of our family during 2010. He had a plan for us that we didn’t even see coming…

On January 12, the earthquake hit Haiti. Our family, like many others, rushed to donate funds towards relief efforts. As we watched news coverage and read about the great need in Haiti, we heard the still small voice of the Spirit say… this is the kind of place where your charitable dollars should go to because these are the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken!

Later that month, a beggar approached our family in the parking lot of Costco… right here in suburbia! His name is Ken.  We were shocked. We’ve never experienced anything like that before. Maybe in downtown Toronto, but not here in our safe suburban community! He was begging for food… his family at home was hungry. We ended up giving him some groceries that we had just purchased. That was when we heard the still small voice of the Spirit say to us… this is who you should be giving hope to by offering help because he is the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken!

In March, I attended Living Proof Live. Beth Moore spoke from Isaiah 43:18-19:
Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.
I came home from the two-day event asking God what this new thing is that He is doing! There were many new things happening all around me… with my job, with new ministry opportunities through the larger church planting network. But, I sensed God saying to me those things were not the new thing. So, I decided to keep my heart open and waited for God to show me His new thing for our family!

In May, a friend of mine and her hubby went on a mission trip… to Haiti! Our family had the opportunity to donate funds and buy supplies for my friend and the team to bring to Haiti. The donated funds were able to purchase a piece of land on which the Haitian people can use for agriculture. I was also able to do a month-long prayer marathon for Team Haiti. As we read updates from Team Haiti and saw pictures upon their return, we heard the still small voice of the Spirit say to us… these are the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken!

At this time, I don’t think we had any clue still of what God was trying to say to our family…

The summer months were fast approaching and it was time to plunge full speed into planning for the 8-week summer sports day camps that our church offers for the community around us. Similar to the previous two years, hubby and I placed all our efforts and energies into making these day camps happen. We were busy, busy, busy!

At the same time, God made our paths cross again with a young man from our previous church. We found out that he is the Site Supervisor of a summer day camp that is located in one of the neediest communities in Toronto, in the Jane/Finch corridor. The children who attend this camp live in co-op housing units and most, if not all, come from difficult family situations.

Donors have made it possible for these children to attend this day camp for free. There they are taught, each and every single day, that God loves them and how they can live a life that pleases Him. Our friend, the Site Supervisor, also told us that they do not have a budget for snacks. This tugged at my heartstrings. We ended up committing to donate snacks and juice for 75 children for all 6 weeks of the summer program.

So while we were busy running our church’s day camp, at the same time we were driving over to Camp Freedom each week to deliver snacks and juice! It was during these once-a-week visits that our family got to know the children at Camp Freedom. We came to love them! It was also during these visits when we heard the still small voice of the Spirit say to us… look at these vulnerable children, these are the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken!

That was when the light bulb lit up in our hearts! We looked at the demographics of the children we were serving at our church’s day camp… then we looked at the demographics of the children from Camp Freedom. Only one group has the children who are the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken!

We finally heard loud and clear what God was trying to say to us all along! All this time, we thought we were doing a good job ministering to and serving the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken through our church, when in fact we were totally missing the mark!

But wait, how can I forget Joe and Abby?!? In July, we were once again at Costco when hubby and I saw a woman with a sign… it said: “Family of 7. Can’t find work. Need food. No money.” Another beggar… right here in our suburbia! I remember thinking: “Two beggars in a year, that’s a little bizarre.” Long story short, we talked to her and found out about their family’s situation. We ended up buying them groceries enough to last a whole week! As we drove away, we heard the still small voice of the Spirit say to us… there are many families like Joe and Abby's, they are the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken!

We get it, God! OK, we truly get it now! Hubby and I were suddenly plunged into a crisis… it felt like a decision was imminent. Clearly, God has shown us who the last, the least, the forgotten, and the forsaken are... that we were missing the mark all this time! At the same time, we were not seeing eye-to-eye with the leadership at our church plant in many key areas. Things were at an impasse… we couldn’t see how we could share our new found vision and gain their support with so many other issues at hand.

We prayed for God to show us the right thing to do. There were many tears and many sleepless nights… we were wrestling with God. We finally came to the conclusion that in order for our family to go where God is sending us, we would have to leave our church plant! It was a tough decision to come to… we were sad to leave the few people who had become our friends over these three years. But, it all boils down to following when God leads.

October 1 marked the official start of the new phase of this journey. We didn’t have a church to call home but we trusted God to lead us to the right one in His own time. We prayed that He would lead us to a church that supports the vision that He has given our family… and we left it at that. As we visited several different churches during the Fall months, God's objective was to keep us busy with outreach projects that helped the truly last, the truly least, the truly forgotten, and the truly forsaken.

Here are some of the places God has sent us to these past few months:

· Our son had a Backpack Drive for the kids at Camp Freedom instead of getting gifts for his birthday. We were able to give 10 children new backpacks filled to the brim with school supplies just in time for the start of school.

· We started to correspond with two children from Honduras who are part of Compassion Canada’s program whose sponsors don’t or are unable to correspond with them.

· Our kids organized the Operation Christmas Child campaign at their school for Samaritan’s Purse. In total 352 gift-filled shoeboxes were collected and a majority of these shoeboxes were sent to Haiti!

· For hubby’s 45th birthday, we invited friends and family to join us in sorting food at the Food Bank.

· Making and serving dinner to 120 homeless folks through the Out of the Cold program.

· Buying Christmas presents for all the kids at Camp Freedom.

And then, a new verse for the New Year! It is none other than Micah 6:8 and it says:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
This verse came to our family via the teaching on the first Sunday of the New Year at the church we now call home, The Meeting House. God has answered our prayer… He has led us to a church that supports the vision that He has given our family.

A new year. A new church. A new verse. A new beginning.
I want... to be great because we fed hungry mommas and their babies.  I'd like to be great because we battled poverty with not just our money but our hands and hearts.  I desire the greatness that comes from not just seeking mercy but justice for those caught in a system with trapdoors.  I hope to be part of a great movement of the Holy Spirit, who injects supernatural wind and fire into His mission.  My version of great will come when others are scratching their heads and saying, "Wow, you live a really different life." --- from the book Interrupted, by Jen Hatmaker.
This is our story, our narrative… and here is where we start the next phase of this journey!

Unwrapping more of His love in this world.
Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!

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