Here we are: near the end of 2018. What a year it has been for our family. We want to share a few highlights of what God has done in our lives over this last year - this is another installment of our "How we got here..." series of posts.
At the same time, we also want to encourage you. Beginnings and endings are often times of clarity and perspective. So, if you would, read on to see what God has done in our family over the last year and how you can be encouraged through our story...
How Did We Get Here?
That's not as much a question that we ask ourselves as much as a question that people ask us all the time: How'd you get to the place where you're selling everything to move to London and plant a church? It's a big question with a long answer. From time to time on this blog we respond to that question with a series of posts in the "How we got here..." theme.
God has done a lot in this last year of our lives. As this year comes to a close and a new year begins, we want to share some of what God has done. This is helpful for us personally as we remember and recount what God has done and we also hope this is encouraging to you as you see God's grace and activity in our lives. We thought it would be a good exercise to provide a simple month-by-month summary of what God has done...
God led us in to what would be the most significant year of decisions we would make (to date). We took a family trip to Disney World followed by a week of the entire family getting the flu. In the midst of it all we were praying and discerning whether God was actually calling us to London or not.
God sustained an intense series of weeks as we snuck over to London with the Evans for a vision trip and came back to Raleigh for a few very busy weeks of discipleship in college ministry. Thomas gave oversight to both college and discipleship ministries while we were discerning this call to London.
God was so kind to bring us to a place where we put our "YES" on the table for London. This happened the Wednesday before Thomas led his eighth short-term mission trip to Toronto - arguably, the place where the seed for church planting was initially planted more than five years before. We started the slow movement towards London by increasing our partnership conversations.
God was present with us as we prepared for the busy series of weeks that would follow. We spent a lot of time in intense discipleship with our college students and had a few retreats with Providence. We were encouraged to begin conversations with Summit Network about joining them for Residency Training in the year ahead.
God gave us a foretaste of things to come as we led a team of 22 people from Providence to London on a short-term mission trip. Together with Paige Evans, we were able to think about what life could be like leading teams in the city as we prayer walked, shared the gospel, and continued to develop partnerships. Thomas continued conversations with Summit Network as well.
God led the way through two very busy weeks of ministry as Thomas gave oversight to Vacation Bible School at Providence, officiated a wedding that weekend, and was one of the speakers at student camp the week after that! These weeks prepared us for London through an intense teaching rotation, leading teams, casting vision, and evaluating performance. We also completed the couples assessment with Summit Network and were approved for Residency Training in the year ahead.
God refreshed us with two trips to enjoy family time and prepare for the busy series of months ahead. Thomas took a trip to Portland to visit Daniel Moore and visit our college students who were serving in a mid-term mission project in the city. July tends to be the calm before the storm of activity that is the launching of college ministry in August.
God opened up new pipelines of encouragement for us as we began our Residency Training with Summit Network. With new meetings and friendships on that front we also launched our final fall semester of college ministry at Providence - the busiest time of the year!
God led us into the heart of a busy stretch of weeks as Thomas and Daniel led a trip to London with Providence and Summit churches to develop partnerships - we left very encouraged. This month also contained intensifying trainings with Summit Residency as well as a few trips while we settled into discipleship rhythms with college ministry for the year. At the end of the month we visited Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn to participate in their International Missions Festival.
God sustained us through a busy month that included: International Missions Festival at Providence, a vision trip to London with City Church Tallahassee, and our final fall retreat with college ministry. We also hosted an Interest Meeting for London at The Summit Church and we were blown away to have so many people express interest in helping plant this church!
God brought a number of new friendships and partnerships to us in just the right days and ways. We had some tough days in November and God countered every difficulty with an unmistakable bright spot of encouragement. Many of you, our partners and supporters, showed up in real ways throughout the month that blessed us deeply.
God led us to the end of seven years of service on staff at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh. We also completed the fall semester of training through Summit Network. We transitioned college ministry to a team of people we love and we think they will do a great job. Bittersweet was the flavor of much of this last year as we had a series of "lasts" with the college students and church family we love so much. While we are not on staff at Providence we are glad to still call Providence our home church and one of our sending churches as we finalize preparations for London. Fort the last week, we enjoyed Christmas in Alabama for the first time in the past five years.
There are three themes that we see as we look back on this past year...
This last year was absolutely full of what we call discipleship - the process of learning to hear the voice of Jesus and respond with faith and obedience. It's difficult to select only a few things to share about each month of the last year because the year was full of important moments. It's a difficult thing to say "here we learned from God" because it could lend the other moments to times when we did not. This last year was full of hearing, trusting, and efforts at obeying.
Travel & Trainings
When God delivered this call for planting we we not quite prepared for all of the travel that would be necessary in order to be trained. In this past year Thomas has taken five trips to London to develop partnerships (we took three of these together) as well as Toronto, Denver, Dallas, Wilmington, and DC for various trainings. We have gained so much through these trips and we have also felt the effects as a family. Thank you for the ways you have encouraged us and prayed for us in these busy seasons.
When we think of this last year we think about you. Our partners, prayer warriors, financial investors, and friends who are counting the cost of moving to London with us. We notice the growing theme of partnership. Some people who we have met and know personally and others who we have never met before. We have been encouraged as casually acquaintances become rooted partners. We have been overwhelmed by the financial investment of people we have never met. We have been blessed by churches who have welcomed us in and treated us like family.
Encouragement For You
God has been at work in our lives as we have served Him with our whole hearts and sought to be a part of His mission through His church. This interactive relationship is not necessarily unique to us. Instead, it's actually thematic of how God works with all of His children. So, considering how God has been at work in our own lives, we share a few encouragements with you.
There is one verse that could easily be hung as a banner over this last year...
"Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4)
This means that as we serve God and enjoy relationship with him (Delight yourself in the Lord...) that He will put new desires in your heart (...give you the desires of your heart). You could say it another way: God works in our lives as we serve Him in obedience. It's through the process of working hard unto the Lord that God slowly but surely changes the desires/hopes/dreams/wants that we have in our hearts.
As we have served God He has changed our desires from aiming at a comfortable safe and controllable life to a life of increased faith and risk. As we have served God in the last year He has shifted our hearts from a passion to pastor college students and oversee college ministry to the need to reach the unreached of the world by planting a new church. As we have served - God has been at work, in these and a thousand other ways. Our obedience is imperfect but it is rooted in faith. That is the environment in which God works in the heart.
So, how did we get here? We got here by giving all of ourselves to Jesus and His mission of renewing the world through His church. We have found ourselves by losing our own selves in pursuit of Jesus and His plan for the world (Matthew 16:25). That's the truth: God gradually gives people new desires as they commit their way to Him and trust Him to keep His promises.
How is God currently at work in your life? What are the new people and new places He is giving you a desire for as you follow Jesus in faith? For many of you, we know, God is giving a desire to support this new church in London (and we are grateful for that!). For others, take some time here at year-end to ask yourself: What is God saying to you?
We hope you are encouraged by our testimony of how God was at work in this last year. We also hope you are encouraged to consider the new things God might be placing in your heart as you follow Jesus in faith.
We are thankful for your partnership and friendship.